Magic Association Magic Association - Task Reporting Board

Discussion in 'Roleplaying Games' started by The Everdistant Utopia, Jan 15, 2018.

  1. Naraku

    Naraku 『Biased』『AG's Staff』『』

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    Inhaling and breathing, Umbrum didn't have the cheerful attitude he always had. No, he just stared at Blaiz, not Ruby nor Mira.
    "First, this isn't racism, those are the rules. This is totally normal to forbid fire elemental in the library, fire elemental may burn all of the books, about what I know, you are still a E Rank, in others words, someone who is still not trusted by the Association. I have a question, let's say that you have a library, and if there is a little flame, everything will get burnt, will you let a fire elemental you barely trust enter it ? One that could burn everything on accident. I don't think you will... and the worst is that they showed themselves polite, they said Sorry, did they insult you ? They didn't...."

    "Ah right ! I almost forgot, in the first place, you summoned Ruby, you can just unsummon her though that's a bad choice however there is another one, she could have just stayed out of the library but you refused because you didn't think enough, I mean, you said only one sentence to justify yourself without any proofs, they replied Rules are rules, and then, you entered illegally in the library..."


    His voice was serious, honestly, ironically, he wanted to burn the report, it made him chuckle as he continued to talk.

    "And not well guarded ? Except you, nobody ever provoked troubles at the library, so did we need to put more resources into the security ? Anyway... I will just resume every of your wrongdoings with justifications during this task."


    Umbrum sighed as Niris who was just near to him gave him a cup of hot chocolate, he didn't know that it was hot chocolate, he just thought that it wasn't bitter enough.

    "First one, you used a spell on innocent people. I suppose there is no need to justify why you get a minus rank point for this.
    Second one, you made a elemental enter in the library, maybe when you get higher ranks, it will be passable, you are a E Rank, someone who is still not trustworthy from the eyes of the Magic Association, the guards already knew who you were, and I am actually the same as you, a E Rank that still can't be trusted.
    Third one, entering through teleportation, illegally entering in the library, there is no need for me to explain ? There is a door, that is not for dogs. No I have better, an analogy, imagine there is a house, you have been invited to go there. There is three entries, the door, the backdoor, and the window, if you enter by either the backdoor or the window, you can be recognized as someone entering illegally."

    "Anyway, instead of getting 10 Rank points, you will get 7, and the rewards don't change. Still the same. In others words, 1 Large Coins, and a tablet of 10 Merits, in the end, you aren't losing anything despite the fact that you transgressed three rules... not really actually, you have to write an apology letter of five hundred words and sweep freely the Association for two days."

    OOC: Damn, you made me write 0,5K words.
    Half of your report damn it !
     
  2. shad12ow

    shad12ow 『Semi-Offline』

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    @Haxagen
    "Ah, good to see ya, lass. Finished me job."
    I put the basket full of Fire Root on top of the counter.
    "Oh, and also this is for ya. A souvenir, hahaha!" I said to her as I placed a small packet of wrapped boar meat. "Hope ya like this. Hahaha!"
    [Collecting of Herbs Near the Association]
    Third task. Still the same task. Findin me own herb. Fire Root. But this time, I be lookin in the area around the association. After getting meself a basket from the greenhouse, I quickly head out toward the mountainous area. It took me quite some time to get there. Blasted crowd! They be crowdin the gate. If not fer them, I wou’ reach the area sooner.

    Well, no use grumblin. Might as well use me time to look for those Fire Root. Just like before, I stomped my leg to the ground while puttin mana into them. This time, a wee bit more than before. The area be much bigger than before and there be more obstacle, not to mention living things.

    “…Blasted! They be in far away from each other!”

    Aye, that be the case this time. Dissapointin, I know. But that be life for ye. At least the number of them be more than enough fer me. I cou’ fill the basket and even got a wee bit fer meself. Not like I be needin a lot of them in t’ first place.

    Ah, the mountain. Remindin me of me own hometown. Good air. Good smell. A place fit for the dwarf. Hahaha! Oops, almost got meself too relax just now. Need to be more serious. Okay, so first area….ah, blasted. So high. Blasted! They be on top of the tall hill. Sure, I cou’ took the long route or climb them meself. But I have better option. Time to use the other spell then.

    Once again, I stomped me feet on to the ground with a wee bit of mana infused just like before. But instead of spreading the mana around, I focus the mana on one point. Sure enough, that spell made the earth raised. I also manipulate them in a way so the raised earth turned into a stair for me. Within a few seconds, a set of stair made from earth be in front of me. Simple task. I then used the stair to the hard to reach area of the cliff. In a matter of minutes, I had already filled me basket almost half o it. I put some o them in me own clothes for later use. Just a handful o them.

    Next place. Need to fill this basket soon before the noche come. And…oh, there be a wee problem for me. The problem came in shape of monsters. From their signature, probably goblins. And…hahaha! A wild boar! I got to see this!

    Running through the hill, I noticed the vibe changing. And what that vibe be? The vibe of hunting! I hid meself behind the tree and found me target. A group of goblins and a boar. Aye, the goblins be were hunting the boar. And they managed to corner the beast. Not bad, not bad. Well, if they be busy with that, I have no qualms. As long as….oh, ye bastards! Why did ye make the boar charge toward me!?

    Instinctively, I raised the soil and also hardened it to shield myself. A loud sound entered me ear after a shake from the earth shield I just made. I quickly pulled out me hatchet and infuse if with my mana, enchantin it to make the hatchet sturdier. I also put me own mana into me arms. What came after that be the sight of me jumping toward the boar and then deliver a slash straight onto the stunned boar. I put me whole strength onto that slash. And sure enough, the enchanted hatchet embedded itself straight to the beast’s head, killing it on the spot.

    I looked toward the three goblins. Nae, two goblins. One of them apparently dead. I cou’ see the wound from the boar’s tusk. Mighty bad. Glad it dinna hit me. I intended to leave them be if the bastards wou’ attacked me or anythin. And….they pointed their spear at me. Wrong choice, ye fools!

    Since me hatchet be buried at the moment, I pulled out me hammer and quickly put mana into it. Sure enough, the two attacked me at the same time. I dodged them in time and deliver me hammer to their side. The dull sound that me ear heard mean that the hit got them straight. It made them rolled to the side. Not wantin to waste any time, I jumped toward the one of them and quickly smashed the head, producing a loud crunching sound. I also did the same with the last one. In the end, the body of three goblins and one boar were around me.

    “Ye bastards shou’ never underestimated a lone dwarf,” I said as I spitted at their corpses.

    Honor, ye say? Bah! Forget honors. This be a hunt. A simple hunt that they lost because of their foolishness. And me victory mean that I can collect the Fire Root near the area. But….what should I do with the boar? It be a waste left it just like it is…..Sandstone! If I knew, I would bring something to carry them. Might need to improvise.

    In the end, I decided to drain the boar and took the tusk – they be good item for me own stuff- and also some of the meat from the boar. Thank me luck that I managed to find some wide leaves that I can use to wrap them up. And it be near the Fire Root too! Hahaha!

    Now time to get back to the lass. With a basket full of Fire Root and a wee bit of souvenir for her. Hahaha!
    Extra Loot
    • A handful of Fire Root
    • A few pounds of boar meat
    • A pair of boar tusk
     
  3. Haxagen

    Haxagen Fallen's|Well-Meaning|Apparently Homeless

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    "Understood. This task has been completed. Here you go."
    Nadia took out a bag from under the counter.
    "Thanks for the souvenir, and don't get too drunk, okay?"
     
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  4. Exitiumm

    Exitiumm Well-Known Member

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    Task: Produce a Simple Potion
    “Ah, Sorgre.” Luke exclaimed as he noticed Sorgre was the receptionist this time, surprised a smile drifted onto his face before he headed away from the receptionist desk and wandered around the Association building, wondering where the Alchemy area is.

    Soon he noticed a large sign that read ‘Alchemy’ and headed towards it, after a few seconds of walking he eventually stumbled upon a room that had its own task board as well as tables with tools on them, curious he headed up to the Task board first and noticed a task requesting for 3 Basic Healing Potions.

    ‘Luckily they taught how to make a Basic Healing Potion in the Magic Academy.’ Luke thought as he made an inward sigh of relief as he remembered the ‘Basic Alchemy’ class that was mandatory in the Magic Academy.

    After awhile Luke remembered the ingredients necessary for a Basic Healing Potion and headed towards the receptionist to request for the herbs, after waiting for the receptionist to grab the herbs he boredly sang a song to himself, something about overpowered MC’s? Whatever that means.

    Eventually the receptionist returned with a bundle of herbs and handed them over to Luke with a smile and headed back to during their duties, after making sure he had all the herbs Luke naturally went towards a table and begin to remember the ‘Basic Alchemy’ lessons from the Magical Academy.

    “First you must extract the juice from xyz herb then you should mix the extracted juice together with fresh spring water, once the water turns into a green-ish shade then you have to grab the other herb and crush them and pour them into the water, after a while it will take a pink tint and needs to be warmed up with fire to a suitable temperature, fire magic is preferable here due to it being a spell.

    Once it reaches a suitable temperature you then must grab the last herb which is a natural conductor of light magic and sprinkle its leaves in, after awhile it will take on a red shade similar to blood.” While mumbling the words of the teacher Luke finished creating the potions, soon he cleaned up the area and turned in the task report.
    @The Everdistant Utopia
     
  5. The Everdistant Utopia

    The Everdistant Utopia Generalissimo | Minister of Brascovia | Crau's

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    "Oh, Luke! Welcome back!" Sorgre greets him before cheeking the report. "Everything seems to be in order. Here are your rewards. In total 1 L. Wooden coin, 10 S. Wooden Coins and 10 Merits. Thanks for the hard work, as always."
     
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  6. BB_Tensei

    BB_Tensei [Catatonic Sloth] | [Occasional Antagonist]

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    Task: Help Out In The Library
    After taking the task in question, Joan decided to eat first. She had arranged to do it the next day, as the night shift wasn’t allowed for E rankers as of recent, for some reason or another. She was slightly disappointed, as that would have meant less work and more time to look around for good books on space-time magic. Her recent acquisition of a space-time enchantment tablet, even if it was used, had brought some insight into the field, which she, with her self-earned tuition could never afford. All in all, she considered herself lucky to have access to the Association’s resources, thus would even take upon droll tasks such as this one to obtain a greater reward.

    After eating lunch, which was mostly meat as per usual, she sighed at wasting the task reward on food, even prior to actually doing it, but was too full to complain, so she drowsily headed to bed, and had a strange dream about Silvia and tuna fish.

    ***

    The morning had her visit the dormitory bathhouse to scrub up and wash off the sweat from the night, whereupon she met a now usual sight.

    “Hi Joan! Did you like your dream last night?” A purple wisp materialized as a glowing woman in white clothes made of flowers.

    “You! … Why? That was a bit too much you know, she isn’t like that…”

    “She has been reading some recommendations of mine, as of recent. I made friends with a librarian girl recently and learned to read! That glasses girl is rather fun, when she warms up to you.”

    Joan shook her head to dry her white as of recent hair, after squeezing most of the water out. It somehow always contributed to her wild volume.

    “Careful, your wide range might narrow down to a new fetish.” Joan was definitely not a morning person.

    “Well, that would probably be fun in its own right, but hmm… You might have a point there~” The spirit suddenly fell deep in thought, which Joan used to get dressed, and leave. Spirit in tow, of course.

    ***

    “A-are you here for the library task? Miss Joan, right? I-I’ve heard of you, please come in.” The aforementioned librarian was rather shy for some reason. Was that a blush on her face?

    “What did you tell her?” Joan stared daggers at the spirit.

    “Well, I’ve been reading the reports as well~”

    The girl brought them to the library’s large central reading hall. She straightened up, coughed once, then straightened her back and calmly explained.

    “As you can see, it’s quite the mess. Last night a bunch of C rankers came in, looking for information on wolf species, which quickly turned into a debate, so they brought out a lot of the books, and now we have to pick up after them.”

    “Don’t worry Joan, I’ll help out!” The Guardian Spirit happily stated.

    “I’m sorry, milady, but we cannot allow that. Such are the rules, unless you two have a familiar contract. Let me show you some new reading materials, while miss Joan gets comfortable with the task…”

    “Well, Joan is already contracted in a sense, but I wouldn’t have minded~”

    “Oh, is that so? Maybe I can contract more than one, if you catch my drift~” Joan teased.

    “It’s a joke, of course, you need to get a lot stronger, before you can contract one such as I!” The Guardian responded.

    The librarian seemed to be in awe of the spirit’s bravado, or rather her power, but Joan thought little of it. True power came with metal aptitude and hard work (whenever other means aren’t applicable).

    She left the spirit and librarian to listen the former’s boasting and giggles, and started on the task.

    Most of the books were indeed related to wolf species, but that was only the first pile. It seems the group had moved on, and after filling up the space on one of the tables, moved on to another. There the topic was mostly related to topics officially unfamiliar to Joan, such as wild magic, classifications thereof, some theory on its basic function, but mostly tales of witches, and for some reason a tome on pyromancy. She made a mental note to check out the last one, as it was the most practical out of the bunch.

    After finishing up on the second table, she eventually got tired of moving around the ladder and placing books in alphabetic order. It was actually quite mentally draining. Couldn’t they just add a numbering system to books, and place the number on the appropriate row and spot? She would suggest that later, as she had already placed over thirty books on random subjects, that not only didn’t have much connection between them, but also had authors trying to be original with the titles, to the point where most of the alphabet was present in the first letters of the titles in that third pile.

    That was that, she walked around, trying to find the librarian girl from earlier, without much luck, thus took a break, picking up a read on her newfound interest. The book was named “The World Of Non-Ukelidian Spaces”, and focused on storage spells, mostly of the enchantment kind. It took her a while to locate it, and was mostly lucky to manage doing so, as the library sections were somehow ordered by a completely alien school of magic, as far as she was concerned.

    At that point she noticed the librarian with sanguine cheeks and smile, focused on a book, with the guardian floating above behind her. She almost bumped into Joan, while the spirit acted like she was whistling.

    “So, Joan are you done here?”

    “Ah yes and no. I think I’ll read this book a bit more, before I leave. Is that okay, miss…”

    “It’s Roxana. It’s fine, so long as you finish up before we open the hall officially. You have… About an hour and a half.”

    “Thank you. See you soon, milady.” Joan chased the spirit away gently, and returned to her book. The only thought that nagged her, was that she completely forgot exactly where to place it back, once she was done with it.
    Had to clean up after a heated debate by seniors piled up a large number of books in the main reading hall. Minor suggestion for improving the library.
    @Haxagen
     
  7. Haxagen

    Haxagen Fallen's|Well-Meaning|Apparently Homeless

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    "Mhm, that was quick. Welcome back."
    Nadia scanned through the report.
    "Seriously, people gotta learn to not mess up the Library...I'll warn them next time. Jeez."
    She took a bag from under the counter, and handed it to Joan.
    "Here."
     
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  8. BB_Tensei

    BB_Tensei [Catatonic Sloth] | [Occasional Antagonist]

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    "Nadia, where do you go to take a bath? I'm totally beat!"

    Task: Cleaning the Sewers of the Association (1st Level)
    Joan was rather bored, and needed to buy a holding bag to dismantle it later on, so she decided to head for the sewers immediately after going through procedure. She went back to her dorm room, picked up Chaos and the smaller bayonets, and headed downstairs, getting a nod at the checkpoint. Seemed to be a different person from the last time she visited the checkpoint. There were also some new warning signs, and word of mouth often cited Sorgre doing this and that, with seemingly exaggerated details and exploits. One had the half-ogre fighting against rats armed with self-arming spinning barrels of flintflocks and rats on flaming chariots inside some sort of hidden arena underneath. Then there were some jokes about high rankers. Some guy named Luke was just behind Sorgre on the popularity poll, with a girl speaking of wishes to marry him. Strange, innit?

    Taking a moment to adjust her eyes to the dark, Joan’s glowing irises were probably the only thing visible inside the darkness. She prepared a small bayonet, and sniffed around. Smelled like a sewer, alright! There were too many rat feces around to make out a trail, so she had to rely on her dark vision and ears to pick them out.

    Thankfully the critters were in fact aggressive, as otherwise there wouldn’t be an actual subjugation task. One crawled out in due time. It was rather large for a normal rat, but nothing like the ones in the lower levels. It would seem the experience made Joan more resistant to those rats’ smaller bretheren. She still had a slight problem with her breathing, though, and missed when she threw the bayonet. The rat skulked away, before hiding inside a small crevice. What a cunning little creature!

    It died painfully from suffocating on its own blood. The choco stash revenge massacre was just starting.

    Now one thing about most living beings that weren’t trees or humans, was that they had good scent. Something that Joan remembered fifteen minutes later, when she decided to wipe the blood off the bayonet she was holding.

    Searching around for rats on the first floor turned out to be problematic. There weren’t many of them. One place or the other there were mostly gnawed remains of such, which indicated a larger problem. She ignored and avoided the lizards entirely, she came for the rats after all.

    Actually back when she was a kid, the only reason she was taken on a ship was, because the sailors joked about her catching rats on it, and her naively agreeing to it wholeheartedly. Though this had little to do with why she hated them so much.

    One lizard decided to jump at her, nevertheless and got burned by a spell infused bayonet. She would have to collect it later on. Joan made a mental note of the place, and decided to simply go forward, and turn left if needed.

    At some point she found a pile of ashes, surrounded by rat dung. Somewhere nearby was a torn, singed and soiled white witch hat. A rat head poked from underneath it and received a bayonet to the face. Several more popped out in a frenzy, which caused Joan to suddenly reconsider the task at hand, but she drew a large breath, shouted and charged Chaos with ball lightning, activating the Dragon Tattoo active to insulate her skin against the current. Soon there was nothing left of either the rats, or the hat, except a few burned carcasses and some “sheets” of ash nearby. She counted 6 total, along with the previous rat. Along with the lizard, this made 7 kills.

    It hit her that perhaps this place wasn’t a good spot, since there were somebody’s possible remains in there. Her heart began to beat faster and harder.

    The commotion brought a sudden deluge of rats from somewhere nearby. If she could count in this situation, the number would have been around 10? 15? Thankfully Chaos was still charged up, and her mana reserves held out, to a point. The rats just crashed into a plasma ball, spewing lightning toward the ground, walls, and ceiling of the corner Joan found herself to have retreated into. Realizing the rats were practically dead or fleeing, she canceled the spell, and high tailed it out of there, nearly vomiting after breathing in the putrid sewer air.

    After running around a bit like an idiot, she found herself eventually leaving the sewer, rather haggard. She stopped before the checkpoint, catching her breath, straightening up, and casually placing the large bayonet on her shoulder, before walking out with a fake smile on her face.

    This seemed to piss people off, but was better than the alternative. After all who messes up so much on a level 1 sewer task? Well, she figured at least somebody did. That place was cursed!
    Hunting single and small groups of rats should be easy. Unless the hunting spot is somehow unfortunate. Task successful nevertheless.
    @Haxagen
     
  9. Haxagen

    Haxagen Fallen's|Well-Meaning|Apparently Homeless

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    "Good work. Here's your reward."
    Nadia placed a bag on the counter.
    "If you want to take a bath, you'll have to go to the inn, though. Otherwise, if you could make another trip to the hot springs; I'll notify Nimue to expect you, if that's the case."
     
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  10. BB_Tensei

    BB_Tensei [Catatonic Sloth] | [Occasional Antagonist]

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    Task:
    @The Everdistant Utopia, @Naraku, @Haxagen,
    @AliceShiki, @Kysil, @BB_Tensei

    {{ This is Part 1, Part 2 will be posted soon. }}
    "Reporting the following: "
    "Thanks for coming, everybody! I don't know if I introduced myself to everyone, so I'll do it now. I'm Joan Tensei, E Rank magic engineer and enchanter. I'm here to kick ass and investigate why we're missing some colleagues. That's all." The catgirl scratched the back of her neck, smiling, and stepped back a bit.
    " did they go to find some food? Find some herbs? Or find some Samples? " (Silvia)
    "Pleased to meet you ! My name is Umbrum, a mage... and nothing else I suppose ? Maybe a hunter but it doesn't fit well with the context... anyway, I am here for well, just the task and the fun I suppose ?" The young man in a over-sized coat with glasses said as he stepped slightly forward with a smile, while his friend, a young woman with blond hair and red eyes began to talk.
    "Just one of his friend and a mage, former criminal I guess, the name's Niris." Unlike the person she pointed at, her voice was quite cold and blunt, there was no concrete feelings, then Umbrum talked on a casual tone, he seemed to be quite careless.
    "Hmmm... well we will see what happened to them while searching or tracking them, depend on how long they have been gone~"

    "You are a tracker?" Joan asked Umbrum. She kept lucking into fortunate encounters as of recent.

    "Here's the map of the local area. The last known location of the exploration party was here" she pointed somewhere on a nearby mountain. "We should be able to get quickly up to here on the road, from there on we'd be better off making camp, and starting the investigation in the morning. I hope we get a lead quickly, since it has been a while, since the task has been posted." (Joan)

    Joan then realized she'd ignored Niris, and presented her hand for a shake. "Nice to get acquainted, Niris."
    " umu Umu... It seems I am not needed yet... " (Silvia)
    *Retrieves a Cooked Mushroom from the inventory then eats it*
    "Hmm... a tracker ? I am not really sure I can be called like that, I only hunt because it's fun and relaxing to be in the forest, to search for animals, to aim, to shoot and succeed... it has been ten years or so since I began ?" Umbrum replied while being quite perplexed, he didn't really knew if he could be called a tracker, a hunter or a mage... he sighed and continued to talk.

    "Oh I see ! Actually, we have a carriage in a nearby forest, where we usually go pick up some herbs for the association." Putting his finger on the nearest forest on the map, he continued to talk as he reminded himself of a sad fact. "Though, we have no horses because of circumstances..."

    "Same, good to meet you, Joan." Niris accepted the handshake with the same face as earlier, cold, at least, she didn't mind interacting with people.
    "It might be faster to go on foot. The terrain is rather steep, and I doubt we have a lot of equipment to carry up, myself notwithstanding." Joan said, patting her handcannon. "Or did you have something specific in mind, when you mentioned that?"
    "Ohh... well not really..." Umbrum looked away after coughing weakly, honestly, he thought that it was the occasion to get a horse, and well, sleeping in a carriage feel quite comfortable to Niris.
    "Haaa... he probably just said it on a whim since he doesn't want to leave it alone in the forest even if nobody will ever notice it considering that it looks like it disappeared instead of just being hidden." Niris didn't know what her comrade was thinking about so she spontaneously made up stuff.
    "Huh, that's too bad. I was hoping you have something useful stockpiled. We can hire horses from the stable for a large copper, but I'd rather not waste the money for no good reason." Joan winked at him, confident he was hiding something extra he didn't really want to talk about.
    As she winked, Umbrum just looked away, a bit awkward since he is directly being aimed.
    "You are not wrong, we will waste moneys by taking horses." Niris quickly nodded and agreed to her point of view as Umbrum wanted to say something but in the end, he stayed quiet. After all, they really had nothing in the carriage except preserved food.
    "Anyway, what else do we need to prepare ?" At least, she kept the priorities straight, both of them already had everything they needed on them.
    After turning my task in, I was walking towards the inn to sleep... I didn't feel like doing anything else. (Aria)

    On the way to get out of the association though, I had to pass through the Meeting Area... I didn't really want to though... I wanna sleep… (Aria)

    I found a weird bunch on some tables discussing something though... Dunno what made them weird, maybe they were too laidback? People seem to be more serious over here… (Aria)

    Ah! Isn't that the guy that I took a task with? The weirdo that has beaten some 5 guys by himself... He isn't with the Dragonman this time... I guess I can check what they are doing? They seem to be having fun. (Aria)

    I approached the table and interrupted their talk without much care. (Aria)

    "Hey, what are you all doing?" I asked. (Aria)

    "Oh ! Aria ! It's been a while~" Umbrum's voice seemed to be quite cheerful as he noticed that she was here, interrupting their talk, then he continued to talk, explaining what they were doing.
    "We are preparing for a joint task since people from an exploration party came back in shreds while some disappeared..." His voice lowered at the end of his sentence.

    "Ah, a joint task?" (Aria)

    Seems like a good way to waste time... I need to occupy my mind...

    "Okay, I'm in! What do we need to do anyway?" I one-sidedly decided I was also participating, and they better accept it!
    "I guess you two know each other?" Joan asked. Damn I should have dyed my hair red! Now I have to wait for the dye to wear off...

    "It's a general investigation task, but they also would like us to find out some missing persons, if possible, and preferably actually report something. The higher ups have no idea what is happening under their very noses, and are understandably pissed." (Joan)
    "Hmmm... Okay! I can burn things by the way!" (Aria)
    "Yes, we did a joint task together last time~" Umbrum said cheerfully, to him, except having his back burnt, seeing dead people and only a few surviving, it was overall a nice trip.

    "Hmm~" Then Umbrum began to wait since well, he was waiting for the departure, he didn't need anything special since he had everything on him.
    "Hmm... I was hoping we could get a healer... By the way, Umbrum, what are your abilities? And the flame girl, what is your name?"

    "I'm Aria!" ^^)/
    Joan somehow shuddered at the name, vividly imagining a fire-haired maiden cruising in the air over a battlefield, surrounded by a symphony of screams and flames. She had no idea what it had to do with the person before her, though, and put it at the back of her mind. Then Umbrum spoke.
    "Well... I don't have a lot of mana, below average... but... I have currently four spells~ Mirror, a spell that can partly copy an offensive spell in exchange of a lot of mana and pain..." Despite smiling, Umbrum lied on impulse, this was something his master taught him, even if you make comrades, lie to them, you need know what might happen, before he hasn't been applying this advice, but now he was, because it's part of what he had left of him.
    "Teleportation, actually, that's only objects around thirty feet around me, and well, I am not really precise so sometimes, I can even hurt myself while trying to use it..." Be vague when describing something.
    "Edax Umbra, a curse or support spell, used to make something disappear." Some details aren't needed.
    "Physical Enhancement, well, the name says it all." Be vague when describing something.

    This way, he looked like only a simple support/curse mage, at least from his eyes, Niris didn't seem to doubt him, what he said wasn't contradicting what she saw.
    Unlike Aria, he didn't seem as threatening, though that support spell's description was rather omnious. The catgirl imagined all sorts of things disappearing, eventually letting go of her ego, and blanking out for a second, missing out on the last part. "Uhm excuse me, I think I have to go pick some flowers."

    Something was rather weird with her today, she thought, quickly heading for the restroom, where she vomited out the contents of her stomach. She had left her handcannon back at the table. She was suddenly concerned, and another vision assaulted her, causing more sickness, though her stomach was now empty.
    "Why would someone pick flowers at night...?" I wondered aloud to no one in particular… (Aria)
    "Since when do you pick up flowers in the restroom...?" Umbrum muttered, not understanding her action at all. While Niris simply sighed when seeing this scene.
    Joan was helping herself stay upright with one hand on the way back, straightening up the moment she noticed the rest of the party.

    "I'm back. We'll need a one more person, before embarking on the task, and I have to eat something, does anybody else want a bite?" She did try to act normal, but her eyes were darting around the people gathered, then her gaze turned contemplative and distant. (Joan)

    "I'm all up for free food!" I exclaimed while hitting my hands on the table! (Aria)

    Joan wasn't feeling all that well, so she decided to get better by splurging. The meeting area had a bar, that also served food, though it was in small portions and rather expensive for E rankers. There were also no waiters, and the barman wasn't always present. This time they were in luck.

    She took out a large copper coin, and ordered five servings of beef with potatoes, mushrooms and cheese on top. She then ordered 4 pints of ale, changing her mind at the last moment, to order an additional one. The redhead girl actually looked like an adult, she thought. Wasting away 5 large enchanted wooden coins on a single meal wasn't all that smart, but Joan fully expected the meal to help her win favor with the party, and perhaps avoid a situation, like the one she saw in her mind earlier. She also really needed to eat something good.

    "Aria, can you come help me bring these to the table, please?" She shouted out, discreetly pushing the change back into a hidden pocket inside her corset.
    Niris tilted her head, wondering why Joan acted this way, honestly, she didn't really understand nevertheless, she shrugged and sat on a random chair as Umbrum did the same, sitting next to her.

    "Sure~ I am not hungry now though, my belly is already filled thank to hunting." shamelessly said Umbrum, now that he thought about it, he still didn't use any of his money since he began making task, except for a basket to gather herbs.
    Better not worry too much on how long it will take, working as parties tend to last for a while, especially on big ones like this.))

    So much free food…(Aria)

    "Hai! I'll help out!" I happily went near the weird catgirl to bring the food over and started eating as much as I could! (Aria)
    " hmm... Free Food... " (Aria)

    Silvia (re)Appears Behind the group while munching on her Roasted Mushroom and Lizard Tail. She seems on the Eating Spree of Cheap food ever since She received Food Ticket from Sogre.

    " What a group... What are you guys doing again? " (Silvia)
    "Ah, you're back. I've got your portion, as well." Joan waved. She then looked into her eyes, an image of rows of giant jars, filled with liquid and people, glowing in the darkness, flashing before her eyes. It subsided quickly, however, and she resumed with a cheerful expression.

    "Eat. You're here for the investigation task, right?" the catgirl began to wonder.
    " Hmm? Ah yes... So what can my Dolls and Me Do for this Task? What's the Objective, Requirement for completion? "
    Silvia then Sits down at the same table as them while eyeing the food.
    " Also... I can eat this right? This is free right? "(Silvia)
    "Sure, it's for you.” (Joan)

    We have to investigate the surroundings of the Association Headquarters. They sent a party, but something happened, and we don't know what. I guess we can start by asking around, but we've also been requested to find some of the missing persons from that party, and actually find out the cause. With so much going on, and so many people, we have an opportunity to do all of these within two days. What is the maximum range your dolls can be separated from you?" (Joan)
    " The Maximum Range that I tried is 3 miles and then the dolls will magically return to me after a few minutes... Guess they're scared of getting separated with me... " (Silvia)

    Silvia then resumes eating the food
    " Hmm... This is salty... "
    Joan's jaw almost fell. "Are they fully autonomous? With that range you'd best help Umbrum and Niris with tracking down our missing colleagues." SHe then tried the food.

    "Also still too hot!" she exclaimed, licking her lips. "Umbrum, Niris, are you two fine with such an arrangement?" (Joan)

    " I don't know about the autonomous part... They'll need precise orders from me afterall... And I don't want to risk loosing them... These cores are from my fellow Magi Tank Homunculi " (Silvia)
    "Is that so?" Joan wasn't disappointed. Well, maybe a little bit. She wanted to ask what a Magi Tank Homunculus was, as those words had never appeared together anywhere she knew, other than the girl before her, but had recently asked somebody too many questions, and still had to wrap her head around those. "The world of magic sure is vast..."
    *is happily eating the free food* The weird catgirl can talk a lot… (Aria)

    "So... When are we going anyway?" *completely oblivious to the talk* (Aria)

    "As soon, as we finish the meal and plan. How well can you guys see in the dark?" (Joan)
    " Yeah... Sure is Vast... What's the Official name of this Mysterious Meat #85? This is tasty... It has the same taste as that 'Mooo' beast with horn and charges you... " (Silvia)
    "Just call it Moomeat?" Joan snickered at the thought of her ordering such.
    "I can make fire to make it easy to see on the dark!" (Aria)
    " I'll rely on you then " (Silvia)
    "Good. I'll be in the front, when we ascend the mountain, since torchlight makes my eyes hurt." Well that wasn't exactly true, but it would hamper her vision in the dark, so she gave that excuse. (Joan)
    " Moomeat huh... Master~! Moomeat and this Mushy sand Please! " (Silvia)

    Giggling and chuckles here and there inside the Diner (Silvia)
    "It's not mushy sand. You mean the yellow thing, right? That's cheese." Joan corrected her.
    "Oooooh, I didn't explore any of the mountains so far! Teehee, it will be fun!" \(^^)/ (Aria)
    *Pats head with her hand*
    " Well... It should be fine " (Silvia)
    "My head is for Firia! Don't-

    ... Ah... She isn't here right now... ... Haa..." *slumps down on her seat tiredly* (Aria)

    "I can leave whenever." (Aria)
    " UmU UmU... Your head is fluffy and feels funny... "
    *Keeps patting Head* (Silvia)
    "W-why would my head feel funny!?" >.< (Aria)
    " It's silky and fluffy to touch... Makes me want to touch more... " (Silvia)
    *Keeps petting*
    "Mmm, this is delicious! Aria, white haired girl, do you want an extra serving?"
    "I'm always up for free food!" (Aria)
    She was given one of the unused dishes, and being watched intently with a catish smile.

    "You must really like to eat." (Joan)
    "Of course I do! Ever ate wild fruits and herbs? Yeah? Do that for a few months and you'll desperately crave for inn food!!!" (Aria)
    " Then please... I would like to have more if possible... Also my name is Silvia... Silvia Slaughterdoll... "
    Seeing everybody finish their mean, Joan made a suggestion.

    "Aria, Silvia, can you come with me to talk with the previous expedition, and gather some information? Umbrum, Niris, can you please go to this spot on the mountain, and make camp there? We'll find you as soon as we're done here."
    " I don't mind~ "
    Silvia said carefreely.
    "Eh? Why!?

    Guess I can though..." (Aria)
    "Sure, we will go right now then~" Umbrum's voice was odd yet cheerful as always while Niris only nodded at Joan's suggestion.
    So both of them left and began walking toward the spot that Joan pointed on the map.
    Joan felt the Umbrum would prefer some alone time with Niris, but was she wrong? It was, however the best decision time-wise, as the tracker was the only one who could do his work, while she, Aria and Sylvia had to manage several people at once, if they were to make it in time.

    She stood up, and explained her plan to her companions. (Joan)

    "The expedition team is spread out around the facilities in Headquarters. As far as I'm aware, the people that got back were a couple of D rankers, one E rank healer and herbalist, an aspiring magic swordsman, and a recent Lzarier former thunder knight, who currently works in the guard. I've been told one of the receptionists is well informed on the case and can help us find them. Do any of you where we can find Nadia? She should be off duty at the moment."
    "So... Just need to find one of those guys? Got it!" *hops on broom* (Aria)

    "Laters!" *flies away without asking any details on who they were, appearance or where they would be* (Aria)
    "Well, that was some initiative... I just hope we safely meet up afterwards. Silvia, do you want to take independant action as well?" (Joan)
    " Hmm... No... I'll support you... If I take independent action without any information, then I'm putting the cart before the horse... " (Silvia)
    "Okay..." Joan actually wanted to run off as well. "Let's go to the receptionist desk, and find where Nadia is."

    On the way out, Sylvia and Joan got looked at strangely by a couple of drunk magicians. One was thin and sinewy, with a little bit of facial hair, the other sporting a rough three day beard, and a pot belly. Both stood with bent backs, the sinewy guy glaring meanly, while the other one seemed like he was counting his toes, clutching a jug of ale with a rather more alcoholic smell than usual.
    They could only be seen in passing, however. Later, at the receptionist desk a small queue was forming. Joan grabbed Sylvia by the hand, and pulled her into the queue, before more spots could be taken.

    "Who is on duty, right now?" She asked a random magician nearby. (Joan)
    "I couldn't see clearly, but it seems it's the bookworm undine." Was the response.
    "Shouldn't she be off duty?" (Joan)
    "Sorge is often away, for some reason. I assume it has to do with the Sewers."
    "So is this why there's such a queue?" (Joan)
    "Ah, no. This is normal for the end of the month. Everybody suddenly remember they owe the government money for services, and they try to make a quick coin."
    Silvia then Tilts her head on the side while thinking some things.
    " Do I owe some money on the Government? "
    "Yeah, I was wondering that myself!" (Joan)
    "You guys must be E rankers. At D rank and above, most people decide to rent the fancier facilities, like apartments, labs, equipment for those and such. Those cost merits, and then there's the bills for things like charging the washrooms. Did you know at C rank you can actually bathe by water spray? Anyway, that's the gist of it."
    " Oh! I see... Hmmm... I think I'll need that Lab thingy later... "
    Silvia Said with a happy Smile
    " But bath? Water Spray? What? "
    "What?" The chatty magician was stupefied.
    "It's when you clean up with water. I avoid it, if I can, but keep taking one after tasks to get off the smells."
    "No wonder you girls are here... It'd be a wonder if you ever get married."
    "Who asked your opinion?" (Joan)
    " Huh... Clean... "
    Silvia checks herself if she was dirty or smells funny
    " I'm not dirty though? I don't smell funny too... Maybe? ?? Married? More unknown words came out... "

    "You smell just fine, Silvia. Actually you smell..." Joan sniffed. "Mmm... Rather fine. Don't worry, I'll marry you if you're fine with me!" Joan joked with a thin smile.

    Somebody at the back coughed a few times. Most people minded their own business, however. The pair were nearly at the front of the queue.

