“Just whose idea was this?!” Liscia hollered, sweat running down her neck.
Among the group’s clatter of footsteps were ragged breaths.
“Don’t blame me!” Mola returned. “I never aimed for this!”
A while ago, the group arrived at a massive chamber with large pillars at the center. Since the chamber had two paths, the left and, the right, the group decided to let Mola make the choice. Afterward, Liscia picked up a weird scent. Following after it, they found a beast clinging to one of the pillars. Judging by the size of the pillar, which was about sixty peoples’ worth around its circumference, they withdrew in a hurry.
However, after a few steps away from the beast, “It seems like it’s asleep. So… why don’t we take it out? It’s a new species after all. I want samples.” Mola suggested.
Everyone except Meiko agreed to Mola’s suggestion. However, as soon as they came close, the beast’s large round eyes opened. “Run for your life!”
“T-the map!” Glasses lost his grip on the papers.
“Tsk! Glasses! You’re an idiot!” Mola spat.
“Back to you, Idiot! This is all your fault!”
“P-please, let’s just keep running!” Meiko suggested with a pale face. “We’ll end up wasting energy if we keep on blaming each other!”
Halbert laughed with a hint of despair as he placed himself on the rear of the group. “Look at Meiko go! She sure has some good legs! Hahaha!”
“Hal! Hal! Don’t lose it!” Liscia reduced her pace. “We’re escaping this shit! Okay?! Just like we used to!”
Halbert slapped Liscia’s rear.
“On with it! I can’t have you take this spot!”
“Hal...” Liscia glanced back, tearing up. “I will sell your stuff if you die! All of them!”
“AAAAHHHH! Damn it all! Shut up you two!” Mola interrupted. “How I wish that Dragon Slayer was here!”
“Damn!” Glasses chuckled in despair. “That will reach Her Highness’s ears, Mola!”
“Fine! I’ll ditch you here!”
“Dragon Slayer?! The Princess?! What?!” Liscia cried.
“Dragon wha—?!” Midway Halbert’s retort, was a bone-chilling roar.
“Crap?! It’s gaining on us!” Mola pumped her weary feet as if there was no tomorrow. “DAAAAMN! Meikooooo!! Do something! You’re a He-he-heavenly something! Never mind!”
“L-like I could!” Meiko kept gaining distance ahead of the group. “I’ll be better off with a Mimic! But not something like that!”
“Then I’ll let you hug the Mimic back in the storage!” Mola retorted.
“On second thought, I don’t want both!”
“Shit! To hell with this!” Mola removed her left glove. Holding it by the tip, she jumped. Then in a quick succession, after slamming the portion of the glove encrusted with shards, she turned around and pitched. “Eat my sweat you monster!”
Shortly, a fireball burst from behind the group, followed by an explosion of light shards and a whirl of wind blades.
At the same moment Mola threw her glove, the group took a glance once more, hoping that beast chasing them would be defeated. However, rather than quell their fear, the burst of light had further redeemed the features of the beast.
“RUAAAA!” the beast wailed.
Thin springy limbs with webbed palms. Quadrupedal. Cushion-like sacs underneath its palms and frog-like toenails. A long and thin body covered with a thick skin dancing between flesh and rust. An elongated neck with a head shaped like a venomous snake. A long tail reared with a gourd at its end.
“Just what is that really?!” Liscia cried as they continued their struggle. “And since when did something like that existed?! Even Academia’s roster of beasts never included such a thing! Ahahaha! Go back to the forest you strange reptile!”
Fortunately for the group, the beast naturally stops at fixed intervals. Adding the fact that the beast was sensitive to bright lights, they managed to make a decent distance between them and the beast. However, despite their efforts, the beast caught up with them.
“Those feet are annoying!” Halbert shouted.
The fact that the beast was large in stature, and the fact that the area was unusually spacious, enough to fit three galleons side by side, the sound of its footsteps were rather suppressed. It was as if they were against an invisible enemy with the minimal light the area provided.
“This is the worst! If only alloys were easy to mold like earth, then we won’t have a problem!” Mola complained. Ever since she entered the labyrinth, she found that a first level Earth Magic would be useless. Much less the oh so convenient Earth Spike.
Would Flare be enough?! While Mola and the others were crying out questions and insults out of sheer desperation, Meiko searched through the dizzying number of Magic she could use.
With her resolve filled to the brim, she began to chant while catching her breath. And then, in a rhythmic beat, Meiko planted her feet and took a pivot.
I heed you! Grand Flare!
“Mei?!” Liscia shouted in surprise. “Since when did yo—?!”
Right there and then, a flash of flame from a single point was born. The flame tottered between orange and blue and flew towards a Magic Circle. As it went through, a burst of flame lashed out.
