Novel Rise of the Weakest Summoner

Discussion in 'Community Fictions' started by Saileri, Feb 5, 2021.

  1. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Yo!
    Saileri here! Decided to share my stories in more places! I can't forget that I've started writing for my own enjoyment and so that perhaps some other ppl may find my weird ideas amusing, and the best way to do that is to find more places to share! The story is also posted on ScribbleHub and RoyalRoad. Advanced chapters can be found on Patreon.

    RISE OF THE WEAKEST SUMMONER
    [​IMG]

    Synopsis:
    One fateful day, a caravan was passing by the village of Teira, which has been raided and set ablaze by bandits. Within the burning rubble, a young woman found a baby, a sole survivor of the attack, and decided to take it with her and raise as her own. As she was leaving with the little child in her hands, two falling stars lit up the night sky, and she named the boy Asterios.

    Years passed and he grew up in a caring and warm home, developing a passion for all magical beasts, choosing the path of a Summoner as his way of life. While his love and knowledge also grew boundless, his practical abilities clearly pointed out his complete lack of compatibility with that school of magic, but he never wavered in his resolution.

    Follow Asterios as his life of perpetual failure suddenly takes an unexpected turn, after just seconds short of his death, a powerful summon answers his call and saves his life. Wait... doesn't it look like... A GIRL?! Are those animal ears and tail?!

    Release Schedule:
    Can't guarantee a stable schedule, my other novel still takes priority and I'm currently on last year of my Master's, but at least once or twice a week.

    Genres:
    Action, Adult, Adventure, Fantasy, Harem, Romance, Slice of Life

    Content Warnings:
    Sexual Content, Strong Language

    What to expect:
    Fantasy adventure with an MC devoted to summoning magic and fantasy beasts, slowly getting rid of his title of the Weakest Summoner, lots of exploring, magic, encounters, lots of character development and what's the most important, a harem of lovely Monster Girls! And perhaps, some occasional lewds ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

    Tags:
    Adventurers, Beast Companions, Beasts, Caring Protagonist, Character Growth, Contracts, Determined Protagonist, Familiars, Fantasy Creatures, Fantasy World, Hard-Working Protagonist, Human-Nonhuman Relationship, Lucky Protagonist, Magic, Magic Beasts, Male Protagonist, Monster Girls, Polygamy, R-18, Sudden Strength Gain, Summoning Magic, Sword And Magic

    Table of Contents:
    Chapter 1- The Weakest One
    Chapter 2 - Practical Exam
    Chapter 3 - The Mysterious Stranger
    Chapter 4 - Werepanther
    Chapter 5 - Memorial and Contract
    Chapter 6 - Fast as the Wind
    Chapter 7 - Rank Evaluation
    Chapter 8 - Meeting with the Guildmaster
    Chapter 9 - Betrayed By Her Own Mind
    Chapter 10 - Nothing Ever Goes As Planned
    Chapter 11 - A Wager
    Chapter 12 - Infinite Storage
    Chapter 13 - Into the Den
    Chapter 14 - Bloodfang
    Chapter 15 - Out of Time
    Chapter 16 - The Source
    Chapter 17 - A Moonlit Bath
    Chapter 18 - Return
    Chapter 19 - The Trial
    Chapter 20 - Getting Better Together
    Chapter 21 - Controversial Theory
    Chapter 22 - Mother’s Quest
    Chapter 23 - Goblin Crossing
    Chapter 24 - A Dinner For Two
    Chapter 25 - Love and Dungeons
    Chapter 26 - Collar Up
    Chapter 27 – Into the Dungeon
    Chapter 28 – Strong Convictions
    Chapter 29 – Learning From Mistakes
    Chapter 30 – Two Sides of the Same Coin ❤❤❤
    Chapter 31 – Summoning for Dummies
    Chapter 32 – The Ritual
    Chapter 33 – Never Judge a Book by Its Cover
    Chapter 34 – What Does the Fox (Have to) Say
    Chapter 35 – Second Contract
    Chapter 36 – Awakening of the Slumbering Circuits
    Chapter 37 – The Spiritualist
    Chapter 38 – Show of Power
    Chapter 39 – Pillars and Spikes
    Chapter 40 – Miria’s First Boss
    Chapter 41 – Gaining Some Experience
    Chapter 42 – Team Against Team
    Chapter 43 – Exchange
    Chapter 44 – Emergency Search
    Chapter 45 – Underground Exploration
    Chapter 46 – Key to Freedom
    Chapter 47 – Secrets of the Abandoned Prison
    Chapter 48 – Reporting Back
    Chapter 49 – In Anticipation of a Full Moon ❤❤❤
    Chapter 50 – The Past Incident
    Chapter 51 – Temporary Help
    Chapter 52 – Gardener’s Nightmare
    Chapter 53 – A Negligent Father
    Chapter 54 – The Truth
    Chapter 55 – You Are My Everything
     
    Last edited: May 15, 2021 at 1:37 PM
  2. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 1 – The Weakest One
    No! Get away!

    A young man thought to himself while running for his life from a gigantic, shadowy creature. It resembled a bear fused with a griffon and was intent on catching the human squirming in front of its eyes. No matter how fast the man ran, the vast forest he was making his escape through seemed like an endless maze, without any light of hope shining through the dense upper branches of the spooky trees.

    As he dashed desperately, he stumbled over tree roots many times, giving his pursuer more and more chances to catch up to him. Almost completely exhausted, he didn’t want to just give up. He never ever gave up in his life. Not even once had he wavered on his path to becoming a great Summoner, even though he wasn’t able to call upon anything stronger than a Dashing Rabbit. Not even once had his heart been feeling down with all the bullying and abuse from his fellow Summoner colleagues in the academy. No. He swore to dedicate his whole existence to researching summoning magic so that he could surround himself with legendary magical beasts and live while taking care of those majestic creatures, saving people from unfortunate events, like the raiding of his own village.

    While recalling his whole life of meticulous studying and experiments, the man’s leg got caught in a vine bush, making him fall to the dirty ground. The bear-like monster quickly arrived at his side and rose on its hind legs threateningly, releasing a ferocious squeal from its griffon-like beak.

    Shit, shit, shit! Why?! Why doesn’t any strong beast ever answer my callings?!

    Envisioning his peril under the claws of the giant monstrosity, he gathered his mana, bit on his thumb, and while recollecting everything he has learned up to this day, pressed it to the ground, screaming every chant ever known to the humanity’s summoners in his mind. A green summoning circle appeared under his hand and started releasing smoke of the same colour. Seconds passed and passed, the man begged and prayed in his mind, offering even his own soul as the summoning catalyst, but nothing was answering his calls. The circle broke into hundreds of particles, leaving the poor Summoner at the mercy of the shadowy predator.

    Completely spent, he raised his head to watch his final moments filled with pride. He did everything he could. He did much more research, training, studying, experimenting, theorizing than even most professors at his renowned academy. His knowledge about summoning was boundless, but his affinity for it was finite. And it was the lowest ever recorded in the history of the institution, earning him the title of the Weakest Summoner. Why was fate so cruel? Why did people who yearned only for money and fame contract powerful beasts, often using them in abusive ways without any affection or care, but those who sacrificed their whole life to understand them better and dream of nothing else than just spending their life happily surrounded by entities they would rather die than even offend, ended up without any capability to do so?

    He would never know the answer. The unyielding claw of death began descending onto the kneeling man. He gave it a last look with a proud smile and opened his arms to welcome death, which failed to claim his body and soul those long 18 years ago. The monstrosity slashed straight at him from above and—

    “Asti! How long do you plan on sleeping? Don’t you have an exam today?”

    The assailant disappeared into the darkness, along the whole forest and world, as a kind voice of a woman arrived at the man’s ears. Only the loud thumping of his panicked heart could still be heard. The man calmed his mind and began to slowly analyze the situation. Realizing that it’s not the darkness enveloping his eyes but eyelids, he raised them and got hit by mischievous sunrays aimed straight at his face. He took a look around and noticed that he was sitting by his desk.

    A dream? Did I fall asleep over my notes again?

    Moving his gaze down, he spotted tens of pages, recognizing his own scribbles. The evidence was clear as a day. He stretched his arms while yawning loudly and trying to remember every part of this weird dream. They often carried a lot of meaning and were a great source of inspiration for magical studies.

    “Asterios! You will be late!”

    The woman shouted again. Asterios finally woke up completely and recalled her previous statement. It truly was the day of another examination period. He hastily glanced at a clock hanging on the wall of his room and his heart, which barely settled down, began racing again.

    “Oh fuck me! I am going to be late!” he screamed in terror.

    “Language!”

    “Sorry, mom!”

    “Dress up and come down. I’ve prepared you a light breakfast that you can eat on the way to the academy.”

    Without any hint of hesitation, Asterios promptly switched his clothing. He already was dressed, but he couldn’t just rush for an exam with a set of clothes he had on himself for two days. Asterios took a quick glance at his reflection in the mirror, confirming that his good-looking face wasn’t dirty anywhere and combing through his short, black hair with his fingers a few times to fix them.

    He dashed out of his room and jumped over the stairs, landing in the dining room connected to the kitchen. A figure of a woman with shoulder-long brown hair and a braid lying on her shoulder entered his vision.

    “Ah! Can you not use stairs like a normal human?” she said, a little spooked by his sudden appearance.

    “Sorry! Every second counts!”

    He grabbed the package from his mother’s hands, left a gentle kiss on her cheek and darted through the entrance of their home.

    “Do your best!” she shouted after him, but it did not reach his ears as Asterios was already fully focused on making it on time to the academy’s grounds. “Gosh, he really needs to take more breaks. He’ll never find a girl while sitting in books all day and night. What kind of a man doesn’t have a girlfriend by the age of 19?” His mom shook her head with a smile forming on her lips.

    Rosewind was a medium-sized merchant town, thriving off the many trade routes that passed through it. Being placed near some of the most used trails was one of its blessings. The other one was the most renowned Summoning Academy in the whole Human continent, which was currently the target of Asterios’s mad dash. The town was bustling with people and the roads were crowded to the extreme, making it much harder for him to push through.

    While he mustered all his strength and energy to move his legs, many of his colleagues passed by his side with ease. Or even above his head. The fact was, Asterios didn’t exactly oversleep. Just the route to the institution's premises took him much longer than other students, who were currently dashing around while mounted on the backs of their summoned beasts. Many tigers and wolves pounced between buildings’ walls while smaller drakes and even some pegasuses darted through the air. An everyday sight for the residents of Rosewind as everyone who came to live here already knew what they were getting into.

    Unfortunately, Asterios never managed to summon and contract any beasts big enough for him to ask for a ride. All he could do was to employ the help of those that were considered critters by others, like his current partner, Mii the Dashing Rabbit. He never blamed the magical beasts for this, only himself for lacking the ability to attract their attention. Intense studies and research were his escape and hope at the same time. He never planned on abandoning his dream.

    Feeling a slight mental nudge, filled to the brim with cheering intention and a lot of affection, he smiled and increased his speed.

    Thanks, Mii. I promise we’ll make it on time!

    Fifteen minutes later, the external walls of the academy’s premises appeared in his sight. It was located on the edge of the town, so the last part of the journey was much easier without having to struggle in narrow passageways.

    Everyone knew who he was so the guards at the gate didn’t even bother checking his ID, letting him pass through the entrance like the wind. Asterios glanced at one of the Master’s towers which featured a big clock and smiled. He shouldn’t have any more issues with the amount of time he had left until the first written exam would take place.

    Stopping the rushed pace, he switched into a quick walk and strolled to the main building while gazing around. This enormous castle-like structure always took his breath away, no matter how many times he marvelled over it. Each building was made of a pure white marble which emanated an aura of wealth, power and calmness due to the beautiful, grassy hill on which the whole complex was set up. And it was huge. School buildings, arenas, dormitories, laboratories, giant library, research and development department and many more additional facilities, including those for recreational purposes. Asterios always loved spending time in the R&D building or the vast garden while reading new books.

    He checked the schedule on the notice board and headed for the correct classroom, arriving shortly before the start of the exam.

    “Look, the Weakest Summoner is finally here!” Some girl pointed out his entrance and everyone turned their heads towards him.

    “I call dibs on the seat behind him!” a boy quickly exclaimed.

    “No fair! I’m getting the side one then!” another one whined sarcastically while standing up, readying himself to steal the spot next to Asterios.

    He, used to this atmosphere for a long time, didn’t even pay attention to other student’s rude remarks or jabs aimed at him. Why was everyone so eager to sit close to the supposedly weakest one? Because while his practical grades were all the lowest, no one surpassed him in any theory subjects or exams. Asterios almost always scored perfect marks, that’s how dedicated to his passion he was. And naturally, there’s nothing better during a written test than sitting behind the smartest kid.

    Mere seconds passed after he chose his place and all adjacent spots were already taken. He rolled his eyes knowing that no amount of cheating would help them. This was one of the end-semester exams and the chances of getting the same questions were incredibly low. The examiner arrived just moments after he sat down and the papers were handed out.

    Asterios scanned through the questions to estimate the time it would take him to finish all of them. It looked like this year’s test was easy, at least for him. A few simple questions to choose a single correct answer from a list, a few to explain some terms, two to write a formula and draw a summoning circle related to a specific element, another bunch to talk in detail about various magical beasts, some other types of questions and naturally, the last and biggest one, full of theorycrafting task to ‘make the summoning work’ with given information which could be intentionally altered to be incorrect. He loved these types of questions.

    Among the examiners, there was a certain teacher who always invited Ast to discuss his answers and they spent long hours exchanging pointers and knowledge. His life at the academy was miserable, but it wasn’t completely devoid of entertaining aspects. There existed a few people who actually broke from the crowd mentality and didn’t completely ostracize him.

    After promptly dealing with the first batch of questions, Asterios dived fully into filling the last one to the brim, as much as the white space over the whole piece of paper allowed. The time given for the test passed in a flash and the bell signalling its end rang mercilessly. Many students groaned unsatisfied with their work, and so did he, but not because he didn’t finish all of the tasks, no, he still wanted to write more. There still was a little bit of white on the edge of the page left, uncovered by his scribbles.

    Next was the practical exam. This year, same as the previous one, it was held in the form of a 1v1 arena fight between the Summoners from the same class. It wasn’t so harsh to instantly fail those who lost in it, which was good for Ast and also the reason he was still holding on somehow. In that little competition, a jury of examiners would watch the two opponents showcase their skill and base the score on their performance. So even if one side was being defensive the whole time, it still could be judged as a fine representation of it, taking into consideration the fact that they withstood ferocious attacks of the other one for a long time.

    Before the second phase began, Ast took a stroll to the garden area to relax a bit. He always felt extremely nervous when it came to any practical exam. No matter how hard he trained his body, mind and techniques, his progress was almost non-existent. He sat on one of the benches and brought out a book which was a diary of one of his favourite Summoners from the past age.
     
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2021
  3. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 2 – Practical Exam
    While he was engrossed in his reading, a girl approached the bench Asterios was sitting on.

    “Hi, Ast.”

    Looking up from his book, he found a cute girl with medium-long dark sapphire hair and blueish eyes. She donned the academy’s outfit for girls, featuring grey stockings, short ash-grey skirt and a white shirt with a blazer on top of it. She seemed to be somewhere around 165cm in height. In comparison, Asterios reached a bit over 180cm recently, so the difference between them was clearly visible when they stood side by side. As for someone of her height, she had quite an ample chest. A hesitant smile painted her lips.

    “Tina. Is there anything you need from me?” He assumed the usual distant and cold tone he showed to pretty much everyone else besides his mother and some chosen individuals.

    “No, no, no. Sorry to disturb your reading. I just wanted to wish you good luck on your exam.”

    “Thanks, but I don’t think anything will change today. It never does.” Showing a little bit of courtesy, he dived back into his lecture.

    “Ummm… You never know… That’s why you still keep trying, right?” He nodded to her words. “Well… just do your best. My fight is much later so I’ll come to watch yours.”

    He raised an eyebrow at the girl, who was smiling a little awkwardly. Ast wasn’t sure what that would achieve, besides having a decent show of him getting beaten into a pulp. There wasn’t much to learn from watching it. He did not realize though, that not all of his colleagues thought only about their personal gains when getting closer to him. Years of treachery and being used made him doubt everyone’s intentions, making him into a slight loner on the campus grounds.

    Tina made a very light bow and walked away hastily. She could barely control herself with how fast her heart was beating and she didn’t want to offend Ast with some unnecessary remark she could have blurted out in the heat of the moment. She looked back at his calm figure one more time and smiled to herself.

    Something prodded her mind, sending short messages which could be deciphered as ‘go for it!’. She stopped, blushing a little, and sent a few mental jabs at the consciousness invading her head.

    Shush it, Ori! I’ll tell him after graduation! Yes, definitely then!

    She could feel her partner rolling their eyes through the connection. She slapped her cheeks a few times and resumed heading for the notice board to check which arena Ast was placed in.

    Time for the short break ended and Asterios arrived at one of the small coliseums. He never understood why each arena was built with the aesthetics of one. It looked really funny to see a miniature version of the grand fighting ground which could house only like 50 people in the audience, excluding the sections for the ‘VIPs’, where examiners were currently awaiting the contestants.

    He walked towards one of the two balconies hung slightly above the arena’s grounds and looked to the opposite side to see who would be his opponent this year. It was a 17-year-old boy with short blond hair. He knew him pretty well. Fate really is mischievous, placing him against one of the students that hated Ast the most.

    He sighed heavily and prayed in his mind that nothing would go wrong today.

    “Hehehe, look who it is. Is your rabbit ready to become minced meat like that useless ferret you brought in three years ago?” The boy smirked at him from the other side of the arena.

    He furrowed his brows. Ast couldn’t care less about any insult directed at him, but his beasts and family was a no-go territory. That rude remark has reminded him of his previous partner, Roy the Soaring Ferret, who unfortunately lost his life during one of the runs in a training course. One of the obstacles suddenly enclosed him between a set of whirring pillars stuffed with countless blades.

    Asterios was devastated for a few days after that incident. All obstacles’ moves were known to the trainees beforehand through extensive manuals, so the fact that it moved completely different from its usual patterns just added oil to the fire, clearly pointing out external interference.

    He felt a ghostly lick on his cheek and rubbed the place with his hand, smiling faintly.

    Thanks, Mii. I’m okay. Let’s just get it done and go back home. Focus on evading as usual.

    “All contestants, call your contracted beasts into the pit!”

    A loud voice echoed through the arena. His opponent was first to follow the command and from a yellowish magic circle under his feet, a yellow-furred wolf jumped out, landing on the ground beneath the summoner. It was what’s called a Thunder Wolf. Quite an impressive summon. It growled loudly, announcing its arrival with pride.

    Before Ast could even ask Mii to come out, she popped out from a green smoking circle and hopped down. Mii was a Dashing Rabbit. Their size was comparable to that of a fully grown chicken so she didn’t look utterly hopeless in front of an adult wolf. She stretched her legs and bounced around a few times, sending Ast mental message to leave everything to her.

    He smiled at her eagerness to fight for him. He reminded her to run away back to her realm at the very first sight of danger and gripped the balustrade tightly with his hands, readying himself to watch the bout where his partner could easily get hurt.

    “Ready? Go!”

    The speaker announced the start of the fight and the blondie’s wolf roared to the sky, sending down lightning aimed at Mii’s position from it. She swiftly evaded every strike which charred the ground in the place where she had been just milliseconds ago. Speed and agility was her forte and something this predictable couldn’t hurt her even if there were three wolves facing her.

    Slowly closing the distance between them, Mii strongly pushed herself off the ground and slammed into the side of her enemy who was still mid-casting with his howl, sending him tumbling a few meters back with a yelp.

    “Nice!”

    Ast pumped his fist. Every single attack that connected would raise his score even more than just dodging.

    Mii backed off a bit and sat on the ground, nonchalantly scratching her ear with one of her hind legs. The wolf’s master, annoyed by the fact that it let itself get hit by a puny rabbit, shouted some orders at his familiar.

    Soon after, it got up back to its feet and growled ferociously. Mii’s ears perked up and she readied herself for a counterattack. The wolf made a single step… and disappeared. Mii reacted barely in time as the attacker’s fangs passed just by a hair’s breadth from her fur after it used the Lightning Dash ability. One of the most iconic moves of its species.

    They started dancing around with Mii bouncing from spot to spot avoiding the wolf’s ferocious bites. Straight close-quarters combat wasn’t her strong point and she quickly started gathering many cuts from the wolf’s fangs and claws while still trying to bite him on its ankles.

    Mii, back off and focus on dodging for a minute or two more. We already passed with what you achieved,」Ast talked to her via their connection.

    But Mii rejected that idea and kept jumping around the opponent, wanting to present her master with his very first win. He always cared for her, showering her in treats, pats, cuddles and affection. He never used his will to push her to do anything even slightly against her wishes. During training, he always expended almost all of his mana to support her fragile body. It pained her how she never could exceed her master’s already low expectations and didn’t understand how no strong beasts flocked to a person like that.

    Blocking off their connection to some extent, she fully focused on the battle. She could do it. She’d do anything to cheer up her master even a little bit.

    With her tiny mind filled with determination, she started burning her mana while increasing her speed. For the next two minutes, the wolf barely kept up with her, but still held firmly under the barrage of her slams and small bites. She slowly started tiring down.

    Ast watched her dance around the opponent in unimaginable suspension. Then, he noticed the other guy extending his hand, cutting it with a knife and pressing it against his chest after rolling it into a fist. That was a sign of master sharing a lot of his energy with the summon.

    Sensing something bad coming, he shouted to his own partner out loud, “Mii! Get back now! I order you to escape to your realm, now!”

    Mii felt a tiny prickle in her brain, forcing her to submit to the order, but she decided to fight against it, knowing that Ast wouldn’t keep it up for long to avoid inflicting more pain. Unfortunately, that was a mistake. Not letting that short moment of hesitation go to waste, the wolf howled loudly again and used all of the transferred mana to invoke an advanced skill - Field of Lightning. Three waves of sparkling walls erupted from it and passed through Mii before she could escape their range, effectively paralyzing her.

    “No!” Ast shouted.

    “Finally! Now tear that annoying ball of fur into shreds!” The other man ordered his familiar.

    The wolf slowly approached Mii lying down and picked her up with its jaws. It started shaking its head sideways and soon a lot of blood began splattering around. Ast could feel Mii’s pain even through the blocked connection.

    “That’s enough! Flee already!” he kept shouting desperately, but Mii kept biting on the wolf’s face, not wanting to surrender. Ast turned to the examiners above him. “She lost! End the battle now!”

    “The battle continues until one of the beasts returns back to their realm. You know that Asterios,” an older man answered without any interest.

    He knew of that rule, but Mii wasn’t doing it! He couldn’t lose her like that, in some stupid exam! Ast grabbed the balustrade harder and began raising his leg.

    “Contestant Asterios, personal interference in the examination battle of magical beasts is against the rules and can result in—”

    “Fuck your rules!”

    Ignoring the nagging of the professor, he jumped down into the arena and broke into a dash towards the summons. He knew he couldn’t contest the wolf with his human strength and there was no chance to force its jaws open. Fortunately, from the length and position of its canines, he knew it was a male, and that was enough for him to figure out what to do.

    Ast leaned back and slid under the yellow wolf, grabbing its balls with both of his hands.

    “Release her right now or you’ll never be able to use that again!” He squeezed them a little, evoking a yelp of pain from the beast.

    The procreational instincts kicked in and the wolf hesitated. His master’s orders rang in its head but losing something so important had a much bigger impact on its mentality. Deciding to choose to anger its master a bit over losing the ability to reproduce, the wolf spat out the bloodied rabbit and backed off after its assailant released the precious jewels.

    Ast quickly picked up the heavily wounded Mii and began transferring all his energy to her. Tina suddenly appeared by his side and called forth one of her summons, a young Water Serpent. It knew a bit of healing magic and helped to close the gaping holes in the rabbit’s body.

    “Thank you…” Ast whispered while hugging Mii to his chest.

    “It’s nothing… I’m glad that she’s okay,” Tina said, crouching by his side.

    The examiners came down and informed Ast to await his punishment tomorrow. He didn’t even pay attention to their words and quickly left the arena to take Mii to the infirmary. Tina stopped him somewhere midway, suggesting letting Mii rest in her Water Serpent’s realm, which was much richer in spiritual energy than hers. He didn’t hesitate and took her up on the offer instantly.

    They sat down together in the garden while waiting for Mii to recover a little more. Ast stretched himself out on the bench and hung his head to the back, with closed eyes.

    “She… really was amazing…” Tina praised Mii’s performance in a quiet voice.

    “She fought against my orders.”

    “Mii tried so hard just for you—”

    “She could have died! For what?! Meaningless praise from some old geezers that care only about results?!” He raised his head and shouted while sending her an angry glare, making Tina jump a little.

    He covered his face with hands and exhaled heavily. “I’m sorry. I’m still a bit worked up over this. I didn’t mean to shout,” he apologized dejectedly.

    Tina smiled seeing his kind nature, but he wasn’t able to see that detail. “It’s okay, I understand.”

    They spent the next half an hour just sitting there in silence, parting ways after Mii healed enough to take the rest of her treatment back in her own realm. Asterios walked back home before evening came.

    “And? How did it go?” his mother asked the moment he opened the door.

    He slammed it shut with an annoyed groan and headed straight to his room. She knew that something must have happened because he wasn’t so easily riled up, no matter how much animosity he was met with at the school. She decided to give her son a bit of space, knowing that he would soon get over it and switch back to his usual, determined self.

    Asterios fell lifelessly onto his bed. Mii jumped out of a small portal soon after and snuggled to his neck, still slightly in pain, sending lots of apologies to him through their connection. She started feeling even more guilty when she realized that there wasn’t even a faint glimmer of blame headed her way. It all was directed at himself, for being such a powerless summoner. They fell asleep cuddled up together.
    No, this won't be a Pokemon rip-off ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°) It was just how exams are usually conducted at the Summoner's Academy. Just FYI it's not the only school of magic in that world. There are lots of other ones. Anyway, hope you enjoyed the chappy, we reach the turning point in the next one. I'm still kinda hesitant about it... *sweats*
     
  4. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 3 – The Mysterious Stranger
    Asterios opened his eyes with Mii lying on his chest. After waking her up with a few rubs, she cuddled to him for a little longer and jumped back to her realm. He collected himself from the bed, tidied it up a bit and went downstairs to see if his mother had already started preparing breakfast. He tried to wake up before her many times to surprise her with a nice meal, but she always managed to be the first one to get up no matter what, as if she had some divine sixth sense.

    And the same as usual, she was already in the kitchen, cutting some vegetables while humming happily. She heard Ast’s footsteps and turned around. Considering the fact that she was slightly shorter than her son, and that she was wearing a cute apron over her clothes, many could have mistaken her for his loving wife after seeing how quickly she trotted to hug him, leaving all the work behind. He of course accepted the embrace.

    “I’ve prepared your favourite sandwiches today.” She rubbed his back affectionately.

    “Thanks, mom. I’m fine now. Sorry for ignoring you yesterday.”

    “Don’t mind it! Everyone has their bad moments.”

    She guided him to the table and sat him down, presenting the meal in front of Asterios. She poured them both some tea and took place in front of her son with a warm smile. He sighed before looking at her face.

    “Mii almost lost her life yesterday.”

    His mother’s eyes widened instantly and her face got overtaken by shock and worry.

    “No! Is she okay? What happened?” She grabbed his hand over the table and gazed intently into his eyes.

    A little bit of green smoke arose on the table to their side and Ast’s familiar jumped out of a small portal. His mom quickly scooped Mii into her embrace and started petting the adorable ball of fur.

    “Oh, you poor thing… It must have been really painful… I don’t even want to imagine what they have done to you…”

    She kept stroking Mii along the top of her body, squashing her long ears into it. Mii barely got out of her depressed mood but she started feeling guilty again after realizing how much sadness and worry did her rash decision invoke. Ast felt that and joined his mother to brush his finger’s under the summon’s chin, sending her mental messages to stop blaming herself already.

    After spending half an hour more with the both of them being consoled and pampered by Ast’s mom, they finally left for the academy. His classes were starting in the afternoon and he had a few more hours of spare time. He decided to check if his punishment had been already decided.

    No better place to figure that out than the Principal’s office. He arrived at the door, and seeing no queue or anything, Ast knocked on the huge wooden double doors.

    “Come in.” A muffled voice of an older woman came from the other side.