    " Oh? Then I'll be in your care... Also Joan! We're next... Grumpy Receptionist is looking at us! "
    Silvia Bowed at Joan before nudging her towards the Receptionist who is scowling or just have a grumpy expression for a face

    "Ah, sure... Eh? Hello, we're looking for Nadia. It's for an ongoing task she registered us for." (Joan)

    A grumpy female boarkin frowns at the pair before her. "Nadia? Ah, she's on her break. You can wait for her if you want but..." Checking the time, it hadn't been long since she left, so it could take some time, making the receptionist hesitate a bit. "Although I might not have the answers you may want, you may ask. I'll try to answer if possible."
    "Well..." Joan hesitated a bit, seeing an unfamiliar face. "It's a sensitive topic, so please be discreet about this." Joan leaned in a bit and whispered. "We're looking for the previous Association Scouting Party, that recently returned from exploring the surroundings. Might you know where they are, or what may have happened?"

    Meanwhile somewhere around HQ a wisp was closing in fast on the building.

    "The last scouting party...? Ah, they've come back, but couldn't report a thing..." The frown in the woman's face deepened. "Something about 'we couldn't spot a single creature, and ended up getting caught by a sudden bad weather'... What kind of report is that?!" The receptionist let out a sigh. "I don't know the specifics of the rest of the report, but they weren't important... Or at least Sorgre said there was nothing useful in it with a scary face... I don't want to imagine the scolding they got for themselves for coming back without results... In any case, I don't know their whereabouts... It would be better to search around the city. Unless they took another assignment, they probably are within the city."
    "That is rather vague. The city isn't that small. Well, thank you still, we won't be holding the line more than we should." (Joan)

    Just as Joan was about to drag Silvia aside, so they could leave, a bright light flashed, and out of the corridor appeared a female spirit glowing in pale purple, wearing a white dress made of flowers.

    "Joan! I saw everything! You're getting married, right?"

    Dumbfounded, the receptionist looked at the girl for a moment before she quickly recovered herself and started mumbling something. "A spirit? Or a spirit beast? In any case, it doesn't seem to be a summoned one? Naturally born? Then it should be too weak at the moment... We should inform the superiors later..."

    ***

    Arriving at the spot that Joan pointed, Umbrum cracked his spine, his neck and then his hands with the same and usual never changing smile, what a lie. How could he smile with this kind of mood ? Right now, he wasn't feeling well, on the contrary, he felt like he was going to disappear anytime but he didn't care as he heard those three words.

    "What are you ?" How unexpected, now, even when he is with Niris, he would hear him, the man was floating around Umbrum and repeating senselessly this question who had no meanings nor responses.

    "What are you looking at ?" Niris asked to her comrade who seemed to be quite disoriented and looking at the void sometimes, often around him, his pupils seemed to be focused on something so she asked.
    "Ah ! Nothing~ excuse me~ I am just thinking about how air is made~" That was some stupids word yet it convinced her because from her eyes, he was foolish enough to think about this when he could just open a book and discover this, it looked just like him.
    "Heh, by the way, you love hunting right ? I will go make a campfire while you go hunting, at least, when they come, we will have some food for them, they won't even need to wait." Hearing that, Umbrum's body shivered because he needed to keep up this facade but if he was alone with this man... he will just feel even worst and might disappear. His reaction wasn't what she expected, she stared at him with a curious gaze until he stands up and goes to the weakly dense unlike the forest near the association, but it was enough and well it was dark.

    Quickly climbing up to a tree, Umbrum forced himself to keep his eyes open as he felt the breathing and words of a certain person beside his ear, louder than anytime.
    "What. Are. You ?" No matter what happens, he won't be able to ignore this voice, he drew out his bow and prepared to hunt, it depended on what kid of animals or monsters that were lurking in this place. He just hoped that it will be meat.
    I flew within the association for a while... In the middle of the night... Searching for someone... That I have no idea who they are...? To do some task with some people that I... Never saw before? Oh no, I do know the weird guy, but the weird cat girl and the weird girl are new… (Aria)

    What am I doing...? Haa... *sighs* I guess I'm not in my right mind... Okay, so... Who was it that I needed to find again? (Aria)

    ... Someone from... Lziriar...? What in Lucky's name is that? Let's scratch that one. (Aria)

    The others were... Healer? Uhn... Nope, don't wanna get near that sadistic healer again... And... Alchemist? Too many of those… (Aria)

    The last one was... Was... Was... A guy with a sword! Those are actually rare in here! Let's search for that! (Aria)

    I flew through the association's corridors in the middle of the night and stopped at the first random bystander I found.

    "Hey you!" I shouted. (Aria)

    "Whoa!? What the hell!?" Why are you making this face that looks as if you were seeing a ghost! I'm a girl you idiot! (Aria)

    "Where does a guy with a sword live on this place!?" (Aria)

    "How am I supposed to-"

    I threw him through the window, good thing it was open.

    "Waaaaaaah!!!!"

    I flew below him and casted my "Jump!" spell making him be flung upwards, then I pushed him back within the building while he was being flung, I think he hit the wall with that, but... It should be okay.

    "So... Where?" *smiles* (Aria)

    "The-the-the dorms! Ask at the dorms! Someone will definitely know at the dorms!!!" Oh, he is so cooperative right now, how kind of him!

    "That's great!" I clapped my hands with a smile. "Where are the dorms though?" I asked him with a very very cute smile. (Aria)

    "O-o-over there! It's that building!" He pointed shaking... Awwwwn, he is shaking out of happiness~

    "Thank you very much~" I flew away from the window to the dorms...

    Dorms though? How weird, I never heard of there being any dorms in here... Maybe it's just a random inn or something, or maybe they are for students of the academy? Oh well, I don't care either way.


    I got on the ground floor and an old man stopped me... Well, not thaaaat old, he seems on his thirties... Still old.

    "What is a girl doing at the front of the men's dorms in the middle of the night?" He asked me in a doubtful tone.

    "Ah, I need to find a guy with a sword! A random guy told me he would be here!" (Aria)

    He looked at me with a bit of dumbfounded face, before hitting his face with the palm of his hand... What? What did I do wrong?

    "And you... Trusted them? Just like that?" He asked exasperatedly.

    "Why not!? Not like I have any clue anyway, there can't be that many guys with swords over here.." (Aria)

    He sighed. "You do have a point... Look, there is a guy with a sword here, but-"

    "Good! Take me there!" (Aria)

    "... Now?" His tone seemed... Troubled?

    "Yeah, now!" (Aria)

    "... What do you need with him anyway?" He seemed really really dumbfounded... His face was fun!

    "I need to... To... To... What was it again...?" His eyes were really wide open, his face really is funny! "Ah! To ask something about the last expedition on the... The surroundings!" (Aria)

    "So... Let me see if I get this right... You, a girl, wants to go in the middle of the men's dormitory, at night, to ask someone that you have no idea who is... About a question of what they did on their last task? Which is something that should be confidential?" He looked like he was trying really hard to hold himself back...

    "Hai!" (Aria)

    "Not happening." He said straightforwardly.

    "Ah, I thought as much. But you know... How will you explain to the receptionist that you were napping on duty last week~?" (Aria)

    He looked at me with a deadpan face. "Y-you wouldn't tell Sorgre that I-"

    "I am such a kindhearted girl, of course I would not tell anyone about things that would hurt others~

    But at the same time, I can't really keep quiet about people that slack on their jobs now, can I~?

    If only there was something that... Made me forget... Some good memory that made me completely forget about such a horrible thing~" His mouth was open like a... A... A really really open mouth! He was sooooo happy that I could forget about it~ (Aria)

    "Third floor, fourth room to the right." He said in a defeated tone while looking to the sides.

    "Thank you for your cooperation!" I flew out of the building and up we go!

    ... I can't believe he fell for that, his job must be really really boring for him to sleep at it... But well, who wouldn't, they just need to watch a dorm, seriously... Ah, one window, two windows, third window!

    Now, one, two, three, four~
    This one!

    I knocked on the window.
    Knock knock.
    Knock knock knock.
    ... Knocknocknocknocknocknocknocknocknocknock!!!!
    KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOCK KNOC KNOCK KNOCK!!!!

    "Who-whoa! Don't break the window and... What the-"

    "You're the guy with the sword, right!" A guy in some very casual wears opened the window, he seemed really sleepy... Why is someone slepping when I need information!? (Aria)

    "Guy with the sword? Uhn... Maybe? I do wield a-"

    "Great! What happened on the last expedition to the outside of the association?" I pressed him.

    "Whoa!? Wait, how do you know that anyway? And that is confidential, I-"

    I put my hand in front of his face and lit a small fire aaaaalmost touching him, it was right between his eyes.

    "Now now, we don't really want anyone to get hurt, right? I only need a bit of information and you'll go back to sleep peacefully... You woulnd't want this room engulfed in flames, would you?" I smiled a very very innocent smile at him~ (Aria)

    "You wouldn't..." He was shaking... Oh, poor boy... He seemed so scared.... "I-I-I... I didn't see a thing, alright? There was nothing! We looked over and over again and there was absolutely nothing to talk about!"

    "Hmmmm? I already knew that much... Now tell me the important stuff!" I put my hand atop his head, his shivers got bigger. (Aria)

    "The-the-there... There really was nothing! Like... Really, nothing, just endless grassy plains... It was... Too... Too calm, like... Way too calm, no matter how much we searched we found absolutely nothing... It was unnatural, but we couldn't detect any spell affecting us, so after a long time finding nothing, we just came back..."

    "Now we're talking~

    Tha~ Ky~ You~!" I ruffled his hair. (Aria)

    "Bye bye!" I waved my hand and flew away from the dorms... Now now, where was I? Oh yeah, I need to find the bunch that... Where were we supposed to meet anyway? Guess I'll just-

    I felt my flight halting, and my broom falling... Ah, I forgot... I was out of mana, I barely recovered anything since then and I casted a spell... Just great idea Aria, great Idea.

    In a hurry I changed the direction of my broom to try and make my fall smoother... It barely moved though, since it was just using the Mana I recovered and getting me empty again... So, I fell on the ground and rolled for a while... Haa... Great, it hurts and it hurts a good deal...

    "Can you help me raise, Firia?" (Aria)

    No reply... Of course, she isn't here... I will walk, maybe I'll find them somwhere...
    Silvia, Getting blinded by the bright flash, was stunned and getting confused as to what to do
    " Wawawa... I can't see... "
    Though moments later, her eyesight came back and saw an unfamiliar woman(?) Talking to Joan about marriage.
    " Uhm... I'll be in her care... "
    Silvia panics again and bows while giving another thankful words
    Nadia made her way to the counter, substituting the previous receptionist, nodding as the other receptionist whispered something to her.

    "So, the two of you were looking for me? Actually, it's the three of you now? And it was regarding the expedition team that came back from exploring the surroundings?" (Nadia)
    "I have no business with you, I'm here to officiate." The spirit interjected.
    "My apologies, milady Guardian, we'll deal with this later. Yes, we're basically running blind here, so we'd like to know more about what transpired over there. We'll take anything you can give." Joan also wanted to ask where the members were, but was not in the place she expected to be, when asking, so she omitted the question.
    Nadia frowned, before she got up, headed over to a cabinet, and took out a scroll.
    "Hmm...The report's contents..."
    She shook her head, and sat back down.
    "There was absolutely nothing of use on it. Honestly, when Sorge read it, he nearly blew up his office."
    The Half-Undine chuckled dryly.
    "As for what I know, well, I've spoken to the members that returned while I was patching them up, individually, and all of them said the same thing. That there was nothing that had happened."
    The book in her hands was slowly being flipped through as she talked.
    "Still, if nothing happened, there wouldn't have been missing members. So right now, the few of us that know about the case reckon that it was a spell of some sort. Most likely, a spell that made people forget. Still."
    Nadia looked back up, her pale blue irises focusing on Joan.
    "People may forget, but not nature. Nature never forgets anything that transpires on it's grounds."

    "Huh? Oh..." Joan arrived at a realization and looked at the Guardian.
    "Joan, those people were no fun. They just wandered around, never listening, so they got into trouble."
    "Did you do it?"
    "Of course not, I'm not that kind of spirit!"
    "So who did?"
    "No idea! Get married, and I'll tell you where to find it at least~" Giggled the spirit.

    Joan turned to Nadia, deliberately ignoring the spirit.

    "I'm sorry if this is rude, but with your racial background, maybe you'd know something about the spell that was used?"
    "Hmmm...I wasn't really there, so the most I could tell was that some kind of magical array was set off, but that's about it."
    Nadia pondered some more.
    "Still, if memory serves, there was an old guardian of the lake by the side of the mountain. Perhaps he would know of what happened...Assuming that he hasn't already gotten senile, of course."

    "Ugh, don't bother with the old man. He didn't do anything, when my sister came in to replace him, anyway. He still hasn't moved away as well, and just mooches off her!"
    "So I guess you'll know then?" Joan asked.
    "Of course I know~"

    Somebody in the line shouted out.

    "Miss, can you give me that spirit for research? I'll pay you a good sum!"
    "Don't listen to that penniless bastard, give her to me!"
    "Guys shut up! We don't know if Sorgre's around..."
    "Pff, peasants. The Cerazette family would even throw in a lab."

    The wisp got angry and began to glow more brightly in magenta.

    "I don't sell my friends. Also you, the Cerazette over there. Would you happen to know an Azalia in your family, perhaps?"
    "Well, anyway!" the spirit calmed down, returning to pale purple. "Let's move on with the marriage ceremony. This place is the pits, so let's pick out a better location. You, over there!" she pointed at Silvia. "Do you have somewhere specific you want to?"
    "What about my opinion?"
    The spirit dragged her lower eyelid with a finger and put out her tongue at Joan.
    "So?"
    " Place? I... Don't know anywhere in particular... "
    Silvia said with a thinking expression
    " I'm fine anywhere? Anyway what's marriage anyways? "
    "Oh..."
    "Yes, indeed."

    The spirit explained:

    "Marriage is a vow that must never be broken to be a pair forever, or until death parts your souls. You must help and care for each other, whenever one of you is in trouble..."
    "Hey, what about marriages with more than two people? Surely you don't mean many wives is not allowed right?" Came from somebody in the back.
    "Work hard to be a lion in your next life, pig!" Also responded somebody in the back.
    "You should tell that to the one who sired you, you stinking accident!" Retorted the first.

    The spirit was getting angry again, so Joan grabbed Silvia's shoulders gently, and pushed toward the exit.
    " Oh! "
    Silvia Slammed her fist on her palm with a realizing expression
    " I see! Then... "
    Silvia Looks at Joan
    Joan had an uncomfortable wide smile on her face, apologizing with her eyes.
    "Wait up."
    Nadia got up, and switched places with the earlier receptionist, taking her flute with her.
    "Allow me to tag along for a bit."
    "Yes sure, let's just go, before this situation blows up in the wrong direction."
    *Heads out casually, leaving the entirety of her work to another receptionist* ←(Nadia)
    " so... its a no? " (Silvia)
    Tilting her head on the side.
    Joan stopped in her tracks. "You would actually be fine with someone like me?" She had dreamed of marriage since little, along with being a pirate, but everybody only wanted to have fun with her, making her irresponsible as well. She felt very conflicted, and didn't even know why.

    The spirit was covering her mouth, but her eyes were shining.

    "I'm not... Natural, you know?"
    " i dont know what you mean by Natural though? if you pick Humans as your measurement for being natural... then i am not Natural too... I'm an Homunculus After all~ and a Mana Bank at That too... "
    Silvia Shows a Wry Smile while Shrugging
    "I see... Then you understand what the vow implies, and still want to do it?"
    "For crying out loud, the girl already said yes! Be a real woman, and keep your word." The spirit was positively beaming.
    "Ah, I..."
    "She is willing to marry you. Let's go do the ceremony. I know the perfect place!"
    Seeing footprints suddenly appearing on the ground, Umbrum couldn't feel surprised because he has gone through a bit too much recently. Honestly, seeing those monsters here made him feel a bit exhausted, unexpectedly, since he was going to fight, the man stopped questioning him, it was finally silent. How stupid, how foolish, how ironic, he could only mock himself, just what was he thinking ? Look like he also needed to give up understanding.

    Pulling the string of his bow, slowly, a magic arrow was slowly formed. That was just a Shadow, an invisible creature that can be anything.
    An arrow pierced its supposed head, and the shadow which was a actually a goblin died, and it's body disappeared. Nevertheless, there was only a few shadows. Each of them were weak monsters, however, it was hard to know which one it was. An Orc shadow ? A Goblin shadow ? A rabbit shadow ? It could be whatever.

    All he did was shooting arrows at their supposed heads, and it worked, despite the fact that normally. It should be hard to notice them, Umbrum felt a sense of familiarity when confronting them, but unlike one year ago. He didn't care. He was doing that because he needed to take a break. To relax.

    He needed to hunt, he needed to kill. He wanted to feel serene even if it meant goimg against his principles.
    At this moment. After the season's corpses disappeared, Umbrum saw two normal boar. At least, they weren't monsters. Maybe the shadows were exception, normally, they are quite the rare foes.
    Launching an arrow, the first boar was killed, it couldn't breath with something stuck in it throat while the other tried to run away as this child fell from above, from a tree, he cutthroat the second boar by jumping from a long distance.

    "Haaaaa..."
    "What are you ?" The man came back along with this annoying quesrion, he sighed and used Edax Umbra to make 3/4 of the corpses "disappear", so he could take only their heads since it was easier and lighter this way, it looked like the heads never had a body in the first place.

    Slowly, he was going back to the campfire.
    The Half-Undine, who had been listening to the conversation all along, suddenly interjected.
    "If I recall, you were a pirate before, weren't you? If so, your experience should have taught you to...well, plunder and pillage boldly."
    She coughed.
    "In any case, the time is right, or as pirates would say, the booty is ripe for the taking. Marriage deserves serious considerations, but when you're in a world where dragons reign the skies and anything could go wrong each day, well, waiting can be a horrible choice. Go for it."

    "Yes, go for it!"
    Joan suddenly felt pressured, so she wanted a way out.
    "I understand that you are an adult now, but aren't you too young to be stuck with an old maid like me?"
    "... After this mission, if you still want me, I will marry you." Joan suddenly got an enormous headache, and saw part of the vision that made her vomit earlier crash into pieces. What does this mean?

    She came to back in reality, as she was about to fall, quickly regaining balance.
    "Joan, have you been going to the onsen? I told you not to go there." The spirit was concerned,
    "No, of course not. I've always been near you, when we meet."
    "That's not true, you've wandered off several times already!"
    "I... Don't remember?"
    "I hope nobody goes there, while I'm away..." The spirit's voice shook.
    "It should be fine. Let's go, Silvia. Also, miss Nadia, if you are still willing to come with us, we should hurry."
    "Ooh, where are we going?" The Guardian made a complete recovery.
    "To the mountain, we've already found out what we needed, it would seem. Have you seen Aria?"
    "Yes, she's falling out of a window, right now."
    "... She should be fine. She knows where we're going, after all." Joan concluded.
    " Ah... "
    Silvia gets dragged by Joan but She let's it happen
    " So what are we looking for at the mountain? "
    *Follows suit* ←(Nadia)

    ***

    “Hmm…” As the fire was made, Niris yawned and began to wait for Umbrum who seemed to take his time from her eyes since he still wasn't there. Because she couldn't stay idle and was alone, she decided to prepare sort of pillows made with leaves so if needed they might rest, and well, it's more comfortable.

    Arranging her silky blond hair, Niris looked at where Umbrum left, so from where he will come back. Honestly, she was still exhausted, no because she worked, but for another reason, she was that bastard’s slave from Nyllia and every freaking days, she overworked herself until she faints, that was one of the most sinister period of her life, not the worst unfortunately.
    Nevertheless. All that overwhelming exhaustion she couldn't show will obviously made a come back later and affect her future, like right now, where she wanted to sleep like never…

    “...it's alright, he will come back soon anyway…” Convincing herself to take a rest, she put the man-made pillow under her head and closed her eyes, quickly, she fell asleep.

    A dozen of minutes later. A young man came back with a gloomy look, when his gaze posed on his sleeping comrade, an odd smile appeared as be he was holding two boar’s head.
    Taking a mana crystal, he deactivated his curse and the two boar’s head got back their whole body. Silently yet noisy, he began to skin their food who should be enough for a dozen of persons.

    “What are you ?”

    “Shut up...”
    Each minutes, this question could be heard by only Umbrum while the response could be heard by everyone around, fortunately there was nobody around yet. Otherwise, they will see and hear a young man with glasses, dark brown hair, and oversized clothes talking to someone who wasn't even here, on an angry yet afraid tone.

    Somehow, his mood was also transmitted through his acts, the way he skinned the animals was quick yet furious. When all was left was little cut, he ripped the skin mercilessly.
    Lucky that he didn't wake up Niris who was resting.

    ***

    started walking... Or well, tried to, until I tried making one step forward.

    I almost fainted from the pain on my right foot... Great... I looked at it, and it seemed to be in an unnatural position... Okay... *deep breath* (Aria)



    I think I fainted this time, though looking at the sky above me, only a few minutes at best passed... I looked at my foot, whose pain was killing me... Yep, on proper position now... Haa, I guess putting it in position with my hands wasn't the best of ideas? Whatever. (Aria)

    I wonder if Firia would scold me if she saw that... Of course she would... *giggles* (Aria)

    Aah... Why can't my Mana recover quicker...? (Aria)

    I slowly tried to give a step forward... Okay, still hurt a huge lot, but endurable... The next foot? Okay, this one is good... Ah, my back is also in pain though... I wonder if it is bleeding...

    I was in the middle of some bushes, in the night, and there was no one around... Good enough I guess.

    I stripped and looked at the state of my clothes... A bit torn here and there, but nothing revealing, and... A few blood marks around the back huh? Great... What do I do now? (Aria)

    Well, they don't seem too big, so I guess I can just endure it, it should stop bleeding in no time.

    I put my clothes back and unsteadily, slowly, but surely walked around... Where to though...? Ah, they said something about mountains, didn't they? Let's go meet them on the gate that takes there.

    I was walking so slowly... And in pain... And weirdly... How great... Oh well. (Aria)


    ***

    Looking at everything around him, Umbrum sighed as he continued to dismantle the boars, his eyes were empty and his face smileless, he only hoped for this voice to...

    Shut up.
    To get silenced.
    To die.

    A shame for it that this wish would never be realized. When he finished to cut their meal, to use sharp branches to hold the slashed meat, to grill it.
    His gaze was directed toward Niris who was still sleeping softly and peacefully, a weak smile crept on his face. And the voice repeating ceaselessly this question became weaker as the man's shape was becoming unstable.

    Even if he was still irritated by most of the things that are related to him and his past, in others words, their disappearances and this man who interacted physically only once.

    "As the sun appeared,
    As the night disappeared,
    As loneliness came into my life,
    As everything was deprived by a sheated knife.

    Nothing changed in me.
    Yet everything sunk into the sea."


    On a depressed tone yet a calm smile and relaxed eyes, Umbrum exclaimed. And the voice weakened once again.
    Nevertheless, he didn't continue as he waited for either his comrades to join him, or Niris to wake up.
    He will begin to grill the meat at one of these moment.
    Some time after the marriage conversation, Silvia, Joan and Nadia arrived at the southern gate. Recently the gates were closed off, and the guard was increased. Joan asked a nearby guard, about the issue.

    "Ah, you're from the Magic Association, right? I can see the badge, yes. The number of magical beasts around the city has increased. Some villages have already suffered grievous losses, and a number of refugees are standing outside the gates, waiting for processing even right now. The surroundings of the city are still safe, and we're patrolling outside as well, just in case something happens. I'm sorry, but we can't let you out right now."
    "Why not?" Joan asked.
    "Well..." The guard was thinking hard on what to say. "There's a bit of a situation outside the gate. If your business is urgent, I suggest you wait here a bit."
    "Ah, Joan isn't that the girl you were looking for?" The spirit popped out, surprising the guard.
    "Oh, Aria! Over here!"

    ***

    I had just arrived at the gate and sat down to relax... Ah, my foot hurts, my back hurts... I want to sleep already...

    I suppose I could close my eyes for a bit... Yeah, let's-

    "Aria! Over here!" (Joan)

    And someone ought to ruin everything... I opened my eyes and saw... I can't see anything, it's too dark... And blurry.

    Ah, whatever, they'll bother me if I don't go, won't they? Whoever they are...

    "Coming!" I slowly rose... Ah, it hurts... I shouldn't have sat down... Okay... *deep breath* (Aria)

    I wobbled towards the voice, until I got close enough to see properly... Ah, it was the weird cat lady, the weird girl and... A new weirdo? (Aria)

    "Ah, hey, it's you... Seems like the sword guy and his friends were locked in some kind of illusion from what I heard, what did you get?" (Aria)
    "Pretty much the same... Hey, are you okay? Here, lean on my shoulder." (Joan)
    "Uhn... Ah... Sure...?" (Aria)

    Damn, right off the bat, and we already have somebody injured. She probably won't be able to climb the mountain at this state, and we have no idea what is out there. (Joan)

    "Joan, your new friend seems hurt." (Guardian)

    "Thank you for stating the obvious." (Joan)

    The magical engineer came to a realization, and looked at Nadia.

    "You said you patched up the previous party. Can you help us out?" (Joan)
    "No problem. Although, I'll need to take a look at her foot before I patch it up. She might have twisted it a bit, so I'll need to set it back to the right position before I can use my magic." (Nadia)

    The Half Undine took out a roll of gauze, and gestured at Aria to sit down.
    "O-okay!" *sat down on the ground* (Aria)

    ***

    "Hmm...Okay, hold still for a bit."
    Nadia wrapped the foot in gauze, and ensured that it was in the right position, before taking out a flute.

    "Hmmmm~" (Nadia)

    As she played, water rose out of the ground, and clustered around the wrapped foot.

    "Gather up, sacred cloud.
    Wrap them in a healing shroud."
    (Nadia)

    The gauze absorbed the water, glowed briefly, and then disappeared.

    "It should be fixed now. Try to move it a bit." (Nadia)

    Agagahagahhahagah it hurts! Don't touch it this carelessly!!! (Aria)

    Her tune gave a pretty relieving feeling though... Ah... It does feel better...

    I tried moving it around for a bit, and it seemed to be fine... Stepping a bit? Good.

    "Alright, I'm ready to go!" I raised from my spot- (Aria)

    Agh... My back... Oh well, whatever, it will get better in no time.

    I put my shoe on again. "So... What now?" (Aria)

    "I guess we wait? Your party doesn't seem to be all here yet." (Aria)
    "The meeting place is at the Mountain southwest of here." (Joan)

    The guard that did the explanation earlier coughed, and went back to the guardhouse. At this point the catgirl's ears picked up shouting in the distance. The shouting was only getting more intense, to a point where even human hearing would be able to vaguely pick it up.

    "Let us in, you scoundrels!"
    "Please think of our children!"
    "The magic beasts are sure to attack the gates! You can't keep us out here much longer!"

    The guard from earlier quickly returned to the party. "We might need you for a bit..."

    Joan turned to the spirit.

    "Can you see what is going on?"

    "There's a large gathering on the other side of that." She pointed at the gate. "They have surrounded a few others, and look rather angry." (Guardian)

    "Why are people being so loud in the middle of the night-" (Aria)

    The Half-Undine cut in.

    "That's not a good idea. Having so many people clustered together, and for them to be shouting so loudly...that's practically setting off a flare to attract monsters." (Nadia)

    She seemed to go into a trance for a brief moment, before her grip on the black flute tightened.

    "Looks like we have company. Hungry company." (Nadia)

    "Great... So... Just wait until they're eaten?" *yawns* (Aria)

    "I second that motion. Riots are forbidden by law, and we aren't obligated to save them." (Joan)

    "Indeed Joan, punishing the children, just because they follow their instinct is a bad thing to do. Let nature take its course." (Guardian)

    "You magicians..." The guard was angry and frustrated.

    "YOU HEARTLESS BASTARDS!" He shouted, and ran off toward the gate. The sound of alarm bells resonated into the night.

    "How did he expect me to do anything...? There is a gate in the way, I can't cast a fireball like this..." (Aria)

    "I think they were going to open it? Maybe throw it up in an arc? Oh, I think I hear wolves in the distance. Why are those so close to town?" (Joan)

    "Understandable, seeing as they are practically sitting ducks out there, at the mercy of the magic beasts. Although, I doubt it will end well if this continues, even though it's quite the hassle to help. Still, I can't exactly leave them to be slaughtered, either, or I'll never get paid for my receptionist wor---I mean, it'll make tensions between the villages and the cities worse." (Nadia)

    Nadia stared out, far beyond the gate, into the distance.

    There's still a few minutes left before they reach. Enough for one song. And that's all I need. (Nadia)

    Lifting her black flute, Nadia began playing again. This time, however, the notes were gloomy and mournful.

    "From the dust thou were created,
    Back to the roots thou were born.
    Wail, Cry, Howl, Despair.
    Deity of Disaster, Creator of Calamity,
    Let the chains of sin be wrought,
    Thy rage like the ocean tides,
    I beckon thee, and bear the cost for thy summoning.
    Come forth, Keeper of the Frozen Black Gates."

    Made it in time, it seems.

    "Show thyself, Rimewind."
    (Nadia)

    Water rose from the ground in large quantities, and begun forming a distinct shape. A giant liquid wolf, with a coat of ice shards, appeared next to her.
    The guards decided on their own to open the gates, and let the crowd in. A wave of men, women and children running, threatened to crash into the party, but stopped at the sight of the wolf. One man, holding a stone, panicked and threw it at the summoned creature.
    *Sigh*
    "Here we go again..." (Nadia)

    The wolf lifted its front paw, and a bolt of water shot out, wrapping around the person who threw the stone. The water retracted, lifting the man to a few centimetres before it's massive opened maw.

    For a few moments, it was deadly quiet.

    "Rimewind, put him down. There's plenty of prey outside the gates for you to devour."

    In the silence, Nadia's words rang out coldly.

    The wolf obliged, tossing the man into a nearby pile of snow.

    "Now, if you people are going to enter the city, hurry up and get your asses in here. Rimewind can't pass properly if you guys block up the entrances." (Nadia)
    A woman shrieked when the wolf picked up the man. People stepped back from the wolf, and the crowd started to disperse with haste. The soldiers that opened the gate were staring overwhelmed, until an officer managed to shout out some orders. Several howls outside the walls served as a reminder to the guards, snapping them into motion. They quickly moved to shut the gate, when a couple of unnaturally large wolves ran through it.
    “Well, I suppose I'll handle this. Rimewind, engage." (Nadia)

    The watery wolf pounced.

    "Oh great... Off with you!" (Aria)

    *draws a fireball array*
    *throws*
    *gets dizzy*

    "Ah... Mana... I forgot..." (Aria)

    *faints*
    *falls on her back*

    Watching the massive fireball heading for the left gate of all things, Nadia sighed.

    "That gate will need replacing...well, so long as I get my salary, it matters not." (Nadia)

    She watched the fireball strike the gate squarely, blowing the left hinges clear off.
    There was a loud splintering sound as the left gate slowly toppled, blocking off the entrance, and crushing several wolves.

    A total of 15 large wolves had already made it inside, however, and Rimewind was occupied with 9 of them.

    *Sigh*

    "Looks like I'll have to engage them personally, too...Very well." (Nadia)

    A quick, 5 second tune was played from the flute, causing the other 6 wolves to look at Nadia simultaneously.

    "Extend, Whisper Moon." (Nadia)

    The black flute grew in length, matching the size of a quarterstaff. Nadia looked at Aria, who was out, and then at the other two.

    "Just saying, but wolf pelts sell for quite a lot, especially if you sell them to nobles." (Nadia)
    "Ah, indeed. How much for professional dismantling?" Joan said, as she fired a poison bullet inside the mouth of a large wolf, unfortunate enough to pass by at point blank range. The beast got stunned, backed off and writhed a bit on the ground, before whimpering out of this mortal coil. The other five regrouped and prepared to pounce simultaneously.
    "That will depend on the quality of the pelt. Burns, cuts, and the like will lower the pricing, but expert dismantling will raise the prices by a significant portion. It can even double the selling price sometimes." (Nadia)

    While talking casually, Nadia swung the back end of her flute-staff without looking, knocking aside a wolf that had attacked from her back. Without pausing, she borrowed the momentum of the swing to spin around, delivering stinging jabs to the faces of other 4.

    "It's a great way to earn money." (Nadia)

    Admitted the Half Undine, before she struck out and clobbered another wolf right on the head, crushing it's brain and ending it's life quickly.
    "You should introduce me to a good dismantler, then. I can make it worth your while." Joan carefully judged where to strike, while the wolves were occupied with the receptionist, picked a target and crushed its head with the weight of her handcannon. She was sometimes thankful of the sturdiness of blood/metal enchantment arrays.

    "Hmm, I do have a few contacts with expert dismantlers. I'll make a list and pass it to you, after this investigation." (Nadia)

    A wolf lunged, but Nadia dodged it with ease.

    "Whisper Moon, Harpoon Enchant." (Nadia)

    Saying thus, Nadia dodged another wolf, and thrust the staff right into it's mouth. The flute-staff pierced through the wolf's larynx, leaving it to collapse and expire slowly.

    Over on the other end, Rimewind had taken out 5 of the 9 wolves, without sustaining much damage in return. Ice shards stuck out of several wolf corpses.
    The last couple of wolves howled, while dodging aside, then ran off into an alley. The ones fighting Rimewind tried to disengage, and follow their bretheren.
    Nadia smirked.

    "Running? A wise choice, but...Rimewind is a water entity, you know." (Nadia)

    As if in agreement, the wolf howled.

    "Rimewind, pursue them. Eliminate them quickly." (Nadia)

    The wolf reverted to water, sinking into the ground.

    "Well, now we wait." (Nadia)

    A few moments later, a geyser shot up from the ground some streets away, flinging several wolves high up into the air.

    *Splat* *Splat* *Splat*
    "That was... Quite powerful!" Exclaimed Joan.
    "Indeed. The poor children got lost in the hunt, and were hunted down. It's sad, maybe I should bless some of them?"
    "I'd rather you didn't. The forest will turn empty, if these beasts overhunt."
    "Really? I should bless the other ones as well, then..."

    " Huh... Huh? Did I blackout again? " (Silvia)
    Silvia trembled as Her eyes returned their vigor and looked around, only to see a broken Gate, Flattened wolves and more wolves.
    " Uhm... Joan? What's happening? " (Silvia)

    "I would assume the magic beasts outside are getting ravenous. We should stick to the main road for a while, and be very careful. It would be more prudent to leave in the morning, but I'm concerned about our companion in the woods." (Joan)
    "He's fine, busy eating by a fire with his companion."
    Nadia shrugged.

    "Powerful as it may be, the chant time is a severe flaw. Not good for spontaneous fights." (Nadia)

    The watery wolf appeared beside her, howled, and disappeared.

    "Also, this spell burns though mana like crazy, so it's not good for attrition battles, either." (Nadia)

    "At most we could wait to recharge our mana reserves. What does everybody think?"

    "We could set off right now, actually." (Nadia)

    Nadia wrapped herself with a layer of water.

    "Half-Undines like me can replenish our mana pool straight from water. Also, I have some back-ups mana sources, for special situations." (Nadia)

    " Uhm... Joan? What should I do in this situation? " (Silvia)
    Silvia gives a pleading expression while seriously have no idea what to do.
    " Should I make Dolls now? " (Silvia)
    "Stand by a bit, save your energy for when we meet enemies again." Joan said kindly.
    At that moment a large carriage entered through the gate, needing to slow down considerably, before hitting the wolf remains. The carriage looked like it belonged to a merchant. A young boy was operating the reins, while from the inside popped a middle aged head, that shouted.

    "What in the bloody pits is going on here?"
    "Wolf attack, in case it wasn't too obvious." (Nadia)
    "Nevermind that." Joan said. "We were about to burn these, but it would be shame to lose such good materials" She pointed at the poison wolf, who was virtually intact, except for the blood and foam on its mouth.
    "Oh, and what should I do about it in the dead of night, eh?" The merchant responded, but his eyes shone a bit.
    " Greedy... " (Silvia)
    Silvia hid behind Joan and Nadia. As someone who is not Human, Some people might want to Buy her off as a Goods with no rights.
    Nadia beckoned, and more wolf corpses were carried over by small water tendrils. Some were missing their heads, but otherwise, the pelts were clean and undamaged.

    "Well, these happen to be in good condition, and they aren't dismantled yet, so if somebody were to buy them off us, that would be great." (Nadia)
    "I'll give you a large copper for everything."
    "Ah, I guess we'll just burn them after all..." (Joan)
    "Hey, suit yourself, it would cost me to have these transported and dismantled."
    "Fine, 3 large copper, and I would be fine not touching these." (Joan)
    Joan wanted to attend to Silvia, but the merchant demanded her full attention right now. She was far off from where she had been, before attending the academy.
    "Are you trying to rob me blind here, girl?" the merchant dramatically complained.
    "And here I was trying to sell them off to you cheap. How about we make a deal here? You can pick any two wolves you like, and I'll enchant the pelts for you. This will be for free. The rest of them you pay now in 400 coin for each of our party members." (Joan)

    Joan poked Nadia to back her up. She then unconsciously took Silvia's hand, in anticipation whether she had wagered properly. The merchant looked like he was thinking hard about the proposition, and clicked his tongue.

