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Calling Card (Psyren x FSN -Nasuverse): Arc 5 – Chapter 25

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.

Time slows.

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.

Time normalizes.

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.

[-Break-]

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.”

[-Break-]

“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.


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Take a Breath – Part 2 (Danmachi AU)

Death loitered amidst corpses in the misty grey light.

The Twelfth Floor of the Dungeon was wreathed in a blanket of perpetual fog. Light from the walls was pale and filtered through the veil that seemed endless. The grass was bleached bone-white and the few trees that managed to grow despite being starved for light were thin and sickly.

Stark silence permeated an isolated room on the massive floor. It was off the well-traversed paths that would be writ upon the maps, far enough that there was no purpose in scouring them for most Adventurers. Dungeon Sweepers or the bold few that felt explorative would perhaps stumble upon the locale once every few weeks, but such territory was meant to be the dominion of the beasts that lurked within the mists.

Yet the grass was strewn with the bodies of the inhabitants that had called this place their home.

Hard Armors lay still, their shells dappled with dew as the faint warmth lingering was stanched away by the cloying fog. Orcs were toppled over while blood ran from their bloated frames to paint the white canvas beneath them. The centerpiece of the room itself was the slouching frame of what had at one point been a towering mass of corded muscle bound in a hide of white fur with a silver mane known as a Silverback.

Death kept vigil in the center of its work.

The misty veil caressed the dark frame of the hooded figure, gently slipping past the outer cloak and pressing against the matching robes beneath. The red greaves and gauntlets of elegant yet nightmarish make were bathed in a fresh layer of lifeblood. Streamlets of it cascaded down from the simple dagger wrapped within their gloved hand as they remained motionless with their impassive mask, upon which the colors of life and death swirled, looked upwards.

The gaze beyond the mask peered beyond the stone and crystal that loitered overhead. Beyond the worked stone and mortar that served as the lid atop the Great Hole. They looked to the vast stretch of land that extended beyond the boundaries of the earth. The endless expanse beneath the firmament in which glittered countless diamonds beyond the reach of hands.

Unrelenting yearning gnawed between their breasts.

Their vigil was broken as the wet sound of writhing organs began to echo throughout the room. The mask shifted from the unseen sky to the remains of what had been pawns that had outlived their usefulness. Two Humans and a Racoon that had been too eager to overstep their bounds before their Soma-addled minds broke beneath the pain.

The two Humans began to undulate as long, thick bulges formed just beneath the surface of their skin. It was the foreign blood vessels and arteries squirming as they connected with the existing ones and then expanded to germinate the seedlings planted inside of them. Fabric tore as their clothes ripped themselves apart while the skin stretched itself out trying to contain what was growing within them…

Then there was a wet piercing sound as the flesh burst open.

Moist hissing noises filled the air as glistening green flesh escaped the openings like uncooked sausage being squeezed from its casing. The living mass expanded out and filled the air with a putrid scent as they consumed the bodies for nourishment to continue growing beyond the bounds of what could be contained. But the pulsating green flesh quickly began to turn fetid and started to decay amidst their consumption and expansion to stave off death.

It seemed they weren’t even good enough to serve as seedbeds for seedlings in the end.

But it was different for the Raccoon. The stocky body jerked and convulsed, writhing and squirming as the innards were consumed and replaced by the growth within. There were moments when the skin bloated up to the point where it should have popped open, the fabric ripping itself apart in the process. But the expansion came to a halt and compressed itself back down into a thick leathery hide covered in the tattered remains of what had been his clothes.

Then a grisly scream echoed throughout the misty chamber. It was loud and high-pitched. Like a squeal forced out from a throat that was dry and hoarse as the lungs regained their function. The body snapped upright in an unsettling motion and eyes that had lost their luster slowly turned yellow once more while taking in the world.

A dead man returned to the realm of the living.

Death rolled the hilt of the dagger in their grasp as they approached with casual footsteps towards the man that had somehow beaten the odds. The Raccoon clutched his head in a daze as he noticed the reaper approaching. But there was no sign of animosity or fear towards his killer within his eyes, only a murky confusion of a mind still half gone.

A fluke rather than a success.

Steel hissed. The robed figure sheathed the dagger within a holster on the left gauntlets. Then they tossed out a magic stone on the white grass in front of the dazed Raccoon before walking towards the sole pathway out of the room.

Yellow eyes fixated on the palm-sized stone. Then saliva ran thick from his tongue as it lolled out of his mouth. His hands snapped down and grabbed hold of it, tearing loose the grass and dirt as he shoved them into his mouth and bit down on the magic stone to get it into his throat.

A sound that was part grunt and part satiation slipped out as he swallowed it down, leaving his mouth caked in dirt and grass. He raised his nose into the air and lunged towards the corpse of the Silverback, toppling the slouching body over. His fingers dug into the flesh and he pawed at the corded muscle with his nails. tearing away the fur in desperation until he finally reached the bones guarding the magic stone that was within its core.

Grunting as he slammed his fists over and over, the bone eventually snapped loose enough that he could shove his hand inside and rip it from the massive corpse. Flesh turned to ash as he shoved the stone into his mouth and bit down as hard as he could. The crunching of bone and crystal could be heard as his jaw and every bit of muscle he could muster were exerted to break it off and get it down his throat.

Then he moved on to the next corpse for its magic stone as words returned to his lips. “…Hun…gry…

He consumed more and more to try to sate the intense craving that wracked him since his rebirth. Every stone he took in trickled into that gap, but it wasn’t enough to truly placate the hunger he felt. Had he a strong enough sense of self to cling to his humanity then perhaps he would be able to regain control of himself.

But an addict was not the master of his own soul. Their resolve had been bartered away long ago, traded for an ephemeral pleasure to whoever could provide it. And thus, he had no way of resisting the tug of the leash that was a voice whispering from the core that served as his new heart.

What was left of Conoe Belway began his slow ascension towards the surface of the Dungeon by the time night fell.

[-|-|-|-]

HAH!

Wooden swords crashing. Frantic feet pounding. Heavy haggard panting. These familiar sounds melded together into background noise within the training hall that Bell Cranel found himself in that afternoon.

The heavy wooden blade was clenched tight as he went on the offense. A diagonal stroke from shoulder to hip. A chest-height horizontal swing to follow. And an overhead downward slash to finish.

Yet they failed to meet with divine flesh.

The diagonal slash cut through empty space as the divinity slid his angled foot outward and pivoted, slipping to Bell’s unprotected right side. The horizontal swipe as Bell spun on his forward leg to try and catch him instead scraped off the opposing blade held firm to intercept. And the overhead blow towards the God of War’s head only hit empty space as he pivoted to the side.

Then Bell was forced onto the defensive as Takemikazuchi responded.

The master’s blade sang. The sharp whistle that told of the cut being true reached Bell’s ears as the blade held in a resting grip at his side flowed in a casual upwards arch towards the boy’s neck. He felt the tip graze it as he only avoided it by reflexively and clumsily pushing himself backward.

It cost him his footing, forcing him to take three steps to right himself into a proper form. By then Takemikazuchi had taken two steps forward and twisted his wrist so that it was even with Bell’s neck once more. He raised his sword hastily upwards—

CLACK!

—and the blade in his grasp jerked as it deflected the incoming stroke by angling it upwards, even at the cost of nearly coming out of his hands. It took him a second to re-adjust his grip, at which point the divinity had already two-handed his blade, chambered it, and came in to cut him from shoulder to hip in a mirror of how Bell had attempted to do so to him.

I can respond to this one! The novice set his stance firm as he made an arching movement with his arms as if tracing the path of a rainbow. The wood quivered as he caught the edge of the opposing blade with the collar above the handguard, guided it around so that it went to the side as he pivoted, and then flicked his wrist to angle it before he lashed out in a rising diagonal aimed to score across the God of War’s chest—

“Too exposed.”

—the blade shot overhead as the divinity slid his dominant leg backward, raising the flat of his own blade up in the process and guiding Bell’s off-course. Then the god’s wrist twisted before his arm came down. A sharp sting of pain followed as wood slapped against flesh and stung at Bell’s collarbone. “Ow!”

“Don’t leave yourself open just because you managed to parry their attack,” instructed the ageless warrior as leveled his wooden sword in lieu of a measuring stick the moment Bell took another reflexive step back. “Remember, mortals are smarter than monsters and can read movements. Defense into offense can easily be turned against you.”

The God of War then proceeded to lower his blade before making a sheathing motion to show that he had no intention of striking again, bringing the sparring section to a close. “That being said, had you not angled that diagonal properly you never would have been able to capitalize on that opening. And it was only because you didn’t change your center of gravity to your hind leg and then slid back into a retreat that you were stricken.”

Bell mimicked his sheathing motion before bowing his head. “Thank you for the instruction. I’ll practice at it from now on.”

A hum bubbled up in the divinity’s throat before he stroked his chin. “Diligence is a virtue. Especially while in a state of Shoshin. If you keep working hard, I’m certain you’ll have your foundation solid in no time.”

The novice’s head quirked to the side. “Shoshin?”

“It’s a principle of our native land,” he elaborated. “One that describes how one who knows nothing starting out is free of preconceptions and expectations. Most Adventurers develop their own styles as they become more familiar with the Dungeon and the life they live, and in doing so they inadvertently become set into their ways and thus narrow the potential they have to that field alone while shutting out other avenues. But you haven’t reached that point as you still have the mindset of a beginner and are thus filled with curiosity while being open to a world of possibilities.”

Bell’s brows furrowed as he grasped at what he believed to be the underlying point. “So you’re saying that I should keep learning what I can and practice with an open mind?”

The far eastern divinity nodded sagely. “As you are now you can absorb all that is taught and explore it without preconceptions, which combined with the growth spurt for new Adventurers shortly after receiving their Falna will lay strong foundations for the future. Developmental Abilities are representative of such. That is why you must never forget your beginner’s mindset.”

“I understand.”

“Now, I believe we’ve kept you long.” He made a bowing gesture as he dismissed Bell from his practice for the day. “Give Hestia my regards.”

“I will.” Bell copied the motion before placing the weapon back on the practice rack and then made his way over to get his bag before heading home. It was still early evening and amber rays of the setting sun washed over Orario as he traveled from the estate of the Takemikazuchi Familia to the dilapidated church nestled snuggly within a cul-de-sac that consisted of half-toppled buildings and overgrowth.

Along the way, Bell took his time to consider the God of War’s words while continuing the breathing practices that he had seen Chigusa perform. It had been some time since he had started the practice, but he wasn’t sure if he had made any real progress. Or at least Bell didn’t think he did, since the only measure he had to judge was what she had done by becoming able to move faster than his eyes could track.

He noted that his body tended to grow hotter when doing breathing exercises. If he had to put it into words, it was like his entire being felt as if it was being warmed by a lone flame within the darkness. But that flame was small and feeble, embers that were liable to be snuffed out the moment his focus trailed off even when he breathed. It wasn’t anything like his body becoming stronger or his mind becoming sharper as she had explained it though.

There had to be something that was missing. Some last piece that he guessed she had kept to herself or, more likely, had to be grasped through constant practice until it clicked into place. It would have to be something that he would find out on his own since he couldn’t ask the Takemikazuchi Familia themselves.

In the end, Bell could only muse on what it was he was missing as he made his way to the doors of the church that served as his home. He opened it—

BELL!

—and as soon as he did so he was greeted by a blue blur slamming into his chest while lithe but insanely strong arms and legs braced him from behind. He nearly staggered back before he anchored a leg and brought his own arms around to support the bundle of warmth that was a child of dragons nuzzling at his chest.

“Wiene missed Bell,” she said while holding firm to him, clothed in a simple dress. Her long hair had been bound into two ponytails by Hestia with little red ribbons meant to keep it from going everywhere.

“I missed you too.” Bell gently brushed her head even as he shut the door behind him with his foot. Thankfully she had gotten better at not crushing his spine with her strength by accident. Even so, he didn’t think it was proper for her to embrace him like this while his training outfit had been drenched in dried sweat at this point. “I don’t mind the hug, but maybe you should wait until I take a shower first?”

Her response was to only look up at him with a smile and cheerfully state, “Bell smells like Bell.”

“Wiene, give Bell some time to clean himself up,” Hestia chided gently as she finished climbing the stairs from the hidden room below that they shared. She took a moment at the top to observe her first child making his way over with the dragon child attached to him and couldn’t help but wear an amused smile. “It’s nice that you like your big brother no matter how he smells but consider how he must feel when he knows how sharp your sense of smell is.”

Wiene relented. Not because she agreed, given she didn’t mind the smell of sweat coming from him. But because both members of her family wanted her to and she would still get the chance to spend time clinging to him later.

“Good girl.” Hestia brushed her head at the top, which she responded to by leaning into it. She was fond of physical contact so both of them had gotten used to her curling up to them whenever they were there. The Goddess of the Hearth and Home turned to Bell and asked, “How did it go with Take?”

 “He told me to give you his regards,” Bell said. “As for practice, I’m learning a lot and I can manage to see his strikes coming now, so I was able to last longer when we sparred. Still couldn’t land a hit on him even though he took it easy on me though.”

“Just keep doing your best in training and you’ll get better at it. If there’s one thing Take knows it’s the art of combat, given he loved watching children hone their talents in the Far East… on another note, do you still plan to go out with Wiene tonight, right?”

Bell nodded. Now that they had established that Wiene could drink the liquid from the Pantry, Bell often brought several containers worth back every few nights they went, so she could stay fed. She ate other foods with them, but they didn’t know if she was deriving as much nutrition from it as she should given that she was a monster—and a growing girl, as Hestia claimed. “Since the weekend starts tomorrow, it’s the perfect time since even most of the nighthawks won’t be there. Wiene will be able to stretch her legs more that way.”

She still couldn’t leave the church most of the time she was on the surface, and they knew she was curious about a lot of what the city had to offer. Bell himself was the same. But since she couldn’t explore without the risk of being caught, there wasn’t much they could do about that.

Hestia did take some time to try to teach her new things and help her develop some hobbies to pass the time. But Bell still wanted to give her as much freedom as he could when they were in the Dungeon so she wouldn’t feel so cooped up. It was the least he could do for her since he couldn’t let her go freely elsewhere.

A slight hum of understanding bubbled up in the goddess’ throat before she stepped out of the way of the stairs. “Then hurry along and take your shower so we can have dinner together. Then I’ll update your Status before you head out.”

Bell slinked into the bathroom to do just that. Heat seeped into his skin from the running water beating against the surface and slowly working out the strains and aches that had accumulated in his muscles during his practice. Then he slipped into a black shirt and pants after he dried himself off and joined the two for a simple meal.

It was after that Hestia had him lie supine on the bed. Then she mounted his back and pricked her finger. Wiene watched on from next to them with genuine intrigue as the moment a drop of her blood landed on his back the entire surface began to ripple before the hieroglyphs writ upon his back began to bubble from the surface into the air.

She had seen it plenty of times by now but never seemed to get bored of it. Hestia had even tried to give Wiene her blessing once. She had asked since she found the sight to be beautiful and wanted to have the same Falna, as that was physical proof that they were family—Familia. But a Falna never manifested for the dragon child.

They could only speculate that it was because the Falna was developed by the Gods and Goddesses for the mortals to use to combat the threats that the monsters posed in the first place. Since they were so opposed it wouldn’t make sense for it to empower them. No different than how neither of them could ingest magic stones the way she could.

“The numbers got bigger again,” Wiene noted as she stuck a finger into the space where the numbers shifted over and over. “Bell is stronger now?”

“That’s right,” Hestia’s voice was sweet and gentle on their ears. “The fact that it goes up bit-by-bit every time we do this is proof that your big brother is working hard. And because I’m his goddess, I can see just how much his training with Take, learning from Miss Advisor, and spending those nights with you in the Dungeon are helping him grow. It’s all recorded in here as part of his legend.”

The constant trips down to the Seventh Floor and dealing with the threats there had merited modest growth for Bell from what he could tell. Above average from what most earned in such a short time. But that was probably due to Wiene being as strong as she was meant they could together dispatch the entire Pantry’s worth of monsters. And since she didn’t need to eat all of the magic stones, they could get by a bit easier.

“All done,” Hestia said as she finished updating his Status and dismounted him. “I’ll set aside something so that you can both eat when you get back since I’ll be asleep. Look after each other, okay?”

“Wiene will protect Bell,” promised the dragon child with a smile.

Bell meanwhile nodded resolutely before telling Hestia to, “Rest well, Goddess.”

Then they got dressed and set out for their overnight venture into the Dungeon.

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The Takemikazuchi Estate was quiet with only the sound of faint breathing breaking up the silence.

Nestled within the meditation hall was Hitachi Chigusa. The young woman sat on a cushion in a lotus position as she breathed from the diaphragm at a steadily growing rhythm. Her gaze was fixed on a gourd made into a drinking jug that was before her.

A bead of sweat rolled down her forehead. Her delicate milky skin flushed red with every deepening breath she took. Her blood vessels expanded, protruding from her skin. She exhaled deeply to clear her lungs out before she drew in as deep of a breath as she could muster while reaching out for the jug.

Then she blew it into with all her might. She felt every inch of her body trembling. Burning as she compressed her diaphragm. Aching as her lips struggled to keep themselves wrapped around the opening of the gourd. Until finally—

BWHAHHH!

—her voice came out haggard and hoarse as her lips gave out before the gourd did. The bottle clattered to the wooden floor as she huddled over, hands to her chest as her lungs fought for air. Her shoulders trembled with small whimpers followed by crystalline tears as she pressed her forehead to the floor. “Why… why can’t I do this?

Her frustration spilled out at yet another failure to further her Total Concentration Breathing.

Their Familia had been practicing the ancient art for the last two years since they came to Orario. It was the only edge they had with such small numbers in the Dungeon. Life in Orario was expensive and if they were going to send funding back to the orphanage they needed to go deeper and bring back more valuable magic stones.

Since then, they had gotten involved with things that made it a necessity for them to survive.

Everyone had managed to progress further than her at this point. Asuka and Tachibana were both further along in their training and would likely even end up reaching Level Two. Mikoto had just become a Level Two and was on the verge of mastering Perpetual Total Concentration Breathing.

And she wouldn’t be surprised if Ouka managed to become Level Three by the next year.

Total Concentration Breathing became exponentially more potent with the more oxygen one could take into their bodies. One could become so much better at manipulating how the blood flowed through the breathing technique, strengthening certain parts of the body, increasing one’s mental abilities, and more.

But here she was. Always the one lagging behind the rest of them to the point where she was struggling just to go beyond the basics. That was why she was here alone while the others had already gone to the Middle Floor Safe Point to handle another matter some time ago and wouldn’t be back for some time.

Her fingers curled on the floor as she focused on her Recovery Breathing to center herself. She didn’t want to be a burden to the others. The burden was hers to share with them, so she couldn’t keep falling behind them.

And she didn’t want him to see her as being so pathetic that she needed to be left behind for her own safety.

Her breathing steadied. The pain and fatigue melted. She exhaled and readied another attempt to shatter the gourd when there was a blur of motion in the corner of her vision. Her head turned in time to see a small owl with blue-greyish feathers swooping in through a window that had been left open towards her.

“Oh, you’re a new one,“ she noted even as she extended two of her fingers out for it to land carefully. Their… employer tended to communicate with them via messenger birds so she was used to seeing them. Though this owl was so small that it was practically palm-sized and she couldn’t help but find the way it tried to puff out its feathers and straighten itself up to be adorable.

That was when it reared back enough so that the collar along with the communication crystal could be seen on it. Then the crystal began to vibrate. “Your assistance is needed. A Demon is rising along the upper floors.

She jostled as her eye partially hidden behind her bangs widened in surprise. “…Eh?”

A Demon is currently making its way from the Eighth Floor to the Seventh,” the voice resonating through the crystal continued. “I speculate it was only recently created, but it has consumed several magic stones and is advancing upwards.

She stiffened. The sudden responsibility being fostered onto her had been unexpected. She did possess the necessary equipment and had participated in putting down a few of the Demons, as they were called, but it had always been with the others. Never alone. “What about the others?”

They are still too far below the surface to make it in time. Thus, I consulted with Lord Takemikazuchi and he advised reaching out to you to resolve the matter,” answered the voice on the other end.

Lord Takemikazuchi wants me to handle it alone? Despite her misgivings, if he thought she was the only one who could handle the matter then it was something that she had to do. “Very well. Just let me get my equipment and I’ll head out right away.”

Please hurry,” the voice chimed as the owl fluttered into the air when she stood up, before perching itself against the windowsill. “I fear time is of the essence. Something on that floor may drawn its attention.


Heroic Myth One-Shot: Sniper’s Duel

Sniper’s Duel

Author’s Note: This is a one-shot omake for the FGO x DanMachi Fanfic Heroic Myth, written with the author’s permission. It is non-canon and primarily just me trying to get back into the swing of writing.

[-|-|-|-]

A deep, weary sigh carried on the wind from the topmost point of Shreme Castle.

Located in plains to the southeast of Orario, the citadel was one of the four that ringed the city of Adventurers. It was the oldest of such fortifications, having been built before the Age of Heroes. They were ruins that carried the legacy of those who ventured to the Great Hole to take part in humanity’s rebellion against the fate of death.

