Chapter 15: Upended Traditions

It's about damn time I got an opportunity to actually explore this new world we stumbled into...the past few days have been nothing but one mad crisis after another.

So business as usual but that doesn't mean I have to be happy about it.

This view is worth it, thankfully. Hard to tell when you're flying overhead at about the speed of sound—if not faster—but the natural mountain formations and other landscape of the Underworld is nothing short of breathtaking, beautiful in an alien and supernatural way.

Might be the first time in the history of forever that someone described an Underworld as beautiful.

But as I haul myself up a snow-covered cliff, reinforced fingers biting into solid stone and frozen water before smoothly rolling my body to the edge of a precipice a good few hundred meters up it's an undeniable fact.

The mountain range the Dragons of the Underworld call home, under the light of the artificially altered sky, shines with blinding radiance that would be scorching my retinas if it wasn't for a pair of sunglasses and let's not even mention the sunburn I'll likely be sporting after the fact, tan skin or not.

...The crisp, frozen air that fills my lungs would be cheap at half the price. And the rest of my body is fairly comfortable, the exertion of my hike alongside insulated jacket and pants keeping the chill from settling in even though it's a balmy minus seven celsius out.

I turn to get the attention of my contemplative and quiet companion-

-and blink as I find myself staring not at aforementioned companion but an enormous wooly creature with sharp teeth and fairly impressive paws, licking its chops with a blackened tongue as it gazes down on me.

"Holy shit, it's the abominable snowman."

The mountain yeti reaches out with a meaty hand as I mentally sigh at the ruined atmosphere...and soft music washes over the landscape, lyrical song causing the albino bigfoot to blink and scratch its head in confusion before shrugging to itself, walking off with trundling footsteps before blending into the snow, fur perfectly camouflaged in this kind of arctic environment.

...Ok, so it's not all sparkling vistas and flawless tourism. The locals can be a little rough on outsiders.

"Thanks for the save, Tia."

"Think nothing of it."

The near inaudible crunch of compacted snow reaches my ears, a silent presence arriving at my side as she stares out over the same view as I am.

"Seeing the outside world myself is...strange. Different than when you showed me it before."

"Yeah, I tried to recreate things as best Irappu and I could but there's only so much you can draw from memory, even if it is a pretty damn good facsimile. The air, scents, sounds..."

I avert my eyes from the sprawling mountains to instead focus on my companion, crouching low as she tenderly scoops a handful of pristine powder into her palms...and lightly licks it with innocent curiosity burning within fuchsia orbs, causing me to chuckle as she gives the snow an odd look.

"Just don't go trying any patches that are colored yellow, all right?"

"For what reason?"

The genuine curiosity causes me to shake my head, instead performing a bit of Gradation Air that has two simple chairs of wood and soft down appear next to us as we settle in to wait.

"I'll explain another time. You haven't noticed anything wrong with your body yet, have you?"

A small, guileless smile pulls at flawless lips as Tiamat meets my concerned gaze, replying, "There are no complications. I feel more alive than I have in millennia."

"Good, just be sure tell me if anything—and I mean anything—feels off or unnatural, okay?"

"I shall. Your companions were correct, you do worry far too much."

"About some things, yes."

She takes her seat with a content expression on her features, tail curling around a slim waist while turquoise locks brush the fine powder in sprawling waves, body modestly covered in a dress similar in pattern to the slight shawl she used to adorn.

With the removal of her chains the rather...revealing aspect of her outfit had to be fixed, since I didn't want anyone getting a free show of my woman.

Explaining the concept of modern decency thankfully hadn't taken much time and now she appears far more like a regal empress than she did a regal temptress.

"Horatius?"

I snap out of my aimless thoughts as Tia affixes me with a gaze that to most would be expressionless, to me is mildly apprehensive.

"Will my presence be a hindrance? The Sumerian God Queen-"

"Will get over her distaste of the divine soon enough, especially considering that you're not a God anymore. Hell, she managed to mostly move past her beef with the rest of us in just a few days. I give you a week or two before she moves beyond passive aggressive simmering to grudging acceptance."

While obviously hesitant my lady eventually nods, instead returning to observing our surroundings, occasionally moving her now liberated arms and legs across the snow in idle patterns, limbs adorned no longer in a physical Divine Graph but more mundane channels of prana, the lines glowing a bit less bright but still present.

