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Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 34 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 34: Under the Moonlight

The emotion that swept me up when I began the contract with the Sea Spirit was nervousness. The fear that I would make another mistake. That the magic I was trying to take hold of for Argo’s sake would harm him once more. That I wasn’t worthy of it….

But then I felt its soothing touch on my mind and was taken back to that moment so long ago in the kitchen. The touch of my mother upon my father and the smile she wore. The unbroken gaze that said that everything would be fine.

And all my fears vanished as I was swept up in the soothing embrace of the sea.”

Elio’s Lessons in Magic VII: The Second Spell

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Darkness fell over the camp.

The dense wooded land untouched by the blight spreading from its core seemed to bask in the absence of light. The worshippers of the Goddess of the Moon who’d taken to these lands and founded the temple within its heart were long gone. In their place silence and shade had laid claim to the vast stretch of viridian until very recently, unconquered and unchallenged.

Yet now flames across the campsite roared to life in challenge of the night itself. Laying in slumber during the day, their fiery tongues reached high to the sky as they hungrily devouring the kindling offered to them in tribute by the denizens that had come to these woods. The light spread throughout the perimeter and pressed back against the encroaching darkness to offer comfort to those within its bosom.

Warmth and chill mingled beneath the beige canopy of the Mess Tent. Scattered magic-stone lanterns of a multitude of colors were shining brightly in place of the twinkling stars for those gathering beneath them. Voices chatted animatedly, recounting events of the past, wagers over cards boxed in by plates, laughter, and the clanking of cups half-filled in a celebratory manner that may or may not have been premature.

Bell was reminded of the Hostess of Fertility as he sat at one of the tables. The atmosphere felt similar after ten days in the wilderness with only themselves and a small flame. He supposed it was a testament to how accustomed he had gotten to life in Orario that he found himself feeling nostalgic for the lively atmosphere after a such a short time.

He was flanked by Primo on one side and Lili on the other. The neophyte Elven Mage had been relieved of her duty in helping to prepare the meal and was subsequently rewarded with her plate first, being the growing youth that she was. Bell was pretty sure she was the youngest there aside from maybe a Pallum Mage that was sitting close to a large figure at another table who sported a unique-looking cover over his head with horns sticking out of the side.  An idle part of his mind wondered if the two would get along during their stay if that was the case, given how it’d be nice to have a peer her own age who shared a similar trait.

Lili, on the other hand, was instead tapping her finger against the table as she sat there with her eyes closed and her hood up. He could make out movement beneath it, no doubt a pair of ears atop her bushy brown hair bending and twitching every now and again. She was likely listening in to the various conversations to get a better feel for the situation here, given the oddities that she had noticed and her own suspicions.

“Sorry to keep you waiting,” a new voice chimed in, directed towards them. It was Welf, accompanied by Mikoto as the two carried plates and bowls in both their hands. The two had insisted that Bell sit and let them get in the forming line to get food for them to eat since he was still recovering, though he’d said otherwise prior to Primo and Lili also insisting and grabbing his arms as they sat him between them. “Hope you don’t mind, but I thought you might want something to really get your energy back after spending all day bedridden.”

He set down a bowl of stew that had a familiar smell to it. Bell took one taste and his face illuminated. “Masalanut… It’s been a long time since I’ve had this. I didn’t know the fruit grew this far out.”

“There is apparently an abundance that grow not far from the campsite on the other side of the mountain,” Mikoto explained as set Lili’s food in front of her. “Since they’ve spent so much time here, they learned how to get the most out of them to conserve resources. I look forward to having the chance to prepare it myself back in Orario for Lord Takemikazuchi and the others.”

With the other two taking their seats next to Lili and Primo respectively, the small Familia settled down into their meal. There was comfort in it, Bell realized as he watched from the corner of his eyes as Welf teased Lili and received a barbed reply in return, while Mikoto and Primo discussed lightly some of the ingredients they saw while helping with the meal preparation. All that was missing was Lady Hestia sitting across from them and watching with a smile and it’d be like they were right back at home…

“Do you mind if we join you?”

He was pulled out of his reverie at the request to find that standing opposite of them were a collection of four Human girls, three of whom he had seen around the camp. The fourth was a somewhat petite while being clad in a green tunic and skirt with thigh-high boots. Her shoulder-length brown hair was somewhat disheveled but kept out of her eyes by a hairband that looked to be carved from wood, embellishments worked into it set against her forehead. Around her waist was a satchel that also had some gloves hanging out of it and she had a pair of glasses that caught the lights above, the glare of which nearly obscured her brown eyes.

“Not at all. Please do.” He caught sight of the Familia Emblem upon the hairband of the fourth girl. “You must be members of the Astraea Familia.”

“That’s right,” spoke the green-clad young woman as she brought one hand to her slender chest. “I’m like you… umm, that is to say I am the Captain of the Astraea Familia—Cecil.”

“And I am the Vice-Captain of our Familia, Oriana Drake,” said the woman with long honey-golden hair with a band in the back and blue eyes, though she didn’t have her spear at the moment. She sported a white tunic and blue skirt that had gold around the band and hem, her figure somewhat more athletic than the others with her height rivaling Welf’s.

“I am Karen Morris,” said the young woman with black hair and eyes, adored in a purple tunic and blouse. She held herself in a dignified manner that gave off the air of nobility if Bell had to put it into words. “May I say it is a pleasure to meet you all in person. I never thought we have the chance to encounter your Familia before we arrived in Orario.”

Bell was surprised at that. “You’ve heard of us all the way here?”

“Our Goddess and Lord Hermes allowed us to spectate the War Game with the use of their Divine Mirrors, whereupon we bore witness to your gallantry. Laying siege to a castle with only a handful of individuals is no small feat, though I suppose such can be expected of Orario Adventurers.”

“Yeah, it was really impressive—at least the parts we could see before you went really fast,” chimed in the fourth and final member of the Goddess of Justice’s Familia. Clad in pink fabric that contrasted that of her companion, she gave off a more casual impression that reminded Bell of his village. “I’m Emma. Nice to meet you all.”

“It’s nice to meet all of you as well.” The admiration within their voices was palpable to the degree that Bell felt a little embarrassed to be honest. “As for the War Game, it was more thanks to everyone else that it was even possible to get that far. I honestly felt a little bad about showing up after everyone else did the hard work.”

“Says the guy who beat their Level Three Captain one-on-one,” Welf said, voice thick with humor as the girls began to take a seat. “Honestly, Bell. You gotta give yourself more credit.”

“His modesty is an admirable trait,” Oriana stated in contrast. “He’d make a fine knight were we in my homeland of Nineveh during my grandfather’s time.”

Welf perked up at that. “Nineveh? I’ve heard that land was renowned for its ore and metals being rare. Even getting it imported into Orario costs an arm and leg. I’m guessing that your Goddess visited there at one point and recruited you?”

She shook her head. “No, it has been… quite some time since I have been there. Instead, I happened to meet Cecil and Lady Astraea while I was on a journey of self-discovery, and we have been companions since then as a Wandering Familia of three, until Karen and Emma joined us relatively recently.”

“So, it’s just the four of you then?” Lili’s question came out blunt as her eyes fixed themselves onto the girls. “A Goddess like Lady Astraea would naturally draw in followers, so she would have little issue recruiting more members to her Familia. Does she have some sort of requirement or preference?”

“Uhm…. If there is one then I haven’t noticed,” Cecil answered with her hands fidgeting before holding the bottom of her bowl in what looked like almost an attempt to soothe her nerves. “I mean, even though Lady Astraea can gather a lot of followers, it feels fine like this. We don’t really have any conflicts or anything, so maybe it was meant to be that way.”

“And what about Miss Ryuu?” Bell asked. “She’s been here for a while, hasn’t she? Are you getting along well with her?”

The Captain of the Astraea Familia’s lips twitched and turned down for a moment. “She… I don’t think she likes us very much. In fact, I’m sure she avoids us as best she can.”

He knew she could be a little quiet and give off an air of indifference, but she was a kind individual. “What makes you say that?”

“Despite our overtures, she remains reluctant to have anything to do with us,” Oriana answered in her Captain’s place. “She scarcely even looks at us or remains within our proximity more than necessary, and I cannot fathom a reason why or if we had done something to offend her.”

“I know she doesn’t tend to speak often, but I don’t think she’s avoiding you,” Bell said.  “I’m sure once the situation has calmed down, she’ll be willing to talk to you about herself. You’re all part of the same Familia after all.”

“She may not think the same.” Karin’s response was leveled and measured. “While we may bear the same Falna, I suspect that she may not see us as worthy compared to our predecessors. More so considering the sheer discrepancy within our capabilities compared to a Level Five such as herself.”

Bell straightened up. “She Leveled Up? When?”

“…As soon as she arrived,” muttered Cecil. “Before she took part in any of the fighting, she just showed up and the moment she had her Status updated she was a Level Five.”

A low noise bubbled up in Lili’s throat before she shrugged. “That makes sense. The whole reason that fiasco on the Eighteenth Floor didn’t end worse was because she basically dealt with the brunt of fighting until Master Bell finished things. And she was one of the Adventurers who helped end the Darkest Days, so it should be expected.”

All eyes turned to her in curiosity as Cecil asked, “Darkest Days?”

“Did Lady Astraea not tell you of that?” Lili took in the inquisitive looks from around the table and realized that she hadn’t apparently. She then sighed and looked over to Welf and Mikoto. “Master Bell and Mistress Primo are new to Orario, so I expect them to not know. But do Master Welf and Mistress Mikoto recall a day of silence that takes place every year a few weeks after Grand Day?”

They looked to each other before Mikoto spoke. “I believe I noticed that Orario seemed quieter on a certain day, but since it did not disrupt my activities and our Familia was settling in, I paid it no mind.”

“And I was in probably in the forge at the time, so I wouldn’t have noticed.”

She took those answers for what they were and explained. “Lili won’t go into too many details, but seven years ago, Orario was under siege by Evilus for seven days. In that time, thousands of people died by the end of it—adventurers, civilians, children. They attacked everyone, with even the Freya and Loki Familia’s strongest being beaten back. All most of us could do was huddle up and pray that Orario was still standing by the end.”

It sounded almost like a tall tale that the city that had been founded at the start of the Age of the Gods could have been brought so low. Yet, as he looked into her eyes, Bell could see that she was being sincere. There were no falsehoods even as she described a nightmare.

“…I heard that Orario held enormous military potential due to their Adventurers being so powerful and their Familia being rather large,” Oriana said even as she took that information in. “Even I have heard that the Loki Familia and Freya Familia are considered the strongest factions in the Lower World. So how could such a thing have occurred?”

“Part of that was because Evilus used some really underhanded tactics that Lili doesn’t want to recall, but the other reason was because there were Level Sevens among Evilus’ ranks.” She paused before looking down at her fork in silence, as if weighing the next words that would come out. “Specifically, two survivors of the Zeus and Hera Familia that were responsible for killing Behemoth and Leviathan respectively.”

It was as if a bitter cold had seized their throats. The heroes who had completed two of the three Great Quests. Thousands dead. Bell opened his mouth to try to find words but all he could force out was a small, “…why?

“I don’t know.” Lili slowly reached up and scratched the back of her head. “Maybe they had a grudge because of how the Freya and Loki Familia kicked them out after they failed the final Grand Quest. It isn’t an uncommon tale, not unlike how Lady Hestia had the Apollo Familia dissolved. But they came in and helped Evilus until the final day, when Ottar defeated the Zeus Familia member outside of Babel, while the members of the Astraea Familia defeated the Hera Familia member within the Dungeon.”

Silence followed afterwards. For the Hestia Familia it was due to the fact that something so terrifying had taken place before the majority had arrived, the very streets they walked through without a second thought having once been baked in flames and covered in blood. For the Astraea Familia, the knowledge that their predecessors played a part in preventing that as well was…

“…To best a Level Seven and bring an end to a nightmare such as that even when the difference must have been astounding,” Oriana said slowly, breaking the silence with a tense expression. “If she went through such an experience with her comrades then to her, we must certainly appear unfit to bear the same emblem as such fine warriors.”

“I can’t say I know if she feels that way or not,” Lili answered back. “But if you intend to head to Orario with Lady Astraea’s Blessing on your backs then you need to know many will compare you to your predecessors. Perhaps your Goddess chose not to tell you so that you wouldn’t be burdened by the fact that no matter what you do you’ll probably never be able to live up to it in their eyes.”

Welf gave her a sharp look. “Hey, that’s going a bit far, isn’t it?”

Lili shot right back with a glare of her own. “Would you prefer that no one told them, and they walked in with their heads held high, only to be surprised when people whisper behind their backs? If they can’t handle knowing that much, they can get out now before people laugh at them for being unable to live up to those standards.”

Would it have been crueler to let these young women walk into Orario with the legacy of their predecessors unknown so they wouldn’t be burdened with it? Or was it better to rip the bandages off now and let them know just what they would have to live up to. Bell supposed he had also been lucky in a way since he and Hestia were one another’s first. But did that mean he was leaving such a high standard for whoever was going to replace him when he eventually had to step down as Captain?

“…Don’t look down on me.” The quiet but firm voice of Cecil spoke up. Bell turned to see her expression was unflinching and resolved. “I didn’t follow Lady Astraea because I cared what others think. I might not be on par with my predecessors or even that Elf, but I’ll still carry on with my head high if I can follow the same path as her.”

“That’s right,” Oriana followed up. “Lady Astraea herself told me that I can only walk my own path to the destination I seek. Not that of my parents, my grandfather, or even the path she walks. But right now our paths are crossing and I intend to walk it along it regardless of what others might think.”

Karin crossed her arms and held her head high. “I was inspired to become an Adventurer because I once saved by one. Lady Astraea has granted me the opportunity to do so. If I was afraid of living up to expectations others forced upon me then I would have remained back home.”

“Then do you intend to return to Orario when this matter is settled?” Mikoto asked.

Emma was the one who answered this time, her expression turning slightly downcast. “We were actually heading that way when the current situation occurred. Since then, we’ve been here dealing with the Black Scorpions….”

Trailing off as she bit her lower lip for a moment in thought, she then reached below the table and pulled out a photograph. “By any chance, would you have seen this person there?”

As the others shook their heads, Bell looked at the photo that showed her, albeit maybe a few years younger, standing alongside a slightly older woman with purple eyes and long, flowing hair the same hue. She wore a plain blouse that fell to a pair of pants and was embracing the younger Emma in an affectionate hug while smiling.

He recognized her as a memory flashed in his mind at that moment. “I saw this woman not too long ago. Who is she?”

“She’s my older sister, Sophia,” Emma explained. “She was my only family in the village and went to Orario a year ago to support us. But we lost contact with one another. Where did you see her, if I can ask?”

“On the Seventh Floor of the Dungeon.” He looked to the others in his Familia. “Remember that I mentioned seeing a woman when we heard the screaming, and she was gone when I went back to get their equipment?”

“The one who had the good sense to run from a Monster Parade in the making,” Lili confirmed. ”Did you spot her Familia Emblem? If you can describe it, then I might be able to recognize it.”

“I didn’t since I was in a rush to make sure the others were okay.” He then turned back to Emma. “I don’t know which Familia she belongs to, but it was only about ten days ago since then. I’m sure she’s still fine, and if I see her again, I’ll tell her you’re still looking for her.”

Emma breathed out a heavy breath she had been holding in without realizing it as she pressed the photo to her chest. Karen’s hand settled on her shoulder, which drew her pink eyes over to that of her Familia. They were smiling on her behalf as something unspoken passed between them.

Dinner continued afterwards until they had finished. The women of the Astraea Familia had taken the girls to join them in the bath along with the other women of the Hermes Familia. That left Welf to say that he was going to go back to finish at the forge, leaving Bell on his own to wander around the camp once more. He didn’t have a destination in mind, but he did want to find and speak with Artemis since he hadn’t seen her since he’d awoken…

UWAGH!” “GAH!” “BUGBH!

The sound of pained cries being cut short drew Bell’s attention towards one of the camp’s exits, whereupon he found scores of bodies laid out belonging to members of the Hermes Familia. They were strewn about before the Elven Warrior as Miss Ryuu stood there with her arms crossed. Her piercing eyes then turned upwards towards him. “Mister Cranel. I trust you were not part of the machinations of these deviants?”

“I was just on a walk looking for Lady Artemis when I heard noise.” His eyes skimmed over the unconscious bodies of the gathered Adventurers. They didn’t look hurt exactly, so it wasn’t a struggle—or at least not much of one. “What happened?”

“I caught them planning to spy on the women in the bathing area while I was on patrol.” Her eyes turned towards one body that Bell recognized was Lord Hermes by his inhumanely handsome facial features that remained spotless even while he was unconscious.

His mind immediately flashed back to the Eighteenth Floor, whereupon he had been roped into something similar. Then he found himself feeling numb towards seeing that particular divinity lying face-down in the dirt. “Lady Artemis isn’t bathing with the others, is she?”

Ryuu lightly shook her head and gestured off in a direction with her hand. “There is another campsite not far from here. You will find her there.”

“Thank you.” Bell made towards that direction before he paused in his step. “Miss Ryuu… the other members of the Astraea Familia think that you’re avoiding them because you dislike them. That isn’t true, is it?”

“…I am avoiding them, though it is not out of malice or disdain,” she admitted after a pregnant pause that was followed by her shifting her gaze down to her own hands. “It would not do for a blacklisted Adventurer to associate with those girls who will embody the ideals of justice. What would they think if they knew that a violent criminal bore the same blessing as them on their backs?”

The bloodstained legacy left behind by the Gale was that of a murderous rampage against not only the remnants of Evilus, but anyone she thought had been associated with them by her own admission back at the grave markers on the Eighteenth Floor. She had begged her Goddess for days to leave so she wouldn’t see the monster she had become in seeking to take revenge. She had even earned a bounty on her head for her actions back then, so how would this new generation of those who would follow the same ideals of justice that she once idealized react to such a person if they knew the truth?

“I don’t know how they’d feel about who you used to be, but…” Bell licked his lips as he said what came to his mind. “I think that they want you to see them as companions who are worthy of being members of the same Familia. The person you are right now…  who helped me time and again without asking for anything… who helped that girl back in the Grand Casino… and then came when they needed you the most without a second thought, is someone they see as being worthy of respect.”

Her sky-blue eyes turned to the ground as her hand came to her chest. “…I will keep that in mind, Mister Cranel.”

And with that the conversation ended as she walked off, going back on her patrol while leaving the scores of Hermes Familia members on the ground. Bell couldn’t say whether they would get closer by the end of things, but for Bell Familia meant being family. Even if not bound by blood then by ideals, and while he knew what she had done in the past he didn’t know that Ryuu—only the one in front of him who still carried a sense of justice within her heart.

That done, Bell made his way out of the campsite in the direction that she indicated. The woodlands were rather dark considering the firelights stopped at the perimeter of the encampment, but his perception had gotten a lot better since he had become an Adventurer. He could make out of the scurrying of nocturnal wildlife even as he intruded upon the domain, a visitor in these unclaimed woodlands which the crescent moon itself shone down upon.

Hmmm. Hmmm. Hn. Hmmm. Hmmm. Hn.

Eventually, his ears caught the humming of a heavenly voice that undeniably belonged to Lady Artemis. He followed it through the woods, heading through the brush until he finally came across signs of a well-traveled path that had been slowly reclaimed by nature. He jumped over a brook from which water came trickling through with the argent rays of the moon reflected off the surface as they carried on their way downstream without pause.

And finally, his trek came to an end as he broke past an opening in the tree line to a clearing that was bathed in the moonlight. The shadows of the dense canopy refused to tread past the reach of the branches as a tree within the center of what had once served as a small base camp had been broken in half from something massive crashing into the upper half from the look of how it had been snapped. The trunk was riddled with holes from where it had been shot by arrows, with there still having one nestled within it with fletches from local bird feathers.

The Goddess of the Moon sat at the foot of it. The Divine Spear was perched next to her, resting in a slouch against the tree as it caught the sheen of the moonlight upon it. And in her lap was the Blade of the Hearth, which she slowly stroked her fingers across the flat of while humming to herself. At least until she turned her emerald gaze in his direction. “Orion.”

“I hope I’m not interrupting you, Lady Artemis,” Bell said as he approached her. “I wanted to make sure that you were okay after what happened.”

“I was unharmed thanks to your efforts,” she said. “But you were left in quite a bad state. Are you well enough to be walking on your own?”

“Aside from being a little sore, I’m just fine,” he assured her. “You don’t need to worry about me.”

A light hum bubbled up in her throat. “You know… she said that you would act like that. That you would put on a smile and say not to worry about you, even after experiencing all that pain and suffering for someone else’s sake.”

“You mean Lady Hestia?” He tilted his head in curiosity as the Goddess merely shook her head. Then she held out the onyx knife. Divine script flickered across the broad side of it momentarily, as if in greeting.

“To think that Hestia would prepare a weapon similar to myself.” The smile that came across her face seemed so sad. “It seemed that even without realizing it we shared many of the same thoughts.”

Bell’s breathing hitched for a moment as his rubellite eyes locked onto the bequeathed blade and her words clicked into place. “You mean it’s a divine weapon?”

“Or something similar to one,” Artemis explained. “I can’t imagine how she had such a thing crafted within the rules that bind the divine into place in the Lower World, but it doesn’t change the fact that I could feel a kinship within it. Since then, I’ve been listening to her tell me of the various trials you’ve overcome… she’s quite proud of you.”

He scratched his cheek at that, not quite sure how to process the information he had just been given. He had known the Blade of the Hearth was special, but he didn’t know it was a Divine Weapon. It couldn’t have been cheap either, leaving him to wonder if she had taken on a massive debt for his sake. He gingerly took it back when offered and then watched as she rose to her feet and turned her attention to the arrow lodged into the tree.

“Callisto always did have a bad habit of not gathering all of her arrows up…” The Goddess of the Moon gently brushed her hand over the shaft before plucking it out. “I would tell her so many times not to leave them around, but she’d always insist that even if she ran out of arrows, she’d just beat the monsters to death with her bare fists because she was an Amazon.”

