There was a soft feminine sigh.
Even a complete amateur could detect the difference in the extremely high quality incense hanging in the air. The building had been built by the skilled hands of the rare carpenters who specialized in shrines and truly had been designated living national treasures. The breath of history there was so strong that it was rumored to stand out too much among the fake sets of samurai movies and Taiga dramas. It was most likely the largest scale piece of Japanese architecture in existence.
That green paradise covered a large chunk of the priciest land in Tokyo’s Akasaka district.
It was the Ushigashira Shrine.
More specifically, this was the Dragon Palace Chamber.
Once the girl known in the other world as Filinion passed through the Gate and Signed Out, her clothing changed to a bright red and white shrine maiden outfit. But unlike Beatrice, her appearance did not change much. Her long, fluffy, and blonde hair was held back in a hair tie that looked like a long white tube. Glasses adorned her face, but they had swirly coke-bottle lenses. Glasses technology had advanced well beyond that, but her complex mixture of near- and far-sightedness required this kind of unfashionable and special-ordered option.
Her hair and glasses did not match the shrine maiden outfit in the slightest, but hair color and sight were genetic and there was nothing she could do about it.
(And then there’s...this.)
She looked a little annoyed as her eyes dropped to her own chest.
It was even larger than in the other world. It was said kimonos and other Japanese clothing did not mix well with large breasts, but she felt like the shrine maiden outfit made them stand out even more.
However, her life was proof enough that no amount of cursing her birth would slow their growth.
There were times when one was entirely powerless. She had learned that all the way back in the spring of her 5th year in elementary school, so she knew that directing her anger at the unfairness of the world would accomplish nothing.
“I beseech thee, I beseech thee, oh god...”
Those words were meant as a religious ritual, but they had so permeated her being that they slipped out like someone humming as they cooked. And in a tatami-floored shrine larger than a governor’s mansion in a samurai movie, the blonde shrine maiden pulled out a smartphone.
She checked her email, SNS comments, and voicemail. She had so many unread messages piled up that she did not feel like checking through them. She had only been away for 2 or 3 days and it was already this bad. But she had to check them and she found a variety of things: entirely worthless direct messages, an alert about having your smartphone hijacked at suspicious wireless hotspots and then having your Experience Points manipulated by someone else, homework assignments and invitations to hang out from her Shinto college, arrangements for a meeting concerning a banquet for the Yokohama Summit, and a wrong number. That last one was quite rare in this day and age when everyone just used their phone’s address book. Sensing destiny in that rarity, she saved that one. And lastly...
A demand for an observation report on Holy Swordswoman Beatrice.
Her fingers briefly stopped.
She threw out that email while singing a nursery rhyme about a goat.
That kind of ruined her mood, so she decided to wait until later before unlocking new Magic with the Experience Points she had earned. She rudely walked through the giant shrine with smartphone in hand and then spoke in a voice loud enough to fill the entire space.
“Grandmother!? I’m back, grandmother!!”
“What’s that racket for? Why is the older daughter such a screw-up...?”
“I’m exhausted, grandmother. I’d love some sukiyaki.”
“Repeat our shrine’s name to yourself and try that again, you moron.”
She heard a voice, but the old woman was nowhere to be seen. It was a lot like receiving an answer from someone in the attic, but she knew she would not find anyone if she checked there. This had already been “normal” by the time she was born and she had never actually seen the old woman.
But if she spoke, she would always receive an answer and she always found the bath ready or her favorite food prepared when she wanted to bathe or eat. She called this her grandmother, but it was not actually her grandmother. Her real grandmother would claim it was their shrine’s god, but always with a joking look on her face.
It was a strange relationship.
(Of course, it might just be someone speaking through a speaking tube or something.)
But that aside...
“It might be called the Ushigashira Shrine, but it’s not like we actually worship a cow god, right? It refers to being given a cow’s head, so it’s about butchering them into beef to eat. We only took on this name as a symbol of the new culture that began in the Meiji era. We’re like Dejima for the Imperial Household Agency and all its more ancient traditions. We act as the antenna that gathers all the knowledge and techniques we can, and once it’s clear they don’t have to worry about them destroying the culture around it, they can gradually incorporate it into the traditions. Isn’t that what we do?”
And the most recent example of that was Magic.
That was one of the reasons she was so involved in the alternate world of Ground’s Nir.
“So there’s nothing wrong with us eating beef. In fact, I think we should be eating as much beef as we can, grandmother. And so I want sukiyaki.”
“Honestly, it’s probably that way you make these silly arguments to justify your desires that you were hit by divine punishment.”
“I’m talking about those needlessly swollen breasts.”
The glasses shrine maiden with her fluffy blonde hair held back in a long tube shape quickly crossed her hands in front of her chest.
But despite that perfect pose of defense, they still stuck out around her hands, making it all the more erotic. And it was certainly out of place for a shrine maiden.
“My boobs have nothing to do with this! Nothing at all!!”
“They cause so many problems when they’re too big, you know? Should this old lady tell you what path awaits you once you begin to age?”
She tearfully protested but only received cackling laughter in response. And once she was done teasing the shrine maiden, the “voice from the attic” changed the subject.
“We aren’t some dogs of the PSIA. Those bureaucrats in business suits may be asking you to monitor that Holy Swordswoman, but that doesn’t matter. If it isn’t part of our primary job, just ignore it. ...So aside from that, how were things in Ground’s Nir?”
The fluffy blonde-haired shrine maiden in glasses was thankful that this was the normal way of things.
She would never admit it, but she was grateful for a guardian who could detect her refusal to betray her friend, support her in that, and take the blame for that softness inside her.
“It was a lot of fun. So much so that I found myself forgetting all about the real world.”
Beatrice ran across a strange sight.
She was in the usual forest as she followed the path to Boo Boo’s leaf house.
Suddenly, she heard a sharp female voice from behind the trees.
“Pick up the pace!!”
She then heard rustling in the underbrush.
She frowned and looked over to find a group casually running a short distance away. They were all of different ages, sexes, outfits, and Jobs. They slipped between trees and around obstacles like artificial wood panels while taking the shortest route to the woman yelling at them.
The woman had very white blonde hair tied in a braid and then tied in a large loop on her back that reached down to her waist. She wore what looked like Western mourning clothes with heavy boots added on, but that was not too unusual in this alternate world. Also, her chest beat Beatrice’s.
(Is she a Summoner? No, she’s using a bow, so maybe a Summon Hunter. Either way, that’s rare.)
“You should be able to shorten it further and you’re too inaccurate! What do you think you’re doing here!?”
They all had a large box on their back.
Whenever the woman in the center looked inside one, she would give an exasperated sigh.
As for what they contained...
(Wow, those are Bitesize Duck Eggs. What a waste. I bet Boo Boo would be looking pretty sad right now.)
The boxes were packed full of bird eggs the size of ping pong balls, but if even 2 or 3 of them were broken, the woman would say the runner had failed.
“You aren’t allowed this kind of failure in an actual battle. And you, how many ribbons did you find tied on the branches on the way here? Tell me the number, the colors, and the locations.”
“Unacceptable. Redo it all from the beginning!! The terrain itself changes periodically in the actual Labyrinth. And you can’t spend days going out of your way to map it all. You need to constantly monitor the terrain as you move around so you can accurately record and share information on even the smallest changes! Measure distances in paces! You’ll be here until you can do all that. Now get going!!”
Beatrice started wondering if this was basic training for a Guild.
With the support of the Percentage-type Magic that formed their clothing, they could produce enough strength to slay a mid-level Chimaera or Griffon barehanded, but that was only placing a percentage modifier on their original body’s ability. If it was STRx200%, it would double their strength. It could sound cruel, but if your base value was low, equipment with a high percentage modifier would be wasted on you. For that reason, increasing one’s base strength could not be taken lightly.
(Can’t they just do that at a gym back in the original world?)
If they wanted to put a decent burden on their body to develop their muscles, the Percentage-type support actually got in the way. It was like trying to weightlift while wearing a powered suit. However, this may have been for the Guild’s convenience. If the members were scattered across different countries and continents around the world, they would only be able to gather here.
It was still a strange sight to Beatrice, but then her eyes met those of the woman in the center of the group.
She gave a fake-looking smile that was as bright as the sun in the sky and she bowed.
“I pray you have a wonderful day.”
And she offered a prayer.
The ring on her left hand’s ring finger sparkled like a gold tooth in a nouveau riche old man’s mouth.
Still confused, Beatrice tilted her head and continued on to Boo Boo’s house.
She was only left with the feeling that she had run across something weird.
As she walked through the forest with questions filling her head, she heard a rustling in the underbrush next to her.
Oh, no. Is it more of that group? she wondered, but it was not.
“What is it, Beatrice? Are you out looking for food too?”
She finally sighed and shook her head.
“I thought I would stop by your house, but...what are you doing, Boo Boo? What’s with the giant basket on your back?”
“I’m taking my vegetables to the vegetable stand.”
This sounded interesting, so she followed him to a small clearing in the forest. It was not as large as a field or a thicket. The space was only about the perfect size for a single-person tent and it had probably formed because a humongous mushroom called a Table Shroom had sucked all of the nutrients from the soil. It was rumored that mushroom’s spores stimulated animals’ hunger, making them eat there and drop bits of food to be absorbed into the soil, but there was no real evidence of that.
Boo Boo lowered the basket from his back, pulled out some Nyandetta Fruit and Molasses Plant, and placed them on the mushroom which was about the size of a small dinner table.
“Anyone can take these vegetables.”
“So you’ve learned how to be a cultured man who does volunteer work?”
“I feel like you’re making fun of me. And what’s volunteer work?”
While he said that, he picked up the brick-like blocks of dried plants and beeswax that were already sitting on the giant mushroom umbrella. He then put them in his basket.
“With these, I’ll be fine even on windy days. The fire won’t go out.”
“Solid fuel? This feels more like an unmanned bartering station than volunteer work. But, Boo Boo, why not pile up some handy stones to make a stove? Even if you just surround the fire on three sides like this, it should be much less affected by the wind.”
“I don’t want to make any furniture too big or heavy to carry around with me. Then I’ll be reluctant to move. It’s best to have things I can carry with me if my forest home goes away.”
“Ow! Squeal! Beatrice, why are you punching my waist!?”
Meanwhile, Beatrice and Boo Boo turned away from the forest vegetable stand.
And after walking a short while, they heard some rustling behind them. The Holy Swordswoman turned around to find a few other men and women approaching the vegetable stand. They had flowing blonde hair and beautiful faces. They looked human enough, but they had pointed ears and their clothing had none of the identifying traits of Percentage-style Magic.
They were probably Elves or some other Nonhuman species.
“There are more vegetables here.”
“Oh, thank goodness.”
Beatrice smiled when she saw them celebrating.
“There’s a violent Iberian Orc wandering these woods. Hunting and gathering while making sure we don’t run into that monster isn’t easy, so this vegetable stand is a real blessing.”
She moved on reflex.
The Holy Swordswoman flared up and tried to turn back, but Boo Boo’s large hand rubbed her head.
“Leave them be,” he said.
“But you’re the one that left those vegetables!!”
“If they knew it was me, no one would come to get them. So we can’t tell them.”
She did not like it, but there was nothing she could do to change it.
Boo Boo had a long and difficult road ahead of him if he was make friends like he wanted.
But even as she thought that, Beatrice did not realize just how reassuring it was to him that he had at least one person who would think that for him.
Beatrice noticed something when she arrived at Boo Boo’s leaf house.
“Hey, Boo Boo. Haven’t you gotten a lot more stuff lately?”
Beatrice had been exploring the Labyrinth with Boo Boo recently. When they defeated a Gimmick, they gained the gears that could be used as currency, but she doubted he was using those to shop. Sadly, Boo Boo’s appearance made it difficult for him to visit the inn town.
That suggested that the unmanned bartering spot they had visited must have had a wide selection.
“Almost all of these are things the Nun brought to the vegetable stand. I carelessly ran across her near the vegetable stand, but she didn’t run away when she saw me.”
Boo Boo pointed at the objects scattered around his leaf house.
“This is a metal pot. I can make more tasty foods with it. This is a wood float. I don’t have to worry when I fall in the water with it.”
As he explained what it all was, he started rubbing his fangs with something like a large tropical leaf.
“Boo Boo, what is that?”
“Nn, this is a Blade-Honing Leaf the Nun gave me. I use it to groom myself!”
Iberian Orcs may have liked long and large fangs. Even in the natural environment of the planet Beatrice had been born on, moose had apparently developed their horns more to show off than to attack.
“The Nun said it must be like a man’s ‘you-know-what’.”
Beatrice had nothing in her mouth, but she still had trouble breathing like she was choking. Boo Boo only looked confused. The Holy Swordswoman did not want him to ask any awkward questions, so she did her best to change the subject.
“Th-then, um, what is that thing that looks like a keychain?”
“Oh. That’s the Circle.”
The name was too straightforward to give her any kind of clue. A ball of wood about the size of a ping pong ball had been covered in cloth and then a thin chain had been attached like it was a keychain, but she had no idea what it was for.
It looked adorable enough, but Beatrice heard something like grinding teeth. Surprisingly it came from above. She glanced up and saw the small light of a Fairy floating near the ceiling.
(Huh? Is the Fairy jealous because she was trying to repay him by making furniture and tools for him?)
