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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    Chapter 20 - Getting Better Together
    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.
     
  2. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 21 - Controversial Theory
    It took Ast and Miria a moment before they reached an undamaged tree which actually gave a bit of shade with its crown. Even though they didn’t hang targets on every single one in the vicinity, Miria’s slashes sent afterwaves much deeper than Asterios expected. In just a week, she got very proficient in using his mana and she was growing with it considerably.

    Naturally, it wasn’t just thanks to him. Miria herself was really talented and gifted with significant potential. During these two weeks, they learned that albeit he became much stronger after the event they started calling the awakening, using just his ‘normal’ energy was still limiting Miria’s full strength in his world. It shouldn’t be forgotten that a summon’s power was closely linked to their master’s aptitude, who served as an anchor for the beast.

    But, the moment he was to draw from the fiery source inside him, Asterios’s spiritual circuits would be filled with mana so potent that he was sure he wouldn’t limit even three summons of Miria’s strength at once. Knowing that fact, they both felt like the situation in the cave could have gone drastically different if only Asterios was able to enter his awakened state at will at that time, letting Miria perform much better than what she was able to work with.

    They spent a lot of time analyzing the mistakes of them both. For Ast, the biggest one was him not noticing the external change in his appearance and not investigating the weird power much deeper than what he did at that time. It might have gone differently if Miria mentioned anything to Asterios, but he did not blame her since it was as much unknown to her as it was to him.

    For Miria, it was mostly the lack of trust in her partner. She was used to working alone in her own world. And it was also the result of conflicting emotions in her mind. Miria felt the immense power in Ast during his outburst and the moments he used various techniques, but at the same time, he showed her a lot of his memories where he was struggling a lot in the past, thus she couldn’t decide on which feeling to trust in the end. And that hesitation was her bane in the most crucial moment.

    With these mistakes now fixed, and with a lot more knowledge about each other and themselves, they reached a new peak together. They knew it wasn’t anything to be proud of yet, as Asterios explained to Miria a lot of things connected to summoning, their connection and the effects it had on her, which made her partially understand how close to the starting line they were even after two weeks of nothing but physical and mental training.

    As they finally sat down to take a well-deserved rest, the duo glanced over the scarred battlefield one more time. Asterios chuckled at the sight. Someone could think that a small hurricane passed through the area. He turned to Miria who was leaning onto the tree on his side.

    “Well. If they ever post a quest to gather lumber, I don’t think there would be anyone better than us to do the job.”

    Miria laughed softly. “Maybe we should name our party The Woodcutters?” They both snickered. “This feels so much different than before. Just being connected straight to Master's latent mana makes me feel like I could do anything.”

    “How are your reserves after this little show?” he asked.

    “A bit over 60%. But I mixed Master's into my circuits during the training as you instructed me before.”

    Asterios nodded. “Good. You are slowly getting the hang of drawing on my energy by yourself through the link. It will never be as good as a direct transfer, but it’s an important part of our abilities granted by the contract, allowing you to replenish your reserves from distance or to collect just enough mana from me to boost your abilities.”

    He moved closer to her and Miria turned her back to him, knowing Ast’s intentions pretty well since what he was going to do was a common occurrence during their practice. Asterios placed his hand on her back and began channelling his mana into her circuits, slowly, so that it got properly absorbed into her reserves.

    “Nyaaaaaaaaa…”

    A cute sigh escaped Miria’s mouth and her tail playfully coiled around Ast’s forearm. He chuckled. It always did that. Moving his gaze from the fluffy rope, he noticed Miria looking back at him over her shoulder, with slightly red cheeks and a pouting expression.

    “I can’t help it… it just feels too good…”

    “Did I say anything?” He smiled at her.

    Every time Ast refilled her mana with his own through direct contact, it felt really pleasant and warm. It was hard not to succumb to the feeling. A few days ago she also noticed something similar, but quite not exactly the same, to a sensation when they kissed in the cave. She didn’t bring it up yet due to her shyness, but Miria didn’t want it to be the cause of another mistake which could have been avoided if she just spoke up. She waited for Ast to finish the process before turning to face him again.

    “Ummm… I have a question. Maybe not a question, but an observation. Actually, I’m not sure… it’s just… that day in the cave, as you were administering the antidote, I felt kind of weird when our lips met…”

    She tried her best to speak without averting her gaze but it was proving quite difficult. From Ast’s perspective, it was already a considerable step forward from how flustered she had been getting in the past, hindering her from speaking her mind properly.

    “Could you explain it in a bit more detail?” Asterios assumed a focused expression.

    “Hmmm… It was comparable to what I felt just right now during the transfer, but… there was like… something deeper? The sensation was much clearer and I think there was like a little tingle for a moment? And I’m sure that I received a bit of your energy at that time too.”

    He stroked his chin while pondering over Miria’s words. “I don’t know. I didn’t notice anything like that, but that might have been skipped by my mind due to all the things happening around us. It’s also hard to tell what it could have been about. It’s hard to judge just from this. I guess I’ll have that in mind for whenever we end up in a similar situation again.”

    Miria understood that Ast didn’t want to investigate this further instantly due to her shy nature, but she would rather not delay it, not knowing how important this information could be. She shook her head in disagreement and looked up at Asterios with slightly rosy cheeks.

    “I’ve told you that I’m willing to do anything for us to grow stronger, Master. We shouldn’t ignore things like this just because I’m a little bit embarrassed. Besides… we’ve already kissed twice… during our contract and in the cave…” She dropped her gaze to the ground.

    “The first one was just a misunderstanding and in the case of the second one, I pretty much forced it to make you drink the medicine. I also told you that I’m not going to make you do things that are uncomfortable for you.” Asterios reached out and began patting Miria’s head with a smile.

    She enjoyed his hand for a moment, took a deep breath and looked back up at him. “Since we are going to be developing the mind-sharing connection further in the future, I might as well say it clearly right now.”

    Ast retracted his arm and waited. Miria kept shooting embarrassed glances to the sides for a few seconds, but she forced herself to look straight at Asterios’s face since it felt proper.

    “I like you, Master.”

    A heavy, crimson blush painted her face and she softly grabbed on her tail which moved to the front, squeezing it with her hands placed on her thighs as she sat cross-legged.

    “I know,” Asterios answered calmly. It was clear that she was going to continue so he waited.

    “And… kissing someone you like is a common occurrence so it’s okay. We should really analyse everything related to our connection. We don’t know how important this may be. So… if Master is fine with it…”

    She could barely muster the words out. Even though Asterios knew she liked him before, telling it to him in such a straightforward way made her heart race like crazy. He already told her that he likes her too, but that little shadow of doubt persisted. She never could be sure what was his definition of like and how far it spanned, definitely not to the same extent as hers. They didn't spend so much time together as of now. Some might have viewed Miria's infatuation as illogical, but that didn't change the fact that she felt really good just being around the man.

    Asterios smiled kindly and tapped the grass by his side. Miria slowly moved closer and set her back against the tree again. She wasn’t sure if that was an invitation or even him agreeing, but she leaned her shoulder against Ast’s and kept stealing glances at his face to try and judge the situation.

    He, in turn, placed his hand on top of hers, which still were clutching and squeezing the fluffy tail. That startled Miria a little, but she let him take it away from her grasp. Asterios stroked it for a moment, fixing the squashed fur and released it. He put his hand into the now empty spot between hers.

    “If you have to nervously knead something, use my hand instead of your cute tail, okay?”

    She nodded shyly and grabbed Ast’s hand. He started slowly leaning closer to her face. Miria squeezed the firm palm of her master in anticipation of the approaching event. She closed her eyes and turned her face to match his.

    Soon after, she felt a familiar sensation pressing on her lips. Chills enveloped Miria’s body as she savoured the incoming warmth. It was their first proper kiss, with both sides clearly participating. Asterios didn’t do anything more than just brush their lips together, but that soft peck already felt completely different than the one-sided kiss during the contract or in the cave. The one similar thing was a very delightful tingling accompanying the connection of their mouths.

    Asterios backed away after a moment and she opened her eyes to catch him slowly moving back. She wanted to experience that feeling for a bit longer. Then, Miria remembered the real reason why they did it and realized that she completely forgot about it during the kiss. It was actually a mistake she felt glad she made.

    “Ummm… I didn’t catch the difference clearly enough so… could we try again?” she asked while moving her gaze away.

    He chuckled, “Make sure to focus this time,” and he began approaching her again.

    She closed her eyes just before they joined their lips, but this time, Miria did her best to recall the sensation from back then and as soon as she sensed Ast’s warmth, something akin to a spark of electricity passed through her mouth and a deeper connection was created. She could feel his mana flowing into her at a much faster rate than when Asterios was pouring it into her circuits directly.

    While enjoying the amazing sensation of the kiss, Miria tried to suck more of Ast’s energy to check if it can be quickened and it actually worked as the bridge between them widened and more mana flowed through the link. Only after a slight chuckle from Asterios did Miria notice that she also started sucking gently on his lips, peppering them with passionate kisses.

    She broke off the embrace and hastily created some distance between them while her face got completely flushed.

    “Ehehehe~, I’m sorry,” she apologized.

    “For?” Asterios raised an eyebrow, still smiling at her.

    Miria shook her head. “Nothing.” She also smiled.

    Then Miria proceeded to explain what she experienced to Asterios in as much detail as she could. He also informed her that he felt the same, even during the kiss where she didn’t pay enough attention, which made her blush even more while her tail danced happily. Asterios pondered over something for a moment.

    “What do you think about it, Master?” She decided to inquire a bit into his contemplation.

    “Well, it seems like we can share mana quicker and in larger quantities with a kiss than with a normal touch.”

    “Perhaps it’s another of the perks of your power?” Miria tilted her head. She noticed that she still had Ast’s hand between hers. He didn’t seem to mind so she held onto it for longer.

    “It might be so, but I actually recall reading about something connected to this in the past.”

    “Oh? What was it?”

    Asterios’s gaze fixated on one point as he was trying to grab more details from his memory. “There was a researcher, a Summoner naturally, who wrote a book about the master/summon relationship, its development and how it affects the bond and connection between the two. One of his statements was that the more intimate the contact during the transfer, the stronger and more potent the share of spiritual energy is and the faster they grow stronger together.”

    Miria nodded. “That sounds interesting. He must have gathered a lot of followers with his theory.”

    Ast shook his head with a wry smile. “Actually, quite the opposite.”

    “Eh? Why?”

    “Did you forget that you are quite the exceptional summon?” he asked.

    Miria pondered for a moment. “Ah.”

    “Yep. The poor man got accused of bestiality and chased out of the Human continent. His book got banned and most copies were burned. I had a chance to check it out thanks to one of the teachers who was quite nice to me having it in their personal collection. Part of the man’s work touched on the previously analysed topic of how bodily fluids are a much better spiritual essence and energy carrier than pure mana through the link or direct touch.”

    Just when Miria was starting to get a hold on her embarrassment, she went completely red again after imagining Asterios transferring his essence to her in a bit more intimate way than just a tiny kiss or touch. Noticing Ast’s gaze she quickly hid her fully crimson cheeks behind her fluffy hands while squirming internally. It wasn’t like she hadn't ever pictured that, but now, she even had a factual reason which could lead to the thing actually happening.

    He chuckled and reached to her head to ruffle through Miria’s hair and scratch behind her ears a little. “Hahahaha, no need to get so worked up over it.”

    “Yesshhh…” She bit her tongue while answering, making Asterios chuckle even more.

    After finally calming down, the duo discussed their performance a bit more. They felt ready to tackle some more tasks now. They knew pretty much everything about each other now. Asterios explained to Miria all his spells and techniques and even every usable he crafted or bought so that she would know what to expect in battle.

    There were a lot of things he had on himself, but she understood that it was Ast’s way of assuring his safety in the past. The most common were the crystalized sigils which functioned as stored spells of low power, but helpful in many ways. They, unfortunately, put a high strain on the caster’s body when used. Another part of his arsenal was some simple stun and flash bombs. The biggest part of it was about a lot of chemicals and poisons which naturally piled up during the years Asterios studied summoning.

    There was just one thing that kept Miria wondering. “Master, are you going to summon more beasts now that you are stronger?”

    “Definitely, but not instantly. I don’t know what might happen during the ritual now, so I’d like to prepare a bit more and possibly get at least medium-quality materials for that. I’m running quite low on them at the moment. I gotta get a better grasp on the fervent energy inside me first. And, I don’t actually know what kind of entity I would want to try for. We should spend some more time on the battlefield and then decide together in what area we are lacking the most.”

    Miria nodded cheerfully. “I agree! I’ll keep doing my best so that we can grow stronger!”

    “Same here. Come on, let’s get back. Time to get some work done after our two-week-long break.” Ast stood up and extended his arm towards her.

    She grabbed it and raised herself with his help, slightly averting her gaze when they stood up close to each other. “Ummm… I think my mana pool is not yet full, so… if Master could...”

    Asterios shook his head with a smile and pulled Miria into one more, gentle peck. After getting enough of the pleasant feeling, Miria broke it off with a giggle and skipped away from him while blushing heavily. They headed back towards Ast’s home while Asterios walked behind her, enjoying the sight of the gingerly steps Miria was taking with her hands joined behind her back and the happy dances her cute tail made.
     
  3. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 22 - Mother’s Quest
    Nearing the end of the forest, Miria switched back to her panther form and they rode together back to Ast’s house. He could still feel her elated mood even through her movements during the run. Asterios shook his head with a smile. She was just too adorable and innocent.

    They arrived at their destination without any issues coming up. Most of the guards stationed at the gate got already used to the big panther going in and out a few times a day and only stopped them infrequently to keep up the duty.

    Miria transformed again after they got inside Ast's house. She liked to spend her time in the humanoid form whenever she had a chance. While they were heading for the stairs to the upper floor, Kindra peeked out from one of the rooms near the staircase.

    “Asti! Miria! Welcome back! How did the training go?”

    “Hello, Miss Kindra! I think it went really good! Master said it was perfect! We are slowly getting better… together…” Miria started with an energetic tone, but when she recalled the latter part of their practice, her shyness got the better of her and she averted her gaze with red cheeks.

    Asterios chuckled and ruffled through her hair from behind. “As she said. Miria was amazing. Need help with something, mom?”

    His mother stepped out of the room and joined them in the corridor. “No, thank you, everything is going fine—… actually…” She glanced at the duo and furrowed her brows, assuming a thinking expression. “What are you two planning to do now?”

    “We are probably going to hit the Guild and see if there’s anything going on there.”

    “Then that’s perfect! I have to submit a task today about recruiting an escort for a delivery. We are sending two wagons to another town tomorrow. Do you guys want to participate?” She clasped her hands and smiled at them.

    “Hmmm… It’s not that bad of an idea. The rank should be fine and I’m sure Miria would love to finally see some more scenery than just Rosewind’s walls and forests, right?”

    “I’m fine doing whatever. I’ll follow Master’s decision.” She tried acting as if it wasn’t a big deal, but Asterios and his mom could clearly see the excitement in her tail and twitching ears.

    “It’s decided then! Let’s meet in front of the Guild at five in the evening. I still need to pay a visit to the shop and arrange some stuff.” Kindra disappeared back where she came from and the two proceeded further to Ast’s room.

    While there, they went through some materials and utility items Asterios stored in various lockers. Miria was already familiar with most of them as Ast explained them to her in detail. As of right now, he had some concussion, stun and smoke bombs and tens of various low-level spells imbued into crystal runes he usually carved himself to lower the cost. Of course, he still needed to visit a proper magician and enchanter to imbue them with magic.

    He also had differently coloured crystals which served as catalysts for many summoner’s techniques he couldn’t fully perform without their support or they just required them, a set of vials with some poisons and liquids that could be used in a fight and some other minor consumables. He looked more like some kind of a Thief or Rogue rather than a Summoner in her eyes. But considering his past, it wasn’t that shocking. The fact that he couldn’t use all those at school still didn’t stop Asterios from preparing himself for the future where he would graduate and step into the big world.

    She admired him for his thoughtfulness. In the end, it saved their lives. Even though using the Limit Breaker had a chance of resulting in his death, as she later learned from Ast’s explanation, he was ready to take the risk to save her. It was a scary item but she understood that Asterios didn’t have any other options and even that was not sure to work properly since he never did something even closely similar to what he attempted in the cave. All was just pure theory without any practice. Like most of his techniques. But they spent a lot of time fixing that.

    Nevertheless, besides all these items, Ast’s room was obviously full of ingredients and materials she had never seen before until he showed them all to her during these two weeks. Well, at least some were familiar since they were present in her world too and she was sure a lot of them actually could be found there, just she didn’t know where they existed.

    After getting done with what Asterios was looking for with Miria’s help, he sat by his desk and started scribbling something. Miria plopped herself onto his bed and waited patiently while gazing around. She knew it would be better if she just let him focus on whatever he was doing. She laid herself down and snuggled into the bedsheets which were giving a pleasant fragrance that reminded her of him.

    “Miria.”

    Hearing Ast’s voice she shot up to a sitting position in an instant before he fully turned around. Asterios noticed her slightly flushed expression and shyly dancing tail.

    “You okay there?” he asked.

    “Yes! Of course! Ehehehe~.”

    “Right. I think we need to discuss one thing before we depart on the quest.”

    “What is it, Master?” Miria tilted her head.

    “We are obviously going to meet a lot more people from now on and perhaps we will also join other parties for quests and such. Thus, we should talk about your forms. So far, you always kept your panther shape most of the time.”

    She nodded. “Yes, and I don’t mind acting as Master’s beast to keep the appearances.”

    Asterios smiled. “Thank you, but it’s inevitable that you will have to transform in front of people at some point. We already decided together to not unnecessarily limit ourselves, didn’t we? That’s why I think we should stop hiding you. You’d much rather accompany me in this form, right?”

    “Mhm. I’d love to. But… is that really fine? What if someone asks about my features?”

    “Well, as I said, it would happen one day. I don’t think we should straight-up lie about your background. I mostly wanted to avoid attention around the academy since it’s full of Summoners and researchers, but we are going to be travelling a lot now. If someone asks, we’ll just tell them our connection, but if they don’t, you just introduce yourself as a normal person of some rare race. Anyway, that’s just my opinion. I wanted to know what you think or want to do. We are a team,” Asterios said.

    Miria felt really happy that he valued her input so much. She wouldn’t mind just following the advice he presented at any time. She smiled widely and nodded her head again.

    “I want to walk by Master’s side as a person. That way, I can protect Master even better. And also… I think... it would just feel nice.” She sent him a shy glance.

    “I guess it’s decided then. We could always say that it’s just your innate ability to transform. And it’s not that far off I think. It’s better this way. I don’t want you to get hurt because you hesitated to switch shapes due to someone being around.”

    Asterios stood up and moved to the bed where he sat on her side and began patting Miria’s head. She leaned onto him and let Ast brush through her hair affectionately. “Thank you, Master. I promise I won’t hesitate anymore.”

    “You know that you don’t have to call me master all the time, right?” he asked while scratching behind an ear of the joyful panthergirl.

    “Do you dislike it?” She looked up curiously with a slightly concerned expression.

    “No, absolutely not. Just making sure.”

    “Then I’d like to keep using it. You are, in fact, my Master. And… this might sound a bit weird, but… I… I like calling you that…” She hid her face in his chest while mentioning the latter part.

    Asterios chuckled. “Was it like that in the story?” He recalled her mentioning the tale about Princess Kaguya and how much she loved it.

    Miria shyly nodded her head with her face still hidden from sight.

    “Got it. Feel free to do so as much as you want. To be honest, it kinda makes me happy too, so I guess you are not the only weird one here.”

    He played with the cute, twitching ears a bit more to the amusement of them both and the duo left to the town soon after to pick up some things on the way to the Guild. Naturally, even though Miria could now walk openly, she still insisted on serving as Ast’s mount and he had nothing against it. They visited a few shops and workshops to stock up on consumables and some other stuff for the possible journey that awaited them.

    Shortly before five, Ast and Miria arrived in front of the Guild's building and met up with Kindra. Miria switched to her humanoid shape and they entered together. Some people caught onto the unusual appearance but no one approached them, which was good. There definitely were a few discussions sparked here and there.

    Kindra didn’t pay attention to anyone around and beelined straight to Ellie’s post. She always submitted her requests to the adorable receptionist. They loved to chat about all kinds of things. Especially about Ast. But, it wouldn’t be possible today since he came with her.

    She energetically leaned over the counter and greeted the girl focusing on some paperwork. “Ellieeeeeeeeeee! Are you busy?”

    The girl raised her gaze and smiled kindly. “Miss Kindra! Welcome! Oh, Asterios, you came too! And…”

    “Hi, Ellie.” Miria waved with her furry hand.

    “Hello, Miria. I did not expect to see you like this in the Guild.” She glanced at Ast questioningly.

    “Can’t have her act forever.” Asterios shrugged and nodded his head towards his mother.

    “Ah! I’m sorry! How can I help you, Miss Kindra?” She hastily turned to the woman.

    “How could you forget about me like that, Ellie! I know that Asti is just so handsome, but we are best friends, aren’t we?” Kindra showed a playful pout, making Asterios giggle. She, a mature woman, always loved playing like this.

    “That’s not it! I was just surprised to see Miria in her humanoid form!” The receptionist girl started panicking a bit and waved her hands at the woman on the other side of the counter. Kindra smirked. “Ah! I mean, I don’t dislike you or anything! You are a really good man and nice and kind and… and… ahhhhhhhhh! What am I even talking about!” She turned to Ast to clarify but realized that there was nothing to actually explain.

    Ast’s mom couldn’t stop giggling to herself. “You are just too easy to tease, Ellie.”

    It was the cute receptionist’s turn to pout, but her expression was much more real than the fake one Kindra did previously. Asterios shook his head.

    “Mom, stop bullying all the girls I know. I’m already running low on friends without your help and I don’t need more of them avoiding me because of your tricks.”

    “That’s mean! It’s your fault I have to do all the work! You are nineteen already! If I won’t step in then you will never find a girlfriend with how reserved you are!” Kindra started hitting Ast’s chest with her fists.

    “Girlfriend?!”

    “Girl… friend…”

    Ellie went completely red while Miria dropped her gaze to the ground and to the side, stealing quick glances at Asterios. Kindra opened her eyes wide and started ostentatiously pointing both of her arms at the receptionist like some merchant showcasing their wares, while not dropping the eye contact with her son even for a moment.

    He rolled his eyes and bonked her on the head.

    “Ow! How could you hit your own mother… If you keep being like this, you will stay a vir—”

    “Any more of that and I’m ending the good morning kisses.”

    “—I want to submit a task. Could you give me the form for the escort one, please?”

    Asterios almost snorted at how fast his mother changed her way of speaking into a polite one as she hastily stopped all her actions and turned to the girl she was teasing with a professional smile. Ellie found that too funny and chuckled.

    “Certainly, Miss Kindra. Let’s go over the details together.”

    Then, they proceeded to note down all the required information without any further mischief from Kindra. When the good morning kisses were on the line, she would never dare to overstep her boundaries. There was too much to be lost.

    After going through all the documentation, they pinned the request on the quest board. It was ranked as D since the route had a possible monster or beast encounters, but Asterious could join without worry due to it being a party quest. And naturally, Ellie registered them for it instantly. The departing time was set to be tomorrow. There would certainly be people up for it in a few hours with a decent payment when compared to the quite low threat.

    They thanked the receptionist girl for help and headed back. Asterios took his mother onto Miria and they rode altogether. She had great fun with that little trip on the great black panther with her hair fluttering in the wind.

    Next morning, Kindra asked for one more ride and the duo agreed, smiling to each other. Everything at Ast’s mother’s shop was already prepared and sent to the two wagons waiting near the main gate, but she wanted to do a last check with her employees to be sure. It was normal for them to worry this much, they were dealing with lots of jewellery. It was quite a huge transport. They were sharing some products with another branch under which Kindra was running her own store.

    With everything pretty much confirmed, she kissed Ast and Miria goodbye and let them go to the meeting point. Still having a decent amount of time left, the duo strolled through the city and grabbed something to eat. Asterios brought Miria to one of his favourite stalls with garlic bread. It so happened that she liked it as much as he did and they shared a long baguette together. She was even happier than him, getting to know that they shared more things in common.

    Done eating, Miria shapeshifted and they rode to their destination. Full and in good mood, they arrived near the gate and easily found the two wooden wagons on the side. Besides coaches, there was already a group of three people sitting by it. You could tell from their getups that they were adventurers.

    One tall Human girl with long, brown hair tied into a ponytail, a two-handed sword behind her back and leather armour. Talking to her was a Dwarf with a grey beard and similarly coloured leather and textile set of clothes. He looked like your typical Rogue. Two daggers and a crossbow on the back. On their side, sitting on a bench and reading a book, was another Human. A man this time. In dark green robes and holding a wooden staff. Most likely the healer of the party. They all had D-rank shoulder plates.

    The buff-looking woman noticed the approaching duo. “Finally. What took you so long?”

    Asterios raised one of his brows at her. “There’s still half an hour until the meeting time. I’d say that we are quite early.”

    The woman clicked her tongue. “You newbies need to better value your time. You should always turn in earlier to prepare. We need to know how much of dead weight you will be to us.”

    He rolled his eyes.「Great. A solo group. Let’s just keep the interaction to minimum and let them do the work as they would want it.

    “Anyway, go rent a horse from the stables and we’ll talk some shit about ourselves then,” the woman added.

    “No need,” Asterios replied, patting Miria’s back who was standing by his side in her panther form.

    “Ha?” The woman eyed the beast. “This thing might look quite strong, but you are a Summoner, right?”

    “Yes.”

    “And you plan on riding it?”

    “Yes.”

    “Haaaaaaaaah…” She facepalmed and sighed. “You little shits always brag how great you are… Oh, It will be a piece of cake! I can withstand a day or two with my beast out! Who needs horses when you can ride a wolf! But, a few hours pass and the valiant steed goes POOF! Go get a horse, kid.”

    “That’s not necessary. I know my limits. I don’t plan on hindering the party.” Asterios kept his stance.

    “Oh, for fuck’s sake... Douhlim, hammer some wisdom into that idiot’s head!” She put her hands on her hips and glanced down at the dwarf.

    “Listen to momma, boy. No need to act tough. She’s not even into men, ehehehe—umph!”

    He earned himself a kick into an ankle and fell down to roll over the ground. The woman shook her head.

    “If I won’t be able to follow, you can just leave me behind. There won’t be any problems with the Guild. My mother is the one who put that quest up,” Asterios continued.

    “Oooooh, great. A little birdie leaving its nest with the help of a doting parent. Whatever! You are not riding on any of our horses if your summon gets done. Not like you would even be able to. You guys get so pathetically weak after you overstrain your spiritual circuits you can barely move.” She waved her hand in a disinterested way and the group gathered together.

    The woman shortly introduced each member of her party and explained what’s their usual role and special abilities. The dwarf’s name was Douhlim, the human man was Tesser and she was Rudy. Asterios also briefly summarized his abilities, explaining how Miria would fill the blanks they would leave on the battlefield, switching from secondary aggro to secondary attacker or defensive support. She was mostly a close-combat specialist while he focused on buffing her and could use some low-tier magic via his consumables. He, of course, mentioned that she can take a humanoid form, but the trio just glanced at each other and exploded into a laugh.

    After the short introduction and making everyone understand their main and secondary roles, they prepared to depart under Rudy’s leadership.
     
  4. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 23 - Goblin Crossing
    The guards registered the departure, and the wagons were moved through the gate. Since there were just two medium-sized carts, the party assumed a square formation with each person covering one side of the convoy.

    Rudy was naturally in the front, leading the company. Tesser and Douhlim took the sides, which left the back to Asterios and Miria. That way, the trio could quickly cooperate when something happened ahead of them.

    Asterios was aware that they placed him in the back due to his previous statement and the fact that, in their eyes, an E-rank Summoner wasn’t much, but it didn’t bother him in the slightest. It did seem that the party had some experience behind their belt already so he had no problem with following their lead.

    Everyone got onto their horses, Ast onto Miria, and they left Rosewind without any issues coming up. Few minutes after they departed, Asterios scratched her side and leaned himself forwards.

    ~You were pretty quiet back there. You fine?~ he spoke to Miria through their connection.

    She purred at him. ~I can’t stir trouble for Master every time someone acts rude. And… she doesn’t feel like a bad person. Perhaps a little bit rough.~

    Ast chuckled. ~Good. And I think the same. They most likely had their fair deal of incompetent Summoners in the past. Rosewind is called The Hub of Summoners not without a reason. And the fact that we are E-rank doesn’t help. Let’s just act according to the situation. We’ll fill in their blanks.~

    ~Roger that. I’ll do my best!~

    ~Tell me when you start feeling tired, I’ll revitalize you a bit with my magic,~ Asterios suggested.

    He could feel Miria pouting in his mind. ~Mouuu, Master! I know my limits as well as you know yours! Actually, I know them better since that power is still new to you!~

    He smiled and moved his hand to her ears. ~That’s most likely true. Don’t worry, I trust you. That’s not a reason to not make it easier for you, right? We’ll be on the road for at least ten hours.~

    ~I’ll have you know that I can run at my previous best speed for exactly 59 hours straight, Master,~ Miria conveyed with pride emanating from her consciousness.

    ~Ohhhh, that really is a lot. You must have been in a hurry somewhere to reach such a record.~

    Miria felt satisfied with Ast’s reaction. She wasn’t the best out of everyone in her village, but she certainly wasn't at the bottom of the ladder of the fastest people.

    ~Fufufu. I wasn’t running anywhere important. I just wanted to test myself as many of us Beastfolk like to do. At least those who take pride in their speed and endurance. Many of the feline and canine bloodline with shifting innate abilities compete with each other in that field. Now that I think of it, I wonder how much that score would change after I contracted Master.~

    ~I see. Your kind seems like interesting people.~

    They continued the journey while chatting with each other from time to time about random topics. Asterios was really happy to learn about a race he had never heard of previously and Miria couldn’t feel any more proud to tell him all about herself and her people, boasting about their respective strong fields.

    During the day, the dwarf had been checking on him every few hours to see if Asterios was still following the group. Douhlim was slightly surprised to see the boy casually ride on the big panther’s back like it was nothing.

    He clicked his tongue after the third time he did his checkup. They bet on how long the brat would last and it looked like his guess of six hours, which already was quite a stretch when recalling their past expeditions, lost him a few gold coins. Not as many as Rudy though, who was adamant on him falling over after three. It looked like their healer was going to win. Again.

    The dwarf increased the pace of his horse and appeared by the side of the woman leading their group. She glanced at him with one brow raised and a knowing smirk after seeing his face.

    “Can’t wait to part with your money this much?” She chuckled.

    “Jokes on you, he is still going strong as if we just started.” Douhlim stopped showing his fake, mournful expression and released a hidden grin.

    “What? How? Did he sneak into the wagon to rest?” She furrowed her brows.

    The dwarf shook his head. “Impossible. We would have heard that instantly with all the jiggly and tingly stuff in there.”

    Tsch. How is Tesser always right about them?”

    “Magicians.” Douhlim shrugged.

    While the two were talking, the panther arrived by their side, naturally, with its rider present.

    “There’s company ahead. At least a dozen. Doesn’t look like an ambush, more like they are just going to cross the road. Most likely Goblins. We could wait it out,” Asterios conveyed in a calm tone what Miria had just informed him about a minute ago.

    The duo looked at each other surprised. It was usually their mage who informed them about potential threats through sensing mana signatures of monsters or beasts.

    “And how would you know that while being far in the back?” Rudy sent him a glare, suspecting that Ast might be bluffing to catch a breather.

    He rolled his eyes and pointed downwards with his thumbs. “Do I need to explain the difference between a Human nose and the one of a predatory beast?”

    ~Ugh. Seriously, the stench is so strong that I wouldn’t be able to miss it even if I tried,~ Miria commented in their minds.

    “So, what’s the decision, leader?” he asked.

    Rudy pondered for a moment. “You sure about the number?”

    *GROOOWL*

    “That was a yes,” Asterios said.

    The woman raised her brow and stared at the panther. It raised its head and locked its gaze with hers. A faint shiver ran down her spine.

    “Fine. Tesser!” she shouted and the mage soon joined the group on the front. “We got a few goblins in front. Team decision, we wait for them to pass or earn ourselves a few more coins on the side.”

    The man glanced at Miria and grinned. “You want to recoup your losses from our bet already?”

    “Fuck you. We should have never competed with you. Just watch, I’ll expose your tricks one day.” Rudy snorted at the healer.

    “Good luck with that.” He exploded into a hearty laugh. “I’m in for whatever.”

    “My ass is itchy. Some exercise would be nice,” Douhlim added his two cents.

    “It’s decided then. Let’s go with the usual formation. The new kid will watch the wagons.”

    Everyone returned to their positions. Asterios sighed. They didn’t even bother asking him. But, in the end, he would prioritize the shipment anyway so he was fine with letting them have a go at the goblins while he stood back. He prayed for it to be just Goblins and nothing more. Miria didn’t report any other scents coming from that direction.

    A few minutes later, Ast and Miria heard a whistle from their leader. The coach of the first wagon slowed down and made space for the second one to arrive by its side and they both stopped. The duo also moved around them to take a peek.

    The adventuring party jumped off their horses and started prepping up while the sound of a small horn travelled through the air. There were six goblins visible on the road ahead, holding some low-quality swords or spears and trashy, wooden shields. Forest spanned on both sides of the road, most likely covering the rest of them.

    Asterios sent Miria a mental request and she stood up on her hind legs, allowing him to climb onto the flat, wooden roof of one of the carriages. He quickly crouched down. While this position gave him a great view of the surroundings, any archer had a clear shot at him, if there were any amongst the goblins.

    Tesser cast some kind of a shielding-type spell on Rudy and Douhlim, covering their bodies with an almost invisible layer of additional protection. He also prepared something similar for himself. The attacking duo rushed forwards into the group of six monsters while he followed them with some distance.

    Ast guided Miria to the back and they connected their minds a little bit more, deepening their sense-sharing. They weren’t able to show each other what they saw live, but with this, they could easily send quick images and thoughts to each other and cover both the front and back of the convoy.

    He sensed slight annoyance at the party from her now that they shared more than just surface thoughts, and sent Miria some appreciation her way. She replied with an image of her head pressing into Ast’s hand, making him smile. They stopped the unnecessary flirting and focused on their respective tasks.

    The adventures reached the goblins which prepared for the assault by setting up three guys with shields in the front. That, unfortunately for them, didn’t help much. Rudy set her foot hard on the ground and cleaved horizontally through them with a roar, slicing the first goblin on the path of her sword in half and sending the other two flying to the back.

    Douhlim, even though being a slightly burly Dwarf, moved nimbly under his leader’s sword as she was cutting through the enemy. He dropped into a slide to avoid the blade and threw two daggers into the backs of the goblins sent into the air by the Human woman. He pushed himself off the ground and after their opponents fell down, he drew his two stilettos and pierced their chests while landing on his knee in between them.

    A spear wielder tried to impale him but got hit with a Firebolt into the face before it had a chance to make a proper thrust. The dwarf dashed further, cutting the burned goblin’s neck as he passed the greenskin, and engaged another, shortsword-wielding one, swiftly dancing around it.

    When Rudy caught up to him, three more enemies ran out of the forest from their left and two from the right. Douhlim finished his opponent in a flash while the woman also dealt with the last one of the first six by impaling it with her greatsword as it looked away at her companion. They stepped closer to each other and pressed their backs together, facing the opposite ways.

    Asterios suddenly received a mental ping, followed by an image of two goblins jumping out of the trees near the back of the carriages. When he turned around, one of them was already being torn into two in Miria’s jaws while the other one tried to find an angle with its spear, but she kept violently shaking its companion, preventing any attempts.

    He heard the sound of a bowstring being drawn between the trees to his right and instantly notified Miria who jumped to the side just in time to avoid an arrow coming straight at her from behind. Ast left the visible opponent to her and started running on the roof of his carriage into the direction of the hidden archer.