"Should the others not be here by now?"

"Hard to say, cross-dimensional travel is never an easy thing, no matter how often you do it. On the plus side time runs at pretty much a similar pace here as it does back home, so I'd bet they're arriving...now."

On cue a portal of swirling light springs to life, two figures stepping through it as I raise a hand in greeting.

"Yo. Welcome to the Underworld."

Barthomeloi Lorelei doesn't look to be in the mood for any of my shit, rare bags of darkened skin beneath her eyes as Kischur—relaxed as always—looks around the surrounding terra with an appreciative nod.

"Quite the charming location, air tastes a bit different than it does back on Earth. And a good day to you as well, Tiamat."

Appearing momentarily unsure of how to reply the ex-Goddess eventually settles for a polite nod.

"According to the locals there hasn't been any kind of industrious or Human 'pollution' of this terrain in almost three millennia. Only Dragon farts and mountain geysers to be found here, ladies and gentlemen. Also the occasional yeti that blends in with the surroundings to an alarming degree but I doubt that would be much of a-"

"Where are the others we are to meet with? My time is precious, fool, and I would not have it wasted on frivolities...especially not with your ilk."

The Queen of the Clocktower's tone is bereft of its usual haughtiness and pride, leaving only a cold maliciousness and efficiency behind that's so potent even Tiamat shifts uneasily, edging closer to my location as if to leap to my aid should it become necessary.

Touching, but unneeded.

In this specific case Barthomeloi's ire is well-deserved, seeing as how I've managed to turn the balance of world's upside down in less than a few days of quality work.

"They'll be arriving in another half-hour or so. I called you here early so we could go over some details you need to be aware of, Lorelei."

Kischur lazily plops into the chair I manifest for him, the austere woman electing to stand and glare down at me.

"Indeed, there are many things we need to discuss. You should begin with how a Goddess of old sits beside you, rather than languish in her prison...as well as the bridge between worlds that continues to sustain itself despite any and all efforts to shut it."

Folding my hands in my lap I idly reply, "Fair enough, I'll go first. To begin with, you're incorrect in assuming Tia here is still a divine being. She's a Heroic Spirit now."

That catches Lorelei off guard, even Zelretch—who hasn't heard the details yet—raising an eyebrow.

"Impossible. Gods are not-"

"Capable of ascending to the Throne? You're absolutely right, a God can only use proxies or doppelgangers to manifest...except I'm a bit of an oddball case myself. I didn't call upon Gaia or Alaya to carry out this little plan of mine, I called upon the World."

Kischur immediately clues in as to what I no doubt did, frowning in thought while Lorelei just scowls.

"The World? The planet is Gaia while-"

"You're thinking too small, lorelei. Irappu and I are an outlier in the scheme of things, an amalgamation that really should have never happened. A Human soul inhabiting a spirit of Gaia, completely in harmony with the other...to that end, we can access the true state of the world, shouting out with all our might so that we may be answered by a being as unified as ourselves. Gaia and Alaya, present as one."

Pearly white teeth grit at my explanation.

"Ridiculous. The union of two diametrically opposed interests-"

"Is no more strange than the man in front of you, isn't it? And there was never any reason the will of Humanity and that of the planet had to clash, Lorelei...that's just the way things panned out. Ask the fucking Kaleidoscope sitting next to you if you don't believe me. While rare there are realities where Humanity and Gaia successfully coexisted."

Expression souring I continue on with, "But as for Tia's circumstances? That's really quite simple, if you're willing to accept that it truly was the unified manifestation of Earth I was speaking to. You see, I made a deal. An exchange of powers, if you will."

I lift up the hem of my shirt, revealing my navel and the markings upon it that are an exact match to the ones Tiamat has.

"Are those...Command Seals?"

Kischur leans in, cupping his chin before abruptly snapping his fingers.

"Symbolic ones, not actual bits of magecraft that can create and sustain a variety of effects."

Of course one of the founding members of the Grail would spot the differences right away.

Nodding along with Kischur's observation I continue with, "The terms of the deal were this. Tiamat's power would be returned to the World, her Divine Graph and its accumulated energy—as well as all the behaviors and stipulations that came with it—recycled and reforged to sustain Gaia's life for a good long while. In return, Alaya would recognize Tiamat as a Heroic Spirit."