Boo Boo was entirely oblivious to that slight tension.
And then a new visitor arrived.
Fairy Queen Sutriona poked her head in. Her voice sounded somehow weak, like she had a small fish bone caught in her throat.
“Do you know where my ear pick is? I’ve looked all over and this is the only place I haven’t checked.”
“Boo? What is an ear pick?”
“Eh? Then how do you clean your ears, Boo Boo?”
Beatrice asked without thinking, but he only tilted his head. It was true wild dogs and cats went their whole lives without cleaning out their ears and Iberian Orcs might be the same, but it was shocking to the Holy Swordswoman.
Meanwhile, Sutriona walked in and searched the house without asking permission.
“I came here to beg for dinner last night...and then I filled up on bat stewed in Milk Coconut. Then I just lay down and... Right, I slept here for a while, so...there it is! My ear pick!!”
Beatrice was a little irritated by some of what she heard, but Sutriona was not even looking her way. She either really liked the ear pick or her ears were bothering her because she immediately stuck the end in her ear while humming.
And Boo Boo cried out when he saw it.
“Wh-what’s all the noise for? Don’t scare me like that.”
“Sutriona, are you tightening a screw in your head!?”
“No, you moron!! Does it look like I have a screw loose!?”
The silver-haired girl shouted back, but Beatrice saw this as her chance and started thinking. Or rather, she wanted to clean out Boo Boo’s ears.
“I-I’m scared! Something’s going in my head!!”
“It’s okay, Boo Boo. Now don’t move.”
Boo Boo had used his incredible strength to beat down a dragon measuring more than 1000 meters, but a single ear pick caused him to squeeze his eyes shut and tense up his shoulders and his neck. It was an adorable sight.
Their great height difference prevented him from resting in her lap like they were lovers, so Boo Boo was sitting down while Beatrice stretched up on her tiptoes to peer into his ear and use the ear pick she had borrowed from Sutriona.
She could see inside easily enough thanks to the Magic flame (on her ahoge) she used as a light, but Boo Boo’s ears were very different from a human’s.
“Oh, wow. It just keeps coming out! Ah ha ha!! Boo Boo, you’re amazing! I think I found the mother lode!!”
Beatrice sounded as excited as someone pulling off an impressive chain in a puzzle game. She had only found filth and it may have been nothing to celebrate, but it was like getting a bunch of filth from behind a dresser or window frame with some famous cleaning spokesman’s gimmicky tool. Logic was irrelevant here. It was more about the sensory joy and achievement.
“Beatrice, don’t sound so confused while doing something so important! Tremble tremble. What’s wrong with my head? You might have tightened the screw too much and I’ll explode!!”
She of course could not do anything like that with a mere ear pick.
“The ear pick can’t reach all the way inside...”
“Well, it is meant for me,” pointed out Sutriona.
“Oh, honestly! I want to get deeper! I can see the mother lode in there, but I can’t reach it!!”
She struggled some more, but it was no use.
The Holy Swordswoman pulled the ear pick from Boo Boo’s ear and spun it around in her hand.
“I think I need one made specifically for you... I hope there’s a Mixing expert willing to make one in the inn town.”
“I can’t do that.”
The glasses cow known as White Witch Filinion was entirely useless.
They were in a bar/inn in the inn town. With a dead look in her eyes, Beatrice drew an X through the name Filinion on her frames drawn with fire illusion Magic, so Filinion shook her hands back and forth and gave the other girl a stiff smile.
“I mean, it’s a category error. My specialty is recovery potions. Mixing doesn’t let you make just anything, you know? There are all sorts of detailed categories.”
“But an ear pick is...”
“Not a form of medicine. Anyone could set up shop at a rate of 3000 yen for 30 minutes.”
That sounded pretty sketchy, but that was not the point that Beatrice wanted to argue.
“That means I’ll have to find someone else to Mix for me. Um...”
“You need the construction type. You want someone who works with wood instead of metal, who provides logistical support in the inn town instead of directly exploring the Labyrinth, and who earns Experience Points by selling consumable goods. ...A Craftsman would probably be your best bet.”
As they discussed that, a familiar face quite roughly plopped down in an empty seat at their table.
It was Fighter Priest Armelina.
“Hey there, you two! I’m exhausted after a long day at work, so buy me something cold to drink.”
“Hell no. If you’re back from the Labyrinth, you’ve got to have a ton of gears.”
“I know you know I just stuffed everything in my bag after defeating the Gimmicks and Traps. Checking through it all and dividing it out comes later.”
The gears were used as currency in the inn town because they were filled with plenty of Experience Points. And it was true that rummaging through your bag after trudging back into town was like asking robbers to surround you.
“I know I picked up a ton of stuff, so I’ll pay you back later. Oh, I know... I get a discount here, but I’ll pay you back full price. That way you actually make some money. Anyway, just give me something to driiiink.”
“Oh, you don’t know, Beatrice?” nonchalantly replied Filinion.
The White Witch and Fighter Priest both reached into their pocket and pulled out something like a keychain they held between their fingers.
It was a small ball with a thin chain attached.
“It’s called a Circle.”
“That’s a pretty straightforward name.”
Beatrice placed a red line between some of the frames since Boo Boo had had one too, but then Filinion opened her mouth again.
“But, but. With one of these, a lot of the shops will give you discount or even serve you from a secret menu. And they’re starting to be a necessity when performing straw millionaire style Trades. After all, the trick is to buy low and sell high.”
Beatrice’s head was still filled with “???” over what the Circles even were, but then Filinion said something else.
“Oh, come to think of it, you might be able to use her shop, Beatrice.”
Yes, hadn’t Boo Boo mentioned it? He had run across someone near the forest vegetable stand. And most everything in his leaf house was something she had brought to the vegetable stand.
“The Nun who prepared our swimsuits before. You might be able to ask her to make a special order ear pick.”
How were the mysterious Circle keychains and the Nun connected?
That question would be answered once Beatrice actually visited her.
After following a map she displayed in the air using fire illusion Magic, she arrived at the Gold Vein District which was known as an entertainment district. The inn town’s different districts could look very different and this one showed just how much excess fat humans carried around.
There was a large casino, an outdoor theatre, and a round battle arena. There was also a public bath that used hot spring water brought in from the northern mountains. The many forms flying by overhead were from a Griffon race that used giant balloons chained to the ground instead of corner posts. As was often the case around gambling establishments, there were also plenty of bars and dance halls. And no matter how well they were trained, Griffons were still animals, so one had to be careful to avoid any extra-large Griffon droppings that might fall from the sky.
The multiple rings that looked like crop circles on a distant hill must have been for a game of ultra-large darts. Metal beams were launched with Magic to see who could get theirs closest to the center.
The spaces too small for a building had been made into herb gardens. The plants looked much less healthy than those in Boo Boo’s garden, so this may have been the results of the humans’ cultivation research that Filinion had mentioned. And even those filler gardens were clearly meant to make some money.
This part of the city was entirely honest to its desires.
Countless gears changed hands along with the Experience Points contained within, so this was another way to learn Magic and obtain Pieces. But forgetting about exploring the Labyrinth and specializing in this seemed somehow wrong. It was like the ostrich that had forgotten how to fly.
“Huh? I just saw you, Beatrice.”
“What are you doing here, Armelina? I thought you were exhausted after getting back from the Labyrinth.”
The Holy Swordswoman sounded annoyed, but the Fighter Priest laughed shamelessly (despite being a priest).
“Heh heh. That’s exactly why I’m here. I worked up a sweat defeating those Gimmicks and earning these gears, so I wanted to invest them in a sure thing: baccarat, poker, craps, and roulette. Don’t you underestimate Armelina, Queen of the Table Games.”
She would be a laughing stock if she was broke and simply calling herself that, but Armelina had actually won so much that a few casinos had banned her from ever returning. She may have learned to lose every once in a while so the owners could keep some pride. It was starting to sound like a joke that her Job was of the priest variety.
“More importantly, if you’re here in the Gold Vein District, should I assume the battle arena’s Cheating Queen Beatrice is making her glorious return to the death matches? If so, I’m betting everything I’ve got on you! I can’t lose!!”
“God, no. What a pain. And you and I both know they want to see me lose so badly they’d set me up against something utterly ridiculous! Besides, I only ever fought there because I was pissed that they tried to capture Boo Boo for some kind of special event.”
The battle arena had begun as an experiment ground to see if destroyed Gimmicks could be brought up out of the Labyrinth, rebuilt, and reactivated as human pawns. That had never worked, so it was a shell of its former self.
“Chehh. They apparently have some new queen, but it’s so boring now that you don’t fight there. I think she’s an Ice Waterfall Princess. I bet she’s just itching to take you on, Beatrice.”
“Don’t joke about that. I get the feeling someone like that is going to attack me in the street one of these days.”
“Call me when it happens. I’ll start taking people’s bets on the spot.”
Beatrice was rapidly swallowed up by the atmosphere of the place.
It was overripe and decadent.
“Is Filinion away?”
“Don’t joke. She’s the Griffon racing expert, remember? She uses her obsession with guidebooks to determine the pedigree, muscular strength, stamina, temperament, and condition of all the Griffons lined up there. If she checks their fur, eye color, and scent, she can apparently tell you what they’ve been eating with perfect accuracy. When she joins forces with someone good at predicting the weather, she has almost all the data and is unbeatable.”
The Griffon racing was also the result of some research into taming Ground’s Nir’s Nonhumans and animals for use in exploring the Labyrinth. In the end, it turned out it was too costly and dangerous for anyone but the rare summoning Jobs. All that remained was the right to use some for racing.
“Don’t be so grumpy. There’s nothing wrong with doing this stuff to take a break while also earning some Experience Points. ...And it’s hard for me to enjoy this stuff in reality due to my job, so of course I’m gonna go all out here in Ground’s Nir.”
Armelina waved goodbye and left. Beatrice felt the exhaustion pressing down on her as she watched the other girl leave. The Gold Vein District was just that kind of place. Walking around and breathing the air was enough to drag people’s desires out to the surface.
And that may have been why the lone church in that district of pleasure and gambling looked as adorable as a flower growing through a crack in the asphalt.
However, there was no obvious cross on the roof.
And at the door, a white Nun held a basket made of woven plants as she passed something out to passersby with a smile.
“You are not alone. We all form one big circle.”
“Oh, it’s the Nun!”
“Here you go. I pray we can bring our hearts together into a circle.”
“I never thought something like this would help save me money. I’ve been stuck in a losing streak, so I’m really thankful.”
The teachings seemed to be different too.
The Nun must have noticed the puzzled Holy Swordswoman because she silently approached with oddly strange movements. She wore a white habit that hid as much skin as possible, but her body’s veritable storm of curves was still clearly visible through it. It took all the mental fortitude Beatrice had to focus on the fact that she was above average herself, even if only by a few millimeters.
“These are the Circles. Would you like one?”
The Holy Swordswoman did not entirely understand, but she still took one of the keychain-like Circles.
It seemed to be the Nun’s symbol, perhaps used to invite people to her church. Beatrice finally managed to fill in the Circle entry that was connected to Boo Boo, Filinion, and Armelina.
“I heard you were the one that made our swimsuits before.”
“Oh, do you need another one?”
“No, um, I don’t need a swimsuit, but I would like to ask for something else. It’s about an ear pick.”
“I will hear you out. Please come inside to talk.”
They stepped inside the church’s door.
They moved from a street of pleasure and gambling to the tranquil atmosphere of a church.
It seemed to be modeled after a church’s chapel, but there were no religious symbols here either. For example, the windows were done in the colorful stained glass style, but they did not depict a scene from any kind of story or tradition. They only looked like pieces of colorful glass.
(A church, huh?)
Beatrice had no fixed religious beliefs, so her mind jumped to one of life’s biggest events.
(A wedding. If they have a chapel here in Ground’s Nir...wow, it’s possible I might even be able to wear a wedding dress...)
A maiden-like fantasy briefly entered her mind, but the questions soon followed.
(Hm? With Boo Boo? How would someone as big as him wear a white suit? Oh, no. That one extra piece of information is causing my own ideal vision to crumble away...!!)
“So what was it you wanted to discuss? I am willing to do anything if it will make money for an emergency relief fund. Do you need something Mixed, or are you here to heal your illness?”
Beatrice frowned at that second option, so the Nun clasped her hands in front of her chest.
“I do not know what things are like ‘over there’, but it seems that healing an illness inside Ground’s Nir will also make you healthy ‘over there’. Objects and life forms cannot move back and forth, but anything related to the body’s health seems to remain.”
“Oh, right,” said Beatrice.
That was why that Guild in the forest had gone out of their way to train in Ground’s Nir and why returning through the Gate while badly injured would only end in tragedy. It was always a good idea to heal oneself with Magic before returning.
“So is that why you’re here today?”
“N-no! Cough, cough... What I need is pretty simple. Can you make me an ear pick about this big? It might be large, but I would appreciate it if you made it very carefully.”
Beatrice used both hands to indicate the size of a cutlass worn at a Pirate’s hip. That order would normally receive a quizzical look in response, but the white Nun said nothing, clasped her hands in front of her (large) chest, and smiled.
“That I can prepare for you right away. From what I’ve heard, people prefer those to be very simple without anything like slip resistance.”
“I can introduce you to an excellent craftsman. Hee hee. I originally only wanted to properly Appraise the Treasures from the Labyrinth and the products of Mixing in order to act as an intermediary between those who get into fights over those gears you use as currency.”
“And there is a large difference between just selling the materials and selling a product created by Mixing a combination of those materials. I try to turn them into as much money as I can like that. The noncombat Jobs have to earn Experience Points without leaving the inn town, so when they were having trouble, they seemed to think I was a Nun and I suppose I took advantage of the warm welcome they gave me.”
The people of the inn town did not view Iberian Orcs in a positive light. She did not want to have to answer too many questions here, but she still found her voice rising in a quizzical tone.
Bu the Nun did not seem to mind.
She reached for the hood covering her hair.
“I pray we can bring our hearts together into a circle...”
After reciting that phrase, she removed the hood to reveal the answer.
The Nun had wavy shoulder-length silver hair. And on both sides behind her ears, she had curled goat horns.
“I am also a Nonhuman. I am a Succubus. Since I look like this, I was accepted into the inn town, but I try to understand how it feels for those who are not.”
Beatrice was more than a little surprised.
The inn town was human territory. She had known Sutriona of the Break News used her lovely appearance to play around here, but it was a shock to find another Nonhuman blending in so perfectly.
In fact, she did not look like a Succubus at all.
She seemed far too pure to seduce a man, drag him into bed, and consume his life energy in his dreams.
Of course, that name had only been given to the Ground’s Nir residents by the humans from earth, so that name may have been a source of bias on the level of defamation.
(I mean, she looks holier than that prayer group in the forest or a certain gambler I could mention.)
The nun who had called herself a Succubus smiled.
“So I will not ask too much about your situation. I know without having to ask that you are building a bridge between humans and Nonhumans. And in that case, I can see no reason not to help. I showed you my horns because I knew a bridge-builder like you would not treat me poorly.”
“Why...?” Beatrice gulped. “Why are you doing this?”
The human life was convenient, but it was not necessarily comfortable to all Nonhumans. Even if she wanted to enjoy the human life, gathering attention with this church and her preaching would be risky. And making proper Appraisals in order to stop conflicts could easily earn her grudges from the people she ended up stopping. If she just wanted to take advantage of the various services available, it would be more efficient and safer to blend into the crowd like Sutriona did.
But the Succubus nun was still smiling.
And as she did, a slight shadow fell over her face.
“That is the wrong question to ask.”
“I came to the inn town because I met someone. Because I wanted to be near him and walk by his side. That is why I am not hiding from human eyes. It was not the human life I wanted; it was a human.”
It all started to make sense. The Succubus also had someone in a relationship much like Beatrice and Boo Boo’s. Beatrice’s intuition told her as much.
But that intuition was too naïve.
“However, the gentleman who led me to love humans is now sleeping below the cold dirt.”
Beatrice could find nothing to say.
Humans came to Ground’s Nir to explore the Labyrinth. That was risky and death was always a possibility, but knowing that and actually seeing it were two different things.
“Is that why you started a church?”
“Humans can freely move between the two worlds, but you cannot bring just anything back. Only your living body and the Shining Weapon that contains your knowledge and data. ...So of course, a certain problem arises.”
“The bodies of those who die in Ground’s Nir.”
No matter how it happened, the people who died here could not return to earth. Their bodies could only be buried in Ground’s Nir. An adolescent girl like Beatrice could not really picture a world after her death, but it was a possibility every day she was involved in exploring the Labyrinth.
“So I began to wonder if I could do anything to fulfill their hearts and help them rest in peace. And I ultimately decided it would be best to copy what you humans do as you are several steps ahead of us.” The silver-haired Succubus smiled calmly. “I do not know if this is the right thing to do. It might be entirely misguided and only provide me with self-satisfaction. But I simply had to find something I could do for those who breathed their last in this land.”
“You’re not doing anything wrong,” naturally responded Beatrice. “You don’t need to save up a ton of money. Holding a parade of a funeral and building a pure gold altar isn’t going to make the dead smile. It’s not about how much you spend. Your intentions mean so much more when it comes to saving them.”
“Thank you very much.”
The Nun in a white habit looked surprised at first, but then she smiled.
And a moment later, a high-pitched sound rang out.
Some kind of external force had smashed the stained glass window.
Beatrice immediately reached for the Shining Weapon rapier at her hip and used a wall formed from an explosive blast to protect the Succubus from the colorful shards of glass.
A fist-sized stone rolled across the floor.
That alone was nearly enough for Beatrice’s head to boil over.
The tranquility had been broken.
The poisonous air of pleasure and gambling seemed to invade the church from beyond the broken glass.
“Who did that!?”
She gave into her anger by shouting, running over, and tackling open the church door.
The scene outside was entirely peaceful.
Someone looked back and forth between the number burnt into a wooden ticket and the Griffons flying through the sky. Someone with a red face visited yet another bar to either celebrate a victory or grieve a loss. Someone carried a bag stuffed full of gears and started listening to some sketchy investment talk on the roadside. None of them had thrown the stone. All of the passersby were acting normally and none of them even looked Beatrice’s way.
But that was the weird part.
(What is this? Everyone is too indifferent.)
The sound of shattering glass would linger in people’s ears. Anyone who did not know what was happening would come to a stop and turn toward the source of the sound. And unlike Beatrice and the Succubus inside, the people outside had to have seen the person who threw the stone. She was not going to ask them to capture whoever it was, but there was definitely something wrong with showing no reaction whatsoever. It should have at least been clear that something had happened.
So what was this?
(It isn’t that they don’t know. They know, but they’re pretending they didn’t see it. Are they treating this church like it doesn’t exist?)
She thought she saw something flashing in the crowd.
It was an ugly sparkle like from a nouveau riche old man’s golden tooth.
She sensed a sticky sort of malice that was different from jeering or angry yelling.
It was a stone this time, but what if the people would react the same under different circumstances? What if a group of men wielding blades and Shining Weapons arrived at the church’s front entrance? And what if Beatrice was not there when it happened? How would these people respond to the sounds of screams and destruction coming from the building?
Finally and far too late, the Succubus appeared behind Beatrice with her hood back on.
“This kind of thing has been happening a lot lately. Well, I can have glass prepared right away with Mixing, so I’m just glad no one out front was harmed.”
In the mountain, a leaf house became the epicenter of a great tremor.
“Bgghh!! Bbhhh! Mumble, mumble...then who in the mansion is really the killer...bhhh!!”
After killing some large prey, Boo Boo did not have to worry about food for a few days. When that happened, he tended to nap all day long. The wild animals were too afraid to approach the center of the blast, but there was one exception: Meridiana, the palm-sized Fairy who lived in his house.
“Hm, hm, hm, hmm.”
She was on the roof of the triangular house that resembled a giant tent. The leaf roof had a certain level of elasticity, so she had embedded half a broken Bucket Ostrich Egg shell in it, filled that with water warmed to the perfect temperature, and then mixed in some of a Milk Coconut’s sweet juice that was good for the skin.
What did this create?
A bath of course.
“Ahhh, you just can’t beat an open-air bath...”
Meridiana rested her elbows on the edge of the shell and soaked in the white water while lying nearly face down.
Milk Coconut and Molasses Plant were known to be good for the skin, so even the humans used them. She did not know how things worked on the world they called Earth, but polishing their skin here apparently affected them back there too.
Fairies were at the bottom of the food chain, so they normally would be snatched away by a bird of prey if they defenselessly exposed their skin in such an open area. She was being somewhat cautious by lying face down and thus keeping her wings dry and able to read the air currents, but how useful would that really be if she was attacked? This luxury was entirely thanks to the ultimate safety provided by Boo Boo’s loud snoring.
(But curse that Nun for winning his heart with gifts! I’m the one that’s supposed to be repaying him by secretly making furniture and tools for him. No, stop this, stop this. I need to relax in the bath and think about what I can do for Boo Boo. Grind, grind, grind.)
Just as she started grinding her teeth, someone spoke to her in her Fairy safe zone.
“I see you are enjoying yourself as much as you can, Meridiana. I’m jealous in a way.”
“Oh, Lady Morgan.”
Another small Fairy fluttered down. Morgan’s lime green hair was gathered behind her head, she wore orange clothing, and she had large cicada-like wings. She was the elder off the Fairy village and she rarely appeared to people since she was more cautious than Meridiana, so the human fortunetellers had erroneously concluded that simply seeing her was a harbinger of great fortune or misfortune.
“It has taken me far too long to greet Sir Boo Boo for saving you and Fairies as a whole. I intended to thank him, but it does not look like that will be happening.”
“He’ll get up in a flash when danger is approaching, but there’s no waking him unless he senses something that qualifies as a threat for someone as powerful as him.”
“I’m not sure if that qualifies as sharp or dull. Sigh.” Morgan skillfully hovered in the sky and shook her head. “I could never disturb his sleep for our convenience. I suppose I will simply leave my thanks for today and wait to greet him at a later date.”
“Oh, did you bring something for him? Is it food?”
Meridiana could not just let the village elder go on her own, so she left the large egg bath, dried off her body, donned her pink dress, and guided the guest to the house’s owner below.
Boo Boo lay face up in the middle of the leaf house.
Iberian Orc bodies were sturdy, so he apparently did not need a bed or even a blanket.
“Hm, so this is the great hero who drove back the wicked dragon and freed of from the chains of that horrific custom.”
“B-Boo Boo might look frightening, but he’s really nice! Um, it might be super hard to tell from your first impression though!!”
“I was thinking nothing of the sort. And you might be trying to help, but that would actually hurt him. Be more careful.”
Morgan scolded the other Fairy and fluttered around.
She landed on the forehead of the giant porcine face.
The Fairy elder kneeled down, bowed her head, and spoke in a deep and heavy voice.
“It took me far too long to greet you. My name is Morgan. My power is lacking, but I am the elder who leads the Fairies in Lady Sutriona’s absence. So I must thank you on everyone’s behalf. And I must provide a physical sign of our thanks. Just as you stood up to a literal mountain of a dragon for us, we will offer you endless blessings.”
Meridiana covered her mouth with a hand and cried out.
As she kneeled, Morgan brought her lips down toward Boo Boo’s colossal forehead.
“Ahh! Ahh!! Ahhhhh!!!!”
“Be quiet, Meridiana. I am trying to perform a sacred ritual.”
“But, um, uh, with the way things are and with his relationship with Beatrice, I’m still trying to figure out what kind of distance to keep between us, so how can you kiss him so easily!!???”
“How? The most we Fairies can do is provide labor or offer our blessings.”
Meridiana gave another bizarre cry and covered her face with both hands. Her thoughts had immediately gone in the labor direction when it came to repaying him, so she may have been a true meathead despite her slender appearance.
“Th-th-th-th-th-th-th-th-then I’ll give Boo Boo a Fairy’s blessing too!!”
“Stop. I just now did so on behalf of all Fairies. If a lower Fairy like you does so now, the blessings could easily conflict. Anything else would be meaningless.”
There was nothing she could do, but Meridiana could not stop yelling. And yet Boo Boo continued snoring and showed no sign of waking.
Morgan did not seem bothered either since the point of her argument was somewhat different from Meridiana’s.
“If you think of anything we can do for Sir Boo Boo, please let me know. Although Lady Sutriona might know more about the human settlement.”
“Vwahh, vwahhh!! ...Vwah?”
“There have apparently been some ominous actions taken by the human Guild known as the Religious Society. If he had no interest in the humans, he could possibly avoid getting dragged into this mess...but getting involved in everything seems to be what Sir Boo Boo does. It couldn’t hurt for you to hear this.”
“Um, the Religious Society, you say?”
“To be honest, I do not know much about human mythology, but this is exactly what it sounds like: a group gathered for religious reasons. They tend to take exclusionary actions based in elitism and it would be difficult to say they are very kind in their treatment of Nonhumans like us. They say all people are equal, but they turn around and say that anyone who does not understand them does not qualify as a person. To sum up: be careful.”
The change was like seeing a synthetic detergent muddying a stream that had previously been so refreshingly clear that the fish could be seen swimming through it.
A few days had passed since then.
The atmosphere had clearly changed in the inn town that functioned as the humans’ base of activity.
Someone called out to the Holy Swordswoman who was fiercely haggling at an open-air shop where shopkeeper and customer trusted each other equally little.
The hushed voice came from White Witch Filinion.
Unable to get a satisfactory result, Beatrice left the already narrow road and entered an alley that was little more than a gap between buildings.
Fighter Priest Armelina also waited there.
“Why are both of you here?”
“To warn you, obviously. You’re the only one still walking around the inn town showing off their Circle so blatantly. You need to be careful.”
She was the only one? Hadn’t those two been the ones showing off their Circles just the other day? Beatrice looked puzzled, so Filinion and Armelina exchanged a glance before hesitantly reaching into their pockets.
They pulled out identical Circles.
“Showing it off so blatantly is the problem.”
“Yes, a fairly radical Guild is apparently growing more active. As a group or an individual, I honestly want nothing to do with the Religious Society.”
“You’re kidding, right? The Religious Societ-...!?”
The Holy Swordswoman started to yell, so the other two girls quickly covered her mouth.
The Religious Society.
To some extent, every mythology and religion that humans believed in mentioned how humans were to view the world. Some said the world had been created and some said mankind had been given the world. The scope of what it mentioned varied greatly. It could be as small as a village or island, it could be a city or nation, and it could even be the entire planet or the entire universe.
But a certain problem had arisen.
Not one religious text or scripture mentioned the alternate world of Ground’s Nir.
If nothing was written about it, what were they to do with it?
Especially when the people who visited Ground’s Nir had evolved into beings who could wield the instant paranormal power of Magic...or to put it another way, miracles.
“The field of religion has been thrown into chaos,” said Fighter Priest Armelina as she gently removed her hand from Beatrice’s mouth. “Ground’s Nir is honestly a thorn in their side, so they would really prefer it if we could erase the fact that it had ever been discovered. But mankind can no longer give up Ground’s Nir after the technological revolutions brought about by the Pieces. It would be like abolishing the internet and cellphones and being left behind by the rest of the world. They know they will only decline if they don’t accept these new advancements, but they’re all really on edge about how to deal with it all. And the Religious Society has come to power within all that. They’re the real deal. They might be even worse than Elkiad from before.”
“We don’t know who the Religious Society is.” White Witch Filinion shrugged and sighed. “Maybe they’re a secret division of the world’s largest monotheistic religion and maybe they’re a collection of people from various religions who hate the very existence of Ground’s Nir. After all, we can’t rely on what they look like here. Even if they performed a public massacre in the inn town, they would escape any kind of punishment once they returned to earth.”
“In Ground’s Nir, our equipment adjusts even our facial features. If they wore different equipment each time they came here, they would have a new face each time. Of course, that normally doesn’t happen because everyone has their own favorite Parameters.”
“Anyway, be on the lookout for gold rings without any kind of symbol on them. They have no uniform and perfectly blend into their surroundings, but it’s been discovered that they do wear a pure gold ring on their left hand’s ring finger. They apparently engrave their god’s name in it, melt it, and then rework it into a different form to marry their faith in a way no one will recognize.”
It finally clicked for Beatrice.
She had seen that a few times after something had seemed a little odd. She had seen the glitter of an actual pure gold ring and not just some Magic shaped like that. An experiment from a much older era had proven that materials could not be transported between earth and the other world, so these people must have gone out of their way to make a ring in Ground’s Nir and leave it in a safe place when they returned to earth.
“But even if the ring is on their left hand’s ring finger, they aren’t necessarily from the West. That tradition has spread all around the world and another culture could always be adopting it for camouflage. From our thick armor to our underwear, all of our equipment is just Magic shaped liked that, right? So if you see someone wearing actual physical gold, you should be suspicious.”
Beatrice once more looked down at her keychain-like Circle.
She once more judged the value placed inside it, even if its maker had not done so intentionally.
“Filinion, Armelina. ...How much do you know about that Nun?”
“You mean that she’s actually a Nonhuman and a Succubus? She might think she’s hiding it, but everyone knows. It’s an open secret.”
“Nonhumans can’t use Magic. For the Mixing of the swimsuits and whatever else, she apparently asks a human she knows to do it. But anyway...”
Armelina trailed off when they heard a commotion on the street.
They peeked out from the alley and saw some men and women stomping around and carrying placards made from crude wooden panels. Those signs said “say no to monsters” and “protect the human inn town”.
(They sure let themselves be influenced easily...)
Beatrice sighed and started speaking again.
“If ‘everyone’ knows, then there’s obviously a chance the Religious Society knows.”
What would they think of that?
The various religions born on earth were simply incompatible with another world like Ground’s Nir. The issues surrounding interpretations of their scriptures were throwing them into chaos, so what would they think when they learned that a new religion was being born here?
That religion was meant to provide peaceful rest to those who died in another world and could not return. It was an innocent thing that copied what the humans did and used a simple circle as a symbol.
But none of that mattered.
Very little could be brought back between the two worlds. Knowledge and techniques – or more simply, memories and information – were the only small blessings there. And that included religion and doctrine. Plus, hadn’t Filinion pointed out that people could look completely different on earth and in Ground’s Nir? And that no matter what someone did in Ground’s Nir, it could not be traced back to them once they returned to earth?
That meant one thing:
“No one can know how far a religious born in Ground’s Nir would spread.”
“But Ground’s Nir is so small we could walk completely around it in 3 days. People of every race and nationality gather here using the Gates located around the world.”
“In the past, it was known as spy heaven where no one could monitor you, but this feels like a further derivation of that. If some kind of explosive fad begins here in Ground’s Nir, it would be brought back to every part of the world in the blink of an eye. The spread of such things is usually estimated using the starting point, so those estimates would be useless.”
That Succubus may not have intended to start an invasion.
But what she had done was enough for the religions having enough trouble already. Even if they closed all of the Gates and pretended Ground’s Nir had never existed, they could not prevent the information brought back from spreading as a new religion called the Church of the Circle.
What if that fear was spreading?
What if the majority started agreeing that risk should be removed as soon as possible?
Beatrice did not have time to draw out frames and red lines with her fire illusion Magic.
She remembered the stone thrown though the church window. She remembered the giant blind spot created in a public area when everyone feigned indifference. If that kind of thing was moving on the level of a Guild like the Religious Society, then how much violence would assault that Succubus in broad daylight while she was trapped in that cage of indifference?
She could not return the man she had once lived with to his original world. She could not even return a hair from his head.
So she had at least wanted to give him a peaceful and undisturbed rest here in Ground’s Nir’s soil.
That was all she had wanted to do.
“Um, hey, Beatrice? Didn’t we just say not to get involved in all this!?”
“I ordered an ear pick for Boo Boo from her. I’m not letting anything happen to her before I get it!”
“Okay, fine, you softhearted fool! So we just have to stick our heads into this too, do we!?”
All three of them started running.
Beatrice had to wonder which of them was really the softhearted fool, but she was not stupid enough to forget her appreciation of having someone to support her.
Even if every district was very different, it was still just a human city built alongside those exploring the Labyrinth. It was only so large. A short run was all it took to reach the Gold Vein District and all its pleasure and gambling.
Beatrice called up a detailed map of the district using fire illusion Magic and Armelina asked the most fundamental question.
“But how are we going to get her to safety? As we already mentioned, Ground’s Nir is only an island we can walk around in 3 days. If the Religious Society hunts her down with pure numbers, there’s no escape. And since that Nun is a Nonhuman, we can’t invite her to earth through a Gate.”
“But since she was born and raised in Ground’s Nir, she doesn’t have to worry about her internal clock getting screwed up. She doesn’t have to return every few days to avoid serious mental and physical effects, so time should be on her side.”
“She can hide in the vast underground expanse of the Labyrinth, or she can head out to sea in a boat loaded with as much food as it can hold, just like that Next Voyager. If she can buy herself enough time in some environment where it’s hard to hunt her down, she should be able to survi-...”
She trailed off.
A pillar of fire rose above the roofs of the buildings in the direction they were headed.
Any theoretical odds of victory were pointless if they did not arrive in time.
Even if they were only one second or one instant too late, they could not stop a tragedy that was beyond their reach.
It had begun a bit earlier.
It was a moonlit evening. Partway up a mountain far away from the inn town – that coincidentally happened to be opposite the slope on which Boo Boo’s house was built – marched a group wearing bluish-black dresses much like mourning clothes and with pure gold rings on their left ring fingers. They hid their faces behind thin veils and they held modern-looking bows with large stabilizers sticking out on the front. They were not actually bows because they had short close-quarters combat blades attached to either end and because they were only Shining Weapons meant to use Magic.
They were the Religious Society.
Any further truth was hidden by their veils, but their goal was clear: the Flask Flower Garden.
Deep, deep in the woods was a clearing covered in blooming flowers. They were all rare Mixing ingredients that humans could not cultivate: Joyful Belladonna, Angry Digitalis, Sorrowful Sage, etc. Some of them even emitted a faint light, perhaps to more efficiently gather the flying insects that would carry their pollen. A translucent dome covered the garden overhead. Most likely, the giant mushrooms were manipulating the sunlight to create the humidity needed to supply the moisture and nutrients that made this colorful miracle possible.
But the Religious Society was not after the herbs.
The woman in the center of the group raised her voice.
Her whitish blonde hair was braided and bent in a U-shape, but it still reached her waist. If the large loop on her back was undone, it would likely trail along the ground behind her.
“We of the Religious Society have come for your help in accordance with our agreement! Answer our summons, beast that has received the power to comprehend the words of the baptized. Just this once, wield your power as a Break News for us!!”
The flower garden stirred.
But no wind was blowing. A new form rose up from the sea of colorful flowers.
It was a symbol of the night who was even more bewitching than the shining full moon.
It was a beautiful woman with brown skin and long light blue hair. Her bodylines were covered by plants resembling grape vines and leaves and she wore just the framework of a long skirt that resembled a bird cage. She was one of the monsters that could cause both resurrection and death and whose cursed cry could destroy all enemies, biological or mechanical.
She was the ruler of the flower garden and the greatest Mandragora.
She was a plant Break News.
Her name was Ileana.
“You have some nerve, girl. I only responded to your voice since you are the descendants of those who once asked me to protect this land.”
“This land” was Enter Kosmos. It was the remnants of a former human attempt to send a giant tower stabbing upside down into the ground to stop the Labyrinth from periodically restructuring itself. With this and the Next Voyager ship on the beach, it was easy to guess what kind of conflict had once existed in Ground’s Nir between the superpowers of the east and west.
But the girl in Western mourning clothes ignored the giant gravestone with its garden of flowers dedicated to it.
“Are you really prepared to do that? We normally would have exterminated you immediately, but we held off and intend to give you the honor of working as our right arm.”
“Heh heh. I’m sure you know exactly whose flexibility has saved which side of this encounter.”
Their surroundings rustled as Ileana laughed.
But this was not the Religious Society’s vanguard giving off killer intent.
The extent and density of flowers was growing. The world itself seemed to surround the humans and it attempted to crush everything in every direction with a great pressure that was different from hostility or malice.
But the veiled woman in mourning clothes spoke again as if to challenge the plant woman.
“Do you intend to accept our offer?”
“I’ll do it.”
The greatest of the simultaneously toxic and healing Mandragoras snapped her fingers while adorned in fruit decorations.
The deadly flower garden’s pressure dispersed and became no more than a sea of beautiful petals once more.
And the night sneered.
“But when I act, I require something of equivalent value. I desire a pure virgin. That should be easy enough for the moral Religious Society to acquire. After all, you’ve essentially been preparing yourselves as detonators for this.”
“I want you.” The Break News pointed her index finger at the woman’s modest chest. “Let’s see how determined you are to get this paradox with a soul to act. How much are you willing to risk your own body? Surely you didn’t think you alone could escape unscathed. If you can convince me here, I will wield my full power for you.”
“That is fine.”
“Hah hah!! Not even a second of hesitation!? Now that I can’t hope to match. Even if I was just having some fun...no, because I was just having some fun, I’d have to question your sensibilities if you hadn’t given it your all!!”
Ileana in the plant dress was the only one laughing.
The speed of the woman’s answer came from the strength that she had inherited from the previous leader of the Religious Society and that she would pass on to the next generation.
“You, the one offering herself as a sacrifice. What’s your name?”
“Then, brave but pitiable Gruagach, what is it you want from a paradox like me?”
“Your job this time is not to hunt some great target. You are to purge a Nonhuman ranked below the Break News. But the location is something of a problem: she has blended into the human base of the inn town. Will you take on that dirty job? You may take out the entire town if necessary.”
“Understood,” whispered Ileana before taking a breath.
She then spoke to the flower offerings so no one else could hear.
“Purging a Nonhuman, is it? I don’t like the sound of that. It reminds me of what happened to the Iberian Orcs.”
An intense pillar of fire rose in one corner of the inn town.
Something fell around Beatrice’s group. The gears used as currency were flying all around the Gold Vein District that contained casinos and the battle arena. The winged monsters being prepared for the Griffon race were rampaging around overhead and nearly throwing their riders off of them.
Beatrice’s fire specialty allowed her to immediately calculate the scope of the damage.
“Based on the height of the pillar of fire, that was the equivalent of 87 kilos of TNT, assuming it wasn’t a directional blast. That would’ve blown a stone church open like a flower!!”
“Are you serious...? If they start blasting things like this, the entire inn town’ll be destroyed!”
“Would even the Religious Society go that far? The inn town is an important base for everyone in Ground’s Nir. Even if they’re a large organization...no, specifically because they know the power of numbers, they have to know what will happen if they make an enemy of all humankind.”
If the battle was between the church’s Nun and the Religious Society, it might seem unwinnable.
But what if it developed into a larger battle between the inn town and the Religious Society and all of the level cap fighters joined forces against them? It seemed like the positions of minority and majority would be overturned and the Religious Society would be the one on the run.
But that question was answered once they arrived on the scene.
“What is that?”
As they ran down the gear-covered road, Armelina looked at the smoke-marred blue sky.
No, her eyes were on the roof of a tall building. It was the bell tower that signaled the final round of the Griffon race. A tall woman with brown skin and light blue hair stood on the edge...no, the corner of the roof.
Her hair and skin both emitted an eerie light.
She spread her arms like an opera singer.
Beatrice felt a chill down her spine although she did not know why.
Immediately, her mind exploded.
An ultra-high frequency “cry” filled the entire inn town.
Beatrice immediately activated the Shining Weapon rapier at her hip, but she was too slow. The ear-splitting scream passed right through the smokescreen meant to throw off an enemy’s aim and the girl was slammed back-first into a brick wall. Her thoughts lost all continuity, like they were being mixed up by a blender, and she could barely tell up from down.
The Griffons finally fell from the sky.
White Witch Filinion wobbled on her feet and pulled out something. The palm-sized rectangular bottle looked like something a mountain climber would carry around and it likely contained some sort of recovery potion. No, the bottle itself may have been a potion, just like the candy beer bottles used for filming dramas. After unscrewing the cap half a turn, she tossed it into the air. The bottle shattered on its own, the shards mixed with the liquid inside, the potion bubbled, and it rained down as a purifying mist. Finally, Beatrice’s group was freed from the intense and nauseating headache.
Armelina shook her head with a hand on the wall.
“What happened and what did you do? My head isn’t spinning anymore, but that cry hasn’t stopped! It’s kind of scary!!”
“I intentionally messed up a recovery potion to obstruct the cry’s transmission. This would normally count as poisoning us, but it’s better than continuing to let that affect us.”
“That cry is from a Mandragora, right?” asked Armelina. “Y’know, like the one we used to trap the Cat Sith who were ransacking Boo Boo’s garden... But I’ve never heard of one powerful enough to affect an entire town!”
Beatrice gulped and answered.
“...A Break News.”
She doubted it was a coincidence that this monster in a plant dress had shown up now.
Did that mean the Religious Society had tamed a paradox with a soul?
“They really intend to take us all on directly. But to prevent a major battle to protect the inn town, they used the very first wave to knock out anyone who might fight back. That’s the kind of over-the-top plan they’re going with!”
The Religious Society was making an enemy of all the humans in Ground’s Nir, but the humans generally only used the inn town and the Labyrinth. People who walked around the island like Beatrice were a rarity. The people in the Labyrinth below the thick bedrock would not notice the commotion and could be safely ignored for the time being, so making a preemptive strike on the inn town was enough to neutralize most everyone.
“So they’re willing to slaughter people from every nation and every race if it lets them kill that one Succubus?”
“They’re never going to give up before they finish this. We need to get the Nun out of there!!”
The church was nearby.
Beatrice’s group made one last spurt, but the White Witch’s potion must not have been perfect. They were fortunate to have any way at all of resisting the Break News’s ferocious attack, but the way the sound echoed off the walls and ground started to make their heads spin again.
And that slowed them down somewhat.
They turned the last corner and arrived in front of the church. No, at this point it was better called the ruins of the church. There was only a pile of rubble there and the neighboring buildings had also collapsed. Gray dust spread from there and someone was dragged out into the open.
It was the sexy Nun in a white habit.
The explosion had blown away the entire building, so it was doubtful she had escaped its effects. It was possible she was tougher than a human, but even that had its limits.
It might have helped her to play dead. She might have been able to escape through the dust before the search through the rubble began.
But she had done neither.
Something fell from between her arms: keychain-like Circles.
They were a symbol of the peaceful slumber she desired for the people who had fallen in this land. They fell to the cracked ground and were trampled by the group hidden by mourning clothes and veils.
The Nun was thrown out in front of the wall that was no longer attached to a building. They formed a half circle around her and aimed their bow-like Shining Weapons at her.
The malice they sent her way felt like arrows with sharp barbs on the end.
“God will save all people.”
“That means monsters were never even being considered.”
“A Nonhuman mimicking human faith is just laughable.”
“Punish the one who makes a mockery of our faith!”
It was like an execution by firing squad.
Since they could use Magic powerful enough to blow up the stone church, it went without saying what would happen to her. Nothing at all would remain if they concentrated their fire on her.
Beatrice let out a cry.
No, she tried to.
But just before she could, her head shook. Her vision blurred and her thoughts fell apart. It was the Mandragora Break News. She had likely focused her aim on whoever was still moving. The intense scream neutralized the Holy Swordswoman like an acoustic weapon.
Beatrice tried to prop herself up on a wall, but she even failed at that.
As she tasted the dirt in her mouth, she realized the truth.
(It’s over. I won’t reach her...)
Beatrice was their strongest fighter, so if she could not do it, neither could Filinion or Armelina. And if they could not reach her, what would happen to the harmless Nun?
It was over.
There was nothing they could do.
And then Beatrice overturned her assumptions and causality by thinking of a certain face.
A moment later, she heard a coldhearted blast of destruction in a corner of the inn town.
Perhaps what she was doing was wrong.
Perhaps her thoughts would never reach the dead.
She had wondered that countless times, but the Succubus had still put on her habit and gone out into the inn town. They had literally been from different worlds, but they had been able to speak and share their feelings. Unable to forget him and unable to abandon him, the Succubus had never stopped seeking her vision of human and Nonhuman living together.
The dead would never return and she was not looking for someone to replace the dead, but...
“Hey, baby. I’ll show you that humans aren’t completely worthless.”
She would never forget what he had said when they first met.
It had been entirely unrelated to exploring the Labyrinth or acquiring the Magic and Pieces that could revolutionize human society. It had also had nothing to do with the Succubus herself. She had happened across a many-headed Hydra attacking a Dwarf in the forest, but after she had abandoned the Dwarf as a sacrifice to “survival of the fittest”, a ferocious man had tapped her on the shoulder with a smile on his face.
He would save people for nothing in return.
He would wish for the happiness of complete strangers.
He would rush headlong into danger with his heavy armor and giant axe. She had admired his lifestyle. She had wondered how he could do that. Meanwhile, the man had bothered to build barrels in Ground’s Nir to distill fruit. And as he drank a cup of his own product, he had answered her without giving it any thought.
“It’s not like I have any real reason. Life is finite and I want to have fun and enjoy every minute and every second of it, so what good is worrying over the same things over and over? So even if it’s a bit of a pain, I’ve gotta solve all the trouble I happen across. Basically, it’s about getting a good night’s sleep. A drink of victory tastes so much better than one meant to distract you from a loss. I’m an honest person, so I want my drink to taste the best it can.”
So she had gone with him.
Even inside the Labyrinth that the Ground’s Nir-born Nonhumans never even approached. She had not had a reason for it, but she had thought giving her all to something illogical might help her get closer to that man.
They had laughed together, they had overcome hardship, they had argued and grabbed at each other’s hair, and they had rolled around on the ground and made up.
At some point, she had stood right next to that man with the short black hair. And she had lain next to him too.
She had finally grasped what it was she had longed for.
It was finally hers.
“I know it can never happen, but I can’t help but think about it. I wish I could show it to you. My home is small, but it’s got this huge cherry tree outside. Every year during flower viewing season, a bunch of old guys I’ve never seen before gather in the yard with bottles of sake in hand. I guess you wouldn’t know what cherry blossoms are, would you? If only they grew here in Ground’s Nir too.”
She was thrown against the one wall of the church that was still standing, she was surrounded, and several Shining Weapon bows were aimed her way. The Succubus in the white habit smiled thinly when she saw this other face of humanity.
Still on the ground, she looked to the trampled Circles.
“I pray we can bring our hearts together into a circle...”
Maybe she really had been wrong. Maybe these had only been for her own self-satisfaction. Maybe they had brought no one peace and had only caused trouble for the humans.
She did not need to beg for her life.
If she had failed, then she had failed. If she had to bear the responsibility for this chaos, then she was willing to die for it.
“Even if none of it worked out...”
She did not know the human rules, but this was Ground’s Nir. If there was an afterlife, she was sure to go to the same place. She doubted humans and Nonhumans would be separated and sent to different places.
“I won’t be lonely any longer.”
So she needed to smile now.
“Honey, I’ll be with you soon.”
She slowly exhaled and started to close her eyes.
But at that very moment, something blew away all of the buildings in that corner of the inn town.
It was not human Magic.
This was much simpler: a collision from an enormous mass. The Succubus had no way of knowing, but it was a lot like the site of a large passenger plane crash. The nearby casino and battle arena were blown away and gears erupted like a volcano and scattered across the town. The attackers in Western mourning clothes and veils were struck by rubble and blown into the air by the wind. The Nun in the white habit did not initially know what had happened. It was on such a large scale that she only saw a giant wall no matter how high she looked.
It was a black dragon standing 1000 meters tall.
It was the Thousand Dragon of the Break News.
“Tch! Ileana!!” shouted one of the women in veils.
Atop the bell tower that signaled the final round of the Griffon race, a brown woman with long, light blue hair glared at the black dragon. And they both roared at the same time. One was the killer cry of a Mandragora and the other was the ultra- pressurized water breath fired from the mouth of the giant dragon that symbolized water and rainclouds. The two attacks collided at the midpoint, dispersed, and were diverted away. But the dragon’s attack still mercilessly broke the bell tower that Ileana stood on. She vanished along with the great mass of the collapsing stone tower.
The dragon spoke in an ultra-low frequency growl that humans probably could not hear.
“That is not enough to defeat another Break News. She will be getting up soon enough. Climb on, Succubus. I will take you from here before that happens.”
“That clothing seems to be dedicated to something, but I do not know what it is you believe in. I have no way of telling what has set you at odds with the humans, so I have nothing telling me to protect you and no argument to support this decision.”
But the Thousand Dragon had more to say.
Someone had once arrived just barely in time for her, so she honestly spoke about what she had felt when that Iberian Orc had stood bravely before her.
“It cannot have been a mere coincidence that I arrived in time for you. I would call it a miracle that you are still alive now.”
That was enough.
She needed no other reason to lend a helping hand.
As the white Succubus considered how she was to scale the towering wall that was the Thousand Dragon, the dragon swung her tail over. She lifted the Succubus up and onto her back.
And then her massive wings gathered the wind.
Just as the greatest Mandragora broke through the rubble and poked her head out into the open air, she released the scream that was meant to kill criminals.
But to avoid falling victim to that legend, the Thousand Dragon sent explosive masses of air in every direction that whipped up a storm of rubble and gears as if to harass the humans some more. And the reaction to that downward blast launched the Thousand Dragon high into the blue sky.
Once the Break News’s cry ended, Beatrice’s group slowly resumed moving and got up.
Beatrice used her fire explosive Magic to send her voice to the black dragon flying high in the sky.
“Nice one!! Take her away from the island of Ground’s Nir! A Mandragora is rooted to the ground, so she can’t go out to sea. Use your wings to leave the island and she can’t follow!!”
Gruagach, the Religious Society woman in a veil and Western mourning clothes, clicked her tongue.
She glared at the pile of rubble instead of at the Thousand Dragon or Succubus.
“Ileana!! Don’t let up the attack! What do you think we’re using you for!?”
The response came from an extremely directional voice that worked much like radio.
“It doesn’t matter to me, but try thinking about where you want to send me. There are two options: I can pursue the fleeing dragon or I can continue suppressing the inn town.”
If she ended her attack on the inn town, everyone taken out by the surprise attack would begin a counterattack against the Religious Society. The positions of the minority and majority would swap and the Religious Society would be the weaker party.
If they let the Thousand Dragon escape, the Succubus would escape the island and their reach. And they were up against a Break News. It was highly doubtful if even a unit of the Religious Society’s elites could bring that down.
And with all that in mind, Gruagach gave an immediate answer.
“Very well. You pursue the dragon.”
“Hah hah! So you’re focusing on your initial goal even if it exposes you to the risk of being ganged up on!? Interesting, but don’t forget that you’re my sacrifice. Don’t get yourself killed.”
A section of the ground twinkled like the starry sky.
By the time the Thousand Dragon realized they were Magic arrows fired into the sky by the humans of the Religious Society, dozens and even hundreds of colorful arcs passed right by her side. No, she had quickly twisted out of the way, but a few of them had still stabbed into her by pushing through the gaps in her thick scales. They were like flying snakes. They would alter their course to pursue the Thousand Dragon.
She could strike back at the surface, but she could not remain focused on the humans. The Break News named Ileana would be here soon and gaining as much distance from her was the dragon’s top priority.
She was clearly being pecked at by a much lower opponent.
But the dragon still laughed with the white Succubus on her gigantic back.
“Yes, yes. I finally understand. I was only ever pretending before. I was nowhere close to truly helping someone like Boo Boo does.”
The dragon’s words grew louder and louder.
Finally, they became a definite roar that reverberated across Ground’s Nir.
“But I understand now. You don’t need logic when it comes to saving people. There’s no reason to trap it all inside prearranged arguments! Yes!! Protecting someone makes you feel so light, so refreshed, and so proud!!!!!!”
“What a pain...”
Just outside Boo Boo’s leaf house on the mountainside, Sutriona of the Break News put her hands on her hips and sighed.
“I’ve never seen her let loose like this. It makes me question why we bother holding back.”
“What is it, Sutriona? These will be cooked soon. If they’re just going to burn otherwise, I’ll eat them all myself.”
“Ah! No fair, Boo Boo! I want to eat those Crab Dumplings too!!”
After blowing on them, the two of them ate a late lunch. Boo Boo had killed a giant Bomb Chicken and thus had enough food for several days, but the Fairies had sent him a plentiful supply of fresh water Riverbed Crabs and they had started on those first. After all, seafood spoiled quickly, so they had to eat it soon.
“I think I’ll try eating vegetables because Beatrice said I should.”
“Oh, how responsible of you.”
“You need to eat them too, Sutriona.”
“You don’t get to force that onto others! Ahh! Don’t pile a bunch of them onto my plate, Boo Boo!!”
Sutriona grew somewhat tearful, but she seemed to be the type to eat everything on her plate. She complained but kept eating.
“By the way, Boo Boo, do you know about the Religious Society?”
“Yes, the Fairies left a note. It said to watch out for the Religious Society.”
“As long as you understand that. ...But I wish there was a smoother connection between what they want and what they claim to want or between their doctrines and their interests. I’ve heard they made a previous attempt to monopolize the Experience Points by taking over the casinos that deal in so many gears. Although that apparently fell apart due to the trouble caused by some crazy gambler and some queen of the battle arena.”
“What are you trying to say?”
Boo Boo tilted his head, so Sutriona continued while wrapping a Crab Dumpling in a leaf vegetable.
“They keep shouting about religious confusion and the danger of Ground’s Nir’s first new religion returning to their world, but none of it fits their actions if you look behind the curtain. They essentially want to be the unrivalled leader of online shopping in this world of swords and magic.”
“No, I suppose you wouldn’t understand that analogy. Boo Boo, you’ve visited the Labyrinth with Beatrice’s group, right?”
“It isn’t easy because I get so hungry. Squeal. It’s weird how there aren’t any living things down there. There’s plenty of water and air, though.”
“Look at it the other way and that means you can’t enter the Labyrinth without preparing first. In addition to food, you have to bring magnets, rope, lights, and various Mixing ingredients. Even if clothing and sleeping gear is mostly handled with Magic, entering the Labyrinth with nothing is essentially suicide. ...So by taking care of that, they hope to control the very act of exploring the Labyrinth.”
The girl in a black ribbon dress stuffed a Crab Dumpling into her mouth.
“The inn town is a lot like a collection of independent shops. They each carry around and sell whatever product they specialize in. It’s a primitive and wholesome form of economic activity. But what happens if someone brings in the knowhow of a franchise? They apparently plan to let their manpower do the talking, have people posted at certain intervals within the Labyrinth, and carry in the needed products with something like a bucket relay. The Labyrinth changes periodically, but by setting up a rotation, they can ensure a hole does not form even as they let people take rests or return.”
If Beatrice had been here, she might have spoken up.
The Guild training she had seen in the forest had been for carrying products swiftly and safely through the Labyrinth with its unstable footing and all it Gimmicks and Traps.
“It sounds like a convenient service at first, but humans will stop preparing properly at the inn town if they lose that sense of danger. They’ll know they can resupply in the Labyrinth if they need to, after all. But the Religious Society is still an organization with its own interests. If they fake an accident and cut off the delivery when someone is truly in need, they can isolate them in the Labyrinth and effectively kill them. ...While some of it is still left up to chance, they will still be able to put together a probabilistic murder plan.”
She did not stop speaking there.
Even after all that, there was still more to say.
“If a unified and popular group arrives, the individual shops of the inn town won’t stand a fighting chance. They’ll be closing shop and going out of business in no time, so the supply of goods will all come from the same source. A truly monstrous organization will rule everything.”
“Squeal? What does that mean???”
“Oh, was that too difficult for you? Basically, one person will control all the water and food, so anyone they don’t like won’t be able to get a single drop to drink. Once that happens, the ability to freely explore the Labyrinth will be no more than a dream. Everyone will be forced to accept a schedule convenient to the Religious Society. And the same goes for acquiring the Pieces that can distort human society. The Religious Society will have built up the ultimate dictatorship that allows them bend human society to their will.”
Boo Boo tilted his head.
And he spoke honestly.
“It’s wrong to keep everything to yourself.”
“Very true. But convenience is the sweetest of poisons. You know it’s bad for you, but you can’t ween yourself off of it. And no one’s going to boycott them when the slightest failure to prepare means death. Boo Boo, it’s just like how you’ve learned to enjoy the flavor of cooked meat despite fearing fire so much.”
The Iberian Orc groaned and poked at the fire with a stick. Along with the firewood, he had thrown on one of the blocks of solid fuel from the vegetable stand, so the fire was more stable than usual.
The long silver-haired girl in a black ribbon dress smiled honestly.
“That is what the Religious Society...no, what whoever controls them wants to do. By fully franchising the exploration preparations, they probably hope to win over or intimidate any influential individuals or groups. That would be why they had a problem with the Circle Church that acted as an intermediary for Mixing jobs. That said, burning down your field because you hate the birds pecking at your crops hardly seems like a sane reaction. It makes me wonder if whoever it is has as tight a hold on the Religious Society’s reins as they think they do.”
Sutriona explained all that while munching on her late lunch.
She licked off her thumb as she continued.
“Now that I’ve eaten, I’ll be leaving.”
“Hm? You’re leaving?”
“That Thousand Dragon is flying around with the white Nun on her back. And the Religious Society has sent out Ileana, another Break News. I really don’t care that much about them, but as I said at the beginning: I’ll directly crush anyone who violates my territory.”
“Squeal. Everyone needs to stop fighting.”
“I couldn’t agree more, but sometimes you have to butt heads in order to make sure they don’t continue with the pointless fighting. And, Boo Boo, what will you do? It somewhat bothers me that Beatrice’s group is running around trying to put out this fire, but there’s no real reason for you to get involved.”
“Hm.” The Iberian Orc blew on a Crab Dumpling to cool it down. “I understand that all the Break News are dangerous. I don’t want to fight one if I don’t have to.”
“Yes, an admirable viewpoint. That’s the proper fear and respect you should have for higher beings like us.”
Sutriona stood up with an oddly elderly-sounding groan of effort. She reached her small hands toward the butt of her skirt, but she decided not to brush it off when she saw Boo Boo was still eating.
“I will protect my territory, so you stay here, Boo Boo. But if you see Ileana, run away immediately. Don’t worry about your household tools. The forest might wither around you, but that’s just how it is. Don’t panic and don’t cause a scene.”
“Boo? What do you mean???”
“That plant Break News is a Mandragora. If she gets serious, she can produce incredible power, but its source is the nutrients in the soil. In other words, she absorbs it all. I’d like to take her out as quickly as possible so she doesn’t have a chance to do so, but I can’t guarantee that will work out.”
Boo Boo looked around with a Crab Dumpling in hand.
The birds chirped and a butterfly flew calmly over his head as he spoke.
“I’d be in trouble if the forest went away. I wouldn’t be able to eat.”
“I’ll do my best.”
Those miraculous words were saying she could guarantee nothing and yet was asking for his unconditional trust.
But that miracle did not work on Boo Boo.
“What is Ileana trying to do by making the forest wither? Does she like fighting that much? Did that Nun do something really bad? She spoke to me without being afraid when I ran across her in the forest.”
“I don’t know.” Sutriona sounded exasperated and she put her hands on her hips. “There are a lot of different Break News, but the reason for her actions are found in something beyond words and intellect. She wields violence when asked...so does that make her a pure mercenary? She seems to have been hired by the Religious Society this time, but that would mean they’re supplying her with some kind of reward she considers valuable.”
“Is it something she needs to eat?”
“She’s a plant, so she can live just by bathing in the sunlight and sticking into the soil. So I’m betting this is a form of entertainment or amusement. She has a complex about the food chain, so she does tend to mistake higher life forms for life’s excesses. ...I don’t know what exactly their contract entails, but I’m betting it has to do with women.”
Boo Boo stopped moving.
He stared at his half-eaten Crab Dumpling with a troubled look on his face.
“Boo. You mean Ileana is being mean to the Nun when she has no reason for it? And there’s still more once it’s over?”
“On top of that, she’s trying to bring down the interfering Thousand Dragon, sweep Beatrice’s group away, and kill the forest in this area. Well, we’re all paradoxes, so acting logically wouldn’t suit us. Even if she does profit from all the damage, it’s the damage itself that truly suits her.”
That was as far as she got.
Boo Boo started scarfing down the remaining food and then he grabbed the object next to him: his Shining Weapon. He swung down what looked like a log or steel beam and he extinguished the fire with it.
Then he stood up.
“I’m going too.”
“Mind if I ask why?”
“I heard that Nun was the one that made swimsuits for Beatrice and the others. Without that, we couldn’t have spoken with Kallikantzaros and we might not have made it in time for the Cat Sith and Cu Sith incident. I thought I wouldn’t be able to speak with her while she was in the human inn town, but that’s different now. I don’t want anything to happen to her before I can say thank you. And if this isn’t necessary for someone to eat, then I want to stop it. Also,” he added. “It’s too late for me. I heard that everyone from the village was killed in a purge of Nonhumans. But this is different. I can still reach the Succubus whose life is going to be taken for a reason besides living or eating.”
“Hmph,” snorted Sutriona.
She did not seem to like something about that.
“You need to be more straightforward. Just say you’re pissed with Ileana’s violence so you’re gonna go kick her ass.”
But Boo Boo tilted his head at that.
Not even the Fairy Queen had expected that reaction, so he clarified.
“I don’t hate Ileana. I just want to stop her if I can.”
This time, the long silver-haired girl in a black ribbon dress really did feel her mind go blank.
And she laughed.
It was entirely out of place, but Sutriona laughed uproariously on the front line of this battle.
“Ha ha ha!! Interesting! Now that I like! The long life brought by my position as the strongest can get boring, but I can never give up on life because it never fails to hit me with these pleasant betrayals!! Fine, Boo Boo. I will let you take the lead this time. Order me around and show me something outside the pre-established harmony.”
Boo Boo held his giant Shining Weapon in hand, licked his thumb, and looked to the battlefield.
He looked to the pitch black dragon flying in the blue sky.
“First, I need a way to get there.”
The Succubus in a pure white habit rode the pitch black dragon through the sky.
The dragon’s course took her straight across the island, but she could not make a rapid course correction. The immense Gs would make the Nun suffer and a great number of glowing arrows pursued them from behind. She wanted to avoid lowering her speed if at all possible.
As a hail of glowing arrows was fired from the surface, several of them pierced her body and wings, but none of them came close to fatal. Even if they were coated in poison, her body was over 1000 meters long. Since a chemical’s lethal dose was generally calculated based on body weight, the amount on an arrow would never bring her down.
But that was only true of her body.
The arrows piercing her began to move in order to tear into her mentally.
The 4 feathers on the top, bottom, left, and right formed a cross. Power resided within them and they vibrated to speak with clear voices.
“Kill the witch.”
“Tear out the heart of the witch who pretends to do good while sowing the seeds of evil.”
“Tear apart any who assist her.”
“Once her vile seed has been planted in someone, there is no saving them. Kill them all!!”
The Succubus bit her lip.
But before she could say anything, the Thousand Dragon roared.
“You call yourselves allies of justice!? You call yourselves teachers of the truth!? Can you not see this girl holding back tears after having her home taken from her!? Can you not see the wounds in her heart!?”
So the Nun said nothing.
She simply placed a hand on the dragon’s scales and gently snuggled up against them.
“Ksshh! How valiant of you, Weakest. Did the concept of chivalry catch your interest in your contact with human knowledge?”
The voice coming from the arrows clearly changed.
And the Thousand Dragon only knew one type of person who would call her “Weakest”.
“Calling me that is something of an insult. And you’re also looking in the wrong direction. I’m over here.”
It was not the human inn town behind them. It came from the exact opposite direction: the snowcapped peak of one of the mountains the dragon was fast approaching.
“What...? So fast! How!?”
The Succubus gasped, but the 1000-meter dragon did not wait around.
She opened her mouth wide and used her ultra-pressurized water breath to slice through her target along with a mountain peak.
It was cut down to size.
The spear piercing the heavens had its tip broken off and the Thousand Dragon passed just barely above what remained.
She was confident she had finished off whoever it was.
“Ksshh. Well, then. I’ll admit that was impressive.”
“What...? But how!?”
“I didn’t think you could pull off that breath without any kind of water supply. Then again, if Ground’s Nir had to supply your giant body with nutrients, it would dry up in no time flat. It's possible you would head out to the sea and feast on seafood alone, but this means you don’t have to hang around the land. You’re raising a full set of a Fire Spirit Salamander, Water Spirit Undine, Wind Spirit Sylph, and Earth Spirit Gnome inside your belly, aren’t you? And they give you an endless supply of energy. When you feed, it’s really just feeding them. That’s pretty well thought out. And if you use a fair bit of your fuel, can you raise a barrier against any of the Elements?”
The giant dragon felt shock and confusion.
And a moment later, a great shaking reached her head and inner ear.
“Can you hear me, Weakest? Surely you didn’t think I qualified as a Break News just because I could send out some deadly sound waves.”
A great number of invisible spears of sound targeted the black dragon.
“I am a Mandragora. As a plant Break News, I am at the very bottom of the food chain.”
“But if plants are only eaten, how is it they never die out and even cover the entire surface? Is the tiny mind in that giant body enough to figure that one out?”
The Religious Society was no comparison.
The land of Ground’s Nir stretched out below. Lights flashed equally from across the entire island.
That carpet of stars all concentrated into a single point of power.
That light signaled the Mandragora’s preparations to attack.
The Break News’s ultra-high frequency spears were approaching!!
The Thousand Dragon could not even hear her own roaring voice.
Her mind was too confused to even worry about the Succubus on her back. She lost balance in midair, her altitude dropped, and she entered a giant tailspin.
“All of Ground’s Nir’s herbs are born from an All-Purpose Seed and our flowers and fruits differ depending on the water, soil, and other environmental factors. If a wise man grows us, we will become a miracle potion. If a common man grows us, we will become a mere weed.”
All the while, only the calm and composed woman’s voice rang through the dragon’s mind.
“I will praise you for one thing, Weakest. I turned out quite well when I grew from your own fattened flesh and blood.”
Ileana could multiply any number of times.
That was the strength of plants and how they presented themselves to the world.
An odd sound burst out.
It came from one of the glowing arrows fired by the Religious Society. The arrowhead had not contained Magic or poison. It had only contained a small seed. That had pierced the dragon’s skin, split her scales, and planted itself to absorb her flesh and blood.
And it grew.
Perhaps because she had grown from a black dragon, she had eternally dark skin that glistened like polished obsidian and her hair was a blazing red. A woman wearing a dress made of plant vines split the Thousand Dragon’s scales and skin as she was born into the world.
Trying to shake her off was a futile task. And Mandragoras had a well-known trait.
When they were pulled from the ground, their scream would remove the souls of all who heard it.
As the white Nun stared wide-eyed, she was within the lethal range.
A sticky smile appeared on Ileana’s lips as she took a deep breath.
The scream was coming.
But just before it did...
“You did well to last this long. Now leave the rest to me.”
Everyone’s eyes widened when they heard that.
A large, fat body sliced through the air and passed right by the Thousand Dragon’s head.
There was no need to respond with words.
He continued on through the air and arrived between the white Nun and Ileana. Unable to stop his momentum, he continued on toward Ileana with the force of an artillery shell.
A Shining Weapon that could be mistaken for a log or steel beam swung toward her gut and released all the air it had built up.
“Tch!! A Nonhuman? How did you get all the way up here!?”
“That’s none of your concern.”
He swung the large Shining Weapon around and pointed at her with its flat tip.
He had never seen one, but he looked something like a slugger as he made an announcement in a low voice.
“I came here. I arrived in time. I don’t care if it’s a purge of Nonhumans or what; I will never let you kill for anything other than living or eating. I will not let you have the Nun.”
“An endangered species has no right to speak to a paradox with a soul.”
“I eat a lot. Boo, so if you don’t want to get chewed on, get lost, vegetable.”
“...Oh? You have quite the mouth on you, I’ll give you that.”
The woman who looked like polished obsidian let out a slow breath.
A crimson light burned in her eyes alone.
“Then have a taste of death. My slight pity for your past has been washed away by my overflowing anger. I am Ileana, one of the Break News as well as the greatest Mandragora. I will consume your foolish corpse once it has been returned to the dirt!”
The Break News girl with long silver hair and a black ribbon dress looked up into the blue sky with her hands on her hips.
Next to her, a device resembling a giant wooden spoon was fixed to a seesaw-like joint and attached to sturdy plant vines.
“It looks like the catapult worked,” said Sutriona.
The catapult was a siege weapon that used the elasticity of rope or vines to throw large rocks long distances. It was a historical weapon from a time before firearms. And the military Guild named Elkiad had already proven that firearms could be created with the materials available in Ground’s Nir. Thus, it made sense that a more primitive weapon could also be made. Sutriona had possessed the knowledge from overhearing the humans at the inn town, and the Fairies had showed their skill in building it.
Also, the Gold Vein District known for its casinos had several gigantic darts used to hit large circles. They had been originally developed as projectile weapons meant to protect the inn town from Break News, but that research had failed spectacularly and only the game remained.
But as the palm-sized Fairy named Meridiana fluttered around, her face grew pale.
“Ah wa wa, ah wa, ah wa. Boo Boo is really flying! This is like something from a children’s picture book!!”
“I made sure to do all the calculations in advance. A human would have been smashed to pieces by the shock of launching them, but he’s the one who survived being lifted 1000 meters into the air in less than a second in his fight with the Thousand Dragon.”
And the Thousand Dragon’s great size was not the only problem.
The forest stirred around them.
“She’s coming to us? Saves me the trouble of tracking her down.”
The tone of Sutriona’s voice changed.
Red wings of blood grew from the back left bare by her ribbon dress.
“Don’t think you can just leave after entering my territory.”
She was answered from multiple locations.
The women who grew up from the ground around her had various skin colors: red, blue, yellow, green, etc. They were probably each a Mandragora with a different toxic or medicinal effect.
“Don’t think you can escape either. The ground and all that lives in it belong to me. Don’t get so full of yourself when you are supported by me. You should bow your head. I will teach you the proper order of things.”
“Be that as it may, a plant that simply absorbs the soil’s nutrients and does no one any good is still known as a weed.”
Meridiana cowered down from the scorching change to the air, but the Fairy Queen smiled fearlessly.
“Do you want to be exterminated? Your botanical traits change depending on the water, soil, and other environmental factors. That means you have no way of surviving if my red sandstorm of madness envelops everything. If you don’t want to end up a pitiful plant that can’t produce a single flower, I suggest you leave now. Then I will overlook you.”
“True. If you could do that.” Plant Dress Ileana’s attitude did not change. “But can you really decide to turn all of Ground’s Nir into a toxic swamp? The contamination level of your wings grows as they spread. In other words, it grows as the battle progresses. And not in a direct proportion either. I’m talking about a quadratic curve. Use your wings for an instant and the contamination will naturally break down in about 3 days, but if you continue for an hour or a full day, the half-life grows almost endlessly. By the time you have fully erased me from every part of the island, you will have created a land of death that will remain contaminated even 50 years down the line. You too are a paradox. You can do it, but you will not. Or am I wrong? After all...”
“You also did nothing when it came to the Thousand Dragon. If you had wanted to, you could have neutralized her with your red poison storm, but you hesitated because you could not even guess how far the intoxicated dragon’s rampage would spread. And what happened as a result? You simply watched as so many of the Fairies that adore you were devoured. Your decision to protect them led you to let them die. ...You can do nothing. Unlike a plant that has no means of doing anything, you are unable to do anything specifically because you stand at the top of the pyramid. The title of the strongest is effectively only for show.”
Sutriona was an adult.
So she did not interrupt and heard that long speech through to the end.
And then she smiled and responded with a lady’s courtesy and a queen’s grace.
“I’ll rip you in half, you perverted carrot.”
An Iberian Orc and the greatest Mandragora faced each other on the back of a 1000-meter dragon. Ileana’s weapon was her killer soundwaves that carried overwhelming destructive force. If she sent them in every direction, they were impossible to dodge. If she focused them on a single point, they could break through any shield or wall so her fingertips of death could reach her target’s ears. The one way to dodge it was to break the sound barrier, but that exception was not an option here.
Simply put, plant dress Ileana had an overwhelming advantage.
Boo Boo could only swing around his Shining Weapon like a log or steel beam, so he could not dodge or defend.
Or so it seemed.
But a far too solid blow overturned all those assumptions.
Just as Ileana released her cry, she was so caught off guard that she aborted the invisible spear attack.
As the white Nun listened from behind Boo Boo, it felt like the sound grew distorted.
Boo Boo had done this.
More specifically, it had been the wind produced by his Shining Weapon. Sound could not travel without a medium such as water or air. That meant it was influenced by that transmission medium. For example, if the air was compressed, the wavelength would also change. This killer soundwave was limited to an extremely delicate frequency, so this threw it into utter disarray. The ultra-high frequency waveform collapsed and the spear broke. Of course, this was only possible if one could predict where the invisible sonic spear would be.
She fired a 2nd and 3rd spear with her cry.
But neither of those hit Boo Boo either. Just before they did, he swung his Shining Weapon and compressed the air to destroy and blow away the spear.
“It’s no use. Your attacks can’t reach me.” His voice sounded almost dismissive. “And my heart isn’t afraid of a coward who only uses projectiles from a distance. The Thousand Dragon did not hesitate to clash with everything she had, so she was much stronger.”
Ileana did not stick with her failed plan.
Because she was so powerful, she immediately recognized this was not working.
“But have you forgotten that we aren’t standing on the ground here!?”
Down below, Ground’s Nir twinkled like a starry sky.
A reverse downpour of spears seemed to rebel against the laws of the world as they were launched from earth to heaven.
But those ultra-high frequency attacks were not targeting Boo Boo.
Their target was the “ground” they stood on: the Thousand Dragon.
The dragon ground shook, her mountain-like muscles writhed, and the people on her back were launched into the air.
The Succubus screamed as she was tossed about, so Boo Boo immediately grabbed her slender hand.
They were already within range of Ileana’s attacks. She shined like obsidian and maintained her fearless smile even as she was thrown into the air with them.
“Your attacks only display their true power when you can plant your feet on the ground and place your body weight behind them. But my killer soundwaves only require me to gather strength in my gut and turn my head. Can you maintain your true power like this?”
He needed to strike the air with all his might to compress it enough to function as a shield.
Any less and the Mandragora’s scream would pierce through.
It would pierce through and destroy Boo Boo’s brain.
“I have no fear. Now crash down to the ground, helpless and unconscious, last of the Iberian Orcs!!”
The attack of death was released.
Boo Boo had no hope of victory without any footing.
But that desperate situation suddenly changed.
With a roar of wind, the Thousand Dragon’s tail swung toward Boo Boo.
It was only a tail, but in human units, it was several hundred meters long.
She may have been making an ultra-massive attack more than providing him with footing. This collection of mass, speed, and kinetic energy could easily wipe out a great many stone buildings if it was swung through the inn town.
But Boo Boo accepted it.
He accepted that footing and this final chance provided by the dragon even as she clenched her teeth from the pain of the killer soundwaves.
He accepted those feelings, that kindness, and that strength.
Plant dress Ileana cried out in surprise, but Boo Boo no longer bothered responding with words.
He planted his feet on the tail, placed plenty of strength in his Shining Weapon, and blew away her killer soundwaves. He then twisted his body and sent his great weight flying with tremendous force while still holding the Succubus in one arm.
And he flew toward something.
Yes, he was making his next attack!!
With an explosive sound, obsidian-skinned Ileana crashed down to the ground like a meteor.
Boo Boo expelled all of his kinetic energy and was tossed back out into the air.
The Thousand Dragon twisted around in midair and caught him and the Succubus.
“Boo Boo, it isn’t over yet. There are still lots of Ileanas on the ground. We need to escape to the ocean! I can pour on the speed, so hold onto the Succubus and don’t let go! If you’re supporting her, I can fly faster than-...!!”
Her hurried voice suddenly ended.
Boo Boo and the Succubus tilted their heads and the massive dragon spoke a question.
“What...is that? The twinkling lights of the Ileanas are disappearing...?”
Come to think of it, what were Holy Swordswoman Beatrice, White Witch Filinion, and Fighter Priest Armelina doing during all this?
The section of the Gold Vein District near the church had been reduced to a pile of rubble.
Armelina shouted that report as she swung around a spiked metal ball attached to a steel staff with a thick chain. People were collapsed all around her. The Religious Society assassins in their Western mourning clothes and veils had all been knocked out as a storm of direct physical violence passed through.
This was not just a metal ball.
The Magic metal ball would smash anything in its path. Then the bricks, stone pavement, stone pillars, arched gates, and everything else would stick to it as rubble. With each swing, it grew larger. The more it destroyed, the more unmanageable the ultra-heavy storm named Armelina grew. At this point, not even a building’s outer wall could stop it.
But at that moment, Armelina heard an explosive blast and felt heat rush toward her. It prickled her skin like countless pins.
She shut one eye, held her hair down with a hand, and looked over to see a mass of scarlet flames.
Beatrice lightly swung her skinny rapier-like Shining Weapon.
She produced a hail of nonlethal attacks that used shockwaves and oxygen deprivation. She was a reliable ally, but Armelina silently prayed she would never have to face that fearsome girl.
“I’ve finished over here too. That takes care of most of the humans.”
“You really are cruel. It doesn’t matter if they’re in a building or behind a shield with you...”
“I don’t want to hear that from someone whose demolition ball sends them and their shield flying.”
Not only had those level cap fighters joined the battle, but it became readily apparent that the Religious Society’s forces were very unbalanced. Their Shining Weapons were Western bows with a stabilizer and close-range knives attached. It of course depended on what Magic they had learned, but the concept had been obvious from the beginning. The knives were obviously meant to make up for their deficiency in close-range combat, so Beatrice’s group had moved in close and beaten them to a pulp.
With the Break News-level killer soundwaves gone, those level cap fighters were simply powerful.
“Huh? Where’d Filinion get off to?”
“There’s nothing for her to do here.”
They showed off an absolute superiority in power that implicitly said they did not need a healer.
“This is that Mixing-obsessed girl we’re talking about. She’s probably indulging in that bad habit of hers again.”
In her plant dress, an Ileana clicked her tongue all alone within the rustling forest.
She looked up at the blue sky through the trees. She could see a 1000-meter dragon calmly carrying away her target.
(The seed fired onto the Weakest has been eradicated. I would order another arrow fired up there, but the Religious Society is not responding. Can I bring them down with only my surface-to-air attacks? My target will escape out to sea if I can’t!!)
“Is this any time to be looking away, perverted carrot?”
A pair of shining eyes stared at her from beyond the trees.
“I don’t even need to use my toxic wings. My hands are enough to break a vegetable in two and return it to the ground as fertilizer. All the nutrients you’ve absorbed from the ground will be returned using your body. A weed like you needs numbers in the thousands or tens of thousands to make an impact, so did you really think you could stand up to someone who reigns as a paradox with just one of me?”
“You’re nothing but a bug that can only lap up a flower’s nectar and chew at a tree’s fruit!!”
With the juicy sound of a root vegetable breaking, that specific Ileana’s consciousness was erased.
Elsewhere, an Ileana of a different coloration and a different variety spat on the ground at losing one of her viewpoints.
She could push back using her numbers for a war of attrition, but that was not what she had to focus on now.
(I can’t waste time on every little bug. Just like a venomous moth, if I send a few units after her, she’ll happily devour them. And whatever might happen, I’ve already made the contract. I need to accomplish my real goal while she’s focused on the decoys.)
Plants did not move on their own. They instead manipulated their surroundings using the color and aroma of their flowers.
In addition to directly having them carry pollen or seeds, they would also drive off harmful insects by attracting another insect that hunted the first kind.
“Dance, lowly bug. Dance upon your false victory.”
Plant dress Ileana laughed scornfully as she swiftly withdrew from the front line.
Ileana’s mind suddenly vanished into oblivion.
Elsewhere, another Ileana widened her eyes at losing a viewpoint.
Sweat would not stop pouring down her body. She was breathing heavily and she could not restrain the intense palpitations of her heart.
What had that been?
It had not been Sutriona’s forest rampage. Nor had it been the Iberian Orc on the dragon’s back. But who else could annihilate even one of Ileana’s units?
And that attack.
It had been like the jaws of a great predator. It had reminded her that she was a plant through and through and that she was at the very bottom of the food chain. Who could pull off an attack like that?
She heard rustling leaves behind her.
She did not have time to turn around.
Ileana’s mind suddenly vanished into oblivion.
Elsewhere, another Ileana groaned through tense lips as she realized she had lost another one of herself.
That groan contained concern...no, it was definite fear by now.
Something was there.
Even after dying, Ileana had no idea what had caused it and this monster reminded her of a predator even though she was an overwhelming Break News.
She gradually caught on to what was happening. The great swarm of Ileanas was shrinking. They were being cut down quickly enough to give her a chill. The destruction did not cover Ground’s Nir from one end of the island to the other, but the units in this forest had been nearly wiped out. The speed of destruction would give Sutriona’s toxic wings a run for their money. And there was no noticeable sign of contamination. This targeted only Ileana and utterly annihilated her.
“It can’t be...”
If this was possible, who could do it?
If this could happen, what was it?
“It can’t be!!”
Ileana’s mind suddenly vanished into oblivion.
“Bhah, wheeze, bhaha!!”
How much futile resistance did she attempt after that? Her viewpoints only continued to vanish.
The total amount of damage made her feel isolated. And the only Ileana remaining in the dark, dark forest felt her back bump into a tree trunk. She could not gather her thoughts. She needed to stay focused, lest she continue trying to walk backwards even with her back pressed against the tree.
Then the predator appeared before her.
It was a white witch with fluffy blonde hair and glasses.
Ileana was caught off guard, but she could not stop her cold sweat as she focused her wavering eyes on something: the Shining Weapon first aid kit that White Witch Filinion held like it was truly precious.
“A Mixing tool. Are you saying you’re remaking my body into recovery potions in real time!?”
“There’s an implicit understanding that we can’t take any plants or animals without a Nonhuman present, but I just can’t help myself when I see a rare material. I suppose you would call this poaching, so it’s such a bad habit.”
The witch giggled and the lenses of her glasses sparkled.
A frame of illusion Magic appeared next to her like an image floating in fog. It displayed the ingredient list for a recovery potion she could create by Mixing.
“And is it really that surprising? When you get down to it, you’re a Mandragora. With this recovery potion ingredient list and an environment that lets me calculate out such a list, boxing you up and turning you into a potion is not very hard at all. Mixing is the act of combining a few ingredients to create the Item you want according to equivalent exchange. No matter how solid it is, the original material would have to ‘disappear’ wouldn’t it?”
“That said, there’s nothing I can do without the ingredients on the list. After all, I’m Mixing you to create something new, not destroying you. So I can’t reach Sutriona if she flies high into the sky and I can’t Mix the Thousand Dragon since I don’t have an ingredient list to go with her. If I could just swallow anything up, I could insta-kill all of the Gimmicks and Traps in the Labyrinth. And I need to turn them into gears, so it just isn’t that convenient.”
Filinion then whispered the word “but”.
The overwhelming enjoyment in her eyes had the look of a true predator.
A new frame appeared in the air and revealed Ileana’s structure in no time.
It revealed her Status.
“Things are different with a Mandragora like you.”
She did not wait any longer.
This went far beyond rattling the witch’s brain. Plant dress Ileana sent out as many killer soundwave spears as she could and with enough force to fell all of the trees in their path.
The puny human body was instantly smashed to pieces.
Her torso was crushed, her upper body was cut away and torn apart, and her pitiful lower body remained standing as if it had forgotten to fall. Or that should have happened. In fact, it did happen.
“Oh, dear. Have you already forgotten?”
A new upper body grew back.
And then her Percentage-type Magic reappeared one piece of clothing at a time.
“This is an act of creation, not destruction. And I have been using Mandragoras large enough to be known as a Break News...to create incredibly powerful recovery potions.”
Ileana was speechless.
The frame floating next to Filinion provided the number of recovery potions she had in stock. It was unbelievably high. And that was not an upper limit. She could increase that number as much as necessary.
“Using recovery potions in quick succession builds up a resistance, but this one is so powerful that it’ll still work just fine even if its effects are cut in half.”
Not even the Vampire living on the beached ghost ship could regenerate this skillfully. Ileana’s foe had both the strongest weapon and an unbreakable shield. The more Filinion fought, the more recovery potions she would have. It was one-against-many, but Ileana could not imagine how she could win in a war of attrition.
“I have a suggestion.”
It was hopeless. There was nothing she could do.
She would only be consumed and consumed.
“There’s this thing called market price. I’d really rather avoid having too many Mandragoras caught because their value would crash despite the quality. And since this is related to the eye drops that temporarily fix my vision, I would rather that market remained stable. So let’s have you be the last one I collect this time. ...Leave immediately. If you don’t, I’ll walk all around the island and turn you into a mysterious extinct flower. Got that?”
“...I remember now.” Ileana gulped. “I remember now, human. The Religious Society told me about you. They gave me some information on a Holy Swordswoman, White Witch, and Fighter Priest that I needed to watch out for when attacking the inn town, but Beatrice or Armelina weren’t the one they were most worried about. It was you: ‘Anatomia Puzzle’ Filinion. Because...”
“There’s a rumor that you once consumed another person in the Labyrinth and turned them into a potio-...”
Ileana’s mind suddenly vanished into oblivion.
“What a pain.”
The White Witch reached into her first aid kit and pulled out a potion in a small rectangular bottle like one a mountain climber might carry to stay warm. Her voice returned to its usual tone as she sighed. She grabbed the bottle opening between her fingers and twirled it to swish the contents around. She was an expert at making recovery potions, so the bottle itself was a part of the potion. It was not much different from the candy beer bottles used for filming dramas.
“This potion is convenient, but it’s a little too convenient.” She sounded exasperated. “I’m pretty sure people would start fighting over it, so I either need to throw it out somewhere or bury it next to Boo Boo’s garden when no one’s looking.”
She was only speaking to herself.
What mental state led her to say it aloud?
The witch simply spoke inside the dark forest that had forgotten to rustle its leaves.
“Silly people. How many times do I have to tell them that I only have the ingredient lists I’ve calculated out and that I can only consume the things on those lists? Although things would be different if there was Magic that could turn a human into a potion.”
There were not many places for the Thousand Dragon to land. She ended up forcibly landing in the ocean along the beach (causing some chaos with the fairly tall waves that created) and allowed Boo Boo and the Nun to safely return to Ground’s Nir.
It must have been possible to see the 1000-meter dragon from anywhere on the island because Beatrice was waiting for them.
Meanwhile, there was no sign of the Religious Society or Ileana who had been attacking them so persistently before.
“Don’t worry. Everyone cleaned it all up nicely,” said Beatrice. “We beat up the humans of the Religious Society. Sutriona was pissed at having her prey stolen from her, so the glasses cow is hiding in the forest somewhere, but it’s all over regardless. Ileana was dealt with too, so you don’t have to worry, Boo Boo.”
Boo Boo tilted his head, but he decided the danger must have passed if she said there was nothing to worry about.
The Nun in a white habit hesitantly raised a hand.
“What should I do now?”
Her church had been destroyed, the Circles she had worked so hard to make had been trampled on, and the humans had chased her out of the inn town. That Succubus was persecuted and had lost her home, so she was asking if she would have to return to the forest.
But Beatrice smiled and shook her head.
“This was caused by the Religious Society, but they won’t be a problem now that we kicked their asses. I’m pretty pissed at the people in the inn town, but they won’t have a reason to randomly persecute you now that the Religious Society isn’t threatening them. So your normal life awaits you if you return. Assuming you want to go back, that is.”
“B-but I, um...”
She reached for the sides of the hood hiding her head.
She touched the horns hidden below.
The Holy Swordswoman sighed and immediately answered.
“Everyone already knew.”
“The people of the inn town knew, but they still accepted your Circles. So there really isn’t anything to worry about. They took a fair bit of damage too and the ones hit by Aleana’s killer soundwaves won’t be able to move for half a day at least. Humans really only travel back and forth between the inn town and the Labyrinth, so this was a pretty devastating blow. If someone’s willing to help them out, I don’t see why they would reject them.”
The Nun stared blankly at Beatrice for a while.
Her feelings had not been for nothing.
They had gotten through and reached the humans.
When she realized that, her expression gradually crumbled.
She gave a deep and grand bow and then she ran full speed toward the inn town.
“If the humans would have been less kind, I could have taken her for an ocean trip until the heat died down,” said the Thousand Dragon.
Boo Boo responded without giving it any real thought.
It was such an obvious thing that it did not require worrying about.
“You don’t need a reason. Some spare time is a good enough reason to give her a ride on your back.”
The Religious Society, Ileana, and the Thousand Dragon.
After a variety of fierce attacks, the buildings in one corner of the inn town had collapsed. It would have been a disaster had people had been buried by the ruins of the stone walls. Since most of the humans still could not move thanks to Ileana’s killer soundwaves, it might take a while to find them. So Boo Boo and the others followed the Nun into the inn town.
Boo Boo’s great strength came in handy at times like this.
The humans normally kept away from him due to his appearance, but as he easily lifted up the heavy rubble, the impressed people watched him from all around.
The search for victims also reached the church...or what remained of it.
Its walls had mostly crumbled into a pile of rubble after the Religious Society’s attack. The pipe organ and pews were broken, but for some reason, the pulpit up front, a portion of the wall, and some of the stained glass had survived.
Boo Boo stopped working and looked up at the brightly colored window shining in the sunlight.
“What is it, Boo Boo?” asked Beatrice as she helped next to him.
“Well, it’s my first time seeing a church.”
The Holy Swordswoman smiled bitterly at that.
It was true someone raised in Ground’s Nir would find it unusual.
“Do you know what this place is for?”
“The Nun told me in the forest. A church is where you ask god for things.”
That was a little off, but that Nun had started this through mimicry.
The concept of prayer must have existed in Ground’s Nir because he clasped his hands together as he continued.
“So I think I’ll ask that you and I always get along.”
“During the fun times and the hard times, I want to be with you. Then I know everything will be fine and I won’t have to worry.”
Promising that in front of god was basically the same as a certain ceremony, but Boo Boo would not be aware of that.
Beatrice blushed, frantically waved her hands around, repeatedly pressed her index fingers together in front of her chest, cleared her throat, stole glances at Boo Boo’s eyes, and finally made up her mind.
“Y-yes. I too hope we can-...”
“And Filinion too.”
“And Armelina, and Meridiana, and Sutriona, and the Nun! If we all get along, nothing bad will happen when we’re in trouble. We’ll be able to overcome anything.”
Beatrice brought a hand to her forehead and slowly sighed.
But his prayer was so adorable that she could not get mad.
She changed her train of thought.
The Holy Swordswoman smiled a little and added to what he had said.
“That’s right. I hope we can all get along and smile together.”
It was all over.
And someone whispered somewhere.
“The preparations are complete. It’s time we got started. Right...Gruagach?”
Filinion's Recovery Potion Mixing Text
Drop of a Spring Spirit (Over Grade)
- Milk of the Milk Coconut: 2 Small Bottles
- Yellow Mandragora (Ileana-class): 1
- All-Purpose Seed: 2
- Salt: 1 tsp
- Mid-Size Bottle (Rectangular): Liquid Type
(The bottle holding it is a part of the potion. It won’t work if you swap out the container, so be careful.)
- 3-4 Days after Mixing is complete
- When the owner’s death is detected, the bottle shatters for an automatic recovery. The brain and heart are instantly and completely regenerated to their state when they were destroyed. It provides an estimated HP recovery of around +125,000, so there should be almost no wounds it cannot heal for a human. But it is unknown if it would work on a corpse that has already started rotting.
- The ingredient list is the same as the normal risk-avoidance recovery potions that are sold for 5 Large Fragrant Wood Gears. But this custom potion’s superior effects come from the Mandragora’s overwhelming power as a Break News. It probably can’t resurrect someone from their skeleton, but since its incredible power could trigger bloody conflict, I intend to dispose of this and the sample.
1. ↑ Ushigashira means “cow head”.
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