"You know, most people—if they were already fairly well off and simply looking to further expand their list of recreational activities—would start small. Maybe a few different restaurants, a new brand of music, try out some sports...but you? My oh my you decided to jump straight into the deep end, my friend. Forget a life of crime or drug peddling you decided to go straight to mass homicide or grand theft. I'd be impressed, if I didn't think you were such a colossal idiot."
Lord Selvian Barita spits at my feet, limbs restrained by a few runes courtesy of Scáthach as I offer an unimpressed expression.
"Preach to me all you want, traitor. Were your concubines not there to save you at every twist and turn of fate you would never have ended up as important or powerful as you hold yourself to be. And do not preach to me of my research practices, when you yourself no doubt achieved your strength through means just as—to your delicate sensibilities—mercenary."
I rub my temples with a sigh of vexation, replying, "Holy moly, where to begin with this...ok, first of all I'm not a traitor. I never pretended or stated that I have any desire to be a part of your merry band of childish psychopaths, in fact I've been rather vocal in stating that I think you all suck. If you're going to accuse me of something at least have the decency to be right about aforementioned accusation."
I gesture to the room at large, four Heroic Spirits—two of them physically manifested while the other two are hanging about in astralized form—currently on patrol duty.
"As for the second point I agree with the part about them saving my ass...except that's only been going down for a century or two. I've managed to perform just fine on my own for a couple millennia and counting, mom. Also they're not my concubines any more than the young boy you kidnapped is a willing part of the scientific process."
I glance towards where a young male of perhaps five years or so is strapped to a sterile operating table, being gently soothed by Tia as she gathers him into a hug, crimson-laced mud sealing the laceration in his side that came from a nearby scalpel, his pure white wings fluttering with adrenaline and fear.
"Now, for the third point?"
I lightly reinforce my arm, grab his ear and twist, the Magus briefly hissing in pain before remembering that he has his pride and falling silent.
What an idiot, it's a little too late to pretend you're tough.
"My research into how I became a World Spirit was always unique and private, never involving others beyond the occasional inquiry or discussion about the mechanics of thaumaturgy. But you?"
I release his ear, pointing in the direction of Tia as a rare expression of open rage colors her normally tranquil and contrite expression, the Lord trying and failing not to gulp nervously as the air becomes stifling with barely contained malevolence. Sorry, pal...but you woke the mama bear and it really wants to rip your face off.
"You, my friend, have found the deepest possible pile of shit you could fathomably think of and gladly thrown yourself headfirst into it. You know who that boy is, right?"
Seeming almost grateful for the question as it gives him an excuse to look away from Tia the Lord responds, "An Angel child, what of it?"
"A pure born Angel child."
"And? Is that somehow special?"
I give the fool a pitying look.
"One of the first Magus to successfully navigate the breach and make it to this reality and you don't even bother to read up on the current state of affairs? For such obsessive researchers and experimenters you're all actually kind of dumb as fuck. You see, Angels haven't been able to naturally reproduce and expand their numbers for many many years now, this is a big development and huge news. Then you go ahead and kidnap one of their newborns right from under the noses of his guards and potentially kick off a whole shitstorm of consequences that would lead to no end of trouble the worlds over."
The Magus seems entirely unrepentant and who the fuck am I kidding, of course he isn't.
The fact that the normally placid and innocent Angels had been on the verge of tearing apart the whole damn universe in search of one of their newest additions to the fold clearly is lost on this asshole, Kischur's personal request—in turn given to him by Gabriel—had been inclination enough that this was a pretty serious issue.
"This would not have been such a dispute had you just minded your business, traitor. The knowledge and materials that could have been gleaned from this creature-"
I give Tia a sidelong glance, the apoplectic Spirit giving a terse nod as she gently carries the trembling boy out of the room, the Lord seemingly failing to notice her departure.
At least until I snap my hand outwards, latching around his throat and halting the tirade with a choked gurgle, my tone bored and irritated in equal measure.
"Now just what did I say about the whole traitor bit?"
The Magi's answer is lost to time as I shove him onto his back, heavily reinforce my leg as I lift it high into the air-
-and a sharp stomp to the chest cracks bone, tears flesh and generally makes a mess of his innards and heart, the man coughing wetly and desperately as I dispassionately watch him flop about.