Time had eroded most of the original stonework that had stood in silent vigilance to those events. Even with the efforts of masons and stonecutters to reconstruct it into its former glory, that history was lost to all but the very foundation that laid beneath the earth. And in its place was nothing more than walls that were only able to take part in the spectacle of faux war between Familia rather than legends in the making.

And today would be yet another spectacle due to the whims of two goddesses.

Lefiya Viridis did her best to avoid slouching over and dejectedly crying over how she got roped into this from her perch on top of the Keep. The Elven Mage of the Loki Familia stood alone within the fortress, still getting accustomed to her new equipment. She wasn’t sure how Loki had gotten Finn or the others to sign off on them to be honest.

Her normal battle clothes had been replaced for the event. The halter-dress that came down to her hips, hugging the curves of her waist all the way up to her underarms, were a teal color overall but had a black zigzagging design with golden trimming between the two colors at the side of her hips. The clothing strap that sheltered her breasts, running from the front to around the back of her neck, was a pale white color with a greyish band along the valley where three golden-hemmed emeralds were fixed.

The two articles were held together by a pair of golden clips, which bound frill-laden cloth around her upper arms. Thankfully, combined with her elbow-length fingerless gloves, they allowed her to feel a little more comfortable that not all her upper skin was exposed. Below her waist, upon which a belt securely held a little pouch, she had thigh-high stockings that were white and black with a gold streak running down the front and around the hem. They came down to a pair of greaves that were teal with the edges wrapped in elegant silver. Her hair was also bound in a ponytail via a new band that was teal with golden ends.

In her hands was a new staff. The body of it was black, roughly the length of her body short her head. The rear end of the staff had a small magic stone affixed within a golden hexagon tipped with a pointed end. The top of the staff was also golden, with a large teal magic stone cradled within a diamond-shaped head, while the neck of it had a band with an empty chamber that could be fitted with a disposable magic stone for use in casting—Loki claimed it was based off something called a cartridge system.

Under normal circumstances, Lefiya would have appreciated that Loki had gotten it for her. But she had done it for a bet, leaving the Elven Mage feeling conflicted. She didn’t even have time to really adapt to it before she had sent out to humor the divine population who sought more entertainment after the War Game.

Loki had even updated her Status to Level Four for the sake of the competition. Not that she didn’t plan to eventually do so now that she had reached S-Rank in her Magic attribute. But the fact that it was because her goddess wanted her to win a competition took the wind out of her sails.

She turned her gaze to the castle that was opposite her own, far enough away that normal siege weaponry would fail to reach. Level Four senses made the distance irrelevant as far as sight and sound went. More so considering she was an Elf and thus had a natural advantage there compared to the Human that was her opponent on the opposite Keep’s tower.

Archer—a Level One who possessed the power of some Spirit or other that allowed him to make swords and access incredible magic. To be honest, Blacksmith might be a more appropriate name under normal circumstances with how his tanned skin looked, as though it had been baked in the heat of the forges, stretched over a broad frame that came from pounding at iron and steel as he shaped it to his desire. It contrasted the snow-white hair that adorned his head and eyes that sat right between the two hues with its silver-grey tone. But considering the bow that was the color of wrought iron currently within his grasp, it seemed he was going to be living up to his moniker.

Unlike during the War Game, his visage was more… casual, she wanted to say. If there were a word for it, she would liken it to being almost wistful in the nostalgia of a time long gone that she had seen on some of the older Elves in her Forest. But he was too young to have that look… probably.

It annoyed her all the same.

Sniper’s Duel—that was a format of the War Game where two combatants would take turns attempting to target a specific object and destroy it to secure the win. However, because of their… unique skillsets, the objects they were supposed to hit were Familia Emblems affixed to their clothes. And it could only be done via long-range projectiles or spells, with neither party allowed to leave their own castle. The winner was decided when one destroyed the other’s emblem, or someone was rendered unconscious and thus unable to battle.

Loki had won the coin toss, so she would get the first shot as agreed to by the rules. That was effectively as good as a win under normal circumstances given her capabilities. There was a reason she had the moniker of Fairy Sniper before she was Thousand Elf after unlocking Elf Ring. But the slight crook in the corner of Archer’s lips revealed a hint of amusement that said he probably wouldn’t make it easy.

RING!!

Lefiya stood straighter as a bell in the distance sounded to mark the start of the competition, drawing one leg back. She raised her staff forged of Seiros and gold to her chest as she aligned herself with her target. Her azure eyes fell upon the emblem pin affixed to the black vest on Archer’s chest and she began to sing.

Unleashed beam of light, limbs of the holy tree—

Light bloomed at her feet. Shimmering over the stone roof as if opening a gateway to an unseen realm that she had stepped into upon reaching Level Two, it wove itself into an intricate circular array. It was proof of her dedication to magic, only obtainable by taking the Mage Development Ability—a Magic Circle.

You are the master archer.

The Magic Circle allowed for the modification of one’s spells, even if the chant was akin to an Aria written on one’s soul itself according to Lady Riviera. Anyone fortunate enough to possess a Spell Slot could learn Spells, but only those who dedicated themselves to the path would have the right to have the Development Ability appear as a choice to be engraved into their very flesh with divine ichor. Rather than simply chanting the words and getting the same result, even if the value of one’s Magic status increased its potency, it unlocked different aspects with every rank the Development Ability gained—velocity, firing angle, output, and so on.

Loose your arrows, fairy archers.

Motes of light leaked from the array as she released magical energy to fuel the spell. The magic-conductive metal within her grasp drank it up and funneled it into the core magic stone that made up the staff’s heart. It resonated with her magical energy, focusing and melding it with the natural magic stored within the stone to increase the potency of her shot.

Pierce, arrow of accuracyArcs Ray!

Light lanced out from the tip with the completion of the incantation.

Arcs Ray—her first spell gifted to her by the Falna the moment she had received it when she entered the Education District. It was an exceedingly simple one that converted her magical energy into light and then fired it out in a self-contained beam. It was not weighed down by gravity like a physical projectile, but rather by the amount of magical energy that composed the spell that factored into the velocity of the shot.

The arrow of light woven by the branches of a holy tree and fired by the Fairy Sniper crossed the distance between the two castles within the span of a breath. She had adjusted the values so that the output of the spell would be minimal while leaving the velocity untouched. It would impact but not kill someone at Level One—a training shot used during evasion training among the Fairy Force.

Yet the shot passed by Archer unhindered.

His body posture had shifted in the time it took to exhale as she loosed her spell. It had been no more than a half-step. But that had been enough to let the shot harmlessly sail past his broad frame, its glare briefly illuminating his steel-toned eyes as it passed by, to the other side of the castle before it petered out.

And with that, it was his turn to send his own arrow flying forth.

His posture shifted into a firing stance of his own, left leg forward with that black bow that was easily his own height in his left grasp. An arrow appeared in his empty hand. Not one of his sword-turned-arrows, but an ordinary one. He nocked it against the bowstring, pulling it back as he leveled it toward her.

There were lots of drawbacks to using bows in the Dungeon as you went deeper and deeper. The material to work the bows and bowstrings into having greater drawing power so the shots could fly farther was expensive. Ammunition that wouldn’t shatter against the skin of a Middle Floor monster required harvesting and shaping the claws and fangs of monsters that would be most suited to doing so, counterbalancing the weight of the arrowheads with the shaft so that it wasn’t top-heavy. And then there was the fact that hitting the magic stone to eliminate a monster in a single shot required precise knowledge of where it was located and pinpoint accuracy.

Even in this case, someone would have to adjust their aim to fire a bow effectively against a target so far away. They would have to work out the trajectory based on sight alone and then perform the calculations in their head to ensure they would hit. And with how small of a target he needed to hit, it was almost unfair and one-sided to call this a match given how she could easily adjust the size of her own beams.

But she knew that Archer could easily skirt around all of that, so she didn’t really factor them in as he released his arrow.

It cut through the air… not quite as fast as her own shot, but faster than an arrow ought to considering he hadn’t even drawn his bowstring back to its fullest before he loosed it. But it was still slow enough that her heightened perception due to her Level made it seem like it was moving in slow motion. She simply tilted her upper body out of the way as the arrow came towards her emblem and let it arch over the edge of the Keep.

She caught the faint sound of glass breaking before readying her second shot.

Unleashed beam of light.” Her Magic Circle sprang up again as she began to adjust the spell, pushing the incantation to the back part of her mind that knew it by rote memorization. A few more motes of light than before emerged as she increased the amount of magical energy and prioritized its distribution towards increasing the velocity of her shot. “—Arcs Ray!

A warm breeze rolled past her as light lanced out at more than double the speed of the previous shot. For a Level One perceiving it would be nearly impossible simply due to the difference in their Status. The gap between Level One and Level Four was practically insurmountable. More so factoring in the fact that she had raised her Magic to S-Rank twice over now.

Yet in defiance of what should have been an absolute fact, Archer not only dodged with casual ease but drew back his bowstring in a single motion before letting an arrow fly. It was a perfect counterattack by all accounts, the arrow cutting through the air toward her far faster than the last. Even with her elongated perception, by the time she noticed it was already within range to pierce the emblem—if not her very heart over which it hung.

The Elven Mage threw herself out of the way before it could hit the mark, leaving the arrow to fly past her. She landed on the rooftop in an undignified heap, which left her flushed red in the face because she knew that all of Orario had seen her stumble over her own feet. How embarrassing….

And as for the one responsible for her embarrassment, he stood there with the same smirk on his lips. She knew that considering him a Level One was foolish. Even without the Falna, a Spirit’s power was not something to be underestimated given that heroes of old had carved themselves into legend with their aid.

Even so, she still had great pride in her abilities as a Mage. One that specialized in long-range combat, and as a member of a race that valued magic and dignity. So being made a fool so casually stung deeply.

A new resolve flared within her. Even if she was outclassed under normal circumstances, right here and now the situation was different. If all she had to do to claim victory was destroy the emblem he brandished so brazenly upon his chest, even she could manage that much.

Yes, the only way to make up for her wounded pride would be to make this Human taste defeat.

Rising back to her feet with her fighting spirit kindled, Lefiya reached into the pouch that adorned her belt. When her slender fingers withdrew from it there was a cylindrical-shaped magic stone the size of her fingernail in her grasp. She fitted it into the chamber affixed to the staff with a single motion, leveled the staff towards her opponent, and began to sing once more.

The Magic Circle sprang up at her feet once more, shining brighter than before. She would maximize the velocity of the shot and increase the width to compensate for the space available for him to move on the opposing Keep. A flurry of golden sparkles shot into the air like earthbound snow swept up by a breeze as the Elven Mage braced herself for the feedback. Then she sent a final pulse of the magical energy into the cartridge attachment, injecting the magic stone with more energy than it could fit inside.

Like a balloon filled to the point of bursting, it came undone with a blue spark and released all the magical energy that composed it into the heart of the staff. The core nestled within the golden diamond shone like a star right as she finished her incantation. “ARCS RAY!

A torrent of light barreled forth toward the Keep that Archer had been perched on and her sharpened senses caught the explosion with as much clarity as if it had been right next to her. The stonework shattered, rubble and dust scattering from above as the highest point in the opposing castle was destroyed in a single shot. Even so, Lefiya was fairly sure that despite the increased destructive force it wouldn’t have been enough to seriously hurt him…

That was when she felt his magical energy.

For a Mage as sensitive as her it was a sensation that was second nature. Her azure eyes snapped not to the lower grounds of the castle hidden by the dust, but to the air above. There she found the sniper of the Hestia Familia reaching the apex of height possible to be reached in a single bound of his legs, bow nocked with an arrow—which had its head glowing red as he poured magical energy into it—tongues of red lightning crackling up the shaft.

Lefiya immediately threw herself off the top of the Keep. Archer might not have needed an incantation, but arrows infused with his magical energy were just as dangerous as any spell she could cast. So the moment she felt the flow of energy stopping, she knew that the shot was coming.

It proved to be the right call as the red streak cut through the air toward where she had been like a small comet. And just like a comet the moment it crashed down into the top of her Keep, it utterly wiped it out. The shockwave of the impact sent her tumbling midair over the top of the closest tower, where she came to a rough stop against the edge.

Nnnn…” A grumble bubbled up in her throat as she used the wall to stand up properly. She looked down to make sure her emblem was unbroken, then back over to where her Keep had been, and then finally to the other castle where Archer landed far more gracefully than she had. The fact that he was wearing that damn smirk only served to further infuriate her. Okay, time to show what an actual Mage can do.

She reached for another magic stone and fitted it into the now-empty slot. Then she started using her other spell. “Proud warriors, marksmen of the forest. Take up your bows to face the marauders! Answer the call of your kin and nock your arrows!

Her anthem brought forth a new Magic Circle at her feet. The frills around her upper arms and hair began to dance. Magical energy surged out into the world as reddish particles rose to the air like embers from a crackling flame. “Bring forth the flame, torches of the forest. Release them, flaming arrows of the fairies!

Those ascending red embers, fire seeds that had yet to sprout, gathered as she raised her staff to the sky between the castles. They converged and clustered together, igniting as she channeled magical energy into the magic stone. Then there was an explosive flash of light and heat.

A second sun took its place in the sky between the two castles.

“Fall like rain and burn the savages to ash—” She directed her staff, its tip pointing at the roiling, pulsing mass of flames that seemed ready to burst, towards the enemy standing at the opposite tower as she declared, “FUSILLADE FALLARICA!

Fire erupted from the singular daystar. Pieces of the sun dyed the sky itself the color of burning red as they rained down from above. Hundreds of arrows of flames descended upon the enemy castle and its sole defender.

Archer began to dart from the top of the Tower as the flaming arrows came down upon it, each one blasting away at the solid stone upon contact. He was fast on his feet for someone so talented at ranged combat, but he couldn’t escape the eyes of an Elf. As long as she could see him, Lefiya could direct the subsequent volleys until the sun burned out.

I am the bone of my sword…” Her ears caught the incantation on his lips that shook the air itself as a new blade appeared in his right hand. It was a uniquely beautiful blade to even her eyes that were untrained in the ways of smithing, with the helix blade coiling around itself until it came to a golden guard and silver handle that were all embellished with a blue strip. It compressed itself within his grasp until it formed a suitable arrow as he somersaulted out of the way of her flaming volley, and red lightning crackled as he drew it back. “Caladbolg!

What flew out of his bow couldn’t really be called an arrow. No, her eyes caught how it distorted the very air as the blue swirl it became pierced through the daystar and kept going. The flames that were meant to rain down were caught in its wake and dragged out like thread pulled by a needle as it passed overhead and left a flaming arch to mark the trail where a star ascended to the heavens after being called down.

Then Lefiya felt the backlash. The heat-laden whirlwind lashed out at her like a solid wall that rivaled the intensity of a Valgang Dragon, slamming into her with enough force that she was certain that a Level One Adventurer would have their body crushed by the intensity. She ended up curling her hand over the emblem and plunging the butt of her staff into the solid stone with all the Strength she just to avoid being blown away until the gale petered out.

Spirit magic is really something, isn’t it? She found herself unconsciously swallowing in the wake of that. It hadn’t even been aimed close to her, yet the sheer strength of it was something to behold. But I’m not done yet!

I beseech the name of Wishe. Ancestors of the forest, proud brethren. Answer my call and descend upon the plains—” Her azure gaze smoldered with fiery resolve as a new Magic Circle sprang to life at the base of her feet and expanded as she pledged upon the name of her forest, her ancestors, and her home itself. It was the pride she held as an Elf woven into an Aria itself by the Falna—that which earned her the name of the Thousand Elf.

Connecting bonds, the pledge of paradise. Turn the wheel and dance.” The intricacies of the circle grew more pronounced with every word, inscriptions and symbols decorating it with each syllable. A thread of light, a strand of rainbow made solid, emerged from the tip of her staff and followed in a graceful arch as she turned with it until it connected with itself into a ring. “Please, give me strength—

Then she brought her staff down upon the circle and the light followed, connecting the above with the below as the amount of magical energy that it exuded billowed into the air as sparkles of prismatic light with the completion of the titular, “Elf Ring.

Inside her mind now stretched an endless forest of great trees. It was the foundation for her mental world, accessible only by stepping through the boundary of the Elf Ring. In doing so one connected with the repository of all the spells woven by Elvenkind since the beginning of time.

There were no guideposts in the forest. Even for her, who wielded this magic, it was beyond her to freely traverse it to whatever Great Tree that housed the spell she desired. However, one could trace their way to the roots from the leaves and branches. She only needed the incantation to guide her, as they were merely the canopy that displayed what was writ beneath the Falna and onto the very soul—the very foundation of the magic itself.

Glittering stars crossing the night sky. Hear my naïve prayer and guide these falling lights.” The aria flowed like a soft breeze, tracing along the branches until it came to a sapling within the endless forest that had just emerged from the nurturing soil. It would need tending and care and time, but it would be able to flourish to grandiose heights as daunting as even the Great Oak. And while she couldn’t reproduce the height that it would one day be reached by the neophyte upon reaching her prime, Lefiya could compensate with her own Skill and Magic to give Primo a glimpse of the future that awaited her.

Descend o starry tears!” Her body burned as her magical energy came out in a dense fog trying to reach that potential future, a magic stone in the chamber shattering and overflowing as the heartstone shone with a celestial violet light amidst the countless motes. She was using the Mage Development Ability to refine the spell itself, increasing the nodes upon which the fires of the stars themselves could rain down. “Blast away these hapless rejects!

Once she was done, she swung her arm to cast that light into the heavens with all her might, whereupon it scattered into dozens of twinkling stars that linger in the air above. “LUMINE PLEIADES!

The words called for the stars to fall like raindrops. Each star diminished little by little as they shed tears upon the castle below. But they rained down in such great numbers that she was sure at least one would manage to scour his pin and then that would be the end.

Yet Archer called to his hands a beautiful pair of twin short swords, akin to the full moon and the new moon. With them, he began deflecting the beams of light as they came raining down. The spell was reduced in potency in exchange for increasing the numbers, but it still shouldn’t be deterred by mere steel. If she had to put it into words, it almost seemed like the spell itself glided off the blades like water off an oiled surface.

It was too crude to be a dance, but the way he brought them around to protect the emblem itself was still skillful. Something only possible thanks to those blades, paired with excellent reflexes and sharpened eyes—a combination of his boons from the Spirit that possessed him and his own experiences no doubt. Blades in hand, Archer managed to do the impossible and weather the star shower without a single drop of light touching him.

Then it was his turn again. The blades dissipated into the air and his bow returned. Three nondescript black arrows appeared between his right fingers and he nocked them all at once, channeling magical energy into them as he drew back the bowstring…

Lefiya’s nerves were alight as the post-magic rigor left her body feeling the strain of her previous casting. Between amplifying the spell along with the amount of magical energy it took to simply use Elf Ring in the first, she couldn’t force another spell for at least another thirty seconds. In that time Archer accrued a scary amount of magical energy within the arrowheads, distorting the air itself around them as they burned with a reddish hue.

But rather than shoot them directly toward her, he sent them streaking into the sky as three rays of light. Then the faint light spread out across the sky into dozens of pinpricks of light. And burning stars began to rain down upon her from above.

Brick and mortar scattered upon impact as the magical energy detonated with the force of a small flare stone as she jumped from the Tower to the Wall Walk. It wasn’t even a tenth of what she felt from how much he charged each arrow, but closer to a hundredth of the original power. Even so, she kept moving as the red rain descended upon her.

One after another the crimson comets fell upon the castle, the sequence irregular to her sharpened sense of hearing. Patterned. Selective. She was fairly sure that they were somehow tracking her as she moved, some falling where she would have been if she had not caught the sound of them approaching and then redirected herself with all the Agility her cumulative Levels could muster to avoid the shelling.  Eventually, she was forced to throw herself off the side of the Wall Walk before catching the ledge of an inner window and pulling herself into the interior for shelter.

The layer of stone next to her immediately erupted into stone dust and pebbles, making it clear the castle walls wouldn’t hold up to this bombardment. She ran along the interior with the bunker-busting blasts following in her wake until she felt a cluster of magical energy converging and reflexively darted back in time as the stonework collapsed, sealing off her path ahead. Lefiya leaped out of the nearest window as that section of the Wall Walk began to collapse in on itself, dropping into the courtyard below.

Red shells continued to rain down.

The castle trembled under the blasts as she wove between them, one hand over her emblem nestled above her heart.  But mid-step her footing slipped, or to be more accurate the ground gave out beneath her. Lacking in the stonecunning of a Dwarf, she failed to notice just how fragile stonework had become from the constant damage done until one of the crimson cannonball-like impacts had finally shaken loose the stone itself beneath her.

On reflex alone she managed to stop herself from falling face down or landing on the staff she’d been bequeathed, instead falling to her side. But then she caught sight of the crimson hue eclipsing her vision and felt the final of the stars heading towards her.  With no time to escape, she curled inwards and braced for impact as she flared her own magical energy out to try and dilute the concentrated batch.

It was a rudimentary, primal Elven technique born from the time of the Age of Heroes. A waste of Mind for a lackluster defense—especially when the Magic Resistance DA passively did the same thing to a greater degree. There was a reason Mages used their foci to direct the flow of magical energy instead of their entire bodies, which she felt imminently considering her body ached on the inside now.