Bell recalled the name as being one of her children that the Goddess had mentioned in passing until then. “Do you want to tell me about her?”

“She’s a bit of an odd one as far as Amazons go,” she said, looking up at the moon above while turning the arrow in her grasp. “We first met when she had gotten herself in over her head against a monster when I was out hunting away from my children. Before I could even ask if she was okay, she swore herself into my service and from then on, she would often bump heads with Rethusa. A lot of them thought that she would eventually leave, but she never did.”

“Was it because she was an Amazon?” Bell guessed. Amazons were biologically and culturally among those who were driven to seek out strong partners to have children with. Bell had heard many tales about how warriors who earned their eyes would be chased after by them relentlessly, though his own interactions with Miss Tiona were mostly friendly and the moments between sparring they’d spent talking about different heroic tales they knew.

Artemis nodded. “As a Goddess who presided over chastity and would have anyone who sought a relationship leave the Familia, it’s natural to assume that an Amazon would part ways. But she never showed an interest in any of the men we came across. She even joked that Lante thought more about romance than she did.”

Lante was her Vice-Captain from what Bell knew, a Half-Elf like his sister. From the previous stories she had talked about featuring her Familia, it seemed that she wasn’t as magically inclined as Lefiya. Instead, she fought with a straight sword and bow for either supporting the others from the backline as an archer or a frontline fighter depending on which was needed.

“She got along well with Phigenia,” Artemis continued. “Since she was the only Healer in our group, Phigenia was always worrying herself anytime Callisto got injured. She’d always tell her that it’d take a lot more than a few scrapes to put her down, only to be lectured she shouldn’t be getting any scrapes if possible. Despite being the younger of the two, it was almost like an older sister fretting over her younger one for being reckless.”

“I can see that somehow,” Bell said, even as he suddenly pictured Miss Eina and his own sister lecturing him whenever he got into a little trouble over the last month. He knew they meant well, so he always listened to them and hated that he got them upset enough to lecture him in the first place. But, at the same time, he felt there was an undercurrent in her tone that held a familiar weight to them.

An air of loneliness.

“…It’s strange,” Artemis’ voice pulled his attention back to her. “Up above, I was an unchanging Goddess of Chastity who shunned relationships. Yet, in the short time I spent down here, among you children that live so ephemerally, I feel as though I’ve changed so much just watching all of you live your lives to the fullest. That a pillar of the heavens could be changed even a bit by spending time with you all…. truly, the Lower World is filled with unknown possibilities.”

I think a short amount of time might be a matter of differing perspective between the two of us, Bell thought to himself. After all, for a mortal, what was a significant portion of their lifetime could easily be seen a slight blink of the eye to the immortal. But the fact that something eternal could be influenced by something so ephemeral was part of what Bell feared the most. More so considering he was starting to piece together the facts. “Lady Artemis?”

Her emerald gaze shifted over to him from the moon. “Yes, Orion?”

“Your children…they’re still waiting for you to get back to them, aren’t they?”

Her eyes closed before she turned to face the ground. Then a small smile came across her face before she scooted over enough to where their bodies were touching and then leaned her head on his shoulder. “That’s right. All my children are waiting for me to return to them even now. But we’ll be together once more soon enough.”

The unsettling feeling that Bell felt found root. The fondness in her tone as if reminiscing of times that had long gone and would never return. The absence of them within the camp. Her Familia were most likely already dead.

He could only imagine the pain she must have been in. The children she had taken on as her family, that she watched lived their lives to their fullest and committed their every word and acts to memory, were no longer among them. And from her tone alone he could easily infer she intended to head back to Heaven to join them once the threat had been dealt with.

Orion… would you give me a final memory to treasure?” she asked in a soft, honeyed voice that made his heart skip a beat all of a sudden.

“If it’s something I can do…” He tensed up slightly as her arms came down and wrapped around his own, embracing him as they held the limb firmly between her bosom. “L-Lady Artemis?”

Treat me like a woman,” she asked, leaning more of her body against him. “I want to experience how wonderful love feels.

Bell’s throat felt dry at how warm and soft to the touch as she pressed up against him, lips pursing for a kiss. He still had his reservations about having one the divine holding affection towards in such a manner to be honest. But he recalled Hestia’s words on the night of the Holy Moon Festival, that he had to at least refute her not because she was a goddess but because he wasn’t sure if he felt that way about her—

BOOM!

— but before he could tell her otherwise the night sky was overwritten with an expanse of lights that began to dot the firmament. It was as if someone had pulled the stars from the Heavens close to earth where they could be seen unobstructed and in all their radiant glory. Yet the sight only filled Bell with a single sensation.

Dread.

“…We’re out of time,” Artemis said as she shifted her focus to the presence of those looming stars, hanging above their heads like the Sword of Damocles and waiting to fall at any single moment. She released him and rose to her feet, grabbing the Divine Spear. “Orion, get us back to the campsite as soon as possible.”

Her declaration had given Bell something to direct his attention from the overhanging dread. He scooped her into his arms and booked it back to the campsite as quickly as possible, which was to say at an impressive gait, arriving to see that the other Adventurers were already gearing up for conflict as they moved with purpose and indistinct chatter while being directed by the God of Travel as the Goddess of Justice and Hearth stood close by the exit with their few children.

“Hestia! Astraea!” Artemis called out as they came to a stop, the wind following behind them in a gale that rolled through the grass and left it shivering as the firelight danced fiercely for a moment before settling back down. “Antares is on the move.”

“The scouts stated that a new swarm of its spawn are currently leaving ahead of their spawn schedule,” Astraea said softly. “Moreover, rather than drifting out everywhere they’re heading towards our campsite.”

“It’s strange though,” Artemis said. “It shouldn’t have enough control yet to unleash it across the entirety of the Lower World.”

“Because it doesn’t need to stretch across the entirety of the world,” Hermes chimed in. “I just received a message that the monsters in the Dungeon have suddenly begun pushing up towards the surface from the lower floors.”

“But that wouldn’t do anything on its own, right?” Hestia asked. “Ouranos’ prayers are keeping the lid sealed shut to prevent them from emerging in hordes like that. And the other Adventurers are there to stop those that do try to come out.”

“Yes, but its expanding—” Hermes gestured up to the sky that was being lined with shining stars. “We were too hopeful in thinking it would try to hold out until it could blanket the entire Lower World. All it needs to do is stretch it across the continent so that it can reach Orario and then unleash them all at once.”

Bell, who had been listening to the divinities, tensed up as he recognized the threat from both the destruction that had befallen the land they’d flown over and the pain he’d experienced. “It would return to how it was before the Age of the Gods then. That’s what you mean, right?”

He nodded. “The strongest of Adventurers and most of the Gods and Goddesses in the Lower World are here in Orario, or on the main continent. It might spare those in distant lands, but once the lid on the Dungeon is unsealed replacing it won’t be easy. And that’s not even counting the sheer loss of life.”

“Had things gone to plan we could have cleared it like we would the Dungeon with the children,” Astraea noted. “But with most of those forces aiming towards this camp, I suspect that the amount remaining within the Temple will be minimal. If that’s the case, we can use that chance to have a small force proceed inside and kill Antares before it can go through with it.”

“Not ideal, but it’ll have to do.” Hermes looked over to the Hestia and Astraea Familia. “Bell and Welf, I’ll need you two to accompany me into the Temple with Asfi. Astraea, we’ll also need to borrow Miss Gale.”

The Goddess turned her attention the Elven Warrior. “Ryuu, I’ll trust you to keep them safe. But keep in mind Emma will need to have her Skill active.”

“I understand, Goddess,” Ryuu answered before turning back to the other members of her Familia. “I’ll… be counting on you to look after Lady Astraea. Please.”

Whether it was the fact that she was admitting to placing her faith in them or that she spoke towards them without prompt, the girls quickly got over their shock as Cecil reaffirmed their resolve aloud. “Of course! We won’t let anything happen to our Goddess!”

“What about us?” Mikoto asked.  “We can’t just leave the most perilous task to these two alone.”

“My children can form a defensive net and focus down the strongest of the monsters, preventing them from doubling back, but chances are the smaller ones will slip through the net,” Hermes said. “Those will have to be confronted by you children. And, if the worst happens and Hestia should be sent back up, the Divine Spear and a Crozzo Magic sword don’t necessitate the user having a Falna to work while I’ll also be on hand to immediately convert their blessing if needed.”

The answer wasn’t met with glowing excitement. Lili began to argue why she should be brought along. Primo looked terrified at the sudden weight being thrust on her shoulders. And he could tell Mikoto didn’t also relish the thought of leaving them to venture into such a dangerous unknown either.

But they didn’t have time for that. “Lili, I need you here.”

The Pallum turned her attention back to him. “But Master Bell—”

“With so much going on, they’ll need to be able to coordinate what’s happening while the battle is waging. And we’ve never worked with the Astraea Familia before, so we need someone adaptable. There’s no one better suited for that role than you.”

She looked as though she wanted to say something until she saw his eyes pleading her to be here for his sake. He couldn’t deal with the current threat if he was worried about his goddess all the time. “… If that’s what Master Bell desires, then fine.”

“Thank you.” He then turned his attention to Mikoto. “Your Skill can track these monsters too, right?”

“Once I’ve laid eyes on one, I’ll be able to,” she confirmed.

“Then I’ll leave it to you to make sure that none of them will be able to sneak up on Lady Hestia or Lady Astraea.” He then turned his attention back to the Elven Mage, clutching onto her Oaken Staff nervously. “Primo, I know it’s a lot to ask all of a sudden, but I’ll be trusting you to protect Lady Hestia.”

“But I can only use my Magic three times,” she admitted. “And what if it isn’t strong enough? What if I make a mistake, or…”

“It’s okay,” Bell told her. “Remember what Lefiya said that day in the Guild Room. You need to become a Mage that can surpass even Lady Riveria. And the first step is to have confidence in yourself and the ability of your Magic to protect our Familia. Okay?”

“…Okay.” She nodded to herself. “I will protect Lady Hestia, Captain.”

He gave her a smile before turning to Hestia, who had gone over to Artemis and was embracing her in a crushing hug. If he had the right of it, Artemis intended to return to Heaven when this was over, so it would likely be the last time they spoke to one another for a long time.

I wish I could have spent more time with you, Hestia,” Artemis told her dearest friend. “I didn’t want this to be the last time we spoke with each other. That you’d be the one seeing me off like this…

It’ll be okay,” Hestia said in a bittersweet voice even as she seemed to fight back tears. “We’ll meet again someday and pick up right where we left off, like we never split apart. You’ll see.

“…You’re right.” She pulled away slowly and forced herself to smile. “Until them.”

Hestia nodded before turning her attention to Bell. “Bell…”

“Yes, Goddess?”

She took a deep breath before continuing. “No matter what happens… No matter how hard it is, I want you to remember that you haven’t done anything wrong. You’re doing what you have to save everything that Artemis and I want to protect. Remember that, okay?”

He didn’t understand it fully. If he did, he would have known just why the Goddess of Justice and God of Travel averted their eyes at that moment. But he understood that she was trying to reassure him that he was doing the right thing.

And that was enough for the moment. “I’ll remember that, Goddess.”

“…Then arm yourself let’s go,” Hermes said as he adjusted the brim of his hat over his eyes. “The time has come to slay the Black Scorpion.”

Fanfic Recommendation 117


My Fanfics


Life is Tough for a Minos: Chapter 5

Summary: Life was difficult for someone born without a Septima in a kingdom where they were prized above all else, so Leon ventured to the bottom of the world to retrieve the means to raise himself to nobility. He didn’t expect to find an AI waiting for him there by the name of Lola.


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Life is Tough for a Minos: Chapter 5 [Mobuseka x Gunvolt AU]

Chapter 5: The Enrollment 3

The first class that Leon had in the morning happened to be Mechatronics, one of the few that he shared with Olivia. The two entered the classroom and found that, rather than dividing the students into separate desks, there were instead long tables that stretched in rows. They rose higher in elevation the further back they were, meaning that the further back you were the harder it would be to see the blackboard.

An idle part of Leon’s mind noted it resembled the kind of lecture halls that his sister back in Japan complained about when she entered University.

Olivia naturally took a seat within the front row, given that her inability to speak meant that if she had any questions, she would have to write them down to present them to the instructor.  Leon took the seat next to her. Not only because he had decided to stick close to her to make sure she was safe while they decided what to do about the Muse Artifacts, but because he was actually somewhat interested in the class since he had never taken it.

The game offered a few courses, but this one wasn’t an option for the Protagonist. That was likely because none of the Love Interests would be in them combined with the fact that Olivia in the game never had an interest in the more scientific aspects of the game and instead focused on Septimal Studies. He could only speculate that since she lacked Septima that interest was shifted to this field instead, which was notable when the rest of the students filed in, with the instructor being the late one to come in.

He took the piece of chalk and began writing on the board in what passed for cursive two words in large letters: ‘Why?’ and ‘How?’ before he set it down and then turned back to the rest of the students to make sure all eyes were on him, only to do a mild double-take when he saw Olivia. She only craned her head inquisitively in response, having not quite caught onto the fact that she was the only woman presently in the classroom. Noblewomen of the rank that would normally attend the classes tended not to want anything to do with technology. So, around this period they would be taking one of the laxer courses.

He eventually realized he was staring and turned his attention back to the board and pointed to the ‘Why?’ written there. “Welcome my young students. I am happy that you’ve decided to take my class and dive head-first into the wonders of the world of Mechatronics. We’ll begin with the reason why this class is offered at the Royal Academy. As you will learn once your History class delves into the topic, Holfort boasts the largest amount of Septimal diversity and Adepts among all the surrounding nations. It has been that way since the founding of our Kingdom, where the Muse bestowed their blessing upon the first King of Holfort and his cohorts that became the founding five families.”

That would be the first Muse, Leon noted to himself. The one whose staff was placed within the Basilica and was still there to this day. In hindsight, after having enough time to talk it over with Lola and think, he probably should have questioned why the artifacts boosted the strength of an existing Muse when things like the Glaives were considered lost technology.

“—beneficial for our country and so the development of Septimal Studies has been a fixture, other countries have been focusing on delving into the ruins of the ancients and reverse engineering the technology left behind to act as an equalizer to the natural capabilities we possess. This became more prevalent in the last clash with the Principality of Fanoss twenty-years ago, at which point His Majesty decided to set the framework to remedy this shortcoming.”

Leon briefly turned his attention to Olivia, who was already dutifully taking notes on all of this. And much faster than her usual writing. Or so it seemed until he noticed the notes were more abbreviated and clipped short than the full passages. Is she really going to get everything like that?

“As the last war showed, there is no need for us to simply allow outside nations to take advancements that should be ours as a nation founded by Adventurers. More so considering that without proper investigation and understanding people may end up repeating the mistakes of our precursors that led to the end of the world before this due to being so primitive and warlike despite being so advanced, resulting in ruining the world as it once was.”

That’s a lot of talk coming from scavengers that pick apart the creations of older civilizations because they’re too creatively bankrupt to come up with their own creations.

Leon was somewhat caught off-guard at Lola’s tone that came off in an uncharacteristically angry manner. Her temperament tended to shift between pretty cheerful and somewhat pensive, as if reflecting the age she appeared back when they’d first met and her actual age. But raw anger was rare enough that he decided to question her about it later as the professor continued, blissfully unaware that he was very likely a man marked for execution.

“That is yet another reason we must learn from the failings of our predecessor. Dungeons hold the secrets that our precursors once possessed, thus, the purpose of our course is take those technological advancements and use them as supplement to our Septima to better protect our homeland and improve the lives of those within our borders without repeating the same mistakes. Which bring us to the second reason for the existence of this course.”

He drew a large circle around the ‘HOW’ comment written on the board.  “Our course over this term will entail learning the mechanics behind electronics, not just devices you may have seen within the Capital in abundance, but rather how electricity itself flows and powers the variety of systems that use it. You’ll learn about the various paths, components, and mechanisms behind how they operate, starting with simple devices like lights and the like. Once you have that solid understanding, we’ll move on to more advanced systems. Are there any questions?”

Olivia’s hand went up.

“Yes, Miss….?” He awaited her response only to realize a pregnant pause later that he wouldn’t be receiving a verbal answer when she held up her notepad. “Oh, my apologies. You must be one of the scholarship students…”

Leon cast a glance over the room as the man adjusted his glasses and came over to see what she had written down. He could see from some of their expressions they were silently casting judgement upon her with that information now in their minds. Some remained neutral, but that was more indifference on their part than anything else. A Commoner in a class of Nobles had nothing to do with them, so they didn’t particularly care about her. More than a few wore slight frowns but lacked the furrowed brow that indicated disdain or anger. Disappointment?

Probably the ones hoping to approach her. He figured that since this was their first official class they likely didn’t know who the scholarship student was and so she just so happened to be a quiet and cute girl sitting in the front. Most likely they were planning to approach her once class ended, but the fact that she was a Minos meant there was no point now—if the fact that she was mute didn’t scare them off before that.

There were a couple who had looks of disdain. Typical of those who questioned why someone of low status was attending an academy for the elites of society. The kind who had more bark than bite. He didn’t think they would do anything so it was fine to ignore them.

But there was one exception to that rule. One set of eyes that bore down on the unaware young woman with enough unmistakable malice that there was no question that they bore nothing but contempt for her. As if she was a blight upon the world that had committed the ultimate sin by simply meeting existing within their view.

“I see. I see.” The professor’s voice snapped Leon’s attention back to the man himself. “It would be a notable concern elsewhere, but the Capital doesn’t have such restrictions on energy consumption. You see, because the Azure Striker Septima is capable of supplying a vast amount of electrical energy directly rather than deriving it from a secondary source, we can utilize it as much as needed. You need only request the necessary supplies.”

Olivia beamed him a smile as she set her hand on her chest and bobbed her head once in gratitude. It must have been the answer she was looking for.

He then turned to the rest of the class. “Are there any other questions?”

The rest of the class was rather uneventful. The professor merely continued by having them open their textbooks and go through what was to be the introductory chapter. It was about as standard as expected, going over the definitions of what electricity was, examples like how the lamps in the streets weren’t oil-based, and how electricity itself wasn’t merely the streaks but actually smaller invisible particles in motion.

For as quiet as she was, Olivia was clearly excited upon hearing that. It was as if she had just obtained some secret knowledge and she couldn’t wait to unravel it. Not just her either. More than a few of the guys in the room had been looking like they were struggling to suspend their disbelief.

But she was practically a bundle of energy as when class ended. She turned to Leon with her smaller notepad: Do you want to come with me to the Library for our study period?

Normally, their schedule would leave them to head Septimal Studies—which was basically a class that ensured that all the students had a general understanding of the basics of septima and the laws governing it—next for the first term. But considering the two of them weren’t Adepts, they were instead given that period off since it would have a cascading effect on the rest of the schedule if they arranged other classes that didn’t line up. From what Leon could gather either the Queen or their handler intended to keep them together as much as they could by fixing the shared classes to the same time period with only separate electives.

Leon let a hum bubble in his throat as he spared a glance over the shoulder to the one giving her the dirty look earlier to see him animatedly chatting in hushed whispers with one of the other classmates. That look of disdain was one he recognized it all too well now. It was the same Zola often gave him.

“That’s a good idea,” he said to Olivia in as saccharine a voice as he could while shuffling his bag’s handle into his ring and little finger on one hand before doing the same for hers with his remaining digits on the right hand. He then wrapped an arm around her shoulder. “Let me show you where it is.”

There was notable confusion evident on her face as he guided her out of the room. It was once they were out of the main hall and into the stairwell leading down that he released her and apologized. “Sorry about that. I figured we’d want to beat the rush before the rest of the students crowd the passageways.”

It was a little devious considering they were only acquaintances. But while she might not be a prospective partner for one of the Five, given she was a Minos and mute, she was attractive enough that someone might decide to have a little fun with her if they thought that they could get away with it because she wasn’t involved with another man. Ideally, he really wanted the guy to reconsider targets if he had a problem with Minos in general and would likely go after another male before a woman, if not because it was likely to be more acceptable to hit another guy then because he was easier to find when necessary, on campus in the dorms.

Leon could handle himself for the most part and respond appropriately when that time came. Olivia couldn’t. In the game she had to have others do the fighting for her while she supported them with the Muse. But Olivia didn’t have the aegis of the Five Love Interests, only the vague protections gifted to them by the scholarship. And he wasn’t going to rely on that to shelter her because it didn’t stop her from getting bullied in the game when she just had a weak Septima and was a Commoner.

Naturally, the Library looked the part when they arrived. Since the Royal Academy was essentially the primary learning institution for the nobility, it was a well-financed part of the campus where knowledge could be found. Rows of books, stocked on shelves, carried the scent of leather and parchment. Silence held a solid foothold as only muted sounds from the few present within its dominion could be found. There were also seating areas and study desks for groups to review the information they gathered, one of which Leon led Olivia to in a private corner that was on the first floor.

In the game, if she was made to be the studious type for progressing certain events, Olivia would refer to it as her bastion as few bothered traversing the area and that gave it a more isolated feeling. He slid a chair from beneath the table and offered it to her. “Here you go.”

Olivia nodded her head in gratitude before she took a seat and pulled out the smaller pad she had used to record the notes earlier. Like he’d thought before it was a lot of abbreviations and shorthand that honestly looked a little intimidating. But she managed to translate it into detailed information with little problem, meaning she wouldn’t have trouble keeping up to a degree in her classes if she could focus.

So, Leon decided to leave her be for a moment as he went off to a spot that he knew would be abandoned and out of the way on the second floor around this time. It was one of the places where one of the Brad and Olivia would sit around and talk before eventually exchanging a kiss with one another to show the relationship progress. Once he was there, he called out to his invisible companion. “Lola, are clear speak for a moment here without anyone listening in?”

Yep.” The Combat Pod’s appearance bled into existence as she retracted the pix she used to camouflage herself. “What’s on your mind?

He crossed his arms. “What happened back there? It isn’t like you to have an outburst like that from the few months we’ve spent together.”