    "I can give you 1500 total for the wolves and the enchantment, at most. Take it or leave it." (Merchant)
    "What a pity. If that's the case, I think we'll be better off dismantling and selling the parts off ourselves." (Nadia)

    Nadia joined in, staring right at the merchant with her frosty blue eyes.

    "We could sell it for much more, but since bringing the corpses along are a hassle, we'll sell them to you, at Joan's price. You take it or leave it." (Nadia)

    She fiddled with Whisper Moon, seemingly without a care in the world.
    Meanwhile, somewhere in the Association City, in an inn, a white haired girl slept peacefully while ignoring the slight smell that the three undead boars in the floor were letting out.

    “Good grief… Elae, wake up.” A deep voice called for the girl, coming from the strange red earring that she was using.

    The girl slowly opened her eyes, yawning and answering while still half asleep. “Shut up, Edgard… I don’t have anything to do today...”

    “Actually, you do have. Look at your hands.”

    “Hmmm?” She said while rubbing her eyes with a hand and checking her other hand. There was a paper saying “Investigate the Surroundings of the Association”.

    As soon as she saw, Elae jumped off her bed and started to dress up hurriedly. “This girl...” Edgard sighed.

    The comotion ended up making the boars get up. Their lifeless eyes, showing only the white of it, stared at her as she finished.

    “Hughes, Gehen, Battar, let’s go~” Elae smiled and opened the door, leaving her room accompanied by the three boars. Leaving the inn, she started reading the contents of the request again. ”’Due to the recent problems with the unpredicted recent rains that happened at the turning of year, a whole month of constant rains, we’ve been having problems on top of problems. To make matters worse, the exploration party that was sent came back in rags, without being able to report anything. This task isn’t hard, but it’s not easy too. It’s to investigate the surroundings of the association to ascertain what is the current situation, and what creatures ended up migrating here because of month long period of rains.’ so they say.”

    “An exploration task… Moreover, in a group? Will you be fine?”

    With a smile, the girl folded the paper and put back at her travel bag. “Of course I’ll be fine. Ah, of course, I got separated by being late, but if is just searching for beasts, I’m confident I can do it even alone~”

    “Your confidence makes me worry… So, where do you plan to start?”

    “Hm...” Falling in deep thought for a moment, she snapped her fingers and said. “We should visit the Quartermaster to get something to take notes, for starters. If they want report about creatures, it probably would need some details~”

    “And then?”

    “Then I’m going off to explore~”

    “You’re pretty carefree… will it really be alright to go off on your own…?”

    “Don’t worry.” Mounting in one of the boars, she looked around and tried to remember the directions to the Quartermaster. “If anything happens, I’ll give them a heartfelt apology~” Elae said with a sincere smile in her face.

    “I’m really worried that you’ll say the same if you happen to kill someone one day... “ Edgard muttered in low voice, making sure that not even her could hear.

    After some search around, they ended up finding the supply storage, where the Quartermaster was. Leaving the boars outside and entering the building, she found two men talking about something rather suspiciously.

    One of them was a pretty scarred guy, while the other was a tall guy. Well, they both were tall for her, considering her one meter and seventy centimeters height, while the scarred guy was almost two meters tall, and the tall guy was two and half meters tall.

    When they noticed Elae entering the place, both of them stopped their conversation and turned to her.

    “You are...” The tall man started speaking, but when he noticed the Association Uniform, he smiled faintly. “So you’re from the Association. What can we do for you, little miss?”

    “Ah, erm...” Although he was smiling, the man looked strangely scary for some reason. She stumbled in her words and couldn’t come up with anything to say, as she was considering turning back right now.

    Seeing her looking troubled, the scarred man laughed dryly. “Sorgre, you shouldn’t smile. Just look at the poor girl frozen in the spot.”

    Frowning, the tall man, Sorgre, stared daggers at the scarred man. “I can’t even smile now?”

    “Ah! I’m sorry!” Elae noticed that she made a slight blunder and bowed slightly before continuing. “I’m here because of this!” She said as she extended her hand with the paper of the quest.

    Sorgre raised a brow and took the paper, checking the contents. “Ah, so you took the exploration task. Perfect timing.” He said as he picked up two pieces of paper and a bag from a table nearby. “A certain someone wanted to join the exploration, so you guys will have to bear with him...”

    “About that...” She tried to say in a low tone, but Sorgre hadn’t finished just yet.

    “Well, he’s quite the hard to deal person, but he’s good at heart, so that’s what matters.” Handing her the papers and the bag. “Here is a permit to leave the city. Of course, it wouldn’t be needed with him going, but it’s for formality's sake. The other paper is the full report of the last party, although I don’t think it’ll be of much use.”

    Seemingly giving up, the girl sighed. “And the bag?”

    “Just enough food and needs for the travel. A magic lamp too, but you’ll need to bring it back in one piece.” Sorgre said as the girl accepted the bag. “Did you guys prepared a carriage or some sort of transportation?”

    “Ah, I have my boars, so it should be fine?”

    “A druid? Or perhaps a Beast Master?”

    “Not quite… But… who is this person that’ll be joining the task?” Elae asked curiously.

    “You’ll know once you see him. He must be waiting for you guys at the Western Gate for quite a while, so you better go.”

    The girl noticed he was probably rushing her to exit, so he could continue the conversation he was having with the other guy, so she just nodded and went back to the boars.

    “What should I do…?” Elae said dejectedly as she tied the bag to Gehen’s back. “I guess I’ll go meet this person, then...”

    “You like to get dragged into things, don’t you…?”

    “Well, at least it won’t be a travel alone!” She said, slightly recovering herself and jumping in the back of Hughes.

    “Positive as always, I see...” Edgard grumbled as they headed out to the Western Gate.
    Having waited enough time to hunt at least a dozen of boars, Umbrum sighed and poked Niris' cheek with a weak smile, he seemed to be more relaxed than earlier as he was reading this book which is called Umbrum and contain the spell that he is often using, Edax Umbrum.
    Somehow, reading this always made him unconsciously feel more serene tham earlier. Nevertheless, his voice still sounded as cheerful as always which wasn't logic when considering his current state of mind.

    "Wake up sleepy head ~" Feeling a warm finger poking repetitively her cheek, she sighed and turned her head to see her comrade smiling as always.
    "What's the matter ? Are they here ?" Umbrum shook his head with the same attitude and then asked on a kind tone.
    "Did you have a nice rest ?" Niris didn't reply as she sat properly beside him instead of lying down. Seeing the raw meat ready to be grilled, she understood that he was waiting all by himself, alone and with nobody to talk with, he must have been bored, that was what she thought as she showed a rare and little smile.

    Quietly, she took the raw meat, most of them, then froze them to preserve their food, so meanwhile they are waiting, they can eat without being worried about if the meat will get rotten or not as the time passes more and more.

    "Let's eat." Umbrum nodded at her words with a happy smile and each of them began grilling their own piece of meat, there was fortunately nothing or nobody to trouble thus peaceful moment.

    "Have a nice meal~" said Umbrum as he began eating his meat while showing a childish smile which wasn't fit for his current mood.
    "Thank you." Niris only replied with few words as her cold face seemed ironically a bit warmer.


    ***

    Тhe merchant took a look around, realized he was literally surrounded by magic beast corpses, and began to sweat. Joan managed to sniff him out, so she made use of that.

    "Same deal, but 2000 coin, now." (Nadia)
    "Fine!"
    "What about me?" The spirit protested. She didn't care much about money, but wanted to be part of the fun.
    "Add in a mana jewel."
    "I don't have one on me!" The merchant counted 4 large copper coins, put them inside a pouch, and instructed the boy to bring them to Joan. She counted, nodded, and turned to her party members.

    "Let's leave. I'll carry Aria on the way." (Joan)

    "Oka---actually, wait a minute." (Nadia)

    Nadia had a mischievious smile on her face.

    "I'll carry Aria. You can carry Silvia." (Nadia)
    “I can walk by myself!” (Silvia)
    "But it makes sense for future newlyweds to be in close contact, no?"

    Nadia grinned, and ended the discussion by carrying Aria on her back.

    "Up you go!" The strangely strong for her frame catgirl grabbed Silvia with one arm, and cradled her near her chest, then headed for the gate.
    Silvia Hugged her in response and hid her face.

    ***

    party made a good pace toward the mountain following the road, then took a right down the fork, going uphill steadily, under the spirit's directions. That way the managed to somehow avoid magic beasts, people, and slowing down, until they got close enough to actually smell the smoke from Umbrum's campfire.

    "We're almost there, just a little bit more." (Joan)

    Joan was getting rather tired by now, having to carry the weight of both her handcannon, and Silvia for the larger part of the journey.

    On the other hand...

    Nadia was 'carrying' Aria, but neither were walking. Nadia had two small spheres of water under her boots, which automatically moved them forward.

    "Magic sure is convenient." (Nadia)

    Joan clenched her teeth at the comment. She was well aware that her mana capacity was lower than most magicians', and even with augmentations, only managed to reach a bit above average. As compensation, she recovered quicker than most, but that would be a poor excuse for dying during a battle, due to running empty. At least Silvia felt fluffy, so she distracted herself by hugging her.

    Watching that, Nadia decided to have some fun, and thus created a bubble, using it to cover the duo.

    As the scent of the meat became stronger as both of them continued to eat, Niris suddenly said something that perplexed Umbrum.

    "They are coming." How did she knew that ? That was the question, but he didn't ask, maybe that was one of her spell ? About what he knew, she had four spells, one was Ice Pillar, another was Freeze and he didn't know what the others two were, maybe one related to detection ?

    Afterwards, she began unfreezing the preserved meat.

    Joan just carried Silvia over to the camp, bulling through the bubble, gently put her down by the campfire, and waved tiredly at Umbrum.

    "Sorry for the delay, the city got attacked by a pack of giant wolves." (Joan)

    She then put her handcannon down, and sat down on it supporting herself with hands on the ground behind her.

    "Pfew, this was a nice workout!" (Joan)
    Seeing the bubble, Umbrum's face fell wondering about how much mana did they used to make this, nevertheless, his smile quickly came back as he began grilling the meat for the four of them.

    "Hahaha... No worries~ let me grill the meat for you~" his voice still had some despair through this bitter laugh while Niris talked, doing nothing, on an indifferent yet relieved tone.

    "Then, good work. I hope you haven't been hurt." Then she patted the ground next to her, honestly, then being late was worrying.
    Joan found herself staring at the grilled meat in her hand. She looked up, seeing Umbrum grilling more of it.

    "Thank you. Has there been trouble around here?" She said, biting off the food, greedily.

    She then started choking on the food. She saw herself nude by the campfire, vomiting out hairs. Panicking, she tried to run away, but suddenly a curtain appeared between her and the party, catching on fire. The curtain fell on her, and the cat girl tumbled to the ground, rolling inside of it. Which thankfully put out the flames.
    "You are wel-" He didn't even have the time to reply that he saw Joan acting really weird, that was... troubling. Seeing this, Niris commented on a dejected tone.
    "Nothing troubling until now I suppose..." And the worst was that she was probably right.

    Immediately, Umbrum tried to support her while asking in a worried voice.
    "Are you alright ?!"
    Joan snuggled up in the burned up curtain, and collected herself. "I'm not sure... I must be going insane. We should start the search in the morning." She concluded, and sat back by the campfire. The moment she did, she began to doze off.
    "Well... I bet you will get better~" Patting her shoulder, Umbrum said with the same and never changing smile while Niris sighed at this exaggerated optimist as she said, looking at the moon.
    "Hmm, I suppose there should be around 2-3 hours before the sun rises."
    Silvia Somehow or another Felt sorry for Joan For carrying her... so She slowly poured her Mana to Joan's Body and a simple Body Strengthening Magic to help her ease the burden even for a bit
    Nadia lined the unconscious Aria next to the sleeping Joan, and, just for the fun of it, decided to leave a sphere of water floating above the sleeping duo.

    She then sat down by the campfire, and got out another book to read.
    Realizing that she was using magic just for fun, Umbrum had an urge to lament himself because that is so wasteful... So wasteful... His smile has disappeared along with his fake cheerful mood.
    Nadia didn't seem to notice, and continued reading her book. Every once in a while, she would lift her hand, and a bolt of water magic would hit a nearby rock.
    Silvia sat Next to the sleeping Joan and Pats her head before she Blacked out once again.
    Joan was sleeping soundly. In her dream she was swimming inside an endless ocean, chasing after a school of tuna. Outside her dream, her body twitched slightly in random intervals, her face blissful, and her mouth making meowish sounds.

    Suddenly out of the forest a flock of flying fish popped out, and began to circle around the campfire. A pale purplish-white maiden was floating behind them, chasing them around. The fish dispersed in front of her, gathering again somewhere else, and that scene would repeat itself again for the next few minutes, until the fish suddenly became transparent, turned into a whirwind and disappeared.

    The catgirl let out a loud "nyaaa~" and fell into deep sleep.
    Reaching the West Gate, Elae found a slight commotion. From what she heard people talking about in the way, it seems many people were trying to enter the city as refugees due to the recent attacks from monsters, and were cluttering the four gates of the city.

    “What a bunch of fools… Don’t they know they’ll most likely starve to death here?” Edgard laughed dryly as they reached the Gate.

    “What do you mean by that?” Elae tilted her head.

    “The city doesn’t has enough food or place to house that many. Most likely, they’ll die in less than a month’s time after they’re inside the city.”

    “Oh...” Elae looked at the gate while thinking about what Edgard said. If any of those people entered the city and happened to die there, most likely they would be treated as family-less deceased, thus being okay for a necromancer to make a formal request for their corpses.

    It seems she could hopefully get a human, or at least similar, subject for experimentation.

    “Still, this place and those people seem a lot calmer than what you would expect from people desperate to survive...” The girl pointed out as they reached the gates.

    Overhearing what she murmured, a nearby guard said something. “That’s probably because of them… For some reason the Captain and the Vice Captain got all the way to this Gate...”

    “Captain? Vice-Captain?”

    “Huh? You don’t know them? The Captain of the Guards. He’s not quite know as the Vice-Captain deals with most of problems…. He usually only goes out for serious issues, like today.” The Guard pointed to the man in armor. “That armored man is the Captain.” Then he pointed to a man in light armor and with a weird sword tied to his waist. “And man is the Vice-Captain. He’s from the south, from that I heard.”

    “Ah, thanks for the information.” She smiled awkwardly at the Guard who suddenly felt like he could give the entire backstory of those two without her even asking, if let alone. She politely bowed and headed to the guardpost, which was where the Captain and Vice-Captain were, coincidentally.

    “Erm...” Although she was internally considering turning on her heels and going back, but decided to just try her luck and call out for them, seeing that they were going back to the guardpost, most probably to rest. “Excuse me, but... ”

    Seeing the girl mounted in the boar coming, they both stopped their tracks and stared at her. Well, she didn’t know for a fact if the armored man was staring at her, though. Chances are, he could be just looking at her normally!

    While she was lost in thought, the Captain approached her and spoke. “Can we help you in anything, Miss?”

    “A-actually… yes...” Although a bit nervous because the other guards stopped to see what was going on, she handed the permit and the task paper to them.

    After reading the papers, the armored man said. “So you’re a mage that took the investigation task. Where are the others?”

    “There are none.”

    “Huh? I’m pretty sure the issued task was for a group.”

    “But there are none.”

    “Hmmm….” The Captain folded his arms and paused for a moment. “Then it can’t be helped. I’ll file a complaint to the Association’s Headquarters later. The situation now it’s more important.”

    Turning to the Vice-Captain and the other guards, the armored man started issuing orders. “Jiza, I’ll leave the city in your hands while I’m out. You guys, go find the scribe and make him file a report and a complaint and send it to the Association. Also, bring me my horse.”

    The guards saluted and went off in a hurry, while the Vice-Captain, Jiza, sighed and shouted in answer before heading to the guardpost. “Come back soon, Aleph. I ain’t cut to deal with those maggots...”

    Elae tilted her head. “Should he be speaking like that, being a guard…?”

    “Well, Jiza is a special case. He’s a bit crude, but isn’t a bad person.” Faking a cough, Aleph tuned back to the girl. “Now, then, we should wait for our transportation.”

    “Eh? But I have my boars, though?”

    “I don’t think they could carry me, a grown man in armor, can they? I mean, they are Giant Forest Hogs, but even that species only grow as much as near two hundred kilos. They rarely surpass this part, but never by more than ten kilos, moreover-”

    “Hughes does.”

    “Hmmm… You said?”

    “Hughes, he does have more than two hundred and ten kilos.” She said as she pointed to the boar she was mounting.

    “And you’re basing it on what?” He inquired with a slightly skeptical tone.

    “I had it measured at the Association.”

    “Very well… Then, let me rephrase, there are very few that surpass the two hundred kilos mark, but some even rarer can go further. Is that okay with you?”

    “Ah, y-yeah~”

    “Then, how I was saying, even if they reached this mark, they would have a hard time carrying me. I weight roughly eighty kilos, while my armor alone weighs about twenty kilos. So, about half his weight, and I don’t think this boar has the strength to carry almost half of his weight around.”

    “It’s alright, he’s an undead after all~”

    Aleph mounted in the black horse that was brought, which strangely fit with his and thanked the other guards before answering her. “Well, just because he is an undead, doesn’t means that his body wouldn’t suffer damage from overwork. He just doesn’t feel pain and fatigue, but his body would ultimately wear off from carrying that much for long.”

    “Then how come you can carry that armor around? Isn’t that heavy too?” She said with a slightly frown.

    “Not as much as you may think. As I said, it’s just roughly twenty kilos. Also, this is this, that is that. The weight of an armor is evenly distributed across the body as to not hinder any movement, while mounting would only apply weight in a single point, the back of the animal.” Stroking the neck of the horse he was, Aleph added. “Battle horses and travel horses are reared to carry people at their backs, but those boars were born in the wild, so shouldn’t be fit for such task.”

    “Oh. I see.” Elae said while patting Hughes head.

    “In any case, we’ve too enough time here.” Aleph raised his hand as sign for the guards to open the gates. He in his horse and Elae with her boars started heading out as the portcullis was raised slowly. Behind it, the refugees started opening way for them to pass and heading back to what looked like a camp outside of the city.

    The camp was composed of many mid sized tents arranged as orderly as humanly possible, with some refugees resting, some praying and some walking around, helping the others. Aside from the refugees, there were many guards walking around, talking with the refugees, carrying supplies and helping to set more tents.

    There were some guards that were even treating the wounded with healing paste and even a bit of magic.

    “It seems to be better than I expected...” Edgard whispered while Elae blurted out. “The refugees seem to be doing pretty well, huh?”

    “Well, I tried my best to keep this single gate as peaceful as possible. Water, housing, food, wood to keep them warm. Plus healing for the wounded and the last rites for the deceased.”

    “Why would you do that much, though?”

    “I have my reasons. Look around, can you see something different in this place?”

    The girl creased her brows. She couldn’t see anything different or abnormal in the place. Well, the fact that the guard was so actively supporting them was quite abnormal to some extent but… That was it… was it? She checked again, but couldn’t spot anything strange with the camp.

    Then, she noticed something. Aside from the guards, there were no humans in the camp. As if he had noticed her realisation, Aleph started explaining.

    “Boarkin, Wolfkin, Bisonkin, Tigerkin and so on. They’re all races innately capable of fighting.

    I don’t plan to have those refugees sitting idle. I want to raise them as militia to fight against the monster problems that we’re facing. The guard isn’t enough. That’s why I proposed ‘If you want to stay in this camp, you’ll need to sign an agreement to help us as fighting force in the future’.

    Of course, some problems arose in the moment...”

    “Like people agreeing with staying at the camp, but not intending to fight?”

    He nodded. “Yes, but once we took out a magical contract, most of those people gave up. That’s because to the common folk, the contracts made by mages are ill treated. Pacts with the devil. Selling your own soul. Worse than slavery… There are such rumors, which sometimes turn to be true, but in most cases aren’t.” As Alphe said that, they were already nearing the border of the camp. “We didn’t bother to solve this misunderstanding, as it was much to our favor, but despite that… that many people were ready to sign the agreement. Frankly, I was surprised by their resolve.”

    “Then… why not leave them enter the city?”

    “For three reasons. Firstly, we shouldn’t show too much favouritism, not more than they already have. It might cause a big stir. Second, we have easier time managing them in this camp, rather than what we would have inside the city. Third, we know it’s best to avoid overpopulation, as it leads to hygiene problems and diseases.”

    “I see… But… won’t some people die in this arrangement?”

    “You’re right. Sacrifices are bound to happen, but this arrangement is made to reduce the future casualties to the minimum.” The guard hesitated a bit before continuing. “Still, aren’t you a necromancer? Aren’t casualties of those people rather beneficial to your researches.”

    “You might be right...” Elae sighed as they slowly left the camp, the refugees and the city behind. “But I am not quite sure if it will be really beneficial...”

    “Hmmm… I don’t know many necromancers, but I thought they were people that didn’t really cared where the bodies come from… I might need to recheck this matter later.”

    “Ah, no, no… It’s not like I care much about origin and all...” Elae clutched the bag that was tied to the boar she was mounted, which was as always carrying her book. “I’m just an odd ball… That’s all.”

    Noticing that his remark had somehow affected her mood, Aleph sighed and suggested. “How about we speed up a bit? We’ll take camp in the nearest village, then explore by the morning.”

    The girl nodded wakely to his suggestion, and the group decided to rush to the nearest village. The objective was reaching it before the moon reached the highest point in the sky.
    Looking above, Niris muttered after yawning and chewing a bit on the meat since there was still a lot that was left.
    "Ah... The sun is rising."

    "Oh, yes it is." While Umbrum stared at the sun while it was lifting in the air, he didn't seem like he will move right now.
    *Aria’s part starts*
    I felt pain... Like, lots of pain. Seriously, my back is aching like crazy!

    I opened my eyes and saw a completely unknown environment... Where in Lucky's name am I...?

    It seemed kinda cramped though... A tent? I'm not tied up or anything... I'm dressed... Ah! Right, I fainted yesterday!

    Then I was carried here...? Let's see...

    I slowly sat down... Ahagagahgahahahagh it hurts it hurts it hurts! It hurts a lot!

    My sight got blurry for a moment there... Agh... Such a bother... This back better heal soon...

    I heard my stomach rumbling... Better go get something.

    I wonder if everyone else is already awake... *slowly gets out of the tent*
    *Aria’s part ends*
    Hearing someone making noises, Umbrum looked back and saw Aria as he stayed sat next to the campfire. After a few seconds of silence, he blinked, smiled slowly and finally opened his mouth.

    "Good morning, did you have a nice sleep ?" His voice was the same as ever, cheerful just maybe a bit soft this time, while Niris talked as she began to grill some more meat.
    "If you want there is still meat to eat." Her voice didn't change in the slightest, cold and somehow indifferent.
    Oh dear Lucky, it's the weird guy again... Ah, food! (Aria)

    And... Something to eat too!

    "Leave some for me!" (Aria)

    I tried running, but just starting to position myself for it already made my pain so big I almost fainted again... This will be a pain.

    I decided to just walk instead and sat nearby, then started eating voraciously... Wow, I really was hungry!

    Nadia noticed immediately.

    "Is your back hurt as well? Should I patch that up?"
    (Nadia)

    All the while, her hands moved automatically, mixing hot water with sugar and cocoa powder, to make hot cocoa.
    "My back...? Ah, it is hurting a bit I guess..." *keeps eating anyway*

    "Ah, give me that cocoa!" (Aria)

    Nadia headed over with a cup of cocoa, and placed it next to Aria, before walking behind her and squatting down slightly. She placed a hand on Aria's shoulder.

    "Hmm...Ribs aren't broken, but definitely bruised. And for this kind of injuries...Did you fall off from the third floor, or something?" (Nadia)

    As she spoke, Nadia was using her finger to trace out a light blue rune, forming the shape of a fish.

    "Fall...? Ah, I fell from a high place a while back, it's how I hurt my foot." (Aria)

    *drinks the cocoa*

    "Tastes pretty nice!" (Aria)

    The Half-Undine narrowed her eyes immediately.

    "Tastes pretty nice, huh...that was plain water I gave you. If you somehow tasted cocoa from that..." (Nadia)

    She placed a hand on Aria's forehead.

    "It's burning. You have a really high fever." (Nadia)

    Just to check, she lightly placed her palm on Aria's back.

    "This is...Keep still. You need treatment, right now."

    "Eh!? It's water?" (Aria)

    ... I was tricked!

    "A fever though? I think I'm-
    Aaagh! Wha-what did you just do!?" (Aria)

    It hurts! It hurts a lot! Take that hand off my back!!!

    Joan awoke to hugging Silvia like a pillow. Some of the Dolls were patting her accidentally, and the rest of the commotion was the final nail in the coffin of her rest.

    "Cold!" She exclaimed, shivering. She carefully removed her arm, which somehow had gotten underneath Silvia's neck, and stood up, realizing she ached all over. This dampened her mood.

    "What are you four doing so loud in the morning?" (Joan)

    "I have no idea! But this crazy water girl is killing me! Take her away!!" (Aria)

    "Nothing~" Umbrum quickly replied as he quietly looked at the sky which somehow didn't please him, it was a bit too bright.

    "What are you ?"
    Hearing this same voice, Umbrum shivered during a few seconds but quickly calmed down.
    Then with a cheerful smile, he stood up and said as he began walking toward nowhere, whistling weakly.

    "I am going to take a stroll." Niris looked at him and shrugged as she stayed sat, he was probably just a bit bored from doing nothing so he decided to walk while the other are patching up Aria.

    "Miss Nadia, did Aria do something to you? What is going on? Also Aria, you look like you fought a bear in the woods, is everything ok?" (Joan)


    Nadia removed her hand immediately, and frowned.

    "It's a lot more serious that I thought...Ribs bruised, back injuries festering, and even worse, it's been left untreated for an entire night..."

    The Half-Undine got up, and looked around the clearing. Her eyes settled on a particular tree.

    " ^@$*!&%)! , *%%*#)*@% " (Mr Tree, will you kindly provide one of your fruits?)

    The tree seemed to sway in the wind.

    " (&^#( " (I see. Thanks.)

    Nadia walked over, and sliced off a fruit, catching it neatly in her palm.

    "Aria. Sit still and don't move. Here." (Nadia)

    She placed the fruit into Aria's mouth.

    "This might hurt a little, but bear with it, okay?" (Nadia)

    *muffled noises and struggles a bit* (Aria)

    Catching sight of Joan, who awoke, Nadia gestured to her.

    "Joan, I need your help treating Aria. Come here for a bit." (Nadia)

    Joan smirked.

    "Ah, so that's what it was. Sure, what needs to be done?" (Joan)

    In order not to alarm Aria, Nadia used her Water Magic to form small words before Joan.

    |We need to disinfect the wound. For that, we need strong liquor. I have some in my pouch, but I need you to help me pour it on her back while I hold her steady, because it's going to sting like hell.|

    "Hold still now. It's going to be perfectly fine." (Nadia)

    Nadia placed a slight bit of Magic in her voice to calm Aria down.
    *stops struggling, but looks around somewhat fearful* (Aria)

    Nadia casually holds Aria's hands in her own, and nods at Joan.

    *looks a bit at ease* (Aria)

    "Ah, I get it." Joan pulled out her self-refilling high-alcohol mead flask.

    "You'll need a lot more than that." She gave the flask to Nadia.

    "We'll also need to remove the clothes, else it would be for naught. Can you knock her out somehow?" She whispered in Nadia's ear.

    The Half Undine frowned. It was kind of difficult to do that, since she was sitting down right before Aria. Also, she didn't have any magic or anaesthetic on hand for that.

    "Uh...Hmm..." (Nadia)

    She casually got up, and positioned herself behind Aria again.

    "I apologise in advance." (Nadia)

    *tries to struggle, but can't, nor can she shout due to the fruit* (Aria)

    With that, water gushed out of the ground, and bound Aria's wrists and legs, holding them firmly in position.

    "Okay, Joan, help me out here. On the count of 3, rip off her clothes quickly. 1...2..." (Nadia)

    "... 3" (Joan)

    The catgirl produced her claws, and surgically sliced Aria's clothes, following the seams. Then she produced a bayonet, and with the same precision, quickly sliced them off, along with a layer of coagulated blood and solid pus. This would repeat itself a few times, until the girl's bloody birth suit was in full shining view of the party.

    The Half-Undine followed up by pouring the contents of the pitcher over the wounded area, wincing as she did so, because she knew that using alcohol to clean wounds was the most effective, but was also the most painful method.

    *crazily struggles while being tied down* (Aria)
    *tears fall like crazy*
    *muffled screams try to echo*

    Joan gently stroked Aria's head. "This is for your own good."

    *wants to scowl, but teary face full of pain doesn't exactly allow that* (Aria)


    Quickly, Nadia summons more water, cold water, to cover Aria's wounds, temporarily alleviating the pain.

    "Okay, the hard part is over. Now, I'll just have to cure it by using my magic and a herbal concoction that I...don't have. Umm...say, Joan, do you happen to have any of those Blue Grass on you?"

    *shows a bit of relief from the smaller pain*

    "Uh, I sold those off..." (Joan)
    "You need more herbs, Joan?" The spirit suddenly popped out. "Oh my..." She said pretending to just notice the bloody mess.
    "Can I trouble you to bring the herbs Nadia requests?" (Joan)
    "Sure thing, what do you need, half-sister?"
    "Oh, if you could bring me some Blue Grass, that would be great, Also, some Ginger Limes, Bladegrass..."
    (Nadia)

    Nadia started counting the ingredients off in her head.

    "Lemons, Chilli, Apples, the sapling of an Oak tree......*Insert about 60 more plant names*...and some chives, that would be great. I'll get started on the concoction in the meantime." (Nadia)

    She took out a mortar and pestle from her pouch, and started grinding some herbs to powder.
    The spirit flickered in and out of the space she seemed to occupy, as a pile of ingredients arrived at the destination. Once she was done, she seemed a bit transparent.

    "I'm feeling sleepy, I'll go rest a while" she said, and darted off somewhere up the mountain.

    Joan was feeling a bit useless right now, so she began to tinker with the bloody solidified pieces of clothing, carving out an enchantment circle on one of them with claw.
    *mindlessly watches things passing while hoping that things don't get any worse* (Aria)
    Nadia nodded her head in thanks, as her hands moved automatically, mixing several herbs together into a paste. Very soon, when the mixture was a bright orange, she placed it over the campfire, letting it warm up for a slight bit.

    Then, she proceeded to use the other ingredients she hadn't yet utilized to make a variety of simple foods and drinks, in order to serve as breakfast for the others.

    "Ah, the concoction should be done now." (Nadia)

    Taking the small bowl, she carefully gathered a small clump of clean moss, and started applying the concoction to Aria's back. It smelt like oranges, for some reason.

    "Alright. Next goes the bandages." (Nadia)

    Nadia took out the same type of bandage she had used the previous day, and carefully bound the wounds.

    "Cleanse and purity, Water of Life." (Nadia)

    The bandage disappeared, and the wounds started to close up, slowly but surely. Nadia sighed in relief, and snapped her fingers, removing the watery ropes.

    *takes out the fruit from her mouth and raises herself while turning around* (Aria)

    "Just what in Lady Luck's name was that!? Were you two trying to kill me!?" (Aria)

    *looks at the weird catgirl*

    "And just what are you doing to my-
    Oh dear Lucky, it completely dirtied by blood! And completely ripped off! I have no spares!!!" (Aria)

    Silvia Trembled before her eyes flickered with life and sat.
    " Weird... " (Silvia)
    Seeing the dolls which was tapping her are now checking her body for abnormalities. The Dolls looked at each other for a few moments, talking using Mana strands and nodded and showed a thumbs up.
    " Thanks, Luna, Zeik... What happening to that girl? " (Silvia)
    The dolls only shrugged their shoulders

    Joan takes the curtain that was draped over her, when she slept, and sighed, giving it to Aria.

    "Sorry, it needed to be done. Cover yourself with this for now. You can stay in the camp by the fire and rest. I promise I'll buy you a new dress, when we return." (Joan)

    *wraps herself up on it* (Aria)
    *looks angrily*
    *sighs*

    "Give me my clothes, I'll wash them in a nearby river and patch them... Or... Try to..." *looks at the parts that were hastily cut with the claw* (Aria)

    Nadia chimed in guiltily.

    "If it helps, I can make you some clothes out of silk? Weaving happens to be a hobby of mine, anyway." (Nadia)

    "I can make my own... Ah, whatever! Let's just get this done with! The sooner the better! I'm already sick of this task!" (Aria)

    The catgirl sighed again.

    "You know, Aria, Nadia. There's a hot spring a bit up the mountain. It should help heal and warm up the body. The Guardian said not to go there, but she's asleep now, so it should be fine." (Joan)
    "Ah, sure! Let's do that, I need to relax anyway! Come on, come on! Let's wrap this camp up!

    Ah, and nevermind the thing of giving me my clothes, put them on a bag or something, I can't carry them like this!

    I'll take them once we find a river! Or at the hot springs!" (Aria)

    *starts moving to disarm the tent she was in*

    "Should we bring Silvia along? She's awake, anyway." (Nadia)

    Nadia begun to pack up, putting out the campfire. As an afterthought, she took out a piece of paper, and wrote on it, leaving it near the extinguished campfire.

    |Umbrum, we're heading for the mountain top.|

    Joan went to her tent, noticing Silvia was awake, surrounded by her dolls.

    "Silvia, come out, we'll be collecting the tent. Also we're going to a hot spring, you should come with." (Joan)

    Silvia who was looking or peering from the tent -and doing like a totem pillar with her Dolls- nodded and exited the tent with her Dolls.
    " Hot Spring? Are we making beverages? " (Silvia)

    "Just come along, and you'll see." This catgirl was not a morning person, so she didn't want to answer in detail.

    "Oh, I nearly forgot. Nadia!" She shouted. "I'll need that flask back!" (Joan)

    "Hmm? Ah!"

    Nadia went over, and handed the flask back to her.

    "Speaking of hot springs, I have some chicken eggs with me." (Nadia)

    Nodding, Silvia trotted towards the right side of Joan, Clinging on her hand.
    Zeik does a Whispering Gesture towards Luna while Luna listens to Zeik.
    " Joan said she would Marriage me... " (Silvia)
    Luna and Zeik made an Understanding Gesture and followed behind them.
    *finishes wrapping her own tent up*
    *the wrap up is kinda messy*

    "You all done!? Where do I put this thing? I have no backpack to carry it!" (Aria)

    *sits atop of her broom and waits*

    "Um...Here, I'll take it."

    Nadia had one of those backpacks that could hold way more than it looked.

    *happily gives it*

    "What are those two taking this long for!? Hurry up!!" (Aria)

    "Isn't that one Umbrum's? I don't remember Aria carrying a tent with her."

    "I carried no tent!" (Aria)

    Nadia tossed the tent into the air, and it came back down...but before it could hit the ground, it vanished, the air surrounding the place that it vanished rippling like the surface of a pond.

    "Good, it works."

    *mouth agapes*

    Just what kind of ridiculous magic is that!!?!?!?

    "This? Oh, it's Storage Magic. I've been trying to use Spatial Dimension, but my understanding of Space Magic is rather low, so I modified the spell to suit my Water Magic." (Nadia)

    Joan said nothing, and grabbed Silvia's hand, heading for the hot springs.

    *flies atop her broom towards it as well* (Aria)

    Ugh, I should save my mana for summoning Firia again... But I don't wanna walk up a mountain…

    "Well, you don't have to. Walking too much is a pain, too." (Nadia)

    Nadia took a few steps back, and a deep breath.

    "And....There!" (Nadia)

    She jumped, but before she could fall back down, a foothold made of water formed in the air, and she used it to jump even further.

    "Don't go reading my mind you crazy water girl!!!!!!!!" (Aria)

    "Well, mind reading is rather easy. The first thing is to see your expression. You had this astonished and mystified expression on, so I figured you were curious." (Nadia)

    "And you also looked dissatisfied when you hopped onto that broom, so I figured you didn't want to ride the broom, but didn't want to walk either." (Nadia)

    The Half-Undine grinned, sunlight reflecting off her pale blue skin.

    "I could give you a lift, if you want? It's easier for me to replenish my mana than for you to replenish yours here, it seems." (Nadia)

    Eh? Really? Was I that obvious!!? >.< (Aria)

    "Ah, sure!" (Aria)

    *flies near and hops unto her back, while making sure to still hold the broom* (Aria)
    "Okay, hold on tight."


    Nadia ran to catch up to Joan and Silvia. As she did so, water wrapped around her shoes, and somehow made her go faster.
    An easy walk up the mountain, and half-hour later the party entered a foggy area. The damp air had the slight aroma of sulfur from a direction slightly ahead.

    "We're in the right place!" Joan exclaimed. "This hot spring is said to recover fatigue and injuries, and even remove the sensations of pain while you are soaked inside of it. I don't know how much of it is true, but I guess we'll find out."