But if she hadn’t done it, then she would have lost as she felt the pain wash over her. Not enough to seriously wound her. But it would have been enough to end the match one way or another if she hadn’t done it.

She removed her hand from where the emblem of the Jester was pinned over her heart. It was so fragile compared to her body or even the battle clothes she’d been given, yet it carried the significance of her Familia in its presence. Had she not put forth that extra effort it would have shattered in the wake of that blast.

And to let the emblem of her Familia be shattered in defeat wasn’t a thought she could bear.

I won’t lose to him. She used her staff to help herself onto her feet as the stone dust cleared. The sound of metal clinking to the stone below could be heard as her hair band fell, wrenched loose from the pressure of the blast while the golden tips dragged it down. That left her hair to flow wildly, some of it clinging to her forehead and cheeks from the sweat of her exertion.

The Elven Mage grabbed the hairband that had fallen and tied it around her left wrist. Then she hobbled back into the interior corridor to climb back to the top with a familiar song on her breath whilst outside his view. When she finally stepped back on what remained of the Walk Wall, having been caught in the bombardment that forced her to flee below initially, she caught sight of the red-clad Archer standing on the opposite castle with his bow in hand.

Her appearance elicited no reaction from him, which was annoying in its own way considering he barely looked like he’d taken a stroll despite her best efforts. In contrast, she was covered in dirt and dust that clung to her from the sweat she’d shed to this point. Exhaustion was plain on her face. Anyone watching the match would know by now that she couldn’t hope to keep up with him, so the expected result would be that the match would end in the next exchange.

I still have a card left to play. She loaded the final magic stone into the chamber affixed to her staff and held her breath as she got into a firing stance that entrenched her into place. Then her Magic Circle sprang to life at the base of her feet and magical energy came roaring out as she issued her final challenge to her opponent in the form of a song. “Unleashed beam of light, limbs of the holy tree…

Mid-song she noticed Archer’s posture shifting. She couldn’t tell if his instincts or intuition recognized her intentions to no longer run but instead go all out. Either way, the steel-eyed Human took up his own stance that gave the impression that he had no intention of attempting to dodge her next shot—he would block it.

Even knowing that he would, Lefiya had already resolved to give it her all as she finished her spell with a spark of magical energy igniting the magic stone within the chamber. “Pierce, arrow of accuracyARCS RAY!

Golden light burst free from her staff. She had maximized the speed and destructive power, relying in the chambered magic stone and Fairy Cannon to go beyond her limits. So it looked more like an onrushing wave of light that swallowed the entirety of the ground between them as it surged towards the enemy fortification faster than the speed of sound—

RHO AIUS!”

—and then it met with the seven-petaled flower that bloomed from the stalk that was Archer’s bronzed arm. Its simplicity in appearance and shape belayed its defensive capabilities, the beautiful shield that seemed so fragile holding strong even as the force of the spell released a shockwave upon impact.

A bright glare robbed them of sight. The light that couldn’t push past his defenses flared up, releasing scalding heat and force that caused the air itself to howl. Even the castle Archer anchored himself to trembled as the heat sank into the mortar and loosened the bonds holding the stone itself together.

Lefiya lost count of the seconds as a fever reached her head. Her body was burning up from the inside out as a fever swept through her from channeling as much magical energy as she could into the spell to keep it going. The fields between them began to burn as the rampant heat finally ignited the grass, sending smoke billowing out as the rushing air carried it everywhere.

But the inevitable occurred sooner than later.

The rush of the magical energy slowly petered out as her Mind emptied down to the critical point. The absence left her feeling dizzy enough to be on the verge of passing out. She braced the staff to stay upright, knowing that if she fell she wouldn’t be getting back up

And as the light faded away in its entirety and the smoke slowly cleared, she could see that her assault had accomplished absolutely nothing as the petals dissipated and revealed Archer standing there unblemished.

…It was really infuriating that even at her best she couldn’t so much as burn his clothes. Then again, Lefiya knew that her spell wouldn’t be enough to overcome his defenses. His shield managed to weather the barrage of a Spirit unleashing the highest tier of magic possible, so for her it was an impenetrable shield that couldn’t be breached even if she tried her hardest.

He was getting ready to end things since she could no longer muster the strength to stand upright. All she could do as he drew back his bowstring was to extend her left hand out towards him. Then He fired a singular arrow towards her emblem to end it—

Canon!

—and she unveiled her final trump card as a Magic Circle sprang to life from her wrist that was covered by the hairband.

The question of how she was going to defeat Archer had loomed in her mind since she had barely managed to protect her emblem the last time. She couldn’t use Elf Ring again. Even if she didn’t suffer from severe post-magic rigor whenever she used it, her Mind wasn’t as seemingly endless as his was.

The difference in their physical ability factored in as well. He could move a lot more freely than her, especially with her body in this state. Had he thought she could still retaliate and been light on his feet, he would likely avoid her remaining shots and would win out in a contest of endurance. Not to mention that he had his ultimate defense.

The only way she was going to win was to take advantage of the only weakness she could think of that he shared as both an archer and a mage: concentration.

Be it magic or bow, snipers devoted their all to their shots, down to their very breath. Lady Riveria had taught her that, being the foremost archer within their Familia. So, in that single moment after his shot was fired, he would be vulnerable—and thus she had a chance to win.

But she had less than the space of a second to land such a shot. While a skilled Mage could reduce the time of their chants, with Filvis being proficient enough that she could cast her Short Chant spells in less than a second, Lefiya couldn’t hope to accomplish something like that given how long her spells were. At least not without the Skill she obtained upon reaching Level Four: Double Canon.

It was a Skill that mitigated the biggest weakness she faced in how quickly her incantations were uttered by allowing her to preserve the Magic Circle and incantation, delaying the release of the spell until she used the trigger word to unleash it. That made it so that the spell itself was already loaded and formatted with the Mage Development Ability. She only needed to unleash it.

She had loaded in her first spell on her way up to the Wall Walk for the final time. Augmented to maximize the speed above all else. The only thing left was to pull the trigger with her remaining Mind. “ARCS RAY!

A golden arrow-thin ray shot from her outstretched hand before everything faded to black…

[-|-|-|-]

The first thing that Lefiya felt as she slowly came back to her senses was her body being cradled by the soft embrace of a bed. She forced her eyes open after a moment and sat upright, taking in her surroundings. It was her room back in the Twilight Manor.

“Finally woke up?” The voice of her Goddess pulled her attention over to a chair where the Trickster Goddess sat with a bottle of wine in hand. “You been out all day, you know?”

“All day…” She turned her attention to the nearest window and saw that night had fallen.  “What about the match?”

“Eh, it wasn’t the crushing win that I wanted, but…” Loki tossed up her own emblem with a cheeky grin. The Elven Mage grasped it gingerly as it came her way. It was scuffed, but despite everything she had managed to keep it whole. “You managed to hit shortstack’s emblem with pinpoint accuracy right as you hit the ground. So, while you didn’t win, you didn’t lose either.”

She hadn’t won. She wasn’t at the point she could compete with someone who was blessed with a Spirit’s power. She didn’t know if that day would ever come, but she would still strive for it. But she had managed to protect the symbol of her Familia despite it all.

That was more than enough for her to take pride in for now.

[-END-]


Fanfic Recommendation 118


My Fanfics


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother? 34

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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A RWBY Fanfic

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 22-08 Taylor to 22-10 Emma

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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.


A MAR SI Fanfic

Summary: Three guys get teleported into the world of MAR Heaven and take the fight to Chess.


A Mobuseka SI Fanfic

Summary: Three guys get teleported into the world of Mobuseka in place of Leon and have to survive in a world where women look down on men, they may be in their own future, and Luxion has ties to the UN that desperately struggled against the oncoming New Humans. .


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

[-|-|-|-]

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?: 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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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.”


Life is Tough for a Minos: Chapter 2 [Mobuseka x Gunvolt AU]

Chapter 2: The Return

Gunshots filled the air along with shrieks born from the maws of vicious monsters.

The skies above the eastern part of the Bartfort barony were filled with slithering and undulating bodies as nightmares flitted about. Insectoids whose wings fluttered at such a rapid pace that they were almost invisible, barring the prismatic hue of the light reflecting off them, scoured the floating islands along their migration path for the sake of food. They would consume whatever was available before pushing on, leaving naught behind.

Gunfire sailed up to meet the encroaching horde from the land below. Some civilian men who’d taken up rifles, sheltered by half-cover provided by buildings, let fly bullets that tore through the sky and smashed into the chitinous shells. Viscous fluids burst from the holes punched into the bodies of those that were unable to avoid the shots.

The horde paid no mind to their ranks that fell, instead focusing on the presence of fresh meat that their mandibles could pry off the bones. They would have descended upon the militia had it not been for the soldiers of the barony, each equipped with an outdated but reliable set of powered armor that offered them superior protection along with assault rifles. Few as they were, those assembled focused on eliminating those that descended.

Then an Apex came crashing down, one that was on the larger end and standing almost two stories tall. Six thin legs supported its massive, elongated frame as its mandibles pulled apart to reveal rows of needle-like teeth. Sparks dances around it as bullets bounced off its harder exoskeleton as its hooked forelimbs unfurled and lashed out.

Metal screamed as the armored men caught in the attack were thrown about, bodies sent into a spiral and scattered. It was only thanks to the durability of their equipment that none of them had been split in half. But more than a few of their exosuits were sparking and twitching. Some of them were also groaning and slow to get back to their feet compared to others—injured no doubt.

“Fall back!” One of the armored men shouted with the crest of the Bartfort house emblazoned on the pauldrons of his exosuit, signifying he was one of their knights, as he extended his hand back towards a large boulder. A deep, dark violet swaddled his body and his veins bulged from beneath his skin as that same hue wrapped around the massive stone. Then he roared at the top of his lungs as he motioned forward, using his Telekinetic Septima to throw the boulder forward. “RRRAAAAAHHHH!!

It smacked the creature in its upper body and there was an audible crunch as it twisted and staggered from the blow. Its legs moved in jittering motions as the exoskeleton around its chest and head were cracked, glimmering fluids seeping out. But it was still capable of fighting back, which it did by lunging for the Adept that had struck it, now panting in a half-crouch from the exertion of his power.

His suit’s propulsion system kicked in as he kicked off the ground, taking to hovering in the air. Limited flight was within the capabilities of the model but, compared to more modern ones, it could only be done for short bursts. So, while he still had time aloft, he fired down with his assault rifle upon the creature from above as the bullets pelted the cracked exoskeleton and left fissures to spread as they chipped away at the sensitive bits beneath the shell.

The monster grew aggravated by his presence and then used its wings to gain air before swatting him down. The sound of wrenching metal as his exosuit bore the brunt of the impact at the expense of its durability rang out over his scream of pain. Scraps of steel flew in every direction as delicate equipment beneath the protective covering was damaged, breaking the armor’s power-frame and leaving it heavy on his body. The knight barely managed to get upright as the towering insectoid closed in with its serrated arms ready to tear him apart.

That was when a red-and-silver blur slammed into the monster like a ballista bolt, throwing it off balance and sending it to the ground where it scuttled around to get upright. At the same time, the projectile slid to a stop next to the barely standing knight.  It was then he saw it was a young man donning a sleeker model of powered armor that was white around the torso and pauldrons, while the gauntlets and grieves were red, and a metallic sphere floated around him.

Then suddenly more metal spheres soared from the backside beneath what looked to be wings. They rocketed towards the larger monster as it was getting on its feet, but rather than crash into it they surrounded it in a sort of rigid pattern and light ran between them. Abruptly, the ones closest to the creature began shooting tongues of electricity into it.

An ear-splitting screech rang out as the insectoid writhed beneath the invasive bolts that shot into it, moving around erratically as it tried to escape. But the orbs remained constant with it, a set rotation that never changed even as it matched its movements. On the ground, in the air, they stayed locked on long enough for its body to collapse before bursting into particles of mana before they floated around the armored warrior, who glanced back at him as the visor covering his face then split apart to reveal it to be the son of his Lord.

“Master Leon?” The aged knight struggled to stand properly. “When did you get back!?”

“Nicks and Father are on the way!” Keeping his eyes on the remaining monsters, he aimed a sidearm towards the distant ones and pulled the trigger. Bolts of light cut through the air, piercing their bodies with ease and scattering them into motes. “I’ll clean up here, so fall back with the others and get your injuries tended to!”

“To leave the battlefield to you would be—”

Leon cut him off. “That suit’s power-frame isn’t working because of that fall so you can barely move in that thing as is! At the very least take cover and fire from a distance until Father gets here. I’ll cull their numbers until then!”

And what that, the jet wings on his suit flared outwards and the visor closed over his helmet once more. Leon shot into the air and left the eldest knight serving his family behind without waiting for a response. Normally, he would be more respectful considering all the man had done for him over the last few years, but as he told his father and brother before he left them behind, they didn’t have time with the situation being this urgent.

It was easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.

Wow, this is the largest wave of monsters I’ve seen since we left the Tower.” The A.I. known as Lola noted through the earpiece Leon wore as she floated next to him. Her artificial consciousness was currently occupying an Automated Combat Support Pod, with her processors currently alternating between controlling the P-Bits while also powering the exosuit he was using. “Is it always this bad, or is it one of those ‘game events’ you mentioned?

“The first wave of the migration is always rough,” Leon responded as he fired shots from the sidearm that she had reproduced for him to use based on research from one of the Glaives. It was a photon emitter that fired out laser bolts that weren’t particularly strong or intense, but they were an endless source of ammunition and were effective enough against the current threat. “And don’t think I didn’t hear those air quotes!”

It had been roughly two or so months since they had departed the Tower and made their way back to the territory that belonged to Leon’s father. During that time, Lola had been gathering data thanks in part to her advanced capabilities. It seemed that since the time of the war a lot of the advanced technology that had been present in her era had been lost.

Part of it was no doubt due to the sheer number of deaths caused by the calamity, with fewer of those who had the technical skills surviving. But the shifting of the environment had caused a great deal of loss as well. Not that it was completely backward, as some of the development and adaptation of certain technologies were fairly advanced all things considered, but the Tower easily eclipsed even the most advanced technology she had seen so far.

On the other hand, Leon claimed it was thanks to bad world-building since the setting was originally that of a video game that was a mix between a visual novel and platformer. He claimed to have been reborn in this world after dying in his previous life in Japan, which based on the cross-references that she made, seemed to have been set some time in the past before the first known Adepts. She was tempted to consider him delusional to a degree, though the scans she had done showed he hadn’t suffered brain damage or a chemical imbalance that would warrant it.

Besides, some of his information was scarily accurate in ways it shouldn’t be without some form of foreknowledge. And it wasn’t like there weren’t individuals with precognition in the past given that espers and mediums were recorded throughout history as being attuned to some of the upper layers of the Lifewave that granted them their extrasensory abilities. Granted, Leon himself wasn’t attuned to any of those layers so he shouldn’t have access to any of those capabilities.

It was something of a mystery she had a passing interest in solving, but she wasn’t exactly in a rush. Besides, even if he was slightly cuckoo, he was nice enough while they were traveling, and her directive was still to help Humans like him.

Plus, it was still better than being stuck in the Tower with no one to talk to.

My bad,” she apologized as Leon landed on the ground hard, allowing the shock absorbers within that part of the suit to store the kinetic energy and convert it into additional electrical energy within the spare battery packs that her Master developed in the past called ‘Bullits’. “Anyway, the White Tiger is in tip-top shape, so we can go all out.

The suit that Leon had found in the ruins had belonged to her Master, and because it was both ill-suited for the current environment and something she wanted to preserve, Lola had offered to instead make him a new one that was more suitable based on the information she gathered during their visit to the more civilized parts of the kingdom when he went to sell off the Glaive and register his findings with the Guild.

Of course, Lola wasn’t willing to risk the Tower being found by Adepts that might decide to scavenge it for loot. So, they had to mask the information to a degree by claiming a small island that they had found with the sensors in the Smilodon was the original location. Leon didn’t particularly care about what happened to it afterwards since neither he nor his family had the funds to upkeep or develop an island, so offering it up basically stopped him from getting taxed on it. He was sure that once the Royal Family scoured it for any other traces of lost technology, they would just give it to some noble as a vacation home.

But with the time between the offer and getting the Azure Glaive through the proper channels, Lola had managed to scan the more recent models of the powered armor used by the nobility to fight more efficiently. She used them as a template for his new suit—albeit much better designed and integrated with her own technology to compensate for his lack of Septima, including those devised from research done on two of the Glaives she had brought along the way.

She had called it the White Tiger, which Leon noticed seemed to be a theme when it comes to her naming convention. Or maybe something she picked up from her original creator. He didn’t exactly mind, so long as it worked. “Can we target multiple enemies this time?”

Just line ‘em up and I’ll zap ‘em good!

There was an attachment to his suit that could use his brainwaves to operate the P-Bits. But Leon hadn’t had enough training to do that while also operating the suit’s flight system. That was why she was filling in her former role as a Combat Support Pod by configuring them into the subroutine that could reproduce the effects of the Azure Striker Septima by using the pix stored within them, which the P-Bits managed by arranging themselves into different formations. In this case, half were used to create an inner layer that generated the electrical field, while the outer layer condensed them into bolts that could be directed outwards.

Leon took to the air, expending one of the charges within the storage packs to increase the output of the jets and took flight. The Bullit Dash’s sudden acceleration was more than he was used to, but the suit was accommodating enough that it didn’t overwhelm him. He lined up behind the swarm that tried to go further inland. “Do it!”

Lances of lightning shot forward, the constrained current piercing through the exoskeletons of the insectoids as the electricity shocked them from the inside out. The violent discharge dispersed those caught in the swarm. And with their deaths their bodies broke apart into motes that dissipated into the invisible mana permeating the atmosphere as they passed though until none were left. “This EX-Weapon is really effective on ‘em, huh?

“It’s convenient,” Leon admitted, hovering in the air as the discharge ceased and taking stock of situation as the EX-Weapon began to recharge. Lola had tried to explain how it worked to him, but the most he could understand was that due to her A.S. Drive it would eventually replenish itself. “Still, they shouldn’t have gotten this close. I’d bet this is Zola’s idea on getting even.”

You think she had something to do with the monsters?

“No, but she knows when her family are supposed to have their men here since any sign of instability scares away merchants needed to support the island. All she would have to do was pass on a message and tell them to arrive a bit later than usual due to some complication. That way any deaths or injuries or damages were just unfortunate rather than her breaking the terms of the marriage contract, allowing her to be a spiteful pain in the ass and get away with it.”

The Bartfort Household were a Barony, but they were a poor one that only had this singular floating island since they had by chance met the requirements when it came to military power, wealth, and political influence that some auditor on behalf of the Kingdom decided that was good enough. The wealth came from the fact that they owned land that was capable of generating some measure of income and a population to match, the political influence came from the fact that they were previously a Baronet family until their grandfather’s generation and thus had enough generations of effort to merit it, and the military power came because of the knight families they had under their banner.

Higher ranks meant more obligations, and with it more problems. They owned land and because of that they could generate wealth. But land on the frontier was notorious for being either the sites of conflicts with neighboring regions, routinely pillaged by pirates, or close enough to the migratory paths of monsters that they were routinely attacked.

In the past, they could afford to simply let the monsters munch down whatever was on this side of the mountains and kill the strays that lingered afterwards. That was because they didn’t need the extra land to be used to generate income before becoming a Barony. But because they owed more to the Crown after receiving an increase in their rank, they had to develop and make use of that section of land, which meant they had to actively deal with the swarms and had to increase their military power—weapons, airships, exosuits, and Adepts capable of dealing with these things.

Weapons had to be bought since they lacked the means to manufacture them on the island. Airships grew progressively more expensive depending on the construction and capabilities. And powered armor required constant maintenance and upkeeping. Those were a pain to constantly deal with, but they weren’t the most expensive asset.

It was the Adepts themselves who were the most valuable resource when it came to military power and the rarest. Anyone who had a reasonably powerful Septima could easily get themselves into a Knight position anywhere, even if they were an unranked Commoner. And if your power was useful, you could even get adopted into the Sixth Rank or above. Since that was the case, why waste your talent here in the outskirts where you’d have to risk your life against monsters for whatever a poor Baron could give you?

Most of the people who lived on their territory weren’t gifted with powerful Septima. The knights in their service weren’t above the norm either save for a few. And there were fewer of them now than in their grandfather’s time. So, whether they liked it or not, they needed at least a few more combat-capable Adepts among their ranks.

That was why Balcus agreed to marry Zola even though he had been courting Luce at the time. It had been a bad year and they lost a lot of good people, including Luce’s father and brothers, making her the last of the Roheisa line who had been serving their family even before their grandfather’s time. Scum or not, Zola’s Household were a Fifth Rank Viscount Household and provided knights and soldiers of their own when the swarms came every year as part of their contractual military service. And being tied to them meant that the Bartforts had enough status that they could take out a large enough loan to afford the equipment their people needed to survive.

So, when she made the offer from on-high, what choice did their father have but to accept? Leon didn’t blame him for it. No one could when he did it for their people. It was his duty as a noble after all, and it proved that he truly cared for the people under his rule.

“Zola’s the type who enjoys having power over others because she’s in a higher rank,” Leon continued. “Father put up with all her demands except when it came to me, and she used that opportunity to make our family suffer in poverty. She probably couldn’t wait to see him broken from having paid so much and still had to throw me out, only I came back with a pending ennoblement from higher up to shove in her face.”

