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 40 – Miria’s First Boss
    The fourth floor’s monsters were mainly insects, similar to the starting level. That was one of the signs that the floor with the boss was close. Usually, it ended up being the one where the frequency of those monsters looped again, or the next one after, but exceptions from that rule could exist.

    With some decent experience and understanding of fighting together, Ast’s group didn’t have too many problems with pushing through the various opponents. They already spent some time in the dungeon, something around six hours, and they were heading straight for the stairs leading down and then for the boss chamber. The goal was to finish it all up in no more than two hours from now, for them to still have time and energy to return to the surface.

    They could spend a night in the fifth or sixth safe zone if the party deemed taking the fight to be too dangerous with the accumulated fatigue, but sleeping in a dungeon always left a weird effect on people, making them feel more sluggish and drained with each passing day. For those strong physically the ‘curse’ was weaker, and because mages were experiencing it way harder than the other professions, people quickly realized it had to do with the whole mechanic of the dungeon absorbing spiritual energy and essence.

    Half of Ast’s party relied on that force, so if they would be able to reach the boss without getting too tired, they wanted to challenge it without the weird sensation present, being pretty much in their peak ability. Asterios read that the very first night in the dungeon had this effect amplified, and at least he and Miria hadn’t been subjected to it yet. He preferred to take it safely with the boss.

    So, in their usual formation, they made their way through all the bugs on the way to the fifth floor. With just Miria and Selene, it was pretty easy. Amongst all the enemies they met, which included previously appearing Murder Hornets or newly encountered Blaze Ants, Spore Beetles, Dreamland Moths, Sword-legged Grasshoppers and some Goblins here and there, only the moths required the use of more advanced tactics and abilities.

    As their name suggested, those flying, less-pleasant to the eye cousins of butterflies, were able to utilize various attacks that had a high chance of making their target fall asleep. And it wasn’t just your light, mid-day nap, but a state from which it was almost impossible to bring the person out with conventional means. A strong-smelling solution would work, and Ast certainly had at least few of them on himself, but it would be great to avoid having to make your teammates sick for a few hours just to wake them up.

    That was why the groups of monsters that consisted of Dreamland Moths took them a lot more time than any other combination of enemies. Besides the Trial near the beginning, Asterios’s squad didn’t come across any other challenging situations and they reached the fifth’s level safe zone in a bit over half an hour after they beat the pillars.

    They took only a quick break to catch a breather, drink a bit of water and snack on some jerky. Not too much to not affect their movements. Asterios checked the correct path to the boss and they left the resting area. After around twenty minutes, the earthen corridor they were moving through started getting more spacious. A brownish structure blocking the passage could be seen from a distance, with a few silhouettes near it.

    “Is that… a huge door? Why would it be there?” Miria squinted her eyes.

    “We’ve most likely reached the boss chamber or it’s another Trial. The latter has a chance for them to appear and the former is locked behind what adventurers call a Gate most of the time. Why? As our Mister Know-it-all mentioned before, the main purpose of the monsters in there is to be a stopping force for adventurers that bulldoze through upper floors. It would be pointless if you could just like, distract them or sneak around. That’s why the room is locked after someone enters. With all this, people started calling these structures Gates, because they restrict access or something,” Rudy took the question on herself while the party slowly arrived closer to the blockade.

    They could now clearly see the group waiting in front of the Gate. Five people in total. Four men and one woman. From a quick glance, they seemed like a well-balanced party. A male Human defender in a heavy, metal armour, using a sword with a shield. A male Elf in leather clothes with a bow in hand. A male Human dressed in priestly robes, and a duo of Demons, male and female, both in leather armours, one equipped with two shortswords and the other with twin axes.

    Asterios approached the group with his party and nodded his head when they moved their gazes onto him and his companions. The adventurers answered with the same motion. With that, they pretty much notified Ast’s team that they don’t mind them here and completed the wordless greetings. Knowing now that they didn’t mind their presence, Asterios stepped closer and got straight to the point.

    “How long?” he asked.

    The red-skinned Demon woman waved her hand nonchalantly to capture his attention, signalling that she was the leader.

    “Around forty since we came here.”

    “So, you didn’t see them?”

    “Nope.”

    He rubbed his chin. “Should be anytime now then.”

    “My thoughts exactly. They must be weak or underprepared and struggling to the very las—”

    While she was speaking, the place rumbled a bit and the wooden doors began opening, accompanied by creaking and screeching of wood scraping over the earthen floor. Who was sitting in that party got up and they all turned towards the Gate.

    “Good luck,” Asterios threw as they were walking inside.

    “Thanks, you too.” The woman waved her hand without looking back.

    The structure closed again and they were left alone in front of it.

    “That was… stiff,” Miria commented.

    “Most seasoned adventurers prefer to keep things short and simple. They seemed like a party with some history together, so I assumed they wouldn’t be wanting to get all chatty and friendly. Anyway, we have at least twenty minutes of break time,” Asterios said and patted Miria’s head as he moved past her and closer to a wall and slid down it.

    “How do you know that, Master? And you asked that woman about time too.” She went after him and plopped by his side, looking at Ast with curiosity.

    “After being defeated, the boss monster should reappear in around fifteen minutes. I wanted to know if someone just went in or if they were waiting for a while. Since the forty-minute mark means the other group has been fighting for almost half an hour, we both concluded that the doors should soon open. If they were strong, they would have finished it quickly, so they must have been weak like that woman said, and kept struggling, either perishing or finally making it through.”

    “And now we wait for them to finish. They didn’t look like complete newbies so they should be done in less than ten minutes,” Rudy added from the other side of the passage.

    Everyone besides Selene, who walked up to the Gate and started examining it, sat down somewhere on the ground and took a sip of water. Observing the foxkin glancing all around the wooden doors, Miria began wondering about them.

    “Can’t people just destroy these?” she asked.

    Asterios glanced up. “Selene?”

    “There’s a lot of spiritual essence present in close proximity. Contaminated of course,” she spoke with eyes closed and one hand on the door. “Part of it flows into the wood, most likely reinforcing it. I’m not sure about the rest.”

    “The other part is gathered there to hasten the process of giving birth to the boss monster. Strong people can make their way through the barricade and a Gate without its Guardian is nothing more than just a slightly hard door. I’m pretty sure both you and Miria would be able to break it down if you gave your all into a single, strongest strike,” Asterios answered the panthergirl’s question and smiled at her. “But that can be considered rude towards the other challengers. And could help as much as distract them. Everyone knows what they are getting into when walking in there. Well, most people do.”

    Selene finished satiating her curiosity and joined the duo by sitting on Ast’s other, free side. Miria squinted her eyes at her and hugged Asterios’s arm, making the foxgirl chuckle, all while Rudy stared daggers at the man from the opposite side. It didn’t seem that Selene was as close to him as Miria, but Rudy was still jealous of him just having her by his side. Noticing that he saw her gaze, she sighed and showed a wry smile to which Asterios shrugged with the same.

    “Do we know what’s inside?” Miria continued to rain questions on others.

    “To some extent, yes. I told you it can be any monster we met before but stronger and usually bigger, perhaps evolved. We can’t know which one exactly, as a different enemy can spawn after the previous one is killed,” Asterios answered and waited for more, but it looked like they have dealt with Miria’s thirst for knowledge for now.

    Rudy was keeping track of time and was really surprised to see the Gate opening again before even eighteen minutes had passed. The party dealt with the boss in less than three minutes. They either were lucky and got one of the weaker monsters or they were just that strong. It didn’t really matter to her and the rest of Ast’s team anyway. Checking their equipment for the last time, they stepped into the chamber.

    The entrance closed itself behind their backs and they found themselves in the biggest cave Ast’s party had seen up to this point. The ceiling was very high, something like twenty meters above their heads, and the diameter of this uneven cavern was at least two times that distance. Besides the wooden exit on the other side, it was empty. They attentively scanned their surroundings, but there was no sight of a single enemy.

    “Let’s walk around in the third formation. Keep your distances, but stay close enough to help others. We have to confirm what we are dealing with first,” Asterios used two slots of his gloves for Steel Skin spell for his summons and conveyed his orders.

    Everyone spread evenly, creating two and a half meter gaps between each other, with Miria in the front, Rudy in the back and Ast with Selene in the middle. She was readying up her mana to cast protective shields at a moment's notice and the rest of the squad was also keeping their guards up while looking around the seemingly empty room.

    “Can there be no boss?” Miria asked.

    “Impossible,” Rudy instantly answered.

    “Selene, cancel the ability and try using your spiritual sense to check if there’s anything here,” Asterios suggested.

    “As you wish, my Lord.”

    She quickly moved her hands to the front, creating a circle with her left palm turned down and right up, without them touching together, and closed her eyes, creating a small whirlpool of mana in that space. Everyone else noticed faint waves of spiritual energy passing through their bodies with Selene as their epicentre.

    “There’s something weird… 87 degrees from my front…” she announced.

    Everyone glanced that way. Just a stone wall of a cavern. Irregular and seemingly naturally shaped.

    “Doesn’t that part look a bit too smooth? Like a… pillar?”

    Miria asked and everyone finally noticed a big, vertical chunk of what they assumed was stone. It did seem a little out of the place with how much it was sticking out now that they could differentiate it from the rest of the surface.

    Suddenly, Selene’s eyes shot open after she sensed a change in spiritual energy at that spot. “Dodge!” she shouted and threw herself at Asterios.

    Everyone else quickly sidestepped in anticipation of something happening from the place they were all looking at, and less than a second later, the supposed pillar broke off the wall and flew towards the only man in the group with an incredible speed. Fortunately, Selene managed to push him out of its path, falling to the ground together.

    *SHHIIIIIIIINNNGGG*

    The mysterious attacker passed them with a loud whistle of air and whizz of stone flooring being cut. It left a shallow but long line in the ground, from one side of the chamber to the other, where it landed after its lunge.

    The fallen duo hastily got up.

    “Damn bastard camouflaged itself with the surroundings!” Rudy cursed.

    “It’s a Deathscythe Grasshopper! Group up now! Don’t let it catch you in the open!” Asterios shouted and everyone quickly ran to him and Selene. “Like Sword-legged Grasshoppers, it will mainly attack with its insanely sharp hind legs, trying to split up its prey and take us down one by one. These guys move much faster than the smaller ones and their top is tough. Miria, Rudy, we rely on you blocking its charges. I and Selene have to find an opening to stagger it. Move as a group. If somebody gets pushed away, we instantly run to them!”

    “Yes, Master!”

    “Understood.”

    “Got it!”

    They all replied and shuffled their formation. Miria extended her Mana Coating to the length of a longsword and stepped to the front. Rudy joined her, positioning her greatsword in a way that would allow her to instantly lodge it into the ground to parry strong attacks. Selene was closely behind then, condensing her spiritual energy in her hands, and Asterios took a spot at the very back, trying to figure out which techniques could be useful in this fight.

    Finally having recognized the enemy, all the girls examined their opponent with more attention. It was a grey-coloured grasshopper, something around five meters long and two high. That explained how it managed to blend with the environment, also hiding its presence with spiritual energy. As Asterios mentioned, its hind legs were visibly much sharper than its smaller cousins, and they were slightly curved, almost like a scythe.

    Since this time everyone was ready, the sudden jump the enemy made seemed not as quick as before and the front guard was able to see the attack coming at them. The grey block flew at them with a still impressive speed and force. Both Miria and Rudy decided that the best option would be to launch a counterattack aiming at its main weapons and they succeeded with clashing their swords against the monster’s scythed legs at their own sides.

    The force of the clash pushed them back a bit, into Ast and Selene who supported them, and the grasshopper went above their heads after the girls altered its trajectory, landing on the other side, close to the ceiling.

    “Shit… That one packs a punch!” Rudy swung her greatsword which was almost ripped out of her hand with the enemy’s attack.

    “How is your Awakening?” Asterios asked the foxgirl.

    “I’ll be a bit sore afterwards, but I can use it.”

    “Just our luck… It had to be an enemy that preys on groups without a dedicated defender… Let’s deal with it quickly, before we start gathering injuries.”

    “Should I go all out then?”

    “No, save it for the moment things go south.” He patted Selene’s shoulder and she nodded. “Miria, it’s all yours. I’ll prepare some nice buffs for you. The moment Selene manages to throw it off-balance with her attack, rip it into shreds.”

    She instantly let go of all the limiters she was putting around her mind and deepened her connection with Asterios as much as they could do, linking her mana pool straight to his fiery reserves too. She wanted to have her own at the max and mentally asked Ast for a quick transfer, which would be much faster than her drawing his mana out by herself.

    Surprising Rudy a little, Ast’s face suddenly appeared to her right and he shared a kiss with Miria, who turned her head to the left, without dropping her guard she kept in the front. She watched them intensely pursue each other’s lips with wide eyes. The passionate exchange was very short and quick, and the two returned to their position.

    “Thank you, Master. Let’s do this.” Miria refocused her attention on the enemy.

    “Can you do it?” he asked Selene.

    “Consider it done, my Lord. The next time that bug tries cutting us again, it will go flying, but not where it wants.”

    Fortunately, or unfortunately, the grasshopper had some intelligence and didn’t seem to be that eager to repeat its attacks pointlessly after they didn’t work two times in a row. That gave them time to properly prepare themselves for as long as it didn’t sense a chance or grew bored of waiting.

    “I can see all its legs tensing up! It might be trying to hit us harder!” Miria informed the rest.

    Selene just finished gathering a huge amount of spiritual energy and drawing some weird pattern with her foot over the floor. She started doing that the moment Asterios finished talking to her.

    Asterios also prepared his techniques. Doing it as fast as possible, he attached Haste, Wind Infusion, Sensory Boost and Air Dance to his gloves. The last one allowed him to create footholds under his summon's feet, similar to the platforms Selene weaved out of spiritual energy earlier that day. With his mind deeply connected to Miria's, they shared their ideas and thoughts faster than sound could travel.

    Everyone was more than ready for the monster’s next charge, but it was unmoving, only releasing some cricketing noises from time to time. Not that much of it passed. With everyone carrying out preparations at their own discretion, it took them ten seconds to complete everything after the last word was spoken.

    Confirming it mentally with Asterios, Miria tried to act like she was slowly moving her crossed shortswords away to lure the big insect into attacking them. When they reached her sides, the monster finally made its move.

    But, her weapons were now exactly in the position she needed them at. The grasshopper pushed itself off the wall with a loud thump and lunged at the party. Asterios snapped fingers of his left hand and Miria received the benefit of Sensory Boost.

    Even without direct contact, it allowed her to watch the monster fly at them around thirty or forty percent slower than usual. She filled her blades with the wind mana from Ast’s enhancement and carefully traced upwards with them, timing their trajectory to perfectly catch the sharp leg of her enemy with a cross-shaped slash.

    While Miria sliced its limb off and injured the monster’s body a little, Rudy crouched and leaned to the back, letting the other scythe scrape over her blade as the force of Miria’s upwards attack set the insect into a vertical spinning motion.

    As it passed above the warrior woman and continued flying past the vanguard, Selene was more than ready to receive the opponent that was turned upside down. She drove her heel into the patterns she created earlier and a massive amount of spiritual energy, in the form of tall, bluish tongues of flames, burst out from them, heading upwards.

    It wasn’t an actual fire so it didn’t burn anyone present, and she made sure to guide the patterns all around her teammates to avoid pushing them off-balance because the sheer force of the released energy sent the giant bug flying towards the ceiling the moment it was unleashed.

    Asterios sent Miria a mental signal and activated Sensory Boost for her again. She hastily crouched down and gathered mana in her legs, using her Physical Strengthening. He snapped the fingers of his right hand this time and Miria launched herself off the ground with a perfectly timed Haste activation from him. With their minds joined pretty much into one, their cooperation was almost without imperfections.

    Miria caught up to the monster’s body still flying upwards and Asterios snapped the fingers of his left hand, creating a foothold with Air Dance just the moment she rotated herself to receive it. Abruptly stopping in the air with the use of the platform, she closed her eyes and entrusted the vision to her master, focusing her all on the upcoming technique.

    Others just barely noticed the disappearance of Miria, which was accompanied by a loud thump and two almost instantaneous snapping sounds, when she came crashing down with another snap and an insanely sharp whistle.

    Instantly after landing, she was gone again with another snap, and a whistle followed. This repeated ten more times, with the number of snaps alternating between one and two each jump. Everything took less than four seconds. Thirteen sharp whizzes, eighteen snaps and thirteen explosions of air later, Miria appeared in front of the group kneeling on one knee with both arms extended horizontally to the sides, her blades covered in greenish blood.

    Before anyone uttered a single word, a rain of mutilated flesh chunks fell down all around them. The Deathscythe Grasshopper was no more. Miria quivered and Asterios quickly jumped to his knees to catch her into his arms before she fell forwards. They both were panting heavily.

    “What the hell… was that?”

    Rudy sheathed her sword and glanced around at all the carnage. She noticed numerous deep cuts in the walls, ceiling and flooring. There were thirteen in total.

    “Haaah… A technique… haaah… I just came up with… Master…” Miria spoke in between breaths.

    “Just came up with? Are you crazy? You pretty much disintegrated this thing!”

    “It’s not completely new… hoooh… We just changed it a bit and added some verticality to one of our previous moves…” Asterios tried to explain. “She basically jumped fourteen times with my Haste… slashed with her blades infused with wind energy… using footholds I created in the air to fly in various directions… and cut the monster into pieces…”

    “Because of course, she did! Dude! Who can defend against that?!” Rudy threw her arms into the air and shouted, glancing then to the side at Selene who chuckled at her reaction.

    “Well… She’s most compatible with the speed and agility type of techniques… That’s pretty much it... I’ve never activated this many spells in such a short time frame and in quick succession...”

    “It was amazing… Although my head is now really dizzy… Too many changes of direction… We need to practice it more, ehehe~.”

    Rudy just waved her hand at the kneeling and smiling duo and turned around to guard them with Selene while Asterios and Miria were catching their breaths after their insane performance.
     
  2. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 41 – Gaining Some Experience
    After a few minutes, Miria and Asterios finally calmed down their breathing. Both of them pushed a few techniques to their limits at the same time. A feat which resulted in the impressive performance they managed to pull off. It certainly wouldn’t be possible for each of them to achieve the same effect alone compared to when they worked together in almost perfect synergy.

    Miria took another deep breath and smiled at Asterios who was supporting her with his body. He, in turn, kept stroking her twitching ears. Knowing that she recovered enough already, as they were still deeply connected to each other, he helped Miria stand up.

    “So… Do we get anything from that?” she asked while glancing around.

    “Besides its core, no. I’ll try to check if any decently valuable parts are worth gathering from what was left of the grasshopper,” Asterios answered.

    Seeing them up, Rudy approached the duo with Selene by her side. “We were just unlucky. As he said before, monsters usually don’t drop any specific rewards like Trials do and adventurers just scavenge their cores or what’s left of the corpse. Sometimes the monster itself is really valuable.”

    “Is this one of any worth?” Selene joined the conversation.

    “Not really. It’s just a bigger and more aggressive version of Sword-legged Grasshopper. But the core should have a good price,” Asterios moved to find it in the piles of mutilated bug parts.

    Rudy sighed. “If only it was a Goblin Warchief or something. We would have at least gotten its equipment. And the fight would have been way easier. That grasshopper was pretty much our counter. I think the only worse thing from previous floors would be a Quagmire Behemoth. Bastard is slow as fuck but just getting through all the armour takes ages, and besides the foxgirl here, we don’t have much straight, blunt firepower. Well, it doesn’t matter. It’s not like we are planning to farm here.”

    Miria glanced at her curiously. “Farm? Why would anyone want to try planting crops inside a dungeon boss chamber?”

    The warrior looked at her with both eyebrows raised and exploded into laughter soon after. Miria could hear a quiet chuckle from behind her, where Asterios was going through all the slimy insides of their past enemy.

    Rudy slowly tamed her outburst and returned her gaze to the confused panthergirl while still chuckling a little. “Sorry. It shouldn’t be this funny but the way you asked was just too much, hahaha. Ekhm. I didn’t mean it like that. Adventurers sometimes reach a boss chamber and then repeatedly attempt to conquer it, walking back and forth its entrance whenever the monster spawns again. It’s an especially popular method around the floors or dungeons that have certain rare variants spawning. That’s what we call farming.”

    “Ooooooooooh… I wouldn’t have thought of that meaning…” Miria giggled a bit embarrassingly. “So, if we took the Goblin Warchief you mentioned before as an example, to farm it, we would have to go back and forth and kill it again and again and we would be able to pick up its gear every time, yes?”

    “Simply speaking, yes. But don’t forget that the boss monster can be any one of the enemies we met above, so the chances to stumble on the one we want to hunt are not that high. People do it nevertheless if the worth still offsets the wasted time. And also, there’s one more thing. The Dungeon Core is not ignorant of what is happening. When it notices its Guardians getting repeatedly annihilated in short intervals, it will definitely intervene and throw much stronger enemies into that chamber. We call it a farming cap. I think it was around fifteen to twenty tries for this floor.”

    Miria consumed all the interesting knowledge with sparkling eyes while Rudy showed a wry smile. She wasn’t used to this kind of attention. It was usually Tesser who explained everything about dungeons and monsters to them and she was just repeating what she heard from him during their many travels. It was slightly uncomfortable and embarrassing. She wondered how Asterios could deal with this kind of stare so easily.

    The person in question finally finished their hide-and-seek game with the magical core and walked up to everyone.

    “Well said. Maybe you should take my role of explaining things from now on? You are an experienced adventurer and I’m a newbie in the end,” he said with a smile.

    “Oh, hell no! You - brain, me - muscle. Hack, slash, smash! Thinking! Hard!” Rudy comically emphasized her preferred position, making everyone laugh, herself included.

    “Alright. Let’s get out before the Core decides to kick us out with a stronger mob. I got what I could.” Asterios turned to Miria and plopped a hand onto her head. “Go back home and get some rest. We can make it to the surface alone.”

    “But…”

    “I know you are fine, but you’ve earned it. And you need a shower. There are monster intestines all over you. Besides, Rudy didn’t get much action during our trip, she deserves some fun too. Go. We can always talk mentally.”

    She glanced herself all over and blushed a little. Hardly any visible part of her skin and fur was uncovered by greenish fluids. No surprise there with how she was literally flying through them shortly before.

    Miria shyly looked away and nodded her head. “Okay. Call me whenever. I’ll rush to your side immediately, Master.” She stepped in front of Asterios and left a quick peck on his lips, hastily jumping into the shadowy portal before anyone noticed her red face. Rudy just rolled her eyes while Selene chuckled.

    They walked to the door they entered through and opened them to leave. There was no other party waiting for their turn this time. After they stepped outside, the chamber got locked again. Even if someone tried sneaking in while people were walking out, only one pair of doors could be opened after the boss died so they would just get imprisoned there until a new monster appeared. Most Cores weren’t that stupid.

    It took them an hour and a half to reach the surface and Rudy definitely had much more fun now that all the vanguard responsibilities fell on her and Asterios agreed to work around her as the main pillar of the party instead of Selene. They would have made it faster that way, but he didn’t mind a slightly slower pace. Ast was curious about Rudy’s true abilities so it wasn’t a complete waste and she did show him a fair deal of Warrior techniques and skills he’d mostly seen or read about in books.

    Outside, it was already late night so they decided to meet the next day near the Skewed Skewers stall by the Guild’s tent and go sell the cores and other stuff together. They said their goodbyes and Rudy left towards her tent-inn. Selene accompanied Asterios on the way to his resting place. They soon reached it and he turned around to face her.

    “Thank you for today, Selene. I got a decent grasp of your abilities and fighting style. I’m really glad you joined us.”

    She bowed with a light smile. “The pleasure is all mine, my Lord. I’m thankful you allowed me to do so after the disgraceful behaviour I’ve shown you that day.”

    “It’s okay. We all have our bad moments. We should focus on the present and future. And you don’t need to act so respectfully all the time.”

    “I’ll do my best then.”

    “Same here. I’ll try to help you as much as I can. Don’t forget to do the exercises I’ve told you about. We’ll try stimulating the circuits after you hit a wall with what you can achieve alone. Just don’t rush it,” Asterios said with a kind smile.

    Selene nodded with her almost iconic, calm smile present on her face. Asterios could notice her being very happy and excited hearing his words, not only via their connection but also from her bushy tail’s lively dances. It looked like she couldn’t control that part as perfectly as she wanted.

    “Alright, I shouldn’t hold you here unnecessarily long. See you later.” They both nodded and a portal arose from the ground. Before Selene walked into it though, she stopped for a moment and gazed into the night sky. “Something still on your mind?” Ast asked.

    She turned around and shook her head. “No, I was just thinking about Miria and pondering if you are an amazingly lucky or unlucky man.”

    He chuckled. “Where did that come from?”

    “Her usual behaviour and way of being.”

    Asterios was getting curious. “Is it something abnormal?”

    Selene returned her gaze to the stars. “I wouldn’t say that. More like very rare. You see, we live in a strength-based society for the most part, even in the Spiritual Foxes Tribe. So most of us are quite prideful, straightforward, bold, extroverted and maybe sometimes rash. And then there are those that are additionally Werebeasts. Their ferocious bloodline influences their personality even more. Yet, the one Pantherkin that you have summoned and which fell in love with you is the shyest, most timid and embarrassed girl I’ve ever seen in my whole life. If it were any other of her or different kind, they would be all over you during any time of the day or night. Miria can barely leave a small kiss on your lips in front of others, and I could bet she is not much different when alone, right? So I’m wondering if it was luck or the opposite for my Lord to find such a lover. And also how she ended up like that.”

    He chuckled and shook his head. “If I were to answer, then I’m definitely incredibly lucky to have met her. I’ve summoned a girl who literally dreamt of getting herself into such a situation. And I think that’s also partially why she is who she is. In the end, Miria grew up on the tale of your Princess as far as I know.”

    Selene nodded. “Well… I can see how that could work.”

    “You are telling me that most of your kind is much bolder towards others and their mates, but it’s not like I really care about that or dislike Miria’s personality, and she knows that well. I’m kind of a withdrawn person myself so I can see how our approaches aren’t that compatible, but it doesn’t matter as long as she is happy. I enjoy my time with her too. All of it. No matter the level of affection or skinship.”

    “I see. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, my Lord. I’ll now excuse myself.”

    ~My job here is done, ufufu.~ Selene’s voice resounded in his head as she bowed and gracefully walked into the crimson gate.

    The moment she disappeared, and before it could fully collapse, another one opened just by its side and a person flew out of it, crashing into Ast’s chest. Two furry hands hugged his back and Miria’s face nuzzled into his neck affectionately.

    “Master…”

    Asterios sighed with a smile forming on his lips and moved his hand to the top of the snuggly girl’s head.

    This woman. She knew Miria would start eavesdropping the second her name popped up and used that to give her a push. I’ve been had, haha.

    As he was petting her, Miria glanced up at him with a shy smile too. Her eyes darted away for a moment before refocusing back on Ast’s and she started raising her head with rosy cheeks. Sensing her intention, Asterios leaned down a bit and met Miria in the middle, where they joined their lips in a soft kiss. After a minute of gentle pecking, she moved her face back to rest on Ast’s shoulder.

    “I wish I could be bolder…” she whispered.

    He chuckled and brushed her cheek. “Once in two weeks is enough.” Reminded of her words and actions from that night, she grew even redder. “But I’ll do my best to help with this issue of yours, even though I completely don’t mind it.”

    Miria backed away and Ast extended his hand towards her. Still blushing, she took it and they walked to the big tent together while holding hands. Even with all this nervousness, Miria got used to Ast’s presence enough already to comfortably fall asleep in his arms without him urging her to relax. Not without lots of cuddles beforehand. She loved feeling his hands on her fur and back.

    The next day, after a good morning kiss, Miria jumped back to her realm. She had taken Ast’s advice to not ignore her peers and family to her heart and decided to start spending more time in her homeworld. Of course, watching over her master almost all the time and waiting for him to call her to his side. They also had Selene on their team now so Miria didn’t have to be as worried about Asterios as before.

    Ast met up with Rudy at their appointed stall and shared a quick meal in the form of a few meaty skewers. It looked like the muscular woman was into some really spicy stuff as he recognized in her portions a few of the strongest peppers the Human continent had to offer in this region. Unfortunately, he himself could barely stand any of that stuff, even the weakest spices.

    With their tummies full, the temporary duo lined up for the queue and chatted about various things while waiting. Rudy was intent on joining Ast’s team for the time it would take the rest of her squad to finish the task they took. Explaining that she would much rather have some fun with people she knew rather than boorishly earn money with some randoms, she tried to make him agree on the idea of exploring the upper floors together to gather experience for him and his girls.

    He knew very well that all of this was just a cover and the real reason was completely different. It was obvious that Rudy wanted to spend more time around Selene. They achieved quite a decent cooperation yesterday without Miria being present and the warrior definitely enjoyed that short period of closeness.

    In the end, he agreed as there was nothing that could be considered against the idea. A few days in the dungeon with someone experienced was definitely a plus, even with his knowledge and preparations.

    They cashed in all the cores from the monsters they hunted, alongside part of the materials from their carcasses, and split the money equally. In total, they earned almost two gold coins. Deathscythe Grasshopper seemed to be a quite uncommon spawn in that boss chamber and the core was currently priced a bit higher than usual.

    For the next few days, the four-man party delved into the dungeon together. Asterios used this opportunity to try out various spells and techniques he was never able to attempt before and his two familiars worked on their cooperation.

    Miria practised the new Aerial Dance to the level allowing her to comfortably link it with Haste, both when controlled by Asterios or her, and gained a very beneficial base for future moves they would come up with. Speed was her forte before, but it only worked when she had ground under her feet. Creating footholds in the air fixed that problem and her manoeuvrability grew by leaps and bounds.

    As for Selene, Asterios came up with a few techniques that would boost the efficiency of her abilities, their power output, lower the time she needed to gather spiritual energy and in general supported that area, of course training some basic ones like Haste with her too. But, as their magician, or rather Spiritualist, she focused on ranged skills. Since she controlled mana directly, it was in huge part left to her imagination, which was now supplied with many ideas Asterios shared with her through their connection. Knowledge from a different realm helped by a lot just by itself.

    The Summoner’s Harem, as Rudy jokingly named their temporary party with only a single male member, reached the tenth floor during their advances. They were focusing on training and learning about dungeons, monsters, fighting strategies and such, but their cooperation was so good after the first two days that they zoomed through the highest floors without breaking a sweat and had to delve a bit lower for some challenge.

    They encountered a few Trials and either Miria or Selene’s nose found a hidden passage or two, but they didn’t gain anything too noteworthy inside these. The experience of fighting a swarm of enemies was what counted though. After a serious discussion, everyone agreed on the suggestion of taking down the 10th-floor boss. They felt confident, but not overconfident.

    Asterios made sure they stocked up every necessary consumable and important item before going into the dungeon. Each member of the party revised their equipment properly. Rudy even got herself new bracers and greaves out of reinforced leather they found in a stand-alone shop of one of the adventurers. It was an amazing deal.

    The Guild employee informed them about Decondensation Pills, which supposedly reduced the effect of the ‘Stupor’, as that feeling of sluggishness after spending a night in the dungeon was named, but since this was a camp right by the structure, their price was hugely inflated. Not wanting to take any avoidable risks, they decided to get one for each of them and spent one-third of their previous earnings.

    Others were a bit surprised that Rudy hadn’t mentioned them and she explained herself by saying that they usually didn’t sleep in the dungeon in their main party and she just completely forgot about them. No one was angry at her. It wasn’t like they would travel somewhere further to get them cheaper, and it was obvious the price would be only slightly lower in the nearby village. Asterios and Miria already experienced their first night and they then weren’t hindered too much by exploring for two consecutive days.