    Drawing his dagger with one hand and a small, orange-red stone from a pouch with the other, he jumped off the wagon and threw the object in the general direction of the arrow, after filling it with his mana as he was descending to the ground.

    It exploded with an audible pop somewhere in the sea of trees, followed by a single yelp of surprise. Already on the ground, Ast dashed towards the source and found the goblin already notching another arrow. While the stone didn’t really affect it in any way, it helped him pinpoint the exact location of the assailant, which, distracted by the rock, definitely didn’t expect someone to jump at it from the side and slice its throat.

    Asterios quickly glanced around, but there weren’t any more of them in that spot. Even though they would have reacted to the invasive flash of the exploding Brightstone, because that’s how the ore he just used was called, he preferred to still keep his guard up while surrounded by bushes and trees. When he returned, Miria had already finished the other goblin and ran up to him, shaking her head to the sides a lot.

    ~Bleh. Looks like they taste like piss in Master’s world too. I’m going to puke.~

    Ast chuckled and scratched her head. “You could have just shifted and cut them down.”

    ~It was faster like this. I’m fine. I’ve chomped on worse things.~

    Ast looked to the front to check on the battle there and it seemed like the Human-Dwarf duo was faring pretty well. Not that unexpected. Those were just your usual, weak Goblins. He noticed a blue glint on the left side of the trees, somewhere in between the wagons and the healer, who was casting another Firebolt.

    His eyes widened. A Goblin Shaman was finishing casting Ice Needle aimed at the back of the man. There was no way he would notice mid-chant. Miria didn’t need anything more than the shared thought to understand her role and broke into a dash instantly.

    At the same time, Asterios drew the Haste sigil in the dirt with just three quick strokes and slammed his palm against it so hard it sent a shiver through his body. Miria pushed herself off the ground the second she felt his energy and disappeared with a soft boom.

    It was too late to stop the Shaman. When Miria made the jump, the icy projectile was starting its flight. But. They both knew it. She did not aim for the caster. She flew by the side of the healer with a strong gust of wind following her and landed on the ground in front of him, creating long drag marks with her paws, with her side turned to Tesser.

    “What the f—”

    *CRACK* *SHATTER* *BOOM*

    She closed her jaws with enough force to crush the icy lance she caught with her mouth and disappeared from his view with another explosion of air, kicking up a cloud of dust in the place where she was just a second ago.

    “Gyaaaaa!”

    Tesser turned around towards the source of the high-pitched scream and saw the black panther tearing off the head of a Goblin Shaman with her jaws while holding its body down with her strong leg.

    He instantly connected the dots and understood what just transpired. The big cat threw the green head onto the road and glanced at him. He quickly nodded his head at the beast which answered with the same motion and disappeared from the spot after taking a lowered stance, kicking up leaves and making the bushes flutter.

    Rudy and Douhlim already finished the other enemies and approached the slightly dazed mage.

    “What was that bang from earlier?” the woman asked, catching her breath after the battle.

    Tesser pointed at the remnants of the ice projectile, decapitated head of a Goblin Shaman and then towards the wagons, where Asterios was currently patting Miria by their side, who was affectionately rubbing her head against his chest.

    “I think I just saw the panther Blink three times in a row.”

    “Pffffffffffft, yeah, hahaha. Did one of the little shits hit your head with a stone? A beast using Blink? Even you can’t do that yet.” The dwarf laughed.

    He shook his head. “I would have ended with at least a dent in my chest if not for its intervention.”

    Not wanting to argue with the duo, he left them and walked up to Asterios who was helping Miria get rid of the goblin blood in her mouth with some water and thanked them both for help. They collected the ears of the three goblins in the back while the other adventurers dealt with the front.

    After throwing the bodies further into the woods to not lure too many wild beasts near the road, they resumed their travel. It wouldn’t be wise to make a camp close to the battlefield. Two hours later, it slowly started getting darker and they decided to stop for the day. They covered a decent distance already.

    Everyone got their backpacks off the wagons and started putting up tents for the night. As Asterios walked up to the group without even a small bag, they realized that they didn’t see any on him back in the town. They completely missed that detail because all of them dropped their loads much earlier.

    As Rudy was standing up to go and confront the complete idiot in her eyes, Miria’s panther body got enveloped in a black mist and after three seconds, a silhouette shot upwards and a girl with short, black hair, in red, leather armour appeared by the boy’s side.

    “Wha—” She froze. Like the rest of them.

    They watched as Asterios brushed through her hair for a moment while the girl gingerly squirmed under his palm and then jumped into a crimson, shadowy portal. A few moments later, she was back with a big backpack in her hands and they brought out their own tent, starting to set it up.

    Miria obviously noticed their gazes, stood up and turned around.

    “Is something wrong?” she asked with a soft voice while tilting her head and making a curious expression.

    Rudy stood there with her mouth wide open, blinked a few times and slowly shook her head. Miria smiled beautifully and went back to helping Ast with their tent. They disappeared inside shortly after finishing.

    The woman glanced back at the rest of her squad over her shoulder with her arms extended towards the duo’s shelter. Douhlim and Tesser looked at each other and then at her, shrugging their shoulders to show their lack of insight into the situation.

    Meanwhile, Asterios had to squeeze Miria hard into his chest or the people outside would hear her intense chuckling and giggling after seeing their utterly shocked faces. She barely held back long enough.
     
  5. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 24 - A Dinner For Two
    Miria finally started calming down after like five minutes of constant laughing. She stepped back, getting herself off Ast’s chest while some stifled giggles were still escaping her lips. She took a few deep breaths, having to pause for a moment to control more of the chuckles trying to surface, and glanced at smiling Asterios.

    “Looks like you are having fun,” he said.

    “I’m sorry, Master, but the look on their faces, I just can’t stop laughing when I recall it.” She blocked her lips with her hand to muffle another giggle.

    Asterios shook his head. “I told them.“

    “I know! And that’s why it’s so much more fun! That woman didn’t know what to do when I spoke to her!” Miria managed to tame down her laughter. “I hope they will now respect Master more.”

    He brushed through her hair. “They definitely will respect you a lot. Especially that mage. You pretty much saved his life, even if he had any protection on himself.”

    “We saved him. I wouldn’t have been able to do that by myself, Master!” Her tail danced proudly.

    “Right, right.”

    They got to arranging the interior. The tent was slightly bigger this time, allowing them to walk pretty much straight. It was wide enough for them to lie down and long for around two-person length.

    Asterios finished setting up his sleeping bag on one side of the shelter and noticed that Miria stood with hers in hands, slightly hesitating. He sat down and turned around. “Need help?”

    She shook her head. “No. I… ummm…” Her gaze wandered all over the ground.

    Ast sighed a bit. “I don’t mind.”

    He tapped his bed a few times, making it clear that he guessed Miria’s unasked question. It wasn’t that hard to realize with her tail shyly swishing behind her back while she covered part of her face with the unrolled bedroll. He didn’t need to clarify. Miria was aware that he figured out her intentions and nodded timidly with a slight blush creeping onto her cheeks.

    She shoved the mattress to the side and noticed Asterios pulling out some rations from their backpack. “Ah! Master, wait!” She walked closer and stopped him.

    “Hm?”

    “I… since we have time, I’ll go and prepare something better at home. That is if Master doesn’t mind waiting for a moment,” she suggested, looking at him with gleaming eyes, waiting for approval.

    “Of course I don’t. But, you don’t need to put too much wor—” Before he could finish, Miria already jumped into the portal, ignoring the latter part of his sentence, too happy for the earned chance. Asterios chuckled. “This girl. I hope she won’t try cooking anything complex she didn’t attempt previously. For her own safety.”

    He wasn’t sure how long it would take Miria to finish and he didn’t want to peek on her to ruin the surprise, so Asterios decided to check on the rest of the party. They should have had enough time to calm down and talk with each other a bit already.

    Leaving the tent, he found two campfires set up. One was being used by the coachmen and the other by Rudy and her squad. It looked like their drivers weren’t exactly the types to socialize a lot and preferred each other’s company. Not like it bothered him in any way.

    Not intending to just waste time, Ast stepped back into the tent and picked up a wooden box from the backpack. With it in hand, he walked towards the spot where the adventurers were currently grilling a wild rabbit they stumbled onto on their path not that long before they stopped to rest.

    They obviously noticed him coming and watched in silence as he sat near the fire on the opposite side and opened the wooden container. Asterios picked up an unrefined, orange crystal from it, pulled out his ornamental knife and started carving it very carefully. The little bits coming off it were sent into the fire, creating small explosions. Everyone was surprised to see him chisel a gemstone with ease. Tesser could feel that the small dagger was special in some way.

    Douhlim nudged Rudy with his elbow and signalled at the boy with his eyes after she looked at him. The woman sighed. It was her responsibility as the leader to speak up. As rarely as it happened, she really hated apologizing, but this time they were clearly in the wrong.

    She stood up and walked to Ast. He stopped his work and looked up at the muscular woman standing above him with arms crossed over her chest and quite an uncertain expression.

    “It appears that we’ve been slightly mistaken about your expected contribution into this quest,” she began.

    Asterios returned his focus to the crystal. “Happens all the time. I bet you had your reasons.”

    “Yeah, that’s true, but still, we labelled you as weak during our first meeting even though you tried to assure us that you aren’t.”

    He chuckled. “You weren’t that far off. I was the weakest summoner in the history of the academy. At least until I got expelled a few weeks ago.”

    Rudy frowned. She had a hard time believing that revelation. Him? Expelled? If he was considered the weakest, then what should be said about the guys they met in the past? Were they fakes? All five cases? Impossible.

    “Nevertheless, we came out kinda rude and didn’t even care to listen, yet you not only proved us wrong by riding on your… beast? for the whole time, but also saved Tesser’s stupid ass from at least getting impaled, if not worse. So, we owe you an apology. Well… sorry about that.”

    Others nodded accordingly to her words. Ast waved his hand. “Forget it. I didn’t take it personally. It’s all good if we are cleared up.”

    “I see. Well, if you have anything to say about our current team composition then feel free to do so and we’ll properly discuss it with you this time.”

    “We are fine with the current one. I’ll keep watching over from the sidelines and jump in when necessary.”

    Asterios glanced over the finished crystal and put it back in the box. Rudy returned to her seat and they started chatting more casually. Tesser spoke to Ast the most, especially about the techniques Miria used. Ast explained the details, but the man still couldn’t quite believe that his beast was able to achieve such results with just Haste.

    Meanwhile, in Miria’s world, her mother had just entered the house to bring out something Miria’s father required in his workshop. Shortly after she passed the door to the kitchen, she stopped abruptly. A joyful humming could be heard from the room, accompanied by rhythmic tapping of a knife hitting a cutting board. She slowly backtracked and took a peek inside through the open door.

    Miria was standing by the counter and making a set of sandwiches. She prepared a lot of stuff around, like cucumbers, tomatoes, lettuce and boiled eggs. She was currently dealing with tomatoes.

    Her mother raised an eyebrow and leaned herself over the door frame, observing Miria’s clearly joyous movements. Her head was tilting from side to side with each chop. Her tail was changing sides accordingly to her happy humming and even her ears twitched from time to time. Miria’s whole posture was bouncing around. She seemed lost in her own, small world. A smile began forming on her mother’s lips.

    “Honey, are you having trouble findin—mwwhhhm…”

    “Shhh!”

    Miria’s father came in looking for his wife since she was taking a bit of time to get the item. She quickly covered his mouth and shushed the man with short, blond hair down. She nodded her head towards the inside of the kitchen. Her husband followed it with his eyes, which widened in surprise after noticing Miria.

    He slowly moved his wife’s hand away from his mouth, which was now left wide open.

    “Is she… making sandwiches?” he asked in disbelief.

    The woman nodded.

    “Her? Preparing food? No way.” He shook his head.

    “Yet, it’s happening. Right in front of our eyes.”

    “She, who always found that a chore and shirked away from it whenever possible, willingly using so many ingredients just for some sandwiches? And she’s making so many!” he whispered.

    Miria’s mom chuckled very quietly. “That’s a girl in love for you.”

    The man looked at his wife. “Love? Didn’t they meet like less than three weeks ago?”

    She rolled her eyes. “Oh, please. You were the one to feed her with all those stories about Kaguya and now you are surprised that she fell for a man in almost the exact same situation as the legend portrays?”

    “... Fair enough. If a charming princess summoned me to another realm, I’d pledge my life to her in an instant—ouch!” He felt a piercing elbow on his stomach. “Before I met you, that is!” The woman giggled and he pulled her into a hug from behind.

    They stood together in the doorway and watched their daughter deal with food out of her own volition. It was truly a rare sight as Miria usually just grabbed whatever was on display or whatever her mother prepared, saying that putting effort in something like this was a complete waste of time. And right now, she was truly enjoying herself to the fullest with the supposedly pointless chore while looking all giddy.

    Miria finished preparing all the sandwiches, placed them on a silver tray and sprinkled a pinch of salt and pepper on them for some additional effect.

    “Perfect!”

    She placed her hands on her hips and puffed her chest out proudly. She couldn’t wait to share them with Asterios. After checking through their connection, she verified that he had already returned to the tent and was waiting for her patiently. She focused completely on her work so she didn’t hear or see what they talked about in the other world, but she knew it went good.

    Miria picked up the tray and joyfully spun around with it in her hands, giggling cutely. She stopped after two circles and prepared herself to walk through a portal to Ast’s realm, but the moment her own world ended spinning, she noticed two figures leaning over the door frame and smiling at her widely. She froze completely. Not a single strand of hair on her whole body dared to move.

    “Man, I’m jealous. The last time you made me some was like on my birthday when you were seven I think. Those look tasty as hell.” Her dad eyed the enticing sandwiches.

    She could feel her face getting red with each passing second. Miria made sure that both of her parents were out before she started and yet they had been watching for who knows how long.

    “Some say that the way to a man's heart is through his stomach.” Her mother chuckled. “Tell me when I should start expecting some grandki—”

    Miria launched herself through the portal before the woman had a chance to finish her sentence.

    “Whoops. Looks like that part of her did not change in the slightest,” Miria’s mom commented with another chuckle.

    The man shook his head with a wry smile. “No surprises there. You keep teasing her like this for years.”

    “It’s not my fault that she is so shy and passive. No decent Beastfolk would get seriously interested in her if she kept being this way. I had to mop the floor with you three times before you acknowledged me, even though I knew you had a thing for me. But well, I guess Humans are different.”

    “Ugh… Could we… not come back to that? My pride… kind shatters each time I recall it...”

    The woman snickered, turned around, grabbed the man by the collar and pulled his face close to hers. “Either that or your pelvis. The choice is yours.” Miria’s father gulped audibly as the woman gazed intently into his eyes with a wicked smile.

    Back in the other realm, Asterios saw the dark crimson portal opening and stood up, just to get slammed back down when Miria shot through the gate like a ballista bolt. He noticed the silver tray which flew out of her hands and somehow managed to support it as he crashed with his back onto the floor, with Miria landing on his chest.

    He exhaled heavily and redirected his eyes from the tray he held on the side to Miria’s face, which was now pretty much in front of his, as close as to make their lips almost touch. She was completely flushed and now additionally wide-eyed at the position they found themselves in. He could feel that it wasn’t the only reason why she looked so embarrassed.

    Ast waited for a moment but she seemed almost paralyzed. Only her slightly quivering eyes were changing focus from his own pupils to his lips. It looked like she was going to say something, but she stopped herself. He smiled and prepared to raise both of them up when Miria hastily closed the distance and left a quick peck on his lips, sitting up instantly and looking away.

    He chuckled. It didn’t feel like a necessary mana transfer to him this time. Ast also raised himself, setting them both in a lotus position and glanced at the tray. “You really went all out with this, huh.”

    “Not at all… it’s just… a few sandwiches…” She still kept looking away while blushing furiously.

    With the amount of effort visibly emanating from every single piece, he understood that those weren’t just sandwiches. They pretty much rivalled what his mother sometimes prepared and she always boasted how they are filled to the brim with her love. Ast, of course, knew that Miria liked him quite a bit from the very beginning, but all the recent evidence pointed out that it actually delved deeper than just an affectionate master/familiar partnership.

    He already thought a few times about that fact. While he personally didn’t have much experience with either girls or romantical love in particular, besides all the books he went through, and there were many, he completely understood that it would be immensely hard or straight-up impossible to keep up a good relationship with one side bearing feelings for the other and them not answering, avoiding it or acting as if it didn’t concern them in the slightest.

    It would definitely hurt, even if the person would not show it, acting like they usually were. And hurting his beasts or partners did not exist in Ast’s dictionary. He ripped the page containing it off on the very first day he got fascinated with summoning and magical beasts.

    He loved them. Miria might have looked like a person, but the fact that she was his partner and summon did not change in the slightest. He didn’t know how that kind of love related to the one she started feeling for him, but it did not matter. His priorities stayed the same. And as his partner, she was now on top of the list of people or entities to keep happy, protected, satisfied. As long as the individual would at least partially reciprocate his care and kindness.

    If a summoned beast was wholeheartedly against interacting with him more than the contract dictated, that would be perfectly fine. He would still love to take care of them, but to the extent where it would be comfortable for the other side. Nothing forced.

    At the same time, he did enjoy all the time they spent interacting with each other and he definitely was having fun with Miria by his side. They got closer to each other, from both sides. While at first, she was just a curious summon to him, who happened to be quite openly emotional and fascinated with him and the world, with time, Asterios began seeing Miria more and more as a real girl.

    That's why he decided it would be only proper to give her an answer. And from what he felt inside, it didn't seem like it was a hard no. Instead, he felt like taking the next step towards the timid panthergirl as her mother has instructed him. It would definitely make Miria happy. No. It would definitely make both of them happy. There was no reason for him to stay only as her affectionate master who took great care for his summons. She was also a person. A person he liked being with.

    Asterios placed the tray on the floor and reached out with his hand to Miria’s head to scratch it gently. She showed a faint smile on her red face, still keeping her eyes to the side. She did not expect what happened next. Ast moved his hand lower to her cheek and turned her head towards himself, stealing her lips with a soft kiss.

    Her tail shot up in surprise and her eyes widened to the brim. Her usually withdrawn master initiated a kiss on his own, which definitely didn’t serve any other purpose than just for the sake of it, contradictory to all the previous ones he started in the past. She didn’t know what to think. She was confused, but at the same time really happy with the gentle and pleasant warmth spreading over her mouth.

    Asterios broke off and created some distance between them. He smiled at the sight of the completely surprised face Miria made. “Thank you for the treat. They look delicious. Come on, it would be rude to make them wait any longer before digging in.”

    She suddenly felt even hotter than when they fell onto each other or kissed and nodded shyly. Her tail was back into making some amazing, lively dances. Miria finally freed Ast’s waist and they sat side by side to enjoy her creations. She watched him curiously the whole time and Asterios definitely didn’t spare her compliments, making her smile wider and wider with each one.

    They finished eating in a few minutes. Naturally, Miria participated too, even though she tried to avoid partaking in the feast she prepared just for him, but Asterios refused to continue if she didn’t take a few bites too.

    After they finished, he informed Miria that the other guys offered to take their shifts for the night as a small token of goodwill and compensation for treating them rudely and they both decided to go to sleep after talking for a bit more about various things linked to summoning or Ast’s world.

    When they were done, Asterios took his coat off and slipped into the sleeping bag. He made some space inside and patted the ground on his side while glancing at Miria. She fiddled with her tail for a moment and also got inside. Naturally, avoiding any eye contact.

    The moment she laid herself down, he instantly pulled her towards himself and leaned Miria against his body while supporting the back of her head with his hand, stroking through her hair with care.

    “If you keep putting so much distance between us I might start thinking that you are repulsed by me, you know?” Ast chuckled.

    “Eh? That’s impossible! I just… ummm… don’t want to impose on Master too much...”

    “It’s fine. Just relax. Like that time. You are really cute when you don’t stress over the little details.”

    Miria took a deep breath to calm herself down, which coincidentally resulted in her inhaling a decent whiff of Ast’s scent, helping her release all the tension. She hugged him around and interlocked her legs with his, snuggling her face into his chest with some quiet purrs.

    Asterios giggled. “Ticklish. But that’s exactly what I meant. Don’t forget that the less awkward you feel, the clearer our bond becomes and as far as I know, you really wanted to get stronger, right? So, good night.” Miria nodded and they both drifted off.
     
  6. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 25 - Love and Dungeons
    It was Miria who woke up first again. She found herself lying on top of Ast’s chest while tightly hugging him. A slight blush painted her cheeks as she slowly raised herself up on her elbows and glanced at his calm, sleeping face.

    She moved her body up so that her head was above Ast’s and kept staring at his soft expression. It was really charming. A single thought surfaced in Miria’s mind and she could feel her face become redder as a reaction to it. She moved her hand and poked Asterios’s cheek a few times to check if he was still asleep. Nodding her head in confirmation, she began descending while intently watching if he wouldn’t suddenly open his eyes.

    Just before their lips connected, Miria drew herself back and shook her head.

    No! It wouldn't be okay with him asleep. But… it’s so embarrassing when he isn’t...

    She turned her gaze away while straddling Ast’s waist. It didn’t stop her from stealing glances back at his lips.

    A light one… only this once...

    Still slightly hesitant, Miria lowered herself above his face again and very slowly moved closer and closer, but she stopped barely millimetres away from her goal. She closed her eyes and sighed softly. No matter how she looked at it, it just wasn’t right.

    A quick peck on her lips made Miria’s eyes instantly shoot open and they met Ast’s blue ones staring back at her. She immediately sat up and covered her mouth with her hands.

    “Master… ummmm… you… were awake?”

    Asterios smiled. “It would be hard to keep sleeping when you sigh right into my face, don’t you think?” He also raised himself and patted her head a few times.

    Miria flinched in embarrassment. “I’m sorry…”

    “Don’t be. No man would be angry at being woken up by a good morning kiss from a cute girl.” She started squirming from both his caresses and pleasant words. “Listen. This stuff is quite new to me and I can’t know what exactly you are thinking, so let me just tell you that you don’t need a specific reason for a kiss or anything else, okay? I don’t want you to assume that it’s only fine when we share mana.”

    After getting released from his hand, Miria looked at Ast with slightly widened eyes.

    “Does that mean…?” she asked while realizing the slight change yesterday.

    He nodded. “Yeah. It would be pretty stupid of me to ignore how you feel. I definitely don’t dislike being close to you. You know that I value the happiness of my partners quite highly. Ah, but don’t think that I’m saying this only because of that.”

    She hastily shook her head. “I don’t!” Miria’s tail appeared in between them and she started nervously kneading it while shyly glancing at Ast. “Then… is Master okay with… becoming my mate? Like… officially?”

    “If you are fine with me.” His kind smile accompanied by those words made Miria shiver. “Do I have to do something special? I’m not familiar with your customs.” Asterios scratched his cheek.

    Miria’s face was already beet red, but she took a deep breath to slightly compose herself. She then started moving her face closer to Ast’s. He expected her to seal their relationship with a kiss, but she didn’t aim for his lips and Miria’s head went by the side of his.

    A moment later, he felt a careful bite on his earlobe. It was strong enough to feel a prickle of pain, but nothing exceedingly uncomfortable. Miria backed away and dropped her gaze to her hands playing with the tail.

    “Umm… in our culture… we mark our mates by biting on their left ear, which for us Pantherkin is the most sensitive spot. And…” Her fingers began moving even faster. “It can also be viewed as saying… I love you.

    Without a second of delay, Asterios placed his hand on top of Miria’s which was playing with her tail and leaned forward. She immediately understood his intention and closed her eyes in anticipation while her heart kept trying to escape from being imprisoned inside her chest. Then, it happened.

    “Nyaaahn~”

    A hot wave of shivers ran through her whole body after she felt Ast’s teeth close over her fluffy ear. An enticing moan escaped Miria’s lips from the pleasant sensation. She felt unimaginably happy. They were now truly together. It wasn’t just her one-sided affection. Asterios had really accepted her and confirmed it by performing this action. She waited for him to move back and as she expected, he was smiling at her.

    Asterios plopped his hand on Miria’s head and affectionately brushed through her hair. “Did I do it correctly?” She nodded her head, with her mind still a bit hazy from the current development. “Good. Come on, let’s get up. We should join others for breakfast so that they don’t think we are mad at them.”

    Before moving off Ast, Miria pondered for a second and mustered up all the courage she had at that moment. She let go of her tail, placed her hands on his chest and leaned forward, joining their lips in a gentle kiss. Miria backed away after a while and smiled shyly.

    “Good morning, Master.”

    Asterios chuckled seeing her cute act. “Yes. Good morning.”

    He helped her stand up and they fixed each other’s clothes, grabbing what they took off before going to sleep. The sounds of the party already eating and chatting could be heard through the material of their tent.

    Before they left it though, Miria sensed Asterios contemplating something. Without her trying to hide her own mind from his, she now was able to discern a bit more than just his surface thoughts. It still couldn’t compare to when they both established a conscious connection to share thoughts and images, but it was enough for her to understand that he was thinking about something related to their recent confession if she could call it that.

    Miria walked up to him. “Is something bothering you, Master?”

    He showed a slightly hesitant expression. “No, it’s just… considering the fact that I literally just accepted your feelings, it’s slightly insensitive for me to ask but, how do your people view polygamy?”

    Miria furrowed her brows, not due to the nature of his question but at the thought that asking something like this might be rude and out of place. She soon understood where that came from.

    “Ah. Are you perhaps thinking about Tina, Master?” she asked.

    “Well, partially, yes. Since you pretty much marked me as yours, I was wondering how I should act from now on. We do know that she is at least a little interested in me...”

    Miria smiled widely from seeing how considerate of her Asterios was. She stepped closer and hugged him tightly.

    “Don’t worry, Master. It was just a thing we do, like a custom or tradition. It doesn’t mean that we are now bound to only each other forever or something. In fact, it’s not unusual for strong Beastfolk to have multiple mates. And it works for both genders.” She rubbed her face into the side of his neck. “Thank you for thinking about me. I don’t mind if you find more mates. I know that you will always take good care of me nevertheless. And, with how kind Master is, I’m pretty sure there will be many girls wanting to get together with you.”

    Asterios grazed with his hand over Miria’s back while smiling. “I certainly do not plan on forming a legendary harem though.”

    She giggled in his embrace. “But what if you summon more girls, Master? Wouldn’t you also want to keep them happy as you always do with your beasts and partners?”

    “Ah, right. There’s that possibility now too.” Asterios sighed when he imagined more unique girls like Miria appearing during his summons.

    “That’s why it’s fine. I know that Master is not a person to go after any woman he sees. Besides, I will always be Master’s first mate, right?”

    He chuckled again. “You are collecting quite the number of my firsts here. My first contracted girl, my first kiss, my first girlfriend, or rather, as I should call it, my first mate. I don’t think anyone has even a chance to compete with you now.”

    Miria was glad that they were hugging each other as Asterios was not able to see how flushed her expression was from him reminding her of all the things and also calling her his girlfriend. But that was true. She should do her best to start acting less embarrassed and shy in front of him. At least when they were alone. It wouldn’t be easy, but she would at least try.

    Asterios sensed her determination and figured out what Miria might have been thinking about. He pulled her back so that they faced each other.

    “Do not try to forcefully change who you are, okay? I have nothing against you being a little bit timid. In fact, I think it suits you with how cute and lovely you are. Just be yourself.”

    “Okay.” Miria glanced away for a moment and nodded. “Then… Master can be more proactive too. I do enjoy your hands or snuggles even if I look embarrassed a lot, ehehe~”

    After Asterios took her advice to his heart and showered Miria with a set of ferocious ear scratches, making her squirm under his caresses like a wriggling dancer, they finally left the tent and joined others. They were greeted properly by everyone and dined together while chatting about the journey ahead. Ast and Miria didn’t have anything against staying at the back of the convoy. The adventurers didn’t ask Miria many questions, still feeling a little bit uncomfortable after being slightly rude to them.

    Without delay, they resumed their trip. During one of the short breaks for some toilet time, Tesser couldn’t hold back his curiosity anymore and drove his horse to where the duo was.

    “So, ermmm, is she some kind of a legendary beast? I thought it was only Dragons and incredibly powerful entities that could assume different forms,” he asked Asterios since Miria was under him in her panther shape.

    Ast glanced down at her and she let him know that she was fine with whatever he said.

    “Well, she certainly is legendary to me,” he stroked Miria’s head with one hand, “but, she is more like a different race from far away. They do seem to possess the ability to morph. That’s why the animalistic features.”

    “I see. I’ve never heard about them. You must feel really lucky to have one as your summon.”

    He smiled. “Definitely.”

    After Tesser left, Miria tilted her head to Asterios. ~Master, I’m wondering about something. How is it that there’s nothing in your world about people with ears and tail like mine if Princess Kaguya supposedly travelled it with her Human partner?~

    Asterios pondered for a moment.

    ~Well, there may be many possibilities here. Maybe they somehow managed to find a way to hide her features. She might have also gone to a different world which also had Humans. Or, even if they lived in mine, they still could have done so in a completely different region, who knows how far from this continent or ones adjacent to it,~ he shared his theories.

    ~Oh. That sounds possible.~

    ~But, what I would bet on is just that with her being very likely the only, if not one of the very few persons with animalistic features arriving in this world, people just didn’t have enough information to pass on through books or such and thus it didn’t spread with the common population. Most were most likely lone sightings and reports, but those can be easily disregarded. Who knows, maybe one day we will stumble on some traces of them somewhere.~

    ~That would be amazing!~

    Ast kept scratching his fingers through her fur. It definitely would be, considering that she was pretty much Miria’s idol.

    Rest of the expedition went on pretty calmly. They only stumbled on an overgrown Devil Boar shortly before reaching their destination. It was a monster the size of one of the wagons, but besides its violent charge and sharp tusks, it didn’t pose that much of a threat. The party easily took care of it while Miria didn’t even have to switch out of her panther form as she supported them by distracting the beast.

    After getting into the town, they escorted the caravan up to the location of the jewellery store it was meant to reach. When everything was confirmed to be clear of any issues, the quest document was signed and the group headed to the local Adventurer’s Guild to submit it.

    They received the reward and split it equally. Well, Rudy insisted on counting Ast and Miria as two members of the team at first, but they both didn’t agree with her as Miria kept telling the woman that she was just Ast’s familiar and not really an adventurer and that she wasn’t even listed as a quest taker in the first place.

    Faced with a sound argumentation of the duo, she had to back down. She felt even worse now for judging them by stereotypes back there. Most adventurers would jump at free money straight away, given the chance.

    “So, I guess that’s it. Thanks for the help in that fight,” Rudy spoke as they sat around a table in the Adventurer’s Guild.

    “Right. Tesser would be having a second asshole if not for you, hahaha,” Douhlim laughed while taking a sip of his bear.

    “Oh, shut up. There was a chance it would ricochet off my shielding layer. But, there also was a chance it wouldn’t, judging by the angle, so thanks a lot.” The person in question slightly bowed their head.

    “That’s how a team works. We just did our part,” Asterios said.

    “You could very much have just turned a blind eye and watched from the sidelines after we ridiculed you. But, remember kid, don’t be too kind to everyone. There’s lots of scum wandering around, just waiting to exploit people like you,” Rudy sighed as she lectured him while looking into her mug.

    “Hahaha, thanks, but they should rather pray to not stumble onto me. I don’t think Miria would take kindly to such characters.”

    Miria squinted her eyes and started releasing waves of ferocious killing intent, making everyone around the table flinch a little. She then sucked it in and showed a brilliant smile like nothing had happened. The dwarf audibly gulped the beer he took a sip of in the middle of the sensation.

    “Well… we’ll be off then. We have a thing to do in this town. I hope we’ll meet each other someday.” Rudy showed a wry smile.

    The party walked out of the building, leaving the duo at the table by themselves. Miria glanced around the hall and turned to Asterios.

    “So, what are we going to do now, Master?”

    “I’m not sure. We can check the quests first. We can also check the town out if you want. I don’t have a specific plan to follow in mind,” Ast answered while thinking about their options.

    “It would be nice to gather some more experience in fighting together, I think.”

    “True. We might as well. Let’s find ourselves an inn and come back here to—”

    “Apologies my friend. I’ve overheard your conversation. You guys looking for a decent spot to train yourselves?”

    A man dressed in what looked like most likely a ranger armour with a cape and even a feathered hat, both in dark green shades, stopped by their table. Judging by the quiver and nice-looking bow on his back, he most likely was one.

    Miria glared at the eavesdropper while Ast looked up at him. “Yeah, that’s the case, Mister…”

    “Roalt. I’m a C-rank Sharpshooter. Judging by your plate, you are an E-rank, and the girl… has none, huh. Wouldn’t it be better to register your girlfriend too if you are adventuring together?”

    Miria’s eyes widened at the man’s remark and she blushed slightly while dropping her gaze. She quickly realized that it was not the problem here.

    “Wait! I’m Master’s familiar in the first place!” she shouted at him.

    The man furrowed his brows. “Familiar?”

    “I’m Asterios, an E-rank Summoner. And yes, she’s my contracted beast. One that can take a humanoid form for a time.”

    “Oh. So that’s why the ears. I see. I understand now. You didn’t want to put a collar on her if she looks like this. Well, anyway, you two are new here, right?” Roalt stroked his chin for a moment while observing Miria and then switched back to the main topic.

    “Yes, it’s our first time in this region,” Asterios answered.

    “Figured. If you are searching for a nice place to test yourselves and also earn a little, then there's a dungeon not that far from the city. It’s quite an old one so the upper floors aren’t that bad, although no one has reached the core yet.”

    “A dungeon, hmmm…” Ast pondered for a moment. “Certainly, that sounds like a good idea.”

    “You can learn more about it from the guild employees. The Guild even uses it for some of their promotional exams. Just make sure you prepare properly. It doesn’t matter how easy one might seem.”

    “Thanks for the advice. We'll definitely check it out. May the winds always stay in your favour.” Asterios thanked the man with a greeting most rangers and archers often used.

    “And in yours too, friend.”

    The man saluted casually to his forehead with a smile and left towards wherever he was heading previously.

    “Master, what is a dungeon?” Miria asked curiously.

    “Hm? You don’t have them in your world?”

    “I’m not sure. Maybe we call them differently? Or just there was none where I live.”

    Asterios gathered his thoughts for a moment and began his explanation.

    “A dungeon is something that is created out of contaminated spiritual essence. They appear in two places, with either being an area of highly condensed corrupted essence. First one is a natural occurrence. As all in nature, contaminated essence exists by itself too. Sometimes, its hubs can start forming deep underground. It often takes long years before it reaches the level required for a dungeon to form.”

    Asterios stopped for a moment to take a sip of water and glance if Miria was following. She nodded so he continued.

    “But when it happens, the gathered essence crystalizes and forms what we call a dungeon core. It gains partial sentience and becomes aware of its surroundings, starting to use mana to create layers of protection around itself. Years pass and there are tunnels or chambers, filled with monsters born out of the contaminated essence, reaching higher and higher until they get to the surface, making the entrance.”

    Miria made a thinking expression. “If it wants to protect itself, why dig up then?”

    “Good question. Protection of itself is only one of two things the core wants. Can you guess the other one?” Asterios pointed his hand at her.

    Around thirty seconds of silence passed. Miria finally raised her eyes from the table and spoke, uncertain of her answer. “Is it… more essence?”

    “Bingo. And where can the core find it?”

    “Ummmm… Ah. People?”

    “That’s right. As you most likely are aware, every entity should be in possession of two energies - spiritual essence and spiritual energy. We call the latter one mana for convenience. That’s why the core decides to open its gates for people to come in. Whenever mana is spent inside its home, it gains a little bit of spiritual essence by converting the amount of mana that is leaked into the air into it. It’s almost impossible to perform magic with the exact amount of mana the spell requires and some additional bits almost always get released into the air. And when a person loses their life there, their main spiritual essence is all sucked out by the core.”

    “I see. It’s pretty much baiting people to explore for it to grow even stronger.” Miria nodded in understanding.