Zola could ‘tolerate’ her husband having illegitimate children with a mistress. But having a Minos share the same family name was something she didn’t have to put up with because of the way things worked here. That was why once he was officially recognized as a Minos due to lacking a septima by the average age and not a late bloomer, she demanded a tribute from them that wasn’t counted towards the loan he had to take out with their family, which already had a predatory high interest rate attached. Add that in with the taxes that had to be paid to the Crown, and they were dirt poor while still having obligations that came with their rank.

Leon recalled days when his father starved himself, so his children remained fed. The shame on his mother’s face as she had to explain why Jenna couldn’t have even a single dress like the ones Merce always wore when she visited. He couldn’t even hate Jenna when she finally asked why the rest of them had to suffer because he had to be born broken, nor how Finley never spoke to him more than necessary afterwards.

It was undeniable that they had suffered. Not just because he had been born a Minos. But because despite that they still acknowledged him as one of their family.  They were suffering for the price for being decent human beings.

That was why Leon had to pay them all back.

Leon, I’m picking up a big one closing in,” Lola chimed in, which grabbed his attention. His visor received a visual feed of an even larger monstrosity than the one they’d killed a bit ago, traveling in the center of the main swarm. It resembled more of a dragonfly with a massive head and compound eyes that size of small airships, four transparent wings that fluttered so quickly that the rest of its smaller counterparts kept their distance around it lest they be blown away.  “How do you want to deal with it?

“We’ll get rid of it before it can cause any damage ourselves,” Leon declared before darted towards the ground and landing with a stomp next to one of their knights. After informing him of the impending attack and that he would deal with it, he shot off before they could say otherwise or attempt to follow him.

The jets accelerated at full speed as one of the Bullits was expended in order to rocket the duo towards the incoming swarm while they were still in the distance above the forests outside of the village. The tracks of land were left as both a windbreak that shielded the farms and buildings from the cold winds during the winter and provided breeding grounds so that the wildlife population wouldn’t decline, since that was one of their primary means of feeding themselves. It was the best place to confront them.

The design of the suit prevented it from breaking under the strain of the g-forces, allowing it to achieve acceleration surpassing the existing models of armors. However, the battery packs themselves only had a limited charge, so the initial acceleration would peter out after a few seconds. But with plenty of surfaces to bounce off, like the upper branches of a hearty tree, he could refill the expended cartridge before he accelerated once more. Using a string of consecutive Bullit Dashes allowed them to get within range of the swarm well before they could advance closer to the village. “Take care of the bits, Lola!”

OK!” The P-Bits arranged themselves into formation and lightning began to pool before being woven through the bits and launched forward. Streaking bolts lanced into the horde ahead of him, ripping through their ranks and creating an opening for him to approach the Swarm Leader. Unlike the small fries who were instantly killed by the voltage as it devoured them from the inside out, its glossy exoskeleton was far more durable as the electric streamers wormed over its body.

Its compound eyes reflected the red and silver glint of their armor as they closed in and it chittered aggressively.

We got its attention now!” Lola chimed in as the bits ceased their discharge while it darted forward, attempting to follow its predatory instincts to snap up the fast-moving prey approaching its mouth with its mandibles. Leon twisted his body for snap-roll that shot them just beneath its underside as the jaws clamped shut. As he passed beneath it, he slammed the barrel of the gun against its thorax so that the light emitter marked it with a luminous ‘X’ before burning a charge to Bullit Dash as he pulled away to the right, avoiding the lash of its tail as he reoriented himself. “That was awesome!

“It’s not over yet,” Leon pointed out as he opened fire with his blaster. Leaving aside how well the suit controlled thanks to the neural readers beneath the helmet, pulling that off that snap-roll would have put far more of a strain on his body than he could handle without her suit compensating. Even now he began flying backward as he held down the trigger, sending a constant barrage of laser shots that homed in on the Swarm Leader as it gave chase, waiting for the EX-Weapon to recharge so he could do more than chip damage.

The monstrous insectoid chittered violently as it tried to dodge. But no matter how it moved, it was pelted by the superheated bolts that scoured its exoskeleton where it had been marked with every hit. It might not have been doing a lot of damage, but enough of the shots would eventually melt through its chitinous hide. Not that the monster was content to sit there and take it as it shrieked and then cracked its abdomen like a whip in their direction.

I’m putting up the Flashshield!” Lola said as the motion released what looked to be spines from the terminal end of its abdomen. They cut through the air like spears, covering a wider area to skewer him out of the sky, only to be rebuffed as the bits began circling him and wove together an electrified field. The protective shell lasted until the bombardment ceased before flying to the marked target and entering the lightning-generation formation once more. “Now for the counterattack! Stellar Spark!

With the P-Bits locked on the Swarm Leader was bombarded by lightning. Trapped as the outer bits served to funnel the electricity inwards while the inner bits directed the concentrated charge into its body. It jerked around in unsettling motions as it tried to escape only for the bits to match its movements until the weapon energy was drained and the mark itself faded.

I don’t think it’s got a lot of fight left in it,” Lola said as the bits returned, her A.S. Drive funneling into the energy partition dedicated to the EX-Weapon system to begin recharging it. “A little more time and I’ll have something strong enough to finish it ready to go!

Leon was about to ask what she had in mind when he noticed those massive compound eyes locked onto them were starting to glow with an unearthly light. Then the insectoid released an ear-splitting screech that rippled out with such force the sound waves rattled the very trees. Its translucent wings began to beat even faster, no longer merely being used for flight but to generate harsh winds.

Is it trying to knock us away? Leon thought as the wind buffered the pair to the point where the normal propulsion was barely able to keep them from being blown away. Then he noticed that its tail appendage was aimed towards them and decided to burn a Bullit to have the jets propel him to the side.

It proved to be the right call as one of the spines from before speared through where they had been at speeds that were far faster than before. More followed afterwards, spine after spine fired towards them at speeds that would punch through a normal exosuit with ease, reminding him of just how much he hated bullet hell segments. “Lola!”

The P-Bits encircled him and deflected the incoming spines that he couldn’t avoid with the Flashshield, each one entering the radius of the protective field charred by the electrical nature as they were repulsed. It wasn’t ideal since it wore down the energy partitioned to the EX-Weapon, so Leon focused on avoiding them as much as he could while chipping away at its exoskeleton by free-aiming his gun. The bombardment was then followed up by the Swarm Leader rocketing itself forward as a last-ditch attempt when it became clear that the spines weren’t sufficient.

It shot forward like a missile with its mandibles opened wide. The Flashshield couldn’t tank that kind of hit with that kind of mass behind it and would have split Leon in half if he didn’t avoid it. He burned another Bullit and rocketed upwards at the last minute, leaving it to pass beneath them as its wings finally ceased to glow once its desperation attack failed.

Now was the time to finish it. “End it, Lola!”

Shred Storm!” The P-Bits surrounding them began to glow as they quickened their rotation before suddenly sweeping out with the same speed that was normally reserved for the Bullit Dash. In a flash, the Swarm Leader was torn asunder by what appeared to be glowing comets that left behind a red tail in their wake like blood from the claws of a tiger that ripped through the air itself. It chittered weakly as its wings abruptly ceased their beating and it plummeted down to the trees below.

And as soon as it hit the ground, its corporeal form burst into countless motes of light that slowly winked out to mark its death.

Aw, yeah! A perfect finish!” Lola cheered excitedly as they hovered in the air.

“Closer than I’d like at a few moments, but we make a good team,” Leon admitted freely before turning back in the direction of the village. “Let’s head back and clean up.”

Sure thing, Partner!

[—Evening—]

It was evening before the things were settled and the first wave was culled.

Leon himself sat on a tree stump closer to the outskirts of the village where most of the soldiers and knights were stationed. A wet cloth was hanging over his head and covering his eyes to block out the amber light of the setting sun as he cooled down, his helmet retracted with only the headset affixed to his dark hair remaining. Lola was slotted into a compartment in the suit with the rest of the P-Bits and running diagnostics and reviewing the combat log for future improvements.

He sat there and listened to the various men that voiced relief that the initial wave had been culled, anguish from the injuries sustained, or concern at the lack of support they’d received this time. That was when a deluge of water smacked him abruptly, drenching him to the point where he ended up tasting the salt in it. He coughed as he tore off the rag now clinging to his face and spat out the excess saltwater. “Was that necessary, Nicks?!”

His older brother, Nicks, stood ahead of him in a similar model of exosuit that the knights wore. Their family coat of arms was emblazoned on the back and larger than the others normally on the shoulders to indicate he was a member of the household and thus a higher rank. And next to him were two spheres of water that undulated as they hovered in the air.

Nicks, Jenna, Colin, and Finley all had control over generating liquids within their family as their Septima. Nicks generated saltwater, which was pretty bad for farming and hitting monsters in the face with them didn’t exactly do much in terms of damage. Colin’s was inconsistent since he was so young, and his attempts seemed to add some kind of impurity into the water that they weren’t sure of. Jenna could produce freshwater, which made her useful when it came to keeping the farmland healthy even if she hated it. Finley… well, she kept to herself mostly but seemed to be in the same boat as Jenna, though he noted that the water she produced tended to be colder.

Nicks gave Leon a stern glare before they shot forward and smacked him twice more for good measure. “You flew off ahead of us and then went off on your own to deal with the swarm. Just because you got back after playing Adventurer for a few months doesn’t mean you can do that. The only reason I’m not doing worse is because you didn’t get yourself injured.”

“If I hadn’t then someone could have died because Zola decided to be more of a bitch than usual,” Leon said, justifying breaking ahead to deal with the threats as he shook his head to get the water out. “Speaking of which, let me guess—engine trouble, right?”

Nicks’ frown at Leon turned into a glower. Not directed at his brother, but to the topic at hand. “Yeah, ‘engine trouble’ they said while claiming they would be another week late. Bastards.”

The first wave was always the worst, but smaller waves tended to follow the migration pattern. It was a problem that they had to put up with since the species of monsters themselves came from further out beyond a more turbulent area. Those tended to be more manageable since they didn’t have a Swarm Leader guiding them, but every injured or dead man made life harder. That week was likely meant to give them time to stew in the aftermath of what they probably expected to be a far more devastating encounter, arriving before the second wave so they were reminded of just how invaluable Zola’s grace was.

“It could have been much worse,” Nicks continued, eyes rolling over the White Tiger suit as water rolled down it. “And no one else can use that suit, right?”

“You’ve heard how Lost Items tend to be at times,” Leon said. “I’m lucky it didn’t require a specific Septima to operate, but the moment I put it on it registered me as the user and won’t let anyone else use it.”

“Probably for the best then,” his brother settled on with a shrug. “At least we can have your old armor issued to someone else since you’ve got that one now. Just try not to break it. If that armor really is a Lost Item along with that ship, then chances are once it breaks it can’t be easily fixed.”

Leon was a bit upset about having to lie, but that was simply how it had to be for now. Lola could repair or even make another suit with resources and time. But while she might accept that Adepts were the majority without wanting to genocide them en masse, that didn’t mean she was eager to pump them out wholesale. Besides, she was the one powering the suit with her personal A.S. Drive, which was responsible for most of its capabilities. Trying to power two of them at once could overheat the engine.

“Anyway, once I’ve officially gotten my ennoblement title, I’ll be able to handle things here while you’re at the Academy,” Leon told him. He already had the letter explaining that he was guaranteed Ninth Rank—Knighthood within the hierarchy of nobility in the Kingdom.

There were twelve ranks in the Holfort Kingdom, three of which were impossible to attain unless you were royalty. The lowest two at Eighth and Ninth Rank were both classified as being Knights, but there was an unspoken distinction between them. The Ninth Rank could be given out as a Title by even regional lords like their father, but while it conferred recognition for merit it could also be considered an Honorary Title since the person it was bestowed upon didn’t have to carry out duties seriously and even non-combatants could obtain it so they could be called a member of the nobility.

Eighth Rank were Royal Knights that had real authority and were expected to behave as such. The Royal Family recognized them with a ceremony and even paid them higher compensation and a pension along with several other benefits. However, to be recognized could take a decade of service or more and the title wasn’t inheritable.

Only Seventh Rank, a Baronet or Baroness, and above were inheritable. Just getting to that rank typically required a lifetime of service, or a decent chunk of land in their name. Most of the nobles never actually went further to receive the rank of a Baron because of the wealth disparity and lack of land available. Not that the Crown couldn’t point at a baronetcy with a high enough population and say that was good enough if they needed to place a higher tax on someone.

“Not really looking forward to going back there,” Nicks admitted. “The classes Dad wants me to take are boring and the things are so expensive that I have to spend my free time in Dungeon or working part-time. He keeps telling me I should try to make decent connections as well, but that’s easier said than done considering all things.”

“Sucks for you,” Leon told him with a grin. He honestly didn’t want to go to the Royal Academy, knowing the mess that the next three years would bring. Only the firstborn sons and girls from Sixth Rank and higher were required to go, and they all got shunted into Special Education courses separate from those below. For the men, it was because they were set to inherit land holdings and needed the education, while women were expected to be able to handle the duties of their spouses if they were away during a conflict or died—which was disturbingly more common than ideal.

Nicks was the second son of the Bartfort Household, but he was the illegitimate son since Zola was the legal wife of their father and had her son ahead of him. He was a spare heir, so he had to go to gain a general education. But Rutart was first in line to inherit the title of Baron once their father passed it along.

Mind you if something ‘happened’ to Rutart then Nicks would be the one to obtain everything. But considering Zola kept him at her family estate and oversaw his rearing, that wasn’t likely to happen. The fact that their father’s demesne would fall into the hands of someone who never lifted a finger to defend their home didn’t sit well with them, but nothing could be done about it.

Their father had at least ensured that Nicks would be kept on as a vassal knight. He would inherit the land that their mother’s family owned since she was the last surviving member and passed it on to him. Since most of the other knight families and soldiers recognized him as their father’s child, they wouldn’t cause problems and would remain loyal so he could deal with the affairs on the island while Rutart stayed on the continent.

The same couldn’t be said for Leon, who Zola wanted to have banished and failed to recognize. That was the reason Leon had to jump through hoops to get the Ninth Rank, since having the title bestowed upon him by his father could be challenged by Zola’s family. Being from a Viscount Family that was married to the Bartforts and a higher rank, they could easily revoke it or use it as leverage against them. So being an independent, if honorary, Knight that was bestowed the title by the Crown was sufficient since no one barring a Duke or Duchess would even question or challenge it.

Since their barony was originally founded by accepting independent knights, they could easily set him up as a household knight. He wouldn’t have land, but he would still live with his family and do everything he already was. He would set out with Lola to help her gather data as promised, but for someone who didn’t have grand ambitions, things were good enough for him.

So naturally, things didn’t go that smoothly when the messenger arrived a few days later with an offer from the Crown he couldn’t refuse.

[—Several Days Later—]

“The Royal Family wants me to attend the Academy as a Scholarship Student!?”

Leon had been out and getting in some target practice when his younger brother had come to tell him that they had a guest for him from the Capital. He had expected it to be a courier to deliver the ennoblement of Ninth Rank, marking him as a Knight. He hadn’t expected the courier to deliver a missive from the Queen herself.

“In light of your accomplishments at such a young age as an Adventurer, the Royal Family has decided to offer the chance to attend the Academy’s Special Education courses under a scholarship,” explained the courier, who was an aged man well into his older years with a butler mustache and monocle. “Should you manage to graduate, there is also a guarantee of being elevated to Eighth Rank.”

Leon did his best to mask the sheer disbelief at that statement as he glanced out of the corner of his eyes toward his father. The man was doing a better job of hiding whatever skepticism he felt as he ran over the paperwork detailing the offer in full. But he at least gave a slight inclination of his head to acknowledge that something was off about it as well.

Leaving aside the fact he knew that there were no Minos among the Eighth Rank, the offer was a little too good. Go to school and get a guaranteed paycheck for the rest of your life? That sounded like the kind of sales pitch military recruiters gave to get commoners to sign themselves up to be sent to the meatgrinder, which was exactly what he wanted to avoid.

Leon was certain there was some kind of catch to it, even if he couldn’t quite peg it yet. There was also the factor that he wasn’t supposed to be the Scholarship Student attending the Academy. Had he somehow shifted events by giving them the Glaive ahead of time that made him take her slot? If that were the case, then it could cause problems later on if he accepted.

Besides, he didn’t care about being elevated to Eighth Rank. He only needed Ninth Rank to get what he wanted. “Not to be ungrateful—”

“Leon accepts the offer from the Crown graciously,” his mother said while setting her hand on his shoulder in a show of parental support. Or so it appeared.  The fact that her fingers were digging into his flesh and the saccharine smile she wore while facing him sent a chill down his spine made it less of support and more of a warning. “Isn’t that right, sweetheart?”

He swallowed. “R-Right. Forgive my hesitation, I’m more than happy to accept the Crown’s offer wholeheartedly. It’s just that I never imagined that the Royal Family would go out of the way to bestow a scholarship to someone like me. Are you sure you have the right—”

Her nails dug into his shoulders.

“—I mean am I the only Scholarship Student attending?” Leon finished while trying to maintain a straight face. “I’ve never heard of a scholarship being given out, so I’m just curious if there are others as part of the program?”

If the man noticed any oddities in the fact that his voice rose a pitch, he hid it well. “Ah, I suppose the uncertainty is understandable given that this is a new initiative being pushed by the Queen. There were two slots in the Academy set aside for a male and female candidate, and your accomplishment as an Adventurer merited the slot for the male candidate. I will be shortly visiting the female candidate to inform her as well.”

Leon was still skeptical for a number of reasons. But considering his mother would likely start drawing blood if he voiced another word to reject it, he wisely kept his mouth shut as his father finished going over the paperwork. They hammered out the finer details and suddenly found himself enrolled in the Royal Academy.

His silence lasted until the very moment the man departed. “Mom, that was—

“—too good to be true,” Luce finished for him as she gently peeled back his collar to see if she’d actually hurt him. “An offer that gives you a chance at an education that costs so much for free? A prestigious rank that has ties to the Crown itself and guarantees financial stability for the rest of your life? All on the Royal Family’s coffers?”

She slowly shook her head as she outlined those facts. His mother might not have attended the Academy or lived in the Capital, but she knew something that was too good at a glance. “No, sweetheart. More than likely whatever you sold them simply put you in their minds and they decided to use you for some political purpose.”

“Then why are you forcing me to go?”

Because it’s an offer that gives you a chance at an education you normally wouldn’t have, financial stability you wouldn’t have, and a rank that you wouldn’t have. There’s something off about it, but that doesn’t change the fact that it was too good for you to pass up. Most others in your… situation wouldn’t get that chance.”

The way she hesitated to say that final sentence got the implication across well enough without her having to say another Minos wouldn’t be so lucky with how the Kingdom was structured. To be honest, they were lucky to have two children attending as impoverished as they were. It was pure pragmatism that both Jenna and Nicks were attending.

In Nicks’ case, it was because he was the spare heir. Even then he still had only general education and had to work part-time to pay for his needs outside of the base finances for tuition. His grades weren’t exactly stellar, but realistically that didn’t matter so long as he graduated.

It was different in Jenna’s case. His parents covered everything because it offered her a chance of marrying up in life because of the number of bachelors from different islands. If she managed to find a suitor to get engaged to, it could possibly secure them capital or resources that could improve their barony if the dowry was large enough. And unlike Nicks, she didn’t have to work part-time by justifying that she needed to at least appear wealthy enough to attract a suitor who didn’t think she was dirt poor.

Sending Leon was never in the cards. He was a third son and a Minos. There was too little to be gained for too much cost when the best he could hope for was being a household knight. His little brother also would likely not be able to attend when he came of age if their fortunes didn’t improve from here on.

“I wish that I could have done so much more for you, Leon,” Luce continued softly with a hitch in her voice. “You’ve always been a clever boy, and you picked up on learning so easily. That’s why, even knowing something else is going on, I want you to take advantage of it while you can. So that you can have a future and a chance at a life that your father and I can’t give you.”

And, having said that, she gave him a kiss on the cheek before heading to get started on dinner.

That Leon alone in the room as he scratched his head in frustration. He hated it. Not the fact that he had to go to the Royal Academy, but the fact that his mother felt that way to begin with. That he was the cause of it. Another thing he couldn’t pay back.

That was when the Combat Support Pod unveiled herself as the pix she had been using to camouflage herself was retracted. She had naturally been listening in. “Your mom is really proud of you, huh?

“She’s always felt guilty that I was born as a Minos,” he said in Japanese on the off chance that someone overheard them. Since he didn’t live by himself, he used his native tongue and script when he couldn’t guarantee privacy or for sensitive topics since there wasn’t anyone else who could understand before he met Lola. It was one of his ties to his past life he could keep with him. “It just happens that I got my memories back at an earlier age, and so she wants to think I’m a prodigy to compensate for that.”

Leon hadn’t been a bad student by any stretch, even though he opted not to go to university so he could help support his family in his past. The fact that Holfort lacked a public education system meant that the educational standards for most of the population were fairly low in the border regions, with the only alternative being homeschooling or the Church. Even then, specialized knowledge to act as a mechanic for the exosuits or engineers for airships were relegated to private institutions like the Academy, which required having a sponsor for lower ranked individuals.

