There was no way this could get any worse.
Adrien dumped the contents of his school bag onto his computer desk, books, binders, tablet, pencils, markers, pens and all the other paraphernalia of school scattering across the brushed metal surface, but the book he’d taken from his father’s safe failed to materialize.
Père was gonna kill him. Adrien’s breath hitched faster and he looked into his upside down school bag, but it remained stubbornly empty. He spun around to glare at the couch. “Are you the one who took Père’s book?!”
Plagg wedged the blue fan pin he’d been examining back between the seat cushions of the couch and stuffed half a round of camembert into his mouth. “Uhf cohse noht!!” he called around the cheese.
“If he discovers its disappearance, his anger will be worse than Papillon’s!!”
Plagg waited, ears twitching, and relaxed when he heard Adrien turn back to the computer desk and the items upon it. Whew. Kid wasn’t going to come over here. At least not yet.
Tossing the rest of the camembert round into his mouth, he pulled the Peacock pin out from between the seat cushions again, studying it while he chewed.
~That was you that nicked the grimoire out of Lila’s bookbag, right?~
~Yes. I’m having Marinette take it to Fu. …Actually we’re one bus stop away from Fu’s home right now. I… I have to admit that THIS was not something I expected when I turned my luck to ‘finding an excuse to introduce our Chosen to Fu’, Plagg. And… I’m sorry that my taking the grimoire means that you’ll have to wait with Adrien…~
~Oh, don’t worry. I won’t have to wait.~
~PLAGG. We AGREED on-~
~No, you insisted on. But don’t worry. I’ve got something just as ‘good’ as the Grimoire.~
~…What could possibly-~
~The Peacock Pin was in the safe as well. I grabbed it while the Kid was distracted by the grimoire.~
~The Peacock Pin was in-~
Plagg winced, feeling a stab in his temples as he started to get to the upper limits of how long he and Tikki could talk like this.
~Yes. The Peacock Pin. Real deal too, I can feel Regaal in there… gonna use it to get the kid to Fu’s. Ow… Ugh, stupid limits… Tikki, I’ll fill you in later okay? Plus I really, REALLY, REALLY need to fill you on my Kid’s stupid plan so you can come up with something better ASAP.~
~…Oh that’s not worrying at all. …ow… okay, bus stopping anyway. We’ll talk later?~
~Later,~ Plagg promised and let the link drop.
On the bus, Tikki sighed and rubbed at her temples for a moment. Ugh. Stupid limitations. And that ‘Plan’ had sounded important. And now she’d have to wait several hours before she and Plagg could do more than exchange a few words.
Hopefully, whatever Adrien was planning was not something he intended to enact before tomorrow morning.
The bus came to a stop, brakes hissing, and Marinette got to her feet. Tikki waited until Marinette was off the bus, then opened the purse and smiled up at Marinette before carefully poking her head out of the purse to get her bearings. Hmmm, yes this was the right part of the 8th arrondissement. Tikki poked her head a little further out of the purse to check the street signs – alright.
“Go three blocks straight ahead, then make a right, Marinette. About two blocks down you’ll see a three story white building with red flowers in the balconies. The Last Guardian will be on the second floor, in apartment 201.”
Marinette gulped and nodded, left hand tightening on the strap of her backpack. Taking a deep breath, she struck off down the road, and soon was standing in front of a modest three-story building. She walked in through the doors of a small lobby area. There was a young woman sitting at the reception desk, she looked up from her phone when Marinette walked in and offered a smile. Marinette smiled back and looked at the sign beside her. It seemed that the single room on the first floor was a small antique shop. The second floor had a massage parlor and a ‘Traditional Medicine’ practice – both run by a ‘Master Fu’ – and the third floor was apparently two loft style apartments, only one currently available. According to the sign, Master Fu seemed to alternate days on which place he worked from. Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays being the days the Massage Parlor was open; Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays being the days the ‘Traditional Medicine’ practice were open. (Did anyone else find the fact that Traditional Medicine was in quotation marks on this sign disquieting? No? Just Marinette? Because honestly WHY was it in quotes?! Was it not really traditional? Not really medicine? Was it to emphasize it was not modern medicine but something ‘special’ and ancient? WHY WERE THERE QUOTATION MARKS?!)
Not wanting to feel trapped, Marinette went up the stairs rather than using the elevator to get up to the second floor. The building was small, with only two room on each floor it seemed, one on either end of the hall. The room on the left side of this floor, 201, had a modest sign beside it that declared it to be ‘Master Fu’s Massage Parlor’ with a bunch of Chinese characters underneath it that she… guessed? …said the same thing. The door on the right side declared that it was ‘Master Fu’s Traditional Herbal Remedies and Medicines’, with more Chinese characters underneath it.
Tikki flew out from Marinette’s purse. “This is it. It’s best if you take the Grimoire out now, Marinette.”
Marinette nodded and slung her backpack around and unzipped it, and carefully pulled the grimoire Lila had stolen from Adrien and she’d stolen from Lila out, hugging it to her chest as she zipped her backpack back up and swung it back around onto her back.
Okay. She could do this. Tikki wouldn’t steer her wrong. She was a big girl and a super hero and she could do anything.
Marinette raised a hand and knocked on the door.
Marinette opened the door and peeked in, Tikki hiding behind her shoulder for the moment. An old man, as bitty as Alix if not shorter, sat lotus style on the massage bed that dominated the room, his eyes closed. He opened his eyes as Marinette walked in, and he smiled gently.
Taking a slow breath, and clutching the grimoire to her chest, Marinette walked into the room. She heard Tikki fly behind her, to the door she’d left open, closing it was a soft click before Tikki flew ahead of Marinette. “I know that we’d agreed it was best to not bring our Chosen here, but…” Tikki sighed. “Papillon has been changing his pattern lately, drastically and dangerously, and then…”
Tikki darted forward towards the old man suddenly, voice rising slightly. “You need to see what we found!” Tikki raced back to Marinette and pointed at the grimoire clutched to the young teen’s chest. “Show him, Marinette!”
“But… You said that no one must every know, Tikki. I trust YOU, Tikki, but I’ve never met you before, sir, I don’t know if I can trust you…” she looked at the little old man. He was unassuming and non-threatening… but many Champions were the same before the trap snapped closed.
He surprised her with a chuckle. “No, you have no reason to trust me, although we have met before.” He smiled. “I am not surprised you don’t remember it, you had such a busy first day of school, saving an old man from his own foolishness and pulling him to the safety of the sidewalk likely was lost amidst the rest of the day’s happenings.”
Marinette’s eyes went wide. She did remember that and, now that he’d mentioned it, she did have to admit that he looked remarkably like the little old man she’d dragged from the street back in September.
“I wasn’t there by chance, of course. In most circumstances, Kwamis can sense when one of their own transform someone for the first time, as that action sparks the creation of a bond between Kwami and Chosen that lasts a life-time. I… am no longer able to fight. Indeed, even transforming is highly difficult for me now. I knew that the world needed new heroes who could stand against the Butterfly. Tikki and Plagg have the ability to pick out candidates within their range of – well, ‘aura detection’, I guess you could say. I went from person to person, examining each candidate’s aura and finding out what I could about them before giving each a test.”
“So, when I saved you, that was my test?”
“Exactly so, young lady. The final step of it, of course. Marinette; you are quick witted, bold, stubborn, in control of yourself and the situation, brave, able to make excellent use of even the oddest resources, certain of yourself and your place in the world, and always ready to help others. Tikki and I knew that you would be a formidable Ladybug.”
“But… who are you?”
The old man got to his feet, stiffly and slowly, and walked over to the record player that sat on the Chinese… dresser? Cabinet? The giant golden phonograph horn that stuck out from the record player made her think that it was OLD, maybe even ancient. Like, maybe from the 1920s! Actually, it looked a lot like the one from An American Tale. When had that been set, anyway? Ugh, another thing that – like the issue with the fire-hydrant wrenches – would be bugging her until she got an answer. Speaking of, she really DID need to remember to ask a fireman if the big wrenches were Guillemin or tricoise wrenches. The man pressed his thumbs against the eyes of two carved dragons… and their mouths opened, letting a wooden panel drop open.
Which revealed a set of wooden buttons, two rows of them. 5 on top, 4 below. He pressed three of them, too fast for her to see which, and the wooden panel swung closed, the dragon’s mouths closing again… before the recorder SPUN ON ITS BASE and the top dropped open like a jack in the box, and the printed wooden panel split and slid down the sides, revealing a second wooden panel that also split and slid down and out of the way.
And then it turned out that the record player was hollow and a wooden box rotated up like a ballerina… which… yeah, okay, EXTRA. The whole thing was ridiculously extra. Yes, the buttons to make it open made sense, but the whole turn and flip and sllooooow spiiiiin and riiiiiiiiiiise of reveal was just…
…Someone had had WAY too much time on his hands. Like. WAY too much. (Also did that mean that the record player didn’t actually work? Since there were no innards to turn the record turntable?)
“Master Fu is the last known member of the Order of the Guardians,” Tikki explained, flying from her place by Marinette’s shoulder to hover in front of her, smiling the same smile as Master Fu, both waiting with their hands tucked behind their backs. It was odd, how similar their body language was, now that Marinette could see them at the same time. She wondered why that w-
“Guardians of the Miraculous,” a new voice said and a green turtle like kwami flew out from the golden horn of the record player, smiling at her with a tiny bow… before suddenly darting forward – apparently too excited and curious to remain still – making Marinette take a step backward instinctively. “I’m Wayzz, Master Fu’s kwami! It’s a pleasure to meet you, Marinette!”
Marinette glanced to the side, gauging Tikki’s reaction.
“Wayzz likes meeting new people,” Tikki explained with a giggle. “He doesn’t get out much, as he helps Master Fu guard the Miraculi and other items.”
“Err, same for me, Wayzz,” Marinette said, offering a smile. Things were just going too FAST. It felt like when she’d first met Tikki. Tikki had just gone so FAST, Marinette had never had a chance to stop and think or anything, it had just been an out of control landslide of information and then fighting and… she wished two kwamis and mysterious Master Fu would just slow down and let her catch up.
Master Fu took the box out of the record player and held it before him. “As a Guardian, I am responsible for protecting and distributing the Miraculous.” He opened the box, revealing a raised section shaped like a yin-yang symbol. A ladybug symbol forming the eye of the black section, and a cat pawprint forming the eye of the white section. Around it were five sections, each a different color, three of them (a purple one with a butterfly symbol, a green one with a turtle shell symbol and a blue one with a… uh. Fan? symbol) were as empty as the Ladybug and Black Cat sections… but the yellow and orange ones had a gold hair comb and a foxtail necklace in them. “…for the good of all humanity.” Master Fu smiled and closed the box. Walking over to the small round table by the massage bed, he put the box down, picking up a small crystal as he did so before walking over to a framed painting on the wall.
He waved the crystal over the painting… and the image of plants and chinese characters faded away… and then an image of a building – covered in snow with steep mountains visible behind it came into focus, the colors seeping up and spreading out like watercolors.
“Guardians are… were… chosen as children from all over the world and trained for many years for this mission.”
“Is… how did you do that with the picture? Is that like a memory crystal or something? If you can make the picture change why is it still and not moving?”
Master Fu smiled and chuckled. “I used magic. The crystal is simply an easy way of storing certain spells so that I do not have to expend energy. It is far, FAR easier to do this spell with as few images as possible, as the crystal can only store so much power.”
Oh. Okay, that made sense.
…Also, really nice to have her questions ANSWERED for once.
Marinette turned her attention to the picture where an old man in a red outfit with a long grey beard and mustache stood front and center, leading ranks of young people, all wearing the same colonial blue clothing that looked like the outfits people wore at karate class on TV… in some sort of martial arts training… tai chi maybe? It looked like Water Bending from Avatar and that was based on Tai Chi, right?
Fu waved the crystal over the painting again, and the picture faded and changed. The blues and whites fading into golds, ambers and reds. Someone that looked like a younger version of the guy in the red suit from the first image (he had the same beard and mustache and hair it was just a dark brown now, and had the same utterly calm expression) was handing a gold arm band to young boy with green eyes and slightly tussled hair in an outfit that did NOT look like the ones the Guardians in training had been wearing before.
Actually, the arm band looked super familiar… where had she seen it before? Something to do with Chloé? Chloé did wear gold a lot and she did keep thinking Chloé when she saw the bracelet and-
And then Marinette actually registered what was going on in the background -
“Why is there a giant octopus?!”
“That… well, that is not important at the moment.”
“How is a giant octopu- …wait is that a SHIP in its tentacles? …I thought the people all wailing and despairing were close to it but if that’s a SHIP then – why is there a super giant octopus?! How is super ginormous octopus not important?”
“We will come back to the kraken at a later date.”
“Yes, I promise. The giant octopus will be explained in detail later.”
“…Okay. I’m gonna hold you to that.”
“That is quite reasonable.” Master Fu said, smiling for a moment before he looked at the painting.
And his smile slipped, old pain flashing across his face. “When we were much, much younger, we… *I* made a mistake.” Master Fu waved the crystal over the painting again, and the image of the giant octopus attack faded away to show…
On towering mountains, to all appearances in the dead of night, a temple was burning. The same one that had been in the first image, maybe? It was hard to tell. It looked WAY bigger than the one in the first image. But in the foreground, wearing a cloak and clutching both the box that Master Fu had shown her that held the Miraculi, and the grimoire Marinette currently held to her own chest was a boy wearing the same blue clothing that the Guardians in training had been wearing, tears in his eyes as he looked back and the burning temple.
“Because of me, the Guardians’ Temple was destroyed.” Fu closed his eyes, then waved the crystal over the painting again, and it faded to white, then the original image of water lilies and Chinese characters faded back. He walked to the small round table and sat down on the floor beside it. Marinette crept closer, but stayed standing, the grimoire still clutched tight to her chest.
“On that dire day… much was lost. The accumulated teachings of the Guardians – a largely oral tradition. The library of the temple, filled with books and scrolls both magical and mundane. Many Chosen who battled to save what they could or were simply too far away to be contacted once the temple was lost. Spells intended for protection that sent magical items, Miraculi, and more scattering to the four winds… But despite these protections, many lives were lost… so far as I know, all of those who were Guardians were killed, as were – at minimum – most of the trainees. I could save only what I could carry, and grabbed the Miraculous box that held the most powerful of all the Miraculi on its top tier… but of those seven, two were unfortunately lost.” Master Fu turned and opened the Miraculous box and pointed at the purple section. “The Butterfly-” he pointed at the blue section with its ‘fan’ design. “-and the Peacock.”
Oh, a peacock. That made a lot more sense than a ‘fan’ kwami. Also, did that mean that all kwamis were – for lack of a better term – animal themed?
“Also lost that day was a most precious relic: the grimoire you found.”
“But…” Marinette opened the grimoire, letting it fall open to a random page – a glimpse of a purple arm sending butterflies out to four people – before the pages settled on a fox themed hero. Volpina’s inspiration. “There are only drawings of old superheroes and a bunch of strange symbols.”
“Not strange to a Guardian,” Master Fu said as he closed the Miraculous Box and got to his feet, taking it to the record player and putting it back in place before turning to look at Marinette again. “Back in the Temple, I never had the grimoire in my hands during my training. But I was taught enough to be able to partially decipher the code.” Fu held his hands out, not demanding the grimoire, but instead politely requesting it.
Marinette looked to Tikki for guidance, and Tikki nodded with a reassuring smile. Marinette nodded and handed the grimoire to the Last Guardian.
Fu smiled fondly as he opened the grimoire and looked through its pages. “There are, in these pages, various spells and information, such as ways of weaving protections and more into the very being of the suits conjured up by the kwamis’ power. …and even what little is still known about the creation and origin of the Miraculi and their crafting – abilities of various Miraculi that have been forgotten or locked away.” Master Fu smiled up at Marinette. “Until now.”
Marinette stared, eyes wide and mouth hanging open.
“Obviously this grimoire is invaluable! Please, tell me, how did it come into your possession?”