    Ready as much as they could, be it with intel or equipment, the party delved into the dungeon on their previous to last day together. Tesser informed Rudy with a mental message that they wouldn’t need more than two from that point. They easily pushed through the first five floors and defeated the Guardian in the boss chamber. It was a feeble Goblin Warmage. Poor thing got overpowered by Selene and hacked into bits by the two swordswomen.

    Floors six to ten took them a bit more time and they then spent their night in the tenth’s floor safe zone. After taking the pill in the morning, at least by their assumption, the group headed for the boss chamber. Even though there were not as many adventurers as on the floors above, the queue to the Guardian’s room was considerably big. Many strong parties were rushing down and they had to wait for around an hour for their turn.

    Finally, Ast’s team made it through a familiar-looking wooden gate and marched into the spacious cave. Everyone took their positions and the towering doors closed behind their backs. Now, they had to figure out which monster’s powered-up version they would be facing. From what Asterios gathered, out of all the possibilities, there was only one that could give them a run for their money. Surely, they wouldn't be as unlucky to encounter their worst enemy again as it happened during their first try of the 5th floor.
     
  3. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 42 – Team Against Team
    “Graaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhh!”

    Fortunately, their opponent wasn’t into sneaky tactics and announced its presence shortly after the party took a few steps into the chamber. Following the guttural and gnarly shout, they noticed a greenish humanoid on the other side of the room, surrounded by around a dozen much smaller ones.

    “Ghelrgh vor svatu! Khraak fhurl!”

    It screamed at the small silhouettes while standing up from sitting on the ground. The weird sounds were clearly meant as words of command as the rest of its entourage started hastily getting up too, picking various weapons lying on the floor around the place where the group of monsters was resting.

    “Vor svatu! Vor svatu!” The little ones kept repeating to each other.

    Rudy exhaled in relief. “Thank gods it’s just Goblins this time.”

    “Don’t forget the Hobgoblin Warlord,” Asterios added while looking at the tall figure donning an ominous-looking, dark leather armour with many spikes and claw-like protrusions rising from many parts of it. “It looks like we have a full squad here. Archers, Warriors, Shamans and the big guy seems to be a defender type.” He looked through all the enemies, noticing the humongous, wooden tower shield the leader of the goblins picked up. It was as high and wide as the monster, which looked to be over two meters tall.

    “Thirteen versus four. Six fighters, three of archers and mages,” Selene counted the enemies. “Individual strength may be low, but their diversity is definitely going to be an issue. Besides the hobgoblin, they aren’t equipped too well.”

    Asterios nodded. “The Core wouldn’t waste its resources on every single Goblin. That guy’s armour looks decent. If we can take him down without damaging it too much, we might earn some money. But it will be tricky…”

    “Why didn’t we attack them instantly while they were gathering?” Miria asked.

    “If it was just a group of Goblins then that would have been the best move, but we have a Hobgoblin Warlord here, and one specialized in ordering and defending it seems. Look at how good their formation is for mere Goblins. From the back: mages, archers, hobgoblin and the warriors. If we jumped straight at them, I’m sure the big guy would have been able to command them and initiate a counterattack,” Asterios answered.

    “What do we do then?” she inquired again.

    Ast took a quick glance around to check for any obvious traps and then pondered briefly. “Do we want to take it easy or try to get as much as we can from this encounter? To a reasonable degree of course,” he asked and looked at the others.

    “If Master thinks we can do it, then let’s try the second option. That’s the main reason people go into the dungeon, right?” Miria was first to answer.

    “I vote for the latter too, my Lord. We’ve been going safe up until now. Let us earn our keep properly this time,” Selene smiled and squinted her eyes in the direction of their enemies.

    Rudy chuckled. “I like your girls, they don’t lack the drive. Let’s make the first move before they start throwing spells and cover us with a rain of arrows.”

    “Got it. We’ll split then. Fighting that huge shielder while avoiding all other attacks will be too annoying. Rudy, go play with him a bit. Selene, cover her from incoming hits and throw a fist or two at him when you can,” Asterios issued his orders and quickly drew the Steel Skin sigil on the foxgirl’s back so that she could control its power without him having to pay attention to her.

    A wide smirk appeared on Rudy’s face. “Great. My sword was itching for a bigger target,” she said and dashed forward while drawing her weapon. Selene made a quick nod towards the remaining duo and followed after the woman.

    Miria glanced at Ast’s face, ready to receive her task. He smiled and scratched behind her ears. “Do you think we can finish off the small fries before the other girls destroy the boss?”

    Her eyes sparkled and she too showed a brilliant smile. “Without breaking a sweat, Master!”

    He then gave her the Haste rune, activated the Steel Skin one by attaching it to his glove and deepened their connection. “Go and create chaos in their backline. Focus mages first.”

    “What about you, Master? No one will be protecting you.”

    “If you do a good job, there will be no one to attack me either. Don’t worry, I’ll try to stick relatively close so that you can jump back to me. Let’s not stall it any longer, they are engaging.”

    Miria moved her gaze to the front and saw Rudy sending four of the six Goblin Warriors flying with a wide swing, her blade glowing in a brownish hue. Selene blocked the incoming arrows with her spiritual energy and kicked the remaining two grunts out of their way, nothing was stopping the duo from reaching their target now. She had to join them and take care of the backline before the two girls got hit by a pincer attack from warriors and long-range attackers.

    Seeing her friends busy with their own battles, she hastily stepped closer to Ast and left a very quick peck on his cheek while blushing slightly. Miria then turned around and took a few steps before lunging forward with Haste, disappearing from his sight. He chuckled and shook his head at her shyness.

    To not linger behind for too long, Asterios started running in a wide arc while observing the battlefield until he reached the position he was aiming for. He crouched down on the side of the ongoing battle and drew the magical circle that allowed him to borrow some of Miria’s senses, aiming for her reflexes and sight first and foremost. With these being active, he fully focused on supporting his party with all he had.

    *THUD*

    *CLING*

    *THUD*

    *THUD*

    “Haaaaa!” Rudy shouted while activating one of her abilities. A strong upwards slash grazed over the whole tower shield and launched her into the air. Reaching the highest point, slightly above the hobgoblin, she followed with the rest of the move and brought down a forceful overhead attack, which again was stopped by the enormous shield, but was heavy enough to bring her enemy to its knees.

    She pushed herself off the angled shield and landed on the ground. “Who would have thought it was this tough. Tsch,” Rudy commented and clicked her tongue.

    “It’s definitely reinforced with mana,” Selene said as she blocked an axe from one of the goblins with one hand and parried an arrow coming from the opposite side with the other. “Let me try.”

    Rudy deflected a swing of the hobgoblin’s longsword and made a pirouette backwards, changing spots with the foxgirl as their backs brushed against each other. She used the gathered force to instantly stab a surprised goblin right into its guts and got rid of it.

    At the same time, Selene was already throwing a spiritually boosted punch after they separated from their short, spinning dance. It connected with the wooden plate with a loud bang and pushed the monster two meters backwards. But besides a few cracks at the point of impact, the shield seemed fine.

    With the hobgoblin not covering most of their vision with its huge equipment, she noticed the mages finishing chanting some kind of a spell together. Soon, the head of one of them went flying as a gust of wind passed by their positions. But the magic activated nevertheless.

    ~Jump into the air!~ She heard Ast's voice in her head and instantly followed his advice.

    Shortly after she jumped, a stone spike arose from the ground where she stood previously. Asterios urged her to keep dodging so she created footholds in the air and started pushing herself back towards Rudy. Many more earthen spears shot from the ground following after her, but fortunately, all of them missed.

    Selene’s ear twitched and she quickly recognized three arrows coming at them, two at Rudy and one at her. The human woman was too busy dealing with the now four remaining goblin fighters to block them. She hastily created two discs out of spiritual energy and threw them towards her comrade while still midair. The arrow aimed at Selene flew by her face and the other two bounced off the flying plates just as she landed beside Rudy, squashing the head of one of the monsters with her foot.

    “Thanks.”

    “I’m just doing my job,” Selene smiled. “And you should return to yours now. I’ll deal with those. It looks like Miria got the attention of the backline,” she said after seeing all of the archers turn around to help the mages.

    “Ghraak glyutu!”

    The hobgoblin slammed its shield into the ground and shouted something. The three warriors which were faring against Rudy stepped back and ran around the duo towards their leader. They hid behind the wide, wooden pillar and the boss began charging towards the two women.

    “He really does know tactics,” Rudy commented while preparing to dodge.

    “I think it’s time for a change of plans. Let’s attack him together,” Selene suggested and moved in front of her temporary partner. “I’ll stop it, you attack after.”

    She hastily traced a wavy circle with some patterns with her left hand and cocked back her right fist. Shortly before the rushing boss hit her with its towering shield, she punched the patterns and a burst of spiritual energy countered the impact, not only stopping the charge but also pushing the oversized buckler to the side, revealing three goblins behind it.

    The initial attack might have failed, but the little greenskins didn’t waste the chance and lunged at Selene the moment they got her in their sight.

    Rudy, fully prepared to attack, ran under her companion’s extended arm and cleaved the first enemy in half with a mighty horizontal swing. Retaining her momentum, she spun around and made a diagonal, upwards cut, slicing through the second one with ease too. Before she managed to finish the last remaining goblin by bringing her sword down with a third strike, the boss regained enough balance to move its longsword and her own weapon slid over it, cutting off only the tip of the smaller opponent’s ear before getting stuck in the ground.

    “Fucker!”

    Something touched her shoulders and she glanced upwards just in time to notice Selene making a round off above her while using her body as a base. She then came crashing down without letting go of Rudy’s shoulders and with one leg extended, leaving a bluish trail behind it. The last goblin was hit straight into its head from above and the sheer force of the kick slammed it into the ground so hard its body splattered.

    Selene stood right in front of Rudy with her hands on her shoulders after her acrobatics, smiling at the other woman. The latter snickered. “I guess this works too.” They both turned their focus back to the hobgoblin which roared at them while hitting its shield with the weapon.

    At the same time as Rudy and Selene were fighting, Miria was taking care of the backline with Ast’s help. It was mostly warnings and instructions through their bond as the Haste rune and her own agility were enough for her to jump around the mages and the archers without getting injured.

    She smartly kept herself close to at least one enemy so that she could use them as a shield in case she was caught by one of the arrows or spells. The latter wasn’t anything impressive. Without longer chanting and preparations, which the goblins definitely weren’t able to conduct while under attack, they could only fire very basic magic at her, like Firebolt, Lightning Spark, Water Sickle and such.

    A few arrows grazed Miria’s skin while she was dancing around the battlefield looking for openings, but thanks to the Steel Skin glyph and his heightened reflexes, Asterios was able to increase its toughness just before the impact, making the arrowheads ricochet off the surface, leaving only a bruise at the spot. She could fully focus on utilizing Haste to speed up her dashes while leaving protection to her master.

    With how ferociously the goblins were assaulted, they didn’t have a hint of a chance to even turn towards Asterios. The moment one of them tried to do so, it was met with a sudden figure of Miria in front of its face, which usually ended with it getting beheaded, disarmed, mutilated or else.

    Just as she finished the last living archer and was wiping Goblin blood off her face, the loud roar of the boss monster spread throughout the chamber. Selene and Rudy dealt with the grunts and were now to face the big guy alone.

    ~Perfect timing. If we can deal with it while it’s distracted, the armour will be mostly intact,~ Ast conveyed through her mind.

    ~Leave it to us, Master!~ she responded and then mentally asked Selene for cooperation.

    The person in question smiled and tapped the shoulder of the warrior woman by her side. “Step back. It’s my turn to have some fun now.”

    Rudy raised one brow at the foxkin, but didn’t question her and withdrew, still having her greatsword in her hands, ready for action if the need would arise. Miria and Selene started exchanging thoughts and both rushed at their enemy from opposite sides.

    Using an attack supported by Haste could potentially damage the armour, due to it mostly following a straight line of the lunge, so Miria decided against trying that and chose to deal with the monster alongside her new companion. They already had some experience fighting together and they even practised a bit in their world when they weren’t by Ast’s side. It was a good opportunity to show their mutual master that they can fight without his support too.

    Selene was much closer to the hobgoblin so she naturally arrived in front of it much faster. Her opponent, aware of the powerful attacks she previously threw at him, focused his all on holding the huge shield in place, putting even his other fist, which held the longsword, against the wooden wall.

    It was the correct decision, allowing it to withstand the incoming barrage of increasingly stronger punches. It still was pushed back with each one and its shield scraped over the stone pavement with a loud screeching noise. Unfortunately, that decision was right in the presence of only one opponent, or with them only in front of the defender.

    Miria reached the back of their enemy and started to swing her sharpened shortsword aiming for the neck, but somehow, the hobgoblin sensed or heard her approaching and slashed horizontally towards the back with its longsword. She stopped her attempt and bent backwards into a back walkover, timing it perfectly with the incoming blade. Her foot, enhanced by Physical Strengthening, struck the monster’s wrist and kicked its weapon out of its hand so hard it went flying and pierced the ceiling.

    The hobgoblin snarled at Miria and tried to instantly spin around with its shield to bash her, but it only jerked and released a grunt of surprise. When it glanced to the front again, its shield was being held in place by some weird, bluish, spiritual claws at the sides, and it wasn't even budging.

    On the other side of the shield, Selene was down on one knee with her left arm extended and supported by the other one. The external circuits on her upper limbs were glowing through the material and a ghostly arm was clutching the huge tower shield. With a bit of practice, she was able to use those spiritual lines to call upon this phantasmal appendage without entering the Awakened state, but naturally, only for a moment.

    That short moment was more than enough for Miria to quickly step between the hobgoblin and its shield and cut its other wrist off with one precise strike. The monster roared while stumbling back since it was still trying to pull its shield as everything happened almost in a flash.

    While clutching its injured stump, the hobgoblin opened its jaws wide to shout at its opponents with rage but stopped and its eyes widened. The last thing it saw was a ferociously spinning ball of spiritual energy flying straight at its face, and a moment later, that orb drilled through its skull without much resistance, crashing into a wall at the back of the cavern. It’s limp body soon fell backwards and slammed onto the ground.

    Miria glanced at the dead monster once more and walked up to Selene. They high-fived each other while smiling. Asterios and Rudy soon joined them and they all bumped fists together in a victorious manner. The latter sighed and punched the only man in the team in the shoulder.

    “Damned lucker, having not one but two powerful girls at your beck and call. Are you aware of how much some groups would pay to get their hands on at least one of them? Were you born under a lucky star or something?” Rudy said with a smirk.

    Asterios chuckled. “To be completely honest, it was under two.” She raised her brows confusedly, making him laugh again. “Anyway, are you fine?”

    Rudy waved her hand. “Yeah, these greenskins just grazed me here and there. That shield was tough though. I wouldn’t be able to find an opening if I was the only vanguard. Hell, not like I did much here. Everything was handled by your girls, pssht.”

    “It would have been much more difficult with one person less and you know it. Your greatsword was a great help.”

    “Yeah, yeah. You could have had the pretty lady over here smash the guy into a paste with her uber state if you wanted.”

    “In the short run, maybe, but we were aiming for a different goal than quick extermination and our cooperation was what allowed it to succeed.”

    “Alright. I can’t wait to get back to Tesser and Douhlim so I can actually matter for the team,” she said in a sarcastic tone and hit Ast again.

    Selene walked closer to his side and gazed at the woman with her usual, stoic smile. “You seem really into punching my Lord. If it's so fun then maybe I should try it with you too?”

    Rudy instantly stepped back and threw her arms to the front. “Oh, no, no, no. Thanks, but I’d like to use these for a day or two longer.”

    The foxgirl chuckled and everyone laughed, already used to this kind of bickering from the days they spent together. They started taking all the weapons, armour and equipment off the goblins and piled them up in one spot. Asterios took care of the magical cores from the monsters. They stood together while glancing down at the huge shield.

    “Normally, there would be almost no way to bring this massive slab of wood back to the surface with just us, but…” Asterios said and then watched as Miria and Selene activated their Physical Strengthening and lobbed the shield together through the portal the former opened beforehand.

    The panthergirl ostentatiously dusted her hands off and smiled at her master. He smirked.

    “Where did you throw it?”

    “In front of my house. I obviously wouldn’t drop it into my room. What if it damaged some furniture?”

    “What if your mother was just taking a stroll there?”

    Miria’s eyes widened to the brim and she lunged through the portal, to everyone’s amusement. She soon came back with a relieved expression while sighing.

    “Check the other side first before throwing things there, okay?” Asterios lectured his partner with a chuckle and she nodded her head embarrassingly.

    The two beastfolk transferred all their loot to the other side in no time and the party decided to leave the chamber through the entrance. They achieved their goal and everyone was content with going back to the surface.

    After walking out, Miria realized that they would have to go through the 5th-floor boss room again and asked Asterios how that would work since people coming down would be challenging it too.

    Noticing the curious gaze of her and Selene, Asterios decided to explain while they were heading up.

    “After someone opens the gate leading further into the dungeon, it stays open for a moment and people from the other side can go inside then. And since the Core already knows they are quite strong, it usually allows them to exit the chamber when the entrance opens to let the new guys in. Of course, it could also not do that and just spawn the monster with them inside and they would have to defeat it before opening the door. So, it all comes up to your luck. And of course, the people waiting for the boss would need to wait a bit longer before the door opens.”

    Miria nodded, noticing some logic behind the inner workings of the dungeons, and they continued climbing back up while chatting more about them.
     
  4. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 43 – Exchange
    The party arrived back at the 5th floor without encountering any troublesome groups of monsters and they waited in front of the gate until people inside finished their fight. Asterios knew from the guide that if the doors were closed, someone must have been taking their turn, as both entrance and exit would open after some time without anyone walking into the chamber through either.

    Everyone was wary while passing through the spacious room, but as soon as they reached the other side, the gate started opening and they crossed paths with a group that was just walking in. It looked like the Core didn’t intend to slow them down with another boss encounter and they were glad for that.

    Reaching the surface revealed that the time was around semi-late afternoon. Rudy suggested they took a break for the rest of the day before heading to the Guild to sell their spoils of war. Asterios was in no rush so he agreed. A night outside the dungeon would certainly help clear their minds of the Stupor’s effect, even if it was toned down by the pills they took.

    The warrior woman told them to meet her in the restaurant near the Guild’s tent and went her way, and so did Ast with his partners. After reaching his inn, Miria and Selene returned to their world, urged to relax too. The panthergirl sent a few shy glances back at him before departing.

    Asterios smiled to himself. She was still as timid as ever, only being able to push through it with certain incentives, like when Selene lured her out during that one conversation. He knew Miria was thinking of a goodnight kiss, but there were many people around, and this time, she wasn’t able to push through her nature with just her own effort.

    The next morning, after a calm and uneventful night on his narrow mattress, he went out towards the appointed place. It was easy to find with how the interiors of the big tent were arranged into rows of tables with benches. The mouth-watering smell of various dishes leaving its premises definitely helped too.

    Heading inside, Ast noticed a familiar group of people by one of the tables. It was Rudy’s squad with all members present. It looked like they were midway through their breakfast most likely. He approached their spot from an angle that would allow the leader to notice him with ease, and soon, the brown-haired woman started waving at him.

    There was enough space left on the bench so he sat down next to Tesser, having Douhlim and Rudy on the opposite side of the table.

    “Boy! Long time no see! Or maybe short? Hahah. I’ve heard you’ve taken our boss for a quick ride while we were knee-deep in shit called bureaucracy and interpersonal relationships, haha!” The dwarf raised his mug filled with mead and welcomed Ast. “So, how did things go? Did you manage to show her the true greatness of a man and make her fall fo—HNGGH?!”

    Douhlim’s question was interrupted by Rudy’s heel digging deep and hard into his foot. Hard enough to make him almost slam the table with his face from the sudden surprise. He stopped centimeters from it. But, it seemed that the raunchy dwarf’s nose was destined to meet the hoarse surface that day as Rudy’s smack on the back of his head finished the work and connected a fated couple of flesh and wood together with a thud.

    “Keep spewing more nonsense and you won’t be able to show your true greatness of a man to anyone ever again,” she scoffed at him and released the man’s foot from her attack.

    Asterios just smiled wryly while watching Douhlim raise and rub his face. His words were closer to the truth than the dwarf would have expected when making his playful remark. Rudy did in fact fall, but not exactly for the person he was making fun of. He was not able to see it, but Ast and Tesser clearly noticed a slight blush on the woman’s cheeks as she conducted the punishment.

    “Anyway, I hope you and the girls had a decent night. We can go to the Guild after finishing here. How do you want to split the profit?” Rudy asked.

    “Girls?” Tesser stopped moving a piece of meat towards his mouth and raised a brow at Ast.

    “Yeah, they are a trio now. He summoned one more lass to do his bidding. She’s nothing special…” she explained, looking away while mentioning Ast’s new comrade.

    The mage’s eyes sparkled and Asterios could easily recognize the eagerness to know more in them from how often he was met with a similar expression on Miria’s face. Before the man could ask any further questions though, Rudy quickly cut him off.

    “You can barrage him with your magical mumbo-jumbo later. First things first.”

    Ast already thought about it, so he answered without taking too long. “We should go with the usual, fifty-fifty.”

    “What? No, there’s no way,” Rudy disagreed. “You won’t tell me again that those two don’t count because they are not adventurers. You guys clearly did way more than me there. Last time I agreed, but I ain’t having any of it today. Seventy-five to twenty-five.”

    “Hehehe, you really did leave a good impression on our girl. She had never waived this much—UMPH!”

    This time, a heavy punch landed on the dwarf’s stomach under the table. No slapping follow-up was necessary as his face slammed the wooden surface again from just the initial hit in the abdomen. People from adjacent tables were starting to turn around and see what the hell was happening by their table. Poor Douhlim. Asterios felt like he was beaten up quite often with that manner of speech towards his leader.

    “If you saw Miria’s swordsmanship with your own eyes, you would be grovelling on the ground and begging him to let you learn from her instead of making stupid jokes like some jester!” she berated her companion.

    He recovered quicker than before and shot a shocked glance towards Asterios. “Wait. She is that good?”

    “Can you jump into a group of four Goblin Shamans and four Goblin Archers and decimate them in a flash without getting even a scratch?” she asked with a snort.

    The dwarf made a prolonged whistle of awe. Now, there were two people looking at Asterios with eyes pretty much brimming with curiosity. He completely didn’t expect this much attention. Rudy chuckled and slapped the table to get it back on her.

    “Focus. Money. Deal?”

    He pondered for a moment. “Crystals are obvious, but what about the equipment?” Asterios asked.

    “You need it for something?”

    “Not really. The armour is way too big for anyone in my team and the same goes for the shield.”

    “We can ask in the Guild’s tent, but the queue to appraise stuff will be astronomical. If I were you, I’d take all of it to the town and sell it in the Guild's branch there. The selling price will be lower here too since everyone who doesn’t have a spatial mage in their party, or some kind of a storage artifact, tries to get rid of most of the junk on-site, so the supply is enormous. But, you don’t have that problem, right?”

    Asterios nodded. With either Miria or Selene, he could store pretty much everything in their realm now. Abiding by the core magical rules of interdimensional travel through the established summoning corridor, of course.

    Rudy gestured at her friends. “They only came here to fetch me after getting done with the task. We are going back to the town now and then most likely picking another quest leading out of it.”

    “Aye. Sitting in one place is just not our style,” the dwarf added.

    “So, we can exchange cores here, split the rewards, and then you can pawn off the equipment at a later date. Or we can go back together if you don’t intend to dive into the dungeon again already. We’ll get more that way.”

    Asterios relayed the info to Selene and Miria, asking if they wanted to continue exploring the dungeon or come back with the party. Both of the girls said they would follow his decision. He smiled to himself, shook his head and agreed to Rudy’s plan. They had some fun in the dungeon. Perhaps they could find an interesting quest in the Guild.

    They chatted some more while Asterios ordered something to fill his stomach. Mostly, it was Tesser and Douhlim raining questions about the girls onto him. They left the restaurant tent shortly after he finished eating.

    Rudy’s party had their horses kept in the makeshift stables and they went to pick them up together. Asterios, of course, had Miria to fill the role of his valiant steed and she didn’t let him even think about any other form of transport, eagerly jumping out of the portal in her panther form and spooking most of the animals in that area. He had to leave first or all the other horses wouldn’t stop neighing, scared by her presence.

    Nothing notable happened on their way back. If Asterios was travelling alone, Miria could have covered the distance in something like two hours, but since they didn’t want to overexert the horses, it took the party seven hours. They arrived shortly after noon and headed straight to the Guild.

    It definitely was lively inside, but it couldn’t be called bustling with people. Most adventurers picked quests early in the morning and the current time was more peaceful, without the presence of the early rush. Asterios noticed Ven behind one of the counters. She was talking to a woman in heavy armour, most likely discussing some task. Before he decided to approach a different receptionist, they finished their business and the blonde clerk saw Asterios in the crowd. She made a short wave at him with a smile. He guided the party to her spot.

    “Welcome back, Ast! Already done with your first dungeon dive? Miria is not with you today?” she asked, keeping her usual, professional smile.

    “Hi there, Ven. Yeah, we just got out yesterday. As for Miria…” Asterios moved his gaze to his right, where a certain black panther’s head was peeking over the counter line.

    The clerk raised one brow curiously and then noticed the brown badge strapped to the beast’s neck. “Ah!” Everything from their previous meeting clicked and she instantly realized who she was looking at. “I’m sorry! I knew you were able to shift but still didn’t notice,” she quickly apologized and bowed a little.

    A moment later, black mist surrounded Miria’s body and she soon appeared in front of them in her other form. She grinned at the receptionist.

    “Don’t worry, hahaha! I stayed in that shape purposefully to see if you would figure it out!”

    Asterios plopped his hand on the panthergirl’s head and scratched it gently, making her squirm and blush a little. Venera quickly fixed herself and cleared her throat.

    Ekhm. So, how can I help you today? And welcome Miss Rudy. Your party submitted the finished quest just recently. There aren’t any problems with the reward, right?” she turned her attention to the other woman for a moment.

    “Yo. Nah, everything is fine. I’m just accompanying this little summoner here. We want to cash in the cores we got and perhaps sell some equipment from the monsters. Is Dave on site today?” Rudy asked.

    “Yes, and he shouldn’t be busy right now. Should I call him here now? I can give you time to bring the items in.” Venera glanced at Asterios while asking.

    “We have everything with us so we can proceed immediately. A private exchange room would be nice,” he answered.

    She pondered for a moment and looked over each one of them. They didn’t seem to be carrying anything more than necessary. She then thought that maybe Ast didn’t want to show the public that he was in possession of a spatial storage artifact of a commendable size and that’s why he asked to be led into the exchange chamber. It definitely was a safe move. She agreed to the request and guided the party to the trading area, leaving them in one of the chambers while she went to bring their appraiser.

    A few minutes later, Venera came back with a man by her side. He was a member of one of the demonic races, which was quite apparent from his navy-blue skin, pupilless eyes of a similar but even darker colour, looking like a night sky, dark hair and two horns sprouting from his forehead and curling to the back. His kind was called Nightstalkers. He wore a similar outfit as the blond-haired girl.

    “Ast, this is Dave, our appraiser. He’s pretty knowledgeable about the things you can get from the nearby dungeon and also specializes in Divination magic. Dave, this is Asterios, my new protegee.” She conducted short introductions by herself.

    “Alright, kid. Show me what you got. What do we start with?”

    Asterios brought out all the cores they collected and presented them to the man first. He examined them pretty quickly and wrote down the value of each one on a piece of paper while Ven checked everything with her notebook. All in all, they could get 1 gold and 47 silver coins if they decided to sell everything.

    After finishing, Dave picked up the biggest crystal and glanced at Asterios. “This thing comes only from the Hobgoblin Warlord. Assuming that you managed to kill it, I bet you have something to sell off him.”

    “Correct,” Asterios answered.

    “Bring it out then. Let’s see if you got any lucky,” the man urged with a grin.

    “Let’s go with the shield first then.”

    “Shield?” He looked around but didn’t see one anywhere in the room. “You carried that huge-ass chunk of wood all the way here? That thing won’t fit through the door. Why did we even come here if we have to get out anyway.” The man sighed and started standing up from the sofa he was sitting on while checking the cores.

    “No need.” Asterios stopped him. “We’ll use my door.”

    Miria stepped to the side, opened a dark crimson portal and jumped into it. Both Dave’s and Venera’s eyes widened as they watched a huge shield come out of it a moment later, carried by two quite slim girls without much effort. They dropped it on the floor beside the table and stepped back.

    “Gate?”

    The man furrowed his brows at Asterios. The boy didn’t look anything like a high-tiered magician to handle such spells. And that thought was supported by the E-rank plate on his shoulder. No proud mage of this calibre would start so low when they could blast the examiners whenever they wanted.

    “More or less.” Asterios smiled. “So, is it worth anything?”

    Dave got up and walked closer to the tower shield, examining it carefully. After a moment, he knocked with his knuckles over its surface, just above the spot where a deep imprint of a fist was located, almost breaking through all the layers.

    “It would have been worth much more if your Martial Artist didn’t decide to play with it after the fight without someone using proper techniques to activate the mana circuits inside.” He scratched his head. “Now it’s damaged. Thirty silver coins at most, just to scrap it for materials. Repairing is not worth the effort.”

    Miria butted in before Ast could say anything. “But we didn’t play with it! The hole is from the fight!”

    Selene felt responsible for their loss and stepped forward, bowing down towards Asterios. “I apologize, my Lord. I should have held back more. I know this is just an excuse, but I didn’t know what to expect from its hardness when I first struck it. It’s entirely my fault.”

    He moved closer and put a hand on her shoulder. “It’s fine. Safety first. Besides, if I wanted it intact, I would have told you beforehand, right?”

    She showed a faint smile, nodded, and backed away, returning to her previous position. Silence filled the room. Asterios glanced around and noticed that everyone was staring at him and Selene with wide eyes. Everyone except Rudy and Miria. The former was grinning from ear to ear.

    “Something wrong?” he asked.

    “Did you… feel some kind of repulsive force when you hit it?” Dave directed his question at Selene.

    She glanced at Asterios and he told her mentally that she didn’t have to ask for his permission to speak.

    “Yes, I did. It was ticklish. Like someone brushed my knuckles with a feather.”

    Dave’s jaw dropped almost to the ground. Noticing Ast’s curious gaze, he coughed awkwardly and changed the topic. “Okay. Got anything else?”

    “We have its armour.”

    “Ah. Right. It appears pretty often. But don’t expect fireworks from a piece or two. Come on, let me see if any part is salvageable after the fight. I don’t think there’s much of it left if Miss Selene had a go at the monster.”

    The person in question already left when Ast mentioned the item and was just bringing it back into the room through the portal. She laid down the whole black set, including a vest, greaves, shoulder pads, bracers and waist piece, on the shield in front of the appraiser.

    “What?!”

    Dave shouted and started frantically going through all the pieces. He checked every nook and cranny of every part of the set but he couldn’t find any marks of battle or damage, besides the usual wear that accompanied those items. He froze for a moment and then slowly turned his head back, looking straight at his colleague.

    “Venera. Go tell Claire we have it. Now,” he spoke in an unnaturally calm tone.

    “Eh? But what should I tell he—”

    “NOW!”

    She jerked hearing the man shout again, this time at her, and ran out of the room in a hurry. Dave rarely raised his voice like that. Even rarer at his coworkers. She wasn’t sure what it was all about, but Clarie must have been informed if he was urging her to tell the woman.