From their perspective, his behavior after he regained his memories seemed like he had suddenly become a prodigy given that he acted more mature and understanding than most kids his age would. Since he was an adult in mind and acted the part, he was often seen as more independent and that was part of why his father agreed to give him what he needed to find Lola. And Leon had rewarded that faith by coming back, which would only feed into their preconceptions and thus the image he had to uphold to them.

Leon scratched his head before turning to her. “Lola, I need a favor. Could you catch up to the ship before it gets too far out of our territory and figure out if the second person is a young woman named Olivia?”

That’s the one who’s supposed to be the ‘Heroine’ isn’t it?

“Yeah. I want to make sure that she’s the female student since it wasn’t supposed to be like this. The scholarship was supposed to be the excuse plot for the heroine to enter the Academy despite not being part of the gentry. But a slot for a male student wasn’t mentioned. I need to see if that’s changed too.”

It might have been a background detail that didn’t need to be elaborated. Or just to fill in how the world worked. If that was the case, then he supposed the slot was to be filled in by some mob who wasn’t suited to be a Love Interest to a special snowflake like the Heroine. But if by some chance obtaining the Glaive early screwed up her recruitment, it could cause real problems considering there was going to be a war in three years.

The neighboring Principality of Fanoss, ruled by a princess masquerading as a prince, would use a device called a Grimoire that enhanced her Mirror Septima to a great degree. She could use it to create countless copies of monsters, or even spawn a titanic monster into existence even though it cost her very life in the game. The Heroine’s power was needed so that the Love Interest could deal with all of that.

The pod bobbed up and down. “Sure thing! I’ll head out and try to dig something up for ya.

And with that said she floated out of the nearby window and camouflaged herself.

Leon sighed before laying back on the couch with his arms behind his head as his mind ran over all the things that he needed to do to compensate for leaving for the Academy. He had hoped to help around his family’s territory, but he couldn’t do that from the Capital. Then again, he’d have access to the Dungeon and could use the money he gained from diving there to send back to his family while staying in practice.

The sound of small footfalls along the wooden floor drew his eyes towards the door before it flew open. Entering the room was a little boy with dark hair, dressed in a simple tunic and trousers. It was his little brother, Colin. “Big brother, it’s not true! You’re not leaving us!”

“Colin, you know you’re not supposed to run in the house,” Leon said as he sat upright as his brother came over and jumped onto his lap, looking close to tears. “Calm down and explain what’s got you so upset.”

“Finley said that you were going to go away again for even longer than before,” Colin explained.

That was when Leon caught the slightest bit of movement at the door and noticed the brown-haired young girl with golden eyes peeking over with a flat expression. His younger sister, Finley. He looked straight at her as he gently patted his brother on the head. “Did she now?”

Finley only turned away and said plainly, “He misunderstood when I tried to explain you were going to the Academy.”

Finley was always the hardest of his sisters to read. When she was younger, they didn’t really have much of a problem and spoke normally. But now she very rarely spoke barring short sentences and never seemed to make casual conversation, almost as if she were trying to avoid him or hide something. She didn’t act malicious, at least not overtly, but she tended to be blunt and pointed when it came to her responses to her brothers. Then there was the fact that she didn’t seem to like being in the same room as him anymore after Jenna’s outburst back then.

Not that he blamed her considering their circumstances. He suspected she was just as angry as Jenna but wasn’t as loud about it. He was wondering if he should count that as a blessing since he knew outbursts like that hurt his parents’ feelings more than his at this point, but as an older brother he did worry about what her relationship with the others would be like if she didn’t open up some or kept causing misunderstandings.

“I’m not going away for good,” Leon clarified to Colin while brushing his head, if only to clear up any misconceptions. “I’m going to the Academy just like Jenna and Nicks, so I won’t be around as often. I’ll be back for the semester breaks when they come back.”

“But I don’t want you to go again,” Colin said. “It gets boring when you’re not here. Mother and Father are always too busy, and Finley is mean.”

“I’m not thrilled about it either, but I don’t have a choice now. And Mom pointed out it’s probably the best chance I’ll get to learn something I wouldn’t otherwise.”

Holfort was rustic over in borderlands, but the Capital was further ahead since preserving the knowledge of the flying ships, air bikes, and powered armors that their ancestors originally used were essential to their military power. But in exchange for that, they were far behind in other fields that could make life easier for everyone else, and because of the limited access to education, there were few chances for it to be applied elsewhere.

Leon wasn’t exactly the most tech-savvy back in his previous life but spending time with Lola did make him curious. And learning more about how these things worked would possibly make him more capable rather than relying solely on the A.I. He was already taking advantage of her generosity more than he was comfortable with, and he wasn’t sure what he could do for her either to make up for all the help she gave him.

As for his brother, Leon decided to put him at ease by lifting him up as he stood. “Anyway, since I have some time, how about I show you a little trick I can do with the new suit that allows me to fly with other people?”

His soured expression vanished and was replaced with a bright smile. The natural reaction considering he was too young to fly around in an exosuit on his own. “That sounds awesome! Let’s go!”

Leon noticed that Finley was half-turned in their direction and frowning slightly before she walked off.

He really didn’t understand her much at all.

[—Finley Fou Bartfort—]

Finley really hadn’t been trying to hurt Colin when she told him that Leon would be leaving.

When their mother had told her that Leon had gotten a scholarship to attend the Academy, she knew that meant he would be gone as long as Jenna and Nicks were. She also knew that Colin would be devastated, so she had been trying to explain that Leon wouldn’t be there to baby him like he always did. The boys of the family were rather close with each other, and she knew that Leon tended to dote on Colin since he was little, so the boy didn’t take him being gone for long periods of time well.

He used to try to dote on her as well, but Finley didn’t like being treated like a child. Not only because she had a sense of quiet pride, but she didn’t think it was appropriate to be treated as a child anymore. Not while the rest of her family was struggling.

She felt shameful when she learned just how bad their circumstances were, being an ignorant child at the time.  So blissfully ignorant of all the times their parents had grumbling stomachs and why they spent so much time patching their clothes rather than buying new ones. To understand why her brother always seemed to have that same sad look as their parents that made him look so much older compared to how young he looked when he was with her like he was with Colin.

It was hard for her to face him after that or tell any of them about her own problems, so she kept to herself most of the time to avoid adding to their burdens. These were the chains she shackled herself with in the same manner the rest of her family did in their own way. The only one without bindings were Colin himself, still ignorantly blissful. She felt both happy for him but also prickly that he got to remain that way when she couldn’t.

“—can’t be serious! Why now?” Her ears perked up as she made her way to the garden out in the back. She peeped around the corner where her older sister was having a… heated discussion with her mother as a sphere of undulating water that had been drizzling over the plants came crashing down and soaking the ground. Her control tended to waver when she got upset. “Leon doesn’t belong there!

“Your brother did something amazing,” her mother pointed out. “One of the first scholarship students in history. Can’t you at least be a little happy for him?”

“He’s a Minos!” Jenna said pointedly. “He isn’t going to be welcomed there, Crown-sponsored or not! And then, if word that he’s related to me gets around, I won’t be able to find a good husband! That’s why he should stay here!”

Her mother couldn’t look more disappointed in her if she tried. “You know, as your mother, I don’t blame you for wanting to marry someone and move to the Capital since most of the girls your age want that more than anything else. But at the very least try not to do it at the expense of your brother. At the end of the day, you’re still family no matter what.”

And with that she began to walk off in the other direction to tend to the laundry that had been left to air dry, leaving behind her eldest daughter without looking back.

Had she done so she would have seen that her fingers curled inwards and dug into her palms so hard that her shoulders were left trembling. Jenna turned to her attention to the air and water began to pool into a ball as she clenched her teeth, all while muttering under her breath, “Who do you think I’m doing this for in the first place…?

That was when Finley decided to show herself, acting as though she hadn’t been spying on the argument. “Is something wrong?”

Jenna sighed and vented her frustration to her younger sister, whom she had the best relationship within the household. “Leon finally gets back and he’s already ruining my plans! It was bad enough he disappeared for three months and they all blamed me for it, and now this! Why can’t he ever just keep himself out of trouble!?”

She was referring to how awkward things had gotten in the household after Leon went on his adventure. While becoming an Adventurer was seen as something that was respected, it was also dangerous and part of the reason having a strong Septima was lauded. Leon had none of that and didn’t tell anyone other than their father anything about his intentions or where he was going until before he departed.

The first week Jenna was sure he would have come back after realizing how hard it was and just settle down. Then a month passed with no word from him, and they started to worry. Then two months passed and the thought that he was dead hung heavy in their minds and hearts even if no one said anything aloud. But because no one said anything aloud, Jenna had become paranoid that everyone blamed her for his absence—especially their mother.

Finley had more than once caught her sister staring at the door to his room while he was gone.

“All the effort I spent last year will be wasted,” she continued. “The time spent learning about the various circles, making nice, and getting a read on who I could marry for us to not have to rely on that witch… it’ll be pointless if people think I’ll be like Mom and give birth to a Minos.”

Noble families often hid their shame, especially when it came to something like having a child without Septima. A woman who could give birth to a Minos like Leon was a woman who had lower value to people their station and above in this society. And Jenna was aiming for a viscount or higher so that they could sever ties with Zola’s family, so it was something she desperately wanted to hide.

“…Is it really that bad when he’s going to be a Royal Knight by the end?” Finley asked.

Jenna huffed. “Girls talk in the Academy, and some mentioned before we left the Academy that Minos uprisings and Sky Pirates were becoming more frequent even though their parents try to keep it quiet. That doesn’t happen in our territory since everyone loves Dad and knows how he treats Leon, so it doesn’t cause us many problems. But the Crown has no doubt heard of it and so they need someone they can point at and say ‘he’s a Minos but look at how high ranked he is because he did something to help us, so rather than rebel try to do that instead’.”

Hearing that caused her frown to deepen. “Then Leon is—”

“Nothing more than a prop for the Crown to quell the Minos before they become violent,” Jenna said with a nod. “Leon’s accomplishments don’t mean a thing. He was just lucky enough they picked him as their tool, nothing more. Everyone at the Academy will know it too since that’s how this world works after—use or be used. Remember that.”

She would. For better or worse.


Fanfic Recommendation 113


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Life is Tough for a Minos: Chapter 1

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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Summary: A sky-pirate attack on the Bartfort territory makes Leon realize that it isn’t enough to have an overpowered superweapon capable of wiping out all life. He needs two. A maxed-out protagonist should suffice as the second. Or so he thought. Unfortunately, in this world, the protagonist seems to have a mind of her own!


A Mobuseka Fanfic

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Life is Tough for a Minos: Chapter 1 [Mobuseka x Gunvolt AU]

Chapter 1: The A.I.

 

Alert.

Life signs detected within proximity of Tower.

Suspending Hibernation Mode.

Nnnhhh… what’s with the racket?” In a sealed chamber devoid of light, a digital mind stirred as the sensors scattered throughout the island registered the arrival of a living being. Roused from slumber, the A.I. inquired with the sensor logs for clarification as it began to defrag its data. “Yep, that’s the biometrics for a lifeform all right. Scan for Septima Energy. Make sure it’s not the enemy.

Scanning for Septimal Energy.

The prompt devoted more resources to the scanning system as it combed the island for energy matching the wavelength of those attuned to the Septimal layer of the Lifewave. It only emanated from those who were registered as the enemy of Humanity in its data banks. Those entities were Septima Holders, also known as Adepts, who waged war against the Humans in a conflict that created massive devastation the A.I. had been tasked with correcting for….

Far longer than expected based on its internal calendar. “Ahh, I slept for way too long this time. Hopefully the automated maintenance subroutines I set up kept the security systems functional.

No Septimal Energy detected.

Whew… that’s good. I can focus on making sure everything else is operational later then. But if the scanners are registering life signs…” It checked the logs linked to one of the cameras in the vicinity. Then its circuits began to buzz as its digital brain processed the visual feed. “It’s really a Human! After all this time!

The A.I. began combing through the logs of the data around the island for deviations from the usual activity, to see how long they had been there or if there were signs of other visitors. It wasn’t exactly hard to do or time-consuming since things had been stagnant without any external influence or changes detected by the automatic scans over the last thousands of years. “There are signs of debris that weren’t present before from a vessel of some kind, with traces of a mineral used for levitation via tapping into mana particles in the atmosphere. No signs of other ships or corpses. Talk about lucky. If they had crash-landed anywhere else, they’d be goners.

During the war between Adepts and Humans, a being known as Demerzel had developed a means of tapping into the Lifewave that circulated throughout the planet. But as the Humans began to push back the Adepts, Demerzel caused it to accelerate its flow until it began vaporizing. Then it erupted from below in a cataclysmic event that spelled the end of life as it had been.

The land was ripped apart. The seas churned and turned to poison, contaminated by the turbulent element. The air itself was choked with volcanic smoke and gases that became electrified. Soon the world was left barren of the capacity to nurture or sustain life as its very essence seeped out like blood from countless wounds.

So much of it being present was toxic for biological organisms. Even entities born with an attachment to the Senary and Septimal layers could only handle so much exposure before it warped and killed them. But the world itself needed that energy flowing through it to produce life. If not for the fact that the particles were subjected to gravity to the degree that it prevented the bulk of it from ascending past the bottom of the Stratosphere, it would be impossible to revitalize the planet as the A.I. had been doing so dutifully…

Well, okay maybe it slacked off just a bit since it was a largely automated process at this point. The exterior atmospheric barrier prevented mana from entering the island aside from that which was being condensed and funneled back down. If that was functional and operating within the set parameters, there wasn’t much left that required devoting resources to actively.

Approaching biometrics do not match authorized personnel.

Registering individual as an ‘Intruder’ and activating security system for elimination.

Don’t you dare!!” The core of the A.I. began to shake within its container as it used its authority to override the protocol. It wouldn’t do to kill the first guest they’d had in thousands of years. “Turn off the security system entirely. Register their biometrics into the database as a ‘Guest’ User with permission to access the Top Floor directly. Uh… what else?” 

It combined its mind for what to do when meeting someone for the first time. This was big, so it couldn’t afford to offend them or make a mistake. A good first impression was needed. “Right, it’d probably be weird speaking to a voice coming from the walls. Use the terminal to determine the optimal language to communicate with them. Set up the gardens with Template Five’s appearance. Oh, and ready some snacks and tea from the stores while I jump into companion pod to speak with them personally in my Administrator Mode.

Acknowledging Authoritative Bypass.

[—Leon Fou Bartfort—]

“Well, this is new.” Leon Bartfort said as he stood outside of the entrance to a massive steel pillar that ascended into the turbulent sky above that had green clouds that crackled with countless streamers. In front of him was a terminal meant to open the structure before him, currently displaying a number of different languages and asking for the ‘Guest User’ to select which one to use before it would open the way.

It was known only as ‘The Tower’ back when he had been living in Japan. Back before he died and then reincarnated in the world of a Dating Sim that was made by a company that normally made platforming games. It was a paid DLC map, set beneath the Death Zone at the bottom of the sky. A mysterious island that shouldn’t be there considering the entire lower world was supposed to be completely inhospitable to human life.

In the game, after you paid for the DLC, you would visit specific coordinates and your ship would suddenly malfunction before being drawn into a surging flow of mana until it was pulled down on the island. The Heroine and her Love Interest depending on the route of the game would then see it as an unexplored dungeon and ascend it floor-by-floor, facing off against various robotic enemies that belonged in a more sci-fi-heavy game, while navigating different environments like an arctic region or jungle.

And when you finally made it to the top you would be rewarded with a power-up for the Love Interest’s partner. Then a forced escape sequence would occur, and they would find a new ship with much higher specs to replace their old one. The island would then vanish with no way back until you started a new game file.

Leon had been planning to retrieve said cheat items and spent a month getting to the coordinates when he had been sucked in, just like in the game. But so far, he hadn’t seen a single enemy unit. And now the entrance wasn’t responding to the ID Card that would open it in the game but instead asking him to select a language for Guest Access.

Something must have changed the scenario. But considering how closed off this place is, the only thing I can think of was that someone else beat me to it.

There were holes in the theory, but he couldn’t dismiss the possibility of it. If he had been reborn in this world and regained his memories, then chances are someone else probably had as well. And considering what a crappy setting this was depending on the luck of the draw, rushing to get ahead was the smart call. The only reason he hadn’t earlier was because of the danger involved, but he would take a chance of dying to accomplish something for his own sake over being forced to enlist and be a sacrificial pawn.

Of course, if someone did beat him to the punch the biggest problem would be if they had already made off with the ship. His own hadn’t survived the crash, so he would be stuck here with no way to get back home if it was gone. He really hoped that wasn’t the case as he selected the text in Hiragana for Japanese and then stepped through the gate as it opened.

The barren world transitioned into a hive of chrome and steel. Rimmed with soft lights that illuminated the entirety of the floor, it was meant for receiving goods and supplies given that it had several metal containers packed away. Leon was cautious as he maneuvered around them to elude patrolling drones, given that he didn’t have the endgame equipment that he should.

Instead, he had some equipment picked up near the start of the map. The game developers had the foresight to at least give the player some pretty good gear along with the ID Card to open the dungeon by going to what he supposed was a storage bunker of some kind. The equipment there consisted of a powered armor suit, a firearm, and a shield that had high stats. 

He was partway through the level without an encounter when the speakers cracked to life. “Hey, welcome to… wait, that equipment. How do you… I mean, I suppose I don’t mind that you took his old gear given you didn’t know better after crashing here. But that stuff is thousands of years old, so try not to break it.”

It sounded like a young girl’s voice speaking in Japanese. But there was an almost robotic tone overlaying it. Leon assumed it was because of the speakers.

“Uh, anyway, you don’t have to worry about being attacked or anything. I had the security system turned off so you could come right on up to the top through the elevator in the back. It’s been ages since anyone has been here and I’ve got a ton of questions.

Leon took the invitation with a grain of salt as he made his way over to the elevator. The moment he stepped inside the door sealed shut, and it began ascending. In the game, you had to go from floor to floor to unlock the higher levels, but it seems like I’m heading straight to the top.

The elevator continued to climb upwards until it reached the entrance to the top floor. His boots lightly clunked against the metal floor, the walls filled with screens that were showcasing different camera views and data. It was probably meant to be a monitoring station, but the central focus was a device in the center that was connected to thousands of wires that fed into it from the ceiling above.

In the game, after the Heroine and the Love Interest managed to climb this far, they would find the device inoperable but see that there was a massive vault on the opposite side. Opening it using the keycard from where you obtained the equipment would net the final prize, one of the most broken items in the game. But it would also trigger the forced evacuation sequence.

Yet the device now glowed with a verdant green light and hummed softly. “Am I supposed to use this?”

Yep!” said the voice from before when he responded in Japanese. “Just place your hand on the pad and it’ll teleport you to the gardens above. I’ve just finished setting up some refreshments for you.

Leon’s brow furrowed. He had never heard about a garden area. But given how massive this place was, he was sure there were entire blocks that went unventured for plot reasons within the game. He went over to the device and placed his hands on the pad—

Guest User recognized. Teleporting to the Hanging Gardens.

—and then there was a flash of light as the glow from before caused the world of steel and chrome surrounding him to be replaced by an atrium from which sunlight seemingly spilled in from the clear blue skies above. The metal floor was polished to the point of being reflective, but the walls looked to be made of white marble. They even had flowers and ivy growing around not only where the glass met the stone but crawling down the walls, filling the air with the soft fragrance of nature that contrasted the chaotic sky and barren landscape outside.

It was uncanny as Leon moved towards a gateway that was ahead of him. The moment he reached it the doors slid open to reveal an expansive field of flowers and luminous trees. It was like something out of a fairytale, with a table that had been set up with a single chair, what looked to be some kind of edible blocks on a plate, and a cup with a kettle nearby.

But all of that was secondary to the young girl standing next to the table.

Or at least Leon wanted to say it was a young girl around the age of Finley, maybe. She had unblemished skin that was paler than most he had seen in this life, her arms covered with evening gloves that came up just short of her shoulders, and her thighs wrapped by robotic-looking stockings. And he explicitly chose not to comment on her bodywear—not that there was anything it barely covered worth mentioning.

At her feet were high heels that looked similarly mechanical as she hovered just a few inches above the ground, surrounded by what looked like the petals of a lotus. The lotus theme seemed to be present throughout her design because adorning her short, light green hair was a band from which a similar flower blossomed. And behind her back floated what looked to be mechanical pods that sprouted the petals like angelic wings.

Thanks for coming!” Her mechanical tone only added to the evidence she wasn’t human, but something else. Yet she wore a small smile as she waved a hand over her head toward him, beckoning him to come closer. “I didn’t have time to prepare much. But I hope you’ll like it.”

“What exactly are you?” Leon asked.

I’m the Supervisory A.I. for the Lifewave Condensation and Terraformation Tower. I’ve been given the directive to revitalize the world and, if possible, aid Humans like yourself against Adepts. Normally I would operate throughout the Tower. But since you’re the first guest we’ve had, I came out to greet you personally. If there’s anything you need then I’m your girl.