    He followed the instruction and walked into the chamber. It was a medium-sized room with lots of bookshelves and cupboards. An ornamental mahogany desk was placed in the middle-back, where the source of the previous voice was currently sitting down and scribbling something on a piece of paper.

    Ast came closer to the person and bowed lightly. The woman clad in dark emerald robes and a pointy hat raised her eyes from her work. Her attire often earned herself the unofficial title of Emerald Witch and it was obvious where that came from with just a single glance at her. And no, she wasn’t ugly, the opposite actually, as for an older woman she looked quite good. Let’s just say that her style of dressing was quite peculiar.

    The Principal sighed heavily and leaned back on her chair. “Asterios. As much as I like your company, I can’t quite enjoy the circumstances behind this visit.”

    “I’m sorry for troubling you, Principal Teireshia.”

    “Don’t be. We both know what you did was right and yet everyone insists on punishing your actions.”

    The woman stood up from her chair and walked towards the window, gesturing to Ast to take a spot beside her. He joined the Principal at her side a little hesitantly. They both gazed at the beautiful garden visible from this chamber.

    “I always thought that you are special in some way. In my whole life, I haven’t met anyone with so much determination. I don’t know why this path is so hard on you, but I always believed that you are just missing some little detail which holds you back from moving forward. That’s why, I did whatever I could to support your growth, hoping that you could find it with the help of our academy.”

    “And I’m extremely grateful for Madam Principal’s help. If not for that support, I’d have definitely been long gone from the academy’s premises.”

    Asterios made a light bow and she waved his hand at him to stop such courtesies. She then sighed heavily again.

    “In the end, I’m just a single person. I can’t walk upstream forever. One day I’ll get swept by the current, no matter how strong I am. And I’m afraid that this day has just arrived.”

    She turned to him with a saddened expression. A grey owl flew from behind Ast and perched on the Principal’s shoulder, holding a letter in its beak. She took it from the animal, glanced at it with visible disdain and extended her hand with the letter towards Asterios.

    “It pains me so much to do this, but I wasn’t left with any choice. You know that the position of a principal doesn’t hold as much power as people imagine it does. I’ve repelled other professors’ complaints and charges for years, but they finally gained enough supporters in the Council to invalidate my influence.”

    Asterios received the piece of a neatly folded paper and glanced at it without any change in his expression. He did not have to open it to figure out what the message was. A bit of grievance and sadness surfaced inside his heart, but he quickly calmed himself down, knowing that there’s no point in letting those negative thoughts overcome his mind and allowing them to put the blame on the person who fought to prevent this outcome.

    “I’m really sorry, Asterios. I’ll have you hand back your uniform and ID by the end of this week. I really tried everything—”

    “It’s fine. I’m actually surprised it took them so long to kick me out. I’m thankful for Madam’s enormous support. I was able to learn a lot using the academy’s sources and facilities and I’ll never forget this favour. Please, don’t blame yourself too much over this, we both knew this had to happen at some point, and as you said, I’m well aware of how much time and effort Madam Teireshia wasted on protecting someone like me. Again, I thank you for all these years.”

    Asterios bowed deeply, almost prostrating himself in front of the Principal. He didn’t want to leave on bad terms, not with the person who helped him this much.

    She was surprised to see how well Ast received the news. She wouldn’t blame him even if he erupted with anger. Her respect towards the boy only grew with each day, along with the hate for all the injustice he was subjected to.

    “I’ll deliver the items before the deadline. Now, if the Principal allows, I’d like to excuse myself.”

    She nodded her head. There was no point in trying some cheap and sweet words to cheer the boy up, it would be offensive towards his resolve and strong character.

    “Asterios,” she called to him while he was moving through the doorstep. He stopped for a moment. “I’ll await the day when you come back here as the strongest Summoner of this era, to show those stupid geezers how wrong they were.”

    They both smiled at each other and Asterios left the office. He leaned his back on the wall outside and sighed dejectedly while closing his eyes.

    Whatever. I at least got rid of those prideful punks now. And I was slowly reaching the limits of what else I can learn here. Some more freedom might be beneficial.

    He headed out of the academy while deep in thought. Near the main gate, Tina was just arriving at the academy’s premises. She noticed Ast going the opposite way with a bit cloudy expression and got a little curious to know the reason behind it.

    “Hey, Ast. Don’t you have classes soon? Where are you going?”

    He just waved his hand without even stopping. “I’m not feeling well today. Need a little breather.”

    She didn’t push him for more answers nor did she chase after the man. It was quite weird to her that Ast would skip his classes, but given what happened yesterday, it wasn’t something that exceptional. She shook her head to clear her mind and started walking again. She knew how tough Ast was and she was sure that she would see him again around the campus soon enough.

    Asterios strolled through the town without any specific goal. He hoped that it would give him some ideas on how to solve the sudden crisis. Unfortunately, the bustling streets of Rosewind just made his mind even more chaotic so he decided to leave the area and visit one of the places that always allowed him to relax within nature and peace.

    Leaving the town’s borders, Ast walked towards the nearby forest to the east from it. Just entering the sea of trees started positively affecting his mind. While he didn’t feel bad around civilization, he always felt much better in the wilds, like all the magical beasts he admired.

    He quickly found his favourite spot which was located near a small, beautiful pond. A tiny waterfall was making its way into it from the nearby rock formation. He sat near the water’s edge and glanced around the glade. Calmness filled his mind after he closed his eyes and began listening to the various sounds of nature. All his worries were washed away. Mii seated herself on his lap to enjoy a bit of the sun too. Leaning onto the rocks, they both dozed off.



    *CRACK*

    *THUD*

    An hour later, loud sounds of trees breaking and falling down woke them both up. Mii jumped off his lap and started listening towards their source. Asterios quickly rose to his feet and looked to where she positioned her head.

    *CRACK*

    Another tree fell. This one was close enough to make its way into the clearing. Ast’s eyes widened when he identified the person, or rather beast, behind those loud crashes. A giant Brown Bear was headed their way. It already spotted both of them and roared ferociously.

    Just from its cry, Ast could realize that this particular bear didn’t hold any good intentions. A few quick glances over its enormous body revealed that the angry animal was heavily wounded from various sword cuts, arrows sticking into its back and some burns, most likely from Fire magic.

    It must be running away from its pursuers, most likely humans. We need to flee before it targets us in its rage!

    Before he could inform Mii of the plan, the crazed beast began rushing towards their position.

    “Evade!”

    He shouted and jumped to the side. Mii did the same in the opposite way. The huge mass of fur and muscles charged between them, fortunately missing both.

    “Back to the realm, now!”

    Ast shouted and broke into a sprint without even looking behind. In no way he had any chance against a matured Brown Bear, even less with it being completely enraged. Mii didn’t want to repeat her previous mistake and instantly followed his orders.

    Loud thumping soon followed behind him. Running would get him nowhere. Such a strong predator would catch up in no time. He switched his direction towards the way from where the beast had previously emerged, hoping that he could stumble on the party which should be following their target.

    That hope got soon crushed into bits when the bear caught up and bashed its heavy body against Asterios in its mad charge.

    “Guuuaah!”

    He fell to the side and rolled a few times on the ground until he hit a tree. Ast quickly raised himself to a crouching position and took out a knife from behind his back. It looked like a puny toy in front of the giant beast.

    The bear arrived at his side and began swiping its front paws while still on all fours. Asterios wasn’t utterly weak physically. He believed that stamina and a healthy body was crucial to withstand the pressure of summoning magic. Thanks to that, he was able to dodge most of the attacks, while grazing the beast with his blade here and there.

    Such tiny wounds didn’t have any effect though and the strength difference was clearly visible. The beast finally managed to land a solid hit on the Summoner and sent him flying back with three deep slash marks on his chest.

    Asterios groaned in pain after hitting a tree and sliding down to the ground. The predator, sensing its victory, rose onto its hind legs and stood above the weak human. Ast suddenly got reminded of his recent dream and its resemblance to the current situation was uncanny.

    Cough, cough… So… I literally saw my own death back then… What a shitty revelation…”

    Just like the last time, he stared at his assailant with a proud smile. No one could deny his efforts. He didn’t regret anything. Well, perhaps there was one thing he would actually regret, which was leaving his mother who cared for him for so long, alone in this world.

    Stay safe, mom. I hope you’ll find some good man to ease your grief.

    He sighed and started preparing himself for the inevitable. Seeing the bear raise its arm, he focused his mind on nullifying the contract with Mii.

    He furrowed his brows. She wasn’t present in her world. While he was confused by the weird discovery, he watched as the beast’s claws began descending onto him.

    Suddenly, something round flew from the side and obstructed its path, receiving most of the force of the hit onto itself and cushioning the impact of the muscular paw on Asterios. It still was strong enough to break the tree onto which he was leaning on and launched both him and the weird object a few meters backwards.

    He squeezed the soft ball to his chest while rolling on the ground. After they finally stopped, he instantly realized what the weird thing was.

    “No... No, no, no, no!”

    He got to his knees in a flash, ignoring all the pain, both his own and the one coming through his connection with Mii, and glanced over the bloodied body of his beloved partner. There were three enormous cuts engraved deep into her side. Litres of blood was spilling onto the grass. He instantly began transferring all of his mana into her body, but the openings reached almost further than half of her body’s width. There was no amount of mana that could speed up regeneration to the extent which would allow fixing those mortal wounds.

    “Mii! Please, no! Why?! You should have just kept hidden, you stupid, disobedient rabbit!”

    Mii raised her small, twitching nose and brushed over Asterios’s cheek. He could feel her mind getting filled with gratitude and pride. Both from getting to meet and serve such a wonderful master. She grazed his cheek one last time before closing her pained eyes and stopping to move.

    Asterios watched as her body slowly began to turn into smoke. A sign of a deceased summon returning back to their world, realm, home. Forever. As a soul. In a few seconds, she was gone.

    The world around him went silent. Everything lost its colours. He stared into his hands while completely frozen. Time did not stop though. The predator was preparing itself to finish what it failed to achieve with its previous attack.

    Ast didn’t pay even the slightest bit of attention to it. He began feeling like something inside him was cracking, bit by bit. He experienced something similar in the past, when Roy lost his life, but not to this extent. And it wasn’t in a metaphorical sense. Something, in fact, suddenly shattered when his mind got filled with anger and grief. He felt as if some invisible barrier surrounding his body suddenly disappeared.

    Scorching hot energy burst out from where his heart was and quickly enveloped his whole body. Asterios’s scream of despair roared into the sky, sending out a wave of powerful energy and pushing the bear slightly away. He could not see it, and most likely wouldn’t even notice in his rage, but his hair turned completely white and his previously blue eyes were now crimson red.

    Before the claw began descending again, Asterios felt almost all of the newfound energy disappear and was hit with sudden drowsiness. As he started to lose his consciousness, he saw a shadow jump in front of him and repel the beast’s strike with a swat of its hand. A figure of a girl appeared between him and his assailant.

    He watched as the unfamiliar stranger rushed at the Brown Bear while unsheathing two curved shortswords from behind their back. The girl avoided each of the beast’s attacks with unimaginable ease and grace, slashing back at it with speed faster than his eyes could follow.

    Asterios started doubting them when he noticed something long swishing behind his saviour's back. And he could swear that there were two weird, rounded triangular objects on the top of her short black hair. As he began falling forward, he saw the figure of this weird woman jump into the air and behead the creature with an upside-down pirouette. His face slammed into the ground and everything faded into black.
    Okay, please, put down the pitchforks and torches. I really was hesitant to do this, but it had to happen. I honestly cried a bit while writing this part. But well...

    This will end the starting batch release. Now we go daily. I'll use that time to recheck each chapter before posting here too.
     
    Last edited: Feb 5, 2021
  5. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 4 – Werepanther
    About an hour later, Asterios began regaining his consciousness. He felt something soft under the back of his head. He slowly opened his eyes and saw a figure of a girl leaning above him. From the angle and position, he deduced that he was lying on her lap.

    Soon after, she noticed him waking up and glanced down with a kind smile.

    “Welcome back, Master.”

    Asterios furrowed his brows while staring at the beautiful face of the black-haired girl. He started focusing his mind to recall everything that led to this weird situation. He rotated his head to the side and his gaze landed on the decapitated body of the Brown Bear. Everything immediately came back to him. The scene of his partner jumping in front of him flashed through his mind.

    “Mii!” Asterios shouted while hastily raising himself up, startling the girl a bit.

    He looked around the whole battlefield, sent sensory pings as far as he could, but there was no trace of her left. He realized that this time, it wasn’t a dream. And his beloved partner just sacrificed her life to protect him.

    “Fuck! Fuck! Fuck! Fuck… You idiot...”

    He started repeatedly hitting the ground with his fist. A few tears rolled down his cheeks. The girl wanted to do something, but she wasn’t sure what to say so she just sat by his side on her knees and stared at the man with a worried expression.

    Asterios finally stopped after around three minutes. He fell onto his butt, panting heavily. Noticing the concerned gaze of his saviour, he wiped his face off and tried his best to calm the turbulent emotions.

    “Sorry about that.”

    She shook her head. “It’s okay. I don’t know who this Mii is, but I can see that you are in a lot of pain so don’t hold it back,” she said with a gentle tone and a heartwarming smile.

    Asterios made a deep sigh. “Mii was… my partner. She lost her life after protecting me from the bear just shortly before you arrived…”

    The girl covered her mouth with her hands. “Oh, no… I’m so sorry...”

    “It’s not your fault. I’m grateful for your help. It’s all on me. If only I wasn’t so pathetically weak, this might have ended differently...”

    “You are not weak.”

    “How is a Summoner who can’t call beasts bigger than a chicken to his aid not weak?” He glanced at the girl with self-depreciative eyes.

    “But, you summoned me.”

    “Eh?”

    Asterios blinked a few times and furrowed his brows at the girl. He dived into his memories again to check if he missed some important detail. He remembered feeling a sudden surge of energy which disappeared quite quickly, but wasn’t that just an adrenaline spike due to all his rage?

    He stopped prodding his mind, and for the first time, he looked at his saviour attentively. The girl sitting on his side had short black hair and a very cute and gentle face. The main thing that was wrong, or rather two things, were cat-like ears sprouting from around the top of her head, twitching from time to time or changing the direction they were facing. The pair of black eyes with vertical pupils also seemed a little out of place when considering a typical Human’s appearance.

    Moving his gaze lower made his eyes widen in consternation. Her arms were covered in blackish fur, down from the elbow. Her hands looked similar to his, but they also were covered in silky-smooth hair. She noticed his curious gaze and extended her hand to Ast, rotating it so that that palm faced upwards.

    Something akin to the cushiony surface of a cat’s paw covered it. Much flatter and evenly spread. It didn’t look like it would get in the way of holding things and her previous show with swords proved that. Rather than that, it seemed like it would allow the person to have a perfect grip on things. Her hands were just like a better version of Human ones but covered with gentle hair.

    Asterios moved his eyes further, glancing over her red vest covering the girl’s chest and shorts of the same colour. Her slender belly was exposed to the world. He noticed something moving behind her back so he tilted his head to check it out. The girl leaned to the side to give Ast a better view of her lively, black, cat-like tail.

    The last thing that differentiated her from a normal human was her legs, which were covered with the same fur-like hair as her arms, just below her knees in this case. She wore leather boots, but Asterios felt like she could walk or even run barefoot without any inconveniences.

    “Who are you?”

    He decided that it would be a bit rude to ask the girl what she is out of the blue, so he started with something less offensive.

    “I’m Miria. And as you can see I’m a Werepanther.” She nodded her head courteously.

    Werepanther? That’s the first time I hear about a race like that… It’s also the first time I see a person with such animal features. There are some monsters that are bipedal, covered completely in fur and have heads of wolves or tigers, but having a human-like appearance to this extent?

    The curious gaze of Miria pulled Ast back from his contemplation.

    “Ah, I’m Asterios, and as you can see I’m a Human.”

    “Oooooooooooh. My friends will never believe me that I was able to meet a Human! I knew that Master was amazing!” Surprised at first, Miria quickly started clapping with a joyful smile, her tail moving rapidly.

    “How is that amazing? Wait, master? You also said that I summoned you, but it can’t be right.”

    She tilted her head. “But it is. I was walking around the forest near my village when I sensed a very pained call for help, full of grief and anger, and felt like I could grab onto it. Of course, I couldn’t ignore something so sad and desperate so I did it. Something connected to my mind and I could feel the emotions of another person. Then an immense amount of mana flowed into my body and a shadowy-red portal appeared in front of me. After jumping through it, I arrived behind you kneeling on the ground and stopped the bear’s attack.”

    Asterios listened to Miria’s story with great attention. Many details overlapped with what usually happens between a Summoner and a magical beast. When invoking the summoning ritual, the person sends a call into the Void, stating his real name and purpose of looking for help. A corridor between realms is opened and if any existence wishes for it, they can answer the call and move to the Summoner’s world to discuss the terms of their contract. In simple words of course. It’s much more complex than this.

    Everything pretty much confirmed that Miria answered his summons, but there were never any records of people summoning entities so closely resembling humans. It’s like she was a member of another race more than some legendary beast.

    But Summoners couldn't form contracts with ‘people’. That was the fundamental law of summoning magic. Summoners were just like Tamers, but they could form a spiritual connection with the beast, rather than just developing a bond with it. They could then call on the contracted partner at any time, allowing them to enter this realm and fight alongside their master. It was also possible to contract a creature from this dimension of course. The main difference was in that magical connection, which also allowed the Summoner to strengthen the entity with their own mana, where Tamers could only train them physically and mentally.

    “Okay. Let’s say that I summoned you. Are there no Humans in your world?” he asked.

    “No. Our world has only us, Beastfolk, as we call ourselves. Everyone looks similar to me, having different animal characteristics. There are some legends and myths about people calling themselves Humans arriving in our realm. They always are in the form of tales about heroes who were unbelievably strong. There was also that one myth about a princess of the Spiritual Foxes tribe being called to their world and having many great adventures alongside the Human she fell in love with! That’s one of the oldest ones and my favourite! I still can’t believe the Human realm really does exist!”

    Miria spoke about her world with gleaming eyes. Asterios understood that it wasn’t that impossible to be true. Some magical beasts lived in their own, small realms with only their species being around. Others, shared their world with creatures of similar element, as for example in an aquatic dimension. So, it was only natural for realms similar to the one he was living in to exist somewhere. And from Miria’s story, it seemed like there even had been some sort of contact between their worlds in the past.

    “I see. Well, I certainly exist so I guess there was some truth in your people’s tales.” He glanced over the energetic catgirl. “Thank you again for saving me. If there’s anything I can do for you to repay that debt, just tell me. Perhaps I can get you something as a souvenir you can take back to your home?”

    “Eh? I can’t stay with you?” Miria’s ears flopped down onto her head and her shoulders slumped. “You said you are a Summoner, right? And you summoned me. So I’m now your familiar, yes? Is this not how this works?”

    Miria stole glances at his face with her head lowered while fiddling with her fingers in front of her thighs. She looked utterly heartbroken and Asterios instantly regretted his words. He sighed heavily.

    “We didn’t form a contract yet and honestly, I don’t know what could happen if we tried. No one ever managed to summon somethin—, sorry, someone, like you. You look too humane to be considered a magical beast and summoners can’t form contracts with other humanoid races. I can’t fathom how you heard my scream in the first place. I wasn’t even trying to start a summoning ritual.”

    Asterios explained his worries to Miria. It’s not that he didn’t want to try, it’s just that he was afraid of possible consequences. He didn’t want to hurt the person who saved his life.

    Miria understood what he meant, yet still, she couldn’t help feeling down. It was like a dream come true for her, being able to set foot in another world. She didn’t mind having Asterios as her master if that’s what was required to fulfil that dream. She even already began calling him that. Just from the emotional scream that pulled her here, she knew he was not a bad person. And he was actually quite good-looking too. She only wondered why his hair turned black and his eyes blue after he fell to the ground. She thought that he looked much cooler with white hair and red irises. She concluded that maybe Humans do that when they use magic or something.

    Her ears suddenly perked back up and it looked like she figured something out. She glanced at Asterios with a cheerful smile, stood up and took a few steps back.

    “So, if I’m more beast-like then it should be fine right?”

    Saying so, she walked back a bit further and started to run towards him. Somewhere in the middle of the distance she created, Miria leaned forward and began to move on all fours. Soon, her body got surrounded by a black mist and Ast could see it changing shape while slightly obstructed by the magical smoke.

    The cover disappeared completely when Miria reached him and stopped just in front of Ast’s face. A beautiful black panther sat on the ground, centimetres from him. It was quite a big and muscular one but still, a touch of femininity was possible to be spotted in the outline of her posture.

    He stood up and so did Miria. In this form, she reached up to the top of his chest with her head. That was one hell of a panther. Your usual beasts of this type were around half her size. She walked closer and nuzzled her head to Asterios, purring softly. He couldn’t stop himself from placing a hand on her head and brushing the fur along her body.

    So, the Werepanther name doesn’t come just from her ears and tail. She’s literally one. It’s like shapeshifting magic, but I guess that’s her innate ability or something.

    “Can you speak in this form?”

    Miria roared softly and shook her head.

    “Okay, turn back then, please. Let’s talk about this.”

    She jumped with her front paws onto Ast’s chest and gave his face a long lick while her tail was almost creating a current of air of its own. He laughed a bit and stroked her soft back a little more. Miria got off him and after being surrounded by the same, black mist, reappeared in her humanoid form.

    “Does that mean you’ll let me be your partner?” she asked, unable to hide her expectant expression.

    Asterios’s face darkened for a moment. That word reminded him of Mii. He knew she wouldn’t want him to mourn after her forever, but it was still quite recent and he still subconsciously tried calling to her a few times in his mind in the past hour.

    Miria took his hand into hers and squeezed it, also assuming a sad expression after realizing that her choice of words was the source of his distress. Asterios took a deep breath and patted her head while bringing up a warm smile onto his lips. She closed her eyes and let him ruffle through her hair, soon beginning to smile too.

    “Let’s make a memorial for Mii and then start preparing for the contract.”

    As Miria kept happily jumping around, he moved to a small stream of water which was flowing nearby. He took a moment to wash his face from her saliva and his own blood. Asterios sighed heavily while staring at his reflection on the water's surface. His short black hair fluttered in the wind.

    What a day...
     
  6. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 5 – Memorial and Contract
    Asterios led Miria back to the pond near the stone formation. There was no better place to choose for a memorial than the spot where both he and Mii loved to spend their free time. It was also where he had summoned her for the first time. He would never forget the image of a weak and trembling rabbit which turned into an affectionate and proud beast during their time together.

    He came closer to the rocks where the waterfall was flowing and moved away a bit of moss which covered the surface. He stared at the stone wall and contemplated his options. Asterios felt like he wanted to do more than just a simple inscription, but wasn’t sure what else could be done here.

    Miria also pondered how she could help him with the task. She asked Asterios to tell her more about Mii and they talked for a few minutes about her appearance and their experiences together.

    Getting an interesting idea, she walked up to the stone surface and knocked on it with her knuckles a few times.

    Good. This should be doable. I hope Master likes it.

    She looked back at Ast to get his approval and he nodded. After waiting a moment so he could step away, Miria grabbed one of her blades and positioned it vertically in front of her face while closing her eyes.

    Asterios could notice from the side how its edge started to blur a bit. He instantly realized that she was trying to coat it with her mana. He watched as the shifting effect slowly stabilized and almost disappeared. It still existed, but it got pressurized to the point where it could be spotted only from up close.

    Finishing her preparations, Miria took a deep breath and pointed the tip of her blade against the stone. She pulled back her right arm and curled her fingers into a claw. Soon after, she pushed it forwards with a lot of strength, hitting the pommel of her weapon with the middle of her palm. With a loud ting, the blade sunk into the rock. She then pulled it back, repositioned at another angle and repeated the motion.

    Ast watched as Miria casually broke off chunks of the stone wall, carving something in it. At the twenty-minute mark, she staggered a little and he saw the coating disperse a bit. He walked closer and placed his hand on her back, making her squirm a little at first.

    Smiling kindly, he poured some of his mana into her body. Without a contract, direct touch was the only way to achieve that. Miria’s body shivered a little from the pleasant sensation that accompanied the transfer and her tail involuntarily coiled around his hand. He found that pretty cute.

    After revitalizing Miria a bit, he stepped to the side to give her more space to finish her work. With newfound determination, she began carving something while putting much more focus into her movements. Another half an hour later, she exhaled heavily, dropped her sword and fell onto her butt while glancing back at Asterios.

    Coming closer to examine in detail whatever Miria was doing, Asterios was met with something unexpected. In the stone wall, there was now a small, arched cave. In that cave, a shape of a sleeping rabbit had been carved, presented from its side, with its ears calmly resting along the body. It was simple but beautiful. It wasn’t perfectly smooth and even, but that didn’t matter. It served its purpose.

    Asterios extended his hand and brushed over the top of the rabbit statue, thanking his fallen friend for the days they spent together. He then turned to Miria, knelt by her side and ruffled through her hair.

    “Thank you. It’s beautiful.”

    She pressed her head more into his palm while smiling blissfully. To him, it felt almost the same as when he was petting other animals or magical beasts. He started thinking that maybe her kind wasn’t that far from them and the contract would follow just fine.

    While Miria rested a bit, they chatted about their worlds. She was very happy to hear anything about this realm, especially about magic. Where she came from, it was rare for someone to have a magical talent and be able to control it. She could do it to some extent, like when she sharpened her blade with the coating of mana, but she never saw anyone cast spells like Fireball or Lightning Bolt. It usually revolved around strengthening one's body or such techniques.

    Then, they moved onto the contract part. Asterios started drawing a big circle with lots of shapes and lines inside, using a special kind of sand - Nitrean Quartz. It was one of medium-grade spiritual and mana conductors used in magical circles. She watched in admiration as he created various geometrical patterns.

    Contract magic circle was much simpler to prepare than the summoning one. The latter usually required a lot of different materials and catalysts connected to the element of the desired beast. Summoners could target a certain kind or species that way, trying to invite a beast to visit them. As for contract ones, they just needed a decent material for the base and a bit of blood of both summoner and the summon. The rest was left in their hands.

    “Okay. This should be enough,” Asterios said, finishing the last line.

    “What now?”

    “Come, step into the circle with me.”

    Miria followed his instructions and they stood facing each other. He leaked some of his mana into the circuit and it started glowing. The fact that the colour was dark red surprised Ast since his mana always had a green hue. He assumed that maybe this was due to Miria’s nature or something.

    “Now, you need to tell me what you want in exchange for your servitude and help.”

    “Ummm… can’t I just become your familiar without wanting anything in particular?”

    “There has to be something on which our contract will be established. It can be anything. Of course, as long as I’m able to give it to you or make it happen.”

    She started pondering over what to wish for but nothing besides being able to visit Asterios’s world and travel by his side didn’t come to her mind.

    “What do magical beasts usually ask for in this situation?” She decided to ask for a little help.

    “It depends. Usually the stronger the beast the more serious its demands. It may start with just some food or snacks, some wish for blood, some wish for less materialistic things like for example taking care of their fur or body, and it may even end at them requesting the Summoner’s soul after his death. The most common thing is the spiritual essence. I think you should know that it’s universal no matter the world.”

    “Hmmmm… Then, I want you to pat my head whenever I ask for it. Would that be ok?” she asked with her tail swishing happily behind her back.

    “Hahaha, of course, but you can ask for more. I can tell how strong you are. I would feel bad if that was the only thing I had to pay for your help.” Asterios chuckled at her interesting request.

    “Then you can give me some of your essence too. I don’t really care what it is as long as I can stay with you. This is really enough for me.”

    The circle began glowing even more, signalling that the demands phase has been finished. Ast looked curiously at Miria. He never saw any beast forcing this phase to end on their own. It always was the Summoner who guided both of them through the process. Whatever the reason, anything they did that involved her was different from the things he experienced in the past.

    “Very well. Let’s finish it up then.”

    Ast brought out a small, ornamental knife and unsheathed it. He cut his finger a little and allowed some of the blood to drip onto the drawings. Stepping closer to Miria, he passed her the blade and she did the same before handing it back.

    “Is it complete now?” she asked.

    “Almost. We just need to show our final will to establish the contract.”

    “And how can we do it?”

    “Well, in the past I used a kiss as the proof, but since you are—”

    “It’s fine! If that's necessary…”

    Her tail started dancing the fastest it ever had since they met and a faint blush appeared on Miria’s cute face. She kept shyly averting her gaze so as to not stare Asterios into the eyes.