The show is over before long, my gaze settling on the Lord's assistant—a young woman who barely looks past her teens—seeming on the verge of a panic attack, eyes dilated and breath stuttery as she desperately tries to avoid meeting my eyes.
"Now, as for you..."
A hasty attempt to retreat is foiled by the same runic formation that had held her master at bay alongside a barbed spear courtesy of Scáthach, her crimson eyes balefully locked on the upturned gaze of the young Magus...who promptly wets herself, tears gathering at the edge of her eyelids as I sigh in annoyance.
"Drop the gag, let's hear what she has to say for herself."
A swift jab of her favored weapon cuts the length of offending cloth out of the girl's mouth as she immediately begin to hyperventilate, trembling like a leaf caught in a storm.
She's a lot smarter than her boss was.
"Judging by your abject terror you know just how much shit you're in, right?"
A shaky nod.
"And you know the consequences and scale of just how badly you're fucked and fucked up, right?"
What little blood remained in a pallid expression drains alongside yet another nod.
"Well, that's a start. And while it's a crying shame that it has to be you taking the fall for this we need a scapegoat to show off as an example of what happens when this stuff is perpetrated. Couldn't be your amoral asshole of a boss over here, he was just a bit too important to publicly try without the Magi getting all pissy, safer to say he was just killed while resisting arrest. You, on the other hand, are just unimportant enough that they won't care while still fitting the bill for accomplice to the crime."
The girl looks like the world is crashing down around her ears—to be fair, it kinda is—and I decide to throw her a bone, if said bone is deserved.
"Well? Is she genuine or putting on an act?"
A scoff radiates in my mind, Gilgamesh dryly stating, "I sense no deception within the fool, only blatant panic, depression and resignation. Honestly, what happened to having the spine to face the crimes one committed and owning up to them?"
The Queen of Hero's annoyed comment causes me to roll my eyes as I state to the girl, "Don't give me that look, you might just get out of this relatively unscathed as long as you do what no Magus is ever comfortable doing...being honest and open. The Angels are all about that redemption and second chances deal. If you're genuine in your regret and desire to atone for almost vivisecting a young boy they might just make you feel bad about yourself for a few weeks and then let you off easy. Bear that in mind."
A hasty nod is offered, tone trembling as she says, "I-I-I will, t-thank you for-"
A Black Key cuts a whisper thin line of red across her cheek before burying itself to the hilt in the walls of the room, body freezing stiff as I narrow my eyes.
"Remember the part where I mentioned you almost going along with a plan to dissect a child alive? Do yourself a favor and shut up before I remember too clearly that particular detail."
She does. Props for having a working survival instinct.
"And being thanked by someone covered in her own piss isn't exactly something I enjoy."
My parting shot does its job, causing her head to fall along with the remnants of her shattered pride. Scáthach follows in my wake as I exit the door, dragging the girl by her hair—no particular need to be gentle, after all—with us as we enter the living room of a nondescript hotel room in this realm's Human world, where the bastard was hiding out.
Much of my foul mood dissipates as I witness Tia already having the young boy smiling a bit, a small cat formed from Sea of Life butting its head against his chin as it purrs up a storm, the ex-Goddess calmly sitting nearby with a small smile as the two interact not far from her.
"We're all set on my end. How are things here?"
"Progressing as well can be. Camael? Would you like to say hello to my husband, Horatius?"
It takes a severe force of will not to chuckle openly at how the young boy quickly hides behind Tia as we approach, peeking out from the safety of her horns at our approach.
Go figure the one time mother Goddess would have a natural affinity with children.
"Go on, it's alright. Your mother and father will be here soon."
Hesitantly nodding the boy warily slips out from his concealed position, formally bowing to me and quietly intoning, "It's nice to meet you, Mr. Horatius. And, umm...thank you for rescuing me."
Damn this kid is cute! The natural innocence and purity of an Angel locked into the body and mind of a child? Talk about a recipe for unfettered adorableness.
"It's a pleasure to meet you to, Camael. You were very brave, you know that? And that bad guy isn't going to be bothering you anytime soon, he's been locked away in a place he won't be escaping so easily from."
"...Is he in Hell?"
I have to fight hard to keep the smirk from my lips.
"Close enough. Did you-"
The door to the apartment suddenly flies open, a pair of Angels that are quite obviously the boy's parents—judging from the shared features—practically sprinting inside as the youth shouts, "Mommy, Daddy!"