My hand laces through hers, self-satisfied smile tugging at my lips.

"Her deeds as a Goddess that gave life to the planet, only to be betrayed and cast aside by those that called her mother were qualification enough to ascend to the Throne. And from there it was a simple enough matter to have her form and memories remain at my side, as these markings imply."

The Apostle nods at my explanation, Lorelei's poker face not shifting so much a millimeter.

"And the rip in the fabric of reality, that took an enormous amount of effort and capital to hide from the world in a timely manner and has torn to shreds many Magi that attempted to navigate it?"

"Ah, that? Well technically that wasn't my doing, it was the work of some less than pleasant individuals on this side of reality. And it's not my fault this year's Darwin Award troupe decided to explore the giant fucking rip in space-time without stopping to think about it. The Dimensional Gap is a scary place, as I've come to realize. Only reason Kischur managed to get through was because it's a lot easier to observe this universe now that there's a highway—however tenuous—that leads to it."

I neglect to mention that one of the minor conditions I posed to the World was to supply the rip in reality with a bit of conceptual mumbo-jumbo so it could sustain itself indefinitely, on the assumption that it would benefit both Gaia and Alaya. Gaia from having a roadway to a world rich in natural prana and Phantasmal species, Alaya from the new lands, technology and resources the new world contained.

Getting the World to protect the metaphorical silk road was an easy pitch when presented in terms like that.

"So it would seem. Are there any moreof these details you seem so interested in speaking of?"

"Yes, actually. A very important one. The Magus Association as it is now? You and the Director are going to have to start reorganizing and reigning it in, putting an end to the wanton experimentation and exploitation you and your ilk seem to consider their natural born right."

Lorelei doesn't even bother scoffing at my words, blandly retorting, "You have spoken of your distaste of the Mage Association and its associates in the past. I see no reason to begin paying attention to your warnings now, of all times. And despite all your protests and condemnations you still choose to work within the system, much as the Apostle here does."

"Any other time you would be right...but now? Now you're wrong."

I notice Kischur lean in with clear curiosity in his expression as I offer Lorelei a smug grin.

"The reason Kischur, myself and more than a few others choose to interact with any of you at all is because there was no alternative. Even though it enabled individuals to kick off no shortage of tragedies and accidents that occur to those not aware of the Moonlit World it was also the organization that had the resources to hunt down and stop those very same people...well not any longer."

I allow my glee to show in full, stating, "This world? It's a bit of a strange one. In this reality ours is a work of fiction, where events and characters are observed from the standpoint of omnipotent creators and readers, with details and information in exacting meticulousness."

The 'exacting meticulousness' part is a lie but as I toss over my phone—information about Lorelei front and center on the screen, her likeliness depicted in a cartoonish manner—I don't need to tell the truth, just sell a deception. By the time the truth is out it'll be too late.

"What is this...abomination?"

"That's you, Queen. A you that's open for the whole world to see. I imagine you can see the implications of this?"

An ugly expression appears on the woman's features, my fingers deftly snatching the phone from her grasp before she crushes it to pieces.

"Any dealings we may have with the individuals of this world will be from a position of weakness, as they know secrets and knowledge most others wouldn't have. And believe you me, there a lot of people from this realm that wield considerable personal power, who are just as eager to expand past the tear in reality as you no doubt are...and to you they would not be friendly."

Kischur chuckles, catching on to my scheme as Lorelei narrows her eyes.

"You think the Magi's pursuit of the Akashic Records would create conflict?"

"Not think, know. These realms contain countless Phantasmal species, Magecraft from the Age of Gods users and systems of magic that can border on Sorcery. Tell me your run of the mill Magus wouldn't try to kidnap, coerce or bully someone into procuring...experiments for their personal use, once the portal can be successfully navigated."

Barthomeloi seems unimpressed by my arguments, stating, "Your words reek of naivety. There will always be those who seek to cater and profit through means less than noble or forthright. Many will not care about this knowledge of our universe or will outright use it to further line their pockets, the Magus Association will not change because of this."

An unpleasant smile twists my face.

