Fanfic Recommendation 120
Summary: Shinji Matou had been looking to redeem himself after the Holy Grail War, but wasn’t certain how to. Then he learned about a crimson calling card labeled Psyren. Saving the future would be a good starting point. A pseudo-crossover using elements of Psyren, it will contain characters from several Nasuverse works, including Tsukihime. Based on a Challenge by FateOnline.
Maybe I’m A Monster. Maybe More.
Summary: Liliruca Arde died in the Dungeon. Then she woke up with a burning in her chest and the world was red. She didn’t know what she had become, but anything was better than her old, weak self.
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Maybe I’m A Monster. Maybe More.
Maybe I’m A Monster. Maybe More.
Summary: Liliruca Arde died in the Dungeon. Then she woke up with a burning in her chest and only able to see red. She didn’t know what she had become, but anything was better than her old, weak self.
The quivering of her lips.
The straining of her throat.
The ear-stabbing reverberation.
The scream of the curled figure within the dark chasm was akin to a newborn coming into the world.
A set of chestnut eyes wrenched themselves open the moment there was no more air left to escape the confines of her crinkled lungs. That which greeted her gaze was distant shadows. It was practically bright in contrast to the stygian black that had made up the world a moment prior.
Her lungs burned as she drew in her first breath. The scent of musk and iron assailed her nose. The tang of salt and metal slid along her tongue. It all scraped down her throat like the rusty tip of a knife until her lungs were ready to burst. Then she exhaled and what came out this time was a raspy and shuddering cry laced with tremors and pain.
Pain was her world in the darkness. Her body existed of nothing but different forms of pain.
The constant pressure of unworked stone slowly biting into half of her flesh. The burning of her throat and cracks in her lips. The roiling agony of an empty stomach devouring itself from the inside out. The dull pulsation that accompanied every beat of her heart.
The electrified haze inside of her skull was the worst. Her thoughts. Her memories. They were hidden beneath its obscuring veil. No matter how long or hard she tried to reel them from beneath the fog it refused to yield them to her.
Even her own name was mired somewhere in the mist.
Her breathing slowed as the shadows slowly began to bleed into detail. She could make out the stone womb that she was in. Faint traces of light came from the direction of her feet. Instinctively chasing it left the muscles in her body to throb as they fought off the numbing pain that had taken root. Slowly rousing from what felt like an ancient slumber, her feet slid across the ground until they came to a stop at something hard.
Her head tilted down and her eyes focused. The light was coming through a smaller opening in the stone chamber. Fleeting thoughts managed to breach her mired mind. Walls. Growing. Sealing. Time. Escape.
It took a moment before she managed to put the pieces together. Her stone womb was a wound and now the walls were slowly closing in to mend it. It would become her tomb if she couldn’t get out.
She sucked in a sharp breath as every nerve suddenly came to life in response to her need to survive. There was a rush of heat coming from a molten core in her chest. It flooded her body as her foot lashed out and breached the opening, allowing her to escape the coffin of bedrock on her arms and knees.
Her bones creaked as she stood up on her two legs. She was a meder-and-a-half at full height, her limbs thin and stiff. The cloth that covered her body was old and shorn with fabric thinner in some places. Moist air tickled her bare skin as it crept through a rough gash that threaded the cloth diagonally between her breasts.
She made out her surroundings as she brushed the hair clinging to her forehead out of the way. Space had opened up but still felt claustrophobic as stalagmites and stalactites jutted all over the place and branching paths in the darkness beyond her vision went off into the unknown. The dim light that had guided her free of the small tunnel at the base of a wall seemed to have come from the small crystals that were woven into them without rhyme or reason with the ceiling itself a dark umbrella at its deepest.
It was about then the sound of a soft and inquiring squeal came from the edge of her vision.
Her eyes homed in toward the source of the sound where she found a small mass of white fur peeking around one of the naturally forming columns that linked the floor to the ceiling. The long ears on its head, perched to either side of a horn, sprang from half-slouching to erect as pale-red eyes began to shine with bright malice as it fixated on her.
Emerging from its cover to reveal itself in full to be around her size in height as it stood on its hind legs, she watched as it slowly moved to the side while almost meekly keeping an eye on her. It was approaching what seemed to be a non-descript jutting of stone to seemingly hide behind. Except that she could feel deep within her that wasn’t the case.
Some part of her instinctively recognized that there was something within the stone just waiting there. Then the creature chambered one of its legs and stomped against the stone. The impact had shattered the solid rock with a similar spray as she had done to break free of her confines, only it had instead freed a dense piece of stone that held the shape of a handle. The creature gripped the handle with its forepaws that bent and revealed opposable thumbs that allowed it to wrench free the head that was a wedge with a cutting edge.
Then it let loose a high-pitched shriek before it bounded towards her with the stone-axe in hand.
The distance between them must have been at least thirty meders. It was a distance that would require more than a hundred steps to cross for someone their size at a walking pace. Yet in three bounds of its hindlegs it cleared that distance in three seconds.
By the time her hazy mind registered that she was under attack, the scent of fresh blood spilling into the air reached her right along with the sound of bone buckling beneath the stone wedge. Then she felt sharp, burning pain where her neck and shoulder met—where the creature’s axe had buried itself into her and split her open like firewood.
“Ah… ahh….” Her voice croaked as the shock left her unable to scream. She could only stare wide-eyed into the pale red orbs that seemed like ominous stars up close. The lips of the creature whose white fur was speckled red from her blood pulled back into what could only be described as a smile of revelrous glee.
It squealed in delight upon seeing the anguish on her face. The pain it brought upon her seemed to excite it. Even now she could see from its eyes that it yearned to split her open and butcher her into slabs of meat.
It wrought out more fragments of her lost memories. The same smiles at her pain. The laughs at her anguish. The looks of those who wanted nothing more than to be rid of her.
Remembering that. Feeling the pain. Not wanting to return to the darkness. It all left her vision to turn red as the molten core in her chest seemed to burn even hotter. Every emotion seemed to drain out of her and leave only anger as she lashed out at the creature with a snarl, driving her right fist into its head with all her might.
The creature that was almost her height ended up floored as its entire body slammed into the ground next to her. It trembled as its mind seemed to register that its prey had fought back despite what should have been a fatal blow. A pained cry drew its head back towards her, only for it to find itself staring at an upraised blade that was covered in crimson.
There was another scream before the blade descended. The wet and crunchy sound of brain and skull being carved into filled the chamber. Then it happened again. And then again. And again.