    "About time! Let's go Water Girl! I'm actually looking forward to it now!!!" (Aria)

    *was totally lazing around on the Water Girl's back the entire time*

    "I had no idea that Fire Mages like you liked hot springs..." (Nadia)
    "My magic has nothing to do with my taste!" >.<

    "Besides, I need to clean my clothes before I patch them anyway..." *sighs*

    "...hot water..." Niris muttered as she plunged her hand into the water, she was still hesitating either to enter or to stay away from this water since honestly, she prefers to bath into cold water. Maybe because she almost drowned into a hot spring when it felt too comfortable ?
    Probably.

    "...I just have to hope I won't fall asleep." In the end, she convinced herself to go into the hot water, silently, she began to undress her black clothe who was hiding her forms.

    Joan looked around, to make sure nobody unwanted was watching. Now that she was here, she suddenly felt a bit uncomfortable about undressing. Unconsciously placing her hand at her abdomen, she stood still and silently watched the water.

    "Ah! We're here already!

    Give me my clothes please! I'll wash the blood off... Does anyone have some soap?" (Aria)

    "Why don't you go in first yourself, and worry about the clothes later?" (Joan)

    "Ah, sorry, I don't have any soap. I never used one."

    *Eagerly hops in* (Nadia)

    "Because they need to dry while I bathe!" (Aria)

    Inhaling then exhaling after undressing without showing any shame about removing her clothes, Niris despite having decided a bit earlier, she was still hesitating.

    Joan sighed, then removed her coat, untied the boots, removed the single stocking, and some of the belts, but hesitated again, when it came to the corset and skirt.

    *jumps off her back unto broom and flies a bit farther* (Aria)

    "Hey!!" (Aria)

    *goes rumage into the Crazy Water Girl's backpack to find her clothes*

    "... How does this work!?" (Aria)

    The catgirl finally gathered her courage, and bared her pure white skin, revealing a collection of large burn marks across her torso, placed in a line from the left shoulder to the right hip. She covered those up with her arms, and quickly entered the water, splashing water around.

    "Uh...if you're looking for clothes, they'll be in that small pocket at the back. Although...um..." (Nadia)

    The Half-Undine was hesitating.

    "What is it!?" (Aria)

    *goes take open the small pocket at the back*
    *The small pocket opens to show absolutely nothing*

    "We-e-ell, I might have accidentally...dropped it?"

    Revealing her skin, a few scars could be noticed, or that is how it seems.
    It's just that the scars on Niris' body were somehow gathered, it meant, that she injured only at certain place, after how many times was a good question since they are partly hidden behind the uncountable numbers of scars. Only on her back, it could be noticed that a huge vertical line was there, following her spine.

    Quietly, she entered into the water, hiding everything that could have been seen.
    "Nice."

    "It is, isn't it?" Joan leaned back, and relaxed, resting her head over her hands.

    "Indeed, at first I hesitated but now it's alright." Niris weakly smiled as she stretched her arms and sinked her body until it reaches her chin.

    "I know what you mean! It's a bit too deep to fully relax, but somehow feels fresher than a bathtub." Joan then noticed her sore feet were actually feeling comfortably numb right now.

    "Haha, actually, I am more afraid to fall asleep into it than anything else... but well... I don't really know how it feels to be in a bathtub, I always washed myself in natural sources, most of them were cold, but still it felt comfortable." Niris' voice didn't change in the slightest, however, she seemed to be quite pleased with what she was feeling.

    *turns back and stares* (Aria)

    "Great, so... I'm out of clothes aside from a skirt and my panties...

    My needles and my knife are gone...

    I have no money... Again.

    And I'm out thread to make some new clothes...

    ...
    ...
    ...

    You know... Pockets are really practical things... FOR AS LONG AS NOBODY LOSES MY ONLY TOP!!!!!!

    Haa..." *undresses and sinks on the spring*

    "Thanks a bunch..." *sinks everything below her nose on the water*
    *Fidgets a bit more*

    "I made a set of combat clothes for you on the way, so you can change into them later...Your needles and your knife, are kept with those as well..."


    "Haha, actually, I am more afraid to fall asleep into it than anything else... but well... I don't really know how it feels to be in a bathtub, I always washed myself in natural sources, most of them were cold, but still it felt comfortable." Niris' voice didn't change in the slightest, however, she seemed to be quite pleased with what she was feeling.

    "How about I treat you one, as thanks for the meat? I'll also add in a massage right now, so present your shoulders and back to me, and relax." Joan said, smiling mischievously.

    "... How in Lady Luck's name someone makes a set of clothes while climbing a mountain!? We spent like... 1/2 an hour climbing that!? And I was at your back!!! How could I not see it!?

    Wait a bit... How did you keep my things with you, but... Not my clothes...

    YOU DROPPED THEM ON PURPOSE!!!!"(Aria) *swims her way and go whack her head with fists*

    "Water Magic can be quite good for autonomous actions if you program them ri---Ow!"

    Nadia tried to fend off Aria's little fists.

    "Rather than repair and wash those bloodstained clothing, I figured it was much better to make a new set! Ow!"

    "I like my own clothes thank you very much!" *keeps hitting* (Aria)

    "And my money! You stole all my money you little thief! I'll report you to Evil Looking Receptionist you Crazy Water Girl!"

    "Well, I have no reasons to actually refuse, so why not ?" Niris' weak smile seemed to be noticeable right now, without any kind of hesitation she presented her back to Joan, internally hoping that she won't fall asleep.

    Joan unhesitantly came closer, and began with a series of effleurage movements to relax the body, before kneading it in. By that time she had noticed the series of scars on Niris' body. It helped her feel better about her own, and her movements became more gentle. She wanted to hug Niris, but her word came first. The solution of course was, to sneak the movements forwards to the chest.

    Feeling quite comfortable by both the bath and massage, as her skin was getting gently rubbed, she felt something touching her chest, she didn't feel startled as she just leaned her head on Joan's shoulder behind her, acting like she was going to fall asleep.

    "I am exhausted..." even her voice seemed to be quite tired as she didn't hesitate to let all of her weight fall on her, then she yawned lazily while keeping her eyes closed.

    To escape the furious Aria, Nadia did one thing; she invoked her Undine lineage and turned into a watery state.

    "Those clothes I made are a replica of your own, so you can treat them as a new set!"

    "Also, I didn't take your money!" (Nadia)

    *hits splash without hitting her* (Aria)

    "Grrrrr... Then where did it go!? You said my knife and threads were there only!! Don't try to trick me!!!" *starts randomly throwing water outside the spring to see if she ends up splitting the Crazy Water Girl somehow*

    "And what kind of crazy girl can copy my design just by looking at it once!??!!
    You all are mad! Mad I tell you! Mad!!!" *keeps splashing water like a mad girl* (Aria)

    Joan felt Niris body was still a bit tense, she used the little bit she knew about pressure points on her, cradled her head with her other hand, and once done with the relaxation technique, hugged her from behind, whispering in her ear.

    "You deserve to rest a bit. Lean on me, and let go." (Joan)

    Not expecting at all that she will react like this, Niris was actually taken aback by what she said, to be honest, nobody said that to her after what happened with the mage using Slave Magic, even Umbrum to who she is grateful of since he liberated her and even gave her a place to live.
    The pressure on her muscles suddenly disappeared as she felt more comfortable in this position.
    "Thank you." That was the words she uttered as she simply stopped acting like she was going to sleep in the bath.

    "While I was treating your wounds, I happened to take your measurements, so making an outfit that was the same size as your previous one was easy!"

    The transparent Nadia stuck out her chest proudly.

    "As for the money...um...I think it fell out while I was bouncing around on the way up the mountain!" (Nadia)

    "... THIIIIIIIEEEEEEEEEEEEF!!!!!!!" *goes splash more water* (Aria)
    *accidentally splashes it on the Weird Cat Girl's Face and on the... Who was that one anyway?*
    Joan looked at Aria with eyes filled with bloody murder. It's just a young girl, Joan. Keep calm, you were the same back then!

    She told herself that, but it didn't help much. Holding Niris in her arms helped for now. Where was Silvia anyway? The catgirl suddenly got distracted by the thought of her being jealous.

    Stopping herself from leaning on Joan, Niris sighed as she received the water on her voice, she couldn't help but think aloud on a rare carefree tone.
    "It can't last forever after all."

    *Busy dodging* (Nadia)

    "I'm no thief! I don't even need money, anyways!" (Nadia)
    "Say that after you give me back my money!!!" *ends up making a huge wave splash hitting the other two while she chases the Crazy Water Girl* (Aria)

    "I don't have money with me!"

    *Stuffed an Onsen egg into Aria's mouth*

    *munches on it* (Aria)
    *talks with mouth full*

    "Where did this even come from!?" *still moving about*

    Joan's voice sounded strangely guttural "Stop splashing around, you little brat." She seemed to still hold herself in for some reason, so continued after a pause, thinking it over. "You are a damned Mage. Act like it, or I will make you."

    "Eh?" Ah right, they were here...

    "That's my Water Magic!"

    *Caught Aria from behind*

    "Wah!?" *moves about wildly* (Aria)
    *splashes more water in the Weird Cat Girl's face*

    "..." (Niris) Silently, she just froze the water that was supposed to hit the both of them, she didn't have any words to describe this childishness and unreasonableness.

    Joan simply infused a minor flame spell into the ice, melting it down again. It helped her cool off.

    "Don't ruin the place, just because of the two. Thanks, though."

    "...Sorry, I actually forgot about it." Directly looking at Joan, she said those words that were completely sincere. Honestly, she just reacted on impulse since she didn't want to receive more water than they already did. Sighing, she began to break the ice with her elbow, after a few hits, she began to bleed.
    "...I should stop now." Immediately, she stopped and sunk back into the water.
    "Huh, that's true now that I think about it...Joan, you're a cat beastkin and a former pirate, right? Don't both types hate water?"

    "Blood's thicker. Also hard to clean. I've learned to enjoy it. Like this." She hit the water with an overpowered open palm, creating a huge splash in Aria's direction.

    *Gets forced out of liquid state since the water isn't pure* (Nadia)
    *Still holding Aria's arms*

    *gets splashed* (Aria)
    *blink blink*

    "Ganging up on me huh...? Take that!" *splashes the water with her feet since she is being held by the Crazy Water Girl*
    "Ha! This is nothing." Joan waded through the splashes, and started to tickle Aria's feet.
    Niris sighed, she didn't want to get involved in those troublesome matters as she didn't hesitate to leave the water as a few words echoed out of her mouth.
    "Good luck."

    Joan gives Niris a last wistful look, before returning to tickling Aria.

    "I hope you learn your lesson now! It isn't over yet!"

    "No-no-no!!"

    "Wa-wa-wa-waahahha!!! S-stop that!!" *struggles laughing*
    *accidentally hits head on the Crazy Water Girl's chin*

    "Ow!"

    Nadia reflexively let go of Aria, in order to rub her chin, causing her to slip.

    *slips and falls dragging the Weird Cat Girl with her because she was holding her feet*

    *brlbrlbrlbrlr*
    *gets head out of the water*

    "Fuaaa!!!" *turns to the Crazy Water Girl* "You little! Why did you make me-" *gets a bit dizzy and almost falls again*
    *leans on the nearest person*

    "I'm feeling a bit weak..."

    *Catches* (Nadia)

    "I'm so sorry! I didn't intend for that to happen!"

    Nadia backs up against the side, in order to better support Aria.

    "Heavy..."

    "I... I'm okay..." *wobbles*

    "I guess the brat ran out of energy." Joan said and yawned. "Let me help you move her out of the water and dry her up."

    "Uhn... I'm not a... Brat..." *yawns* (Aria)
    "I guess so. It's getting colder, anyways." (Nadia)

    Nadia climbed out of the hot spring, and started lifting Aria out as well.

    *gets taken out of the spring*

    "I guess I'll just..." *falls asleep on the spot*
    *snores softly*

    *Yawns as well* (Nadia)

    "A nap would be really good...uh...Rimewind, guard the perimeter."

    The same wolf appeared, but this time in a pup size.

    "Can we just get to the campfire before falling asleep ?" Niris sighed as she saw both of them falling asleep around the same time... honestly, she didn't want to carry people but she will if she needs.

    Joan sighed for the nth time again, gazed around for Silvia, then put her coat over herself, and proceeded to dry Aria out with the curtain.

    Once that was done, she began to dry her hair and tail, noticing the black dye was flaking off, leaving behind shades of white and silver.
    "Oh you dyed yourself ?" exclaimed seriously Niris, she wondered where she found this she never found some, that would have been quite useful at times.

    "Yes, though lately I've been considering stopping. Maybe I should do so, when the materials run out... It's been a long time and far away from where it was needed."
    "Oh I see... I never tried... hmmm..." As her fingers touched her silky yet straight long blond hair, Niris put her hand on her chin and begin to wonder if it was fine to try this.
    Taking the hint, Joan spoke. "If you want to try, I'll dye you. I can teach you how to make it, as well." She paused, then added "It doesn't contain any magic, if that concerns you."
    "Hmm... Then for when I want it, I guess I will call you, and magic or not, I don't really care." said Niris as she continued to ponder with her head resting on her chin.

    "You seem on the wild side, so we should do this before you leave off somewhere. Change things up, be a new you." She looked at the two sleeping, and saw that Silvia was nowhere in sight. "I can even cover those scars of yours with something useful. Something to ensure you never get hurt again." Joan slid a finger across the dragon down her hip and thigh, demonstrating what she meant.
    "I won't really leave somewhere, I am even freeloading a carriage right now, first, I should settle my debt then eventually a goal since I don't have any for now." Niris shrugged with a small smile nevertheless she didn't deny that was maybe on the wild side.
    Hearing her and feeling her finger, Niris internally chuckled as a simple smile appeared on her face. "Hmm, prefer keeping the scars, hiding them will be denying what I am." She completely ignored her actions as she wanted how far can she go, where to stop her, it might be odd, but despite her attitude, she was still innocent.

    Niris' last comment felt hurtful to Joan. She took pride in fighting against her fate, being different, and not accepting defeat against it.

    "All things must change to overcome doom, and receive fortune." she leaned closer to Niris' face.

    "Never changing means to never let go of the past. I just happen to offer you a chance to do it on the outside as well." And backed off, face down, looking forward, with a teasing smile. "It's your choice to accept that change, or not." The catgirl's tail punctuated her statement with a twist.
    "Sometimes, changing isn't for the best, sometimes it is for the best, it all depends on perspective, to be honest, I kinda like those scars." It may be odd but it was sincere since why would you hit a obeying dog ? You would only hurt the disobeying one.

    "And well, my past is not related in those matters, I already let go of it, otherwise I would already be in prison, I always tried to 'kick' the past, to spite at it, and I succeed. Now I am just free to do anything I want." Niris took a step forward as her scarlet eyes didn't seem to change, they were still clear and lucid.

    "And I already changed enough from my point of view, doom is still far and not near." She didn't dare to say that doom wasn't there after all.
    "We never know what might happen, change might start the doom"

    "You say that, but there is no direction, or aim, other than debt; ties to the past." Joan shrugged "I cannot remove dead skin, without fresh one to take its place, so neither can I rework those scars into something without meaning for you. I see now where you and I differ, and I will respect you for it."

    "My debt is actually one that is worth it. You see that foolish kid, I would still be a slave around soon one month ago if it wasn't for him saving me. Yet he never asked for anything, so I just want to make up even if he probably doesn't want me to do anything." Niris' attitude didn't change as she was just pointing facts about how the recent events were for her.
    "Though, I have no ideas what to do since he doesn't seem to want anything except someone to be with him. And those scars represent why I am here now, they are like a memory. They lead me here... The future is uncertain maybe. Perhaps I fear it, but I do not care, most people are boring who doesn't want to change anything yet they are happy, this may be what I want actually."

    Joan's face retained a faint smile as she said:

    "It still saddens me that you so easily deny a chance to be stronger. You seem content with your current life, but I see you also fear for its future. It seems to me you wish your time was frozen in the moment where you are safe from your dread of the fortunes to come. Isn't it ironic, that we're standing here bare, by a spring of hot water, while your soul is still hidden away and enclosed in ice?"

    Hearing her words, Niris' shrugged, why was the only one she had in mind. Indeed they were really different.
    "Well, I am not a mage specialized in Ice Arts for nothing ?" Unexpectedly, she chuckled, something else than a small smile was shown.
    "There is no fortunes, nor misfortunes. Only fate. Everything has already been decided, to me, that fate move only depending our acts, and right now ? I won't change it since that may be stupid but because I am happy to be where my feet are standing. Even if my future may be screwed, all I have to do is to avoid it, after all. I can act by my or ourselves if needed because I or we can."

    "Fate is there for people to grab its opportunities, when they can. This is what I believe for myself, you, and even your Umbrum. But it's getting cold out here, and our bodies still retain some heat, so I will question you no further, and just ask you to be my friend. I feel I must try for this opportunity, at least. Accept my warmth, Niris of Ice." Joan said, with her arms behind her back.
    "Fate is unexplainable anyway, its concept is contradictory... Anyway... Niris of Ice ? I can't deny you in matter of facts... Well, I won't refuse to be your friend for sure, Joan of Fire." Niris proposed a handshake as her smile didnt change no matter what, she just left this conversation, feeling quite refreshed.

    Joan took the offered hand, her feline body temperature making good on her word. As she did so, another vision crashed into pieces in front of her eyes, this time washing over her with a feeling of relief, and a small echo of sadness. When she let go of Niris hand, there was a strange chipped coin of unknown origin inside the palm of the Ice mage's hand. Joan took no notice of that occurence, and simply turned back to their other companions, pondering.

    "We should gather some firewood, and make a fire, before they catch a cold. I'll go dressed up, and look for Silvia to help."

    Joan nodded back, quickly slipping into her usual outfit. She then made sure Aria was properly covered in the curtain, and silently went back to search for Silvia, sniffing her out, once she was away from the sulfur stench of the hot spring.

    Joan found Silvia by the side of road, surrounded by dolls. She wasn't one to feel guilt often, though, so she just collected her, princess carried her to the onsen, followed by the dolls, then prepared a bayonet to start the fire with.

    There was a faint rumble that felt like it was in the distance, but it disappeared quickly.
    4 L Copper acquired. Eventually Joan's property, for reasons below.
     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2018
  11. BB_Tensei

    BB_Tensei [Catatonic Sloth] | [Occasional Antagonist]

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    {{ Part 2 }}

    @The Everdistant Utopia, @Naraku, @Haxagen,
    @AliceShiki, @Kysil, @BB_Tensei

    Silvia Trembled before waking up and looked around
    " Huh? Where am I? "
    [ Hot Spring ] - Luna
    [ Hot Water ] - Zeik
    " Someone wants to Cook me?!?! "

    Joan was still playing with her bayonet as she responded. "Of course not, but we can take a bath, if you like."

    "Bath? "
    Silvia tilts her head on the side with Question marks floating abover her head.
    [ Clean Body] - Luna
    [ Clean Everything ] - Zeik

    "And have a good time, as it were." (Nadia)

    The Half Undine, which had been sleeping at the side of the springs, woke up, and rolled into the hot springs.

    "Fwah~" (Nadia)

    Somewhere within the foggy hot spring, a dull splashing sound was heard. A wave formed, quickly washing over the edge, spraying droplets on the people present.
    " I see! "
    Silvia Slowly walked towards the Spring and entered, with her clothes on.
    Joan figured she'd stop Silvia, but suddenly heard a flock of birds behind her, followed by the snow crunching loudly.

    Before the Homunculus was a large metallic egg, surrounded by floating rings.

    Before Joan was a dark haired intruder, with a wide hat and trench coat, underneath which was a breastplate and the protruding hilt of a thin sword.

    "Hello there, I didn't expect anybody else to be here!" The stranger said aloud, confidently.

    The magic gunslinger thought perhaps she was there all along, and became even more cautious.

    Waiting for an answer, that didn't come, the unknown person changed her expression, and she gave a threat. "Act like you didn't see me, and we'll soon part ways in peace."

    Nadia, who had been floating around in the hot spring, in her liquid form, heard the commotion, and quietly cast a spell.

    *Rumble*

    The waters of the Hot Spring rose, as a Water Elemental formed, covering Joan.

    "I daresay, threatening others isn't the best way to greet people. Also, this place should have been out of bounds to most people, so how did you get here?"

    Nadia walked out in her receptionist uniform, from behind the Water Elemental. As she raised her hands to cast a spell, the Elemental did the same, a swirling orb in it's hands.

    "The name is Nadia, receptionist of the Magic Association. State your name and business here immediately, or I'll have no choice but to eliminate you."

    The stranger made a barely audible 'Tch', and looked Nadia straight into the eye, unblinking.

    "You should be glad I recognize you.

    Me and my team took the Investigation Task, after the previous team was lost. We encountered a wave of magic beasts, and I'm the only survivor. I came here to use the hot spring for internal injuries, before I conduct the report. As for who I am, you should check that with your colleague Sasha, who handles my assignment.

    Let me ask you a question as well. What is a receptionist doing with a bunch of unknown people, and a nude unconscious girl on the ground so deep into the mountains in the morning? Shouldn’t I be concerned about myself as well?"

    Sadly, it was hard for Nadia to explain that that, given that they were at the hot springs mainly for a bath. For the first time, she was regretting the ruckus they made the previous night, but on the outside, she maintained her own unflinching gaze. The Water Elemental returned back into the hot spring.

    "The others here belong to the group that took the Investigation task too, and I'm here to observe them. I apologise for what you see, but we had...circumstances...of our own. Still, if you need the hot spring, feel free to join us. I can take a look at those injuries as well."

    Just as a precaution, Nadia silently chanted a spell.

    " What a Weird Hat... "
    Thats what Silvia Said before Her Dolls Move in front of her to Protect her from intruder.
    One by One 4 Additional Cores Dropped from the satchel on her Waist and Formed to Into More Dolls. 6 Dolls in Total now Stands.
    " Zeik, Luna, Lune, Melfos, Neroth, Lynch... what are you guys doing? "
    [ Danger ]
    [ Must Protect ]
    [ Else we Cease to Exist ]
    [ Silvia is Important ]
    [ Silvia is Cute and Clueless but that's fine ]
    [ That's why Leave it to us to Protect You ]

    "Feel free to take your precautions, and I'll take mine. For this reason, I would decline your offer for healing, but I will gladly use the hot spring... So long as, you don't mind keeping your distance."

    "Wait! What do you mean lost?" Joan's gears were working, it seems. "The investigation team came back and merely reported nothing. You should know that."

    The woman's expression betrayed a slight surprise, but she quickly subdued it, pausing a bit before her answer.

    "Some of the members are still missing, right? That is what I meant. You are insulting me by questioning me further, please keep to yourself from now on."

    It would seem she didn't deem the catgirl a threat. The still unnamed woman went toward some of the rocks some meters away from the party, and began undressing calmly and slowly.


    Then Please Don't get Destroyed... I'll become Alone again...
    that was what Silvia Prayed and Thought at the Time. The Big Metallic Egg With Rings Glowed as It Sucked Mana from Silvia without her Knowing. Though The Dolls also Didn't Notice The Egg too and was Pre-Occupied With the Female Intruder.
    { Your Wish Will Be Done~ With a Little Gift From the Great Me~ }
    Slowly The Earthen Bodies of Dolls Changed their Color to Metallic Black, Though The Dolls Still didn't notice the change on their bodies. This time Green Lightning Rose from their Cores and Etched on the Surface with a Green Glow.

    Being half a Water Spirit herself, Nadia had a few tricks up her sleeves. One of them involved communication via water bodies. For that reason, she had always left a cup of water on the receptionist desk, back in the Association HQ.

    'Hmmm...The receptionist on duty right now...Ah, it's Sasha. What a stroke of luck.'

    A few moments later, she had all the information she needed. A glance at the egg told her all she needed to know about it, as well.

    Nadia confidently sat down right next to the stranger.

    "I see, so your name is Sora, correct? The younger sister of Sasha? Pleased to meet you."

    Holding out an arm,

    "Please don't mind the hostility earlier."

    A quick check told her that her spell was finished, as well.


    Sora was confused for a second. She was also distracted by the glowing artifact behind Silvia. That caused a lapse of judgement, and made her too late in reacting. She still tried to dodge to the side, however.

    Joan was quick on the uptake as well, she stealthily got into position for a clear shot, and prepared a pistol with a paralysis spell. She prepared to shoot the moment Nadia released her spell.

    Seeing Sora make a move, Nadia casted her prepared spell, and the area around them erupted into a dome of water, submerging the duo.

    |Hydrosphere|

    Having prepared beforehand, Nadia calmly restrained Sora with watery ropes, and gestured at Joan.

    The gunslinger discharged her weapon, aiming for Sora's half-undressed butt. The paralysis spell took hold, as Sora was converging mana in front of Nadia, causing the sky above her to glow in a dome above the Hydrosphere. The restrained magician was in her undies, covered in rainbow colored light, and had a face stuck in shock.

    To finish up, Nadia chopped Sora on her head, disrupting the spell, and dragged an unconscious Sora out of the water sphere, taking care to bind her limbs and her mouth.

    " Woah... What are they Doing? WOAH!? What Are You Guys Doing!? "
    [ What do you Mean? ] - Zeik
    [ Yea What... What? ] - Luna
    [ I'm Metallic now? ] - Lynch
    [ Green Thunder~! ] - Lune
    [ I'm also Flexible? ] - Melfos
    [ And Agile? ] - Neroth
    Silvia Noticed the Sudden Attack of Both Water Elemental and Joan. And Also by then She Noticed the Sudden Change On Her Dolls... Which Shocked her and The dolls.
    Nadia walked over, having tied up and knocked out Sora.

    "An egg of a Water Spirit...Hmmm..."

    By putting her hand on the shell, Nadia could hear the Spirit inside.

    |Get your hands off me, halfling! Don't casually touch me as you please!|

    The Half Undine smiled darkly.

    "Oh? Looks like somebody wants to run of of mana and disappear into light particles. In that case, this halfling shall not bother you further."

    |The Automaton over there is providing me with mana! You can't cut off my mana source unless you kill her!|

    The egg proclaimed haughtily.

    "Then, I'll do one better. I've always wanted to know what a Spirit Egg omelette tasted like."

    Nadia raised her right hand, as a swirling blue blade formed around it.

    |Woah, woah, woah! I'll stop, so don't break the egg---|



    Shaking her head, Niris sighed sorrowfully as she said without even pondering.
    "Unreasonable." After some minutes, she finished making a campfire and stayed near to it to dry her hair which contrary to her body wasn't dried.


    Joan who was patrolling around for any hidden opponents just returned. Seeing Silvia, she sneaked behind her, hugged her, and licked her lips.

    "What's this?" She said, looking at the weird metallic egg.
    Nadia watched the proceedings from the sidelines, occasionally poking the cheek of Aria, who was still sleeping.

    Peacefully and silently, Niris came back with firewood, she noticed someone new who seemed to be tied.
    She shrugged and just began to make a campfire, waiting for an eventual explanation.

    *gets poked* (Aria)

    "Mmm...?" *slowly raises*
    *curtain falls*

    "Ky-kyah! Wha-what's happening!?" *hurriedly covers herself with the curtain*

    *Crack*

    The egg shell broke, and a little water spirit popped it's head out.

    *looks around cluelessly* (Аria)
    *remembers*

    "Ah!
    ... Thief..."

    *looks angrily at the Crazy Water Girl*

    *Pretends not to notice* (Nadia)

    *sees the mysterious spirit coming out of the egg* (Aria)

    "So... The Crazy Water Girl had a child while I slept!? Who is the father?"

    "How should I know ? There is no man here." As she stayed near to the fire, she commented on a perplexed tone.
    "...that's probably just weird spirits stuff."

    Nadia, who had been drinking from a cup of hot cocoa choked, and spewed cocoa right onto the small Water Spirit, which then proceeded to start screaming about the heat.

    "Ha! Bullseye!

    Take care of your child properly though!" (Aria)

    "Wh-Wh-What! That's not my child!"

    Nadia hurriedly denied the statement.

    |Mama doesn't want me anymore. Waaaah!|

    The small Water Spirit begun crying.

    "O-Oi! I'm not your mother!"

    "...Irresponsible on top of unreasonnable... that is quite a fitting combination..." Niris continued to comment while she knew nobody will reply to her since they are too busy because of the commotion that is going on.

    "Ah this is new. It seems spirits attach themselves to the strong members of their species, even in the case of one like Nadia." A catgirl chipped in.

    "That's not exactly true." Another spirit interjected, angrily at that. "Didn't I expressedly ask you NOT to come to the onsen!? Why didn't you listen?"

    "That's not how it works! For example, only Spirits of the corresponding element can truly attach themselves to people." (Nadia)

    |Yes, like me and Mama!|

    "Who's your mother?!"

    "Not only a thief, but also a heartless mother!? You're hopeless!" (Aria)

    The baby Water Spirit chimed in.

    |Don't abandon me, Mama!|

    "Ugh! Grrrr...." (Nadia)

    "Ah, then she didn't give birth? Alright then!

    So..." *approaches swiftly* "What's her name anyway?" *looks adorably at the adorable baby* (Aria)

    'Please, don't say something ridiculous...' (Nadia)

    |Mama! Name me!|

    '...I knew it.'

    Nadia was experiencing a headache like no other. So much that she contemplated going for a nap, but she knew the Baby water spirit probably wouldn't stay quiet.

    Said baby Water Spirit was now hiding behind her.

    "...What are you doing...?"

    " OoO... Cute... " (Silvia)
    [ Silvia finds another one cute... ]

    "Is this the reason?" (Joan)

    "... Yes it is. This was to be the guardian of the Mountain. Now look at it. Well, this is fun in its own way, but I would require compensation. You there." The adult Guardian points at Nadia. "You are now responsible for this mountain and its Guardian. I no longer can guide it, so it's on you."
    "Ehhhh?!"

    The receptionist was shocked.

    "I have to take care of this...thing...?! And the whole mountain?!"

    |Yay! Mama!|

    "Like or not, you would have to manage. I can help you out with advice I learned from rearing my sister, but I'll otherwise just watch."

    "Milady, your speech has gotten more complex as of late." Joan said.

    "We have been practicing, haven't we, Joan? I'll ask my compensation from you later, alone~"
    "Aaaaaaaawwwn, she is sooooooo adoooorable! I want to squeeeeeeeeze her!!!!

    What's her name what's her name!?" (Aria)

    "...I have no ideeeeeea..."

    The receptionist looked out into the far distance.

    "Would today be a good day to die, I wonder..."

    "Then she is Weania!!" *hugs the cute spirit* (Aria)

    "It smells like cruelty right now." Niris slightly sniffled the air then looked back at the fire as she tried to ignore the current commotion.

    "Weania..."

    " Weina... "
    [Weina] -Dolls

    Silvia feels a little sleepy so she went behind Joan and Hugs her. She then gave few Soft breathing and fell asleep.

    "Uhm! Weania!" *snuggles* (Aria)

    Joan stood still, as if she had a cat on her lap and wouldn't wake it up. She smiled gently, and considered what to do with the prisoner.

    |Mama? Name me!|

    "Ugh...give me a minute..."

    "You don't like Weania...?" *pouts heavily* (Aria)


    |Um...Nope!|

    The small Spirit denied crisply.

    "Oi, don't be so rude..."

    Nadia was wrestling with several possible names inside her head.

    'Cordelica? Vivian? Lynne?'

    *actually gets in an orz* (Aria)

    Silently, Niris approached Aria and patted her shoulder as a weak and bitter smile was on her face. That was tactless.

    *hugs* "Thanks uhn... Ah! You're the calm one! I had forgotten about you!" (Aria)

    "Rusalia, Wasseria, Mizusa, Umida, or maybe just Onsen." Joan continued suggesting names.
    Niris didn't seem to be upset about being forgotten and sighed as she didn't know what to do.
    "You are welcome." She just prefered to ignore the part about being ignored, it seemed easier.

    "Hmmm...How about...Nimue?" (Nadia)

    "Hmm, Mount Nimue has a nice ring to it. Do you like it, Nimue?" (Joan)

    "Like a Nymph...?" *tilts head* (Aria)
    *lets go of the hug*

    Sitting on the ground, Niris began to whistle as she wondered what she should do since she didn't want to involve herself in those matters.
    |Yaaaay! Mama!|

    The small Spirit cheered.

    "Wait...If I named you...that means you're now...argh..."

    Nadia, having realised the significance of her words, groaned.

    "I'm not old enough to be a mother!"

    Joan was still wondering what to do with the prisoner. She decided to ask the Dolls.

    "Can you Dolls hear me?" The constructs were reluctant, but nodded nevertheless.

    "Will you listen to my requests?" More nods.

    I wonder how complex instructions they can handle. Let's not push my luck.

    "Can you bring the woman tied up by the rock?" The dolls nodded again.

    Joan was about to provide further instruction, but the golems just moved by themselves and dragged Sora unceremoniously in front of the catgirl and Silvia.

    "So the Crazy Water Girl became a mother~" *pats Nimue's head* (Aria)

    "Make sure to make her take good care of you! Nimue will be a good girl!"

    |Yeah! Thank you, strange big sister!|

    The small spirit bounced around happily. On the other end, however...

    "......The sky sure is blue today...I wonder if this blue sky will be the last thing I see?"

    Nadia was practically surrounded by an aura of negativity.

    "I'm a big sister!!!!" (Aria)

    *hugs Nimue tightly* "Nimue is the best!!!!!"

    "Nadia, congratulations. Can you untie this... Sora's mouth? We need to ask some questions." (Joan)

    The adult guardian spirit was meanwhile chuckling somewhere in the air. She suddenly looked like she saw something dreadful, and darted off in wisp form to the southeast.
    A heavy sigh.

    "I understand..."

    Nadia snapped her fingers, and the watery binds around Sora's mouth vanished.

    "Nimue."

    |Yes, Mama?|

    "Get a sphere of water ready. If this girl tries to chant anything funny---"

    Nadia's negativity was being channelled through her words. Her pale blue irises sparkled harshly.

    "---Shove the whole sphere into her mouth. Make her understand just how terrifying a slow death by drowning can be."

    *stops hugging and looks at it*

    "Eh? Who is this anyway...?

    ... Ah! My clothes! I still didn't get them! Where are them!? You crazy water girl!" (Aria)

    Sora was deathly quiet until now, but started to struggle and grunt, when she heart that sentence. Joan decided to straight up ask.

    "What were you doing here?" She asked in a calm voice.

    Sora ignored her, glaring at Nadia with hateful eyes.

    Joan remembered the earlier occurence, and gave Aria a sharp look. "Shut up, Aria." She tapped on her bayonets to further express her mood.

    Nadia used her Water Magic, opening a small ripple in the air, and taking out a set of clothes that were practically identical to Aria's previous set.

    "Your knife and needles are where they should be."

    "You really should wear them." Joan added.

    "Yay! Finally!" *goes dress up behind a rock* (Aria)

    *comes back quickly*

    "I'm done!"

    *totally ignored the Weird Cat Girl*

    Nadia glared back at Sora with equal ferocity. In fact, the whole of her 5'7 figure seemed to grow bigger in the sunlight.

    "I would suggest you answer that question, right now, before Nimue here shoves a ball of water down your throat, blocking off your access to air. Trust me, I've no qualms making it a once in a lifetime experience for you."

    Nadia chuckled darkly, shimmering wrath in her eyes.

    "Can't guarantee you'll survive the experience, though."

    *goes pick up her gloves and broom while they are busy* (Aria)

    "You're a piss poor negotiator, aren't you?" Spat out Sora. "What do I ever gain from telling you, anyway? My life? Ha! That's already forfeit!"

    Nadia dropped her menacing look, glanced at Nimue, and nodded.

    In response, a watery fist grabbed Sora, and started spinning her around at high speeds.

    Nadia kindly sealed off her mouth, but not her nose, allowing Sora to breathe, but not talk.

    "When you're more open to discussion, I'll let you down."

    Niris sighed as she heard those words, because honestly, life is actually the thing that you should lose first in those kind situations.
    "They can just eat you alive ? They can just rip your skin alive ? Torture you ? Present your corpse to your family and maybe something else ? There is far worse than simply losing your life." Her voice had the same tone as ever as she finally finished to dry her own hair.
    Sora had a mouthful of complaints and insults to throw at both of them, but focused that energy on acting as if she struggled with the restraints. She had long since analyzed the magical energy that made them up, and devised a plan to escape. She just needed to strike at the right moment, and explode the mana in the below ground, shattering the magicians' organs with the blast.
    *starts searching the Crazy Water Girl's bag* (Aria)

    "No, not here, not here too... Are, there we go! She didn't steal my threads at least!"

    Standing up, Niris simply walked away as she said on a careful tone after a loud sigh.
    "...so troubling... I will just leave this stuff to you, just in case, you should find something to seal her magic, that is always useful in my opinion." Then she distanced herself from all of them to pick up her stuff, one day, they should leave the onsen.

    Joan was building up frustration, as the situation went on. She looked at Aria, then at Sora, and simply quickloaded a pistol and shot an unenchanted bullet at Sora's behind.

    This caused Sora to shout, followed by sucking in water in her throat. Her struggle stopped being an act, and every attempt to cough, just pumped more water inside.

    Joan was again at peace.