    After she left the room, Dave stood up and turned to Asterios, ignoring the confused stares from Rudy’s group. “I apologize for raising my voice. It’s just… It’s not very often we see a whole, undamaged set of this armour. Due to the huge shield, most adventurers just attack the monster with all they have from behind while it’s distracted, and even that usually ends with the chest piece almost completely destroyed. We currently have a seven-month-old order that requests all pieces in the best state possible and I believe your goods match the requirements. I’ve sent Venera to inform the person overseeing this order to check how much—”

    The door to the room suddenly flew open and a girl with short, black hair, and in the Guild’s uniform, stormed into the room.

    “SEVENTEEN GOLD COINS!” she shouted from the very doorstep, before even stopping her charge.

    Wheezing for air, she scanned the room and immediately locked her eyes on Asterios after seeing him in front of Dave. The girl named Claire approached him in a flash and bowed down respectfully.

    “Hello! My name is Claire! Please, sell your armour to us! We can offer seventeen gold coins right now!” she spoke hurriedly without raising her head.

    Asterios, like pretty much any other person present in the chamber, besides the employees, was quite befuddled by the whole scene. He glanced at Dave, but that only showed a wry smile. He looked at Rudy for some guidance, but she shrugged her shoulders, showing that she knew nothing that could be of help.

    Sighing heavily, he spoke to the girl. “Please, raise your head. I brought it here with the intention to sell so there’s no need to be this desperate.” He chuckled. “Shouldn’t you be hiding the fact that you want it so badly? What if I decided to hold onto it after thinking that I could get more in another branch?”

    Claire straightened her posture and shook her head. “I don’t think you will get this much anywhere else! Our buyer waited seven months already and countless adventurers pass through the 10th floor all the time! And he wants it for purely aesthetic purposes! This is really the best deal around! He came here from the Demon continent to place a direct order!”

    “Alright, alright, I get it. I accept.” He smiled wryly.

    That person must have been really desperate for these items to travel so far just to submit a request. He most likely placed similar ones in many other locations, but Ast didn’t mind getting it off his shoulders here. The price was already high to him and trying to turn down this overly excited clerk would definitely be as challenging as finding another buyer.

    Claire took the items from them and ran away to do whatever she was supposed to do with them. Ven and Dave finalized the exchange with Ast’s group after checking the Hobgoblin’s longsword too and summed up their earnings. With all of those, they ended up with 17 gold and 21 silver coins, after deducting all the fees and taxes. It was a small fortune for Asterios. The materials the academy provided were worth around 5 gold coins every few months, which already was quite generous. Students with better results than him received more of course.

    After everything was done, Dave left with the remaining items while Ven led them back to the main hall. On their way, Douhlim kept nudging Asterios while laughing heartily, talking about how he must have been one lucky boy to negate all the bad luck Rudy was bringing to their party. Naturally, he was silenced by the same, unlucky person when she accidentally set her foot in front of his and he tripped, blaming it on her bad luck.

    He managed to negotiate a thirty-five to sixty-five split with her and they bid farewell, in case they didn’t see each other the next day. Either of the groups could end up with a quest before they met again. Ast was left with Miria and Selene by Ven’s counter.

    “Thank you for cooperating with us. And I’m sorry for the scene my friends caused,” she spoke to him while lowering her head a little.

    “Don’t sweat it! Master definitely doesn’t mind!” Miria informed her joyfully.

    The blond-haired woman raised her gaze and smiled brilliantly at them. “Also, it’s quite late, but I’m pleased to make your acquaintance, Selene. If I’m allowed to call you by name.”

    The foxgirl nodded her head. “Of course. My Lord’s friends are my friends.”

    Ven smiled at her. It was quite weird hearing someone be called by such a title. And Asterios didn’t give a feeling of a high-status noble. But, perhaps she was mistaken. Or that was just how they set it in the contract or something. She only knew some basics about Summoners.

    “Anyway, thank you again. That was quite the haul. What are you guys planning to do now? Still going back to the dungeon? Or are you leaving?”

    “That depends. If we find an interesting quest that leads us out, we might take it, but we aren’t set on either staying or leaving specifically. We do plan on doing something else besides delving into the dungeon though,” he answered.

    “I see…” Ven pondered for a moment. “Say… I hope I don’t come out as rude, but…” She glanced at Selene and Miria before continuing. “Does one of your friends have a… good nose?”

    “I do!” Miria answered before he could.

    “And I can confirm that.” Asterios chuckled. “She got us through one or two hidden passages.”

    “Then, I might have something for you.”
    [​IMG]
    You might have noticed, but we finally got our first full-body art! Meet Miria! Artist is BenzBT from Twitter!
     
  5. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 44 – Emergency Search
    “What is it?” Asterios asked, curious of what Ven had in mind.

    “Just recently, we have received another new task. It was labelled as a lower-level emergency but fortunately ranked at E, so you can still participate. We are looking for any adventurers who know a thing or two about tracking.”

    “Master! I’m confident in my tracking ability! I worked as a hunter in my village for most of the time!” Miria smiled at him excitedly.

    Asterios brushed through her hair. “Yes, I know. Let’s first hear the details.”

    After she had their attention again, Venera continued. “Two days ago, an eleven-year-old boy came rushing here while crying and shouting about his brother suddenly disappearing. After hearing him out, some girls at reception pitied him and quickly gathered their pocket money to put an urgent quest. The boys were playing in the nearby forest when one of them supposedly disappeared from the other’s side. The younger brother said it happened when they were passing through a part of a ruined watchtower as they usually do. He couldn’t find his sibling for an hour and ran back to the village.”

    “And since some time has passed, I guess he didn’t just return back home?”

    “No, he is still missing. Also, the quest was initially F-rank, but our Guildmaster decided to bring it up to E-rank after hearing from the boy about some weird noises, saying that it might be the work of some monster.”

    Asterios pondered. “Did people attempt this task already? Did we get something new from them?”

    Ven nodded. “Yes, there were two parties who started searching, but they still didn’t find any clues.”

    “Any reports about people or animals missing in the vicinity?”

    It was Ven’s turn to think for a moment. She then jogged away to another station and started flipping through some book. After returning, she shook her head.

    “Doesn’t look like it.”

    “Guess that’s all we have. Is it possible to meet with the client?” he asked.

    “If you accept the task, I can give you his location. Of course, I’m not forcing you to. I just thought that your companions might have a chance—”

    “It’s too late for that. You already brought this to my attention with the hope that I’ll join on the quest. You girls okay with this?” He stopped Venera and turned to his partners.

    “Of course, Master! 2 days have already passed! We should find the other boy before he dies of hunger!”

    “I’m in the same boat as her, my Lord.”

    He nodded at them and turned back to their advisor. “Well then, I don’t feel right about the amount of info, but let’s go with this. Time is crucial here.”

    Venera smiled and bowed to them. “Thank you. Here’s how you can get to the boy’s house. I wish you luck! And please, watch yourselves.” She handed Ast a note after registering them for the task.

    “Don’t worry! With the two of us around, nothing can get close to Master!” Miria placed her furry hands on the hilts of her swords and puffed out her chest.

    After they took a few steps away, Selene slowed down.

    “My Lord…”

    Asterios turned around to glance at her. She was looking back at Venera. As he was going to ask what’s wrong, she switched her gaze to Miria and he instantly remembered something.

    “Ah. My bad. I completely forgot about the collar.” He brought them back to Ven before anyone else approached her. “Sorry to disturb you again, but since we are already here, I’d like to order one more collar.”

    She glanced at Miria at first, thinking that maybe they damaged their previous one, but it was still present on the panthergirl’s neck. Moving her eyes onto Selene, and specifically onto her fluffy ears, she immediately understood the similarity of the situation.

    “Of course! Let’s take quick measurements and I’ll pass them to our artisan and we’ll make it while you are gone. Same as the last one?”

    “No, this time we don’t need the stretchy material. I’d like you to pick something soft and elegant that would fit the lady here.”

    He gestured at Selene who smiled gracefully. While she was able to keep her expression calm and collected, the joyfully dancing tail behind her back completely gave away her eagerness to have one. Asterios chuckled inwardly and wondered if any Beastfolk could actually control their tails enough for it to not show their true emotions.

    Venera took a few glances at the foxkin and nodded her head. “Leave it to me, I’ll make sure to pick one that suits her elegant neck perfectly!”

    “Thanks. We’ll be going then. Hopefully, it’s not too late.”

    They left the Guild building and rode on Miria’s back towards the location to not waste any more time. Within a few minutes, the described place entered their sight. A young woman was sitting on a porch in front of a wooden house with an anxious expression. She was staring north, unmoving.

    Miria stopped shortly before they reached her from the side and transformed back to not scare her. They followed Asterios and walked up to the woman. She ignored or didn’t seem to notice them even as they stood just steps away from her.

    “Excuse me,” Ast spoke first.

    Brought back from her thoughts, the woman’s head frantically jerked towards Asterios and looked at him with the same, sad expression. She kept silent.

    “We are adventurers sent here by the Guild.”

    Her eyes regained some clarity and the woman suddenly stood up. “My son! Did you find him! Please, tell me he is safe!” she pleaded, grabbing Ast’s vest.

    He placed a hand on her shoulder to calm the woman down. “I’m sorry, but we still have no information about your son. My party is just going to depart to look for him. I apologize for troubling you, but would it be possible to speak with his brother?”

    The woman’s fingers clenched the material on his chest and she looked like she was going to burst out crying at any moment, but she managed to calm herself with a few deep breaths.

    “I… I’ll ask him. He doesn’t want to leave his room since he returned, but…”

    “Tell him that we need his help. That he is currently the only person who can save his brother. Only his words can guide us.”

    She nodded and went inside the house.

    “Do you think that will work, Master?” Miria asked.

    “I don’t know, but I have a hunch it might. He seems to be a smart kid, running straight to the Guild after the incident.” Asterios shrugged.

    A few minutes later, the door opened again and a short boy came out with his mother behind him. He looked at the group with uncertainty, but the girls could notice a faint trace of determination in his eyes.

    Asterios crouched on the porch. “Hi, my name is Ast. What’s yours?”

    “Tony…”

    “Well then, Tony. We are going to find your brother, but to do that, we need to know as much about your little trip as we can. Do you think you can talk about it?”

    The young boy looked Ast in the eyes for a moment before nodding.

    “Great. We know how he looks, so let’s start with what you were doing when he disappeared. You can tell me anything, no matter how silly you think it might sound.”

    “We were coming home from the forest. Garry and I play in the forest a lot. We stopped by the ruins we often play inside together too. I really wanted to play hide and seek but he said it would be getting dark soon, but as we were walking through a corridor to the exit, I heard him laugh and when I stopped looking at the ground and looked to my side he was not there. Then I heard him laugh again somewhere further so I thought he actually agreed. I was happy to play with him, but after looking everywhere, I couldn’t find him. He always gave me hints when we played before but he didn’t laugh again even once… And… I panicked… It was going to be dark soon… and… and…”

    “It’s okay, that’s plenty enough.” Asterios plopped his hand on his head and patted it reassuringly when the boy started slowly looking like he was about to cry. “This helps us a lot. You are really brave, you know? You made the best possible choice to run to the Guild.”

    “Will you find my brother?”

    “That’s why I came here. We’ll do our best. And you should do your best here too.”

    The boy tilted his head at his words a bit. He was not sure what the man meant. Asterios moved his gaze from him and glanced at the woman behind the boy.

    “That lady over there looks very sad. And you look like a big boy. You should keep her company while we are gone. She needs a strong man like you by her side right now. Can you do it?” Ast returned his eyes to the young boy and he nodded after looking back for a moment.

    “Good.”

    Asterios stood up and started walking away, but when Miria entered his sight, he thought about something.

    ~Ermm… Could you like… familiarize yourself with his scent, Miria? If you would be able to pick up their smells on the site, you could potentially distinguish between them with that,~ he asked her mentally, letting Selene hear them too.

    ~Of course! Why do you sound so awkward, Master?~

    ~Hahaha. It just feels weird asking you that.~

    ~I’ll try to remember the signature of his spiritual essence too, albeit it’s extremely scarce,~ Selene added, activating her Spiritual Sight.

    ~May I change, Master? It will work better,~ Miria asked.

    ~Hmmm… Alright, let’s try it. Follow my instructions.~

    When he stepped off the porch and reached the duo of girls standing nearby, he patted Miria’s head and acted like he whispered something to her in a voice low enough for the family to not hear it. She nodded with a wide smile and jumped back, breaking into a run. Black mist enveloped her body as she fell to all fours, and in a few moments, she shapeshifted into her panther form, making a sharp turn and running back at Ast.

    Instead of just arriving by his side, she pounced on Asterios with her front paws while she stood on her hind legs. He caught her in his arms while staggering a bit and laughing loudly as Miria started to joyfully lick his face. After a minute he managed to throw her off him, but she kept rubbing her head into his chest as she purred as loud as she could.

    Scratching behind her ears, Asterios glanced back at the family. Both the mother and the child were staring at them with wide eyes, but their expressions were completely different. He could tell how shocked, scared and anxious the woman got after seeing such a huge black panther that pretty much could squash Asterios if she fell on him. Meanwhile, the boy’s eyes were literally sparkling, filled with nothing but awe, and his mouth was wide open.

    Ast smiled at them. “Do you like cats?”

    The boy started nodding before he even finished his sentence.

    “Hmmm… I don’t usually do this, but since you’ve helped us a lot, I may let you pet her a little. What do you say?” he said with a big grin.

    If not for the arms his mother quickly placed over the boy’s torso, he would have been already running towards them, but that sudden obstruction didn’t allow him to move even an inch.

    “Mom! Please!” He looked up with pleading eyes.

    “Don’t worry. She is not your typical beast. You saw it yourself. She’s my summon and I guarantee she can’t do anything against my will. Besides, she’s the most docile kitty you can find in this realm,” Asterios tried convincing her, and just to emphasize his words, Miria began circling him and rubbing her whole body against Ast’s affectionately.

    The woman looked at them with slight anxiety and then down at her son who was pretty much shaking from excitement. She sighed heavily and lifted her hands, freeing her child and watching as he rushed towards the giant cat without a moment of hesitation.

    Miria laid down on the ground to not tower over the kid and Asterios showed him how to properly brush her fur and scratch her head, guiding his hands to Miria’s nose too, as it was their main purpose of luring him closer.

    “Alright, that’s enough, we have someone to find.” He pulled the boy back after a short while. Tony didn’t protest and ran back to his mother, waving at them as they were leaving.

    The party headed straight for the ruins of the watchtower as it was the most obvious place to start searching for the boy’s brother or any clues.

    “Thanks for that,” Asterios said to Miria as he was riding on her back with Selene, brushing through the panther’s fur.

    ~I’m glad it worked. I got a good whiff of him.~

    “I wish I could be more useful to you, my Lord…” Selene added.

    “There’s no need to feel down. Everyone has their moments. While you couldn’t really do much due to his spiritual essence being very weak, I’m sure I’ll be relying on your abilities a lot in other situations. Maybe even very soon.”

    “I’ll do my best when that time comes.” She nodded.

    The ruins weren’t far from the village and they started seeing a grey, crumbling, stone tower above the trees in just three minutes after their departure. Twenty seconds later, they stopped in front of the building. Many chambers were partially collapsed with their insides exposed to the world. Besides the main hall, it consisted of a few other structures, most likely functioning as barracks, kitchen and dining room, storage and such.

    Miria stayed in her panther form and led the expedition inside. Some of the rooms still had their ceilings almost intact, making the surroundings dark and gloomy, so Selene created a floating ball of blue spiritual fire and let it hover over their heads as they started exploring the complex.

    Not long after they started, Miria confirmed that the brothers had definitely visited this place a lot as their scent was quite noticeable in the air around them. She focused on following Garry’s smell wherever it appeared with the least mixture of the other kid.

    In half an hour, the first tour of the whole place ended and they didn’t gather much from it. Miria was sure they visited every possible room and the trail didn’t leave the area in the last three or so days.

    ~Do you think it’s the work of some monster, Master?~ she asked at some point.

    “I can’t know for sure. It does feel a little weird. At least two parties came here before us and neither was attacked or found anything worth reporting to the Guild. If it is a monster, then it seems to possess some intelligence. And knows how to hide well. Unfortunately, that doesn’t narrow it down enough for me to pick something specific from the catalogue of monsters I know.”

    “And there weren’t any holes the older brother could fall into…” Selene commented.

    They continued going around the whole area while looking for anything of importance to them until Selene suddenly stopped when they were just leaving the warehouse section again. Asterios turned around and saw her distant gaze.

    “Something wrong?” he asked.

    “I think… I felt a flicker of spiritual essence underneath us, but we haven’t seen any stairs or anything else that would lead to a lower level, thus I’m slightly confused.”

    “Then the answer is simple. It might be hidden. Do you sense any changes in the airflow here, Miria?”

    ~No. I would have told you if I did, Master.~

    “I could have mistaken it for some underground monster or animal though.”

    “There’s only one way to find out.”

    ~But, we have no idea where the entrance is.~

    “I can just create one then,” Selene suggested, making the other two look at her slightly surprised. “At worst, It’s just a few meters of stone. I can punch through it with ease.”

    Asterios showed a wry smile. “I would rather not have you collapse the whole structure if there really is something down there, including our target.”

    “Ah…” Selene’s ears flopped down for a moment, but they quickly perked back up. “I might have a solution that doesn’t require sheer power.”

    “If you think it’s safe, then I trust you.”

    She nodded with a smile and moved back a few steps, just in case that whatever she felt would remain in the same spot. Closing her eyes, she traced a circle around herself with her feet. A moment later, Selene’s hair started shimmering and a second tail appeared behind her back, announcing her entering the second stage of Awakening.

    The line she drew previously, illuminated itself in a bluish hue. Selene started creating a variety of hand signs in front of her chest, finally stopping at her palms joined together. Four spiritual claymores, each of the size of a person, appeared above her. They had beautiful, azure colour and emanated an aura of power. In the next second, she raised one of her arms to the sky with just her pointer and middle finger extended, and swung it down, aiming at the ground.

    The giant swords dropped from the air and sank into the stone pavement like it was butter. Selene then moved it and made a few circles with her fingers, still pointing at the ground. The blades followed that motion and the group watched as they travelled according to the circle around her in a counter-clockwise motion, cutting through the ground with barely any resistance.

    After a few laps, she raised her arm again and the swords returned to their previous position above Selene’s head. Meanwhile, she stepped out of the cut-out shape, summoned the spiritual apparition of her demonic hand and grabbed the floor with its claws. With a grunt, she pulled it with a lot of strength, and after releasing a loud crack, a pillar of evenly-cut stone flew upwards, slammed into the ceiling and fell down on her side.

    Selene then repeated that motion two more times, sinking the blades deep into the created tunnel, making them spin, recalling them, and then sending her spiritual arm to grab the bottom of the pit, pulling out another pillar of stone. During the third time, the shape came much shorter than the rest and she dismissed all the techniques, returning to normal with a soft sigh.

    “It looks like there truly is a space down there, my Lord,” she said with a proud smile.

    Miria approached the vertical tunnel and sniffed the air.

    ~And I’m pretty sure I can smell the brother’s scent coming up,~ she added.

    “Thank you. That was quite the sight. How are your reserves? You used your Awakening.”

    “I used up 30% of my spiritual energy with that, but I’m fine. The second level didn’t put that much strain on my body and I will be able to use it again at full capacity in case of an emergency.”

    “Alright. Start replenishing your mana with mine through the connection,” said Asterios, entering his own ‘awakening’. “How are we going to get down there? I guess we should get a rope.”

    Miria switched back to her humanoid shape. “I should have no problems jumping down.”

    “If I may, my Lord,” Selene asked for his attention. “I can carry you down in my arms. That is if you don’t mind,” she suggested.

    Asterios smiled. “Of course I don’t m—”

    “I can do it too!”

    Miria quickly walked up to Ast and stood in front of him with a slightly reddened face. She opened her arms and averted her gaze, visibly embarrassed, but determined to be the one to transport him.

    Selene chuckled behind her back. “While certainly possible, it will be safer with me as I can create footholds while descending. Don’t you think our Master’s safety is the most important thing right now?”

    Miria couldn’t rebuke her statement as it certainly was right. Asterios saw her troubled expression and stepped closer to kiss the panthergirl on the cheek while hugging her waist, much to Miria’s surprise.

    “Go first and secure the place for me, okay?”

    She nodded bashfully and her gaze darted a few times between Ast’s eyes and lips. He smiled at her gently, sending her a mental push, and she softly pecked his mouth before hastily running away and jumping into the hole.

    Selene approached him with a smile of her own. “Slowly but surely, she is making progress.”

    “And you don’t miss a chance to help her with it, do you?” he answered while shaking his head.

    “Ufufufu~. She needs to learn to be more honest with herself before you find many more mates or she will have a hard time asking for your affection with how she currently is, my Lord.”

    “Why are you so sure I will have many mates, hmm?”

    “Even though our time together is still considered short, I can already clearly tell what kind of person you are, my Lord. You possess a strong, natural charm. There’s something about you that draws individuals of the opposite gender in. Paired with your kind and caring personality, it’s quite a strong combination. One would have to be blind or stupid to not be aware of possible implications of such mixture,” Selene explained and extended her hand towards him.

    “Do you feel charmed too?” Asterios asked with a playfully raised eyebrow as he grabbed it.

    In one swift motion, she scooped him off the ground and pulled into a princess-carry. Selene looked at his surprised face with a mischievous smile.

    “Maybe a little.”

    She chuckled softly and jumped into the hole to follow after Miria.
     
  6. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 45 – Underground Exploration
    As she said, Selene descended through the tunnel using spiritual platforms she kept creating under her feet. The fall wasn’t that high, something around ten meters total, but there was no need to risk crashing into Miria who went first, or anything else that might be located under the hole she created.

    After a few moments, they exited the carved passage and fell into a completely dark stone chamber, safely landing on the hard pavement. Selene’s wisp of spiritual fire soon emerged from behind them and illuminated the room enough to see it as a whole, allowing them to spot the panthergirl near the door leading out of the place.

    “There was nothing here. No traps either,” she informed the rest of the party as she turned around to face them.

    Selene let Asterios down and they glanced around. This room seemed to be some kind of a storage judging by many wooden crates, barrels, boxes and shelves or wardrobes placed against the walls. It wasn’t too spacious and its purpose wasn’t that easy to guess, although it definitely wasn’t a food or similar supplies warehouse.

    They decided to check the contents of a few boxes and barrels and found many scraps of leather, old, withered clothes and various other pieces of material. Whatever was stored here, had been taken away long ago and only leftovers stayed behind. Selene brought out a chest containing sets of iron manacles and chains and the group started to realize what kind of underground area this might be, but to confirm that they had to explore further.

    To not rely only on Selene’s source of light, Asterios activated the technique letting him share Miria’s senses and focused on her vision and hearing. Both could be very useful when walking through an unknown place where possibly at least one monster could be lurking around. Miria had a hard time not to continuously steal glances at his charming eyes, but after a few moments she resolved herself enough to focus on the task ahead and she shifted into her panther form again.

    Selene opened the wooden door and they took a peek through the gap she created. A long corridor spanned ahead, without any light up torches or other things either, also being enveloped in complete darkness. They didn’t see any monster and walked out of the chamber with Miria in the lead.

    A short trip through the passage confirmed their suspicions. As they moved further, smaller rooms on both sides started making an appearance. They all had gates made out of iron bars installed instead of commonly used doors and the interiors consisted of a long plank hanging from the wall on two chains, one or two buckets and usually some bones and tatters, or even full skeletons. No matter how you looked at it, it was an underground prison at some point in the past. An abandoned one. As seemed to be the previous inhabitants.

    Miria tried to guide them according to the intensity of the brother’s scent and they walked through a few corridors in this place. She confidently took her turns when they stumbled on intersections or chambers with multiple exits. Nothing of importance caught their eye during that journey.

    Few minutes in, at one of the crossroads, Miria glanced towards a short corridor with a half-open door. Everyone stopped and waited for her to speak.

    ~The strongest lead guides me there. It feels quite fresh and very condensed. The boy might be inside,~ she informed them.

    Selene closed her eyes and expanded her Spiritual Sense further by sending waves of mana from her body.

    “There’s a single spiritual signature. I’m pretty sure it belongs to a Human child and feels at least slightly similar to the boy we met. I can’t sense anything else in the room.”

    Asterios nodded after she finished scanning the surroundings. “Alright. Let’s go in. Be careful.”

    Miria morphed into her humanoid form and he cast Steel Skin and indirect Sensory Boost on both of them, attaching those spells to his gloves. Selene joined her palms together and created seven orbs of spiritual energy which started circling behind her back like that day in the dungeon. She would be able to use them as a base for her techniques and shorten the casting time.

    The panthergirl unsheathed her blades, activated Mana Coating, deepened her connection with Asterios and prepared Physical Strengthening, mostly in her legs. Haste would be too inconvenient in such enclosed spaces and she felt like she didn’t have enough control over it to not accidentally run into a wall.

    With everyone ready as much as they could without finding any traces or hints about the possible enemy, Miria led the group towards the entrance to the room. Bracing for an unexpected attack or trap, she slowly opened the squeaking door but nothing of that sort happened. Selene sent her spiritual fire inside and increased its intensity to illuminate the chamber.

    It was similar to the rooms they went through before, purely out of stone blocks. It was more spacious than them though and mostly empty if they excluded a small silhouette lying on the side by the furthest wall. They nodded at each other and slowly walked inside. Miria kept her gaze glued to the young person on the ground, most likely the boy they were looking for, while Selene attentively scanned the whole room.

    They passed half the distance but nothing happened. Asterios stopped the girls and they awaited his further orders.

    “Maybe there is no monster? But then, how would he suddenly disappear and end up here… Unless the other brother was lying or something…” Miria pondered out loud.

    “It’s not impossible, but I’m still worried about that laugh he mentioned. It might very well be some kind of incorporeal monster,” Asterios replied.

    “I’m pretty sure I would have sensed it by now if that was true. I don’t mean to boast, but my spiritual senses are quite sharp,” Selene added.

    “I know, but they are obviously not perfect. And the enemy could be able to conceal their aura as well. Anyway, pondering like this won’t get us anywhere. Be ready.” Both of the girls nodded. “Hey! Can you hear me! Garry! Is your name Garry? Hey! Are you awake?” he shouted towards the body but there was no reaction.

    Asterios brought out a marble-like crystal from one of his pouches, filled it with his mana, which made the orb glow in bright light, and tossed it at the boy strong enough to hit him in the back of the head as he was lying with his face on the ground and directed to the other side. Again, there was no reaction, but they had one more source of light that allowed the group to examine him from distance. Nothing looked out of the ordinary at the first glance, although they saw mostly the boy’s back.

    “I can at least confirm he is still alive. I can see him breathing, Master,” Miria informed Ast.

    He sighed. “I bet it’s a trap…”

    “What now?” she asked.

    “Miria, stay vigilant. Selene, come with me. Have something to shield us ready.”

    “Okay.”

    “Understood.”

    With the foxkin by his side, Asterios carefully moved closer to the lying body, leaving Miria behind in the middle. They arrived in front of it and waited for a while to see if it would trigger any trap or hidden attack, but as usual, nothing happened. Asterios kneeled by the boy and reached out to flip him over while Selene kept herself ready.

    The moment Ast’s hand grabbed the kid’s shoulder, the body moved and a hand suddenly grabbed his arm. In a flash, the boy used it to pull himself up, and with impressive agility, he jumped behind Ast’s back. The attack he tried to make by vertically swinging his arm with extended fingers was blocked by the appearance of a cyan-tinted wall of energy. Seeing his ambush fail, their opponent took a few hasty steps back and dropped to all fours.

    Asterios and Selene finally got a chance to see the front of their assailant. It definitely was the brother they were looking for, Garry. But, there were a few things amiss. His eyes were completely bloodshot and strained veins were clearly visible on the uncovered parts of the boy’s body.

    Additionally, his face was twisted in a beastly manner, almost snarling at the man and his comrade. If that wasn’t enough, they noticed the boy’s fingertips being much longer than they were supposed to be. They definitely looked sharp and dangerous.

    “What’s wrong with him? Illness? Disease?” Selene asked, not losing her focus for even a second.

    “No. He’s possessed. Judging by the symptoms, it’s a Nightmare, a ghost-type monster. That kind of explains it, they merge with their hosts so it’s impossible to distinguish them with spiritual abilities.”

    Asterios could feel Miria’s increasing anger towards the boy, most likely due to the attack aimed at him, so he quickly raised his hand before she took action.

    “Wait! His body is already pushed over its limits by the Nightmare! We need to restrain him without much force. I should be able to take care of the possession afterwards.”

    “I can do that, but it will leave you without my protection for a moment, my Lord,” Selene informed him.

    “I’ll handle him with Miria somehow. Do your thing,” he answered and immediately sidestepped to avoid a lunge from the boy which definitely didn’t want to let them chat casually in his presence.

    Miria quickly met with Asterios while Selene backed off to a corner so she could have most of her sides covered as she was preparing the spell. The Nightmare kept jumping at Ast and trying to slice him with its sharp nails, landing on walls or ground on all fours. He felt like he was avoiding attacks from a wild beast instead of a fifteen years old boy.

    The enemy finally found a good angle and launched himself at Asterios from behind just to fly straight into Miria’s kick as she appeared by Ast’s back with a spin. He was sent flying and hit the opposite wall with a thud and groan.

    “I said without much force, Miria. We have to save the boy, not kill him.”

    “I’m sorry… I’m not used to holding back this much...” she apologized dejectedly.

    He gave her a quick brush through her hair to cheer Miria up and they refocused their attention at the boy who had just risen to his feet. She passed her swords to Asterios so that she didn’t use them instinctively and ran towards her target. If she managed to keep pressuring the kid, he wouldn’t have a chance to attack her beloved master.

    For around one minute, she kept throwing feints with her kicks and punches while blocking the path of the possessed teenager. Miria didn’t have too many issues with dodging the counterattacks, but he managed to graze her here and there due to her holding back a lot. The boy was looking worse and worse as the time passed and Ast told her mentally that the kid would die from overexertion if this kept up, but fortunately, Selene was ready.

    “Step back!” she shouted and they noticed a flash of blue light coming from between her hands clasped together vertically.

    Miria jumped away from the boy and that’s when Selene pulled her hands apart, creating some distance between them. All the fingers were connected with shining, thin, cyan pillars of spiritual energy and each palm had a small magical circle turning above it.

    In the next moment after she completed the motion, the same circles appeared above and under the possessed human. Five pillars of light shot from the bottom one, reaching the top of the formation, and locked the kid inside a spiritual cage. He instantly jumped at it and grabbed the bars, trying to quickly free himself, but the only effect accompanying the struggle was a faint buzzing of the poles grasped by his fingers.

    The Nightmare realized it was pointless and started swinging the boy’s arms in an attempt to keep them away, but Selene turned her palms in opposite directions and the spiritual bars in both her miniature cage and the manifested one twisted into an hourglass shape, restricting his movements almost completely.

    “He doesn’t seem strong so I should be able to keep it for a while, my Lord.”

    “Yeah, but he will kill himself if he keeps resisting. My turn now. Hold him down for just a moment.”

    Asterios separated one of his pouches from his waist belt behind his back and crouched down to quickly rummage through it. He picked up a small vial with a crystal-clear liquid. It was Fairy Water. Similarly to the sand he used in the past, it came from ponds inhabited by them for many years. It should be able to break the possession of a Nightmare.

    He returned Miria’s weapons to her, approached the wriggling boy, grabbed his chin and poured the contents inside his mouth. The kid instantly started screaming and after a moment, went completely limp, dropping his head and arms down, being held in place only by Selene’s cage. Asterios waited a few seconds to be sure and brought the boy’s face up to examine it.

    “Good. It seems to have worked. We—”

    Suddenly, Garry’s eyes and mouth shot open, wide to the brim, and a black mist flew out of them, crashing violently against Ast’s head.