The act of butchery continued to resound for time untold. The squelch of flesh being split open. The crack and crunch of bone being wrenched apart. The splashing of blood painting the drab walls and dry gravel beneath them a vivid shade of crimson.
By the time the red had cleared from her vision, there was no creature left in front of her. Instead, it was only a mass of battered meat and red fur. Bits of white bone and purple veins could be made out amidst the viscera pile that glistened faintly under the dim light with a faint sheen.
Whimpers slipped out her mouth and were followed by the stone axe clattering to the ground as pain re-asserted itself. The hand that wielded it instead came over to where she had been split open and then wrenched free the very tool used to do it. She felt a burning heat there that seemed to intensify with every beat of her heart.
Her eyes turned towards the gaping wound to see the broken bones had snapped themselves back into place and welded themselves back together. The snapped and torn muscles stretched themselves and then reconnected with a searing heat like flames were melting them together. The blood stopped flowing as her arteries and veins wormed and writhed until they reconnected. Then finally the skin knitted itself closed.
But no sooner than she was made whole did she feel a spreading and numbing cold seep throughout her body. It was as if the molten core that had been roaring hot a moment prior had been reduced to only a smoldering husk that was on the verge of burning itself out. Then there would only be emptiness in its place.
A shuddering breath escaped her as she recognized the threat of the gnawing emptiness for what it was. She needed something to quench it. Something to fill in that numbing emptiness before it spread and hollowed her out. Something to fuel the flame between her breasts that was keeping her warm before she went completely cold and still.
And she knew what she what that was the moment she spotted it peeking out of the pile of bone, fur, and meat that lay before her. The gem hidden within the viscera of the creature that had attacked her. The small prismatic stone that could fit in the palm of her hand.
She wrenched it free of the meat and blood vessels that were clinging to it desperately to hold onto their physical form. The creature that had once been alive turned into nothing but ash the moment she plucked it free. The only signs of its existence that remained were the blood that painted the walls as a testimony to the fact that it once lived and the very stone that had kept it tethered to life.
There was no hesitation before she swallowed even that. No real thought behind it. Perhaps it was instinct?
The reason behind the act ultimately didn’t matter so much as the fact that the moment she swallowed the stone the effect was instant.
The numbing cold was driven off as heat and life returned to her flesh. The fog dissipated from her mind as if it evaporated at the same time. With it gone came clarity and all the memories that had been lost before came rushing back to her all at once.
She remembered that her name was Liliruca Arde.
She remembered that she died.
The story began on the Twelfth Floor.
The room was a savanna consisting of bone-white grass. Fog blanketed the entirety of the floor and left it laced with a chill that stiffened one’s cheeks. Dead trees sprouted from the earth with dense trunks that grew thinner as they tried to stretch themselves to the faint light from above.
The trotting of boots stirred the white veil. Steel glinted as they came into view. Drawn blades caked in fresh blood and fat held at the ready. Three men in total were accounted for.
The first was a blonde with a lean body and narrow eyes. His cheap breastplate bore new scratches and the protectors on his arm looked like they had been chewed on, while his broad sword was leveled out as he made his way over toward one of the corners of the room where the fog was at its thickest. He lowered the blade when he spotted what awaited him there. “Guys, over here!”
Footfalls crushed the grass as the remaining two made it over. Of them, the first to arrive was a middle-aged man with slightly tanned skin and a pair of daggers in his hands. His black jacket was ripped in places and around one of his wrists was a cloth that had been stained red and tied tight.
“You found ‘em?” he called as he darted over, blades in a reverse grip as If ready to be plunged into flesh. They quickly went slack when he arrived. “Or what’s left of ‘em, anyway.”
It became clear what he meant when the party leader arrived. He was slightly shorter than his compatriots but had a bulkier build. A helmet covered his light brown hair while a large pauldron was affixed to his right shoulder, beneath which one could make out the muscular arms he had. “Hmph.”
All three stared down at the scene that had been hidden beneath the blanket of obscuring white mist that loitered above the ground. The bleached grass had been slathered in crimson. Bits of meat and purple entrails were left around four sets of bags that had begun to soak in it.
“You think one of the Orcs got to ‘em?” asked the swordsman as he sheathed it on his back. “Not like they would have trouble fitting him in their mouths as a snack, being messy eaters and all.”
The dagger-user drew back, wedging his blades into their sheathes before reaching down and pulling away his own bag. His lips pulled back into a grimace, and he covered his nose at the putrid scent of the fluid dripping over it. “A fittin’ end for the thieving piece of shit. Stole from us after all the good we did for ‘em.”
In contrast, the party leader’s face scrunched up and a grunt bubbled up in his throat as his eyes spanned the area. “…If that’s the case then where’s his backpack?”
“Maybe it got thrown somewhere?” suggested the swordsman as he scrubbed his bag across the grass and dirt to try and wipe away some of it.
“If it got tossed aside that’d be one thing. But…” He looked down at the grass itself before reaching down to run his hand over the surface. “The grass and earth ain’t flattened like one of the pigs lumbering around would have done either.”
Then he grabbed his own bag and opened it without concern over the smell or the sight. His expression darkened and his gaze turned murderous as he flung the bag to the side. “My dagger’s gone! Check the rest of ‘em.”
Liliruca held her hands over her mouth to avoid the swirl of her breath giving away her position as the other two realized their bags had been deprived of the most valuable belongings. The Supporter hailing from the Soma Familia had been forced to retreat down from the Eleventh Floor to avoid retribution from the Adventurers with whom she had terminated her contract on the previous Floor. Her severance payment was a very nice magic dagger that the party leader had been quietly holding on to, much to the ignorance of his companions.
It had been by pure chance that she caught a passing glance of the crimson blade with a notable gloss. Her eyes, which were naturally more perceptive than that of other races, immediately caught sight of it when he was handling his bag and knew it was something that would fetch a high price. More money meant more of a chance at finally obtaining freedom—from Soma, his wine, and his Familia.
She had been unable to resist the chance to obtain it. Especially considering how he had short-changed her several trips now and told her if she didn’t like it, ‘he’ could always quit. She knew where the money went, so there was nothing wrong as far as she was concerned in taking what she was owed.
But it seemed he really wanted it back. “It’d be suicidal going down further on their own, so the conniving bastard is still here somewhere! Spread out and look!”
Tension threaded her body. Her small frame was tucked deep into the grass she used a large cloth that resembled the hue of the nearby walls to cover herself and her backpack. It gave the impression due to the size and shape of being little more than a stone outcropping within the fog. Monsters would overlook it simply enough but a thorough search by adventurers meant she was on a clock.