Yeahsorry about that.” She drifted lower for a moment before circling around to the window. “He probably couldn’t know better considering everything, but he pressed a lot of my buttons, and my circuits got a bit overheated.

“Then talk to me.” He leaned against the windowsill, using one arm to support his head. “I’d like to at least know why the professor went missing after today if I don’t see him tomorrow.”

I’m not going to make him disappear,” she promised. “Ignorance isn’t a crime and even if he’s wrong about the cause, he’s right that those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. It’s just… first off, how he called them ‘Primitive’ was akin to a slur back in my time.

That surprised him more than it should have. “It was?”

Her flaps fidgeted a few times. “It was used by the Adepts around the time of the war for the Humans, citing it as a reason for why they deserved to go extinct. I mean, you wouldn’t feel bad about killing something beneath you, right?

“Ah, so like how the term ‘Minos’ is used.” They labeled you as something less than they were, so you didn’t deserve the same rights and privileges. It made it easier to exploit or be rid of you. “That’d do it.”

She bobbed up and down. “And it happens to be especially insulting considering I’m literally the one fixing the mistakes of the Adept that caused the problem while his descendants are running this country and teaching others that the people of my time killed themselves off because they were primitive compared to the Adepts. Intellectually, I understand he couldn’t know better but…”

“It feels like he’s trampling on us without knowing a thing about how people in the past really lived,” Leon finished for her. “To be fair, it’s the kind of propaganda and mindset you’d expect from a civilization like this. It was less against non-Adepts and more that the other country doesn’t have Septima as powerful as ours and we’re so much better than them. Us vs Them and all.”

I… just wished they’d consider the reason they keep finding weapons was because everything else kept getting destroyed during the war. Stuff that would help with food production and places like hospitals were all viable soft targets that could cripple entire cities if hit. You’d naturally target those first in a war of extinction, right?

No food meant that people would starve. He couldn’t imagine it would take very long for a more modernized world that transitioned from having large agriculture to trading for goods to become hectic due to a lack of food. No treatment for injuries meant that even minor scrapes could become infected and fatal, let alone people who medical conditions that required constant healthcare.

It really isn’t that hard to figure out if you really think about it.” There was a note of resignation in her electronic voice. “It’s just that no one is interested in the reason why the world is the way it is from what they discover. They just see relics from my age as a means of obtaining power to use against one another rather than improving the lives of everyone. The professor even mentioned that the only reason the Royal Family is spearheading this project is because the other nation has been gaining military power. It’s just an arms race that’ll end up with one side wiping the other out, repeating the cycle.

“That’s the feudal-future nature of this place we’ve ended up in,” Leon responded in his own resigned voice. He had long given up on expecting much from it. “Do you want to sit out the rest of the classes, because that isn’t the only time it’ll likely come up and you don’t need put up with it.”

I can manage, but thanks for being concerned though.” She drifted closer to him and moved her flaps a bit. “But, on another topic, I noticed that during class your stress levels were elevating in response to one particular classmate. Is he going to be a problem?

“I don’t know…” Leon pursed his lips for a moment. “He was giving Olivia a look that basically made it clear he’d like nothing more than to be rid of her in a way that reminded me of Zola. Can you figure out what you can about him and see why?”

I can give it a go, but will you be okay on your own?

“Yeah. I’ll just stick around here with Olivia until Lunch. Meet me then and, based on what you find, I might request that you keep an eye on Olivia when our classes split apart for the electives.”

Okay. See you then.” That said, the Combat Support Pod bled out of existence as she had her pix once more camouflaged herself.

Leon gave it a moment before he sighed and rubbed his temples. First actual day of their classes and there was already a potential problem. “Well, nothing for it. I’ll just have to keep an eye on her with Lola for now.”

[—Olivia—]

The pen scratched against the notepad as Olivia quickly scribed the notes from class while it was fresh in her mind. The primary part of the class had been focused on electronics and how electricity fueled it all, which she found to be a fascinating topic given just how vast the applications were with it. Resistors, Conductors, Capacitors—she had begun putting names all these little things packed into small bits that somehow could be used to create different devices.

And then there was the fact that she had the chance to enjoy so many little luxuries that the others didn’t have the chance to experience back home. She had a room to herself rather than needing to share, even including a carpeted floor and a bed that was soft enough that she could sink into. Then there were the delicious foods they had and how they didn’t need to share a plate half of the time.

But she wouldn’t be allured away from her goal by the luxuries here. She couldn’t since it would be unfair for the others back in the church. She was here for them too, so she could learn everything she could to help them.

“Wow, you actually managed to remember all of the details that clearly,” came from right next to her. She turned her head to see that Esquire Bartfort was there with his hand on his chin as he observed her writing. “My own notes a bit lacking in comparison.”

She waved both her hands slightly to try to get across the fact that it wasn’t anything special. Master Lucas had taught all the children how to be observant and pick up clues when they were taking notes. It made things easier for when they needed to help with the responsibilities back at their little parish church and the local communities who weren’t fortunate enough to have the time to become literate due to needing to constantly work the land.

He slid out the chair adjacent to her and took a seat, setting down a book that was markedly more advanced than the topic that they were covering. Specifically, it looked to be a reference guide on the fundamentals on Exosuit construction he mentioned wanting to learn more about, with it showing some very detailed images on the pages as he began flipping through them.

She scribbled on her smaller pad: You can already understand that?

“Oh no. I don’t understand 99% of this stuff,” he admitted cheerily. “I’m just looking at the parts that I recognize from maintenance on the powered armors back home to get a better grasp on what goes on beneath the surface.”

So you’ve done maintenance on Exosuits even before coming here? That’s impressive, Esq. Bartfort.

He shook his head. “It’s not like what you’re thinking. Since our gear is important, we do know enough to be able to do quick inspections and tell when something needs to be taken care of. Faulty equipment will get you killed if you’re not careful. But if something goes over our heads then we have the local mechanic look at it—otherwise he’d get pissed for bothering him when he had too much on his hands already.”

Her brows dropped just a bit as she took that in. Her home and the parish territory didn’t really have to deal with monsters very often. Not to the degree that some other places might have. But things weren’t that fortunate for him it would seem, and since he didn’t have Septima he would have to clad himself in armor to fight.

“You know, it’d be easier if you just put Leon instead of my title and last name,” he continued while gesturing towards what she had written. “Four letters are quicker to write than twelve and saves space.”

She only shook her head before she responded: I can’t do that. You’re a Noble after all.

Olivia knew she was a Commoner. One without blood-ties at that, an orphan of a poor little church with no worth to her name. Not even a Septima of her own to pass down to any children she might have had. She had long since accepted that fact and so she was grateful to Her Majesty and Master Lucas for this opportunity.

But he was different. Even though they both lacked a Septima, he still came from a noble lineage. And more than that he was someone who had the bravery to explore dungeons as an Adventurer and earn accolades through his own merits to enter the gentry.

“On paper, yeah,” Leon admitted. “But the formality of it all doesn’t sit well with me. I’m more used to people calling me by my first name and it makes me sound like an old man being called that by someone who’s my own age. I mean it’d be weird if our positions were reversed and I suddenly called you, Esquire Olivia, right?”

She could see how it felt almost impersonal when someone called you that way. She decided to honor his request and made one of her own: Then can you call me Livia as well? My friends back home do the same.

Livia…” He rolled her name around in his mouth for a moment as if he were sampling it before smiling. “I can see why they would. It rolls of the tongue a bit easier, Livia.”

Even though it hadn’t been long since she left home to arrive here, Olivia was surprised at how comforting it felt to hear someone say it again. She felt herself smiling for quite a while as they turned their attention back to their own assignments.

[—Marie Fou Lafan—]

Marie found herself within the Colosseum nestled on flat grounds located on the upper right corner of the territory of the academy. It was in the shape of an amphitheater that was wide enough it could fit the entirety of the student body and have seats to spare, rising more than 150 feet into the air. The outer wall was formed of limestone that were shored up with metal supports that helped reinforce it, while the inside had a tiered arrangement of seats with spectator boxes at the top that were flanked by podiums for the elite to seat themselves in.

The arena itself was around 150 feet by 300 feet with a solid floor that was made of tiled stone. It was ringed by marble walls that framed metal panels within them that generated a barrier known as a Hexapyle, hexagonal transparent walls of energy that were often used in warships to defend against gunfire and ballistics fire. They were what ensured the safety of spectators when the arena was in use for various shows and events—including duels between the nobility.

Right now the location was being used as a testing site for their Septimal Studies class.  The class covered the theoretical, practical use, and laws related to one’s Septimal ability. Since it was their first day in class all students were taking an ability assessment since there was technology that could put a numerical value based on the capacity of their Septimal Power—SP for short.

Marie watched as Julius approached the platform of the testing device to lead by example, an archway that was lined with sensors and connected to a monitor. Since Adepts gave off the energy passively there was no need to exert himself or express his power, which was necessary both because he ran the risk of burning out the sensitive components and because it would give a skewed reading. They had told them last night that they shouldn’t use their Septima before the assessment to make sure they were at full capacity.

When Adepts used their Septima it pulled from their pool, which would naturally be replenished over time to the point where unless you were seriously using your power constantly it wouldn’t factor in. However, for any ‘Skills’ with the playable cast, it drained a huge chunk to where they couldn’t use them again until enough was replenished. It was so you didn’t spam your big moves in terms of game balance, but here it was because there were limitations to the body.

Of course, the Azure Striker was special. In the game, Julius had a separate EP (Electro Power) bar that represented how his body naturally accumulated electrical energy on its own due to his Septima, absorbing static electricity from his surrounding to replenish itself or much faster if he concentrated on the process. The electricity he naturally accumulated fueled his primary abilities, so unlike other Adepts he effectively never had to use his SP to discharge his electricity or convert himself into a pseudo-electrified state.

Julius had a placid expression on his face that betrayed no emotion as a low hum resonated throughout the arena once the device started up. It was known as the princely mask among the fandom for the game, having been drilled into him from a young age by his overbearing mother to never lose his composure when faced with a crowd. It was essential since any sign of weakness would trickle down to everyone else and be exploited, as well as hiding the cracks were spreading from the weight of all that responsibility he never asked for.

And yet that was nothing new to be honest.

Even in her old life having responsibilities foisted on you that you never asked for was an everyday occurrence for her. Back when she started being a hostess she had lost count of how many young boys complained about how they had joined a black company without realizing, unable to escape without their reputations being shot and thus unable to get another job. Then when she had gotten more popular it was CEOs complaining about their subordinates and shareholders that always demanded more from them.

That was why they would often visit the hostess club to vent their frustrations to someone who would listen. Even if they were smart enough to know it was just an illusion of companionship that would vanish the moment their funds ran dry, they were willing to keep lying to themselves that it was good enough. That someday the lie would become the truth.

His gaze that rolled over the crowd fell onto her for a moment. And in that moment, she gave him the slightest smile to pass along a wordless message. It caused the tiniest upward curl in the crook of his lips before it vanished almost as quickly as it appeared, a slight glimpse beneath the mask that no one else would notice.

Aside from Jilk, who was glancing her way out of the corner of his eyes as discreetly as he could. It was part of his introduction flag after all. Seeing his milk brother showing attention to a woman that wasn’t disinterest or silent disdain would cause him to begin investigating into her. If everything went to plan, he would probably confront her this weekend to give her a warning.

Jilk was the kind of guy who acted on what he believed best benefited Julius, even being willing to quietly go behind his back and subvert orders if necessary to do it. During one of the support conversations he even admitted to digging into the Heroine’s personal information from the school records and looking into her past, only to find nothing. If there was even the slightest sign of manipulation, he would have her removed from the picture either through blackmail or otherwise.

Not that he was always a spook. He had his quirks and his own cute points once you got to know him. But getting him to open up was incredibly difficult with how guarded he was, as one wrong answer and he would clam up—which made his route one of the most difficult ones.

The display eventually registered Julius’ SP capacity and the numbers entered the range for the Rank expected of one of his caliber: A-Rank. For most Adepts the lowest reached out be C-Rank, then B-Rank for middle of the road, then A-Rank for the powerful ones, with S-Rank having been the highest reached. There was technically an SS-Rank in the game, but that was only when the Muse was factored in.

“As expected of His Highness,” came from nearby, drawing her attention to the villainess—Angelica Rapha Redgrave. The daughter of Duke Redgrave stood tall with blonde hair the same hue as Marie’s but short and tied up in a bun, crimson eyes fixed on Julius as he removed himself from the stage.

Marie pursed her lips for just a moment when she considered what dealing with her would entail. In the original story, Angelica possessed the Psychokinesis Septima as was expected of her family and ended up lashing out at the Heroine in a jealous fit when no one would come forth as her champion for a duel because she was clearly in the wrong, which resulted in her exile as the Love Interest stopped them and the manifestation of the Muse’s avatar would appear in the process, signifying to those of the faith that the relationship was justified and pulling the attention of the Church onto her—who would then test her qualifications for Sainthood.

But in the Updated Edition there was an additional boss fight because—at least as far as the theory went from the fans—people weren’t satisfied that they got to beat up the other villains in the story, but she got to walk away with only her intentions of having the fame and power of being the Queen being squashed after making the Heroine’s life a nightmare. In that fight, during the second phase, it was revealed that she also possessed electrical powers like that of the Azure Striker. It was theorized to be a derivative due to the fact that the Duke’s family was closely tied to the Royal Family via ancestry and by fluke it awoke within her, so she believed the marriage with Julius was preordained.

If we push the events properly, we can make it happen at the end of this term. Marie reasoned as she once more went through her schedule to speed run the events. She had help from Kyle with optimizing the routes, so she was confident they could condense all the major school events much quicker. She would trigger the argument and then manifest the Muse just long enough to get the event going. The incident would have the Church take her to the Staff, which she would be able to use without the rejection to immediately gain recognition of being the Saint.

Then she could ‘sense’ where the other two artifacts were and retrieve them. Just a little longer and I’ll have the Muse in full. I can play the role of a naïve, love-struck little girl until then.

Fanfic Recommendation 116


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Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother? 33

Summary: As the fate wove a tapestry to tell of a new hero for the age, so would the ancient vow be kept. Born of a human father and elven mother a year before the hero himself was a child in the Forest of Wishe. Though she would not bear the memories of her past, her heartfelt plea would transcend the ages. And through hardships and the Falna manifest, a new tale would be penned in Orario.


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Summary: Jaune applied to Beacon with his fake transcripts – his rejection was all but guaranteed. What wasn’t expected was that a single ticked box put down on a secondary school choice might change his life forever. Beacon may have rejected him, but there is more than one academy on Remnant and more than one way to become a hero. Atlas Academy, and it’s quasi-military structure, await.


Intrepid 22-01 Madison to 22-04 Madison

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Summary:Summary: In the wake of the Locker Incident, Taylor goes comatose. Wracked with guilt, Emma and Madison trigger. Things spiral from there as they quickly go different routes, both seeking redemption in a different way.

Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 33 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 33: The Dead Forest

Elio took his time instilling in me the basics of medicine. How the body worked. How it ailed. How it mended. The physical difference between Human and Elf. The reason he gave was that knowing the body was essential to tend to injuries more efficiently since healing magic rushed what nature could do naturally, so it had too many ways it could go wrong and end the life it was meant to save.

 

Naturally, I was almost afraid to forge a contract with the Sea Spirit that lingered in his care by the time the lessons were done.”

Elio’s Lessons in Magic VI: Harmful Healing

[-|-|-|-]

The next three days of travel were a somber affair.

Now that the Hestia Familia had a full scope of their assigned task the levity of the journey had vanished. It had been replaced with silent tension, borne from the collective doubt, fear, and uncertainty of the knowledge they’d received. It wasn’t every day that you learned that failure would mean letting one of the greatest evils known to history back out into the world—a black monster that had been in existence since before the Age of the Gods.

Not helped was how Bell felt something about Lady Hestia had been off since she came back with Lady Artemis. She said everything was fine, but Bell couldn’t shake the feeling that something was… different. But what that was he just didn’t know as they continued to travel with Miss Andromeda until they finally flew past the peak of the last mountain that stood between them and their destination.

The verdant greenery that encapsulated the mountaintop, the lush canopy with broad leaves that reached towards the sun permeating the sky, gracefully curved downwards into a forest that stretched as far as the eye could see. Yet, midway through it, the hue began to shift along the Munsell scale from green to yellow to red to a deep shade of purple before finally being stripped entirely as the leaves crumbled into the ground. The brown and rich bark itself had started to become shades of deepening black, their trunks themselves seeming to grow thinner and starved as if the very life was being wrung from them. Even the skies themselves seemed to turn gray as the clouds were tainted by whatever force permeated this land.

This feels wrong,” Primo muttered as the group flew at a slower pace and close enough together that her words could reach their ears over the psithurism of the wind. The neophyte Elven Mage’s breathing came out shakingly while nestled between the arms of Mikoto as her eyes scanned the forest from above. For one who spent the majority of their life on the outskirts of one and was taught to revere the wood, it was a profane sight. “It feels really bad here.”

“This is Antares’ doing,” Lady Artemis said in response from her own perch between Bell’s arms. “The seal that was placed upon it long ago used the connection to nature that the spirits sacrificed to entomb it held to siphon off its strength, purify it, and then flush it out to the surrounding forest. Now that the seal is coming undone the purification aspect is breaking down and the trickle of its malice still flowing throughout the land is driving it to ruin.”

She then pointed further ahead towards the edge of their vision, where they could see what looked like a war-torn crater that was scorched and blackened. What were once tall and towering trees were toppled, trampled into battered splinters, and burned to cinders from what looked to have been a localized inferno. And there, nestled in the heart of it, was a temple.

“There’s a lock on the temple that can only be accessed by that which possesses my divine authority.” She looked over her shoulder towards Bell, whose rubellite eyes fell back onto her emerald gaze. “Orion, that’s where we’ll go to confront Antares. In the catacombs beneath the surface. That’s where I’ll need you to use the spear and end it all.”

Bell felt his throat tighten up. How could it not when he was to confront one of the unkillable Black Monsters that not even the primordial flames from his favorite tale could touch? The kind that took the might of both the Zeus and Hera Familia to overcome in recent history?

Ba-thump.

…And then he felt that boundless malevolence he’d experienced three days ago washed over him once more. The baleful and murderous gaze was fixed on him with even more intensity than before. So much so that it felt like time had come to a stop and color had faded from the very world itself until the pained scream of a woman drew his attention from the malevolent gaze and towards Artemis.

Ah-Ahhh…!” The Goddess of the Moon clutched her chest and nearly fell over the side of the dragon had Bell not stiffened his arms on either side of her at that very moment while handling the reins. She instead collapsed into his breastplate with her beautiful face contorted in pain.

Bell finally breathed again. “Lady Artemis! What’s wrong?”

…It’s… It’s coming!” Her voice was strained and weak. “Above…!

Bell looked up as an argent streak shot from the temple into the air above them. Space itself rippled as the gray curtains and dour skies above were turned into a replica of the night sky glinting with what looked to be hundreds of stars that were dragged down from the heavens. Then cold sweat beaded his face as he realized that they weren’t stars.

After all, the stars didn’t leave his instincts screaming that this was where they died.

These were arrows. Countless arrows that would shoot them out of the sky. The others and even the dragons seemed to instinctively understand the situation when faced with the looming death from above.

Orion… the… spear…” Lady Artemis’ words were faint over the thundering of his heart as she seemed to fight desperately to get them out. But they reached him all the same.

He hastily brandished the spear above and placed his faith in it. The gemstone began to shine at that moment and a gossamer thin cradle of moonlight swirled out from the spear, wrapping the space around them. Serene silence enveloped them as if they were sealed off from the world beyond the looking glass.

Then the stars fell.

Arrows of light came crashing down from the firmament. They seemed to pass through the barrier and the party as if they weren’t there, leaving them to drizzle below like tears from the sky. Yet the moment they touched the world beneath them everything was torn asunder.

Wood was shredded into splinters. Earth was upheaved into dust. All signs of foliage, healthy and dying alike were equally ripped away as the light brought unequivocal destruction to everything it touched. The rain continued to fall in a downpour of silent destruction wrought by shooting stars from the moon reflected off the water’s surface. It was a surreal experience, but also horrifying.

CRACK.

At least until the sound of metal splintering broke the silence that enveloped those who had forgotten to breath. All eyes turned towards the spear that had been brandished. The immaculate divine wrought steel had begun to crack from the pressure being exerted upon it.

And Artemis herself writhed in pain as the moonlight the weapon shed grew dimmer. “Agh!

Artemis, you have to hold on!” Hestia called out from her perch against the God of Travel’s arm, her voice panicked. It was easy to see why as Artemis’ expression contorted from the strain and the barrier began to fracture as the cracks continued their ascension from where Bell held it upwards.

It’s waning,” Hermes added. “Just bear with it a little longer!

It’s… too …” Artemis struggled to finish as the fissure reached the neck of the spear. “Orion… Hestia… I….

The crack finally reached the gemstone that was affixed to the center of the head. Then the Goddess of the Moon collapsed like a puppet with its strings cut. The cradle of the moon that served as their looking glass shattered.

The last of the raindrops came crashing down.

Bell’s body moved to cover Artemis as one was coming right for them. Not randomly. It was directed towards them as he saw it shifting its path thanks to his enhanced perception as a Level Three. It would be impossible to avoid it entirely, but he could make it a grazing blow at the very least by jerking the reins to divert the dragon as it passed.

I’ll protect her, Bell told himself as he did so. He couldn’t sense the inevitable death from it as he had in the beginning. Whatever that had been was weakened enough that he was sure that his body would serve as a shield for the Goddess of the Moon in her helpless state. He clung to that thought desperately as the moondrop reached him.

And then Bell felt the worst pain he’d ever experienced in his life as the world went white.

[-Several Hours Later-]

Beige canvas greeted Bell as he slowly opened his eyes.

He felt the swaddle of a cloth draped over his prone body and realized that he was in a tent as his vision sharpened. His mind slowly cleared as the last thing he recalled was shielding Lady Artemis when he’d been stricken by that white light. Then… he only knew pain.