    “Master!”

    “My Lord!”

    Both girls shouted at the same time. Asterios took a trembling step backwards and moved one of his hands to cover his face. When Miria ran up to him, the weird smoke had already dispersed. She supported Ast from behind, letting him lean onto her while he looked slightly disoriented.

    “Master! Are you okay?” she asked hurriedly with a worried tone.

    Asterios raised his other hand signalling them to give him a moment. Miria’s anxiety decreased a little when she saw the response to her question. Ast took a deep breath and… strongly pushed her away.

    “Eh?”

    Miria stumbled over her own feet from the sudden surprise but managed to not fall down. She quickly looked at her master and noticed that his hair turned black, so he must have lost control over his energy. Additionally, his shoulders started shaking a little while he was slightly hunched and a hand still covered his face. Soon, both of the girls realized he was giggling, then chuckling and finally exploded into a laugh.

    “Hahahahaha! Finally! It was so annoying to keep that act up. Took you long enough, idiots,” he said to them and moved his hands to his hips. Miria and Selene noticed a not-so-friendly smirk on Ast’s face.

    “My Lord, what are—”

    “My Lord? Master? Seriously? Who is this brat, some high-class noble? Certainly doesn’t look like it,” he interrupted Selene with an annoyed tone.

    Both of the girls already had their suspicions but they were now fully confirmed. Selene dispelled the cage and grabbed one of the spiritual orbs while Miria lowered her stance.

    Asterios reached behind his back, pulled out his dagger and pressed it against his own throat, using the other hand to wave his pointer finger at Miria.

    “Uh, uh, uh. Drop your weapons this instant or this pretty neck gets one more hole to inhale air.”

    Miria was furious at the monster for using her master’s body, but she suddenly received a mental message from Selene.

    ~Buy me time. Just a little.~

    She withdrew her blades back, acting like she was following its demands.

    “Who are you and what have you done to Master?”

    He chuckled. “Weapons, my dear. Questions later.”

    Content with having the attention on her, Miria dropped her swords and even kicked them away.

    “Good. Smart girl.” Ast showed a satisfied grin. “Me? I’m just a ghost of the past. A dead man. You won’t recognize my name so there’s no point in telling you. All you need to know is—”

    His head suddenly turned towards Selene and he furrowed his brows at her.

    “Stop it. Disarming me is pointless,” he said casually. “Do you really think I need this dagger? I brought it out only to make a point. I can kill him at any moment without any external help.”

    And just to prove that, he threw the dagger away and spread his arms. A moment later, his right eye started getting increasingly bloodshot and a tiny stream of blood leaked out of the eyesocket, travelling down Ast’s cheek.

    Selene clicked her tongue and cancelled the technique. She sighed heavily. Neither she nor Miria had any other ideas. Asterios laughed again.

    “Good. It’s better this way. Now then, it’s not like I owe you guys an explanation, but I’m in a quite good mood after taking over this dude. You see, I was slightly afraid when I saw you pursue me while in the body of that little shit. I planned to use him as my hostage after hearing that you came for him, but, thank gods, this idiot actually was knowledgeable about monsters and mistakenly identified me as a Nightmare.”

    Asterios let out a sinister giggle.

    “I mean, I can’t blame him, the difference is marginal and I’m actually impressed he was able to narrow it down this much from just a glance at the kid’s body, but unfortunately for you, he missed the mark just a little. I’m a Phantasmal Horror. More intelligence, ability to speak, stronger, etc. So, when I realized what he was going to try, I just acted like a Nightmare would, with all that jumping and animalistic attacks. Just to clear things up, you didn’t catch me, I let you catch me. The rest you know. I just jumped wagons. And why am I wasting my time telling you all of this? Because you can’t do shit to me. Anything you do will hurt him. If he dies, I’ll be a little hurt, but not gone, hahahaha.” After another round of laughing, Asterios made a serious face. “Anyway. Who are you to this guy? And don’t even try lying to me.”

    After a short moment of silence, Miria opened her mouth. “We are his s—”

    ~Don’t reveal everything. We don’t know if he can control only Master’s body or his abilities too,~ Selene’s voice rang in her head.

    “—ervants. Combat slaves,” Miria quickly finished her sentence, seemingly without even breaking the word as the two conversed mentally. She pointed at her collar.

    “Hmmm… Never seen your race around… Eh, not like it matters.”

    “Since you can switch bodies, if you release our Master and go back to the boy, we swear to not do anything against you and leave instantly. We won’t tell anyone about this either,” Miria tried negotiating with the Horror.

    He chuckled again and shook his head. “I’m really tempted to listen to such a beautiful girlie, but unfortunately, I need this body to leave this damned place, so I will be borrowing your master for a little bit. That kid is too weak. This guy although is pretty much perfect.” He glanced down at his hands and smiled to himself. “If you don’t get in my way and follow my orders, he might have a chance to live.” He slowly approached Miria with a wide grin and cupped her cheeks up. “What do you say, pretty?”

    Even if it was Ast’s body, Miria clearly felt repulsed by the aura he was emanating and hastily stepped away with a displeased face.

    “Don’t you dare touch me. I belong only to Master.”

    “Oh? Quite the loyal slave we are. Am I not your master now?”

    “You may have his body, but not his soul and heart,” Miria retorted.

    Suddenly, an idea popped up in her mind. She returned close to him and grabbed Ast’s throat with her furry hand. He raised an eyebrow at her action.

    “Try anything funny with me and I’ll kill Master and then myself. It’s not an empty threat.” She squeezed her fingers harder. “The two of us are much stronger than him. You need him alive, don’t you?” She glared Asterios straight into the eyes, leaking some of her killing intent she was able to direct at the Horror.

    Ast’s eyes widened a little before they returned to normal. It was long enough for Miria to notice the change. He then showed an evil grin again, but she knew it was just a facade.

    “Feisty. I like those. But, it’s as you said. I’d rather get out of this abandoned shithole than taste a random woman once, not even in my own body. And I bet he’s done you plenty already with how crazy you are after him. Used goods are not really my thing.” He shrugged and she let him go.

    Selene finally joined Miria by her side. “Let’s go then. You better instantly leave my Lord’s body the moment we step outside.”

    He chuckled. “Oh, not so fast. If it was this simple, I would have used that kid over there. I need a strong body for a reason, don’t you think? If you help me nicely along the way, I may try my best to keep him alive after I’m done, huhuhuhu.

    Asterios let out a sinister chuckle as he passed between the two girls, tapping them both on their shoulders. Miria and Selene exchanged a worried and frustrated gaze. Following the Horror was their only option for now.
     
  7. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 46 – Key to Freedom
    The Horror led the girls through the prison’s corridors with confidence. They quickly understood he must have been familiar with this place before. Selene started wondering what was his connection to the underground structure and how she could possibly use her abilities to their advantage. He needed to do something here for him to be free. She still didn’t know if the monster was sealed or born with this restriction and if it was possible for her to influence that in any way.

    Meanwhile, as Selene was racking her brain over the situation they found themselves in, Miria kept glaring at Ast’s possessed back as they followed the Horror. She was cursing her inability to do anything to help her master. She wasn’t stupid and knew very well that Selene was much more suited for all that was spiritual or magical, but that didn’t relieve her of all the blame she was putting on herself.

    They entered a different part of the underground complex, much less resembling a prison and closer to something akin to the living quarters, most likely of whoever watched over the area. It wouldn’t be surprising if it belonged to guards or jailers.

    Arriving in front of a tough-looking, arched, wooden door, they finally stopped. The Horror nodded to himself with a grin and went to open them, but nothing happened after he tried pushing the handle. The monster slammed against the planks using Ast’s body, but again, to no avail.

    “Fuck!” He kicked the door furiously. “That bastard must have locked them when leaving! There’s no way he left the key anywhere here. Gah! Why is this body so fucking weak!”

    Miria and Selene exchanged glances while watching him struggle. They were now sure that the Horror didn’t know that Asterios was a Summoner and viewed him as just your usual Human with two combat slaves or else it would instantly order them to open the door with Ast's influence over them.

    He finally turned around and faced the two girls. “Stop standing there like mindless dolls and think of something! Or was he dragging you around only as playthings and nothing else?!”

    ~He doesn’t seem to have access to Master’s memories,~ Miria spoke to Selene mentally.

    ~At least one thing is in our favour,~ she answered and started walking closer to the man.

    “Move aside,” she scoffed at the Horror and placed her hand on the door.

    First, Selene closed her eyes and sent a few pulses of Spiritual Sense inside to probe the structure of the room on the other side. There didn’t seem to be anything dangerous lurking beyond and the entryway wasn’t blocked. She traced a glowing, spiralling-to-the-inside circle with her fingers, closed her hand into a fist and pulled it back.

    “HAP!”

    Her attack punched a huge hole through the wooden door, sending splinters inside. The frame was solid enough to withstand the force without breaking any of the hinges, which was quite commendable when considering the amount of strength she put into the strike.

    Selene stepped to the side and glanced at the Horror. Judging from the expression on Ast’s face, he completely didn’t expect her to be this strong after witnessing her spiritual abilities before.

    “Is this enough?” she asked.

    He grumbled something and made it through the hole. Selene and Miria followed closely after him. The chamber they entered looked like a spacious office. There were many bookcases and shelves all around the room. An impressive, wooden desk was placed in the very middle. From all the dust lying on pretty much everything here, they could easily guess that no one came here in decades, if not longer.

    They walked around the desk to the further part of the chamber where the Horror was currently standing with hands on Ast’s hips. After moving closer, a silhouette sitting on the floor with their back to the wall entered their sight. But, instead of a person, it was a skeleton in tattered clothes. Not much was left of them. The girls noticed a long stiletto lodged into the person’s sternum, most likely the cause of their death.

    “Fucking treacherous brat. You are lucky there’s no way for you to still be alive after all those years or I’d make sure the rest of your life was a living hell…” the Horror murmured quietly, unaware that they could hear it.

    He looked back at the girls. “Alright. I don’t want to spend here any more time than necessary so you will look for something with me. There has to be a relic in this room somewhere. An object from my past that binds me to this location. I don’t know what it is exactly. It may be one of my rings, necklaces, a book, my wand, my dagger, not that one in my chest though, or anything else I used. I kept all my stuff here so unless that shithead miraculously guessed what might become the relic and also foresaw me becoming a Phantasmal Horror in the future and stole it, there’s no way we won’t find it here,” the Horror explained to the duo.

    Then, he pointed at Selene. “You with the white hair, you should be able to recognize it much easier than the other bitch since you seem more sensitive to spiritual energy. I will instantly feel a connection with it when it enters my sight, so you blackie keep rummaging through the shelves too and throwing things onto the floor. And remember, no funny ideas or this guy will suffer in your place. I made sure he retains all of his senses,” the Horror said with an evil grin. “Ah, and don’t you think that destroying the relic will get rid of me. Instead, it will get rid of the only way I can leave this godforsaken place. And if that happens, I’ll make sure to torture all three of you one by one until you turn into dust, starting with this brat!”

    He waved his finger at each of them and turned around to start looking for the item.

    ~Do you think he is lying?~ Miria asked Selene as they started going through the shelves too.

    ~I don’t know, but I’d rather not risk it. Maybe I’ll be able to understand more if I get my hands on that relic. Come on, let’s focus on searching first. I don’t want him to dirty our Master’s body any longer.~

    In thirty minutes, they went through pretty much half of the shelves, drawers and other containers in the room. Nothing caught the eye of their temporary leader. Selene didn’t notice anything special about any item either.

    An hour later, the Horror was slowly starting to get agitated and totally demolished his own desk while looking for the relic inside. The girls feared that he would completely lose his cool and hurt Asterios. Miria looked at Selene with a worried gaze. Only she could possibly achieve anything here.

    Selene took a deep breath and walked to the centre of the room. She crouched down and drew tens of blue, glowing sigils on the stone pavement, creating three circles with them, one inside another. She then added one bigger symbol in each of the four directions and finished her array with a pentagram, filling the most inner circle.

    With everything ready, Selene sat down in a cross-legged position in the middle of the magical formation and closed her eyes. She connected it to her spiritual circuits and began fueling it with her mana. Ripples of spiritual energy started flowing through the air and her consciousness detached from her body.

    Everything in her sight, except Asterios, Miria and her own body, was completely grey. Every time a spiritual wave hit them, their own circuits resonated and answered by sending a small ripple back. Selene started looking everywhere to see if there were reactions anywhere else, gradually increasing the strength of the spiritual probing.

    Just as she was going to hit the limit of what she could achieve without the Awakening, Selene noticed a faint flutter behind the bottom of one of the bookcases. After staring at the space there for a few seconds, she realized that something must have been there.

    Cancelling the technique, she stood up and walked up to the spot. “Can you help me a little Miria?”

    The panthergirl arrived by her side and Selene quickly explained her intentions to Miria through their connection. Both girls grabbed each side of the bookcase and pulled it with all their strength boosted by Physical Strengthening, and sent it flying towards the other wall. The wooden furniture crashed against it and shattered to bits.

    The Horror waved away the kicked-up dust while coughing and came closer to them. “Cough, cough. What the fuck was that for, hah?!”

    Selene and Miria pointed their fingers at the now barren wall. Specifically, at the two, upper, metallic hinges that had some of the broken-off wood still in them. It was obvious they held the whole thing quite firmly.

    “Whatever. You got anything here or just felt like trashing my old office out of frustration?”

    They moved their fingers down in complete sync. He followed them with his eyes and they widened after a sizable, iron key lying behind the bookcase entered his sight. The Horror quickly crouched down, picked it up and jumped back, displaying the item above his head.

    “Fin-fucking-nally! I should have known it would be you, you damned piece of lovely junk!” He screamed in joy and then brought the key down to look at it more. “Alright! It’s finally time we ended this fucking charade! I agree.

    The Horror furrowed his brows for a moment as he stared at the key. He felt like he just said something totally weird and out of place, but he blamed it on his euphoric mind. In fact, his manner of speech did indeed change near the end, from a joyful and upbeat tone into a calm and composed one.

    He shook his head and looked at the two girls. “Looks like even bitches can be useful at times. I’ll try not to kill your precious master. Although, he will definitely end up as at least a spiritual cripple, hahaha!”

    The Horror laughed at them mockingly. There was nothing they could do now that he had the key to his freedom in his hands. Both Miria and Selene rushed towards him the moment he finished his sentence, aiming for the item in Ast’s hands.

    “Too slow! All I have to do now is— Catch.”

    Again, his tone changed, but this time it happened mid-sentence and he casually threw the key towards the running Selene, surprising her greatly. She quickly stopped and jumped back after catching it. Miria positioned herself in between the two to intercept any oncoming attacks, but the Horror seemed frozen from shock too.

    He looked between his hand and the girls in turns and stopped at the foxkin. “I told you not to play any tricks on me! Give it back or I’ll— Start pouring your mana into the key and you will kill him.

    Ast’s body shivered from fear. “What is happ— Gods, you are an even bigger idiot than I thought.”

    After the last line, Asterios sighed heavily while facepalming. A few seconds later, his appearance changed into the awakened one and the air around his body started shimmering in dark crimson hues as more and more spiritual energy leaked outside of his circuits. He then bent forward and opened his mouth wide.

    A black, smoke-like miasma poured out of his throat, formed a goblin-looking shape after getting all outside, and flew up almost to the very ceiling while screeching in pain. Asterios coughed involuntarily and wiped off his lips before straightening himself.

    “Why does it have to feel like vomiting… Seriously…” he complained with an awkward smile.

    “HOW?!”

    A slightly ominous, old-man-sounding voice resonated through the air. Everyone knew who or what was the source behind it and both the girls and Asterios moved their gazes up at the Horror hovering above their heads.

    “I HAD YOU UNDER MY CONTROL! HOW DID YOU FREE YOURSELF AND EVEN PUSH ME OUT?!” The voice was filled with shock and anger.

    “Are you sure about that?” Asterios asked.

    “YOU! I CERTAINLY FELT YOUR MENTAL BARRIER BREAKING! THERE’S NO WAY A WEAKLING LIKE YOU COULD RESIST ME! TELL ME WHAT YOU DID OR ELSE—”

    “Do you really think I’m as stupid as you to blabber out all my secrets? Selene, do what I told you. This guy wasted too much of our time already,” he glanced at the foxkin and nodded.

    She instantly began sending her spiritual energy into the item. It surprised her how easy it was. The key seemed to be like a bottomless container that sucked in all the mana that was given to it.

    The Horror’s fog-like form started shivering and trembling irregularly. “W-w-wait! Don’t do that! I’m sorry! I’ll let you leave! If you spare me, I’ll tell you anythi—”

    Asterios walked up to Selene while looking straight at the black cloud of smoke. “Should have kept your hands off my companion, scum.” He placed his hand over Selene’s and added his own energy into the mix.

    “Nooooooooo!”

    The Horror zoomed through the air towards them but didn’t make it in time. The key the two of them were feeding mana, began to glow increasingly brighter until it reached pure-white radiance. A sound of glass breaking stemmed from the item and it shattered into hundreds of little, flashy particles. The black smoke crashed against their faces and quickly dispersed after hitting them, like your usual mist.

    Asterios stepped back and sighed in relief.

    *THUD*

    “Umph!”

    And then something crashed against his chest, making him fall onto his butt. The perpetrator was obvious and currently tightly clutching his body while trembling and emitting quiet sniffles. He hugged Miria back and began gently patting her head with slow and affectionate strokes.

    “It’s okay. It’s okay. Everything is fine and I am fine too.”

    She kept snuggling to him without letting go, but slowly, Miria’s emotions were calming down. He was actually surprised she held her composure for so long after he expelled the Horror from his body, as Asterios felt her urge to jump at him from that very moment. But, Miria kept herself at bay until it was completely safe.

    Selene walked up to them with a relieved smile too. “How did you manage to fight back against the monster, my Lord?”

    “I’ll explain everything in order, but first…”

    He reached towards the pouch strapped to his thigh, pulled out a vial with pinkish liquid and threw it at her.

    “Are you able to get back to the boy by yourself?” he asked.

    Selene nodded. “Without an issue. Should I bring him here?”

    “No. Feed him the medicine and stay there. It’s better not to move him without checking his body beforehand. Go first, we’ll join you in a moment.”

    She bowed lightly and jumped outside of the room through the hole in the door. Asterios returned his focus to the girl in his arms who finally calmed down a bit. When Miria looked up at his face, he placed a gentle kiss on her forehead and smiled apologetically.

    “I’m really sorry for worrying you.”

    She shook her head and rubbed her cheek against his. “No… I’m happy you are fine… It’s my fault for not being able to do anything…”

    “We both know you excel in a bit different area than mental attacks and defence. Don’t blame yourself over this. Besides… I am the one at fault for deceiving all of you.” He brushed against her soft ears with his fingers.

    “Eh? What do you mean, Master?”

    He showed a wry smile. “It was all an act. I never got myself possessed. Well, at least not in the usual meaning of that word.”

    “Ehhhhhhh?! But— You— Wha— Mas—…”

    She glanced at him utterly befuddled before releasing a heavy sigh and starting to giggle, then chuckle, and finally laugh openly. Asterios swiped away the leftover tears that remained on her face and Miria leaned her forehead against his after taming down her laughter.

    “I’m so stupid… Hahaha… I should have known… I should have trusted you instead of instantly assuming you lost…”

    “No, you did the right thing. Both of you did amazing without any help from me. I was afraid you would act rashly, but you kept your calm amazingly and allowed me to go with my plan almost perfectly. I’m the one who should have trusted you more from the beginning.”

    Asterios chuckled and Miria felt his slight anxiety behind those words. She stopped hugging him and quickly pulled his face to softly connect their lips together. He was surprised but didn’t back away and answered by affectionately pursuing hers too. They exchanged a few tender pecks in complete silence. There was no other meaning behind them than just pure affection and care for each other.

    After a minute passed, Miria finally moved away and slowly stood up, extending her hand to Asterios while averting her gaze with completely crimson cheeks.

    “Come on, Master. We shouldn’t make Selene wait. She would like to hear your explanation too.”

    He smiled at her and got up with Miria’s help. She left one more kiss on his cheek and they went out of the chamber too.
     
  8. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 47 – Secrets of the Abandoned Prison
    Miria led Asterios back to Selene without needing his help in locating her through their connection. They arrived to see her kneeling beside the boy.

    Asterios quickly examined his body and confirmed that the potion managed to successfully relieve it from most of the tension the monster caused him and started to slowly heal the damage. They needed to bring the kid to a real healer to fix him up properly as many muscles in his body were torn and there were some traces of contamination, but his life was not in danger anymore and he was just peacefully unconscious. He definitely needed a good manicure though.

    Wrapping the boy in a fluffy material to keep him warm, they laid him down by one of the walls. Everyone sat by his side and the girls stared at Asterios expectantly. Miria already relayed to Selene what he told her back in the office.

    “Well then, first of all, I’m really sorry for fooling you like that. I know how angry and disheartened you felt when I seemingly got possessed. I never stopped sensing your emotions through our bond.”

    Miria shook her head. “It’s okay. I’m sure you had your reasons for acting that way, Master.”

    “Yeah. Unfortunately, or fortunately, I only realized we are dealing with a Phantasmal Horror after he tried taking over my body.”

    “What are a Phantasmal Horror and Nightmare exactly, my Lord?” Selene asked.

    “The latter one is a quite common ghost-type monster, looks similar to how the Horror looked, but more shapeless, and is just an entity born out of contaminated essence like most monsters. It takes over mentally weak prey like animals or people and attacks everything on sight like a crazed beast, damaging and mutating the body as you saw before. They are not that hard to deal with as they don’t really possess much intelligence. But, the crucial detail that allowed me to differentiate the two with him acting like a Nightmare was the fact that Nightmares can’t switch hosts before their current one dies,” he explained.

    “Phantasmal Horrors are monsters born from actual souls. That person was a member of one of the races living here in the past, and judging by the dagger in his skeleton’s chest, got murdered by someone for some reason. With a deep grudge and in a place filled to the brim with contaminated essence, this prison, his soul has been bound here and turned into a Phantasmal Horror. He retained all of his memories, knowledge and such, thus he was a much more cunning and dangerous enemy. He must have known about Horrors too since he knew what to do to free himself. They control their host’s body even better than their lesser counterparts and if they want, they may even be able to go undetected until someone with good senses or experience shows up around them. Or uses correct abilities.”

    Selene nodded and stroked her chin. “Since the brothers kept playing in the ruins and he didn’t capture either of them until now, I assume he was waiting for someone with a stronger body to show up, but got tired of it and possessed one of them to lure the adults in. I don’t know why he didn’t catch someone from the two teams that came here before us, but if I were to guess, maybe they had someone who could deal with ghost-types easily and he failed to split them up?”

    “Possibly. And then we forcefully made our way down. Anyway, back to the beginning.” Asterios took a sip of water. “When that mist came out of the boy’s mouth, I realized my mistake instantly, and without a second of delay, I raised a mental barrier around my mind. It’s a basic move for Summoners. We have to protect our connection as it’s our most crucial strength. He never had a chance to penetrate it. Not with the strong energy I can now use to enhance it. I could have pushed him out immediately, but while Selene would most likely be able to easily resist too, Miria isn’t proficient with mental defence and there was a risk he would take you over before we managed to do anything. I didn’t have any support items ready, and the moment you were to be taken over, it could have ended badly. It’s not as easy to expel a Horror as it is a Nightmare and he wouldn’t just sit idly and let us do whatever we wanted.”

    Miria's shoulders slumped a little and Asterios quickly petted her ears reassuringly.

    “Everyone has a weakness and you can’t master everything. Don’t forget that was also the reason we decided to try and summon another companion. To fill in the blanks.” She smiled at him faintly and nodded. “So, I decided to make my barrier more brittle and let him break it while keeping a less conspicuous one around the very core of my mind, allowing him to seemingly have control over my body while I just sat back and observed, ready to act whenever things got out of hand. Unfortunately, I don't know if Horrors can intercept communication through the Summoner’s bond, so I refrained from contacting you in fear of him realizing that he wasn’t in complete control. I’m sorry about that.”

    “That was a logical decision, my Lord. There’s no need to apologize,” Selene said.

    “Yeah.” Miria nodded enthusiastically.

    Asterios smiled at them. “Well, you know the rest. You did great not letting your emotions take over and calmly acted according to his orders while, I bet, looking for a way out too. The only safest method of getting rid of him was finding the soulbound relic and overcharging it with mana, and you led him into my trap perfectly. Both of you made correct decisions all along the way. I was truly overjoyed seeing that. Well, maybe except the part where he approached you.” Asterios moved his gaze onto Miria. “For a moment there, I felt like all of my scorching hot energy was going to burst out as intense fury filled my heart. It’s… been many years since I’ve experienced that feeling…”

    His expression turned cold and both of the girls’ hair and fur stood up from the sheer animosity in Ast’s gaze. Neither of them saw him this serious ever, not even when he confronted the adventurer in the Guild in the past. Miria placed her hand on top of his and he quickly turned back to his usual, calm self, showing her a soft smile.

    “I’m happy you care for me this much, Master.”

    She mustered all her courage and leant forward to kiss him on the cheek. Sitting literally next to Selene was not helping, but she managed to do it with a completely flushed face.

    “No one got seriously hurt and that’s what is most important. But… What are we going to do now, Master?” she asked.

    “We can go back the way we came down, try finding an actual exit since the Horror had to bring the boy down here somehow or check the office again before the Guild sends people here to investigate after we make a report. That key looked too fancy to be for some lousy prison cell or gate,” he laid out their options.

    “I think we should check it out, my Lord. I can carry the boy with us. It’s not a problem,” Selene suggested.

    “I agree. Maybe he had some hidden treasure.” Miria nodded.

    “Alright. Let’s make it quick then. We should not delay too much. We'll just take a short glance as we walk through the complex in search of the exit. If it takes too long, we go back to the hole.”

    They stood up and Asterios glanced at the unconscious boy. He seemed quite fine and his condition was stable, but Ast wondered if they really should be dragging the teen around as they looked around. At the same time, it wasn’t wise to leave him alone here either.

    Selene noticed his worry and tapped Ast’s shoulder for him to step aside. She then walked closer to the boy, kneeled down and joined her hands together. A moment later, a light-blue light emerged from between her palms and some swirling spiritual energy surrounded them. She then directed them horizontally towards the ground and began slowly moving them away from each other in a straight line.

    Asterios and Miria watched as a bluish path formed after Selene’s hands, and in fifteen seconds, she created a flat, semi-transparent surface the size of a person. She placed her fingers against it and pushed the floating oval down like it was completely solid. Then, she slid it under the boy’s body and positioned him on the spiritual platform on his back. Finally, Selene stood up and gestured with her finger upwards, making the platform rise to the level of her hips.

    “I hope you don’t mind if I carry him like this, my Lord,” she spoke to Asterios with a smile.

    “Of course not. This is really good. Guide it by my side and we can use our usual formation. Does this drain your energy fast?”

    She shook her head. “Not really. It’s a simple technique. Mana consumption depends on the carried weight and this child is not that heavy. I can also use most of my other abilities while upholding this platform unless they require a lot of control.”

    He nodded. Selene’s manipulation of pure spiritual energy was coming more useful day by day. Asterios was glad they accepted her in the end. He was sure at that time that a control type spiritual user would bring some utility into their fights along with the firepower, but he was pleasantly surprised with how useful her arts were outside of combat too.

    They left the empty room and headed straight for the Horror’s office. It was the best place to start their search for anything interesting. Although the girls have already turned that place almost upside-down when looking for the relic, leaving it in quite the chaos, Asterios watched everything as it was unfolding and took note of a few things when their enemy was supposedly in control of his body.

    Miria and Selene started checking around the chamber for any hidden compartments, holes or storages. Asterios told them that the Horror would most likely have checked them first if there were any, as the chance of them containing some important items from the ghost’s past would have been the highest. They decided to try anyway while he scanned through a few books that caught his eye. Especially one that was hidden behind many fake layers inside one of the drawers of the magnificent desk but didn’t become the relic.

    After five minutes of rummaging through the Horror’s belongings, the girls didn’t find anything amazing but rounded up the things they thought might be valuable. Seeing Asterios still engrossed in reading something, both of them walked up to him and took a glance at whatever he was holding.

    “What’s this, Master?” Miria asked curiously while leaning against his shoulder.

    “A logbook of some sorts.”

    “Did you learn what this place is?”

    He chuckled. “It would have been too convenient having such descriptions written down and just lying around here. None of the people who lived or worked here would have needed that.”

    “Ah. That’s true. I didn’t think of that.”

    Asterios smiled and patted her head. “I didn’t get to know exactly what this place was, but I can make a so-so guess based on the little details I’ve gone through. While the upper area was definitely an official watchtower, one of four around this village if I remember correctly, I’m fairly sure only this one had a secret, underground facility which most likely wasn’t known to many from the organization that occupied these.”

    He pointed at the skeleton in the furthermost part of the chamber. “That guy over there, the same we encountered, was named Dane. I didn’t find any mention of his surname or other details. He might have been an overseer of this place, judging by this logbook I hold in my hands right now. It’s a kind of registry of people held here, with a history of their tortures and what they revealed under them. From the way things are described, they seemed to be mostly criminals, although it’s hard to judge when seeing it from only one of the sides. It also speaks about testing something on those people. The log ends without anything suspicious being mentioned, so my guess would be that one day someone from upper branches ordered to clean up the place and silence people who knew about it. Dane murmured something about betrayal, so it could have been done by a double agent too, or the person was placed here undercover by the organization to monitor the place, and he wasn’t aware of that. That’s all just my assumptions though.”

    “That’s still quite a lot you were able to deduce from the books, my Lord, even if not everything is correct,” Selene praised him.

    “I’m pretty good at reading stuff and piecing it together. You know, years of practice in the academy.” He showed a reminiscing smile. “Anyway, let’s keep these logs. Information in them can be useful. And also dangerous. If anyone asks, we have no idea what this place is except for the fact that it looks like a prison of some sort. We know nothing about who operated it and what kind of people they are, although I’m pretty sure they aren’t the nice and kind type, so let’s try to not bring their attention to us.”

    The duo nodded and they all moved to the piled up spoils of war Selene and Miria prepared. Ast gave the panthergirl a few notebooks and asked her to store them somewhere safe in her world. She also brought there all the valuables they chose to pick up for selling later. Mostly rings, necklaces and various gems belonging to Dane. There wasn’t much left in this room. If it had anything more in the first place.

    Then, they began walking around the underground complex in search of a proper exit. There were many rooms they visited, but most were emptied or the things inside didn’t hold any importance to the party, so they only took a glance inside to not waste time. They also kept looking for a chamber that could be opened with the key they destroyed, but no doors looked like they matched the item. Or one of them did but weren’t reinforced or protected in any way and Selene punched through them like through all other locked ones they encountered on their path.

    In a small storage room, seemingly meant to hold weapons and tools, Selene was bothered by the weird placement of stands and shelves. They were positioned in a very irregular and chaotic way when compared to other stashes they checked before. Asterios decided to go with her hunch and everyone focused on figuring out if there actually was something to them.

    At first, they couldn’t find any reason for the weird design, nor any clues as to why everything was placed the way it was. While examining one of the stands holding rusted weapons, Selene tried fixing the position of one of the swords which was leaning to the side. It was out of habit. She always kept all her things tidied up and in order.

    But, after being pushed into the proper position, the sword slid back to the previous one. Selene furrowed her brows and tried again but to no avail. During her third attempt, she noticed that the ring upholding it was tampered with and purposefully made the weapon angle itself that way. Something clicked in her head and she stepped back to look for any other pieces of equipment in disorder.