Normally, Liliruca would have been more thorough in setting up the deception after coming down this far. But they had caught on too fast. Or perhaps she had gotten too ambitious by taking the magic dagger?
If she had left it in the bag, then he probably would have just moved on and taken them with him. Adventurers only looked after themselves even when they were in a group, and he was the strongest so what he said went. Even if they had complained about something being missing, he would have blamed it on them since he got what was important to him.
However, hindsight was something she didn’t have time to worry about at the moment. Escape. Survival. That was what she needed to focus on now.
Her chestnut eyes narrowed as she counted that only three of them were here. The fourth was still nowhere to be seen. Given the situation, she was willing to bet that meant the fourth was watching the only way up and she couldn’t force her way through him. Like it or not she was small and weak enough that any one of them wouldn’t have any trouble catching up and killing her if she was caught.
Her mind raced.
A solution that came to her mind was disguising herself as someone else. She had masqueraded herself as a male her entire time with them, so it could work. But her means of doing so didn’t work on anything bigger than herself and meant she would have to ditch her backpack and come back for it later.
It would have to be tomorrow morning. That was when there would be an influx of adventurers making their way down. They would trim the number of monsters along the way, harvesting their magic stones to sell. That would also be a benefit to her given the ones on the Eighth Floor and lower were too much for her to handle.
There was a risk of her losing everything in it if she left it there. But her life was more important. She would leave the sheet covering the backpack over it, hoping it wouldn’t be discovered or bothered before she could come back for it. If was missing then she would have to resort to her savings to replace everything.
She needed to get away from the three in front of her right now, of course.
But she knew that was about to be taken care of the moment she felt the earth beneath her start to tremor. It came from the lumbering of passing footfalls that mercifully passed her by and moved towards the assembled men. It had been a mistake for them to stay there to look for her even after they found their bags.
Few things drew in monsters like the scent of blood being carried on the mist. She always kept a few bottles of it on her just in case she needed a distraction, tucked into her bag and sealed tight. It was already too late for them to run the moment the apex predator lurching through the fog spotted them.
The monster’s red eyes focused not on spanning the world for the scent that allured it, but instead on the ones that sparked the instinctive hatred that lurked within the very core of its being. Its muscles hidden beneath its fur began to bulge until the veins could be seen as it stood taller than any of them by more than twice over. Then it beat at its chest with a roar.
Liliruca tucked the magic dagger into her robes and started making her way to safety as the fog was kicked up the moment their fight for survival began. Silverbacks weren’t known to roam in packs like Orcs, and they were territorial when there weren’t mortals around to draw their ire. And she was an expert at avoiding monsters by necessity, so she would make her escape back to the surface while under another guise to live another day….
Or at least that had been the plan before the floor had fallen from beneath her.
Had it been eaten away from below by Dungeon Worms?
Had the bedrock broken open to birth some monstrosities and had yet to mend itself, leaving it to become a pitfall for any unlucky soul to stumble across?
Had the Dungeon, the living and breathing thing that it was, taken notice of the mistake that was her hubris and opened its maw to devour what seemed to be easy prey deeper into its stomach?
It really didn’t matter in the end what the reason for it was.
What mattered was that she fell into the darkness.
The fall hadn’t killed her on impact.
It would have been more merciful if it had.
Liliruca’s vision slowly came into focus as she stared up at the far-off hole that she had plummeted through. It looked to be in the center of whatever chamber she had fallen into, meaning there were no handholds that she could use to climb her way out. And considering how the Dungeon walls mended themselves it would only be a matter of time before it sealed itself shut.
The shock of the fall itself faded and the horror set in that she was stuck there. On instinct she almost shouted out for someone to help her before the wall sealed itself shut. But her rational mind lunged from the depths of her forming headache and brought with it the knowledge that the only ones who would hear her would be the adventurers above or the monsters on the floor she found herself on.
Both were a death sentence for her.
Her throat tightened shut.
Cold sweat began to form on her forehead from the gravity of the situation. But she knew that panicking would do no good. She had to find her way back up to the surface. And to do that she needed to start moving.
Her body ached as she sat up straight. Her head pounded. She wanted to lay back down and close her eyes, hoping that the pain would pass. But that would be the same as laying down to die considering that she was out of her depths, so she tried to compose herself by thinking what did she have on her at the moment to help her survive?
Her handheld crossbow?
A breath of relief escaped as she found it had survived the fall. Good. Between that and the magic dagger, which thankfully remained where it had been tucked prior, she wasn’t entirely unarmed. The number of bolts she had was limited though.
There was also her necklace holding the key to her storage and the golden pocket watch that she had gotten from one of the marks. Unfortunately, the watch had broken from the impact so she couldn’t tell the time as it was. But it was still gold so she could probably get something for it on the surface or get it fixed. She tucked it into her robes.
What about healing items?
A grimace spread as she picked up the pouch that she had placed them within and heard glass scratching against itself. Pulling open the top revealed that the vials had shattered on impact. She rummaged through her pocket for a cloth, placing it into the pouch and leaving it to soak up as much as the cloth could hold before she put it into her mouth to suckle it down. Hopefully it would be enough to numb the pain she was in so she could start moving.
But to where?
She had memorized the maps up to the Eleventh Floor. The only reason she had gone down to the Twelfth was that she couldn’t take the exit upwards because they had caught on to her original diversion, split themselves up along the paths that would have led upwards, and thus funneled her below. And now she was entirely new territory that someone with her Status had no business being, dropped from a hole with no idea where the entrance was.
To escape she needed to either figure out a way up or find another group of adventurers to barter with for safe passage.
The pain numbed somewhat by the time the light from the hole began to shrivel up from the opening starting to seal shut. That made it painfully clear how much darker the floor was in comparison to the above, distantly only illuminated by scattered crystalline formations that budded from the rock formations. She imagined that it would only be bright enough to make out her own silhouette, leaving the world around her reduced to half.
Even so, she had to move forward. Not blindly. But with some direction. She turned to her trump card. “Your scars are mine. My scars are mine. Stroke of midnight’s bell.”
Argent light swaddled her body before pooling over her head and lower back. Her normal ears vanished as a set of Chienthrope ears formed on the top of her hair, while a furry tail took shape behind her. She flexed them as the light vanished and confirmed they functioned.
This was her magic—Cinder Ella. It allowed her to transform either part of herself or entirely into other creatures and races. It used to only work on her body but because she used it so much her Magic had increased enough to where it allowed her to change her clothes, though unlike her body the effect dissipated if she was hit. And while she was restricted to things her size or smaller, she gained racial features and physical attributes of the other races.