“Wha—...” Mola was left speechless. She tried to catch her breath as the flare devoured the beast.
“Are you kidding me?” Halbert muttered.
One second. Two. Three. Then another three. The flame kept going up until the tenth second.
At the same time, Meiko and the beast fell on their knees.
“Mei...” Liscia was troubled. However, she approached Meiko and supported her back to sit. Just… just how large is her mana pool? And Grand Flare… it’s somewhere along the advanced level... Probably high up in the advance.
“Ruuu...” The beast lifted its roasted arm, quivering. As it did, some parts of charred skin peeled off, revealing an ooze of its juices. It didn’t take long before the beast lost its balance and fell to the side like an unmoving object.
On the other hand, I think I overdid it… Meiko thought.
“Hey, are you excited?” Amelia teased, smiling mischievously.
“Shut up,” Argent replied with a sigh.
“Mel, she’ll come, right? I wonder how she’ll take this?” Amelia giggled.
“Why are you even here?” Argent glared, sitting in front of a coffee table inside a vacant parlor. “Do you really have that much free time? And why don’t you bug someone else? And can’t you see I’m trying to relax here?!”
“Hmm...” Amelia approached from the door with Kanna in tow. She sat down opposite Argent, placed an elbow on the table and rested her cheek on her palm “Yeah. I guess you could say that I have too much time now. To be honest, I’m at a loss on what to do.”
Argent lifted his cup and took a sip of his wine. “I can’t blame you. Even I find Father unreasonable for your current punishment.”
“Lia, I’ll just sit here.” Reading the mood, Kanna took distance from the two and sat on a sofa.
“Oh, it’s the wyvern rider from before. It’s nice to meet you again.”
Kanna flashed a smile. “Same here. Brother-in-law.”
Amelia sighed after hearing Kanna’s faint mutter. “Argent, have you heard anything from Mother?”
“Hmm? Heard about what?” Argent knitted his brows. “If you meant Father’s punishment, then no.”
Amelia’s lips curved into a frown. “Then what am I supposed to do?”
“Why not go about as always? Get support from the Nobles and do your stuff? Like how you built the Duchy?”
Amelia shook her head. “It takes too much time. Just thinking about the amount of planning, negotiation, preparation, and execution… Haah… It’s a hopeless case.”
Argent scratched the back of his head. “You’re asking for the impossible if you wanted to sweep everything in one quick swoop.”
“But what gives? What’s with the rush?”
“Well...” Amelia played with her necklace.
“That really became a habit of yours.” Argent smiled.
Amelia blinked her eyes. “Which?”
“Playing with Grandfather’s necklace. Whenever you’re in deep trouble, you end up playing with it. Seems like a charm or some sort if you’d ask me.”
Amelia narrowed her eyes on Argent’s neck. “And you’re about to catch the same habit, aren’t you?”
Argent chuckled. “Probably.” He pulled out a necklace with a ring dangling at its end.
“It’s a surprise Mother and Father allowed you to have Grandmother’s ring.”
“They’re just being considerate. I bet they wanted to keep it as well. Probably store it as an heirloom.”
A moment of silence carved its way into the parlor.
“Say, Argent, if you could see Grandmother again, what wo—”
The chair rattled. “I’ll tell her how much I appreciate her upbringing. I’ll tell her how much I missed her. How much I had fun when I grew up with her. ”
Argent realized his sudden burst and quietly sat.
“It’s the opposite, Amelia. You need to involve people as much as you can. Or maybe you believe that you can resolve everything by relying on your own strength?”
Amelia clenched her fist as she recalled Celes’s words.
Amelia reached out her hand and held Argent’s “Brother, will you believe me?”
Argent expressed a puzzled expression. “What’s gotten into you?”
“Answer me, will you believe me?”
Argent’s mind was thrown into turmoil. “It depends.”
“Then if I told you I know where Grandmother is, will you believe me?” Amelia stared at Argent’s eyes as if looking through his soul.
In response, Argent shivered at the unexpected situation. “I don’t care.” Argent returned Amelia’s gaze. “Whatever information you have, be it truth or lie, I want it. I need it. If it’s about Grandmother, then I won’t hesitate.”
Amelia freed Argent’s hand and walked around the parlor, leaving Argent in deeper confusion. A while after Amelia searched through the nearby drawers—and after closing the curtains–she returned to her seat and handed Argent the scissors she found. The remaining source of light was but a light ball hovering behind Amelia.
“Kanna, please lock the door for a moment. Don’t let anyone in.”
“What gives?” Argent shifted his sight between the scissors and Amelia.
