Chapter 20 - Getting Better Together Spoiler: Chapter Asterios spent the rest of the day resting and interacting with his mother. Fortunately, he didn’t return in tattered clothes like the last time so he avoided getting her all worried. He mentioned that they had some trouble on their quest, but they managed to overcome the issue together. On the next day, Ast searched his whole room and the attic of his house in pursuit of his old notes and books about exercising one’s spiritual circuits and mana reserves. He refreshed his memory about a few basic exercises and activities that let him investigate his potential deeper and immediately started focusing on them. With the latter, he was finally able to confirm what previously was mostly just a feeling and assumption. His spiritual circuits somehow increased in quality. Or rather, it looked more like they were cleared of all the impurities, now that he could extend his spiritual sense to their very ends. It felt weird since he never heard about anything like that before. Whatever a Summoner was born with, it was pretty much all he could work with for the rest of their life, perhaps being able to only strengthen their circuits to some extent, depending on the contracted beasts. Yet, he was sure his circuits weren’t strengthened but got like… cleansed from something. Compared to what he was used to for his whole life, this felt like they had almost boundless capacity, limited only by his potential and mana reserves. And those, even without him reaching for the hidden energy, also increased in volume. If he imagined his previous energy pool as a small pond, then the new one was closer to a quite sizable lake. He also dived deeper to study the weird energy in his heart. He couldn’t even pinpoint the size of it and it was so potent, ferocious, high quality that even the minuscule amount would be comparable to a lot of his usual mana. But what confused him the most, was the unexplainable feeling that it was always there. With him since birth. Expanding bit by bit. Why was it there? How did it come to be? Why did it manifest only now? Did someone implant him with it? Was it somehow linked to his real parents? There were many questions swirling in Ast’s head, but he felt like the last one wouldn’t be right. He didn’t believe that a kid of some random villagers would have been born with such power and if he had access to such vast spiritual energy, then his parents definitely wouldn’t just die to a random bandit’s raid. As far as he knew, no one survived that night, besides him, found under a pile of rubble by Kindra. Asterios spent that and the next day on exercising his control over both his old but improved mana and the scorching hot energy. Whenever he drew on it, his eyes and hair changed. It felt almost mystical to him. After those two days, he reached an understanding allowing him to sustain a stable connection with his ‘core’, which pretty much didn’t even strain his circuits, acting more as a temporary bridge prepared in case of emergency. The only downside was his red eyes and white hair, but Asterios actually figured a way where they could be helpful. Maybe not by much, but it still altered his appearance. He could possibly pose as two different people when he would be trying to shove some of the attention on his other persona. On the third day after returning home, he paid a visit to the guild where Ellie was already back at her post. He submitted his quests and also spent some time talking with Guildmaster Suanori about the Bloodfang and the details behind their encounter. Since it would be suspicious for an E-rank to deal with it alone, they agreed on keeping the matter between themselves, even though Ellie insisted on Asterios taking the credit for it. Naturally, he received proper compensation for the subjugation. With a bit of money on hand, Asterios refilled his stock of materials and consumables he used recently and also purchased some more ingredients which would be required if he wanted to try his hand at more advanced summoning techniques. Before trying another summoning though, he wanted to focus on working on the abilities that would support him and Miria. Later that evening, when he was going through some notes and calculations, Ast felt Miria’s intention to come to his world. He naturally encouraged her to do so and soon the panthergirl walked out from the dark portal. He stood up, walked to the bed, comfortably seated himself on it and patted it on his side invitingly. Since the moment she arrived, Miria had quite a serious expression. Not the seriously serious, just much less timid and joyful as usual. Instead of sitting on his side, she slowly walked closer and sat on her knees in front of him so that she had to look up and he had to glance down. Before Ast could say anything, she spoke first. “I’ve spent some time thinking about everything and also practising back at home. In the cave, I have noticed that I wasn’t able to properly exert all my strength. I didn’t see that earlier because we haven’t met any strong opponents, but I’m clearly not able to perform as good as I can back at home. Yet, while I was in Master’s body, I felt like I could easily surpass my