Since she couldn’t rely on her eyes to see incoming threats in the dim light, she had to rely on her other senses. Chienthropes had sharper hearing and smell than Pallums. And while it cost quite a bit of Mind to activate depending on the nature of the transformation, keeping it active didn’t have as much upkeep so she could keep it active for most of the day if needed.
It didn’t, however, make her any stronger. That was why she couldn’t risk fighting with a monster from this floor if she could help it. Her only tools were the crossbow and the magic dagger, both of which had limited uses.
Transformed, she stuck to the center of the tunnel as she made her way into the unknown. If she clung to either side of the wall, then there was the chance a sudden birth could leave her right in the jaws of a monster. But if she lingered for too long, she could be pincered and then pinned—so Liliruca moved quietly but quickly.
Every step she took across the gravel sounded like the pounding of a war drum in her head. No matter how quietly she knew that she was moved, part of her couldn’t help but think it was announcing to everything on the floor that she was there. That fresh prey had been dropped right into their laps.
It left her mouth dry to think about what could happen if they did discover her. Her knowledge of monsters below the Eleventh Floor was limited compared to her knowledge above it. But given the terrain, she could guess that monsters like the Silverbacks and Orcs would be absent.
But the Dungeon was a threat on every level, and she was certain something was gestating within the womb of the cavernous walls that would be the end of her. Not knowing what that was, but knowing that it would eventually come, kept her tension running high. The handheld crossbow trembled in her grasp as she gripped it so tight her knuckles were turning white.
She pressed on until the tunnel running from the small chamber she had fallen into split off into three directions. Three options to choose from. She stuck her head into the air and took a deep breath to take in the scent wafting from each of them.
One scent was that of what smelled like burned fruit and the earth after rain. She recalled catching the scent once before on the Tenth Floor. Bad Bats were down the west path, and quite a few of them judging by the smell.
Two options. The air in the one to the northwest smelled fresher than the one to the east. That meant it potentially was getting airflow from above or was more spacious so that it could be better circulated. She took that path.
At the mouth of the tunnel she came to a large chamber that appeared to be the lowest rung of a set of smooth walls that were built upon each other until they reached a ceiling with the guiding specks of dim light coming from the crystals lacing the walls intermittently. There were several tunnels along the path and each of them was pitch black beyond the threshold as a testament to how deeply they went.
Another decision to make and not a lot of time to make it. She had to move while there were no monsters around. She followed her nose and went up the rocky path that was nearby on the hunch that she wanted to ascend to get to the surface.
That was when the Dungeon made its move.
Ashen-toned rock split wide open from the section of stone in front of her and out plopped a large mass amidst the fragmented stone. The gleam of pale-golden carapace stretched over a muscular frame that was big enough to take up the walkway caught the dim light. And it only grew bigger as it unfurled while bits of the pebble clinging to a furry mane were shaken loose, flexing long black claws meant to tunnel through earth and stone.
Hard Armored—that was the name of the monster that Liliruca found herself staring nearly eye-level with. Next to the Silverbacks that possessed the highest offense of monsters on the Eleventh and Twelfth Floor, they were known to possess the strongest defense due to their hard carapaces. Lower-quality blades would break often enough that fighting one hand-to-hand for a Level One Adventurer was considered foolhardy.
And its crimson eyes were fixed solely on her.
…She jumped. It was only natural given that the handheld crossbow in her grip wouldn’t be able to kill this thing. The magic dagger she had could, but in the time she could draw it the monster would have killed her. So she flung herself over the side of the rising walkway and fell down to the floor below since that was the only way to survive.
It was the right call. The shadow of death had grazed her head not a half-second before she fell, leaving the ground where she had been gouged out by the black claws of the monster. Whether it was a testament to their sharpness or the power of the muscles behind them, Liliruca wasn’t eager to find out by being on the business end of them.
She ducked into the nearest tunnel where she could sense the airflow splitting. Even though it would take her away from the ascending path and descend her further into the depths, she had no choice. Hard Armoreds could cover a vast amount of distance if they were on even ground and a newborn fresh out of the Dungeon’s womb would chase its first prey until it caught up to her.
The ground tremored as it jumped after her. Gravel began to crunch at a constant pace from its charging attack, seeking to barrel her over. With her small frame, it would be an instant kill. Her bones would be crushed beneath the rolling mass and hard carapace, the pulped organs spilling out from the skin that split open like squashed fruit.
Her legs burned as she ran towards a diverging path. At the same time the rumbling from the approaching Hard Armored had grown louder to spell out her impending death. She flung herself into it and felt the harsh wind as it narrowly passed her by, its momentum carrying it several meders beyond her.
It realized its mistake and bounced into the air, unfurling as it did so. Its claws dug into the ground as it slid to a stop, letting out a frustrated growl. Then it turned its crimson gaze back into her direction—
—only to be met with the searing hot ball of fire that ruptured into an explosion upon slamming into its unprotected head courtesy of the magic dagger. The crimson bloom of flames swallowed its body, including the soft underbelly that it so preciously protected by hiding within its shell and remaining low to the ground. The monster collapsed where it was with smoke wafting off of it.
Liliruca breathed out a heavy breath as the arm holding out the magic dagger went limp. Her entire body was shaking. She had managed to kill it by chance and her body responded to that with elation at the having seized another moment of life.
It would have proven fatal had her Chienthrope ears not picked up the sound of shifting stone from above. Her attention snapped upwards right before the ceiling burst open and wet, glistening flesh lined with pointed teeth greeted her from above. Its maw was centered perfectly to engulf her, the outer row of teeth spread wide like a bear trap waiting to snap shut before the inner ones ripped her apart along the way down its long tubular body.
Ironically, her small body was all that gave her a chance at survival. Her short stature was low enough from the ceiling it had to extend further down to reach her. So, between that and her hearing, there was just enough space so that her legs could snap her backward and avoid instant death—
—and all it cost her was having her flesh split open as one of the long fangs on the outer row of the teeth grazed along her chest. The tip of it ripped into her robe and between her chest, leaving her world to burn in agony as blood poured from the wound.
Noisy chittering kept her eyes on the Dungeon Worm as it curled around and bared its gaping maw toward her once more. Crimson painted the fang that had torn her open. It angled itself and prepared to lunge once more and devour her.
With a shout, Liliruca unloaded everything the magic dagger had left into its open maw. Flames bloomed not once, but twice as two blasts struck home. The first blew apart the upper right section of its body, while the second struck deeper. It must have stuck the magic stone within its elongated body because it turned to ash right afterward.