"You're right, you know...except for two key facts. Most of the people that would have taken your ilk up on those offers, would have delighted in the chaos and grief that such actions would have brought about? We killed them. A God of Death and a madman who was responsible for the highway between our worlds, rotting in the dirt. Powerful and influential individuals who could have met the Association's demand are no longer in any position to do so. As for the second reason?"

My smirk turns feral.

"I was the first one in this world, Lorelei. I was the representative who made first contact and the one who got to share all of his observations and dealings during his time on our home reality...and I spoke to a great many people, the leaders of some of the most powerful factions, in fact."

She merely seems confused by my statement until Kischur openly laughs, the briefest hints of dread appearing on Barthomeloi's expression before she returns to a state of neutrality.

"You didn't."

"I did. I provided many of my unadulterated opinions and observations, corrected a few misconceptions and shot down a few tentative proposals."

A chuckle leaves my lips at a recent memory.

"You know, one of the natives here actually asked if they could make use of one of the Gods of our world, a replacement for their own. By the time the conversation was over I had rather firmly embedded the idea that the deities and creatures of our world were decidedly unhealthy for them..."

"You cretinous snake."

Barthomeloi's words are a furious hiss as I spread my arms in satisfaction, announcing, "The denizens of this world—their leaders, at least—are now firmly of the opinion that the Magi are dangerous and pathological liars that need to be contained and quarantined, lest their overzealous proclivities cause trouble on this end. The best part is that I didn't even need to lie, just highlight my own experiences over the millennia and their access to information about our reality did the rest."

I lean forward, letting my words grow as cold as our surroundings.

"Unless you can find a way to somehow shut off the portal connecting our realities people from both sides will attempt to navigate it. And once they start mingling, interacting and realizing that the cruel little children that you all are truly match my descriptions...they're going to step on your fucking neck. Because I warned them that this was going to happen, that they would only be viewed as means to an end."

I meet the Queen's apoplectic expression with deathly levels of seriousness.

"The monopoly the Association and other organizations had on Supernatural authority is over. I've already made offers and overtures to this realm's civilization, working out a vague but workable system of trade and security that ensures a war between worlds doesn't occur once people figure out how to successfully and safely cross over."

A wicked grin is sent the woman's way.

"I'm part of that security arrangement along with a few friends I met here. If trouble between worlds arise a few select enforcers are going to get ahold of those responsible and make it clear what happens to those who break the rules...you know what Altera, Scáthach, myself and now Gilgamesh and Tia have been up to over the past few decades, Lorelei. Hunting down and eradicating threats most armchair generals and researchers can scarcely imagine. We're good at what we do."

Our gazes lock.

"I don't have to play by the Association's rules or tolerate its existence anymore, not when there are countless other organizations and people that are far friendlier than you and your ilk that would love to have me take advantage of their information and quests. Times are changing, Barthomeloi...adapt or die."

Kischur widely grins as he observes our staredown, Tia once more edging to the lip of her seat as the air takes a violent turn-

-and Lorelei settles for clicking her tongue in irritation.

"We shall see if these proclamations of yours hold true in the future. Who are these individuals I am to meet?"

Yet again on cue teleportation circles flare to life a few meters away, a chuckle escaping me as I state, "Surprisingly good and decent people. You're gonna hate them."


"Completely unacceptable. A deal of that nature is premature in the extreme when a safe method between our realms has not even become close to being discovered."

"And yet would you not say that it is a far safer thing, to address concerns early rather than wait until they are staring us in the face?"

"Your concerns, ours are seemingly being trivialized or outright ignored."

"Of course that's not the case, but you can't deny that, given what we know of 'Magi' culture that we are the ones at a disadvantage when it comes to potential dealings, since our very bodies are seemingly prized among your organization as research material. Not all of our population will know how to properly protect themselves against potential predations."

Lorelei fights back an open scowl, facing down the smaller woman opposite her as she cooly retorts, "That is what Horatius has told you, correct? And what you have gleaned from your 'information' on our world? Have you considered the possibility that a single individual's perspective would not be enough to achieve a complete understanding of the reality, or that some 'articles' may be out of date or inaccurate?"