    “Yeah. And it doesn’t only use the curiosity fueling the adventurers but also the promise of rewards. While expanding its domain underground, the core naturally stumbles on various minerals and materials, sometimes even on remains of some structures or things. It can convert those into potential items and gold and such. That’s why you have to show the money you find inside to the Guild. They verify its source by checking the essence traces and buy the coins from you for their exact value. Only after that, they can be later reintroduced to the system by the kingdom or other power governing the area where the dungeon has manifested. But, that’s a talk for another time.”

    Asterios could see how interested Miria was in hearing his explanations. She was pretty much yearning for more with how excited her eyes were.

    “Anyway, back to the topic, I pretty much explained to you what a dungeon is and how it works, but I said in the beginning that there are two cases of it coming to existence. The first was natural and the other one is usually ruins or graves. There’s a reason why abandoned cemeteries are often called surface dungeons. If a lot of people died in some underground structure, at some point in time, it will be filled with contaminated spiritual essence and it will go the same way as I spoke about earlier. Sometimes the core will be influenced by the ‘style’ of the area. And that’s it. Rings any bells?” Asterios finished and looked at Miria.

    She energetically nodded her head with a charming smile. “Yes! I don’t know if it works exactly the same, but from the entrance and monster parts, I assume that it’s what we call Monster Domains back at home. I never knew there was so much about them! Master really knows a lot!”

    Asterios smiled. “Well, I did a fair deal of studying, you know. In the end, everything is connected to spiritual essence.” He took a sip again. “So, I guess we are going dungeon delving?”

    “I’d love to.”

    “Great. We have a plan then.” Asterios nodded to himself. Now, they just needed to find an inn for their stay.

    “Ummmm…” He noticed Miria staring at him while fidgeting with her fingers a little. “About the collar…”

    Ast chuckled and shook his head. He could already see where this was heading.
     
  7. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 26 - Collar Up
    “What about it?” Asterios asked with a smile.

    Miria kept twiddling with her thumbs. “It’s just… Master never mentioned anything about collars so I’m curious what that person meant.”

    Certainly, he never brought that topic up for obvious reasons. But, since she inquired, Ast wasn’t going to just brush off her curiosity. He had a feeling that no matter what he would say, the conclusion to this conversation would still stay the same.

    “It’s a thing for Summoners and Beast Masters or similar professions. When registering as an adventurer, one gets a shoulder plate with a visible rank, as you already know. Additionally to that, the Guild also issues collars with similar plates for beasts and familiars to make them more recognizable from wild ones and also make it clear who they belong to. It’s not an obligatory practice, but advised one,” he explained.

    “I see. Then… why didn’t Master commission one for me?” she asked, visibly interested in the answer.

    Asterios sighed. “If I were to put a collar on you in your panther form, what would happen to it when you morphed?” He raised one of his brows.

    “It would stay where it was placed, so I assume, around my neck, right?” She answered instantly.

    “Right. That’s what I thought. The answer is simple. You would look like a slave and I definitely didn’t want to force something possibly insulting onto you. It’s not like beasts always agree to them too, some are just too proud or straight-up hate the idea. And since you are quite special with your appearance, I just threw it away from the very beginning. Also, we were pretty much hiding the fact that you, as a person, are my summon back in Rosewind at first, since it’s a heaven for summoners.” Asterios gestured with his hand as he fully presented his thoughts.

    Miria nodded through Ast’s monologue while keeping her gaze down on her thighs. The reasoning was sound and logical. She understood that and again was reminded of how considerate Asterios can be, which made her smile. But, she also felt something different inside…

    After finishing, Ast looked at Miria who sat silently, definitely contemplating something and hesitant to speak up. He chuckled and decided to make it easier for her.

    “You want one?”

    “Eh?” She raised her face and turned to him with a slightly surprised expression. “But…”

    “What? I never said I hated them or even had anything against the idea. I just didn’t want to be rude towards you, that’s all. It’s a different matter if it’s something you want,” Ast said, placing his chin on top of his intertwined hands.

    A faint blush began surfacing on Miria’s cheeks and Ast could notice her tail starting to show more excitement. It was as he suspected. Miria looked away for a second and then returned her gaze to him, with her eyes jumping around, clearly showing her embarrassment.

    “Wouldn’t that be… weird... hahaha...” she spoke meekly.

    Asterios shrugged. “Maybe.” Miria shrunk into herself a bit. “But, do I care? Not in the slightest.” He flashed her an even wider smile. “Did you already forget what I said about doing what makes you happy?”

    She glanced straight at Ast again. Her eyes filled with a visible gleam now. He chuckled again at that reaction.

    “So?”

    “Ummm… what does Master think… about me having one?”

    Asterios made a thoughtful expression. “Well, from the practicality standpoint, it would definitely be useful for your panther shape. As for the stylistic one, and your current form, I don’t know, but one thing is for sure, I definitely won’t allow an unpleasant looking one to sully your beautiful neck.”

    Miria’s hands subconsciously shot towards her neck as she felt her whole face getting increasingly hot from Ast’s sudden compliment. Whenever she tried glancing at him again, she instantly averted her gaze to the side after seeing Ast’s charming smile. She took a moment to calm herself down before speaking again.

    “I-I see… Could I… ask for one then?” She kept shooting him shy glances, still slightly embarrassed, but the excitement was bravely pushing through it.

    “Of course. If you don’t mind though, could you tell me why? I didn’t think you would be willing to have such a thing. Oh, but I’m not judging you, I’m just really curious.”

    Miria could tell that he was telling the truth. It was truly embarrassing, even from her standpoint, to ask someone to put a collar on you. She took a moment to figure out words which wouldn’t sound weird.

    “Ummm… I just think that having one would be… an additional proof of our connection… our bond… and… and—nyahn?!”

    Miria was so focused on her thoughts that she didn’t notice Ast walking up to her and plopping his hand onto her head, scratching gently around her ears. She looked up at him with her face covered in a tinge of rosiness.

    “Okay, no need to force yourself to say more if it’s that embarrassing. Let’s make an order for it while we ask for details about the dungeon.”

    He brushed through her hair for a second or two more and started heading towards an empty spot at the counter on the other side of the guildhall. Miria stood up and began walking behind Asterios, feeling disappointed that she couldn’t voice her honest thoughts properly.

    Staring at his firm back, she shook her head and mustered up a bit of determination. Asterios already said he didn’t find it weird. Miria quickened her pace and after catching up to him, leaned herself over Ast’s back, hiding her face in his neck and grasping the material of his coat with her hands. He obviously noticed the motion and stopped while slightly turning his head.

    Miria softly whispered to his ear, “I want it to show that I’m yours…”

    For the first time since he heard the phrase somewhere in the past, Ast truly experienced what it meant for his heart to skip a beat. The sound of that confession just had something… captivating in it. He felt a little bit of guilt for talking about other girls previously, even though he knew Miria didn’t view him having more partners as an issue.

    Faced with Miria’s timid, upturned gaze from above his shoulder, he couldn’t do anything but smile and pat her head affectionately.

    “Got it,” he whispered back.

    They waited a minute for Miria to stop blushing and stepped again onto the path leading to a free receptionist, walking side by side. The girl with a charming and professional smile noticed them from quite far and waited without dropping it for even a second. She had long, blond hair and yellowish eyes and emanated an aura of a mature woman.

    “Welcome! My name is Venera, how can I help you today?” she spoke in a voice perfectly matching her appearance.

    “Hello, I’m Asterios and this is Miria. First things first, I wanted to ask if I can commission collars here or if I should head to a different person. I’m a Summoner.”

    The woman nodded along. “Yes, yes, I can take the order from you. Also, I don’t think there are any other right now and our artisan should be here, on the spot, so we could pass it over to him immediately, having it done while we talk since I assume there are more things you two wanted to discuss.”

    “That would be perfect.”

    She clapped her hands. “Great! Can you tell me more about it?”

    “I’m an E-rank so the plate should naturally be adequate to that. Would be nice if it had magnetic clips. Ah, and as for the material, do you deal with self-adjustable, mana-woven fabrics?” Asterios inquired after going through the main parts.

    “Hmmmmm… Yes, we do. They aren’t that popular so I’m not sure if we have anything besides black though.” Venera made a thoughtful expression.

    Asterios glanced at Miria and she nodded her head. “That would be fine with us.”

    “Okay.” The receptionist ducked under the counter for a few seconds and appeared again with a ribbon in her hand. “I would kindly ask you to show me the minimum and maximum sizes with this strap. More or less of course. It allows us to reduce the amount of unnecessarily wasted material.”

    He took the small belt from the woman’s hand and made a circle out of it, capturing Miria’s panther’s form neck diameter. He didn’t need her to change as he already hugged it a lot of times while riding on her back and could almost precisely reproduce it with his hands.

    Venera took a peek at the markers on the belt and noted down the number. “Thank you. Now, onto the maximum.”

    Ast showed a wry smile. “Erm, that was the maximum.”

    “My apologies, let me fix that mistake quickly. Done. Then, the minimum now, please.” She gestured again.

    Miria stepped closer to Ast and raised her chin, obviously, she couldn’t avoid blushing while staring at him. Asterios led the strap around her neck and held the loop with his fingers so that the receptionist could get the correct number.

    After he looked at her though, she seemed to be focusing on a different detail, with a confused expression and furrowed brows. She couldn’t understand why the man in front of her was using his friend to size the collar.

    In the first place, they didn’t deal with collars for people, and even if they did, the size difference was the weirdest part. The Guild sometimes had customers who tried to get a choker for their partners for much cheaper than the accessory stores due to them being obliged to provide the collars to adventurers at an affordable price, but—

    Achoo~!

    “Bless you.”

    “Thank you, Master.”

    Something made Miria’s nose itchy and she sneezed softly. Just the way she addressed Ast resulted in some gears in the receptionist’s head to begin turning and she finally noticed the two pointy things that twitched along the girl’s head-bob.

    “Erm… the collar… is for her?” Venera asked, not being sure what to think.

    It was Miria who answered this time. “Yes, I’m Master’s summon and I wanted one, so…”

    “Is there any problem? I can prove our contract if it’s necessary,” he added.

    The receptionist shook her hands. “No, no, no. I was just… surprised a bit. I don’t mean to be rude but, you don’t really look like a beast, so I thought for a moment that you are trying to get a slave collar for cheap or something. But, I guess... the ears...”

    She still was a little bit befuddled by the whole situation, but the pair in front of her seemed honest. And well, if they lied and used some kind of illusion magic, then that’s not her problem and they would be found out soon enough. Venera collected herself quickly and cleared her throat.

    “Okay, I got the measurements, thank you. Anything else to add?”

    “I would like it to have my Brand on the rank plate.”

    Asterios took off his right glove and made a few brushes with his fingers in the air, making his Summoner’s Brand to surface on the top of his hand. Surprisingly, the one on Miria’s forehead also showed up. With that, all the doubts of the receptionist were cleared too as it wasn’t easy to fake one.

    “I’ll add that to the notes. Erm… Then, give me a moment and I’ll deliver the request and come back here in a second.” She bowed lightly and left through a curtain behind.

    Asterios chuckled and shook his head. “I should have mentioned it from the start.”

    “But, her confused face was kinda funny.” Miria smiled.

    “Are you turning into my mother?”

    “Sorry, ehehe~”

    Venera returned quite quickly, just as she promised. Asterios informed her about their plan to visit the dungeon and that it was their first time around. The woman talked to them about it with great enthusiasm. It was visible that she liked interacting with adventurers that weren’t complete jerks.

    They learned the location and some basic rules. There was a small adventuring hub ran by the guild on its site, where they could get much more detailed information about the interior and existing monsters. They had to register their entry and return for logging purposes. Ast already knew about it, but they listened to the woman’s explanation about the requirement to bring the money and unidentified artifacts to the guild. There was a small operating fee for the dungeon, but that was kind of obvious.

    Venera handed them a small guide about the dungeon so that they could familiarize themselves with it also that way. After finishing talking, she glanced at both of them, sizing them up.

    “Well, just don’t push your luck too much. Overconfidence is a slow and insidious killer. Many aspiring adventurers lost their lives because they were too prideful to back out. I’d advise you to find at least one more person if you are planning on heading there alone.”

    Asterios nodded his head. “Don’t worry, we are mostly aiming to train there at first. And it will be a great occasion to figure out the areas we are currently lacking in so that we can think about who would be best suited to fill those holes.”

    “Yes, Master is a really cautious person. And I’m not the same as I was before too,” Miria joined in.

    Asterios brushed through her hair, making Miria squirm a bit. She knew he was cheering her up so that she didn’t think about that time again after they already went through a deep analysis of it, so she just smiled beautifully at him.

    “Ummm…” Venera tried her best to grab their attention back without looking rude. The duo stopped their show and turned to her. “Would you perhaps be willing to register me as your advisor? Of course, if you want and if you don’t already have one here.”

    They looked at each other and nodded. “I think it would be fun, Miss Venera!”

    Miria’s joyful smile took the receptionist a little bit off-guard and she averted her gaze. The cute girl with cat-like ears was just too adorable. She was curious about her origins, but it wasn’t the main reason she asked. Venera just wanted to become friends with the peculiar duo. They seemed like very kind people and she felt that she would definitely enjoy helping them out. She looked back at them and showed her best smile.

    “Thank you, I’ll do my best for you! And you don’t need to address me like that, just Venera is fine. Or… Ven… That’s how my friends call me.”

    “Well then, we’ll be in your hands then, Ven. I better not catch you using anything other than Ast now.” Asterios also put up a nice smile of his own.

    “I don’t have any short nickname so just call me Miria!” The panthergirl obviously had to add her part.

    Ven blushed a little, happy that they accepted her so openly, making her their friend. “Thanks! Let me fetch the collar, it should be ready by now.”

    And again, after disappearing in the back room, she soon returned with their ordered item. It was a small, oval plate made out of bronze, with Ast’s Summoner’s Brand etched onto it. It was in the form of two thin pieces connecting together in a Z-shape, attached to two ends of the slim, black strap. When joined together, the parts formed a single badge.

    "How much?" Ast asked.

    "Ah, it's your first one, right? Then it's on the house. It's a rule." She smiled kindly.

    "Woah, thanks a lot."

    Asterios sent a bit of his mana into the clip and it parted. He put the collar gently on Miria’s neck and closed it again. Next, he controlled the amount of energy in the strap and made it shrink until it firmly but gently embraced Miria’s neck.

    “How is it, not too tight?” he asked.

    “No, it’s great. It doesn’t feel uncomfortable. Actually, quite the opposite,” she answered while touching the badge with her hand. A faint smile found its way onto her lips.

    Asterios stepped back to take a better look at her. He brushed under his chin while taking a few glances, assuming a serious expression.

    “Just as I thought…”

    Miria, noticing his tone and look, was suddenly filled with anxiety and she glanced at him uneasily.

    “It made you even cuter.”

    It wasn’t what she expected to hear. A second passed before she completely registered Ast’s compliment and her eyes widened, accompanied by her face getting as red as a tomato. She instantly covered it with both of her hands and squirmed. Her ears started twitching like crazy and her tail danced happily.

    He chuckled and stepped closer to give her some pats. “Shoot. Now I can’t see the cute.”

    Miria slowly took her hands down and tried her best to look at Ast while he played with her ears. What he saw was a furiously blushing girl trying very hard not to look away. That picture actually made him want to give her a kiss. Out of his own volition, not just because she wished for it or it was necessary. It was something new that Asterios hadn’t experienced yet. Previously, he did it mostly because he felt like it was the right thing to do at the moment and she would like it.

    He decided against it though. Ven was literally by their side. It could get awkward. Especially since they just literally introduced themselves. Little did he know that the girl in question could already clearly see that there was something going on with how meekly Miria acted towards her master. It piqued her curiosity even more.
     
  8. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 27 – Into the Dungeon
    After bidding farewell to their new friend, Ast and Miria headed out of the guild to find a place they could stay in. The duo strolled through the lively town and looked around. It was refreshing for Ast to walk the streets that weren’t utterly crowded with people and there were no countless beasts rushing towards the academy.

    They stopped for a moment on the main square to grab a snack while they sat down and observed merchants doing their craft. Asterios caught Miria glancing down at her new collar, stroking it with her finger a bit and showing a faint smile afterwards. It also made him smile seeing her happy about such a little thing. He couldn’t disagree that the new accessory only added to her charms. He felt like it just fit her perfectly.

    Finishing up, they resumed the search and visited three inns on their path. Out of all of them, the last one seemed the cosiest so they chose it for their base in this village. The owner was an older woman, a very kind and joyful one. Her husband ran the kitchen in their establishment. She kept sending Miria grins and winks after they told her that only one room would be enough, which of course resulted in the timid girl getting all red and embarrassed.

    Asterios patted her head and led Miria to their room by hand. It was a small but stylish chamber with almost everything made out of wood. The bed was quite narrow but should fit two people without any issues. After Miria brought the backpack with his necessities from her realm, Ast approached her.

    “You should spend the rest of the day and the night back at home,” he spoke.

    Miria’s eyes slightly widened and her ears dropped down a bit alongside her head. Ast placed a hand on her cheek and brought her face back up while brushing over her skin with his thumb. She pushed the side of her face into it.

    “By no means, I got tired or bored of your company. You’ve been by my side almost all the time for the past two weeks, and I’m really glad to have you with me, but you do have life on the other side too. You shouldn’t neglect your parents and friends for me. I will not run away from you and even if I tried, you would always know where I am.”

    He kept grazing her cheek as he spoke. Miria smiled faintly. She knew that Asterios was right and she was barely leaving his side since the incident in the cave. She understood that he truly didn’t mind her being this clingy but truly cared for her and her family. Miria sighed softly while staring at his kind face.

    “I know. It’s just that… I’m really happy here, and it’s easy to forget about my original world. Even easier now after you… accepted my feelings. But you are right. I haven’t interacted much with people on the other side.” Miria recalled her last, short encounter with her parents and blushed.

    Asterios smiled. “Take your time there. I’ll head to the dungeon site by myself and call you there. I’m not that hopeless alone. And don’t worry. I will definitely let you know instantly if anything happens while you are gone.”

    Sensing a blush rising on her cheeks, Miria quickly closed the distance between them to leave a soft peck on Ast’s lips.

    “I’ll be going then. See you later, Master.”

    She hastily skipped through the portal before Asterios could say anything more. He chuckled to himself. She was just too cute. But he started enjoying that. It was something new in his life.

    Miria appeared in her own room back at home and instantly fidgeted. She kissed him openly again! Barely, but she was able to! They were an actual couple now and she really wanted to act more on it, but her shy nature usually stopped her. She exhaled heavily and fell onto the bed with her back. She would start being assertive one day too. Definitely. If her friends were able to get lovey-dovey with their mates in the open, she could too.

    After one more deep breath, she finally calmed herself. Asterios was completely right. She shouldn’t ignore everything and everyone else just because of him and she was beginning to notice how lucky she was to fall in love with someone who was this understanding, being able to confidently point out her behaviour instead of monopolizing her. He really cared not only for her but also for her life.

    She squirmed on her bed once more and sat up. The sky outside the window in her room told Miria that it was quite a late evening. The times of the day pretty much covered each other in their realms, with hers being a little bit faster as it was still bright back at Ast’s place. Her mother usually prepared dinner at this time so she decided to walk to the kitchen.

    And as expected, the woman was there, preparing a light snack. Her ear on top of long, black hair which reached almost to the floor, twitched in response to Miria’s steps and she glanced to the side.

    “Hi, mom,” Miria waved.

    *CLAAANK*

    The plate her mother was holding fell out of her hands and landed on the counter, fortunately, not shattering. The woman’s eyes were wide from surprise. A moment later, rushed steps could be heard from the living room and Miria’s father appeared in the doorstep.

    “Everything okay?” He looked at his wife which pointed further into the room to his side.

    Following the gesture, the man’s eyes stopped at Miria, standing in the center of the kitchen. She was swaying shyly while averting her gaze from them. Her ears were timidly down and her tail was slowly waving from side to side. Just a common sight for him. His daughter often acted embarrassed and shy. And then, he noticed the black band over her neck.

    A wide grin instantly appeared on his lips and he shot his eyes towards his wife who was crossing her arms over her chest with a smug ‘told you’ look written all over her face. He ran up to her and they started spinning while hugging each other.

    Miria just stood there unable to say anything, knowing very well why her parents reacted this way. One thing she didn’t mention to Asterios was the fact that in her region, chokers and collars were sometimes gifted to each other by couples. With a specific meaning. In Miria’s world, they were equivalent to rings. Yeah, proposal ones.

    That’s what Miria partially meant by saying that the collar was to show that she was his. While she also liked the thought of Asterios being her master via the collar, she much more preferred the meaning given to them by her people. While Miria’s parents celebrated her finally finding a mate and a husband, she swore to herself to tell Asterios about this small detail someday later. She then spent a pleasant evening with her family during the dinner, talking all about her lover, including the part that he wasn’t aware of his gift’s hidden meaning.

    Morning came and Asterios woke up alone in his room, which was rare in recent days. Having Miria by his side was nice, but he lived almost his whole life alone and slightly missed that independent feeling. He shook his head at the thought that he could possibly end up with more girls like her around him from the summoning. It was hard to imagine with his past lifestyle.

    Without further ado, he finished all preparations and left the inn. He could rent a horse to get to the dungeon faster, but he decided to take a walk there. It would take around sixteen hours as he estimated with the map. He wanted to give Miria more time in her own world. He knew she would come to let him ride her at a moment’s notice.

    There was a group of adventurers heading towards the place so he joined them and they left together. During their journey, he learned a lot about his destination since the party was a regular visitor there. There was a medium-sized camp around the site with many merchants selling various useful stuff, a Guild counter and some places to spend a night. According to their words, it was like a small village built around the dungeon. He grew really curious about it.

    Their pace was slower than he could assume by himself so they stopped for the night before reaching their goal the next day around noon. It was exactly as the party described. From afar, it looked like a military encampment with the number of high and wide tents placed all around. Countless people flowed between them in various directions and it was louder than at Rosewind’s main market.

    Asterios strolled towards the Guild tent which was the only one in an emerald-green colour and with many flags. He passed by small stands and shops with trinkets, potions, materials, ingredients, equipment and anything he could think of that could sell well in a place like this. The tent with the Guild’s employees was as crowded as he expected, but he managed to get in line to one of the receptionists.

    Surprisingly, it was manned mostly by men and only a few girls could be spotted in the Guild’s uniforms. He assumed that might be due to them being pretty much on the frontlines here, clashing against adventurers going in and out, which could require a bit more forceful approach at times instead of the usual kind style from the girls. Not that they couldn’t be tough themselves.

    After waiting for over an hour, he finally reached the beginning of the line and paid the necessary fee to gain access. This part was actually good to do alone as they might have requested Miria to pay too and arguing that she was his familiar in this big-ass crowd wouldn’t be pleasant.

    He delved further into the bustling encampment and passed the gate leading to the area with the dungeon. There were much fewer adventurers here and it was a tone quieter. People still walked both ways in groups. Asterios walked to the side and let Miria know about his position. The panthegirl appeared by him almost instantly.

    “Good afternoon, Master.” She showed a beaming smile.

    “Hello. How was your little break?” he asked.

    Miria blushed a little recalling her conversations with parents and some friends about Ast. “Great. As weird as it may sound, thank you for pushing me away, ehehe~. I promise I will spend more time with others by myself now.”

    He patted her head with a smile, making Miria rub it into his hand with a barely audible purr. “Wasn’t so bad, was it? Come on, let’s see the dungeon. I can feel how eager you are.”

    They arrived in a clearing without any tents in the vicinity and stared amazedly at the ‘gate’ in front of them. It looked like an entrance to a cave but carved inside wood instead of stone. There were two trunk-like pillars on the sides with beautiful vines enveloping them. A wooden stairway descended into the ground just after the initial step. It was obvious that the dungeon was connected to Nature or Earth element. Asterios already knew that from the guide and his talks with the other party.

    “Woah, it’s so big and… ominous. I’ve never been this close to one.” Miria marvelled over the entrance.

    “Neither did I. Ready for our first take?” Ast asked.

    “More than ever!”

    The stairs down took them around ten minutes of walking before they reached flat ground and a wide chamber. Walls and the ceiling were covered in wood or earth and dirt in turns. The hall was spacious and there were tens of different paths leading out of it. Some people camped around, part of them looking toughed up and ragged. The duo concluded that this must be the starting point of this floor.

    There weren’t any specific ‘safe areas’ in the dungeon, but just by the entrance or stairs to a different floor, there usually was a big chamber where monsters rarely appeared or strolled into it from the pathways, so it was used as kind of a resting hub. Three-person party walked past Ast and Miria, two of them practically dragging someone looking like their frontliner. Dungeons were no joke.

    “So, what are our plans, Master?” Miria asked after they arrived in the middle of the room.

    “We’ll roam around this floor a bit. Maybe try to find the stairs down on our own. The main path usually stays the same so we could follow a map, but all side areas change every four or five days. We should get familiar with this place first,” he explained.

    “Understood.”

    “As far as I know, the first floor is mostly about insect and arachnid-type monsters and weaker Nature affinity ones. Don’t drop your guard though. There are many venomous ones. Here, drink this.”

    Ast brought up two small bottles of some yellow liquid and handed one to Miria while gulping the other one down himself. He squinted his eyes and shook his head afterwards. Warned about the not-so-pleasant taste of it Miria was prepared enough when she downed hers and the sour liquid travelled through her throat. She still tensed her body and put her tongue out.

    “Hahaha, that’s the price of life. This extract gives partial resistance to some poisons and venoms. The taste doesn’t last long.”

    Miria tried to smile with her hanging tongue which only resulted in Asterios laughing even more from the funny expression she made. He joyfully brushed through her hair. A moment later, they prepared to leave into one of the tunnels.

    Asterios connected to his fiery reserves, turning his hair white and eyes red and placed a Protection From Acid sigil on them both, attaching both spells to his left glove, taking two slots out of twelve. Miria brought out her shortswords and inspected them while casting her Mana Coating. They both opened their minds to each other and smiled. Ast received lots of affection towards him through the link and Miria was met with a great amount of care. She loved the feeling of being so deeply connected with Asterios. And they weren't even on any considerable level with it yet.

    They didn’t need words as their thoughts travelled to each other at a much faster speed and they nodded at each other before heading towards one of the tunnels. Even though she really didn't want to, Miria wasn’t efficient enough to not leak some of her inner thoughts through the link and Asterios sometimes received a flash of her wanting to get all snuggly with him, for him to scratch her ears or hug her. It was partially amusing.

    She of course was aware of that fact, but they weren’t in a place where she could let herself get embarrassed easily. It was nothing that Ast didn’t know already. They walked through a corridor of wood and earth, something around five meters wide and ten high. Miria slightly in the front with all her senses heightened to her utmost abilities.

    “Do you think we will find some treasure here, Master?” she asked as they took another empty turn.

    “It’s possible but unlikely. Valuables usually appear deeper in the dungeon. The core wouldn’t want to get rid of its tools to incentivize people that easily. It’s still an expenditure of its precious essence and materials. First floors are explored mostly for materials from monsters,” Asterios shared some knowledge with her.

    Miria’s ear suddenly twitched and she stopped Ast by raising one of her hands with the blade. A moment later, she made a wide vertical swing above their heads, just in time to cut a white net coming at them from above in half. It was big enough to restrain one person.

    They looked up and noticed movement. The enemy, seeing that the ambush failed, started descending along the walls. Soon, they recognized five spider-like shapes, three of them quickly tapping their legs over the wood and earth.

    ~Jungle Spiders. Watch out for their webs. Your blades can easily cut them but you might not be able to break free with just force when entangled,~ Ast quickly notified his partner through their link.

    Three of them landed on the ground. The spiders were of the size of a full-grown dog. Naturally, their strength lied in working together. Miria reacted instantly by running towards the nearest wall and jumping upwards. She pushed herself off it and fueled her blades with much more mana drawn from Asterios.

    She spun horizontally while upside-down and cut the two monsters that still hung above their heads in half with her now way more extended blades than before, leaving deep cuts in the wooden walls, which were five meters to the sides.

    Meanwhile, Asterios kicked one of the spiders away with a strong spin. Drips of monster blood fell onto him from above and he heard a faint sizzling sound. The liquid was evaporating from his clothes due to his protection rune. Their blood was slightly acidic. He smiled at how fast it became useful.

    One of the spiders behind his back prepared to shoot another web, but Miria saw everything from above as she descended and shared information with her master, allowing him to gracefully sidestep just enough for the net to pass him and land on another monster.

    Asterios started waving his dagger at the two unrestrained enemies, watching out to not get stung by their sharp legs. He achieved his goal of pushing them back just enough for Miria to come crashing onto one of his opponents, splattering it into bits. More sizzling followed from her legs.

    He left the remaining one to Miria while he turned around just in time to see the webbed spider free itself from its friend’s net with its sharp legs. Asterios brought out a blackish stone from one of his belt’s pouches and lobbed it over the monster after filling it with a bit of his mana.

    As the spider was getting back onto its legs, a small, audible explosion occurred behind its back. Or more like a loud pop. It was enough to send tremors through the air and make Ast’s opponent check its source. In that given chance, Asterios plunged his dagger into its abdomen and sliced through its whole body's length. He stomped on the head of the hissing monster and drove the weapon into its head this time, killing it for sure.

    The fight was concluded. Miria had no issues with just a single mob. It went pretty well. He didn’t have to use any stronger sigils. Well, those were kinda weak monsters, but you never knew. Miria got rid of the green blood from her blades and sheathed them back.

    “I’m getting more and more used to our shared senses. It’s really amazing, Master,” Miria spoke.

    “I can see that. Good work.”

    “You too, Master!”

    She looked around and noticed Asterios walking towards the bug she squashed. He started poking his dagger into its insides and soon reached for something. Miria walked closer and crouched by his side. He showed her a stone, or rather a crystal, looking like a small, emerald pearl on the tips of his fingers.

    “This is a magical core. Every monster in here has one, smaller or bigger. It’s full of the essence the core expanded to create its guardians and thus valuable to us and the main source of income for adventurers besides the materials.”

    Miria nodded as she stared at the pretty orb.

    “We should try to get them from our kills whenever we can. Also, the dungeon will start assimilating the corpses after around fifteen or twenty minutes. That’s the time we have to gather the materials if there are any valuable ones. Now, try finding the core in the other spiders. It’s located in their abdomen, around the center.”

    “Wow. You know so much, Master.” She looked at him with an elated smile.

    Asterios chuckled. “I told you that I studied lots. And the location of the cores was actually in the guide we received from Ven. I can honestly confess that I didn’t know it. Only about how the whole thing works. I’ll let you read through it later.”

    Miria went to handle her new task while Asterios took out an empty vial and began collecting venom from the spiders’ fangs. It wasn’t really strong but could be useful for something. After finishing, they watched as the corpses began crumbling and decaying into the floor, leaving nothing behind. They took a sip of water and resumed their adventure.
     
  9. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 28 – Strong Convictions
    After collecting all the cores from the spiders’ corpses, Asterios and Miria resumed their exploration. There weren’t many threats on their path. Weak monsters such as Evil Centipedes, Murder Hornets, Choker Flowers, Bullsnails or more Jungle Spiders, couldn’t stand a chance against Miria’s swift movements and fierce attacks.

    In most scenarios, she successfully garnered the attention of all enemies and fought them while receiving clear and precise instructions from Asterios, who was watching carefully from the sidelines. They both could feel their cooperation getting better and better with each encounter. Having his help was like having eyes on the back of her head. Without even mentioning various supportive magic that Ast sometimes cast on her, mostly to let Miria familiarize herself with their effects since enemies they faced didn’t require her to go all out.

    With more battle experience, she started realizing how different and easier it was to fight while being connected to another person. Miria did live through a fair deal of battles, be it with monsters, wild beasts or even their own kin as they often challenged each other, but the difference was clear as a day.

    No amount of trained cooperation between team members could achieve this level of non-vocal communication. Sometimes, she felt like it was actually Asterios who moved her body with his warning, faster than her brain could react. And the constant connection to his mana reserves strengthened her a lot. Depending on the distance between them, she could refill her own energy pool through their link or even draw directly from his reserves. It was a slow process, but really helpful with Ast’s unimaginable mana capacity. There was a way to speed it up though…

    Miria pulled her sword out of the body of a large Bullsnail while slightly panting. When not lying dead on the ground, it reached up to her chest. Those monsters were often where inexperienced newbies met their demise or underwent their first major loss. No one would expect a snail to be able to rush at them with the speed of a running dog. Much less it having the strength that could crush bones into dust.

    She glanced around the small battlefield. Five more corpses surrounded her. Few of them mutilated into almost unrecognizable levels. Her ear twitched as Asterios grazed over it with his hand while trying to pick a shattered fragment of the snail’s shell out of her hair.

    “Well done. Much better than the last time. You are a fast learner,” he praised her for the performance.

    Miria’s tail danced happily. “It’s nothing. I have the best instructor by my side,” she responded with a compliment of her own.

    “With such a great pupil it is obvious that I will do my best, right? How is your mana?”

    She glanced to the side with a faint blush. “Around three fifths after this battle.”

    Ast’s right hand appeared on her cheek and lifted her chin a little bit. Miria closed her eyes, fully aware of what was going to happen next. Soon, she felt the familiar, warm sensation as her lips came in contact with those of her master. She shivered a little from the tingly feeling accompanying the transfer of spiritual energy.

    Every time her mana reserves went under seventy or sixty-five percent, they would replenish them as soon as possible and as fast as possible, which of course was through the method they discovered during their training together. A mana-filled kiss.

    Miria opened her eyes again just to see Asterios slowly backing away. “Not… yet…” she whispered while looking straight at him with a pleading expression.

    Asterios smiled. He knew pretty well that it was a lie and her energy was back at its full capacity, but he couldn’t just ignore such a request from the cute girl in front of his eyes and he pulled Miria closer by her waist, joining their lips once more.

    He decided to punish his partner a little for not being honest and started gently making his way into Miria’s mouth with his tongue while hugging her with his arms embracing her waist. She didn’t fight back and let him gently prod her own tongue, leaving the lead of this short dance to Asterios.

    She understood that he saw through her right away and ended the kiss on her own, not wanting to impose on her master’s kindness too much.

    “Thank you...”

    They stayed close for a minute more, staring into each other’s eyes, completely ignoring the carnage all around them. Asterios finally broke the silence with a soft chuckle. “So… can you let me go now?”

    Miria looked at him slightly confused. “But, I’m not holding you, Master.”

    It was true. She still had her blades in both of her hands hanging down on her sides. Asterios was the one with his arms around her. He showed a playful grin and skipped down with his eyes for a moment, quickly returning back to her face.

    Miria followed his gaze and instantly blushed much more fervently than when he was about to kiss her. Her tail was tightly coiled around Asterios’s right forearm like a Constrictor Snake squeezing its long-hunted prey. Miria quickly loosened and unravelled it back behind her legs. She didn’t even notice when it happened.

    Asterios patted the head of the almost steaming from embarrassment panthergirl and went past her to start collecting magical cores. He knew very well after the time they spent together that she was losing control over her tail whenever she felt good or really happy, letting it coil around his arms involuntarily. It was an adorable quirk, extremely befitting Miria’s shy personality in his eyes.

    They walked around the floor for two more hours, exploring a wide number of corridors, tunnels and chambers, taking every given opportunity to fight. Their main goal was to experience battles. And to figure out what they were lacking. Asterios wanted to fight alongside Miria in a more serious environment so that they could gather information on what role his next summon should fulfil.

    Arriving at another crossroad, Asterios looked around and the way they came from. He placed his hand on the nearby wall, focusing for a moment, and started heading towards the left path. Miria’s curiosity finally grew to the extreme. She was sure that he sensed it long ago but just wanted for her to properly ask. She caught up to him before they left the intersection.

    “Ummm…”

    Asterios stopped and glanced at her. “Yes?”

    “How come we are deep underground and still can see clearly like in a shaded forest outside?”

    He crossed his arms over his chest with a smile. “Good question. Any ideas?”