    Asterios pressed his punctured finger against his forehead and drew a sigil. Next, he placed his right hand on Miria’s cheek and used the left one to create the same mark above her eyes. He smiled at the slightly embarrassed girl and started to move his mouth closer to her head.

    Time seemed to slow down for Miria as she clearly heard her heart thumping inside her chest. Not being able to keep calm any longer, she pushed her face forwards and connected Asterios’s lips with hers before he did it first.

    His eyes widened in surprise when his lips received a gentle peck from the panthergirl. The contract circle glowed the brightest and they both felt a connection being established between their very souls. They soon started sensing each other’s presence and also a little bit of the surfacing emotions. Asterios noticed how embarrassed and determined Miria was while she noticed his shock and surprise.

    She quickly took a step back after the glow disappeared, blushing furiously.

    “It didn’t have to be… on the lips…” Asterios informed her with an awkward smile.

    Miria froze on the spot realizing her mistake. Only now she understood that he was not going for her mouth but forehead, and she was the one who tilted her head upwards and dived in for an intimate kiss.

    She covered her face with her hands, squirming from embarrassment. “I’m sorry!”

    Asterios shook his head with a smile. He stepped closer and brushed through her hair with his hand to calm the flustered girl.

    “It’s fine. I didn’t expect my first kiss to be stolen like that, but I’m quite happy it was done by such a cute girl.”

    “It was my first too…”

    “I’m sorry for not stopping you in time then.”

    “No! It was my own mistake. And I don’t really mind too...”

    She slowly regained her cool under his pats. A little bit of rosiness remained on her cheeks though. She was cursing herself in her mind for making such a stupid assumption and hoping that Asterios didn’t think she was some easy girl who would kiss anyone. Somehow, she felt really nice around him and didn’t mind a little kiss if that allowed her to stay here by his side.

    Asterios in turn was a little bit embarrassed too, but he always had good control of his emotions. At least until they didn’t reach dangerously strong levels like after Mii’s death. He never even held hands with a woman other than his mother and receiving a kiss from such an adorable girl made him feel happy, even if that was partially the result of a misunderstanding.

    ~Anyway, now everything should be finished. Can you hear me in your head?~

    Miria’s ears stood up and she looked around a little startled. Her gaze stopped at Asterios’s smiling face.

    “Woah, I can now hear your voice in my thoughts?” she asked, amazed.

    “You can speak to me the same way too. Just think about sending me some kind of a mental message. To make it easier since it’s your first time, try imagining yourself moving your lips and speaking to me in your head, or something like that.”

    Miria closed her eyes and followed his advice. She soon sensed his presence and focused on it.

    ~Like this? Hellooooooooooooo. Am I Master’s familiar now?~

    “Looks like you are,” Ast answered vocally after receiving her message.

    “Yes!”

    She jumped into the air merrily, quickly regaining her composure to not act too childishly in front of Asterios, but her excitement was clearly visible thanks to the twitching and swishing parts of her body.

    “What do we do now, Master?”

    “Let’s head home. I need a bath and a new set of clothes. Ah shit… This was one of the academy’s uniforms I was supposed to hand back…” He examined the cut and torn jacket he had on himself. “You should be able to traverse back to your world at any time now. We can talk mentally when separated. It also works with thoughts, emotions, images and such. You just need to focus hard enough. Staying here for too long can strain both yours and my spiritual circuits since I’m like an anchor for you. Well, it depends on the strength and affinity of the Summoner mostly. Since I’m quite weak and you are plenty strong, you should still be able to be here for…" He started calculating the time it would take to completely overstress his circuits in the past. "Eh? Like two hours ago?”

    Asterios furrowed his brows, checked his mana reserves and spiritual circuits and got really confused. There was barely any strain on the latter and his energy was around half of his capacity which felt suspiciously bigger than before. He decided to investigate that later. It didn’t look like Miria would be forcefully sent back for at least another few hours.

    “Anyway. You can also kind of hide inside me too if you don’t want to leave completely. That way you can still experience things around me more clearly than through the inter-dimensional connection.”

    “I’ll do that then! I’m really curious what your village looks like!” she said with excitement in her eyes.

    “Okay, but don’t forget to go back to your friends or family. They may get worried if you disappear for too long without a trace, right?”

    “Ah, yes. I’ll do that too.”

    And they went on their way towards Rosewind, with Miria hiding in Asterios’s shadow.
     
  7. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 6 - Fast as the Wind
    The sky above Asterios’s head was slowly turning orange. The time he spent unconscious during the nap and after summoning Miria was something around four hours in total. If not for the completely shattered and bloodied clothes, it wouldn’t be any different than coming back from the academy after lessons ended for the day.

    Due to the unusual state he was in, the guards stopped Asterios at the Rosewind’s gate. They inquired about the reason behind it and he told them that he stumbled on an enraged bear in the forest, which almost killed him, but the party which was hunting the beast arrived in time to barely save his life. Fortunately, they had a healer with them. He described the spot where its body was last seen and the knights let him in since the cuts on his clothes pretty much matched the information.

    Miria was curious why he had lied and Ast explained that there would be a lot of investigation and examination if he straight up told the guards that a summon looking like a normal girl suddenly appeared to help and that information reached the ears of some more diligent researchers. Things like that weren’t exactly common. And he would like to avoid inconveniencing her right on the first day they met. So, a fake but believable story was a better move in their situation.

    She nodded to his words and quickly forgot the guards because all her focus switched to admiring the cosy buildings of Rosewind.

    ~There are so many Humans here!~

    He could feel her excitement and curiosity through the link.

    ~That’s because in this realm they are amongst the majority. There are also Elves, Dwarves and Demons as for the other major races. Someone like you though either doesn’t exist or they are in hiding and didn't reveal themselves yet.~

    He beelined straight to his home. A lot of people were sending Asterios curious and a bit suspicious stares. That’s a natural reaction when seeing somebody with huge, bloodied cuts on the chest walking like nothing was wrong. He was confused too, by the fact that he somehow got healed back to a perfect state. He assumed that the burst of energy from earlier must have been behind it.

    Arriving at his home, Asterios opened the front door only a little at first, to see if his mother was in the kitchen. She was not there. He took a deep breath and entered as quietly as he could. He wanted to sneak into his room and change quickly before she could notice his state.

    Reaching the top of the stairs, he noticed his mother at the end of the corridor near the door to her bedroom. She was looking through the window which was facing the way he just came from.

    For once in my life, the timing couldn’t have been more perfect.

    He thanked lady luck in his mind for this chance, but as soon as he set his foot on the wooden floor, a loud, prolonged creak arose from the planks.

    Fuck.

    His mother quickly turned around.

    “Asti! I was just checking if—”

    She noticed his bloodied clothes and her eyes widened in shock. The small vase she was using to water some flowers flew out of her hand and shattered on the floor. She ran up to Asterios with a frightened expression and started examining the places where his uniform had been torn.

    “By the gods… What happened? You are not hurt? Why is there so much blood and cuts in the clothes while you seem fine?” She barraged him with questions almost on the verge of tears.

    Asterios pulled his mother into a hug and gently stroked her head. “I’m okay, mom. Calm down first. I’ll explain everything, just let me take a quick shower and change my clothes, okay?”

    She hugged him tightly, still shaking a little. She always got emotional when Asterios was hurt, but he never looked this bad. She was scared to let him out of her embrace as if the non-existent wounds would suddenly appear if she did so.

    Asterios guided his mother to her bedroom and left to quickly change after she finally stopped squeezing him hard.

    ~She seems like a very kind and fragile person,~ Miria commented in his mind.

    He grabbed a new set of clothes and went to wash the blood off his body. After taking off the jacket and pants, he stopped for a moment before bringing down his shorts. He could feel Miria getting increasingly embarrassed, yet she kept looking attentively through his eyes.

    ~You know, not that I mind you watching, but this could be a decent moment to check on your friends, don’t you think?~

    ~I’m sorry!~

    He felt her panic as if she was caught red-handed doing something seriously bad and she disappeared back to her own world. He shook his head with a smile and proceeded to get rid of all the bloodstains.

    Grabbing a fresh t-shirt and pants, Asterios came back to his mother’s room and slowly explained about getting expelled from the academy and how he stumbled on the rogue bear in the woods, of course mentioning Mii’s sacrifice.

    His mother grew close to her pretty quickly in the past and couldn’t help but start shedding tears after hearing the news. Asterios rubbed her arms reassuredly. It wasn’t much easier for him. He tried to not let his mind dive into grief again. He told her about the little shrine they created and promised to take her there sometime.

    After she asked who were those ‘they’, he told her about the girl who saved his life and killed the enraged bear and how she helped with the memorial.

    “I see… sniff… I hope I can someday thank her for saving you...”

    Asterios thought about this for a moment and came to the conclusion that there was no point in hiding Miria away. She became his contracted… person? Didn’t matter what, she was now his partner and his summon, so he would naturally have to call her around others a lot.

    He sent a mental message to her and soon, a dark crimson smoke formed into a narrow shape, looking like an arched door, in front of the bed they were sitting on. Miria stepped out of it.

    She glanced at him and then at the surprised woman. “Hello, I’m Miria and I’m the person mentioned earlier.” She bowed courteously.

    His mother hastily stood up and pulled Miria into a hug. She got a bit startled by the sudden movement but didn’t back away.

    “Thank you…”

    She patted the woman’s back a little awkwardly until that let her go.

    “I’m Kindra. Thank you again. I don’t even know how I could repay you.”

    “It’s fine! There’s no need for that. I’m already happy to just stay by Master’s side,” Miria assured her with a kind smile.

    “Master?”

    Only now did Ast’s mother notice the pair of ears on top of Miria’s head and a happily swishing tail behind her back, along with the fur on her arms. She quickly connected the little details and hints and launched herself at her son.

    “I knew you would finally summon a strong companion! I always believed in you! I’m so happy for you!”

    He let her hug him and chuckled. “Mom, please.”

    As much as his mother was emotional when it came to things like these, she also was able to switch her moods pretty much at a moment’s notice, jumping from completely disheartened to a euphoric one in a flash. He always found that weirdly adorable and fitting.

    They spent some time together in the dining room where Kindra rained down questions on Miria like crazy. After the latter one got more used to Ast’s mother's presence, she started inquiring about both her new master and his world. As soon as the topic of the conversation moved to quite embarrassing moments from his childhood, Asterios quickly left the table and returned to his room. He would rather not be present during such a discussion.

    He began thinking about the future. The main goal remained the same, following the path to become a strong Summoner. A lot of weird things happened recently and it wasn’t exactly anywhere close to most of his knowledge about summoning or magic, but that did not make him feel disheartened or discontented.

    Asterios was actually glad that something changed. He felt different now. Perhaps he discovered an unknown branch on the tree of summoning arts. The price he had to pay was very high, but he knew he couldn’t change the outcome no matter what he did. He decided to keep doing his best on this renewed path with Miria by his side. And the first step would be verifying if what he previously learned had any effect on their bond. It would be a little disappointing if he would have to start completely from scratch, but not bad enough for him to even think about throwing away the life of a Summoner.

    Miria came to his room after an hour and agreed to conduct some tests. She wouldn’t say no to something so interesting and she was obviously curious about anything that was connected to summoning since it was something completely new to her. Ast explained some basics before she returned home.

    They headed for the forest soon after morning came. Miria appeared by his side the moment they set foot amongst the trees. Ast wanted to see how much strain did her presence put on his spiritual circuits since yesterday he barely experienced any. After visiting Mii’s statue, they moved somewhere else to not damage the beautiful glade accidentally.

    “So, what are we going to check?” Miria was brimming with curiosity.

    “Well, first, you could tell me if you feel any different than before you answered my call and formed the contract.”

    She jumped from place to place a bit, stretched her whole body while glancing over it and closed her eyes to focus on more spiritual aspects.

    “I don’t think I feel that much different. Maybe my body feels a bit lighter but it’s not that noticeable. There’s that connection Master mentioned yesterday and I can clearly sense your presence and also your mana.”

    “Good. So far, it seems fine. Can you tell me more about yourself? I mean your strong and weak points, fighting style, perhaps abilities?”

    “As you know, I can freely switch forms into a panther and back. In this one, I like to use two shortswords as my weapons. I mostly focus on agility and supply my strength with mana using Physical Strengthening. I also can control it to some extent, like yesterday with my blades. Ummm… is this enough?”

    “Yes, that’s plenty, thank you.”

    Asterios nodded and went through the techniques he learned in the past which could fit Miria. He wasn’t able to properly utilize them before due to his low affinity, but maybe it would be different now. He picked one he found suitable.

    “Okay. Go to that tree over there and on my signal run to me as fast as you can. You can use your strengthening arts.”

    Miria trotted to the designated spot and turned around. After Asterios waved his hand, she broke into a run, arriving at his side in just a few seconds. He was already amazed by her speed. She could rival a lot of beasts which focused on that aspect.

    Asterios applauded the not-even-slightly affected by the sprint girl. She puffed her chest proudly.

    “You are amazing. Now, return back there and do it again. This time, I’ll use one of my techniques to boost your agility a bit. Something like 10% or so.”

    Miria quickly ran back, excited to experience Ast’s magic. He pulled one of his black leather fingerless gloves out of his pocket and put it on his right hand. It had a magic circle etched into the material. One of his own designs.

    Taking a deep breath, he focused his mind and quickly drew a six-lined sigil in the air in front of him, slightly surprised that it glowed in dark crimson colour, but then he remembered that his previous green mana somehow changed into it after the incident. Finishing the symbol, he placed his palm against it and sent a wave of mana into it.

    Miria could feel her body becoming hotter and lighter as she glanced in awe at her own hands. She took position and awaited the signal with a joyful smile. Asterios locked his gaze with hers and waved his hand.

    He squinted his eyes to watch Miria attentively, but the moment he waved, her figure blurred and she instantly disappeared, leaving a puff of dust and kicked up grass in the spot.

    *THUD*

    “OWWWWW!”

    As he began furrowing his brows in confusion, a loud thud and a shout of pain arrived at his ears from behind. He turned around and saw Miria lying on her back in front of a tree, about three meters behind him. There was a visible crack in its bark and Miria was furiously rubbing her forehead while rolling from side to side. It was obvious what created it.

    He walked closer and kneeled by the girl’s side. She looked up at him with a teary face.

    “You said it’s 10%! This was more like a bajillion percent! Ouch… my head…”

    Asterios placed his hand on her forehead and began sharing his energy with her. Miria’s pain quickly subsided and she sat up.

    “Sorry. I have no idea what the hell happened there, hahaha.” He started ruffling through her hair while apologizing, but couldn’t hold back his chuckle when thinking about this situation.

    Miria showed him a pouting expression but quickly started enjoying his pleasant touch and switched to a gleeful smile.

    “Did you feel anything weird?” he asked.

    “Before I jumped forward, I felt Master’s energy flowing into me. Then I tried to kick off the ground as hard as I can and the very next second I felt like I was flying and saw a tree in front of me. I was not able to react in time to avoid it. It all happened so fast. Was that your ability?”

    “Well… Technically, yes. But it never did something like this. The last time I used it with Mii, it drained almost half of my mana and she barely got any faster. This is quite the change.”

    “Amazing! Can we try it again?”

    Asterios agreed and they began testing his old-new technique. After a few tries, Miria was able to make an instant dash from spot to spot without crashing into a random tree. It helped when she wasn’t trying to run as fast as she could under the influence of the sigil.

    They spent around an hour experimenting with it until Miria needed to rest for a moment. Using the spell consumed only around 20% of his mana, which was very surprising. It was much more tiring for Miria. Controlling her body under movements so fast proved to be quite difficult. Nevertheless, they both felt like this could be amazing if they learned how to properly utilize it.

    Miria was really happy to just spend time like this, but she was also curious what Asterios would do now. She knew he got kicked out of his academy and he always loved researching magical beasts and summoning, but that was pretty much all.

    “Master, what are you planning on doing now?” She decided to ask.

    He understood that she wasn’t asking about the next set of tests. He moved his gaze to the sky and pondered for a moment.

    “I mostly worked on the materials provided by the academy. I don’t want my mother to have to pay for them since they aren’t exactly cheap and I know that she’ll soon try to talk me into letting her do that for the sake of my dream. I guess it’s time to register as an adventurer. With your help, I should be able to earn some decent coin. What do you say?”

    Miria’s tail started swishing energetically. “Of course I’m in! I’ll follow you anywhere!” she exclaimed with an excited smile.

    “Well then. I’ll be in your hands, partner.”

    Asterios extended his hand towards her and she grabbed it with both of hers. They were really smooth and pleasant in touch.

    “Likewise! I’ll do my best as Master’s familiar!”
     
  8. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 7 - Rank Evaluation
    They started heading back to the town. Miria switched into her beast form and began nudging Asterios with her big body to convince him to get on her so they could move faster. He inquired if that’s really fine and she told him that it’s nothing and they often rode on each other’s backs all the time back at home. According to her, not all Beastfolk could morph. It all depended on their bloodline. Around 40% of Pantherkin population were also Werepanthers.

    Ast finally agreed, pushed forth by his own curiosity, and seated himself on her muscular back. He wasn’t sure how to hold onto her so she instructed him to just lean forward and grip her fur somewhere on the sides since it was really tough and she wouldn’t feel any inconvenience from it.

    She soon rose from the ground and began moving. Slowly at first so that Ast could properly settle himself and correct his posture, she then switched into a proper run. Within seconds they were racing through the forest at an amazing speed. Asterios could feel the wind trying to throw him off her back with a lot of force, but he gripped Miria’s fur hard and leaned forward as much as it was possible.

    Miria noticed his excitement and started moving more irregularly, stepping from side to side between trees, jumping over various bushes and even bouncing off big enough branches. Asterios was riding her with a wide smile. He never expected to be able to experience such a ride. He always was jealous of others who were able to summon big wolves or even drakes but tried to hide it. Now, he was enjoying a similar thing with his new partner.

    ~I wonder if you can hold on at my best speed, Master!~

    She sent him a mischievous message, wanting to boast a little in front of her master. She was always proud of her speed and seeing Asterios enjoy this so much, she couldn’t help but want to brag even more.

    “That’s not the fastest? Wait, I’m not readyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy—”

    Miria chuckled in her mind, strengthened her limbs with mana and pushed off the ground with an enormous force. They shot through the air like an arrow. It wasn’t close to how fast she moved under the Haste sigil previously, but Ast still felt like they were almost teleporting using something akin to a Blink spell of advanced magicians with each of her leaps.

    All the trees around them merged into one grand, two-colour background with how fast they were moving. He laughed wholeheartedly while holding for his dear life onto her fur. Miria was very satisfied with herself. They quickly reached the edge of the forest.

    ~Alright, It was amazing but let’s not dart through the gate like this.~

    Miria began slowing down and soon stopped. Ast jumped off her and she switched back to her humanoid form.

    “Why not?” she asked.

    “It would be weird for a guy who almost lost his life yesterday to suddenly show up on a strong beast out of the blue. The guards could think I lied about being weak to hide something and be suspicious of us.”

    “Right. I should go back then and wait for Master’s signal to come out.”

    “Thanks for the ride. That really was something.”

    He moved closer and started patting her head.

    “Ehehe, it was fun for me too.” She closed her eyes to enjoy his hand. “I felt like with Master on my back I could run even faster than before. Let’s do this more often!”

    “Looks like you are starting to notice the influence of our contract. As long as you are okay with it, I don’t mind. I could easily get addicted to this.”

    Miria stood in place for another two minutes before she noticed that she spaced out, getting lost in the extremely pleasant rubs, and was wasting their time. She squirmed a little while blushing and hastily jumped back to her realm.

    Asterios chuckled. ~No need to be shy. It’s part of our deal, right?~

    He walked through the gate without any issue. Not wearing some random shirt, jacket and pants could help a little during the registration so Asterios first headed home to get his money and his small spatial pouch he used for materials. It was a gift for his 18th birthday from his mother.

    Even though she was a manager and pretty much an owner of a jewellery store, it still required her to save for more than a year. These things didn’t come cheap, especially around the parts where Summoners were plenty.

    Grabbing what he needed, Asterios walked towards the central plaza to visit some clothing stores and armour merchants. He didn’t want to splurge most of his money on the equipment, but picking a few solid pieces to raise one’s own defence and safety was a must. He could no longer use the academy’s uniforms which were infused with some basic protective enchants.

    He strolled through a few shops and bought dark brown leather pants and boots in one. In another, he found a decent shirt and quite tough leather vest, reinforced with additional layers, so he also picked them up.

    This would have been enough, but near the end of his shopping trip, he noticed a really cool looking, dark brown leather coat with a hood. He felt like it would go great with his current getup so he got it too. Now, Asterios looked pretty much like your usual adventurer.

    ~You look so cool in this, Master!~

    He smiled and went towards the Adventurer's Guild in Rosewind. Soon, a tall building entered his vision. It was a three-storey inn-looking construction. Purely out of dark wood. An eye-catching banner was hung above the entrance and people were coming in and out all the time.

    Asterios fixed his hood on his back and walked inside. No matter how many times he visited the Guild for whatever reasons, usually linked to summoning materials, he always admired the interior of it. There was a big section of tables on one side, meant for people who wanted to spend some time socializing, a long path of counters with beautiful girls behind them on the other side, plenty of notice and quest boards, and most importantly, a huge skeleton of a dragon hanging on from the very high ceiling.

    Naturally, there were many more other facilities like private rooms to discuss commissions or such, and the higher floors were mostly reserved for employees or the Guildmaster, but this main hall was the most awe-inspiring.

    Ast looked through the free receptionists and spotted a person he already knew. He quickly walked up to her before someone stole the spot. He arrived in front of a pretty girl with bountiful red hair.

    “Long time no see, Ast. Need to submit another commission?” She smiled beautifully.

    “Hi there, Ellie. This may come as a surprise but I don't.”

    “Oh, now you got me curious. So, how can I help you today?”

    “I want to register.”

    She raised her eyebrows. “As an adventurer?”

    “Yeah.”

    “That’s really a surprise. You always said that you want to finish the academy.”

    “Well, things change. I pretty much got everything I could back there so it’s time to try somewhere else.”

    “You sure about that? Not that I doubt your abilities, but... ”

    He noticed Ellie’s concerned expression and Asterios knew perfectly what she was thinking about.

    “Weren’t I the Weakest One? Pretty much. But I’m not stupid enough to throw myself at something I can’t handle. I’ve already finished my preparations.”

    He pointed out at his new outfit which was decently tough and already much better than a lot of newbie adventurers had. Many registered with literally nothing on them, hoping to earn a quick coin and then buy equipment of a higher grade rather than spending money on what they viewed as useless trash. And many like that died. He could never understand how people weren’t learning from the mistakes of others.

    Ellie pondered for a moment. She knew Ast for a few years already and she was sure he wasn’t lying. There was no need to doubt him more and she quickly pulled out the registration form.

    “Summoner I guess?”

    “Yep.”

    “Any specialization?”

    “Uhh… you can put offence and agility there for now.”

    They filled some more details together and the form was soon done. Ellie verified it for the last time and clapped her hands.

    “Good. Everything should be fine. I’ll leave to get your tag so just wait for—”

    “I’d like to go through testing,” Asterios stopped her.

    “Eh?”

    Ellie was slightly surprised by his request. Of course, it wasn’t anything new for newbies to ask for the examination, but they usually didn’t know how unfriendly and strict the adventurers conducting them were. Ast was one of the few who actually did since they chatted about the Guild in the past. She had a pretty good grasp on how weak he and his summons were so Asterios asking to go through it seemed odd. Even a little bit rash.

    He noticed the girl’s consternation. “Don’t worry. I’ll just surrender if anything happens. This is the best way to test yourself in a real battle in a still quite the safe environment. You can come and watch, I don’t mind.”

    “I’ll take you up on that then.”

    Still a bit hesitant, Ellie led Asterios through some corridors and stairs down to the underground area where training rooms were located. She sneaked glances back at him the whole time. He always was determined and confident, but she felt like he somehow changed. She even caught him smiling at himself, which was totally new.

    Ellie couldn’t know that for the whole way to the arena, Miria was trying to assure Asterios to leave everything in her hands. She promised to get him the highest rank possible and her attempts to show her devotion were the source of his expression.

    They entered one of the chambers. There were a few smaller octagonal arenas inside, with some people practising with each other. Ellie walked up to a tough-looking guy with a greatsword who was standing near a wall and watching over the whole place. After exchanging a few words with him, she waved at Ast and the trio met in one of the training spots.

    “So. This little fella wants to experience the harsh reality of adventuring, eh?”

    The man rested his weapon on his shoulder and spit to the side. He was around the same height as Asterios but much more buff and muscular. He wore leather armour which didn’t restrict his movements. With his short, spiky blond hair, he looked to be somewhere around his mid-thirties. Ast could sense that this guy wasn’t some random weakling.

    “He is a Summoner. Just neutralize his beast and the test will end. There’s no need to beat him up afterwards, got it?” Ellie explained to the man with her finger in a threatening gesture.

    She knew he was one of the guys who always threw themselves straight at the newbies to supposedly curb their ambitions. But the real reason was much less valiant. They just enjoyed going against people weaker than them so that they could flaunt their egos and showcase the newbies' weakness to the others in the training chamber. Unfortunately, he was the guy responsible for interviewing adventurers today. She began wondering if maybe she shouldn't ask Asterios to do it tomorrow when a more tame examiner was on duty.

    “I told you not to worry, Ellie. He’s welcome to try whatever he wants.”

    “But Ast, Mii can’t possibly protec—”

    “Mii won’t be fighting today.”

    Ast’s expression turned serious as he donned both of his leather gloves with magical inscriptions. He stretched his fingers a few times and cracked his knuckles. The patterns started slightly glowing with crimson aura. He gave Ellie a nod and she backed off from the ring without any more objections.

    He moved his gaze onto his opponent. “Just so you don’t say that I didn’t warn you, better take this seriously, because I will.”

    “Hahahah! Yeah, yeah. Do you want some prep time, mister Summoner? You guys always whine that you would have won if you had just a few seconds more!”

    “If you offer.”

    Asterios focused mana in his finger and drew the six-lined sigil from earlier. This time, he moved it with his left hand over the back of the right and pressed the rune down onto it. The circle on the glove activated and connected to the symbol, making it hover over the circuit, both now glowing with a crimson light. Wherever he moved his hand, the sigil kept itself firmly attached above the glove.

    “Neat trick. Ready now?” The man dropped his sword from his shoulder and positioned it to his side, still not taking any specific stance.

    Asterios took a deep breath and connected his mind with Miria’s, who was watching their opponent attentively through the connection.

    ~What do you think?~

    ~I snapped necks of monsters two times his size in my panther form.~

    ~Let’s do that then. Just without the snapping part. I’m putting the Haste sigil at 50%. You should be able to control the momentum by going in a straight line. We haven’t tested that yet so be careful.~

    Asterios looked around. It seemed like some spectators gathered around his arena, most likely expecting to see a newbie getting pummeled by the muscular veteran. Judging by their smiles, it most likely happened quite often.

    “Miria.”

    He called his partner’s name out loud. Dark crimson, shadowy portal rose from the ground and stopped at the height of his chest. A huge black panther majestically walked out of it and arrived at his left side, making a lot of people around gasp in amazement. Even Ellie was completely befuddled seeing the cat-like beast which reached almost up to Ast’s armpits.

    Asterios placed a hand on Miria’s head and started scratching it. She kept herself composed and tried to act with as much pride as she could muster, to show all those people how great her master was. And she succeeded. Everyone was getting goosebumps just from looking at her.

    “This is your last warning.”

    “Ha! If you think that some overgrown cat can frighten me, then you couldn’t be more wrong. I’ve decimated tens of much bigger monst—”

    “Fine. Left sleeve.”

    “Left sleeve?”

    Asterios snapped the fingers of his right hand, activating the sigil, and the air on his left side exploded with a loud thump, sending waves of force originating from that point. His clothes and hair fluttered, but Ast didn’t even flinch. All the dust on the path towards his opponent, and the same distance after him, suddenly flew up from the ground.

    “What the hell?! Did it teleport?!”

    One of the spectators shouted bewildered and pointed at something. The examiner glanced behind and spotted the panther with its back to him. Miria turned her head only a bit to the side, revealing a piece of cloth in her jaws. The man looked at his arm and noticed that it’s missing a piece of armour. He moved his gaze to Asterios and furrowed his brows.

    “What the hell did you—”

    “Right sleeve.”