“Nnn…” The handheld crossbow clattered to the ground as the pain left Liliruca to curl into herself, forcing her eyes down to where she saw a spreading crimson puddle beneath her legs. Her blood was running freely, and she had to stem it. But first, she needed somewhere safe to tend to the injury.
That was when the world around her shook violently for a moment and the rumble of stone could be heard. She feared another monster’s birth was happening, but it was so violent that whatever it was would have been massive. Fortunately, the shaking stopped, and nothing lunged from the darkness to finish her off.
She took in her surroundings to see it had opened into a section with naturally forming columns. She hobbled her way further inside, away from where the smoking corpse of the Hard Armored would likely draw in other monsters. It was deeper within she found a small hole to crawl inside to try and stop the bleeding.
As she tried to pull her robe off to use it as a makeshift tourniquet, her limbs began to go numb. Her eyes felt heavy, and her vision blurred. Her breath grew to shudder as the fear of death closing in gnawed at her heart.
She couldn’t let herself die like this. Not now. Not after everything she had gone through up to this point. Everything she had put up with on the surface just to survive. Not to some scratch.
The Pallum put every ounce of strength she had into trying to move her limbs. But instead, lethargy left her to collapse onto her side, and a bitter cold set in. Stinging tears were the only source of heat left as she thought to herself what was it all for in the end?
Why had she been born into this world? Why had she been born into the clutches of an uncaring God and his Familia? Why did she have to die here because of them?
All of this was because of them. If they had just let her be free to live a new life back then, with those nice people. She could have been… happy…
But that wasn’t how reality worked, was it?
Only the strong had that right. The Adventurers who were so proud of themselves, happily lording their power over the weak and helpless. They didn’t know what it was like to struggle and survive. Only to use others and throw them away.
At the very least it was all over now. Her suffering would be over. She would die and then be reborn to live a new life. The only regret she had was that the Adventurers who looked down on her and the Soma Familia who ruined her life would move on as though nothing happened.
With her final breath, Liliruca cursed them.
Then she breathed no more.
Falling onto her knees, Liliruca clutched her head as the memories finished resurfacing. Her body trembled as she looked down at the gravel-laden ground that had been her tomb. She remembered she had died so vividly that it was undeniable.
She remembered her body going cold and her breath stalling. She remembered the darkness pulling her in. She remembered the emptiness.
She remembered death.
There were no miracles in the world that brought the dead back to life. The bodies were left to rot and the souls were sent up above to be reborn once more. That was the fate of mortals, and everyone knew it.
She had died. After a life of suffering, she died. That meant she should have been reborn. So why was she still her weak, miserable self? A Pallum that lacked the strength to find even a sliver of happiness?
Was it some kind of cruel joke? Had some God or Goddess in charge of reincarnation decided to amuse themselves by shoving her back into her weak self? Did they think it would be hilarious to leave her trapped in the Dungeon?
The same Dungeon that wouldn’t even give her time to come to terms with things as the sound of the walls breaking open reached her ears. Bundles of fur as white as the snow plopped onto the gravel with bits of fragmented stones nestled within them. The pebbles fell loose as they shook and bristled before the four-legged frames became bipedal and thus rivaled her height.
Crimson eyes and malicious squeaks followed as a horde of Almiraj faced her down.
She could tell that there were landform weapons nearby. There were six of them alone by where they were born. The monsters would grab new axes and then use them to butcher her limb from limb until she resembled the pile of meat like the one who’d attacked her before.
It would be a cruel and painful death.
Liliruca wasn’t afraid. Even though she had tasted death itself and the blackness that awaited, she couldn’t bring herself to fear it. Or rather to say that while she would feel fear under normal circumstances, right now she didn’t.
Instead, she only felt anger.
Anger at the fact that she had died once. Anger at the fact that she had been denied a chance to be born as someone else. Anger at the fact that the Dungeon itself didn’t seem content with taking her life already. It stirred up a deep, red-hot anger inside of Liliruca as she reached for the landform axe next to her.
Then a shout emerged from her throat and her world turned red.
The red swallowed all as it buried her into a haze that persisted until she found herself huddled over in pain. She drew in a sharp breath of air that was laced with the scent of iron and viscera, noticing the sea of blood, broken stone, and piles of flesh around her. She saw the corpses of not only the Almiraj, but even Hard Armoreds and what looked to be the split corpse of more than one Dungeon Worm.
Pain was once more her world. She could feel where her body had been broken open by landform weapons. Where her bones had been crushed and pulverized. She could even see what looked to be her own hand separate from her body.
Yet when she raised the one that was in the most pain, she saw the missing limb was no longer bleeding. Instead, there was a stump. More than that, it was growing bit-by-bit—regenerating until she was whole and hale.
It was something that should have been impossible. Almost as impossible as coming back from the dead. Yet it was unfurling before her very eyes as an undeniable sight.
And the reason became clear as she looked down at her chest.
It had been split open once more sometime when the world was a haze of red. She suspected it had been one of the Almiraj getting lucky with its dying strike, judging by the landform weapon resting beneath her along with the corpse that had its head crushed beneath her foot. But nestled firmly between her breasts and slowly being encased in a fresh layer of smoldering skin…
Laid a richly, vibrantly colored magic stone.
It was a different hue from the ones of the monsters nearby. But there was no denying what it was. Or what its purpose was. Just as the magic stones gave life to the monsters of the Dungeon, so too did it keep her body moving and even fueled the fury that somehow gave her the strength to be the one still standing within the pile of corpses that lay in the chamber.
…She should be horrified. There was something in her chest that marked her as being an enemy of mortals. The very creatures that had been at war with their kind since history began. Yet a twisted smile formed on her face instead as she looked over the dead creatures in the room.
For so long she had been weak. So weak that she was only able to survive on literal scraps. She had to bow her head to the Adventurers who thought themselves better than her because she was so small and weak. She could only vent her rage through schemes and thievery to survive, and look where that had gotten her.
It had gotten her killed down here in the Dungeon.
As her arm finished regrowing, Liliruca felt the cold and emptiness starting to settle in once more. It was the same sensation that she recognized as being death reaching out to claim her a second time. Fortunately, all around her were magic stones from the monsters that had tried to kill her right after she had been reborn.
She would consume them all to fuel the new flames of life that burned within her.
Then she would claw her way out of the Dungeon and make it to the surface.
Not as her pathetic old self that died miserably.
But reborn as something else entirely.