    Miria pouted. She was asking specifically because she didn’t know and he almost always redirected her questions back at her. But, she still started racking her brain for a possible answer. After three minutes she let out a dejected sigh and shook her head.

    “I don’t know…”

    Ast came closer and brushed through her hair. “Remember, magic is the answer to almost any question. Anyway, it’s what I explained to you not so long ago. Dungeons sometimes take a ‘style’. This one is clearly acting like a forest or a jungle. That includes the brightness of the interiors. As stupid as this may sound, the walls, the floor, the ceiling, all emit light. Magical one. Weird, right?”

    He could see how surprising that information was to her just by Miria’s expression. It was to be expected. What sane person would come up with such an answer? But that was reality.

    “That’s so mysterious…” she commented while examining a clearly not-shining piece of earthen wall. “Then… I have one more question… We are going all around this floor in a different direction almost every time, for something like four hours now. You said that the map doesn’t cover auxiliary areas, so, doesn’t Master need to make one for us to not get lost when trying to return?”

    Asterios nodded in an approving manner. “Another very good one. However, I was expecting you to bring this up much earlier as this is quite a crucial matter, don’t you think? What if I just completely forgot and was wandering around without a certain path back?”

    Miria’s ears dropped a little. “Right. You should always question your teammate when in any doubt. I’m sorry.”

    He began scratching behind them playfully, bringing those fluffy treasures back up again. “Exactly. But, don’t worry, we are here to learn. Mistakes are important steps in that process. So, what could be the answer here?”

    She again didn’t have any good ideas, besides assuming that Asterios might have memorized every single turn they took. But no matter how smart he was, that would require an insanely good memory. She knew he had it better than a lot of people, but she also was sure Ast wouldn’t risk leading them astray by chance he got it wrong. One bad move and they would be completely lost. Miria decided to go with the safest answer.

    “Magic?”

    Asterios chuckled while caressing her head. “You really catch on quick. Okay, come here.” He walked back to the only wall in the intersection and glanced at Miria. “See anything special?”

    She looked all over it, but nothing notable could be seen. Ast placed his hand on the surface and soon, a dark crimson sigil appeared a bit on the side to where he touched.

    “This is often called Mark of the Lost, even though it’s not specifically an ability or a spell. This is just a trace of my mana imbued onto this point via the visible sigil. Place your hand over it and send a wave of energy into it.” He pointed at the glowing mark.

    Miria did just as he told her and at the very moment she released her mana, she felt like the sigil in front of her eyes just flashed brightly in her mind. It didn’t change visually though. Then, five seconds later, she experienced another flash from the path they previously came from. Then another further away. And another. And another. Until the flashes started being too weak to follow them. Noticing that she turned her head towards the sources, Miria glanced back at Asterios.

    “Get it now? It’s like a spider’s web. You pull a string at any point and the tremors will travel to all other joints.” He smiled.

    “Woah… such an amazing use of mana… I didn’t know Summoners could do things like this,” she said with pure amazement in her eyes.

    Asterios chuckled. “How much do you know about Summoners?”

    “Only what you told me up until now, Master. As I said before, any magic besides simple strengthening is rare amongst our kind.”

    “Well then, this exact technique comes from the arsenal of Talisman Masters. Summoners are in fact magicians that build their profession by taking a lot of things from other schools of magic. As you know, your usual Mage uses chanting and magical circles to cast spells. The idea of incorporating sigils for Summoners’ magic is taken from Talisman Masters’ use of visual markings on paper called talismans to retain and control mana in a certain spot, and also to reduce the casting time. Another one would be Spiritualists. They specialize in controlling the spiritual energy inside themselves and others. A lot of supportive techniques we use on our contracted beasts are similar to their spells. To some extent, even the contract part was inspired by some Spiritualists techniques to link two people for some time. Naturally, each of those schools of magic is way stronger in their respective fields if they were to compete with Summoners. Talisman Master's sigils will almost always trample on the Summoner's ones,” Asterios explained.

    “Doesn’t this mean that Summoners have to learn like three times more stuff than the other users of magic?” Miria asked.

    “Spot on observation. That’s why there aren’t that many Summoners compared to other magic users. There's like only one notable academy and you already know it. Personally, I think people should learn about other kinds of magic anyway since everything is working on the same principle in the end. Spiritual energy, mana in other words.”

    “I see. Master is even more incredible than I thought!” Miria started staring at Ast with newfound respect. He just smiled at the girl brimming with enthusiasm towards him.

    Miria’s ear twitched and she shot her gaze to the side, instantly turning her expression into a serious one. “A scream. I think a Human one. It only reached my ears because of how high it was.”

    They looked at each other and nodded, instantly breaking into a run. Miria took the front like usual. She also had the best abilities to follow any other sounds that could come at them. Still, even though she could run much faster than Asterios, she kept the exact distance they set between themselves before so that she could instantly jump back and protect him.

    A minute later, the corridor started widening even more and they could see an entrance to some chamber. Miria reached it first and stopped. They both could hear sounds of battle from a bit further already. Asterios soon caught up to her and stood by Miria’s side at the beginning of the room. Or rather a cave. The interior was very irregular, similar to those of a natural cavern with flat ground.

    “Kyaaaaaaaaaaaghhhhhglhglhgh...!”

    Just as he laid his eyes on the center of it, a blond-haired girl wearing priestly robes had been impaled into her stomach by a huge scorpion’s tail. Its venom started working instantly due to the critical wound and she started vomiting blood. Two seconds later she was already gone. No chances of survival. Not with a venomous spike the size of a fist right into the belly.

    “Kelly! Shit, shit, shit, shit!”

    There were three monsters surrounding a party of four. Now actually three. A woman with a black ponytail, judging by her movements a Martial Artist, was fending off one enemy with her fists and kicks while dodging. A few meters behind her back, a girl in magician’s robes was lying on the ground and spasming with a blank expression and her staff on the side. She was the owner of the scream that Miria heard in the first place.

    Trying to defend her, a boy with short, brown hair, wielding a longsword, most likely a Warrior, was trying his best to push back another scorpion at his front. Judging by his expression, he was on the verge of breaking down. He was the one who called the name of the deceased healer. The scorpion who took out their Priestess somewhere in the middle of them, most likely while she was casting something to help her injured friend, was now beginning to walk towards the boy from behind.

    Asterios glanced at Miria who was observing the battlefield with her utmost attention, focusing on the new enemies they hadn’t yet faced. She had her blades ready but didn’t make a move.

    “I’d have bet you would instantly jump to save her,” he pointed out.

    He was sure that Miria should have been able to prevent the girl’s death. She saw the situation a bit earlier than him. With her speed, it was definitely enough to react. She could have also mentally requested a boost while he was still running.

    Miria turned her serious face to him. “I am Master’s familiar. Now also someone lucky enough to call herself Master’s mate too. As much as I want to help them, I have my own priorities and Master’s safety is the highest one. We Beastkin always place our family on the first spot, no matter the situation. I will not take action that could endanger Master’s life on my own, even if that means watching from the sidelines as others die.”

    He could feel the weight and intensity behind her words. There was no hesitation. She could very well kill for him. Asterios instantly understood that this was the way their people were raised, to treasure their families over anything else. He could guess that almost no one would blame others for making hard decisions to protect their loved ones. Miria might have been an incredibly shy and timid girl when it came to social interactions, but she was a strong warrior at the core. Living and dying by their people’s code.

    Some might have viewed such beliefs as selfish and cruel, but Asterios couldn’t stop a smile forming on his lips. He knew he was exactly the same when it came to his mother. And now, also to her.

    He stepped closer and pulled Miria into his embrace, stealing her lips with a soft and gentle kiss. They parted very quickly. It was just a peck, but Miria’s eyes widened to the brim. A smile much wider than his rose on her face. Even though it was one of their many kisses, she never felt so much love from it before. Not in this intensity. Aimed straight at her. As a girl. She could barely hold back her tears of happiness. It was very intoxicating. But...

    “Aim for the stingers.”

    *BOOM*

    The next second, she was gone, leaving behind only a loud thump in the air where she stood. No matter how strongly Miria steeled herself, Asterios could still catch a glimpse of sadness somewhere on the sidelines of her mind and drew a Haste sigil on her back while he kissed those beautiful lips. Three King Scorpions were not even worthy being called an appetizer for his beloved partner. He would not let Miria feel sad because of a few trashy monsters. And she instantly understood his intentions. Their connection grew again.
     
  10. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 29 – Learning From Mistakes
    Miria’s mind was a little bit fuzzy and the pleasant and warm sensation from the kiss lingered on her lips for much longer than she thought it should be physically possible. A smile just didn’t want to disappear from her face, completely disregarding the horrible scene in front of her eyes. Asterios didn’t berate her for the lack of action or her cold words. Quite the opposite. It felt like a reward. She felt all giddy inside.

    But, thinking about that could wait. She now had three unknown to her enemies to deal with. The hint was to get rid of the stingers and the reason behind that was obvious. They saw pretty clearly what happened to the Priestess, and the Mage lying on the ground most likely received a non-lethal wound from the tail spike.

    She knew that Asterios was sure she could beat them on her own or else he would have given her more instructions or support besides a quick Haste rune. Wanting to show him that he wasn’t wrong, Miria returned her focus completely to the underground battlefield as she soared through the air with her boosted lunge, shortening the distance between the fight and her previous position in an instant.

    Two enemies were entangled in bouts with their respective targets and the remaining one was heading towards the Human boy from behind. It seemed like the creatures were somehow able to communicate as she saw the first one pushing the adventurer’s guard up into the air and moving its tail back, to prepare for a combined strike with its sibling, which arrived just close enough to send its own stinger at the same time.

    Miria activated the Haste rune on her back again and filled her strengthened muscles with more mana. With a loud thump, she appeared by the side of the young man, spooking him a lot.

    There was no time to talk. Two deadly spikes were coming straight at him so Miria spun around, swiping the Human off his feet, and parried both attacks with one hand each. They hit the ground, breaking the flooring in the process.

    The scorpions were strong. Miria felt the weight behind their strikes even though she only lightly grazed the tails with her swords. This encounter was incomparable to their previous battles. She had to finish these two quickly before the last one decided to join or won against the Martial Artist.

    She swung one of her swords down at the still lowered tail, aiming to cut it off, but her blade sharpened with mana stopped around one-third into the monster’s flesh. That’s how tough its chitin armour was. The scorpion screeched loudly, announcing its pain, and hastily withdrew the stinger.

    Miria clicked her tongue. She should have gone all-in on it from the start. There was no chance that she would let the Bloodfang incident repeat itself again. Closing her eyes for just a moment, Miria reached with her consciousness towards Asterios, requesting for a deeper share of their senses and access to his robust mana reserves.

    She sensed his smile. He was proud of her quick decision and soon the bridge between them widened to the level as high as they could currently achieve. Her own mana mixed with his powerful energy, filling her body with vigour almost to the same extent as that day in the cave.

    There was no need for Miria to even open her eyes again as she perceived an incoming attack through Ast’s vision, sidestepping out of its path with ease. She opened them nevertheless. The two opponents were still in front of and behind her.

    Miria didn’t know why she felt like doing so, but she released a loud, ferocious roar, boosted with her spiritual energy into the air, making the whole chamber shake a little bit. The scorpions took a step back and it was enough of an opening for her.

    Extending the coating on her blades wouldn’t help here, so instead, Miria drew on the hot energy filling her body and lowered her stance while switching her weapons into a reverse grip. She smiled after sensing elemental particles gathering around them. Without even a thought from her, Asterios knew exactly what she needed and provided her with an adequate enchantment.

    Pushing herself off the ground, Miria lunged towards one of the scorpions and made a cross-shaped upwards slash after arriving right in front of it. Her own technique was strengthened by Wind Infusion from her master and two slashes of countless little air cuts tore through her opponent's protection, cutting off its venomous stinger, catching a few of its legs in the process too.

    She instantly stepped forward and launched herself into the air off the scorpion’s head, catching the venomous spike in her hands and thrusting it down onto its frame from above with all her body weight behind it. The improvised weapon pierced the armour with ease and sank into the flesh of the monster, poisoning it in the process. It didn’t look like they had resistance for their own venom.

    Not wasting any precious seconds, Miria jumped down from the screeching beast and turned around just in time to avoid getting impaled by its sibling. She avoided being hit by stepping forward, but that was exactly what it wanted and the scorpion’s enormous claws swung at her from the sides.

    Dodging them with a graceful backflip, she landed on the interlocked pliers. There was a little bit more of the Wind element on her blades so she decided to make full use of it and launched herself forward while positioning her weapons in front of her and initiated a technique called Spiralling Lunge, now enhanced not only with Ast’s scorching hot mana but also elemental power.

    Coming at the enemy like a vertically spinning relentless tornado, she flew straight through the monster, ripping chunks of chitin and flesh off the scorpion's top along the way, and dismembering its whole tail completely. She stopped the rotations right after going through it and slid over the floor for three more meters, arriving by the adventurer still lying on the ground.

    He was shocked. Stupefied. In his eyes, a girl of no different posture than him suddenly appeared out of nowhere and literally mutilated two King Scorpions in a flash while he was holding onto his own life against just a single one. Her movements, her posture, her way of fighting, everything seemed so… ferocious and beastly. And then he noticed that her arms were covered in blackish fur and she had cat-like ears and a tail. He shuddered, realizing that her roar might not have been a taunt spell.

    A female scream brought him out of stupor. The last remaining scorpion caught his friend by both hands with its pincers and pulled her into the air. “No!” he shouted.

    Miria knew she didn’t have enough time to close the distance between them and channel anything that would allow her to cut off the scorpion’s pincers no matter what she wanted to use.

    ~Underside.~ Another hint from Asterios arrived in her mind.

    She trusted it wholeheartedly and focused her all on the Haste sigil, almost teleporting in front of the monster. Without losing the momentum she gained from using it, she broke into a slide and glazed over the floor to get under her opponent. The moment she arrived under its belly, she drove both of her blades into it and they penetrated the surface with ease.

    Still sliding, she sliced through the whole length of the scorpion's body, leaving deep cuts in it and impressive trails of blood behind her, and flew out from under its rear end. It was a success. The monster threw the girl away in its pained jolt and loud screech. It wasn’t dead yet though.

    Now aware of its weakness, Miria quickly pushed herself off the ground again, threw away one of her shortswords and jumped back under the beast. She was sure that Asterios would warn her if its blood was highly acidic so she didn’t pay attention to the waterfall that descended upon her when she did so.

    Drawing on a little more of her mixed mana, she put it all in the sole sword, enlarging the coating coverage, and thrust it into the monster’s abdomen in the spot where she assumed its brain should be just above. And she was right as after her now longsword-length blade passed through its whole body, piercing the crucial organ, it surfaced on the other side, accompanied by a small fountain of blood and a complete freeze of the scorpion’s movements.

    “Fueeeh?!”

    *SPLOOSH*

    The now lifeless body didn’t have any strength remaining to stay lifted on the limp legs and came crashing onto her, pinning Miria to the ground with a loud splash. She got painted in the monster’s blood even more. The carcass was heavy and the ground was slippery as hell from its fluids. She had a hard time doing anything.

    Asterios ran up to her and stood in front of the scene with his hands on the hips, looking down at Miria’s head and shoulders poking out from under the carcass. If not for all the blood she had on her face, he could clearly see the embarrassed blush rising on her cheeks from the situation she got herself into.

    He smiled, shook his head and crouched to get a grip on the monster, lifting it up just enough for Miria to wriggle out of the bloody trap. Letting it down, he offered a hand to her to help Miria stand up.

    She received it and then glanced all over herself. She was completely covered in the scorpion’s fluids. Even her face and hair were full of it. The smell was horrible too. Miria quickly stepped away from Ast so that he didn’t have to suffer it. He definitely wouldn’t want to—

    *SMOOCH*

    —… kiss her?

    Despite her horrible state, Asterios pursued her withdrawal and left a quick peck on Miria’s lips while she thought that he wouldn’t even want to stand close to her, getting some of the blood onto his own mouth.

    “Great job. You were amazing.”

    To her surprise, he also plopped his hand onto her head and started patting it, ignoring the fact of how sticky her hair was.

    “T-thank you…” she said shyly, getting all warm from realizing that even this much wouldn’t be able to stop his affectionate caresses.

    Asterios brought out a piece of cloth and dampened it with some water created with Livelihood Magic. Then, he proceeded to softly wipe Miria’s face out of all the blood. She enjoyed his gentle brushes with a contented smile.

    Her body shivered a little when Ast switched to her ears, cleaning them with even more delicate movements. She couldn’t help but moan softly as he did so, but she was truly grateful for that. All the rest would have to wait for later. They still were in the middle of a dungeon.

    The duo looked around and spotted the boy by the body of the Priestess, crying with her in his arms. The Martial Artist girl was pretty roughed-up and she slowly limped towards him too.

    Asterios sighed, making Miria glance at him curiously. He walked towards the group and she followed on his side.

    “What the hell are you doing weeping over the dead while there are others on the verge of joining her soon,” he coldly stated.

    The boy raised his tear-covered face and his eyes soon widened.

    “Mona!”

    He placed the Priestess back on the ground and ran towards the paralyzed Mage. Miria understood where Ast’s sigh came from. They also went to the spot where the girl was lying. She was still alive but the venom was circulating through her body for some time already and her strained blood vessels were clearly visible to the naked eye.

    “Mona! What do we do?! We don’t have any antidotes!” the boy started shouting in panic.

    “First of all, calm down.”

    Asterios kneeled by the magician's side and examined her arm. He brought out his dagger and placed it against her wrist.

    “What are you—”

    The Warrior wanted to protest, but he went silent under Miria’s low growl and a cold stare. Ast continued his work and made a very shallow cut on one of the veins. He looked at the blood that slowly poured out and then pressed the point to seal it again with a bit of weak magic.

    “Nothing I have will be able to get rid of all this venom,” he spoke.

    The Warrior’s and Martial Artist’s faces turned pale.

    “Master… Can’t you heal her with your magic?” Miria asked hesitantly.

    Asterios shook his head. “You should already be aware of how it works. You are the only one I can heal.”

    What spark of hope the party had after hearing her question, was instantly crushed by his answer and the boy started falling into despair as he looked at his slowly dying friend.

    “But… I can slow down its spreading a bit. The rest will depend on the help she gets later. If she survives long enough that is,” he added.

    “That’s more than enough! Please, help us! We’ll do anything!” The other girl finally joined the conversation.

    Asterios nodded and threw a vial at the boy. “Make her drink this. All of it.” The adventurer uncorked it hastily and began moving it closer to the Mage’s mouth. “Stop. Her throat is obviously not working properly. Administer it mouth to mouth.”

    “What?” The boy looked at Ast surprised and hesitant.

    “Would you rather I do it? Time is running away.”

    The Warrior shook his head and followed Ast’s instructions. Miria smiled to herself. Even in this kind of situation he still was considerate of them. And her. Not like she would blame him. It was a necessary thing to do. She knew that from experience.

    Asterios handed the other girl a low-grade regeneration potion and they began preparing to leave. Miria quickly got the monster cores out after asking him about their location. Every minute was crucial now so the party recovered as much strength back as they could.

    The boy took the Mage onto his back while the other girl struggled with the dead body of the Priestess, having a hard time just looking at her deceased friend. He approached Asterios.

    “Could you… help us carry our friend?”

    Ast glanced at the beat-up Martial Artist and back at him. “And with her in that state who will protect you guys on the way back? Monsters didn’t suddenly disappear. The two of us need to be fully mobile.”

    “Master, I—”

    Asterios raised his hand to stop Miria, knowing well what she wanted to suggest. He would not let her bring a dead body of a stranger into her own room and store it there. It was this party’s responsibility to take care of the matter and face their mistakes. He didn’t want to go completely soft on them. Things like this happened all the time. They needed to push through by themselves.

    They finally departed and the duo guided the injured party back through the maze of corridors. As Asterios said, the monsters were still present, but Miria dealt with them all as they didn’t encounter any strong ones. King Scorpions were pretty much the worst of the first floor. And Miria had Ast’s support all the time now as they didn’t want to risk anything with such a big group.

    Since they were pretty much running all the way back, following Ast’s mana handprints, they reached the entrance chamber in under half an hour. The girl was starting to look really bleak.

    There were fewer adventurers here now so it was easy to run through the room. Many noticed them, but it looked like it wasn’t something rare as barely anyone reacted. They didn’t bother to search for a healer here, the more skilled ones would be resting on the lower floors for sure.

    Ast and Miria helped them climb the stairs and the party instantly started screaming for help after getting outside. Their escort wasn’t necessary now so they slowed down and let the adventurers run towards the gates to the outer ring by themselves.

    The duo stopped, looked at each other and smiled. Asterios started patting Miria’s head and she let herself enjoy his pleasant touch. Her whole body shivered and then she suddenly froze, her eyes wide, staring into nothingness somewhere above his shoulder, ears and tail standing at attention.

    “Miria?” Ast spoke confusedly.

    “It’s nothing! I just… ummmm… I... I have to leave... Like now.”

    He could feel the growing uneasiness not only from her voice but also through their connection.

    “I see.”

    “I’m sorry, Master. I know this is sudden, but… I just remembered I promised my mom something,” she explained herself while avoiding his eyes.

    Asterios could tell that she really was in a rush. “Hey, hey, it’s fine. I’m not holding you here hostage. Go, I’ll be okay.”

    Miria smiled awkwardly. “I… don’t know how long it will take. Maybe a day… or three… I won’t be able to come here during that period... Ah! Of course, I’ll come right away if there’s an emergency!”

    He chuckled and kept brushing through her hair. He had a weird feeling that Miria started avoiding his fingers with her ears though.

    “Just go. Take your time. As much as you need. Tell me if there’s anything I can help with.” He smiled at her again.

    Miria nodded quickly a few times and took a step back. “Thank you. I promise I will be back as soon as possible. See you later, Master.” And she hastily dived into the crimson portal in front of him.

    Asterios sighed. That was… weird. But Miria certainly was distressed about something she just remembered at that moment. He took a deep breath of fresh air, turned around and gazed up into the starry sky. It was pretty much the middle of the night.

    “What a beautiful full moon…”
     
  11. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 30 – Two Sides of the Same Coin ❤❤❤
    Hello people! Those who came here from my other series might be familiar with the little hearts in the title, but let me explain their role for everyone.

    In BIAW, I used hearts (1-3) to show how much explicit content was in the chapter, but here, for TWS, it will happen very rarely, so I will just use three to mark the chapter visibly. And for this series, no explicit content is deeply connected with the plot like in the other story, so it can be skipped if someone isn't a fan of it and not much will be lost.

    Cheers!
    Asterios headed towards the outer circle of the encampment. He had to find a place to stay for the time that Miria would be away. Since she wasn’t sure how long her business would take, he preferred to remain around the dungeon just in case she would get done with it quite fast.

    He arrived in the sea of tents and immediately spotted a small gathering somewhere in the middle of the road. The familiar Martial Artist was visible through the crowd and he could spot a few people from the Guild who were in robes, most likely all kinds of healers taking care of the poisoned Mage. There was nothing he could help with there so Asterios walked to search for a tent serving as an inn or something like that.

    There were a few of them placed around, almost all completely full, as expected. Fortunately, he managed to find a free spot in a place that provided just a bit of space to lay down on a mattress. It was enough. He didn’t want to distract Miria to get their stuff so Ast was glad that they had those beddings ready.

    After a calm night, he decided to pay a visit to the Guild’s tent and cash on some of the cores. He would leave one or two of each monster in his collection, just in case they could come useful in summoning or other helpful things.

    The King Scorpion crystals were obviously worth the most. With all they gathered yesterday, the guild paid him 7 silver coins, which was quite a good amount of cash for focusing on training instead of hunting down as many monsters as they could. It was all thanks to the scorpions as, without them, they would have received only 3 coins.

    Asterios spent half a day familiarizing himself more with the guide they received from Ven in preparation for their future attempts at lower floors of the dungeon. He also thought a lot about their performance yesterday and what should be their next step in terms of summoning. Prolonging that any longer was unnecessary. He got a lot of data from those few fights they entered.

    But, he wanted to hear Miria’s opinion first, so he noted down his observations and suggestions, and decided to consult her after she came back. She was the one who fought directly so she might have different remarks regarding what they should improve first.

    He thought about trying to summon another entity that would fight alongside her. The battle with scorpions went well, but it was clear as a day that Miria alone already had a bit of an issue with three enemies spread around while needing to protect other people. Even if they were alone, more than 3 or 4 decently strong enemies would start giving her trouble and both of them didn’t want to risk anything when they had a way to strengthen their party with another member.

    Getting a little stiff from just sitting or lying down all the time, he decided to stretch his bones a bit before going to sleep. Supposedly, there were Clockwork Mushrooms growing not that far to the east from the encampment, so it was a good chance to try and get some while he was at it.

    Asterios wandered through the forest quite confidently but never dropping his guard and lowering his focus. There were no sightings of any dangerous beasts or monsters in the vicinity of the dungeon as its aura often scared them away, but it was better to be safe than sorry.

    After two hours he managed to get three mushrooms. Nothing unexpected. He prepared himself to not find even a single one with so many adventures coming and going from the camp, but it looked like a little bit of luck was on his side tonight.

    As he was standing up from picking the fourth one near a tree, a familiar feeling of a portal opening surfaced behind his back.

    *THUMP*

    Before he could turn around though, the obvious person slammed against his back and two furry hands appeared on his chest, hugging him very tightly. Miria’s fingers grasped his vest with such strength she almost tore holes in it.

    “Master… Please… Order me to return to my realm… And to not come for a few days… I really—”

    “Why?”

    He felt a shudder after his question. Miria’s words were very weak and sounded tired or uncomfortable. Her heart was racing so fast he could feel its pounding through his back like a war drum moments before a valiant charge. Asterios started wondering if she perhaps got sick and didn’t want to risk him joining her, but she wouldn’t come here in the first place if that was the case.

    The grip on his chest tightened even more. Miria’s nails started pressing against his skin through the material.

    “I… I can’t hold it back… It’s so much worse than in the past… Please… Use our contract to order me to stay away! I can’t let you see me like this!”

    He started noticing how hot her body and breath were. A certain possibility started surfacing in Ast’s mind. “You can’t let me see you like what?”

    Another shiver. It was like his voice was the reason behind them.

    “Please… Just… I can’t… I’m like a completely different person when I’m—”

    “In heat?”

    Silence. There was no jolt this time. Asterios mustered all his strength to loosen Miria’s hold on his chest and barely managed to turn himself around to face her. He instantly realized he was right.

    Miria’s face was completely flushed, her breathing was hot, shallow and slightly ragged and she was using her mouth to faintly gasp for air. Her eyes were almost on the verge of tears, with a hazy and distant gaze.

    The moment he finished turning around, she started slowly closing the distance between their faces, showing off the fangs in her open mouth. Their lips soon connected. She started licking and sucking on his mouth from all sides before trying to greedily push her tongue inside.

    Before she did that, a bit of clarity returned to her eyes and she hastily withdrew herself, pushing Asterios away with her hands, which moved onto his shoulders. She stayed with her arms extended, panting from the previous action.

    “I’m sorry… It never was this strong… Not even the last time...”

    “Last time?”

    Miria averted her gaze but still kept stealing glances at him. “During our training…”

    Asterios finally connected all the dots after recalling Miria’s sudden change of behaviour yesterday.

    "Full moon?"

    Miria nodded hesitantly.

    Her sudden switch in behaviour was exactly the same as two weeks ago when they were in the middle of their training. Miria just announced one day that she had to take care of something for two days and that she would train at home. She must have left in anticipation of the incoming moon phase, which happened fortnightly in Ast’s realm.

    “We Pantherkin go into heat every full moon… But it’s not that bad... I was always able to deal with it myself. Just spending a day or two alone is enough for our kind. But… after Master accepted me as his mate... And then that kiss in the dungeon… It’s just… I can’t get rid of the itching with just fingers...”

    “And why are you letting yourself go through so much pain when you do have a mate? Why are you holding back so much? Am I not good enough?” he asked concernedly.

    Miria frantically shook her head. “NO! It’s not like that! It’s just… I’m scared…”

    Asterios sighed and swatted her arms away in the moment of her distraction, pulling himself close to her again.

    “Of what?”

    She embraced his back and just kept staring at Ast’s face for a moment, puffing soft and shallow breaths at him. “I’m… not like usual… not myself… It’s not me when I stop holding it back… You’d hate that side of me… I’m anything but shy, cute and timid… I’m not the Miria that you kno—MHN?!”

    He had enough of her silly excuses and sealed Miria’s lips, surprising her a lot. For some time already, his mind was getting filled with a myriad of lewd thoughts from her through their connection as Miria was in no state to properly control what was getting through and what wasn't. He knew exactly what she meant by not being herself as most of those thoughts showed her yearning for quite the rough affection. It naturally was starting to partially affect his mood too.

    After parting, he placed both of his hands on her cheeks, which made Miria shiver from the touch, and leaned their foreheads against each other while staring straight into her deep black eyes.

    “Now, listen here. First of all, I’m your master. It’s my full responsibility to take care of whatever needs you may have. And if that wasn’t enough already, I’m now also your mate. By choice. You have not even the slightest hint of a reason to go through all of this alone. What I hate is the fact that you are still doing so. If you are worried about me answering your feelings and willing to do this stuff with you only out of obligation, then don't,” he spoke in a stern tone, slowly, so that she could understand the weight of his words.

    “But…”

    It still didn’t work. Aware of Miria’s true wishes, he spun them around and pushed her back against the tree which was behind him, evoking a soundly moan from the panthergirl. He leaned to her ear.

    “There’s no way that I would hate learning about a new side of the girl I like,” he whispered to it sensually, sending a wave of shivers through her whole body. He raised her chin to match their gazes again. “So, are you finally going to stop or do I have to use an order to make you be honest with yourself?”

    She instantly went for his lips as her answer. Miria’s greedy tongue dived straight into Ast’s mouth and he did not resist, letting the forceful invader make its way inside to invite his own tongue for a wild dance. They exchanged deep kisses for over three minutes, panting and gasping for air when they started running out of it during their heated exchange.

    Miria let go of her worries completely. There was nothing but Asterios in her mind now. The man who summoned her into this beautiful world. The man who let her stay by his side to explore it. The man who risked his own life to save her and the man who finally accepted her feelings wholeheartedly. Her mate for life. She started to feel stupid for her previous behaviour.

    She released his lips from her relentless assault and pulled Asterios into a hug as close as she could; her whole body was shaking from happiness. It was not possible for her to go back now. She licked his earlobe seductively while running her hands over his muscular back.

    “Masteeeeeeeeeer… I love you so much… I’m… I’m at my limit after what you said… Can we do it here?” She kept speaking to it while kissing and biting on Ast’s ear.

    She was fully aware that they were in the middle of the forest which was not that far from the encampment around the dungeon, but the itch down there was starting to get really painful when she stopped holding back.

    “Nyaaaaaaaaahn~!”

    Ast’s hand plopped onto her head and started affectionately caressing her now even more sensitive ears, making her release a long moan of pleasure. He brought Miria back in front of him and smiled at her.

    “How can I say no when you are like this? Don’t worry and just watch.”

    He sensed her slight distress over their location and decided to act on it. Miria let him go and leaned over the tree while staring intently at Ast’s figure, doing her best not to jump at him instantly. He walked to the other side of the tree and drew a rune consisting of six strokes, which looked like a house with an X inside. Soon after, the air around five meters from their position started shimmering like in a hot desert.

    “What’s that?”

    “Alcove of Serenity. No sounds will escape this zone. We don’t want anyone interrupting us, right?”

    Miria’s eyes widened. Such a useful spell. With it, they could mate as hard as they wanted and no one would hear anything. She immediately pushed herself off the tree and crashed against Ast’s chest, starting to kiss and lick his neck.

    He caught her and chuckled. “Hahaha, wait, wait! There’s one more thing!”

    She reluctantly slowed down but stayed in his embrace. “What else? I really need it now… I’ve been holding back for over a day… It’s like a waterfall down there… My whole bed is so soaked that I won’t be able to sleep in it for a week...”

    Ast's eyes widened seeing Miria be so straightforward. He shook his head to clear his thoughts before he got lost in his own fantasies. The ones flooding his mind from Miria’s side were already enough. And they were quickly increasing in number.

    “I have no idea if our races are compatible or not… but just in case they are… I want to put a contraceptive sigil on you… Are you okay with that?” he properly explained his plan.

    Miria only just now realized that she could get pregnant if they actually had sex and a little bit of her usual, shy nature found its way back through the powerful yearning. She hid her face in his collarbone as the images of her having Ast’s babies started appearing in her mind.

    “Y-ye-yes, please…” she whispered barely audible words.

    He stroked her head, completely aware of her wild imagination. “Good. Just so that we are in the clear, I don’t dislike that idea completely, but so soon it would be bad if—nguh?!”

    A sudden bite on his neck made Asterios stop and look down. He was met with completely infatuated eyes of Miria staring right back at him as her fangs pulled his flesh just barely not strong enough to cause any injuries. He was the one to shiver this time. She let go of his neck and started raining kisses on the spot.

    “Master~ If you keep saying things like that any longer… I will really lose it~♪” she said in an extremely seductive tone.

    Asterios quickly moved his hand to Miria’s belly and drew the rune before things escalated beyond his control. If Miria really stopped holding back, he wouldn’t be able to even lift a finger against her.

    She giggled and released a soft moan as he stroked her tummy. Asterios brought his hand back to brush her cute lips and she started licking his thumb.

    “It’s time to lose it then,” he exclaimed with a smile.

    Miria’s eyes sparkled and she pushed him away. Making some space in between them, she grabbed her short vest and pulled it off over her head in one swift motion. Two bountiful peaks bathed in the silver moonlight jiggled right in front of Ast’s eyes. Before her top managed to fall to the ground, she already slid off her hot-pants alongside her panties and jumped out of them in a flash.

    A beautiful and completely naked girl stood in front of Asterios in all her glory. The sight was so amazing that he froze for a moment, admiring the perfectly toned body from all the physical exercise. If he had to use only one word to describe her, no other one than perfect would be fitting. Miria’s womanly charms, which were not too big in her case, just accentuated the godly figure. The only foreign thing in this image was a small heart-shaped sigil glowing in crimson hues under her belly.

    Even though Miria didn’t hide her breasts or nether regions, she used both hands to cover the area just above her girly parts, squeezing her considerable peaks together in the process. She was ready to pounce on him, yet she was still subconsciously worried about that little patch of fur. He shook his head with a smile and approached her, placing his own hand on Miria’s slim tummy.

    “I have one more thing to say.”

    He slowly moved it down, brushing over her smooth skin, evoking a long sigh from Miria. His fingers dived under hers and sank into the silky bush. Asterios moved his mouth close to her ear.

    “This…” he whispered while twirling the cute bush, “just adds to how erotic you look…”

    Miria’s ears twitched furiously and her heart skipped a beat as the very last of her insecurities vanished. She spun around and bent herself forward, placing one of her furry hands on the tree and using the other one to spread her secret place along with her legs, allowing Asterios to see it clearly.

    The heat inside her precious place was so intense he could spot little clouds of steam rising from the arousing crevice and countless droplets of love juices dripping down Miria’s legs, stopping at the fur under her knees. The chilliness of the night perfectly supported this image. She glanced at him over her shoulder, locking their eyes.

    No words were necessary. Just Miria’s pleading gaze was enough. Asterios hastily got rid of his clothing in a similar way to her, making sure to give Miria a good show of his body. The very moment his erect penis sprung into the open air, her eyes instantly locked on the rock-hard pole.

    Asterios chuckled seeing that he lost her attention and moved closer, placing his hand on Miria’s plump butt and aiming the tip of his cock at her pink flower with the other one. He would love to take it slow with her, for both their first times, but from all the thoughts he was receiving from Miria, he was completely aware it wouldn't be possible in her current predicament. She would pounce on him the moment he hesitated even a little bit.

    “Nhhhnnnnnn~” Feeling his glans come into contact with her soft folds, she released a long sigh.

    “Here I come then.”

    “Yesss! Please, don't hold back! I really need it! Please, Masteeeeer!”