The pair sweep him up into their arms, voices babbling in a duet of concerned parentage that I can't make out, instead walking over to Tia as she gracefully rises to her feet, smirking as I indulge in my privilege as 'husband' by kissing her on the lips.
"Looks like we managed to find a happy ending to one of the many disasters that always seem to be lurking about, didn't we?"
"That we did. Scenes such as this are...gratifying."
A pair of arms throw themselves over the draconic woman's shoulders, Scáthach nuzzling into her neck as she complains, "And it would be most enjoyable if we were given more time to appreciate them. Honestly, the last year has just been one mad dash of a crisis after the next."
"It is good work, though. Being able to help so many is a pleasant dream for one such as I."
Altera manifests in a rainbow haze, Tiamat offering her trademark small smile at the King of Combat's words as she states, "Agreed. Whether it be small or large, to save and nurture is an experience like no other."
The Lord of Spirits rolls her eyes, dryly remarking, "Well aren't you two perfect little heroes?"
"Did we say something upsetting?"
"No. Scáthach is just being difficult."
The maroon-haired woman pouts at Altera's reassuring of Tia, playfully mumbling, "Oh, of course I am the odd one out."
I shake my head in idle amusement, turning to face the still emotional Angels.
Six years have done much to ease the tensions and attitudes within our little mess of a family, Tia coming to more freely express emotion on the same level as Altera.
...Which isn't saying much unless you really know where to look, granted, but it's something that probably should have been expected. Both of them quiet and reserved by nature, but possessing a potent desire for a life free from past burdens.
And, you know. Both had at one time been world-ending levels of threat. Something to bond over, naturally.
Tia's natural willingness and proclivity towards non-conflict had also made Scáthach a happy camper, the warrior queen basically treating her newest doormat with the manner of long familiarity reserved for the closest of friends or family.
As for Gilgamesh? Well-
"Ah, Horatius! It's been too long, old timer!"
A smile I have no control over crests my lips at the familiar address, Dulio Gesualdo marching through the front door with a pair of golden-armored Angels in tow, the figures smoothly striding towards the still restrained and miserable Magus.
"Two years, at that. And just because you're right doesn't mean I appreciate being called old timer. Heard anything from Vali and Tobio? Haven't seen those kids since almost a year ago."
The young man offers a handshake that I eschew in favor of a bear hug, the blonde grunting before explaining, "Tobio is keeping Vali busy in some remote corner of the Underworld, I imagine. The White Dragon Emperor has been rather antsy since you refused to bring him along on any more extra-dimensional security runs."
"Yeah, because the maniac kept trying to pick fights with everything we encountered regardless if it was a good idea or not."
A smirk appears on the young man's features as he teases, "This wouldn't have anything to do with the arachnid demons he mentioned prior to being evicted, would it-"
"Drop the damn subject, Dulio."
Chuckling to himself much of the humor of the moment is lost as the pair of armored figures march the woman out of the room, Gesualdo neutrally stating, "Her involvement?"
"Accomplice, not perpetrator. And she might deserve the chance she's been given. Not so much with the instigator, he's in the backroom if you want to run an autopsy."
"Ah. I see."
A sigh escapes the human-turned-Angel before a curious expression appears on his face, inquiring, "Where's Queen Gilgamesh? I do not see her among the others."
My mood takes an instant upswing.
"She's currently sulking."
"I am not sulking. Imply otherwise and alleviate my boredom, if you would."
Motes of golden light coalesced into the familiar form of Gilgamesh...stuck once more in her teenaged form, Dulio barely managing to hide a chortle that would have ended with a Noble Phantasm of one variety or another pointed in his general direction.
"I, erm...see you have encountered yet another series of unfortunate circumstances, Queen of Heroes?"
A glower of such impotent frustration appears on the Heroic Spirit's features that I almost break out into full-scale laughter, her voice a hiss as she complains, "Four damned times in six years I have been relegated to this demeaning stature. Four! For what cosmically ordained reason am I the one that always suffers such fatal injuries among our band?! At this rate the Elixir of Youth will run dry before the decade has passed!"
Petulance aside, she has a valid point. First it was a surprise laser beam from a space manta the size of Russia that melted half her body, then a slash from sentient shadow creatures that bifurcated her, a conscious formation of crystal creatures that impaled her after they revealed the ability to freely warp through the fabric of reality and then this most recent adventure.