    *hops on broom*
    *starts exploring randomly* (Aria)

    Nadia grinned, sensing that Sora had swallowed a lot of water. She never told anyone, but Water Spirits could control the water inside of people, as well, and she could do so too.

    Nadia was setting up a formation, with Nimue's assistance. With her own Racial traits, base mana regeneration rate, as well as the "Authority" she was afforded, it...wasn't even close to being enough.

    *Sigh*

    "I guess we'll have to time it right, then. Here goes...Overture!"

    The formation activated, coverting elemental energy in the surroundings into mana, at a quick rate.

    Then Nadia activated her Concept magic, focusing on her interrogation magic.

    "Tell me. What are you here for? What happened to the previous team?"

    Sora had an expression of disdain on her face, but she suddenly began to speak, as her own eyes opened widely.

    "I came here to steal the egg. I used it's wish granting abilities to make the rest of the team forget, thus sending them back."

    Success. Though, only a few seconds left. Have to hurry.

    "And what was your objective with the egg? What were you planning to do with it?"

    "I was going to use the bought time to let it imprint and recognise me as a parent, so I could modify it for someone."

    Someone?

    "Who is this someon---"

    Then it hit her. The spell drained all of her mana, and she fell back, collapsing on the floor.

    |Mama!|

    Sora was still bound, since Nimue was holding the ropes, but she could still move her mouth.

    "And I would have succeeded, without your meddling!"

    That was as far as she got, before Nimue stuffed her mouth with water.
    Joan prepared to move, when she saw Nadia fall, but one of two of the Dolls held her shoulders, while another two went to pick Nadia up. The last pair looked at each other, and knocked the captive out, then stood by her for some reason.

    The catgirl looked around, and asked "Where is Aria?"
    Booooooooring... Those people just can't do anything other than throwing insults at one another?

    Better take a look at the surroundings and see how it goes... I think we were supposed to explore anyway? Or were we not? I kinda forgot... What was the task again? Ah well, whatever.

    i wasn't in the mood for flying though... I wanted to save my Mana already, not waste it like this... Haa... Where is Firia when I need her?

    Flying down the mountain I started looking for something... Something? What am I supposed to see anyway? Such a random idea, am I expected to just wander around and say anything interesting I find?

    Well, mountains are boring by nature, so I might as well just check the plains... I kinda already flew through here before though...

    Plants, not interesting.
    Rocks, not interesting.
    Lizards, not interesting.
    Wolves, not interesting.
    More wolves... Not interesting.
    Even more wolves... Not interesting at all...
    Wol... Okay, just how many wolves am I going to find just by flying randomly? Seriously, is this a wolf infestation or something? Such a bother...

    Oh hey, something is eating the wolves, what's that what's that?

    I flew a bit closer, it seemed to be a... Giant lizard? It's eating a lot of wolves for sure... Like, there seem to be... Uhn... 1, 2 ,3, 4... They are moving too much, I can't count... 10? 15? I dunno, it's a lot of wolves.

    And yet it is still eating one by one, the wolves barely scratch its... Scale? Are those scales?

    It really is a weird monster... I never saw a lizard this big, it's like... Bigger than 3 horses! It really is big!

    Ah, the last wolf was eaten... They died without being able to do anything... Poor things...

    It's sniffing now? Searching for new prey? What is the next one what is the next one? Seems fun seems fun!

    Above? Eh? Isn't that...

    Whoa whoa whoa! Don't just go spitting on me you crazy-

    I flew to the sites and was nearly hit by a bunch of green spit, it quickly flew past me and grazed the end of my broom and... Holy Lucky! It's melting! It's melting the hit part! What is Lady Luck's name is this thing!?

    "Go die!" I threw a fireball at it! Ha! Burn! Burn burn and buuuuuurn!!!!

    ... Isn't it burning a bit too much? A single fireball shouldn't make it's whole body catch on fire... Oh dear.

    It looked at me and spit... Fire. It spit a bunch of fire on my direction!? Just what the what the what the what the!??!?!

    I flew away and was almost hit... Okay, I don't know what is this thing, but I'm not staying to discover! Bye bye!!!

    I flew away as quickly as I could while looking behind me to see what was happening... It was following me.

    I could see it spreading some flames through the grass as well... Hopefuily it doesn't grow too big... Well, it shouldn't grow much, considering how humid the ground must be with all that rain.

    But more importantly... Why is this thing able to keep up with my broom?!?!!

    Ah! It shot fire again!?

    I dodged to the site, but it kept on following me...

    "Somebody HEEEEEELP!!!!!!"
    Looking at the sky, Umbrum sighed as his arms were still around his knee and his hood on his head, partially blocking his view, he muttered on a panicked tone before biting his lips until blood flow.
    “...nowhere…”
    That person was nowhere to be seen unlike usual, normally, he was there, pursuing him without any apparent motives except to ask a question that had no meaning to Umbrum, the only one that had a meaning was when he changed his question which became : “Who are you ?”. Just because of this, he finally went away yet left Umbrum alone, this cloaked man with fearful eyes was the only thing that attached to his past excluding his belongings.

    A drop fell on the ground, traces of tears could be seen around his eyes, looking afar, he had calmed down now, however it wasn't the end yet because everything was silent, far too silent, it didn't fit his current life, something was going to change and not for good

    Extending one of his trembling arms and spreading his frail fingers, he looked at end of his nails and noticed that it was black, no, it was dissipating. After a few dozen of minutes, a part of his disappeared, from his thumb to his forefinger, and it wasn't stopping, slowly, his body was a naturally becoming smoke as his eyes seemed emptier and emptier, only a hint of guilt and sorrow could be seen in this nothingness.

    “...I… don't… just a few hours…” Normally, he would force himself to smile. To act. To simulate happiness so he could stay down on earth, still within the realms of reason. But right now, he wouldn't do that since he wanted to take a short break, yes, disappearing for a few hours would make him feel better. Having nothing to think about.

    Now his right hand had disappeared, there was nothing there yet he kept on staring at this now empty hand.
    A weak fog seemed to be circling, around Umbrum and the campfire, it wasn't the smoke produced by the firewood and the flames burning it. It was hardly visible, all he did was waiting to dissipate like a ephemeral insect, it was the first time that he was transforming into a shadow willingly.

    ***

    *Woke up to a crying loli* (Nadia)

    "Why is the front of my shirt wet? The hell?"
    Joan pointed at the spirit child on Nadia's chest.

    "One thing I've wondered is whether water spirit snot is actually water as well."
    Nadia tried to get up...and failed spectacularly.

    "What the heck? It's heavy!"

    She caught Nimue by the scruff of her neck.

    "Get off me! I can't move!"

    *Small timeskip*

    For some reason, Nimue was now happily settled down on Nadia's left shoulder.

    |Yaaaaay~|

    "As I thought, kids these days are high maintenance beings..."

    "So is dragging around a corpse. Or at least I wish it was a corpse." Joan looked at Sora, who was unceremoniously scraping the dirt, while Silvia was safely carried in her other arm.

    In front of them was the camp and a rather strange sight.

    "Umbrum...?" Niris whispered to herself as she saw him next to the fire with a missing hand, it seemed like there was nothing actually.
    He didn't notice them even while they were approaching, he continued to look at his hand, then also his wrist which was slowly disappearing, creating a frail mist.

    His face was hidden behind his hanging hood, and he made no sounds as he continued to simply transform into something else.

    "Should we have taken him with us to the hot spring?" Joan asked herself out loud. "Umbrum are you mad or something?"

    Sora's unconscious body fell down on the ground with a thud, while the sleeping Silvia was gently placed nearby. The catgirl then peeked at Umbrum again, suddenly standing perfectly still and silent.
    Looking up, as his glasses were on the tip of his nose, he weakly muttered to himself at the moment the disappearing effect accelerated.

    "Joan...? Don't mind me... That's nothing related to the... Hot spring...?" Even if he didn't know that they went at the hot spring since he didn't read the paper, he shrugged and showed a smile that totally didn't seem to be fake, on the contrary, it seemed like a perfect and cheerful natural smile, half of his right forearm dissipated and the fog somehow became more dense. It was a bit more visible than invisible.

    Silently, Umbrum stood up and didn't even try to hide his condition as he lifted his left arm then lowered it to lift what was left of his right arm.

    "What happened to your arm ?" Her voice was still as cold as always, she thought that it was his spell, Edax Umbra.

    Joan was disturbed. She had disregarded her visions as nothing but illusions. Her current dread was like the one in the vision. She didn't answer for a while, then spoke in a low voice.

    "Is this what you are?"

    "What am I...? I am just a normal person ? Maybe ? At least, that's what my master said... Well he disappeared too." If his mood was proper, he would have laughed bitterly, this person always asked : "What are you ?"
    Then when he replied, he disappeared, the proof that he existed before disappearing once has disappeared, just like this.

    "That isn't your spell ?" Asked Niris on an odd inquisitive tone, Umbrum only shook his head as his forearm entirely disappeared. His smile was still there, if his arm didn't disappear, if he didn't have any traces of cries on his face, nobody would have noticed that something was strange about him.

    "That's natural I think ?"

    Joan relaxed a bit. She tried analyzing the situation, but there were too many unknowns. The key was probably in what she saw. She didn't know much about omens and visions, as she was always one to disregard them. All she could do is ask, while there was still time. It was the simplest thing to do.

    "I saw you and I saw myself disappear. It was as if everything including me stopped existing, and only darkness remained. Are you trying to disappear? Cease to be?"

    "Yes and no ?" Spontaneously, Umbrum just replied after hearing her question, his time was simple. Nothing seemed to really bother him as his arm continued to disappear.
    "Just need... A certain time to think, probably a few hours instead of minutes ?" Unlike what Niris thought, Umbrum didn't try to kill himself.

    "So, you just want to isolate yourself to think ? I think that it's not a good idea, considering that it's not a spell, I bet you can stay forever in this state." Umbrum stayed silent as he simply shrugged because every time he naturally disappeared, that was because his mood was in a pitiful emotional state.

    "I'm envious, you know." The catgirl pouted "You are all alone in there, without a care in the world. Is it something you're really fine with?" She felt she had to turn him back somehow.
    What am I saying? I don't want any part of this. Shut up me. Just let him go, before I disappear as well.

    "Ah, I'm really envious. I also want to be free~"

    "If by free, you mean death then that isn't." Umbrum circled calmly around the campfire, as his right shoulder began to dissipate.
    "This is just physically not feeling anything, you won't see, hear, smell or taste. No body to feel and nobody able to interact with you." Umbrum chuckled as he thought that what he said was quite foolish.

    "Why in the first place are you trying to disappear ?" Niris simply asked on the same time, however, it seemed like there was a hint of disappointment.
    "I will just come back against my will because of my mind as always." Umbrum didn't really seemed to care about what she said, his smile stayed the same carefree smile, it just... wasn't fitting considering his words.

    "As always? No wonder you look insane." Joan looked at Niris with pity. "Why not have somebody join you? Or do you cherish being alone more than anything else?"

    I hope she receives that gift. That guy is a goner, though. I wonder what was it that I feared?

    A thought that hadn't even had time to form suddenly left the catgirl's mind, even the memory of it lost. She felt a sudden sadness, poking her at the edge of perception, but merely looked away at Silvia and smiled.

    "Well... if that somebody also disappear, I would prefer to be alone from now. It's already been two times, if there has been two, there will be a three." Umbrum lifted three of his fingers as he said that with the same smile however, at this moment, his body stopped dissipate yet this fake smile stayed the same it didn't change in any expect even when Niris was staring at him.
    "Then I will accompany you." After what she, Umbrum's attitude didn't seem to change, not at all, however his voice did. Because he didn't understand.

    "...why ? I mean, you were just freeloading because you had nowhere to go ?" There is no reason for her to accompany him after al. Nodding, Niris added some details to her motive on the same tone but with a small smile.
    "Because I am indebted." Hearing that, Umbrum restrained himself from laughing bitterly and stayed silent as for the first time since the conversation began, he tried to hide his missing arm with a smile that didn't seem to change even if his mood was a bit better than earlier.
    Joan felt a chill looking at this slow romance couple. Indeed she was envious, but not because of Umbrum's solitude. It was because he received affection and loyalty, she thought he didn't deserve. She felt envious of Niris, whose time had stopped, while she felt hers was running out. It was running out for this task as well, but that didn't mean much, right now.

    Finding the culprit behind the memory spell was a mere coincidence. This party wouldn't have been able to discover anything, if it wasn't for dumb luck. Maybe fate protects the spirits? Was she just being a pawn of fate? Absentmindedly, she sat down on the handcannon by the smouldering campfire. She thought back to the events starting from last evening.

    She honestly believed a while ago, that even if they were eccentrics, the Association members were at least capable of taking care of themselves. The reality was, that this party was so dysfunctional, they weren't able to get from one point on the map to the other, without a party member getting wounded, falling unconscious, go missing, or get stuck with a child. And that last one was a receptionist. They left one person alone for a couple of hours, only for him to begin to physically disappear by himself!

    Lamenting her own luck for a moment, she simply gave up and embraced the chaos, accepting it deep within her heart. They already had enough achievements for half the report, the rest required a simple stroll around the city surroundings, taking notice of the beasts along the way. Within her mind, somebody was already bound to get eaten, but she felt she didn't care for that anymore. If Nadia didn't come along with them, she could have just went back and reported her bit, leaving the rest of them to fend for themselves. Apparently this kind of attitude was acceptable with this organization. Well, maybe she would take Silvia back with her, as she at least had an excuse for her behavior, and wasn't prone to desertion.

    The synthesis of all those thoughts was a simple sentence, which she uttered, while throwing some of the gathered firewood, and relighting the flame with magic.

    "I'm going down in the afternoon to finish the task." (Joan)

    Joan then fell silent, looking at the fire catch on and made herself comfortable beside it.
    Taking a head of a boar, Umbrum deactivated Shadow Devouring, and the rest of the corpse appeared once again, nevertheless, a mana crystal was emptied thank to this.
    Oddly, he stayed silent as he quickly skinned the boar with only one arm, it seemed like his right arm wasn't going to come back yet, his mood was simply stabilized.
    When Joan said that this afternoon they will finish, he nodded and did nothing else than what he was going, preparing another meal as he whispered to himself.

    "March, march,
    Let the thread,
    Feed our dread,
    Avoid the parch.


    March, march,
    Defend your family,
    Destroy this clammily,
    Follow this demarche."


    And he repeated those words again and again and again until he finishes skinning and cutting the boar into parts once again, he closed his eyes and sighed sorrowfully.
    What family ? Those parts were long stuck into his head, he didn't remember where he heard them, but it stuck into his head, it couldn't get out of it.
    Niris simply waited for the food, after a while, she just decided to cook by herself since she was quite hungry, however, no words were exchanged.
    Not even one.

    Internally thinking, Umbrum was just too concerned about the cloaked man and tried to see it from another point of view, if this man was really someone, wouldn't that mean that he got ignored during more than ten years ? Seeing it like this, to see that he disappeared, isn't it quite hypocritical to be depressed because someone disappeared after you replied to them with a decade late ?
    At a moment, a bitter smile couldn't help but appear on his face as he mocked himself more than ever during his still short life.

    Unconsciously, after thinking a bit about it, without even forcing himself to smile for once, his right arm began to come back, slowly but surely. He didn't understand why it was going back when his mood actually became worse even if he partly understood why the man disappeared, he ignored this poor guy after ten years. It's just made him feel even worst yet his arm was coming back.

    "...definitively, that's one of the only things I can't understand..." Staring at his arm that was coming back, he totally ignored Niris who was cooking the boar, and she exactly did the same.
    His words were heard but ignored.

    [System Message: Issuing Directives... Please Return to the Lab Immediately and Commence Repair.]

    Ugh... How many times did I have to listen and swat this message? Why won't they stop.. just how many of us was left to keep this Message for months.

    Something like a room with a lot of computers, Type-Writers, and Magic Items are Lined up together and compressed with each other in Silvia's Dream World. She's doing her best to redirect the Return Signal only to her and not on her fellow Homunculus. Though Every few times in a month, the Signal gets stronger and Silvia has to deal with it longer. With one wrong move, She would be on her way to the accursed Lab once again.

    Nadia had settled on the far edge of the camp, out of hearing range of the others. Nimue had followed her, sliding down her shoulder to settle comfortably on her lap.

    Nadia sighed inwardly, watching the little spirit play around with a butterfly.

    'Perhaps the (little) is a bit of a misdirection. This one is really powerful.'
    |I got praised by Mama? Ehehe~|
    "!!!"

    Nadia was caught off guard at having her thoughts being seen through. And responded to, even.

    "You heard my thoughts? How?"

    Nimue stuck out her tongue, grinning cheekily.

    |Well, you're my Mama!|
    "That doesn't explain anything!"
    *sfx for forehead flick*
    |Teehee~|

    Even Nadia herself could tell that her forehead flick was done mostly in jest. As if she was worried about hurting her own child---

    "Wait, what am I thinking?"
    |Ehehe~ Mama is such a tsundere~|
    "Am not!"

    Still, it could be quite convenient. If there was a link between them that connected the two constantly, if would serve as handy replacement for instant messaging. Not that there were any to begin with, but yeah.

    She shifted both of them closer to the campfire.

    |Is this working?|
    |Yes! I can heard you loud and clear, Mama!|
    |I told you not to call me M---Ugh, forget it. With this, the others won't find out about our talk.|

    Nimue glanced at Nadia curiously, although to onlookers, it would appear as if both of them were staring into each other's eyes. At kissing range.

    |Nimue, you're a powerful Spirit. I'm only half an Undine, but I can tell. You'll be a great Guardian one day.|
    |Huh? No way! Mama is stronger than I am!|
    |For now, perhaps. As you grow older, and your own understanding of your powers grow, you will exceed me. Which is why I've decided to teach you.|
    |Teach me?|

    Nimue tilted her head slightly.

    |Yes. Being a Guardian is no small task. The entire mountain is under your care, and you will have to take charge of managing everything, from the food chain, the populations, and nature itself. The hot spring where you were born? That's the greatest source of your power.|
    *Nod*
    |Because of that, the Mountain itself grants you a portion of 'Authority'. You are able to affect what goes in in your territory. As it flourishes, so will you.|
    *Nods*
    |However, the reverse is also true. If damage is done to the mountain, the effects will be keenly felt by you. If it withers, you will too. Therefore, you must take good care of the mountain, weeding out unwelcome things before they make a mess...|
    *No response*
    |Wake up!|

    Nimue had an embarrassed smile on her face.

    |Ehehe~|
    *Sigh*
    |Alright. Do you know how to wield Water Magic?|
    |No~|
    |That's not something to be proud of!|
    |Ehehe~|

    Nadia had a feeling it wasn't going to work if they just talked, so she grasped Nimue's left hand in her own.

    |Try to cast a spell. I'll guide you.|
    |Okay~ Hydro Sphere!|

    A ball of water appeared in front of them, a miniature version of Nadia's own spell; it was barely 5 centimetres in radius.

    *Sigh*

    Nadia gripped Nimue's hand firmly, and stared into her eyes. Into the eyes of a young Water Spirit.
    They were in a really questionable position.

    |Okay, let's do this one more time.|

    Joan's sensitive ears picked up Umbrum's song. It sounded like a war one, so she began to hum her own tune, as she remember one from her mercenary days.

    "Under the mountain,
    Our enchanted hills,
    Hold an encampment,
    Full of butcher bills.

    Don't hold your breath,
    Lest you lose your head,
    Charge for Belgard,
    Give our kind regard.

    With steel and lightning,
    On foot and steeds,
    It's never frightening,
    To do heroic deeds"

    Usually that part wasn't sung, as it was too annoying to remember, but the chorus was known by all soldiers near the Lzarier Mountain Range.

    "Fight! Fight! Fight for the lands never forgotten,
    Crush! Crush! Crush the woodsman misbegotten,
    March forward beyond the horizon,
    There waits the Mother's Bossom,
    And all her bounties.

    Trample! Trample! Trample down the rival sons,
    Cut! Cut! Cut up their open flanks,
    March forward beyond the horizon,
    There waits the Father's Crown,
    And all that was stolen.

    March! March! March until the sea,
    Only in glory and death are men free

    And" She added "We'll help you people out for a nominal fee~"

    "Because I am indebted."
    Niris’ words echoed in the mind of the catgirl ever since she uttered them. Waiting for Silvia to wake up, for the rest of the party to rest and prepare for the exploration journey, she remembered an occurrence at the tavern the day before. She didn’t often go to taverns nowadays, except that one time with Cadmium, after the sewer task was done, when she just needed a drink. Yesterday it was about collecting rumours, so she was listening by herself. Nobody bothered her, there seemed to be a commotion.
    “Hey did you hear about Aslan’s gambling house going out of business?”
    “Everybody did. A crier went into the street, shouting about how we’ve three days to redeem the chips. With the value of copper being what it is nowadays, that’s daylight robbery.”
    “Yeah” said a third on a neighbouring table “I was sure hoping he’d make some profit, so thems were worth more. Now we’ll get chump change for all our loyal patronage!”
    “It’s exactly why he’s closing down. He made too much, and now he’ll leave for Nyllia with the money, acting like he went bankrupt, while swimming in coins.”
    “Like hell he does, I heard he’s in trouble with the loan sharks for failing the monthlies, and he’s already off, while leaving people behind to pick up the pieces. Keep onto your chips, since that place is only changing the name.”

    Joan remembered thinking It’s the same below, as above. Somebody ends up greedy, takes from the wrong place, and then he has to give everything he owns, just to keep his head. Though a debt from above will take your head as well.

    She also remembered what one man whispered to another, as a response to all that.
    “Hey, doesn’t that mean Aslan is just playing all sides, and is filthy rich right now? Let’s go shake him up, once he’s on the road. I’ll get some of the boys together, and we do the deed the moment he’s out of town.”
    “I was about to offer the same” Whispered back the other. ”I heard a merchant with good connections in the guard will be coming tonight to pick him up. Let’s move your guys to the refugee camp, and track him from there.”

    The former pirate suddenly realized she probably won’t be doing any enchantments for that merchant later on, but also that there was a good chance here. It was swarming with magic beasts during the night. Basically all she had to do was look around the road for an overturned carriage, with the occupants missing into a monster’s stomach. She only needed a way to do it as part of the task, and claim the loot officially, or unofficially with some help from certain friends of hers.
    Something was still nagging her, though. What was it again that happened in that tavern?
    " Ugh... Someone seriously needs to flatten that Mountain... "
    Silvia grumbled as she woke up with a serious headache. There was even traces of blood on her nose and her left eye was bloodied...

    That was enough to distract the catgirl from her thoughts. She turned around, saw the blood, and exclaimed.
    "Silvia! When did that happen?"
    " Uhh... Now? This happens when I use too much magic with just my mind... Where's my Dolls anyways? "
    Silvia tried to sit only to slip back

    "Your dolls? In your pocket, I guess. Why were you using magic in this manner? Did you get attacked?"

    " really? "
    Silvia Checked her pockets for Cores and saw 20 of them with 6 of them have green Lightning simbols
    " Oh... Then can return back... I thought they'd retain their bodies... "
    Shrugging she continued
    " Someone or something is calling us... Me and my fellow Homunculi... Whenever i... Faint? I have to deal with it by redirecting it only to me and apply countermeasures... Sometimes in a month, the signals Intensifies and I have to deal with it lot longer than the ordinary signals."
    "... How?" Joan wondered. "Where is the sender located for it to be able to send signals over here?"

    She wondered if it was a lie. Silvia's creation was already a mystery, a magic of that frequency and magnitude was yet another. Whoever had done it, obviously had advanced magic beyond the scope of other places. She became very curious what other secrets might reveal themselves.
    " A Mountain... North... From what I read from the books here and there, it's a mountain on Mystere(please correct me) Kingdom... How they do it is Beyond me but I somehow have a temporary countermeasures for the signals... "
    Silvia said as she still lap pillowing Joan
    Joan stroked the girl's head.
    "If you need help, or can't move, we should take you back home... Can you trust me?"
    " Nah... I'll be fine in a few minutes... I'll just need to finish the Spell format and Formation "
    "Okay. Tell me when you can move again, we should start going down the mountain, as soon as you can manage. Oh, and there is something you promised. Two things, actually."

    Silvia Nodded before closing her eyes and resumes on Adding the Spell Format at the countermeasure spell. some things were on her mind though.

    Did i Promise Something?

    Joan was staring into Silvia's eyes somewhat expectantly.

    Looking at the sun slowly rising, Umbrum simply sighed, it's too bright for him, he put his hood back as he began eating the boar meat that Niris cooked, he didn't ask for it, she didn't say anything so he considered that it was alright to take some, so he did. And she stayed silent.

    Quietly, Umbrum stood up and stretched peacefully his arms, at least, what was left of one, his right forearm was still missing.
    Whistling and walking aimlessly around the camp, he didn't stop as he didn't know what to do.

    Suddenly a pitch black cloth appears, Umbrum fell on his back after seeing something that made him smile, bitterly but somehow happily since it came back.
    "..." It opened its mouth but no words were heard, something has clearly changed, for the best or the worst ? Probably the latter was what Umbrum thought, nevertheless, it was still better like this, better that he is here changed instead of away. Without fearful eyes and words, he stared at this person that he is linked to.
    "Don't you dare disappear again..." From another point of view, it would have looked like Umbrum fell for no reason and talked to the air with a slight smile as his right arm quickly appeared agains.
    Strangely, the moment this nameless man came back, Umbrum's body stabilized and became normal once again.

    After some seconds, Umbrum sighed and thought that it was time to finally stop wasting time. While Niris simply continued to eat, in the end, she wasn't here for the task, she was a just accompanying Umbrum.

    Nadia yawned, and rubbed at her eyelids. Nimue was curled up in her lap, fast asleep.

    Aaaand Done... this will last a month before those guys remake a new Return Signal

    After Silvia Finished her Spell Maxtrix, She Loaded Almost all of her Mana and Woke up. Releasing a Mana Burst but without harming anyone nearby or any Physical Effects.

    " Where am i again? "

    Joan just ignored Silvia's words and ruffled her hair. She was getting used to her weirdness. It was in fact, feeling rather familiar, and the catgirl felt strange all of a sudden.

    " Hmm~? "
    Silvia let Joan ruffle her hair while savoring the feeling

    Fate is there to seize its opportunities, was what she said, wasn’t it?

    "You should be the one. Will you join me in my journey till death do us part?" (Joan)

    " Hmm~ "
    Nodded, Silvia Agreed while being in simple pleasure
    I'm doing this of my own volition, to seize the day, and the future coming with it. Joan thought, not really aware of what she was doing. Somewhere in the back of her head a small voice of reason was screaming, but if she ever came to know of that, it wouldn't even matter anymore.

    "I don't know if you feel this strange feeling that I do now, but I can promise you soon will."

    Now, anybody who knew about feline beastkin physiology would have been aware of that condition. It was apparently that time of the year, and it was a wonder something like it hadn't happened sooner. Well, maybe it had, but here she was, free to pursue any target unobstructed by any previous attachments. Carried by the wind, a quiet 'ufufufu' resounded around the camp. The culprit behind the situation was revealing herself shamelessly, but the catgirl didn't care, as she gently caressed Silvia's cheek.

    " Hmm~? "

    Silvia Tilts her head while savoring the pleasure on her cheek

    " Something's going to happen? "

    Joan slid aside Silvia's hair, gazing into her eyes, and simply answered "Yes."

    She then moved her gaze slowly down Silvia, inspecting her. "Will everything be fine with your body?"
    " Yes~? I already can move as much like the last time so... Yeah~ "
    Nodding, Silvia answered Joan. Though still curious.

    The catgirl's eyes literally shined.

    "Come with me, then. I'll show you what I mean~" She whispered in the homunculus girl's ear, then pulled back to look into her eyes and smile.

    Meanwhile, Umbrum only assisted at this situation without any real opinion about it, he was smiling because the man came back while Niris continued to eat slowly the boar meat.
    "Haaa~" Umbrum yawned then rubbed his eyes, because of what happened, he didn't sleep at all.
    On the other hand, Nadia, who was close enough to hear, and was totally eavesdropping on the conversation, immediately covered Nimue's ears.

    " Okay~? "
    Silvia smiled Wryly as she followed Joan

    A bit away from the camp, Joan was leading Silvia by the hand, among the pines and withered winter trees. She chose a cosy place inbetween three of them, and gently pinned the girl to one of the oaks, leaning over her. Only the sound of the wind blowing through the tree branches could be heard, her breath tickling Silvia's neck, letting out steam in the cool air...

    ***

    Later on, Joan was carrying Silvia back to the camp in a rather disheveled state. Both their hairs were in disorder, and Joan sported a rather refreshed blush on her face. Otherwise everything else seemed to be in order. The catgirl looked at the sky to check the time, and spoke out.

    "There is still time before noon. How should we approach scouting out the magic beasts?"
    "Why not? Nimue could use some practice casting spells. Though, are we going as a large group, or are we splitting up to cover more ground quicker?"
    |I'm with Mama!|
    "Hai, hai..."


    Nadia reluctantly placed Nimue back on her left shoulder.

    " ..... it still feel funny... " (Silvia)

    "I'll be taking care of you from now on, so don't worry. Let's apply for a shared room later on." Joan smiled encouragingly at the girl in her arms.

    " Okay~ "
    *hugs*
    " i guess i wont be alone now and never~ "

    "...I never thought I was going assist to this kind of things when I took this task." Umbrum said as he began to drink water, his face seemed to be quite surprised but then it quickly came back to what it was before, just a simple smile while Niris shrugged and replied to him by saying after a sigh.

    "That was obvious, Joan didn't stop to stick together with her." Umbrum shrugged, he didn't know since he went hunting while everyone was together, then they left to the Onsen, but he didn't really care so he didn't refute her and continued to walk aimlessly around the campfire since he had nothing to do except maybe playing with his dagger, however he didn't felt like it.
    "Considering we don't have the Guardian around this time, and it was swarming with magic beasts last night, it's probably more prudent to go as a group. At least we should go as pairs." Joan responded, before addressing Umbrum. "Sorry for the wait, but we were on a break regardless. If it makes you uncomfortable, I would ask you to be more self-aware." She said, grinning at the end.
    "Well, a group is fine too. I'm okay with either option."
    |Me too! As long as I get to stay beside Mama!|
    "...You're sticking around me just for the food, aren't you? Little glutton."


    As sharp as her words were, Nadia was smiling faintly.

    "Don't worry about that, that... uhm... not the first time I suppose...? Anyway, I wasn't uncomfortable." Not wanting to talk more about that, Umbrum seemed to be thinking about something, about if he misunderstood Joan or not, but in the end she just shrugged as Niris didn't seem to care about what Joan said and continued to do what she was doing, waiting.

    "And it's fine by me to be in group, it feels better this way." Umbrum then said after realizing what she said before Joan addressed to him.

    "Very well, if we're all in favor and ready, let's go down together, starting from the Southern Road. Somebody should be responsible for the prisoner, as well. It would be best, if we can push her to the guard patrol, but if we cannot, we can always leave her at the East Gate, since we'll passing by there, once we're done scouting around the South and Southeast" Joan suggested.
    "I'll take her."

    Nadia offered.

    "By the way, where is Aria ?" After nodding and agreeing to what she said, Umbrum asked after looking around him, as he didn't find her, he felt quite curious about why, and Niris tried to remember, then simply thought about when she left toward the forest.
    That's true, didn't they totally forgot her ?

    "Aria is taking independent action, as usual." Joan didn't feel like helping that girl any further. "I'm afraid we should expect the worst, but since she can fly, there's no possible way to determine where she went. If we spot her, we take her with us, if not, there's nothing we can do." She shrugged. Aria was probably a goner. In her mind there was no logical way for that girl to survive on her own in this kind of scenario.

    Bored, Nadia started playing a game of water table tennis with Nimue, using Water Magic to form the table, paddles, and ball.

    *Tok*
    *Tok*
    *Tok*
    *Tok*

    |Hehe~|
    *Tok Tok Tok*
    "Hey! Using Water Magic to increase the number of ping-pong balls is cheating!"
    |Ehehe~|
    "Ugh..."

    *Tok tok tok tok*
    |Ehhhh?! Mama?|
    "Fufufu~"
    |Hmph! Water Ball!|
    *Bam*
    "Hydrosphere!"
    *Bam*
    |Hydro Jet!|
    "Whoa! Water Hydra!"

    " That looks fun... What are they doing Joan? "

    "It looks like that game Novelias aristocrats play, only smaller and with water. I've never seen it played like that, though."

    Part 3

    *Wham!*
    "Hmm?*
    *Clang!*
    |Hah!|
    *Bam!*
    "Oka---Ehhhh?! W-What are you doing?!"
    |Ehehe~ Mama is bouncy~|

    ***

    A few hours later...

    |Nee, Mama, I'm hungry.|
    "You just ate a few hours ago..."

    Nadia had started off with Nimue on her left shoulder, and over the past few hours, Nimue had ended up on her back.

    " Hmm... I want to eat too... "
    Silvia looks at Joan while drooling

    Joan's expression was bit regretful, but she took out a bag of chocolate treats, and gave it to Silvia.

    "Here, mine are too small, so you'll have to do with this." The catgirl looked somewhat pitiful.

    Joan was pleasantly surprised, but needed to discipline Silvia, perhaps? She gently took her chin in her hand, and placed a chocolate into her mouth with another.

    Meanwhile there was a slight rustling sound in the background.

    Nadia frowned, having heard the rustling, but was unsure as to whether it was just the wind moving through the bushes.

    " Oooohhh~ this is tasty~ "
    Silvia blissfully enjoys the Chocolaty taste on her mouth while leaning on Joan. She ignored the rustling bushes.

    "Mmm, I need to taste as well~" Joan said, followed by a forceful deep kiss. Her cat ears automatically turned around the next instant, as the sound was getting closer. She pulled back, and placed a finger on Silvia's lips.

    "Shh, there's something moving around. Wait, it's suddenly gone!"
    " Hwaaaaaa~ "
    It left Silvia on a sudden Trance
    " Should I deploy The Dolls? "

    Nadia said nothing, except to get out her staff, as she shifted her stance slightly.
    "Please do." Joan responded, preparing a pistol.

    The party heard a crack, and a branch fell down on Umbrum's head. Above them was a strange creature shaped like a panter, covered in black chitin, with segmented tentacles, instead of legs. It growed, as it quickly descended. The magic gunslinger fired a ball of lightning at it, but only managed to purge a tentacle by accident.

    " Zeik~ Luna~ Your turn~ "
    Black Metalic dolls was created as Silvia drop two Cores on the ground, their eyes was glowing Green and Green Lightning expels as they move to Pin down the Panther.

    The creature coiled its tentacles around the Dolls, trying to claw them, while shrieking. Joan activated her half-moon tattoo to hasten, and jumped straight giant bayonet first into its head, the weapon getting stuck into the monster. She noticed a tentacle uncoiling and flailing in her general direction, so pulled back immediately.

    "It can survive without its head! Be careful!"

    "What the..." Umbrum scratched his head as he immediately rolled forward just in case, then he turned around and saw a weird headless monster with tentacles.

    He inhaled and exhaled deeply as he said to himself. "...I saw worse... There is worse... Maybe not but there is worse... There is always worse after all..."
    Hearing him muttering to himself because of what he saw, Niris kicked his back and spoke on a cold tone.
    "Be focused."

    "Geez... No need to hit~" stretching his back after getting hit, Umbrum grumbled on a cheerful tone which seemed to be flawless.

    "If that's the case, we'll have to go for the heart!"

    Nadia gripped her staff tightly, focusing on the creature's movements.

    It was flailing around aimlessly, trying to claw at nothing. Somebody had to put it out of its misery, before the sound of the struggle attracted more monsters.
    " Muu... Zeik... Gauss Thunderclad "
    On her command, Zeik's Lightning turned Red and Burst out of it's eyes aiming to slice half the beast. Luna naturally Evaded a split second before it hits her.

    As naturally happened with Zeik's burst of red lightning.

    "What is a monster normally found in a jungle doing out here?" Joan asked herself aloud, as she picked up her weapon. The bayonet had a slight singe on it, but seemed otherwise fine.
    Zeik's body Crumbled and Silvia quickly Retrieves the Core and recharged it with her Mana.
    " Woah... What was that? Weird... "

    "The Tsunchi or the Doll?" Joan asked, and continued. "The Tsunchi is normal, though it's not supposed to be this far North... It was probably imported somehow."
    " So it's Tsunchi... Weird name too... "
    "They're really nasty, especially when they are encountered in groups. Still, Joan is right. Something like that shouldn't be here..."

    She looked at Sora, who she had mercilessly dragged down the mountain.

    "I bet she knows the actual facts, but Overture won't last long enough...What to do. If only I had more mana..."

    Beside her, Nimue was deep in concentration.
    “We should be arriving the Mira Village soon...” Aleph muttered as they slowly advanced through a forest. He was checking time and time again the conditions of the conditions of his Magical Lamp.

    From the city, going west, were plains, but as they went west-northwest, it turned into a forest area. When they neared the forest, Aleph made Elae light him the Magical Lamps that were given by Sorgre and they started to slow down their pace, since they couldn’t rely in the moonlight as much as before. Even if not exactly the best lightsource, at least it was better than the lamps.