    Another snap, another boom, another explosion of air, and Miria suddenly appeared by Ast’s side while the figure of the Warrior jerked from the moving air current. She spat out both of the examiner’s sleeves and turned around to stand beside her master again. People were starting to whisper amongst themselves.

    “Ellie, do we need more? He can’t even react in time.”

    Asterios glanced at his friend who was utterly shocked by what was just happening and it took her a good few seconds to register his question. But before she could answer, the examiner interrupted.

    “You little shit! I’m going to end you!”

    He lowered his posture and moved his greatsword to the front while holding it with both hands. He aimed the tip straight at Asterios and the blade started shining in a yellowish glow, signalling the use of some kind of ability.

    Asterios wasn’t stupid enough to wait for the attack to come to him so he snapped his fingers again. The man roared loudly while taking a step forward, thrusting his sword in a lunge motion and… he slammed into the ground in front of him, face first. He started quickly raising himself up, completely confused why the skill failed, and noticed that there was no sword in his hand.

    Miria casually walked to him from behind with the large blade between her teeth, threw it into the air and caught the handle with her mouth. A giant black panther armed with a greatsword strolled towards the kneeling man. As he was turning around, she tilted her head to the side and slammed the flat surface of the blade against the guy’s skull, knocking him out completely. She spat the weapon by his body.

    Everyone was silent while watching as the unimaginably fast beast slowly paraded back to its master and started to affectionately rub its head into his chest. Asterios rubbed Miria behind her ears, making her tail dance gleefully.

    He deactivated the sigil since it was eating a lot of his mana due to him not being yet efficient with using the spell. The sole theory couldn’t cover the practice aspect. He was already content with what they were able to achieve with it just after two hours of training.

    He walked up to Ellie while patting Miria the whole time. She couldn’t take her eyes off the panther, not knowing if she should be scared or amazed. Asterios waved his hand to get the woman’s attention and smiled reassuringly.

    “No need to be so tense, she won’t bite.”

    “Yeah… hahaha…” Ellie smiled awkwardly.

    “I think we should move outside before people start flocking around us with questions.”

    “Right, let’s go.”

    Miria jumped into a shadowy portal on the floor and disappeared back into her realm. Asterios quickly left the room with Ellie guiding them to one of the meeting chambers.
     
  9. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 8 - Meeting with the Guildmaster
    Ellie led Asterios back to the lobby and then to one of the meeting rooms on the second floor. For the whole time, she didn’t know what to think about the recent event which had just transpired in front of her eyes. She thought that she had a pretty good grasp on Ast’s strength, but after seeing how quickly he had dealt with the examiner, no, more like toyed with him, she began considering the fact that maybe she didn’t actually know a lot besides his personality and the title of the Weakest Summoner.

    In her eyes, it wasn’t possible to grow so much so quickly. Asterios definitely was smart and knowledgeable about pretty much everything linked to summoning, but Ellie knew that even with that, someone would need a lot of practice along with that theory to achieve such results. And as far as she knew, Ast was pretty much useless when it came to it. She began suspecting him of either hiding his own power or of encountering some amazing opportunity. That, or maybe his innate talent had finally bloomed after all those years.

    They arrived at their destination and Ellie let Ast into the room with a cosy coffee table and two sofas.

    “I’ll have to report the results to the Guild Master since she is currently present. I hope you don’t mind waiting a moment,” she notified him.

    “Of course not. Take your time.”

    “Great. Please, feel at home. I’ll try to make it quick.”

    She bowed a little and left through the door they came in. Asterios took her advice and sat on one of the sofas, grabbing an apple from the table.

    ~So, how was the effect in your panther form?~

    He sent a mental message to Miria and soon felt her thinking about it.

    ~A bit easier than in the other one. But I can’t do anything more than jump straight without some training first.~

    ~Yeah, you did great as for the first time using it. You really are amazing.~

    ~Ehehe. Master is much more amazing for being able to use such powerful magic.~

    ~This is pretty new to me. I told you I could barely support my previous partner with this technique. It might just be suited for you or something.~

    ~I know for sure that Master is super strong! Your mana feels so rich and great that I could get addicted to it!~

    Asterios was still confused about the whole thing with his energy. No one ever mentioned anything special about it besides it being quite weak when compared to others. There wasn’t any mention from Mii. And he didn’t notice anything weird during their time together. Somehow, everything changed after he summoned Miria by accident. Or did it change before? He wasn't sure.

    Ast focused his mind and scanned through his spiritual circuits. He noticed that his mana was in fact different from before. The colour change was obvious and visible to the naked eye, but when using his mental sense to prod around his reserves, he could easily verify that the energy was much more potent.

    At first, he thought that there was some kind of a mistake because his spiritual circuits looked way more firm and refined while in the past they barely withstood a few techniques before he was on the verge of overusing them, which usually led to a lot of pain.

    And the other thing, his mana pool. Before, it felt really small and somehow compressed. Now, he could feel it coursing through his whole body, with a dense epicentre around his heart. It was much looser now.

    Whatever had happened, Asterios understood that it was a chance for him to finally begin truly following the Summoner’s path. Unfortunately, it came with a very high price of his friend’s death, but he owed Mii a lot and he definitely didn’t want to betray her trust in him. He would surely investigate this whole incident and learn the reason or source of the sudden change.

    Miria sensed his deep contemplation, and also a bit of sadness, and tried sending him some positive thoughts through their connection. She imagined herself touching his hand and Ast soon felt a faint brush on his skin.

    It managed to bring him back to the world of the living and he smiled. Being much more experienced with mental communication, he sent Miria a very clear sensation of her head being affectionately patted. He could feel her squirming under his spiritual hand in her own realm. He moved his invisible fingers to scratch behind her ear.

    ~Nyaahnnn…~

    An insanely cute moan travelled back to him through the link, quickly followed by a lot of embarrassment and accusative intentions.

    ~Master! Stop! Mom is starting to look weirdly at me!~

    He raised his brows and focused more on her. Already used to mental connection, Asterios knew how to easily ignore or block unnecessary imagery coming through it. After stopping doing that, he saw Miria sitting by the table in some wooden cabin, with some other Beastfolk woman accompanying her, also black-haired. They were eating pie together.

    Miria was blushing intensely while her mother was sending her curious glances. He realized that Miria’s previous moan was most likely not just a mental one and he made her do it openly by accident, in front of other people.

    ~Sorry, I was blocking off your surroundings and leaving space only for your thoughts. I’ll be more careful next time. And tell your mother that I promise to take great care of you at all times so she doesn’t have to worry.~

    He felt Miria blush even more and drop her gaze a bit before repeating his words to the woman. Ast knew that she had already informed her parents about the whole thing. Her mother smiled kindly and for a moment, he felt like she locked her eyes with his through Miria’s ones.

    “Miria told me that you can hear what she does so thank you. I’ll leave her in your hands. She can be a handful at times, but she is a good girl. You might need to be the one to take the first step though, she’s really bad with boys,” the mother said, keeping up a nice smile.

    “MOM! I told you it’s not like that! He is just my Master and I’m his summon!” Miria stood up and lightly slammed the table.

    The woman giggled while covering her mouth with her hand.

    “Oh? Weren’t you always dreaming of meeting your mate just like Princess Kaguya did? Didn’t you practically make a blood vow to be with each other till the end of your lives?”

    Miria began pretty much steaming from embarrassment while her mother kept chuckling to herself, definitely having fun teasing her.

    ~Hahaha, I bet if she knew that we kissed she would be preparing the wedding already.~

    She couldn’t handle it anymore and quickly walked out of the room. Asterios returned his thoughts to his own world too, just as he heard someone opening the door. Ellie walked in accompanied by a beautiful Elf woman with long blond hair and green eyes. She was wearing a greenish-white leather suit tightly surrounding her alluring figure with a decent chest, showing a bit of armpits and a little cleavage.

    Ast knew this person. She was the current Guildmaster of the Rosewind’s Adventurer’s Guild. They met a few times before when he was running some errands. He only knew that she was the calm beauty type who got quite stern and serious when someone was not following rules or generally was being a dick to others.

    He stood up and she gestured for him to sit down again while the duo of girls sat on the other side of the table.

    “I really didn’t expect it to be you. At first, I thought it was someone with a similar name after Ellie began describing what you did to that guy,” she started with a calm tone.

    “Honestly, I wouldn’t believe it either, Guildmaster. I have a feeling that Ellie exaggerated the fight a bit though.”

    Ast didn’t ask for the bout just so he could impress anyone so he decided to act humble.

    “I did not! I described it exactly as it happened!”

    Ellie tried to deny his accusations. The Guildmaster stopped her with a glance.

    “So, since you’ve asked for the evaluation, what rank are you aiming for, supposedly Weakest One?”

    “E or D-rank is fine,” he answered without thinking.

    “What? E… what?” Ellie couldn’t hide her surprise.

    She was sure he would aim for something like B or even A-rank with what Ast did, but E is barely above F, which is the starting point. She couldn’t understand why he would ask for such a low position.

    The other woman curiously raised her brows and pondered a bit. From what she heard, the man in front of her neutralized the examiner in three moves, not giving him even a chance to react. At the same time, he was one of the weakest Summoners to walk on this land. These two facts already didn’t go well together, but now he was even asking for a low rank instead of trying to get himself to the top like most people usually did.

    “Could you tell me the reason why you aren’t aiming higher with your capabilities?” She decided to inquire more.

    “In simple terms, I’m still weak. What Ellie witnessed, and Guildmaster heard about, doesn’t really give any decent image of my abilities. He was ignorant and we efficiently took advantage of that. The technique I’ve used with my partner only allows her to dash in a straight line currently. While it’s quite flashy, it would be almost impossible to reproduce on a moving opponent. Trying to get into a high rank from the get-go could be dangerous. I prefer to tread with caution and not garner unnecessary attention, even though that bout from before is a bit contradicting this statement.”

    Asterios calmly told the woman what was on his mind. She listened attentively and judged the man to be of the smart and responsible type as she always suspected him being after their few meetings and Ellie’s mentions in the past. She was curious about one thing though.

    “Why did you take the test then?”

    Ast glanced at Ellie. “I believe I’ve already stated my reasoning before. I wanted to test myself and a controlled environment is more suitable for that than a real fight. That was my first time using that technique with my partner.”

    The Guildmaster also looked at Ellie who got a bit anxious because she did not mention that part while being a bit too surprised with Ast’s performance.

    “I see. Well then, I see no problems with placing you in E-rank. It’s good to know your own capabilities. You’ll live much longer than most of the newbies while holding onto your convictions. That said, I have a small request. You don’t have to agree to it.”

    “If it’s not detrimental to me, I see no problems seeing through it.”

    The Guildmaster smiled. “Would you let me see the summon you used in that fight?”

    Asterios wasn’t that surprised by the woman’s request, he pretty much expected her to ask about Miria and he didn’t mind agreeing. There was just a little detail he frowned at. Visibly.

    “I didn’t use her. She is my partner, not a slave. As long as she is willing, she can appear here at any moment, but I’m not going to order her to do so.”

    He spoke with a calm but slightly cold tone. He always couldn’t stand people who treated summons like servants obliged to do their every bidding. If the Summoner was stronger than the beast, he could easily force his will on the familiar through their contract. It wasn’t always possible to void it from the beast’s side if it was really weak like it were with Mii’s species for example.

    Miria heard his words clearly and felt really happy. She also noticed Ast’s thoughts on summons. She quickly prodded his mind with appreciative thoughts and notified him that she wouldn’t mind being ordered by a kind person like him.

    Meanwhile, the Guildmaster was a bit surprised by Ast’s reaction. Of course, she did not blame him for anything, it was just unusual amongst summoners. She decided to change the tone.

    “I see. I’m sorry for my poor choice of words. I’d like to ask both of you then if I could meet your partner.”

    Asterios stood up and moved to the side so that Miria didn’t have to squeeze between the table and the sofa. A dark crimson portal soon appeared and a huge black panther walked out of it proudly. Ast kneeled and let Miria come closer to gently lick his face while he stroked her head. He then turned back to the other women while standing up.

    “This is Miria. She was the one who helped me.”

    The Guildmaster saw a fair deal of huge beasts in her life, but she never met any which resembled a normal panther to this extent while being so big. She felt a lot of spiritual energy in the oversized cat, which told her that she was very strong. Usually, beasts with such size and energy were from various epic species and it manifested in their looks, but Miria was just like a plain black panther, which was a completely deceiving appearance.

    She shuddered internally after locking gazes with Miria. Her eyes were telling the Guildmaster that if she dared to anyhow hurt the panther’s master, death would be mercy. Not many adventurers or magical beasts achieved this level of intimidation against her, who was pretty much an S-rank adventurer in the past, yet she felt like this gaze wasn’t just an empty threat.

    “Thank you. I believe you are quite familiar with the rules and ins-and-outs of the Guild so we can skip that. Ellie will give you the badge at the reception. If you have no questions, you are free to go.”

    Asterios understood that she most likely wanted to talk some more with the employee and left to go to the reception after bidding farewell to the ladies. Miria jumped back to her realm.

    When he left, the Guildmaster turned to Ellie.

    “Keep an eye on that boy and support him however you can. I have a feeling that there’s more to him than meets the eye. Report to me everything that’s connected to him in any way. And also, give him my token.”

    Ellie’s eyes widened in surprise. “Miss Suanori, your token? But… don't the chosen A-ranks usually receive them?”

    “You know him better than me. Do you think he would abuse it?”

    Ellie shook her head. “There’s no way. He would most likely never use it.”

    “Good. Then explain its purpose without hiding any details. People like that man are really rare, especially amongst Humans. No offence.”

    “None taken. I know very well how insensitive my kind can be. I’ll follow your advice then, Guildmaster.”

    She bowed and went through the door to catch up to Asterios, leaving the Guildmaster alone. Suanori sighed, releasing the tension she gathered under the gaze of the panther. Even though she did not feel oppressed or in danger, the panther emanated a very serious and proud aura which accompanied only the strongest of summoned beasts.

    Now, I wonder how you will do on this path you’ve chosen, the Weakest Summoner.
     
  10. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 9 - Betrayed By Her Own Mind
    Ellie soon joined the waiting Asterios in the Guild’s main lobby and got back to finishing all the paperwork alongside him. They went through the forms with ease and she presented him with his new ID card and a shoulder plate.

    The latter one was in the form of an oval metal badge carved out of bronze. For easy recognition, adventurer’s ranks were grouped by two with their design and material. F and E-ranks were out of bronze and were in the shape of a wide oval. D and C-rank were silver and had a more rectangle-looking shape. B and A-ranks were made out of gold and had a bit of wavy top and bottom. S-rank and EX-rank were in their own tiers and they were from mithril and adamantite and had their own fancy designs with a lot of angles. All of them had a big letter according to the rank in the very middle of the badge.

    Asterios attached the metal patch to his shoulder using special bolts which came with it. They were from an ore that was highly magnetic and splitting two pins made out of it required someone to infuse them with mana. This material was often used in notice boards to make them deteriorate way less than when using common pointy-tip pins.

    He was now a registered adventurer and could choose quests that matched his ranking. When alone, he could only go for F and E-ranked ones, but if he joined or formed a decent team, they could tackle some D-ranked ones too. It also depended on the adventurer’s reputation and their supervisor’s opinion of them. Who, in case of Asterios, was Ellie, as they both agreed on it while filling the documents.

    Ast wanted to act alone for the time being so he could get to know Miria better. And besides, while by the Guild’s rules that would be going alone, he technically wouldn’t be so that was fine. Just with her by his side, he felt safe, but obviously, that didn’t mean he was going to forget all reasoning and act carelessly. He did not hide his thoughts and Miria felt his praise, which made her feel appreciated.

    With all things done, Ellie brought out one more thing and extended her hand with it towards Asterios. It was a coin or more like a token with a silhouette of an Elf woman holding a rapier graciously in front of her face.

    “What’s that?” he asked.

    “This is a Token of Fealty. The Guildmaster grants you one. It shows that she acknowledges you as one of her reliable agents. If you ever get in trouble with our or other guilds, this can help you get out of it, as it tells that she can vouch for you. Showing it at the reception can also allow you to skip the quest grading system and join emergency tasks higher than your own rank. It won't work for normal quests. You can also use it to skip queues or request a meeting with any guilds’ officials. Saying all that, I hope you won’t abuse it as it would dirty the name of our Guildmaster.”

    Ast rotated the coin a few times in his fingers, examining it from up close and threw it into his magical pouch.

    “You don’t have to worry about that, I’ll use it only as the last resort. Flaunting something like that while being an E-rank could lead to a disaster,” he assured her with a smile.

    “Good. But don’t be afraid to use it when necessary. I think we are done here, thanks for your time and please, come to me whenever you need anything.”

    “I will. I’m going to pick up something after I finish a few things I still have to do.”

    “I’ll check for some nice quests and prepare a few recommendations for you then. Oh, and watch out for that guy from before, I have a feeling that he might not exactly forget that all this happened. If he tries anything funny, let us know.”

    It’s not that any bullying or revenge was allowed in the ranks of the Guild’s employees, but Ellie knew the examiner’s personality good enough to suspect him of at least forcing Asterios into a rematch. She hoped he wouldn’t try something stupid instead. He already was a pain at times.

    Ast went back home to inform his mother about him registering as an adventurer. She expected this to happen at some point after he would have finished the academy so she didn’t try to pressure him against the idea. She also didn’t want to restrain him. The path he had chosen obviously led him towards the open world and not just a small town in the middle of nowhere.

    She still was worried as his mother, but she knew he wouldn’t just disappear without a word, leaving her behind. Asterios definitely didn’t want to do that. He assured her that he would always tell her everything before he would need to leave for a quest or a journey and that he would still contact her regularly.

    He decided to stay home today with his mother and Miria and return his uniforms and other things to the academy tomorrow. He would rather already forget about it, but he wasn’t someone who would run away while ignoring his obligations.

    During the night, he talked some more with Miria about their cooperation. They would have to work as a two-man team right now. She suggested that she should be placed in the frontline while Ast would observe the battlefield and support her with his techniques and knowledge about his world.

    Ast agreed to her plan since it was quite logical. He could easily watch her back and inform her of any potential danger. Miria was really excited to try out fighting like that and he chuckled mentioning to her that if they got used to the connection good enough, they could even be able to subconsciously look through each other’s eyes while in combat, raising their situational awareness by leaps and bounds.

    She got even more fired up after hearing that so Ast had to pour some cold water on her head by saying that something on this level would require a lot of practice and time spent on sharing minds with each other and wasn’t just about the surface thoughts, but a full link where they would be able to sense clearly the other person’s consciousness, including all their thoughts, emotions, memories and such.

    Miria blushed and her tail started swishing faster when she imagined such an intimate connection where basically nothing could be hidden. She already was getting embarrassed with the current level of their connection. Ast assured her that there was no rush to achieve that level and it would come naturally with time. He told Miria that he didn’t mind letting her into his mind, believing that as her master and partner, he should fully trust her.

    “Really? Umm… would that be okay?” she asked, with curiosity quickly overcoming her.

    “I meant what I said. Do you want to take a peek? I won’t look at yours without permission.”

    She nodded hesitantly and Ast asked her to move closer and give him her hand to make things easier. They sat in front of each other and closed their eyes. Asterios focused on deepening their connection and soon Miria felt as if she suddenly appeared in an immeasurable space similar to the night, starry sky.

    “Relax a bit and focus your thoughts on whatever you want to feel or see. Just let them guide you around.”

    A loud voice echoed from every possible angle. It was obviously Asterios’s. She did as he instructed and soon almost fully joined her own mind with his. She knew Asterios was a very calm and collected person, but even inside his head, she felt how tranquil his thoughts were.

    Everything seemed to flow slowly and in patterns. Various images and memories passed by her as she peeked at them. Some events from his childhood, scenes of Ast learning at the academy, the death of his companion before he summoned Mii and many more.

    When suddenly an image of an already adult Asterios taking a shower appeared, she tried to frantically cover her eyes, but she could clearly see through her imaginary hands since she was a mental consciousness without a physical body.

    She heard a loud chuckle and sensed Ast’s amusement as he freed her of the picture. She didn’t feel any anger or reproach. He really seemed to not mind her seeing him naked as he stated yesterday. She actually was a bit curious to see his body in reality. It seemed quite muscular from all the little glances she was able to take before, but obviously, she couldn’t just ask him to take off his shirt in front of her, that would be so shameless.

    The memory of Mii’s death and then their own meeting arrived next. She squirmed internally, seeing the scene of her jumping into a kiss during the contracting ritual from the perspective of Asterios, and fully sensing his confusion at that moment. She wanted to run away and hide from his sight forever.

    A pleasant sensation enveloped her consciousness, similar to the one when she had her head patted and hair brushed by his hand.

    “I already said I don’t mind.” His voice boomed in the dark space again.

    She let the warm and fuzzy feeling tickle her own mind. While watching herself in that one image of their kiss, she began wondering what Ast thought about her.

    A desire to know if he liked her even a bit, subconsciously overcame her mind, and forgetting that he could see whatever she did in his head, Miria started prodding Ast’s consciousness for any positive emotions about her.

    Who is she?

    She saved me?

    What a cute face…

    Her ears are so beautiful…

    I wonder how her tail feels in touch…

    She seems so shy, hahaha…

    I want to—

    “Quite bold of you, don’t you think?”

    Ast’s loud, booming voice startled her. She realized what she was doing and started panicking. Her mind went into too much chaos to uphold their connection and she found herself back in her own body. She watched as Asterios opened his eyes and looked at her with one eyebrow raised.

    She shrank into herself and started shaking a bit out of embarrassment and guilt. Even though he said he didn’t mind her having a peek, she did something unimaginably rude. As she was going to escape through a portal to her own realm, Asterios grabbed her hand and chuckled. She looked at him with her head down and pretty much being on the verge of tears.

    “Calm down, I’m not offended. You really need to stop assuming that I will get angry at every little thing you do.”

    “But… we just met like yesterday… and I just tried to do something like this...”

    He chuckled and moved closer to ruffle through her hair a bit. He gently patted Miria’s head with a smile.

    “Sometimes emotions just get the better of us. It was your first time in someone’s mind like that. Besides, you could have just asked if you were so curious.”

    She stopped shaking under his pleasant touch and glanced at Ast’s face, quickly averting her gaze afterwards. He sighed and shook his head.

    “Yes, I like you. I have no reason not to. You are adorable and beautiful, your ears and tail are just so cute, you are very cheerful and kind, you are really strong, and before all that, you saved my life. Good enough?”

    Miria’s cheeks grew rosy under the constant praise and her tail began moving like crazy. She felt happy to know that, but also immensely embarrassed from being told it so boldly after she invaded his privacy so much. Yet, she couldn’t sense any negative feelings through their link.

    “Don’t overthink this too much. ”

    “Thank you… and… I’m sorry…”

    “Another thing, stop apologizing all the time. It’s cute, but you are already plenty adorable without that, got it?”

    Ast noticed Miria getting dangerously red so he released her from his pats. He sensed that she still wanted to run away as quickly as she could, but forced herself to stand up slowly and make a little bow before she stepped into the portal.

    Hahaha, really, this girl… Her mother wasn’t wrong.

    While Asterios was preparing all of the things he would have to turn in the next day, Miria was literally rolling on her bed in her own room while hugging a pillow.

    “Aaaaaaaaaaa! I’m such an idiot! What the hell did I try to read in his mind?! Stupid! Stupid! Stupid!”

    She stopped after a few minutes, getting pretty much out of breath. She hugged her pillow closer while panting heavily. A smile formed on her lips.

    “But… he said he likes me, hehehe~”
     
  11. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 10 - Nothing Ever Goes As Planned
    When Asterios woke up, his mother wasn’t home. It was one of those days when she had to spend the whole day at her shop to oversee the business and verify some things. Usually, she was only leaving for a few hours during midday and her mornings and evenings were free. The place employed a few people who were quite professional and Kindra didn’t have to watch over them the whole time. She was able to deal with a lot of issues from home.

    He made some sandwiches and invited Miria to have breakfast with him. They enjoyed a quick chat while eating. She still seemed a bit ashamed of herself from the previous day, but it didn’t affect their interactions that much.

    Ast threw all the clothes and trinkets into a big paper bag and headed out for the academy. The sooner he would deal with it the lower the chances of anything inconvenient happening. Miria stayed in her realm while accompanying him through their connection.

    It was shortly before afternoon so many students were dashing towards the academy as they usually did. Miria observed them ride many different beasts and noticed that none came even close to her size so she concluded that they must have been the usual beasts that existed even in her realm. Only one drake, which flew above Ast’s head, looked grander than her. An urge to appear by Ast’s side and serve as his mount started growing inside her mind.

    Asterios chuckled.

    ~Do you really want to show-off that bad?~

    She got startled a bit by his voice in her head, completely forgetting that they can sense each other’s surface thoughts and emotions, and especially right at that moment when she was focusing on looking through Ast’s eyes.

    ~Nn-no… I just… don’t like how they seem to be flaunting their beasts and Master has to walk…~

    ~I don’t mind having you around more after we deal with the academy. Let’s not invite any more troubles from them just before I leave. You know from some of my memories how bad they can be.~

    Miria’s mood brightened a lot when hearing that she would be able to spend more time by his side. She decided to lay low until Ast would tell her it was the right moment. A few more hours or days wasn’t that long to wait for such joy. She would show everyone how great her master actually was.

    He went through the gate without any issues. This time though, the guards did check his ID so the staff must have been already informed about the expulsion.

    Before going to turn the items in at the Principal’s office, he took a last stroll around the campus. While the community here could have been much better, the facilities and architecture was something he always admired, especially the garden area. Ast took a moment to sit down in his usual spot and glanced at the beautiful view for the last time.

    Everyone was looking his way when he was passing students moving towards their classes. It was natural. As someone with visibly different clothing, he had to garner attention. Others wore their white uniforms while he had his dark brown adventuring getup on him.

    After half an hour of reminiscent wandering, Ast got back on the main path leading to the biggest building. He joined the crowd of people heading the same way. By some mischievous fate, he noticed a familiar, blue-haired head walking not that far from him to the front. To not create any unnecessary situations, he did his best to stay in the girl’s blind spot.

    Unfortunately, another familiar thing appeared behind him, in the form of a man’s voice.

    “Well, well, well. If it isn’t the Weakest One. Oh? What’s this? Did you mix your uniform with your mother’s dresses while washing it? I must say, those spare clothes look even worse on you that it did.”

    Oh, for fuck’s sake… He had to be here at this exact moment...

    Hoping that Tina didn’t hear the guy’s statement would be too much and as Ast predicted, she quickly turned around after she heard someone mention his title. He clenched his fists and took a deep breath, releasing them again. Bringing his mother into the conversation irked Ast, but he didn’t want to escalate things even more.

    He turned around and noticed the well-known to him blond-haired guy and his usual three followers.

    “Hi there, Roz. How is your wolf doing? I’m always open for some more massages if he’s up for it.”

    One of the boys chuckled at his remark and earned himself an elbow from the leader who clicked his tongue in annoyance.

    “Very funny, Asti~.”

    The thing Asterios couldn’t stand the most was the fact that this guy always addressed him using a playful tone with the nickname only his mother used, just to irritate him. Roz accidentally heard Kindra call him that near the academy’s gates in the past and started using the cute nickname as a way of mocking Ast. But even so, Asterios never took action, no matter how irritated he was.

    “He definitely is doing better than your little, retarded rabbit. And definitely much better than you, Mr Astexpelled.”

    The quartet started giggling and snorting amongst themselves.

    “What? Expelled?”

    Tina finally made it through the crowd that had gathered around the five students in the middle of the road. She got into the circle and stood beside Ast, looking at him and his offenders in turns.

    Judging by her reaction, he concluded that most likely the professors wanted to go with his expulsion without any additional notices, but someone must have leaked the info to this guy. It wasn’t that unexpected, he was of noble birth and his family had quite a decent contact with some of them.

    He wouldn’t be surprised if the boy’s parents were somehow pressuring or bribing a few of the teachers on the council to support the idea of getting him kicked out. He could see Roz begging them to deal with him with some made-up excuses.

    Asterios sighed and turned to her. “Yeah. I’m out for that last breach of rules during the exam.” He waved his paper bag. “Just gonna turn in my stuff and be on my way.”

    Tina’s heart sank as a reaction to his words. Her expression turned into a heavily shocked and sorrowful one.

    “No…”

    She gripped the hem of her skirt and started to panic. She didn’t want Ast to leave. She didn’t know what to do. Should she drop out too? Should she try to talk with the Principal? Should she just tell him her feelings right now before they separate? What if he left nevertheless? They weren’t even that close. It was just her almost always watching him from the side, rarely interacting with Ast. Her anxiety was growing more and more as she stared at his figure, dressed in dark brown leather garments.