“That’s right, Lady Artemis—ngh!” There was lingering pain as he sat upright. Not to the degree of being crippling but to the point where he felt it. He leaned over and braced his forehead as he took deep breaths to try and focus push past the pain and get onto his feet.

“So, you’ve awakened then, Mister Cranel?”

His mind sharpened as he recognized that voice and he forced his eyes towards the opening in the tent. “Miss Ryuu?”

The Elven Warrior stood there clad in a darker green cloak that seemed to barely be a few shades from being black, with a white scarf woven around it. Her tunic was a lighter shade as it fell to her upper thighs, barring a dark strip going down the center with buttons running down the length of it. Around her waist were two belts, with one housing sheathes for the pair of eastern-made short swords on the right, and her long wooden sword on the left.

She was wearing thigh-high brown boots, with the barest slip of her thighs visible before coming up to fur-hemmed shorts that met with the remainder of her tunic. Her hands and arms were covered by gloves that hid her skin all the way up to her elbows. And her sky-blue eyes seemed… relieved if Bell had to place it into words as she came next to him and crouched down. “How are you feeling?”

“Just a little sore,” he admitted. “Where are my Familia? And Lady Artemis and the others?”

“Unlike yourself, they didn’t suffer any severe injuries by that rain of light.” She paused as he breathed out a sigh of relief. “I must admit I am surprised you managed to wake before nightfall, all things considered.”

“Nightfall?” His gaze turned back to the slip within the canvas and the amber light caught his attention thoroughly. It had been morning when they crossed the mountainside. “I’ve been unconscious for that long?”

“Given the state of your injuries, it’s a miracle that you woke as soon as you had,” Ryuu pointed out as Bell struggled to get to his feet, though there was a slight stagger in his step. “If you need more time to rest then—”

“No, I’m fine,” Bell insisted. “I can’t lay down and rest while the others are worried. The longer we delay reaching the ruins, the harder things will be. And I need to check on the others.”

“…Very well.” Ryuu rose and loaned him her shoulder to steady himself. “I’ll escort you to Lady Hestia for the time being. She can let you know about the current plans.”

“Thank you.” As embarrassing as it was to admit it, he was sore and likely needed a few hours before he was fit enough to get back in fighting form.

They left the tent and Bell found himself within a clearing that was somewhat expansive as it was surrounded by greenery compared to the dying woodlands they had been flying over. Wooden posts to serve as a boundary ringed the perimeter from what he could view, and several canvas tents were also positioned around the area. The one he had been in was one of two that were rather large-sized, so he could only assume they were meant to be infirmaries.

Ahead of them were several other people of different races, moving about in a vast and open space. Many in the center were practicing with weapons taken from a nearby rack or working out. Among their ranks Bell could spot what looked to be a young woman with long black hair and matching eyes dressed in a purple tunic and skirt, wielding a thin sword in a sort of dignified stance he didn’t often see. She was thrusting it furiously towards another young woman with pink hair and eyes, her clothes a matching hue as she used two shortswords with one in a normal grip and the other in a reverse grip.

It reminded him of his training with Miss Aiz the way they were going at one another, with the one in the purple being the superior combatant. Or rather to say it was clear she had a more refined fighting style compared to her opponent, who was blocking them as they came but still struggling to close the distance to get within reach. Even her closest attempt by parrying the rapier with the sword in her left before darting in and sweeping with the one in a reverse grip failed as the black-haired girl took a step back and twisted to bring her parried blade back around from behind to intercept it and then fell back into a proper stance.

Miss Aiz would have just kicked him in the face there for showing an opening that large. In fact, a Cat Person dressed in a… relatively low-cut top came over with a whip in hand and told her she should have done that very thing. The younger girl only shook her head and stated it wasn’t befitting of her to do so.

Ryuu guided Bell to the north, past a growing number of people that were largely pooled around a giant tent from which he could smell the sweet scent of a meal being cooked. It must have been the mess hall and, judging by the hour, it was likely that dinner was in the process of being cooked. Eventually, they came to another large tent that had an emblem he had only seen once before on the 18th Floor.

“Pardon the intrusion,” Ryuu said as she brushed aside the flap of the tent and helped him inside. “Mister Cranel has awoken and requested and audience with Lady Hestia.”

The inside of the tent was modest yet accommodating considering that it housed a large table in the center with four chairs surrounding it and a map strewn on top of it with writing implements. The floor had carpeting and there was a wooden bench on one end that had cushions on it, with a smaller side table upon which rested a silver tray and tea set. It was there that he saw his Goddess (who’d switched back to her old clothes) along with another person of such immaculate beauty, dressed in white and purple with accents of gold, that she could only be another of the divine.

She had long, walnut-brown hair that swayed as she turned in their direction and had an unearthly luster to it that seemed to catch the light of the nearby magic-stone lanterns that lit the interior. Her soft eyes were the color of the night sky that was illuminated with stars, an indigo hue that one could get lost in as they fell upon the pair. And her lips pulled back into a very maternal yet pleasant smile.

“Bell, you’re up now!” Hestia said as she came over to his side and wrapped her arms around him before pulling him into a hug. “Are you hurt? Are you in pain of any kind?”

Bell shook his head before bringing his arms around her to return the gesture. “I’m just a little sore, but that’s all.”

“I’m pleased to hear that,” the other goddess chimed in as she slowly rose from her seat. “Hestia and the others were all so anxious that they haven’t been able to relax even after finally making it this far. Even Ryuu has been more tense than usual since she brought you back to camp, so knowing you’re doing well and awake will remove a heavy burden off their shoulders.”

The Elven Warrior pointedly looked away from them at that. “Goddess, please do not misinterpret my mannerisms in such a way that they may be misconstrued.”

The Goddess only continued to smile warmly. “It’s all right. There’s no shame in being concerned about dear friends.”

Bell watched the exchange before saying, “You must be Miss Ryuu’s goddess then. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Lady Astraea.”

“You as well,” the Goddess of Justice answered. “It was a long time since I had seen her until recently, but I was happy to hear about how well she was doing thanks to the friends she made and yourself. I only wished that we could have met under better circumstances.”

“Right, the situation with Antares.” Bell’s expression grew dour as he recalled the rain of light and the state of the Divine Spear. He then looked down at the divinity nestled against him and asked, “Goddess, what happened to Lady Artemis and the Divine Spear after that attack? She seemed like she had been in pain when it cracked and then she passed out.”

Hestia slowly pulled away from her child and crossed her arms with a soft sigh. “Artemis woke up a little while ago. After stopping by your tent, she asked to be left alone with the spear and went off. As for why she passed out back then…”

“Divine weapons such as that spear are not something that can be carelessly summoned to the Lower World without consequence given how much trouble they caused in the past,” spoke the Goddess of Justice in her place. “As the one who summoned it forth, Artemis has bound herself to it in a manner of speaking. The strain placed upon it thus weighed upon her and when she reached her limit, she fell unconscious.”

Bell’s thoughts turned to how much pain she had been in and then he lowered his head. “I… see…

As if reading his mind, Hestia gently cupped his cheeks and raised his gaze to herself. “Bell, Artemis knew what would happen and told you to do it. If you hadn’t then none of us would be here at the moment. So don’t blame yourself.”

“That’s right,” Astraea added. “Though I can only speak as one who loves you children as much as Artemis and Hestia, we wish for you to flourish within this world. You are our pride and joy, and so we are willing to make whatever sacrifice is needed so that you can find your own path to follow. No matter what happens, you bear no sin for our actions.”

Bell recognized they were trying to reassure him. And that put his heart to ease somewhat as he nodded his head that was still within his Goddess’ grasp. “All right.”

That seemed to be what Hestia wanted to hear as she smiled and then released him. “Now then. Astraea and I have to get Hermes back here so we can talk about the upcoming operation now that we know you’re up and moving. How about you go see the others since they were worried about you?”

Ryuu parted ways with Bell as Astraea sent her off to retrieve Hermes, while Hestia directed him to where she had seen each of their Familia members after she had sent them off from fretting over his unconscious body. Mikoto had decided to help with cooking dinner for the camp with Primo assisting her. Lili had gone off to feed the Dragons at the makeshift stables. And Welf was working with the other smiths to repair and mend the equipment they had.

The Mess Hall was a massive tent in the center of the camp with the canvas lining easily matching the size of some buildings. It was supported by several wooden beams that were affixed to stone blocks that were buried in the ground. Magic stone lanterns of different colors were strung up between them to offer additional illumination to the fading golden hue of the amber rays slipping in.

There were several people already inside the large tent, taking their places among the many different tables that were set about. Some were playing games of chance with dice and cards, while others were discussing matters with themselves. On the northern end was a long counter behind which was the makeshift kitchen, where he spotted the two members of his Familia hard at work. “Mikoto. Primo.”

Mikoto was carefully cutting up vegetables on a cutting board with her raven hair tied back when she heard him. “Sir Bell, you’ve awoken?”

On the other hand, Primo (who had also tied her golden hair back) turned from the potatoes that she was in the process of peeling and proceeded to dart around the counter toward him. The small Elf embraced him with as much strength as she could while burying her face into his stomach, completely forgetting the sort of etiquette that her race was expected to live up to. “Captain, you’re finally awake! I was so worried!

“Sorry to have worried you all,” Bell said as he gently brushed her hair. “But it’s fine now, I’m all better.”

“Are you really?” There was a hitch in her voice as she looked up from below his chest and he spotted her eyes glistening. “You were really hurt when we landed. Even after using all the Potions we had and that nice Elven lady healing you before rushing you here, I was worried you wouldn’t… hick…”

Bell tensed at that. He didn’t remember anything aside from the pain after he’d used his body to shield Lady Artemis. He looked over to Mikoto and asked, “Was it really that bad?”

“Whatever that light was that struck you, it had badly burned your body,” Mikoto admitted as she came over next. “The Potions we used and her magic helped stabilize you, but upon arrival it required Elixirs to finish mending your injuries.”

“Miss Lili and Mister Welf got really mad at Lord Hermes,” Primo added. “I… couldn’t do anything but sit there and… hick…”

“It’s okay,” Bell assured her. “I’ll go see Welf and Lili next to let them know that I’m all better, so just keep helping Mikoto. Okay?”

She wiped away tears that had been forming before nodding.  Then she pulled back and recalled her etiquette before bowing her head. “Forgive me for my outburst, Captain.”

That done and with assurances that he’d be back later, Bell decided to make a beeline to where Lili was first. He left the Mess Hall and went further to the north and eastward where the Dragons chewing on feed were to see that Lili was being given a small bottle from Miss Andromeda, with her voice barely reaching his ears as he caught the tail end of her saying, “—s a last resort. Understand?

Lili only nodded as her hands clenched the bottle while the Captain of the Hermes Familia walked off, leaving her to her thoughts.

It was then Bell called out to her. “Lili…”

Her head snapped in his direction before she hastily put the bottle away into a pouch on her waist before coming over to him. “Master Bell, are you well enough to be walking around?”

“Just a bit sore, but fine otherwise,” he told her. “Is everything okay? You had a serious look on your face just now with Miss Andromeda and she handed you something?”

The Pallum shook her head. “This is just compensation for the fact that her god lied to us about the scope of the threat again. I said this was the kind of job that would be more suited for a larger Familia and look what happened. Considering the state Master Bell ended up in, it hardly makes up for it.”

“No one could have predicted what would happen. And I’m still in one piece. So, try not to hold it against them.”

His effort to appeal to her only seemed to make her shake in frustration. “Master Bell, you’re too kind for your own good. This whole Mission has been sketchy from the start and even now they’re hiding stuff from us.”

“What do you mean?”

“I haven’t seen one member of the Artemis Familia even though they’re supposed to be here as well,” she explained. “And when I try asking about it, everyone gives me different excuses. Something about it isn’t right. How can we trust them if they keep lying to us and you keep ending up getting hurt?”

That is strange, Bell silently noted. He was sure that they would be here considering how fondly Artemis talked of them during their discussions. “I’ll ask Lady Artemis about it when I see her again. But for now, just try not to be too upset. They’ve been here working to deal with the problem even longer than us, and I’m sure they have their own reasons for keeping things quiet.”

A grumble bubbled up in her throat before she pressed her forehead against his chest. “If that’s what you want Master Bell. But please be careful. I’m getting a bad feeling about this.

“…Yeah. I will,” he promised.

That done, Lili ushered him off towards the east where he could see smoke rising from portable furnaces along with the din of hammers striking steel. There was a Human girl with light brown hair with a large box strapped to her back that had weapons within it walking alongside another woman who had long golden hair and blue eyes with a spear strapped to her back. He followed them and found they were heading to one of the several smiths at their portable forges.

It was there he spotted Welf speaking with the pink-haired girl he’d seen sparring earlier. She was holding the two shortswords from before, which now had cracks running along them. The girl then apologetically bowed her head while he stood there scratching his head as she ran off.

Then he spotted Bell and put on a smile as he set aside the damaged weapons. “Hey, you’re up now.”

“Yeah.”  Bell nodded before looking back to the girl running off. “What was that about?”

“Apparently that girl has some quirk that results in her constantly breaking her weapons. Other smiths are kind of frustrated about it since they’re lacking in spares due to all the fighting over the time they spent here, so I’m handling the reforging of it. But never mind that, how are you holding up? That hit you took was pretty bad.”

“So I’ve been told,” Bell sighed. “I’m fine, but I’m a little concerned about how all of you are doing after that. I spoke with the others already about it, but what about you?”

“Hmm…” He brushed his hand through his hair as he gathered his thoughts. “Frustrated, I guess. I hate to say it, but I’ve been pretty much useless here so far as your personal smith. Healing isn’t my forte and I could only sit by and watch when everything was said and done. I thought I’d at least be able to do something about your equipment considering it saved your life, but…”

He trailed off before reaching behind his forge and pulling out a box that had the battle clothes he’d worn on his way here. The jacket itself had new cloth stitched to it in an adorning pattern along the back that seemed fuller than before. “You modified them?”

“As best I could to fix the damage,” Welf admitted. “Like I said when you first got them, this was above my ability. I didn’t have suitable materials to patch them properly, so I had to take measures I’m not happy with.”

“How so?”

“That attack that hit you was Light-aspected,” he explained. “The clothes turned out to be woven from fibers blessed by a Light Spirit, making it Spirit Cloth that resists that element. That helped mitigate a great deal of the damage you’d received, but that attack was still strong enough that burned away several layers and reduced its effectiveness. Since most of the battle clothes we received had similar materials mixed in, I had to use one of them to patch it up so that it could still serve well enough to take another hit.”

“Whose clothes did you use for materials?”

“Lady Hestia’s.” He grimaced when he caught how Bell stiffed up at that. “She insisted that it wasn’t feasible to take the materials from anyone else’s battle clothes. Instead, she’d stay in the camp with Lady Astraea to support us from here once the operation was underway.”

That explained why she was in her old clothes rather than the ones that Lord Hermes gave us, Bell realized. His Goddess never once put herself before them, so even if those clothes would have offered her more protection than anything considering they were better than some armor, she didn’t hesitate to sacrifice it for his sake.

“The thing is,” Welf continued, “Clothes like these aren’t just given to you randomly. The materials have to be custom ordered, and he had them ready in a matter of hours once he had our sizes. The fact that it was so resistant to the attack that hit you means that he knew that we’d be facing something like that—and he didn’t tell us. That doesn’t sit well with me.”

The fact that both he and Lili held the same line of thinking gave it some level of credibility. And it wasn’t the first time that Lord Hermes had done something similar. The God of Travel seemed to tread the line between being helpful, like the War Game, and a hindrance, like when he’d given Mord the Invisibility Helm.

“…For now, we’ll just have to go along with it,” Bell decided. “Whatever his reasons for hiding that information, we still have to deal with the monster.”

Even Bell didn’t fully understand the God of Travel. But he had faith in Lady Hestia and knew that Lady Artemis was sincere in her desire to put an end to the threat. So he would go along with it for the time being for their sakes.

[-Hestia-]

“…We’ve done a cruel thing to that child,” Hestia said the moment that Bell and Ryuu had left the tent. It was soundproof once the flaps were closed due to enchantments on it, so no one heard her outside of the sole resident in the tent beside her. Nor did they see the smile she wore melt away as she went over to the couch and practically collapsed.

Astraea came over to her side, briefly running her fingers against Hestia’s bare shoulders in a show of support before turning her attention to the tea set. She poured steaming liquid into a cup that was set on a saucer and offered it to her. “He’s a nice and earnest child. I really do wish there was some other way.”

Her words did little to comfort Hestia as she took the offered cup. The last three days had been… trying as she had to come to terms with everything she’d learned about the situation from Artemis… or what was left of her. And her own complicity in the suffering she was going to put her first child through.

So naturally, she was not in a happy mood when Hermes finally arrived with a smile on his face and his tone cheerful after finishing his “other” business. “I’ve heard that Bell is back on his feet. That’s wonderful news. Now we can resolve this matter come morning and put all this business behind us.”

“You mean aside from the fact that you’ve condemned Bell to a fate worse than death?” Hestia’s voice was devoid of emotion as they sucked the warmth that had been in the tent right out in a manner that made it perfectly clear there was no room for false levity. Not when the topic they were discussing involved her first child and best friend being placed in such a cruel situation. Not when she’d spent three days stewing in it and forced to hold her tongue to avoid the children overhearing them.

The God of Travel raised his arms above his head and tried to appease her. “Now, I understand you might be upset—”

Upset?” The click of the porcelain as it was placed on a saucer seemed to echo as the diminutive goddess set it down. “In the last three days, I have learned that one of my best friends has been consumed by a monster. That she had to watch her children die in front of her. And in a last-ditch effort to prevent an apocalypse, she shunted her lingering consciousness into a weapon that you’ve shoehorned Bell into using to kill her…”

She slowly rose from her seat and turned to face him. There were many ways to describe how Hestia’s eyes normally were on most days. Lively yet gentle. Inviting and kind. Excitable and joyous. However, her eyes here and now were no longer the same.

They were a stark and dull, teal hue that lacked warmth. Her expression portrayed no emotion, a blank mask donned over her bubbly or maternal visage. “Upset, is an understatement, Hermes.

Hermes lowered his head while bracing his hat to where the brim covered his own gaze. “With all due respect, it wasn’t my intention to have Bell be the one to draw the Divine Spear. However, considering the situation I couldn’t pass up any potential candidate. You’ve seen for yourself that Antares is becoming capable of using Artemis’ Arcanum. Not just Clairvoyance but being able to call down the stars themselves. The Lower World will not remain intact should it use both to even a fraction of their full capabilities.”

Bell had mentioned feeling as though he’d been watched after the first time three days ago. There was no doubt in their minds that it was unrestricted Arcanum usage. Not just the limited Divine Mirrors that required permission, but the capability to circumvent the restrictions enforced upon them all.

The attack earlier had only been a small-scale sample of what her Arcanum could unleash and there was nothing that they could do to stop it. It didn’t need her Arcanum under its full control to do that across the globe, only enough to stretch it out over the firmament. Then Antares would be able to wipe out all life in the Lower World.

“And so, you’d have a child that reveres us become a sinner to fix the mistake of one of our own?”

To sin was mortal. But there was no greater sin than killing one of the divine. Not merely breaking their mortal shells and forcing them back into the realm above, but truly killing and sending them into the cycle of reincarnation once more—effectively destroying a pillar essential to Heaven for thousands of years.

The means of doing so were few and far available to the children. But they had basically handed Bell something meant to do just that. And they wanted him to use it on a goddess they had been pushing him to get closer to.

Hermes’ response was only to shake his head. “Bell isn’t killing her. He’s saving her from a situation she has no other means of escaping. It’s the only solution since we’re forbidden to use our Arcanum.”

The Goddess of the Eternal Flame remained unmoved by his semantics. “There is a reason we take responsibility for our own mistakes. It is too heavy a burden for mortals to bear. Do you really think his heart will be able to remain intact after killing Artemis with his own hands?”

They were not flawless. Though many of the children may have been disheartened when they first descended to let them know as much, the parents who looked over them from above were still capable of flaws. Whether through malice or well-meaning, many tragedies were wrought by their hands and only added to their suffering.

That was why they had to be the ones who corrected those mistakes.

Not the children.

“Hestia.” A soft hand settled itself on her shoulder again to draw her attention from the God of Travel. “Artemis told you, didn’t she?”

The answer Astraea received was that of silence as those stark and cold eyes fixed onto her.

The Goddess of Justice only continued. “Right now, she’s trapped and powerless. She could only watch as her children were slain. And if not stopped, the only path left for the Lower World will be destruction by her own divinity. Knowing that, she cast her hope into the heavens and called down an arrow that could bring about salvation for what her mistake had wrought. Perhaps there were other means to resolve this, but this was the method that Artemis chose. That your child happened to be the one most suitable must seem cruel, but that child is Artemis’ hope itself.”

“…Artemis’ hope.” Her cold voice betrayed a note of emotion as she clenched her eyes shut. And when they opened again, they were once more a vibrant yet sorrowful hue as the Goddess of the Hearth resurfaced. “I suppose that Artemis chose Bell to be her hope is something I should be proud of as her friend and his goddess. But I can’t help but grieve over what’s to come for both of them…”

Especially since I don’t know how long I’ll be here to ease that burden for him.

Fanfic Recommendation 115


My Fanfics


Life is Tough for a Minos: Chapter 4

Summary: Life was difficult for someone born without a Septima in a kingdom where they were prized above all else, so Leon ventured to the bottom of the world to retrieve the means to raise himself to nobility. He didn’t expect to find an AI waiting for him there by the name of Lola.


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A RWBY Fanfic

Summary: Impatient after thousands of years of stalemates between Ozma and Salem, the Brother Gods decide to intervene. A new contest, Ozma’s side against Salem’s, to decide Remnant’s fate. A contest requires combatants however, and what better or fairer than to pit one man against himself – against alternate versions of himself. Jaune Arc against Jaune Arc, for the fate of all worlds.