    “Are you sure? This forest looks like is endless, though…” Elae frowned, the light of the lamp slightly irritated her eyes.

    “Well, that’s because we didn’t went directly west, otherwise we would probably find the villages that live by the Virga River.

    Well, there’s a reason for why we didn’t headed there. Those people on the West Gate were mostly inhabitants of that region, and said that the place is infested with lizardmen. Some even saw a Titan Snake, if they word is to be trusted.”

    “Titan Snakes?”

    “Ah, they’re basically snakes with gigantic proportions. The smaller size ever registered of an adult one is ten meters long. Although they like to live by rivers and wetlands, they can also inhabit dry land.

    If possible, I’d like to avoid encountering one, since they’re C rank threats.”

    “Hmmm… And what about the lizardmen?”

    “Well, they’re mostly D rank threats, but can go as far as C rank, or even B rank in really rare occasions. The main problem would be that they attack in groups, instead of alone.”

    “Oh~ I see now~”

    “In addition, they know how to make and use weapons, how to make fortifications and etc.

    It’s hard to say they’re monsters.” He slowly lowered his tone as he had heard something, and started warily checking his surroundings. “Turn the Lamp off, Miss.”

    “My name is Elae.” Despite wasting time with a belated introduction, the girl more than happily turned off the Magical Lamp.

    Both of them stopped their tracks and started trying to hear any suspicious noise. There was the sound of the rustling caused by the wind, and the occasional sounds of one of two nocturnal animals, but they were only of owls, nocturnal rabbits and the like.

    Aside from that, Elae couldn’t hear anything else. On top of that, she couldn’t see a thing. “Hey, Capt-” “Just wait a bit.” Having her words cut by him, she felt slightly annoyed. Just what exactly he was trying to hear?

    Suddenly, a shiver went down on Elae’s spine. The sound of a bowstring rang, but she couldn’t even react in time. Closing her eyes, she waited for the worst, but what came instead was a dull metallic sound.

    “Get yourself together, Miss Elae.” Aleph said, probably after having blocked the arrow. “Who’s there? Show yourself at once!” He yelled to the direction where the arrow came from before turning to Elae and whispering. “Get the lamp on.”

    Lighting the magical lamp in her hands, the girl stood behind Aleph as a human figure appeared, shrouded in the darkness of the night. “I’m here, you damned witch. Kill me now, or else I’ll put an arrow in your forehead.”

    “Witch? I don’t know that you mean, but we aren’t witches.”

    “Bah, lies!” The man spat on the ground, putting his bow down. “A witch that turned my village in a death land, and her black knight. That’s what I see.”

    “No, we’ve come from the Association city. I don’t know what happened to your village, but we don’t have anything to do with it.”

    “Lies! These are all lies. I’ll just kill that witch and-”

    “It’s enough, Marth.” An elderly man’s voice sounded behind the bowman.

    “That voice is...” Aleph muttered dumbfounded.

    “It’s been a while, Aleph.” Coming out from the forest was a man with grey hair and beard, carrying an oil lamp in his hands.

    “Elder Bastra… Shouldn’t you be at the Mira Village?”

    “The Mira Village is no more. It is a long story, but we’re currently heading with the survivors to the Orn Village, to the east.”

    “Even Mira is done for...” Aleph gripped tight the reins of his horse. ”What about the other survivors?”

    “Math and me are acting as the scouts for the group but the rest of them are not that far.” The old man’s face grimaced as he continued. “Although we were only able to save about a tenth of the village’s population, and most of them were kids and elderly, so they can’t protect themselves.”

    “I see… We can only hope Orn won’t suffer from the same problem...”

    “Ahem….” Elae coughed fakely to call for their attention. “I’m still confused about something… What did you meant by witch?”

    “Ah… about that… is better to tell the story when we reach the camp. If you two don’t mind joining us, of course.”

    “We don’t mind.” Aleph answered, then turned to Elae to ask. “Right, Elae?”

    “Ah… Hmmm...” She frowned a bit and looked at the bowman, who was still glaring at her with hostility. Even the old man was looking at her rather warily, what made him quite uncomfortable. Nevertheless, she couldn’t refuse as Elae knew that she wouldn’t last long in the night without her escort, Aleph. Sighing in resignation, she nodded rather weakly. “I’m fine with it.”

    After that, the small group started to head out slowly through the forest. Aleph and Bastra took the lead, talking about something by themselves, while the bowman, Marth, went just a bit behind them and Elae stayed at the rearmost position.

    “Well, this is awkward… I more ways than one.” Edgard complained after considering that they were far enough from the others for them to not hear his voice.

    “I also think so… I don’t know what happened here, but I don’t like where this is going.”

    “Then why did you agreed in the first place?”

    “What could I have done, given the situation?” Frowning slightly, the girl raised her voice just a bit in annoyance. It was just a bit, but was enough for Marth to hear.

    “What are you scheming there, you witch?” He said while pulling an arrow from his quiver.

    “I-I’m not scheming anything! I’m just...” She bit her lips. It’s not like she couldn’t tell him about Edgard, but she had this strange feeling that if she did, the situation would probably only get messier.

    “Could you stop that, please.” Suddenly, Aleph’s voice came from behind the man. He had stopped talking with the old man when he noticed what Marth was doing and came to intervene. “I don’t know miss Elae that well, but I don’t believe she is anywhere near what you might think she is. She isn’t a witch. I’d know if she were.”

    “But-” “Marth...” It was only after the old man asked him to stop that Marth put back the arrow and seemingly gave up.

    The travel continued wordlessly until they arrived at a place where some tents were raised and the light of campfires could be seen. It was the camp of the survivors from Mira Village.

    As they entered the camp, Elae couldn’t help but notice that the people looked at her strangely and some even hid inside their tents as she passed with the others through the camp, as if she weren’t feeling uncomfortable enough before.

    Reaching a big tent in the middle of the camp, the old man, Bastra, invited both Elae and Alpeh to get inside as he sent Marth to give his report to the rest of the fighters of the camp.

    Leaving the horse and the boars outside, they entered the tent and sat on the ground.

    “So, what was that about. The witch thing, and why are people eyeing miss Elae so weirdly.” Aleph asked without being roundabout.

    “Ah… I guess I owe an explanation...” Bastra said with a downhearted expression. Turning to Elae, he added. “And an apology in Marth’s stead. You’ll understand why he was like that when I tell the story.”

    Nodding, Aleph signaled the old man to continue.

    “Very well… As I said before, it is a long story.

    Some weeks ago, when the storms were raging more than they were nowadays, a person came to the border of Mira Village. A woman.

    Her clothes were tattered and burnt here and there, and she was wearing a cloak that hid most of her face and part of her body.

    We were suspicious of her, of course. A stranger coming here in that state, it couldn’t possibly be good news. We talked to her, and asked why was she doing here and what happened to her.

    She answered us that she came from the north, fleeing from the beasts that were assaulting the place she was from. She had been traveling for days, trying to find a safe place to stay, but was denied entrance in the villages there time and time again.

    At first, we were outraged by the attitude of the villagers from that place. After all, what in the tarnation would lead them to chase out someone seeking help? At least that was what we thought at the moment…

    We soon came to understand the villagers choice.

    When the woman took off her cloak, we saw how she looked like. She was a beautiful young woman, with wavy, brown hair and amber colored eyes. She appeared to be just a bit older than the miss there. Then there was that… mark… It was like a small black stain in her arm, shaped like a cobweb… Although it wasn’t much, that thing was moving in her skin...

    That girl was a witch. The mark was the proof.

    Suddenly, all the warm gazes that the villagers casted at the pitiful woman turned into cold stares.

    In the next day, we sent her away. She tried to plead, but the villagers wouldn’t listen to her words as they led her off by the tip of the sword...”

    A short silence followed as the elder looked at the ground, seemingly ashamed. “In the following week… things… started happening… Hunters went missing. Howls of beasts started sounding nearer and nearer our homes, encroaching the village.

    We were all frightened… The army never came to our rescue, nor did any nobles… we didn’t even knew whether our envoys were able to reach them alive or not…

    It was one week after we sent the witch away that it happened… an horde of beasts attacked the village. But they were no common beasts. They all had a putrid smell, their bodies carried many open wounds and they had lifeless eyes.”

    “Undeads, huh?” Aleph murmured while taking a quick glance at Elae.

    Bastra nodded and continued. “The beasts were no common undeads, though… Every villager they killed came back as an undead. We were caught by surprise, so we couldn’t even make proper preparations for the defense and a large number of our neighbors, family and friends were turned into undeads before we noticed… We could only flee…

    After we managed to flee from the village, the survivors started to run their ideas wild about what happened.

    ‘The witch that kicked out of the village came back for vengeance’ so was the rumor that was spread among them… I can’t help but think that it is the true, though.

    Since old days, witches have been known for bringing the dead back to torment the living, so it was only natural for them to think that.

    That’s about it… the whole story. Now you can somehow understand the reason Marth was acting like that… He lost his whole family in the attack…”

    “Bastra…I understand that you all passed through lots of things, from that you told me, but that doesn’t means that he’s without fault.” Aleph said with a serious tone.

    “I know that… I know, but… We can’t help but suspect someone we don’t even know, right?”

    “Erm...” Shyly raising her hand, Elae interjected between the two of them. “It might not sound that much believable, but… I think that the witch probably had nothing to do with the attack.”

    “What makes you think this?” Turning to the girl, Aleph inquired.

    “Well, I’m a necromancer myself, so undeads are more or less my area of expertise. Hearing the story of the elder, I can’t help but think that the possibilities of that witch being related to the attack are low.”

    “What are you trying to do?” A voice sounded near her ear, but she decided to ignore for now as she started explaining.

    “Firstly, the beasts that attacked the village. As you said, they’re not common undead beasts. Usually, a corpse would take over a month gathering mana from its surroundings in other to turn into a natural born undead, but those people were being turned as they died.

    There are a few undeads that I can pick from the top of my head that could have this kind of ability, but from the description you gave, those were probably Carrion Beasts.”

    “I never heard of those before...”

    “That’s only natural, Captain Aleph. They’re undeads that need very specific conditions to be born. It’s hard to find a natural one, most of the Carrion Beasts you may find out there are created by someone.

    They’re not that much different from common undeads, having as the only difference the need to have exposed wounds all over their bodies. Through those wounds, they expel a type of substance that serves as catalyst to accelerate the rate which corpses absorb mana from the surroundings.

    In other words, they’re used to quickly create undeads.”

    “I see… so that’s what they were...” The elder stroked his chin, thinking to himself. “But how does this makes the witch innocent.”

    “It’s the way those creatures come into being, and the fact that they expire fast.

    Making a Carrion Beast takes time, way more than a common undead, let’s say a zombie, takes. For her to make them, an horde of them on top of it, it would take way more than a week by herself.

    Of course, you could argue that she prepared them beforehand, but Carrion Beasts are special in the fact that they only retain their ability to speed up the creation of undeads for roughly a single week, or more if you use good catalysts.

    But the beasts attacked a week after she left… it makes no sense. Why would she wait a whole week, risking having the Carrion Beasts losing their main selling point in the meantime? Why not attack right after she left, or maybe wait a day or two?

    The last thing is… why did she even visited the village if she was going to attack? If she did had the Carrion Beasts ready for an attack, it would be better to attack without warning, rather than alarming the village by visiting it?

    With that said, I can think of three possibilities.

    First and the most likely, the witch had nothing with the beasts and visited the village to seek a place to stay without any ill intent. She might have known about the beasts, and purposely didn’t warned due to being shoved out of the village. Or maybe she didn’t even knew.

    The second possibility is, she was not working alone. Many witches working together might explain how they managed to raise that many Carrion Beasts at the same time, but then again, it doesn’t explains why would they make the village stay in alert because of the visit.

    The last and really unlikely is that the beasts were born naturally. I know I said it’s hard to find them in the wild, and even rarer in such great numbers, but we can’t ignore the possibility.

    That’s what I could think of, given the information. Of course, my guesses can be way off since we lack so many informations.”

    When she finished, the girl finally noticed that the elder was looking at her wide eyed. “So she was actually innocent?!”

    “I didn’t said that… I just said she probably is innocent, but it’s not for sure.”

    “I see… I wish I could convince the others just like you did with me, but I fear they won’t quite believe this...”

    “That’s understandable...” She smiled weakly. It was understandable that they’d be wary of her or her words.

    “In any case, you two are our guests today. I’ll arrange a tent for the little miss and Aleph can sleep in my te-” “Elder Bastra, if you allow me to request...” Aleph raised his hand and cut off Bastra’s voice. “I’d like to be in the same tent as Elae.”

    The old man became dumbfounded by his words. “You two are…?”

    “That’s not it. After hearing your story, I concluded that miss Elae’s life might get in danger if we stay here.” Moving his hand to his sword, Aleph tapped on the pommel lightly. “I should at least be able to protect her since I brought her with me.”

    “Ah, I see… then, I’ll leave you two with the tent right next to me. It should be large enough for two.”

    “Thank you, Bastra..” Getting up, Aleph looked at her and signaled with his head for her to follow him. As she was quite tired for today, Elae decided to just wave goodbye to Bastra and quietly follow as they left the big tent and lead their mounts to the tent. It seemed like the refugees had went to sleep, so Elae didn’t had to bother with their weird gazes.

    Reaching a big tent near the main one, Aleph muttered. “It must be here...” Checking inside, it was empty, so it was probably the tent that Bastra talked about.

    After both of them left the animals outside and entered the place, Aleph turned to Elae and said while spreading his arms.

    “Can you help me take it off?”

    “Huh?!”

    “The armor, can you help me? Or did you expected me to sleep on it?”

    “Uhhh…. You can’t?” She tilted her head.

    “If I could… Hmmmm… well, I could, but it is unadvised to.” He said as he was already taking off his gauntlets.

    Elae stared at him for a moment. She didn’t knew anything about armors, so, obviously, she didn’t knew anything about taking off armors. Just what did he expected her to do? Shaking her head, she whispered to the only person she could ask about at the moment.

    Edgard sighed, but gave a positive answer and started guiding her to take off the greaves and the rest of the armor in his legs.

    “I’m sorry… For dragging you here...” He said while taking of his breastplate.

    “There’s no need to apologise, though.” It was true that she got slightly annoyed by the gazes she was receiving back them, and also with him for not even asking her opinion before deciding coming here, but she wasn’t particularly mad about it. “If anything, it was an unfortunate happening during my task.”

    “What? The people of the Mira Village?”

    “Hmmm~ No, I’d say it’s more like you were my unfortunate happening.”

    “I see...”

    “Ah, about that… How did you knew that old man, the Bastra guy?”

    “It’s somewhat of a simple story. He used to be a guard in my hometown and I trained under him for some time...”

    “Your hometown, huh?”

    When there was only his helmet left, he raised his hand to stop Elae. “Don’t worry… This one I’ll take off myself.”

    She tilted her head, confused. But that only lasted a moment before she shrugged and went to check her travel bag.

    She hadn’t eaten anything since she left the city, so she pulled out a loaf of hard bread and started munching as she checked the rest of the contents. The only notable things she had brought with her were the Mortar and Pestle and the Silent Grass, but she probably wouldn’t use it so soon.

    “Eating so late in the night will give you stomach aches by the morning...” Edgard nagged one last time before going to sleep. He probably would give her an earful tomorrow for ignoring him time and time again.

    “What are you doing?” Aleph called out for her. When the girl turned, she found out that he had already taken out the helmet and the paddings and organized the armor in a single place of the tent. Instead of his armor, he was wearing a slightly loose cotton shirt, leather trousers and a pair of glasses with a pair of light green colored eyes behind them. They seemed to somehow gleam slightly, but that might have been just her imagination.

    Gulping down the rest of the bread, she answered. “Ah, I’m just… eating, I guess.”

    “That’s good… We need to be at full strength for tomorrow. If you’re done eating, then go rest a bit.” Aleph said as he laid down in the ground to sleep. Right beside him was his sword, still in the scabbard. Remembering something that she once had read, Elae also laid down besides the sword, but in the opposite side.

    ***

    In the following day, both of them woke up and started packing their things. When they went out of the tent, the refugees were also packing up their things and dismantling the tents.

    They decided to help a bit them, as they would be following them in the travel. It was before the sun had reached the top of the trees when they finished packing everything.

    The travel that followed was rather calm, with only some occasional howls of the beasts that inhabited the forests in the northwest.

    “It seems there are no wolves in this parts… but there sure are some boars and other things.” Elae commented randomly, to which Bastra, who was walking near her, answered.

    “That’s right. Before the period of rains, there were only triple boars, but now there are even rock boars and giant forest hogs, like yours.”

    “Triple boars are those rhino boars, right?”

    “Rhino?” Bastra chuckled. “It’s a way of calling them, I guess. They’re called triple boars because they have their two boar tusks and a horn in their nose, like a rhino. Though, I’ve never seen a rhino around here…. They usually inhabit the areas near and in Marden.

    Rock boars are… well, not quite made of rock. They like muddy or dirty areas where they can rub their fur and harden it with a bit of magic, creating a natural armor of sorts.

    And Giant Forest Hogs are a species that should be more to the north, but ended up here… I don’t think they’ll last long around here, though.”

    Elae started taking notes of what the elder was saying as they continued their travel. “What other kind of animals appeared around too?”

    “Hmmm… There are the Daybreak Elks. They’re matutinal animals, so you probably won’t find them roaming at this hour. There are the black stags that usually run through the forest, and the flowerbed stags, which decorate their antlers with flowers to attract females. Aside from those… Hmmm… There is the usual magical beasts, like goblins and some few stray kobolds… But that’s all I can remember.”

    “Ah, thanks nevertheless~”

    The travel continued with Elae talking with Bastra and Aleph. The refugees had somehow gotten used to her to some extent, but still gave her suspicious looks from time to time. Some hours before the noon, they had arrived at Orn, the final destination of the refugees. It was a mid-sized village that stood in the border between the forest and the plains to the north.

    “Elae, we’ll be heading off to the north from here.”

    “We’re not visiting Orn?”

    He shook his head, facing the north. “We’re heading to the city of Ostia. I have an acquaintance there that I need to visit. After that, we’re going to ride through the plains until we reach the plateau at the east.”

    “Ostia… Wasn’t that the city that keeps having problems with goblins?” Elae asked curiously as she alternatively looked between him and the group of refugees.

    “Yes… And it’s also my hometown.” Aleph approached Bastra as he announced. “I’m heading to Ostia, elder.”

    With a distant look, the old man nodded. “I hope you have a good travel to there… And tell her I send my best regards.”

    “I will.” He said and prompted his horse to leave.

    “Goodbye to you too, miss. I hope we can meet in the future.” Bastra said as he saw her off.

    ***

    After having separated from the group heading to Orn, Elae and Aleph reached the plains safely.

    “Will we be okay heading to Ostia…? With the goblins and all?” The girl asked as they made their way.

    “Probably we won’t have any problems. The goblin population is spread more to the north and east, with just some wandering that far to the south.”

    “Well, the situation could have changed. Afterall, it was because of that that we were sent here.”

    “Hmm… That’s true. We should proceed with caution, but I don’t think we’ll be attacked.”

    Smiling wryly, Elae looked at the armored man in his horse. “Based on what, Captain?”

    “Gut feeling.” He answered curtly.

    “Huh… that’s kind of unexpected coming from you.”

    “Why so?”

    “I mean, I thought you were more rational, or at least that was the kind of feeling you gave off.”

    Aleph shrugged. “Sometimes you just need to rely on your instincts.”

    “Does this work for you?”

    “I’m still alive thanks to that, I guess.” Aleph nonchalantly said as he started to incite his horse to go faster. “Let’s speed up a bit. We’re near our destination.”

    “Roger~” She patted the boar’s head, asking him wordlessly to go faster.

    The armored man went ahead in his horse, leading the way, while the three boars, who couldn’t match his speed, followed closely.

    It didn’t took long before they sighted the walls of the city of Ostia in the distance. The city was built on top of a group of hills, making some parts of it higher than others. There was an outer wall in the flat area that surrounded the city and an inner wall that stood taller than the outer one passing through the hills.

    When Elae saw the city in the horizon, she unconsciously let out a sigh of relief. Luckily, they weren’t attacked, just like Aleph predicted, but she was also relieved because the sun was almost at the highest point in the sky, making the travel unbearable hot, even in the winter.

    To her surprise, instead of heading directly to the city, Aleph took a detour and went east-northeast.

    She made her boar, Hughes, make a bit more of effort to catch up to him and asked.

    “Aren’t we going to the city?”

    “Not exactly. As I said, I came here to visit an acquaintance.” Aleph said, pointing to a lonely house that stood at the top of a hill just ahead. It didn’t seemed like a commoner’s house, since it was well built and decorated, but also didn’t seemed like a wealthy residence.

    It was a simple stone brick house with a roof made of wood with a stone chimney poking out of it. There was a small vegetable garden, or something similar, near it.

    The windows of the house were open to allow the wind to flow through it, and there were hints of smoke coming out of the chimney.

    “It seems she’s home...” He muttered.

    When they got near the house, both of them decided to dismount and approach the house on foot, but before they could even get near the door to even knock, it opened and a person came running, crashing at Aleph.

    “Aleeeeeeeeeeeeeeph, you’re back! It’s been so long~” The woman that jumped at him said with a cheerful voice. “Are you okay? Healthy? Hoe have your work been?” Grabbing his head by the sides, she started questioning him. “You never came to visit me, for crying out loud.”

    Elae stood there, staring at both of them confusedly. “Erm… Hello…?”

    Finally noticing her, the woman turned to Elae and smiled. “Ah, sorry~ It’s been some time since Aleph visited me, so I got too excited. Let’s enter for now~” She said while taking off her hands from the man’s helmet and walking to Elae, pulling her to inside the house.

    The interior of the house was quite simple. It looked like it was a two room house, with the first room, which was where the door led, having a table, some chairs and a fireplace in the back wall, with some kitchen utensils in shelves near it. There was a wall with a door, probably leading to a second room, probably the woman’s bedroom.

    She led them to the table, making them take chairs as she went to put something in two pots to cook at the fireplace.

    “I’m sorry for the late introduction. My name is Severa~ Nice to meet you~”Taking a seat by the table, the woman introduced herself and extended her hand to Elae.

    “Nice to meet you, I’m Elae.” Taking her hand, the girl examined the woman before her a bit. She had golden hair that probably reached to her back. Her skin was fair, almost pale, but her face had some sparse freckles. Her light green eyes made her remember a certain someone, so she ended up asking. “Hmmm… It might sound rude to assume, but… Are you Aleph’s sister?”

    Hearing her question, Severa blinked several times, surprised, then started laughing while Aleph facepalmed and explained. “She’s not my sister… She’s my mother.”

    “Huh? No way!” Looking at Severa again, she didn’t looked any older than someone in her early twenties. “No freaking way!”

    “She may look like that, but she’s actually in her fou- Guh!” Before Aleph could end his sentence, a pair of girls appeared out of nowhere and slapped his head from both sides with paper fans.

    They looked like twins and somehow resembled Aleph and Severa, with golden hair and light green eyes, what made Elae wonder if they were somehow related. Still, they were wearing maid clothes, so she wasn’t quite sure. Aside from that, both of the girls had a strange mark below her eyes. One of them had a dark blue mark below her right eye while the other had an orange mark at her left eye.

    “Ah, Luna~ Solstia~ You’re back~” Severa greeted the girls as she casually ignored what Aleph was about to say. “Also, Aleph, go take off that armor. We’ll be eating soon.”

    Grumbling a bit, the man stood and went to the second room through the door Elae had seen before. Seeing Aleph heading off, Severa turned back to Elae. “I happen to be an excellent alchemist when it comes to beauty products~ So there’s that.”

    As Elae knew a bit of alchemy, she could say for sure that there was no way that it was so simple as that, so she could only wryly smile at the woman’s answer.

    Seeing that she wasn’t believing her words. Severa sighed and added. “And the fact that I’m a witch might have something with it too.”

    “Eh? A witch?” Elae tilted her head.

    “Yes, sweetie~” Severa showed hands, which were covered with fingerless gloves. She took out the glove of one of her hands and showed the back of it, which had a weird red body painting in the shape of a triskelion. Or at least it looked like a body painting, but Elae hadn’t seen any that could move, even a bit, while this strange mark seemed to twitch in the skin of the woman’s hand. “This is the mark of a witch. It’s possible to move and shape them at free will, but when inactive, they usually settle in a single place in the body.”

    “Huh? So you can hide it?”

    “Of course, most witches that want to live common lifes hide their marks, but some like Luna and Solstia can’t do that...” She glanced at the twins that were standing near the table without seating. “Well, they could hide it with a mask, but not only it would look suspicious, but it would also hide their cute faces~”

    “Ah, since we’re in the topic, can I ask something…?”

    “Feel free to.”

    “Those two… Are they your children too?”

    “Hmmm you could say that. Of course, they’re not exactly my daughters, but rather homunculus that I’ve made, but what difference does this makes, anyway~”

    “So even homunculus can learn witchcraft...”

    “Well, it’s not like is something limited to humans or elves or the like. Even constructs can use magic, right? Witchcraft is just a branch of it, so it’s obvious that they’d be able to use~”

    “Ah, well, I’m just a bit surprised...” Elae said embarrassed, scratching the back of her neck. “It’s the first time that I saw a witch in person, let alone three.”

    “Oh, nice to know that~ So, what you think of it?”

    “I’d say you sound nicer than what I thought a witch would be, considering their fame...”

    “Ah, that’s understandable… witches… no, it would be better to use the term Wild Magic users, are commonly misunderstood because of what happened back in the day… Some may be bad people, but some are good people, though. I do have to admit that the ratio of bad people is higher, though...”

    “Wild Magic users? What’s the difference between them and witches, though”

    “Hmmm…. I’ll probably have to explain that.

    Basically, what is today known as witches is different from what was known as witches back in the day.

    As you know, in the lost past, magic was a common thing, but all of sudden, it disappeared for a whole millenia. Though, three hundred years ago, give or take, magic started to slowly come back, and it was just some fifty years later that the first magical beasts appeared. It is said that the first witch appeared around this time.

    When the magical beasts started assaulting the world two hundred years ago, it wasn’t by their own, nor a natural event, but rather something incited by the witches, who stood at the very front of the attacks. At that time, there were three types of witches that existed.

    The ones who were able to tame magical beasts, the ones who were able to form contract with spirits and the ones who were able to use Wild Magic.

    If you look back, magic was seen as an enemy of civilization with witches being the personifications of that evil.

    You might be wondering why the witches would do that… well, it’s quite simple… Most of them were drunk in their own power and wanted to rule the world, much like Mystere;

    Of course, there were good people among the ones who were called witches, and those ones were the precursors of the modern magic.

    Nowadays, with magic being spread and researched, the definition of witches changed. They’re mostly the users of Wild Magic and the mages who form contracts with demons or commit crimes.

    Oh, my… I ended up talking too much. It’s better to check the food I put in the fire.”

    As Severa headed out to check the food, followed by the twin homunculus, Aleph came back dressed in a new set of clothes. It seemed like there were some clothes that fit him in her house.

    “I’m sorry for having to deal with my mother...” He bowed his head slightly.

    “Ah, no problem at all~ She’s quite… talkative, I guess.”

    “Yes, she is.”

    After he took a seat by the table, what followed was an awkward silence, only broken by Severa’s announcement.

    “Food is ready~” She said while carrying her own plate in hands, with the others being brought by the twins.

    The meal was composed of only rice and mashed potatoes. Seeing it, Elae smiled awkwardly. It was a way better meal than the ones that she was used to eat, so she was a bit hesitant on accepting it.

    “What a weird taste you have, young girl...” Interpreting her smile as if she didn’t liked it, Severa commented soon followed by Aleph’s rebuke.

    “You’re the one with weird taste!”

    “What? Luna and Solstia never complained about it!”

    “Ugh… At least serve them some meat too, they’re still growing...”

    “Dear son, there are only horses and goblins around Ostia, so are you suggesting your mother to eat that?!”

    “What about buying meat…?”

    “I can’t afford that! My charms and potions aren’t selling well, so I don’t have money for meat!

    Do you take me as a woman who would make Luna and Solstia steal a sheep from a farmer, blame raiding goblins and kill some random goblins to take the money as reward too?!”

    “That was an oddly specific example...”

    “Okay, let’s eat~”

    ***

    After finishing the meal, the twins headed off the house to run some errands for Severa.

    “Mother, I didn’t came here just to visit you...”

    Severa sighed. “I know that… You never do…. Go on, ask what you came for.”

    “I’d like to know if you received any strange news about monsters and the like. After the rains, the Association has been having many problems, with shortage of information.”

    “Hmmmm...” Crossing her arms, she started to ponder a bit. “Well, for starters., there are the goblins. You probably noticed, but you can’t even see a stray goblin wandering in the plains. It’s just like that, even in the north part the situation is the same...

    Aside from that, I just heard some rumors from the east, saying that the plateau was invaded by forge lizards. Not that they made it impossible to continue the mining activities… but they do pose some trouble.”

    “Hmmm… What are forge lizards?” Elae asked as she took note of what Severa said.

    “They’re lizards who feed on meat, any kind of meat, but don’t usually attack humans… The problem lays in the fact that they also eat away raw minerals.

    Inside their bodies, they have an organ that refines the minerals into metal, like a forge.

    Well, not quite like a forge.

    They basically break down the minerals in really small pieces, then separate the ones made of metal and refine them with magic. After that, the metal is used to be mixed into the scales while the rest is regurgitated.

    Those lizards usually pick a single metal as their favorite, actively seeking to eat it to strengthen their scales. They shed skin many times as they grow, reaching up to 5 meters of length, but also shed their scales to replace it with more metal rich ones. In the later case, they only do when they are sure that the ones replacing are better and eat the old skin to reuse the metal in it.

    In any case, that’s all I have.”

    “Thanks for the information. I’m sure it’ll be useful.” Aleph said, getting up from his chair. “I’ll get my armor. We’ll leave after that, miss Elae.”

    “Oh, for crying out loud, will you leave just like that?!” Severa complained, frowning at him.

    “It’s my work. I don’t have time to relax, unfortunately.”

    Sighing in resignation, she shooed him. “Okay, okay… Just go put your armor. I’ll have you deliver something for me in exchange for being so insensible.”

    It only took some minutes for Aleph to be done with his preparations, and Elae helped Severa with the dishes in the meantime. As they both mounted their respective mounts, Severa came and handed a paper to Aleph.

    “Hand this to the Association for me, please.”

    “I’ll do it… Take care, Mother.”

    “Take care, Aleph. Have a safe trip~ You too, Elae~”

    Waving goodbye to her, the group decided to head south, the only place they didn’t had information about yet, at full speed.

    ***

    Three hours later they met with Severa, Elae’s group reached the southern road.

    “We’ll follow the road down south. According to the report that Sorgre gave me, the place where the last group met their problems was heading south.”

    “Roger~ Though, won’t that be dangerous…?”

    “Well, let’s at least try to discover what happened. If it was something, whether to kill or run will be something we’ll decided when the time comes.”

    After the short conversation, they started following the southern road peacefully.
     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2018
    MaliMi, Quaesitor, Kysil and 2 others like this.
  12. BB_Tensei

    BB_Tensei [Catatonic Sloth] | [Occasional Antagonist]

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    {{ Part 3

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    @The Everdistant Utopia, @Naraku, @Haxagen,
    @AliceShiki, @Kysil, @BB_Tensei

    Silvia only Snuggled while Piggyback riding Joan, With Luna and Neroth Following them, they surveyed the surroundings if another of those Tsunchi appears.

    [I don't feel them... I don't feel except for this guy's... Not even insects or animals... Weird...] - Neroth
    [ Yeah... me too... I can't use the Moonlight to see with those clouds up and covering the forest... ] - Luna

    Umbrum was kinda bored as he circled around the campfire, then after hearing Niris who explained mostly what happened in the Onsen about Sora, he thought that there was maybe a way to make her talk.

    "Joan, you remember when I made my arm disappear ? I can do the same to a head, and it doesn't kill, also she won't be able to kill herself, nevertheless, the feeling is quite awful the first thousand of hours, not feeling anything you see~... so I thought, what about using my spell Edax Umbra on her~?" As he finished talking, he pointed at Sora with a cheerful smile while Niris continued to wonder how his spell worked.

    "Seeing that nothing else is working, might as well do it. Are you fine with using such a cursed thing on people? Ah, nevermind you do it to yourself, as well. I have some moral qualms about it, especially because it's nonlethal..." But I want to see what kind of ability it is, as well Joan added mentally.

    She pondered for a second, but ended up agreeing with confidence. "Yes, let's do this. Make her talk."

    Sora was freezing, cut and bruised all over, yet holding on to her last bits of pride. She glared hatefully at the two discussing her new torture.

    "Well, I don't really do it on myself since it was my body doing it on its own~ let's say that when my arm was disappearing, I couldn't control it and it wasn't using any mana..." Umbrum shrugged and continued to talk with a smile that was the same as usual.
    "It will be just like her head never existed in the first place~" Taking one mana crystal, Umbrum silently casted his spell as he touched Sora's head, ignoring her hate directed a him.
    It just disappeared, her head disappeared, her neck was till there, but there was a sort of black fog at where the head was separated from her neck.

    Her body stopped moving and struggling, Umbrum took her wrist and lifted his thumb as he said.
    "No worries, she is still alive~ let's leave her a few dozens of minutes without hearing, seeing and feeling anything~ without being able to move~"

    Joan stared into the black mist, feeling like it would swallow everything into an abyss. The more she looked at it, the more she began seeing a pattern in the darkness, as if something dwelled there and was watching her back. She forcefully stopped her imagination, and looked away.

    Sora on the other hand suddenly existed in a world of pitch black. She felt weightless, floating. The only sensation was one of vertigo, causing her to try and grab at something to hold on to, only to realize to her horror, that she possessed nothing to grab with. At first she was in denial. She rationally knew what was happening, so she thought it wouldn't affect her. Then the darkness came alive. As she was searching for the sensations from her body, it came back to her, distorted. She thought she had an arm, and tried to move it, only for the hand to disappear into nothingness, and the arm to coil around her throat. She began to suffocate, yet drawing breaths didn't draw in any air, thus she could only try harder. Her lungs vaguely reappeared, only to expand beyond the range of her perception.

    I have become the air that I breathe. Is this what being a soul feels like? ... I don't want to die! Please!

    Meanwhile on the outside the rest of the body spasmed and wrestled with the restraints, causing her bound limbs to bleed. In addition, her bladder emptied itself once, then once more again. Suddenly the struggle stopped, changing into shiverring. Her chest deflated soundlessly.

    "Perhaps she's trying to scream?" Joan wondered aloud.

    "So, she can still move ? Weird, the connection to the body wasn't removed ?" Umbrum muttered to himself, every time, a head was removed, the body couldn't move except if the curse was actually weakened through using mana, well, a lucky stroke, it always happens after all, there is always exceptions.

    "Well, that's not the first time." Umbrum shrugged with the same smile as ever, he didn't mind her probably crying or screaming out of here, taking another mana crystal, he sighed and thought that making the head disappear definitively use too much mana, how exhausting.
    With one mana crystal, he could normally make disappear a bit more than a entire arm which was far bigger than a head however it used far much for the head.

    Removing the curse, Umbrum smiled and said at the pale face on a cheerful tone.
    "How was it ? Quite a nice travel isn't it ? If you want, I can send you back for another dozen of minutes~"

    Sora said nothing, but her face spoke volumes. It was twisted in an ugly expression of terror, wet with tears, the little makeup she wore smudged around to extra effect, her mouth bleeding. Joan walked to her, and pried her jaw open, satisfied to see she didn't bite her tongue, but merely the inside of her mouth. The prisoner made one last attempt to set herself loose, or rather pull backwards from the man before her. Joan quickly figured something out, and moved aside for Sora to view her torturer in his entirety. Then the broken woman just left her weight to the ground below, with her face to the side, crying.

    This would not do Joan thought, so she grabbed her head, made it face forward, and slapped her. There was no resistance, but at least Sora was now back to being horrified, instead of wallowing in self-pity. She was seeing Umbrum again.

    "What do you want from me!?" His victim shouted.

    "That's pitiful." Niris couldn't help but comment and judge Umbrum after shivering for some seconds, wasn't she acting all tough just a bit earlier ? And nothing could simply make her talk.

    "Spill the beans, say everything, hide nothing, what else ?" However he didn't stop there as he continued to talk in this everlasting tone that never seemed to change.
    "Don't say you won't because you will die, because that's kinda the least of your problems isn't it ? Since I bet you found worse than death now."

    His voice didn’t change in the slightest, same for his smile, it seemed like he was talking about what he was going to eat. Anyway, he completely ignored this stare that would be freezing in normal circumstances. She won't have this gaze for long, people get accustomed after all.

    "I don't know anything myself! Tacitum knows who to contact... Said he was quite the foreign big shot, and wanted to snatch the spirit for research! He should be waiting at the Water Lily by the Southern Road until sundown. This is all, I don't want to disappear!" Sora pleaded, placing her sight and hopes on Silvia to help her.