    “Oh, don’t tell me you feel sorry for that trash, hahaha. He doesn’t belong here and everyone knows it. This will be a better place without such a failure!” the guy continued his curses.

    Tina’s chaotic mind caught up on a possible target to vent her negative emotions. Quite the appropriate one with the man being most likely the main culprit behind the issue and sent him an angry glare while taking a step forward and gathering her mana.

    But before she moved even a bit, Asterios’s arm appeared in front of her to stop her. He shook his head when their gazes met. He didn’t want Tina to get involved in this matter and suffer possible consequences. She helped him before and he owed her this much.

    “Forget him, let’s just leave.” He showed a wry smile while placing a hand on her shoulder.

    But Roz was not finished.

    “That’s right! Run! It’s the only thing you can do! I hope that your useless critter gets squashed under a wagon or something!”

    Ast’s brows twitched and he involuntarily squeezed his hand lying on Tina’s shoulder, making her yelp a little. The urge to smash the guys face as his parting gift grew in his heart, but he did his best to tame it down with another deep sigh.

    “The world will be a better place when both of you finally disappear! It would have been better already if you didn’t exist in the first place. Even your whore mother didn’t want y—”

    An immense amount of rage and anger flared inside Asterios’s mind. But, it wasn’t completely his own. He felt it slowly growing during this conversation and didn’t notice before that those weren’t only his emotions.

    In the next split-second, a dark-crimson portal appeared near him and a huge black panther literally flew out of it straight at the blond-haired guy. A cat of quite the enormous size pounced on the student with a lot of force, pinning him down to the ground.

    A ferocious roar soon reverberated through the air, followed by a small shockwave. Everyone screamed or gasped in surprise and some of the spectators even fell on their butts. Most of them had never seen such a big beast of the feline species and Miria additionally leaked out a powerful aura of animosity and killing intent.

    She was growling loudly while staring at the completely frightened boy under her. She had enough of his attitude. Even if she was going to get heavily scolded by Asterios, she could not sit idly any much longer. She was impressed by how much her master could endure, but she was not him. Holding back emotions wasn’t her forte.

    Miria growled even louder and lower and opened her jaws. The size of them was big enough to easily fit a whole watermelon when fully stretched so a not-that-impressive human head was nothing.

    The guy started begging her to release him with tears in his eyes as the merciless jaws of death were descending slowly. All his companions were too frozen in fear to even think about helping. An enormous panther was standing on top of their friend, just between them.

    As his face was starting to get surrounded by Miria’s teeth, Asterios’s voice reached her ears.

    “Don’t kill him.”

    She stopped. She really wanted to just close her jaws and end this human, but she wasn’t going to go against Ast’s wishes. She already might have complicated things with just her appearance. Miria pulled her head back and gave him one more ferocious growl before walking back to her master’s side while glaring at everyone present.

    She arrived in front of Ast and lowered her head submissively, expecting him to be really mad at her. Asterios kneeled a little and brought his face closer to hers, resting their foreheads against each other, and began stroking her fur.

    He sighed. “You silly girl, getting mad for my sake.” She purred softly. “Thank you. Let’s move before it gets worse.”

    Asterios stood up and Miria raised herself too. He turned to Tina, who was completely flabbergasted like everyone present and grabbed her by the waist.

    “Eh?!”

    Without any issue, Ast sat her on Miria’s back and jumped onto it himself.

    “Grab her fur tightly.”

    He instructed the surprised and slightly embarrassed girl while leaning onto her and pressing them lower to Miria’s posture. A second later, she jumped off the ground and flew above the small crowd that was encircling them. After landing on the pavement, she began dashing towards the main building as Ast had instructed her.

    Tina couldn’t help but scream with how fast they were going. The air pressure pushed her into Asterios strongly. Even the Pegasus of her friend which she rode a few times didn’t reach such speeds. And the fact that the panther was manoeuvring around the walking people, angling its body to another direction with each leap, certainly didn’t help.

    They arrived in front of the main building’s entrance in a flash, with Miria ending their sprint in a slide, kicking up a lot of dust and surprising even more people. Asterios hopped off her and helped Tina get down too. She quickly started fixing her completely dishevelled clothes and hair, stealing glances at Ast to see if he noticed her state.

    Miria was going to head back to her realm, but Asterios stopped her.

    ~We’ve already caused quite a ruckus. You can stay.~

    ~Master…~

    She felt happy but also a bit remorseful. She knew it was her fault and it most likely could have been avoided. Asterios sensed her worry and began patting her head with a kind smile. He turned to Tina.

    “As I mentioned before, I’m going to hand the items back now. You should stay away from me so that you don’t get targeted next.”

    “No. I’m coming with you and you can’t stop me!”

    He shook his head. As far as he knew, Tina was quite the stubborn person and when she decided on something, it was hard to change her mind. At least that’s what he heard in the class.

    “Do as you wish.”

    They all walked together through the corridors, with Miria parading between the two. Many curious gazes surrounded them. As soon as they arrived in front of the Principal’s office, Ast knocked on the door.

    “Enter.”

    Madam Teireshia’s voice urged them in. Tina was first to hastily open the door and quickly stride inside with an annoyed expression. She stopped just before the Principal’s desk and slammed her hands down onto it.

    “I want to file a complaint!”

    Asterios sighed again as he closed the door. It looked like he wouldn’t be able to just disappear without that much attention as he planned on doing. Taking the last tour around the campus might have been a huge mistake. He shouldn't have gotten sentimental and headed straight for the Principal's office.
     
  12. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 11 - A Wager
    “First, you can’t just kick Ast out because he jumped in to save his partner! Second, why is that jerk Roz still allowed to do whatever he—OW!”

    As Tina was venting her annoyance on the Principal, Ast walked behind her and chopped the slightly too aggressive girl on the head.

    “Stop shouting at the person who had the least to do with this,” he berated her.

    “But as the Principal, she could—”

    “—Couldn’t do anything.” Ast turned to the woman in robes. “Please, excuse her rudeness, we just stumbled on a quite unfortunate encounter on the way here. As I was instructed, I’m returning my belongings, but… one of the uniforms got completely shredded recently…”

    He placed the paper bag on the desk and bowed slightly. Madam Teireshia was observing the duo attentively. Tina was the quiet student type, focused on getting better rather than whining at little annoyances or obstacles, yet somehow she got really invested in this case.

    Ekhm… It’s fine, we all get emotional from time to time. I’m sorry Tina, but I had no say in the decision of the Council.” She glanced at the blue-haired girl.

    “But…”

    “Let it go. You can’t fight the whole academy.” Ast placed a hand on Tina’s shoulder.

    “Why are you fine with this? Isn’t this your dream? To learn more about magical beasts and summoning? They are robbing you out of it! How can you be so calm?”

    Tina turned to him and began questioning Asterios. While she spoke about his plans, deep down, she was much more anxious about the fact that he would leave. She was preparing herself for a long time to finally confess and suddenly everything went to hell in the span of a day. They were supposed to graduate together.

    Asterios shook his head. “This academy isn’t the only place in the world where I can improve myself. The resources were convenient, but I can find another way to acquire them myself.”

    “Like what?”

    “Adventuring for example.”

    Tina’s lips trembled a little and her mouth froze while opened. She furrowed her brows.

    “Adventuring? With how weak yo—”

    *GROOOOWL*

    A soundly, low growl reverberated through the room. Tina looked back at the majestic black panther lying on the floor near the door and licking its side. She somehow felt like she understood the meaning behind that sound. It seemed to warn her to watch her words.

    “By the Great Kargalan the Brave… what dense spiritual energy…”

    The Principal finally noticed the third guest in her office after Tina and Asterios turned their sides to her. She stood up and leaned over the desk to get a better view of the huge cat. Her eyes widened in surprise and she shivered a bit after locking gazes with the proud beast.

    Asterios mentally asked Miria to come to his side. She rose from the ground and lazily approached him. Seeing the beast come closer, Madam Teireshia sat back down. With Miria on all fours, she was pretty much on the same level as the sitting Principal.

    Miria stared at the woman for a moment and then turned her head closer to Asterios, nudging it against his hand. He began brushing her fur with affection. Madam Teireshia moved her eyes from him to the panther in turns.

    “Wait… You don’t mean this is…”

    “It’s as Principal thinks. This is Miria, my new partner.” She purred happily. “I apologize in advance, we caused quite the scene on the campus. The Richtenstein family might come to pester you about that.” He smiled wryly.

    “I don’t care about those passive nobles with inflated egos now! You managed to summon your second beast? And it looks like it’s incredibly strong! I’ve never seen or heard about such pure feline beast so rich in spiritual essence and of this size!”

    The Principal got a bit excited and she noticed her slightly unusual behaviour, quickly correcting herself. Even the best students rarely formed contracts with entities like this. The beast might have looked plain, but years of experience was screaming at her that it was unimaginably powerful and with astronomical potential. And the fact that Asterios was the one who called it also added to her delight.

    Tina also was curious about the beast so she withdrew her case for a moment, hoping that Asterios would explain more now that it caught the attention of the Principal. She started thinking that she might be able to force them to take him back if Miria was somehow special.

    Ast’s expression turned a bit dark and both of the women noticed that change. Miria could feel it.

    “Not really. Miria is currently my only partner…” he spoke and sighed.

    “Eh? But what about Mii? She seemed fine after the exam!” Tina couldn’t help but have a bad feeling about this.

    “Mii… is gone. She sacrificed herself to protect me… and returned to her world as a spirit.”

    Madam Teireshia felt sorry for Asterios. She knew how much he valued his beasts. Tina’s expression also turned sorrowful. But there was another thing to focus on, more than the death of his rabbit.

    “What do you mean by sacrificed herself? Barely a day has passed since our last conversation. Asterios, what happened?” the Principal inquired.

    “I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. It happened shortly after I left. It’s also connected to the issue with the torn uniform.”

    He reached into the paper bag and brought out both jacket and pants and unrolled them, showing the women countless little cuts and the three big openings in the chest area of the top. Tina gasped and felt her chest tighten while Madam Teireshia’s eyes went wide.

    “I’ve gotten rid of the blood, but—”

    “Blood?! Ast! What did you do!” Tina jumped at him and clutched his vest with a concerned expression.

    He patted her head. “Calm down. I’m fine, as you can see. I’ve stumbled on a frenzied, matured Brown Bear, hurt by the hunters. Mii covered for me against my orders and lost her life in my arms. Then Miria appeared and saved me.”

    Tina slowly got ahold of herself, still being too distressed to even think about getting embarrassed from having her head patted by the man she loved. She quickly turned to the Principal.

    “It dealt with a matured Brown Bear! It must be amazingly strong! You can’t force out someone with a beast like this! What even is she?”

    “Tina.” Ast brushed through her hair a bit more forcefully. “I’ve already made up my mind. I’m even already registered in the guild.” He showed them his shoulder plate. “And Miria is a Werepanther. I don’t think there are any records about them even in the academy.”

    The Principal listened to his words curiously. “That’s true. I have no memory of something like that. Amazing… How intelligent is she?”

    “She understood every single word we said since the beginning. Rather than a beast… she’s more like a person.”

    “Incredible…” She stared at the panther and Miria glanced back. The Principal felt Ast’s words to be true. “If I reached out to all my old contacts then maybe…”

    “That’s not necessary. I don’t mean to sound rude, but a single summon won’t suddenly change everyone’s opinion of me completely. In fact, I can bet they would just get even more ferocious. I’d rather not deal with that and have Miria experience it. As we promised, I will be back, but this is not the time yet.”

    Madam Teireshia sighed. As much as she wanted to have him stay, Ast’s words were on point. She regretted losing the chance to study Miria more, but she respected the boy’s resolve.

    “Then, I quit! I will register as an adventurer too and go with you!”

    Tina shouted and began taking off her blazer. Asterios grabbed her by both shoulders and stopped the girl.

    “No, you don’t.”

    “Don’t tell me what to do! This is my own decision!”

    “It’s a bad decision made under the influence of emotions. You are just half a year short of finishing the academy. Don’t ruin this for yourself just because of some injustice.”

    She tried to free herself but Asterios wasn’t letting go. He didn’t want to let Tina waste all this effort she put into studying. She had great aptitude and good scores. It was unwise to drop everything almost near the end. He pressed on her shoulders with more force.

    “Tina. Tina. Look at me.” She stopped struggling and moved her frustrated gaze up at his face. “Weren’t you aiming to get into the Royal Division after graduating? They don’t accept dropouts.”

    It was one of her dreams to be able to join the ranks of the famous Royal Division which gathered best of the best, but right now, it was nothing in front of being separated with Ast for who knows how long.

    “I’ll find a way! And if it proves impossible, then I’ll just come up with another one! You don’t understand! I… I…”

    Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to follow the momentum and speak the words. Ast moved his hand from her shoulder to her head and brushed through her hair again while sighing.

    “Just six months. Your mother is rooting for you. You are a really amazing Summoner and you should better yourself with every chance you have. Stay. See through this. I promise to be here when you graduate. If you will still insist on coming with me then, so be it. Deal?”

    She dropped her gaze, understanding that this really was the better choice, yet her heart was telling Tina otherwise.

    “But…”

    “If not for yourself, then do it for me.” Ast felt bad to be responsible for ruining Tina’s potential future she worked really hard to achieve.

    “It’s not fair asking like that…” she muttered very quietly.

    “Listen to Asterios, Tina. You are almost at the finish line. And you are still a young girl. Six months will pass like the wind. I’ll do my best to support you till the end, for yours and his sake.”

    Tina sighed dejectedly. “Fine… I’ll do it… But you better keep your promise...”

    “I will.” Ast smiled at the pouting girl. “Well then, only the case of us running into Roz is left to discuss.”

    “I’ve never seen him wet his pants before.” Tina giggled.

    Asterios briefly explained the recent situation, making the Principal rub her forehead in disappointment. She thanked them for reporting this so she could prepare beforehand. Richtensteins would definitely not leave the issue untouched. She told them to leave dealing with the family to her.

    He made Madam Teireshia promise to watch over Tina since he expected them to target her in their spite. The person in question stepped back to hide the blush on her face from hearing how much Ast cared for her. Shivers ran down her spine and she noticed Miria staring at her intently. She could swear that the panther was squinting its eyes at her.

    They bid farewell, with the Principal assuring Asterios that he was always welcome in her office and asked him to pay her a visit if he would be around. She couldn’t hide the thrill of spending more time with a completely new beast.

    Tina insisted on escorting Asterios to the gate and they rode on Miria's back together. They didn’t go as fast as before and Tina took place behind Ast. She inconspicuously used that chance to hug him tightly without having to face the man. She still was hesitating in her mind to let Ast go.

    The sudden appearance of an unknown beast spooked the guards a little, but they kept their cool seeing that it was accompanied by two people, one in the academy’s uniform. They both jumped off and faced each other.

    Tina had a hard time looking straight at Asterios. She felt like she would start crying at any moment. She mustered whatever courage she had inside and spoke first.

    “Take care of yourself. And don’t slack off.”

    Ast smiled. “You better not slack off. I want to see your name on the Obelisk of Wisdom the next time they update it.”

    “I would need perfect scores for that!”

    “Is that a problem for someone so talented?”

    Her cheeks got a little rosy from the unexpected compliment.

    “That would require a lot of work, even from me…”

    Asterios got an idea that could help Tina preserve her motivation after he left.

    “Let’s make a wager then. The goal is for you to get your name carved into the stone. You manage it, you win, you don’t, I win. Simple.”

    “But what would the reward be?” she asked curiously.

    “Hmmm… I don’t know… I’m fine with whatever you suggest… Oh. A wish. The winner gets a wish from the loser. They can ask for whatever they want.” Ast smiled again at his own idea.

    Tina’s heart started beating faster as her mind went into overdrive with possibilities. If she won, he would have to do or give her anything she asked for. The images of countless little presents and gifts flashed in front of her eyes. From more materialistic ones to things like holding hands, going for a date, or… a kiss…

    “Hello? Tina?” Ast’s voice brought her back from her daydreaming and she frantically shook her head to get rid of the increasingly dangerous imagery.

    “Yes! Let’s do that! I’m going to win, just you wait!” she exclaimed with a newfound passion.

    “Great. Better start running back then or you will miss your first class of the day. Or you can stay and let me win.” He pointed at the tower with the clock.

    “AH!” she gasped seeing the hour. Just 5 minutes were left until her class began. Tina instantly broke into a run, but stopped for a moment and turned back. “I will not let you go back on that!” she shouted and resumed the sprint.

    Ast chuckled at how effective his idea was. Miria nudged his arm and he started stroking her fur.

    ~That girl seems to like you, Master.~

    ~Perhaps a little bit. She deserves much better than ending with someone like me though.~

    ~I don’t think there’s anyone better than Master in this world.~ Miria sent him appreciative thoughts.

    ~You haven’t seen much of it yet.~

    ~I’ve seen enough.~

    ~Hate to break it to you, but me taking a bath can’t be considered enough.~

    He could feel Miria getting all embarrassed over their connection and she didn’t talk back. He chuckled at her mentally.

    ~Let’s go. Time to pick up our first job.~
     
  13. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 12 - Infinite Storage
    While people at the academy had most likely already heard about the huge black panther, those in the city shouldn’t yet have received any rumours about it, but Miria jumped back to her realm nevertheless. They wanted to keep the attention on them to the minimum for as long as it was possible. Ast knew it wouldn’t be that long considering how fast they showed Miria’s form at the academy, but some more peaceful time was always appreciated.

    Finally done with his obligations, Asterios headed towards the guild. He might not have been showing it, but deep down he was really excited about going on his first quest. He was aware that it wouldn’t be anything epic by any means due to his rank, but that fact wasn’t able to overcome his curious nature.

    It would take some time before they started earning enough to cover anything more than just some basic materials required for summoning and the arts connected to it, so the earlier they began the better.

    Miria was also quite thrilled to see more of his world and to spend more time by Ast’s side. She already was having lots of fun and going on a proper adventure seemed like a step higher.

    After arriving at the guild, Ast had to wait a moment for Ellie to finish talking with another member. He went closer to the board and examined some commissions. As usual, most of the valuable ones were always picked and completed quickly.

    Although, the guild introduced a system to prevent people from just taking the quest notice and then struggling with the task for a long time, not wanting to give it to others while it only unnecessarily prolonged the completion process.

    When an adventurer picked a quest, they had to bring it to the counter and register his take on it. Then, depending on the character of the quest, the employee would give the member a copy of the notice and return the original to the board if it was deemed fine for many others to join or try to complete it at the same time. And when another person came to register for it, they were informed about others already undertaking it and the risk that they might just waste their time. They still could go with it but they had to have in mind the possibility of returning after it was already handed back.

    It was a decent system that got rid of a lot of potential issues. The employees were often the ones to decide if it was okay to let more people attend the request and gave the concurrent adventurers advice to pick another or go with that one.

    Seeing his friend finished with her business, Ast walked to Ellie, who naturally noticed his approach and smiled at him.

    “Welcome back! Already done with the things you mentioned?” she asked.

    “Yeah. We can do some work now.”

    “Great! I’ve noted down a few nice tasks when you were gone. Don’t get your hopes too high up though, no dragon slaying for you yet.”

    He chuckled. “Why would I want to hurt a Dragon? Unless it was wreaking havoc somewhere. Still, I’d rather try to talk to it first.”

    Ellie let out a giggle. “True, that sounds more like you. Just don’t put yourself in too much risk if you ever have a chance to try it, okay? Well then, here are the requests, take a look.”

    She handed him four pieces of paper with some neatly written notes. Ast could tell that she made them herself and just from a quick glance he could easily figure out what was the core issue that needed solving. He looked at the creator of those documents and she was just smiling charmingly.

    He shook his head at the amount of effort Ellie put into those and returned to checking the contents of the quests. One was a mass commission for hunting wild wolves for a tannery. The task asked for 10, so many adventurers could pick it up.

    The second one was a typical gathering commission for Moontail Grass, an ingredient commonly used in alchemy. He considered picking that quest, it was a nice opportunity to get some for himself since it had some uses in summoning too and Ellie would provide him with some information on where he could possibly find the plant.

    Third and fourth were some minor tasks about helping someone with construction and assisting in the forge. He didn’t mind those little jobs, but naturally, the first two were much more beneficial and interesting.

    ~Which one of these should we pick, Miria?~ he asked his partner.

    ~Can’t we do both? They seem easy, right?~

    Ast nodded and turned back to Ellie. “Are wolves and Moontail Grass areas any close to each other?”

    “Hmmmm…” She glanced down at something behind the counter. “There should be around a few hours on foot between the closest spots marked on our map. Mind that they might not be 100% accurate or were already visited. You want to go for both?”

    “Yes, and I don’t think the distance will be a problem.” Miria agreed with him mentally. “I already know the details about the Grass, anything important you can tell me about the first task?”

    “One second… There were some reports about an alpha in those regions… besides that… it should be just your usual wild wolves. Don’t drop your guard nevertheless,” she reminded Ast.

    “Don’t worry, you should always expect the unexpected, summoning has already taught me this tens of times. Anyway, we’ll register for those two then.”

    “Got it. I’ll give you a map and the infographic on the Moontail Grass just in case. Better have it rather than not.”

    They filled the forms together and Ast bid farewell to Ellie.

    ~What now Master? Are we going to depart instantly?~ Miria couldn’t hold back her eagerness to leave the town.

    ~Pretty much, yeah. It looks like we need around twelve hours on foot to reach the plants so even with your speed, we should pick up some gear for the trip, like bedrolls, tents, flint and such since we might camp in the wilds before returning. I need to buy a big backpack to store all that. I hope it won’t inconvenience you too much while I ride on your back.~

    He could feel Miria pondering over something while he walked towards a general store. She soon spoke to Ast.

    ~Ummm… I have a question.~

    ~Yes?~

    ~Couldn’t I just take the equipment back with me to my home and bring it out when needed? You wouldn’t have to carry it that way, no?~

    Asterios stopped and his eyes went wide. He never considered transferring items along with the summon back to their world, because neither Mii nor Roy was able to do something like that with how small they were. But with Miria being practically like a member of any humanoid race, living in a developed realm and having an actual house, they could use it as their personal storage. She already was bringing things from there, like her swords and such, so it obviously should work the other way too.

    ~Miria, that’s an amazing idea! You are a genius!~

    Ast started joyfully patting her head through their link and she began giggling to herself. She felt happy to hear that her suggestion was somehow helpful.

    To fully confirm that this strategy worked, he stepped into an empty alley and summoned Miria in her humanoid form. She took his spatial pouch with her back home without any issue and then returned it to Ast soon after.

    Miria jumped at Ast to hug him after seeing how delighted he was with her discovery. Only after she felt his hand gently grazing through her hair she realized what she was doing and got embarrassed quickly. Unfortunately, Ast started scratching his fingers behind her ears and she literally melted in his embrace, losing all her strength to run away. He smiled at the catgirl squirming under his hands and she blushed heavily.

    Ending their little fun, Ast let Miria return after giving her a few more scratches. He was starting to like petting the adorable panther. Then, he proceeded to get the things they needed without having to worry about how much space they took. In half an hour he got pretty much everything he could think of.

    Since it was barely around noon, Asterios went back to inform his mother about their little trip. She stopped them for a moment and prepared a quick, boxed lunch. He gave her a kiss on the forehead as thanks and left, passing the food to Miria.

    She wanted to test her speed and endurance after becoming Asterios’s partner, so they made the whole trip in one go, with Miria running in her panther form non-stop. It took them just four hours at her second to best speed. Ast didn’t want her to end completely exhausted since that could be dangerous.

    Still, Miria clearly noticed the difference. She was getting tired a little slower than before while achieving her previously highest speed. She was really excited for the future since Ast told her that those were just small and basic effects of their connection.

    He himself was also quite surprised by how potent their connection was. He didn’t feel like he was dragging such a powerful partner down, which should have happened with his old aptitude. For the whole ride, Ast focused on training to efficiently control and pour his now different mana into Miria’s body to revitalize her. It didn’t come that easy as he didn’t have much experience with such robust spiritual energy before. He decided that it would be a good idea to return to some exercises he stopped doing years ago after he reached what he could with his energy reserves.

    They rested for half an hour after arriving at the first spot marked on the map. Moontail Grass came first as both of them agreed to take care of the safer and less thrilling task from the get-go. Ast showed Miria, who changed into her humanoid form, the picture of the plant and explained which part was important.

    Moontail Grass had a thin stalk ending with a part which looked like a crescent moon. There were two long leaves on both sides, growing higher than the stalk and then leaning to the centre, creating a bit of a heart’s shape. To properly conserve it, one had to gently wrap both of them around the stalk before cutting it in the middle.

    Why? Because if you didn’t, the head would wither quickly. Moontail Grass coiled the leaves by itself during full moons and thus made it easy to collect, but the next one wasn’t anywhere close to happening soon. Supposedly, when it was surrounded by its leaves, it was absorbing the moonlight so the head had to stay active for the whole process. Doing that manually, you were simulating that moment.

    In around two hours of searching and collecting, they gathered around half of the required amount. It wasn’t that easy to find bigger collections of the plant, it usually grew alone in the spots with clear views of the sky. Ast recalled Miria to come back to him and she arrived at his place just to see him preparing a fireplace.

    “Let’s rest for today. It isn’t any easier looking for it during the night. Help me with the fire and the tent, please. Then, you can return back home,” he said.

    Miria brought the items he requested and helped set everything up. Ast noticed how she was stealing glances at him in silence the whole time.

    “If you have something on your mind, just speak up. Or do I have to make you talk every time, hmm?” He smiled and waved at her to sit near the fire. She complied.

    “Can I stay with you here?” Miria asked a bit shyly.

    “Hm? Wouldn’t you rather sleep in your bed?”

    “I don’t mind sleeping on the ground and it would be more fun that way. I think…” Her tail was beginning to wag more and more behind her back while she was trying to keep a composed expression.

    Ast checked his spiritual circuits and pondered. Again, there was barely any strain on them and Miria was in his world for some hours already. He concluded that this could be a decent chance to test it more so he waved his hand at her.

    “I’m fine with it if that’s what you want.”

    “Yes!”

    Miria smiled beautifully, with her tail swishing gleefully too, and proceeded to bring out her own sleeping bag. She stopped for a moment in front of the tent they set up and looked at Ast. He glanced at her too.

    “Do you need a separate one?” he asked and began raising himself up.

    “No, no, no! I’m fine with sleeping… together… that is, if you don’t mind!” she shook her head and announced while averting her gaze.

    “No need to get so flustered. You sure it’s fine with you?”

    “Of course!” she answered and quickly dove into the tent to place her bedroll in there.

    He shook his head and walked to the edge of their camp to set some wires as a safety measure. Unfortunately, none of them was a magician able to cast Alarm or similar spells so he had to resort to more conventional methods. Besides Livelihood Magic and a few various utility spells almost anyone with mana could learn, Ast was purely focused on summoning and techniques linked to it.

    They chatted some more time around the fire, went through a few fighting strategies, set a few signals and predetermined actions and went to sleep in their respective sleeping bags. He let Miria jump into hers first, expecting her to get too flustered to do it at the same time and slid into his own after taking off his coat. They were lying around one arm length from each other since the tent wasn’t too big. Ast had no problems falling asleep, but Miria couldn’t calm her mind down from lying almost in reach of him for at least an hour.

    In the morning, something ticklish brushing over his nose woke Asterios up. He groaned a little and blew a bit of air to get rid of the invader. It returned after a second so he blew even stronger. Irritated after it appeared again, he used his right hand to swat the thing away.

    “Ehehehe… munyaamunyaamunyaa…” A cute giggle and some mumbling just by his side followed.

    Ast’s eyes shot open and he found out that the ticklish thing was actually Miria’s ear in front of his face. He glanced down and found her snuggled into his chest, sleeping peacefully in his bag with him. She was cutely clutching his shirt with both of her hands and resting her forehead on his collarbone while he was lying on his left side.

    He sighed and chuckled at the adorable sight. There was no way for him to leave without waking her up and he could already see her getting all embarrassed finding herself in such a position.

    Oh well, not like I have any other options,」he thought to himself and began brushing his fingers against the side of Miria’s face.

    She soon started waking up with a cute yawn which made her head hit Ast’s jaw. Miria massaged the place while opening her eyes and froze. She squeezed her other hand which was still clutching his shirt, looked down, and then very slowly lifted her gaze up until her eyes met his smiling face.

