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

Chapter 2: The White Tiger

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

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

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

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 They would have descended upon the militia had it not been for the soldiers of the barony, each equipped with an outdated but reliable set of powered armor that offered them superior protection along with assault rifles.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“To leave the battlefield to you would be—”

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

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

It was easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.

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

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

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

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

On the other hand, Leon claimed it was thanks to bad world-building since the setting was originally that of a video game that was a mix between a visual novel and platformer. He claimed to have been reborn in this world after dying in his previous life in Japan, which based on the cross-references that she made, seemed to have been set some time in the past before the first known Adepts. Except there were also inconsistencies that didn’t make sense based on the timelines.

She was tempted to consider him delusional to a degree, though the scans she had done showed he hadn’t suffered brain damage or a chemical imbalance that would warrant it. But some of his information was scarily accurate in ways it shouldn’t be without some form of foreknowledge. And it wasn’t like there weren’t individuals with precognition in the past given that espers and mediums were recorded throughout history as being attuned to some of the upper layers of the Lifewave that granted them their extrasensory abilities.

Granted, Leon himself wasn’t attuned to any of those layers so he shouldn’t have access to any of those capabilities. It was something of a mystery she had a passing interest in solving, but she wasn’t exactly in a rush. Besides, even if he was slightly cuckoo, he was nice enough while they were traveling, and her directive was still to help Humans like him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You think she had something to do with the monsters?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was why Leon had to pay them all back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sure thing, Partner!

[—Evening—]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[—Several Days Later—]

“They want me to attend the Academy as a Scholarship Student!?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her nails dug into his shoulders.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Then why are you forcing me to go?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s the one with the Muse Septima isn’t it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m not thrilled about it either, but I don’t have a choice now. And it’s probably the best chance I’ll get to go and sign up for the engineering courses while I have the chance.”

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

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

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

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

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

He really didn’t understand her much at all.

[—Finley Fou Bartfort—]

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

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

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

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

It was hard for her to face him after that or tell any of them about her own problems.

She was quiet and kept her thoughts to herself so that the others didn’t burden themselves with her thoughts or felt guilty about the change in her demeanor. She didn’t like to cause problems, so she kept to herself and did as she was told. And her Septima… she kept that to her herself.

These were the chains she shackled herself with in the same manner the rest of her family did in their own way. The only one without bindings were Colin himself, still ignorantly blissful. She felt both happy for him but also prickly that he got to remain that way when she couldn’t.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She would. For better or worse.


Fanfic Recommendation 113


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A Mobuseka Fanfic

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Life is Tough for a Minos: Chapter 1

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


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


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A Mobuseka Fanfic

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


A Mobuseka Fanfic

Summary:  King Roland Holfort is dead, and the Holfort Kingdom is embroiled in a chaotic civil war between the Crown Prince’s loyalists and Duke Redgrave’s forces. As the rebels besiege the capital, the Upstart Knight and the Goddess of Material Transport have snuck into the royal palace ahead of the vanguard, in order to confront the Saintess behind everything… Naturally, nothing goes as planned. Takes place after the Marie Side Story Route, with a twist that should be very obvious from the title.


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

Chapter 1: The A.I.

 

Alert.

Life signs detected within proximity of Tower.

Suspending Hibernation Mode.

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

Scanning for Septimal Energy.

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

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

No Septimal Energy detected.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Approaching biometrics do not match authorized personnel.

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

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

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

Acknowledging Authoritative Bypass.

[—Leon Fou Bartfort—]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Guest User recognized. Teleporting to the Hanging Gardens.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What exactly are you?” Leon asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do you mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What would that require?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Fanfic Recommendation 111


My Fanfics


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