    Noticing that, Joan got angry. She kicked Sora in the gut, then turned around, having lost all interest.

    "Does anybody know where this 'Water Lily' is? Tacitum is rather famous and known to be C ranked, though not particularly strong at combat. Instead he's rather sharp, so we should be careful on how to approach this. We can just go back and report what we know, as well." Joan stated matter of factly.

    She then gave Umbrum a doubtful look. It was hard to figure out what was going on in that man's head. This didn't sit right with her, but for now she had to make sure to keep an appropriate distance, at least until the task was over. But wasn't she getting soft? She used to welcome having such types as comrades. This wasn't the academy, there was something to say, when your nasty buddy helps you out with work. So she smiled.

    "Thank you, Umbrum, once again you did something good."

    "Sorry, I don't really know the surroundings of the Association yet~" Umbrum shrugged as he said this, even if he was a receptionist, he didn't have the knowledge of the surroundings, he was just doing the paperwork supposedly ? Well, he shrugged after thinking this while Niris simply sighed, staying silent, she had nothing to say about the situation except that she thought that they already did enough after all.

    "He is C ranked while symbolically talking you are still E Ranked, then why chasing him ?" That was a fair point that Umbrum agreed, he wanted to sleep in the carriage and won't wake up until he feels like it, that's all he wanted. And well, they could just chase after him when they become D Ranked or C Ranked, in other words, when it is more beneficial and still within rules. There is nothing about making a task two times above their rank.

    "Anyway... you are welcome~ though I don't understand what do you mean by 'once again', did I do something useful earlier ? Except making a campfire and hunting boars ?" Honestly, he didn't find that he was concretely useful, all he did was just regular thing that most people who learnt hunting could do from his point of view, and since they are mage, that will be something they can do quite easily while he is using physical and crude manner of hunting.
    In fact, except getting information from Sora, he did nothing. That was what he thought, he didn't capture Sora, he didn't fight against a monster, he didn't gathered information. No, he just... did nothing impressive, it was ridiculous and pathetic from his point of view.

    After saying this, Umbrum looked away, at the man cloaked in black, he left, he came back, he left, he came back, many many many times.
    "Haaaaa~" He yawned and stretched his arms, cracking his shoulder blades, then his neck, after a sigh, he wiped his glasses with his over-sized hooded coat.

    Nadia cut into the conversation.

    "This Water Lily inn...I know where it is. Although, this condition would be considered completed as of right now, so the Association won't blame you if you guys decide to search for the missing people instead. After all, you guys have managed to find out the reason behind the disappearance, and also the culprits that were hiding in the Association. So, what will you do?"

    "I believe it's most urgent to complete the other part of the task, which is the magic beast investigation. Since the Guardian of the mountain is no longer under threat, it is more prudent to aid more people, by scouting and reporting back. However we must do so as fast as possible, in order for our report to be of any effective use in both this case, and the magic beasts. We should hurry for the southern road, then bypass the plateau, and circle left around the city." Joan made her case. She didn't feel like risking her life against a ranker this early in the game.

    Umbrum shrugged and simply agreed to this, it feels like it won't be dangerous at all and there won't be any bad encounters, well, not like they had any except Sora... who could be considered as a good opportunity.
    But whatever.

    "Well, as long as we don't risk our lives~ I agree !" That was his words, nevertheless, how could he risk his life when he could just use Edax Umbra on himself and be unaffected by the world ? Niris sighed and didn't try to understand why.
    "I understand. Then, with all due haste, let's go check on the magical beasts. The appearance of that from earlier might have signaled the start of something bigger."

    Nadia smiled.
    Haa... Haa... For how long am I supposed to fly!? *dodges*

    Seriously, this thing has been following me for hours! Just stop!!!

    I kept flying away while dodging the fire breaths, I really was... Totally at my limit... Haa... Haa...

    I was pretty sure the blur in my sight wasn't a good thing... Just give it up already! Stop running after a flying broom! Go kill some wolves!! *dodges another fire breath*

    Aaah... I wanna rest already... Oh hey! Are those people? Two random good for nothings spotted! It's my cue!!

    "Heeeeelp pleeeaaase!!!!"

    ***

    I did a quick dive towards their direction... Hopefully they have a way of beating a flaming lizard that spits fire... They sure do, right?

    "Aleph, can you hear that?" Elae had been hearing large thuds coming from the way ahead, although a bit distant, for a while.
    "Yes... We might need to deal with some problems. Stand back." He said as he pulled out his sword.
    To their surprises, what came next wasn't a monster, but rather a girl in a flying broom.
    "Heeeeelp pleeeaaase!!!!"
    "What the..."
    "Elae, catch her!"
    "Why me?!" She tried to complain, but he had already ran off ahead. Sighing, she ordered the two other boars to mitigate the crash of the girl, who was diving at her direction.

    ***

    Ah! The boars are coming! I have to... Oh dear, I don't have enough Mana to change directions... Really? I'll be eaten by boars after running from a lizard for hours!? Talk about bad luck!

    ... Why isn't Firia here... I want to see her...

    I fell into the boars kinda hard... I could barely see anything, but I think I didn't get hurt much... Rather... The impact was... Small? Fluffy?

    I looked around, everything was blurry, but I could see I knocked one boar over, while the other was still there... They aren't eating me!? Y-yay!

    Oh, right! There were some people around... Where are they...?

    I tried looking, but things were so fuzzy... I was tired...

    "Thanks..." I managed to murmur... Thanks strange non-eating boars... (Aria)

    After the girl crashed against the boars, Elae jumped down her mount and walked to her.

    Looking at the fallen girl, she wondered whether she was alive or not.

    "Hey, are you okay?" Elae asked while leaning forward to check the girl.
    "I-I'm okay!

    J-just... Can the five of you stop in one place...? It's hard to focus..." *eyes seem to be completely out of focus* (Aria)

    "Ah, she's completely not okay...

    ***

    While Elae was left behind, Aleph ran off to dispose of the creature that was chasing the girl from before. It was a slightly big fire breathing lizard, and with fire all over his body to boot.

    It wasn't that much of a problem to deal with it, but as they were in a forest area, it wouldn't be good to let it spew too much fire during a prolonged fight. Moreover, because of that very fire, Aleph wasn't able to calm down his horse, and ended up sending it back to the girls, leading the lizard away from them on foot.

    He pretended to run away in order to lure the lizard far from the girls while dodging his attacks. Fighting wouldn't be hard, but would take a while, so he decided to go for the easiest and fastest way of disposing of it.

    Judging that he far enough, Aleph stopped his tracks and faced the lizard. Although the creature was fast, it showed some signs of being tired, and couldn't catch up with Aleph's speed. Taking advantage of that, the man quickly removed his helmet and stared at the creature.

    As the lizard locked eyes with Aleph, it started to slow down, then ultimately stopped running when he reached Aleph. It didn't spewed fire, and instead laid down on his belly, growling peacefully, and extinguished the fire covering its body.

    Aleph patted the creature's head and put back his helmet.

    "Subjugation complete." He murmured as he went back, with the lizard, who had got up as soon as Aleph started walking, following him.

    ***
    How many fingers you see here?" Elae showed her hand with a single finger raised. "Try to focus, calm your breath... What's you name? Can you remember that?"

    The undead boars started to sniff her while Elae was trying to help.

    "Fingers...? Uhn... From which of you though...? Ah... M-more than 3!

    I'm Aria btw!" *tries to get up*
    *almost falls on the ground*

    "Ah... I'm tired..."

    Elae slowly helps her to sit and picks something in her bag. "I think you should rest a bit... You've done great running from whatever was that thing..." She said while offering a loaf of bread. "Here, are you hungry?"

    "Food? I am-" *faints and falls on Elae*

    "O-oi! Don't die on me!!!

    Ah, she's breathing... never mind."

    Elae said Aria down, putting her bag as a pillow. She was slightly worried about the girl, but couldn't help much aside from checking if she had any wounds to apply healing paste on.
    The larger party went down the mountain. On the way they encountered another Tsunchi, which managed to graze Joan's right hand, when she was defending against a pounce. There were signs of a large number of goblins, closer to the base of the mountain, and nearby the road was damaged by a quatro of extremely large legs, as well as the tracks of a giant snakelike creature that seemed to saw through the dirt, whilst slithering. The large tracks suddenly appeared from the side, and lead directly toward the city.

    ***

    "I wonder what that is? The south gate is damaged, so I sure hope it doesn't enter the city, though I'd pity any normal person who got into that enormous thing's path to slow it down."
    "Well, judging from the track marks, that thing can't have been too fast...At least, I hope it isn't too fast."

    Nadia frowned. She had asked Nimue to look out for Aria, but the young Spirit told her that she couldn't find her.

    "Still, goblins are infamous for their mating ability. If we leave them be for long periods of time, they could end up being a horde of troubles. Which direction should we head in?"
    "What do we know of the South villages? Have they all been vacated? I think I heard about a report saying something along those lines." Joan was walking visibly slower, yet her words felt hurried.
    "Not vacated."

    Nadia winced.

    "Abandoned would be a better word. the villages to the South...We've only just gotten reports telling us that they were attacked. I believe some have left their villages to seek refuge, but the rest..."

    She sighed.

    "They are probably all dead. Normal hunters can't dent magical beasts, no matter how many there are."

    Immediately, Umbrum drew out his bow and adjusted his glasses as he quickly removed his hood, putting it in the interior of his coat, he didn't want it to bother him outside and balancing due to the movements he will make while he will maybe fight. That was something he didn't want to.
    Then he took the buttons of his coat and tied them to the other side, he will feel less relaxed than usual, it still seems like he is wearing something too large for him but that is still better than anything.

    Putting back the string of the bow, his smile was nowhere to be seen while Niris was simply already ready, all of her clothes were quite tight under her coat so it won't bother her that much.

    "Well... let's just check if they are all dead, there may be some survivors." Honestly, he didn't really care about not fighting or not anymore, he still didn't want to, but he doesn't mind fighting anymore.
    "Well, just be prepared for meles combat. There might still be some monsters here." (Nadia)
    "Hahaha, I am only good at aiming, avoiding and using dirty tricks~" Like making a feet disappear and break the enemy's stance by doing so, hit the eyes, or things alike this. No matter who the enemy is, you need to be -dirty-, even more if it's a mage.

    Well, he only fought against his master and some classmates at the academy, most of them were terrified him because of his master actually since he already killed or severely injured a pupil because this student humiliated one of the kids he was taking care of. In a certain way that was good since he never was physically bullied because of this.

    Niris didn't say anything. All she needed to do was to pierce. And simply kill.
    An Ice Pillar with a sharp tip is enough.

    "In that case, let's check through this village."

    Joan silently detached Chaos from the handcannon. She wouldn't waste ammunition on goblins.

    Silently, Umbrum approached the village's entrance, goblins, an awful creature with a lot of potential, short lifespans, outrageous birth rate and great potential into powering up.
    Then he remembered the huge footsteps and sighed as he peeked discreetly inside the village, hoping for only goblins to appear, no, nothing would be better but that is a mere fantasy.

    Joan perked up hear ears behind Umbrum. She listened carefully for any indication of danger. Yet there wasn't anything, only the sound of the wind blowing through windows, wood and over snow covered earth.

    "There is nothing here." She said confidently. "Well at least nothing that moves. Check for survivors, if you like."

    Trusting her, Umbrum nodded quietly sneaked into the villages but quickly, he tried to make the least sounds possible just in case. Then he began searching around the destroyed and half burnt houses.

    "Burnt." He said one word and simply went to another, to say another word. "Cold." That was about a corpse, someone was there but lying dead, he closed his eyes, blinked once and continued to search. At the third one he said.
    "Devoured." Because of this, he began to be warier than early while Niris was simply keeping an eye on the surroundings, then Umbrum decided to go back seeing Joan, being perplexed.
    There was just anyone but the last corpse disturbed him, there wasn't any monsters or wild creatures... yet.

    "Any luck?" Joan was actually getting a bit tense, due to the silence. "There aren't any birds. No crows to eat the dead, nothing. Must have ran away recently. Also" she pointed at a rather large wall in the village wooden fence. "It looks like it was dragged and crushed, but even large livestock can do that. I can't tell anything from the tracks, other than that it's large and long. Also the other set seems to... End? At that large mound over there? Eh?"

    "There was also a corpse that was partly devoured..." the silence was a bit too pressuring for Umbrum as he looked around as he continued to listen, then when he heard her being somehow surprised.
    He stared at the large mound, and readied his bow as he aimed at the mound, honestly, he didn't know what it was, he had an idea which was somehow scary, he just hopes it isn't that.

    "Giant worms..." Hearing that, Niris sighed and was still surveying the zone, even when she casted...
    "<Life Detection>" It was made to detect around 30 feets around her the creatures that were alive, this was the third time she used it. Earlier, she didn't want to crush Umbrum's hope.
    "There is nothing alive around 10 meters around us, both horizontally and vertically."

    "So why do the tracks stop at the mound?" Joan asked, but didn't wait for the response. She made sure Silvia was safe near Nadia, and went to the mound to check. "Something collapsed the soil in here. Must have been a tunnel." She put her ears to the ground, to check for sounds underground. "Nothing again. It seems we are rather late. What do you think did it?"

    "The marks earlier---Whoever made those did it." (Nadia)

    From where she stood, Nadia was looking at the whole village through a vantage point.

    "The trail marks look like a snake, but no snakes have feet. So it's something like a giant lizard. However."

    Nadia could see that some of the houses had holes in them not made by weapons, or magic. They were melted down by acid.

    "A large lizard with the ability to spit acid, it seems. They call that a Basilisk."

    " Oh... Good... Revenge time Luna? Neroth? " (Silvia)
    [ Acid Lizard? ] - Luna
    [ Roger that~ ] - Neroth
    "Do you want to fight it, Silvia? If so, I'm with you..." Though fighting a Basilisk with only two cannoballs doesn't sit right with me Joan failed to add.

    " Hmm... Maybe... " (Silvia)
    Silvia looks at Joan , then The dolls, then Back to joan...
    " Okay~ "

    "Before that, do you have an precautions against it's petrifying gaze? It can also breath fire, you know."

    "I can make people invisible for 5 minutes at a time. It requires a very expensive catalyst, of which I have little to spare, however!" Joan said. It did earn her a lot of money back in the capital. What did she do with those, she wondered...
    " Throw Stones at the eyes~ "
    Neroth made a Jobbing Movements while Luna Does a pitch with a stone... Which hit a tree and made a hole in it.

    "The thing is, Basilisks are similar to their cousin snakes---they can detect things by heat signals. Invisibility isn't going to work."

    " Doll's cores are made of pure mana and memories... And lightning for movement... "

    "I've always wondered, but what is the mechanism behind the petrification?" Joan asked, chin held between her index finger and thumb.

    "Petrification can be considered a sub-Category of Time and Ice Magic. The human body is made of these things called cells, you see. However, when those cells reach the end of their lifespan, they die, and become the dead skin that people sometimes scrap of their skin." (Nadia)

    "Petrification blocks the response of the cells entirely by freezing them, which results in the affected area being unable to be moved for a while."

    Nadia paused.

    "Powerful ability it is, but every fortress has a weak point. The Basilisk can't move for a fair bit of time after using Petrification, and it's so slow that most can dodge it."

    "So it isn't instantaneous, then? Sorry, I'm showing my ignorance here, but if it can be dodged by speed, and somebody is capable of damaging it, after the petrification misses, I believe we have a fair chance. At least so long, as we work together properly." (Joan)

    " Then the dolls can deal with it, themselves~" (Silvia)

    "Are you sure, Silvia? I kind of like those guys, and wouldn't want to see them turned to stone." (Joan)

    " They're fast and strong... I believe in them... Besides they were turned to stone once too... And melted... And turned to dust... But the core is so adamant that they weren't even scratched... And they want rematch " (Silvia)
    [ Yeah! Scaly bastards... ] - Neroth

    "Now that's a language I understand! Let's go for payback, then. But don't get yourself exposed, Silvia. I'll be by your side to protect you, if anything unexpected happens."

    "Still, watch out for the variants. The Giant Basilisk---which is noticeable by the black 'crown' on it's head, as compared to other basilisks which have white ones---has a much nastier gaze. It can affect non-human and inanimate objects like your dolls too, Silvia."

    Nadia paused, thinking.

    "I don't think we'll be that unlucky, but if a Giant Basilisk King---which has a golden spiked 'crown'---shows up, then leave it to me."
    Joan nodded.

    Silvia smiled Sweetly at her Words
    " Thanks~ "

    "That's a Giant Basilisk! Spread out!"

    A sudden White Flash suddenly hits Silvia and her dolls which turned her entire left side to stone... The dolls had a hole on the back of their chest and cores slipped to the ground and made another bodies. They broke to a run and charged the Basilisk that hit them
    Nadia already had her staff out, as a bolt of scalding water hit the offending Basilisk in the eyes.
    Joan had no time to think on the irony of the situation, so she made some. Activating her control array tattoo, she made her perception of time stretch into slow motion. Activating the half-moon, she hastened her legs, activating the mana dragon insulated her skin, activating the full moon overcharged the ball lighting infused in Chaos, and she merely drew a parabola on the ground, using her full inertia to jam the lightning filled weapon inbetween the scales of the creature, disposing of the superpowered electrical charge into its insides. With her last reserves of ready mana, she darted back, picking up Silvia, and disappeared behind a tree, hugging her tightly. Maybe it was time to cry. Just a bit.

    " OoO... What a weird sensation... Joan? Why are you crying? There there~ " (Silvia)
    Silvia patted Joan's head with her right hand and started to tinkle with a magic formation on her head and right eye for countermeasures on petrification. If Creation magic is what she does best then she better be create one that can resist or even null the effects of petrification.
    " Aaand Done~ "
    Her entire Left side Crumbled only to show her pale and smooth skin as the petrified Skin and clothes slid towards the ground.

    "I'm just happy to hug you!" Joan made herself smile.

    "Stay close to me, I don't want anybody else seeing you like this." She said, and carried Silvia away.

    Joan was on her last legs, but somehow made it behind a nearby hill, where she put the homunculus down gently, and sprawled herself on the ground, huffing.

    "Give me a second, I want to watch, as well."
    " Watch me? You can watch me all you want~ " (Silvia)

    "I will watch you forever, but help me get closer to the top of that hill, I want to see Nadia fight." (Joan)

    [ Well... That's enough revenge for one day... Shedding Body can only be used once every 10 hours so... We better not get hit another gaze] - Luna
    [ Well shucks... How the hell did they pass our sense? ] - Neroth
    [ Just at these scales... Mana Reflector components... Your questions has been answered ] - Luna
    [ .... ] - Neroth

    " Okay~ " (Silvia)
    Silvia helps. A core fell from her (right side clothes are fine) pocket and Zeik was now Standing. Also helping them.
    [ Silvia... Do watch your surroundings... ]

    ***

    Seeing that the others are out of effective range, Nadia grinned.

    "I suppose I should get Rimewind out no------"

    *ROAAAAAAAAR!*

    "---Or not, it seems. Well, there goes that plan."

    5 other Giant Basilisks slithered into the clearing of the ruined village, fangs bared. One of them, the biggest, had a ring of golden spikes around it's head, forming a golden crown.

    "Welp, like I thought, a Giant Basilisk King."

    The situation wasn't all that great, honestly.

    4 Giant Basilisks and a Giant Basilisk King? That's something only a squad of Upper C-Rankers, at minimum, could handle.

    Not to mention that Nadia's mana pool wasn't full, and none of her cards were on the table. She didn't exactly have time to summon Rimewind in one sitting.

    Also, she had told Nimue to stay out, as well. The younger Spirit was powerful, but not experienced enough.

    Outnumbered and potentially outgunned---that's what the situation was like.

    Nadia loved it.

    "Whisper Moon, Reaper Enchant."

    Nadia whispered, causing dense mist to extend out of one end of the staff. The misty mass solidified into a wicked crescent edge.

    "Well, I can always summon Rimewind later."

    She charged right at the Giant Basilisk King.

    *Small 10 minute timeskip*

    The village ruins were practically non-existent. The acid from the basilisks had melted them all.

    Two Giant Basilisks were lying on the floor, decapitated. A third was done in by Petrification.

    It was true that Basilisks had resistance against their own petrification, but regular Giant Basilisks couldn't withstand the gaze of a King.

    Nadia was fine, except for her burnt clothing---Nope, she wasn't. The Dragonbone Staff was cracking.

    "It'll last for a few more rounds at most. After that, I'll be down to rocks and bare fists. Maybe it's time I got Rimewind out."

    She stuck her staff into the ground, and stopped moving.

    "From the dust thou were created,
    Back to the roots thou were born."


    The Giant Basilisk King struck out, hitting her with it's giant tail.

    When the dust cloud cleared, what remained on the ground was the two halves of the Black staff. Nadia wasn't there.

    *Roaaar?*

    The Giant Basilisk King was understandably confused. A bit late, though.

    "And thus, I provide the cost for you to manifest. Come out, Rimewind."

    Nadia's chanting came from behind the Basilisk. It tried to turn, but, as with most gigantic monsters, it's ability to turn wasn't that good.

    "You're not in a suitable position to listen."

    The Basilisk slipped, due to the spell Nadia cast, and ended up on the floor, mouth facing her.

    It tried to fire a petrification beam at her, but Rimewind interrupted the casting by jumping on its face. Something cracked.

    "Well, this is a slight issue, isn't it."

    Being an Upper C-Ranked beast, the Giant Basilisk King's scales were nothing to scoff at. With Whisper Moon in it's Reaper form, she barely scratched the skin of the thing.

    Right now, she had bound it with wateru ropes and Rimewind was keeping it down, but once her mana---which was steadily draining---disappeared, it would get messy.

    The thing was, the scales were saturated with mana, so magic wasn't that effective. The physical toughness was also absurd.

    "I need a sharper blade...Hmmm..."

    Nadia was staring at her own summon.

    After seeing the sudden appearance of the Basilisk King, Umbrum distanced himself from the fights, wasn't that too much ? They aren't even D Rank ! That was what he thought when he was facing a Giant Basilisk in front of him.
    Since it was still during a few seconds, he used this opportunity to shoot at one of its eyes just before rolling forward, avoiding the acid that melted the ground behind him.

    "...just a few steps back and I would be dead..." Umbrum couldn't but shiver as Niris was fighting against another one Giant Basilisk, he couldn't look at her as its tail was going to crush him.
    Instead of lowering himself, Umbrum pushed his hand forward and muttered, casting a spell that was useful in this situation.

    "<Edax Umbra>" It had no tail anymore, obviously, it was disrupted by this changement and didn't notice Umbrum, his bow on his back and using physical enhancement jump and stab its eyes with a dagger.
    And he didn't stop as the blood continued to pour our of its eyes, he even removed the eyeballs, his dagger and forearm went inside the Basilisk.

    Seeing this Sora thought about only one thing.
    Run run and freaking run.

    Meanwhile, Niris was protecting herself behind an Ice Dome, she wondered what to do while the Basilisk spit acids and hit at the Dome furiously.
    She waited.

    "GROOOAAAARRRR !"

    And when it opened its mouth, an sharp ice pillar entered into it, it didn't kill but it seemed to work.

    "Hit and run." She muttered, it will be long but easy.

    After soaking his arms into Basilisk's blood, Umbrum sighed at the running away Sora and simply shot at her leg.
    As he began to walk slowly toward her, his muscles were torn due to the Physical Enhancement while a bit of acid fell on his leg, burning it and melting his skin.

    "That's alright... This is nothing..." He simply retrained himself to scream and others since it hurt, it hurt... It hurt so much...
    Yet he continued to force his muscles and skinless legs to walk toward Sora who couldn't even run as Umbrum was still aiming at her.

    A wisp stormed the skies above the ruined village, appearing exactly above its former center.

    "STOP FIGH- Oh, it's kinda over, isn't it?" The Guardian Spirit looked around, seeing Nadia a bit worse for wear, with her staff broken, Umbrum walking with his flesh falling apart, Silvia half-deprived of her clothing, and Joan barely keeping herself awake, due to mana loss. Sora was somebody she did recognize, but never considered an actual problem to her domain. She needed to remain neutral to this battle, as all of them were her charges.

    The Spirit descended down in front of Nadia, and asked while gently stroking the King Basilisk's corpse.

    "Why didn't you run away? Isn't it more natural?"

    "Running away? Where's the fun in that?"

    Nadia was panting slightly to recover her breath.

    "Having a C-Rank monster appear out of nowhere, sure, more people would run, but it's also a good training opportunity. Plus, if I kept on running, and running, I'll never grow stronger. Plus."

    She smiled, walking over to the corpse of another Basilisk and taking one of it's bones for a walking stick.

    "If I didn't get any tougher in my own right, who's going to take care of Nimue?"
    " You Get To Live!! "
    Silvia Shouted from the Hill they are resting

    "Sure, but no one lives forever. Rather than dying from old age one day, I'll rather bet it on fighting---with every monster I kill, there is lesser threats to the regular people living here. Also, it's fun." (Nadia)
    Nadia picked up her broken staff.

    "Looks like it's time I threw away this fellow. It's accompanied me for so long, but it's time to let go."

    The Guardian made her first wry smile in her existence, as she admitted to herself Nadia might be right.

    "Then grow strong enough to overcome your heritage. I wish for my sister to be one day free, so if you grow strong enough to grant her that, I will agree with your way. For now take this flower from my gown, and call upon me whenever you need help with her. I'll come at once by your side."
    "Thanks."

    Nadia had regained enough of her mana to stand without support.


    ***

    After Niris killed one of the Giant Basilisk easily and Umbrum, being too lazy to carry Sora and just threatened her to disappear if she doesn’t walk, said on an exhausted tone.

    "Because we had no choices... At least, I didn't~" He needed to keep Sora alive, and well using Edax Umbra on the three of them would be too costly and time consuming from his point of view.

    After this, he knocked Sora out violently, with a wrong move, maybe he would have killed her, he was too tired to control himself, while Niris was simply almost drained out of all of her mana, she stayed silent as she had nothing to say. She couldn't help anyone since she had no bandages or concrete knowledge about medicine in general, about how to disinfect and all those things.
    "It still saddens me to see, though I guess I'm naive to believe I have the right to be." The Guardian floated to Umbrum, and gently touched his forehead, giving him her blessing. "Be free from pain, as you walk inside my domain, until you are home again. This all I will give you, so make sure to live, rather than kill and harm at such a cost."
    "Thank you." Umbrum as the pain disappeared, the wounds didn't but it was still better than anything. Then he tied up Sora again and handed her over to Niris, he put back his hood and closed his eyes to take a rest.

    Niris glanced at him but then took care of Sora, prepared to threaten or even kill her anytime.
    ***
    Silvia hugs Joan and Shares her Mana...
    " You fine Joan? "
    *snuggles*

    Joan embraced Silvia into her arms, stroking her hair.
    "I'm fine now, thank you. I'm just a bit tired." I also feel like insignificant, but this is hardly the first time. There is a long way to go, and it only goes up.

    "Still, for Giant Basilisks to appear here..." (Nadia)

    She looked at Joan.

    "I think it's safe to assume that the situation in the South is hopeless. We should find Aria and get back to the Association, because it seems like this job is starting to require more magicians."
    Joan separated unwillingly from Silvia, and stood up.

    "Yes. We should. Milady, c-"

    "She's a bit further down that road you recently left. Just go forward, and you'll spot her. I have troubles of my own to deal with at the lake, so I cannot come with. Be careful, as I cherish you all~" The Guardian said, turned into a wisp, then disappeared beyond the horizon.

    "Well, I guess we can head forward after a small break."

    "We have people who need treatment, not just a break." Joan said. "Can I help in any way?" She added.
    Silvia lied down and took a nap, recharging her mana pool.
    waiting for them to finish their treatment and healing.

    Nadia looked through her bag to see the status of her medical herbs. She managed to salvage enough to make healing salves, but the problem was...

    "I need fire. A strong fire at that; regular flames won't cut it."

    She could use boiling water to serve as heat source, but the herbs would lose efficiency.

    "Anyone has a way to produce a steady and extremely high temperature?
    "I can, but how hot exactly do you need? It would be a good idea to keep a good distance from the flame itself." Joan said, as she headed to gather rocks from the ruins.
    "I'll reckon...just about enough to melt steel." (Nadia)

    "I... It's possible, but the mana expenditure is... Just help me crawl along the way afterwards." Joan prepared a bullet, watching it hesitantly. "Do your part, I'll do mine. Let's gather the rocks first, since this place is going to melt."

    Quickly, Nadia prepared the salves, before she wrapped the mix in a bubble of water, and placed the mix into a pot made of steel.

    The steel pot went on the centre of the circle of rocks.

    "I'm ready with my end. Joan, I'll carry you afterwards, so don't worry."
    Joan sighed, and placed the bullet inside. "Watch the flame, as I have no idea what you are doing, just tell me when to discharge it. I have 28 more of those, so make sure it counts." She then pointed the gun at a low angle, and fired a steady stream of sticky fire, powering it up with her full moon several times, to reach the required temperature. She would only need to add fuel to the flames, as it went on. "The first burst is the strongest, the rest will just keep it as hot. I won't be able to charge it so strongly again for another few moons, sadly."

    The pot itself greedily took the heat from the flames, soon reaching a temperature barely below the melting point of steel.

    Nadia watched the pot burn. The sphere around the salve would allow the heat to pass through, without letting the metal touch the salve.

    When it looked as of the pot was at it's highest temperature, she spoke.

    "Joan, cut off the heat in 3...2..."

    "... 1"
    She did as ordered, and stopped her spell. Quickly, she moved to cool down the overheated barrel in the snow nearby, swapping her gun with another, preparing the bullet for the next burst, then returned in position as fast as possible, and waited for the next signal.

    Nadia made a small Hydrosphere, and moved it to swallow the steel pot. As with any case when hot metal touches water, a hissing sound was produced, and lots of steam was made.

    The metal pot was close to crumpling.

    "Perfect."

    Nadia took out the herbs, by carefully inching the bubble of water out of the pot. The salve was now green in colour, compared to it's original red.

    "Joan, one more shot. This time, aim for the bubble."

    Joan would have hesitated at the strange request, but had been trained to respond quickly, thus unconsciously executed her instruction. Somewhere in the back of her head, she was inquisitively analyzing the procedure, but could only memorize it, as she had next to no experience in creating healing solutions, other than applying them. Meanwhile the fire was scorching the hydrosphere's exterior, caressing it with high temperature flames, fed further by the renewed onslaught of the magical flamethrower.

    "And......Done!"

    The mix had became a deep shade of yellow. Nadia floated the small bubble above a spare bowl she took out of her bag, and then poured the mixture inside.

    "Done. No replacement for godly healing magic, but better than a hug and a kiss...Well, with the exception of a certain duo, that is."

    Despite sweating slightly, Nadia was grinning.

    "It still made me weak in the knees" Joan grinned as well, even though she was collapsing on the ground, barely connecting to it with her free hand, instead of her face. She dropped the pistol on the ground, causing steam to rise, and took a deep breath.

    "Oh... My gun will be ruined." she said, carefully picking it off the ground, then sloppily moving it to the snow. It probably didn't help much. Two of her three sidearms were damaged due to various circumstances, and would soon be scrap, if abused a bit more. She'd probably need to sell them off, since she couldn't afford new ones, right now. At least not ones that were enchanted.

    This dampened her mood, but she was still joyful for some reason. Sitting down on the warmed up soil at a comfortable distance from the hot metal, helped her loosen up and relax enough to think about returning home.

    "Well, I guess I'll be carrying you and Silvia, then. Anyone else needs some healing salve?"

    Nadia took a brush and dipped it into the mix, conveniently neglecting to mention that the salve was effective in both a good and a bad way.
    As Aleph came back, he found out that his horse had returned safely and sighed in relief.

    Elae seemed to be tending the girl from before, surrounded by her undead boars. The man tried to approach carefully, but with the large build of the lizard, it was proven rather difficult to do so.

    It didn’t took long for Elae to notice that the lizard was near, turning around and finding the strange scene.

    “What the?”

    “It seems he was not aggressive, but instead territorial. I beated him into shape, though.” Aleph lied as he approached the two of them. Wanting to change subjects, he asked about the girl. ”Should we move her like that, or should we wait for her to wake up before we go on?”

    Elae was suspicious of his explanation, but wasn't going to press for an answer, as it didn't concerned her much. "I think it would be better to wait for her to wake up...." She glanced at the girl, uncertain of when would she open her eyes.

    ***

    The ground was shaking... Huh...? Is this an Earthquake...?

    ...

    Wait, an Earthquake!? What in the world!?

    I hurriedly opened my eyes and saw... Eh?

    The surroundings were moving, and I was in... Where is this anyway? And what is this below me!?

    Ah, a boar... And... And... The Lizard!??!?!? And those those... Who are they?

    "Uhn... Morning!? What is all this?!"

    “Ah, so you woke up~” Elae approached her mounted in her own boar. “I wanted to let you rest for a bit, but the Captain was in a hurry. Sorry…

    Ah, and if you’re wondering about your things.” Elae pointed to the third boar, who was carrying their luggage. “Gehen is taking care of that~

    Anyway, I guess I should introduce myself. My name is Elae Vaodia. Elae is the name given to me by my late parents, while Vaodia is the surname of my adoptive father and former instructor, Count Alfbern Vaodia.”

    “I’m Aleph.” The man, who had been silent to the moment, said curtly. “Captain of the Association City Guards. That’s all.”

    "Uhn... It's okay!

    Things though... Such a weird way of referring to a broom..." *puts hand on pockets to feel if things were on place* "Ah! You took my knife too!" >.<

    "It's not like a kitchen knife is a weapon or anything..." *pouts*

    "Count though!? I never met a noble before!!! That's so amazing! I'm Aria! Just a mage from the association! I like traveling and playing around and... Ah! I was exploring the surroundings for a task with another mages, but then they got soooooo bothersome, so I went on a stroll for a while and then and then I met a huuuuuge lizard, like like that one over there!!!" *points at the large freak*

    "And it was eating some wolves, then it started spitting acid! But I was like, no no no, you can't hit me! Take this fireball! But then it started burning, and spitting fire at that! I ran away, but it ran after! So I flew and flew for hours and hours! It wouldn't stop pursuing me!!!"

    *takes a deep breath* "And now I'm here... Where is here anyway? I got totally lost while running!"

    “Wow… You’re quite… talkative, I guess~” Elae smiled awkwardly at the girl.

    Putting his hand in the handle of his sword, Aleph looked at Elae. “Can I silence her?”

    “Easy there, Aleph.” She said, making a serious face as she turned to Aria. “We have orders to take her under arrest.



    *smiles* Just kidding~

    In any case, you don’t need to mind much~ I’m just an adopted daughter, so I don’t think it counts~”

    “A title is still a title...”

    “That’s true~

    Ah, anyway, you seem to have passed through a lot, huh…?”

    “I’m more curious about that exploration you said, but… let’s leave it for later. We’re in the southern road that goes to the Association City. Currently halfway there.”

    "D-don't joke with things like arresting!!!" >.<

    "Ah, we're going back then? That's great!

    The task though... Uhn... I don't know much... We were just supposed to walk around and remember anything interesting we found?" *tilts head*

    "Ah! There was that Thief Water Girl on the group though! She stole my hard-earned money! You should totally arrest her if we meet!!!"

    “Wao… I’ve never seen a water girl, what to say a water girl thief...”

    “Water girl thief?” Aleph tilted his head. “I’m not really sure about what you’re saying, but I’ll report about it…”

    “In any case, Aria, did you find something interesting~?

    You said your group was supposed to walk around and find interesting things~”

    “Wouldn’t it be better to talk about it when we reach the city?”

    Elae pouted. “But we don’t know when we’ll reach it, anyway!

    Let’s talk now, Aria!”

    “The city is just ahead...” The man sighed. The city was indeed already visible from there, and it should take less than an hour to reach there.

    "Interesting...?" *tilts head*

    "Hmmmm... Ah! We found a strange girl and an egg! And-and-and and the a small water girl came out of the egg! And she became the daughter of the Crazy Water Girl!

    She-she was named Weania! No, it was... Nimue! The small water girl got that name from the Crazy Water Girl!

    And... Uhn... There were getting boring while talking to the strange girl, so I left and... Ah! There were lots of wolves near the mountain! Like, loooooooots of them! And there was this crazy lizard too." *points at it* "And I fled from it, and now I'm here!

    ... I think I already said something like that though...?" *starts pondering*

    "That's all I found!"
    *wakes up*
    " I'm hungry... "
    *Tries to grab food on her pocket*
    *Entire left side clothes turned to stone*
    " Riight... "

    Umbrum looked at his legs and smiled wryly, his skin wasn't even there, he needed them to be healed so he approached her with a cheerful mood and replied forgetting to wash his arms which were still tainted and completely red because of the Basilisk's blood.

    "Excuse me... I need the healing salve~" His voice was still as cheerful as ever though, something that may disappear soon.

    Nadia gave him a look that sufficiently implied: Are you kidding me.

    Without a word, she blasted him with water, washing away the blood but also drenching his clothes at the same time.

    Then, she smeared a large dollop of salve on his hands.