    “Good morning. Slept well?” he asked.

    Miria’s face went red almost instantly, making Asterios chuckle again. Her eyes kept darting away.

    “Is this Master’s…”

    “Yes, it is.”

    “Did I…”

    “I think so.”

    She hid her face in his chest. “I’m—”

    Miria wanted to quickly apologize, but she remembered how he told her to stop doing so at every occasion. He didn’t seem to be angry at her for sneaking in. She tried to compose herself as hard as she could and looked up at him.

    “I don’t remember being a sleepwalker, ehehehe~,” she exclaimed with an embarrassed giggle.

    Ast smiled and patted her head. “You learn something new with each da—”

    Miria’s ears twitched and stood up to attention. This wasn’t her usual reaction to his hand. Ast noticed Miria’s expression turning more serious and she locked her eyes with his, forgetting her embarrassed state.

    “Someone is running this way,” she notified him.

    Ast was impressed by her keen hearing, being able to perceive such detail even from the inside of a tent. Soon the voice of a man reached their ears.

    “Help! Is there someone in that tent?”

    They nodded at each other and quickly got up to see what was happening. Miria turned into her panther form and left the tent after Asterios.
     
  14. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 13 - Into the Den
    After leaving their tent, Asterios glanced around. It was still morning as the sun was quite low. Miria positioned herself towards the way from where the unexpected visitor was arriving. A few moments later, a young man with short, brown hair and some leather armour, damaged here and there, jumped out of the bushes.

    “Help! I need— AHH!”

    He screamed in shock after noticing the giant panther staring intently at him and stumbled over his own legs while taking a step backwards, falling onto the ground.

    “No need to be scared, that’s my companion.” Ast appeared by her side and looked at the man while brushing Miria’s fur.

    The man remained in a daze for a few seconds but he quickly composed himself and stood back up, turning to Asterios.

    “Please! I need your help!” he continued.

    “Calm down. Is something chasing you?” Asterios asked.

    “No, but my friend is in danger! I need to help him before some monster or beast finds him!”

    “Where is he? What happened to him?”

    “We were hunting wolves and entered a cave while following their tracks. During the fight inside, one of his spells hit the ceiling and part of the tunnel collapsed, burying him halfway down! We weren’t able to dig him out by ourselves so after clearing the nearby area I’ve decided to look for help! Thank gods I’ve found you! Your beast companion should be able to get him out easily! Please, we need to save him!” the youth summed up his story as good as he could.

    Ast furrowed his brows. “And you left him there alone? In the wolves' den?”

    The man shook his arms. “Don’t misunderstand, I didn’t run away! He’s a strong magician, he can hold back a wolf or two, but we need to get to him before more come!”

    Asterios examined the adventurer while he was speaking. He seemed really panicked as for someone having this much trust in their partner and the whole idea of running around to look for help while there was a high chance no one could be in the area sounded pretty stupid to him. The youth had a D-rank plate on his shoulder so he shouldn’t be a complete newbie. Not preparing some way of communication or emergency flare signal was a rookie mistake and there were at least two people in his team.

    Still, this could just have been a genuine example of two idiots being lucky till this day so he couldn’t really ignore the request.

    “How far is the cave and how long ago did you leave him alone?” Ast asked.

    “Around 30 minutes of running and I left an hour ago.”

    That felt really lucky to Ast. “Lead the way, we better start running already.” Asterios nodded at the man. He then looked at Miria.

    ~I don’t like him, Master. There’s no smell of blood on his clothes.~

    ~Me neither, but there’s always a chance he is just a coward.~

    ~I’m not taking him on my back.~

    Thirty minutes of running wasn’t that far so Ast didn’t force Miria to carry them on her back and they ran the whole way to the cave. Miria kept her eyes on the youth all the time and Asterios could feel her distrust towards him. Nothing surprising, it really felt weird. They soon saw the entrance and arrived at their destination without any issues.

    “There! Let’s go inside,” the man urged them.

    The cave looked quite plain, nothing special could be said about it. There definitely were claw marks visible here and there, announcing the presence of some kind of beasts, most likely the aforementioned wolves. Ast and Miria nodded to each other mentally and followed the man into the opening.

    “He should be just ahead!”

    The youth shouted and broke into a run again with a much higher speed than before. They saw him take a corner and tried to quickly follow the man, but when they arrived at the curve, there was no trace of him. Ast and Miria took a few steps more before the latter abruptly stopped and started sniffing the air.

    ~Behind us!~ she shouted to Ast mentally.

    They both turned around and saw some kind of a camouflage skill or spell wearing off near the wall and their guide beginning to run back towards the entrance. Miria instantly jumped forwards, but Ast noticed a line of red symbols above their heads and ordered her to get back.

    Fortunately, Miria reacted in time and the sudden explosions that enveloped the tunnel didn’t hurt her. She stepped back and covered Ast with her big body as debris and waves of dust shot towards him. In a few seconds, the insides went completely dark and they got cut off. Asterios coughed and waved the stone powder away.

    ~Master, are you okay?~ Miria asked and leaned her body onto his so that Ast didn’t stumble over something in the darkness.

    “Yeah, I’m fine. Cough. You?”

    ~All good. I knew something was off with him! But why?~

    “Most likely bandits. His friends might have already checked our camp after we left.”

    ~Hmph. If they thought that something like that would kill us then they are idiots.~

    “They most likely didn’t. They will just wait outside for a few days so we die out of starvation or get swarmed by wolves if this really is their den. That explosion wasn’t exactly quiet. Then, they will just make their way through the stones and steal whatever we have on—”

    “Oiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii! You punk! You still alive there?”

    A voice of a man, muffled by the obstruction between them and its owner, barely reached their ears. But, it wasn’t the man who led them here. Miria recognized it instantly.

    ~This guy! Master, it’s the examiner we fought!~

    Asterios sighed. “Yeah, seems like it.”

    “You are either dead or not answering. Anyway, that will teach you to not fuck with me in front of my girl! I’ve heard that you love them beasts lots so this should be a fitting grave for ya, surrounded by dogs and bitches, hahaha!”

    His laugh grew quieter and soon disappeared. On the other side, the man faking his request approached the examiner.

    "Boss, you sure that will be enough? We only slapped a few explosion runes there hastily."

    The leader slammed the man's back a few times. "Don'tcha worry. As far as hunters have reported, this should be quite a big den. That cat might be something, but they are just two against who knows how many. And if we are lucky, maybe the mentioned alpha is also home. Now, let's go back before someone sees us. That damned panther... they went so fucking fast they had time to even set up a camp already while our horses barely just arrived recently while we left literally after them... Well, thanks to that, we were able to deal with them without getting into a fight. Would have been troublesome if he managed to use more of his tricks." The leader kept ranting about the Summoner and the group left the area.

    Meanwhile, Ast was wondering why the guy didn’t approach them before after Ellie warned them about him and the answer was because of this. Surely, she wouldn’t suspect him if Ast disappeared while on a quest, which the man most likely didn’t take but just followed them here.

    He shook his head to clear his mind. Thinking about this could wait.

    “Miria, can you see anything?”

    ~Almost crystal clear. My kind has great darkvision, almost the best of all Beastfolk. Only Owlkins are better.~

    “Can you dig us out?”

    She walked closer to the rubble with Ast in tow, making sure he didn’t trip, and examined it with her paws.

    ~No matter in which form, this could take hours. I’m not sure how much of it is there.~

    “And we could get attacked at any moment. Hmmm… I don’t have much I can help with currently. I guess there’s only one way to go. You can transform if you want.”

    Miria naturally followed his suggestion and soon stood by Ast’s side in her humanoid form. Even though there was no light in the cave, he could notice her slightly gleaming eyes in the dark, which appeared close to his face.

    “Should I bring out the torches?” she asked.

    “No need. This is a great opportunity to test something out. Give me a moment.”

    She observed as Ast, even without any vision, sat down, cleared a bit of the floor from the debris and brought out a bunch of crystals from his pouch. He bit on each one and licked them to verify their structure and chose a few ones required for what he was going to do.

    Next, he drew a perfect circle with some runes on the floor, also without being able to see it. Ast set the prepared stones in five places in the circuit and placed his hand in the middle of it, reaching with the other one into the air.

    “Could you let me touch you?” he asked, trying to pinpoint her in the darkness.

    Miria, seeing Ast’s hand pretty much near her face, leaned her cheek onto it, knowing that he won’t be able to see her blushing anyway. She smiled happily, feeling his warm hand gently sliding over it.

    A slight, reddish glow emanated from the magic circle and they watched as a bolt of energy darted from it, through Ast’s body, into Miria’s face. She saw him close his eyes and felt some weird connection appear between them.

    Miria gasped involuntarily after Asterios opened his eyes again. They were glowing red, like during the day they met, but also his pupils turned into vertical ones, pretty much the same as hers. He brushed her cheek while smiling and stood up, looking all around.

    “So, that’s how you see things, huh. Pretty cool.”

    She didn’t answer. Miria was still intently following Ast’s gaze. Shivers ran down her spine when they locked their eyes again. Ast furrowed his brows seeing her just stand there, frozen, with her mouth open.

    “You okay? Did that make you feel weird?”

    “No! I’m fine! It’s nothing! Hahaha.”

    In fact, she wasn’t fine, but she could never just straight up tell him that his eyes were so charming that she just wanted to lose herself in them. In all her life, Miria had seen a myriad of Beastfolk’s eyes in various colours and shapes, but none came even close to how beautiful Ast’s ones were. The crimson glow emanated an aura of power and ferocity and at the same time, she felt like they radiated pure kindness which lured the observer into the owner’s embrace invitingly.

    “Nyaaaan?!”

    Ast suddenly brushing away a lock of hair from the side of her face surprised Miria so much that she jumped back while releasing a cute scream. He raised a brow at her. As much as she was getting embarrassed in the past, Miria never got so absent-minded.

    “Maybe we should switch to torches in the end.”

    “NO!” Miria shouted. “Let’s go like this! I was just thinking about something! Come, Master, we need to get out of here and kick that idiot’s ass!” She shook her head to calm down, turned around and started quickly walking away, further into the cave.

    Ast followed the weirdly behaving girl from behind. Her tail kept dancing around like crazy, making him think that she was not telling him something, but all he could get through their link was that she felt somehow excited and fascinated. He didn’t notice anything different after checking his clothes and body so Ast decided to leave it for now.

    It didn’t take long before they began hearing some low growling from ahead. Three wolves of a normal size appeared in front of them. The cave was quite wide, something around five or six meters in diameter so the beasts quickly positioned themselves around the duo. Ast brought up a dagger from his sheath and stepped closer to Miria.

    “Leave it to me, Master. I won’t let them give you even a scratch!”

    Saying that, she took out her shortswords and prepared a defensive stance. Ast was a Summoner, mostly a support type role, so she had to prioritize his safety in a 3v2 situation. The wolves didn’t attack immediately. They circled around their prey, looking for an opportunity to strike.

    They finally grew bored and two of them jumped at the duo from the front and back at the same time. Miria lowered her posture and applied a medium level of Physical Strengthening to her legs. She appeared in front of one of the wolves in one step and easily sliced its head off with an upwards slash.

    Asterios managed to dodge the second one by evading to the side, but he was too slow to strike back before it landed. Keeping an eye on the third one, he just kept avoiding his opponent’s bites until he sensed Miria coming from behind him. They didn’t need words to communicate and Asterios leaned forward, allowing her to roll over his back and stab the surprised wolf in the head with a spin, pinning it to the ground.

    Crouching above the dead beast with one sword shoved into the floor, a stream of images of another one heading straight for her neck from behind, flashed in Miria’s mind and she moved her other blade to the back under her armpit, piercing the heart of the third wolf without even moving her eyes.

    A slow clapping soon followed and she pulled the swords out of the wolves, looking up at the smiling Ast.

    “Amazing. You really are something.”

    She stood up and lowered her gaze shyly. Her tail was swishing happily from the praise.

    “It was nothing. Just some wolves. Was that weird image Master’s doing? I felt like I saw the last one from outside of my body.” Miria kept stealing glances of his crimson eyes.

    “Yes, I deepened our link for a moment and sent you part of my perspective. From the way you handled the wolf, I guess it worked fine?”

    Miria nodded enthusiastically. “It was awesome! I can’t imagine how it would feel to completely join our senses when just receiving a few pictures from Master gives such an advantage!”

    Ast chuckled seeing her vigorous response. “I’m curious too. Maybe one day we will reach that level. This was just a one-sided warning.”

    “Ehehe, maybe one day.” Miria giggled, trying her hardest to not stare straight into Ast’s eyes.

    She definitely didn’t want to try widening their connection right now. There was too much happening in her head and she would definitely swarm Ast’s mind with weird thoughts. That was too embarrassing.

    Since they were still in the middle of the wolves' den, Ast suggested to Miria to try and bring the dead ones back with her so they could skin them later. Fortunately, it worked and she passed through the portal without a problem. After dealing with the bodies, they resumed their exploration.

    They didn’t find anything special for the two hours that they walked through the tunnels. A few wolves here and there weren’t a problem for the duo. Miria easily got rid of any assailants with Ast’s support. He didn’t even have to use any additional spells, he just kept sending her flashes of his vision from time to time so that she could get used to them slowly.

    The good thing was that they already met the quota of wolves they needed for their task so only a few pieces of Moontail Grass were left, besides of course getting out of the cave. Just as they were losing the hope of finding another exit from this cave system, Miria’s nose led them to a bigger clearing with a hole in the ceiling, through which the sun was shining down into it.

    “Finally some light! And we should be able to get out from here.” Miria spun around.

    Asterios cancelled his vision technique, making her a little bit dejected that she couldn’t adore his crimson gaze anymore, but he nodded at something behind her, bringing her back from her thoughts.

    “We might need to deal with that first.”

    In the middle of the chamber, there was a spot where a patch of grass had grown thanks to the sun coming through the hole above. Lying in there, was a slightly bigger wolf than the ones they met before and it had a dark red fur, decorated with many scars. It just started bringing itself up from its nap. Soon after, it howled loudly and turned its gaze onto the uninvited guests.

    “If this is what Ellie spoke about, then this is not an alpha… that's a Bloodfang…” Ast announced.

    Miria sensed his distress and unsheathed her swords, taking position in front of Asterios. Many grey-furred wolves started coming out from the tunnels all around them. The situation wasn’t looking good with just the numbers alone and she was sure that the big wolf had more to it than just a different colour of fur. This would be a tough fight, but she would do everything in her power to protect her master.
     
  15. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 14 - Bloodfang
    Asterios observed the main threat that they would be facing. It was no normal wolf but a magical beast sometimes found in his realm. Bloodfangs weren’t that powerful entities, but they were much more dangerous than your typical canines. Its size was smaller than Miria’s panther form, somewhere around 3/4 of her body. He recalled what he knew about them and placed his hand on Miria’s shoulder.

    “We need to get rid of the red one as soon as possible. I’d rather have us run, but it’s not like we have a sure way to escape,” he spoke, without moving his gaze from the crimson beast.

    “Leave it to me, Master. I’ll take it down before the normal ones even react!” She prepared herself to jump forward, but Ast gripped her shoulder tighter.

    “Don’t make rash decisions. Bloodfangs are vicious and dangerous. Focus on dodging and defending. Do not let it draw your blood at any cost. It can use most of its powers only after tasting the blood of its prey. And do whatever you can to avoid its bites. Bloodfang’s saliva is highly toxic and will paralyze you in an instant and that would be the end of us.”

    Miria listened attentively to her master’s briefing, making sure that she didn’t miss any detail since it was the first time she encountered this beast. She already started enveloping her blades with thin layers of mana and laid some strengthening boosts in all her limbs for future use, specifically in her legs.

    Asterios brought out a dagger and quickly covered it with a poison extracted from the fang of a Coiling Marl Serpent. If it were to make contact with blood, a violent reaction would occur, rupturing most of the target’s blood vessels and quickly spreading itself through their body, causing excruciating pain. It was his most potent poison he was immensely lucky to gather when Ast stumbled on a dying serpent in the past. But, there was no room for hesitation.

    “I’ll grab the attention of the normal wolves, you focus on the main one,” he said to Miria.

    She turned her head to him. “But, if we split, I won’t be able to protect you.”

    “We won’t get anywhere without getting rid of the Bloodfang. I can handle a few dogs, I’m tougher than I look. And, be careful.”

    He patted her head and brushed through her hair with his fingers before jumping to the side and breaking into a run. Miria, slightly hesitant, decided to follow Ast’s plan and redirected all her focus onto her designated target. She wanted to kill the beast before Asterios suffered any injuries.

    As he hoped, most of the wolves followed Ast, leaving only a few around Miria. They sensed which opponent seemed clearly weaker and focused on him. He saw his partner dash forward and clash with the Bloodfang.

    Bring it on!

    Ast readied himself in response to the increasing growling surrounding him. Soon, the wolves started their assault. Knowing that he had no one to protect his back now, Asterios parried the bite of one of the assailants, leaving a cut on the side of its head, and moved closer to a wall while avoiding strikes from the other enemies.

    He managed to reach it somehow. Now, it was much easier to hold on, having to focus only on the front and the sides. Two wolves he wounded on his way were lying on the ground and yelping in pain. The poison was truly horrendous.

    But even with those two advantages, he still was facing around 15 of those wild animals. Fortunately, his body was in a good condition so he was able to avoid most of the multiple attacks, with only one in five leaving a scratch or cut on his skin. Unfortunately, he still had troubles with striking back at the agile wolves.

    Asterios took a chance to shove his hand into one of his pouches during a small break in between the wolves’ attacks and pulled out a purple, crystal sigil of the size of a coin. He squeezed it within his left hand and filled it with mana, readying the item for activation.

    The next time three wolves tried attacking together, he quickly slammed his left fist into the ground, and with some crackling, purple lightning shot out from the point of impact, passing through the beasts and paralyzing them for a short moment. But that moment was enough for Ast to swiftly leave a few cuts on their bodies before their friends joined the fray.

    He opened his palm and black dust poured out of it, the sign of a used-up Lightning Wave spell sigil. Ast shook his hand, trying to get rid of the numbing feeling that follows the use of those items. He had a few more on him, but his body would wear down faster than his stock if he kept overusing the sigils.

    While Asterios was having his battle near one of the walls, Miria was engaged with the Bloodfang. She easily cut down all wolves on her path to it with her enhanced blades and lunged straight for the head of the big one. It surprised her with its agility, dodging the blow barely in time.

    The creature answered with a lunge of its own, making a powerful swing with its claws. Miria blocked the attempt, but it pushed her a bit back. Its strength and agility were quite competitive even with her own being really high. She focused on parrying its next attacks, not giving the beast a chance to even scratch her.

    Two wolves suddenly jumped at her from the sides while the Bloodfang was preparing a bite. She made her move first, closing the distance between her and it, and kicking the head of the beast from above, using it to propel herself into the air, evading the two wolves aiming for her legs.

    When she was above them, Miria spun around and cleanly cut their heads off, landing in the middle of a bloody pool. The beasts’ bodies soon followed, hitting the ground with a thud. She shook her head to get rid of the crimson liquid that splashed her beautiful face and gazed intently at the growling leader.

    Miria set both of her blades behind her waist and put more weight onto her legs while leaning forward. The wolf was too much to rely only on Physical Strengthening and Mana Coating so she started preparing a technique which would definitely result in at least a deep wound. She filled all of her limbs with mana, but before she could launch herself at it again, a jolt of electricity ran through her spine. Miria’s ears twitched and she instantly glanced to where Ast was.

    Master!

    She saw one of the wolves biting into his pelvis while he fought off another one. It wasn’t enough to down Asterios as he stabbed the assailant soon after, making it fall and begin whimpering. He locked gazes with Miria for a moment.

    ~Watch out!~

    A mental shout came from him. The Bloodfang wasn’t going to waste the precious chance of its enemy losing focus and tried to sink its fangs into Miria’s torso. She barely dodged by a hair’s breadth, using the physical enhancements prepared earlier, but unfortunately, the scarlet wolf spun horizontally and slashed its claws over her stomach, leaving six shallow cuts on it.

    And that was enough for it. As Asterios told her before, the big wolf licked its paws and suddenly its eyes started glowing red. All the scarlet fur began standing up like thousands of little needles and a crimson, mist-like aura surrounded its body. The Bloodfang howled loudly, releasing a lot of ferocious killing intent.

    Miria’s ears twitched again and she instantly jumped to the side. A fraction of a second later, three wide, red lances hit the ground where she just had been a moment ago. She understood that it was the wolf’s ability, some kind of a blood spear. Many more soon followed and she had to keep dodging from side to side as the crimson spikes rained down at her each time the beast howled.

    She closed the distance between them while avoiding getting impaled and slashed her shortswords at the enemy. The Bloodfang sidestepped much faster than before and Miria could see it making two insanely quick jumps to appear behind her, only thanks to her keen senses. If she was a Human, she would have thought that it teleported.

    The wolf made another slash, this time on her back, causing more wounds on her body. Miria parried the incoming bite with a lot of effort. It wasn’t looking good. She could barely scratch her enemy in this state and the more time she took, the bigger the chance that Asterios would finally tire down and start receiving more wounds.

    Slightly lost in her thoughts again, she almost didn’t notice her opponent taking a weird, lowered stance. She braced herself for an upcoming dash or lunge, but what happened had completely surprised her. Tens of crimson spikes surged from the ground, creating a quickly approaching path of death. Miria dodged the first wave and another one soon came at her. She somehow parried a few lances with her left blade and cut down some more with her right one.

    The Bloodfang suddenly appeared by her side while she was still dealing with the blood spears. She managed to make a somersault backwards to avoid getting bitten, but after landing, she got hit by its body slam.

    “Guuhh!”

    It sent her a few meters back, making Miria roll over the ground. She shoved one of her blades into the stone pavement and stopped herself. The wolf was already near and she wasn’t able to react in time. It sank its teeth into her calf, violently turned around and sent Miria into the air. She didn’t let go of her weapons. Fighting against the pain, she somehow landed properly, stumbling a little.

    No… I need to put my all into the next strike, before its poi—

    She started berating herself in her mind, but before she was able to finish her thought, Miria watched her perspective change as if she was falling to the back.

    Eh?!

    All she could do was stare in disbelief at the slowly approaching Bloodfang, with her head lying on the side, exactly towards it. She instantly lost all feeling in her body, she couldn’t even move her eyes, nothing, her body was gone completely.

    She failed. There was no way Ast could either defeat this foe alone or somehow escape with her in his arms. He would most likely not be able to run away even if he left her here anyway. He did his best to make this fight as easy as he could for her, endangering himself in the process, but she still failed. If she had any control over her lifeless body, tears would most likely be flowing down her face, but even that wasn’t possible now. Only pain, guilt and anxiety in her heart were left out of all things she could feel.

    She didn’t even have enough courage to apologize to Ast through their connection. She couldn’t protect him literally on their first quest. This wouldn't have happened if she didn't lose her focus twice and pushed herself to her limits from the start.

    While Miria was descending into depressive thoughts deeper and deeper, a ball-shaped object flew above her body and landed in front of the Bloodfang. Soon after, it exploded with an enormously loud bang. She couldn’t feel anything, but just from watching the wolves literally drop to the ground and roll around to cover their ears was a clear representation of the weird thing’s effect. She noticed an intense ringing in her ears, but without any pain accompanying it.

    A moment later, someone's foot appeared in front of her lying face and her body was brought up to a sitting position. She found herself looking at Ast’s worried face after he supported her head with his hand. His lips were moving but she couldn’t hear any sounds yet.

    Asterios brought up a vial with one of the best antidotes he had on him and carefully poured its contents into Miria’s mouth, hoping that it would be enough for a Bloodfang’s poison. Unfortunately, it had troubles going down her unresponsive throat.

    Miria watched as he drank the potion himself and started leaning closer to her face. If not for the situation they were in, she would be blushing furiously, but even her eyes couldn’t widen due to the strong paralysis. Their lips soon connected and Ast pushed the medicine through the tunnel by force. She really wanted at least her sensations to be back so that she could feel this most likely last kiss of her life. Which didn't happen that long after the first one.

    Asterios suddenly leaned a bit forward, pushing her onto the ground again and Miria saw a wolf behind him biting on his arm, which was the one holding Ast’s knife. He grimaced from the pain but didn’t give up. She stared at the amazing spectacle of Ast throwing the dagger into the air, catching it with his teeth and shoving the blade into the wolf’s eye while he still held her with his other hand.

    After that move, he rolled them to the side and picked Miria up, starting to run. A few normal wolves had already recovered and she also was starting to regain her hearing. Asterios managed to bring her close to a wall, receiving some minor cuts and bites along the way from the still dazed wolves. He placed Miria against it and smiled at her while patting her head.

    “You better recover quickly, I need you.”

    His expression then turned serious and Ast picked up her shortswords which he brought with him from the place where she had been lying previously. He turned around and took a decent defensive position. He was no warrior, but he knew how to handle a sword to some extent. A battle against time began.
     
  16. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 15 - Out of Time
    Miria watched as Ast desperately tried his best to fend off the ferocious attacks of the remaining wolves which slowly began getting up after the use of his concussion bomb. He was doing much better with her blades than she expected him to, parrying a lot of paw slashes and bites while sometimes even managing to wound the beasts back.

    But, those were just blades in his hands, nothing else. The surface wasn’t covered in a strong poison, neither it was sharpened with mana. The cuts he left on his opponents' bodies weren’t deep enough to down them and Ast knew that perfectly. He was playing for time, waiting for Miria to recover from the paralysis. It was the only way they still could have a chance of overcoming their current predicament.

    Miria observed his struggle anxiously. She cursed herself for her own weakness and inability every time Ast got injured by the wolves. If she had just trusted him as he trusted her, she wouldn’t make that stupid mistake to look back at him at that moment and everything would have followed a different path. She convinced herself more and more that it was purely her fault. She let him down.

    She lied behind Ast, staring at his back and trying her best to move her muscles as much as she could to speed up the spreading of the antidote. She regained a bit of feeling and could move her eyes and mouth now. Five minutes passed since he administered the medicine. The wounds on his body were only increasing. She began formulating a plan on how to save him.

    ~Master, if you have more of those loud things, you should give one to me. I’ll detonate it when they get close after you ru—~

    ~Don’t you even dare!~

    A reply came before she could finish her message. Miria could feel the strong emotions behind it.

    ~But, Master…~

    ~I’m not letting another girl sacrifice herself for my pathetic life! We either win together or die together!~

    Asterios angrily slashed at one of the attacking wolves and beheaded it with a strong blow. He then glanced back at Miria and sent her a stern glare. She didn’t feel any annoyance or ire towards herself in it, no, it was all directed at his opponents, just showing Ast’s determination. She felt both happy and guilty at the same time.

    The Bloodfang finally regained all its senses after getting hit by the shockwave from almost point-blank and howled loudly, announcing its annoyance. It stretched its legs to the sides and summoned a lot more of the crimson mist, turning it into three sizable blood spears. It launched them at Asterios.

    He managed to dodge the first two in time, making them only graze his chest and back when he spun around, but the last lance was heading straight at him when he finished the previous manoeuvre. Not having any other options, Ast crossed the shortswords in front of him and supplied his arms with mana, which wouldn’t help much in terms of strengthening, but weaving pure energy through the muscles would lower the pain and allow him to muster up a bit more power.

    The merciless projectile hit his guard like a flying log. He altered its trajectory just enough for it to slide by his neck, but the force of the impact sent him flying into the wall behind him and he crashed into the stone above Miria’s position, falling down onto her legs and dropping the swords. Miria recovered to the point where she could barely extend her trembling hand to grasp his wrist.

    “Mas...ter…” She tried her best to show a smile.

    Asterios raised himself up, locked his eyes with hers and brushed through Miria’s hair with a smile of his own. She could feel the warmth of his hand and smile even in her current state. It was painful. Ast took a deep breath and his expression turned serious again.

    “Looks like we ran out of time, huh.”

    He looked at the slowly approaching wolves. Just six of them were left, excluding the Bloodfang.

    “Thank… you… it was… fun…”

    He glanced back at her. “Fun… I guess it was.” Ast gave their opponents one more look and turned back to Miria, visibly hesitant about something. “Since the fun part is now over, I guess it’s time to get serious.” Asterios hoped that what he was going to try would be enough. He didn't practice a lot after the weird event with the bear, but he knew he now was able to achieve more than his past, weak self.