current limits. I’m certain that it’s linked to Master’s spiritual energy and our connection. And that’s why I will do anything that’s necessary to deepen our bond as a Summoner and contracted familiar so that we both can grow stronger and I could protect Master better.” He could notice a faint blush on Miria’s face, but she was clearly doing her best to look serious and composed and Asterios could feel her determination and eagerness to get stronger through their link. “I see. It would be rude of me to say something like ‘you don’t need to force yourself to go so far’, so I will just agree. You can rest assured though, I would never make you do anything against your own will.” A little smile broke through her act. “I’m aware of that, Master, and that’s why I have no more issues with following your instructions. You said before that trust is important and I know that you already trust me completely, so it’s leaving just me to also reciprocate that faith now. I’ve also resolved myself to be as open with my mind towards you as you were towards me so that we can practise the deepened connection since I believe it would be a huge advantage.” “I’m glad to hear that. Just remember, don’t try to rush things, one step at a time. For starters, you should get up from the floor and sit on my side like a person. Are you a slave or my proud, contracted familiar?” Miria’s tail began dancing happily and she followed his request, taking a seat by his side and smiling beautifully. Asterios placed a hand on her head and began ruffling through her hair. She didn’t try to run away anymore, deciding to embrace the pleasant feeling with an even wider smile. After Asterios stopped, they agreed that the next best step would be to learn more about each other since knowledge about your partner’s preferences, abilities, strengths and weaknesses in detail was quite crucial. They spent most of the night lying on Ast’s bed and talking to each other. Both of them had a lot of fun just chatting about their lives and themselves. Miria, a bit reluctantly, returned to her realm after it started getting really late, or rather really early. During the next week, they focused on Asterios. He went through a lot of techniques he learned about in the past but couldn’t ever even begin to cast before. He spent a lot of time on revising the theory, introducing some of his own ideas for changes and then practising the real thing. Naturally, Miria accompanied him for the whole time, during both theory and practice, so that she could understand better what Ast would be using to support her. It took a lot of effort for him to perfect many new techniques, but with Ast’s incredible knowledge, he was able to quickly master a lot of them. Miria was amazed by seeing how fast he worked. In case of any problem or issue coming up, Ast would instantly dive back into theory and find mistakes, either in his own notes or in the books which could be incompatible with his new, robust spiritual energy, and develop his own solutions. She couldn’t comprehend even a bit of what was happening when he was fervently writing thousands of sigils. The week after that one, they switched attention to Miria. She showed Ast pretty much everything she could do, starting from all the basic movements with and without her weapons, through her panther form, ending at all the abilities she could perform and had any knowledge about. She was a truly powerful and experienced warrior. Asterios judged the current Miria, without his support, to be around the level of a B-rank adventurer. Perhaps even an early A-rank. They spent a lot of time with Asterios memorizing everything and then coming up with ways to utilize all they had in their arsenal at that time. They both trained extensively in their respective fields and also together in various combinations and scenarios, growing much closer to each other during these two weeks. Miria still kept her true, a little shy and cheerful attitude, but she started being more fond of Asterios after learning more about him and spending time together. She began coming to him for some pats and scratches by herself after succeeding in something or managing to perfectly execute some move they were practising. The distance between the two slowly decreased. A few days after the two weeks had passed, they met at their usual training spot in the forest again. They stood in front of the final version of the practice field they were using this whole time. Asterios glanced at Miria by his side and connected to his core, turning his hair white and eyes red. “Ready?” Miria lowered her posture and moved her hands just above her shortswords behind her back, prepared to draw them at any given moment. “Go!” After Ast shouted she launched herself forwards. Before she finished making her second step, Asterios was already completing his first sigil and slapped it quickly onto one of his gloves, attaching it to a magic circle. The gloves though, got a huge upgrade. Previously, each had one big circuit on them, which was pretty much all Asterios could use at once, but now, with his newfound energy and capacity, he managed to improve them by adding five smaller circles on the knuckles area of each hand, ending