    Knowing what to look for, she found them with ease and the other two watched as Selene walked from spot to spot while poking different weapons. Then, she came back to the very entrance, looked all over the storage and started visiting the previous places again but starting from the door.

    She kept following where each angled weapon pointed and ended up in front of two, crossed, rusted rapiers hanging over a wooden buckler on a wall at around chest-height. She took them down and found a keyhole in the stone surface, showing it to the others.

    “Why would anyone prepare such an elaborate and complex ‘puzzle’ for a spot that requires a key anyway, and most likely is known only to its holder. I won’t believe that they would forget where it was,” Asterios commented after she explained to them her actions.

    The girls shrugged. Since there was a chance it was a hidden cache instead of a passage, it was Miria who took it onto herself to open it. Selene’s way of doing so could damage whatever was inside. And it was a correct decision as, after a few short moments of the Miria thrusting her mana-sharpened blade into the wall, the hidden compartment opened and revealed a few rows of small vials and bottles with liquids of various, dark colours.

    Selene reached to bring them out, but Asterios quickly stopped her. Even without checking the labels they had on them, he was able to tell those contained poison. Some were damaged and the smell was distinct enough for him to notice. She carefully levitated them out with her spiritual energy.

    Nothing else besides those concoctions was inside and Asterios decided to keep the containers that didn’t look like they could easily break. He concluded that those must have been the things Dane was testing on the prisoners. With the help of the notebooks, he planned on analysing the contents and maybe figuring out some of the recipes. It was a farfetched goal, but he always liked experimenting like that.

    Finally, after ten more minutes of looking for an exit, they followed a corridor that ended in stairs and led them up. The party arrived at a dead end. Miria noticed that one of the stone blocks was slightly bulging and pressed it in. A metallic click followed and the wall in front of them moved a little. Asterios pushed the structure and it opened like a door, emitting some noise of stone scratching against a stone.

    They found themselves in one of the rooms in the dormitory section of the watchtower. Looking back at the wall, they realized that the moving part was lined up with the fireplace which was embedded into the hidden, stone door.

    “No wonder we missed it. Even if you were to notice the change in the air current, you would most likely assume it came from the chimney. Clever,” Asterios commented.

    After getting outside, Asterios turned to Miria. “You are the fastest one here. Go to the Guild and tell Ven we found him. Ask about a good healer too. We’ll meet at their place.”

    “Alright.”

    She switched into her panther form and dashed away. Asterios glanced at Selene and the floating boy now by her side.

    “I apologize for not being able to change my form like Miria, my Lord.” She bowed a little.

    Asterios shook his head. “It’s fine. We’ll just wal—”

    “But it’s still my duty to bring you to our destination as fast as I can,” she interrupted him and opened her arms while smiling mischievously.

    He raised an eyebrow at her. “You can’t be serious…”

    Moments later, Selene was speeding through the forest with Asterios in a princess carry. Again.
     
  9. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 48 – Reporting Back
    Miria made it out of the forest in just a few minutes. Without Asterios on her back, she could go at full speed without worrying about him falling off. The duo did practice riding like that, and Ast was able to keep himself on her at her best speed, but that was quite some time ago and Miria felt that she got faster again.

    The more time they spent together, and the better their connection was getting, she was also receiving more and more benefits from Asterios that enhanced not only her physique but also her abilities. She felt like the biggest changes took place twice in the past.

    The first time she got stronger a lot was after Miria finally stopped being shy about deepening their connection, which happened during and after the Bloodfang incident. Since that moment, she kept growing in power faster than before when she was only on her own.

    Then, the second major change happened after that one particular night when he accepted all of her. She didn’t notice it at the beginning due to how embarrassed Miria was about the way she approached Asterios and the things she said at that time, but the difference in their connection’s growth and her personal progress was visibly greater when compared to the first one.

    Miria wanted to talk about it with Asterios, but discussing such embarrassing things with him was still too hard for her. She really wished she could overcome that shyness of hers and be more open about what she wanted to do, but it kept proving difficult for her to take any even slightly intimate action without a proper momentum, specific atmosphere or situation, like recently in the underground. It was usually Ast who drew out her courage with kind words and actions.

    She shook her head in a try to stop her mind from wandering too far into areas inappropriate for the current moment. The Guild’s building was already in her sight as she was currently making her way through the village, carefully avoiding bumping into people walking around. It wasn’t hard as most of them heard the loud thumping of the huge black panther in the distance and quickly removed themselves from her path to not get rammed by the speeding beast.

    Still not fully focused, and while distracted by thinking about how she wished she didn’t have to rely on being in heat to act bolder like a true Pantherkin, she jumped through the Guild’s main entrance, retaining all her momentum from the run.

    Noticing a sudden change in scenery, Miria realized she reached her destination and pressed her massive paws hard into the ground to slow down, sliding over the polished surface and stopping just in front of the first line of tables at the section meant for socializing, where a few groups of adventurers were currently sitting down.

    The party which was chilling by that specific spot fell down from the benches after seeing a huge panther almost crashing into their table. Everyone looked towards the commotion and Miria could see some of the people standing up and pulling out their weapons, including the fallen group which looked quite shocked and perhaps scared.

    Oh shoot. I shouldn’t have barged in here while looking like this. Even if he won’t say it, Master will definitely be disappointed in me after he hears about this. I messed up...」she cried inwardly.

    Before she or the adventurers did anything, someone came running towards her from the side.

    “Wait! Everybody calm down! It’s a summon!”

    Miria turned her head and saw Venera quickly approach her and extend her arms. She stepped closer to the woman and pushed her head into them, hoping for that action to ease the worries of the other people around. Ven gently brushed her fur while looking at the adventurers with a wry smile.

    “Ah… I think I saw it some time ago by the side of some dude,” someone from the crowd said.

    “Right. Look. She has a badge too.”

    “Damn, that scared me shitless…”

    Some people sighed in relief and the commotion began to disperse with everyone coming back to their seats. Ven turned back to Miria and glanced at her with furrowed brows, making the panther lower her head in remorse.

    She then sighed too and chuckled. “Well then, what’s the hurry? Also, I’d like you to refrain from bursting in through the front door like this in the future. If that’s possible.”

    Miria nodded. She was going to switch forms when she realized that even if they are no longer hiding that, it would be way wiser to avoid showing it off while literally every gaze in the Guild was directed at Ven and her, so Miria angled her head towards the corridor leading to the meeting rooms they used recently.

    “Ah. You want to get out of sight? Alright. Give me a moment. I’ll just let the other girls know.”

    Ven ran back to her station and Miria walked up to the beginning of that corridor, lying down near it as she waited. Some people were still intently observing her, but the moment she met their eyes, they quickly turned their gazes away. After a few minutes, Venera came to fetch her and they went into one of the rooms. Miria didn’t waste any more time and changed the moment the door closed.

    “So? Why are you here alone? Did something happen to Ast?”

    Miria shook her head. “No. Master sent me to tell you that we found the boy.”

    Ven’s eyes slightly widened. “Really?! You left not that long ago! That’s amazing! Where is he?”

    “Master and Selene are escorting him here as we speak. They’ll reach the village very soon. He told me to ask about a good healer to take him straight to the person.”

    “Healer? Is the boy hurt?”

    “Yes.”

    “How badly?”

    Miria shook her head. “I don’t know. Master gave him medicine but he is still unconscious. He was hurt by a Phantasmal Horror and his body looks bad even from outside.”

    Ven’s hands moved to her mouth as she gasped in shock. “Phantasmal Horror?! That’s severe! Why did a Horror appear in a simple, abandoned watchtower?!”

    “We found him and the boy in a hidden underground. It looked like a prison or something. I don’t know. Master should be able to explain more.” Miria wanted to avoid talking about that topic to not say something unnecessary by accident.

    “Okay. Go tell Ast to bring the boy here. In the meantime, I’ll—”

    “Done.”

    Ven raised her brows in surprise as her mouth was left open from getting interrupted midway.

    “Right. Mental connection. Come with me then. I’ll request help from our staff. Also, this is more serious than we thought so I have to let the Guildmaster know. Tell Ast that I apologize in advance but he might want to query you guys about this personally.”

    Miria’s eyes wandered from spot to spot for a moment before returning back to the woman. “He says it’s fine as he already expected that to happen after reporting the quest back to you.”

    They then left the room and Venera quickly informed her colleagues about the situation, sending them to bring their healers to the infirmary section of the Guild’s building while she went to talk with the branch leader.

    Asterios and Selene arrived at the place a few minutes later and escorted the boy lying on the spiritual platform to the medical room. There was no direct rear entrance there so they were unable to avoid all the curious gazes in the lobby. He quickly explained the boy’s situation to the three healers present in the room and left him in their hands.

    As Venera expected, the Guildmaster wanted to personally hear them out and she led the trio to his special meeting room on the upper floor. When they entered the chamber, the person was already waiting for them on one of the fancy sofas inside.

    It was a man seemingly somewhere in his mid-thirties, with short, brown hair and a neatly trimmed beard. He wore a uniform most male Guild employees used, but looking more distinguished, like a fashionable suit. His outfit consisted of a white shirt, dark green pants and jacket, and white gloves.

    He stood up and gestured towards the other sofa. “Welcome. My name is Jared and I’m responsible for this branch of the Adventurer’s Guild. Please, take a seat so we can exchange a few words, Mister Asterios.”

    They sat down as instructed and Venera moved to stand behind the Guildmaster who also seated himself after them.

    “I was following that quest’s progression since the beginning so I’m quite well-informed about everything linked to it, and that includes the reports Misery’s Dawn and Dandelion Breeze submitted after their investigations. There was nothing unusual in either of them. Could you tell me how you found the missing boy and what exactly happened along the way?”

    “Of course.” Asterios nodded and then gestured to his right, where Selene was sitting by his side. “My companion here is an expert Spiritualist and she sensed a faint trace of spiritual essence while we were searching the watchtower. We didn’t find any paths leading down so we chose a spot out of the essence’s vicinity and dug through the floor until we reached an underground room.”

    Ast then glanced at Miria. “My other companion then led us to the boy after his scent and we found him lying down in one of the stone chambers. Sure it was a trap, we approached him warily and he jumped at us. I immediately recognized the symptoms of being taken over by a Nightmare and we restricted his movements. I used Spirit Water to cleanse the boy, but I was actually mistaken, and it was a Phantasmal Horror acting like a Nightmare and he tried to take over my body by surprise. I led him to believe that he succeeded and my companions helped the clueless monster find his soulbound relic. We then took care of it, returned to the boy, gave him a potion and looked for an exit. Finding a hidden passage, we went outside and the rest is obvious,” he summed up their efforts.

    “I see. Did you learn what that underground complex was? Does anyone else know of it?” Jared inquired.

    “It looked like some kind of prison. We didn’t explore much besides the room the Horror led us into, which was his office. He made quite a mess there. After dealing with him, we got the boy and came back, grabbing only a few valuables that caught our eyes when the monster was going through his stuff. If two teams missed the secret entrance, I don’t think others might have found it if they went there after we returned. By the way, I’d like to appraise the stuff we got. From the Horror’s blabbering, it seemed that he was a mage. You won’t be confiscating our findings, right? It’s just a few rings and necklaces,” Asterios replied.

    “No, we won’t. If what you are telling is true…” The man slightly squinted his eyes.

    “Are you accusing Master of lying?! On what basi—” Miria furrowed her brows and raised her voice, but Asterios stopped her with his hand and nodded at the man to continue.

    “I’ve familiarized myself with your records, Mister Asterios. You are a freshly registered adventurer, an E-rank Summoner by rank evaluation, who completed three quests so far. All were minor ones. You took the emergency task alone, and although it seems you had the help of a quite unusual looking combat slave,” the man glanced at Miria and back to him, “you can’t blame me for doubting your capabilities when faced with an entity of the calibre of a Phantasmal Horror. From your story, it doesn’t seem like you had any summons with straight-up counters for ghost-types or you would have used them right after judging your opponent to be a Nightmare.”

    Asterios raised one of his brows and moved his eyes onto Ven. Jared noticed that and followed his gaze, also leaning back to look at the receptionist.

    Venera slightly bowed. “My sincere apologies, Mister Asterios. Your recent delve must have not been yet registered in the main Adventurer’s Guild network since our exchange took place just earlier today. It’s usually updated in bulk at different times. So, while we do have it mentioned in our local registry, Guildmaster must have reached for the data stored in the interguild system, unaware that it isn’t completely up to date.” She then straightened herself and turned to face Jared. “Guildmaster, this person is the one who provided us with the almost completely intact, full set of Hobgoblin Warlord’s armour from the tenth floor of the nearby dungeon, and the lady to his right is the one who almost completely obliterated its shield with a single punch.”

    “What?” Jared returned his eyes to the youth.

    “Ah!” Venera gasped softly when remembering something and walked up to Ast. “The order was already finished. Here, this is for you. I’ll deduce the cost from your completion reward later.”

    She passed to Asterios a finely looking, small leather belt of a silvery-white colour, with a bronze clip-badge in the front, in the same fashion as in Miria’s collar. He accepted the item and the girls looked at it curiously.

    After Ven returned to her place, he glanced at Selene. “May I?”

    She brushed her hair to the back and Asterios gently put the collar on her slender neck with a soft click. Selene grazed it with her fingers and smiled beautifully.

    “Thank you, my Lord. I’ll be sure to treasure it greatly.” She bowed her head.

    He chuckled and smiled wryly. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to being thanked for collaring a beautiful girl.”

    “Ufufu~. Just a few more and you’ll get over it, my Lord.”

    Asterios shook his head and returned his focus to the man in front of them. It would be rude to keep this flirting up in his presence and the Guildmaster seemed quite confused with the whole scene that was slowly unfolding in front of his eyes. Especially about the collaring part.

    “Guildmaster Jared, are you perhaps a non-combatant?” Ast asked.

    The man furrowed his brows. “Why does that matter? Yes, I’m not a retired adventurer but a civil officer.”

    “Figured out. She was able to realize Miria’s strength instantly.” Asterios nodded to himself, reached into his pocket, picked up a gold coin and sent it flying towards the man using his thumb. “Is this enough to guarantee my credibility?”

    Jared caught it with his hand and brought it in front of his eyes to examine the item. Both he and Venera instantly realized what it was. As a Guildmaster and a Receptionist, they obviously had to memorize a lot of things connected to the inner workings of the Guild, and the meaning behind this Token of Fealty belonging to Guildmaster Suanori from Rosewind’s branch was clear as a day to them.

    Not every Guildmaster in existence had the right to issue those. It was reserved only for the most prominent and experienced adventurers that took the position after retiring or deciding to settle down and were offered the job. It meant that the one who issued the token had full trust in the gifted individual and they could even act on behalf of them. Jared and Venera were sure it was a real one as impersonating a Guildmaster’s Envoy in front of the Guild’s officials would be utterly stupid as they could check its authenticity in a few moments.

    The Guildmaster nervously swallowed his saliva, placed his hands on his thighs and bowed his head. “I apologize for my rudeness, Sir Asterios. I hope my words didn’t offend you. It’s in my nature to be doubtful in cases like these and I’ve experienced a fair deal of swindlers in my life.”

    “It’s fine. I know how it must have looked from your side. There’s no need for unnecessary formality. Also, to clear things up, these girls aren’t my slaves. They are my summons.”

    To prove his point, Miria stood up from the couch, moved to its side and transformed into a panther before jumping back onto it and laying her head on Ast’s lap. Venera smiled seeing Jared's surprised face.

    “So this is the beast I’ve heard about… I’m sorry I didn’t realize it. I thought they were some exotic race I’ve never heard of or those ears and tails were magical trinkets or spells for aesthetic purposes. My sincere apologies towards the two ladies too.”

    Selene and Ast nodded while Miria released a soft growl.

    “Then, do you want to ask about anything else or was this just about me being slightly suspicious?” Asterios asked him.

    “Are there any more things you could share with us about the place or the situation?”

    “Not really. The area seems to be a secret prison of some sorts. There were lots of skeletons in the cells. As for the Horror, he might have been the overseer of that place. Someone murdered him. The weapon is still lodged in his chest in the office. I only know his name was Dane if that will be of any help.”

    The Guildmaster nodded. “Alright. Thank you for your cooperation. It’s obvious that without you we wouldn’t be able to find the missing kid. Also, are you planning to investigate the facility yourself? With your background, I have to ask first.”

    Asterios shook his head. “No. I’ll leave the rest to the Guild. I’ve taken this task as an adventurer, not an envoy. I wouldn’t reveal that if it wasn’t necessary.”

    “I understand. I can promise you that we’ll keep that fact to ourselves if that’s what you want. The rank of this quest was E so there won’t be any issues.”

    They talked for some more time and Venera led Ast’s group to the appraiser after they finished. Their spoils seemed to be just your ordinary jewellery and he decided to keep it with him for the time being, planning to show it to his mother as she was more knowledgeable about things like these than the Guild’s officials.

    Finishing the process of reporting the completion of the quest, they received sixty silver coins from Ven and bid farewell as it was slowly getting late. It was quite a hectic day for them. Miria and Selene jumped back to their world and Asterios headed towards the inn they previously stayed in before departing to the dungeon.

    Shortly after he took a shower and was drying his hair with a towel while sitting on his bed with just pants on, Selene entered the room through the portal. Seeing his quite muscular body, she raised one of her brows.

    “For a Summoner, your body looks pretty impressive, my Lord.”

    He hung the towel over his neck and smiled at her. “What can I say. Since I couldn’t raise my magical prowess, I divided my efforts to focus on the body too. You must have heard from Miria that I was pretty much a spiritual cripple.”

    “Yes, and I find it really hard to believe.”

    “Anyway, what can I help you with?”

    “I’ve come to receive my end of our deal, my Lord, if it isn’t an inappropriate time for that.” She brought her tail to the front and softly stroked it.

    “Ah. I almost forgot about that part. Miria is so cuddly that I’ve started patting her subconsciously whenever she is near. Sorry.”

    Selene chuckled. “There’s no need to apologize. Even though I asked for this, I was slightly uneasy as the last time a man touched my tail was over a century ago when I was a little fox. But I’m fine now after spending some time by your side, my Lord.”

    “Well then, if you teach me the proper way to do it, we can start immediately.”

    “May we use our connection? I think showing you my memories will work better than words.”

    Asterios nodded and Selene moved to the bed. She sat down in the middle in a cross-legged position and turned her back to him. Then, they deepened their connection enough to be able to steadily share memories and images. Selene passed to Asterios her personal comb and he looked it over. It had a very pretty and lady-like design, being made almost purely out of silver. The handle was in the shape of a walking fox.

    As he watched the memories unfold, Asterios began very gently and carefully copying the movements onto Selene’s tail. It was an unimaginably soft and fluffy sensation. He felt like his hands could drown in the sheer amount of silky-smooth threads and each pass brought a feeling of calmness and relaxation from just stroking them. He didn’t know which side was supposed to be the one feeling better from this.

    Meanwhile, Selene enjoyed the affectionate caresses in complete silence. At first, Ast’s movements were crude and irregular, but she was shocked to see how fast he started to reenact what he saw in her memories with almost complete perfection.

    The sensation started getting so delightful she had to cover her mouth to not accidentally leak an inappropriate moan. She didn’t feel this good from having her tail combed even when it was her father who did it tens of decades ago. Shivers ran down her spine each time Asterios finished a long stroke from the base of her tail to its very tip. If he had his eyes open, he would definitely notice her trembling.

    Fortunately, Asterios was fully focused on doing his best while watching her memories and also enjoying the heavenly sensation that blessed his hands. After fifteen minutes of affectionate brushing, he stopped and waited for Selene to cool down a bit.

    He could tell how much she enjoyed it through their bond. It wasn’t as clear and strong as with Miria, it would be impossible for Selene to reach that level since the duo took a quite intimate step forward which boosted it by lots, but it was enough to sense the pleasure she was receiving as she wasn’t shyly shielding her mind as the panthergirl did.

    Selene turned around with a brilliant smile and Asterios could notice a very faint blush on her cheeks. “Thank you for the service, my Lord. I honestly didn’t expect you to get so good during your first time. I thoroughly enjoyed this.”

    Asterios chuckled. “The pleasure is mine. Literally. I could easily get addicted to this fluffiness.”

    “Ufufu~. If you say it like that, I won’t be able to stop myself from demanding lots and lots more.” A mischievous glint appeared in her eyes.

    “Whenever you feel like it.” He smiled.

    “I won’t be polite then. Let’s just hope that Miria won’t get jealous of me stealing her precious time with you.” Selene winked at him and returned to her realm.

    After a calm night, they discussed what to do next and decided on heading back to Rosewind for now, to check on Ast’s mom and show her the jewellery. The group met with Ven before departing and said their goodbyes. It was only natural to inform their advisor about leaving the village. They didn’t want her to worry about them suddenly disappearing.

    There were no escort quests towards his city so they went alone, with Asterios casually riding on Miria’s back. Without having to focus on protecting a caravan, the duo took their time to appreciate the sights on their way back.

    Before reaching Rosewind, they stopped for a night in a small village slightly off their main path. It wasn’t necessary to camp in the wilds like the last time when they accompanied the wagons.

    As he was lying in the bed in a rented room, a crimson portal opened by his side and Miria gingerly walked out of it. She was wearing a simple and cute negligee with a semi-transparent gown hanging down from the bra, reaching slightly lower than her panties. It was of course black.

    She glanced at him with rosy cheeks while fidgeting a little. “May I… join you… Master?”

    He raised the sheets and smiled at her. Miria quickly jumped under them, snuggled to him, and took a deep breath which immediately calmed her down making her relax as Ast’s arms covered her back.
     
  10. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 49 – In Anticipation of a Full Moon ❤❤❤
    Even after good fifteen minutes, Miria didn’t show any signs of falling asleep. Asterios was fully aware she just stayed in his embrace while thinking about something. He kept gently brushing her hair and scratching behind her ears, waiting to see if Miria would speak up or doze off before that.

    Unfortunately, it looked like neither was going to happen so Asterios slowly pulled himself down to place his face exactly in front of Miria’s. She looked at him for a moment and her gaze started running away.

    Asterios smiled, making her blush even more fiercely. “What’s wrong? You know that I can sense how uneasy you are.”

    “Ummm… You see… In a few days, it will be two weeks since we… did it…” Miria tried to keep her eyes on Ast’s, but she was struggling a lot. “And so I thought that it would be very inconvenient for you to have to plan out our journeys and quests while having in mind each full moon. Someday it might be impossible to avoid and could happen while we are in a fight during the night or something. We can’t exactly predict what we will be doing all the time. So… I thought that we should perhaps do it… while we are safe…”

    He brushed Miria’s cheek. “So, you won’t go into heat if we do it before a full moon happens?”

    Miria looked away for a few seconds. Her eyes kept darting around. She was clearly looking for correct words. Finally figuring them out, she returned her gaze to Ast.

    “To be honest… It won’t be as bad as it was back then anymore… since I’m no longer a virgin thanks to you, Master…” She showed a bashful smile. “After the first time, our bodies change. That is if we’ve found a mate we actually like or… love… Full moons become much more bearable after that. They might still make our bodies a little bit hot, sensitive and uncomfortable, but not to the extent you’ve seen during that night. For it to get that bad, I would have to not mate for I guess something like 2 months. I think. It varies per person. But anyway, I would like to be in my best condition all the time so that when something happens I can give it my all to protect you. I’m… I’m sorry…”

    He could tell that their last encounter had slightly affected Miria, but he could also sense that this was just her usual shyness not allowing her to straight up say that she wanted to do it with him. What Miria said certainly wasn’t just an elaborate excuse and was completely true though. It was just easier for her to voice her thoughts out like that.

    Asterios shook his head and smiled at her again. “What for?” he asked.

    Miria lowered her whole face to hide it from his sight. “For being such a lewd girl…” she whispered.

    He sighed and brought her back up, giving Miria a soft peck on the lips. “Silly. Why are you apologizing? You shouldn’t feel worried about that. Should I be all embarrassed about getting a little hard and eager each morning, hm? That’s just how our bodies work. And I believe I’ve already told you this, but I’ll be happy to embrace you whenever you feel like doing it. There’s no need to hide behind any special excuse, okay? So tell me, is what you said the only reason you want to mate tonight?”

    “Master…” She began pondering again. Ast could feel her gathering the courage to speak. “I… I want to do it with you but without my mind being all hazy… I want to do it properly… having control over my body and actions… I want to mate with you, Master....”

    With a lot of effort, Miria was able to finally tell Asterios her thoughts. He petted her ears a little and pulled her closer into a tight hug. Miria’s hands also went around his sides and embraced his back lovingly. With her face now just slightly lower than his, she raised her chin a bit and started affectionately kissing Ast’s lips.

    Asterios let her softly nibble on his mouth as he played with Miria’s soft and fluffy ears. She started releasing louder purrs and entwined their legs together. Shorts was all he was wearing, thus Ast immediately noticed a slightly damp material touching his thigh.

    A moment later, it started moving up and down, rubbing itself over his leg. He chuckled and pressed it against Miria’s crotch with a bit more strength, forcing her to release a quiet moan. That made her self-conscious about her action and Miria realized what she began unconsciously doing. Her face turned almost completely red, making Asterios chuckle again.

    “Don’t hold back. It feels as good for me as it feels for you. Just do whatever you want. Or ask for anything if you still feel too shy. Just say a word and I’ll take the lead.”

    Miria instantly shook her head. “No. I will end up receiving all your love while not being able to give back again. But…” She glanced away, hesitating a little.

    “But what?”

    Returning her gaze, she stared straight into his eyes. “Could we do it while… your eyes are like that time in the cave…?”

    Asterios raised his brow. He should have thought of it himself. It wasn’t a secret to him how much Miria loved his red eyes when they turned into feral ones like hers during one of his techniques. He closed his eyelids and invoked it. Miria watched as Ast’s hair slowly turned white. Then, he opened his eyes again and her heart skipped a beat.

    “Beautiful…” she whispered, enchanted by Ast’s crimson irises and vertical pupils.

    A smile from him brought her back from the daze and Miria tightened her hug even more, noticing something warm and hard pressing against her belly. She tilted her head and moved one of her hands to raise the sheets a little. Thanks to her Darkvision, she could easily discern a visible bulge in Ast’s shorts even without much light flowing under the bedding.

    She gulped audibly as some memories of their first night flashed in front of her eyes. Miria took a deep breath, looked back up at Asterios and gingerly pecked his lips.

    “Let me service you first, Master.”

    She nimbly dove under the sheets and arrived in front of Ast’s underwear. Not wanting to miss the spectacle, he raised the covers again and leaned his head inside. He was only borrowing the aesthetics of the vision-sharing technique, so it was quite dark in there for him, but he could clearly see the shape of Miria’s face and two, gleaming eyes looking back at him, just centimeters from his crotch.

    Trying her best to keep that eye contact, Miria timidly pulled down Ast’s underwear, releasing his ready-for-battle beast from its cage. It sprung forward, hitting her on the cheek, making Miria release a cute yelp of surprise.

    Asterios expected her to shyly move away and start examining his rod from distance, but instead, Miria literally froze with his member pressed against her face. He noticed her pupils narrowed the most he had ever seen.

    Before he could call to her, Miria angled her head and took a deep whiff of his cock. Her mouth opened involuntarily and her eyes rolled a little bit to the back as a strong wave of shivers enveloped her whole body. Instantly after, Miria started rubbing her face against Ast’s penis and showering it with tens of little pecks.

    He might not have been able to see much, but the sight of two, shiny irises moving around his cock with an accompaniment of soft and quiet pops Miria’s lips made over his whole shaft worked wonders for Ast’s imagination.

    Seemingly having enough, she moved her hands to the base of Ast’s member and held it in place while starting to give it long and steady licks. It was his turn to shiver from pleasure as the wet and hot muscle teased his length.

    Miria’s tongue wasn’t as coarse as your usual cat’s, but Asterios could always sense a different texture to it when they kissed, and it was much more apparent now that she was using it to caress his member. It wasn't painful, just pleasantly tingly. Her movements brought him a great pleasure which was displayed by the increasingly rougher breathing.

    Asterios thought she would keep playing with his rod like this until he couldn’t hold it back anymore, but Miria had a different idea in mind. She moved the tip towards her mouth and slowly began taking it inside. It was harder than she thought. Her mother told her to watch her teeth to not hurt her partner, but she never expected it to be this difficult for the first time.

    With just the glans behind her lips, she started to lively lick around it to make her master feel even better. Her mind slowly returned to a more clear state after the initial daze from inhaling his strong scent and she was now able to reenact a few things her mother told her about.

    It wasn’t much, but sometimes when the two of them talked, the conversation was led towards more inappropriate topics. Miria always grew flustered while her mother was teasingly telling her how she made her father squirm like a worm with just her tongue alone.

    Thinking about it now, Asterios did seem to be sighing from time to time, but he certainly wasn’t writhing in pleasure like in her mother’s stories. Miria quickly understood that she was lacking and decided to try working up the courage to ask her mom for some actual advice on how to better please a man. She couldn’t deny her experience even if she was already getting embarrassed in her mind when imagining the smirk on her mother’s face after she’d ask for help.

    As Miria was contemplating her options, Asterios was slowly approaching his peak. He moved his hand down and scratched behind her ear in the darkness. “I’m almost there… Hooooh… So take it ou—ngh?!”

    Before he could finish his sentence, Miria pushed his member further inside her mouth and started applying a regular suction alongside the movements of her tongue, which was now coiling around the shaft. He felt like she just started trying to literally milk him dry as a response to his words, and seeing Miria’s eyes looking straight up into his own pretty much confirmed her determination to make him cum.

    He felt her satisfaction through their bond as she observed his reactions from below so Asterios decided to not hide them and kept breathing heavily. It pushed Miria another step further and she started bobbing her head up and down, quickly bringing him to orgasm in an instant.

    “Ghn! Watch out!”

    She pushed his throbbing penis as far into her mouth as she could without hitting her throat and sucked the strongest. Waves of hot liquid shot from Ast’s tip and covered her tongue in a flash. His rod kept twitching between her lips, releasing more and more of the creamy delicacy.

    After it finally died down, Miria slowly and gently moved back while licking Ast’s cock all around to scoop every bit of his seed along the way. With a soft plop, she released his member from her clutches.

    The sound of gulping arrived at his ears just before he was going to tell Miria that she didn’t have to swallow his load. He sighed and leant back. Miria’s head soon plopped out from under the covers by his side. She wore a slightly uncertain expression.

    Asterios instantly cupped up her cheeks and went for a deep kiss. She was a little reluctant at first but quickly started reciprocating the action and they joined their tongues in a loving and lively dance.

    After separating, Miria giggled cutely with a beaming smile. “Ehehe~ Does that mean I did well?”

    “It couldn’t have been any better.”

    She pulled herself closer to his chest and snuggled her face to Ast’s neck. “I disagree. I’ll do even better next time. But now…” She glanced down at Ast’s half-erect cock.

    He noticed her gaze and petted Miria’s ears. “I’m confident in having it stand up at least once or twice more, but just in case…”

    Miria curiously observed as Asterios turned around and reached towards one of his pouches lying on the nightstand by the bed. She leant onto his back and stared at his actions from above his shoulder. He used his other hand to scratch under her chin, making her giggle a little, and brought up a vial with bluish liquid in the meanwhile.

    “What’s that?”

    “A kind of stamina potion,” he answered and drank the contents in one go.

    Asterios put the empty container back and tilted his head to give Miria’s cheek a soft peck. She purred and affectionately rubbed her face against his. They both laid down again and Ast lifted up the sheets. Miria smiled to herself seeing his beast eager to go again.

    “With this, you don’t have to worry about me. I have no idea how vigorous men amongst your kin are, but it should be enough to match them,” he added.

    Miria pulled his arm towards her body and hugged it lovingly. She led Ast’s hand lower and lower until it reached her secret place and his fingers brushed over the drenched fabric. She released a quiet moan and smiled at Asterios, her cheeks completely flushed with crimson.