    Miria furrowed her brows, sure that Ast had already turned serious long ago. It was not possible that he wasn’t trying his best to buy time for her to fight the Bloodfang and then for her to recover, so she wondered what he meant.

    Ast rummaged through one of his pouches and brought out a round vial with some black liquid. He stirred it a bit and glanced at her again.

    “Hold your breath for thirty seconds.”

    Without waiting for a response, he uncorked the small bottle and splashed its contents in front of them, creating an arched line from one side of the wall to the other and then threw the container at the Bloodfang. The wolves started yelping instantly while trying to cover their snouts. Even their leader, in front of which the vial shattered, was pushed back. The smell was truly awful.

    He then turned to Miria and shoved his coat to the side, grabbing his vest and shirt and also hastily getting rid of them. Miria was confused. She didn’t know what to think while she stared at his muscular torso.

    Before her thoughts wandered too far off the rails, she saw Ast bring out the ornamental knife he used during their contracting ritual. He clenched his left fist and his teeth and started literally carving some kind of a magic circle on his skin, just above his heart. He had to stop a few times to shake off the pain while groaning.

    He kept glancing back to check on the wolves and finished hurting himself after a minute of cutting his own skin. A quite complex circular structure was now visible on its surface. Trails of blood ran down his chest. He dropped the knife and moved closer to Miria, kneeling by her side.

    “Master?”

    Asterios wrapped his right arm around Miria’s back and supported her to lean onto his chest. It was warm. She still couldn’t move her head so she could only stare at his chiselled body as her face was pointing a bit downwards. He then gently opened her mouth with his right hand and brought his forearm closer to it.

    “Drink it.”

    He didn’t have to explain what, it was clear after Ast pushed his arm against Miria’s sharp top canines which sank into his flesh. He grimaced a little but didn’t hesitate even for a moment. Two trails of blood soon ran down into her mouth and he lifted Miria’s chin so that they could travel to her throat. Her confusion was growing with each action Ast took, but she listened to his request and gulped as much of the hot, scarlet liquid as she could with her current control over her muscles.

    Satisfied with the amount, Asterios took his arm back and ruffled through her hair with a wry smile. She did not miss that detail.

    “Try not to tear my body into shreds, okay?”

    He patted Miria’s head a few more times, leaned her against the wall and backed off a bit. She had no idea what he meant with those words. She wasn’t able to lift an arm so how was she supposed to even scratch him?

    Asterios pulled out another crystal, but a dark crimson one this time. None of the previous ones looked this ominous. It was of the size of his thumb and of the shape of a rhomb or a long diamond. He squeezed the gem in his right hand and sighed heavily.

    What he did next, took Miria completely by surprise and her eyes widened in shock. Asterios drove the crystal into his chest, piercing his flesh exactly in the middle of the carved magic circle. He instantly groaned in pain, directing his head to the not visible sky. Veins started bulging out around his whole body and his eyes went almost completely bloodshot, with his pupils turning red again. This time, his hair turned white too.

    Miria began feeling some kind of a pulling force in her mind while she watched the screaming Asterios try to fight over the pain from the weird effect of the crystal or the circle, she wasn’t sure. He soon shook his head, picked up both of her shortswords and began walking towards the wolves.

    After he took three steps, Miria’s vision swirled and everything blurred into black. A moment later, she was looking at the still yelping wolves from quite the higher perspective than her lying body could assume. She suddenly noticed an immense wave of scorching hot energy coursing through her body.

    No. It wasn’t her body. When Miria tried looking at her arms, her head and hands moved according to her wishes and she saw Ast’s posture in front of her eyes. She quickly glanced back and saw herself lying against the wall.

    “Go... get them…”

    She heard her own voice come out from her body’s mouth. Looking at her or rather his hands again and seeing the weapons in them, she concluded that they somehow switched bodies. It must have been thanks to that weird crystal and magical circle. She could see the gem sticking out of Ast’s chest when she looked down. Miria closed her eyes and focused her senses on examining her new body.

    The sheer potency of the mana inside Ast’s body shocked her. The blazing energy that emanated from his spiritual circuits was truly immense. She felt like she could crush boulders with just her fists. Miria wondered why Ast had so many issues in the past if his potential and mana were this unbelievable, but now wasn’t the time to theorize.

    Miria focused her mind on taming the turbulent energy and checked if she could use any of her abilities or techniques in Ast’s body. Somehow, it looked like she could as she felt the Physical Strengthening activating. The effectiveness of it surprised her. Miria’s temporary body suddenly felt as light as a feather, similar to the day when they used Haste sigil.

    Next, she tried coating her blades with mana, and again, the result completely shattered her expectations. The air started shimmering around the weapons’ edges, but it extended far further than just over the physical blades. The shortswords now became longswords with invisible extensions. It could be noticed only from the blurry air extending from the tips of both swords.

    She brought one to her face and examined the technique. The created coating was much sharper than what she ever managed to achieve on her own. One of the remaining wolves lunged at her from behind, bringing Miria out of her amazement. She made a backflip to avoid the attack and slashed at the beast from above with a spin, landing gracefully on the ground.

    “Eh?!”

    The wolf has been split in a clean half. But not only the wolf. The stone floor also had a considerably long and deep cut in the spot where she sliced the beast. Miria stared wide-eyed at the crevice made by the invisible extension of her blade, which passed through the stone like it was tofu.

    I can win with this… No, I will win this!

    She regained her determination and took a step towards another wolf that was just lifting itself up. But rather than dashing or leaping to it, she appeared by its side with a loud boom from how fast she moved thanks to the strengthened muscles. She sliced through both the wolf and the floor like through butter and instantly closed the distance to another enemy.

    In a few seconds, she cut up almost all of the wild beasts into pieces, not giving them a chance to even react in time. Loud thump accompanied each of her jumps. A javelin of blood suddenly flew at her face so she positioned one of the blades in front of it and split the lance in two as it hit the edge, without moving even a little. Miria glared at the Bloodfang.

    “Wait for your turn.”

    It was weird to hear Ast’s voice when she tried to speak. Nevertheless, she finished the last normal wolf and launched herself at the leader. She didn’t know how much time she had in Asterios’s body so she wanted to end this quickly.

    The Bloodfang sent a wave of blood spikes surging from the ground at her, but Miria decimated them with a single cut which sent a wave of force towards the enemy. The beast dodged it barely in time and it hit the wall with a loud explosion. She didn’t waste any time and lunged towards the last remaining target.

    Blood spikes began raining at her from above, but she dodged all of them with fluid steps and reached the wolf in a flash. They got entangled in a fierce bout. This time, the beast was the one being pushed back with each of her attacks. Just by barely grazing its fur, Miria was able to inflict deep cuts into its body so the Bloodfang had to focus on dodging and counter-attacking.

    Not like those attempts could reach Miria with her current speed. She danced around the wolf, appearing and disappearing at different angles. Even with that, the Bloodfang was able to avoid fatal wounds. Its demise appeared clear to it though.

    It knew it didn’t have a chance to run so the proud beast gathered all of its remaining energy and prepared to release the strongest ability. Miria could sense the mana condensing in its body and gathered her own in the legs. Soon, the scarlet wolf howled fiercely and gigantic spikes shot from the ground all around it in circles.

    Miria pushed herself off the stone pavement so strongly that it cracked and she flew into the air, avoiding the giant and sharp tips with a flip. She landed on the ceiling in a crouching position, also shattering the surface. Something was telling her that she could use one of the abilities she never managed to succeed in completely performing before and she circulated Ast’s mana all around his body, crossing the swords in front of her with a determined gaze.

    “RAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH!”

    She tensed her muscles and pushed herself off the ceiling, smashing it into bits, and started spinning while flying straight at the Bloodfang. The rotations got so fast that she created a small cyclone as powerful as a high-level Wind Lance spell cast by an advanced magician.

    Surrounded by the sharp pillars of crystallized blood, the beast had nowhere to run so it tried to block the assault with one more summoned obstacle, but Miria drilled through it with ease and crashed into her opponent, causing a powerful explosion. Clouds of dust arose from the impact and covered the whole cave.

    The obstruction soon fell down and revealed Miria with both swords stuck deep into the stone floor in the middle of a bloody puddle. To her left and right, front and back of the torn-into-two Bloodfang were lying lifelessly. Tens of cuts of various sizes were visible on the ground for like 3 meters from the center of the impact and most of the crystalized spikes were shattered into pieces.

    Miria cancelled the mana coating and, out of habit, tried sheathing her blades behind her rear, but she remembered that this was not her body and there were no containers there. She looked down at Ast’s chest with the crystal and pondered if the power she exerted was his or hers. The abilities were definitely her doing, but she never could perform them at such a high level. She made a mental note to herself to talk with Asterios more about it, and more about everything now, and turned around to head back to her own body with Ast's consciousness.
     
  17. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 16 - The Source
    Assuring that there were no more wolves left in the area, Miria headed towards Asterios who was in her body. Seeing her approach, he started lifting himself up with the help of the wall behind him. It looked like the paralysis that held her body down was finally giving up, but Ast still stumbled during the motion and began falling forwards.

    Miria kicked off the ground and appeared in front of him in a flash, catching Asterios in her body before he fell. It was an unimaginably weird and confusing feeling. She, now in his body, was holding him, now in her body, in her arms, against her, which was Ast’s, chest. Too much confusion on who was who was making her brain dizzy.

    One thing was sure. No matter who was who at that moment, seeing her own body leaning against Ast’s naked chest had the same effect on her as usual. Or rather, it was even stronger since right now, she could clearly see herself getting hugged by him and she could feel her own, soft breasts squishing against Ast’s chest, which was now hers for the time being.

    That made her extremely conscious of her own body since she was now seeing it how Asterios usually did. He raised his head, which was hers and was lying on her shoulder which was his, and looked at Miria. He soon giggled in her voice.

    “So, that’s how I would look if I blushed, huh?” Ast spoke as her.

    Miria’s eyes widened and she averted her gaze. She was making the usually collected Ast’s body blush. Could this situation get even weirder? It actually could as she started experiencing an unknown to her warmness below her waist. He giggled again and hit her chest, which was his, a few times with his fist, which was hers.

    “Hahaha, oh, come on! You are getting me hard by looking at yourself, hahaha,” he laughed from her body cutely.

    Miria shivered, understanding now what exactly was the source of the warm feeling down there. She was really embarrassed. She didn’t expect Ast’s body to react so accordingly to her thoughts and mood, almost the same as it would happen with her own body, but naturally in an adequate physical way. She wanted to run or apologize, but she knew Ast wouldn’t like it.

    And then, the crystal in Ast’s chest suddenly cracked a bit. The fractures quickly grew over the whole gem and it shattered into tiny particles. She felt the familiar pulling feeling in her mind and the swirling blur happened again. They found themselves back in their respective bodies, dropping to their knees during the short interval when there was no control over them.

    “Ow, ow, ow, fuck!” Asterios cried out in pain after his mind returned to the proper home.

    “Master?!” Miria shouted concernedly. She didn’t feel that much pain when she was him.

    “I’m fine, this much had to be expected with what I did. But, I can tell that you didn’t spare my body, ouch…”

    “I… I didn’t do anything serious! Everything felt great! Even your scorching hot energy! I could do things I would have never been able to do with my own body!” She desperately tried to explain her experience to him.

    “That’s… interesting. But the first part was because I blocked off most of my body’s pain receptors before we switched. If I didn’t, you would have a hard time controlling a body that’s much weaker than yours. I had to somehow make it adequate for you.”

    Miria realized what he meant by his words earlier. “That’s why you told me not to tear your body apart... and I almost did it! If I exerted a bit more power it could have ended badly!”

    Asterios chuckled. “Yeah, but nothing could have been worse than dying to them, right? That’s why I used the Limit Breaker too.”

    She tilted her head. “Limit Breaker?”

    He pointed at the hole in his chest. “That crystal. It kind of erases the restraints your brain puts on your body so it won’t hurt itself. It’s not something commonly used and I think you can guess why.”

    “A lot of pain?”

    “Yep. Fuck… argh… Hooooooh… But, you made it. Without completely breaking my body. That requires a lot of control. Congratulations. And thank you. You saved me again.”

    He patted her head with a pained smile. Miria hugged him closer a little bit hesitantly. She still felt a bit guilty due to her mistake. Ast leaned them against the wall again and sighed. They both started slowly drinking a regeneration boosting potion. Miria noticed his hair and eyes also turning back to black and blue.

    Miria pondered. “So… what did you exactly do, Master?”

    “I skipped a few important steps on the whole master and familiar bonding path and forced you into a quite high-level technique that allows us to switch bodies while preserving both of our characteristics and abilities. I had to use a quite frowned upon way to do that, using that circle on my own chest, but in the end, it worked. Who cares if something is considered forbidden magic if you are facing certain death. It’s not like I was going to hurt someone. And well, the Limit Breaker also was an additional assurance that you would be able to somehow operate my weak body. Someone as strong as you would definitely find it limiting. Thank gods the whole technique actually worked,” he explained.

    She shook her head. “You are wrong. While I have no doubt that it helped, I’m confident in saying that it would have been almost the same without it. The moment I’ve found myself in your body, I’ve realized how huge the difference between our spiritual energy is. I felt like I had infinite reserves of mana to draw on. All the abilities I’ve used were like a few times stronger at least. This wasn’t the effect of the Limit Breaker, I’m sure of that.”

    “Hmmm… I certainly felt a similar sensation to the one when we had first met just before we switched, but it’s impossible. I’ve noticed a slight change recently, but nothing as great as what you’ve mentioned…” he stroked his chin while contemplating the information.

    “It is possible! Even your hair and eyes looked like they did back then!”

    Asterios froze for a moment and turned his face to glance at the confident in her words Miria. “What do you mean by like back then? It’s not the first time?”

    Miria shook her head again. “No. Actually, when I arrived in this world, your hair was white and your eyes were crimson red. They turned black and blue after you’ve fallen unconscious. At first, I thought that it was perhaps how Humans react to magic or something. But then, when you used that vision technique, your eyes turned red again and they actually had vertical pupils like mine do.”

    Asterios understood now why Miria was acting strange at that time. She must have been surprised by that detail. It was shocking for him to learn about his appearance changing. He had a strong feeling that it was somehow linked to those weird, hot outbursts of power in his body.

    “And back to now, after you used that transferring technique, your hair turned white the first time after our meeting. It’s only a guess, but I think that when you exert some amount of your power, they change accordingly. And you definitely were emitting a lot of it. I had a hard time to even comprehend the amount of energy in your body. You don’t feel that scorching hot mana all the time?” Miria continued.

    “No, I don’t. Honestly, I only remember a weird feeling just before summoning you. I was a weakling my whole life as you should know. There was some kind of an outburst and I did feel a lot of power back then, but it got drained instantly, perhaps into the summoning process,” he started analyzing the events from the past, recalling sensing something breaking before the energy surged out. “Then, it never happened again. I guess it did just now, but I left my body before it reached its peak, if I get what you are saying correctly.”

    “Definitely. You are much more amazing than you think you are, Master!” she shouted at Ast with a lot of admiration in her voice.

    “Well, there might be some truth in that I guess. All the skills we have tried in the past, like the Haste sigil, worked quite differently than what I was used to before. I need to investigate this.”

    “Yes! We could grow a lot stronger with that. I’m sure that you know a lot of powerful techniques that you could use one me so that I can do better in protecting you, Master!” He could see her tail wagging meekly, most likely still slightly affected by the poison.

    Asterios sighed, understanding from where she came with that and moved closer to her.

    “Miria.”

    He pulled her towards himself and leaned over his chest, beginning to stroke through her hair with his fingers.

    “Don’t be so hard on yourself for that little mistake. It was literally our first real fight together. It went much better than it could have gone against such an unexpected enemy. Groups of adventurers have issues with it and you did it solo. You did great so stop beating yourself down and be proud of what you did. Got it?”

    Miria’s cheeks got a bit rosy. She didn’t run away from his caring hand but enjoyed the pleasant sensation. She nodded. “Okay… and… I’m sorry…” She snuggled closer to Ast and relaxed for the first time since they woke up this day. It felt really good to just lean on him and let Ast pat her head. She pushed it more into his hand, guiding his fingers to her ears.

    Asterios smiled seeing Miria finally release all the tension. She seemed so cute and serene this way. He gladly fulfilled her wishes and scratched behind her adorable ears, making her squirm a little, but the charming smile on her lips told him that she enjoyed every second of it.

    They rested like that for fifteen minutes, until the poison in Miria’s body got completely nullified and she regained her full strength. She still had some visible wounds, but nothing as serious as Asterios, whose chest was all bloody and there were countless cuts and bites all around his body.

    When she glanced at his face, he looked to be deep in thought. It didn’t stop him from carefully brushing through her hair. Ast noticed her gaze and smiled at Miria. She blushed and quickly looked away. How could she look straight at him while leaning on his chest? And she was now aware of how it looked from his perspective, making it even more embarrassing.

    Ast chuckled. “I guess we’ve recovered enough now. Let me just try something out, okay?”

    Miria got off his chest and sat leaning against the wall again. Asterios moved in front of her with some trouble. He would feel the aftereffects of the stunt they pulled for at least a day or two. Nevertheless, he sat cross-legged in front of Miria and took a deep breath.

    “Let’s see if anything changes.”

    He closed his eyes and joined his hands between his knees, creating a triangle with his fingers. He then proceeded to make a few more weird signs and shapes with his fingers one after another and finished at the triangle again. After ten seconds, Miria could notice his spiritual energy slowly increase. Soon, Ast’s hair gradually turned white again.

    She watched as a green magical circle sprouted under her body. It was filled with Elven runes, but she wasn’t aware of that since there were no Elves in her homeland. The structure grew enough to match her size and started glowing intensely. Little motes of green light arose from it and flew upwards.

    It was not only a beautiful sight but also Miria began feeling a warm sensation enveloping her whole body. Her eyes widened seeing many cuts on her skin disappearing. She instantly understood that Ast was using some kind of healing technique on her.

    Meanwhile, after Ast closed his eyes, he dove deep into his mind and recalled one of the medium-tier healing spells that were in the Summoners’ arsenal. It was a technique developed by Elves and consisted of the master converting their spiritual energy into regenerative one and sharing it with their summon via their connection. The downside of it was that it consumed a great amount of the Summoner’s mana and no one was able to maintain it for long enough to heal more serious injuries. But, if Miria was right, he should have plenty of it.

    Asterios completed every hand sign required for its activation and spread his consciousness through his whole body. He searched for that abundant, scorching hot mana he once experienced and Miria described. He noticed some kind of a dormant source in his heart, where the main hub of spiritual circuits was located.

    His spiritual consciousness, which was travelling through his body, approached what looked like a huge, blazing orb of crimson, swirling flames. It was his first time seeing and feeling that thing. He never noticed it before and he explored his spiritual circuits regularly, at least until the day he summoned Miria.

    It became obvious to Ast that this weird thing was somehow connected to the feeling of some barrier enveloping his body being broken on the day of Miria’s summoning. He floated closer to the enormous source and placed his imaginary hand on its surface.

    At that moment, his consciousness connected to something that felt like an extension of his own body, his own spiritual circuits, like regaining something that was long lost, but still existed, just waiting, lying dormant. The familiar, fiery mana burst out of it and filled his body, but to a lesser extent and with him having much more control over it.

    Asterios retracted his consciousness and began focusing on fueling the technique with his new mana. He could feel how much of it was being consumed with each second, but it had barely any effect on the vast pool of the hot energy. After thirty more seconds, the skill stopped sucking on his reserves so he concluded that it finished.

    He opened his eyes and saw Miria looking around her body in amazement. He also took a glance and raised his brows. Pretty much all the damage on her skin and fur was reversed. He healed her almost completely and it barely consumed a bit of his previously dormant mana. He still could feel it coursing around his circuits.

    Miria noticed him returning and smiled. “Thank you, Master! This is unbelievable! Ah, and also, your hair and eyes changed when you started doing whatever you did. They are still white and red right now.”

    This confirmed Ast’s suspicions. The change in his appearance took place when he drew on that fiery spiritual energy and it coursed through his body.

    “What about now?”

    Ast tried clearing his circuits of it, pushing the mana back into the blazing core at his heart. Soon, the hot sensation subsided and he returned to his old self.

    “Wow. It turned back. Did you figure it out, Master?” Miria asked excitedly.

    “Well, at least part of it, I think. There’s still so much I don’t understand or know about this stuff. But, I’m sure it will be helpful. Let’s leave the details for later and get out of this den. Care to help me a bit? I’m still all sore from the Limit Breaker.”

    Miria naturally agreed and lifted Ast, supporting him with her own body. Before they left the cave, he taught Miria about the Bloodfang and she collected valuable resources from its remains under his guidance. They skipped all the other normal wolves since they had plenty of materials already.

    She jumped back to her realm and brought a grappling hook which they used to climb up through the hole in the ceiling, finally getting out of the cave. The sun was still up so they began searching for a good spot to make another camp before they returned to the first one. It would be wise to recover more and prepare again.
     
  18. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 17 - A Moonlit Bath
    The area they found themselves in after getting through the hole in the cave’s ceiling was your typical, small clearing in the woods. Five meters from the opening there was nothing but flat grass. The trees started just after that distance, making the forest in which they were currently in. It wasn’t possible to pinpoint their exact location from this spot so they slowly walked around, trying to find some hints.

    They confirmed the directions of the world with ease, both Asterios and Miria knew how to handle themselves in the wilds and their worlds weren’t that different in that aspect. The former remembered that they ran to the south-east when they followed the man into the trap the adventurers set so they began moving in the opposite direction, hoping to stumble onto some recognizable landmarks.

    After an hour of walking, with Miria supporting Asterios all the time, not like she found that troublesome in any way, they started hearing a sound of water flowing somewhere nearby. They approached the source and found another small clearing, just by a river. There was a small curve at the place, creating a pond with a grassy beach.

    It was a perfect spot to rest so they started setting up their new camp. Or rather, Miria did since she talked Ast into just sitting on the side while she took care of it alone. He didn’t argue for long as he was aware that his overstrained body would only get in her way. Miria brought out a tent, started a fire so they could prepare something to eat and then took out a sleeping bag. But, there was only one, the spare.

    Ast walked into the small tent as she was laying it down.

    “I should have bought two. Well, I guess you can spend the night at home. You were in this world for a long time,” he said while watching her smooth out the material.

    Miria stood up and turned around to face him. She already decided on what to do, now she just had to tell Ast without getting all red. She shook her head at him.

    “No. I will stay with you, Master. You are weakened and I’m your guardian so I obviously can’t leave you alone like this.”

    “I see. I expected nothing less. Well, I’m fine with sleeping on the ground so—”

    “I won’t allow that!” She raised her voice and locked her eyes with his. “If someone has to sleep on the ground then it should be me since I’m your familiar and you are the master. But…” Miria dropped her gaze to the ground and her tail started swishing behind her back. “I… I think it will be even safer if I… sleep close to you… just in case… of course only if you are okay with it!” she spoke the first part very quietly while almost shouting at the end.

    Asterios chuckled and stroked her head. “That’s quite the sound point there. I will be in your care then.”

    She only nodded while blushing. They came out and prepared some light meals over the fire, finally getting a decent fill since they only ate some rations Ast had on himself when they ran out of their previous camp. During the meal, they discussed the battles so that both of them could share their own thoughts about them.

    The sky started getting darker and soon the night arrived. A beautiful, crescent moon began moving through it gracefully. Finished eating, they walked closer to the little shore and gazed into the water.

    “We should wash ourselves since we have the chance. Go first, I’ll keep watch. And don’t worry, I won’t peek.” Ast smiled, took a few steps back, turned around and sat in a cross-legged position.

    Miria wanted to argue that he should be first with how much worse his clothes and body were, but that would be pointless so she quickly jumped back to her home to grab a spare change of both their sets and came back. She could naturally just take a bath at home, yet something was telling her to do it here. The water in the night looked beautiful and there was something romantic in having Ast keep guard for her.

    She took one more glance at Asterios and quickly stripped off all her dirty clothes and slowly descended into the little lake. The water was cold, but not unpleasant, it was rather refreshing. She first washed the clothes as good as she could and brought them back to the shore. Then, she began scrubbing all the dried blood off her skin and fur around her arms and legs.

    For the whole time, she kept sending occasional glances at Ast, but he didn’t seem to even think about trying to peek. She felt partially relieved, but also a bit anxious. Miria glanced down at her figure and cupped up her breasts. She was happy that they weren’t too big since thanks to that, she had no issues with her agile movements.

    But at that moment, she began having doubts that maybe her slightly toned and muscular figure with a decently sized chest just wasn’t as appealing as she thought. Other Beastfolk from her village always tried to catch her bathing in her favourite spring, but Asterios didn’t seem to have even a slight intention to turn around.

    A thought appeared in her mind as she stared at her chest upheld by her arms. What if the black fur growing over her arms and legs was something unnatural or repulsive to him? As far as she knew and saw, Humans didn’t seem to have any, besides the hair on their heads and faces. He said to her previously that he likes her and that she is beautiful, but what if it was just to not make her feel bad?

    Starting being more and more self-aware, she remembered another place that had a patch of thick hair on her body. Miria glanced a bit lower and saw it, just above her private parts. It wasn’t exactly as abundant as the fur on her arms or legs, but nevertheless, it was there, a spot of black hair in the middle of the area under her navel. Suddenly, it seemed really embarrassing to have it there.

    She looked at Ast again, wondering what would be his impression of her after he saw it. Then, she realized what she just implied and squirmed in embarrassment. One question still persisted in her mind between all those anxious thoughts about her own body. She started walking back to the shore, arriving closer to the spot where Ast was sitting. While staring at his muscular back, that single question subconsciously slipped out of her mouth.

    “Are you really not interested in my body even in the slightest?”

    After a few more steps, which were accompanied by the sloshing of water, she froze, realizing how indecent that question sounded and tried her best to cover that mistake.

    “Ah! I mean, as something new or unknown! People here have no fur on their arms or legs as I do! And you are someone who loves studying stuff linked to summoning, right? I’m pretty much a summoned beast, right?” She frantically shook her hands in front of her, getting increasingly red.

    Asterios chuckled after hearing her voice. Miria quickly covered her breasts with her arms and her girly parts with her tail since she was quite close to him, but Ast still didn’t turn around.

    “If you put it that way, then certainly, I’m all curious about many things when it comes to your body. But, do you think I’m a person who would order, or even ask a girl to strip naked so that I could thoroughly examine her body?” he asked.

    “No,” Miria answered instantly.

    “I’m glad then. Nevertheless, I’m constantly fighting the urge to turn around even right at this moment, to take even a little peek to sate my curiosity. But, before being some kind of an unknown entity, first and foremost, as I’ve mentioned before, you are a girl. A really charming and beautiful girl. And that means I can’t just nonchalantly stare at your naked body like some thug and make you feel uncomfortable or embarrassed. You barely can stand my pats so how could I fluster you even more by peeking at you?”

    Miria was blushing more and more as he was explaining his reasoning to her. She was getting warm inside from him calling her beautiful again and her tail began dancing happily. Some of her doubts disappeared, replaced by now clear impressions that Ast wasn’t repelled by her fur and that he saw her as a real girl with all the assets too, just that he was a very kind and thoughtful person.

    She took a deep breath, stepped out of the water and squeezed her tail dry. Then, she grabbed an earlier prepared towel and tightly covered her front. Taking one more glance at Ast’s back, she started walking towards the campfire.

    Asterios watched as she passed by him with her back completely exposed. He could see not only the joyfully dancing tail but also her whole figure, including Miria’s enticing, plump butt which jiggled seductively. With visibly nervous steps, she arrived at the campfire and sat down in front of it, facing away from him.

    He only broke out of the daze induced by this unexpected sight after Miria glanced at him shyly over one of her shoulders, quickly returning her eyes to the front as her tail increased the speed of its wags.

    He shook his head and chuckled. That was the first time he saw such a dazzling woman naked. He also took a deep breath to clear his mind, picked up another towel and started walking towards her after getting up.

    Miria, of course, heard him approaching and her heart started beating faster. She wasn’t sure what Ast was going to do. She began thinking that maybe she took it a little bit too far and it seemed like an invitation to him. Then, she shivered internally at how quickly her thoughts had changed from assuming that he would be repulsed to considering that he would go after her. She quickly calmed her mind with a few breaths, telling herself that there was no way Ast would do anything that could offend her without a clear sign that it was okay. But then, was her walking naked in front of him a sign?