Was this part of the background lore of the series? Leon scratched his head as he wrapped his mind around what she told him. “Well, if you’re speaking of Adepts as separate beings, does that mean you’re supposed to help Minos then?”

Her head quirked at that. “I’ve never heard of that term before. But it’s been thousands of years since I have received any new information. Mind filling me in?

“Minos is the term given to people who are born lacking Septima,” he explained. “Most people in the world are those born as Adepts, while far fewer like me are born without a Septima. It’s seen as either an omen or a genetic defect depending on who you ask. But since we’re a minority, we’re labeled as Minos for short.”

No… that can’t be…” The expression the A.I. had been wearing melted away. “Adepts were growing in number, but to completely overtake Humanity would mean that… No, Master promised that he would succeed. That was why he needed me to stay here. So that the Humans he fought for would have a world ready for them.

“Sorry, but that’s just how it is. The Minos are the minority, and the way things work makes life difficult for them. At least in the Holfort Kingdom anyway. Can’t say I know much about other places.”

In the Holfort Kingdom, there were effectively two things that determined your lot in life. The first was whether you had a Title of Nobility, as it was a feudal system that had long since gone out of practice in his original life. Where your family stood in terms of peerage determined just how easy your life was. However, at least it was possible to either rise into becoming a noble with generations of hard work or if you were able to receive a title from the crown.

It was a different story when it came to your Septima. It was common knowledge that the stronger your Septima was, the more valuable it was. Commoners who were born with a strong Septima could be adopted and elevated into noble families. But, by that same measure, someone who was of noble birth but born with no Septima effectively had no value and could be discarded without a second thought.

Hearing his confession, she went from floating to falling to her knees and bringing her hands over her eyes. “Master promised that Humans would have a bright future for them. That’s why I was told to do my best and wait for someone to come. But if we lost the war and Humans have become the minority then… what was it all for? Master… what did I spend thousands of years alone for?

I can’t say that reaction was unexpected. Leon could only imagine how long thousands of years were from her perspective. All that time alone, knowing that she would likely outlive the one she made a promise to in the hopes that his dream would carry on. Only to learn that it was all for nothing in the end. But lying wouldn’t have solved anything, would it?

Telling her a lie might have softened the blow. But the truth would come out eventually. And when it did, nothing would sting more than having the trust placed in the words you were told broken. He had learned that the hard way.

Still, Leon took no pleasure in watching her sitting there crying, nor being the one responsible. Especially not when it dredged up a memory of a life once lived and long gone, of a little girl weeping on the playground. She’d often shed crocodile tears to get people to do what she wanted. But now and again they’d be genuine, and he could tell every single time that was the case since it’d stir up a certain feeling in his chest. Just like now.

He sighed to himself before he approached the girl, so lost in her grief that she no longer registered his presence. She seemed so much smaller now that she wasn’t floating and putting on airs that made her seem more mature than her appearance would suggest. He crouched down and, pausing for a moment, began to gently stroke her mint-green hair. “It wasn’t for nothing.”

Her hands lowered slightly at the unexpected gesture, and her eyes locked onto his as the tears still cascaded down from the corners. Then she slowly reached out to touch his hand. He suspected that if she had been here all this time alone it was also probably the first time since then that she had been touched by another living being.

“I don’t know much about what happened in the past of this world,” Leon began. “I can’t say that I know the details of the promise you made with your master. And I don’t want to lie and say that being born without Septima has been easy when it hasn’t been. But the fact is that people like me are still around after thousands of years. We’re still alive in this world, even if it’s cruel towards us. That has to count for something, right?”

Y-Yes…” She nodded her head, even as her small shoulders trembled as she sniffled. Then she clung to him and buried her face into his chest. “You’re proof that Humanity has lived on somehow after thousands of years. Master’s dream hasn’t ended.

He let her keep clinging to him until she finally got the crying out of her system and went back to floating upright. “Sorry about that. It was just a lot to process at once. But you’re here now, so I can follow my directive and aid you. Is there something you need at the moment?

“I need a Glaive that you have locked in the safe. And a ship to return to the sky.”

That caused her to slightly frown. But thankfully not quite in the crushing guilt way that he had been expecting. Instead, it was more in a confused manner. “I can authorize the use of the Sabertooth to transport you with my administrative permissions, but the Smilodon was meant to be a mass transport vessel and requires dual permission to launch. The same goes for the Glaives, given that they were one of the most dangerous weapons from the beginning of the war. Besides, they were attuned to the original Adepts who were all defeated in the past and only someone with a compatible septimosome would be able to survive invoking it. They would be useless to you.

“I know for a fact that there are compatible Adepts for them in the present,” Leon said. “But the only one I care about right now is the Azure Quill that’s meant to be used with the Azure Striker Septima.”

Now her expression shifted into one that was far more serious. “The former holder of the Azure Striker Septima perished thousands of years ago, after becoming a Septimal Being that discarded his flesh. And yet you claim there are others with that same Septima? How can that be?

“The Royal Family of the Holfort Kingdom are known to be holders of the Azure Striker Septima,” Leon explained. It was considered the strongest Septima in the Kingdom, which was one of the reasons the Royal Family held the power it did. There were other reasons, such as the Royal Ship, but there was no point in bringing that up.

Perhaps they are his descendants from before his transition into an incorporeal body?” she reasoned before shaking her head. “Even so, Master entrusted me with the Glaives for preservation if the knowledge derived from them could be of aid in my directives. I can’t just return it to the descendant of one of the enemies of Humanity.

“That’s a problem for me then, since if I don’t offer that Glaive to them then I’ll probably be dead by the end of the year,” Leon said in turn.

If you’re in trouble of some kind, you can stay here!” She seemed almost eager for him to do so as she leaned over until they were nearly face-to-face. “The Tower can sustain life within itself. I can promise that you’ll never want for anything, and you’ll be safe!

He actually considered it for a moment. “Would that offer only extend to Minos?”

Yes. My directives are to aid those who have no connection to the seventh layer of the Lifewave, such as yourself. If the Minos are such then I will aid them as my Master wished.

“Then I can’t accept,” he said. “After all, even though I was born a Minos, the rest of my family are Adepts. Not powerful ones, but Adepts all the same. The reason I need the Glaive is so that I can remain with them.”

What do you mean?

He gave her the gist of his personal situation. He had been born as part of a family that held a barony, with his father being the baron overseeing the territory. Out of the family, he had been the only one born as a Minos. Normally that would have gotten him disowned if his parents had been scum like some of the other nobility, thanks to the way the Kingdom favored those with Septima, but his parents weren’t like that.

The problem was that he was born to his father’s mistress, while his main wife was related to a Viscount family. In her own words, having a Minos as a member of the family is a stain on their reputation. Time and again she had tried to get rid of him, and until recently his parents had done their best to appease her by offering her tributes and keeping him out of sight. But there was a severe wave of monster attacks this year and they had caused enough damage that his family couldn’t afford to appease her without neglecting their territory.

His father was a good man. Though his territory wasn’t well-off, he did his best to make sure that the people never went hungry. The times when the men from Zola’s family couldn’t be bothered to help with fending off the monsters in time, he would be one to take up arms to help. His armor and body had their fair share of scars, so to ask him to sacrifice the well-being of his people for the sake of his son was too much.

At the rate things were going he was going to be disowned and forced to split apart from his family. And in this society, where Septima was valued, finding a career to support himself afterward would be a nightmare. It wasn’t uncommon for Minos to have to resort to crime like becoming sky pirates, but more often they would have to enlist as a soldier and be sent off to foreign allies of the kingdom. All so they could die in the meatgrinder, while those who had valuable Septima remained safe.

However, Leon could get around that by receiving an ennoblement from the Royal Family. While those who normally held the rank of nobility aided the crown in the past, it was possible to earn or buy your way into it. The Offrey Family was one such example.

The problem was that receiving the ennoblement required that he do something that merited it, or had enough money to buy it, which he didn’t. However, a Glaive was an artifact that had been lost to history and impossible to reproduce (according to the item description). It was invaluable enough that offering them a compatible one would be more than enough to get him a title.

The A.I. processed the information before muttering. “So, you need it to remain with your family?

“That’s right,” Leon answered. “I can’t say that I’m thrilled about the way the world works, but my mother and father put up with a lot to keep me by their side because they cared about me. To the point where it’s put them in financial straits and has had them looked down on by their peers. I’ve even seen times when my mother cried over the fact that she didn’t pass down her Septima, because she knew life would be hard for me. Most noble families wouldn’t have done that, so I can’t abandon them.”

While he didn’t want to be shipped off to die for no reason, Leon especially didn’t want everything they sacrificed for him to be for nothing. The reward for being a decent human being shouldn’t be only to lose everything after struggling so hard to hold onto it. Getting ennobled by the Royal Family would allow them to at least hold their heads up high that even the worst of their family had accomplished something.

Master… entrusted me with the Glaives to prevent them from being misused, so to return one of the weapons of the Adepts of old to them would go against that. But… you need the Glaive to avoid being sent off to die and remain with your family. And you won’t remain in the Tower even if I guaranteed you wouldn’t want for anything else?

“I’ve been away from home too long as is,” Leon stated. He already didn’t want to think about how much it cost his father to outfit the ship he had ridden on to get here. Especially not when he had promised his father that he would return with something to his name without explaining how he was going to obtain it. Without even asking what he had planned, his father had put his faith in him to come back alive whether he found something or not.

As she crossed her arms beneath her chest and her brows furrowed deep in thought for a long pause, he took the time to eat the… block on his plate. He couldn’t quite pick out the flavor, but it wasn’t bad. And the tea was pretty good as well.

Then her eyes snapped open, and she raised her arms in a cheer. “That’s it! I can’t give you the Glaive because of my directive, even if it would be to help you. But if I elevated you to Tower Administrator then you could change my directive to allow it. The Sabertooth and Smilodon and the other resources of the Tower would also be available.

“What would that require?”

Just a thorough examination to ensure your qualifications, since one of the requirements is that the Administrator has no connection to the seventh layer of the Lifewave,” she explained. “There’s room for tolerance on Guest permission to account for residents who might be connected up to the fourth layer, but the Admin has to be tied to the primordial layer aloneOnce that’s verified, we would share dual authority over the Tower, including the ability to override my directive to aid you.”

Isn’t that giving someone you just met a little too much control? Leon privately wondered to himself. He didn’t know enough about how everything here worked, but being able to hand off the authority to someone else seemed like a risk. Then again, maybe it was a sign that whoever her Master was trusted her judgment when it came to whoever would succeed him.

“Ah, there is one thing,” she continued. “Since Master entrusted them to me with the future of Humanity in mind, I do have a condition: I want to accompany you outside the Tower.

“Don’t you need to be here to manage everything?”

Most of the systems can be automated even without direct supervision, but without a second administrator I couldn’t devote resources to explore beyond the vicinity of the Tower. And it’s not like I would be leaving the Tower itself, but I would instead be using a support unit as a proxy to accompany you in the same manner that I’m speaking to you now. That way I can gather data on the world’s current state and see for myself what remains of Master’s dream and how to help out Humans better!

If it would get him the Glaive and the Smilodon, as she called it, he wouldn’t complain. Besides, Leon had noticed that she was still willing to help him get back to the upper world even before she came up with this idea. That meant she was willing to put up with being here all alone again for possibly thousands of more years if he refused, simply because it was how she could be helpful to him.

The thought of leaving a little girl willing to be that nice to him alone for that long wouldn’t sit right with him. “Fine. We’ll go with your idea.”

Yay!” She cheered with a big smile even as the world around them began to shift around. The grass and flowers were fading away, along with the scent and the sky. Had it all been a hologram of some kind? “Come on! I’ll take you to my mainframe… um…

Watching as she awkwardly fidgeted in place, he realized that she had been so eager to rush things along they hadn’t even introduced themselves to one another. “My name is Leon. Leon Fou Bartfort. And you?”

Lola,” she said. “Nice to meet you, Leon.


Fanfic Recommendation 111


My Fanfics


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother? 31

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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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.


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A MHA Fanfic

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A Mobuseka Fanfic

Summary: A sky-pirate attack on the Bartfort territory makes Leon realize that it isn’t enough to have an overpowered superweapon capable of wiping out all life. He needs two. A maxed-out protagonist should suffice as the second. Or so he thought. Unfortunately, in this world, the protagonist seems to have a mind of her own!


A Mobuseka Fanfic

Summary: A sky-pirate attack on the Bartfort territory makes Leon realize that it isn’t enough to have an overpowered superweapon capable of wiping out all life. He needs two. A maxed-out protagonist should suffice as the second. Or so he thought. Unfortunately, in this world, the protagonist seems to have a mind of her own!


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 31 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 31: The First Night

I watched in horror as Argo’s body was sent flying, caught in the wake of my spell. I had just wanted to show him that I learned magic. That I was a step closer to being able to help him. But it slipped from my control the moment my focus lapsed, and Argo paid the price for it.

‘What a wonderful spell! I knew you were talented my dear little sister.’

Argo bounced back up, pretending as if nothing was wrong. But I could see the blood where he’d been hurt because of me stemming from the back of his head. A crushing sense of guilt pressed down in my chest as I applied a tourniquet and apologized repeatedly. I even wanted to go fetch Elio to heal him, even if I was punished for disobeying him.

But Argo only gently patted me on the head and told me he’d be good as new tomorrow, so I should go back to my training. And sure enough, there was no trace of the wound the next day. Looking back, I suspect that Elio knew what I did and went to heal my brother sometime after I had cried myself to sleep.

But the reason for that isn’t something I know even to this day.

—Consequences

[-|-|-|-]

It looks like we’re finishing up for the day.

That thought, confined within Bell Cranel’s mind, surfaced as he noticed that Lord Hermes was making a gesture up ahead. It had been maybe around twelve hours since they had taken flight from the walls of Orario. They had long since lost the ability to see the tower that reached from the ground to the heavens above, the Labyrinth City long gone with only stretches of land without large settlements around. And it had only been the first day of what would be ten in flight.

The God of Travel had taken to leading them since he was aware of their destination across the continent and was more familiar with flight via their draconic mounts. Because of the sound of the air rushing past their ears and the distance between them, it was more reliable to rely on visual cues to signal rather than trying to speak out loud. Even if he could pick up their voices despite the wind because of his Level, the others might not be able to.

Bell carefully maneuvered one of his arms, tucked close against the soft, slender frame of the slumbering divinity nestled against him, free after ensuring he had a firm grip on the reins with his other hand. Then he raised it to make a similar motion to show he saw the signal. He saw out of the corner of his eyes that Welf and Mikoto were doing the same.

With everyone aware of their intentions, the descent began. The airborne dragons slowly dropped down from the golden expanse of the evening sky towards the grasslands below that seemed almost as endless as the sky above over the last few hours, only broken up by a nearby forest with stalwart trees standing sentry at the entrance.

Despite his best effort, the jostling motion made as the dragon touched down on the ground caused the Goddess of the Moon who had been asleep to rouse awake. “Mmm… Orion…?

“Sorry for waking you, Lady Artemis,” Bell apologized. “If possible, I would have let you rest longer. But we’ve landed for the night.”

The emerald eyes of the divinity softened as she brought her hands over to his chest and laid her head against it again. “No, it’s my fault. I didn’t expect the trip to be so exhausting, and you’re very comfortable, Orion.”

He was not sure how to respond to that, so he just gave a nervous laugh while the dragon beneath them shook its wings and then folded them in before lowering itself to the ground. He then dismounted, feeling a slight stretch in his muscles that had gone slightly stiff from riding so long. But he ignored the discomfort to extend a hand up to help her down, which she took and lowered herself to the ground.

“Well, we’ve made good progress today,” Lord Hermes said as he rolled his shoulders while striding towards them. “We’ll make it on schedule if we keep it up at this rate without any problems.”

“I don’t think I can manage to handle riding so long for nine more days…” Lady Hestia softly whined while slumped down next to the dragon that regarded her with a slight quirk of the head. “Everything is sore for me and watching the landscape nearly puts me to sleep.”

“That’s because you’re not used to it,” said the Goddess of the Moon. “Unlike our children whose blessing can mitigate the strain of traveling so long, our bodies need more time to acclimate to doing things we aren’t used to. Even I had to get used to riding a horse again after coming down.”

“It’s been a long time since I’ve had to ride a horse,” Welf said as he braced his neck with one hand and rolled it. Bell could hear cracking from it. “Much less an actual dragon of all things. I’m still scratching my head figuring out why they’re so… docile.”

Bell found himself agreeing as he turned back to one of the dragons prodding Primo with its head playfully in an attempt for attention. At least until she responded by nervously patting it on the head while Mikoto watched on, which caused it to somehow purr and growl at the same. It was… odd to see in every sense of the word.

“You can thank years of collaborative efforts between myself and Ganesha for that,” Lord Hermes said proudly. “You see, monsters outside of the Dungeon are much weaker than those within it. So, he and I had a discussion over drinks on taming practices and one thing led to another. I won’t bore you with the details, but it involved venturing to the outskirts of the Dragon Valley to fetch a lot of unhatched eggs for them to work on taming from birth.”

The Dragon Valley was one of the remaining unexplored regions of the world, since… well, Dragons were there. Dragons were among the strongest of the monsters and even those who were born of the surface were still capable of causing a vast amount of destruction when one found their way beyond those mountainous lands. The fact that he actively ventured into the even the outskirts to get the eggs was daunting in that respect.

“Lili doesn’t think it’s really that simple,” said the Pallum of their group with her large bag nestled on her back. She must have unloaded it off the dragon in order to get the campsite set up for the night. “Monsters hate mortals instinctively, hatched from eggs or the Dungeon.”

“I did say it took years,” he answered. “In fact, I’ve lost count of the monster eggs we’ve had to fetch only for the attempt to end in failure after failure. Even I’m not fully sure how he managed to tame these four the way he did, but he’s quite proud of it as in his eyes it’s a step forward towards his goal.”

That seemed to catch Hestia by surprise. “Ganesha has a long-term goal in mind?”

Lord Hermes nodded. “To make a place in this world for Monsters, in the hopes of ending the cycle of the children and them dying in a constant war with no end.”

There was a moment of silence that lingered as he casually spoke of something that was… absurd by every standard. Peace with monsters was something that just didn’t happen. Monsters hated mortals and killed them on sight, forcing them to respond in kind of their own safety. Even taming involved breaking their wills so that they were loyal only to one individual because of the sheer difference in power, leaving them to attack everyone else. That wasn’t co-existence like how he was framing it.

“That’s nothing more than a careless whim of his,” Lady Artemis said, crossing her arms beneath her chest and her tone firm. “Monsters have since the dawn of the world hunted down mortals and threatened the world. It is for that reason we bestowed our blessings upon them in the first place. Even now monsters still roam these lands and prey on the defenseless, as my children and I have seen too many times to count.”

“True,” he conceded. “But the fact that we just spent hours flying on four monsters of one of the most fearsome species without fearing for our lives is also an immutable fact. I’m personally of the mind that these four are simply Irregulars that he came across after thousands of attempts, given that he hasn’t been able to replicate it since then and the fact that it’s clear that they’re too docile to remotely survive on their own in a place as harsh as the Dragon Valley. But it doesn’t change the fact that it opens the door to the potential. After all, the Lower World is full of untapped possibilities.”

The expression of the Goddess of the Moon made it clear she didn’t share the same sentiment, which Bell could understand all too well. He had lost his grandfather to goblins after all. Throughout history, there haven’t been any such cases where monsters and men have lived along with one another in the way Lord Hermes was speaking, so it really did seem like a whim more than anything.

But the topic lingered in his mind even as the discussion itself came to an end as they needed to divide the duties to set up for the night. Welf and Hermes set out into the nearby woodlands in order to gather firewood for the night since they would be camping there before heading out once morning came around to continue their trip. Mikoto and Hestia were preparing the food for the evening, while Lili and Primo were in the process of feeding the dragons they flew on. That left Bell and Artemis to set up the campsite.

Bell was diligently in the process of hammering in the stake to keep the tent that Lady Hestia and Artemis would be sharing when he felt a presence behind him. He turned to see the Goddess of the Moon there. “Yes, Lady Artemis?”

“…Orion, you’ve been quiet for a while now. Is there something on your mind?”

“Oh, I was just thinking about what Lord Hermes mentioned,” he admitted. “It’s still hard to get over the fact that we managed to fly this far on top of dragons of all things. To be honest, I was a bit nervous I would have made a mistake the entire time. Especially since the only riding animal I’ve been on before now was a donkey.”

Artemis quirked her head at that. “A donkey?”

“The mountain village I grew up in was small and out of the way,” he explained. “The farm Grandpa and I had was next to a nice lady with a donkey that she let me ride when I was younger. It’s not very interesting to talk about.”

“No, I want to hear more about your past,” Artemis told him with a small smile. “If you want, we can exchange tales while we have time.”

Bell decided there was no harm in doing so and indulged her. “The farm itself was small, nestled high up in the mountains. There weren’t too many of us, so we had to rely on one another, and next to our farm was a woman named Eda. She looked after me while Grandpa had to work on the farm and helped him out when I was too young to really do anything. Sometimes when listening to grandpa’s stories I would imagine I was a hero riding on a mighty steed, and she’d indulge me by letting me on her donkey.”