    “I don’t care about other men... Just thinking about your hard rod makes me like this… Whenever I remember how good you pounded me last time, my pussy starts dripping wet…”

    She moved closer to Ast, pecked his lips and pushed him onto his back, throwing the sheets to the bottom end of the bed. Miria then moved on top of him and sat down over his waist, squashing Ast’s penis to his belly with her black panties.

    “So today, let me act like a proper mate, Master.”

    He grazed her sides with his hands and nodded at the determined panthergirl. Miria smiled joyfully and her tail started making slow, happy dances. She looked all over Ast’s body and then her own, noticing that she was now the only one covered by clothes. To quickly fix that mistake, Miria carefully pulled the top of her negligee over her head and her springy breasts swayed cheerfully in the moonlight.

    Before he completely lost himself in her care, Asterios quickly drew the Alcove of Serenity sigil on the nightstand with his right hand and used his left to trace the contraceptive rune on Miria’s underbelly. She giggled awkwardly, realizing that she completely forgot about that again. After he finished, Miria moved her arms and cupped up her chest, looking at him timidly.

    “What do you… think about them?” she asked.

    It was obvious what was the question about. “They are beautiful. Just like every part of you.”

    Miria leant herself forward to hang above Ast. “You can… touch them… if you want. You can do anything...”

    He did as she said and moved his hands to gently brush with his fingers over Miria’s considerable mounds. They were soft and warm, and at the same time tender. She kept sighing as Asterios traced circles around her areolas and carefully squeezed her breasts from time to time. A moan or two escaped her cute lips when he decided to tickle Miria’s nipples.

    After a few moments of these tame caresses, she moved back to a sitting position. Miria didn’t want to keep letting him make her feel good all the time while she just sat and enjoyed Ast’s affection. She moved the bottom part of her panties to the side and started sliding with her lower lips over his whole shaft, lubricating it with her love juices. Then, she raised herself on her knees and pointed Ast’s glans towards her pink crevice, rubbing it against her entrance.

    Miria used her other hand to spread her pussy and glanced at Ast’s face. He was patiently waiting through her unintentional teasing, without a hint of rush in his expression. She started feeling bad for being so slow and indecisive and began lowering herself onto his cock, bit by bit until she took it all inside.

    “Nnnnhhhhhnnnnnn~”

    She shivered a little as the stiff pole was spreading her moist vagina. Miria smiled at Asterios, took a deep breath, placed her hands on his chest and started moving her hips up and down, slowly increasing the pace the more she got used to the feeling of his blazing hot cock going in and out of her pussy.

    “Nyaaa… Nhhnnn… Ahnnn…”

    It didn’t take long before Miria started feeling amazing pleasure in her underbelly. Moans of various volumes began filling the previously quiet air. The last time she had his cock inside, she only knew it felt really good with how cloudy Miria’s mind was, but now, every motion was crystal clear.

    She knew exactly what and where scraped or hit different parts of her tight passage. It was hard to not get lost in all that pleasure. Asterios noticed her struggle and supported Miria by holding onto her waist. She smiled and leant forward to kiss him, still dropping her pussy onto his dick as they joined their lips together.

    Asterios reached with his hand behind her back and rubbed around the base of Miria’s tail, sending shivers through her body again.

    “Nyaaaaaaahnnn~ Master… That’s cheating… Nhnnnnn… I’m supposed to make you… ahnnn... feel good today…” she complained in between kisses and moans.

    He chuckled. “I told you I feel good when you do. How could I not when you squeeze me harder each time I play with your tail?”

    She tried to pout but failed as Asterios suddenly tickled her nipple with his other hand, making him laugh again. To not give him any more chances to keep teasing her, Miria caught both of his arms and pinned them down on the sides of his head, resuming the tempo she slightly dropped under Ast’s caresses.

    “Please… Nyaaahnn… Just let me do it for you… Mhnn... “

    He waved his hands to show his agreement and Miria set him free. Asterios extended them forward and waited. Miria stared at him suspiciously, but soon realized what he intended and grabbed his hands with both of hers.

    It got easier to move for her while they held hands like that. Miria felt really happy and did her best to rub Ast’s cock at different angles. With his help, it was simpler to move her pussy more irregularly and it felt even better for both of them.

    She felt Asterios slowly arriving at his orgasm and Miria switched from sitting on her knees into a crouching position, which allowed her to slam her pink flower even harder against his pelvis. With each thrust, Ast’s penis pierced now even deeper into her hole, rubbing completely different spots than before, also bringing Miria close to cumming.

    “Ahhhh… Ahhhnnn… Master… Let’s… nnnnnnhhhh… cum together!”

    As she requested, Asterios focused on sensing both of their climaxes and took matters into his own hands. He started pushing his hips upwards whenever she brought hers down. Miria moaned even louder and started to shake a bit, but holding Ast’s hands helped her stay in position.

    “Masteeeeeeeeeeer! I’m cooooooominggggg!”

    Not being able to take it anymore, Miria threw herself onto Ast’s chest and he hugged her tightly, making one more, fierce push of his hips, and dove for Miria’s lips. They both reached their peaks while kissing and Miria moaned into his mouth as a torrent of white started stirring the insides of her convulsing pussy, trying to wring Asterios out to the very last drop.

    Almost a whole minute passed as they spasmed in each other’s embrace. Releasing their mouths, Miria and Asterios panted heavily. He placed his partner on his side and began softly brushing through her hair. With a pleasant warmth spreading through both her bottom and top, Miria purred loudly and kept showering Ast’s lips with a myriad of lazy kisses.

    “You were amazing,” he spoke first. “But, is this enough for you?”

    She noticed that Asterios was still hard inside her. Rubbing her belly over the spot where she felt his member, she glanced up into his charming eyes and smiled shyly.

    “I wouldn’t mind… a little more, ehehe~”

    He kissed her lovingly. “How much?”

    “Ummm… Without… holding back… is okay?”

    Asterios chuckled. “You really could have been rougher with me if that’s what you like, you know?”

    “Then…” Miria hid her face in Ast’s chest. “Please… do me hard…”

    He pecked her forehead, pulled out, and rotated Miria around so that she was his little spoon. She glanced back at him curiously over her shoulder and Asterios smiled at her. He guided his left arm under her body and tightly hugged her waist while using the other one to lift Miria’s right thigh a bit.

    Then, without a warning, he shoved his whole cock into her unsatisfied cave in one go, making a loud slap as his waist slammed against Miria’s bottom.

    “Nyaaaaahnnn?!”

    Miria’s back arched a bit from suddenly getting poked at a completely new angle and she moaned in surprise, but Asterios ignored that and started pistoning her pussy while keeping her close within his embrace. He raised Miria’s leg a bit more to stretch her pretty lily just a little, and the response was instantaneous.

    “Ahnnnnnnnn~! Ahhhh~! Ahhhh~! Nyaaaaahnnnn~! Yesss!”

    Asterios kept rocking his hips as hard as he could. Miria’s body started shaking from having her tight hole assaulted this fast and she grabbed Ast’s arm that held her with both of her hands, moaning without a stop.

    “Nyaahhn~! Nyaaahaaann~! Ahhhh~! Like that! Pleaseeeeeeee! Nhnnnnn~! I love iiit!”

    He thanked gods or whoever came up with using magic to silence the surroundings because without Alcove of Serenity he was sure Miria’s screaming could wake up half of the village they were staying the night at.

    But, it existed. And worked. And so, he could increase the strength of his pounding even more so that Miria could cry in pleasure even louder as he kept aiming the tip of his dick at the spots he didn’t poke inside her tunnel yet. He felt her slowly starting to build up another orgasm.

    “Masteeeeeeeeer! This is the beeeest! I’m sooorryyyy! Ahhhnn~! Ahhhh~! Ahhhhh~! I loveeeeee this moreeee than that! Nyaahnnnn~! I’ll cuuuum soon!”

    “I know… Huff… So come and… haaaah… cum for me…”

    He pushed Miria onto her belly and raised her leg even more. Using the springy mattress, Asterios was able to match his thrusts with Miria’s body bouncing back towards his hard cock and he brought her to a climax in a flash while drilling her lower dungeon like mad.

    Love juices kept faintly splashing from the place where they were connected, sprinkling his chest and abdomen. Asterios slightly moved his hand and pinched Miria’s nipple not too hard.

    “Coooooominnnnnnng! Nyaaaaaaaaaaaaaahnnnnnnnnnnnn~!”

    Miria screamed and arched her back. Asterios made the last push and also reached his peak, releasing the third load for the night, second inside Miria’s humid cave which squeezed his member as she trembled and convulsed.

    He fell on top of her after his own orgasm finished. They were both a huge, panting mess. Even in that mess, Miria rolled them over onto their sides, grabbed Ast’s arms and embraced her body with them, snuggling her back to Asterios and letting him gently cup her breasts. It felt nice having them softly touched by him after he roughed her up a little.

    She giggled to herself, regaining her breath quicker than Ast. “Thank you, Master. I love you.”

    Asterios chuckled and rubbed his chin on the back of her head. “You are welcome. And never forget that.”

    “I’ll try, ehehe~”

    “By the way… Did you choose this underwear yourself?” Asterios asked.

    Miria faintly shook her head. “No. Selene picked it for me. She said it suits my slightly muscular body and that you would definitely like it, Master.”

    “Figured out.”

    “Hm?”

    “It’s nothing. It really suits you. Makes you even prettier and that’s an achievement.”

    “Ehehe~ Thank you. You should see what she picked for herself then, Master.”

    Asterios chuckled again. “Maybe one day.”
     
  11. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 50 – The Past Incident
    After the night, Miria woke up first, still in Ast’s arms. She smiled to herself while enjoying his warm, morning embrace and stayed close to him for a few minutes more, just basking in this pleasant and comfortable sensation.

    She finally decided it was time to get up and tried to escape Ast’s grasp without interrupting his sleep, but unfortunately, she failed at quite the early stage of her plan and watched as Asterios softly exhaled and opened his eyes in front of her face.

    “Good morning.”

    Miria blushed slightly. “Good morning, Master.”

    She pulled herself closer and left a soft peck on his lips. Asterios moved his hand from Miria’s back to her head and started petting her fluffy ears as he returned the kiss. She began slowly melting under the caresses of his fingers, releasing quiet purrs of satisfaction.

    Ast didn’t intend to imprison Miria in this vicious cycle of pleasure so he stopped playing with her ears and switched to gently scratching her back as they lay on the bed. She allowed herself to be spoiled for a moment longer before backing away and raising herself on the bed.

    Just then she noticed that the top of her negligee was still off and Asterios could admire her figure in full view, which naturally caused Miria’s cheeks to turn a shade more crimson as she hid her chest behind her furry arms.

    He chuckled while also getting up and turned around to not embarrass his timid partner more. Miria felt happy from his consideration, but also a little bit disappointed, mostly in herself for still not being able to act casually even after the things they did together already.

    She removed her arms from her chest and hugged Asterios from behind. A warm and soft sensation unexpectedly hit his back and two slightly bushy limbs hung over his shoulders. He tilted his head to the side just to be met with a slightly embarrassed face of Miria there.

    “Thank you,” she whispered and pecked his cheek before hastily moving away and jumping through the dark red portal to take a proper bath after the night.

    Asterios also walked to the small toilet area adjacent to his room and wiped himself clean with the help of some basic spells available in Livelihood Magic's repertoire. The inn in this village didn’t have full-sized, personal baths, but a bowl with a few towels was enough for now.

    He checked out and went to eat a quick breakfast around the main square, grabbing a few fresh buns and a roasted lizard from the available stalls. After half an hour, Miria joined him already back in her full gear and they resumed their journey home without any further delays.

    The path back was calm and uneventful. They passed two caravans going the opposite way, but other than that, nothing much has happened. Miria chatted with Ast along the way, explaining to him more about the topic of the previous night, which was how exactly did the Beastfolk race's bodies work under the full moon.

    He accepted her suggestion of playing it safe and taking care of Miria’s libido during more idle moments instead of letting it build up until it would start making her noticeably uncomfortable, possibly reaching inconvenient levels during undesired situations, like unexpected fight, quest or inside a dungeon.

    Ast was a bit amused how after being able to deal with one recurring and periodic aspect of a woman’s body, using a little bit of magic specifically invented for that purpose, they somehow managed to encounter a different yet similar situation, where instead of waiting for a proper moment to embrace their partner without any risk involved, they had to actually do it before a specific day came, to avoid another risk and inconvenience. And he wasn’t sure if magic that would reduce Miria’s ramping up desires existed in the first place.

    She felt a little bit apologetic, but Asterios again reassured her that it wasn’t something she should worry about as it was just the natural way of things. And besides, he would always be happy to spend some time close with her so she shouldn’t hold back unnecessarily.

    Selene kept listening to the duo talking mentally and couldn’t help but wonder how her next full moon would go. Thankfully, or not, due to the intense pain that usually accompanied those events, she didn’t have to worry about the issue of her going into heat as it was completely mitigated by the suffering and there was no way for her mind to be affected by hormones her body was still releasing even in her anguish.

    Additionally, Spiritual Foxes weren’t going through heat as heavily as Pantherkin tribes or other clans. But, thanks to Ast’s help, her pain should be at least a level or two lower during the next full moon and that was what she was the most worried about.

    She didn’t want to get her hopes and expectations up, but it was just impossible. What was going into a bit of heat when compared to finally not experiencing excruciating pain. She couldn’t wait for the day, or rather night, to come, almost as much as she didn’t want it to ever happen, scared that it would only become worse.

    Asterios and Miria arrived back in Rosewind around mid-late afternoon. The town was bustling as usual and not much has changed since they left its premises for their quest to escort Ast’s mom transport.

    Miria switched back to her humanoid form and jumped to her realm shortly after they entered the city, mustering enough courage to give Ast a quick hug in the middle of the street before running away into the crimson mist. She had to keep taking small steps like these if she wanted to one day be able to show her affection in public without struggling.

    With a smile, Ast walked towards his house. He planned to pay a visit to the Guild and let Ellie know he was back after he met with his mother, who was obviously a priority. Not that much time passed, less than two weeks, but he was wondering how Tina was doing in the academy and if she found herself in any trouble because of him. He didn’t want to come back there this soon, but it would be better to check on her just in case.

    Finally arriving at the cosy building, he opened the door with his own key and went in. The moment he stepped inside, two distant voices reached his ears. The owner of the first one was obvious, his mother, but he wasn’t so sure about the other one as he couldn’t think of any reason why they would be here.

    “Listen… I really can’t take this... It’s too much... I’m really grateful for your generosity and help, but…”

    “Please don’t say that, Miss Kindra. It’s been over a week now. Just look at it as a small loan. I know you will return it with interest as soon as everything gets resolved.”

    “You shouldn’t involve yourself in this or you may get in trouble too… They’ve already seen you come here a few times… If they learned that you gave me money while under investigation…”

    “Oh, please, we both know it’s a ruse. And they can’t keep this on forever. There will certainly be enough evidence and testimonies to prove that the claim is unjust. I won’t tell anyone and I believe you definitely wouldn’t too, so just please, accept it for now. I don’t want Miss Kindra to start selling her belongings… or his…”

    “I would never get rid of As—”

    Asterios reached the guest room on the main floor and walked into the open. The two women noticed that and turned their gazes towards him. He furrowed his brows. His mother was sitting in an armchair on the left while Tina was seated on the couch. A not-so-small pouch of money was lying on the wooden coffee table.

    Kindra quickly brushed her right eye with her sleeve and showed a warm smile.

    “Asti! You are back! I’m so glad you are fine—”

    She stopped after seeing Ast’s eyes widen. With her previous motion, he noticed how red and irritated her eyes were. It was clear as day as to why and that it wasn’t only just a recent case. His hands clenched into fists involuntarily and he stared at her intently.

    “Who.”

    Kindra got chills from the sudden, cold tone and piercing gaze Asterios assumed. She immediately understood the meaning behind his question and felt like she shouldn’t tell him. Met with silence for longer than he was willing to wait, Ast spoke once more.

    “What happened while I was away?”

    She rubbed her hands and kept smiling. “It’s nothing. Just some issues at the shop. It will all be resolved soon, so you don’t have to worry about it. Mom will take care of—”

    Ast raising his hand in a motion signalling that it was enough, instantly silenced her. She didn’t feel any threatening intent behind it as he would never act malevolently towards her, even when angered, but somehow, she felt like she had to listen to the gesture.

    He moved his eyes onto the other woman. Tina was wearing her academy uniform. She liked it very much so she kept using it even outside of it. Their gazes met. From its intensity, Tina understood he was intending for her to talk instead of his mother.

    She glanced to the side at the woman and saw her worried expression directed towards her. Looking back at Asterios, she started wondering what was the correct choice in this situation and what she should do. She didn’t want to upset him, but also didn’t want to worry—

    “Tina.”

    “It’s Richte—”

    A powerful shiver ran through her spine shortly after she opened her mouth. Tina’s eyes widened to the brim seeing Ast’s hair quickly change from black to white in the motion of a passing tide, and his eyes turning from calm blue into furious, gleaming crimson. A noticeable wave of powerful spiritual energy quickly made the air in the room heavier.

    “Tell me everything. Now.”

    Tina didn’t know if she should feel charmed or overwhelmed with those beautiful crimson eyes which were piercing through her very being with an unspeakable might. She was stupefied. She didn’t know what was happening even though she spent so much time observing Asterios. And judging by the reaction of his mother, neither did she. The mana pressuring her body got more intense as Asterios squinted his eyes a little.

    “Eight days ago… The town’s guards came to the shop where Miss Kindra works with a search warrant… They locked the place under the charge of smuggling unregistered goods under the cover of a jewellery shop… They supposedly found unmarked gold in one of the storages belonging to Miss Kindra’s branch and it’s now under investigation… They also locked her account and froze all assets as she is suspected as the mastermind due to being the manager of the place so she had only some of her savings left to survive and that’s why I came to help…”

    She explained the situation as good as she knew and waited for Ast’s reaction. The presence of spiritual energy that leaked into the air kept increasing but she felt like it somehow didn’t keep pressuring her more and more and wondered if it was Asterios who controlled it.

    Tina stared at him hoping that she told him enough, but he kept staring back, unmoving. She sighed. She shouldn't have mentioned the Richtensteins at the beginning. He wouldn’t let her off the hook until she spoke about them too.

    “Around a day after that happened, I wiped the floor with Ross since he was nagging one of the girls in the gardens and he started cursing me and swore that my little, viscount family would be next if I kept interfering with him… When I heard about Miss Kindra’s troubles… I couldn’t help but feel like it’s his doing…”

    Asterios clicked his tongue and lowered the hand he was keeping in the air. Two dark red gates arose from the ground, one on each of his sides, and two beautiful girls walked out of them. The shorter one, with black hair and cat-like ears, showed a worried expression while glancing at his face. He sighed and patted her head as he turned around and started walking away.

    “Asti! Wait! Where are you going?” Kindra quickly stood up from her chair.

    He stopped by a cupboard on his way out of the guest room, looked at the fruit basket on top of it and picked up an orange.

    “I apologize, mother. It seems I forgot to take out some spoiled trash before departing. I’ll take care of it now before it rots even more.”

    He looked at her over his shoulder and Kindra again was hit with shivers after meeting Ast’s cold gaze. Without any other words, Asterios left the room and they soon heard the sound of the front door opening and closing.

    After the weird pressure disappeared, she fell back onto the chair, put her elbows on the coffee table and supported her forehead with her hands.

    “Ummm…” Tina moved a bit closer to the edge of the sofa now that she was also able to control her own body. “Miss Kindra… You shouldn’t worry too much… Asterios isn’t someone who would do something rash, even though he looked a bit angry—”

    “He called me mother...” Kindra mumbled.

    Tina felt the nervousness in the woman’s tone but was confused as to why she would be this concerned with that. Tina was aware that she wasn’t Ast’s real mother but also knew that he never viewed her as a stranger, knowing the truth for a long time.

    “Isn’t it normal?”

    Kindra shook her head. “You don’t understand… He always calls me mom, no matter when or where… The last time he called me mother was… seven years ago when he was twelve…”

    She leant back and joined her hands on her hips, starting to rub them together.

    “We went shopping around the market together on that day. Somewhere in the middle of our trip, a cloaked person threw their arm around my neck, pointed a dagger at it and covered my mouth, telling me to quietly follow them to the nearby alley or he would gut my kid in front of my eyes. I saw Asterios being focused on some gadget and left without him noticing. In the alley, the man threw me against the wall and ordered me to bring out all the money and valuables. I didn’t have much on me and he got angry, gripping my throat and pushing me against the wall again. He cut my cheek and shouted to not lie to him or he would completely waste my face.”

    Kindra stopped her story for a moment to calm down from recalling the past events. Tina was clenching her teeth when listening to it and even the knowledge that nothing had happened to the two of them since they were here right now, couldn’t ease her worries. She also felt guilty for accidentally bringing this up.

    “Then… Asti’s voice reached our ears as he said ‘Don’t you dare hurt my mother, scum,’ and both I and the person looked down to our side to see him standing there with a cold yet furious expression. I screamed as the thug threw himself at Asterios, but he somehow missed and Asti grabbed his arm, ran to his back and broke his elbow in one motion. Then, Asterios grabbed the dagger from the ground after it had fallen from the robber’s hands and cut his tendons, tackling the person down afterwards.”

    She sighed heavily and picked up her coffee with trembling hands to moisten her lips and throat a little.

    “The next moment, I saw the knife going down and piercing the thief’s throat. The man stopped thrashing a few seconds later, after Asti stabbed him again but in the chest… And when I looked at Asterios at that time… one of his eyes was red like today and it also had this cold and piercing gaze… It soon changed back and he staggered, clutching his chest, and I ran to him... Perhaps from all the shock, I assumed or chose to believe that it was just my imagination...”

    After hearing Kindra out in full, even Tina was now starting to get worried. It appeared that she knew Asterios even less than she assumed, which already wasn’t that much considering that she mostly stalked him on the campus.

    She turned her gaze to the side and glanced through the window, praying for him to not do something impossible to revert. Killing a noble, no matter if they were good or evil, could spell trouble for him and that's what miss Kindra was worried about. The other thing that couldn’t stop bothering her was the sudden appearance of these two women. She felt like she was familiar with the black-haired one, who showed great concern for him and looked quite close to Ast, but she couldn’t remember even a single moment where she could have seen her. It was a truly weird feeling.
     
  12. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 51 – Temporary Help
    After leaving the house, Asterios asked Miria if she could take him to the Richtenstein’s mansion. She switched forms instantly and reminded him that she was his summon so she would do anything he wanted.

    But, as Ast and Selene mounted her, she was happy to know that he wasn’t completely consumed by the turbulent emotions she could feel from him through their bond and still partially acted like his usual, respectful self. The anger, rage, or even fury, which were oozing into her mind were really powerful.

    They made their way through the town at a mediocre speed. Even though Ast’s mind was filled with an urge to deal with the scum who threatened his mother as quickly and painfully as possible, almost overtaking his mind with the sheer intensity of it, he could still try to forcefully tame it down as it wasn’t the first time he had such an outburst.

    A very similar thing happened shortly after Mii’s death. It ended quickly because he fainted from spiritual exhaustion, but he could clearly remember the same, hot, scorching, restless force fueling his emotions. If he hadn’t collapsed back then, he felt like him throwing himself at the bear in blind rage was a possibility, seeing how hard it was to control himself right now.

    The whole thing about this energy that, on one hand, seemed to empower him, and on the other hand, looked to be making him way more emotional and reckless when compared to how he had been before its emergence, was getting more and more mysterious with each passing day.

    But, he wasn’t able to focus on thinking about it as his mind was constantly redirected to the target of his anger and the resolution of the issue bothering his mother. Thanks to his calm and calculative side fighting against the furious and hotheaded one boosted by the powerful energy, he managed to calm down just a little. It was enough to bring forth a bit of his careful mentality.

    “Selene, find an empty alley with your senses, and Miria, take us there before we reach the mansion,” he spoke to them out loud.

    Both of the girls responded mentally and got to work. Shortly before they arrived in front of the mansion, Selene notified Miria about a fitting place and she took a turn to dive into the side path. The riding duo jumped off her and Asterios immediately started taking out things from his pouches.

    “Miria, bring me the small box with a symbol looking like two butterfly wings on it, a glass jar with glittery dust of… hmm… brown colour, five crystals with condensed spiritual energy, at least yellow ones, and… some flower, preferably the one you think looks the most beautiful,” he looked at the panthergirl and listed the things that were stored in her realm.

    Seeing his serious expression, she focused as much as she could to remember all the stuff he mentioned and then quickly recounted it on her fingers. Before she jumped through the portal, Ast grabbed her hand and she turned around to see him smile faintly.

    “Don’t worry so much. Just ask me if you forget or can’t find something.”

    She felt a bit more at ease and nodded. He let her go and sighed. Selene’s hand appeared on Ast’s shoulder.

    “You are allowed to be angry, my Lord.”

    He shook his head. “It’s not that I’ve never felt annoyed or furious in the past. It’s just way more heated and persistent than before. And I have way less control over it. I don’t want to see myself taking it out on others. Especially you girls.”

    “If you consider not adding ‘please’ at the end of your request towards your own servant as taking it out on them, then I’m really curious how you see issuing an order instead,” she said with a teasing smile.

    He smiled in response too. “Guess I may be overthinking it a little. It’s a bit chaotic in there.” He tapped the side of his head a few times. “Now, let’s start here too.”

    Asterios crouched down and brought out a piece of chalk. Selene watched as he started plotting an elaborate yet not that big magic circle on the ground. It was different from the one she had seen during her summoning so she wasn’t sure what it exactly was meant to be.

    The circuit consisted of tens of irregular lines and patterns inside an external ring. In various, totally random to her locations inside of it, Asterios made some more, smaller circles, and drew sigils there.

    When it looked like he was finishing up, the whole formation finally began shaping up and started resembling an inwards-facing eye of the storm with all the irregular lines, decorated with runes inside small rings here and there. She was surprised Asterios could create something looking this complex purely from his memory. She felt like every stroke was crucial and every angle the lines took had to be at exact values.

    Shortly after he completed the circuit, Miria stepped out of the crimson gate with a handful of packages in her arms. She noticed the magic circle on the ground and the other two could easily discern the curiosity that overtook her face.

    “Thank you. Lay them down here and come closer, both of you. It will be faster with your help.”

    Miria placed the items on the ground and kneeled on Ast’s right side while Selene took the left. He then picked up the yellow crystals that had a vertically-stretched rhomb shape and handed them to the panthergirl.

    “Use your coated blades to cut them precisely in the middle.”

    She took the crystals and nodded. Asterios reached for the jar with the glittery sand and opened it. He pulled a smaller, glass jar out of one of his pouches and poured some of the substance over into it, giving the small container to Selene.

    “Cover the lines with this so that the chalk is not visible anymore. Don’t worry about damaging them, they are just a schematic to help with setting up the real ones.”

    Then, the two of them started sprinkling the brown dust over the patterns until everything was completely covered. Miria finished carefully splitting the crystals and showed them to Asterios, who took them and laid each one down over the small circles, covering the sigils inside with their flat bottoms. They looked like small, spiky towers now.

    For the next step, Asterios picked up the wooden box with butterfly-like wings engraved on the lid, opened it, and took out a few different sets of wings belonging to different kinds of insects. The girls easily recognized some of them as coming from a quite sizable wasp, a dragonfly, and most likely an exotic fly. He set each pair at different spots and leant back.

    “Alright. This should do. It’s my first time doing it myself instead of just watching.”

    “What is this meant to do, Master?” Miria asked.

    “It’s a magical structure for Evanescent Summoning, specifically designed to aim at a specific type of entities. I can tell you about it later, but in short, it’s a one-time summoning, without a contract. Way more draining and heavy on one’s spiritual circuits. But I should be fine now.”

    He then looked around and picked up a flower Miria brought back. He didn’t recognize it, so it might have been something existing in her realm. Asterios glanced at her and she quickly explained.

    “It’s a Crimson-Tailed Lily. From my mom’s garden. I always liked them the most. And the meaning behind it too… It… symbolizes gentle yet deep passion…” she said with slightly rosy cheeks.

    Ast petted her ears a little and put the flower in his front pocket. “Perfect. Thank you.”

    He stood up and glanced at the finished summoning circle. Everything seemed to be in order. Miria and Selene took a step back to give him more space and Asterios brought out his ceremonial knife, cutting his finger a bit. After a few drops of blood fell onto the circuit, the glittery dust started glowing and burning with a very faint flame, which quickly spread over the whole pattern.

    What was left behind after all of it burned out, was a set of glowing, brown lines, now looking like the real base of a magical formation. Asterios joined his hands in a prayer fashion and sent his spiritual energy towards the circle. It flashed and a weird air current began to emerge from the middle of it, forming an earthen tornado that sucked the wings in.

    It kept spinning for a few seconds, releasing warm winds into the surroundings. Then, something flashed again inside of it and a hand-sized brown orb flew out of the top of the small cyclone. The air calmed down after the tornado disappeared. The brown ball kept merrily floating in front of their faces.

    Miria tilted her head at the weird entity while Selene raised her brows. The orb was of a brown colour and it kept pulsing at regular intervals. Two, fairy-like wings sprouted from the back of its top. She recognized it as a Pixie. She encountered them a few times in her realm and those spirit-type beings were a very mischievous bunch.

    ~Are you the one who summoned me, Human? Hehehehe~

    A joyful, childlike voice resounded in everyone’s heads. The brown orb zoomed through the air and circled Ast’s body a few times before stopping very close to his face.

    “Yes. My name is Asterios. May I know yours?”

    ~Hehehehe, it’s Eru! What do you need from this great Earth Pixie Eru, Asterios the Human? Are we going to dig a hole under someone? Maybe add some mud to their coffee? Or do you want me to restrain those girls behind you so you can tickle them until they collapse? Hehehehe!~

    Miria’s fur instantly stood up. She hated tickles wholeheartedly. It was obviously because the slightest brush at her ticklish spots could render her completely defenceless as she would drop down and start wriggling like crazy while laughing her lungs out from the faintest tease.

    Ast sensed her uneasiness and squinted his eyes at the Pixie. Eru abruptly stopped flying around and froze on the spot when met with dense spiritual pressure. Asterios didn’t want to threaten the entity so he quickly loosened it.

    “Maybe next time. I would like you to alter my appearance. Can you do it?”

    Eru started floating in front of his face again, this time in a bit less mischievous fashion and responded with a boastful voice.

    ~Of course! Who do you think I am? The great Earth Pixie Eru! Something like this is nothing for me! Ah, but I can only make it work for three hours. It’s that long because I’m the best! Hehehehehe~

    Asterios sighed. It looked like the records and tales were not exaggerated. Pixies were truly an annoying bunch. Three hours was nothing amazing when it came to such a simple Alteration Magic.

    But, since it was his first time and he was in a hurry, still being urged to take action by the scorching hot sensation inside his heart, he was expecting to not be able to summon some outrageous entity like with Miria and Selene previously. He was actually relieved to see that not all of his new summons had to be literal, humanoid girls, as he was haunted by that possibility for a little while now.

    “Good. Will this suffice as your payment?” he said and showed the Crimson-Tailed Lily to the Pixie.

    Eru circled his hand a few times and stopped on top of it.

    ~Hmmm… Hmmmm… It will! This flower smells tasty!~

    Then, Eru sucked the lily inside its body and began spinning for a few seconds. After consuming the offering, it flew into Ast’s body.