    She started panicking again. She liked him, she was sure about that, but she definitely wasn’t ready to do that. Miria didn’t even know if they could do that. She knew only some stuff about Humans from the stories and legends. Theoretically, Princess Kaguya most likely had eloped with her Human partner from the myth, but that was never confirmed. She might have just assumed that the Princess did and they actually didn’t do these things because it was just not possible for their races.

    While Miria was lost in an internal conflict, Asterios stopped just behind her and sat down. He dropped the towel he was holding onto her head.

    “Mind if I give you a hand? It would be a little hard to dry your hair if you use both of your hands to cover yourself, right?” he spoke calmly.

    Her eyes widened and she squirmed. She was thinking of such indecent things and he only wanted to help her dry her hair. Miria felt stupid and ashamed of herself.

    “If it’s too embarrassing then I’ll just leave,” Ast asked, not hearing any response to his previous question.

    Miria quickly shook his head. “No, please do! I always struggle with it, ehehe~.”

    She giggled meekly and he started gently rubbing the towel on her head, trying his best to not hurt her ears. Miria noticed his attempts.

    “It’s fine, you can be more forceful, Master. Only the inside is delicate.”

    Following her advice, he kept using the towel while Miria enjoyed the pleasant feeling of this massage. Her tail coiled around one of Ast’s arms just as it did on the day they met. He smiled and not being able to hold his curiosity back, he softly poked it with his finger.

    Miria jumped a bit and he quickly retracted his hand. She glanced at him over her shoulder with rosy cheeks. “If you want to touch it… it’s okay… I was just surprised…”

    She moved it so that it fell into his hand and stopped moving. Asterios squeezed the fluffy strand very gently.

    “Nyaahnn…”

    It didn’t stop Miria from releasing a quiet moan while shivering a little. The delightful feeling of Ast touching her tail surprised not only him but even her, taking Miria by surprise. She quickly covered her mouth with one hand to prevent more of them escaping.

    Asterios didn’t want to embarrass Miria too much so he only stroked it a little with the tips of his fingers, enjoying the pleasant sensation, and released it from his grasp. He soon finished dealing with her hair and stood up.

    “I’ll be taking my turn then. You don’t have to keep looking the other way, but I guess you already know that.”

    Without waiting for a reply, Ast walked to the edge of the grass and hastily got rid of his dirty clothes and jumped straight into the water. Miria planned on returning the favour and not peeking, but she wasn’t able to restrain herself as good as he did and glanced over her shoulder quite quickly after she heard the splash.

    And just at that moment, Asterios was emerging from under the water’s surface, wiping his hair to the back to get rid of most of the droplets. The sight of his handsome figure basked in the moonlight captivated her. Fortunately, the small pond was deep enough for water to reach slightly above his waist at the spot where he stood so she didn’t see anything too embarrassing.

    She didn’t notice for how long she was staring at him until Ast began walking back towards the land. She quickly turned around, blushing furiously. He covered his waist with one towel and sat to her side by the campfire, beginning to wipe his body with another one. She kept stealing shy glances at his chest while also trying to somehow wipe herself without dropping the towel.

    Asterios moved to the tent first so that Miria could finally dress up. He was sure she wouldn’t be able to do so if they stayed like that. He also put on a fresh set of clothes while his gear was hung to dry. Miria soon joined him in the tent and they looked at each other and then at the sleeping bag. She was averting her gaze while not saying anything.

    He sighed and slid himself in, holding it open with one hand and gesturing at her with the other. Slightly hesitant, Miria slowly joined Asterios. She tried to move as far from him as the material allowed while lying on the side and also facing him. She kept looking down to not match his eyes by accident.

    Ast could clearly see how tense she became and sighed again. He then put his arm over her and placed his hand on Miria’s back, pulling her close to him, pretty much making her lean on his chest. She was surprised by that sudden movement but didn’t run away.

    “Relax. I’m not going to eat you. You won’t be able to sleep if you keep straining your muscles like that. Just stop worrying over everything and let yourself be comfortable.”

    He spoke and started brushing through her hair as he did back in the cave. Miria decided to try to listen to him and took a few deep breaths, quickly loosening her muscles up. She let the pleasant warmth lead her and she pulled herself closer to Ast’s chest, resting her forehead against his collarbone and enveloping his torso with her arms. Miria felt great with his fingers gently scratching behind her ears while she snuggled her face into his body. She didn’t even notice when she dozed off.

    Asterios smiled seeing her calm down and almost instantly fall asleep. He soon followed after her.
     
  19. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 18 - Return
    Miria was the first one to wake up when the morning came. She found herself in the same position she last remembered, which was in Ast’s embrace, with them both lying on their sides. She glanced upwards to see if he was still sleeping and it seemed so. Asterios’s sleeping face caused her to smile. It looked so serene and to some extent really handsome. His breath tickled her ears with each movement of his lungs, making them twitch in response.

    She dropped her gaze back to his chest and stroked it over the material. She recalled the warm feeling from before she fell asleep and it lured her to snuggle to Ast’s body again. Miria started rubbing her face into it more and more, taking a few good whiffs of him. His natural scent was very pleasant and relaxing, inviting her to press her cheeks and forehead against Ast even more.

    After a few moments, she realized what she was doing and froze while blushing fervently. She hadn’t done such things to a man since the day she turned twelve. Before that, she always loved to jump at her father to snuggle to his chest and rub her face into it just like she did just now. She already forgot how good it felt, but it was too embarrassing for a grown-up girl to get all snuggly with her parents.

    A sudden scratching behind her ear made Miria shiver in surprise. She glanced up and her eyes met with Ast’s. Her actions must have woken him up. Her eyes quivered in embarrassment when he smiled knowingly. She knew he saw and felt her do it.

    “Having fun?” he spoke.

    Miria quickly hid her face back into his chest, making Asterios chuckle. He patted her head for a little longer and raised them both to a sitting position. She didn’t want to show him her completely red cheeks so she stayed in a hug, not knowing what to do.

    “You literally walked naked in front of me yesterday and now you are getting all shy from this?” He laughed again.

    “It’s different… I wasn’t rubbing my face into you like some weirdo yesterday…”

    “Well, rather than weird, it looked kinda cute to me. And you seemed quite happy. If something makes you happy, then you should do it more.” He kept stroking her head as he talked.

    Miria’s ears twitched. She mustered all her courage and slowly backed away so that they could properly face each other. She still had to avert her gaze from time to time.

    “But… isn’t that childish? I’m not a little girl anymore…”

    “So, you are saying that if I turn old enough then I can’t keep doing things I enjoy? Don’t let thoughts like that limit who you really are and what you like doing. Do I have to stop giving my mother a kiss on the cheek just because I’ve reached a certain age? Why? Because the majority of people view that as embarrassing? So I should be exactly like them and stop showing my mom how much I love her? Do not let strangers dictate you what is fun and what is not. It’s your life. Your own path to happiness. It can be rough at times, but there’s nothing better than following your dreams even if you have to walk upstream.”

    He brushed through her hair while speaking and moved his hand to Miria’s cheek, just to pinch it gently and pull a bit as he spoke the last part. Another worry slowly disappeared from her heart. She felt that those words were true to what he really believed in and she could confirm it from the short time they spent together.

    Asterios stood up and stretched. “If we go by that logic, I guess that as a grown-up man I should never admit that it felt rather nice and pleasant to me, making me want to not stop you so that I can experience more of it, right?”

    He chuckled and left the wide-eyed Miria with her quickly swishing tail alone in the tent. She smiled to herself and calmed down with a few deep breaths. She decided to start trying to be more open and less shy about her actions. Besides, she was his contracted familiar, it was only natural for her to be close with her master. Yes, it was normal. They already hugged a few times and even kissed once in the past. What are some snuggles compared to that?

    After eating a light breakfast together and tidying up the camp, they began heading the same direction as yesterday. Miria turned into her panther form and they somehow managed to find their way to their old encampment thanks to her keen sense of smell.

    It was utterly destroyed. The group must have tried to make it look like it was attacked by wolves since the tent was shredded with cuts similar to their claws. Ast and Miria didn’t leave any important valuables here as most of the things were stored in Miria’s house, being brought out when they needed them, so the losses weren’t that great. The fact that they destroyed their property persisted though.

    Before returning, the duo finished picking up the few Moontail Grass pieces they were lacking. It took them an hour to find all. They stumbled on a few wolves, but Miria didn’t give them even a chance to think about attacking them, lunging at one on sight and tearing its throat into bits with her impressive jaws. The rest ran away after sensing a predator much more powerful than them.

    With both of the tasks finished, they prepared to leave. Miria did a check around the area but didn’t find the adventurer’s group in their close proximity. The scent she noticed led back the way they came from on the first day so they concluded that those people already went back.

    Asterios stroked Miria’s fur as they were going to depart.

    “How do you feel? It’s pretty much the third day you are spending in my realm,” he asked.

    ~No different than usual, Master. Is that not normal?~

    He pondered and checked his spiritual circuits. They also were barely strained. It was utterly weird, like there was almost no effect on them from Miria spending so much time by his side.

    “It wasn’t in the past. Now, I’m not sure what to think. Too many illogical things are happening around us recently. In any case, let me know if anything changes.”

    Ast decided to keep checking on them both from time to time and leave the weird issue for later. They covered the distance in the same time as they did before, taking only a few hours. Asterios instructed Miria to not hide into her realm during their return. The guards naturally stopped them, but after confirming Ast’s connection with the Guild, they let them in.

    He jumped off her and they walked through the streets, side by side. It would create too much chaos if an unseen yet beast of this size was dashing around. Naturally, some curious gazes followed, but they would need to start getting used to them if Ast wanted to not hide Miria, and perhaps his other future summons, completely from the world. And the fact that she could stay this long without putting a strain on him did support that idea.

    They arrived in front of the guild and Asterios pushed the door open. It was as lively as usual. Some people turned around to check on him when they noticed the huge black panther, but it wasn’t like the whole hall suddenly turned silent, which was good.

    Asterios walked closer to the counters with Miria by his side and began heading towards Ellie’s spot. When they came closer, they saw a familiar figure leaning over the wooden structure and acting all flirty with the receptionist. Miria released a quiet growl, but Ast quickly patted her head to calm her down.

    ~Not yet. We’ll get him in time,~ he sent her a message while brushing his fingers through her fur.

    The man was so focused on courting the visibly annoyed girl that he hadn’t noticed him approaching. Ast also leaned on the counter and spoke to the adventurer.

    “So, Ellie is your girl. I’ll keep that in mind.”

    The man jerked to the side, shocked by Ast’s voice, but managed to not act too suspiciously, at least to all the bystanders. Ellie frowned at Asterios, not understanding why he would say that. She decided to ask about that later.

    “Welcome back, Ast! That was quite fast. Did you perhaps complete one of the tasks?” she asked with a smile.

    “Actually, we are done with both.”

    “Really? That’s amazing! You must have been quite lucky back there then!” Ellie enthusiastically started preparing some documents.

    “I guess so. But, I wouldn’t be able to get so many wolves this fast if not for your boyfriend’s help,” he smiled and made a side glance at the examiner.

    Ellie crossed her arms over her chest and pouted. “What’s with you? When did I ever say that we are together? And what do you mean by that? Rhode didn’t join that quest, right?” She moved her gaze onto the adventurer, who was slowly starting sweating more and more.

    “Oh? I remember pretty clearly how he told me that I shouldn’t have embarrassed him in front of his girl as he was detonating the entrance to the wolves den behind my back.” Asterios chuckled, acting as if that was a funny thing.

    Her eyes instantly went wide. “What?! Rhode?”

    “That’s slander! As you have said yourself, I haven’t picked up that quest so why would I be there? I have no idea what he is talking about!”

    The guy switched into the victim role.

    “Oh, really?” Ast glanced at him.

    “Yes, really! You can ask my guys, I was with them the whole time!”

    While Ellie didn’t know what to say, Ast turned to her.

    “Say, if I were to kill a guild employee, would that thing I have with me be able to earn me a pardon?”

    He conveyed his question with a calm and collected tone, but Ellie got goosebumps from the coldness and seriousness in Ast’s eyes.

    “What?! You can’t kill someone just like—”

    Asterios snapped his fingers and Miria jumped at Rhode with a loud growl, pinning him to the ground. She positioned her face just in front of his and kept growling ferociously while exposing her sharp teeth. Some people started noticing that something is happening by the counter and began gathering around.

    “I wasn’t asking you, but the pretty lady right here.” Ast glared at him and turned back to Ellie. “So, the answer?”

    “Ummm…” She moved her eyes between Ast and Rhode, trying to figure out words that wouldn’t escalate the situation more. “That would depend… normally, it wouldn’t, but if there was a sound reason behind the action, then… maybe… the Guildmaster might listen...”

    “Hey, hey! What the hell are you talking about there?! I’m being attacked here!”

    Miria opened her jaws in order to silence the man a bit, but Ast sent her a mental message to not wound him. Contradictory to what he was saying, he wasn’t planning on murdering someone in the middle of the guildhall.

    “What is going on here?” A female voice arrived from behind the crowd and the people soon created a path for its owner.

    Suanori, who noticed Ast coming to the guild through her window and walked to the main hall to observe him from the side, now stepped closer and stopped in front of the unusual scene. She frowned at the man pinned to the ground by the huge cat and then glanced at Ast, who seemed to be nonchalantly leaning over the counter.

    “Guildmaster! Save me! This kid has gone mad! He met some bandits and thinks that I tried to kill him!” The man quickly turned to the Elf woman and begged for help.

    She raised one of her brows at the boy.

    “I don’t think. I’ve seen it. Do I have to swear on that thing to make people believe me?” He looked back at the Guildmaster confidently.

    She glanced at Ellie but that only shook her head, signalling that she didn’t know anything for sure yet. To avoid causing even more chaos, she decided to get to the bottom of this in a less busy area.

    “I would like to listen to both of the sides first. Ellie, Rhode, Asterios, follow me to my conference room. Everyone else, disperse. End of the show.”

    Asterios asked Miria to release the man and they all walked behind the Guildmaster to the mentioned chamber. They sat around a coffee table and Suanori listened to the respective versions of the events. Ast waited calmly while Rhode was speaking, but the latter couldn’t stop himself from accusing the former of lying when he was talking.

    “He is definitely trying to frame me! He is targeting me from the moment he stepped his foot in our guild and Ellie can confirm that!” The man was shouting while gesturing angrily.

    “That’s enough Rhode, I’ve heard both of you. I don’t think he has any reason to go after you. Ellie?” Suanori silenced the man and glanced at the receptionist.

    “I think so too.”

    “What? Are you going to believe some low rank instead of a veteran guild employee? I have people who can vouch for me! I didn’t leave the city in the last week! He has no one to confirm his lies!”

    Asterios was just sitting on the opposite side and scratching Miria’s head, who was lying on the whole sofa and resting it on his lap while purring affectionately. The sight of that calmness was beginning to tick Rhode off.

    Suanori rubbed her temples. “Certainly, that does work in your favour, but it doesn’t mean that we can invalidate his points just because you have someone to back you up and he is alone.”

    “I’m not alone.” Ast gave her a lazy glance.

    “What? Do you perhaps think that your fucking, overgrown cat counts?” Miria released a low growl in response to the man's hostility but stopped under Ast’s caresses. “Nice joke, idiot. It can’t even speak, hahaha!”

    A black mist started enveloping Miria’s body and she began morphing into the humanoid form while obstructed by the swirling smoke. Everyone in the room stared wide-eyed at the sudden spectacle. A moment later, in the place of a huge, black panther lying on Ast’s lap, a beautiful, black-haired girl in dark crimson leather armour appeared, taking everyone completely off-guard.

    Asterios stopped brushing his fingers through her now Human-like hair and let Miria raise herself to a sitting position. She didn’t display even a hint of embarrassment, glaring intently at the man who tried to murder her master. Ellie covered her mouth which had opened involuntarily from shock and Sunaori’s eyes widened to the brim after witnessing the unbelievable change. They all stared confusedly at the twitching ears on top of Miria’s head and the slowly moving tail behind her back.

    Ast leaned back on the sofa and spread his arms wide behind the backrest.

    “Now she can.”
     
  20. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 19 - The Trial
    Silence filled the room after the transformation took place. Everyone was staring at Miria, who was focusing her attention on one man on the opposite side of the table. She was showing the coldest expression Ast had ever seen on her face, but it wasn’t like they were together for that long. It just felt quite surprising to see her assume such a mood after experiencing a lot of her full of energy, partially shy, very gingerly behaviour.

    Asterios discreetly patted Miria on the back, bringing her from being deep in thought back to reality. She turned to the elf woman and spoke with a soft but still slightly cold tone.

    “Greetings Guildmaster, my name is Miria and I’m Master’s contracted familiar. Do I have to recount everything again or is it enough for me to just confirm my Master’s words since I’ve been by his side this whole time?”

    Suanori was still in a daze from what they witnessed. It didn’t feel like shapeshifting magic, not with the mysterious, black mist surrounding the girl during transformation. And also, it was usually people who shapeshifted into beasts, not the other way.

    Meanwhile, she just watched as a black panther turned into a woman. Even if you would somehow manage to create a humanoid form for a beast, the lack of intelligence or just the pure experience in that body would prove difficult for them to move, not even mentioning the ability to speak a language properly.

    This could explain the dense spiritual energy she felt around the beast the other day. There was more to it than met the eye as she thought. Rather than a beast, she seemed more like a person, but the unusual ears and tail were contradicting that statement a bit.

    The Guildmaster cleared her throat, but Rhode shouted out before she could reply.

    “What the fuck?! Summoners can’t contract people! What the hell are you trying to pull off?” He turned to Suanori. “Guildmaster, they are definitely scheming against me together! She must be a shapeshifting magic user posing as that loser’s familiar!”

    Miria furrowed her brows and turned to the man again. “I’m not!”

    “Calm down, Rhode. She definitely isn’t a shifter,” the Guildmaster answered.

    Suanori knew well that a magician returning from their shapeshifting spell comes out pretty much naked since all the clothes fall off of them during the initial transformation. And Miria appeared in front of them in full gear, even with swords behind her waist.

    “Besides, why would one try to act like a tamed beast in the first place? That would drain their mana at an enormous rate. Even the best potions wouldn’t be able to keep up and they would quickly end up with the overuse sickness,” she continued.

    “I don’t know! Maybe he is one of those freaks who fancy some animal ass and she is into getting fu—”

    “You bastard! Master is not—”

    Miria began losing it and started standing up but Ast grabbed her by the wrist and shook his head. He asked her mentally to let the man run his mouth as much as he wanted. As long as they didn't make the first move, they would have the upper hand.

    She wasn’t exactly happy about the thought of having to listen to that jerk’s rude remarks any longer, but Miria had already decided to trust Ast more from now on. She emitted a low growl, which surprised even Asterios since he didn’t think she could do that in this form, and sat down while staring daggers at the adventurer. Her body language gave off a feeling that she would jump at him at any given moment.

    “Everybody, please, let’s calm down a bit. And Rhode, tone down the insults. Now, Miria, could you please prove that you are his familiar?” the Guildmaster asked.

    Miria glanced back at Ast with an uncertain gaze. She had no idea how to show them their connection. She didn’t know of any means to do that besides just words.

    Ast smiled at her. ~I can take care of that. Do you mind if I touch your forehead?~

    ~Of course not, Master,~ she replied instantly and turned her whole body to the side for him.

    Asterios first transferred some mana into the fingers of his right hand and drew a circular sigil, a very simple one, with just a few brushes. It disappeared with dark crimson particles after he tapped the glowing rune.

    Then, he took off the black, leather glove covering the hand he used and showed the back of it to everyone. It was decorated with a crimson red symbol too. This one though was in the shape of a heart lying on fairy-like wings and with a crown above its top.

    This was his Summoner’s Brand. It manifested itself during the very first successful contract of an aspiring magician and no one had any control over how it looked. Some people mocked Ast for his being all girly and cutesy, but he never paid any attention to them. It was only beautiful in his eyes. Now, even more, after it turned into a dark crimson colour.

    Confirming that everyone had a chance to take a look, he moved his hand towards Miria’s head and plopped it onto her hair. He brushed his thumb over her forehead while also stroking his fingers through the fluffy, black strands.

    A moment later, an identical symbol manifested itself above the girl's eyes after Ast’s caresses and he pulled back his hand. “This should do, right? You can’t fake the mark. And I’m pretty sure someone of Guildmaster’s calibre would instantly see through minor illusions from this close.”

    The glowing, dark crimson shape had something enchanting to it, capturing the attention of anyone who looked at it. The feeling was very faint and unintrusive but persisted for the whole time the Guildmaster stared at the two symbols. She shook her head to clear her mind.

    “Yes, this is enough. Well then, do you want to add something to the story, Miria?”

    “Everything that Master said was true and already very detailed. I can vouch for his every word. We were lured into a cave and trapped inside by this man and his accomplices. We somehow managed to push through around thirty wolves and a Bloodfang, finding—”

    “A Bloodfang?!” Ellie shouted in shock, joining the conversation for the first time.

    “Ah…”

    Miria realized that Ast didn’t specify what kind of beast they fought in the cave and she might have spoiled his plans, but he just nodded that it was fine. He wanted to mention it after getting done with the adventurer, but it wasn’t any worse if they learned about it earlier.

    “See?! She must be lying! There’s no way a fresh newbie would survive a Bloodfang! No matter if his overfed cat can also turn into a person! C and even some B-ranks have problems with them without proper team composition and management and those two even fought tens of wolves at the same time!” Rhode kept catching onto every possible little fact which could save his ass.

    “I’m not lying! You are!” Miria responded.

    “You are his bitch! Of course, you will go with anything he says! Should have chosen a better lie than this!”

    “Silence!”

    The Guildmaster raised her voice and many wooden tendrils sprouted from the ground, quickly restraining the adventurer, tying him to the sofa and also coiling around his mouth to completely shut him up. Nature magic was one of the strongest schools in Suanori’s repertoire. And quite a useful one for crowd control. She sent Rhode a disgusted glare, getting enough of his baseless insults.

    She turned back to the duo. “I’m not accusing you of altering the truth, but he has a point there. You do seem strong, Miria, but judging by your equipment, it would be almost impossible to deal with a Bloodfang while fending off its small army.”

    “I know! We barely made it and that’s only because of Master’s efforts. My lack of focus almost killed both of us…” Her ears dropped and she lowered her gaze, visibly feeling guilty again.

    Asterios quickly moved closer to the panthergirl and started gently scratching her head. “We’ve already talked about this. And it was you who ripped that oversized wolf into shreds in the end.”

    Still feeling a bit down, she let herself be cheered up a bit by his affectionate pats. They always made her feel warm and pleasant. She shouldn’t sulk about her past mistakes and as Ast told her before, focus on improving.

    He slipped his hand into his spatial pouch and grabbed the canines of the Bloodfang, throwing them onto the table between everyone. “Good enough?”

    Ellie and Suanori picked one each and examined them. The former spoke. “They do seem to be of the correct size, but with just that—”

    “Miria.” Ast glanced at his partner and that didn’t need any more instructions.

    She opened a crimson portal near their sofa and disappeared in it. The women looked at the shimmering, dark gate curiously, being aware of its purpose. A moment later, something flew out of it and landed on the lap of the adventurer. He started fervently wriggling in his restraints and muffled screams could be heard from him.

    Everyone besides Ast gasped after noticing that the object was in fact a decapitated head of nothing else than a Bloodfang. Miria stepped back into the room through the portal and it closed itself by descending into the ground. She sat on Ast’s side again.

    There was no need to investigate any further. The girls knew for sure that it wasn’t a fake. They really had downed a Bloodfang with just two people. Ellie’s eyes suddenly widened and she turned to Asterios with a fearful expression.

    “Wait! Then this was the rumoured alpha?!”

    “Most likely. It’s quite fortunate that no one tried subjugating it based on the given information or we would have had plenty of casualties,” Ast answered.

    “But why wasn’t it reported as one?”

    “You only told me that there were rumours about an alpha, so I guess some hunters found big pawprints and assumed it’s one. No one might have seen the real thing.”

    “If so, then we are really lucky you have dealt with it before anyone else stumbled on the beast,” the Guildmaster joined.

    “BARELY dealt with it. I’ll still feel stiff in all my joints for at least a day more. Nevertheless, we are discussing a different case here. Are we going to end that charade or should I finally let Miria do what she is dreaming of since the moment that idiot collapsed the cave behind our backs?”

    Rhode started wriggling even more and panicky tried to speak with his mouth sealed by the vines. A pinkish flower sprouted from one near his face and puffed a small amount of pollen of the same colour. The adventurer instantly lost consciousness.

    “It was pretty clear who was putting up an act for some time already. I promise you that we’ll deal with him appropriately. Attempted murder is no joke. I hope you don’t mind leaving that in our hands.” Suanori stood up and firmly lowered her head towards the duo. “As the Guildmaster, I sincerely apologize for allowing such a thing to be done to you by someone from our ranks. I have no excuses for letting this happen and not noticing that something was wrong with Rhode much earlier, besides his usual, rude attitude. I can promise you that I will personally investigate this further to uncover who helped in hiding all the information.”

    “There’s no need to apologize so deeply, I understand. Sometimes people like him appear inside big organizations. I’m fine letting you handle the case. I only hope that there weren’t any mo—” Asterios stopped for a moment and glanced at the charming receptionist. “Ellie, were there any rookie adventurers who perhaps tried to get closer to you in the past?”

    She blushed a little and was going to ask where that question came from, but just before doing so, she recalled Ast calling him Rhode’s girlfriend and she instantly realized the real reason behind it. “There… were… some...” She answered, with her eyes losing sight of reality like she was trying to remember a lot of things.

    “Did any of them suddenly disappear? Not coming back to the guild after taking on a quest or something?”

    Her silence and a very sad gaze were enough of an answer.

    “Son of a bitch!” Even the usually calm Guildmaster couldn’t stop herself from cursing the man. She rubbed her temples and sighed heavily. “How did no one ever notice that?”

    Asterios sighed too. “People come, people go. It’s not like advisors are obliged to run looking after their adventurers when they stop showing up from one point.” He stood up, passed by Miria and sat close to the dejected girl. “Ellie, don’t blame yourself over this. No one would normally keep attention to such details.”

    “But…”

    He subconsciously began ruffling through her hair as he did to Miria when she felt sad or down. The frequent pats started being a natural reaction to him. “No buts. You already have a quite sexy one, there’s no need for more.”

    Ast’s unexpected joke took her by surprise and Ellie snickered, quickly taming that little laugh down. She understood that he only wanted to cheer her up by suddenly acting completely different than his usual self, but she still didn’t feel right to laugh at a moment like this.

    “Thanks… I’ll be fine, I promise. I just need some time to get over this.” She smiled gloomily at him.

    “Good. You better do. If the next time I come to you here and see you acting like a mourning widow, I’ll order Miria to lick you all over until you can’t take it anymore.”

    Miria shifted into her panther form and walked to Ellie from the side. She gave her hand a little lick, showing that she would definitely go with that order without any objections.

    “You should take a break. Don’t come to the guild for a day or two. I know how uncomfortable it could feel to have to forcefully act all fine in front of crowds of people.” Suanori joined.

    “I will. Thank you, everyone.”

    They left getting into the details about the Bloodfang and submitting Ast’s tasks for later and Suanori went with the restrained man while Asterios and Miria began escorting Ellie back to her home. They gave the saddened girl a slow ride on the panthergirl’s back on the way to her house.

    She did look happy at the moment, but Ast knew she was just putting up a front, so he didn’t impose on Ellie any more after they dropped her in front of the door to her house. She needed some time alone to get over the unexpected, painful revelation. Even if she didn’t have any feelings for any of the guys that might have lost their lives to the man’s schemes, those still were people she knew to some extent.

    Ast and Miria also rode home and he ordered his partner to finally go back to her realm for a bit longer to rest properly and meet up with family and friends. Miria asked him to call for her when he would have some time so that they could talk about the future.

    After some ear scratches, Ast promised Miria to do so soon and let her return to her realm. He could guess what she had to say and most likely also ask, but it would be better to do it after they both properly rested and got rid of all the stress and tension. It would also give Miria time to collect her thoughts properly.

    Both him and Miria understood that they had to get to know each other much better before taking up another commission. They didn’t want a repeat of the recent situation. The short training they did together, which shouldn’t even be called that, was nowhere enough to prepare them for the unexpected. Your usual mobs, monsters or beasts didn’t pose a threat to Miria, but you never know when a stronger foe could appear.

    He also had the new, weird power inside him to investigate. From what he saw that day in the cave, it could make a real difference if he managed to control it properly.