    He complied with her wishes instantly and began slowly inserting his penis into the hot tunnel. The very moment Ast’s glans were swallowed by Miria’s lower lips, she moved the hand holding her labia to join the one on the tree and pushed herself off it, shoving his whole cock into her yearning cave in one go.

    “Nghhhhhhhyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaannnnnnnnnn~!” she screamed in pleasure, throwing her head to the back.

    Asterios grunted at the sudden movement as Miria’s soft bottom slapped against his waist. He didn’t even feel going through her hymen with how hard and fast she gulped his cock down up to the very base. Her whole body started spasming and he noticed Miria’s legs going limp so he quickly hugged her waist with his arms. She orgasmed just from taking him in, that’s how sensitive she was from the whole day of holding back.

    “Maaaashterrr~!”

    She was already looking back at him while gasping for air. Asterios knew exactly what she wanted and pulled his hips back, just to thrust them forward with all the strength he had. He began relentlessly pistoning Miria’s blazing hot, tight tunnel.

    A girl’s first time was supposed to be slow, painful and awkward, but here he was, hammering Miria’s recently deflowered pussy like a blacksmith raining down his tool onto the sturdy metal on the anvil, making her moan into the sky with each slap.

    “Aaaahnnn… Nyaaaaahaaaan… Ahhh… Ahhh… Yeeeees… Harder… Nyaaaahhnnn... Nyaaaahnn…”

    Even with that, she begged him for more. It was surreal. Unthinkable. But it was not the time to ponder over logic. Asterios fully focused on exploring Miria’s coiling insides. Her internal walls pressured his penis each time he brought his hips back, making it almost plop out of her. Then, he pierced through them again, sending his waist forward, scraping over the uneven surface of her vagina and spreading the tight tunnel with his glans.

    “Nyaahnnn… Mooooree… Ahnn… Master’s cock… is soo goood… Ravage my pussy… pleasssseeeeeeee...”

    Wet, sloshing sounds accompanied the rhythmic slapping of flesh against flesh. The amount of love juices that were spurting out of Miria’s love nest was immense, splashing onto Ast’s abdomen with each powerful slam, dripping onto the ground from the place where they were connected. From what he knew, it definitely couldn't be considered normal. It was pointless to compare Miria to Human girls.

    Asterios knew she was feeling as good as him, but he wanted to give her more. He wanted to really fulfil her wishes of doing her so hard that she wouldn’t be able to walk straight for a whole day. That’s what he got from her mind at one point. To achieve that, he decided to incorporate a new tactic into this battle.

    As he kept drilling his hard cock into Miria’s leaking honeypot, he moved one of his hands to the starting point of the black, fluffy rope dancing wildly in front of his eyes. He pushed his index finger against Miria’s skin and twirled her beautiful tail around his whole forearm.

    “Nyaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahnnnnnnnnnnn~! Myyyy taaaaaaail~!”

    The moment he gently gripped the soft strand of fur, Miria released another loud scream and her pussy convulsed in response, clenching down on his dick even more. Another wave of love nectar squirted from her lower lips as her whole body trembled from reaching another peak. Miria’s hands dug into the tree hard, making the bark crack and sending splinters to the sides.

    Asterios didn’t stop. He kept slamming his hips as hard as he could while also faintly brushing Miria’s tail up and down to increase her pleasure. And it worked wonders.

    “Yessssshhhhh~! Ahaaaan! Hyaannn! Thaaattshhh itttt! Ahaaannnn! Nyaaaaaaa~!”

    He started sensing Miria’s rising desire to get pounded even harder. It was a hard task to complete as Asterios was already going as hard as he could.

    I might not be physically strong enough to match your kind, but there are countless ways to supplement myself.

    After reaffirming his spirit, Asterios surprised Miria by suddenly pulling his penis out with a loud plop and swiftly rotating her vertically. Sent slightly into the air, she quickly threw her arms around his neck and entwined her legs behind his waist. Before she could express her dissatisfaction, she felt her back hit against the tree and Ast’s penis nailed her dripping pussy back again.

    “NYAAAAAAAAAAHNNNNNNNNNNNN~?!?! THAAATSSS EVEN DEEEPEEEER~! YESSS~! AHANNNNNNNN~!”

    Asterios used the wooden pillar behind her to push his cock even further. Each time he scratched her depths again, Miria’s body shivered. Now that they were able to face each other, she began raining kisses and bites onto his lips as much as she could in between the fervent moans and gasps for air.

    She was so happy, so glad, so ecstatic. Miria didn’t expect Asterios to actually do her this hard even though it was what she really wanted. She began using her thighs to push her hips according to his thrusts to shove Ast’s twitching rod even deeper into her lewd hole.

    “Masssteeeeeeeeer~! I looveee youuuuuu~! Nyaaahn… Ahnnnnn... Pleaseeeee! Fill me uppppp!”

    Asterios realized she must have sensed him reaching his limits. There was just one more thing he could do to give her the ending she deserved. He placed both of his hands on Miria’s shoulders and pushed her a little bit lower, pinning her to the tree even more while ravaging her pussy with powerful thrusts.

    She stared at his lips from slightly below, already missing kissing those two soft bumps. Asterios locked their gazes for a moment and smiled mischievously. Miria’s eyes widened. She felt herself approaching another climax and she had a weird premonition that he was planning something that would send her pleasure meters straight through the roof.

    And she was not mistaken as Asterios moved his mouth towards the top of her head, not breaking the eye contact for even a second. Realization hit her instantly.

    “WAAAAIT! If you do that… nyaaahhaan… now… ahnnnn… I—”

    But it was too late. Ast’s supple lips closed over the tip of her left ear.

    “HYAAAAAAAAAHNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNN~!”

    A wave of intense pleasure ran through Miria’s whole body as it started shaking. She was approaching the peak insanely fast and Asterios was still drilling her pussy senseless. It was the best. She would have the biggest orgasm while he was affectionately kissing her ear and knocking on the door to her deepest depths. Nothing could have been better.

    Miria, unfortunately, was wrong.

    “AHYAAAAAAAAAAAHNNN~! NYAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA~!”

    With just the perfect amount of strength to send her over the edge, Asterios nibbled on the fluffy earlobe, sinking his teeth very gently into the insanely delicate inner side of Miria’s ear. That was way too much than what she expected and she came hard. Her back arched like a bridge while Miria released the loudest scream that night.

    The dam holding back the sea of white finally broke when Miria’s pussy squeezed Ast’s cock with unbelievable strength and cloudy liquid shot out from his penis. Waves of hot semen crashed against her furthest depths and Miria’s body jerked once more as the hot seed filled her insides to the brim.

    Asterios held her in the air for the whole duration of their orgasms. After a minute, Miria’s body finally stopped spasming and he pulled her to lean onto him. He stepped to the side, watching out not to slip on the grass completely painted in their love juices, and sat under the tree. They both panted hard. It was more like desperate wheezing for air.

    After five minutes, Miria slowly pulled herself up from his shoulder and positioned her face in front of his while still sitting on Ast’s lap with her legs locked onto his waist. She looked down at their nether regions. A faint stream of white was dripping out of her pussy and Ast’s half-erect penis was just in front of it.

    She returned her gaze back up, now with a much clearer head than before, and started getting extremely embarrassed over all the things she said to Asterios so shamelessly. She opened her mouth to start apologizing, but he hastily placed a finger on it and shushed her down. After she had given up, Asterios leaned forward and joined their lips in a loving and gentle peck.

    “Shy Miria, lewd Miria, I don’t care, I love them both.” He smiled at her.

    She pursued his lips and left one more kiss on them. “Thank you… I’m sorry for stupidly worrying over this… I love you too, Master.”

    He chuckled and patted her head. “I know. So don’t hide stuff like that from me anymore, okay? I could feel how bad you felt when you jumped out of the portal.”

    She smiled cutely and nodded. “I promise.” She then looked down again and then averted her gaze. “Ummm… Do you really… like it?”

    Asterios raised one of his eyebrows. After glancing where she looked at, he instantly realized what she was asking about. He sighed and shook his head, using one of his hands to bring Miria’s face towards his.

    “Silly girl, there’s not a single spot on your whole body I wouldn't love to see. This,” he used the other one to poke the fluffy bush above her slit, “is on the list too. Don’t you ever dare think of getting rid of it for me. It’s beautiful.”

    Even though her face was still slightly flushed, Miria felt a heavy blush creep onto her cheeks. She snuggled as close to Ast as she could, pressing her soft breasts against his warm chest and started nuzzling her face into his neck while purring affectionately. Nothing could describe the happiness she felt at that moment.
     
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2021
  12. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 31 – Summoning for Dummies
    Asterios and Miria cuddled together for around ten minutes until the heat of the moment completely washed off them and they started feeling the chilliness of the night. He suggested taking a dip in a stream not that far from their location as he stumbled onto one during his stroll through the forest and Miria agreed.

    They arrived there without any issues and went in together. The shy Miria was completely back. It amused him to see her awkwardly cover herself with her arms and tail while blushing furiously. He patted her head and turned around so that they could wash themselves comfortably. Especially Miria.

    After they were done bathing and then drying up, the duo began heading towards the encampment together. Miria was clearly happy walking by his side as it was easily seen from her gleefully dancing tail and the quick glances she kept stealing at Asterios. He was glad that her mood was good.

    “So… the place I booked for the night is not that spacious and really crowded. I didn’t expect you to finish your business that fast…” he started the conversation.

    “Ehehe… I’m sorry for lying to you, Master. I told you I have things to do while I just shamelessly ran away…” She giggled wryly.

    “It’s fine. Forget it. Anyway, it might be a bit uncomfortable so I think you should spend the night at home this time.”

    “Ummmm… I don’t think that’s a good idea…”

    He turned his face towards her. “Why?”

    “The bed…”

    “Ah… So it wasn't a figure of speech.”

    She hastily looked away with a completely red face and kneaded her joined hands in the front. Asterios chuckled and brushed through her hair.

    “I understand. We’ll have to huddle up closely then. Not that I dislike this idea.” He smiled at her and so did she.

    It disappeared from her lips after a moment as Miria looked down and stroked her collar. Asterios didn’t miss that.

    “Something wrong?”

    She shook her head gently. “No… it’s just that I… Yesterday wasn’t the only time I’ve lied to you… The collar… it—”

    “It’s a proposal, right?” he cut her off.

    “Eh?” Miria turned her face to him with wide eyes. “You knew?”

    Asterios chuckled. “Not really. At least not for sure. But from the time we spent together and also from your mind during our deepened connection, I figured out that you aren’t exactly that much into master/slave play to be that happy about getting a collar which you could wear in public. You looked truly overjoyed that day. So, I apologize for sounding rude, but I assumed that for beast people it might have another meaning.”

    She dropped her eyes to the ground and Miria’s shoulders slumped.

    “Hey, hey. It’s not like you lied to me there. You just didn’t tell me the whole truth. So, don’t feel so down, okay?”

    “But still…”

    He sighed and moved his hand to her waist, pulling Miria into his embrace and placing a soft kiss on her lips. They separated and stared each other into the eyes. Ast brushed over her cheek with his thumb and then moved his hand to the collar.

    “Are you regretting this?” He faintly pulled the strap and leaned closer to Miria’s ear. “Because I certainly am not,” he whispered.

    After he backed away, Asterios was met with a loving gaze from Miria, accompanied by her rosy cheeks.

    “Never," she answered and hastily closed the distance again to leave a quick peck on his lips before shyly looking away. He released the embarrassed panthergirl to not tease her too much and Miria switched into her beast form, allowing them to get back to the camp fast.

    They arrived at the tent functioning as their place to stay and laid down on the narrow mattress together. Miria fell asleep on Ast’s chest under his gentle caresses over her head and her sensitive ears, cuddled up to him closely.

    The next morning, Miria returned home for a moment to change the sheets on her bed. It would be bad if she left them unattended in their poor state. While she carried them to the washroom, she didn’t miss the knowing smirk her mother showed when they passed each other, making her shiver in embarrassment.

    Reducing their bedding to such a state was nothing shameful for Pantherkin as going into heat was obviously part of their nature, but no matter how many intense baths Miria would take, it was close to impossible to hide from her mother’s nose what she and Ast did last night.

    She hastily left the place as soon as she could, in hopes that she wouldn’t stumble on her father. After coming back to Asterios, they went to eat breakfast together in one of the restaurant-like tents where he filled her in on what he was doing when she was gone. As they ate, Miria started going through the guide too, having Ast explain the most important details to her.

    Later, after they revised the information about the next three floors, the duo strolled together through the camp, heading outside of it, towards a clearing where they would be able to talk more about their first trip into the dungeon and their future plans.

    Before they reached the starting line of the tents, a familiar, female voice resonated through the air, making Miria’s ears twitch towards the source.

    “Hey! It’s them! They are here, come on!”

    They both turned around to see three people running, clearly in their direction. Ast and Miria instantly recognized the Martial Artist and Warrior from the day before yesterday, now with their Mage friend jogging in between them.

    The trio soon reached their destination and stopped, calming their breaths. The boy raised his face after doing so and looked at Miria.

    “I’m sorry for stopping you. We just wanted to say thank you properly for saving us from those scorpions, to the both of—”

    He stopped when his gaze moved to Asterios, showing visible signs of confusion and hesitation. The boy scratched his head and glanced back at Miria as if to confirm something, then at her furry arms he could never forget, and back to him.

    Ast then realized that they saw him only in his awakened mode and smiled. “Yes, I’m the same person. My hair and eyes tend to change colours now and then.”

    The adventurer also smiled wryly and bowed his head a bit. The two girls on his sides did the same. Previously, Asterios didn’t have time to take a better look at them than just to estimate their roles and how bad their condition was, so he glanced at the party as they showed courtesy.

    The boy looked to be around fifteen or sixteen. His friends also seemed to be around the same age. Most likely a group of childhood friends who decided to become adventurers for whatever reason they came up with. Maybe out of necessity. Who knew.

    One of the girls, the Mage, stepped forward and made an even more respectful bow towards Asterios.

    “Thank you for sharing your medicine with me. I would have definitely died if not for its effects. I’m eternally indebted to you and I would really want to repay your kindness even a bit, but I don’t have anything I could use to do that, so I—”

    He plopped his hand onto the dark violet hair of hers. “I don’t need anything. Your gratitude is enough. Just make sure that in the future you guys will pick your battles more carefully. It’s not shameful to run away. Dead men tell no tales. I would give you a good scolding, but I think you’ve gone through enough to understand your mistakes.”

    Sad expressions clouded their faces when the party was reminded of their fallen friend.

    The boy spoke up again. “Yes… We do… It was all my fault… As a leader, I—”

    “You are a unit. The responsibility is shared. Go, sit down together and talk about the mistakes each of you made. All of them. Blindly following the leader without voicing out your doubts is one too.” He looked at each of them. “We’ve received your thanks. There’s no debt to be repaid. Just, if you ever find others that would remind you of your past selves, make sure to pass your experiences onto them.”

    They all nodded respectfully and then looked at Miria. She didn’t know what to say in such a situation so she just smiled and nodded her head to them too. “It’s as Master said.”

    Hearing the woman call the man by her side master was a little bit unusual to them, but they noticed the collar on her neck and assumed that she must have been his combat slave. The young adventurers weren’t familiar with collars for summons. Not wanting to impose on their saviour anymore, they left after one more round of bowing. The duo returned to their path.

    “You were really cool back there, Master.” Miria took a step forward, turned around and smiled at Ast.

    He shook his head slowly. “I just quoted some random inspirational words I’ve read in books to cheer them up. It’s nothing to be proud of.”

    “Using them properly at a correct time is a feat worthy of praise though.”

    He smiled too and reached for her head. “Right. Thank you for the compliment.”

    She enjoyed his pats for a moment and they made their way to the clearing. At the spot, they sat down on the grass and began talking about their fights in the dungeon from the first to the last one.

    Asterios shared with Miria all of his observations, pointers, suggestions of improvement and views on her performance. Miria informed him about every single detail and sensation she went through during the battles, to give him as much feedback on the spells Ast used as it was possible. They spent a lot of time analyzing their movements and cooperation.

    Then, they reached the last fight with the scorpions and he shared his worries about the number of enemies being a potential issue for them as a 2-man party and they started debating what or who should fill the holes that were left in their team until Miria started getting curious about the summoning itself.

    “Master, how does summoning actually work? I’m sorry if that’s a silly question, but it’s not like you summoned me the usual way, right?” she asked.

    Asterios stroked his chin. “Hmmm, that’s a good point. You just popped out of nowhere while draining lots of my spiritual energy. Okay, let me give you a short briefing.”

    He took out a notepad from one of his belt pouches and switched into a lecturer mode while Miria sat cross-legged in front of him, eagerly focusing her attention on his explanation.

    “Let’s omit all the little technicalities you don’t need to bother yourself with and make this simple. You already know that the Summoner’s aptitude dictates how strong beasts he can attract during the summoning ritual. The keyword here is attract. Imagine summoning being something like sending a Message without a recipient into—... no, you aren’t that well-versed in magic, let me rephrase that,” he switched his planned explanation when noticing Miria’s head tilt a little when he mentioned that spell. She would most likely understand if he said it was telepathy or something, but why complicate things.

    Ekhm. Let’s say there’s a sheltered town named Summoner. Many people live in it. We will call those people Spiritual Essence and Spiritual Energy. The more of them and the more skilful they are, the better attractiveness of the town is and the higher the chances for the city to attract valuable newcomers, right?”

    Miria nodded vigorously. The way he presented it was very amusing to her and obviously easy to understand.

    “Okay. Now, the town is usually closed, surrounded by a moat and equipped with a drawbridge. All around the city are various kingdoms, called Realms. Different entities live in them. Our city decides that it wants to employ help from one. Now, they can assume two strategies. First, not care who joins as long as they are good. Second, have in mind specific qualities they are looking for. Let’s go with the latter one since that would be what we will most likely be using. So, they know what they are looking for. Let’s say they want someone who can heal. The town prepares various valuable materials which could possibly help attract the attention of entities with that ability, the Summoning Materials or Catalysts.”

    Miria’s eyes kept sparkling during his fake story. Asterios couldn’t help but chuckle. He felt like a storyteller entertaining children. But seeing her so engrossed was a really pleasant feeling.

    “So, they have the materials and then they lower their drawbridge, creating a pathwalk between the town of Summoner and all the kingdoms around, via the decree called Summoning Ritual. With the way for newcomers to arrive secured, the town starts releasing messengers carrying the information about their requirements and prepared valuables, who travel all around and shout their news to each kingdom interested in trading those materials for the help of one of their vassals. The messengers are called Echoes of Consciousness.”

    He stopped for a moment to take a sip of water.

    “When one of them finds an entity that is willing to check out the town of Summoner, they escort them back to it. Then, the vassal appraises, evaluates, judges the city, discusses things, asks questions, etc, etc, and if the terms are suitable for them, they sign a contract with the town, asking for something in return for their services. If they don’t, they return to their kingdom and Summoner starts sending out more messengers until they all get spent and tired. That’s it. In the simplest words. I hope I didn’t offend you with how childishly this sounded.”

    Miria started clapping joyously. “Amazing! I had no idea that Master was able to explain magic in such a way! Even kids would be able to grasp the concept with that!”

    Asterios chuckled. “Again, I’ve read lots of books. Those with more poetic narrations too. There’s always a grain of truth hidden in every oversaturated story.”

    He could feel the growing respect from her towards him through their connection. It was a weird feeling gaining in someone’s eyes from simplifying something to such banal levels. He was glad Miria didn’t get offended, but she most likely wouldn’t get no matter how he portrayed it. She knew that he would never mean it that way.

    “So, I think I’ve got everything, Master. We will be trying to use some catalyst to aim for a specific summon, right? I don’t think the quality of your spiritual energy will be a problem with that ferocious energy. Who do we look for?” Miria started inquiring about their plans.

    “First of all, I would like to try with my normal mana, it has improved significantly. And we don’t even know if I can choose between them or even try to hide the scarlet one. During the ritual, my circuits and aptitude should be completely visible to the summons.”

    Miria nodded. “I see. I think it’s a good plan. Then, about the entity?”

    “From what we already spoke about, I think we should aim for another frontliner who will take some weight off your shoulders and help you fight. I take care of the buffing and I can also heal decently, mostly out of combat since it needs focus, but my scorching energy is potent enough to improve natural regeneration by leaps and bounds as you have already experienced it,” Asterios shared his opinion.

    “Hmmm… I want Master to summon a beast that would stay by your side. I could focus on fighting more if your safety was assured. Could be a beast or entity capable of magic perhaps. Or ranged attacks if Master really wants to help me. But, I would really insist on the first option,” Miria spoke her mind with a protective expression on her face.

    Asterios pondered over what to do. He was pretty sure that the summon would not be weak so his spiritual circuits would need some time to cool down after their attempts or signing of the contract, so it would be good to choose the best option here. He started sipping more water while playing different scenarios in his mind.

    “Ummm… Master?” Miria brought him back to the world of the living.

    “Yeah?”

    “Could you maybe like… go for both?” she asked.

    “Both?”

    “I mean, something that is a great fighter and also good with magic? I don’t know that many magical beasts… maybe like...”

    “Like what?”

    “A Dragon?”

    Psshhhhhhhhhhht, cough, cough, cough! What?!” Asterios accidentally choked on the water from surprise.

    Miria quickly jumped to his side worriedly, but he signalled her that everything was fine.

    “Dragon? I’m happy that you think so highly of me, but still, a Dragon? There’s no way that a mere Human like me can make one obey. I don’t have a mountain of gold to offer.” He chuckled at her.

    “Sorry…” Miria apologized for startling him.

    Ast petted her cute ears. “Do you want to see one that badly?” She nodded her head shyly. “Hahaha, okay, maybe one day we will try, just so that you can take a good look at one. But only after we are strong enough to run away if it decides to squash us just because we dared to try luring it here, hahaha.”

    He laughed openly as he kept stroking Miria’s head. She also giggled and rested her cheek on his shoulder. Miria felt that if it was him, a Dragon would surely agree. She was certain that there weren’t many Humans, no, people like Asterios in the world. There was something about him that she couldn’t properly describe with words. Like a feeling of being truly cherished. Something attractive about his powerful spiritual essence. Not exactly in a brainwashing or seductive way, just like he was something more.
     
  13. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 32 – The Ritual
    Miria enjoyed leaning on Ast’s shoulder for a little longer and then returned to just sitting by his side. They didn’t come here to only laze around but also to discuss their new companion and partake in the summoning ritual.

    “So… We are going to be looking for an individual with specific qualities, right? Does Master have the catalyst necessary for that? And other materials?” she asked.

    “Well… Not necessarily of the quality and amount I would like to, but I do have enough of medium and low-grade materials to perform a decent summoning. Also, those are, to some extent, auxiliary parts of the ritual. Yes, they do help a lot, but in the end, the Summoner’s aptitude, quality of their spiritual circuits and essence play the most important role in the process. That’s why I think we should be fine. In the past, no matter what I used, my summons were answered only by small animals and little beasts. I’m curious to see if and how that might have changed with the emergence of this power.”

    Miria nodded. “Yeah, I’ve seen it in the memories you shared with me. But, I too think that it will be good! Can I help somehow?”

    “In the process? No. But we can prepare everything together.”

    She understood that it obviously wouldn’t be possible for her to influence the most crucial part of the summoning process, but Miria was happy to help with setting it up. She stood up, helped Asterios do the same and kept looking at him enthusiastically, with her tail dancing happily. He gave her a few pats and looked around.

    “Okay, this place should be decent. We need to find a spot where the grass is the lowest so that I can create the circle as carefully as I can,” he explained.

    They both started walking around the glade until Miria suddenly got an idea and called him over. She requested a bit of his special mana and Asterios released it for a moment, giving Miria a quick peck on her lips to the amusement of the panthergirl.

    He locked away his fervent energy and watched as Miria unsheathed her two swords and covered them with the usual Mana Coating. Then, she extended its range to around 1.5 meters, positioned them together by their pommels, each one facing the opposite way, and gripped them strongly.

    She lowered the blades close to the ground and checked something before nodding to herself. Miria then placed the extended shortswords above her head and smiled at Asterios. After that, she made a graceful aerial cartwheel.

    *SWOOSH*

    During the movement, she swiftly rotated her makeshift, double-bladed weapon just when she was in the middle of being upside down, cutting the grass as low as physically possible, and landed just slightly over the edge of the clearing she created. It was an amazingly clean cut that resulted in a perfect circle around three meters in diameter. She glanced at Asterios and smiled proudly.

    He couldn’t help but give her small applause. The spot she prepared was perfect. Miria happily trotted back to him and lowered her head a bit. Asterios quickly issued the proper reward and brushed through her hair, stroking her cute ears lovingly. He also leaked a little bit of his mana through his palm, evoking a small sigh of pleasure from her.

    “Great job.”

    Then, they started bringing most of his stuff from Miria’s realm and began unpacking it. First, Asterios went through various, colourful powders, sands, dusts and such, shortly explaining to the visibly curious panthergirl about their origin. In the end, he chose to use a mix of two, since that would allow them to try ‘for both’ as Miria suggested, and also alone for each quality. He placed two small jars of dust on his side, one of a teal colour and one looking like powdered dark chocolate.

    The first powder was called Aquairy Sand. It could be found in springs and ponds inhabited by Fairies. When they lived around it for at least thirty years, the mud or sand on the bottom would start getting soaked in so much spiritual essence and energy that it would turn teal and attain magical properties. It would help tune up the magic circle which would be drawn with it and focused towards spiritual beings.

    The second vial contained ground Terranue Ore. It was a much more common mineral, and although it was called ore, it was closer to something like a very hard fungus growing under the roots of specific kinds of trees. Digging it up was the easy part, grinding it into dust was as troublesome as crushing metallic ores. That resistance and durability were what Asterios wanted to use as a base for a strong beast or entity.

    Having both of the powders ready, Asterios mixed them in a ceramic bowl in front of Miria who was watching intently. The combination started looking really beautiful with how the colours blended together.

    After that, he drew the base of the magical circle in his notepad and showed it to Miria. It was one of the designs he usually used in his past and wanted to see how it would fare right now. There was one big external circle and another shortly after it a little bit to the middle. Then, four hexagons of various sizes and rotations were drawn inside, with the biggest one touching the external circle with its corners. The smallest one was positioned right in the center.

    Asterios handed the schematic to Miria and they began carefully scattering the mixed dust according to his drawing, starting from the middle to not breach any line by accident. Those would solidify after spiritual energy would be poured into the circuit, but before, it was just some fragile sand.

    They finished in fifteen minutes and the base was done. Ast asked Miria to leave the next part to him and she stepped aside. He began drawing various runes and glyphs around the external layer of the circle. She wasn’t familiar with any of them, but it wasn’t like Miria ever studied magic. It wasn’t possible where her tribe lived.

    Done with those elements, Ast plopped down onto his butt to rest for a moment. She sat by his side and gave him some water. The structure of the base was completed.

    “Ready for the next step?” Asterios asked.

    “Of course!” Miria responded joyfully.

    They moved to a different set of bags and backpacks and started going through numerous catalysts in the form of crystals, ores, valuables, smaller trinkets, artifacts, minerals and many other kinds of stuff. Miria had seen a lot of his collection back at home, but the variety of it was fascinating to her nevertheless.

    Asking for guidance, Miria was tasked with looking for things that reminded her of either strong beasts and strength itself, or those that could be associated with magic and spiritual power. She just had to pick ones that evoked memories, thoughts, feelings and sensations linked to those aspects.

    That was enough since they weren’t aiming for a specific beast or entity, so having to use anything more distinct wasn’t necessary. Confident in her definition of strength, Miria chose a dark blue rock. It was not only the size of her fist but also had quite a similar shape to it.

    Asterios picked a broken wand carved from a birch tree's branch, which was gifted to him by that one teacher back in the academy who actually liked to spend her time with him. It could have been viewed as a memento, but he knew that she would be truly happy if he managed to summon a powerful beast with it and then showed them to her one day. That was the reason she actually gave it to him. It was a valuable resource she could have used herself if she wanted.

    He checked what Miria brought to him and agreed with her choice, giving her a few pats as a reward. She started being even more open about them after they spent a night together. She still was the usual, shy and timid Miria, but he could clearly see that she was allowing herself to act a bit more affectionately and straightforwardly with him. It made him happy seeing her truly enjoy herself.

    “Okay, thank you for all the help, but unfortunately, that’s as far as I can have it. The rest is up to me and my capabilities. Haaaaaah… I wasn’t this stressed about summoning since… ever.” Asterios took a deep breath, sighed heavily and stared at their creation.

    Miria stepped closer to him from the front, hugged him close and nuzzled her face to his neck lovingly.

    “Don’t worry, Master. Just do your best. I believe in you,” she spoke in a cheering tone.

    Asterios brought her face up to be on par with his and joined their lips in a gentle kiss. Miria closed her eyes and enjoyed the sensation of his warm mouth grazing her own. She shivered a little when she felt Ast’s hand on one of her ears. He kept pecking her lips softly while massaging the furry earlobe with care.

    She couldn’t get enough of this pleasant affection and started reciprocating Ast’s advances with kisses of her own while her hands went over his shoulders and entwined together behind Asterios’s back. She was getting warmer. Even a bit hot. She wanted more. But it wasn’t as aggressive as when she was in heat. She just wished to enjoy those tender caresses with him.

    “Nyaaahn~?!”

    As if reading her mind, although they weren’t in the state of deepened connection, Asterios moved his other hand behind her waist and began very gently twirling her tail with his fingers. She shivered again. Having both her ears and tail petted while she was kissing him was incredible. She started purring really loud and increased the kisses she was raining on Ast’s soft lips.

    Asterios didn’t want to escalate things too far, and he had no idea after how much caressing, if it actually was possible to happen, Miria would get too much into the mood to just end there without going further, so he slowed down bit by bit until they both stopped and Miria released his lips.

    She gazed lovingly into his eyes until a heavy tint of rosiness began surfacing on her cheeks and she shyly averted her eyes to the side, still staying in Ast’s embrace with her arms over his shoulders. Asterios chuckled, placed a kiss on her blushing cheek and stepped away.

    “Thank you. I will surely summon something amazing with this much support,” he said with a smile.

    Miria joined her hands behind her butt and lowered her head a bit while dropping her gaze to the ground, stealing a glance or two at him in her embarrassed state.

    “Of course. As Master’s familiar I have to do whatever I can to help. And…” she looked completely away, showing only the side of her face and one eye almost glancing back at him, “as your mate… I’ve enjoyed it… a lot...”

    He began walking towards the circle and as he was passing by her, Asterios patted Miria's head once more. “Me too. Don’t be afraid to ask for some more whenever you want.” He then approached the patterns and calmed his mind.

    Refocusing his thoughts, Asterios sat on his knees close to the bottom part of the circle. He brought the two catalysts with him. Then, he placed his hands along the external lines in front of him, closed his eyes, and began filling the circuit they drew together, with his mana, the usual one at first.

    Miria watched as the lines started glowing from the point where he touched and soon the glow travelled over every single one of them, illuminating the whole summoning circle in dark crimson light. The glyphs were the last things to be activated.

    Asterios opened his eyes and verified the completion of the circuit. There seemed to be no issues with its integrity and he could feel his energy course through it properly. He picked up the two catalysts and threw them to the empty center of the smallest hexagon in the middle of the formation. A faint and short pillar of crimson red energy shot out from it and the objects began levitating in its light.

    “I’m starting then. Wish me luck.” Asterios glanced to the side and nodded at Miria who smiled in response.

    Then, he closed his eyes again and moved his spiritual consciousness into the circuit, like he previously explored his inner ones when he was checking them out and looking for the source of the weird power.

    Silence and darkness surrounded his spiritual projection. The darkness got illuminated by countless stars all around his spiritual body which had no form or visible shape. There were shining dots to the left, to the right, in front, behind, above and under him. Literally everywhere. It was like he entered the night sky and got swallowed by it.

    Asterios doubled his focus and soon, the familiar magical circle appeared under his position. If he had a body, he would most likely be standing in the middle of it. Not sensing any issues with the connection between his consciousness and the formation, he started fuelling it with his mana.

    The moment it received enough spiritual energy, the patterns sent powerful waves containing Ast’s mana into the ether all around. One wave was emitted for around five seconds of him sharing the mana with the circle. In the past, he was able to send one in a few minutes. It was an amazing improvement.

    Along with those surges of mana, bits of his own consciousness travelled into the darkness. Whenever they passed a realm, he had a very short window of time to take a peek into it and possibly spot a potential summoning target.

    But, since he wasn’t aiming for a specific one, Asterios focused his all on spreading his spiritual energy, which carried traces of the offerings and his own being, into as many realms as he possibly could.

    The concept of time was slightly altered in this vast, interdimensional space. It wasn’t like the time itself flew slower or faster, but the mind perceived such emptiness as very taxing and thus created the sensation as if hours had passed.

    Almost half of Ast’s mana had been spent to send out the waves up to now. It was way more than he was able to exhaust in the past, but it still seemed like no one was answering his calls. He started wondering if perhaps he was just disillusioned about his change, that his spiritual circuits didn’t really get cleansed and strengthened.

    It was really weird. Not even semi-strong or weak beasts were being interested in him for some reason. Maybe it was a problem with the combination of materials and catalysts they used or maybe there was always something wrong with his usual mana. If he wasn’t wrong, Miria appeared through the scorching hot energy.

    While Asterios was considering reaching towards his ferocious source of mana, one of the echoes of his consciousness responded. An image of a silhouette similar to a person walking through the woods flashed in his mind. He saw them turn around and smile at the piece of his mind.

    The next moment, he sensed the familiar feeling of an entity, colloquially speaking, stepping onto the interdimensional path leading to his world. He again focused all of his efforts to properly stabilize the connection and guide the guest to his realm without an issue.

    Outside, in the real world, Miria was watching Asterios sit on his knees and lean over the circle in complete focus and silence for about ten minutes now. He was starting to sweat more and more with each additional one. She wanted to come closer and wipe it off his face, but she knew she shouldn’t interfere and disrupt his connection with the formation glowing in regular intervals. The catalysts just recently vanished into thin air. She squeezed her hands together and cheered him on in her mind.

    Finally, Asterios felt like the entity reached his position in this dark universe and he was able to properly open a portal for them to step into his world, also establishing a stable connection with an interdimensional corridor, so that they could quickly return if they wished to do so. Or, for them to use as a means of travel after the contract would be accepted.

    He began sensing his slightly tired body again and felt the familiar ripple in space take place in front of him, where he guessed the middle of formation was. After the individual stepped through the gate, the main part of the summoning ritual was finished.

    Asterios sighed heavily while retracting all of his senses and consciousness back from the formation. He felt dizzy. But that was nothing new. He usually felt much worse in the past, and he only summoned critters then. So, he either got much stronger, or the summoned entity was even weaker than Soaring Ferret or Dashing Rabbit.

    “EEEEEEHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH?!”

    Before he managed to open his eyes, an unexpected scream of confusion and surprise reached his ears from behind. The owner of the voice was obvious. Miria.
     
  14. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 33 – Never Judge a Book by Its Cover
    Hearing the scream, Asterios turned his head around while opening his eyes, to check if everything was okay. He found Miria standing a few meters behind his back with a small towel in her hands. She looked completely dumbstruck and taken aback by whatever she was seeing. Her widened to the brim eyes were directed right above him, clearly towards the center of the summoning circle.

    “SPIRITUAL FOXES TRIBE?!” Miria shouted once more and left her mouth agape.

    “Hm? A Pantherkin? And a Werepanther at that? Interesting…” A soft and mature, ladylike voice arrived at Ast’s left ear with a melodic undertone.

    Asterios got a feeling that whatever stood in front of him in the formation they created, was definitely something or someone Miria recognized. Or, at least their race or species. He finally moved his gaze back to the front and was met with a tall figure of a woman, currently ignoring him and curiously observing the panthergirl.

    The lady, because Asterios thought there was no better-suited term for the beauty currently towering over him, had dazzling, long, almost snow-white hair. A medium-sized lock hung on the left side of her face, clipped with a small tube near its end, while the one on the opposite side was much shorter, reaching only to the woman’s chin.