“Trust me.” In a matter of seconds, Amelia deployed an illusion surrounding her and Argent, to which he did not notice.
Amelia kneeled beside Argent and made him point his scissors underneath her chin.
“Oi. Are you mad?! Just what do you think are you making me do?!” Argent tried to pull his hand away, but Amelia won’t budge. “What are you doing?! We both know this is dangerous!”
Amelia closed her eyes and muttered, “Open.”
Suddenly a rift in space appeared.
And the rift devoured both Argent and Amelia. Not knowing where the rift led, Argent unconsciously shut his eyes. The moment he opened his eyes, a giant block of ice stood behind the kneeling Amelia.
“I’m sorry,” Amelia muttered. “I should have shown you this sooner.”
One ridiculous situation after another. It was thoroughly bad for Argent’s heart.
Once. Twice. Argent blinked his eyes, unable to believe the reality before him. “Is that—?”
Before his eyes, Argent’s efforts crumbled like a tower smashed at its foundation. The time he took to investigate. The web he eagerly expanded. The leads he found. The failures he encountered. His reason for putting up a front that imitated his Father. Everything. Everything collapsed.
“Since… when...?” A rush of mixed emotions devoured his being.
Amelia tightened her grip on Argent’s hand. “Since I restored the treaty with the Tribe.”
Argent shifted his sight to Amelia, his jaw quivering. “Why didn’t you tell us? Why did you hide it from everyone? If things did not go bad for you! If Father had not brought you back here! Would you have shown me?! Would you have told me?!”
“Answer me!” Argent’s arm trembled. He now realized what the scissors were for. “Do you think everything will be over if I drove this into your neck?!” The tip of the scissors reached Amelia’s skin.
“Why won’t you speak?! I have so many questions to ask you!”
“I had no hand in this.”
“Impossible! Then how did you retrieve Grandmother?!”
“It wasn’t me.”
“It wasn’t me!” Amelia rasped her teeth. “It! Wasn’t! Me!”
“Then how would you explain this?!” Blood rushed towards Argent’s head. But his conflicting feelings stopped him from doing any action.
“I can’t! I can’t explain it, do you understand?! Even I don’t know how it ended up like this! I know it’s me being selfish, but I didn’t want you, Father or Mother to see her! Because I don’t know how I would explain it! I mean, if I told all of you that an all-powerful being retrieved her, would you believe me unconditionally?! Besides! All I know is that I have access to where her body lies! I don’t even know where this place is!”
“I know! Which is why I want you to believe me! All I know is that Grandmother was caught by the Fairies! And Grandfather worked his way to retrieve her!”
Argent gritted his teeth. “Then why didn’t Grandfather tell anyone if that was the case?! He’s not the only one who cared for Grandmother!”
“He did! He told me in a roundabout! Perhaps he did tell you too! He always consoled me that Grandmother is touring the world with butterflies! But maybe, just like you and me, he took everything to himself, not wanting to drag anyone else in the ridiculous situation he was put into!”
“Gh!” Argent could not deny it. He himself knew the feeling of taking the situation by his own hands and not relying on anyone else.
“For now, I want you to decide! Drive it or not! And don’t worry about leaving a corpse behind, because I’ll stay here if you decide to do so and return you to the parlor!”
“You’re sick, Amelia!”
“So what if I am?! I have always been since everyone left me!”
Argent pulled the scissors out as Amelia relaxed her arm. Then, after throwing the scissors away, he raised his arm.
“You really have a death wish, don’t you?!”
“… So what if I had?” Amelia remained kneeling, retaining her gaze on the floor beside her. Her shoulder shook up and down as she expressed a laugh. “Do you even know how it feels to know that you’re the center of the conflict you never wanted to be into?”
Argent knitted his brows. “… Are you running away again? Are you trying to blame your situation so you could have a reason to give up?”
“Brother, does this look like a person running away?” Little by little, Amelia’s horn manifested before Argent’s eyes. “Is forsaking my humanity running away?” Amelia laughed.
“Big Brother. I decided to not do the same as before. I don’t intend to do everything on my own. No, perhaps, if someone did not let me realize it, I’d still be doing things on my own. But she’s right. She’s frighteningly correct. There are things that I can and can’t do. I’m not perfect. Not even after throwing what I used to be.”
“Let’s end this for now. Clarissa would be arriving soon. We can’t have her wait.” Amelia stood and turned the other way. It didn’t take long before the surroundings returned to the parlor with Amelia’s horn out of sight. “For now, please think about it. I’ll hear your answer afterward.”
Amelia left Argent speechless and fetched Kanna. Even after closing the door, Argent remained standing with mixed emotions plastered on his face.