This time a familiar face rather than the shorter woman fields the inquiry, Michael gently smiling as he states, "Of course we have and you raise a valid point...but Horatius has already pointed out to us many of the incorrect assumptions we made during our first meeting, as well as performed a great favor for our people while seamlessly working with representatives of our choosing. Aforementioned representatives had nothing but polite things to say afterwards as well. We have no reason yet to doubt his words and thoughts on these matters."

Hmm...on that note I wonder how Tobio, Dulio and Vali are doing? Those lads have kinda grown on me, the aftermath of Trihexa's defeat and Tiamat's liberation leaving all of us rather busy and unable to keep in touch.

One this mess is over hopefully I'll have the chance to catch up.

For the moment, however, I just luxuriate in the sight of Barthomeloi fighting back teeth grinding as she tries to salvage whatever advantages she can wrangle out of the debate...all while trying not to glower at one Serafall Leviathan, the main representative and negotiator of the whole thing, dressed in what I can only describe as a mildly suggestive Magical Girl outfit.

Yeah, I was surprised too.

The collection of faces both old and new—Azazel, Sirzechs, Michael and Gabriel being among them with a collection of other individuals—had all dressed to impress with the shortest of them all looking like she'd just left the filming studio.

...Eh, I've seen weirder.

"You know, I think you've really ticked enough people that they may legitimately try to off you this time, Horatius."

"If that's their hope they missed their chance. With Tia and Gilgamesh added to the roster any singular or small group of individuals trying to settle a grudge are gonna be in for a rough time. And any collection bigger than that is like sending up a giant signal flare, so again...not particularly worried."

Tia slowly dips her head in agreement, not audibly contributing but affirming her stance all the same as Kischur finally turns to address the newly ascended Heroic Spirit.

"Haven't really had a chance to catch up with you yet, just what can your lady friend do now that she's technically no longer a Goddess?"

Without prompting Tia closes her eyes, the ground beneath her flowing gown bubbling and shifting for a moment...and then the head of a small lizard pokes out of the formless mud, blinking a few times before dissipating along with the void-like material a second later.

"Tia's Noble Phantasm, Kischur. Sea of Life, which allows for the creation of beings loyal only to their mother."

The Ancestor's eyes lock on to where the small critter existed a mere moment ago, mumbling, "Fascinating...have there been limits to this Phantasm? Or should I ask are there limits?"

I shrug, dryly replying, "Not that we've discovered, other than it's my power that fuels the creation, much like how the other three function. Because Tia is directly connected to Gaia's memories through her link to me—adding in my attachment to Irappu—she essentially has access to all Phantasmal Beasts and Spirits of varying class that were ever associated with the planet. Strongest creature we've had a chance to experiment with thus far was the Tarasque."

My oldest friend shakes his head, wryly remarking, "Not enough that you gather some of the most powerful Heroic Spirits under one banner, you decide to go ahead and simply create one. Over achiever much?"

"I blame circumstances rather than my work ethic. Helps that there was someone worth it."

My fingers lightly trace the edge of Tia's horns, the smooth and pleasant bone a familiar sensation as the ex-Goddess smiles in contentment.

"Geez, I get it. You two love each other, no need to rub it in the face of all of us single people."

I'm about to offer up a retort of my own when I spy Gabriel break away from the proceedings, elegantly approaching us with a satisfied smile on her expression.

"Greetings, Horatius, Tiamat. And I don't believe I've had the pleasure, sir…?"

Whipping out a roguish grin in the face of the beautiful Angel's approach Kischur swiftly places a gentlemanly kiss on the back of her hand, causing the woman to blink in surprise before offering a friendly and radiant smile in return.

"Oh my, such a distinguished man of great manners!"

"In the face of such refined beauty mannerisms equal to the loveliness displayed must be upheld, my dear lady. Kischur Zelretch Schweinorg, at your service."

"Oh my, the famed Magician? Horatius has had much to say about you. And I am the Seraphim Gabriel."

The woman offers a deep bow of greeting—I'll give the Vampire credit for not letting his eyes wander so much as a centimeter downward, even with the dangerous levels of cleavage on display—as he jokingly states, "Nothing pleasant, I imagine."

"On the contrary, he has spoken highly of the many accomplishments and measures you have taken to safeguard your world. It's quite reassuring to know you will be playing a part in the protections that will extend to our own realms as per this agreement."