Liliruca Arde (Level 0)
Former member of the Soma Familia. Supporter. The reincarnation of Fianna whose soul once held the Bloodfury Spear, she was born into a Familia whose souls were slaves to Soma’s divine wine. When her attempts at escaping that life by becoming a civilian were ruined, she turned to conning and thieving for survival. She died from her injuries sustained in the Dungeon but strangely awoke a short time later as something neither mortal nor monster.
Strength: I-0 | Endurance: I-0 | Dexterity: I-0 | Agility: I-0 | Magic: I-0
Cinder Ella: Twelve-verse Chant, Transform-Type Magic. Enables her to take on the aspects of or transform into other creatures, including monsters. While undergoing the transformation she is limited by her own capabilities but gains the natural abilities of the creatures. The mutation by Monstrum Union replicates innate spellcasting effects provided the form and user is capable of such.
Chant: “Your scars are mine. My scars are mine. Stroke of midnight’s bell.”
Artel Assist: Assist Skill that compensates for small stature. Grants virtual Strength and Endurance in proportion to the weight being carried.
Monstrum Union: Signifier of union between mortal and monster, causing a bug in Status and erosion of the Anima (lifeforce). Ties the animating essence of her body and magic to the Heartstone (magic stone) embedded within.
Bloodfury: Fury of mortal and monster crystalized as one within blood-red eyes. Heavily increases Status at the expense of depleting Heartstone at an accelerated rate. Active trigger.
Landform Tomahawk: One of the naturally forming weapons created by the Dungeon itself to arm the monsters that roam around inside of it, the design allows it to be wielded one-handed with ease by Almiraj and similar sized creatures (Pallums). It can also be thrown as well for a ranged attack.
Supporter Robe: A cloak for Supporters that offer little in terms of defense but are easy to clean. Hers is notably in tatters from her time in the Dungeon.
Handheld Crossbow: A crossbow meant to be used for smaller races.
Broken Watch: A golden pocket watch that belonged to one of the adventurers swindled by Liliruca.
Calling Card (Psyren x FSN -Nasuverse): Arc 5 – Chapter 25
“Not ten minutes and we run across a scouting party.”
Makidera and I take stock of the enemy as we hide downwind of the steel breeze blowing through the husk of civilization. There are eight total.
Five of them are Homunculi. Two magecraft-users. Two halberd-vanguards. And a rearguard with a bow.
The other three are the abominations they love to keep around them. Two Hounds. And a hulking Snatcher.
It’s a composition that specializes in tracking and capturing, acting as one node of the net that had been cast over the remnants of the city. Their hivemind will alert them when one team finds a target. The nearby units will divert some of their numbers to close the net from more than one side to make escape nearly impossible.
A basic strategy, but effective for the dolls’ capabilities. It takes advantage of their numbers and inherent communication for maximum efficiency. And with the Taboo in the skies intercepting enemy communications, it guarantees a high success rate.
For the incompetent, anyway.
A simple network of Mind Jacks provides real-time communication that they can’t intercept. Their ignorance of that means they have no way of guessing we can coordinate just as effectively. That makes them little more than puppets waiting for someone to pull their strings.
I’ll oblige them.
‘Saegusa, tell Mitsuzuri to shoot down the airborne targets after firing at the largest cluster ahead of us. If she asks why then the reason is that we want them to believe it’s going to be an escape route and they’ll spread themselves thin enough to cover it so we can’t escape through it. It’ll also serve to alert the person we’re here to find of our presence.’
Her mental voice is gentle as always when she responds. ‘Mitsuzuri-san says that she will do that before providing cover fire starting clockwise until we can reposition. Will that be okay for you and Maki-chan?’
In other words, she’ll clear out those that are closer to Gotou and Himuro first and then make her way back around to us. The ruins around us will hinder her aim compared to those two, so protecting them is a priority to avoid their capture. We just need to move more carefully until she can relocate later to get a better vantage point in our direction.
‘That’s fine. As long as Makidera doesn’t do something that gets her in over her head, there shouldn’t be any problems.’
Hesitation carries through from the other end of the line for a moment. ‘…Please, keep an eye on her. Despite the front she puts up, Maki-chan is forcing herself to keep up with everything.’
Looking at her, I can see Makidera’s gaze on the Hounds and Snatcher at this very moment. Those same ones had caught her before. Her pride might stop her from admitting she’s terrified of a repeat of that scenario, but how tense her body is gives it away.
‘I’ll babysit her and keep her out of trouble.’
‘Please be safe yourself, Matou-kun.’
The connection remains intact but goes inert. Only a matter of time before Ayako starts her assault. Once that happens there’ll be no time for hesitation and doubt.
I need Makidera alive to play her part in things, so better to prod the exposed nerve now. “Is the Black Panther of Homura really that terrified of a couple of dogs?”
Her short, black hair whips around before her dark eyes meet my own. The withering glare she gives me is mildly impressive. “That’s not funny.”
I shake my head and shrug. “Listen, I’ll shut the dogs up when we start. But I want to prioritize those dolls since they’re the bigger threat. If you don’t think you can handle those monsters and want to cower here, then tell me now. That way I can plan ahead rather than misplace my trust in you to protect yourself.”
She starts to look uncomfortable and even she crosses her arms over her stomach as the steel wind whistles past us. It almost seems like the cold stole the very fire from her eyes. “…You’re really planning to kill them without blinking an eye. It doesn’t bother you at all, does it?”
I take a moment to measure my response. “If it makes you feel slightly less uncomfortable, I don’t see them as human. They’re just dolls that dress the part—mass-produced and flawless replicas that lack the blemishes and imperfections. I won’t feel bad about breaking a doll that’s trying to kill me, regardless of how it makes me look.”
She grimaces and turns her gaze to the ground. “…I won’t say that it doesn’t bother me. But I know I don’t have the right to sit here and judge you for it. Especially not when the only reason the three of us are still alive is because of it.”
Nice to see she has some level of awareness. It makes things easier. “Killing or being killed isn’t something normal people have to deal with, but that isn’t an option for any of us anymore. Nemesis Q robbed us of that luxury. I won’t tell you to get over it right away, but eventually, you’ll have to get your hands dirty. We won’t be able to shelter you forever.”
“I…” She clenches the hem of her coat as her lips pull back into a frown. “I know that. That’s why… I wanted to… ugh, this feels so weird to say all things considered…”
She fidgets in a way that starts reminding me of Saegusa. Minus the mousy demeanor that makes the latter more appealing. It feels uncanny, to be honest. “Is it really that hard for you to thank someone?”