Turns out the corpse of the titanic, chthonic nightmare we slaughtered had a built-in self-destruct system...three guesses as to who received the brunt of that particular surprise.
It seems the universe has a bit of an axe to grind with the Queen of Heroes, since the rest of us seem to do just fine.
"And then this irritating fool of a mana source refuses to share his supply! Gladiator, a single session of Mana Overcharge would allow me to return to my typical and glorious state, instead you refuse the Queen even that basic dignity!"
I haughtily turn my nose up, replying, "There were extenuating circumstances last time, Gilgamesh. Since we don't have the threat of the end of our world hanging overhead I don't really feel the mojo working."
"You are insufferable."
The byplay is interrupted as the family of Angels approach, radiant expressions adorning their features as I find my hand clasped between theirs.
"We can never begin to thank you enough for what you have done, stranger. Dear Camael said that you were the one that saved him?"
I jerk my head in the direction of where the trio are still discussing one matter or another, stating, "With plenty of help. And don't mention it, it's part of the line of work I'm in."
At that statement—and a more close look at my companions—the older family members seem to perform a double take, the man reverently whispering, "By the Father...you're the Wandering Sentinel..."
Before I can comment the pair instantly bow low, the boy seeming confused by the action as the wife hurriedly states, "O-our apologies, we did not mean to ignore your presence upon arrival but-"
"Don't worry, you had other things on your mind. Far more important than following some arbitrary social cue, I dare say."
My words do away with much of the tension, both Angels relaxing as their gazes drift to Gilgamesh, both yet again bowing as they state, "And it's an honor to meet you as well, Queen of Treasures. Forgive our impertinence, but we were under the impression that you were...older?"
I seize on the opportunity before Gilgamesh can explain herself, setting a hand on her scalp and swiftly state, "Oh, this is her younger sister. We're currently on babysitting duty until she gets back."
"Oh, how wonderful!"
I fee Gilgamesh's head slowly rotate underneath my palm, turning to face me with the imminent threat of a loaded naval gun.
"As much as I would like to allow you a chance to continue this conversation Lord Michael would no doubt appreciate a report on recent events, aided by your testimony. And young Camael has had a busy day, no doubt he wishes to spend time with his mother and father in more restful climes."
The family nod at Dulio's words, offering one last smile of gratefulness before departing, flanked by the armored figures still escorting the Magus girl.
"We shall speak of this at a later date, Gladiator."
Gilgamesh dissipates into motes of golden light as the young man proffers a raised eyebrow.
"You're in trouble?"
"I'm in trouble."
Still, at least she doesn't act similar to her Archer version. If that was the case my various shenanigans over the years would have been answered by death a dozen times over. She'll probably just spend a few days constantly insulting and pointing out terrible decisions I make before getting over it.
"...The Wandering Sentinel, huh?"
"You find the title not to your liking?"
I shake my head at Dulio's query, replying, "No, it's actually quite fitting and I'm honestly rather flattered by it. But back home whatever sparse titles I had were far less flattering. Traitor, Meddler, Sealing Designate...it's just surprising to have the gratitude and reverence of strangers rather than scorn or dislike."
Gesualdo smiles, explaining, "A consequence of our culture, I suppose. The Supernatural does enjoy its titles, exploits and stories of great or notable individuals, often bestowing all manner of folklore or tales to categorize or spread their deeds. Your constant defense and presence within the various realms has been noted for years now, it was really only a matter of time before people began crafting stories of your adventures."
I snort, wryly remarking, "An individual with great power and even greater companions, using it in defense of the realm with comparatively little compensation to show...and here it's heralded as a fascinating story of heroism to a great many, while back home the nicest thing I would have been described as—among a small subset in the know of such matters—would be dumbass."
Dulio and I share a chuckle.
"Best foreign exchange program I've ever been a part of."
"I imagine so."
Stretching his back the Angel states, "Well unfortunately duty calls, just when we found a chance to meet up after so long, naturally."
"Send word if you ever find yourself with a free day, I'd be happy to catch up on the times. Granted, I might be several universes away but the willingness is there."
I pull the younger man in for a bone-crushing hug, remarking, "Take care of yourself out there, kid."