    Two, pointy, fox-like ears of the same colour sprouted from the top of her head. The stranger’s face matched the voice they heard previously almost perfectly. Very noble and sharp edges of her face just added to the overall maturity. A gentle, lady-like smile painted her lips the whole time and her deep sapphire eyes with vertical pupils emanated an aura of knowledge, maturity and a tiny bit of mischievousness.

    She wore what in Ast’s realm would be called an exotic or ornamental one-piece dress, almost wholly in white with dark blue themes, which showed a great deal of her body here and there. It started around the woman’s neck and extended down in the shape of a triangle, leaving her shoulders and armpits completely exposed. This style was sometimes found in the main Demon continent.

    Then, the snowy material covered her quite sizable chest, leaving a cut pattern revealing a bit of the woman’s cleavage before continuing down unobstructed. It went to the back, but not for long, as Asterios could clearly see the exposed skin on the sides of her waist before the dress became wider again near the girl’s pelvis.

    It was obvious to him that her back was uncovered too, judging by where the material came and went. The whole dress clung tightly to the perfectly toned body, showing every line and edge of her waist and belly, and then flowing down somewhere around to her knees, but the part that was hanging there, seemed to be cut in half, presenting itself from a rotated angle, covering only most of her underbelly.

    And that was protected by another layer of clothing in the form of a piece of black panty, seemingly of the same, extravagant material. It most likely didn’t bother the wearer that her dress allowed to have a peek at it from many angles, especially during movements. Behind her waist, a fluffy, fox-like, white-furred tail was very slowly moving from side to side.

    Black tights covered the lady’s long and slender legs, ending with elegant yet durable looking boots. Her arms were covered with sleeves, left one of a sapphire colour and the right one being black, both starting above the back of her hands in a diamond shape and ending in the space between the elbow and armpit. She was holding a smoking pipette in the right hand on the level of her face while the left arm hugged her waist.

    Finally moving her eyes from Miria to Asterios, she pushed the tube away and it disappeared in blue, magical smoke as it sailed through the air.

    “Are you the one who summoned me, youngling?” She stared down at Asterios and asked with the same tone as previously.

    He stood up, dusted off his knees and gave a small but courteous bow with a hand over his heart. Asterios was sure that an entity of her demeanour would look positively at someone who showed proper respect.

    “Yes, my Lady. My name is Asterios and I’m a Summoner. Welcome to my realm, Kraedorion. Are you feeling well after the transfer?” he asked.

    “Oh why, thank you, I’m great. The atmosphere here is a little different, but the levels of spiritual energy in the environment aren’t that bad,” she answered while glancing around the glade. “If you don’t mind me asking, Asterios, is that Beastfolk girl behind you from Eabiarhia or does the race we two share inhabit your world too?”

    He glanced back at Miria who was keeping herself quiet after her previous shouts, quickly stopping herself before she unintentionally disturbed her master in this important moment. Summoning an entity didn’t guarantee them agreeing to a contract and she didn’t want to have a negative impact on his chances in what would pretty much be a negotiation.

    Ast sensed her worries and mentally instructed Miria to come closer, not worry and speak openly. She was his summon and a valuable companion, so if she had any doubts or thoughts, she should share them as he would always take her opinions under consideration first over pleasing a stranger. Miria smiled at him and did as he instructed, arriving by her master’s right side before she spoke up.

    “Yes, I am from Eabiarhia. My name is Miria and I’m Master’s contracted familiar.”

    The woman nodded in understanding. “That would explain your reaction to seeing me. We do hail from the same world.”

    Miria lowered her head a bit. “I’m sorry for screaming earlier. I didn’t expect Master to summon someone from my home, Miss…”

    “Ah! Where are my manners! Selene of the Spiritual Foxes. It’s a pleasure to meet you, Miria of the Pantherkin.” Selene’s eyes started shimmering in brighter blue as she glanced over the panthergirl and then Asterios. “And… you…”

    The duo caught a slight disappointment when she addressed Ast, which was also visible by her face turning into a more neutral state. Miria didn’t like that detail.

    “Master is a Human,” she informed the woman.

    “Oh? Those Humans?” Selene raised an eyebrow.

    “Yes, the ones mentioned in our legends. Specifically the one of Princess Kaguya, which was a member of one of your clans.”

    The foxgirl pondered over something for a moment while scanning Asterios with her glimmering eyes until they returned to the usual state.

    “You do have some decent looks, but… that would be all. Such a letdown… Figured that the legends were exaggerated...” She sighed in a tired fashion.

    Miria was about to question her what she meant with that insulting comment, but Asterios stopped her by raising his hand. It wasn’t that he was afraid of offending Selene, he definitely wasn’t the type to suck up to someone just because they might have been strong, to keep his chances of forming a contract, but he wanted to take matters into his own hands instead of letting Miria handle everything.

    “Is there something that makes you dissatisfied with me, Selene?” he asked straightforwardly, dropping the previous title.

    She turned her neutral face to him. “To put it bluntly, you are… weak.” Miria’s brow twitched a bit. She was liking the vixen less and less with each sentence that left her mouth. “Or rather, you are weaker than me. You do seem to possess quite good quality spiritual circuits and a decent pool of mana, but those are still considerably worse than mine. And I will not serve under someone that isn’t at least on my level, if not higher,” she explained with the same, mature voice, but less interested tone.

    “How did you judge that I’m weak? I did manage to summon you here and you answered my call,” he asked.

    “That is true. Perhaps… dumb luck?” She chuckled, making Miria squeeze her hands into fists at the woman calling Ast’s careful preparation and dedication dumb luck. “As for how I judged you… I may as well be courteous enough to share a bit about myself. I, Selene, am a High Priestess of the Spiritual Foxes Tribe and a Spiritualist myself. Being one, I can operate directly on spiritual energy, be it inside or around me.”

    She raised her hand to the front and flipped it so that her palm faced upwards. A similar, blue mist appeared around her forearm and hand and some light blue energy started gathering and swirling between her fingers, taking the shape of an orb.

    She made the ball change shapes into a cylinder, cube, rectangle, small shield and finally a spike, and sent it flying to the side with an uninterested swat of the hand. The projectile whizzed through the air and pierced a tree with ease, leaving a cleanly cut hole in the middle of it, passing further to damage more of them.

    “This was just a fraction of my power. I can do a lot more with spiritual energy, almost anything that my imagination would allow. That’s why I care a lot about mana. I used my Spiritual Sight to investigate your circuits and reserves and thus checking for myself how strong is your potential. There was something that lured me here through your sweet voice, but unfortunately, I must have been mistaken, because your spiritual energy and essence are nothing special. There would be no benefit for me if we formed a contract,” she explained her reasoning.

    Asterios could feel Miria’s annoyance reach dangerous levels so he tried to calm her down through telepathy. He explained that Selene most likely wasn’t able to see his inner source of energy with her ability. Miria instantly agreed, but still expressed her dissatisfaction to him.

    Ast mentally scratched her ears and assured her that he wouldn’t pursue someone she didn’t acknowledge. Miria was happy to hear that, but also a bit down because she felt that Selene was in fact a strong Spiritual Fox and would be a good addition to the team if not for her rude attitude. He chuckled in their thoughts and told her that it was normal in summoning. Not every entity happened to be a kind girl who only wanted to enjoy exploring the Summoner’s realm. She blushed a little after realizing how airheaded that statement made her look.

    That exchange happened in just two or three seconds as their connection was steadily growing stronger, so Selene only saw the master/familiar duo glance at each other for a short moment and then back at her, unaware of almost a full conversation taking place before her eyes. She did know a few things about summoning and magic in general from the records in her tribal temple’s archives, but not to such extent as to how the connection worked.

    “I do see your point, but you shouldn’t judge someone’s strength just based on these two things. There’s more to that than just raw spiritual energy or essence,” he said.

    “There’s no need for you to try convincing me. I will not change my mind no matter what you say, do or show me. From what I know, as a summon, I can demand from the Summoner whatever I want for my help. I want spiritual energy stronger than mine. You can’t fulfil that requirement, can you?” She showed a smirk.

    Part of Asterios wanted to instantly call on his scorching hot mana to prove the woman wrong, and he was definitely picking up similar feelings from Miria, but he wasn’t sure if he even wanted someone who looks down on others so much in his team. The loss of two precious catalysts saddened him, but that was life. Everyone would be a Summoner if they were able to succeed on their first try every time.

    Asterios sighed. “Alright. It’s not like I’m in a desperate situation. Looks like we are not a match, unfortunately.”

    Selene nodded and her previous smile returned to her lips. Answering the weird call that reached her and coming here might have been fruitless, but she was content with visiting a different realm. Not many could boast of such an encounter. There was no point in wasting any more of her time. She had plenty of research to continue back at home.

    “I’m glad that we both reached an understanding. Now then, I would like to be sent back. But before that happens, Miria, was it? Where do you live?” She turned to the panthergirl and inquired, almost ignoring Ast’s presence.

    “Why would you need to know that?” Miria answered with her own question.

    “I would like to meet with you back at home. Summons can cross realms at will, right? I feel like your knowledge and experience would be valuable to me. So? West from Squelching Glade? Below Nocturnal Sea? Or maybe in the north, in the Frozen Wilds? I don’t remember all the places where your kind usually settles down. And don’t worry, I will pay for your help appropriately.”

    Miria frowned. “I have no intention of exposing Master’s secrets to any outsiders. No amount of money or valuables will change that.”

    “Are you sure? I’m a High Priestess, remember? There aren’t that many in the Spiritual Foxes Tribe.”

    “There’s no need for you to try convincing me. I will not change my mind no matter what you say, do or show me,” Miria quoted Selene’s own words against her.

    The woman sighed. “Bummer. I still don’t get why you even got yourself into a contract with him in the first place. But, It’s not my style to pester others. Well then, mister Summoner, can you send me back or do we have to wait for you to rest? I can see that this little ritual of yours drained over sixty percent of your spiritual energy.”

    ~I soooooo want to slap her right in that big mouth…~ Miria sent Ast a mental message.

    ~I have a better idea,~ he chuckled and spoke back.

    “How could I make you wait for gods know how long, Lady Selene? Since nothing that I do can make you reconsider, I should at least do my best to send you home safe and sound as soon as I can. Right, Miria?” Asterios made a courteous bow and smiled beautifully before glancing at his partner.

    “Of course, Master! That’s the basics of good manners!” Miria answered with a smile too, already getting hints of what he was planning through their connection.

    Selene was a tad confused by the sudden change, but she wasn’t bothered by it. That might have been their way of getting back at her for her previous remarks now that they would be sending her back. But… she still wasn’t sure why they got so confident while Asterios was quite spent.

    “Well then, let’s get to it!” Asterios exclaimed, closed his eyes and threw his left hand forwards, supporting it with the other.

    “How are you—”

    Selene stopped mid-sentence as all the fur on her tail, head and ears suddenly stood up to attention. A mysterious shiver passed through her body from the bottom to the top. She shot her gaze at Ast instantly and her eyes widened involuntarily.

    She didn’t need her Spiritual Sight to notice the turbulent fluctuations of spiritual energy around the young Human. The air around him began to slightly blur and shimmer, and soon, his hair slowly turned from black to white, sending another shiver down her spine. Selene didn’t even notice when her mouth went agape.

    What happened then, completely stunned her. The youth opened his eyes, which were now glowing in pure crimson, and gazed straight into hers. Another shudder. His gaze was filled to the brim with power, might, but at the same time affection, care, promise. The promise of dealing with the issue she was facing. That was if she was worthy of receiving that help.

    Already overwhelmed with the amount of mana in the air, she didn’t expect to be hit with even more, but Asterios decided to draw on the scorching hot energy and slowly leak some of it outside of his spiritual circuits. A wave of blazing mana lightly burst out from his position like a gentle, warm breeze. Selene’s legs trembled when it passed through her body, stroking her circuits, and she fell limply onto her butt while staring with utter shock and awe up at the figure of Asterios, which began to be enveloped in dark crimson mist.

    She felt out of breath. Because of being a Spiritualist and how sensitive she was, her body barely could move due to the intense pressure of spiritual energy in the air. Her spiritual circuits were so hot she almost felt like she was burning from inside. She could do nothing but stare at the overwhelming show of might, slowly realizing that she might have made the worst mistake in her whole life, possibly burying the chances of finally finding the solution for her troubles deep underground. Forever.

    Asterios closed his hand into a fist and a crimson portal appeared behind Selene. He retracted some of the overbearing aura his leaking energy produced. Even Miria was beginning to get uneasy being near him as he sensed through their connection. He made his point so there was no need to continue. Hopefully, she learned her lesson for the future.

    “Okay. The door is here. It was nice meeting you, Lady Selene.” He glanced down at the foxgirl, which trembled with almost every word that left his mouth. “Ah, right. You can’t even stand. Miria, could you help our guest return home?”

    She happily skipped past him and began raising Selene up. The woman finally managed to break out of her daze when Miria interacted with her body and she used whatever strength she could muster to writhe out of the panthergirl’s grasp, falling back onto the grass.

    “Wait! Please! I beg you! This lowly Foxkin has eyes but failed to recognize Mount Fang! Please, forgive me, my Lord! I will do anything to enter a contract with you!” She instantly started cowering in front of him, without even raising her face, which was plastered to the ground.

    “Didn’t you say that nothing can change your mind? Please, leave,” he spoke in a neutral tone.

    “I was blind! Foolish! I will not beg for empty forgiveness! I will do anything to earn it! Even if that will never come in the end! I will change anything! I will become anything! Just let me be your servant and receive a tiny bit of your essence!”

    Asterios looked at Miria who also was slightly perturbed by Selene’s pleas. They both expected that she might react like this, but not to such extent. Whatever pride she had, was completely thrown off the cliff. It didn’t feel to him like the usual begging for power by someone who was proven badly wrong and began trying to recoup losses. He felt… desperation from her.

    Selene didn’t move, staying in a prostrated position all the time, waiting for any next words that would come from Asterios. She didn’t want to speak even a single unnecessary one to not offend him even more than she already did. He could very well just throw her into the portal, he had all the right, but she stayed unmoving and prayed in her mind that he would actually listen to her, no matter how improbable the chance was.

    Asterios consulted Miria mentally and she also shared her sensing the desperation in Selene’s voice. She told him that Spiritual Foxes was a proud tribe that normally wouldn’t reduce themselves to this state even when faced with an enormously stronger foe. She still didn’t like the woman but was at least a little bit inclined to listen to her story. He agreed and they both sighed almost in sync. Miria giggled.

    Now, it was time to question the rude fox about her true intentions.
     
  15. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 34 – What Does the Fox (Have to) Say
    “I told you there’s no need to sit like this,” Asterios said calmly.

    After they decided to go with the flow and listen to what Selene might have to say, everyone moved outside of the summoning circle’s structure. Ast and Miria sat comfortably by each other's side while the foxgirl positioned herself in front of them, sitting on her knees and bowing her head and whole body forward at almost perfect forty-five degrees. The charming ears laid down on top of her hair submissively.

    “Due to my previous offence, I should remain prostrated to atone for my rudeness,” she replied in a soft and controlled voice.

    “Master wishes to speak with you properly. It will be hard with your face directed to the ground. Isn’t ignoring his request being even ruder?” Miria spoke up.

    Selene slowly straightened herself in response and they could finally see her pretty and noble face, now completely calm and neutral under the seriousness of the situation.

    “I apologize. I will listen to everything you two say. I just wish to remain in this position if it’s okay.”

    “It’s fine,” Asterios responded. “Well then, let’s start anew, shall we?”

    She nodded. “As you wish, my Lord. I’m Selene of the Spiritual Foxes Tribe. I’ve been born with high spiritual sensitivity and aptitude, allowing me to pursue the ways of Spiritualists. As I explained earlier, they shape pure spiritual energy to their wishes. I will gladly demonstrate my abilities if my Lord wishes to see them. I’m one-hundred-thirty-eight years old and throughout my life, I’ve reached the rank of High Priestess in our community. People with this title are second only to the current Matriarch of our tribe. I would be honoured to enter a contract with you.”

    “138 years old? If you don’t mind me asking, what’s the average lifespan of your kin?” Ast asked curiously.

    “Let me answer that, Master,” Miria butted in. “It depends on the subrace. For us, Pantherkin, it’s something around 150 years. Spiritual Foxes, as their name suggests, are much more integrated with mana, which reinforces their bodies even more than ours, and they can usually live over 300 years. Various other Beastfolk subspecies reach different ages. Ah, I don’t think I’ve shared my age with Master! I’m 27, so I’m fairly young compared to Selene.”

    Asterios patted her head as thanks. “I see.” Besides the lifespan, there was one more thing he wanted to know about Beastfolk. “Selene, can you shapeshift like Miria too?”

    She shook her head. “Unfortunately, the Werefox blood coursing through my veins is very scarce and thus I can’t be considered one. I’m almost a pure Foxkin. I think my Lord has noticed that I do not possess fur over my hands, arms, feet nor legs, like my Lord’s current companion. It’s usually the sign of a Beastfolk having enough Werebeast blood in them to be able to shapeshift and inherit other benefits,” she explained.

    Miria nodded along. “That’s right, Master. If you remember, my mother also doesn’t have fur there while my father does. I was lucky to get it after him. As I told you before, Werebeasts are rare and that’s because the chance to inherit enough blood is quite low.”

    Ekhm.” Selene softly cleared her throat to return their attention to her. “While I am not a Werefox and can’t change shapes, it doesn’t mean that I don’t possess a second form. I’m not just any Foxkin. I’m a Spiritual Fox. I can enter an ‘awakened’ state in which my power rises significantly the higher the stage I reach, in turn, placing a lot of strain on my body. That’s why I always trained it relentlessly along with my control over spiritual energy, earning myself the title of Battlemaster Spiritualist.”

    A tinge of pride and a faint smile could be seen on Selene’s face when she mentioned that. The duo understood that she tried to not show it and keep completely calm, but it was impossible when speaking about such achievements. Especially Miria knew that feeling as she was very proud of her bloodline.

    “Ah! I remember! Princess Kaguya also was able to do that! In the stories I’ve read, it was said that she reached the last, seventh stage! The Mount Fang which Selene mentioned earlier, it was just your usual, huge mountain, but one day Princess Kaguya threw her empowered punch in rage and pretty much blasted half of it, shaping it into a canine looking hill! At least that's what the legend says. Hey, Selene! Which stage are you at?” Miria started brimming with excitement as she recounted the stories she went through in the past.

    Asterios showed a wry smile while imagining a single person levelling a mountain with just sheer power of their fist, even if imbued with spiritual energy. Such a feat was possible but reserved only for the strongest magicians in his world and they could be counted on one or two hands. If alive, then definitely on one.

    Selene was also having a hard time to not show how contended she was from the praise and amazement directed at her by Miria. Her ears had finally stood up from laying down on top of her head the whole time and she closed her eyes. All of her fur and hair began shimmering a little.

    “First stage?! That’s amaz—”

    Miria’s words stopped midway as her eyes widened even more than before when she and Asterios started noticing not one but three bushy tails dancing behind the back of the foxgirl.

    “You can get into the third stage?! Woooooooooooooahhhhhhhh…”

    Selene’s lips curled into a proud and gentle smile as she opened her eyes, which turned white and also began slightly glimmering.

    “Is it that amazing?” Asterios asked, not aware of how these things worked. They definitely looked beautiful though.

    Since Miria was too lost in admiring the sight in front of her, the shining foxgirl nodded her head and began explaining.

    “While Princess Kaguya is said to have reached the seventh one, even amongst the strongest Spiritual Foxes in our history, fifth can be considered the limit. Most actually stay at stage one, which can be identified by the little shimmer over our fur. Then there are some stage two and even less stage three. The more tails appear during the transformation, the higher the stage of an individual. Currently, I know only of one stage four, which is our Matriarch, and around like ten stage twos. I’m also the only stage three as far as I know.”

    “So you truly are a strong one,” he commented.

    She nodded. “Yes. And that’s why I believe that I will be of use to my Lord. All my power will be at my Lord's disposal if my Lord finds it in himself to forgive my previous attitude.” Returning back to her usual form, she bowed deeply.

    “And that brings us back to the main point. Why are you so intent on contracting me after I’ve revealed my hidden energy. Miria told me that your kind doesn’t usually cower this much.”

    Selene sat straight again and assumed a saddened expression, realizing how bad of a first impression she gave them.

    “I know that whatever I say may sound like poor excuses, but… while I was and still am a proud Spiritual Fox, I haven’t always looked down on others this much… I wouldn’t have gotten appointed as a High Priestess if I weren’t helping others, much weaker than myself. It’s just… I have been researching something for decades, trying to find a solution for a problem that has been troubling me since I can remember… with one being closely related to spiritual essence stronger than mine. That’s where I started desperately looking for stronger people, but when it came to the quality of the essence, mine was even higher than the Matriarch’s,” she slowly presented some parts of her past, glancing at Asterios from time to time to judge his reaction and check if he wasn’t suspecting her of lying.

    Sighing in relief after not seeing a hint of negativity from him, she continued. “And then, today, as I was returning to my mansion, I felt like someone touched my shoulder and whispered ‘I can help you’, along with a faint trail of warm and sweet essence, completely different from mine. I got my expectations high and let my Lord’s consciousness guide me. After seeing another Beastfolk, learning about them being my Lord’s summon and that my Lord is a Human, I got extremely excited, just to get my hopes crushed after using my Spiritual Sight. There was no trace of that essence. I… got annoyed, in simple words. I let my emotions take over and said a lot of rude things, wanting to return to my research immediately…”

    A wry smile appeared on her elegant face. Ast and Miria fully understood the part about emotions as they both experienced heavy outbursts in the past, doing something that they regretted soon after. The story seemed truthful to them. They could sense the struggle in Selene’s voice.

    “Hmmmm…” Asterios pondered. “It looks like I can’t completely hide that hot mana and use only my old one in the summoning ritual. In the end, it was what brought your attention to me. I’m starting to feel like there’s something wrong with either one or another, as no entity answered my call with the weaker one, which isn’t now as weak as it was in the past.”

    “I think so too, Master,” Miria added.

    “Anyway, that’s for us to think about. I trust your explanation, Selene. It felt sincere. Besides, if you were to lie to me, I would learn that at some point after I accepted you, as the Summoner and the summon can dive into each other’s minds. Would you mind telling me what is your issue and what are you researching so much?”

    For the first time since they moved out of the circle, Selene’s face took an anxious and uncertain expression. She averted her gaze for a moment, seemingly trying to find the correct words, now knowing that lying would do her more bad than good.

    Asterios saw that uneasiness. “If it’s too much to ask about, then—”

    “No,” she stopped him and took a deep breath. “I can’t expect to earn my Lord's trust while keeping secrets to myself. I… I’m cursed…”

    Her ears flopped down again, along with her gaze. Selene was extremely worried that revealing that aspect would deter Asterios from forming a contract with her. Who would want to create a connection with a cursed being, no matter how strong they were?

    Miria smiled faintly. Not because she ridiculed the woman’s situation but because she didn’t even have to peek into Ast’s mind to know what he was thinking. His next words only confirmed her guess.

    “Could you please elaborate?” he asked, bringing both of his hands to support his chin as his elbows rested on his knees in a cross-legged position.

    Selene nodded and for the first time switched her position. She sat on her butt properly, with her legs forward. Next, she reached to her tights and started uncovering her slender thighs and calves.

    When she passed the knees, Asterios and Miria began to see lined patterns flowing down her legs. They were of a very dark blue colour and coiled around her limbs in fluid paths, stopping at the areas just before Selene’s shins. Then, she started sliding off the sleeves which covered her arms and almost identical patterns were present there, starting under her elbows and ending just before her wrists.

    She spread her legs and arms to show them the markings better. “When I turned 25, which is the end of the second maturing period for us Foxkin, these patterns appeared on my forearms and calves. I didn’t think much of them at that point. It overlapped with my awakening as a Spiritualist for the first time so I assumed they were linked to it somehow. They kept growing steadily until I was 39. Then, they suddenly started hurting. A lot. After my 39th birthday, every single full moon results in an excruciating pain coursing through my whole body for at least twenty-four hours, usually longer. I’m just writhing around while screaming my lungs out until it passes.” A shiver ran through Selene’s body as she recounted the sensation.

    She sighed and continued. “That’s when I started desperately looking for help and knowledge. I did everything I could, from studying anything related to spiritual energy, through training my own body to the extreme, ending even at conducting shady rituals written in old grimoires. My pursuit of the possible solution led me to become a High Priestess with all I’ve achieved for the community while looking for a cure. Of course, the Matriarch offered her help quite early after she learned about my condition. That was how we noticed that spiritual essence and energy stronger than mine could lessen the effects of this curse. The Matriarch shared hers with me for some time, until the difference between us became smaller and at some point, it just stopped working. And now, we are here.”

    Finishing her story, Selene awkwardly pulled her knees in and hugged them with her arms with a disheartened expression. Asterios glanced at Miria, who was pretty much on the verge of tears, with her lips tightly shut to hold back. It was no surprise with how emotional she was. He nudged her mentally, encouraging Miria to do what she was thinking about. She then scooted closer to Selene and took her hand into hers. The latter showed a wry smile.

    “May I see those markings from up close?” Ast inquired and she nodded at him.

    Also moving closer, he sat on her other side, still facing the woman, and gently got a hold of her right forearm. He examined the lines carefully with his eyes and then brushed over them very delicately with the tips of his fingers. The texture was different from the skin. It was slightly more hoarse and tough. He could feel the change when crossing the border, yet it still felt like a whole with the rest of her skin.

    “Miria, are there mystical beasts in your realm?” he asked.

    “Mystical beasts?”

    “Let’s say a lion the size of an elephant, with gorgeous fur, for example fiery red, which is very strong and perhaps a master of some element, like fire. Whenever it exerts its power, the area ends up incinerated to ashes. At the same time, some places on its body would glow,” Ast drew the best image he could.

    The panthergirl pondered for a moment. “Ummm… I’ve never seen one, be it in books or around the world, but there are some strong beasts like that mentioned in the legends. What about you, Selene?”

    “I haven’t stumbled on anything this powerful too. I think I’ve read a few things about beasts that could wield elements on this scale during my research though,” the foxgirl responded.

    Asterios nodded to himself. “I see. This explains a lot. Selene, when did you reach each stage of your awakened form?”

    “I’ve reached first at 39, second at 75 and third at 94,” she answered, slightly confused by the unexpected question.

    “Okay. Were there times when the pain got much worse? Like significantly?” he continued.

    “Ummm… yeah, a few times. And it was worse with each next one.”

    “Can you remember when?”

    “Definitely. First was somewhere when I was around 39, then second—…” She stopped mid-sentence and froze.

    “Around 75 and 94, right?” Asterios asked and she nodded with wide eyes. “As I thought. Tell me, did you ever use Spiritual Sight on your own body?”

    “Of course, I’m not that stupid to not think of it. There was no special reaction.”

    “Did you do it while in the awakened state?” he asked.

    Selene’s mouth opened to answer, but she stopped and after a moment slowly shook her head sideways. “I didn’t. I actually rarely used it since I haven’t fought a lot besides when I trained.”

    “Right. There’s just one more thing I need to check to verify if what I’m thinking of is correct. This might feel a little bit weird.”

    Asterios rotated Selene’s arm so that he had access to the inner side of her forearm and pressed his index and middle finger onto one of the dark blue paths. The two girls observed him intently. Ast started leaking his spiritual energy through the fingers as he slowly followed the line. The surface he moved over illuminated a bit for a moment, leaving lighter trails behind.

    “Ahnnnnn~.”

    A sensual moan escaped the foxgirl’s lips involuntarily. She quickly covered her mouth with her free hand. A very faint hint of rosiness surfaced on her cheeks. Asterios stopped his experiment and released her forearm.

    “What did you discover, Master?” Miria gazed at him while brimming with curiosity.

    Instead of answering her, Ast turned his face straight to the other woman and showed a kind smile. “Selene. This is not a curse. It’s a blessing.”

    “Ble… ssing?” she repeated, slightly disoriented.

    “I don’t know much about Spiritual Foxes and your Spiritualists, but I’m slowly building up a theory on what is happening to your body. But, I know one thing for sure. These lines aren’t some cursed marks. Those are spiritual circuits.”

    “What?!” Both of the girls raised their voice in surprise.

    “Now, I know what you are thinking. Aren’t spiritual circuits incorporeal and inside the body? Well, both yes and no. You aren’t aware of that fact, because you just haven’t ever seen external spiritual circuits. That’s where my question about mythical beasts came from. Some of them have such powerful energy that they need the help of an additional layer to properly control it. It’s exactly the same case with you and why they appeared when you became a full-fledged Spiritualist,” he explained with a smile.

    Selene stared at her arms in shock and awe. “Then… then… why do they hurt?”

    “That’s simple. First, they are ‘rusted’ from being unused. Second, do you know how a dam works?” he asked.

    “Of course.”

    “Then, what happens to a dam when you drastically increase the volume of water?”

    Her eyes widened again. “The pressure on it… increases…” She covered her mouth with one hand again, this time entering deep thought. “I can understand the pain after I advanced a stage, but then why during the… ah. My bloodline is called Moonborn. My strength pretty much doubles during a full moon. How did no one ever notice that?”

    Asterios rubbed her arm reassuringly. “Don’t be too hard on yourself. You were in regular and constant pain every two weeks or how long it takes to cycle the moon phases in your realm. That definitely didn’t help your concentration. Along with your lack of knowledge about external spiritual circuits.”

    She looked at him with even more respect and amazement in the eyes. “But then, if it’s a pain from accumulated spiritual energy and unused circuits, that’s what I’m getting from your explanation at least, why did absorbing more, even stronger one, help ease the suffering? Shouldn’t it make it worse?”

    “It’s just another assumption but, mixing some of the stronger essence and energy with yours, depending on many variables, could end up in you growing stronger, thus increasing the maximum output of your internal circuits,” he shared his thoughts.

    “Ah. And then if I kept getting stronger by myself, the increase would at some point catch up to the extended point and the amount of pain would return to the previous level… How can just one, tiny detail explain so much?” She didn’t know if she was happy, angry, relaxed or stressed from this revelation.

    Asterios chuckled. “That’s life. Even I am sure that I’m missing just a tiny little thing to completely understand the things that are happening to me. Now, you should be able to lessen the pain a lot, if not get rid of it at some point. Just start using those lines and exerting yourself as much as you can in your awakened state. You don’t need my essence anymore.”

    Selene quickly calmed herself down after hearing his last words, hastily got onto her knees again and bowed down.

    “My Lord, I’m fully aware that it is now not necessary, but I can’t just leave my benefactor like this after receiving so much. My Lord pretty much saved my life. I know that I am not a trustworthy and well-mannered person in my Lord’s eyes, I was nothing but rude and presumptuous, but please, if my Lord could find it in his kind heart to forgive me and give me a chance to serve under a familiar contract, I promise I would do everything to not only atone for my sins but also repay this favour till the end of my time.”

    He sighed. “And here I thought we’ve finally moved past the my Lord thing… Miria, what do you think?”

    The panthergirl moved closer and shyly hugged Ast’s arm while growing increasingly red. “I will follow any decision you make, Master. But… I think she would be a good addition to our team. And besides… it’s not guaranteed that you are completely right, isn’t it? If she stayed with us, you would be able to observe if your theory is correct. And… with Master’s help and his powerful essence she would receive through the bond, Selene would be able to grow much, much stronger.”

    He affectionately scratched around her ears with a smile. “You are right. I’m very interested to see through this myself too. If you are fine with her, then I have no objections. Well, okay, I do have one. You will stop calling me my Lord, deal?”

    Selene opened her mouth to quickly accept those terms, but before that happened, she actually felt like it wasn’t right. Even if any further discussion could bring down her chances of staying by his side, she couldn’t just stay silent, in respect of all she received.

    “Ummm… could we… negotiate that requirement a bit?” She showed an anxious smile.

    “What do you have in mind?” Ast asked.

    “I want to still be allowed to address you as my Lord, but I will of course tone it down. It would be my way of calling you Master since I will be serving you from now on. Would that be possible?”

    Asterios sighed again. It certainly wouldn’t be much different from Miria calling him Master most of the time. Using Lord somehow fit the image and aura Selene emanated. He wasn’t sure why. Maybe it was her extravagant clothes or her sharp, noble-like face and body.

    “I guess I shouldn’t argue over this,” he answered, making a beautiful smile appear on Selene’s dazzling face for the first time since they met.

    “Thank you, my Lord! I promise I won’t overuse this right so as to not make it annoying for you,” she said and lightly bowed her head.

    "Yeah. Let's have a snack and drink something before we move onto the contract part."
     
  16. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 35 – Second Contract
    Selene unrolled her sleeves and tights back up and covered her marks again. Asterios mentioned to her that now with her knowing it was not a curse, she didn’t have to hide them, but she replied by saying that back in her realm most people still believed it was, and these covers were already part of her usual attire after wearing them for so long. He complimented her by saying that they truly fit Selene’s style and looked great on her, making the foxgirl smile brilliantly after receiving the praise.

    Miria jumped back to her home and brought a picnic mat for them to rest on, also picking up a few snacks and a jug of orange juice on her way back. Selene wanted to have some input into this too, but Ast reminded her that without a contract she wouldn’t be able to return here.

    They sat together and sipped on some juice while talking. It was mostly Selene who spoke more about herself and her past due to Miria’s curiosity. Ast of course didn’t have anything against learning more about their new partner’s life so they spent around twenty minutes chatting. Selene slowly turned back to her composed self from before the lesson, but a hint of respect and proper manners still persisted in her tone.

    Before they moved onto the contracting part, Asterios decided to confront her.

    “Selene, I appreciate you being this respectful towards me, and I don’t mind you calling me by Lord, but if we are going to be working together, I would really like for you act fully like yourself, without being too considerate of what we would think, in result also distancing yourself from us. We are soon to be partners, equals, no matter who is stronger, wiser, more experienced. These thoughts only hinder proper cooperation. So, I know you are very grateful for me giving you a hint about your condition, but let’s not let it prevent us from becoming friends, okay?”

    She listened attentively to what he had to say, nodding along the way. The more they talked, the better opinion of the man she had. Before she could reply though, Miria also added her part.

    “That’s right! Master is a really kind and understanding person so don’t worry, he will definitely accept you!” she said with an elated smile, pretty much beaming with happiness.

    Selene noticed her sneaking a hand towards Ast’s behind a bowl of fruits and laying it on top of his. He then brushed it with his thumb. It seemed to her that they were quite close as Summoner and familiar, which certainly said well about what kind of master the boy was. She was starting to look forward to working with him not just only because of his powerful energy and exotic knowledge.

    “Well then, I will try to not hold myself back, my Lord.” She bowed her head a little. “In return, please do the same. I’ll do my best to be of use.”

    “Sure. You certainly will be. A lot.” He smiled and also nodded. “Okay, let’s finish the ritual then.”

    Miria stood up first. “Are we going to draw another circle, Master?”

    “No need. We can use the summoning one to complete the process. Your case was quite special as there was none or it vanished,” he answered and also got up.

    He led them to the patterned circle and invited Selene to the middle while Miria stayed outside of it on the edge to not disrupt the mana flow. The foxgirl knew a bit more about the Summoning Magic than the panthergirl, but she was still very excited to see how it compared to the writings back in the temple.

    Since there was nothing to be added to the circuit, Asterios turned towards Selene.

    “Now, let’s begin. What is it that you would want to receive as the payment for your servitude?” he asked.

    “Isn’t spiritual essence what the familiar gets from the contract, my Lord?”

    “You are right, but that’s something I’m obliged to share with you and you have the right to ask for anything else to make the trade fair for both sides. You are, to some extent, becoming my servant, so it’s natural to be rewarded accordingly to your rank,” Ast explained.

    Selene brushed her chin. “Hmmmm… is that necessary?”

    Asterios chuckled. “You too?”

    “My Lord?”