    ~Now imagine the change and I’ll make it happen! And remember, it will last only 3 hours!~

    Asterios closed his eyes and imagined his face in a much sharper, older and manly style, his white hair as shoulder-long, and wished for a short-trimmed beard of the same colour to appear around his mouth. A few seconds later, the changes took place and the girls watched his face morph into a much older and fierce-looking version of himself.

    “You don’t have to worry. I only need it for a moment,” he replied to the Pixie and brought out a small mirror to check his appearance, nodding in satisfaction.

    “Woah… Will you look like this when you get older, Master?” Miria asked, gazing at his new face.

    Asterios chuckled. “No idea. I just came up with it. What, do you hate it?”

    She lowered her head and kept glancing at him slightly anxious. “It’s… not bad… But, I think I like your real one more… It looks… gentler...”

    He brushed her hair as he passed her, heading towards the open road. “Then I should pray it doesn’t become like this.”

    The trio walked out of the alley and Asterios took a deep breath. Thanks to all the magic and casual interactions with his companions, his mind was now much clearer than before. The influence affecting his emotions didn’t completely disappear and still kept fueling the furious fire in his heart, but he didn’t feel like rushing headlong into his enemies' den and tearing them to shreds now.

    Unfortunately, changing Miria's and Selene's appearance would require a bit more complex and longer process as Ast's white hair and red eyes weren't commonly known so he could just alter them a bit, but they walk around with their original appearances all the time, even if they didn't spend much time around Rosewind yet.

    Fortunately, Asterios wasn't that worried about this fact. Both of the girls had collars around their necks. Anyone reporting the incident, be it from outside or later from the staff they might encounter, should remember that quite crucial fact as normal and combat slaves weren't usually held accountable due to them not having much of a choice but to follow their master's orders. He decided to bet on that perception.
    They soon arrived in front of a metal gate. Two guards in chainmails, covered with yellow tabards having the Richtenstein’s family crest woven into them, stood one by each side of it. The trio was noticed and the sentries lowered their ornamental halberds, crossing them over the locked entrance.

    “Halt! You are approaching the residence of Marquess Richtenstein! What’s the purpose of your visit?”

    “You should take a leave for today. The Marquess won’t blame you,” Asterios answered.

    The guards furrowed their brows.

    “If you came here just to joke around, I advise you to turn back right now,” one of the men said in an annoyed tone.

    Asterios rubbed his forehead. “Listen. I would like to avoid hurting innocent bystanders, so please, just step away while I still am in control of my emotions. It’s already proving difficult to keep calm while so close to these bastards.”

    The guards instantly lowered their weapons from the air and aimed them at him. Ast sighed and glanced at Selene. She got his intention clearly, and in two quick steps, she appeared in front of one of the men. He got hit with her spiritually enhanced punch and crashed into the gate, creating a deep bulge in it.

    The other guy’s eyes widened from shock. He was no strong knight but a simple gatekeeper dressed in a fancy outfit whose task was to report the arrivals and escort guests inside. No one in the right mind would assault the Marquess’s mansion from the front gate in the middle of the day.

    “Go. No one will be dying today. I’m here just for a short talk. And don’t forget to come to work tomorrow. I’ll let your employer know you did your job properly,” Asterios said to the shaken man in a cold tone.

    He seemed to be hesitating for a moment, but in the end, the man ran to the other guard, peeled him off the gate, and started moving away while carrying his colleague. Asterios then glanced at Selene again while Miria made short work of the gate with her mana-sharpened blades.

    “Don’t worry, my Lord. I held back as you intended me to and shielded the man’s body. He shouldn’t have even a single broken bone.”

    Ast nodded and they entered the courtyard. Even though the Marquess’s residence was located on the edge of the town, he was pretty sure there should have been at least a few people somewhere around that witnessed the commotion, so they shouldn’t waste any time in case someone went and reported the event.

    He wanted to make his point by going through the front, but he would rather not get involved with Rosewind’s Peacekeepers if possible. Thus, time was crucial. Hopefully, daddy was home, as well as the unfilial son.
     
  13. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 52 – Gardener’s Nightmare
    Asterios, Miria and Selene found themselves in the mansion’s garden. There was still a bit of distance to overcome before they would reach the residence behind it. The main issue was that the garden was actually a huge maze made out of tall hedges.

    While he pondered over going around the obstacle, Selene created an orb of spiritual energy and drilled with it straight through the first, bushy wall. Asterios sighed and shook his head. He knew that some collateral damage was unavoidable, especially with how riled up he was inside, but he started hoping that the mansion would still stay in the same place after they finished their business here.

    Selene led them through the maze. In a straight line. Through every single plant wall. They stumbled on a gardener somewhere in the middle, shocking him greatly when part of the hedge suddenly got blown into smithereens in the shape of a perfect sphere. After politely greeting the man, they moved on, creating another hole in the bush, leaving the employee even more shocked.

    After coming out on the other side, Asterios turned around and looked through the tunnel spanning from the beginning to the end of the grassy maze. To some extent, it looked beautiful, but he didn’t think the owners would appreciate the stylistic change. But, it didn’t bother him much. It was just some plants. Worse things would be happening to some people soon.

    Finally, in front of the main facade, they glanced around. There were no more guards. Richtensteins must have truly believed no one would dare to assault the mansion from the very front gate.

    “Selene, please keep watch on spiritual energy around and let us know if any strong presences appear nearby,” Asterios said to his foxkin companion.

    She waved her hands in a peculiar motion and a wisp of bluish flame appeared above her extended palm. Many tendrils sprouted from it, pointing in different directions. Asterios gazed at it for a moment, getting a little curious how that little technique worked, but he quickly refocused his mind. He could always ask later.

    Miria stepped to the front and opened the double doors. They were unlocked, surprising the panthergirl a little. She didn’t expect the main entrance to be completely unguarded and not locked at the same time. The party entered the main hall of the mansion.

    The interiors were all in dark wood fashion. Most likely mahogany. The walls, the floor, the big stairs leading to the upper level and somewhere to the sides, everything was out of different shades of wood. The composition didn’t look bad. The colours were picked carefully and formed a beautiful match, but it wasn’t really up to Ast’s style. Neither up to the girls’.

    For a moment, Asterios started thinking they would have to search the whole place on their own as there was no one present in the main lobby. Fortunately, one of the doors on the side opened and a woman in a maid outfit showed up.

    She stopped in her tracks, visibly confused by their presence. It didn’t last for long as she quickly calmed herself down and approached the trio, bowing a little before them.

    “Welcome to the Marquees Richtenstein’s residence, dear sir, and…” she glanced at Miria and Selene, noticing their collars and hastily returning her gaze to Ast, “I apologize, but I was not informed that we were expecting guests today. Is dear sir with an appointment, or…?”

    “Is the master of the house present?” he asked calmly.

    The maid nodded. “Yes. Although, the Marquess is working in his office. Does dear sir have a message to pass?”

    “No, I’ll meet him personally. There’s no need to inform him either. Trust me, he won’t mind.”

    “But—”

    “Is the young master home too?” he interrupted the maid, glancing at her with an uninterested gaze.

    The woman didn’t give an immediate answer. She wasn’t sure what to say. In addition, her master didn’t want anyone to disturb him without a good reason, and she didn’t recognize the person standing in front of her as anyone close enough to the Marquess for him not to mind the abrupt visit.

    Selene taking a step closer to her brought the maid from her thoughts.

    “Didn’t you hear my Lord’s question? How long are you planning on making him wait? Are you sure you can bear the consequences of slowing us down?”

    The foxkin woman was slightly taller than the maid, who looked to be somewhere around her thirties. Selene’s exquisite clothing just added weight to her remark. The woman chose to quickly bow and apologize. Someone having a slave looking this refined must definitely have been a remarkable person.

    “I’m sorry, my Lord! Yes, the young master is also here!” she mimicked the way Selene called Asterios, assuming that he was of high standing.

    “Good. Go and tell him that ‘Asti’ came to say hi. I’ll be in his father’s office if he wants to talk. Now then, how do I get there?”

    “Just take the big stairs behind me and then follow the second corridor to the very end. It’s the last room on the left. The door is impossible to mistake. I’ll go and inform the young master immediately!” She bowed again and started turning around.

    “Wait. Depending on the Marquess, the conversating might get… a little heated. We have a sensitive topic to touch on. Hopefully, we’ll reach a mutual understanding, but if not… I’d advise you to bring all the staff out of that wing. Just in case.”

    The maid paled a little under his gaze. Asterios kept staring at her with raised eyebrows until she nodded faintly. He then passed the woman, patting her shoulder a few times. The girls followed him shortly and they began climbing the wide stairs.

    “Is this really going to be this easy?” Miria asked during their walk.

    Asterios chuckled. “It’s only the beginning. I’m glad there are no guards literally at every corner or we would have to do something about them, potentially risking hurting them too. Well, the maid might also go straight to them if there are any around.”

    “I don’t think so, my Lord. She ran outside through some back exit and is currently heading towards a single presence. I assume that’s the person you asked her to deliver your message to. Or they have just one guard. He doesn’t seem to be that strong, but he certainly knows a thing or two about magic. On the other hand, we are walking towards the strongest source of mana in this place,” Selene said.

    “Right. They both are Summoners. It would be kind of stupid for the head of the family which takes pride in their summoning arts to be weak. I’ll be counting on you girls.”

    “Leave it to us, Master! No matter what familiars he has, they are definitely not our match!” Miria cheerfully tapped her chest with her fist and Selene nodded with a smile.

    At the same time, Marquess Wilhelm Richtenstein was going through various documents in his office. Picking up a piece of paper with fancy writing, he noticed a familiar sigil on the bottom and groaned.

    “These bastards, already asking to return the favour…”

    The letter was from the Rosewind’s Summoner’s Academy and was sent by none other than the Council. He had to call in on some connections to deal with his son’s bully around two weeks ago. Roz’s request was sudden, but his son insisted on acting quick and pressuring the academy to deal with the person while they finally stepped out of the line in public.

    His son often came home in a bad mood and always blamed it on that one person. It went for months if not years. He couldn’t remember when it exactly started. He even suggested helping quite early, but Roz insisted on wanting to deal with his bully personally. Wilhelm was proud of that stance and decided not to intervene.

    That was until a few weeks ago when Roz’s familiar was hurt by that person and his son came to him pleading for help. His mid-term opponent turned out to be his nemesis and the person even broke the rules of the test, assaulting Roz’s wolf fully knowing that he could not order it to strike back, maliciously aiming for the beast’s nether regions.

    Marquess Richtenstein sighed and put the piece of paper away, only to notice another nuisance on the side. It was a message from one of the Captains of the Rosewind’s Peacekeepers. They were currently investigating the store in which Roz was scammed while buying a gift for his sister.

    His son, fortunately, noticed that the gold seemed to be low quality and found out it was partially unmarked. Even though the guards found a full box of it in the shop’s warehouse, the case was still open. He was starting to wonder what was the problem there. The evidence was clear. He was actually surprised how unlucky his son was. It so happened that the very shop was managed by the bully’s mother.

    “Like mother, like son, I guess.” He sighed again.

    Then, someone knocked on the door to his office, bringing him out of his contemplation. The Marquess furrowed his brows.

    “I told you to not disturb me today. I’m working.”

    He returned his gaze to the documents, just to hear the knob moving. Whoever was on the other side of the door, tried to open it, but it was locked. None of his servants would dare to do so after his initial reply.

    “Who is it?”

    “Marquess Richtenstein, we need to talk about something important.”

    The voice of a young man answered him. One that he did not recognize as his servant or anyone he knew.

    “Whoever you are, I’m currently unavailable. I have no idea how you made it here, but you better go back and schedule an appointment with one of my mai—”

    *CRASH*

    Wilhelm jumped in his armchair when a fist came through the wooden door at the level of the knob. It definitely belonged to a woman. Then, that hand bent and turned the lock on his side, releasing the mechanism.

    After it withdrew, the door was opened and he was met with the sight of a beautiful and lady-like woman in distinguished clothes he knew from the Demon continent. She had a pair of fox-like ears on top of her head and a tail was sticking out from behind her.

    The woman walked inside, followed by another girl with animal ears. The two of them stood on the opposite sides of the door and bowed inside a bit while a man he did not recognize entered his office and looked him straight in the eyes with his deep, crimson irises.

    Asterios stepped into the fancy-looking chamber while mentally sighing. Miria and Selene were causing an unnecessary scene they did not plan on with all this bowing, but he decided to just go with it.

    On the other side of the room, a man with short, blond hair was sitting behind a massive desk. His neatly trimmed beard, noble-looking face and crystal blue eyes emanated an aura of someone with high standing. He also wore formal looking clothes in blue shades.

    Wilhelm stood up and a golden gate appeared by his side. A moment later, some kind of a beast walked out of it and stopped by the desk. It was taller than the man himself, barely fitting the room. Asterios instantly recognized it, and also quite expected it, as it even appeared in the Richtenstein’s family emblem. It was a Griffon.

    In simplest words, a lion-eagle combination. Head, claws and wings of the former and rest of the body of the latter. They were proud beasts and didn’t serve a master they did not recognize as worthy and also righteous. That already gave Ast an idea of what could have been going on.

    “Who the hell are you?!” The Marquess shouted.

    “Honestly, I’m actually curious if you know me,” Asterios answered and snapped his fingers, dispelling the illusion he borrowed from the pixie for a moment and forcing his scorching hot energy back, with a lot of struggle to keep it down. “Rings any bells?”

    The man stared at him intently, trying to remember if he either offended someone he shouldn’t or made a new enemy by accident, but nothing was coming to his mind. The person in front of him looked like your typical adventurer and the two women by his side were most likely his combat slaves, judging by their collars. And race he was not aware of.

    “Not in the slightest,” he answered and straightened his posture, “but do you know who I am? I don’t think so or you wouldn’t—”

    “You are the father of the bastard who desperately tried his best to make my life hell for his own amusement but kept failing and failing repeatedly since I did not care about his antics, but one time, he actually crossed the line he should never have ever even thought about,” Asterios interrupted the Marquess to his surprise and stopped blocking the flow of his mana, returning to his awakened appearance.

    Wilhelm was a smart and experienced man. He quickly connected the dots and realized the identity of the assailant.

    “So, you are the one. Coming for revenge now after you have finally been struck down? Quite a foolish move. But hey, somehow, all the villains end up being like that. I wonder if you took it after your mothe—”

    *SLAP*

    Without a warning, something hit the man’s face. He did not know what or when or how exactly, but it felt like a hand.

    “Selene.”

    “I apologize for stepping out of the line, my Lord.”

    The youth and the white-haired woman exchanged a few words, confusing him even more. No matter what, the fact that he had been attacked persisted and Wilhelm ordered his familiar to immediately strike back. They could ask questions after the weird trio has been apprehended.

    But, even after a few seconds, nothing happened.

    “Nehburn! What are you waiting for?!” he asked and turned his eyes to the side.

    Instead of seeing his mighty beast preparing one of its powerful wind-type abilities, he found it frozen in place, staring at one spot without moving even a little. No, that was wrong. The beast was shaking.

    Only now he noticed the faint trace of fear and anxiety coming into his mind through their connection. Wilhelm was perturbed. Not once he saw his long-time friend act like that and they went through some tough battles together.

    A quiet growling finally reached his ears and he turned around to look exactly the same way as his familiar. He furrowed his brows after realizing that the source was actually the other girl accompanying the mysterious youth.

    His confusion only grew. And it grew again after he witnessed the black-haired woman get surrounded by black mist and turn into a big black panther on a moment’s notice. The huge cat started coming closer while increasing the volume of her growls until she stood directly in front of his Griffon.

    Then, the panther released a ferocious roar straight into its beak. The pressure was so strong that a violent air current was created and all the documents in the room went flying. Wilhelm quickly covered his ears as it hurt to even listen to it.

    Shortly after Miria finished, the man’s beast took a few steps back, tilted its head towards its master and squealed in apology while disappearing inside the golden gate it came through previously.

    Miria returned to Ast’s side and he started gently scratching behind her ears.

    “Now then. Shall we finally move onto the subject of my visit or do you want to try another summon?”
     
  14. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 53 – A Negligent Father
    “You want to talk after breaking into my home and assaulting me like some thug? Was bullying my son not enough for you so you came to bully me too?”

    Asterios sighed. “Trust me, if there was another way to do this, I’d have definitely chosen that instead. But, considering your words, any more formal means of communication would have been rendered futile. It seems that you truly know nothing about me.”

    “I know you and your family very well, you rascal!” The Marquess retorted. “You have been harassing my son for a long time! But, you finally made a mistake and—”

    “Then how exactly did I harass him? You must be pretty familiar with the methods I used, no?” Asterios interrupted the man again and raised one of his eyebrows.

    Wilhelm stopped for a moment. Roz had never described any action taken against him. All he had said in the past was always about him having troubles with dealing with the other boy in the academy. He never told him any details, avoiding the topic. That was until the exam incident.

    “Don’t think you can weasel your way out of this with carefully picked words. The moment I ask any witnesses, or even my son, your lies will be exposed in an instant.”

    “Oh, I’ll gladly help you with that,” Asterios replied with a grin, confusing the man slightly. “I’ve already sent one of your maids to bring Roz here. What’s better than asking the victim themselves?”

    The Marquess was unsure about the situation. The boy in front of him seemed too calm about the whole thing. He couldn’t exclude the possibility that this was just how the boy’s demeanor was, but he was showing a lot of confidence in front of him.

    Even if he managed to weirdly affect his Griffon, he still seemed too confident in his strength when in front of a much more experienced Summoner. The boy should have been just a student until not that long ago and certainly couldn’t be stronger than him. He would hear anything about such a person one way or another.

    Now that he thought about it, his son wasn’t a weakling either. Roz was quite high in the academy’s rankings when it came to both theory and practice and even managed to contract three beasts at his young age. If someone was to bully him without him being able to fight back, the person would have to be a much more powerful one, but how come they stayed unrecognized?

    Many weird and mysterious things surrounded the peculiar youth in front of him. Since Roz was going to arrive here anyway, Wilhelm decided to learn more about the young man and his uncommon companions. Especially those two piqued his curiosity.

    Just in case that it was all an elaborate plan to lower his defenses, he mentally ordered all of his familiars to be ready to take action at any point. If they acted together, barely anyone would have a chance to even react. And it would end up as six versus two.

    “Well then. I suppose we have to wait for him then. In the meantime, why don’t you introduce yourselves properly and speak about the reason behind this… visit. Who are you exactly?”

    “You don’t even know the name of your son’s bully? What kind of father are you? But, that clears up even more things, and potentially, may let you avoid a fair deal of inconveniences,” Asterios replied.

    He then walked closer to the desk, grabbed one of the chairs in front of it, and sat down. Selene stood behind him and Miria laid down by his feet, still in her panther form. The Marquess also seated himself in his much fancier armchair, albeit, he was showing a bit of nervousness in his body language.

    “Alright, let’s keep it short. I’m Asterios, and as you should be aware due to me attending the academy in the past, I’m a Summoner too. The other two are Miria and Selene, my familiars.”

    “What?” Wilhelm furrowed his brows. “It’s impossible to contract humanoid races. Are you telling me they both aren't?”

    Asterios shrugged. “Beats me. I’ll have to investigate it one day. There are still many mysteries behind Summoning Magic. In any way,” he took off the glove from his right hand and drew the sigil to make his Summoner’s Brand show up, “this should leave no doubts, right?”

    The man looked at the shining symbol and then noticed the same appearing on the forehead of both the woman in exotic clothes and the lying panther. Yes, it didn’t leave any doubts. That was a Summoner’s Brand for sure.

    “Now, as to why I am here, it’s simple. You either withdraw the false accusations you’ve placed on my mother or the Richtenstein’s lineage ends today.”

    “You!”

    Wilhelm stood up and slammed the desk, but the piercing gaze of Asterios stopped him before he could say anything more. He saw those eyes many times. Those were the eyes of someone determined to kill.

    They definitely didn’t belong to your usual young man or even a student of the academy. He felt like Ast’s words weren’t just an empty threat and then he realized that the boy in front of him was actually a full-grown man. A man who had definitely killed in the past. And who was not afraid of doing it again. Knowing well that such resolve couldn't have come from anywhere, he tried his best to calm himself and sat down again.

    “Are you aware of what you are even saying? There’s no way you can pull something like that off without being found out. Even if we assumed you have the power to fight and kill everyone here, you would end up being pursued to the ends of this world by all our allies.”

    Asterios chuckled. “Did you forget the reason why many criminals try their best to become Summoners even though they have completely no talent in it? I can just throw all your corpses into another realm. Who will find them then? Interdimensional Law Enforcement Unit? Psshhht, if something like that even exists.”

    Wilhelm started sweating a little. What he said was true. That way of getting rid of evidence was one of the most efficient and effective ones. It hindered almost all known methods of investigation and criminal research. There was no trace of the person left in their original world. But, it still didn’t cover all of the tracks.

    “Are you stupid? Besides the maid you have mentioned, there definitely were people who had seen your face.”

    “Yeah, I had a short clash with your sentries and also passed by your gardener.”

    “Right? So—”

    “But you are the only one who saw my real face. And also my real appearance. You know, black hair, blue eyes,” Asterios interrupted him and snapped his fingers to summon Eru’s illusion for a moment to remind the man of his fake identity he came into the room with, before disabling it again.

    “Your familiars did not change though. And they are quite eye-catching, you know?” the Marquess pressed further.

    “Even you assumed they were my combat slaves until I told you they are not. I can just make them say that their real master ordered them to stay with me while expecting retaliation from your circles. After your schemes see the light of the day, I’ll have even more backing on my side and I wonder about your allies. In the end, I’m not the one in the wrong. I can easily come up with a myriad of stories fitting the situation. Not that I haven't already.”

    Wilhelm was perturbed. The more he talked with Asterios, the more he was not sure about anything. One thing was clear though. The young man clearly implied that he was wrong or mistaken in some way.

    “What’s this about false accusations then?” he asked.

    “So, you really don’t know?” Asterios tilted his head and the man nodded. “Then, that can mean only one thing. And I’m actually glad it does. It looks like being scum isn’t a hereditary thing in your family. If you are not lying to me.”

    “I don’t think I follow…”

    Asterios waved his hand. “We’ll have Roz explain that too. When he finally gets his ass over here. How long does he plan on making me wait?”

    Selene twirled the spiritual flame she was still holding in one of her palms.

    “He seemed to be indecisive at the beginning, but I’m certain he is currently heading this way. Also, my Lord, it looks like the maid has listened to your advice,” she informed him.

    “Great. You have some good employees, Marquess Richtenstein. Treasure them. Ah, and don’t blame the guys by the gate, they did what they could to stop me. In any case, I guess I should stop keeping you in the dark then. I don’t know what you have been told, but you have certainly heard about the Weakest Summoner, no?”

    Wilhelm nodded. It was hard not to. A person who shouldn’t even be kept as a student due to their inability, but was saved by their theoretical knowledge. He was sure that pretty much everyone in the town has heard at least one or two rumors about them.

    “Well, pleased to make your acquaintance. Yours and only.” Asterios made a satirical bow. “Now. I bet you are wondering what the hell I am talking about while having these two, powerful ladies by my side. It’s only thanks to you and your idiot son that I was able to meet them. If I have not been kicked out, I would have most likely stayed a spiritual cripple for who knows how long.”

    “What? Why would I do anything to you?” the confused Marquess asked.

    “Did you already forget that I am your son’s bully?” Asterios raised his eyebrow.

    Wilhelm rubbed his mouth and thought for a moment. It was impossible for the Weakest Summoner to be his son’s bully. How? Was Asterios lying to confuse him even more? It didn’t add up. There was no need for him to do so if he was planning on trying to assassinate his whole family anyway.

    Asterios clapped his hands once, bringing Wilhelm from his thoughts.

    “Did you do anything after the duel or not?”

    The Marquess decided to answer truthfully. He was starting to get curious as to where it would lead him.

    “Yes, I did. After you assaulted my son’s wolf and broke the academy’s rules, he came to me to seek justice. I reached out to the people from the Council I knew and asked them to take action.”

    Asterios nodded. “I figured out that was the case. Even if many of the geezers disliked me, they didn’t have enough votes to get through. Your influence must have tipped the scale. It was bound to happen, so I’m not really blaming you for that one, but… justice? Really? Are you even aware who your son really is?”

    “What do you mean? He might be a little too prideful and rash at times, but he is not a bad person.”

    “Yeah, certainly. It’s not like bullying, trampling on others, pressuring girls with his status into who knows what, cheating on written exams and all the other things that could take way too much time to list are bad. Honestly, at times like these, I’m glad I didn’t have a father. Do you even interact with him or anyone in his close proximity? What do maids think about him, huh?”

    “They never said a bad word about him, so why would I—”

    Asterios raised his hand to stop the man. “Have you ever ordered them to speak what they really think or you just took for granted whatever they said? I would be unimaginably surprised to learn that he is such an angel to everyone else besides all the students at the academy.”

    Asterios sighed. He was getting tired of this farce. It was now completely obvious to him that the Marquess was kept in the dark by Roz and only used as a tool. He didn’t care about their father-son relationship, but he needed the man to learn his lesson to actually care a little about his surroundings.

    But as he was going to lay out everything in front of this negligent father, rushed footsteps reached the ears of everyone present in the room. A few seconds later, someone showed up on the doorstep of the still open entrance. It was obviously Roz. He wore a similar outfit to his father.

    The moment Ast’s eyes landed on the blond-haired boy, something flared inside him and the scorching sensation filled his whole body again after being tamed down before he came here. Instantaneously, a wave of powerful killing intent was released into the air, accompanied by impressive spiritual pressure. The intense stare of Asterios rendered Roz immobile.

    “W-who the fuck are you?!” he asked, not recognizing Asterios with his white hair, red eyes, and fierce gaze.

    Asterios stood up and slowly walked towards him. The wooden floor creaked with each step he took. Roz still couldn’t move his body, which was paralyzed from fear. He felt like fainting from the pressure assaulting his senses. Asterios finally arrived in front of him and grabbed the boy by the throat.

    “It’s only been like two weeks. TWO WEEKS! Did you already forget me? I thought we had something going,” Asterios said in a cold, murderous tone.

    Roz’s eyes widened as he finally realized Ast’s identity. But, before he could say anything, a fist came to contact with his stomach and his eyes bulged out from the impact.

    “Nguh?!”

    The Marquess stood up again. “What are you—”

    A tip of a blade suddenly appeared at his throat. Looking to the side, he noticed that the panther had turned into a girl again, and she was holding a shortsword by his neck.

    “Don’t interrupt. Just watch.”

    After punching Roz once, Asterios threw him with all his strength towards the Marquess and the boy crashed into the front of the massive desk, only pushing it a few centimeters to the back.

    Asterios looked at his hand while clenching it into a fist a few times. Before they entered the room, he prepared a technique that borrowed some of Miria’s physical strength to him. The result was more than he expected. It barely felt like throwing a wet towel when he tossed the body of the seventeen-year-old boy. He had to admit, it was a nice feeling.

    As Roz was squirming on the floor, Asterios approached him again, grabbed the boy by the collar, and sent him flying to the side, making him crash against a huge bookcase this time. Before Roz fell down again, he pinned him to the wall by the neck, breaking the shelves and cabinets even more.

    “You couldn’t have just gone and fucked off, could you? You had to go after my mother? And specifically when I was not around? Don’t you have enough targets at the academy to harass without looking for more outside? Well, not like it matters to me. Now, let’s clear some things up while you still can speak.”

    Asterios threw Roz into the middle of the room where he landed on his stomach. He then stepped on his hand, evoking a cry of pain from the boy. Roz wanted to roll away, but he couldn’t. Something was holding him down. That something was Selene’s spiritual arts. She handcuffed the blond-haired Human to the floor, applying condensed mana over all his joints.

    “Will you be a good boy and explain everything to your daddy properly or do I have to help you?” Asterios asked and raised his foot a little.

    “Fuck off, bitch! You won’t get away with this! Father! What are you waiting for! Just kill this bastard! He is tra—GYAAAAAAHHHHH!”

    He didn’t get to finish as an unexpected feeling assaulted his hand. Something pierced it from above. Roz tilted his head to look forwards and noticed a bluish, semi-transparent pole sticking out of the floor where his palm was punctured.

    Marquess Wilhelm took a step forward, but Miria did not move her blade and it slightly sank into the skin of his throat, leaving a shallow cut on it. She released a low growl at the man. He stopped and looked at his son anxiously. If he summoned all of his familiars at once, he could have a chance to repel the assailant, but there was also the risk of Roz getting hurt or even killed before anything was done by them.

    “Although I don’t agree with his decision, Master will not kill the kid,” Miria spoke to him, keeping up her cold expression.

    Meanwhile, Asterios stepped on Roz’s hand again. Since it was punctured now, it evoked even more pain and screaming from the restrained person.

    “I’ve laid down the Alcove of Serenity sigil in this room. If you are counting on someone hearing you and coming to the rescue, forget that. Besides, no one is in this part of the mansion except us right now. Are we talking or not?”

    “Fuck you! Ghhhhnnnnn!”

    “Good. I was afraid you would turn out to be a little bitch, but you actually can hold on a little. Let’s see how long you can last then,” Asterios said indifferently and pushed his hand into one of his pouches.

    After a moment of rummaging through it, he pulled out a vial with dark-green liquid. The girls instantly recognized it as the one they got from the jumping trial. It was the poison. Asterios had it appraised by a professional alchemist and then decided to keep it just in case. He didn’t know it would come to be useful this soon.

    He uncorked the cylinder and poured the contents into Roz's mouth, forcing his jaw open with a single hand.

    “What are you trying to—HHHNNNGGGGG?!”

    “Hm. It works faster than I thought. Well then, if you still want to use that thing down there in the future, you better make up your mind quickly.”

    “GAAAHHHHH! WHAT IS THIS!? NNNNGGGGGGH?!”

    “It’s called Venation Purveyor. The poison attacks the reproductive system directly, causing intense, searing pain in all its parts. If not cured in ten minutes, it will render the person useless in that aspect. And also, the organs will turn so sensitive that even a faint breeze will cause excruciating pain again. Dungeons are really ruthless.”

    Roz started struggling even more, but this time, it wasn’t an attempt to break free but just his body’s reaction to all the unbearable torture. It was getting worse with each passing second. He already wanted to instantly agree to everything Asterios said or asked, but the pain was so strong he couldn’t unclench his teeth.

    Asterios crouched in front of his face and looked the boy straight into his eyes. While he definitely felt good with his revenge, he was also glad that he was not enjoying this particular feeling in the slightest. Even if that weird surge was urging him to continue, he personally didn’t find any satisfaction from such acts. He was afraid that this something would consume his rationality and even his own self, but so far, he was able to fight against it to some extent.

    He realized he spaced out for a moment and refocused on Roz. The boy’s eyes were slightly bloodshot from the pain and he could see the despair in them, coming from the knowledge that he was not able to even beg Asterios to stop.

    It was enough. Asterios brought out another vial, with yellowish liquid this time, and poured the contents into Roz’s mouth after forcefully unclenching his teeth. He then nodded at Selene so she could get rid of the spear and grabbed the boy by the nape of his neck, seating him on the chair in front of the desk, watching out to not destroy it by accident as he was not used to this much strength.

    Roz stopped screaming and thrashing almost immediately after receiving the antidote, but it took him a few more minutes before he could utter a comprehensible word. Asterios waited patiently. He wanted to make sure that Roz would spill out everything, not only to his father but also to him. He had to know what was going on with his mother’s charges if it wasn’t the Marquess’s doing.
     
  15. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 54 – The Truth
    Miria took her blade away and returned to Ast’s side. There was no further need for her to keep the Marquess at bay. She was glad he didn’t try summoning any more of his familiars, even though part of her was looking forward to seeing how she would fare against other summoned beasts. But, they didn’t come here to play, so she obediently followed Ast’s mental instructions.