With Friends Like These 10 – 15

A RWBY Fanfiction

Summary: Sequel to My Own Worst Enemy. On all of Remnant, Atlas—the pinnacle of law and order, and the kingdom he committed an open act of war against—is the place Roman least wants to go. So of course, it’s where Ozpin decides they have to go.

Content Warning for M/M.


A MHA Fanfic

Summary: When Midoriya Izuku was 4 his quirk finally manifested. The doctor named it psychokinesis, but his friend Bakugou Katsuki called it worthless and weak. For the next 10 years, Izuku would grow up bullied and isolated, convinced his quirk was good for nothing, but still holding onto the distant dream of becoming a hero. Then, when a new student named Uraraka Ochako, who shares his same dream, transfers into his class the last year of jr high, everything changes.

Life is Tough for a Minos: Chapter 4 [Mobuseka x Gunvolt AU]

Chapter 4: The Enrollment 2

A shrill whimper rang out within the darkened room of the daughter of a viscount.

It was early morning. The soft rays of the morning sun peeking through an ultramarine sky were kept at bay by the crimson curtains that were drawn close. But a scant few invaded through a slip in the fabric to break the hold the shadows had on the enclosure, revealing the tremoring tiny figure squirreled away on top of a mattress.

Marie Fou Lafan laid curled up atop a crumpled top sheet, her blanket having been tossed over the side of the bed over the course of the long night. Her nightclothes clung to her lithe figure, damp from sweat and scratching at her skin smothered beneath it. Her trembling fingers cradled her throat that as she fought for breath, each inhalation agonizingly clawing its way down to her lungs.

Damn it…I really overdid it… A haggard gasp for air left her to quail as she felt her vocal cords themselves threatening to snap. It was painful. So painful that she was sure that she would have broken down into tears from the agony of it if had been just three years ago. Where is Kyle?

Her silent question was only answered when she heard a key being slipped into the lock of her bedroom door. A twist of the knob. Scraping of hinges. A frustrated sigh was followed by the door being shut and locked once more and the uttering of, “Sal seria to de sileen.”

She ignored his jab as she forced herself to sit up and simply uttered, “Ap….ea…son…

“Speak human,” Kyle said in the Holfort tongue. “The last thing we need is for you to say something out of habit and ruin everything. Besides, the last thing I need to hear is you butchering my language.”

Her gaze locked into a pair of eyes not too dissimilar from hers, sporting a look of annoyance. Standing at the foot of her bed was an elven boy who shared her golden hair and blue eyes. He was dressed in servant garbs that had been fitted for his diminutive size, consisting of a white shirt and long socks with a black vest and pants. He was carrying a serving tray in his hands that had on it a tea kettle, a canister, a glass washbowl, and a cup.

“I warned you not to use your Septima since you were still recovering from overtaxing it the last time,” he said pointedly as he went over to the nightstand and set down the tray. “But no, you had to strain it right out of the gate, and I have to waste time making sure you can at least make it to the opening ceremony.”

Snippy brat, Marie mentally snarled, even as part of her noted that he looked cute dressed like that instead of his normal clothes. Now only if he was the silent one. I’ll have to remember to get a photo of him in it to send to Yumeria, though I’ll probably need to make him smile.

He finished the medicinal tea and watched with his arms crossed as she drank it down. Once the effects began to take hold, he slipped on a pair of gloves and pulled out a small flashlight from his vest’s inner pocket. “Come on. I don’t have all day.”

Marie rolled her eyes. Then she opened her mouth wide, sticking out her tongue as he leaned onto the bed… only to wince as he grabbed the tip of her tongue and then pulled it forward while turning on the light to observe the inside of her throat.

“Well, at least this time there’s no blood,” he mused. “And you didn’t end up wetting yourself like a child half my age. I guess that’s progress.”

The moment he let go of her tongue she pulled his ear hard enough to cause him to wince instead as he was brought to his knees. He needed to be reprimanded more often to avoid letting him think he could speak that way all the time. “…Don’t talk to… your sister like that…

Nnghh…You’re going to tear it!” He drew in a sharp breath as she released his ear and rubbed it, grimacing. “I swear, what kind of freak enjoys playing at being an older sister to someone else’s kid…?

Marie stuck out her chest and looked down at him smugly. Was it a little petty for a woman her cumulative age to tug on his ear to get the message across? Yes, it was. But if she had to put up with the sass of a 10-year-old know-it-all who refused to treat her like a woman, then she could play the role of an older sister bully.

Kyle sighed out his frustrations. “Seriously, don’t talk more than you need to for the rest of the day, and don’t use your Septima until I give you the all-clear. If you tear your vocal cords or the backlash becomes severe, it’ll draw attention. We’re already pushing things as it is, and Mother isn’t here to save you if the worst happens. Now, hurry up and take off your shirt.”

The smug expression she wore melted as Marie undid the button of her nightgown. She slipped through the small sleeves before pulling them off, and then she let her nightclothes steeped in sweat fall to the floor with a heavier noise than fabric should make. Her gaze then turned to the mirror affixed to the dresser across the room and her reflection revealed the blemishes of the body she inhabited in this life compared to the last.

She was petite to the point of only slightly being taller than the 10-year-old boy by a head. A scar running between her breasts felt rough as her finger traced down the thick ridge from where the skin had been stitched shut. It was discolored with a hue that stood out against her pale skin, joined by track marks from the countless injections over the years.

Marie squashed down the emotions she began to feel. It was the price she had to pay. The scars were nothing that makeup couldn’t cover, and what she got out of it had been worth it. Then her gaze turned to Kyle and her mind vividly recalled things she didn’t want to remember. At least this gets him out of that place for a while.

She closed her eyes as Kyle turned back in her direction, knowing he’d just become petulant if he caught a hint of sympathy in her eyes. He might have only been half-elf, but he cultivated the pride most of them loved to exude…despite the fact that he hated the majority of them.

“It hasn’t gotten any worse since your stint back in the Lafan territory, fortunately,” he said as he finished examining her. “As for what I need to report… I guess we can confirm that it works on the Azure Striker even in its current state. That should at least satisfy them for the time being.”

It worked a little too well, Marie ruminated as she stared down at where Julius had grabbed her. She knew how the scenario had supposed to go. He would be outback sulking when he heard the heroine’s voice and then be drawn to it. He wasn’t supposed to rush her down and grab her like that.

It had brought back unpleasant memories for a moment.

Marie wondered if she had put a little too much into the song since she couldn’t be sure the lyrics would get the same results. They retconned it to Olivia subconsciously using the Muse in the supplementary materials and audio drama to get his eye, so she used the Septima to set the scene and make sure it would be love at first sight. But the songs used to trigger the Muse in the game didn’t work for her since they were powered by emotions, so simply copying the song without feeling wouldn’t do a thing.

It took a powerful emotion that stirred the heart. Something that Marie had thought she’d lost after being trapped in the ironic hell of the game that had killed her brother. Being separated from the one thing that brought her joy in her life after he was gone and then born powerless to those people

Not that they’d be a problem for her ever again.

Still, since she couldn’t risk a repeat of that happening to any of the boys, Marie focused on what she knew that Julius felt thanks to the audio drama from his perspective. Overlaying her own desires with those he held, fueled by her memories from the life she once lived and would never get back, she called him to her like a Siren tugging on his heart. It had worked, roughhousing aside, and the food stall scene played out perfectly.

I should be able to handle the rest without the Muse for now, Marie decided. Health concerns aside, she only needed it to get the key event out of the way. Boys like them should be simple enough to wrap around her fingers using her previous life’s experience and, with their help, she could gather the rest of the artifacts.

Maybe then she’d be able to take back even a glimmer of the happiness she once had.

[—Julius Ralpha Holfort—]

As Julius stood upon the auditorium stage and spoke out towards the audience of students attending this year, eyes roamed over the hundreds in attendance.

He ignored the dozens of women whose less than pure intentions flared as his electrifying gaze passed over them. He passed over Angelica’s grinning visage, no doubt smug in the knowledge of her guaranteed throne. Instead, he focused on finding the one woman whose gaze wouldn’t be like theirs until…

There.

Sitting there amidst the crowd was the lithe figure of Marie. Her azure eyes seemed more surprised than anything else, blinking as if she was struggling to make sure she wasn’t seeing things. He couldn’t say that he was surprised given this was how she discovered his secret identity.

That Julian, a simple noble of no importance, was Julius, the crown prince of their very kingdom.

Yet despite the evident confusion, she gave him a bright smile to contrast the barely visible wave when she spotted his eyes fixed on her. Then maybe he hadn’t completely alienated her then. It brought him a sense of relief as he continued with his speech.

It was once his duties were done that the complications began. Naturally, he tried to reach Marie. He wanted to explain why he lied to her about who he was and apologize for it. To make sure that there were no misunderstandings. But throngs of women impeded his path, singing empty praises on how heartfelt his speech was when there wasn’t a drop of emotion in it.

All they did was serve to get in his way as Marie vanished from his view.

He clenched his teeth before his foster brother set a hand on his shoulder and gestured for him to follow with his head towards the back rooms, which he was hesitant to do. At least until he heard Angie’s voice coming from the back of the crowd, who was the last person he wanted to see now. He followed until they entered one of the rooms and he shut the door.

“The rabble should clear out soon enough,” Jilk said now that they were alone. “You seemed distracted on the stage. Was there something on your mind?”

Someone,” Julius said with a frustrated sigh before turning to him. “I’m sorry to impose on you again, but I need to borrow your power. I’ll explain later.”

“You needn’t ask.” He produced a cloak and then, with a flourish, viridian flames burst from where he grabbed hold of it. Those flames consumed it entirely until there was no sign of it before he made a motion as if draping it over Julius. “It won’t last long, so you’ll need to be quick.”

The Azure Striker vanished from view, but his voice rang out. “Thank you, Brother.”

Jilk inclined his head before making his way over to the door and opening it, only for Angie to be standing there. “Can I help you, Lady Redgrave?”

“Where is his Highness?” she demanded. “I wished to compliment him on his speech.”

“His Highness feels like being alone,” Jilk said pointedly as he stepped out of the room and in front of her, clearing enough space in the doorway as she took a step back. He then put his hands behind his back and gestured for Julius to escape.

The crown prince, draped within the veil of invisibility, slipped out. He moved with hurried steps, bypassing Angie as she tried to talk her way into the room he’d just left behind. Down the hallway that had been crowded before, now vacated with her followers flanking it, he slipped back into the auditorium and then made his way out onto the school grounds.

Now the question was finding Marie. He figured that she couldn’t have gotten far as he wove his way through the crowd and avoided bumping into others to alert them to his presence. The entire time he searched for her flowing locks of gold that ran down her petite back and her wonderous azure eyes, his thoughts were still back at the day they had spent with one another and just… talked.

Marie had told him that she belonged to a Viscount Family named the Lafans. She had been a sickly and frail child, born with such a weak body that she had to be cared for constantly. Thus, she had spent her days sequestered away within one of the isolated manors within their domain, only known to few save the elven doctor and nurse who oversaw her care.

Not that she was unloved. In fact, it seemed their family had taken out massive loans as she would later learn, all in the hopes of finding a cure for her unspecified illness. They had even hidden the truth of the expenses under the guise of being gambling debts, as they feared neighboring noble families might try to exploit her to their own ends—such things weren’t uncommon sadly when attempting to claim territory or crush households.

Living alone save for her caretakers, Marie could only lament that she was such a burden. Unable to leave the care of the grounds, never knowing when her life would come to an end, she admitted to feeling like a caged bird whose wings were too short for her to fly with. She wanted nothing more than to repay the love and dedication her family gave her, yet all she had was her voice. So, she began to weave songs in the hopes that one day she would be healthy enough to share them with them.

But, over the last year, her frail constitution had miraculously improved. She became healthy enough to function, even if the long-term medical care had left her growth stunted. Yet it seemed tragedy had stricken her family as an incident left her as the only living member of the Lafan household. So, she had come here to receive the education she needed to properly manage her estate, which was currently in the hands of a steward.

Julius found her spirit to be remarkable in light of that. And it also made him feel even more guilty for lying to her the entire time they spent together. That was why he desperately wanted to see her again.

He combed through the crowd and, for a brief moment, thought he spied her amidst the horde. But it turned out to be another young woman with shorter hair, even though her eyes were the same color. She was walking alongside a plain fellow with black hair who looked bored with the proceedings.

Upon realizing that, Julius kept looking and looking. Eventually, he found the angel walking alongside a smaller figure with similar hair but elven ears, dressed in a servant’s attire. He steeled himself before reaching out from behind his invisible veil and setting a hand on her shoulder. He felt her small frame jump in his grasp before she quirked her head in his direction. “Marie, it’s me. Can we talk?

A soft noise escaped from her throat as she opened her mouth, only for a small hand to settle on her other shoulder from the small elven boy next to her. Those piercing eyes he held went past her and towards him, even though it didn’t reflect in his eyes. “So you’re the one to blame for her voice then?”

That caught the crown prince by surprise. Then the boy gestured towards the back of another building before guiding her in that direction, no doubt expecting him to follow. Julius did so, of course. Once they were there and out of sight, Julius pulled back the hood as the boy stood between them. “Who are you? And what did you mean her just now about voice?”

Standing prim and properly, the elven boy folded his arms behind his back. “My name is Kyle, Milord. I was hired by the steward of her family to act as her caretaker while she’s on the campus.”

“You’re an Exclusive Servant?” Male elves often ended up in such a role due to their rather attractive appearances, though he was far more on the young side. Of course, Julius might have been wrong. Their race was a rather odd one considering their longevity and physical abilities that they were said to have evolved into having to make up for a lack of Septima.

Marie sat a hand on the boy’s head, brushing it affectionately before speaking in a hushed whisper. “He’s more like a little brother to me.

Kyle scoffed. “I believe she told you about her past. I happen to be the child of the elves who took care of her, and so some would consider our relationship to be akin to siblings. I would ask that you please do not insinuate such things about my Mistress or myself again, Milord.”

Julius grimaced as he caught the implication. It was well-known that women of the middle ranks of nobility tended to take lovers and have dalliances with demi-humans. He had all but implied that she was sleeping with the boy that was a little brother to her. “Believe me, I didn’t mean anything of the sort.”

I know,” Marie whispered. “You aren’t like that.

“Mistress, please,” stressed the boy, causing her to bring her hand to her mouth as if she caught herself doing something she shouldn’t. “Don’t speak unless you absolutely have to until your voice has healed.”

“…What happened to her voice?” Julius asked, concerned.

“She strained it,” the boy answered in her place. “Her constitution may have improved but speaking for such prolonged periods takes its toll given how unfamiliar it is to her. I wish you had considered that before lying about who you are and then gallivanting off with her the moment she left my sight, but alas…”

Julius looked away. “I’m sorry, Marie. For not considering your well-being and lying about who I am. I just…”

He trailed off, unable to finish the words that weighed on his heart. That he wanted the moment to last forever since he was comfortable with a woman for the first time who wasn’t trying to manipulate him for his position or take advantage of him. Yet he had done the same thing in lying to her, using the comfort she brought him while blissfully ignorant of his identity.

“I’ll understand if you never want to see me again,” Julius settled on, turning away from her. He had no one else to blame for this but himself. All he could do was treasure the day they spent together. But, to his surprise, as he turned to leave the angel stepped forward and set a hand on his arm. “Marie…?”

The sight caused the elven boy to sigh. “Well, fortunately for you, my Mistress is rather kind. And it seemed that she had a lot of fun spending time with you, despite how far apart your stations are. Far be it for me to deny her happiness, but please be more considerate of her feelings in the future, yes?”

“Are you… really okay with spending time with me?” Julian asked her, uncertainty lacing his voice. “Even though I lied to you?”

She nodded slowly and put on a smile that was so bright as to be blinding.

Truly she was an angel.

[—Leon Fou Bartford—]

“That took forever…” Leon mused aloud as he took a seat at a table by the window within the cafeteria.

Now that the opening ceremony was done, the students were allowed to spend the rest of the day roaming and acclimatizing themselves to their new surroundings since their classes would begin the next day.  Leon had opted to take advantage of his enrollment to enjoy the food that was on the menu given how rare a chance it was prior. He had invited Olivia to join him as well to work on getting to know her better in light of the decision they reached last night.

The consensus that Leon and Lola had reached was for the time being they would try to figure out what happened to Olivia in the past that caused the divergence. Since they couldn’t be sure that the scenario would play out as it should without that first event, it would be more convenient if Leon took the place of the Love Interest as a platonic stand-in. At least when it came to dealing with the Muse Artifacts.

The easiest one to reach would be the one in the Dungeon. However, until they could be sure that they could get to it given the sheer number of monsters, they would have to play it safe. He could spend the weekends working his way down and getting a gauge of the danger, along with making some extra Dia to send home, since he was a licensed Adventurer already.

And then there was the question of whether Olivia would be capable of using it. They had about a year in the game before she was tossed into the Dungeon to find the bracelet, but there was no guarantee that would happen this time around. That was probably for the best since the Love Interests didn’t have a reason to pursue her unless they could catch up on the missing flags, and if she really couldn’t use it safely then they would have to go with one of Lola’s other suggestions.

They still might have to as things stand.

Mnn.” A soft noise slipped out from Olivia’s throat from next to him. She was chewing on a fruit slice behind closed lips, plucked from her tray which was surprisingly diverse in her selection of food choices—bread, meat, fruit, and vegetables. In comparison, a lot of the other women whose trays he’d seen in passing were loaded with salads and exotic sweets.

“Is it really that good?” Leon asked, supporting his head with one hand as she finished swallowing. Olivia nodded before sliding her tray towards him and gesturing for him to take one to try for himself. “You sure?”

She nodded.

“…Well, if you’re offering,” Leon jabbed his fork into a slice and took it into his own mouth. It was tangy and sweet in a way that reminded him of a mandarin orange back in Japan, but with a creamy texture from the juices. In return he offered her a bit of the pasta that was on his tray, decorated with a poignant sauce and meatballs that he found to be pretty good.

She gave it a try… only for her blue eyes widened and she suddenly reached for her cup. He might have neglected to mention it was also pretty spicy, which earned him the soft pout Olivia gave him, her cheeks slightly puffed out as she picked up her pen and scribbled on a small pad: You could have told me it was spicy.

Leon clasped his hands together as an apology. “Sorry. Sorry. I’ll get you something sweet to make up for it. Do you have any preferences when it comes to snacks or foods?”

Her pout melted away as she tapped her chin in thought. Then she turned her attention back to her pad and wrote: Not really. We couldn’t be picky at the church.

“Make sense.” He thought about the kinds of foods that would be eaten at the church on his father’s lands since he imagined they wouldn’t be too different. Something simple would probably do. “Give me a second and I’ll be back.”

He rose from his seat by the window and made his way to where they had the desserts. Notably, the desserts weren’t included in the boarding costs. The Royal Academy took advantage of how eager vendors would supply them with more exotic treats that the women would happily splurge on—either on their coin or someone else’s.

His eyes fell onto what was labeled a Honey Crispel behind the serving glass. It was a pastry fried in olive oil and glazed with warm honey. And it was at a reasonable, for this place, price. “I’ll take one of those, if you don’t mind.”

“I’ll have a slice of cake,” said a voice across from him. He turned to see there was a girl there who looked to be around his age, tapping her chin as she eyed what looked to be a cheesecake that had fruits and powdered sugar on top of it—Samobocade, according to the label. “He’ll be paying for it, of course.”

What poor sap did she sucker into paying for that? Leon wondered idly for a moment until he noticed the cashier getting ready to add it to the total of his order. He stopped that right then and there. “Don’t ring that up on me. I’m not paying for that.”

The refusal seemed to baffle the cashier and the girl alike, more so the latter as the gluttonous gaze she had towards the cake turned into confusion as she faced him. “Excuse you?”

“I’m not purchasing a slice of cake for someone I don’t even know,” he elaborated in as simple terms as he could. “If you want it then pay for it yourself.”

Her head turned slowly as she slowly processed what was happening. There was also a notable lack of sound in the immediate area or coming from the line where others were waiting to make their purchases. Then a form of realization seemed to dawn on her.

“I see. Word must not have reached whatever backwater island you came from about etiquette.” She shook her head as if addressing a child before pointing a finger into his face. “Listen here, you hick. It is common courtesy for boys like you to adhere to the requests of your betters in exchange for our attention. Knowing that now, are you trying to spur my generosity by letting you buy me a confection?”

“Pretty much,” Leon said, which caused her to draw back as if she had been slapped. “Your generosity would be better directed to another who needs it.”

His piece said, Leon turned back to the cashier and paid for his pastry before heading back over to where his seat was. Olivia was sitting there engrossed in her tray until he presented the treat to her. “Here you go.”

The mute heroine quirked her head slightly before she broke a piece of it off and brought it to her mouth. This time her reaction was much more favorable as he could make out the elation as she eagerly chewed on it. But then she used her knife to split it in half before gesturing at the untouched section for him, silently telling him they would split it.

“I had bought it to make it up to you,” Leon stated.

Her response was: It wouldn’t feel right to simply take the whole thing for myself when you paid for it.

“Okay, but no takebacks.”

The pastry shared, they finished their meal and Leon escorted Olivia back to the female dorm entrance. Leon then went back to his own only to be accosted by two boys as soon as he entered the First Year boy’s common room. One of them was tall with tanned skin and short hair, well-built from physical labor. The other was shorter with a bowl-cut and wore glasses.

“Can I help you two?” he asked.

“Uh, listen,” started the shorter of the pair. “We haven’t met yet, but we thought we should probably explain things since it occurred to us back in the cafeteria that you might not be aware of how things work here. I’m Raymond Fou Arkin.”

“And I’m Daniel Fou Durland,” the taller one added.

Leon crossed his arms as he recognized the names. “Oh right, you’re the two who had to be carried in after getting drunk while you were out with the rest of freshmen. Must have been some welcoming party. Shame I wasn’t invited.”

He had known some of the upperclassmen had been gathering up the freshmen yesterday, after everyone had arrived. There was technically a curfew on the campus for First Years, but Third Years could skirt it and so they basically held a get-together welcoming the others. He was also chiefly aware that he had not been invited to join the get-together as the hushed whispers outside his door had not escaped Lola’s attention when they were still deliberating what to do about the Muse situation.