    "You'll have to apply it yourself."

    "...since when is it that easy to remove blood from clothes...?" Umbrum couldn't help but whisper in disbelief, he always was too lazy to wash the blood or found that it was too bothering, so often he let it dry or he just went into water source with his clothes that he didnt want to leave.

    "Anyway, thank you." With a cheerful smile, Umbrum bowed to Nadia and quickly isolated himself so he could begin applying the salve to himself.
    After making sure he was alone, he removed his pants and began to apply salve on his skinless legs. Immediately, he bit his lips because he knew that it will be painful.

    "Since you'll be interacting with lots of humans from now on, it's important to learn common sense."
    |Okay~|
    "First off, people die if they are killed."
    *Nod*
    "Secondly, Immortals don't exist."
    *Nod*
    "Lastly, humans use this thing called currency."
    *Nod*

    Nadia took out some coins from her storage (The ones she borrowed off Aria, btw), and placed them on the ground.

    "I'll be teaching you about the value of money."

    " Teacher! Do Vampires Exist? "
    *Silvia Joins the Fray*

    "Why Teacher---Ah, nevermind. They do exist, but they're not truly immortal. Quasi immortal, yes, but not completely."

    " How Much is a Lifespan of A Homunculus? I am one after all! "
    *Silvia used Glittering eyes*

    "As long as you don't run out of energy, technically, you'll live forever."
    " Oooh!! Sensei so Smart! "
    *Silvia Is happy*


    "Let's go. We've had quite a big break, anyway."

    During that break, Nadia had harvested the bones, meat, toxins, and skin of the Giant Basilisk King.

    Now, there was an entirely new staff in her hands. With holes for a flute, naturally.

    [The Basilisk King's Warcry]

    Just to be sure, she went over to Joan, and extend a hand, gesturing to her back.
    " that looks fun... "
    *There's a Glint on Silvia's Eyes*
    *She wants to Blow the Flute*

    "No worries, I'm fine. It wasn't nearly as draining, as I expected. Just don't expect me to kill more of those along the way." Jaon shrugged. She checked on the condition of her two discarded pistols, discovered they had cooled off, and placed them in her bag with a regretful expression.
    Nadia was musing to herself.

    "Since this is a new bone, it should contain a new summon...which means, I'll have two summons now..."

    "Hmm, I wonder what happened to that egg of mine..." The catgirl was also talking to herself. Were they going insane?

    Being half asleep with his hood hiding half of his face and his sleeves reaching the tips of his fingers, Umbrum simply felt exhausted.
    Yawning, he stood up as Niris was already ready to leave.

    "I want to sleep..." That was his words as he tried to arrange his clothes, his eyes were quite haphazard right now.

    "Here."

    Nadia held out a pouch.

    "The Giant Basilisk that you killed---I dismantled it and left the components in there. Bones of a C-Rank creature can be surprisingly efficient when used to make guns and ammo." (Nadia)
    "Was that expert dismantler you mentioned... Hah, thanks. It's not much, but here's your 2 L copper for the wolves. Your share is the biggest." (Joan)

    "You guys split it among yourselves. I don't really need money... and I still have that bit I borrowed off Aria..."

    Nadia coughed.

    "Well, it's not a lot anyway, I guess I'll make sure it gets to whoever's appropriate." (Joan)
    " i want to blow it... "
    Silvia sat on the ground and grab some grass and start nimbling on it

    "Uhm...Another day, okay?"

    " okaaaay.... " (Silvia)

    "Silvia, no need to eat grass, here have some more chocolate" Joan quickly provided the treat, pulling Silvia up from under her arm.

    " you get sad though... "
    Silvia Eats the Chocolate while Licking her fingers

    "I sometimes do, so you need to compensate me with your lips later." She smiled catishly in response.
    " Wha..... "
    Silvia was left Speechless and a red face

    Joan ruffled Silvia's hair, and turned to the party. Were they ready to go?
    Nadia paused.

    |Mama? Are you leaving?|
    |Yeah, I have my job as a receptionist to attend to.|

    On the other side of the telepathic communication, she could somehow see a pouting Nimue.

    |When will you be back?|
    |I don't know. Perhaps...a few months?|

    Silence. Nadia could imagine Nimue frowning.

    |...Do you not want me anymore?|
    |Ehhhhh? What brought that on?|
    |3 months is a long time, Mama.|

    Nadia knew it wasn't. A half Undine like her had a lifespan of a few thousand years. Nimue, being a pure spirit, could live much longer. 3 months was insignificant.

    |You promised to take care of me, Mama.|

    Nadia winced, weighing out her options in her head. Eventually, she took out a small letter, holding it out to Joan.

    "Could you help me give this to Sorge? I have some...stuff...to take care of."

    [Nadia's 3 months leave letter]

    "He won't... Take it out on me, right? Though I guess you've done good by me, so I will have to bear with it. Very well, I'll serve as messenger." (Joan)

    "Thanks. Aria should be just ahead, along with a duo I'm not sure of. I'll be heading back---wait."

    Before she turned around, Nadia picked up a nearby pebble, and imbued her mana in it. A blue rune appeared on the pebble.

    "Here. If you need a way to contact me, just use this."

    Then, she waved, melted into clear water, and disappeared into the clear breeze, smiling faintly.

    Joan caught the pebble, and appraised it a bit, before putting it in her pocket.
    " Muu... "
    Silvia walked towards a nearby tree and touched it. She drew a Magic Formation and transformed the bark of the tree to become her coat
    " emergency measures... cant go back to the city without wearing anything... "

    Sometimes she has common sense in the weirdest places. However, I'm thankful. Joan thought.

    " now thats there... what am i missing? " (Silvia)
    *has no Undies*
    " mushrooms... yep... "

    "What do you need mushrooms for? But I guess I'd prefer some oysters right now. Sadly, Association City isn't a port town..." (Joan)

    " portable food? they taste strange when they change color... "
    Silvia tilts her head on the side
    What's an Oyster?

    Noticing Silvia's puzzled expression at her last sentence, she explained about port towns.

    "A town near the sea is a port town. There people eat mostly things that live in water, like fish, crab, oysters, and pretty much anything that can be taken from the seas. I guess you've never been to the Capital? We should go and have some fun next time we're free."
    *Silvia nimbling on a stone she found next to a mushroom*
    [Silvia's eating rocks again...] - Zeik
    [Let her be... I want to know what they taste like too] - Neroth
    *Luna facepalming*

    "...I just feel like I am dying right now..." Umbrum couldn't help but reply like this as he felt like his legs were crumbling apart due to the burning feeling.
    Then he added something else to what he said, quickly discarding a certain idea.

    "But well... I got worse at my last joint task~" That was truth, instead of only the legs, it was the whole back.

    "Well if you can still talk, you should live." Joan came over to take a look at him. "... I hope you're okay with getting carried by a girl. We need to take you back to the city fast." She said matter of factly, but felt nervous inside. It wasn't a light wound. At all.

    " joint tasks are funny... Maybe I should take another one later... "
    *Eats a Mushroom she found next to a boulder*

    "No worries~ My senior often carried me when I got beaten up yet trained at the same time by our master~" replied Umbrum on the same cheerful tone, he then began to think about the past and simply sighed.
    "Should I make myself lighter by making my legs or more disappear ?" He asked, even if this feeling was weird and repulsive, he was accustomed to it.

    Meanwhile Niris kept an eye on the surroundings with an ice spike in her hand and her other hand was grasping her neck by behind just in case Sora try to run away.
    "No, you'll need those to balance your weight on my back. I'm not going to break my spine carrying around a sack of potatoes. Let me pick you up now, hold on tight." Joan offered her back, and lowered down for Umbrum to climb on.

    "Alright~" Slowly but surely, Umbrum climbed on Joan's back, he whistled an old song to himself as he tried to forget this awkward emotion, being carried in general is awkward to him, no matter what is the gender of the carrier actually... Nevertheless, his close friends were exception, in other words, there is nobody that is able to carry him without making him feel a bit awkward.
    Joan didn't notice or care much about that, and headed out.
    "We don't have a lot of daylight remaining, let's take the road."
    On the way to Association City the party found a number of things, including an overturned carriage smeared in the blood of horses and men, several giant wolves gnawed upon, multiple trails of snakelike creatures, and eventually some people, who were rather chatty, and informed of the basilisk attack in the nearby village, how they were running away before their own village was attacked, and about sightings of a giant centipede-snakelike creature that would appear at night and attack the livestock. Umbrum was eventually placed inside a wagon, for the price of an escort up until the City.

    At the southern gate, there was a large number of guards, and a hastily built barricade, along with a few more magic beast corpses around the perimeter. Joan was walking close to Silvia for most of the time, occasionally moving only to check on Umbrum. She came over again when they reached their destination to pick him back up.

    "The times are tough for even a mage squad to get this hurt." Mentioned one of the farmers.
    "Bah, they are probably fresh out of the Academy. Don't worry they will make sure to clean up their surroundings, so they don't become a laughing stock." A second man pointed out.
    "I just wish we'd be able to live through winter with what we have..." The first responded.

    "Best of luck to you, we'll be going our separate ways now." Joan interjected.
    "Ah, thank you, lass. Farewell to you too!"
    "Umbrum, I'm taking you to the Association Infirmary. Meanwhile" She turned to Silvia and Niris "It would be good to ask refugees at the other gates about the situation in their villages. If you find Aria, grab her so she doesn't run away, before we finish the report."

    " Kidnap her, Got it! "
    Silvia Nods at her own words while getting fired up
    Joan laughed. "Only if she resists~ Let's meet at the botany garden tomorrow night, Silvia. Let's have some fun, after this is done. Don't forget to do your report, once the information is collected."

    " Do I have to? I forgot what to write on the report... Except for the Basilisks having reflective Scales, Their Area of Attack which is limited to a cone shaped area, Tsunchi? And that weird black egg that made my Dolls class change... "

    "Report what you noticed, we'll cover for the rest. Oh, and no need to report about that time in the woods, focus on the beasts, okay?" Joan had an awkward smile.

    " Okay~ "

    As for Sora? She was left to the guards to handle, crying tears of happiness to part with the party.

    "Sure, let's do that~ though with time it should be healed no ~?" Asked Umbrum a bit perplexed just before Niris flickered his head after a sigh yet she was happy, she didn't need to take care of a crying bastard named Sora.

    "Just go to the infirmary and shut up, maybe you are severely wounded." Even if she said maybe, she thought he was seriously harmed since Basilisk's acid shouldn't be weak, on the contrary.

    "Anyway, we will do that if we meet Aria." Niris simply said this with a weak smile, why was there troublesome persons in this party ?

    "Hmm... Joan, since Nadia left I guess I should appraise our report later, right ?" Umbrum asked after a sigh, he couldn't help but think about how long this report will be... He shivered just by thinking about that.

    "So long as the healer lets you, I'd prefer that." Was Joan's answer.

    "Right, Silvia?" She also added.

    " Yes? " (Silvia)
    “Ah, I think I’ve heard you saying all this, except the girl coming out of the egg….

    Oh, and… crazy lizard?

    How did you tame it again, Aleph?”

    “With a good beating.” He answered as the group entered the city through the southern gate.

    For some reason, there was a makeshift barricade instead of the doors. When passing through the gate, the guards greeted Aleph, who ordered them to hand a report about it later.

    Sighing, he entered the city with the group. “It seems only the west gate might deal with any incoming attacks. With Jiza there, I doubt we’ll ever have problems...”

    “Then why didn’t you moved him here?” Elae tilted her head.

    Shrugging, he dismounted his horse and asked a guard to take it to the Guard’s Quarters. “There was no reason for me to do so. As I said before, some sacrifices need to be made.

    In any case, we’ve completed our task, so let’s go report to Sorgre."

    "Oh, that's right!"

    "And I presume we successfully escorted miss Aria, unless she needs further help in anything.” Aleph said while glancing at Aria.

    "I'm good! You can go write whatever you need, I'll-"

    *looks a bit around*
    *finds the Crazy Cat Girl a bit farther*

    "You!!!! Where is that Crazy Thief Water Girl!?" *rushes towards her*

    "Aria ? Wait..." Noticing her charging like a mad bull, Umbrum shouted on a panicked yet slightly tone.
    "I am injured (again) ! Slow down !" And now, he hoped for her not to crush into his wounds.
    "Ah. It's you." Seeing the people watching by, Joan feigned ignorance. "What Crazy Thief Water Girl? The rest of the party are out investigating, I'm taking Umbrum here to the healers. Where were you?" Joan scowled.

    "I was exploring! I found a mad Lizard and lots of wolves! And a girl with boars! And a knight that can tame lizards too!

    More importantly, you should tell the scary receptionist that she stole my money! She needs to give it back!!"

    "Ah, I see" Joan looked around to see if there was anybody matching the description, but found only relief.

    "Didn't she just lose them? How much money did she lose on your account?"
    "How am I supposed to know!? You expect me to keep count of how many coins I have!?

    And how would she not lose a kitchen knife and threads, but lose coins!? She is a thief! A thief!!!"
    "So your riches are countless, and you have been robbed blind. Strange for a girl who has no tent. Might you be a noble in disguise?" Joan asked just in case.

    "And... They are going to fight..." Suddenly after sorrowful sigh, Umbrum fainted for no apparent reason, if there was one, it may be exasperation.

    "I'm poor! My coins disappear just way too quickly, it's a hassle to try counting them!!!" (Aria)
    "I see. Why don't I give you 6 large wooden coins, and we settle the problem among each other? She'll owe me, you'll get compensation, and we drop the issue." Joan did owe Nadia quite a bit in favors.

    *eyes get wide open* (Aria)

    "You're so ridiculously rich! I'll take it!!"

    "Very well. I'll give them to you, but how do I know you'll keep your word?." The catgirl said, patting a pocket. It rang of wood and metal.

    ***

    “She left just like that...” Aleph said, bewildered.

    “Ah, speaking about things that left, where’s that lizard?”

    “I sent it off to the west gate before we entered the city.”

    “Won’t they think that the lizard is attacking the city…?”

    “Oh, that’s right!” Only noticing his blunder now, Alpeh picked Elae up and broke in a run to the west gate, followed by the three boars.

    “Wait, the broom!” Elae tried to protest, remembering that she was still with Aria’s broom, but Aleph didn’t even slowed down as they lost the south gate of sight in an instant.

    ***
    "...
    ...
    ...

    Uhn... I'm a good girl?" *tilts head* (Aria)

    "Are you now? Make sure I'm there when you make the report, then. Or just come with me to drop this guy off, and we'll go together. I'm fine either way." (Joan)

    "Seems good to me!" \(^^)/ (Aria)
    *follows along*

    ***

    Later on.

    "Well, those are some severe burn wounds. What did this?"

    "It was a basilisk." Joan looked at Aria sternly. "We barely made it out."

    "We'll do our best, but he'd need to have a superhuman constitution to return to work, without at least a week of rest. If it wasn't for your emergency care, he wouldn't have survived. Well, that is all. You can come visit him tomorrow."

    Damn, now I'll have to give Sorgre the report. Let's use Aria as a shield, when the time comes.

    *completely oblivious to the stare* (Aria)

    "Oh, a Basilisk!
    ... What is a basilisk?"

    "Let's go to report. Basically it's a huge lizard that can turn people into stone by looking at you funny and spits acid. Umbrum got covered in the acid." Joan explained, gesticulating.

    "Sure, let's!

    Ah, I see! I found one that didn't turn people into stone, but absorbed my fireball! It was scary! It started burning and shooting fire at me!!!" >.<

    Joan's tail stood up, along with the hairs on it.

    "What did you say it did? Ah, just make sure you focus on that, since we're here." Joan pointed at the receptionist desk. She looked around for a certain scary receptionist.
    Mostly about magic beasts surrounding Association City.

    Magic Beasts Identified:
    • Basilisks (Normal, Giant, King subtypes)
    • Carrion Beasts
    • Giant Wolves
    • Giant Lizard (Forge)
    • Giant Lizard (Magic Absorber)
    • Goblins
    • Lizardmen
    • Titan Snake
    • Tsunchi
    • Unknown centipede/snake creature (rumoured)

    Status on the investigation of the previous team's report:
    • Nearly resolved
    • One prisoner
    • One team member still missing, possible accomplice
    Ongoing problems of Association City surroundings:
    • South Gate heavily damaged
    • Refugee problem intensified
    • At least two more villages destroyed, as of the report
    • Nadia raising the Guardian Spirit of the mountain
    4 L Copper eventually in possession of Joan, due to Nadia foregoing her share. As the only remaining wolfslayer, she retains all of them. Giant Basilisk materials dismantled by Nadia for Joan, provided in a Bag of Holding. Aleph tames a Magic Absorbing Giant Lizard. Umbrum heavily wounded in a fight against Basilisks. Prisoner successfully given to authorities, along with testimony.
     
    Last edited: Feb 8, 2018
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  13. MaliMi

    MaliMi The Cookie Guardian

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    Task: Help out in the Library
    Ah, my first task.

    A library, seems nice. The ancient feeling of old tomes, the intellectual atmosphere, the crispy sound of turning pages.... Haaa, that is something I could live for. The place of peace for the mind is no other than library. Everything is neatly stored. Every single book is a chapter of this world and has its own purpose. Every book, is an important piece of culture, which should not be forgotten and so I take upon the task of cleaning the library as a duty and as a sign of trust from the association.

    ...

    ...

    ...

    That was, until I have seen it...

    The scene that I saw... Even devils themselves were not as sacrilegious!

    Torn pages were fluttering around the place as the gentle gale played with them. Cracked, damaged bookshelves were laying on the ground. Visible lumps of dust could be found nearly everywhere and large cobwebs covered the walls and bookcases.

    With trembling fingers I touched a page which fell next to my feet and picked it up. That was the last drop!

    I usually have nothing against writing in the books. As long as one buys it, it is fine. Moreover, it should be encouraged to make some notes in educational books as it can help with the comprehension.

    But!

    But!

    But!

    Drawing a porn scene inside a serious book about the affinity between human body and elements, that is a straight insult!

    Moreover, when I whiffed it, I could still smell a beer...

    This is not a simple library cleaning task, this is a battlefield!

    And so, with a brush in my right and dustpan in my left hand, I stepped onto the battlefield. The books spoke of agony and grievance, which has been done upon them. I comforted them, cleaned them and put them together. Nevertheless, some of them were crippled for life. And a few of them... were already on their way towards light.

    But a death of a single book did not only affect the individual, it affected their whole family. Seeing the mother book about Toilets with its newborn child, Healthy Poop Journal, watching the funeral of its husband, Differentiating Beasts by Feces, was the most heart-breaking thing for me ever since I woke up from my deep slumber.

    I could only console the family and hope for the best.

    After giving the destroyed books one final mass burial, I polished the bookshelves for one last time, and said my goodbye.
    A bit short though.

    @Naraku
     
  14. Naraku

    Naraku 『Biased』『AG's Staff』『』

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    "Ohhhh ! You really seem to love the library~" exclaimed Umbrum with a cheerful smile, then quickly continued to talk as he searched Soremad's rewards.
    "Anyway..." Umbrum chuckled as he read the part about healthy poop journal but then shrugged and continued to talk.
    "The task has been completed nicely ! That's good ! Here you go, 1 Large Wooden Coin and 10 Merits !" He gave the coins along with a tablet on which it was engraved 10.

    OOC: Short, but that was a nice read~
     
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  15. MaliMi

    MaliMi The Cookie Guardian

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    Hi, I am back.
    Taks: Cleaning the Sewers of the Association

    Knowledge, that is what I desperately need. After I woke up, I was hesitating over whether I should contact my fellow kin or not. In the end, I decided not to. I could feel that the air has changed, something must have happened. I guess, most of them are in seclusion and trying to get accustomed to the change... or I hope so. Perhaps they are already dead?

    ...I do not want to think about that.

    And so, in order to find them and not end up as a test subject (which I am sure they would use me as without hesitation), I need to gain power.

    However, something is strange. I lost nearly all of my skills and only some of those my kind were famous for were left. furthermore I cannot seem to be able to learn more of them and to also, the world itself is preventing me from casting the deadly forbidden magic of the ancient era. You could say that all of the spells were deleted from my mind. Furthermore, something is blocking me from learning new ones. As soon as I try to memorize another spell, no matter what it is, it is forgotten right away.

    So, I can only do with what I have.

    Unfortunately, I have no direct offensive skills. My defence is not that bad, but what can I do without fighting back? The Curse of Mahjarrad sounds nice, but there are too many restrictions. Also, the Sacrificial Ritual is too costly and I need to gather rare materials for it, which are usually guarded by strong creatures.

    Thus, in order to increase my strength, I can only look at perhaps my most useful skill, Demon Creation. With what I have, I cannot make strong demons. What I can create, are perhaps only things with strength comparing to goblins, but I am not really in a position to choose. also, any mage needs cannon fodder right?

    And this is why I came to the sewers. I do not actually have enough resources to even make an imp. And so, I need to gather them and for now, the corpses of beasts seem to be the best.

    Without any hesitation I stepped inside the sewers and as soon as I did a refreshing feeling of coldness and humidity made my soul feel at ease. However, it did not take long for the distasteful smell to get picked up by my nostrils and in an instant, the entire positive opinion of this place was ruined!

    While being disgusted by myself that I even enjoyed this place even for a split second, I roam lonely within the dark.

    Occasionally, I can hear footsteps of some creatures mixing with the drops of water falling onto the ground from the ceiling above. Often, red eyes appear near me. They are like two bloody beacons within the darkness waiting for its prey to make even the slightest mistake before they gang up on this poor victim and feast on its flesh. Then, larger, sickly yellow eyes open and the red ones try to frantically escape. But, the yellow eyes are merciless and soon, desperate shrieks resound throughout the sewers warning all of the rats not to close in as well as remind them that they too shall sooner or later face the same end.

    However, the yellow eyes, the lizards, are not the rulers of this place. There are some strong brave red eyes, rats, that tasted their flesh and cultivated an insufferable greed for it. They crave for the juicy bloody lizard innards day and night. Sometimes, out of desperation, these individuals even gobble their own kin.

    It is only these individuals, that can slightly interest me. Perhaps, if I can get a large quantity of them, I might as well create my first servant.

    Only if, only if I at the very least had one direct offensive spell, then all of these things would not stand a single chance against me. Also, similarly, if my body was not so week after waking up, even a single flick of my sleeves would turn the entire sewers into dust. Alas, I do not have those. Currently, I do not even have anything to offer for my Nether Barrier. I am weak and broke. The only comforting thing is that the World of Illusions is still kicking and is enough to confuse these annoying creatures. Without it, I am not sure what I would be able to do.

    And so, I can only tail those huge rats and wait, wait till they make a mistake.

    These fellows are incredibly active, they hunt for the lizards with great zeal and are capable of undergoing all kinds of risks to once again savour that delicacy. They are mad. And they fight like that. As long as they can chew a bite, they do not mind being killed.

    And so, fortunately for me, once I find one, it does not take a long time for it to fight against a group of lizards to the point of both parties taking severe injuries.

    That is time for me to act. But I must be quick, otherwise, another group of rats might find this place soon and although I hate to admit it, any of them is more them capable of dealing with me.

    I swiftly take the most precious materials. The hearts and teeth of the giant rat as well as the claws of the lizards before, once again, deploying the World of Illusions and waiting for the other Rats to come. After they finish their meal and potential fights, I tail one of them and the cycle repeats.

    After I got hundred and sixty hearts, I found a preserved piece of giant rats skeleton and brought it to a secluded corner. It was time to begin the ritual of demonic creation.

    I slowly engraved symbols of my mother tongue into the ground. each stroke was exquisite, as if it was out of this world. All of the symbols had even depth and every inch radiated with magic power. Furthermore, from each symbol led a tiny line towards the centre. Every single one of them took about ten minutes to write. In the end, 160 fascinating symbols were engraved into a hexadecagram. Then I processed the hearts into a fine paste and poured it into the symbols. The blank space in the middle was then covered by dust made from the lizard claws before the giant rat skeleton was gently put on top of it.

    Finally, it was time for the ritual to begin.

    "Těleso se setrvává v klidu nebo v rovnoměrném přímočarém pohybu, pokud a dokud není vtištěnými silami donuceno tento stav opustit."

    As the ancient chant left my mouth, the world itself vibrated in response. The symbols boiled and the bloody mush slowly crawled towards the centre. It slowly enveloped the skeleton and gave it a gruesome look.

    "Pokud je vztažná soustava inerciální, pak všechny soustavy, které se k ní pohybují rovnoměrně přímořaře jsou táké inerciální."

    The claw dust rose from the ground and gave the creation before me a metallic lustre.

    Like this, it could work like a fine undead, however, for a demon, it still lacked two necessary things.

    "Pohyb v izotropním centrálním tíhovém poli je rovinný."

    After I said the last chant, a huge dark heavy gate appeared out of thin air and the keyhole slowly opened after a loud clang!

    My powers were only barely enough for a keyhole, what a joke I have become.

    But, the keyhole was fine for now as a tiny damaged soul got through it.

    For now, actually, the keyhole was just perfect, as I could not possibly manipulate a strong one.

    Nevertheless, the gate vanished as soon as the soul barely left. I stretched out my hand and grabbed the poor tiny fellow. It shrieked and tried to escape, but all of its attempts were futile.

    I tried to gently smile, I put the best of my efforts into it, really. However, the cute little fella seemed to be even more terrified then before. So, I did not make it hard for him, quickly branded it with my mark and put it into the black, metallic rat before me.

    The black rat rose to its feet, but the magic vibrations did not subside. Now, was the last stage of the ritual. My servant mainly feasted on my magic power to sustain itself, however, in order to become complete, it needed fresh blood and organs. And so, I retracted the World of Illusions and made it to only cover myself.

    Soon, lizards, tiny rats as well as the giant rats arrived and the final battle ensued. It was a gruesome battle and ultimately...

    ...

    ...

    ...

    The black rat, my first servant lost its life. Sigh, the third part is the most brutal as well as the most dangerous. Fortunately, at least, the black rat also developed a heart before it died and so, I carved it out in hopes of using it to create a new servant in the future.

    At the very least, the kill count should count as cleaning the sewers, right?
    A medium sized story. Hope you have a nice read.

    @Naraku
     
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  16. Naraku

    Naraku 『Biased』『AG's Staff』『』

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    "Pffff..." Umbrum spit his drink and looked at the quest's description quickly.
    "Kill at least ten of them yet you killed more than one hundred and half..." He understood, another who was defying common sense but in a more exagerated way.
    "Anyway, you did completed the task ! Congratulation !" Having already prepared the reward, Umbrum gave 1 L.Wooden Coin, a tablet of ten Merits and 10 Small Wooden Coins.

    OOC: Nice, it looks like an old man regretting the past, thinking that he is weak while he isnt xD
     
  17. MaliMi

    MaliMi The Cookie Guardian

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    OoC: Actually, he is. I mean most of those kills were just kill steals. And, well, fighting is not what he will be doing the most. I have a plan for his demon creation to be something like Bai Xiaochun's pill concocting.
     
  18. The Everdistant Utopia

    The Everdistant Utopia Generalissimo | Minister of Brascovia | Crau's

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    ((Again, tagging because of the sheer size of the reports. @Naraku @AliceShiki @BB_Tensei @Kysil
    Also separating the appraisal in two sides, since there were two different reports IC wise.))

    ~~ Main Group Appraisal ~~​
    After finishing the report, Sorgre crossed his arms falling in deep thought. "I see... Thanks for investigating about what happened to the party, even if it wasn't your real assignment. Still, I didn't expected Sora to be a traitor... I should get Hildr to check the newcomers when possible..." Placing four bags over the counter, he said. "Still, it's a job well done, mostly. Your rewards are as follow: 3 L. Wooden coin, 20 S. Wooden Coins, 25 Merit Points and 3 Appraisal Talismans, for each of you. Thanks for the hard work."
    Sorgre then whispered to a nearby staff to check on Umbrum with a concerned expression.
    Turning back to them, he added. "That is all. I would have many things to say about your report, but I received some good news today, so I'll leave at that."
    ~~ Elae's Appraisal ~~​
    "Let's see... Let's see..." Sorgre stated reading the report, his face turning slightly grim as he continued. "It seems the situation is worse than we imagined. Thanks, little one, you did a good job bringing so much information." Putting down the papers. "Still, you lack resolve to act on your own, and relied on Aleph on most of the task... Your judgemental skills aren't terrible, but you need to work more on them."
    "All in all, the information you two brought was vital for the decision on the next actions we will take, and the lent tools are in perfect conditions, so I have to thank you for all the hard work."
    Receiving the paper that Severa asked them to deliver, Sorgre raised his brows in surprise. "Severa, you say? I wonder what th Firestorm Severa is plotting this time..." He read the letter carefully and a grin formed in his face as he finished it. "Ohoho~ It seems there's always good things, even in grim times. Thanks for delivering this letter. It seems like Severa saved us some time..." Placing a single reward bag in the counter. "Here is your reward. 3 L. Wooden coin, 20 S. Wooden Coins, 25 Merit Points and 3 Appraisal Talismans." Looking at Elae, he added. "But as you were of great help, I'll make sure to keep your name in mind. Elae, was it? I expect much from you."
     
    Kysil, AliceShiki, Naraku and 2 others like this.
  19. MaliMi

    MaliMi The Cookie Guardian

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    Task given: Collecting of Herbs Near the Association
    Sigh, the death of my first servant really got me. "Well, at the very least, I've got a not so horrifyingly bad material." I say while playing with the heart of the black rat.

    It can count as a good material for the lowest rank demons. Now, of to get the other materials!

    As I check the list, it does not take me much time to choose my destination. Although Moonwater lily would be the best of the offered ones, I doubt that there would be enough quantity. Blue Coriander is not a bad choice as with enough quantity, it could reduce the danger of the final step of the ritual. Silent grass should help with the second step.

    However, what I chose almost immediately was Deadman tears. And the reason for it was simple: I am broke! There is no way a single bundle of herbs would be enough for a ritual, damn it! Also, this flower, I do not need it, what is enough for me are its tears! One litre should be enough!

    ...

    ...

    ...

    I am gonna stay in the graveyard for a long time right? How much could one flower give? Half a millilitre? Damn! I really hope it grows at a REALLY fast pace!

    And so, I enter the graveyard.

    ...

    ...

    ...

    DAMN IT ALL!!! Should have counted with it! Because it grows at fast pace, the takers of this request are going here at even faster pace! There is barely a single deadman flower here! All of them are picked! SCREW IT!!!

    And look at how those idiots did it! They just mercilessly pulled it out of ground! This is not how you pick up a flower! Do you know that this is graveyard? Do you have any sense of shame? Even some of the clay near graves is dug out! This is sacrilegious! Have your parents not taught you to ahve any respect for the dead?

    *Crash!*

    ...

    ...

    ...

    A shrivelled hand emerges from the ground.

    ...

    ...

    ...

    As the zombie slowly stands up, I realize why they did not have respect for this graveyard. It seems to be one of the practical sites for necromancers... Yea, how do you want to respect the dead, when they crawl out of their coffins and try to kill you?

    I cast the World of Illusion as I make my tactical retreat.

    Or wait, a minute! This! What is this?

    For some reason, there are Deadman Tears are thriving within those graves. It makes sense as they are closer to the corpses, however, how do they get sunlight? Although they do not rely on it too much, some of it should still be necessary.

    That's it! With how the undead were frequently leaving their graves, a tiny crevices formed in the ground giving the Deadmen Tears just the right amount of sunlight! Perhaps, perhaps I might reach my objective after all!

    And so, I waited till the night would pass and the zombies return to their graves.

    And, the first rays of sunlight graced this graveyard it was time!




    I shamelessly dag the corpses out and bounded them together in the corner of the graveyard. was I hypocrite? No, definitely no!

    Did not I say that this would be sacrilegious? After all I am no taoist and have no ability to give undead peace...

    Yes, it would be sacrilegious, it would.... if someone of the younger did it, after all they are their elders. However, I as a member of the ancient generation am completely allowed to dig the graves of the young ones and.... hmm... check on their condition to verify if everything is alright! Yea, that is it! Old people have wisdom and know a lot of things, they in times of need and when there are no doctors can perhaps substitute as ones... Right! And I as an ancient creature should know a lot about some deadly epidemics! What if there is a pandemic quietly brewing here? What if only I, a member of the ancient era, can uncover it? It is my duty to do so! It is my duty to dig out those graves! And whoever bars my way is the enemy of the Magic Association!

    ...

    ...

    ...

    And so, after a month I acquired enough of the Deadman Tears' tears and while I was at it also got a basket of the herb for the association.

    Oh, yea, almost forgot, but it seems that there is no pandemic.
    @The Everdistant Utopia
     
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2018
  20. Quaesitor

    Quaesitor [Part of AG's Staff]

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    Task given: Cleaning the Sewers of the Association (1st Level)
    After accepting the task, I make my way to the sewers. Seeing how powerful Joan and Blaiz are showed me that I can be that powerful, too! So I want to get stronger. I know I can do it. Ensuring that I am in top condition and that I have my bacon with me, I finally enter the sewers.

    The stench is... bad. Worse than I thought it would be. But that won't stop me. After taking a deep breath, I cast Burning Hand with an extended chant in an attempt to increase its duration: "I am the flame, I am the fire. My hands burn as a blaze, always there to scorch those that deserve it, a light in the dark." The result doesn't disappoint me, as my forearms get covered with fire without any problems, and I know that the duration won't disappoint me either... because instead of one big chunk of mana, it keeps draining it slowly instead.

    Raising my hands up in a boxing stance, I am both ready for combat and have something to light my way. Slightly tense I continue onwards, paying close attention to any sounds I hear. After some time, I hear something moving towards me. The one who strikes first has the advantage! With this in my mind, I take a deep breath and rush in the direction the sound came from. Rather frightened from my burning hands, a large sewer rat tries to run away, but I am faster - catching up to it within seconds, I kick its side before landing a couple of solid punches on its back, and it squeals in pain.

    Without pity or remorse, I and shout a short battle cry as I perform an elbow drop on the rat, probably breaking its spine and knocking it out. After quickly moving into a grab and breaking its neck, I get up and look down on the rat corpse, that caught fire in a few places during the fight. That's the first one, I guess?

    However, all of that noise seems to have attracted a sewer lizard that slowly steps into the shine on the flames, eyeing both me and the rat. I don't like the lizard, so I cast Fire Strike on the lizard, using all the fire around here to turn it into a roasted lizard. It keeps waving about for a few seconds before falling into the sewage. As the fire dies down I quickly draw my dagger and stab the lizard a few times, sewage and its blood splashing onto me in the process.

    As I breathe out in relief, I recast Burning Hands and quickly take out one of my bacon slices, slowly filling the area with the smell of grilled bacon before eating it. Only after that do I notice that this smell will most likely attract more beasts, so in order to prepare myself for combat, I set fire to a few things in the area using my still active Burning Hands and ready myself.

    A few minutes later, I hear things approach me from the right and left. A dozen seconds pass before the fires I made beforehand reveal the beasts, two lizards from the right and three rats from the left. This will be difficult, but... I can do this. After eyeing the area carefully, one of the rats can't wait anymore and rushes towards me. I wait until it gets close and, when it lunges for my leg, quickly pull it up before stomping on the rat's head, stunning it, then kicking it into one of the fires.

    Only now do I notice that the remaining two rats started using magic, and have gathered scrap from the area using it and that this projectile is now hurling towards me. "What!? They- of course, they did!" While shouting this, I barely manage to dodge the projectile while remembering that I am facing magical beasts. This projectile, however, alerts the lizards and they start rushing towards me. Nervous, I hurry to cast Fire Strike at each of the lizards using the fires near them, encasing them in flames.

    Turning back to the rats, I notice that they have almost reached me in the meantime! I jump back as fast as I can but they still manage to scratch my legs. In reaction, I cast Fire Cloak and Fire Strike, completely covering the face of one rat with the sheet. The other receives a kick to its face, slightly stunning it, and I use this opportunity to grab its face with my hand. It flails around wildly for a few seconds before dying.

    With the fight finally over, I lean on the wall, out of breath. I will treat the scratches after cleaning them... for now, I cancel my Burning Hands and eat some bacon, and drink some water from the water bag I brought with me. After resting like this for a while, I get up and make sure that the beasts I fought are dead with my dagger, then recast Burning Hands once again.

    With this out of my way, I continue through the sewers. Until now I have killed 7 beasts and still have to kill 3 more. Looking around a corner I face two rats - and cast Fire Strike twice, each time using the flames from one of my arms. After watching the rats burn for a few seconds, I use their distraction as an opportunity to kill them with my knife. Having already cast 10 spells, I'm not sure I will be able to cast another.

    So I start making my way back to the entrance, armed with my dagger. Pretty exhausted, I keep going, and barely notice how a lizard suddenly jumps at me from the shadows! In reflex, I lift my left arm to block him, which causes him to sink his teeth deep into my arm. Gritting my teeth in pain, I repeatedly stab its stomach and manage to kill it this way.

    A few minutes later I reach the exit. "This... went worse than expected. But I did it."
    OOC: The biggest limiters for Esta right now are the limited spells and the strength of the spells.
    @Naraku