Placing a gloved hand over his heart the Apostle humbly responds, "Then I suppose I must rise to the occasion and ensure I don't disappoint such a wonderful woman such as yourself."

A pleased giggle leaves the Angel as I resist the urge to roll my eyes, knowing he's turning on the charm just to spite me for showcasing my rekindled love.

"Don't expect too much, Gabriel. You can't teach an old dog new tricks."

A derisive snort escapes Kischur as he states, "As if you were one to talk, you're older than me."

"Yes, Horatius, it's not nice to poke fun at someone's earnest efforts. After all, I'm sure Master Schweinorg will perform most superbly~!"

The smile she sends the Apostle's way could be seen as playful or condescending, were it not for the complete lack of guile present. I snap out of my thoughts as she more seriously asks, "One point of concern, Horatius...we know the Great Red resides within the Dimensional Gap and you made it sound as if it was displeased with the 'intrusion'..."

Gabriel's wings ruffle slightly as she asks, "Were you able to appease it?"

"...Yes."

Both Zelretch and the Seraphim give me cautious gazes, my answer no doubt seeming pretty lacking.

But how the fuck am I supposed to explain that the agreement between that monster and myself consisted of a hard day's work, creating a planetary system with gravity wells, chaotic asteroid fields and gas giants that created a hellish mess of shifting physics anomalies that, according to the DxD, was the 'best damn trick course in the history of ever'?

I helped make the accursed thing and I still can't believe that was the price of the bargain.

"Trust me, it won't be bothering us for a while."

"Well, if you say so..."

Gabriel bows once more before politely excusing herself with, "It was a pleasure speaking with all of you, hopefully we will have the opportunity to converse once more in the near future."

The talks between the various representatives continues as the Angel returns to the conversation, my eyebrow raising as I turn towards Kischur, the Apostle stroking his chin with a contemplative air.

"I didn't realize you took so much umbrage with my recently rekindled romantic life that you cranked on the charm in a vain attempt to woo a pathologically innocent and pure creature, just to prove a point. Then again from what I understand the Angels in this world can't partake of too much hedonistic excess without becoming Fallen Angels, so a sexless romance might just what the doctor ordered for an old and codgery individual such as yourself."

"Hmph! I'll have you know I can still perform the tantric arts with just as much grace and vitality as I could when I didn't look like old horse leather."

My lips twitch in a failed attempt at hiding a smile before teasing, "Well who can say? From what I've seen she may just be the perfect foil to your more nefarious ways."

A scoff leaves the Vampire as he affixes me with an expressionless glare.

"Stop trying to dance around the subject, Horatius...it's time you come clean on how you knew freeing Tiamat and establishing a contract with the World would work in your favor."

I merely offer an innocent look.

"True, you more than anyone would have an inkling on how to properly negotiate, being connected to Irappu and all that...but something like what you did is entirely unprecedented, at least in the vast number of realities I've observed. How did you know you were saving the world and not destroying, enslaving, burning, freezing or resetting it?"

I lean back in my chair, lightly caressing Tia's tail as the appendage winds its way into my lap.

"Easy enough of an answer, I didn't."

"...What?"

I shrug helplessly, responding, "You're right, something like this has never been done before and who knows if it'll happen again? This was a blind shot with a lame arm in a lightless room, what I did. The consequences were completely unknowable and unpredictable."

Tia's eyes meet my own as a smile of contentment is shared between us.

"But I was gifted something I never thought I would get, a second chance to make things right. Whether I provided the world with salvation or damnation...I was going to give it a shot."

Kischur is silent for a moment, eventually stating, "You know, this is one of the reasons I first attempted to kill you back when we met in person."

"And the fact that you tried is what made me decide to become friends with your belligerent self. It's rare you find a Magi that also possesses something resembling a functioning moral compass."

He snorts, staring out over the vista before heaving out a sigh.

"And neutering the Magus Association with this newfound treaty? Believe me, this is by no means a complaint but such an act will lend itself to an entirely original branch of problems."

"Oh, that was something I've always had in the works, a little plot that only needed the proper catalyst or set of circumstances to get kicked underway. The times of us having to work within a shitty and subpar system—with only roundabout and relatively benign pranks or inconveniences to make things bearable—are coming to an end."