“Well, about that….” Raymond began to rub his head as he looked away. It was probably a good sign he didn’t just come out and say that they intentionally had chosen not to because of his status. Or the rumors that were sprouting about considering his enrollment.

This was the first year that there were scholarship students. Both were Minos and thus should be Commoners at best. However, he had earned a title via buying it with his adventuring and so a lot of people had mixed feelings on the topic.

Leon waved him off. “I’m fully aware you aren’t sure how to feel about someone who bought their way into nobility, and I imagine it’d be awkward to talk about stuff like that with the person in question around. I’m not taking it personally.”

He simply didn’t have the time nor effort to care about being excluded from a bunch of classmates he likely wouldn’t see once their schooling was over. It was the same back in Japan and that was when there weren’t hundreds of miles between them, filled with monsters and other looming threats. He was an adult who had to worry about an impending genocide, after all.

“To speed things along, I grew up in a rural barony in a baron household with a sister currently in her Second Year here. I know how things work here, and how it was probably expected for me to get her that cake. I just didn’t want to because I didn’t know her and she didn’t even bother asking my name—which is Leon, by the way.”

“Then you know by turning her down like that you’re going to make things more difficult for yourself,” Daniel pointed out. “One of the major reasons for attending is finding a marriage partner by graduation. Otherwise, your reputation will suffer.”

He shrugged. “That’s one less person for you guys to compete with, I guess… Anyway, thanks for at least trying to reach out. See you around.”

“Wait,” Raymond called out to Leon as he moved past them towards his room. He paused his step and turned back. “…Is your sister single?”

Leon considered it. Then he shook his head at the realization that Jenna would probably use him for all he was worth and then not even give him the time of day. The poor bastard would probably thank him for just the opportunity, but he wasn’t that cruel and didn’t want to help her transitioning into Zola along if he could help it.

Leaving behind those two, Leon made his way back to his room where he found Lola floating over his desk and flipping through the pages of his textbook… somehow. He didn’t question it. “I’m home.”

Welcome back,” she responded, looking up from the pages. “How was the opening ceremony?

“Boring and uneventful.” He’d honestly struggled to stay awake at how long it had been. “Learn anything interesting in the textbooks?”

They’re adequate for beginners when it comes to the basics of Mechatronics, so you’ll at least learn something once classes start tomorrow.” She closed the book and then drifted up into the air. “But I can explain anything else you need to know in practical details on any subject, so you don’t have to worry about it.”

“I’ll make it up to you,” Leon promised yet again. He genuinely did want to learn and would do his best, but they didn’t have time to deal with failing grades. “Hopefully it won’t come to needing to borrow your help too much, but I really want to make sure we sort out the deal with Olivia and the Muse.”

Don’t sweat it, Partner.” Lola chimed. “Just enjoy your time as a student. It only comes around once… er, well I guess that’s twice for you now.

“Wasn’t that great the first time around, but I suppose times were easier then,” Leon admitted as he sat on the bed with an almost wistful look, thinking of simpler times. But those days wouldn’t come back no matter how long he thought about them. Better not to linger. “Well, I guess all that’s left is to see things through tomorrow on.”

Fanfic Recommendation 114


My Fanfics


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother? 32

Summary: As the fate wove a tapestry to tell of a new hero for the age, so would the ancient vow be kept. Born of a human father and elven mother a year before the hero himself was a child in the Forest of Wishe. Though she would not bear the memories of her past, her heartfelt plea would transcend the ages. And through hardships and the Falna manifest, a new tale would be penned in Orario.

Life is Tough for a Minos: Chapter 1 – 3

Summary: Life was difficult for someone born without a Septima in a kingdom where they were prized above all else, so Leon ventured to the bottom of the world to retrieve the means to raise himself to nobility. He didn’t expect to find an AI waiting for him there by the name of Lola.


Fanfics that I have found interesting and have recently been updated


A RWBY Fanfic

Summary: Impatient after thousands of years of stalemates between Ozma and Salem, the Brother Gods decide to intervene. A new contest, Ozma’s side against Salem’s, to decide Remnant’s fate. A contest requires combatants however, and what better or fairer than to pit one man against himself – against alternate versions of himself. Jaune Arc against Jaune Arc, for the fate of all worlds.


A MHA Fanfic

Summary: When Midoriya Izuku was 4 his quirk finally manifested. The doctor named it psychokinesis, but his friend Bakugou Katsuki called it worthless and weak. For the next 10 years, Izuku would grow up bullied and isolated, convinced his quirk was good for nothing, but still holding onto the distant dream of becoming a hero. Then, when a new student named Uraraka Ochako, who shares his same dream, transfers into his class the last year of jr high, everything changes.

Life is Tough for a Minos: Chapter 3 [Mobuseka x Gunvolt AU]

Chapter 3: The Enrollment

“So, what’s this surprise you had for me?” Leon asked as he arrived on the deck of the Smilodon where the Combat Support Pod awaited him. He noticed her P-Bits were locked in a new formation. “I’m guessing it’s something to do with the EX-Weapon System?”

The ship was a relatively large vessel that he was currently sailing towards the Capital of the Holfort Kingdom, having received clearance ahead of schedule for space at the docks. The handling of the ship was currently being done on the autopilot system, with the only organic lifeforms aboard the ship being Jenna, Nicks, and Leon himself. Since the trip from their territory was to take the standard traveling time, as Leon wasn’t in a hurry nor willing to hasten things, Lola had what were to be the living quarters made comfortable via the same method she had used with the Hanging Gardens since the ship contained a cache of pix set aside for accommodations. Incidentally, she also outfitted the exterior of the ship with a more fitting appearance for the sake of remaining inconspicuous via the same method.

Leon couldn’t help but think that pix were really convenient to have access to use.

Yep!” Her ‘eyes’ blinked before more pods showed up from a chute that opened in the ship, boasting a darker coloration. Unlike the vessel she was currently using, she called them utility pods. They took her place as she hovered over towards him with her P-Bits. “So, you remember how I brought up in the past my primary function was to manage the EX System for my creator, right?

He did. “Yeah, before the Tower was built. Why?”

I know you aren’t expecting too much combat, but since you do plan on going into a Dungeon it’d be best to give you a little more variety in options. And, since I had time and was around your family so much, I had a chance to harvest and analyze their septimsome and observe how they use it to create a new subroutine for the system.

He raised a brow. “When you say harvest…”

Non-intrusive methods only, like saliva samples from their dishes,” she elaborated. “That’s why it took so long. It’d be one thing if they had something that already isolated their septimsome like a Glaive or if I could collect some of the Septima Factors from their bodies directly, but I didn’t want to overstep boundaries.

Leon nodded. “Not that I think that you’d want to harm them or anything, but just wanted to be sure.”

It’s fine. I know how important family is.” She turned her head off to the side for a moment in thought before redirecting her focus. “Anyway, I’ve named the new subroutine Aqua Bind. Let me show it off.

Her optics flashed. The utility pods responded by being covered in a coat of pix that expanded and then took on the form of the smaller insectoid monsters that they had to deal with not too long ago. Out of habit Leon nearly reached for his firearm, kept tucked in a shoulder holster.

That done, Lola’s body itself shifted next to take on a light blue hue as a pair of fins replaced the flaps on the side of her body. Her P-Bits similarly matched the hue as they entered a formation that divided them into a pentagon with the remainder inside. Water formed around the inner array in a spherical shape.

Firing!” At her command they shot the spheres out like cannon balls, slamming into the faux monsters and leaving them entrapped within the aquatic spheres that remained relatively intact despite being in contact with the deck of the ship as the creatures struggled within them. “If you tag something, it can create and sustain a water prison for larger objects. Neat, huh?

“I was kind of expecting it to go everywhere after it hit something,” Leon admitted, which was understandable considering how his family’s Septima usually worked.

I don’t just replicate the abilities 100%,” Lola explained. “In the first place, that’s impossible with some of them like the Azure Striker. Even after studying it as long as we have, we only managed to reverse engineer the electrical generation, Prevasion, and Flashshield. However, I can optimize them thanks to how flexible the system is and, in this case, its optimized for capture and suppression, making it usable even in tight areas or when you can’t use Stellar Spark.

“Like in the dungeon,” he realized. Since the dungeon beneath the capital was underground and the classes tended to have students travel in a group, friendly fire or damaging the surroundings to the point of a potential cave-in was a possibility. “It’s amazing you thought that far ahead, Lola.”

I’m great, right?” Her appearance shifted back to its standard state as the faux monsters dissipated, and the utility pods floated back towards the chutes they emerged from. “The number of airships within range of my sensors have been increasing by a bit. It’ll be an hour or so before we’re at the first checkpoint.

“Yeah, then they’ll funnel us through the air lanes towards the main continent. Depending on the traffic we’ll probably be stuck until there’s a place that we can dock. I’ll go wake the others up.”

[—Two Hours Later—]

“This has been the smoothest trip I’ve been on in my life,” Nicks said as he sat across from Leon in the dining area, having finished his morning meal. “No need to transfer a bunch of times. Clean beds. Quiet atmosphere. Decent food. Honestly, I kind of want to just stay on the ship for the rest of the year and relax.”

“No dice,” Leon said. “As soon as we’re off the ship I’m sending it back home. Those fees to leave it docked for longer than a day were insane.”

Most children of the noble families with territories outside of the capital could call upon at least one airship for transport, but they didn’t keep them stationed at the docks for prolonged periods. Those same docks had to be used for importing, exporting, and so on after all. Private docks did exist for families who were Lower Fourth Rank and above, but for the rest they had to use the air lanes and go through a bunch of different clearance processes to get into the Kingdom.

Leon had no intention of paying for extended docking. So, once they were off the ship, he was going to have Lola send it back to their father’s island since he didn’t think he would need to use it again until their break. He would have the Sabertooth parked beneath the Death Zone since he wanted to have access to it in the event, he needed to leave the continent for any reason, easily accessible with Lola’s aid given its capabilities and speed.

“Well, it must be nice that things are so cushy for you two.” The sarcastic tone left little doubt on Jenna’s feelings on the subject matter as she set down a teacup on the saucer in front of her. “Leon is just a charity case so he doesn’t need to bother looking for a wife, but you should be taking things seriously since it’s your last year to marry up as well, Nicks.”

Since Leon was only Ninth Rank and a Minos, he honestly didn’t expect to find a spouse in the Royal Academy. Nor did he have any interest in doing so. He was perfectly content to enjoy his single life at the moment.

And while Nicks should be searching for a wife, realistically speaking, he wasn’t blind to the fact that his prospects were little better than his brother. Spare heir to a poor barony and illegitimate at that. Chances were that he wouldn’t find a nice woman with a family well-off enough that he could build a meaningful connection to eclipse Zola’s. In fact, his father had told him that if he intended to do so it should be with someone that he genuinely had a meaningful connection with and solely for his own happiness.

He’d told the same to Jenna, considering Merce was the oldest daughter. But she clearly had her own intentions and was aiming high. “Speaking of which, things here are different than they are at home. People won’t hesitate to remind you of your place if you catch their eye or throw you under the airbus. Keep your head down while you’re here, Leon.”

That said, she got up and left the pair in the dining area alone. The brothers sighed to themselves as they leaned back in their chairs, staring at the doors as they closed shut. It was ultimately Leon who voiced his concern first. “She’s going to become a second Zola if she follows in her footsteps.”

“To be fair, I think that she was trying to give you solid advice in her own way.” Nicks shook his head and shrugged before turning his attention to the forward-facing window. “Looks like we’re about there now. You can see it from here.”

Beyond the glass they spied the gradually expanding landmass that drifted above the lowest level of clouds. The sprawling continent was massive as mountain ranges covered in rich greenery ringed a wall that encircled an enormous castle city of stone, wood, and steel. Tall, white spires could be spotted ascending high into the air above at various parts of the entirety of the continent, rising above the smaller floating islands that loitered beneath them all. He was sure some floated below as well, hidden by the cloud bank beneath the surface, and all were capped with turbines that continuously spun and gave the image of the continent itself being held aloft by them and would sink if they ceased rotating.

“It’s almost like a different world compared to our place out in the boonies, isn’t it?” Nicks mused with a sigh. “No monster attacks. Never have to worry about power conservation or water. I can almost see why people want to live there.”

“It’s not home though,” Leon pointed out. For all its advancements, it lacked the appeal that came from living on the smaller islands of their barony. They might have been more rustic, but he had a family that cared about him and it felt more spacious than the city back when he lived in Japan. He also had a chance to find a sort of simple joy in the agricultural life and how it taught you to be self-reliant compared to back then.

“No, it isn’t,” Nicks agreed before stretching and then getting out of his chair. “Since we’re in range, I’m going to get ready and write a letter to send back home.”

Leon watched as his brother left him behind and waited for the doors to close before he turned his attention back to the continent gradually growing closer. “Those turbines aren’t really supporting that place, is it?”

Of course not,” came from the nearby walls as an opening appeared and her pod entered. “Those turbines are doing double duty as both a source of electricity and water, with the spinning generating power while also pulling moisture from the air and then cooling it so that they condensate and fill the water tanks non-stop. If not for that they wouldn’t be able to support so many people in such a tight space for long.”

“That explained why air traffic is so heavily regulated,” he figured. They had to take air lanes compared to the other places they went while traveling back home, where they had a lot more freedom. Smaller islands or territories close to where monsters frequented would struggle to build and maintain them. The kingdom couldn’t risk ships crashing into them, accidentally or intentionally.

It’ll probably be one of the last places to sink once my work is done,” Lola mused. “After all, places like this are the ones where the Lifewave managed to remain intact compared to how the rest erupted out and is floating around. That reservoir allows it to remain adrift rather than sink into the Death Zone, where it’ll likely be torn apart and broken down—sort of like how an ice cube floats in water.

“And on that note, how’s your data gathering coming along?” He recalled part of the reason that she wanted to leave the Tower was to check things out for herself, including monitoring the mana levels. “Learn anything positive since then?”

Umm… well, the concentration of it in the atmosphere is much lower than I expected. In fact, my work will be finished a lot sooner than I predicted. Granted, we’re talking in terms of thousands of years, but I can see an ending. So there’s that.

“You don’t sound happy about it,” Leon pointed out. “What’s wrong?”

The thing is, I’m not sure how it’s happening or where its going,” she answered. “I’ve ran the calculations in my electronic brain thousands of times, but my Tower alone couldn’t be responsible based on the logs. That means something else is affecting it and I don’t know what. I’m a bit scared that it might be escaping the pull of gravity or leaving the planet itself.

And since it is effectively the spiritual lifeblood of the world, it couldn’t be terraformed without that and really would leave the world as a dead husk. For her that would be absolute confirmation that her creator’s dream was unobtainable, and everything had been for nothing since humans wouldn’t have a world left for them.

“Don’t assume something bad has happened yet,” Leon told her. “Monsters are born from the same stuff bunched up together, right? Maybe it all became a big monster that needs to be killed to release it all at once. I know for a fact that an Adept can do something similar, so whose to say it isn’t there?”

Her pod turned towards him and tilted, as if she was giving him a quizzical look. “Giant monsters tend not to be a good thing.”

“Yeah, but the point is that it’s still within the atmosphere and can be dealt with.” He then made a gesture with his hand towards the kingdom. “Or maybe some country that found some Lost Item that came around while you were stuck down there that’s doing something similar to the Tower? Your Master wasn’t the only one trying to save the world, right?”

Probably not,” she admitted. “I mean, I don’t think there’s something on par with the Tower and we don’t know what technology has been created and lost throughout several millennia. But… with the number of Adepts being around, maybe that’s also influencing the concentration since their powers don’t just make something from nothing.

He nodded. Leon couldn’t travel freely because he was stuck in the Academy, at least in the capital they could pick up information from other places. Merchants, news, gossip, technology—they could use the fact that people from all different walks of life and places came there to figure it out. “We can spend time on the weekends going out and gathering info. That way, if there was an explanation, we’ll find it.”

“…You really know how to cheer a girl up, don’t you?” There was a notably more positive vibe in her tone as she lightly bumped into his shoulder. “Thanks, Partner.

“I’m just keeping my end of our deal,” Leon insisted.

If he really understood women, then his life would be a lot simpler.

[—Academy—]

She still felt like she was dreaming.

How could it be anything but a dream as she sat down in a luxurious room within the fabled halls of the Royal Academy. Light came in through the windows that offered her a view of the front of the campus, watching as students walked along the paved roads in uniforms made from the highest of quality. Girls laughing with one another, boys greeting each other as if they had been apart for a long time, there were so many people that it was easily more than the largest villages she had visited.

And there were Demi-Humans and Elves too. She could even see a well-dressed elven boy accompanying a short girl with blond hair that fell down her back. They must have been around her age, but they both looked so young.

Still, it’s a bit livelier than I expected. It was a far cry from the humble parish where she had been raised, on a small territory that was rather far away from the Capital. It wasn’t particularly large or well-renowned, being a relatively simple place with some ruins that had long been explored and emptied out of anything valuable. She had gotten used to the quiet of that place, so being around so many people with so much noise was still something of a shock.

Not in a bad way, but in the sense that it was a new experience.

The door opened across the carpeted floor that was trimmed in rich colors, with the sagely gentleman who had been her mentor entering the room. He wore a smile beneath his moustache as he gave her a polite incline of the head, tea-set in hand. “My apologies for leaving so abruptly, but it seems Esquire Bartfort has arrived and will be here shortly. While we wait, I will get started on making tea.”

She made to stand and help him, but he held up a hand and shook his head. “Now, now. There’s no need for that. Allow this old man to play his role with pride now that I’ve returned.”

It was a habit from back home to help where she could, paying back the kindness she received in whatever way she could. That was something he was familiar with given how long they had known each other, enough to predict her even before she could offer. But, in comparison, he still felt as much of a mystery to her as he did when he first came to the island.

It was years ago that he came to the parish. The way he spoke and his whole air gave the impression that he was a noble, but he seemed to be on good terms with the head nun. History between them that went unspoken in earshot of the children. He was offered shelter in exchange for him helping around the parish and teaching the children since he was well-educated, which was how they first met.

She found out he was both a Royal Knight and a professor here very recently.

“I know you must feel somewhat nervous in your new surroundings,” he said whilst preparing the kettle on a portable stove and setting out a tray of snacks for her. “But I am truly grateful that you accepted the Queen’s proposal. You’re such a bright young woman that it would have been criminal to not present the opportunity to you when it arose.”

She shook her head before tapping her chest twice and bowing her head. Rather it was her who should be grateful to him, considering that he kept her in mind. She only hoped that she could keep up with the lessons and not embarrass him or the Queen.

Knock. Knock. Knock.

There was light and polite rapping on the door that drew their attention away from the table. It seemed that their guest had arrived. As he moved to open the door, the young woman started to feel somewhat anxious at the thought of the other scholarship student. Unlike her, who was lucky to know her mentor, he was someone who managed to clear an unknown dungeon and earn his place despite apparently being a Minos like herself.

She wanted to make a good first impression and realized she should also greet him when he entered. Reaching into her bag, she pulled out her pad and pen and hastily wrote as fast as she could. It wasn’t her best handwriting, but she managed finish and stood up as her mentor opened the door, holding up the writing pad in front of her with the eleven little words she could get down in time:

It’s a pleasure to meet you, Esq. Bartfort.

My name is Olivia.

[—An Hour Later—]

You’re going to burn a hole into the floor if you keep pacing,” Lola chimed in her mechanical voice as she hovered in the air, watching as Leon circled aimlessly in a quiet panic. He had just finished conversing with Olivia and Professor Lucas over tea, which Lola had also attended while being camouflaged. As for the reason for his panicking, well…

The Muse happened to be a mute Minos.

He managed to hide his shock well enough during the conversation as the older gentleman outlined how the Academy would work for the both of them. He would effectively act as sort of their guidance counselor and keep an eye on them since it was such a large change in scenery for the both of them—the young woman more than Leon for obvious reason. And, while there were some classes that the Queen wanted them to take, they still could pick the courses they wanted and were asked what they had in mind for their futures.

Leon stated he had an interest in Powered Armor and Exosuits, explaining away that back at his home they were short mechanics for them and since they lacked combat-focused Adepts it was vital to make up for that. Olivia, surprisingly enough, was interested in Engineering since she felt it would be her way of being able to solve problems back at the island where she lived. Both of them would need to take Mechatronics to get an understanding of the technology used within the kingdom, so it would be a shared course.

Conveniently enough, Lola could also use it to get a peek at the technology level of the kingdom as well. Sure, she could go around scanning things. But there were factors to consider like the methods and ideology behind technological development. Data gathering meant taking it all the data she could after all.

It was after the conversation petered out and the meeting was over that Leon hurried back to his room and started pacing around. The room itself wasn’t as large or luxurious as most of the others within the campus. Since this place was pretty much the primary learning institution for the nobility, it was expected to have a certain level of opulence—carpeted floors, silk sheets, windows that offered a view of the campus, etc. It only grew more extravagant depending on one’s rank within the gentry.

The room Leon had was slightly smaller than the others and lacked a window, given that it happened to be a storage room at the end of the male dormitory. It had been made habitable rather hastily, with the bed looking as though it was pulled from the servant quarters meant to house help that either served the students or in general around the campus. For the nobility it would be an insult considering the tuition costs.

On the one hand, one could argue that it was short notice and they had to make do. The room wasn’t exactly bad since it was like the manor at his home. Granted, his family was a poor barony and so that was still below the capital standards.

On the other hand, they both knew there were rooms available on the other wings that weren’t being used. Even if they didn’t want the scholarship students to be placed in the most expensive ones, all they had to do was reshuffle it a little bit so they could have had him in a basic room and bumped up one of the students whose families were right on the cusp of reaching the next rank the better one. Everyone would win that way, rather than a room remaining unused despite still needing to be kept clean and tidy on principal.

Leon himself didn’t care because he didn’t bring much with him or have high expectations. He pretty much stored anything important on the Sabertooth since it was just a call away. And that ship was meant as a personal transport vessel with comforts for extended travel in mind, so it could double as a room if needed.