"Will there ever come a day when you refrain from referring to us as younglings?"
"Yeah, when you're no longer double digits in age."
"So is there anything in particular you all have in mind? We've got some free time in between cosmic apocalypses, might as well spend it doing something interesting...how about a hike to the Wildlands? Or maybe the Cryptid Valley, I hear the view at night is-"
"Horatius? We're not going on another sightseeing tour of predator-filled landscapes. The occasional day of leisure within civilization is not too much to ask, is it? And besides, dear Tiamat has not yet seen much of what this civilization has to offer in terms of modern amenities."
Scáthach's words give me pause, the woman arching an eyebrow at my crushed expression.
"Besides, don't you still have to speak with the old Vampire regarding our latest adventure?"
"Is this a poorly veiled attempt to leave me out of the festivities? I feel wounded."
"I do not mind if Master comes along with us..."
"Indeed, it would be poor manners to refuse my husband the opportunity to spend time with us."
Altera and Tia predictably offer their thoughts on the matter while the Lord of Spirits merely smirks.
"Oh? So you would like to enjoy a day of recreation with the Queen of Heroes, Horatius?"
I feel a predatory gaze boring into my person—courtesy of a shrunk ruler of Uruk—and decide that maybe being a fifth wheel is the less intelligent course of action for the moment.
"You know what? You're right. A girl's night it is. I'll catch up with you all later."
Quickly leaving behind a confused Altera and Tia I pull out yet another one of Kischur's many inventions, a small viewing glass that, with a pulse of mana, has me popping into existence within his current workshop, fighting down the instinctive nausea at the unnatural leap through reality.
"Never going to get used to that."
"Sorry, I'll create a model that automatically deploys a barf bag for your delicate sensibilities next time."
"You're all heart."
Plopping down into a chair next to the Apostle I glance at his latest bit of work, a larger version of the Jeweled Eye with countless more facets, the Vampire carefully using impossibly fine planes of eviscerating energy to cut it into the desired shape.
"Two universes worth of observation loaded into that thing, eh?"
"More, actually. This realm has dozens of connected realities all a quick teleport or some other borderline Sorcery away, they need to be accounted for as well. And I don't know what it is about this place but it seems to attract several orders of magnitude more trouble than ours did."
"No kidding, we've been more swamped these past few years than we were for two decades back home. Think it has to do with the highway between realities?"
"I'd be surprised if it didn't."
"Huh. Well, shit."
Guess the little episode with Tiamat and Trihexa drew plenty of trans-dimensional gazes...well, nothing we can do about it now.
"Took a bit longer than expected but the first Magi just made the trip over. One Lord Selvian Barita. A real stand up individual, less than a few days in this reality and he already kidnapped one of the newborn Angel children."
"I noticed, Heaven was beside itself and one proclamation away from kicking off a Crusade."
"They would have had one Hell of a reason to do so if we hadn't tracked that guy down when we did. Seriously, dissection?"
The Apostle makes a cut with machine precision, blowing gently on the artifact before lightly swabbing it with a cloth.
"And what, if I may ask, is the ultimate fate of our dear Lord?"
"Died choking to death on his blood and innards. Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy, really. And who knows? His family may even get the Magic Crest back. Eventually."
"Hmm...and where is the rest of your group?"
"Enjoying some time off, I may or may not have yet again pissed off the Golden Queen that necessitated a temporary restraining order."
Setting down his tools Kischur gives me a knowing look, asking, "Alright, what's really on your mind, Horatius? You only talk about work and exclusively work when your thoughts are elsewhere."
"...Forgot how damn perceptive you are."
I recline in the chair, lacing my hands behind my head and staring up into the ceiling.
"Guess I just took a trip down memory lane, that's all. Saving that kid? It felt like some kind of vicarious redemption, for when I wasn't able to do the same with my own children."
"And that's what's got you feeling all nostalgic and melancholy? Haven't seen you this introspective since before Altera was summoned."
"Well then you factor in all the changes our worlds are very quickly going to start undergoing, all the cultures colliding and all the trouble that'll just be adding to what's already stewing...all offset by the creativity and beauty that will arise from the not assholes that will seize the opportunity to create something greater out of two distinctive wholes."
A tired sigh leaves my lips.
"I guess, for the first time in a long time...I feel every bit my age, like I've seen all that's gone and know exactly all that will come, even if nothing could be further from the truth."