The goddess closed her eyes and tilted her head back, a soft rumble in her throat as she remained deep in thought. Then a small smile came across her face. “I can almost picture a smaller version of you doing that, Orion. You must have really liked heroes.”

“Well, Grandpa did tell me a lot of the stories that he knew,” he said with a nervous chuckle as a spot of crimson from embarrassment appeared. “When he wasn’t on the farm, he would often pen them. The way he always told them made it seem like he had captured every little detail to the point where I could also feel that I was practically there, watching their struggles and overcoming odds. I came to really admire heroes like Epimetheus and Argonaut, and I wanted to be like them.”

“Is that why you came to Orario then?” she asked. “To be a hero?”

“Ah…” His expression softened. “Partly. I had other reasons too, but things were a lot harder than I expected. I was lucky to find Lady Hestia and make it this far thanks to her kindness, so I’m grateful to her. As for being a hero, it still feels like I’m over my head with just being an Adventurer at times. I’m honestly still nervous about this whole thing, but I’ll do my best to help you as well, Lady Artemis.”

“I’m certain you will, Orion,” Artemis said. “Now, I promised to exchange a tale. Would you like to hear the one about how Hestia and I became friends back in Heaven?”

[-Twilit Manor-]

Lefiya Viridis hummed softly to herself as she combed her hair in front of a mirror within the dressing room adjoined to the shower room on the floor. Her skin was a rosy hue beneath her nightgown, still saturated with warmth from the shower she’d taken to cleanse herself after running around for most of the day. She intended to retire early for the night to make up for the lack of sleep given how hectic things had been thanks to her brother’s propensity to get into trouble.

I still need to figure out how to complete his Quest though. Her thoughts shifted to the request made by the Gnome who had been acquainted with Bell’s little friend. It was a simple request to retrieve a few things from the Dungeon. Nothing that was illicit or would require her to go into the Deep Floors, but she would need to go to the Middle Floors.

That wasn’t an insurmountable problem given that she was on the verge of Level Four and a skilled Level Two could head as far down as the entrance to the Water Capital. But since part of what she needed was an ore that would likely need to be mined, she would have to dedicate some time to the endeavor. The Dungeon was rarely content to simply leave an Adventurer to do so without at least throwing several monsters against them. And since she was a Mage, it wasn’t recommended that she travel that deeply on her own without a Vanguard.

However, since the request was made to her personally and it was a private matter, Lefiya felt it wouldn’t be right to ask any of her Familia members to help her when she couldn’t explain it. That would be taking advantage of them when she was already technically hiding things from them. If her brother were here, he’d be an option since she could also take the time to explain things about how those floors worked. But he would be absent for the next month, which was probably for the best since it would give everyone time to forget about the thing with Lady Artemis as something else caught their attention.

I guess I’ll ask Filvis then. A smile blossomed onto her face at the thought of her beloved. Once she had finished handing out the letters, she had paid a visit to Lord Dionysus Familia to apologize for cutting their date short once more to tend to the matter with Bell and showing her the darker side of her personality when she got a little too hot under the collar.

Filvis understood thankfully. She might not have known Bell, but she knew that he helped save her from the new species that had swallowed them both and so that was why they were on friendlier terms. And she had even said that knowing that Lefiya cared about her feelings so much to get upset over the thought of her misunderstanding was appealing in its own way. The Half-Elf probably would have tried kissing her then and there for being such an understanding partner if not for the need to conduct herself properly in someone else’s domain.

Anyway, she would need to find a time when the two of them would be free to ask for her help in heading down to the Middle Floors. And while she would need to behave herself while they were in the Dungeon, they could spend their time together doing something fun if they finished early. It’d be nice to take her somewhere pleasant or get her a gift, but Lefiya needed to consider what would be practical for her on top of being fashionable…

Her attention was pulled from that line of thought as the door to the room opened. In came the familiar face of Leene Arshe, the kind-hearted Healer holding a change of clothes for the evening. She must have intended to take a shower but stopped to greet the Half-Elf when she spotted her. “Good evening. I hadn’t realized you returned since you weren’t at dinner.”

“I had a lot of things to do so I ate while I was out,” she explained before recalling the events of last night when she spotted her. “By the way, you did a nice job on your makeup last night. You looked very cute with Mister Bete.”

A sudden jolt ran up the girl. “Wh-What do you mean? I was just studying here last night.”

Holding her chin up with an amused smile even as she continued to brush her hair, Lefiya let out a slight hum. “Hmmm. So that girl with long hair and brown eyes who was cheering on Mister Bete was another admirer then? I never thought he was so popular with women. I’ll have to ask him her name some time.”

Leene fretted about as steam poured from her ears as she looked around before eventually just bowing her head. “P…Please don’t… He’ll get mad.”

“Relax, I don’t intend to tell anyone,” Lefiya promised. “It was just that I was surprised that you two of all people were on a date and I was curious, but there are only a handful of places that are completely soundproof.”

A Level Three could hear through ordinary walls with ease, so for a Familia with even higher-ranked Adventurers than that there needed to be areas where privacy was guaranteed. The dressing rooms and bathrooms were among them for obvious reasons. That allowed the girls to talk without being overheard, which was one of the reasons she chose to have the discussion here while they were alone.

“It wasn’t a date,” Leene insisted softly before reaching up to her hair and fiddling with loose strands. “He was just paying me back for the favor he asked that day I healed you.”

The Half-Elf craned her head in question at that before Leene explained the situation in earnest. Since Bete dragged her to Leene before the meeting where she had been reprimanded for getting involved with the War Game chase, when she asked him if he didn’t have plans for the Holy Night Festival, it seemed he regarded it as paying her back to make them even. He wouldn’t be seen with her as a date or anything, but if she wanted to follow him around while he went to get drunk without being seen he’d tolerate it.

“…And you were okay with that?” Lefiya asked cautiously. To be honest, she was partly offended that he would ask her to just follow him around and ignore her while he went around drinking. If he was going to do that much, rejecting her would have been better.

Leene only nodded with a slight smile. “…It wasn’t a date, but something I felt like I forced onto him. But even so, he didn’t drink anything. And I actually had fun.”

The girl went on to tell her about how Bete seemed to go to places he figured she would be interested in. It wasn’t exactly the case, but it wasn’t anything she outright hated. He apparently even caught her eyeing a prize from one of the stalls and then complained how there wasn’t anything really worth winning before picking that one out, only to toss it back towards her without saying a word when they were alone.

From listening to her, the Half-Elf was starting to picture him trying to be considerate of her but not quite sure how to do so because he didn’t know enough about her. Even so, just hearing her describe him in a positive light and how her body shifted as she embraced her clothing a little tighter while playing the memory out in her mind… there was no doubt in Lefiya’s mind about her feelings. “You’re really in love with him, aren’t you?”

“Yes.” The admission came without shame or hesitation or doubt. It was something she had thought of, questioned, and came to terms with on her own. Something that made her happy as it brought a blush to her face. “I am in love with Bete Loga.”

There were a number of questions Lefiya had at that moment. Why? When? How? But those became secondary when she recalled the number of advances that he had made towards Miss Aiz. If she felt this fervently about him, she could only imagine how it must have felt for her to watch time and time again. “…Does he know how you feel?”

The expression Leene wore turned… melancholic. Longing and loving at the same time. And rather than giving denying or confirming it, she simply answered with, “…As I am now, just being able to help him as much as possible will be good enough for me. I don’t want to cause him any more pain.”

It was clear that Leene knew something about him that she didn’t. And since it was something that Lefiya couldn’t imagine that Bete would tell others easily, it was something he either entrusted to her solely or something she learned on her own. But one thing she did know was the bittersweet feeling to love someone and not have a chance for that feeling to be returned through no fault of your own.

So the Half-Elf rose to her feet and then embraced her in a tender hug. “I’m sorry if I crossed a line, Leene.

“…No, I’m happy to be able to tell someone,” Leene replied. “And it’s not like I’ve given up. I’m sure that one day, I’ll be able to walk alongside him. I just need to keep doing my best.”

That said, Lefiya finished with her hair and went back to her room. She bid her roommate, who had a reference book on magic, goodnight before closing her eyes. Sleep took her quite easily.

[-??????-]

She was dreaming again.

How long had it been since she had dreamed of sitting beneath the warm rays of the shining sun? Since she felt the gentle breeze washing over the fields and leaving her long and flowing golden hair to sway with the petals of flowers in bloom. Since she saw that smile as a calloused but tender hand reached out to stroke her face…

And yet, before that hand could reach her it turned to ash and scattered before her eyes.

The sun faded. The breeze died. The flowers wilted.

A child’s voice called her name.

A banshee shrieked.

Sitting upright in a jerking motion, an Elven woman shuddered nearly uncontrollably as she breathed out heavy and pained breath that filled the dark enclosure. Sweat lined the sleeping bag she had been resting on, a foul scent rising from her body that filled the stone chamber of the sick bay. Leaning her back against the cool stone, her mind raced as she tried to remember what transpired.

The last thing she remembered was that she had been visiting the Twenty-Seventh Floor. That barren place was where she and their squadron had been on a mission. On the way back they had been swarmed by monsters and ran into a cluster of Dark Fungus. She had been caught within the spore clouds and poisoned.

Her dull green eyes, their luster lost to the cruelty of reality and ringed by dark circles skimmed the room illuminated by two Magic Stone Lanterns. There were two other bodies in the room. But they weren’t moving, and she couldn’t pick up the sound of breathing. She closed her eyes and offered them a moment of silence when she heard sounds coming from the door at the end of the room.

Then it opened and light from lanterns accompanying a tall figure cast a deep shadow that stretched across the ground. The tenebrous darkness was bathed in a divine presence as she fixed her eyes on the God draped in black and gray robes. Eyes that were a deep purple hue skimmed the room before they settled onto her with a gaze that seemed to peer beyond her flesh and down to her soul.

She leaned forward and immediately kneeled. “Lord Thanatos. You grace me with your presence.”

“Ah, it’s good to see you up and about, my dear.” He stepped into the room while flanked by two of their comrades, all children who shared his Grace upon their backs. “I had felt the blessing of the others vanish and had some concern you would be joining them soon. Would we have had the antidotes to spare in time, but alas…”

“It was only because I had Abnormal Resistance,” she responded. “I can only apologize for their deaths. I should have identified the Dark Fungus ahead of time.”

The blame lay with her. Her thoughts had been back on the Twenty-Seventh Floor. Her grief. Her desire for revenge. They had distracted her until it was too late and so they had carelessly ran into the cluster of Dark Fungus that had disguised themselves while dealing with other threats the Dungeon presented them. The fact that their squad’s leader had still managed to get them back here in any form was fortunate.

The God of Death slowly rapped his knuckle against his cheek as if in thought while staring down at the corpses. “Yes. A deep purple hue, stained with a vibrant shade of crimson. And crimson with ribbons of jade threading it like a mourning band. Though their souls are no longer tied to my earthly form through the Falna, I’ve memorized the color of their souls. Once I return to Heaven, I’ll see that their sacrifice not be in vain.”

As one of the divine presiding over death and rebirth, Thanatos could perceive the Soul even while being trapped within his avatar here on the Lower World. Once he ascended to Heaven once more, he would no longer be bound to merely perceiving their hue and the connections of those bound to them on this plane. And through that, untethered and unrestricted, he would fulfill their dearest wishes.

They would be together again—all three of them.

“You have our eternal gratitude, Lord Thanatos.” She bowed her head deeply as warmth in her chest grew. “…Though, it is rare to have the honor of speaking with you directly. Should I presume you had need of me?”

He turned his gaze back to her. “That’s right. I have a few of your kin among my children, but I believe that only you and Dear Milia spoke fluently in the more archaic Elven Tongue. And she perished a short time ago.”

Milia had been a fellow Elf and Tamer, just like her. She had been kin, heralding from a distant forest who came to Orario. She had also lost one she treasured, robbed of them by this cruel and uncaring world. She had been overseeing not only Violas but also Venenthes, all of which had been killed by the Loki Familia and had forced them to readjust the operations on the floor and shift their plans.

“I believe at present I am the only one that remains within the Familia that speaks the Eld Tongue, Lord Thanatos.”

“Then I would have you act as an interpreter and guide for a time,” he explained. “An individual reached out through one of our contacts and enlisted our services to smuggle some associates of theirs into Orario. I would have you see to their needs.”

Her mind pieced together the request. The fact that she needed to act as an interpreter meant that it was an Elven contingent. The fact that they spoke in the Eld Tongue would mean they were highborn as well, but High Elves weren’t the type to leave the inner domains of the Forests so easily. That meant it must be others capable of those acting in their place. “I will assist in whatever way I can, but do you know what their wish is?”

“Something or other about Rakia. I’ll leave you to learn the particulars and help them with the planning once you’re back on your feet and on the surface so do your best, Dear Sharan.”


Fanfic Recommendation 110


My Fanfics


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother? 30

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.


Fanfics that I have found interesting and have recently been updated


A Fate Grand Order x Danmachi Crossover Fanfic

Summary: In the distant past, before the Gods descended onto the lower world, Heroes made contracts with Spirits to fight the monsters born from the Dungeon. But with the descent of the Gods and the advent of the Falna, those Heroes and Spirits have passed onto legend. However, with the discovery of a certain object in the Dungeon, these legends will return to life once more.


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 Pokemon Fanfic

Summary: Ash falls back in time to Hisui.


A Fate Stay Night x Persona 4 Fanfic

Summary: A chance decision leads to an unlikely discovery. The mention of a rumor leads to an unbelievable mystery. And the connection to a long forgotten family leads to an unforgettable experience. Welcome to Inaba, Yu Narukami… or should I say Shirou Emiya?


Is It Wrong To Worry About My Brother?: Chapter 30 [DanMachi AU]

Chapter 30: The Opening of the Third Act

Elation. Joy. Those were the emotions that welled up inside of me as I cast my first spell, sending the wind called forth by the words bequeathed to me into the sky. Enraptured as I was recalling the feeling I had when I saw Mother first cast a spell for Father’s sake, I knew that this was what this Magic existed for—to protect my precious family and become the wind beneath his wings.

I couldn’t stop myself from wanting to show Argo. I had the power to protect him now. His dream wouldn’t be far off. So, the moment we were alone, I attempted to do so…

Only for him to be injured by the very same Magic meant to protect him.

—The Cost of Hubris

[-|-|-|-]

Hurry uppppp. I wanna catch another man before it’s too lateee.”

“I’m afraid the sun has already begun to rise, Lady Lena,” Haruhime said apologetically while applying medicinal ointment onto the bruised, coppery cheek of one of the youngest Amazons within the Berabera. “The district has closed for the day.”

Lena Tally let out a dejected whine before wincing as doing so exaggerated the pain of her bruised ribs. Amazons were adept at fighting through their injuries, adrenaline and excitement pushing the pain to the back of their minds. But she had just woken up from the beating she’d gotten hours ago, so she was still feeling it. “That Toad is horrible!”

The two of them were in one of the rooms within Belit Babili, the residence of the Berabera that served as the elite fighting force of the Ishtar Familia. Haruhime had been at work all night in her duties as a Kamuro, tending to the women’s needs as a larger than normal surge of men flooded the Pleasure District. Though they occasional prowled in a pack, during nights like these the vivacious Amazons would go after their own individual prey and bring them back here when they had finished working—the men they brought back here were for pleasure rather than profit.

However, Lena had the misfortune of bringing her prized catch around when Phryne had been active. The Captain of the Ishtar Familia had a habit of taking men who caught her eye even if one of the other women had claimed them. And while Lena tried to prevent her prize from being stolen, the difference in their Levels made it clear that simply wasn’t happening.

Violence between the Berabera was somewhat commonplace, being Amazons and such. But they rarely inflicted severe enough injuries to permanently harm one another. The typical response was to throw the defeated woman into a room to let her sleep off the injuries while the victor enjoyed the spoils, but Phryne couldn’t be bothered to do that much and Haruhime ended up moving her into the room while resolving to deal with the aftermath later on.

Thick indents around Lena’s lower leg showed where she had been grabbed, likely from an attempt at a kick that failed. The large, bruised section of her torso where the tawny skin darkened to a blackish-purple hue, was from being slammed against a nearby pillar. The discoloration on her stomach came from a follow-up punch that probably forced her to empty the contents of her meal considering the dried vomit Haruhime wiped away earlier.

Then there was how her cheek was swollen. It wasn’t enough of an impression for a punch, but instead a back-handed slap. But considering the Level difference that was still enough to send her sprawling into the furniture hard enough to shatter the frame—which the Renard plucked her out of before bringing her here.

The Kamuro could only imagine how terrifying it must have been for Lena’s partner to watch it happen before he was dragged away. She knew that Phryne had her own personal… lair, for lack of a better term. She would keep him there until she was done with him…

Haruhime,” a familiar voice softly passed through the door to the room before it creaked open. The morning sunlight spilling through the hall window outlined Aisha’s body as she stood there with her hands on her hips. “I spotted the damage out front. Was it Phryne?”

The Renard Kamuro turned and nodded. “It was a minor altercation between Lady Phryne and Lady Tally over a man. I’m tending to her injuries now with medicinal cream, but may I be permitted to use potions given the nature of her injuries?”

Potions and other expensive medical supplies were regulated on Ishtar’s orders. Part of the reason the Goddess of Love didn’t want them used so casually was that such fights were common enough occurrences that it would become costly, even with the ease they could make up the expenses. But it was also because she was anticipating the arrival of the final thing needed to wage war on the Freya Familia, and she didn’t want any sudden expenditures alerting the opposition before then.

Aisha’s purple eyes took in the scope of Lena’s injuries before she sighed. “Lena, take a few from the stock and use them in the shower.”

The young Amazon perked up. “But Lady Ishtar won’t like that, will she?”

“A few going missing won’t be noticed since the Toad is going to take a bunch to keep the poor sap she stole from dying given how sloppy she is,” Aisha justified, knowing how Phryne often left the men she captured. She’d put them through hell to get off, but she wouldn’t let them die since if they went missing after entering the district it would cause problems. Once she had her fun and made sure they wouldn’t talk, she’d dump them into Daedalus Street. “Besides, as busy as it was last night, I don’t think Ishtar would care much.”

“It was busier than normal around this time, wasn’t it?” Lena inquired towards Haruhime, who nodded once in agreement. “Did something happen at the Holy Moon Festival?”

It wasn’t unusual for more customers to come into the district during the Holy Moon Festival. Specifically, individuals who tended to be single and were looking to relieve the stress they felt upon viewing couples during the holiday. Most of the Pleasure District increased their prices in anticipation of that as well, so a larger flood of customers at the time was a boon from a purely financial standpoint.

“Apparently, Cottontail won some kind of contest and caught the eye of some foreign Virgin Goddess,” Aisha explained, her gaze shifting slightly at the sight of vulpine ears snapping upwards. “From there it seems to have turned into enough of a mess that his place is being guarded by the Ganesha Familia now. Anyway, hurry up and go take care of yourself, Lena.”

Lena got to her feet and made to do just that, leaving the two of them alone. But, as Haruhime finished putting the medical supplies away and prepared to follow her out, the Amazon shut the door. Confused, her ears inquisitively tilted as Aisha’s expression tightened. “Is something wrong, Lady Aisha?”

“…Hermes was present at the festival,” she began after a moment. “He departed after Cranel won, but from what I could tell Phryne paid a visit to his manor on Ishtar’s orders. She left both empty-handed and in a foul mood, so it doesn’t appear as though he had the Killing Stone this time.”

I suppose that explains why she went that far with Lady Lena,” Haruhime said softly, guilt lacing her tone. “If the issue of the missing potions comes up, I will take full responsibility for it.”

Aisha’s lips pursed tightly before it turned into a dejected huff at the fact that the Renard showed remorse that someone else suffered for the fact that she had a reprieve from her fated end. “Go get some rest. You’ve been just as busy as the rest of us tonight.”

“But I still have to clean—” Her words were cut off when Aisha tenderly placed a finger onto her lips to silence her.

I’ll have it taken care of,” Aisha insisted softly before she turned the door and nodded in that direction. “Head back to your room and go to sleep. I’ll come to see you later with breakfast.”

“…Have a good night then, Lady Aisha.” Haruhime bowed her head before shuffling her way out of the room. If she noticed the gaze upon her back from the Amazonian Warrior, she showed no sign as she navigated through the maze of hallways as she did nearly every night.

Never knowing when it would be the last time.

[-Twilight Manor-]

Elfy Colette became aware of a familiar soft sensation beneath her as the bliss of unconsciousness slowly melted away. It was the comfort of a bed cradling her body. But her addled mind couldn’t recall how she ended up there.

That last thing I remember was… Her mind snapped back into full awareness as the memories of what had to be last night came back into the forefront of her consciousness. Lefiya and that Elf kissing. Aki holding her as she cried before slipping her back into the manor through the window.

Her eyelids snapped open as she shot upright to find that she was in her bedroom. She lifted the sheets and found that she was in her clothes from last night. Then she leaned over the edge of her top bunk and peered down to the bed below to find that it was empty…

Pulling herself back up onto her bed, Elfy realized that it wasn’t just a dream. Lefiya kissing that other Elf. Humiliating herself in front of Aki. All of that happened.

There were no words to describe the depths of shame she felt when she remembered how she had blurted out everything that she had been holding onto until then. Secrets she hoped would never see the light of day had all been spilled out to one of her seniors. Just the very thought of it made her stomach churn to the point she felt she was going to be sick.