Her eyes narrow as she spots the grin on my face. Just like that the vulnerability evaporates. “It’s you. Let’s be real here, you’re the last kind of person I’d want to spend time with or even speak to. And I can tell that you’re not the biggest fan of the rest of us as well.”
I don’t bother denying the accusation. “Well, the situation demands we shelve things like that if we want to live. I can make nice under those circumstances.”
She scoffs and crosses her arms. “Nice to know it takes the threat of death to make you into a decent person. I really don’t see what Yukicchi sees in you.”
I get ready to tell her she’s misinterpreting Saegusa’s actions when a warning flows down my connection with her. Seems like Ayako’s first shot is almost done being primed. No more time for small talk.
“It’s time,” I warn her. “Focus on the big one and then the dogs. I’ll deal with the dolls.”
Makidera’s expression twists uncomfortably as reality sets in. Then she closes her eyes and exhales before falling into a sprinter’s crouch. The moment her eyes open the change is clear, an unwavering gaze set straight ahead to the goal.
I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen Ayako making that same face. It’s the mindset of the competitive, cultivated by their roles as the heads of their respective clubs. A state of mind that focuses on allowing them to shelve all unnecessary thoughts to achieve their objective—not unlike self-hypnosis in a way. If she’s repurposed that state of mind to the task at hand, then she’ll cross the threshold without hesitation.
As for what comes after that… who knows?
I ready my tools as well. The lengths of the weighted chain occupy my left hand, filling my palm with the sting of cold metal. Three camping stakes occupy my right, their girth nestled between my fingers. I prepare them all while I can as my pulse slowly quickens in anticipation…
Then light spears across the steel-grey firmament.
Ayako’s opening shot resembles a shooting star falling to earth—a fleeting flash that splits the sky, burns gloriously for an ephemeral moment, and then blossoms in the distance with the radiance of a miniature white sun. The overbearing glare illuminates the skeletal remains of the city as the rumble of destruction resounds throughout the battlefield and marks first blood.
No sooner than my perception of time dilates does Makidera vanish from my side. It seems that a single trip was all it took for her to live up to her self-proclaimed moniker as the Black Panther and devour the distance between herself and her prey. Electricity surges through my mind as I leave my tools to execute their programming and join in the hunt.
In the three seconds after the daystar comes into existence for Makidera to reach the enemy, three corpses hit the ground. The magecraft-users and rearguard collapse like puppets with their strings cut courtesy of the metal stakes driven through their skulls. But she remains ignorant of everything aside from the hulking mass of muscles saddled between the two muzzled mutts as the final step of her sprint turns into a pendulum-like kick, aimed at its massive torso.
The Black Panther ends up crossing the finish line under a shower of viscera, crystalline bones, and blood that turns to ash as the core shatters.
The number of enemies has dropped to less than half in five seconds. The dolls’ hivemind must be experiencing a flood of information from the sudden assault on multiple fronts. Something like this won’t work a second time now since they’ll know we’re here.
A pair of stakes cut through the air like silver bullets as I launch my assault on the remaining two Homunculi. The first one dies cleanly as the stake punches a neat hole in its skull. The second one’s death isn’t so clean since they moved in response to Makidera, leaving the stake to get clipped by the halberd.
The act reoriented the stake, but not enough to kill the forward momentum. So rather than a straight line, it forced its way through at an awkward angle right as Makidera’s attention focused on the nearest Hound. Ignorant of the gruesome sight due to pivoting on her grounded leg and bringing her raised one down like a guillotine onto it, I witness the aftermath in slow motion.
The right eye ends up being smashed as the stake slams into the socket at an angle. It keeps going and breaks partway through the stark-white bone hidden behind the snow-white skin. Fragments bury themselves into glistening pink brain matter that ends up scrambled as the stake tears through before catching midway. Eventually, it goes flying out at an awkward angle, dragging with it a long optical nerve somewhere amidst the rubble.
It’s a bit of a captivating sight. A morbid artistry. But I don’t have the luxury of dwelling on it as Makidera overshoots her next kick.
Her foot came down upon the black core nestled on top of the Hound’s sealed maw, destroying it. But she’d put too much power into it, so her foot continued and broke through the asphalt beneath it. With the remaining Hound behind her getting ready to lunge, her instincts take hold as she leans forward and places one hand on the ground while bringing her other foot up to kick it away.
A sloppy kick, but it serves its purpose by punting the abomination away and slamming it into a piece of concrete rubble. It became a rag doll after the audible snap of its spine being broken in two, but the unsightly thing still wasn’t dead. It kept flailing its forelimbs pitifully while its hindlegs remain inert and the chain kept it muzzled until I put it out of its misery.
…That’s when the sound of vomiting pulls my attention back to Makidera.
The self-proclaimed Black Panther is huddled over the side, bracing against rubble jutting from the ground for support as she spills the contents of her stomach. Not an unexpected reaction, but not one we have time for.
I run a Mind Jack between the two of us. ‘Hurry up. We can’t sit around for long.’
‘… shut… up… ugh…’ She exhales a rasping breath as she finishes and wipes her mouth with the sleeve of her jacket. Her eyes are partly unfocused but come into clarity as they fix themselves onto my own. Then she scowls. ‘How can you smile after all of that?’
…I reach up to the corner of my lips. The curve of them pulled back in a grin feels foreign before I flatten it. But there’s no time to linger as light blossoms in the sky from Ayako’s second shot not even thirty seconds after the first. ‘You won’t have time to do that again, so get it all out of your system while you can.’
Makidera spits off to the side before taking deep, patterned breaths. Likely some kind of breathing technique she learned from the Track Team to get her nerves under control. It had better work considering the timetable we’ve been put on now that Ayako’s shot has become a beacon for all to see.
Countless reports began filing in one after another, breaking the monotony mere seconds prior within the Command Tower.
Homunculi that were acting as the support within the Communications room were receiving a massive influx of information. The hivemind of their counterparts in the field flowed into the deformed wetware within the tanks. Bubbles frothed as the chemicals within the fluids were adjusted to handle the strain. Cerebral matter that composed their flesh pulsated as that information was relayed to those manning their station as the organic interface allowed them to filter through it.
“Units seven and eight have been cut off from the network—”
“Unit two has been eliminated in a hostile engagement! Cross-referencing with the database matches—”
“—teen has begun engagement with a member of the Resistance, splitting off members from Units ten and fourteen for support—”
“—three has ceased transmitting their signal. It was sniped from ground-level based on the triangulated trajectory, believed to be the same Wide-Scale Destructive Burst User that destroyed the Terraformer.”