"Heh, I'll drink to that...and all it took was an inter-dimensional apocalypse to kick start the whole process."

Tia lays her head on my shoulder, mindful of her horns as I chuckle at Kischur's comment.

"Just par for the course when it comes to us, right?"


Gilgamesh

"Oh come now, Queen of Heroes...are you still in such a foul mood that you would refuse to take part in the revelry? Many of the young men—and a select few young women—are on the verge of gathering enough courage to approach and ask what ails you so, on what should be the eve of a most lovely celebration."

I don't bother gazing around the common room, having sensed both the concerned, amorous and nervous emanations from those that would seek my company as I scowl at the magically projected news on the wall of the bar we found ourselves in, the patrons celebrating the demise of the self-proclaimed Khaos Brigade and Qlippoth organizations we rather thoroughly shattered..

[And in other news the talks regarding the newly opened portal to the Dimensional Gap have been concluded, Sirzechs Lucifer and Leader of Heaven Michael having delivered statements regarding potential contact and expeditions to ascertain what lies upon the other side, as well as determine if there is any possible threat-]

I scoff at the cover story being used for now, as well as how a few rather important details are being glossed over...such as the one where we defeated a tremendously powerful beast that would have given the Bull of Heaven a 'run for its money'—to borrow from the modern lingo—and expended a great deal of my treasures in the process of doing so.

"Don't ignore me."

A warm and curvaceous body alongside sizable bust obscures my view as the Witch of Dun Scaith throws herself onto my lap, smirking as she condescendingly waves a kebab in front of my nose.

"Are you cranky because you lack proper sustenance, Gilgamesh~? Here, open wide~!"

I momentarily debate turning the stick of food into ash with one of my treasures before deciding the action would too petty, rolling my eyes as I select a choice morsel, ripping it off the shank as Scáthach reciprocates the action...in a far more suggestive manner, dipping her head back so that her neck is on full display as it swallows the seared and scented meats, jumping at the action as I resist the urge to scowl.

The repressed lust in this room took a sharp upwards trend at that singular move.

"Have you no shame, Scáthach? Putting on such a brazen show for this crowd?"

Resting her head on my shoulder as she grin salaciously the Lord of Shadows playfully responds, "Oh don't be such a prudish hypocrite, Golden Girl-"

I beg her pardon...Golden Girl?!

"-you've been just as open and blatant with your flirting. Or am I thinking of a different Heroic Spirit that was trying to seduce Horatius even when she was in the body of but a young lady?"

"There is an appreciable difference between acting open among those who are worthy and those who are but distant subjects."

"Must be a difference my woefully uneducated self is unaware of then. Perhaps you should take after our dear Altera more."

Following the maroon-haired woman's outstretched finger I sullenly glare at where the Hunnic King is surrounded by a cheering crowd, working her way through an eating contest aptly dubbed 'The Carnivore Challenge' with all the inexorability of a horde of locusts, seeming to be well on her way to devouring the enormous pizza with time to spare.

"I will not lower myself to perform such an absurdly ludicrous and demeaning task for the amusement of others."

"Hmm...if you say so."

Scáthach finishes off the rest of her kebab, swiftly swinging a leg up and over my shoulder so that she can now straddle my lap, a serious expression adorning her features as she gazes directly into my eyes.

"Now why don't you impart to me the cause of your foul mood? This is a time of celebration and relaxation, not moping and self-pity."

"Imply that I am moping again and we shall have words."

"Imply? I'll outright state it. You're moping."

I have half a mind to begin summoning a weapon to drive home how serious I am before giving up on the notion, knowing that it would serve more to amuse the woman than actually dissuade her.

"Having my achievements be swept under the rug when it was an invested battle in which I expended many of my treasures is an absurd and demeaning set of circumstances. What nonsense, all worlds should know of those who were involved."

"A valid complaint...but one that you should grow used to, if you desire to continue your time spent among our group. We have not had tales sung of our exploits for many decades now, the accomplishments and battles we wage often fought beyond the reaches of time, space and reality."

My eyebrow arches, tone wry as I ask, "And that has not bothered you? I find that doubtful."

"Of course it has bothered me. But that bother is such a tripe price to pay for what I have gained in exchange for anonymity. We have already discussed this, Queen of Heroes...and this is not what is truly bothering you, is it?"