    “Miria also didn’t want anything. Haaaaah… what’s wrong with you girls? You are both powerful and awesome but want nothing in return for pretty much getting enslaved. It’s not like it’s certain that I will be able to further help with your body, you know? It’s okay to ask for more.”

    “You can ask for headpats!” Miria shouted from behind him.

    Ast glanced back over his shoulder and saw his cute partner turn her head to the side to avoid his gaze, but still kept stealing a look or two with her eyes moving back and forth. He sighed with a smile.

    “Don’t go assuming that everyone is as big headpat addict as you are,” he said.

    “What do you mean?!”

    “Exactly what I said, miss my-leg-shakes-when-master-scratches-below-my-left-ear.” He saw her go completely red and chuckled. “So, has this noble lady thought of a request for me?”

    Selene pondered. The interactions between the two were really interesting. She was growing curious to know more about them and began noticing more and more signs that their relationship might not be that simple.

    She also wondered if having her ears touched would feel so good as to ask for it in the contract like Miria did since she never had anyone get too close to her after the curse revealed itself. Asterios told her anything was fine, but she still was hesitant. Part of her wanted to try it while the other half worried that it might seem unfitting of her image created in their eyes. But, she got an idea.

    “Then, would it be okay if you… took care of my tail from time to time, my Lord?”

    Asterios chuckled again. He was starting to think that all Beatstfolk were actually deep down into getting petted even if they didn’t show it, and Miria wasn’t just an oddball due to her adorable and airheaded personality.

    “Of course. I’ll make sure it receives proper attention whenever you want. That is if you teach me how to first. I’m not sure if what I learned about beasts has the same impact on beast people.”

    Even though I’m pretty sure it does, judging by Miria’s reactions to my touch,」 he added in his mind.

    “Anyway, I won’t ask for anything more if you are comfortable with just this then. I accept those conditions,” he said and the circle started slightly glowing in crimson.

    As before, Asterios brought out his ornamental knife and cut his finger. Selene was aware of this step and did the same after receiving the blade. They both dripped a drop of blood onto the circuit.

    “Alright. Now we just need to seal the deal. Usually, it’s done with a kiss—”

    “ON THE FOREHEAD!” Miria shouted from behind again, this time much louder and more lively.

    Selene leaned to the side to check on the panthergirl and that hastily avoided her eyes, seemingly even more embarrassed than from her master’s teasing before. Something definitely was up.

    “Just as she said.” Asterios brought her attention back to himself. “Are you fine with that?”

    “Naturally. I don’t mind.”

    Asterios stepped closer and drew the correct sigil with blood on their foreheads and then Selene lowered her face a bit, allowing him to comfortably place a kiss on the symbol. When he did, the circle flashed strongly again and they felt a connection being established between their souls. Selene was already taken aback by the sheer amount of spiritual essence starting to be shared with her. She expected only a tiny bit of it.

    They stepped back from each other and she was met with a kind smile from her new master. And one more thing.

    ~Is it complete now, Master?~ Miria’s voice resonated in her mind.

    ~Yeah, it is, but—~

    ~Thank gods I intervened or she could have made the same mistake as me… ah! It’s not like I’m against you kissing her, Master, but if that would have been her first, like mine, then she might not have wanted to do it by accident. I mean… don’t misunderstand, Master, your kisses are amazing. Always so soft, warm and affectionate. I really love them. A lot. But still, the first time should—~

    ~Miria.~

    ~Ah! Yes?~

    ~She can hear you.~

    ~...~

    Selene listened to the conversation and watched as Asterios tried his best to hold back his laugh after failing to warn the enthusiastic girl and Miria instantly shot her a gaze of pure shock and surprise straight at her, with eyes wide to the brim, freezing completely. Not even her tail moved an inch.

    Her smile made the stunned Pantherkin suddenly jerk and run towards Asterios. Soon, she hid behind his back, hitting it with her face creating a loud thump. That finally broke Ast’s composure and made him release his laugh.

    “Masteeeeeeeeeer…” the shy girl called to him in a low and embarrassed voice.

    “Hahaha, I tried to stop you. Selene is now part of our connection. You need to focus on me if you want to have a private mental conversation now. I haven’t taught you that, because it wasn’t necessary up to now.”

    Miria squirmed behind him while clutching his coat and hiding her face in it. Ast bent his arm and managed to somehow brush her cheek to reassure his partner a little. He turned his face to the other woman again.

    “Sorry about that. It’s an oversight on my part,” he apologized.

    Selene shook her head. “It’s fine. We all make mistakes and I don’t mind. On another note… you two…”

    Asterios sighed. He planned to go through this later, after having spoken about it with Miria, but the cat was already out of the bag, literally. He asked her privately to come out so that they could explain their relationship to Selene properly. Miria hesitantly obeyed and moved to his side. Ast started affectionately brushing through her hair at the back of her head.

    After a moment, Miria finally calmed down enough to raise her gaze back at the foxwoman. “I… ummm… Master accepted me as his mate so… we are together…” She did her best to speak, running away with her eyes now and then.

    “Pretty much that. We haven’t known each other for long, but I just couldn’t ignore her. I hope you aren’t bothered by this fact,” he added.

    “No, of course not, my Lord. I was actually starting to wonder if that was the case as you two looked quite close. Ah. I remember now. Some tribes use collars to show their love. I see now,” she rubbed her chin again and nodded.

    Miria squirmed when reminded of her little ploy from the past and Asterios smiled at her.

    “I’m glad then. And as for the collar, partially yes.”

    “Partially?”

    “At first, it was only meant as identification for Miria being my summon. You can see the plate on it.” The panthergirl brushed over the badge affectionately. “Only later I realized that it had another meaning. I guess we are now even for not telling the other one about something, right?” He moved his hand to Miria’s ears and scratched behind them, making her blush heavily again.

    “Do I get one too?”

    “Only if you are okay with it. I’m not going to force you to wear a collar against your will. Theoretically speaking, it’s in the rules for Summoners, but technically, no one can enforce it. Not every beast has to be up for the idea,” he explained.

    “Then, as my Lord’s familiar, I shall humbly request one. I have a feeling that I will be able to wear it with pride.” Selene smiled. It was an intriguing idea and she had nothing against it.

    “As you wish. We’ll get it next time we visit our friend at the Guild.” He glanced to the side at the catgirl. “I’ll leave filling Selene up on the basics of our bond and other things to you, Miria.”

    She shot him a surprised glance. “Eh? Why me?!”

    “So that you two can get to know each other better and you won’t be getting all embarrassed around her all the time. And you are pretty much Selene’s senior. Can I leave this to you?”

    Miria stared at his face uncertain how to answer. She took a few deep breaths to try and calm herself down and turned to him again. “I’ll do it. I can be dependable.”

    Ast leaned forward and planted a kiss on Miria’s forehead, ruining all her effort in stabilizing her heart rate and body temperature. “I never said you aren’t,” he said with a smile. “Well then. If you want to do it mentally, please include me so that I can clear things up if necessary. If there would be something you don’t want me to hear, focus on each other. That will be good training for you too.”

    He then left the duo together and started getting rid of the summoning circle and all the other stuff that was left around the area after the ritual was finished. Not long after he began, the girls joined him while speaking mentally amongst all of them. Asterios learned that Selene was aware of some basics about master/familiar connection by listening to them and decided to ask about that sometime later.

    After getting rid of all the evidence, well, besides a few trees with a drilled hole in them and a huge, unnaturally cut pan of grass, they headed back for the camp since it was late afternoon. Miria had nothing against Selene riding on her back and she carried both her and Asterios along the way.

    She was a little jealous that the foxgirl was able to experience hugging him from behind while it wasn’t even possible for Miria to do as Selene wasn’t able to morph. Asterios sensed her mood and cheered the girl up by reminding her that she could get way cuddlier with him than their new friend whenever she wanted as she had a much more personal connection with him. He felt Miria smirk at him as she replied that it wouldn’t be like that for long, making him shake his head and chuckle.

    On their way, they also talked a bit about their fighting power, roles and such. Asterios and Miria briefly introduced their strong and weak points and a few tactics they used together. It would take much more time to get Selene accustomed to the party. She then shared with them her abilities in a bit more detail until Asterios mentioned that they would practice in the dungeon and it would allow them to learn about each other’s fighting style better.

    ~A dungeon?~ Selene asked.

    ~Monster Domain. Humans call them dungeons. Master knows a lot about them. And I really mean a lot. He taught me so many interesting things!~ Miria answered.

    ~Oh? I do know a thing or two about Monster Domains and now I’m curious about your knowledge, my Lord.~

    So they proceeded to exchange information on those magical structures, and truly, Asterios was having way more input into that conversation than Selene did. She eagerly assimilated the new information.

    ~And I thought I was quite well-versed in them… You are amazing, my Lord. There are things I had never even seen in any book and I have the highest clearance.~

    ~If I remember correctly, Beastfolk aren’t exactly gifted with specific magics, right?~ Ast inquired.

    ~That’s true. Most tribes, like Miria’s, can’t do much more than reinforce themselves with spiritual energy and fuel their abilities with it. They are some, like us, Spiritual Foxes, that do have some control over the mana, but it’s not the magic you think of, my Lord.~

    ~Yeah. All that I know was revealed from decades of magical research. You wouldn’t be able to achieve the same level of understanding without certain spells and utilities.~

    ~I see. Do you mind if I share what I learn with others, my Lord?~

    ~Of course not. But I can’t guarantee that it’s exactly the same in your realm. It should be since it’s about spiritual essence and energy, but you can’t know for sure,~ Asterios warned her just in case.

    ~Thank you. It’s easier to confirm if you know what you are looking for. And I guess I will see for myself when we enter that dungeon. I had visited a few Monster Domains in the past.~

    They finally reached the encampment after some time and Miria switched back to her humanoid form. The trio walked through the makeshift streets of the tent city together. It was as busy as usual so barely anyone paid attention to the girls’ ears or tails for longer than just a moment. A few of the men around sent Ast squinting gazes, but he had a feeling that it was more due to the two beautiful women walking by his sides more than anything else.

    In front of the place that served as the inn, Asterios explained how narrow the space there was and that they had issues to fit even with the two of them and Selene definitely wouldn’t be up to creating a three-layered sleeping tower with them. She chuckled at the idea and agreed, deciding to return to her own, quite luxurious abode.

    “Ah, right. You are a High Priestess so of course, you would have a nice house. I’ve heard that your main town is breathtaking. Do you live there?” Miria marvelled at her.

    “Yes, I do. And it’s true. The capital of the Spiritual Foxes Tribe is truly a sight to behold. Especially during the night. If you ever decide to pay us a visit, let me know and I’ll make sure you get the best of it,” Selene said with a proud smile.

    Miria’s ears flopped down a bit. “Damn… It’s so far from my village though… Too bad that I can’t just hop out from a portal near you like with Master...”

    “Actually…” Asterios stroked his chin while starting to ponder over something and both girls turned to him. “I think you can. Partially.”

    “Wait. Really?” The panthergirl looked at him with hope in her eyes.

    Asterios went through his thoughts for a moment longer and then nodded. “Yeah. I may not be able to enter the summon’s realm, but other beasts usually were able to get in if the other one opened a portal specifically for them. That’s how I let Mii recover in Tina’s Water Serpent’s realm after she got injured in the past. And also, you two are even from the same world, so it should be even easier as you aren’t suddenly teleporting to a foreign land but just stepping back to your own at a different place,” he summarized his logic.

    “So… I should be able to just take Miria with me, my Lord?” Selene asked for confirmation.

    “I think so,” he answered with a shrug.

    The girls looked at each other in slight disbelief and then shrugged too. Miria already shared with Selene her experiences of traversing the realms back and forth and the latter opened the dark crimson door in front of her. Then, they nodded to each other, and holding hands just in case, stepped into the red mist. They both went through, leaving Asterios alone.

    He didn’t feel any weird emotions or any sudden pain from either of them so he concluded that it succeeded. To fully confirm his conclusion, Miria suddenly flew out of the still present portal and crashed against his chest.

    “Masteeeeeeeeeeeeeeer! It worked! I got into Selene’s room!” She started jumping up and down while hugging him.

    Asterios chuckled and embraced her too. “That’s great. I guess the only downside is that you have to go through me.”

    “Indeed, but that’s a small price to pay if I were to be honest, my Lord.” Selene also emerged from the interdimensional door and shared her opinion.

    “Definitely,” he replied.

    After Miria got embarrassed again from openly cuddling to Ast in front of Selene and some other random people, the duo said their goodbyes to him and went back. The foxgirl invited her senior for a sightseeing trip and a sleepover, and Miria of course instantly agreed.

    Asterios was left alone again. This time he was the one getting jealous of his summons. He could only check on the other side through Selene’s or Miria’s eyes and that was not even close to experiencing something by himself. If only he was able to join them, but there was never any mention of a Summoner making it through the interdimensional portal. Up to this day.
     
  17. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 36 – Awakening of the Slumbering Circuits
    After a calm night, Asterios went out to have a small breakfast. He sensed that both of the girls were still asleep so he didn’t want to wake them up. They stayed quite late together, going all around Selene’s hometown and then chatting about various things, including the summoning aspects, until Miria finally lost it to her exhaustion and fell asleep in the middle of it. No wonder, she was practically dashing left and right when they were having a stroll around the city.

    He stopped by one of the food stalls and picked up a few meat skewers which had some vegetables like peppers and cucumbers mixed in them too. The surroundings were truly busy, and it was impossible to find a place to sit down, so he ventured outside the camp and sat under one of the trees not that far from it.

    While he was consuming his meal, a crimson portal rose from the ground and Selene walked out, making a little bow.

    “Good morning, my Lord.”

    Asterios nodded while mid-bite. “Morning. Slept well?” he asked and gestured for her to sit down.

    Selene rested under a tree opposite to him and sighed. But it was a sigh of relief rather than misery. She showed a faint smile.

    “Yes, I did. Thanks to you, my Lord. I honestly can’t remember the last time I didn’t go to bed having my mind filled with worries and thoughts about the curse.”

    “Glad to hear that. How’s Miria?”

    She chuckled a little. “I expected her to be lively but not to this extent. She’s like a ball of pure curiosity and energy, rolling and bouncing from place to place until the very moment it wears off. It will take a moment longer before that ball recovers.”

    Asterios smiled. “That’s true. She’s really adventurous. Her main request was to let her explore my world alongside me. Something that was given anyway.”

    “If the main benefit is already more than satisfactory, I don’t think it’s necessary to look for more, don’t you think, my Lord? For her, there’s nothing greater than the joy of learning about your world, as for me, it’s the promise of help that I so needed in my whole life,” she explained.

    “You are quite good with your words. As you said, it’s a promise. Not much more,” Ast replied.

    “Hope is everything that holds a person together, preventing them from falling apart. Where there is hope, there is a possibility. And that is enough. At least for someone who spent decades completely powerless against their situation.”

    Asterios didn’t reply. He had no way of contradicting that statement. No. Even if he had, he had no right to. His situation was exactly the same up until recently. No matter the odds, he kept pushing forwards in hopes of something finally changing in his life. It was not that different from Selene’s predicament. She suffered for way longer than him though. And much heavier. He was in no regular, physical pain for over a hundred years.

    “You truly are strong…” he whispered to himself, which obviously didn’t go unnoticed by Selene’s keen hearing.

    They sat in silence while Asterios was finishing his meal. For the whole time, Selene kept her cool and lady-like demeanour. Consuming the last piece, Ast spoke up.

    “Ask away.”

    “Pardon?”

    “I thought Miria had mentioned to you that I can basically read your mood now, didn’t she? So no, it’s not impudent for you to talk about the promise the day after we got contracted.”

    She was a little surprised. Selene didn’t think he would be this comprehensive with just her surface thoughts and emotions. She nodded her head.

    “Then, would it be possible to do something about my situation already?”

    “Well, for starters, it shouldn’t be that much of an issue making you sense your external spiritual lines and finally connecting them to the circuit inside. As I said, if you start using them, the pain should at least decrease,” he answered.

    She nodded. “And how can I do that?”

    Asterios waved at her and Selene moved closer, making them sit in front of each other, both in a cross-legged position now.

    “First, it will be easier to visualize while having something to actually see. Take off the sleeves and tights please.”

    Selene followed his instructions immediately and placed the pieces of clothing on the side. She glanced over the artistic marks around her limbs, which up to now were only disgusting in her eyes, but she couldn’t let her past lack of knowledge cloud her judgement anymore and she began noticing how enchanting the flowing lines actually seemed.

    Asterios brought her out of her thoughts with a cough. “Okay. Fill your inner spiritual circuits with mana and start circulating it evenly.”

    She rested her elbows on her thighs and made a circle with her fingers joined in the middle. Asterios could feel the flow of energy inside Selene’s body. He judged that she had great control over it as he was barely able to spot minimal leaks here and there.

    “This position is good. Now, try to make the mana flow through your arms.”

    As he requested, Selene began sending some of the energy outside of her circuits and doing her best to let it pass through her arms. It was naturally much harder than the previous action so more leaked out, but it still was a small amount.

    “Amazing control,” he praised her. “Can you feel something when the mana courses through there? I don’t know… like… brushing against something that slightly sucks it?”

    She focused more. “Yes… I think so… but it’s unimaginably faint.”

    “Send as much mana there as you can.”

    Selene began increasing the energy flow and focusing her mind to her utmost abilities on reaching with her mana to that light sensation. She closed her eyes. Beads of sweat started appearing on her forehead and her expression tensed. Asterios noticed a few small, glowing dots appearing over the mystical patterns, illuminating it in a blue glow.

    “Nnnnngh… Mhhhhhhmmm… HNNNGGGHHHHH!”

    She forced herself almost to her limits, releasing grunts of struggle along the way, but the dots barely increased before Selene couldn’t hold up the created flow anymore and broke it.

    “Haaaah… Haaaaah… Impossible… Even with me knowing… that it’s there… haaah… it’s so far… It's like there's a huge cliff to overcome...” She shook her head while panting.

    Asterios rubbed his chin. “Looks like your mind has issues to acknowledge them after so many years of being biased and ignoring the lines. I could help with that, but…”

    “But?”

    “It might be a little uncomfortable.”

    She smiled. “How exactly?”

    “I would have to get quite close and touch your body.”

    Selene chuckled, what quickly evolved into a small, stifled laugh. Asterios raised his eyebrow at her.

    “My Lord, I don’t think you are aware of how socially, morally, logically and whatever else -ally unacceptable things I’ve tried to get rid of my curse were. This can’t even hold a candle to those attempts,” she said while calming down her laughter.

    “I see. My bad.”

    “Oh, don’t apologize, please. I appreciate the concern. It’s reassuring. Now then, what do we have to do?” she asked.

    Asterios then instructed her to sit in the same pose as before while he positioned himself behind Selene and sat on his knees spread to the sides, pretty much leaning his chest against her back. He moved one of his hands toward her solar plexus and pressed his index and middle fingers against it.

    “I’ll be inserting a little bit of my own mana into your body through my fingertips. Focus on following that little beacon with your energy as I lead it over the marks very slowly. Then, keep circling it while I repeat the motions. Okay?” He summarized the plan.

    Selene nodded, but also glanced back at him over her shoulder. “Wouldn’t it be better if you trailed directly over my skin?”

    He smiled. “True, that would be a bit more efficient, but I can’t very well have such a fine lady strip a stone’s throw from a bustling encampment, can I?”

    She also smiled and turned her face back to the front, closing her eyes. After Selene secured a stable mana flow, Asterios infused his fingers with his own energy and waited for a moment. Making sure that she sensed it properly, he began moving his fingertips. He trailed a bit down and under her left breast before going up and towards the shoulder.

    Selene trembled faintly when he reached the beginning of the marks after passing her elbow and Ast slowed down. He moved over the whole path on top of her arm, ending at the back of her hand, watching as the glow increased and then faded. He repeated that cycle five times before the lines stopped completely losing the light after he finished a path.

    When he started taking care of the other side, he noticed Selene’s breathing grow a little heavy and ragged. She must have been focusing a lot and it was showing. After doing the same exercise to her right arm, he was sure that her body temperature had risen noticeably. He took that as a sign of the external circuits beginning to work as even with his knowledge, he didn’t know what effects besides glowing accompanied these mysterious things.

    Seeing the faint light coming from the lines, he decided to move onto the last part.

    “I’ll now use both hands to stimulate them at the same time. It will be harder to follow two paths, but I’ve seen your control, you can do it,” he informed her.

    Selene nodded and he pressed his chest more into her back, throwing his arms further around her over her shoulders. He filled both pairs of his fingers with mana and pressed them on her solar plexus again.

    “Nhnnnnn…” A quiet moan escaped Selene's lips, making Ast wait before moving.

    “You okay?”

    “Yes… Please, ignore that… I still can only barely feel them, so let’s continue…” she answered slowly, taking deep breaths in between sentences.

    Asterios resumed taking care of his part of the task and trailed with both hands over the lines at the same time. A moan or two made it out of Selene’s mouth occasionally. But, even with this much, he was sure that the external circuits were still far from the satisfactory grasp Selene should have over them, judging by the intensity of the glow. Both of them also noticed that every next cycle didn’t influence it by a clearly perceptible margin.

    “Is this all we can do, my Lord?” she asked before he began another one.

    Asterios pondered for a moment. “Hmmm… I could try using my other energy. It’s much more potent than this one.”

    “Let’s have a try. I’ll muster all the focus I have left too.”

    He agreed and reached towards the source near his heart, filling his spiritual circuits with the fiery mana, naturally, changing his appearance in the process.

    “Ahnnnn~!”

    The moment that energy reached his fingertips and flowed into Selene’s body in two spots over her solar plexus, her chest was filled with an amazingly pleasant warmth, and there was no way she could hold back the moan. It was hot, but not uncomfortable, and much, much clearer than before. If she previously saw Ast’s fingers as two high-quality torches, the two points she was sensing on her skin were now comparable to like five-meter-high bonfires of stacked logs, flaming fiercely.

    She gripped them with all her senses and sent a surge of her own mana, following the afterglow those two beacons left as they moved over her skin. She knew that it would feel even stronger when they would reach the marks, so she tried to prepare herself, but it still was much more than she expected.

    “Hnnnnnnnnnnnnnn~! Haaaaaah… Haaaaaaaaah…”

    Two waves of pleasant, almost scorching hot energy, filled her body the moment Asterios touched her external circuits. From his perspective, they started glowing the strongest and the radiance left after his fingers almost didn’t lose in intensity as he moved further. It was working.

    He started repeating the movements while Selene was doing her best to not lose her focus completely from the comfortable hotness. The power that was flowing into her was so clear that the lines were flashing in almost blinding light in her mind. She was left with her mouth wide open since the moment he started the upgraded treatment, panting really roughly as her whole body was burning hot like never before.

    They did three rounds of the strengthened movements before Asterios stopped completely and Selene spent a few more minutes just circling her own mana. Albeit not perfect, she did manage to link the external patterns to her inner spiritual circuits and uphold that connection. She already felt stronger.

    “Great work. Looks like we did it.” She heard Ast’s voice close behind her.

    Selene opened her eyes and glanced down. The patterns over her arms were glowing in blue light noticeably. Not as strong as to serve as a reliable lighting source, but they showed their real beauty nevertheless. She was amazed and even more enchanted than before. She never imagined that her curse could actually have been this dazzling.

    She took many deep breaths to calm her breathing and her whole body. The marks died down when she stopped thinking about them, but she was able to reignite them with some effort, just not to the level they achieved together. She was sure it was impossible without the help of Ast’s fiery mana.

    Asterios stood up first and extended a hand to Selene to help her up too. She accepted it and was met with a proud smile from him.

    “Congratulations. The rest is in your hands. I’ll help as much as I can along the way, of course. You shouldn’t have any issues with reaching for the circuits on your legs now, with some practice,” he spoke in a praising tone.

    Only now she realized that they took care of her arms and the paths on her legs were still untouched. Selene reciprocated the smile and bowed her head a little.

    “Thank you a lot, my Lord. I’m immensely grateful for this. I’ll do my best to take control of the lower circuits too. Although… I’m sure that with your distinct mana, I could do it much faster and more efficiently, so I hope that we can—”

    *RUSTLE* *SWISH*

    “—ah!”

    Suddenly, something appeared by the sides of their faces and they took a quick step back, just to be met with the head of Miria, hanging upside-down from above, at their own eye level. Up until now, she was sitting on a thick branch above them and rolled over it to the back, making herself hang down with it lodged under her knees, holding onto it with her hands.

    Even with her being vertically opposite to them, they could recognize the slightly mischievous smile on Miria’s lips.

    “Moouuuuuu~,” she pouted, “I really can’t believe you didn’t hold back for even a day before going after my mate, Selene. Sneakily leaving me asleep so that you two get a chance to be alone for you to make your mov—”

    She didn’t get to finish that sentence as Asterios stepped closer and planted an affectionate kiss on her reversed lips, taking her completely off-guard. Miria’s body tensed and she somehow slid off the branch, falling down onto the ground and landing on all fours with her tail and fur standing at attention from the shock.

    The fluffy strand soon lost it’s straightened form and she slowly raised herself while still being turned with her back to them. She took a shy glance over the shoulder at the other two, specifically at Asterios, and they could see the clear blush on her face.

    “Where did that… come from...” she spoke quietly.

    “If you are going to bully someone, you should be prepared to be bullied yourself.” He smiled.

    Selene chuckled by his side, covering her mouth with a hand. Ast and Miria looked at each other and also laughed a little. Everyone knew this was just friendly bickering and teasing. Asterios was a bit surprised to see Miria’s mischievous side, but he was happy that she was able to be comfortable around Selene, to some extent. Her easygoing nature definitely helped a little. She was, fortunately, less shy than he expected. And Selene herself seemed like a refined lady who didn’t mind their fun.

    “So, what do we do today, Master?” Miria asked after taming her blush.

    “Did you two eat already?”

    “Yep!”

    “Yes.”

    “I guess we could try the second or third floor of the dungeon now. It would be a great way to learn more about Selene’s fighting style and abilities,” Ast suggested.

    “I agree!” Miria replied instantly.

    “I’ll gladly show what I can do, my Lord. But first… I need a quick bath after our exercise. May I take a leave for now?” Selene asked.

    “Of course. Take your time. We’ll wait for you near the entrance,” Ast replied.

    Selene bowed a little and stepped through the portal to her realm while Ast and Miria went back to the camp. She found herself where she last left her world, which was her room. Releasing a huge sigh while glancing around, she dropped her shoulders, finally letting all the accumulated fatigue show. It was really hard to keep her composure after that pleasant, fiery sensation she experienced over all of her body. She hadn’t uttered such shameful sounds in front of a man since… ever.

    Starting to walk towards the bathroom, she saw that Miria made up the bed after their sleepover. She was such a hard worker. Moving further, she began to notice something weird about her clothes. Selene moved her hand down towards her underwear and realized that the material was quite damp, which fortunately wasn’t visible due to it being black.

    She brought her fingers back up, stared at them and chuckled while shaking her head.

    It was to be expected with the intensity of skinship we went through. The fact that I haven’t even noticed the effects of his massage due to the amazing energy until now speaks for itself. I feel like a young vixen again,」 she thought to herself and stretched, finally entering the bathing chamber.

    Meanwhile, Ast and Miria were making their way through the streets of the tent town when they heard a familiar voice call to them.

    “Yooooooooooo! Asterios!”

    They both turned around and noticed the figure of a woman they both recognized, with a greatsword behind her back, waving their way. They smiled at each other and changed their direction towards her.
     
  18. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 37 – The Spiritualist
    Rudy pushed through the crowd and met with the duo on the side of the road created by unending tent walls. She smiled at Miria and exchanged a strong handshake with Asterios.

    “Fancy meeting you here. Trying your luck in the dungeon?” she asked.

    “You can say that. It’s more in the form of training though. What about you? Where’s the rest of the squad?” he answered.

    “That thing I mentioned before, they are currently taking care of it.” She spat to the side. “The commissioner said he ain’t taking a gorilla woman for the job, no way in hell. Can you believe that?”

    Miria giggled. “He doesn’t know what he is losing”

    “Right? Since it was a favour from someone on Tesser’s side, I decided to leave the room before his face ended up as a mush. While they are at it, I came here to earn some coin on the side, perhaps join a temporary party for a few short delves. Healer boy will send me a message when they are done.”

    Asterios nodded. “I see. I guess you aren’t the type to just patiently sit on your butt whilst waiting.”

    “That wasn’t too hard to guess, was it?” She chuckled deeply. “I’d much rather do something more active. Ya know, like cutting or smashing some monsters and filling our pockets with a bit of spare change. So, you going in? How far have you dived into this one yet?” Rudy crossed her arms over her chest and asked.

    “We’ve only practised on the first floor. Before we got any lower, some… minor setbacks arrived and Master had to take... care… of them…”

    Miria butted in to answer, but recalling the recent events made her blush midway. Rudy raised a brow and glanced at Ast who only shook his head with a smile.

    “As she said, I don’t think we are any deep for it to be worth joining.”

    “Hmmmm… I’m really curious about you two, you know? To the point where I kinda don’t mind wasting a day or two just to see you fight. The quest will take at least a week. I have enough time to jump teams. What do you say? Even though you definitely know how to handle yourself, you still stink like fresh meat. It would be safer with the three of us as I’ve been here a few times already.”

    Asterios glanced at Miria and she sent him a mental message saying she didn’t mind.

    “Four of us,” he corrected Rudy.

    “Ha?”

    “There’s already three on my side. Is it fine with you?”

    “You already joined forces with someone? I mean, I guess. As long as they agree too. Don’t wanna argue with some kid again. Ah. My bad.” She showed a wry smile after realizing that her remark could have been taken as a reference to their first meeting.

    “Don’t worry. Speak freely. And no, she is another partner of mine. You’ll meet her later.”

    Rudy frowned with a playful smile. “Another woman? Are you trying to build a harem party? Hahaha. If you have me in your sights then better forget it now!”

    “You can rest assured, I don’t plan on trying to change your preferences. But, I can’t promise to not win over your future targets,” Asterios replied jokingly.

    A weak punch hit his shoulder. “You little punk! Like I would let you!”

    They bickered amongst themselves for a while longer and then strolled towards the entrance to the dungeon. Rudy barraged Asterios with questions about their fourth member, but he only answered those related to combat and such while avoiding all personal ones.

    Rudy knew he kept those facts hidden from her to raise her curiosity of how the person looked and she had quite the fun trying to make him slip up. Unfortunately, it failed. Nothing could break Ast’s defences.

    Selene finished all her preparations and just waited for a good moment to step into their world, watching through his eyes as Miria had taught her. The brown-haired girl was amusing with her attempts.

    “Alright,” Asterios spoke up after confirming with her that she was free already. “Before we begin, let me remind you that this is to serve as training, so I would like you to stay put unless asked or a situation arises where you deem it necessary to intervene. Got it?”

    “Oh, come on. At least let me kill the trash. Please?”

    “Fine. I’ll decide what is trash and what’s not though. Well then. Selene?”

    A dark crimson portal opened and the foxwoman stepped out of it. She made a small bow with her head. “My Lord.”

    “Got everything you need? Weapons or such?”

    “Yes, I’m ready. The only weapon I need is my body, my Lord.”

    Ast nodded. “Right. Okay. This is Rudy and she’ll be watching our backs today. Rudy, this is Selene, she’s my newest partn—”

    He stopped after glancing at the muscular woman. Her mouth was slightly gaping and her eyes were open wide.

    “Pretty…”

    “Ummm…” Asterios tilted his head and waved his hand a bit, but it had barely any effect on the warrior. “You okay there?”

    Selene’s chuckle finally brought her back to reality. “Ah? Yeah. Yes. Pleasure working with you, Selene.” She showed the nicest smile they've seen during their time together.

    Ast looked back at the foxgirl and shook his head with a chuckle after seeing her amused expression. It was quite obvious that she was right in Rudy’s strike zone. He guessed that the woman had a thing for exotic beauties. Not many dressed and looked like this outside of the Demon continent.

    They descended the main stairs together and soon reached the safe zone. As usual, it was packed to the brim with people. No one was being dragged half-dead this time though. Most just recuperating or resting.

    Asterios brought out a map and led everyone straight to the other end of the first level. They decided to start from the second one as there wasn’t much that could let either Selene or Miria show their full potential.

    On their way there, Rudy was more than happy to sweep all the spiders and snails out of their way, making sure she did it in the flashiest way she could. The trio easily noticed the glances she shot back at them after performing an eye-catching ability. Especially those aimed at Selene. She was being just too obvious.

    No significant threat to the party appeared on the first floor. The stairs down were pretty much the same as before and it took them a few minutes to make through the passage. The safe area on the second level was visibly bigger and the adventurers still filed it almost to the brim. No surprise. It was still just the beginning.

    Hiding the map, Ast switched to his previous method of marking the path and they began their exploration of this floor. Rudy was still allowed to get rid of weak monsters until they encountered something that could pose as a sparring partner for Selene. The person in question was sending one or two lazy orbs of energy at the trash mobs from time to time. They already seemed to pack quite a punch and Asterios was happy to have someone with ranged abilities on board. She informed him that those couldn’t even be called basic moves.

    It seemed that Rudy completely lost her interest in learning about how Ast and Miria operated. She didn’t pay the slightest attention to the panthergirl’s moves throughout their whole trip till this point, fully focusing on the foxkin instead. Any attempt to gain it back didn’t work, no matter what Miria tried, which left her pouting until Asterios came forward to pat her head. Even when Miria ostentatiously tried to get all lovey-dovey with him, the other woman skipped through them like they were air.

    Finally, about an hour into their journey through muddy and stone tunnels and caverns, the party stumbled on something different. The space they entered was much more vast than the previous chambers and a curious, stone obelisk rested in the middle of it. Two passages ran out of the room on the other side. They walked closer to the weird monument while keeping their guards up.

    “What’s this?” Miria asked when they were able to notice finer details.

    From the first glance, it looked like an uneven, natural stone slab that could have broken off the ceiling or something, but Asterios and Rudy recognized a few runes engraved in it on the very bottom.

    “Most likely a Trial,” the latter informed.

    “A Trial?” Selene joined.

    “It’s rare on this floor but possible to appear. We are in the fluctuating part of the dungeon now and this is what the core placed on the way of the adventurers during the last shuffle. But… a Trial appearing on the second floor… If I recall correctly, the last alteration happened three days ago. For it to not be cleared, which makes the obelisk crumble and disappear, it’s either just a trap or the challenge is deadly enough for all of the previous participants to get done,” Asterios shared his opinion.

    “If it’s the latter, this weird stone can spawn or reveal monsters hidden here, and if we get rid of them, there is a reward. But since it’s barely on the second floor, it should be nothing much. I guess people skipped it because of that?” Rudy added.

    “Ah. I see. We don’t have a name for those in our realm, but I have encountered a few in the past. Mostly on floors below tenth. The enemies are usually slightly stronger than common monsters on the stage. Shall I attempt it as a test, my Lord?” Selene walked closer to Ast and asked.

    He pondered for a moment. If it was just a Trial, then it shouldn’t pose much of a threat to her, but there was always a chance it was some kind of a weird trap. But, in the worst-case scenario, Selene was able to escape to her world so it should be fine.

    “Okay. It’s all yours. I’ll have Miria with Haste and Steel Skin on the edge in case something happens. Don’t be overconfident and just say if we should help.”

    “As you wish, my Lord.” She bowed and stepped closer to the obelisk.

    The rest of them backed away to not aggro the monsters that should appear and leave them all to Selene. Confirming that they were in a safe distance from the center, she pressed on the stone surface and leaked a bit of her mana into it. The sigils on the bottom glowed a little and a weak tremble enveloped the hall.

    At a few spots on the ground, the flooring started rising like when a mole would dig the earth up. Moments later, some piles of dirt grew up to the size of an average person. Part of them gathered to be over two meters and about seven stopped at the usual Dwarf’s height. They all began shifting and morphing until they assumed the structure of a humanoid. The rumbling stopped and all the mudmen turned towards the center.