Elfy climbed out of bed and made for the door to head to the bathroom before she could vomit. But as soon as she opened the door, a familiar face appeared from further down the hallway. It was Anakitty Autumn.

The Cat Person smiled upon seeing her and raised her hand in greeting. “El—”

The door shut before the words could finish crossing the distance. Elfy found herself pressing her back against it before her mind caught up with what she had done. She whimpered softly, knowing that she was going too far but being unable to help herself.

Knock. Knock. Knock. That was when there was a knock on the door that was followed by a compassionate voice. “Elfy…. do you want to talk?

She didn’t. What she wanted was to just forget any of it happened and was tempted to remain quiet in the hopes that her Level Four senior would just go away. But Anakitty didn’t deserve that after spending last night comforting the younger girl. So the mage fought against her urges and opened the door, keeping her eyes to the ground as she apologized. “I’m sorry, Aki. I-I just

It’s okay.” Anakitty’s voice was gentle as she responded with that same patient tone from before. “I just want to know how you are feeling. Can I come in?

“I’m okay, but a little nauseous,” Elfy admitted before opening the door wider to allow her to enter. Once she did, the mage shut the door and then leaned against it while still looking down at the carpeted floor. She couldn’t bring herself to look the older girl in the eyes. “About last night, you didn’t…”

Feline ears twitched slightly before she craned her head in understanding. “Don’t worry. I haven’t told anyone. Last night stays between us.”

The assurance of privacy was enough to quell the rampant nausea in her stomach. Even so, she still felt a great weight upon her heart considering how much she had revealed. And then there was the question of just how much her senior had known. “What you said last night about holding it in all this time… has it been obvious how I felt about Lefy?”

Crossing her arms at the waist, the Level Four’s tail flicked before she inclined her head forward slightly. “Not in the way you think. Rather, it’s… the little things that added up over time. Sometimes when she enters the cafeteria while you’re there, your posture straightens up as if you want her to notice you. Or when the two of you are just talking, your eyes will linger on hers. And occasionally you’ll wear a small smile in a way that brightens up your face. Alone they don’t really stand out, but together they paint a picture of a girl in love.”

Elfy’s hand rose to brush the corners of her lips as she tried to recall those moments. The way she always felt then. Spikes of joy, fluttering moments of excitement, a sense of delight at spending time with her. She could feel her lips slowly folding upwards with the tips of her fingers. “She didn’t notice though.”

“It’s easier to notice all the signs piling up from a distance,” her senior explained. “Even so, it wasn’t like I could say anything since it wasn’t my place. It could have caused more problems in the end. The best I could do was be there for you when you headed off, given the fact that Lefiya hasn’t exactly been subtle either. She’s been acting a bit different as well.”

Just like that the memories of that kiss between the friend she loved and what she could never be bubbled back to the surface of Elfy’s mind. The small joy fled along with the budding smile. “It was stupid of me to feel this way even knowing that she would never look at me that way.”

Anakitty was careful as she gently peeled back her insecurities. “Because you don’t feel like you’re special?”

Tension and shame threaded the mage’s body and left her in a state of discomfort. “It’s not that I’m not grateful to others for everything they’ve done. I know how hard they’ve worked and how much they struggled to get there. But it feels like they’re so far ahead of me that there’s a gap I can’t ever cross.”

To say it was a gap was an understatement. It was more of a canyon, a gaping maw leading to an abyss where hopes and dreams were swallowed by the darkness. She was on one side that consisted of the path traveled and places known, where there were comforts and security. The special ones stood on the other side, heading off to the unknown with the sun ahead of them.

“And you were fine with that because that was what separated heroes from ordinary people…” Aki’s voice was quiet as she spoke. “Something about them allows them to cross that gap fearlessly and puts them on an entirely different level. Whereas you couldn’t even if you wanted to because your legs would stiffen knowing what awaits you when you fail. Is that it?”

It was as though she was reading Elfy’s mind. “Yeah. For me to even be part of the same Familia as them is something I can take pride in, even if there was no way I can hope to be more than a normal mage. But it’s different for someone like Lefy.”

Even if the two of them were stuck on the same side, opposite of those heroes, they weren’t the same. Elfy could only watch from a distance no matter how hard she tried. But for Lefiya there was a small bridge that only she could cross, left behind by Lady Riveria. It was narrow, and if she took one wrong step she could slip off and fall. But even knowing that she still moved across it at her own pace until she could cross the gap and stand next to them.

“I know she’s struggled so hard to get where she has,” Elfy continued, sinking down onto the ground and curling up once more. “She’s nice and sweet and works so hard that I can’t help but want to cheer her on. But, at the same time, I… envy her because she has the talent to make it that far.”

“It’s not just talent that allowed them to get that far,” Anakitty said, rising to her feet and coming over to her junior. “They have something that we don’t that’ll let them become heroes of legend one day. Something pushing them forward even though they don’t know what’s awaiting them. For the Captain, it’s wanting to become a beacon to his race. For Lefiya, I think it’s because she wants to live up to the expectations placed upon her. Even for them, it’s wanting to see the hero they admire so much in front of them despite everything. Everyone has something like that to push them forward…”

Peering past her knees as the Level Four crouched down so they were on the same eye level, Elfy found herself asking, “What about you then?”

Anakitty’s eyes closed as her ears flickered in thought. “I suppose it’s because I want to see the same thing that the person whom I respect the most does. Even if I can’t follow behind them, I can ease their burden along with the others by making the Familia as comfortable as possible for others around us. How about you?”

I…” She trailed off as her mind flashed back to her earliest desire. The desire to become a Mage of great renown. It was a dream that was never meant to be when she was in the same Familia as people such as Lady Riveria and Lefiya. No matter how hard she chased after them she would never be on par with them.

But that desire was still there. To, at the very least go as far as she could, even if she couldn’t stand next to them. The path that her best friend walked wasn’t the same one that she could follow, so she would have to find another. “I want to improve my Magic, so I guess I’ll focus on my studies and work on raising my Status for the moment.”

“Let me know anytime you want to go into the Dungeon for practice then,” Anakitty said while gently brushing her head. “I’ll make time to come with you. Okay?”

“If it won’t be too much of a bother for you…” A small smile found its way on her lips despite the turmoil still within her chest. “…Aki, thank you for being there for me.”

[-Backstreets-]

It should be around here,” Lefiya Viridis murmured to herself as walked along paved roads of the Labyrinth City that were neglected compared to the Main Street, her gaze fixed on a hand-drawn map. The Half-Elf, no longer under her guise as Feena but having the illusion mask her clothing to not draw attention, was traveling along narrow side streets that were smothered by tall buildings that seemed to jealously steal the light of the morning sun hanging high in the air. That left it bathed in the newly arrived autumn chill nipping at the exposed flesh beneath her illusionary clothing.

Her brother and his Familia had departed from hours ago, and since then she had taken it upon herself to act as a messenger. Specifically, she was delivering letters that would explain their abrupt absence to their friends and acquaintances. It was taking her around the city considering the different walks of life they all had, giving her an idea of their social circles and their lives outside of the Dungeon.

The first, and probably most disheartening thing she noticed was that Primo had no one to deliver a letter to. The Hestia Familia was essentially her family at this point, and she hadn’t made any friends outside of them yet given she had just arrived at the city shortly ago. Hopefully, she would get the chance to socialize with others around her own age at some point, because while Lefiya did enjoy her company she knew that the young Elf needed people around her who would treat her as a friend rather than a younger sister or student.

Then there was Welf Crozzo. His letter had been addressed to his former Goddess, along with one from Lady Hestia. Those she had to deliver to the Goddess of the Forge, who had apparently been expecting to hear from Lady Hestia since she had a part-time job there and was thus one of the easiest to get in contact with on the list of deliveries the Half-Elf had to make. Upon receiving the notice, she had sighed before stating that it couldn’t be helped if it was a request from the Guild and Artemis.

The Guild had been next on her list after that. Bell had written a letter to his Guild Advisor, the Half-Elf that worked there named Eina Tulle. When Lefiya arrived, she had spotted her in the middle of mediating between the Elf and Dwarf from last night. The two of them were inquiring into her relationship with Bell, which she maintained was purely professional.

At that point Lefiya felt the need to step in, so she asked if Miss Tulle could speak with her about an important manner in private and stressed the urgency. It had given the older Half-Elf the perfect excuse to shoo the pair off by reminding them that the Guild was a place of business and not for unfounded rumors before guiding her off to one of the soundproof rooms. Once there, Lefiya explained the situation with the letter from Bell and apologized for making it sound more urgent than it was but thought it would be best.

Those two had apparently been Adventurers who, much like Bell, had been under her guidance in their earlier days and had also reached Level Three at present. The fiasco and rumors from last night had driven them to ‘reaffirm’ that they didn’t believe those rumors about her and Bell, because there’s no way a woman as dignified as her would enter a relationship with a boy like him. It was both condescending to Bell and presumptuous given that it was clear they considered themselves more suitable candidates.

Lefiya committed their names to memory for later before explaining that Bell would likely be absent for the next month. Considering how often Adventurers disappeared and Bell had been regularly attending her lessons, which had been helping to shore up his lack of experience, it was natural to worry that he probably didn’t survive if he went missing for a month without warning. While Lefiya still didn’t know how to feel about another Half-Elf taking on her sororal duties, it was only proper to let Eina know so she didn’t worry about his sudden disappearance before handing over the letter and setting off to her next destination.

That had been the Hostess of Fertility. Bell had written a letter to the silver-haired Human Waitress there, who didn’t seem too surprised that he wouldn’t be coming by after what happened last night. Out of curiosity, Lefiya had inquired if Miss Ryuu had returned, but it seemed that she was still missing as well.

After that, Miss Mikoto’s delivery had taken her to the Takemikazuchi Familia, to whom Lady Hestia had also written a letter for. Lefiya’s appearance at their home had been unexpected, but the God of War had already been accommodating a Renard and Hume Bunny from the Soma Familia that morning, so it wasn’t an intrusion. He mentioned that he would work out the details with Lord Miach, whom she was searching for now.

The area that Lefiya was in now was rather dilapidated compared to the Main Street, a backstreet formed of buildings clustered that normally wouldn’t be traversed by a non-resident of the western blocks. It was virtually abandoned in terms of foot traffic, which she presumed was because most of the residents were likely at work, though she could spot a group of individuals with weapons leaving one smaller building that had an emblem with the outline of a human body—it was the Blue Pharmacy.

The Half-Elf made her way to the double wooden doors and stepped through it with a greeting on her lips. “Pardon me for the—”

Her words died as she entered the shop and spied at the end of the maze of shelves stocked with medicinal supplies a pair of women she hadn’t seen since the War Game. Specifically, the last two members of the Apollo Familia they had to deal with along with Hyacinthus. The Healer had a different staff than before but the fact that they were both armed and here led her to immediately reach for her spare wand.

“Easy there,” the red-haired girl said, stepping in front of the dark-haired one before reaching for her sleeve and showing the emblem affixed to it. The fact that her other hand made for the hilt of her sword didn’t elude the Half-Elf. “I don’t know what’s going through your head, but we’re part of this Familia now.”

As Lefiya considered the validity of her claim, the door beyond the counter opened. The Chienthrope with half-lidded eyes emerged from within along with her God. “Ah, what’s going on here?”

“These two are claiming they’re members of your Familia now,” Lefiya said, wand still in her grasp. “Is that true?”

“Though I hadn’t had a chance to inform Hestia or the others, these two children have formally joined my Familia,” Lord Miach stated as he came around the corner and interposed himself between the two sides. “You don’t have to be worried for our sakes.”

“They’ve actually been a big help,” Nahza added. “We’ve been getting a lot more customers since the War Game and having them being able to go into the Dungeon has made it easier to procure the Drop Items we need directly.”

Lefiya slowly put away her wand even as she bit down on the question that she wanted to ask. Namely, if they were trustworthy. “Lord Miach, may I speak with you in private? I have a delivery to make on behalf of Lady Hestia.”

He gestured towards the room he and his Captain had just been inside of. “I understand things had been a little chaotic since last night and had been wanting to ask Hestia about the details myself.”

She followed him behind with a silent tension running along her spine from the presence of the two young women until he shut the door. Then she breathed out a sigh and apologized. “My apologies for any disturbance I may have caused you. I had thought they may have been here to cause problems considering your involvement in the War Game.”

It wasn’t a stretch to say that the Chienthrope and her patron deity were as responsible as Bell was for the fall of the Apollo Familia. It was their contributions that allowed them to disable a good deal of the larger Familia with contemptuous ease. But unlike Lady Hestia’s Familia, they were much more vulnerable to harassment from former members if they were looking for revenge.

“There is no need to worry about such things,” he assured her. “As per the wager made with Hestia, many of those who were pressed into the Apollo Familia had their Falna unlocked and open for Conversion. I understand you may have some reservations about them considering you were previously fighting one another, please do not blame them for following the orders of their God. They had no choice in the matter.”

Logically, Lefiya understood that. Once you joined a Familia you were bound to the whims of the one whose Falna you bore on your back. Whether they wanted to attack Bell or not, they had no say in the matter since being a good member of a Familia meant being loyal above all else. It was harder to trust someone who openly betrayed their Familia like that Pallum whom Bell’s little friend imitated, so the fact that they obeyed to the best of their abilities despite wanting out enough to leave when given the chance only served to prove that they would be loyal to whichever Familia they joined.

But, at the same time, she still remembered her younger brother laying broken and bleeding that day thanks to the two of them, along with their Captain. That made her… slightly less sympathetic than she would be under normal circumstances. And a lot more suspicious.

“Please forgive me if this sounds offensive,” Lefiya began, “But it still seems odd that they willingly chose to join your Familia with their prospects. My own grievances aside, I could imagine many would have sought them out.”

Daphne had fought with two Level Twos with a decent level of competency considering the odds against her. And she demonstrated her willingness to protect an ally at the expense of her own health. Not to mention being one of the Commanders of the Apollo Familia, who had also participated in the defeat of a Monster Rex.

Cassandra possessed the Treatment Development Ability. That required medical knowledge in the same way someone who had the Mage Development Ability needed extensive knowledge of the arcane. And Healers were somewhat rarer than even Mages, so a Medical Familia would naturally seek her out.

Lefiya could imagine they had a lot of offers, so why did they respond to his? Though his appearance as befitting of one of the divinity was noble and immaculate, one could easily see from his clothing that he was not as financially well-off as many middle-ranked Familia. Much less on par with Apollo himself, who had extremely high standards considering the state of his mansion when Lady Hestia allowed her inside with Bell.

The blue-haired God of Medicine only smiled in response to her question. “I will admit that I hadn’t expected them to join my Familia when I made an offer given how high their prospects were likely to be and the situation our Familia was in. But despite that, they both agreed to join for their own personal reasons and have been very helpful. I had intended to speak with Hestia about it, but it has been rather busier than normal considering the War Game.”

“Then I won’t call into question their loyalty again,” Lefiya said before bowing her head. “Forgive me if it may have seemed as though I was overstepping my bounds considering my own involvement with events I really shouldn’t have been involved with.”

The Takemikazuchi and Miach Familia were aware of the extent she went to support Bell, including disguising herself. But as far as they knew it was merely because of a bond of comradery rather than familial ties. Even so, them knowing that much when not even her own Familia was aware left her with little high ground even compared to those two from the Apollo Familia.

“No offense taken,” he said. “Now, what was the message from Hestia that you wanted to share with me?”

She pulled the letter from her bag and summarized the situation about Bell departing with the others. He stated he would work out an arrangement with Lord Takemikazuchi since he couldn’t leave the shop unattended, and she offered to help in whatever way she could when she had the time. Then he gave her a Double Potion and saw her out.

With that, she only had a final delivery to make. The letter to the owner of a pawnshop that was also within another set of complex backstreets that Lefiya would probably have gotten lost in if not for the directions written down. They brought her to a one-story wooden building that had a rustic feeling despite being tucked between a few other stone buildings. Yet the moment she arrived at the door her senses felt a slight presence that somewhat reminded her of the Spirit Forest.

The reason for that was revealed when she entered through the door that was rather tight on its frame and locked eyes with a white-bearded individual beyond the counter of a somewhat messy showroom. No, not an individual. It might have been because of her exposure to the multitude of the Minor Spirits within the Spirit Forest, but though it was faint her senses were telling her this was a Spirit.

For his part, the Spirit crinkled his nose as he hummed to himself. “Well, this was unexpected. To what do I owe the pleasure a visit from one clad in such fine garments as yourself?”

“I’m here to deliver a letter to a Bom Cornwall, but…” the Half-Elf trailed off as she looked down to see that she was still disguised when his words registered. Her memory of what Lady Riveria had said when she had given her them for the trip surfaced and realization dawned. “You can see through the illusion, can’t you?”

“My senses aren’t the same as mortals,” he conveyed. “I’d appreciate you keepin’ that a secret from Lili, mind you.”

Lefiya realized that Bell’s little friend must not have known either that he could perceive through the illusion. Chances were no one would since the number of Spirits who had a level of sapience that allowed them to interact with the physical world and mortals in a day-to-day manner in this age were slim. “Of course, but if I could ask the same about…”

He managed to pick up where she was trailing off as she gestured to herself and the disguise. “My lips are sealed considerin’ I won a bit of a wager myself during the War Game. Anyway, you got somethin’ for me?”

She approached the counter and pulled out the letter before explaining that Liliruca would be absent for the next month. But as he perused the contents of the letter a question cropped up in her mind and her curiosity eventually overflowed. “Forgive me for asking this, but why is a venerated spirit such yourself present in a place like this?”

Her inquiry was met with a slight chuckle as he set the letter down. “Venerated, you say. You’re mistaken, I’m afraid. Even for those of us who’ve the minds to speak without a contract, we’ve no power on par with those in the Ancient Times to warrant being venerated. As for what leaves a Gnome like myself in a humble place like this… tell me, what kind of people do you believe would come here?”

Looking around at the storefront that was far more disheveled than most of the stores along the area she normally shopped, there was a great deal of variety in what was on display. From armor that looked as though it had seen many battles to little trinkets that held little value other than novelty, the only things that stood out extensively were the most expensive goods—jewelry, a staff, and a magic sword among them.

“I can’t say that there’s a specific group in particular,” was her response. “It doesn’t seem as though you cater to only adventurers or any race. The prices also have a large enough gap that, outside of things that are expensive for obvious reasons, I wouldn’t be able to tell at a glance.”

“Exactly,” he answered. “Mortals that walk through that door have different values and that can be reflected in what they take and what they leave behind. Trinkets that have little value to others may become treasures to others. Reminders of painful memories or broken dreams that can one day become the seedbed for another’s journey. From behind the counter of this little shop, I’ve been given a chance to learn a great deal about people I couldn’t otherwise.”

Spirits that existed in the world these days were merely shadows of those who existed during the Ancient Era and the Age of Heroes. That was because in that age those who could be seen as heroes were far and fewer between and, with no Falna to put mortals on par with the greater threats, the Spirits who aided them at the beckoning of the Gods needed to be capable of bequeathing them that power. But it was likely that the only Spirits that remained and were on par with those of ancient times were those who had fallen in the Dungeon. So what was a Spirit that had taken on a corporeal form to do in a world that no longer required their existence?

For the Gnome that defined himself as Bom Cromwell, it had been to own and operate a pawnshop. The customers revealed their values and what they held dear as the exchange was made. Whether it be desperation to keep going on by giving up something precious or putting all their hopes into buying something to chase a dream, their emotions were laid bare before him in the process and collected in the items he surrounded himself with.

“Though, I’ve found myself curious why someone of such standin’ as yourself went out of your way to enter a contract with two Minor Spirits,” he said after she took a moment to process his response. “I can feel their touch upon you, which is a rarity in this age. Surely what you gained from them is less than what your blessin’ gives you, Thousand Elf?”

Lefiya took a moment to close her eyes and ruminate on the question before she took Lady Lilo’s advice to heart and laid bare her true emotions as she spoke. “…I sought them out so I would have the ability to protect the people I care about. It’s undeniable that the two spells I received from the Wind Spirit and Sea Spirit aren’t as powerful or versatile as the three I gained through my Falna. But it’s thanks to their gifts that I didn’t have to sit back and watch as someone I cared about had their freedom taken away. And….”

She trailed off for a moment as she remembered Lady Lilo and Lady Riveria’s desires. Their concerns over the state of their race led them in opposite directions, one hoping to cling to isolation to preserve their numbers and knowledge, while the other would travel far to build bonds with the other races. Yet both of them wanted her to carry their Magic and culture into the future.

And Lefiya’s own desires were to live up to those expectations, becoming a vessel to carry their knowledge and traditions into the unknown dawn. “From our ancestors who struggled during those dark times to this very moment, our people owe much to you and your kin. The fact that I can preserve something precious to my race and bring it with me into the future is an honor. That makes the Magic bequeathed to me by your kin invaluable, even if to others they don’t seem like much.”

“Is that so?” His gaze lingered on her azure eyes as they met his unflinchingly and without any hints of dishonesty. Then they shifted back to the letter, and he stroked his beard contemplatively in thought before asking a simple question. “In that case… how would like to strike a deal with me?”


Fanfic Recommendation 109


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