up with 12 usable rune slots. Instantly after merging the sigil with one of the circles, he snapped his fingers and Miria disappeared from his vision with a loud thump. She materialized in front of a tree with a hanging target. In that short moment, Asterios swiftly finished another mark and crushed it in his hand. Miria slashed the piece of wood with ease. But it wasn’t the only thing that suffered damage. The whole tree got cut in half. And three more behind it. Ast’s second ability strengthened her already strong mana coating and created something similar to the longsword shape she used in the cave, sending a wave of force with her slice. According to the simulation, two enemies were supposed to show up on Ast’s back now so Miria shifted her posture and disappeared with a thump again. Asterios darted forward and extended his right arm horizontally to the side. The panthergirl appeared in front of him with a gust of wind and grabbed his hand, using it to change her direction and launch herself 90 degrees to her right behind his back. She flew at another target while spinning in the air with her shortswords in front of her. While she pierced the opponent, Asterios rolled on the ground from the centrifugal force created by their sudden clash as they headed in the opposite ways. He jumped to his feet while still tumbling, unsheathed his dagger in the air, and shoved the blade into another target while getting thrown towards it. The next part was about a sudden swarm of enemies. After pulling out his knife from the wooden board, he dashed to the middle of the clearing, sending Miria a clear intention of their next move. He extended his left arm behind his back and Miria soon appeared to the side of him again, in full sprint. She made a pirouette and as she was passing by, Ast’s hand grazed her belly, drawing a sigil in a fraction of a second, using all fingers at once without even looking. She shot forwards and disappeared. Asterios watched as countless targets, along with their trees, began falling down right and left, second after second. Loud thumps of Miria's jumps accompanied the sound of the creaking wood. She was nowhere to be seen, not even during the moments she had to slow down to take the lunges. He pushed his hands forward and used both of them to draw a big, circular sigil. After completing it, he brought a green crystal from his pouch and crushed it in his fist, blowing the created dust at the magic circle after. Activating it, Ast closed his eyes and soon felt another layer of connection with Miria. He opened his eyes again. With his now sharpened senses, he was able to notice a visible shimmering of air in the spots where Miria stopped for a fraction of a second to launch herself at another target. She was enveloped in Blur, a sigil which covered the user in a coating of mana, refracting the incoming light, making her almost invisible to the naked eye. Only seasoned adventurers were able to barely see the diffusion in the air. Or those possessing a special sight or ability to increase it. Paired with his Haste, Miria was like a barely noticeable smudge, teleporting from point to point and obliterating whole trees with her boosted strikes. He was upholding three sigils and one sensory technique at once. Asterios was sending Miria directions of her next targets through her connection, which was now slightly deepened for the duration of the battle. They didn’t manage to achieve the level of full mind sharing in less than two weeks of training, but they were getting decent with sending each other clear intentions and streams of images pretty much live. Finishing the last marked target, Miria appeared in front of Asterios with her back to him, disabling the Blur sigil which she was able to control thanks to it being implanted into her spiritual circuits by her master, and took a lowered, defensive stance while breathing heavily. Ast looked around at all the carnage they created together. “End!” he shouted. Miria looked at him over her shoulder with a tense gaze. Asterios smiled widely. “Perfect.” She dropped her arms and sighed, getting rid of the accumulated tension. Making a step backwards she rested her back on Ast’s chest. He caught her into his arms and they looked at each other, both smiling and panting. Miria closed her eyes and rubbed the back of her head against his collarbone while he scratched behind her ears. Her tail coiled around Ast’s waist. “Haaaaah… so this is how a Summoner and their familiar fight…” she said while enjoying his pats and still catching her breath. “I’m pretty sure most of them can’t uphold four techniques at once on their beasts though, hahaha.” Miria opened her eyes and glanced upwards to meet his gaze. Asterios noticed it and smiled. In these past two weeks, he learned how much she liked his glowing red eyes. Especially with vertical pupils from when he borrowed her enhanced vision. “Come on, let’s rest under one of the trees you didn’t tear into shreds. You can stare at them for as long as you want there,” he said to Miria while brushing through her hair. She giggled cutely and they walked to sit in the shade of one of the remaining trees. Which weren’t that many left in the area.