    “Mud Dolls and Mud Golems. Now I get it. Those aren’t too dangerous, but without specific elements, or melee combatants specializing in blunt weapons, they can give people a tough time. Instead of wasting their efforts, most of the challengers must have just given up and fled, choosing to not damage their equipment and arms,” Asterios commented.

    “Yeah. The cost of fixing my sword after such an attempt would most likely overcome the puny reward. Or I would have to slam them with the flat side. Ugh. I can already imagine the pain in my hands,” Rudy added.

    Selene bowed courteously towards the audience and waited until four assailants made their way to her and threw rock-hard fists from three directions. Before they reached, she extended her arm forwards with the fingers of her palm facing up.

    *BOOM*

    A loud thud was accompanied by a cloud of dust that got kicked up by the wave of pressure from the impact. When it fell down again, it revealed Selene standing in the same position. Four mud fists stopped on some kind of a spherical barrier around her. It was almost clearly see-through, having a tint of cyan in its shimmering surface.

    The next moment, she snapped her fingers and the membrane burst outwards, sending the smaller dolls into the air and staggering the bigger one. Not wasting any time, Selene decided to showcase some of her ranged abilities first.

    She slapped her palms together in the middle and closed her eyes. One by one, orbs of the energy of the same colour as the shield, around fist-sized, started to appear behind her back while spinning in a vertical circle. Seven of them gathered quickly and she opened her eyes just to sense an attack from the big golem coming at her from above.

    With a graceful spin, she made it out of its path, grabbed one of the spiritual balls and pushed it into the chest of the attacker. The swirling energy exploded on contact with a loud thud and ripped a huge hole in the golem’s torso. The force of the blast sent it flying back and crashing into a wall.

    Selene’s ears twitched. A few of the smaller ones were clumsily heading towards her from behind as a group. She extended her hands over her shoulders and picked two more spheres. Positioned in front of her, with one hand over and one under them, she made them spin in a tight circle faster and faster until they became a smudge in the shape of a doughnut.

    She then turned around and pushed both palms forward. The two orbs flew through the air while creating a helix trail and producing vibrations resulting in a low humming. The double projectile hit a doll in the middle of the group and the sound disappeared. The enemy’s body started glimmering more and more.

    For a brief moment, it seemed like it got uncomfortably quiet in the arena and then a huge, spherical explosion burst out from the point of impact and enveloped the whole squad. Thousands of little slashes of pure mana ground four Mud Dolls pretty much into dust and left an even funnel in the ground below them.

    Four orbs were left in Selene’s arsenal. The previously pushed back enemies had already recovered and slowly joined the rest of the assailants. Even the big Mud Golem she hit at the beginning was now almost like new. Selene glanced around. It didn’t look like the ones she disintegrated were piling up again so she concluded that they most likely operated with cores like most Golems and she failed to destroy it within her enemy’s chest. It must have been in a different place.

    Three small and three big ones remained. She grasped another energy ball from behind and broke into a run to the closest Mud Golem which was left pretty much alone. Noticing an incoming opponent, the small giant took a wide, horizontal swing, but Selene was too fast to get caught in it and dropped into a slide.

    While going through its legs, she held the orb in the left hand, which was extended upwards, and inserted the fingers of her right into it, beginning to pull back. The sphere shifted into a wide spike and began trembling the more Selene stretched it. She had done all of this in a flash and released the grip on the spiritual weapon as she was exactly under the center of her enemy’s body.

    An intense vibration reverberated through the air, accompanied by another loud boom. A two-meter-wide pillar shot up from the place where Selene left the deformed orb, enveloping the whole golem in similar cuts as the helix attack, but more focused and all following a straight path alongside it.

    She crouched and looked back. Only a bit of the middle torso remained. She clicked her tongue. Small stones were starting to get absorbed into it. Her gamble didn’t pay off as the core wasn’t in any of its limbs and the force wasn’t enough to completely wipe the Mud Golem out of existence.

    The best course of action would be to get rid of the smaller Mud Dolls first as they were way more fragile than their bigger counterparts, and then focus the tough bunch. And that was exactly what she decided to do.

    Selene curled her fingers in, leaving only the index and middle one extended, in both hands, and called the remaining three orbs to the front. She pointed her arms diagonally to the ground and a sphere accompanied one each. The last ball stayed near her chest.

    In the next moment, she thrust both of her hands forward and the energy spheres flew at the closest opponent at an incredible speed. They went through its body with ease and stopped just behind it, leaving three gaping holes in their path. Selene made a pulling motion and the balls pierced the doll again, increasing the number of injuries. She then started pretty much dancing and spinning while directing their path like a conductor.

    Her enemy got bombarded until one of the hits crushed its core and the mud fell down. She hastily repeated the technique on another one, but while dealing with it, her ears twitched again and she knew that the last Mud Doll was trying to pull a sneak attack while she was focused.

    Selene recalled one of the orbs and made it fly low above the ground. It arrived just in time and she stepped onto it, sending herself into the air. She made a somersault, having the energy ball follow her heel, and crashed it into the puppet’s head, releasing the swirling mana. The enemy got ground to dust in a spherical tornado of cuts and she fell into its former place gracefully.

    Easily avoiding the bigger but slower golems, she finished off the last small one by throwing and crashing two balls together, which created two explosions swirling in opposite ways. Pretty much overkill at that point.

    Meanwhile, the trio watched the fight from the side. Asterios was grinning the whole time, admiring the beautiful control and management of pure spiritual energy. He knew that Selene could most likely clean the whole chamber in a flash, but she was deliberately choosing more basic use of those orbs she created just so he could see her resourcefulness and years of practice put into even the simplest skills. Because he was sure those were some beginner level techniques.

    “She is good. But she’s now in a tough spot. If she keeps applying the same moves on the big ones, it will drain her fast with how tough they are. But hey, great choice. A mage suits your current party setup perfectly,” Rudy commented, smiling widely, but for a different reason.

    Asterios chuckled. “Who said she’s a mage?”

    Selene, receiving a mental green light to show off a little, smiled to herself. It was time.
     
  19. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 38 – Show of Power
    Selene glanced around. The three Mud Golems were teaming up and heading towards her from different sides again. Not like they had any major intelligence to figure out that their attacks wouldn’t be able to break through the barrier she previously erected, but Selene had a different plan for them anyway. She showed enough of this side of hers.

    As the massive stone arms were descending upon her, an intense wave of spiritual energy burst out from below. The pressure pushed all three a few steps back and reached even the rest of the party standing far from the center.

    Now, in that spot, stood Selene with a wide smile. Three bushy tails danced behind her back and a ferocious glint could be spotted in her now white eyes. She went into the highest tier of her Awakening she could muster up.

    Without further ado, she turned her head to the right, glanced at one of the golems, and her whole posture blurred. Selene then suddenly appeared in front of it. Before the puppet had a chance to react, she pressed her left palm onto its torso and drew her right hand to the back, closing her fingers into a fist. The tension in the air around them increased and blueish tongues of mana enveloped her arm.

    “HEEEEEEYYYYAAAAAAAAAAAA!”

    Her fist shot forward and crashed into the hard surface of the reinforced stone. The impact was so strong that it sent a visible seismic wave in a vertical semi-circle all around the enemy, shaking the whole cave a bit. The Mud Golem went speeding backwards and in a fraction of a second, crashed into a wall on the other side of the chamber.

    Just a moment later, she blurred again and launched herself at the spot where the enemy got encased in stone. Ast and the rest of the squad saw only how she appeared there for a short flash, her fist already making contact with the golem.

    *BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOM*

    The impact created a two-meter-deep and three-meter-wide hole in the shattered rock. Everyone felt like half of the dungeon rumbled and the observers fell onto their fours to mitigate the small earthquake. While they were catching their balance, Selene casually walked out of the hole with a focused expression. The poor puppet was no more.

    This time, without dashing, she strolled towards another one and stood in front of it. The earth creature did what it knew the best, slammed its fist down at her. But. It was stopped. By a single finger. Selene’s right leg got surrounded by the same energy as before.

    “HAAAAAAP!”

    She made a powerful high kick with a split into the golem’s torso and another seismic wave burst out. It obviously went flying and crashed into the ceiling. But, that was not all.

    *BOOOOOOOOOOOOOM*

    Selene’s kick sent an insanely powerful wave of spiritual energy when it hit her opponent, which smashed into the top of the cave alongside the big doll, creating another huge crater above her head. Nobody was ready for the second earthquake and both Rudy and Asterios fell onto their butts. Only Miria reacted quickly enough to brace herself a little.

    Just one enemy remained. Selene felt an itch on her forearms and glanced down. The lines under her sleeves were slightly illuminated. Not much, but enough for her to notice through the black and blue material. She felt like she could use them to some extent. And the last Mud Golem would be a great testing target.

    She sent two streams of mana into them as Asterios previously guided her and felt a sudden surge of power. Suddenly, something connected to her mind. It felt like… she had four arms to move. And soon she understood why.

    Two massive arms purely out of spiritual energy materialized over her existing limbs. They had a demonic and beastly touch to them, reaching slightly over the middle of a forearm. Selene clenched her right fist and the ghostly apparition mirrored the movement. She smiled and looked at the practice target in front of her.

    She thrust her left hand forwards and the immaterial copy shot the same way until it reached the golem. Selene clenched her fist and her spiritual hand grabbed the enemy like it was a solid object itself. Pulling her arm back resulted in exactly what she envisioned and the opponent was brought to her in a flash.

    Not wanting to prolong her transformation state, Selene met the flying piece of earth with a roundhouse kick boosted so hard it blasted the whole doll into tiny particles of mud and dust, with a loud boom accompanying it of course.

    The job was done. She sighed heavily and withdrew the transformation. The arms disappeared and her eyes and tail turned back to their previous state. Selene glanced Ast’s way and made a courteous bow, ending her performance.

    Asterios and Miria started clapping enthusiastically while Rudy was utterly stunned with her jaw resting on the floor since the moment Selene transformed and started throwing punches on the level of an A or S-ranked Martial Artist.

    She slapped her cheeks and quickly approached Asterios.

    “Hey. Do you want to maybe like… trade her? Price doesn’t matter. I’ll rob a king if necessary.”

    Ast chuckled and looked at the foxkin who was gazing all over her arms, still in the middle of the chamber.

    “Selene! Rudy wants you to come with her! What do you say?” he shouted.

    “I’m sorry but no matter the offer, I won’t leave my Lord’s side.”

    “And here’s your answer,” Asterios added.

    Rudy bit on her lip and looked between the two in turns. “Then… Do you know if she perhaps has like… a twin sister or something?” She looked at him with hopeful eyes.

    Asterios turned around, patted her shoulder while matching her gaze and shook his head before walking away towards Selene, with Miria by his side. They both heard the frustrated and defeated whimper Rudy made behind them. And just like that, for the first time in his life, Asterios ruined someone’s crush before it even happened. He knew Selene wasn’t looking at him that way, but it didn’t really matter for the warrior, she still was out of her reach.

    He noticed Miria having her gaze glued to the ground, with her hands joined behind her back. There was no usual smile on her cute face. It was left neutral or even a little saddened right now. Ast stepped closer and placed his hand on her waist reassuringly.

    “What’s wrong?”

    She looked up and showed a wry smile. “Nothing. I was just thinking about something from my past. It’s—”

    “Miria,” he rubbed her side gently and spoke in a soft tone.

    The panthergirl averted her eyes again. “I… Before, it was my role to fight monsters on the front while using my strength and speed, but now that Selene joined… She is just way stronger than me. And she’s almost as fast as I can get with Master’s help. And on top of all that, she not only can use magic to attack but also to defend herself or others. And that spiritual ability at the end…”

    She was turning more and more disheartened the longer she spoke. It looked like the show Selene made for them had an undesirable impact on one of the audience members.

    “I feel like… I lost my place in Master’s team… I know it was my idea to bring someone who can cover both areas, but… when compared to her… I’m pretty much useless…”

    Asterios sighed heavily. He turned Miria towards himself and left a quick peck on her cheek to not embarrass the shy girl too much. Moving his hand up, he started scratching behind her ear.

    “That’s enough. I admit that Selene seems really strong from what we saw, but you are ignoring some crucial details here.” He smiled at her. “Let’s start from the beginning. First of all, Selene is a Spiritualist at the core. Her main area of expertise is manipulating spiritual energy and bending it to her will. You can’t do that so she fits the team perfectly. Secondly, she is way weaker physically than you are. Even with how much time she dedicated to training her body, without Awakening, she doesn’t come even close to your endurance, strength and agility, even without any buffs or Physical Strengthening on yourself.”

    He stopped for a moment to check if Miria was properly listening. After confirming that she was following his words and gazing straight at him, he continued.

    “And then we reach the major aspect. The Awakening itself. It surely is a huge boost to her strength, making Selene able to fight enemies face to face, but I’m pretty sure it does not come without a price. The boost is huge as we have seen. Do you really think she can just pop it up and stay in that form for hours? Without any repercussions? Just like that?”

    “It’s exactly as my Lord says.” Selene arrived by their side and joined the conversation. “Entering that state puts an immense strain on my body. It can’t withstand the third stage for longer than fifteen minutes. Reaching that point, I would literally collapse on the spot, bleeding from all possible orifices. And be done for at least a week.”

    She came closer to the duo and brought her arms forward. They were shaking a bit.

    “Even just this short demonstration left me like this. And I won’t be able to enter that state again for at least a few hours. I mean, I can forcefully do so, but you can imagine the consequences if I overexerted myself,” she explained to Miria.

    Asterios nodded his head and looked the panthergirl in the eyes. “In the long run, you are much stronger than her. You can keep fighting on the frontline for hours while boosting your physical abilities and body all the time since that’s your main strong point. And it won’t leave you weakened for a considerable amount of time after. Selene’s main job is to support you, take some weight off your shoulders, and in case of emergency, jump in to help you, not to steal your role. She is our caster, you are our attacker. She can also partially function as our defender with her shields, but so can you with your evasive style. It all depends on the situation.”

    He stopped playing with her ear and moved his hand to her cheek, brushing it gently.

    “Don’t forget that she will be keeping me safe for most of the time, to allow you to fight to the fullest and to let me comfortably focus on buffing you. It’s a great bonus that Selene can also fight by your side when necessary, don’t you think? So, stop beating yourself down. Nothing has changed. You are as important to me as you were before.”

    Miria took a deep breath and the usual, radiant smile returned to her face. She hastily closed the distance and gave Ast a quick kiss on the lips while her cheeks grew a little rosy.

    “Thank you. And I’m sorry. I was just a little surprised with how strong you are, Selene. I now see that I really didn’t think this thoroughly enough.” She stepped back and playfully slapped her cheeks. “Alright! We should focus on how to best work with each other instead! Let’s do our best for Master together!”

    Selene chuckled. “I agree. I’m sure we will find ways to complement our respective weaknesses.”

    Asterios moved his eyes onto the foxgirl. “And how are you feeling? Should we rest for a moment?”

    “I’m fine. We can continue, my Lord. I did my best to finish it up quickly, without exhausting myself too much. I did burn quite a chunk of mana, but as a Spiritualist, I regenerate it much faster than others, being able to absorb it from the environment,” she replied with a smile.

    “Alright. Let me help you refill your reserves just in case and we can move on.”

    “Ah.” Miria gasped softly, earning herself a curious gaze from the duo.

    Ast raised a brow and then realized the reason behind it.

    ~No. Not with a kiss,~ he spoke to Miria mentally, making the shy catgirl blush even more.

    He then moved behind Selene and placed his hand on her back to channel some of his energy into her circuits. To make it faster, Asterios reached towards his core and established a connection with it. He didn’t do it before, but now they would be moving forward as a proper team so it was only natural to be prepared.

    The hot energy quickly filled Selene’s mana pool up and even slightly rejuvenated her body, getting rid of a bit of the fatigue accumulated from the Awakening. Not all aftereffects were possible to be nullified with just that but it was already much more than she expected. It definitely wasn’t your usual spiritual energy.

    Rudy finally caught up to the group with a slightly dejected expression. She still kept sending Selene some hopeful glances, but that responded only with her usual, calm smile. The warrior sighed while dropping her head and passed them.

    “Come on, Mister My-hair-changes-when-I-touch-a-girl. Enough of that flirting. Let’s check the reward,” she said while waving her hand, without even looking back. Looks like she wasn’t even in the mood to question his change in appearance.

    In the remains of the obelisk, they found a bunch of copper coins and a dagger looking like nothing special. For the required effort, it was completely minuscule compensation. Whichever party without a proper composition tackled it, they would have ended up with only losses as Golems didn’t have anything to harvest from their bodies and the cores disappeared when destroyed.

    After a short discussion, the party decided to head for the fifth floor, where the first boss monster would be located. Usually, every five to ten floors, the dungeon core placed a stronger foe. For many reasons.

    First, more dangerous encounters meant more possible deaths. Second, it was one of the defence mechanisms. If the adventurers had no problems with monsters and traps on the previous floors, they might be dangerous, so an appropriately stronger obstacle should block their path down. And third, similarly to the first, the harder the fight, the more mana expenditure too. Those were the major ideas.

    Those ‘bosses’ didn’t drop things after death as Trial obelisks did, but they were powerful entities on their own, often wielding or donning equipment better than their counterparts scattered over the floors above. That and the perspective of even better gains past the ‘gatekeepers’ was the main motivation for people to challenge them.

    Besides those, a strong monster or a group could also be found rarely in the fluctuating parts of the level. They were called ‘field bosses’, but weren’t as dangerous as their bigger brothers or sisters. Still. It was possible to instantly realize they weren’t the usual denizens of the floor just from a simple glance.

    There were as many traps and dangers in the dungeon as there were treasures and rewards. Or actually, there should be less of the latter if the core was stingy with its resources. But that usually led to fewer people coming to that specific dungeon. Obviously.

    Rewards and treasures served as auto-promotion for the core. Even if it lost them, they still fulfilled the purpose of incentivizing even more people to pay a visit and try their luck there. If there was a dungeon where nothing was left after a crumbling obelisk, some parties would spread that information, and soon almost nobody would attempt the challenges, avoiding them completely and going only for monsters. And that was way more inefficient for the core than sacrificing its resources to create some rewards.

    The second floor was not much of a challenge to the four-man party. They split evenly. Miria took the front with Rudy. The latter served as an attention grabber, or aggro defender in the adventuring slang, while the former focused fully on nimble attacks and strikes from tough angles.

    Selene stayed with Asterios in the backline. She was using her spiritual arts to distract and wound enemies for most of the time, shielding one of the frontliners from an unavoidable hit when necessary.

    Ast was taking the role of the party leader and battle manager as some preferred to call that occupation. Besides using his own techniques, he was responsible for attentively watching over all of the battlefield and pointing out important things that could have been missed by other participants. He fit that position perfectly with the connection he and Miria shared. Now that also included Selene.

    Their formation was quite solid even though it was their first time fighting together. The difference between the girls who were able to converse with Ast mentally and Rudy was very noticeable though. Miria and Selene reacted much quicker and without needing a verbal command or warning. If not for the role she had taken on herself, Rudy would feel almost like a dead weight to them.

    Even the third level wasn’t able to give them any major issues. The number of enemies started increasing and opponents such as Forest Goblins, Quagmire Dragons and Bog Sprites began appearing during their journey.

    The first ones didn’t pose a threat to the party. Miria pretty much decimated the little, green people with her sharpened blades while dancing all around them. Selene swiftly dealt with any casters that popped here and there, throwing a lazy orb of energy at them or incinerating them with a burst of spiritual flame. It was deadly but really beautiful at the same time, shimmering in various shades of blue.

    Quagmire Dragons and Bog Sprites were the troublesome bunch there.

    The former looked like knee-high, oversized lizards, covered on the top with a tough-yet-soft layer of mud and earth, reducing the effectiveness of slashing weapons. They had really ferocious jaws and a bludgeon of rock at the end of their tails.

    The latter was more of a headache than a real threat. Just imagine a fist-sized orb of greenish energy that zoomed through the air around you while occasionally spitting some acid your way. Physical weapons barely did them any harm. If the wielders were even able to hit the mischievous spirits.

    By themselves, neither of the two was a problem. But, they actually appeared together. And that meant trouble. It was easy to picture the chaos where the lizards assaulted the adventurers and the levitating orbs kept distracting them at all times. A party without good cooperation and leadership was doomed to end up as a snack to the dragons and the dungeon.

    But, Ast’s group didn’t lack either. Quickly realizing the situation after recognizing the enemies he read about in the guide, Asterios gave clear orders to every member. Miria got buffed with Steel Skin and Protection from Acid and lunged to spar with the komodos. Selene received just the latter and focused on getting rid of the annoying flies. And since he couldn’t offer any protection to Rudy, she was tasked with acting as Miria’s support this time.

    The armoured lizards gave Miria some trouble since there were three of them and she did her best to just stall for time while landing shallow cuts on the unobstructed areas of their bodies. She had to watch for the earthy maces, jumping from place to place without a break. Rudy wasn’t as nimble and she had to block the heavy hits with her sword, but they did their job properly together.

    While the duo of frontliners kept the enemy’s main force busy, Selene chased the green orbs with her own spheres. Unfortunately, the sprites were too agile and fast to fall with just that. She switched her tactics and decided to try a different approach. Instead of spheres, she created thin needles out of her spiritual energy and caught them between her fingers.

    Asterios got her intention through their connection and offered to help. While Selene lowered her posture and leaned forward with her arms extended to the back, closing her eyes, he situated himself behind her and placed one hand on it. With the other, he first drew a circular rune in four brushes and caught it, activating the sigil.

    Selene felt her mind getting clearer, calmer and more focused. When she opened her eyes again, she noticed that the world slowed down a lot. The sprites seemed almost frozen. She tried glancing back at Ast and realized that her head was also moving with a delay, albeit still much quicker than anything else in her field of vision.

    She stopped the unnecessary motion and focused on getting the best out of this chance he presented to her. It was now unimaginably easy to predict the erratic movements of the flashing, green balls. Selene’s mind quickly calculated their trajectories and sent the order to throw the needles straight at the enemies. She watched as her arms slowly moved to the front and launched the little spikes, which lazily trailed through the air, taking all the time they needed to reach their target.

    After what felt like twenty seconds, every single sprite got pierced straight through its center. Fifteen more seconds passed in her mind before the world returned to its previous speed and the orbs exploded with a flash, all at the same time.

    From Ast’s perspective, barely a second after he finished the technique, Selene shot her arms forwards, decimating all the orbs with pinpoint accuracy. The technique he used, Sensory Boost, was much more effective with a direct contact than having it activated just through the connection. He wasn’t aware of how much it helped his partner, but it was obvious it did have quite the input, judging by the surprised and curious glance Selene gave him just afterwards.

    Without the annoying spirits, the party dealt with the overgrown lizards with ease. They didn’t want to wander the uncharted regions of the third floor for too long so they walked down to the fourth one, taking a short break in its safe zone.
     
  20. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 39 – Pillars and Spikes
    They found some free space in the resting area and sat down together to take a breather before diving further. Miria and Selene jumped back to their realm, what naturally left Rudy in awe of the possible utility from such a skill. They soon came back. Miria brought some snacks while Selene took a jug of apple juice and a rug for them to sit on comfortably.

    Before they dug in, Asterios drew a runic circle the size of their new blanket and filled it with various sigils. They then laid down the material and he invited his partners to take his sides. When both of the girls were close, Asterios activated the technique and they were enveloped in a faint, warm greenish glow.

    It was Rejuvenating Ground. A simple spell that very slightly boosted regeneration and fatigue relief. Since it didn’t require much of his input and focus, it was a perfect ability to lay down during breaks like this. Unfortunately, it had no effect on Rudy and everyone was aware of that.

    The person in question was feeling more surprised than down. Almost all the Summoners her party met before did barely anything else besides relying on their familiars to fight or help them. She wasn’t aware that Summoners had access to such a wide range of techniques to support their partners. They were just like certain specialized Mages but with a quite limiting restriction of their spells working only on contracted entities.

    “So, what do we plan on doing after we deal with the 5th floor's boss? Are we trying to get as deep as possible? Maybe conquer uncharted floors?” Rudy asked.

    Miria glanced at Asterios with gleaming eyes. Exploring the unknown was a fascinating thought. She couldn’t wait to see and experience even more things she had not come across yet.

    “No.”

    But Ast’s instant reply immediately shot her hopes down. He noticed that and moved his hand to cheer her up with some gentle scratches.

    “This temporary team lacks in too many areas to think of such endeavours,” he continued.

    “Why? I’ve seen how much you can do. I must admit, I’d have never thought Summoners are this diverse in their techniques after my previous encounters.”

    Asterios shook his head. “You are now well aware that my magic works only on these two. While we would be fine, I would have no way to either relieve your fatigue, deal with your injuries or even support you with fighting in any way.”

    “But—”

    “I understand your drive for adrenaline, and your curiosity too,” he turned to and smiled at Miria,” but I’m not going to risk the life of my quite freshly acquired companions. The deeper we go, the more dangerous it gets, but that’s not all. At some point, the core will start perceiving us as a threat when we delve deep enough, and as you can remember, Miria, its main priority is its own safety. It will start throwing literally everything it can at the strong invaders, and while it can’t just like create a hole with deadly spikes under our feet in an instant, it will riddle all our paths with the most ferocious traps and monsters it has, just as close ahead of us as it can, mostly relying on the shuffling mechanic and its ability to slowly reshape the dungeon too,” Asterios explained and took a sip of juice.

    “I’m all for going deeper as the rewards increase, but not like this. First and foremost, there’s no healer in this party. I don’t count. It takes too much time to passively heal Miria and Selene or prepare a correct technique, and I can’t do anything to you. Second, you are not a defender even if you act like one right now. Without someone fully dedicated to soaking hits and attacks we will quickly tire out and accumulate injuries. And last but not least, as good as the senses of my beast girls are, we have no Scout or Thief with us, nor even a Ranger. It’s not monsters that pose the most threat but the traps I mentioned before.”

    Rudy pondered for a moment. “Are you really a newbie? That mindset is closer to a veteran adventurer. Hard to believe you just started and know so much even about other professions.”

    Asterios smiled wryly. “When your daily life is nothing but a practical failure, you tend to reach for theory a lot as an escape.” Seeing his expression, she decided not to pry more, but he continued. “And it’s not like I know more than just the basic stuff about others. Maybe besides some magical ones.”

    They decided to stop after dealing with the boss for now. They still had to return back up after. The dungeon wasn’t as hospitable to provide teleport circles to the surface and there was no way Ast had enough money or connections to have scrolls or artifacts with such abilities on him. At least not yet. Most of his consumables were self-made or self-gathered.

    Finished with their break, the girls and Ast tidied up after themselves and started walking towards one of the corridors leading out. Most adventurers didn’t really care about leaving trash and leftovers around since the dungeon would ‘clean it up’ after some time, but it just wasn’t in line with Ast’s upbringing. Unfortunately, that’s just how the smaller dungeon’s safe areas were. Littered with trash everywhere. Only those strictly managed were different.

    The fourth floor didn’t look much different from the ones above. Like the first, it had mostly earthy and muddy aesthetics, with a lot of moss and tree roots covering the walls all around. It didn’t seem like any new monsters appeared too, or the party just didn’t stumble on them yet. Their main formation was Miria on the front, Rudy at the back and Selene by Ast’s side.

    While they were making their way through it, Miria at some point stopped and started glancing around.

    “Something wrong?” Asterios asked.

    “It’s weird… I can feel something like… a weak air current here, but we are in the middle of the corridor…”

    Selene walked closer and also examined the space in that spot.

    “You are right. The smell is different. Closer to a stone than earth. Is that perhaps some kind of a trap, my Lord?”

    Asterios thought for a moment. “Could also be a hidden passage from what you are saying. Can you locate the source?”

    Both girls began to move around and sniff air until they met together by the left wall. Nothing seemed special about it from the first glance, just a tree-like pillar of bark. Miria hit it with her fists a few times but it was tougher than it looked.

    “Let me take care of that,” Selene asked and she stepped aside.

    The foxkin grazed over the trunk for a moment and nodded her head. Using her right hand, she started tracing a medium-sized circle in the air just above its surface. A blueish trail followed her fingers. Finished, Selene placed her left hand against it and withdrew her right, closing it into a fist.

    Realizing what she was planning, everyone quickly found support with nearby walls and braced themselves.

    “HAP!”

    A moment later, Selene hit the spiritual circle and it burst out with energy from the other side. The blow was strong but nowhere close to her attacks in Awakened form. It was enough to shake the surroundings just a little and create a gaping hole in the wall, which was now visible to be not that thick.

    She quickly dodged to the side just in case, but nothing happened. After most of the dust fell down, Miria took a careful peek inside.

    “It looks like a stone chamber, Master. It’s not that dark. And I don’t see any monsters. It’s quite long and… partially without a floor?”

    Everyone walked to the hole and confirmed her words. It was a long cavern of slightly polished stone, definitely imitating man-made structures. Miria jumped through the hole and the others joined her soon after. The moment Selene made her way through it as the last person, the wall slowly repaired itself.

    “Are we locked?” Rudy stared at the process.

    Selene examined the fixed surface. “Doesn’t seem to be different from before. I should have no problems with creating another entrance.”

    “It’s another Trial. A hidden one. Or we just found an unintentional shortcut to it,” Asterios spoke.

    “Why do you think so, Master?” Miria asked and he pointed further into the room.

    A few meters from their position, the floor ended in a drop. The huge space was filled with sharp spikes. A few of them were big enough to count as pillars and had flat tiles on their top, positioned at different distances and heights. There was clearly a similar shelf on the other side of the eighty-meter-long path of death.

    “There’s no way I can pass that…” Rudy informed with a sigh.

    “Master…” Miria walked closer to Ast.

    “You want to give it a try?”

    She nodded.

    “It definitely is not as easy as it looks. There may be traps.”

    “I think we will be fine,” Selene joined.

    “We? I see. Just be really careful.” He patted the excited panthergirl and nodded at the smiling foxkin.

    The beastfolk duo glanced at each other and nodded too. Asterios let Miria go and joined Rudy on the side. He started preparing a few sigils and techniques on the ground just in case.

    Both girls filled their bodies with mana and walked to the edge. There were many platforms to start from. Selene jumped at the closest one on her right and Miria chose a middle one. They landed on their respective tiles safely and attentively looked all around, but nothing happened.

    Miria was the first one to make her next move. She aimed for a ledge which was a few meters higher than her own ground and crouched, activating Physical Strengthening. She pushed herself off the stone surface and managed to jump far and high enough to grab the edge of the targeted platform. Not wasting any time, she quickly pulled herself up.

    The moment she stepped on top of it, her ears twitched and she instantly bent backwards into a bridge. Three arrows flew through the air above her and hit the wall on the side. There truly were traps, just as Ast said, but those weren’t that bad.

    Meanwhile, Selene sped through three plates of a similar height without an issue. She glanced back at Miria in a weird position and sent her a mental smile. A feeling of competitive rivalry answered her back. She accepted the challenge, reminding her new friend to not lose focus of what was important and make their master worry. Miria agreed and their small race began.

    The foxgirl lunged forward, towards another platform, which was slightly lower than the previous one. She planned to push herself off it and quickly jump onto the next one, but something suddenly cracked under her feet.

    “Woooaaahhhh…”

    “Watch out, the pillar was fake! It’s another needle!” Miria informed Selene from the side while that tried to balance the square on a thin point.

    Fortunately, she managed to calm the shaking. Unfortunately, she was now pretty much pinned down, unable to easily jump at any other platform as they all were much higher. The height of this one was not an accident.

    “Do you need help?” her black-haired friend arrived at a nearby pillar and asked.

    “Shouldn’t you be using this chance to move ahead?”

    “You said it yourself. Safety first. Besides, my trap was way less dangerous.”

    They smiled at each other.

    “I’m fine. I’ll join you in a second.”

    Saying that, Selene closed her eyes and joined her hands, leaving an open circle with her fingers as if she was holding onto a pole. Some spiritual energy then started to gather in that spot and she moved one hand up and the other down, shaping an actual staff of pure mana. After it reached a satisfying length, Selene pulled it up and used her left hand to split the ending into a square-shaped fork, creating four evenly spread spikes.

    Finished, she opened her eyes and aimed it at a nearby pillar. Selene then threw it with all the strength she could muster without breaking the balance and the spiritual spear lodged itself into the stone post. It was too far for her to grab or jump towards, but it was enough for what she was planning.

    Smiling to herself, she used the platform to push herself forwards as much as it was possible. The tile tilted instantly and began sliding off the spike, but Selene already jumped off it. Starting to fall, she focused the mana in her feet and thin circles of blue energy appeared under them.

    Selene used the small barriers as footholds in the air and made four hasty steps until the last one broke into particles just as she reached her weapon lodged into the pillar, catching it with her hands and ending up hanging down from it. This structure didn’t seem fake so she freely used her strength to swing back and forth until she was able to launch herself upwards, landing on the tile above.

    Miria clapped a few times and they resumed their little competition. Jumping right and left, they pushed forwards. Most of the traps weren’t a threat thanks to their keen senses, but unfortunately, there didn’t seem to be any pattern or rule to figure out which platforms were safe, and they did end up on a few fake ones.

    On the very last line of tiles, Miria was slightly in the lead and was already starting to smile to herself. Unfortunately, luck was not on her side. With victory almost in her grasp, the platform that was the closest to the other side’s edge literally turned to dust the moment she set her foot on it, not being able to even feel the weight of her body for a second.

    “Ah!”

    It was close enough for her to quickly grab the ledge before she sank down completely. That little hiccup allowed Selene to jump onto the proper surface first and her hand soon arrived above Miria’s face. She sighed dejectedly and grabbed it, letting the foxgirl help her up.

    “You almost won.”

    “I should have expected that the furthest one will be a trap too. Congratulations. Those were some nice moves,” Miria answered with a smile.

    “Oh, thank you. Let’s try again on our way back.”

    Miria nodded and they walked further to check if there was any reward. They found a small, stone rectangle, similar to an altar, with a leather bag lying on top of it. Selene moved it around using her spiritual energy to check for more traps, but nothing happened so they picked it up and checked the contents.

    “These flasks… potions?” Miria asked after pulling out a tiny vial with greenish liquid.

    “Maybe.” Selene picked up a bigger one with yellow contents. “Perhaps Master will know what these are.”

    “Huh? Didn’t you call Master 'my Lord' usually? Why the change?” the panthergirl asked, slightly confused.

    Selene chuckled a bit. “It just feels more natural when we are speaking like this. I like to call him ‘my Lord’ to show my respect in front of others or when I’m talking directly to him.”

    “I see. I guess this makes sense. I know it kind of means the same but… our Lord sounds a bit weird to me, hahaha. But I know Spiritual Foxes are used to speaking like that.”

    Miria took the bag and quickly left it in their realm after Selene put her vial back in. They could just return to Ast’s side by coming out from a portal through their world, but they decided to have a quick rematch, knowing well which platforms were safe.

    With that knowledge, the two of them arrived at the start pretty much at the same time and Miria playfully showed dissatisfaction with a grumpy expression. She strolled towards Ast and nuzzled herself to him with a slight blush. It still was embarrassing to do it in front of others, but she was slowly making steady steps forward. Selene brought the reward while he played with the cute cat-like ears.

    “The green one is most likely poison. I don’t think it’s extremely lethal,” he said after examining the smaller vial. “Not sure about the other one. Might be an antidote. It wouldn’t be stupid. We’ll have to check it properly outside.”

    “So, what now? Are we punching our way out agai—”

    A weak rumble interrupted Rudy’s question and everyone turned around. Part of the wall crumbled and made enough space for them to return to the previous corridor.

    “This is still quite high. Looks like the core didn't assume that those who completed the Trial would be dangerous enough to not let them out,” Ast commented.

    They walked through the hole and resumed their journey towards the 5th floor's boss.
    Selene, the Foxkin Spiritualist Chibi 1 (Normal ver.)


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    Creator - @roosterf2p on Twitter

    Selene, the Foxkin Spiritualist Chibi 1 (Awakened ver.)[​IMG]

    Creator - @roosterf2p on Twitter​