    Selene kept her sensory ability up to watch their surroundings. It didn’t look like anything or anyone was going to interrupt them anytime soon. Ast’s decision to cast the silencing spell on the room while talking to the man was a good one and definitely helped in making things seem less disturbing than they really were.

    Now, Asterios stood on the side of the chair on which he seated Roz and stared at the boy with his arms crossed, waiting for him to finally get over the recent events. Wilhelm was anxiously looking at his son, wanting to call for his familiar specializing in healing right now, but also didn’t want to tip off the mysterious youth by accident. He couldn’t deny being curious about what the two of them had to say too.

    “Alright. Enough time wasted. Let’s start from the end and the most important part. It seems obvious to me, but are those completely baseless accusations your doing?” Asterios glared at Roz and asked.

    The boy looked pleadingly towards his father with lowered head, hoping he would now intervene, but was met with a cold and calculative gaze from the man. He knew it well. His father showed this expression each time he wanted to get to the bottom of something using all he had. Roz could tell his father was in fact concerned about his well-being, but he chose not to act for some reason.

    Not hearing any response, Asterios gave the side of Roz’s face a solid punch, managing to control his strength in time, almost forgetting he was still boosted by Miria’s power. The hit was strong enough to almost push the boy out of the chair, but Selene stopped his fall and put him back in place. Asterios moved to his front and leaned forward.

    “I have many more toys like the previous one in my pockets. You should even recognize a few of them if you paid some attention in the classes.”

    Roz's eyes widened and he hastily shook his head. “No! I’ll talk! It’s… I… I hired some professional mercenaries to hide a box of unmarked gold in one of the shop’s warehouses…”

    “I see… Before I ask why, where did you even get unmarked gold in the first place? Those mercs definitely wouldn’t have some if they are pros. It’s too risky,” Asterios inquired.

    “I… I took Father’s Family Sigil and entered the Dark Below to get it… One of my friends told me how to—”

    “What?!” Wilhelm shouted in surprise, startling Roz a little. “You used our sigil to enter where?! That’s like telling everyone I sent you on behalf of the family! Surely, you must be joking.”

    The Dark Below was the name used for the criminal circles over all of the Human kingdoms spanning the whole continent. It was pretty much a black market and a place where you could buy not only illegal goods but also shady services. If you were looking for an assassin or a skilled thief, it was your place. Pretty much every developed town had such an underbelly, smaller or bigger, so no one would deny its existence in Rosewind too, even if they personally didn’t come across it.

    Roz tried not to look his father in the eyes, avoiding answering his question. Asterios slapped the top of his head to urge the boy. Then, after that looked at him, he started bringing out a dagger from behind his waist.

    “I’m not! I met with a merchant there who goes by the name of Royal Candlesniffer and he sold me the box! I don’t have any proof of the purchase but that should be obvious, no?”

    The Marquess sighed. If what Roz said was true and not just something Asterios was forcing him to say, then he would have to take immediate action to learn if any rumor about their Family Sigil being used this way came up.

    It would be a pain to explain without losing face and experiencing potential questioning if other families heard about it. He would have to start coming up with a proper excuse just in case. He couldn’t believe his son would do something so stupid that could ruin their renown and even risk offending the king of the territory which housed Rosewind.

    “Why am I not surprised you’d go there. It’s as if scum like you fits perfectly with the environment. Anyway, it’s not my problem. Why would you even attempt fabricating this whole situation? Marquess told me you acted as if you were scammed. Did you even go there in the first place?” Asterios kept pressing further.

    “I didn’t. For sure, a shop run by that bitc—, your mother, couldn’t have anything good in it anyway… And isn’t it obvious? You humiliated me so badly in public the last time at the academy’s grounds! I could not live with letting you go away just like that! But you suddenly decided to fuck out of the town exactly when I finished preparing my payback!”

    Roz flared with anger for a brief moment and glared at Ast.

    “Fortunately, there was someone else who could take your place. I so wondered how your face would look after learning that your bitch-of-a-mother rotted in prison to her death while you were gone! You should be grateful I didn’t send the guys meant for you after her or—”

    *THUMP*

    *CRACK*

    Ast’s fist landed on the boy’s side quicker than Selene could react without expecting it and Roz was sent flying into the shattered bookcase again. There definitely was a sound of broken bones accompanying the hit. Asterios didn’t exactly hold back with this one. He then glanced at the shocked Marquess.

    “You might want to summon a familiar that can heal if you have one. Sorry about that.”

    Even while apologizing, his face didn’t actually resemble someone remorseful of their actions. Wilhelm quickly called forth a Spring Fairy and ordered the spirit to start healing his son as Selene scraped him off the wall and seated him on the chair again.

    There was an urge rising in him, telling the Marquess to strike back, but he tried his best to keep it in check. He was obviously angry at Asterios for hurting his son again and again, but the situation appeared more complex than he was aware of and the youth truly didn’t seem to be aiming for Roz’s life. He could have easily ended it a long time ago if he wished to do so.

    After Roz stopped clutching his side, Asterios returned his gaze to him. “I think you are forgetting what kind of situation you are in. I’m trying my best not to slaughter you like a pig, but you are making it increasingly more difficult with each word your filthy mouth utters. Don’t think I can’t do it because your father is here. Depending on what I decide, he might be joining you in the afterlife soon after.” He then turned to the Marquess. “How are you going to fix the mess your idiot son created?”

    Wilhelm nervously rubbed his hands together. It was not that easy to untangle without completely shattering his family’s reputation. He didn’t want it to be tarnished due to a single, stupid decision of his son to take revenge or whatever.

    The issue was much bigger now. Not only the Dark Below was brought into it, but also a party of mercenaries and of course Rosewind’s Peacekeepers. If he didn’t tread carefully, everything could lead to a huge disaster. He had to think about it deeply before taking any action.

    The Marquess raised his gaze at Asterios. “I need time. I’ll make sure to straighten everything out if this really is the truth—”

    Asterios sighed heavily. “I’m starting to get tired of this.”

    He unsheathed the dagger completely and stabbed the chair Roz was sitting on from above, shortly before his crotch.

    “IT'S THE TRUTH! I WAS NEVER BULLIED! I WAS THE ONE HARASSING HIM ALL THE TIME! HE WAS SO FUCKING WEAK HE COULD BARELY SUMMON A FUCKUNG SQUIRREL BUT HE HELD HIMSELF LIKE HE WAS SOME FUCKING LEGEND! IT WAS INFURIATING! HE SHOULD HAVE JUST FELL INTO THE DEPTHS OF DESPAIR AND OFFED HIMSELF SOMEWHERE OR SOMETHING! I TRIED TO FUCK WITH HIM ALL THE TIME SO HE WOULD FINALLY QUIT BUT HE JUST KEPT GOING AND GOING AND IGNORING EVERYTHING THAT HAPPENED! HE IS NOT A FUCKING HUMAN! MONSTER! I BET YOUR REAL MOTHER FUCKED AN OGRE OR SOME—NGUH?!”

    Asterios punched the boy in the stomach, effectively shutting him up.

    “I’d have thought you’d learn by this moment that going after my mother is not something you should do. No matter which one,” he commented and withdrew his fist, turning to the Marquess again. “I don’t need to hear a recount of everything that happened those past years so question that idiot yourself. And maybe start asking others too instead of living in a self-created illusory bubble.”

    He glared at the man and grabbed Roz by the throat, lifting him up while he struggled to breathe. He kept staring at the Marquess with a cold expression, seemingly, not even bothered by what he was doing to the man’s son.

    “I’m giving you a day to settle everything properly. If you fail to do so, I’ll—”

    ~My Lord, someone is coming. They don’t seem to be strong though,~ Selene informed him mentally.

    “Huh? Why is the door to Father’s study open?” A quiet voice reached their ears from somewhere further in the corridor.

    A moment later, a person of short stature showed up at the doorstep. It was a girl, looking to be around thirteen or fourteen years old. She wore leather pants, linen shirt and held a blunt-edged shortsword in her hand, definitely meant for training purposes. Her brown hair was tied up to the back so that no mischievous lock covered her emerald eyes during whatever she was doing.

    Those eyes widened from shock after the girl saw the carnage in her father’s office and noticed her brother being held by the throat in the air by an unknown person.

    “Brother!” she shouted and jumped forward.

    “No! Don’t!” The Marquess tried to stop her but it was too late.

    The girl must have used some kind of movement technique because she showed up on Ast’s side pretty quickly with just two steps of her short legs. Before she could swing her practice sword though, someone appeared in front of her and the next moment she felt herself flying backward with a sharp pain in her chest, completely emptied out from all the air due to the sudden impact.

    Miria stood in between Asterios and the girl who just crashed into the wall with her back. Her leg was extended to the front after the kick she made. No one was going to harm her master in front of her, even if it was a kid with a toy sword.

    Asterios threw Roz onto the floor and Selene pinned him down with her restraints again. He then walked closer to Miria and placed a hand on her shoulder.

    “You didn’t have to hit her this hard.”

    The euphoric feeling from protecting Asterios died down after he calmly berated her and she lowered her head.

    “I… I’m sorry, Master…”

    He moved his hand to brush her cheek. “Thank you,” he said and smiled at her very faintly.

    Asterios didn’t want to make Miria feel bad for doing the right thing, even if a little bit too forcefully. He then turned towards the little girl who got up to her knees, supporting herself with the sword, and glared at him while still a little winded. Fortunately, she didn’t seem hurt. Her unexpected appearance was actually a good thing and has given Asterios an idea. Hopefully, the girl wasn’t as rotten as her older brother.

    “Wait! She has nothing to do with—”

    Seeing Asterios walking towards his daughter, the Marquess stepped forward but was quickly stopped by a few spiritual blades that circled his neck, forcing him to stay silent and unmoving.

    The girl kept sending glares at her brother’s and father’s assailant, who was coming closer to her. She knew she wouldn’t be able to do anything to him. Her abilities were not enough to let her win against an adult, but she had to try.

    Asterios stopped in front of her and leaned down, supporting himself with his hands on his thighs. He looked at the girl’s face with a kind smile on his own.

    “You are a very brave girl. What’s your name?”

    Seeing such a nice smile on someone who attacked her brother confused her a little bit. It looked warm and real, but it surely had to be fake. She wouldn’t be able to hurt the man without a good opportunity so she chose to answer for now.

    “Irelia…”

    Asterios nodded and rubbed his chin. “Irelia… You have a very lovely name.” He glanced all over her attire and stopped at the iron shortsword. “Looks like you were just training with a sword. You are not going to become a Summoner like your dad and brother?”

    She pondered for a moment but decided to answer the man’s question again.

    “I… I want to become a Knight.”

    “Ohh. That’s commendable. Why specifically a Knight?” Asterios raised one of his eyebrows.

    “Because… I want to protect my family. And everyone. From being hurt. By people like you.”

    He nodded again. “I see. That’s a very noble goal you have. You must really love your family.”

    “Of course! That’s why I want to protect them!” Irelia answered a bit louder this time, starting to get up.

    Asterios held her shoulder down and smiled again. “It seems that you and I are not so different, you know?”

    “Eh?” She tilted her head in confusion.

    “You see, I also want to protect the people I love. And that’s why I’m here. To make sure no one will hurt them. Now, I have a question for you. Will you mind answering it for me?”

    He waited for a moment, but Irelia finally nodded after a few seconds passed.

    “You must also really love your mother, right? Let’s say that you entered a renowned knight’s academy and studied there for a few years. There was a guy who kept bullying you and saying that girls are not meant to be Knights, but you always ignored him and did everything you could to learn as much as you could. One day, because of him, you got expelled, but you ignored that too and decided to travel to gain more experience as a Knight. But, when you came back, you found your mom crying very hard for many days and learned that the same person hurt her while you were away. What would you do?”

    Irelia almost answered instantly after picturing the whole story in her head with herself in it. Her imagination was always very vivid and deep. But, before any voice left her open mouth, she realized something.

    She heard about a boy who her brother kept bullying in school. He often talked about it while looking really proud. Sometimes he was angry the boy wasn’t answering his provocations. She didn’t like it but couldn’t do anything to stop him. He already had her under his thumb…

    She suddenly got the feeling that the man in front of her might have been that boy and her answer could affect her brother. Even if she disliked him a lot, it was still family. Family, she wanted to protect.

    Asterios didn’t miss the sudden change and appearance of hesitation in the girl’s expression. As he assumed, the girl must have known enough to figure out the situation. At least one person in this family was not rotten to the core. He was afraid for a moment that she was just the same as Roz already.

    “So? What would you do? I’d like you to answer honestly,” he pressed her, keeping up his smile.

    “I… ummm… I would… punish him...” She tried to choose her words carefully.

    “Is that so?” Asterios reached out and patted her head a bit before standing up and turning towards the Marquess. “And what would you do, Marquess Richtenstein?”

    Wilhelm also understood the situation, including the hidden meaning behind his question.

    “I would also… punish that person…”

    Asterios nodded. “Right? Then there should be nothing wrong with me doing the same, no?” He kept staring at the man until he nodded with a wry smile.

    He then returned her focus to Irelia. “Since we are already all here, why won’t you tell me and your papa what you really think of your brother?”

    She glanced at Asterios, then at her father, and finally at her brother held on the ground by something around his wrists and ankles. If it was right now… then maybe…

    “He… he is the worst… He always says mean things to me but acts like we are very close when everyone is looking… He does many bad things to others, but he forbade me from saying anything after I saw him punch a girl because she didn’t want to go out with him… He sometimes lets his beasts hurt me when we train together, saying that I’m too weak and need real experience—”

    *CRACK*

    Something crunched behind his back and Asterios turned around. The Marquess looked quite tense as he was standing by his armchair with Selene’s knives surrounding his throat. One of his hands was resting on the backrest, which now had visible cracks at the spot under his strained palm.

    Asterios chuckled inwardly. His gamble worked better than he first assumed. He walked towards the center of the room and glanced down at Roz.

    “I shouldn’t pry into your family’s internal affairs too much, Marquess Richtenstein, so I’ll leave the rest to you. Now then, as I was saying… I’ll actually give you three days to fix everything up. I would feel bad if I had to get rid of such an admirable girl. But, if you fail to meet the deadline…”

    He stared the man right into the eyes and focused his all on releasing as much of the scorching hot spiritual energy as he physically could. A crimson, misty aura enveloped Ast’s body and the air in the room got so heavy it was starting to get hard to breathe.

    Then, an immense bloodlust suddenly appeared by their sides and everyone except Asterios turned their eyes towards the black-haired girl who started emitting ferocious growls while also adding her own pressure to the mix as she stared down the Marquees.

    To top all of that, a wave of powerful, spiritual energy exploded on the opposite side of the panthergirl, immediately creating intense turmoil in the chamber and sending many books or documents into the air.

    Everyone turned their gazes again and saw the white-haired lady starting to slowly rise from the ground in the midst of this small, spiritual, gravity storm which was creating chaos in the office by lifting up countless objects present in the chamber. Not one but three tails were now visible behind her back and her eyes were glowing in white.

    Selene waved her hand to the side and a huge part of the wall was blown into pieces with a loud boom. Miria walked through the room and stood by her side. The two stared at Asterios, who stayed in place for the whole ordeal, still glaring at the Marquess who just returned his eyes to him.

    Asterios didn’t finish his sentence, leaving the ending open to their interpretation. He nonchalantly started walking away to join Selene and Miria. When the three of them turned towards the edge of the destroyed wall which led outside, he stopped and glanced back at Roz.

    “And one more thing. If I ever hear anything connected to you and anyone from the Nobelle family... Especially their eldest daughter… Let’s say you would have been better not being born into this world.”

    He returned his gaze to the front and took a step forward alongside Miria and floating Selene. Bluish, spiritual platforms appeared in the air and the two of them started walking down towards the ground, releasing soft, ceramic tink with each step.

    After they disappeared from the Richtenstein’s family sight, all the objects fell to the ground with a thud and the intimidating pressure disappeared. Everyone gasped for air. Roz struggled to lift himself up to his knees and glared at his sister to his left.

    Before he could utter a word, he heard heavy footsteps coming from the right and turned his eyes towards the source. His father stopped above him and looked down. Roz shivered. Never in his life had he seen this expression on his father’s face. And it certainly wasn’t an overjoyed one.
     
  16. Saileri

    Saileri Active Member

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    Chapter 55 – You Are My Everything
    After they reached the ground, Selene withdrew her Awakened state. Asterios glanced back at the hole in the building’s first floor and sighed. He did not plan on making such a spectacular exit, but it would be a lie if he said that Selene didn’t create a perfect opportunity for them to leave with an everlasting impact. Now, everything was left in the hands of the Marquess.

    “That was amazing, Master! Almost everything went as you planned! Well, maybe half of it actually… but still! Your cold acting was on point too!” Miria happily praised Asterios while jumping in front of him.

    He chuckled and showed a wry smile. “Not all of that had been acting though,” he said while glancing down at his hand closed into a fist. “Come on. Let’s not spend any more time here than necessary. We can talk about everything at home.”

    Asterios asked Eru to cover his face again as the pixie was still present in his body, waiting for further commands. The mischievous spirit was now a little bit nervous after seeing everything that transpired and experiencing Ast’s internal energy first-hand, and obeyed immediately, choosing not to risk annoying the man with its usual, frisky behavior.

    The trio circled the mansion and returned to its front, where currently a few people were examining the regular tunnel that spanned through the bushy maze. Amongst them, he recognized the gardener they met on their way here.

    Asterios decided that with his previous show, this little act was now completely unnecessary. He initially planned to have it serve as an example of his overbearing confidence, but what happened in the office worked way better than drilling a hole in some plants.

    ~Eru, I know we’ve agreed only on the appearance change, but would you be able to fix this if I made another offering?”~ he asked the pixie mentally.

    ~Of course! Making some bushes grow is nothing for an Earth Pixie! I’ll throw that one as a freebie for you as thanks for this amusing spectacle, ehehehe…~

    A little bit of nervousness could be discerned in its laughter at the end and Asterios felt slightly bad for most likely intimidating the pixie by accident, but he chose not to overcomplicate things and accepted Eru’s goodwill, even if it was more of a desperate attempt to save itself from getting on his bad side.

    With that set, the party nonchalantly strolled through the first ‘gate’ Selene created in the plants, completely ignoring the gathering around it. As they passed through it, the ground and sliced ends of the small branches sprouted fresh stalks and leaves, covering the missing part almost in an instant. The tall fence looked now exactly like it did before getting culled by the foxkin.

    This repeated for every single hole and the party soon finished their short journey through the destroyed maze. They quickly left through the main gate, looked around to check for any commotion—which, fortunately, didn’t occur—and Ast ordered the girls to go back to their realm while he walked the remaining distance alone so that fewer people saw them.

    It was slowly getting dark when he finally reached his home and went through the front door. He thanked Eru for its help and sent the pixie back to its realm. There was light in the guest room so he stopped by it to take a peek.

    His mother and Tina were still sitting there, both looking quite anxious. The former was gazing into her already cold tea while the latter was staring out of the window consumed by her thoughts. Asterios coughed to announce his return and the women's eyes instantly snapped onto him.

    “Asti…” Kindra called out to him in a quiet voice after glancing into Ast’s still crimson eyes.

    “Everything will be resolved in a few days. I’m currently completely drained so I’d appreciate it if we could talk about it in the morning.” He smiled kindly at his mother and she nodded softly.

    Asterios then started walking away but stopped before disappearing behind the empty door frame, moving his gaze onto Tina. He smiled at her too.

    “Thank you for taking care of my mom. You don’t need to worry about Roz’s words anymore. He won’t be bothering you ever again.”

    Tina’s eyes widened a little as she thought about possible implications of his statement, but deep down, she felt glad to hear it, especially from the man she liked, and it showed on her face in the form of a slight blush.

    She averted her gaze to the side. “It was given… There’s no need for thanks…”

    “Don’t say that. I’ll be sure to thank you properly later. You should head home now before it gets too late. Your family must have been worried.”

    She quickly returned her eyes to Asterios just to catch his waving hand move out of their sight. The inside of her chest felt warmer. There was something different about him and it definitely wasn’t his differently colored eyes and hair. She felt like he was less indifferent towards her somehow.

    Tina suddenly realized she was staring at the same point in space for many seconds and glanced to the side to see Ast’s mother looking at her with a soft smile. Her cheeks suddenly grew even hotter and she hastily stood up while dropping her gaze to the ground and patting out her clothes.

    “T-thank you for your hospitality, Miss Kindra! I’ll be taking my leave now then!” she quickly announced, stuttering a little from the hurry, and beelined straight for the exit after bowing respectfully.

    Kindra giggled softly. “It looks like my little Asti is finally growing into a fine man.”

    Meanwhile, Asterios arrived in his room, and the moment he stepped inside, all of that fiery momentum disappeared, allowing him to leave that awakened state he was in since the moment he set foot back in his house after returning from the journey. A wave of exhaustion passed through his whole body and he fell face-first onto his bed while groaning.

    Two, dark crimson gates arose from the ground and his companions appeared in Ast’s bedroom. They both sat down on the bed by each of his sides. Miria placed her hand on his back and grazed over it gently.

    “Is everything okay, Master?”

    He sighed. Deeply. “Yeah. All is fine.” A moment of silence followed until Asterios sighed again. “Okay, maybe it’s not.”

    Both girls waited for him to continue.

    “I almost completely lost control over my emotions. I barely withheld from doing something impossible to undo at least a few times. It wasn’t as if something had fully taken over me but more like there was something fanning the flames of my anger the whole time, urging me to not think about consequences and just slaughter those who wronged me and my loved ones. I’ve never felt like that.”

    He stopped for a moment. Miria was going to say something but Asterios beat her to it.

    “No. That’s wrong. It wasn’t the first time. Something similar happened once in the past when my mother was assaulted by a thug. I felt rage back then too but it wasn’t as strong as today. Though, I did not manage to tame it down that day and killed the man.”

    “Perhaps it’s connected to that fiery energy you possess, my Lord?” Selene suggested.

    “It’s possible. I felt it back then too. That scorching hot sensation spreading through my body. But, it was much more suppressed. By something. Something that was slowly cracking every time strong emotions were involved. And since it did not happen that often after I steeled myself against Roz’s attempts, it held up for a long time. That is until the day when Mii died in my arms. I clearly remember the sensation of something literally shattering around my body.”

    Silence fell again as all three of them thought about it. Miria was much more familiar with these feelings and events as she dove into Ast’s mind many times now and they completely shared most of their lives’ history with each other. Selene was aware of his past but she wasn’t as deeply connected to Asterios yet, even if they already had opened their minds to each other since she did not mind it in the slightest.

    “What was that barrier? Why was it there? How did it come to be? Was it something I was naturally born with or was it placed on me artificially?” Asterios pondered out loud.

    “What if…” Miria joined him. “What if it’s something related to your real parents? Maybe it was their doing? Or it was something hereditary… Or like a curse or something…”

    “It’s not impossible. The only way to figure that out would be to start researching my past. All I know right now is that I was the sole survivor of a bandit’s raid and everyone in the village died—including my parents—shortly after I was born. I was saved by Kindra who was passing by with a caravan towards Rosewind to work in her family’s store here. They own the brand.”

    Asterios sighed heavily. There were just so many mysteries he did not completely comprehend, be it linked to this weird change he experienced or his whole past. He was slowly starting to feel sleepy and neither Miria nor Selene pressed the topic further. There was no rush anywhere. They could focus on that after everything connected to the current issue was taken care of.

    Miria decided to stay by his side for the night and expected Selene to return back to their world soon after Asterios turned around and plopped himself on the bed properly, lying on his back while staring into the ceiling, but she insisted on staying this time.

    Selene laid herself down on his left side and turned her back to Asterios. Her bushy tail moved up and she glanced at him over her shoulder.

    “It’s said that you’ll wake up feeling perfectly rested and full of energy after falling asleep with a Spiritual Fox’s tail in your arms. I shall lend you mine for tonight, my Lord,” she said with a smile.

    He stared at the bushy cloud slowly moving in front of his eyes and chuckled softly. “I guess it would be rude for me to decline such an offer.”

    Asterios rolled onto his left side and allowed Selene to wiggle closer to him until her soft tail completely covered the front of his body and his face. He carefully wrapped his arms around it and hugged it gently.

    He knew how pleasant it was in touch from his previous attempt at combing it, but embracing this silky-smooth piece of heaven like this was a completely different experience. It was truly calming for the mind.

    Miria brought her own tail to her front and stared at it with a slightly dejected expression. Hers was incomparably thinner and there was no way she could do something like that for him. Asterios sensed her distress and tilted his head to the back.

    “It seems to be a little cold tonight. And my back is completely exposed like this. Do you think you could do something about that?”

    She instantly let go of her tail and looked around to fulfill her master’s request. She tried pulling on the covers, but both Ast and Selene were lying on top of them, rendering her attempt fruitless. Her eyes fell on the free pillow next to Ast’s head, but it seemed too small to do the job.

    Asterios chuckled again when seeing her frantically scan the room to look for anything that would serve the purpose properly.

    “I’m pretty sure we need something warm.”

    She glanced at him and noticed the smile on Ast’s lips. Her cheeks instantly grew flushed after she realized what he really meant from the very beginning. She giggled awkwardly and moved closer to him, affectionately snuggling herself to Ast’s back. Her arms went around his sides and tightly embraced his chest while she nuzzled her face to the nape of his neck.

    “Perfect. I don’t think there’s anything better than this,” he said to her and moved his head to the front.

    “You are welcome…” she quietly whispered back.

    Miria enjoyed being the one to act as a big spoon this time and very much liked embracing her mate this way while Selene dozed off to the pleasant sensation of having her fluffy tail caressed even before the panthergirl finished accomplishing the task given her by Asterios. But, neither of them noticed that fact.

    As for Asterios, he stayed awake the longest. His mind was completely calm as he experienced warmth surrounding almost his whole body. He thought about a few things while in that state and soon joined the peacefully sleeping girls, falling into slumber at last.

    The next morning, all of them woke up feeling better than ever. Selene left not long after they sat up on the bed, allowing Miria to show her affection to Asterios without being affected by her presence. The panthergirl was starting to notice a pattern there. Nevertheless, she presented him with a gentle good morning kiss and also returned home.

    Asterios hastily took a shower, dressed up, and walked down to the dining room. His mother was already there as he expected. She looked at him and smiled softly. He knew she was happy that he was fine and trusted his words from yesterday, but he spent enough time around the woman to easily notice how nervous she was, even if she tried to hide it. He could tell just by the way Kindra held her teacup with both hands tightly around it.

    He came closer and moved one of the chairs to her side, sitting down near his mother. Then, he wrapped his arm around the woman and left a soft peck on her cheek.

    “No one died this time, mom.”

    Kindra exhaled in relief and glanced at him with an apologetic expression. “Of course you’d figure out what I’m thinking… I’m sorry… I should be glad you are okay, but instead I—”

    He placed a finger on her mouth and shushed his mother down. “It’s fine. I know you were worried more about possible consequences from such a thing happening than anything else.”

    She nodded faintly. “So…”

    “It’s as I said yesterday. I had a serious conversation with a few people and they promised me to resolve everything in three days. It was all a setup. Nothing like that will ever happen again from their side, that you can be sure of. Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if some form of compensation arrived, so be sure to accept it.”

    “Just what did you do to pressure a Marquess family so much…”

    “I just took an example from your work.” Asterios chuckled. “When some employees are acting out of the line you just let their superior know about it, right?”

    She raised her eyebrows at such a comparison. “Is that really all you have done?”

    “Well… I might have played an angry customer role for a bit too…”

    Kindra sighed and shook her head. She dealt with these situations very often so she could easily imagine how much more chaotic it must have looked with royalty involved instead of just a merchant and some client.

    But, she could also see how it could possibly work out. In the end, both the manager of a shop and the head of a noble family had their brand’s image and renown to look after. She had a feeling that this employee Asterios mentioned would suffer much more than just getting fired if word was to spread about their misbehavior.

    She sighed again for the n-th time. “Alright… You never gave me any reason not to trust you and you’ve always been a much more mature boy than all other kids. It feels like you’ve grown up so much recently, though…”

    Asterios chuckled and patted his mother’s shoulder. “What can I say? I might have met one or two people who could have affected me at least a bit. Even I know I’ve changed a little since that day…”

    “Certainly. And there’s one that you still haven’t introduced to me. Your mom is getting worried that you might be turning into a playboy behind her back.”

    He playfully rolled his eyes. “Oh, come on. It’s not like that with her. She is just my companion.”

    “You are not denying the other one though. Was my son finally made into a man?” She giggled.

    “Like you are the one to talk.” He poked her forehead with his finger, getting a little embarrassed by the topic. Asterios didn’t want to lie about him and Miria though.

    Kindra massaged her forehead and pouted. “It's still many years too early for you to mock me about that! Even if you have graduated sooner than me!”

    He could not hold himself back and laughed openly, taking a deep breath after calming himself down.

    “Thanks, mom. These two incredible ladies already cheered me up, but I appreciate your efforts. Always.”

    “Oh, stop it! You’ll make me blush!”

    Her cheeks did in fact grow a little redder from the received gratitude. Asterios hugged Kindra and she embraced him back, happy that everything seemed to be truly alright after this short period of troubles.

    “Okay. I need to thank Tina too. Today should be a break day so I’ll hopefully catch her at home.” Asterios kissed his mother on the cheek again and stood up.

    Before leaving the dining room, he stopped for a moment in the doorway and looked at the kitchenware. Kindra obviously noticed that and instantly spoke up.

    “I know you still have something to say. Don’t underestimate your mother’s senses.”

    He smiled wryly and turned around. “I’m completely confident that everything will be fine from now on, but… I think you still should move out…”

    Her eyes widened, but she stayed silent, waiting for him to continue.

    “I obviously would go with you. Don’t think that I would ever consider sending you away somewhere alone. Perhaps we could go back to your birthplace, Tyrienheim. To your family. I’m pretty sure you did not run away from them.” He chuckled a little. “We could ask for your transfer to the main branch there. I’m sure they would have nothing against it. I know you might have made many friends here, but I still don’t feel right leaving you around these guys, even if they would never—”

    While he talked, Kindra stood up and walked up to him. She pressed her finger on his mouth to shush him down this time.

    “There’s nothing more important to me than you. My home is where you are; where you can come back. I have friends back there as I have here, so don’t you worry about it. But… if we were to move there… then you…”

    “Yes. I’d want to pay a visit to Teira, be it on our way there or anytime after.”

    She nodded and lowered her gaze. “Thought so. I guess it’s finally that time. For you to look for answers by yourself.”

    Asterios moved his mother’s hand from his lips to his cheek and squeezed it.

    “You will always be my mom, no matter what. Even if I find out that my biological mother miraculously survived, nothing will change. I am who I am thanks to you.”

    Little tears started forming in Kindra’s eyes and she hastily hugged Asterios close to hide them from his sight. He gently brushed through her hair as they stood there together. After a moment, his mother took a deep breath and stepped away.

    “And to think that I was so afraid of becoming a mother when I was considering taking you in. Yet, I can’t imagine myself living any other way now. I feel a little bad for saying this considering how it came to be, but you are the best thing that happened to me in my life. Even if I was only 15 at that time. Anyway! I always knew this day would come. I just wish I could help you more, but I don’t know anything…”

    “You’ve done plenty. It’s on me now. It could very well end the day after I start looking into it, only confirming what we were told before. But, we can never know if we don’t try.”

    Kindra nodded. “You are right. Now go. And don’t forget to tell your girlfriend you are moving out while you are at it.”

    Asterios rolled his eyes again and sighed. “Mom…”

    She winked at him with her tongue out and pushed Asterios out of the room until the very front door, stopping only after she pretty much threw him out, waving at Asterios with a smile from the doorstep as he walked away.