Seriously, you’re going to burn a hole in the floor if you keep it up,” Lola reiterated. She had been idly keeping track of how many rotations he’d done, and it was closing into four hundred by then. “Rather than frying our circuits panicking, how about we follow your earlier advice and not assume the worst. Take a breath and just talk to me so I can help.

Leon finally stopped pacing and sighed. “…I don’t understand what went wrong, but without the Muse we’ll be in trouble.”

Because of the war that’s supposed to be coming in three years?

“Fanoss wanted to kill off the entirety of Holfort.” He made sure to emphasize that point. “And they have the means to do it too with the Mirror Septima and the Grimoire empowering the Adept behind it. The Muse was necessary to deal with that. Olivia isn’t supposed to be…”

A Minos like you,” Lola finished for him. “I performed a cursory scan of her, but I detected no signs of septimal waves. If she’s an Adept, then her septima factor is dormant and won’t register without a more thorough scan like I did for you. Are you sure she wasn’t always a Minos?

Leon shook his head. “She couldn’t be since she could use the Muse.”

But from what you told me, she only displayed it after she got her hands on the first artifact from the Dungeon. Did she use it or even mention it before then?

“No, but why would that matter when either you’re born with a Septima or you’re not…”  His words drifted as he tried to think of an exception, but he didn’t have a clue. Though, if anyone might know, he suspected it would be her. “Is there something you know that I don’t?”

…Well, there are exceptions to that rule of being born with it or not…” Her electronic tone seemed to carry a note of hesitancy as she shifted her ‘face’ slightly to the side, away from him. “Those are rare, but they do exist.

His brows quirked upwards. “Meaning…?”

It’s just a theory, and one I’m not comfortable with bringing up without enough evidence,” she insisted. “Let’s at least try to figure out if it’s really relevant first. Did the game ever give you the backstory on her?

It was evident she was hiding something. But Leon didn’t want to press her on it unless he had to since it was the first time that she’d really seemed uncomfortable talking to him. Yet, at the same time, he felt that it might be important. “…Will you tell me if it’s even remotely related?”

She drifted there in silence for a pregnant pause. “…I really hope it’s not the case, but if there’s a possibility its related then I will. I promise.

“…Okay then.” He took a seat on the bed and began answering her question. “The game doesn’t explicitly tell her about her past. I assumed that it was because they wanted the players to self-insert themselves into the characters, so they tend not to be well developed in terms of story. They didn’t even explain why she was the scholarship student, only that she was. I figured she couldn’t be the heroine if she wasn’t special because of the class difference.”

That was why he believed she always had the Muse Septima. The way the Love Interests all seemed drawn to her even before it, to the point they chased after her when she got tricked into heading deeper into the Dungeon and finding the Muse Artifact right before running into a monster stronger than any of them. It should have taken all of them out when suddenly she felt the urge to sing and let her voice give them strength, manifesting the Muse.

But from how the professor and Olivia interacted with one another, they clearly have some history,” Lola noted. “He was so well-versed in communicating with her to the point where she hardly needed her writing pad to get across what she wanted to him.

“Yeah, I noticed that too.” Leon drummed his fingers against his knee in thought as he recalled the conversation and introduction. “Chances are he’s known her since she was young. But considering she’s a Commoner and from someplace far away, while he’s teaching in Royal Academy, I can’t picture when they would have had an opportunity to meet. But since he never gave us a family name, maybe we should assume that he wasn’t always a member of the nobility. He might have been a Commoner who rose to his station.”

Lacking a family name was commonplace among those of Commoner status. Taking that into consideration along with his position here, it may be that he rose to Knighthood via merit and earned the Queen’s eye. And it just so happened she wanted to do something similar and sought him out, who happened to know Olivia and thus picked her.

The pod bobbed up and down. “And he introduced her as a candidate since that scholarship was meant specifically for Minos. That’s why I’m considering that there’s a solid argument that she could have always been a Minos.

Leon couldn’t argue against that thought process as he lined the pieces of the puzzle up. “You’d think that if he was so important that would have come up in the game though. Then again, they glossed over the boring parts of what would be the school period since it had to cover three years.”

Well, you complained about the bad game design so why should the story be any better? I mean, those Love Interests you mentioned were all engaged to begin with, and it wasn’t a secret. I’m pretty sure that doesn’t paint the heroine in a good light when you frame it that way.”

“They’re engaged, but they make sure to have the guys admit they aren’t happy with the arrangement,” Leon pointed out. “And only two of them are even given names since they’re villainesses that get bested by the Love Interest, and then executed and exiled respectively. They frame it as less cheating and more saving the handsome but troubled guy from a relationship he hates. It’s okay because they’ll make one another happy.”

But considering they’re all from families that hold major positions based on what you told me, I can only imagine there would be some heavy backlash.

“Not necessarily. It would only cause problems if they wanted to be the legal wife since polygamy is a thing here. For someone who was a Commoner, even becoming their lover would benefit them without risk to the actual heir or legitimacy. Her being the Muse simply made it so that she was a high enough station so that she didn’t have to play second fiddle to someone else or could go into the Reverse Harem route. There’s logic to it, even if it’s not exactly the best.”

I guess you have a point. But there’s still the fact that she didn’t mention having a Septima at all before then, right?” Lola asked once more for clarification.  “After she obtained it, did anything change in her character?

He shifted on the bed and leaned forward, resting his chin on the back of his hands. “…Yeah, actually. Before she obtained it, she was a wallflower in terms of personality. After she got the artifacts, she became more… confident? Assertive?”

In the beginning of the game, Olivia would rarely say anything bad or defend herself at the accusations that she didn’t belong with one of the five because she was just a Commoner. One of the other Love Interests would come to defend their relationship and tell her it was fine. But after she obtained the second one, she toughened up enough that she was willing to tell the Queen herself that she wasn’t going to give up her relationship with the Crown Prince if you were on that route, or with all of the boys if you’d triggered the Reverse Harem Route. After she obtained the third one, she was willing to face down the final boss and their monster with no fear at all.

Sounds like a personality shift due to obtaining excess power observed in some past records to me,” Lola mused. “And you also mentioned that a Sky Pirate uses one of the artifacts he plucked from a church to boost his own Septima, right?

“Wasn’t exactly sure how that worked to be honest,” Leon admitted. “There had been three known Muses in the history of the game. Each of them was said to have treasured an item and left their power behind within them for a future Muse to use in a time of crisis. Thus, only a Muse should be able to use those artifacts, but the Pirate Captain was managing to keep up with the Love Interest until his shirt was torn open in the battle and revealed he was wearing a fancy necklace that Olivia said she sensed a similar power coming from it. The guy did a villain rant that he stole it from some cathedral it was entrusted to by a previous Muse since she was born there.”

After the fight was done and they took it from his dead body, they questioned how he was able to gain the power. But the topic was dropped when Love Interest stated it doesn’t matter, so long as it was now in the right hands before passing it over to Olivia. That unlocked the second upgrade to her Muse Septima, and thus raising the power level of the Anthem.

Lola was silent for a pregnant pause as her electronic brain processed that. Then she drifted closer to him and renewed her inquiry. “And for the last one, I believe you mentioned it was kept at the temple located here on the continent?  The one that belonged to the first Muse and would be used to test candidates who made a claim to be the current Muse, and if they were found lacking there would be a violent rejection?

“The Basilica, specifically,” Leon clarified. There was usually only one cathedral within a parish for every territory that was a Barony or higher, but smaller churches and temples were scattered within villages and the like. The Basilica was noted to be the most important and grandiose of them all since it was where the first Muse was laid to rest with her staff remaining there. “But yeah, that’s about right.”

“…Shoot. It’s relevant then.” She sincerely sounded frustrated at that before facing him. “So, based on all of that, I’m thinking those Muse Artifacts you mentioned might basically be Proto-Glaives.

Receiving that tidbit left him a bit shocked. “But they don’t look like the ones you had and those are considered lost technology. The Muse’s Artifacts just look like accessories at best.”

The origin of the Glaives were items that were used to regulate the flow of the Lifewave and were rooted in the spiritual practices of Japan. Some of the first ones were made with pieces of what were considered legendary treasures of mythology and require a secret smithing technique. Making ones like those in my care should be impossible in this age, but its’ entirely likely that they managed to loop back around to creating rudimentary ones within those artifacts, allowing them to act like a Septima Inducer.

And by that logic, it was entirely possible that Olivia wasn’t the Muse because she was born with the Septima. Rather she got her hands on the artifacts and happened to be a compatible match by chance.  “Hold on though. You told me that the Glaives would be useless if you didn’t have the matching Septima. Now you’re saying that you can use them without it at all?”

The Combat Pod turned upwards towards the ceiling, where the light came from. “…In the past there were attempts to turn Humans into Adepts by implanting Septima Inducers and Septima Factors in an unethical procedure, making them Artificial Adepts. Master considered it blasphemous to begin with because his own father predicted that Adepts would eventually become a threat to the world. And, sure enough the Azure Striker we fought against that caused that very catastrophe was an Artificial Adept.”

“That’s why you looked confused when I brought them up then?” Leon guessed. “It wasn’t just that I knew of them, because for all you knew at the time, I could have been sent to the Tower intentionally and just crashed by chance. It was that you were worried that was why I had come in the first place. That I wanted to become one.”

The A.I. didn’t deny it. “I wanted to help you since you were the first visitor I had in ages, but I can’t be responsible for creating another potential threat to the world I’m already in the process of fixing. Those who don’t learn from their mistakes are doomed to repeat them. Even then the process I have on record has an absurdly high fatality rate with only four successful cases out of… far too many. I’ve reviewed those logs and footage in the past and let’s just say I really hate having perfect memory banks.

He didn’t think a robot could showcase disgust without a proper face, but the way she tilted down and her flaps drooped gave that impression. “Well, not like I have the right to comment on that since you’ve already done more than enough for me. But is there anything else you hid about Glaives I might need to know?”

Hmm, I guess I probably should have mentioned that I sort of hacked the Glaives after I gave you admin rights. Specifically, after you told me about how some Adepts were supposed to storm my tower, steal one of them, and then jack my ship, I made some… adjustments.

“Like what?” he asked cautiously. The Royal Family had the Azure Striker-compatible one and they’d left the majority back in the Tower, but he still had one aboard the Sabertooth since Lola felt it could be used to derive some improvements.

Nothing too major. I just have remote control over their use because I installed a verification system into them. When someone tries to use the Glaives they basically request an authorization code from me, and I give it the go ahead. And, if that power should go to their heads or they become a threat to the world, I can always reverse the process and absorb the septimsome of the Adepts using it to effectively seal their Septima away, provided they survived such a forceful extraction.

It was then, as she casually revealed she put a literal kill switch into them, that Leon was reminded that she had openly admitted to hunting down Adepts before she was sequestered into the Tower. You’d never think it considering how young and innocent she looked back when they first met. But she clearly had little problem resorting to lethal force if need be.

But back to the topic at hand. Assuming that Olivia is a Minos or possibly carries dormant Septima Factors for the Muse, that would mean that those artifacts are what gave her the powers she had. So that means the Muse isn’t gone, she just doesn’t access to it right now.

“Okay, but why is she mute?”

That, I don’t know. You’ll have to probably figure it out by asking her if something happened to her in the past that caused it. But we can’t assume there’s a direct correlation between that and the Muse without more information. Besides, it shouldn’t be a problem since we have a few years before the war, right?

“Except, it was her singing that got the attention of the Crown Prince in the first place,” Leon pointed out before looking at a watch to get a read on the time. “That event should have triggered by now, but obviously it can’t since Olivia can’t speak. That first flag was crucial since the others were only curious about her because she caught his eye, and those connections are what empower the Muse.”

Factoring into the game’s whole message about the power of love overcoming stations and barriers, the closer that Olivia grew to her chosen person the more of the Muses’ power she could use. But if a romance never developed then, even if she somehow regained her Septima, it wouldn’t be strong enough. Then it was game over.

There’s nothing we can do about raising flags now. Besides, if it truly does become an issue, we still have two options for handling it ourselves.

“We do?”

Lola bobbed up and down. “The first is that, if the Muse Artifacts are Proto-Glaives, I can harvest the septimosome from them and cultivate them to see if my EX System can convert it into a subroutine. The harvesting method might destroy the artifacts depending on how shoddy they are, and I can’t replicate complex Septima 100%, but it’s an option and the sooner we get them the more time I can devote to it.

Leon was wary on doing that. Leaving aside destroying the artifacts in the process, which would likely get the Church on their tails with their own private military force, his major reason for wanting Olivia to handle it was because it would be the safest way for everyone. More so if it relied on compassion and love to use, since he wasn’t that nice of a person.

Holfort might have been where he was born in this life, but he had no affection to a place that forced his family to suffer just to remain together. “And the second option?”

If this Mirror Adept really is going to do what you predicted, and you’re going to get involved, then the easiest way to protect you is to remove the threat before they can put you in danger.

Leon had absolutely no doubt in his mind what she meant by that considering she had been straightforward with her primary objective. She wanted to protect him as her Partner would kill to do it. Considering what was likely a very bloody history of war against Adepts prior to the end of the world, she’d likely do it without a second thought—especially since Fanoss intended a war of genocide.

But just because she was willing to didn’t mean it sat right with him to make her kill in his name. “…Let’s shelve that option. I honestly don’t like it even knowing what’s at stake.”

I’m not thrilled about it either, but I need more data to try brainstorm more alternatives. Did you notice anything else off about Olivia when you met her compared to how she was in the beginning of the game? Even if it seems inconsequential?

“We’d need to get my journal to check all the details, but…” His tongue roamed around the inside of his mouth as he combed through his memories of the playing the game. Olivia looked just as she had on the screen and, despite her lack of a voice, she had been pretty much how he expected. But there was one change he did notice after some thought, a small detail that didn’t seem to be that important in the grand scheme of things.

But he brought it up all the same. “Her necklace was missing.”

[—Academy Rear Grounds—]

I have to remember to thank Jilk for covering my escape.

Letting out a heavy sigh that expelled the tension in his body to a degree, a handsome man pulled back the hood of his cloak as he sat beneath a gazebo nestled within the carefully tended gardens basked in the silence. It was the first time he had been granted the chance to be by himself since he had set foot on the academy grounds. From the moment he had left his family’s private airship, there had been nothing but chatter and incessant braying for his attention from every woman on the school grounds.

And because of that, the woman who he’d been forced into an engagement with had approached him despite his insistence multiple times at the court that he didn’t want anything to do with royal affairs while attending the academy. Even if the engagement can be a useful shield for keeping the other vultures away, the way she insists on dictating how I should live my life is just as annoying. Am I really unable to get away from all of that even here?

His name was Julius Rapha Holfort—Crown Prince of the Holfort Kingdom. He was the heir to a throne he had no desire to inherit, along with all the obligations that entailed. A life constantly under scrutiny and without privacy, of putting the whole before himself and his own happiness.

Frustration only built within his chest as he leaned his head back and stared up at the ceiling of the gazebo with dull eyes. Everything had been laid out for him to follow, and because of that he had felt shackled. Going to the Academy was supposed to be the one point in his life where he was given some slack from the chains that fate had collared him with. That he could just be Julius, without being the crown prince.

But his fiancée was right there to yank it taut and remind him that it was still there.

Julius wished that he could just absolve himself of it all. That he could just hand the throne off to his brother Jake and be done with it. But even when he brought that up to his mother, she had gone out of her way to explain that it had to be him who inherited the throne since too many factions were aligned behind him. More arrangements made without his consent before he was old enough to walk.

I shouldn’t have listened to Erica and gotten my hopes up after all,” he murmured to himself. He had already resigned himself to the fact that he had no say in what his future would be even before he was born. But his sister had said that she had a feeling that he would find happiness in the future awaiting him this year.

Erica had always been a lot more mature than her age would give the impression of at times. Honestly, there were times when she could seem to read his mind and piece together what he was thinking. He still questioned how it was she figured out he liked meat skewers or how she snuck them into the castle, but whenever he’d been feeling in a particularly foul mood she would give him some to cheer him up.

Because she always seemed to know how to read him, Julius had decided to have a little faith that maybe things would be different. That maybe he could legitimately be happy like she predicted. But he was already starting to regret even clinging to that faint hope…

I watch as you drift further away.

So near, yet so far away.

I want nothing more than to reach out,

And keep you by my side, dear child.

Yet, every time I try,

The memories of ‘him’ come to mind.

And my hand freezes in place,

But perhaps its better this way.

So I’ll keep watching you from afar, dear child

Silently cherishing your fleeting face.

And hope that you’ll find all the happiness

That I let slip away.

That was when a delicate sensation reverberated his ears. It was a song… no. Calling it was song didn’t do it justice.

It was a heartfelt serenade that seemed to lightly brush over his very heart with a warm embrace. He felt for a moment what could only be a genuine desire for happiness. Tinged with a tear-filled yearning and bitter regret that melted away his frustration.

Julius rose to his feet and strained his ears to catch the soft lyrics that seemed so near yet distant. He felt his heart starting to race while being pulled in by the sweet words and their longing for something they could never achieve that reminded him of his own wishes that would never come to pass. His legs carried him towards the source of the melody, hidden ever further back in the gardens.

There, beneath the mottled rays of the sun that broke through the canopy, sat an angel. Lithe and slender, a delicate figure sat at the base of a tree with her bag beneath her to avoid staining her skirt while denying the grass her touch. White stockings hid the bareness of her legs, except for the slightest slip where the curvature parted the skirt to reveal pale flesh. Long hair rolled down her back like a golden waterfall, the sheen of which caught the light perfectly.

And cradled tenderly between her hands was what looked to be a pale blue, phantasmal butterfly that she lovingly gazed at while continuing her song.

So keep walking forward, dear child.

Know that I will love you for all time

Live your life without regrets,

I only wish for you to shine.

Even if I can’t be by your side

I still hold onto those precious days.

Of when I held you in my arms, dear child

And all my worries fade away.

Julius was speechless as he stood there, hidden behind a tree and watching the angel that fell to earth breathe life into each word and painted it with the color of her soul. A melody that celebrated an unbridled moment of happiness that soothed a lifetime of misery, even if it was to be fleeting and would leave them yearning for more. The dulcet tones swaddled him so tenderly that they seemed to pluck from the recesses of infantile amnesia a memory of his mother cradling him as a baby, sweetly welcoming him into the world in a comforting embrace.

Who was she? What was the meaning behind those lyrics? Why did they move him so much that he felt himself oversurging with emotions?

Her song, sadly, came to an end. The butterfly faded away as she suddenly snapped her blue eyes in his direction. It was only then he realized that he had broken from cover and was just staring at her blanky. He couldn’t blame her when she shot to her feet, grabbed her bag, and began to run away.

Yet, the thought of her vanishing without so much as knowing her name terrified him. He was worried that if she escaped his view that she would never appear again, and his body suddenly thrummed as electricity flowed through his limbs. The next thing he knew there was a faint scent of ozone, the delicate touch of flesh in his palm as he held her wrist in his grasp, and her blue eyes wide in surprise.

Julius stared down at his own hand holding her firm and wondered if had gone mad. Then he hastily released her and fell to his knees, forgetting that as the future king he should kneel to no one. Surely if they had been in public, it would have been a scandal.

“I beg your forgiveness,” he said in as sincere a voice as he could. “I don’t know what came over me. I didn’t hurt you, did I?”

No, you just… surprised me.” The angel rubbed her wrist softly before settling both of her hands over her chest where the outline of a necklace could be seen beneath it. Then she lightly cleared her throat and continued, “I thought I was alone here. Singing always helped me calm down when I’m nervous, but I’m not very good at it so having someone overhear it is a bit embarrassing.”

“I question the sanity of anyone who told you that your singing wasn’t very good,” he said. “I had been lost in my own worries until I heard your song, and they all seemed to melt away. But please, allow me to offer my apologies for both eavesdropping and my actions just now. I vow to make amends however I can.”

“You don’t need to go that far,” she said with a soft smile. “Just hearing that my song eased your burden is enough to make me happy…. Umm, may I ask for your name? Mine is Marie Fou Lafan.”

I’ve never heard of the Lafans. The middle name indicated that she was Sixth Rank or higher, but they must not have been one of the major families. It was possible that she was probably a second or third daughter. “Do you really… not know who I am?”

“I’m a viscount’s second daughter, but I haven’t really come to the Capital. And I lived a rather isolated life since I was… not very healthy until recently, so…” A sudden realization seemed to dawn on her. “Ah, if you’re someone important then I suppose I should act better mannered.”

“No, no, please don’t stand on formalities!” He practically begged her. He had no doubt that if she didn’t know who he was she would learn by the opening ceremony. But until then he wanted to just have a chance to be someone other than the Crown Prince. “I’m… Julian. Just Julian.”

“That’s a nice name,” she said, smiling sweetly while extending her hand out for him to shake. “It’s nice to meet you, Julian.”

“And it’s nice to meet you, Lady Lafan.” He felt guilty about lying, especially knowing the truth would come out. But before that happened, he wanted to spend more time with this angel that had fallen into his sight by chance. “Would you mind spending some time talking with me about your song?”

“You can just call me Marie,” she said. “And I don’t mind, but I am slightly hungry. I think there were food stalls not too far from the Academy that we passed by on the airbus. You don’t mind if we get some meat skewers, do you?”

…I will never doubt you again, Erica.

Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 32 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 32: The Seventh Day

My brother might have been healed, but I still carried the weight of guilt in my heart over the fact that it was my magic that hurt Argo. I was terrified that I might lose control again. That I might be the one that snuffed out Argo’s life.

Never again.

I trained without rest, constantly keeping the magic I commanded on a leash. Every second I was awake had to be dedicated to that cause. Even Elio seemed surprise at the speed at which I progressed before he declared it was time to move onto the next subject: healing.”

Elio’s Lessons in Magic V: Mending

[-|-|-|-]

The Hestia Familia had been away from the Labyrinth City for a week now, having left behind the bustling city to cross the mainland through the skies above and fulfill the wishes of the Goddess of the Moon. Their journey had given Bell an overhead view of just how vast the continent was.