Kischur remains silent as I raise my hand overhead, lightly watching the play of muscle, joints and skin as I form a fist.
"It's funny, you know...I can remember being nothing but a slave, a nobody that would have quietly passed away with history and the world having never cared one whit. I was lucky enough to escape that fate, make something of my remaining life before becoming so consumed by fear of losing it that I delved into the deepest and most wild plots imaginable to prolong it."
My eyes drift closed, tone distant.
"Sometimes...sometimes everything that came afterwards feels more like a dream, you know? The tale of someone greater than one small, inconsequential Horatius. Someone that passed the hurdle of mortality and became like the stories of famous heroes and heroines, adventures and trials lost or conquered."
The silence grows between us, eventually broken by Kischur commenting, "Sounds to me like you're going through a midlife crisis."
I burst out laughing, eventually managing to reply, "Thanks, Wizard Marshall. Can always count on you to provide the best of counseling advice."
Chortling a bit himself he spins around in his chair to face me directly, more seriously stating, "Jokes aside, I know exactly what you're talking about. It's worse in my case, since through all the different realities I've borne witness to you you can quickly begin to spot patterns, tell which way the winds will blow and find yourself in a very peculiar position of not really being able to change much. Sure, I can destroy the odd Ultimate One, kill the occasional madman...but Human nature? Oh that's a tricky one to solve, damn near impossibly so. The only war against it I can think to wage is to resist evil and callousness with every breath I possess in this corrupted body of mine."
A strangely heartfelt grin pulls at his lips.
"And what makes such a life bearable is the rare individuals found throughout. The Director, Caubac, Aoko...you. Ones with who you can simply talk and listen with. You have that, don't you?"
A snort of amusement leaves me, fond smile pulling at my lips.
"Yeah...suppose I do."
"...No prank? I feel honored."
"Didn't have it in me to disturb this little scene."
My fingers weave comforting spirals through Tia's long and liquid hair as well as Altera's shorter locks, the pair of them in a deep sleep next to me while Scáthach and Gilgamesh blearily wake themselves from one of the nearby couches, even the normally indomitable and steadfast nature of a Heroic Spirit not enough to fight against the cruel mistress that is days of revelry and a hangover of—fittingly—heroic proportions.
The tenth anniversary of the defeat of the Khaos Brigade, Trihexa and creation of the bridge between worlds had been a real banger of a party, much of the Moonlit World and Supernatural setting aside the seemingly incessant bitch fits to just relax for a few days.
Hell, in a twist we actually should have seen coming it was the denizens of the Reverse Side of the World that were actually happy to make the trek, interacting and meeting with their distant relatives in reunions that were—for the most part—fairly lacking in conflict.
The Dragons don't count, since they're practically born to fight.
Kischur throws himself into one of the few unoccupied chairs in our hotel room, everyone else gradually getting themselves into a state of mostly Human functioning, Gilgamesh groaning, "By the Gods...I am no stranger to drink of any potency and yet I feel as if my head was trampled by Gugulana itself..."
Scáthach winces, carefully rubbing her temples and seemingly completely fine with the way her nude hips intertwine with the equally voluptuous Golden Queen's.
"That would likely be because we attempted to outdrink the Dragon King Tannin himself, if what scattered memory I possess is accurate...Horatius, did we win?"
I nudge a blearily blinking Altera, the Hunnic King seeming more distressed than the pair by a fair margin...which is saying something.
"Nope. That honor goes to our darling King of Combat, who not only outdid the Dragon King but also drank you two under the table then proceeded to win the eating contest as well. Here, her medals."
I pull out a glistening clutch of dangling metal, Gilgamesh looking at the prizes with nothing short of blatant disbelief.
"How in the..."
Scáthach doesn't seem that impressed—she's had time to get used to some of the more incredible feats Altera can manage—while Tiamat just nuzzles deeper into the crook of my neck, murmuring, "Let us return to sleep...the morning is still young for such business speak..."
"Unfortunately that isn't really an option."
The Apostle pulls out his Jeweled Eye...and I sigh at the bright red coloration it sports.
"Didn't we just do this three months ago?"
Gilgamesh unleashes an uncharacteristic groan, letting her head plop against Scáthach's chest as she complains, "Can the world not save itself for a change?"
"Sorry, