Celestia leaned forward and muttered, “How charming.”
She was sitting on a spike-shaped boulder while observing a man and a woman in the distance. Beside them was a lifeless Sanguine Dragon—a dragon on the rank of Elders.
“But unfortunate.” Even so, Celestia remained seated. Around her, and around the two figures, were numerous boulders that were similar to what Celestia was seating on. Basically, the land was ravaged.
The man coughed a fit of blood. “We won. We actually... won.” Despite his grievous wounds, the man smiled.
The woman supported the man to sit. “Yes, we won. We averted a calamity and saved the kingdom. There’s nothing more the people could wish for.”
The man reached out to his shoulder—onto the hand of the woman.
“Please.” The man looked up to the night sky. “Please restore our lost glory.”
The woman nodded. “Leave everything to me.” She tightened her hold on the man’s shoulder. “So rest at ease, Rein.”
While the woman was speaking, the man’s eyelids fell.
“Rest at ease,” the woman repeated.
The woman laid the man down. Soon, she began gesturing a sign of a cross and clasped her hands in prayer. The moment she opened her eyes once again, the man was already sinking. Sinking into a void.
“Rein!” The girl reached out and tried to pull the man by the hand. Despite being injured by a deep cut on her legs, she mustered her strength.
She did not know what was happening. Neither did she have an idea as to why.
While she was ushering her last ounces of strength, a garbled sound came from the void. As if it was impatient, dark hands began to manifest and pulled Rein further into the void.
Suddenly, a hand grabbed the woman. “It’s futile.” Celestia shook her head. “You better let go. There’s no hope of retrieving his body.”
“Who are you?!” Adamant in retrieving Rein, the woman gritted her teeth. “Are you the one behind this?!”
Her mind was in turmoil. She did not expect an enemy to appear after an exasperating battle with a dragon. And so, she thought of Celestia as her enemy.
“...” Celestia gripped the woman’s hand harder, making her hand let go of Rein.
“Why?!” The woman cried. “What do you intend to do with the dead?!”
“I have no need for that man.”
“Then help me!” But before she could return her sight to the man’s corpse, it was already gone. “Why...”
She had already accepted his death. And as a fellow Hero, she hoped to return with at least his body and have it blessed.
Celestia freed the woman. Then the woman fell to her knees. “Why… What’s wrong with you?!”
The woman barked at Celestia. However, Celestia paid her no mind.
“Now, show yourself.” Celestia glared at the void. Then her horn, concealed with illusion, began to uncover itself.
“Who… are you…?” the woman muttered in a daze. She could no longer determine whether Celestia was hostile or not.
Soon, a pulsing red arm grasped the corner of the void. It began to climb its way out. And a soon as its head peeked out, Celestia grabbed it by the neck. Then faster than the woman could see, Celestia forcefully closed the void and smashed the red being to the ground.
Tremors shook the surroundings. The woman was blown away, screaming for her life. And with unintelligible mutters, the being spoke.
Though torn in half, the red being—who took the form of Rein—clawed Celestia’s arm.
“It’s useless.” Celestia crushed the throat. Even so, the being remained alive. To hold it down, Celestia stomped on its chest. It was then followed by a crunch.
The being thrashed around in pain, but it could do nothing against Celestia’s strength.
[Who are you?] Celestia began to locate the being’s soul. [What is your goal?]
[Ze-me!] The red being, though gradually, started to gain a skin of its own. Its lost body parts also began to regenerate.
[Ze! Me!] The ground began to rumble. Then countless black spikes burst out towards Celestia.
[What is your goal?] Celestia repeated, not giving even the slightest glance towards the spikes. And as soon as she did, the surrounding space trembled and opened a rift.
“RAAAAAAAAAGHH!” Zeme screamed in pain. The spikes he directed to Celestia ended up piercing himself. They appeared from a different rift just a few inches over his body.
[You know it’s futile. Your body is far from complete. So speak, what is your goal?]
[Retrieve! I’ll retrieve what is mine!]
[Then sleep for eternity.] Celestia began to pour some sort of mana into Zeme’s body. And as soon as it became filled, it began to compress, dragging the soul that is Zeme along with it. [You should have kept yourself away from Origin. But I must thank you, a God’s soul is far better than mere fragments.]
Zeme kept on struggling. He summoned earthen hands and tried to clap Celes and himself in-between, but it was fruitless. The hands were torn apart by a black hole that appeared for a moment. Then after half an hour of repeated struggle, Zeme spread out on the ground, lifeless.
“Just as I suspected.” Celestia held a marble that shone in multiple arrays of light. “This will make things progress faster.”
Then Celestia turned towards the direction the woman was blown.
“Unconscious huh.” Celestia chuckled. “Well, can’t blame her. But I’ll meet her soon enough as well.”
After modifying Zeme’s body back to that of Rein’s, Celestia left.
“My, what a surprise.”
After transferring to Alabaster, Celestia unexpectedly found Amelia and Kanna. Both were sprawled on the dirt.
“What do we do...” Amelia muttered.
“I want to know too,” Kanna responded.
Celestia approached without emitting a sound. “Troubled, are we?”
Amelia immediately propped herself to sit. “Celes?” She was puzzled as to why Celestia appeared before her while Kanna was around.
Kanna stood in response. “So this is that Celes or Celestia you were talking about?” Her eyes were silently gazing on Celestia’s horn. She was struck with a sense of peace as her eyes followed the falling petals.
“Hmm?” Celestia tilted her head. “In any case, this isn’t a good place to talk.”
Celestia began to transfer Amelia and Kanna before a mansion. The mansion—although located at about half-way up a mountain while facing the ocean south of Alabaster—did not seem aged. In fact, it appeared like it was recently built.
“Where are we now?” Amelia asked.
“Now, questions can be answered later.” Celestia approached the door. “For now, welcome to my humble abode?” Celestia playfully gestured, trying to imitate a butler familiar to Amelia.
After seeing Amelia followed after Celestia without qualms, Kanna followed. Not long before they sat around a table made out of a certain treant’s wood.
Amelia began asking trivial questions regarding the mansion and the reason why she was in Alabaster.
“I planned to visit Elena.”
“What?!” Amelia stood from her seat. “Elena is alive?!”
Celestia shook her head. “Unfortunately, no. The records I left behind with her name on it mentioned that she died, didn’t they? It’s the truth. And just like I said before, you are my first Kin. So to clear things up, Elena, though blessed by Divines, is a human all throughout her life.”
“I kept her body somewhere here in Alabaster.” Celestia smiled. “Nothing more, nothing less. I just wanted to visit my first daughter. That is all.”
Also, Kanna confirmed whether Celestia was the same beast that often appeared before the Elves and Enarfs during the proving. To which Celestia answered, “Yes, it was me.”
During their conversation, Amelia began to wonder if there was really a point in trying to hide the fact about Celestia. Now, Celestia, reading Amelia’s mind, answered with, “It doesn’t really matter. Whether they knew or not who I am, nothing changes. In the first place, I won’t be willing to meet random strangers.”
With those questions cleared for Amelia and Kanna, they began discussing what Amalthea requested them.
“Do you have any idea, Celes?” It pained Amelia to ask. To rely on Celes again, but she could not come up with a decent solution to their problem. Although various solutions came to mind, they were not effective enough to guarantee the dragon’s life.
“In all honesty, it would be better to slay the dragon. It would make things easier for you.”
“You don’t actually have to follow what Thea requested. I mean, you yourself can replace the dragon for Thea’s sake. And at the rate you are growing, it’ll be about one hundred times faster to wait for you to mature rather than to wait for the dragon to gain strength.”
“...” Amelia thought of the situation Celestia given.
But… would I want to be a striking dummy for Amalthea?
The thought sent shivers down her spine.
Just thinking of Amalthea losing her mind and going berserk… I don’t think I’ll still be on the side of the living afterward.
“There’s another thing I wanted to ask.”
“And that is?” Celestia smiled. Reading what Amelia had in mind, she prepared an answer.
“How do you collect souls?”
“Ughh...” Meiko lightly pulled on her bangs.
Chalk continued to smear on the board at their front.
“This is difficult...” She stared at the notes left on the board. Although she was blessed to understand languages she was not familiar with—much like a translation—it did not extend to what the phrase, sentence, or paragraph meant. In short, Meiko could barely keep up with the lesson presented before her.
Liscia chuckled. “Just as suspected, Mola’s assistant would find it difficult.” She was sitting on the opposite side of Mola. Before them, rows of long tables imitated a staircase. At the center, and at the sides, were isles.
“It’s bound to happen,” Mola muttered, focusing on the lecture regarding the difference between runes and ordinary inscriptions when creating concentric and layered magic circles.
Just as Mola introduced Meiko as a daughter of a noble, Liscia assumed that Meiko just happened to be in luck. With that in mind, she thought that Meiko would lack the base knowledge to understand the lesson before them.
“But I didn’t expect a noble to barely keep up,” Liscia muttered.
Meiko, being a human from another world, with the knowledge that could be considered advanced in Randia, barely kept up with the lessons. She was trying to incorporate the idea of how electricity flowed into the lesson. However, unlike electricity, mana could not be controlled by components, but mainly by runes and inscriptions.
The main reason as to why Meiko had the thought of incorporating electricity was due to the state of Academia.
It happened recently during the night.
“Street lamps?” Meiko was surprised. Living in Origin for a few months, she came to realize that the humans have yet to discover electricity. The proof was the oh so common gas lanterns—candles too.
“Hmm?” Mola turned around and roamed her eyes. Then she realized the source of Meiko’s surprise. “That expression is very common too. At least when arriving in Academia for the first time.”
“Electricity exists?” Meiko asked.
“What?” Mola knitted her brows. “Ah, right, your blessing interferes with speech.”
“You see, these lamps are powered by mana. And that mana supplies the shards with fuel to manifest fixed light balls on those lamps.”
Just as Mola mentioned, there are about four light balls on each lamp post.
“But don’t ask me about the source,” Mola added. “Even the top Scholars of Academia has yet to fully confirm the source of the seemingly endless mana. But according to speculations, there exist a vein underneath that is connected all throughout the structure of Academia.”
“Wait, underneath?” Again, Meiko was puzzled. “Something like a basement or underground tunnel for pedestrians?”
Mola shook her head. “No. Though you are right in saying there’s a basement of some sort, it does not describe what is underneath Academia.”
“Then, what is?”
“I told you before, right? What this place used to be before it became Academia was a place that survived against natural calamities.”
Meiko’s mind wondered for a while. “Something like Noah’s Ark?”
Surprisingly, Mola understood what Meiko meant. “Something similar, but this one is immobile and housed more than just beasts and the human race. After all, there were skeletal remains that pointed to varying races.”
“Eh? Eh?” Meiko’s mind went blank. “You know… Noah’s Ark?”
Mola knitted her brows. “Why not? It was one of the stories left behind by a Hero from the past.”
Meiko was dumbfounded. “They… wrote books?” Considering her own situation, she could not help but find it unbelievable that Heroes before her found the time to write books.
Mola scratched the side of her head. “To be more precise, it was written by a scribe included in the Hero’s party. By now, it’s a default to have someone to record a Hero’s feats. Hearing a few other stories from the Hero itself is a byproduct.”
Then those three, Charles, Clark, and Evelyn has one too?
“Anyway, let’s go.” Mola walked down the street. “We have to return before it gets too dark.”
“Oh, right.” Meiko followed. They were headed towards the lodging provided by Amelia herself—a house within the third concentric circle that defined the magic circle that is Academia.
But labyrinth? The thought surfaced in Meiko’s mind.