On the second day they had crossed over plainlands that stretched out beyond the horizon, eventually giving way to a valley strewn with rocky hills and a white-stone laden pathway. The winding river that snaked through the valley had left the lands fertile enough that it housed the first village they had seen since leaving Orario, a small settlement just slightly larger than Bell’s home village nestled within mountains.

On the third night they landed in a forest that seemed untouched by mankind. Monsters accosted them immediately; no doubt driven by the instinctive urge to kill mortals within all but the irregular dragons they flew upon. However, monsters outside the Dungeon were so weak that dispatching them was no trouble at all. The Goddess of the Moon had also demonstrated her own tracking skills as she found the den where the majority were within an hour, allowing Bell to clear it out before scouting the rest of the forest for stragglers and then returning to enjoy a meal made by Welf since it was still his turn to cook—eggs and bacon that they’d kept preserved fixed between thick loaves of bread.

On the fourth day the forested lands gave way to small mountains, rising peaks of stones covered in greenery. There was a brief rain shower that left them to take a break in a cavern nestled by a waterfall, where Artemis and Mikoto managed to secure fresh fish that they roasted over a flame as Hermes shared stories of some of his travels. The rain ceased and they were greeted with a rainbow forming over the waterfall before they took flight again with the grey skies now blue with scatterings of white clouds.

On the fifth evening they ran into one of the largest lakes that Bell had seen in his life, ringed by several rising mountains. It was expansive enough that he could have mistaken it for the ocean, especially when a large serpentine monster leapt out from below. Its size dwarfed even the Black Goliath as it drew an arch in the air before landing back down with a splash, a reminder that even in the most pristine of domains there were still dangers to be wary of in places were mortals barely ventured.

On the sixth evening, Primo had gone to Artemis for advice on archery once they had settled into a clearing within a deep forest that Goddess of the Moon’s Familia had previously stayed within for some time before they accepted the mission to the ruins. Her instructions were befitting of someone who often hunted monsters with her bow. She had even considered Primo’s natural inclinations since she had personally trained someone who had Elven blood within them.

It was on the seventh day that things took a turn while they were in midflight. Having lived in the area for roughly a year to slay Wyverns that had come from the Dragon Valley with her Familia, Artemis had been in the middle of explaining to Bell about the different villages that were around the area. They had been pulling up the rear while leaving the edge of the forest when Bell’s hearing caught the faint sound.

He thought it might have been a woman’s scream. “Did you hear a scream just now, Lady Artemis?”

The Goddess of the Moon, who had been taking the reins this time while he held onto her from behind, shifted her focus at that. “A scream?”

Her attention grabbed, they both peered back towards the trees that were steadily growing distant when they spotted two people who were rushing into the grasslands. It seemed to be a mother and child, both of whom were dressed in simple tunic and pants. The mother had her daughter in her hands and was desperately fleeing as the child cried, the fear and desperation in her voice reaching his ears beyond the rush of the air moving past them only because of his elevated senses as a Level Three Adventurer.

That was when monsters skittered from the cover of the canopy.

Their bodies were stygian black with the gleam coming from the sunlight indicating it was a shell or exoskeleton. Eight thin legs moved in sync to propel them forward, with a pair of serrated pincer claws and a segmented tail with a barbed tip. And there were pulsing red lines emanating from a center point visible on their elongated bodies, threading down to the limbs, tail, and what he assumed to be their eyes.

Bell’s instincts told him something about these monsters were… off. He didn’t know why but his mind flashed back to the Black Goliath for some reason. Perhaps it was the coloration of their bodies, or the glow that resembled the eyes of the monstrosity that had been spawned from the Dungeon in response to the presence of the Divine.

It can’t be…” muttered the Goddess with her emerald eyes widening in horror as the mother tripped, likely from exhaustion depending on how long she had been running. She gripped the reins and pulled to direct their mount back around. “Orion—”

Bell was already on his feet in a crouch even before she had finished the turn. Extending his hand behind him, he aimed in the direction of the others flying ahead before he let loose a blazing streak that passed by them with a wide margin before fizzling out. It had been a signal to let the others know something was amiss. Even if the roar of the air would drown out their voices, Welf and Mikoto could sense the magic in the air while the others would spot the flames.

Not that Bell could pay any mind to that since he’d already thrown himself off the dragon.

There was a good amount of distance between the dragon and the mother and child. By the time it took for them to reach the pair on dragonback, the monsters would be on top of them. But Bell knew he was faster than the dragon on foot when Jupiter was active. “Shine, Jupiter!

Lightning wreathed his body. Stimulated his muscles. Sharpened his senses. The moment he touched down on the grass, he left Lady Artemis and the dragon behind as the world between himself and the two villagers shrank until he stood between them and the threat with his hands extended. “FIREBOLT!

Riotous explosions resounded as the flaming missiles slammed into the horde. Searing heat kept together by wires of electricity came unbound. The air became thick with scatterings of brown dust, black smoke, and stygian ash as he fired shot after shot among the horde to scatter them about while the mother and child behind him shielded their eyes as confusion mired their mind.

That was when Bell felt the atmosphere around them shift. The unmistakable presence of the divine pulled the eyes of mortals to the Goddess of the Moon as she landed behind them. Draped in a silvery azure veil that was akin to moonlight itself, she extended her hand towards the pair and issued a command with divine authority, “Get on, now!”

A transcendent entity radiating a celestial presence that marked them as one from above. Those who appeared in times of need to be bestow salvation. For the mother and child whose deaths were imminent in that moment, what could it but divine intervention?

Even Bell could only think as much despite knowing otherwise. The presence that emanated from her felt gentle, yet cold. Stark yet soft rays of moonlight seemed to wash over him despite it being daytime.

Th-thump.

And then Bell’s breath caught in his throat as he felt something was there. A towering presence that loomed over his meager frame. Cyclopean malevolence incarnate that barreled down upon him. Encroaching darkness that felt as though it would swallow him whole.

Every cell in his body trembled as he felt something was watching him. It wasn’t like the gaze he felt in Orario. It was something else that was so menacing that it threatened to crush him if he so much as breathed. If his heart so much as beat, he would be squashed like an ant.

As he stood there frozen in fear the monsters that were scattered about had all shifted their attention towards them. Through the rising smoke and heat waves that came from the burning earth those ominous red gazes fixed onto them…

No. Not them. Just her.

Lady Artemis.

Their stiffened bodies began to surge towards the Goddess of the Moon faster than before. The child was in Lady Artemis’ right arm while she offered her left to help the woman on top. She might have been one of the divine, but with her divinity sealed away she was only as strong as a normal woman. If the swarm surging over the land towards them like a black tidal wave reached her then…

Images of her fate flashed vividly in his mind.

His resolve flared and he dared to breathe again even under that baleful and murderous glare. He couldn’t let her or anyone else die like that. No matter what it was that had driven fear so deep into his body that his heart stopped, he couldn’t bear sitting still and doing nothing. He didn’t know how he was going to do it, but he had to stop them all here and now…

The answer came from the spear that was on his back. It suddenly came to life, pulsing as if it were alive and beating in time with his racing heart. He pulled it off his back as divine script began to scrawl itself over the shaft and took aim at the onrushing horde.

The spear left a brilliant tail as it cut through the air before erupting into a pillar of divine light. The column swept across the grasslands and forest as it expanded, its radiance so blinding that Bell was forced to shield his eyes as it swallowed the monsters and even the ominous presence that loomed over him. And by the time it faded away, Bell found himself standing alone with the grassland and forest untouched without a trace of the monsters remaining.

This is a divine weapon’s power… Bell thought to himself as he approached where the spear had been wedged into the ground from the throw. He pulled it out and ran his eyes over the length of the shaft only for his eyes to narrow when they finally fell onto the head of the spear. It was there he noticed that the immaculate jewel on the head of the spear now had a crack running through it.

“It was you?” He looked up upon hearing the tired but familiar voice and spotted the Captain of the Hermes Familia. She was aloft in the air on her winged boots, staring down at him with eyes that had heavy bags beneath them.

“Miss Andromeda?” Bell took a step back as she landed next to him. It was a sloppy landing unbefitting for one of her experiences as her legs nearly buckled under her own weight. He couldn’t help but be concerned. “Are you okay? I thought you and the rest of your Familia were with Lady Artemis’ Familia?”

Her brows folded inwards at that. “Huh? The Artemis Familia are—”

ASFI!” Lord Hermes said loudly as his dragon landed next to them. “You and the others should have been at the Dead Forest, preventing any of those monsters from getting this far out. What happened?”

She forced herself to stand upright before apologizing. “Forgive me, Lord Hermes. There’s been some complications.”

[-Several minutes later-]

YOU DIDN’T TELL US THE SITUATION WAS THAT DIRE!

Everyone winced as Lili shouted at the God of Travel at the top of her lungs. The group had collectively gathered in the aftermath of the sudden attack. Lady Hestia and Lady Artemis had mounted two of the dragons to get the mother and child to safety now that they had been appraised of the situation, leaving them with Hermes and Asfi to get the full scope of everything.

To say them learning how the monster parade they had just encountered was directly tied to the Mission they had received left them a little more than unnerved. However, Bell’s concern laid with the fact that he had heard of such creatures once before. As well as the monster itself. “Lord Hermes, is this monster spawning them the same one from the Heroic Tale of Epimetheus?”

That caught Welf’s attention. “You’ve heard of them before?”

“In the tale of Epimetheus, the great hero of Olympia fought against three Black Monsters of the time. They didn’t have the names they do now, but the Ruler of the Land was later known as Behemoth, and the King of the Sea was Leviathan. The third wasn’t the Black Dragon since it hadn’t appeared yet, but the Scorpion of the Secluded Lands that I’m assuming that this Antares might be it. Even the horde we killed matched the description of those that inhabited the land that his army had to wade through.”

Hermes’ response to that was to tip the brim of his hat over his eyes as a wry smile slipped across his lips. “You’re really well informed, Bell. As you suspect, Antares is the very same monster of legend.”

That was not what Lili wanted to hear as she grabbed the God by the lapels and shook him. “You expect us to kill one of the Black Monsters of Legend!? The last two took the entirety of the two strongest Familia and even they fell against the third! We’re only a small Familia with only a Level Three Captain!

“Now, now, there’s no need to yell. Can’t you see poor Asfi is already barely able to keep her eyes open?” Hermes said while holding his hands up in a manner to pacify the angry Pallum as Welf pried her off the man. True to word, the Level Four was laying with her back against a tree and holding the bridge of her nose. Just from looking at dark circles under her eyes it was clear she hadn’t slept for a long time. “You used the stimulant, didn’t you?”

“I didn’t have a choice if I was going to catch up with all of the monsters,” she said. “The reproduction rate increased beyond what we expected. Only a handful of us could cover ground fast enough after we cleared out the forest of the stronger variants while the weaker ones scattered in all directions.”

Lili’s eyes narrowed at worse news. “What does she mean by that?”

“When we first received the request for assistance, part of that reason was the scorpions that came out where the equivalent of High-Tier Level One monsters from the Dungeon,” Hermes explained. “The fact that so many were coming out at a consistent level naturally warranted concern since incidents like what happened earlier could become more common, especially being so far from Orario.”

“Most monsters on the surface are weaker than mid-tier Level One monsters in the Dungeon,” Mikoto voiced their concern regarding that. “Since they reproduce by splitting their magic stones, they become weaker than their counterparts in the Dungeon. With so few Adventurers being above Level One outside of Orario, I can’t think of a force large enough to corral them if they came out in large enough numbers.”

“…Rakia would probably the closest alternative,” Welf reluctantly admitted with a bitterness in his tone. “I learned something of their military tactics considering they have to defend the territories they claim against monsters. Hordes like these would be thinned out with long-range bombardment before their phalanxes would hold the line. The cavalry would then scatter them so that they could be picked off. But that’s something that only works because of the numbers they have, and even then, most of their forces are Level Ones that were levied.”

“If they only stayed at Level One, it would have been manageable,” Asfi pointed out. “But we noticed among the hordes were larger ones like those you just encountered, with their exoskeletons being hard enough that a Level One Adventurer has next to no chance of penetrating it under their own power unless their Status is extremely high, placing them on par with Level Two Monsters. Then more and more of them began to appear amongst the horde, and now there are even larger ones capable of regenerate damage they sustain. Those are on par with Level Three Monsters and dealing with them had been our priority, which meant we had to allow the weaker ones to scatter before the faster members of my Familia and the Gale gave chase.”

Bell perked up at that. “By Gale, do you mean Miss Ryuu?”

“That’s right,” Hermes answered on his Captain’s behalf. “Since she’s one of Astraea’s children, I was asked to deliver a letter to her requesting her assistance after the War Game. It’s thanks to her being there that they’ve managed so far, but if the reproduction rate increases or hastens, it’ll become a crisis unlike that which has been seen since the dawn of the Age of Heroes.”

“Even if we can keep them at bay, our enemy is still a Black Monster!” Lili reiterated to get across the unfairness of the situation. Since it was a Mission from the Guild they had to see it through, but from her standpoint it was cruel not get at least a stronger Familia to assist them.

“If it were in its former condition, that would most likely be the case,” the God of Travel agreed. “However, the reason that it was lost to history is because much of its power has waned since it was initially stopped when Artemis took favor with a group of huntresses who had took it upon themselves to challenge the Black Scorpion. She granted them a divine revelation to create a temple upon which would become the Scorpion’s tomb and lure it inside, where Great Spirits would be sacrificed to become a seal upon.”

The sole Elf within their group sported such an appalled look upon hearing that.  “Spirits… were… sacrificed?”

“Unfortunately, it’s not unusual for that to happen in the older legends,” Bell said softly as Mikoto gently brushed her head to comfort her. “A great deal of them lost their lives in the Dungeon during the Age of Heroes before the Gods descended. The Six Spirit Seal that allowed them to initially seal the Dungeon away being the biggest example.”

Mikoto craned her head at that, looking up from Primo towards Bell. “I’d never heard of such a thing.”

“My grandfather told me that the Six Spirit Seal was a technique where six Great Spirits create a grand seal and sacrifice themselves to unleash a divine torrent that would wash away everything within. It’s only been used twice in history—once against a dragon that preluded the Age of Heroes known as Nidhogg, and once right on top of the Great Hole to damage it to such an extent that they were able to finally place the lid upon it and keep it there thanks to the descent of the divine.”

“I’m surprised he knew of such an obscure thing,” Hermes stated before elaborating further with a question. “Have any of you children seen the pillar of light that appears when one of us descending or returning to Heaven?”

The majority shook their heads. It was to naturally be expected given that the descent of the divine was often done away from those who could be harmed by it. And one returning above was a rarity, only wrought by tragedy or machinations. But there were two exceptions among them.

The first was the Blacksmith, who stared off to the side and into a far-off memory nestled upon a hill overlooking the gates of Rakia. The pillar of light born from his freedom at the expense of the goddess who wanted to break him from the shackles that would have bound him. The second was the Supporter, for whom the ascending deities heralded the Darkest Days that beset the City of Adventurers.

Regardless, Hermes continued. “The Door of Heaven, as it’s known above, is effectively a weaponized version of that phenomenon, connecting the two realms that were never meant to touch. It creates a gateway through which that divine energy comes pouring down uncontrollably until the seal breaks and the door is slammed shut. The seal placed upon the temple where Antares was ultimately entombed lacked the destructive power of the Six Spirit Seal, but it was potent enough that Antares is nowhere near on par with Behemoth or Leviathan.”

He then pointed over to towards Bell’s spear. “And on top of that Bell possesses the Divine Spear, which houses within it an even greater power than that of a Spirit—a concept that makes it effective against monsters of its ilk. All he must do is reach where Antares is and unleash its full power, and it’ll all be over. However, that power is limited, so try not to overdo it before then.”

The weight of their eyes fell onto Bell as he grasped the spear on his lap tighter. “Right… I got it.”

[-Hestia-]

“We’re going down. Hold tight now.” Hestia said gently to the child nestled against her as she carefully maneuvered the dragon into a gentle descent in a similar manner to Artemis. The two goddesses had decided to bring the mother and child back to their home—or rather what was left of it.

Along the way Hestia had been making small talk with the child to take her mind off the fear of flying that many would have. The skies were unexplored territory for the children, something only dreamed of and experienced by the few in this age. She asked the child of what her home was like as they took to the air.

She had said it was a nice place, where everyone was friendly. A modest settlement within a clearing, most of the homes consisting of one or two large rooms with sheds for the craftsmen and barns for those who tended to animals. Every morning she would run through the village’s square, passing along and waving to her neighbors while taking in the sweet smell of bread from the nearby bakery, playing with the other children until it was time to help her mother with her chores.

Now the walls that ringed it, the fences meant to keep the monsters at bay, were toppled and shattered from where those scorpions from before had bashed their way through. The wooden cottages were collapsed into themselves, support pillars knocked down as the dwellings were invaded and trampled. Some had been left to smolder as the hearth flames spread to leave only the blackened husks of what was once their lives.

They slowly lowered down in the remnants of the village square, where stones that had been erected into a monument had been scattered. Residents there took to the arrival of the dragons with notable panic, no doubt still alert due to their village having just been attacked. Such frightful gazes were truly heartbreaking for the Goddess of the Hearth to feel upon her.

Then she felt Artemis let her divine presence wash over the area. Not a flood, but rather just a leak. Enough for them to know upon a glance that they were divine and meant them no harm before they could fully panic.

The fear in the children’s eyes faded, some of whom were clenching hunting spears and lower quality weapons or even stones to be thrown dropping them as they recognized the divine. The dragons touched down and shifted as they maneuvered their feet around the scattered stones to clear enough space to lower their bodies. Not even a moment later the voice of man called out towards them.

“Papa!” said the child nestled against Hestia, her gaze fixed on a man dressed in a tunic with pants that were stained crimson and a cloth was wrapped around his leg. He was being supported by another man dressed in what looked to be priestly robes, helping him to come over. Hestia helped the child down and escorted her over to avoid her stumbling over some loose stone until she arrived at the man’s waiting embrace.

“Thank the Gods!” he said, his voice on the verge of breaking as he held her close. “I was so worried about you both!”

“Mommy had tripped, and I was so scared!” said the child as the mother joined her daughter in an embrace. “But then there was this fire and loud noises, and we saw a boy was there between us and them. He protected us while the Goddess saved us. Then he pulled out this thing and a bright light made all the monsters go away.”

Seeing them together was a heartwarming sight that kindled a flame within Hestia’s chest as the Goddess of the Moon addressed the priest.

“We came across these two being chased by monsters while on our journey and are returning them,” Artemis said while unslinging a small bag she brought with her. “We also brought some of our Potions to help with any injuries. They should be able to tend to the worse of your injured at the very least, but for broken bones make sure they’re set beforehand. It isn’t much, but it’s all we can spare given we’re on a Quest now. I can also perform a quick rite for the departed if needed.”

All knew the souls of the children would return to the heavens to be sent back down anew, starting a new life. The gods themselves didn’t need to do so, and the rite itself was more to set the minds of those left behind at ease. Despite that the priest shook his head as he accepted the bag from them with a gracious bow.

“Thanks to one of your messengers there are none who need to be seen off,” he said. “And for us to be graced by the presence of two goddesses in the aftermath of this trial with our lost ones. Truly, the Heavens smile upon us today.”

Several of them began to bow in a manner that Hestia wasn’t exactly comfortable with, but she understood why. “What do you mean one of our messengers?”

He elaborated. “A short while before the black creatures fell upon us, a young woman with wings descended from above with our friend here. He had been out hunting when he had been attacked and she managed to bring him back, telling us that we should flee to the north to escape as they passed. Once we realized that the only ones of us unaccounted for was the two who had been venturing outwards towards neighboring village, she then flew off to find them.”

Hestia realized he must have meant Hermes’ child. She must have flown ahead to warn the village once she realized they were along the path. If not for that it was likely they would have stumbled across so many bodies and weeping survivors.

“So, casualties were averted then.” There were few words to describe the look of relief on Artemis’ face before she drew in on herself into the stern, authoritative expression she wore normally. “Our children are heading to deal with the source of those monsters, but there’s a very real chance that within the next week another wave will pass through before we can deal with them. Is it possible for you to relocate for a short while until then?”

He nodded. “Fortunately, we’re on friendly terms with a neighboring village further out. And we have supplies buried for emergencies such as this. We’ll depart come morning for a time until we can rebuild once more.”

Hestia spotted a group of men who were standing near the rubble of a barn, where they had been unearthing what seemed to be sealed jars kept buried there. Occasions such as this weren’t uncommon for them then. Not when they were so far from a city where they could rely on Adventurers.

“Then we’ll take our leave,” Artemis declared, turning towards her own dragon when she felt a slight tug on her wrist. She turned to see the man holding it.

“Thank you for saving my family, Lady Goddess,” the man said. “They meant the world to me. I didn’t know what I would do when I heard they were still out there.”

For a moment Hestia was worried the man might have erred by grabbing hold of her as such. Artemis was somewhat prickly when it came to being touched by men due to the Gods being… well, them. It wasn’t to say that she hated men, but she really didn’t appreciate being touched by them.

But to her surprise, Artemis instead set her hand on top of his and shook her head. “Hold them close to you and never let them go. Family is a very precious thing after all.”

He nodded his head and released her, allowing her to continue back towards her mount. Hestia did the same, spying Artemis wearing an expression that she rarely saw when they were back above. “So, it’s not just Bell that’s changed you, Artemis. The old you would have smacked his hand away at the very least.”

“…You can blame that on Zeus and the shameless perverts following him when we were above,” she claimed. “Besides, he had a family and only wanted to see them saved. I’ve learned how precious it is to have a family… and what it means to want to be with them no matter what.”

There was something in her tone that Hestia could pick up that felt… all too familiar. A finality to it. “Artemis, there’s more to what’s happening, isn’t there?”

“…I’ll explain everything as we fly,” Artemis promised. “About what happened… and the burden that I have to ask your child to bear.”