I respond with a haughty sniff, something that doesn't seem to bother or deceive the woman in the slightest.

"It's the Goddess, isn't it? Or maybe I should say Heroic Spirit, since that's what she is now."

My irritation must have been more readily observable than I first thought it, Scáthach sighing as she wryly states, "I would have never imagined you the type to be jealous, Gilgamesh."

"Perish the thought. It is not something as banal as jealousy that has soured my mood-"

"Just the fact that you were wrong in decrying such a sweet and loving lady as a mad Goddess? Or that Horatius did the impossible and freed her from an inescapable fate?"

Now well and truly irritated I fire back, "And what of you and Altera? Your self-proclaimed partner and consort of many years essentially ran off with another woman to enjoy a damned honeymoon. Why are you here, among the common citizenry acting and partying as if nothing was wrong?"

Instead of facing an unpleasant truth the infuriating woman merely offers me an indulgent smile, as if I was the one that was acting childish and spurned.

"I can see why you would think that, Golden Girl...but you're acting under the assumption a great many seem to hold, that Altera and I are Horatius's romantic lovers and partners. It's a bit more complicated and meaningful than that."

She places a finger on her chin, as if in deep thought.

"Tiamat is indeed the one individual he loves in a romantic sense, through and through. As for us? It's rather hard to say...I suppose the easiest way to describe it is that we're family in the truest sense of the word. We saved each other from fates we regretted or lamented, offered each other companionship and the promise of never again having to be lonely. We're roommates, friends, siblings, lovers, drinking buddies and sparring partners...we're whatever we need each other to be as the whims of fate and day-to-day life continue ever onwards."

A smile that's ridiculously calm and peaceable pulls at her lips.

"It's the most liberating feeling in the world, Gilgamesh. One that, hopefully, you will quickly come to appreciate in full. Feel like cuddling and fucking? Whenever it's convenient or feasible. Want to swap old tales and drink yourselves into a stupor, cursing like salty sailors? That's also perfectly fine. We will be with each other for however long the rest of this small slice of eternity lasts...No sense in limiting ourselves with things like relationship titles."

A far more perverted expression appears on her lovely features.

"And you make it sound as if we are forever banned from our companion's side. While brief when I spoke to Tiamat she seemed nothing if not grateful for our presence at Horatius's side, wishing us to remain as we were and act as if nothing was different. You would know that if you hadn't stormed off in a huff after witnessing her return."

I pointedly ignore her comment, incredulously stating, "A Goddess—Heroic Spirit or not—professing to not minding a shared relationship? I find that extraordinarily unlikely, the Divine are by nature greedy and fiercely protective of what they consider theirs."

"Hmph, think what you will. Horatius explained a bit to me about how dear Tiamat doesn't have the same kind of understanding of romantic 'exclusivity' that most others do. Even when he took wives and had children in the past she never once displayed disquiet or frustration with such acts. Which I am most interested in, because damn if she isn't such a pretty little thing!"

"I think I begin to understand why you and that favored student of yours got along so famously. You share very animalistic proclivities when all of the royal veneer is stripped away."

"Bah, as if you are any different. I remember you being all too happy to force yourself upon me during the Mana Overcharge, moaning and panting with lust all the while. Now come, the day is still young and the celebrations are still in full swing!"

Before I can protest the capacious woman's statement she smoothly rises to her feet, grabbing both of my hands and dragging me upright before guiding us to where the Hunnic ruler finished the impromptu challenge not more than a few seconds ago, the cheering crowd raising their glasses as we approach, hoisting the tan-skinned woman upon their shoulders like some manner of conquering hero, the normally placid Heroic Spirit's visage curled into a content and happy smile.

I can't help but sigh at the blatant and uncaring method which with I'm being forced to fraternize.

"To borrow a modern phrase, with friends like these who needs enemies?"

Scáthach gives me a knowing smirk as pink briefly colors my cheeks, knowing the import of that statement as I swiftly state, "Do not read so much into common phrases, Witch."

"Whatever you say, Gilgamesh. Whatever you say. Now stop being such a stick in the mud and enjoy these few days of vacation we have!"


Next chap should be up before long, I'm on a roll with this lately.