The voices overlapped until the head of the Tower entered the room from his private chambers and pointed to a monitor. “Show me.”
The monitor shifted to the view of one homunculus as they watched a bloom of light coming into existence further in the distance from the ground. Its vision abruptly end as the ‘camera’ suddenly jerked to the side and cut off. It then switched to the perspective of a nearby one that was standing over the bodies of three of the fallen in surprise as the massive Catcher between exploded from a kick as another member of the Resistance suddenly appeared. Their retaliation had been cut short as they both suddenly died.
Then it showed another pair in combat from the viewpoint of a rearguard. One of them was a male that he’d recalled seeing the last time one of their numbers had contacted the Homunculi. He clearly boasted a leaning in Rise considering he was ramming his entire arm through the body of a Snatcher with little trouble despite the muscle density to shatter its core, which he then picked before it could turn to dust and chucked at a vanguard with a halberd.
The homunculus didn’t hesitate to bat away the disintegrating corpse with the flat of the blade as the rearguard lined up a shot. But then there was a spray of blood as the vanguard’s head was pierced from the side. The body collapsed on the ground as the view of the Homunculus shifted back to trace the line of fire and subsequently caught sight of the young woman with her arm outstretched, a cluster of crystalline constructs revolving around her wrist before the vision cut with its death.
After staring at the frozen vision paused on the screen, the Head of the Tower crossed his arms and scowled. “It hasn’t been that long since those Rebels were last spotted. Had they demonstrated that level of ability prior?”
“We do not believe so,” answered one of them. “Based on the shared records and similar experiences, we believe that they must somehow have a method of artificially enhancing powers along with some method of knowledge transference. However, any efforts to deduce the truth so far usually results in them killing selves.”
“No doubt a failsafe to keep their secrets…” His fingers clutched at his sleeves as he dove into thought. He could count more than a handful of times when his forces had captured survivors to bring them to the Tower or interrogate them. Yet they would convulse and perish before their bodies dissipated, denying them any sort of information. Thanks to that discovering the hideouts and numbers was always difficult.
If he allowed the Vampire to slip through his fingers again then there was no telling when he would be able to retrieve her again. And after the last failure, he could not afford to fail again. Fortunately, the final adjustments had been finished recently on his pet project.
“…Ready transport vessels for all our remaining forces but launch the one for the project ahead. The chase ends now.”
“Isn’t that the place from the vision?”
Makidera points out the obvious as she rounds a corner ahead of me to scout. We’ve been traveling carefully while receiving updates from Saegusa on how it’s going on their end. At the moment Himuro and Gai are both receiving covering fire from Ayako and they’re reuniting with no success on their end.
Meanwhile, the Mind Jack I’ve been using as a Dowsing Rod has led us into view of the bleached building from the vision. It took time to get here while ensuring that no one was on our trail, so I’ll admit I was concerned about her moving. But it seems Atlasia hasn’t left yet based on my improvised dowsing technique.
I feign ignorance to keep her unaware of that fact. “If she’s still inside then good for us. That way we can get the information and fulfill the mission so we can get out of here. Running around in these winter clothes makes me sweat more than I like.”
She glances my way back and scoffs at that. Then she straightens her back up and crosses her arms. Even her expression turns somewhat contemplative, as if she’s putting thought into something.
I allow it as I ensure the protective layer that I have around my body is still intact. So far it hasn’t been disturbed by any attempts at manipulating my mind via Trance or direct control like the last time. However, there’s some minor erosion from the atmosphere itself that I tend to while I can.
“…Hey, we’ll be sent right back once we’re done, right?” she asks after a pause.
My response is instant in comparison. “The requirement was to retrieve the information. No mention of reaching a checkpoint or anything else. So unless Nemesis Q decides to move the goalposts, we’ll basically be sent back the moment we get everything she has to offer.”
She turns her head to the side and her attention goes back to the building in question. “But those monsters are still looking for her, right? She looked like she had been running for a while in that vision, so if we leave right after we get the information—”
I didn’t have to read her mind to see where she was going. So I cut it off then and there with a question of my own. “Is saving her worth the lives of the others?”
The words she was going to say died in her throat. New ones take their place just as quickly though. “…What do you mean?”
“This is a future that we’re meant to change by dragging the knowledge we gain into the past. Once we do that, this particular future won’t be ours anymore. Even if we jump back again, it’ll be either a new branch in time created from our actions, or the entire thing will be overwritten.”
To be frank, I have no idea which option it’ll be. Or if something else will happen. I am not an expert on the quantum mechanics of time travel, given its True Magic that I cannot obtain. But I learned what the Old Worm knew of how time operated from research into the Grail War given that access to the Throne meant gaining access to Servants across from time—which is more than she knows.
“Every second we spend here longer than we need to is another second we put ourselves at risk to the various dangers. And if the future changes then the person you save won’t be the same even if you meet again. In fact, depending on how far into the future this is, she might not even be born. Knowing that, are you willing to sacrifice the others who’ll follow us back into the past for the sake of someone who may as well vanish the moment we leave?”
She wants to argue. Her expression makes that clear enough. But my words aren’t something that she can dismiss when it’ll involve others. “Even so, it doesn’t sit right with me to leave someone else to be dragged off to who knows where… Not after it almost happened to me.”
I spot weakness the moment she breaks eye contact. The vulnerability in her voice is edged. It’s a sight I’m too familiar with.
But it doesn’t change anything as the lie comes out smoothly. “…Fine, I’ll kick it up the chain for Mitsuzuri to decide. Knowing her, you’ll probably get your wish. But first, we need to establish that she’s here and hasn’t run off.”
Her expression shifts into surprise as I mentally communicate our location to Saegusa along with the fact that we located the last place seen in the vision. She expected a fight given our desires are polar opposites at a surface glance. Myself championing logic that preserves our lives against her emotional desire to reach out to someone else to wash away the shame of her own helplessness.
Either way, she wisely doesn’t give me a reason to change my mind as she somehow manages to smile like an idiot. “Right, let’s get going!”
I let her take the lead and watch her from behind. For a fleeting moment, stray thoughts pass through my mind while I go over my plan a final time. Perhaps she believes that I’m going along with her suggestion to save time. Or maybe she believes that I’m more sympathetic than I really am.
Well, I do feel some pity for her so the latter might be true. But the outcome doesn’t really change regardless now that I already put the pieces on the board my opponent set. All I can do is follow the sacrificial pawn and take advantage of it to lure Atlasia out.
There’s no turning back now.
I wonder how you will respond, my hated opponent.