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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.


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.”


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.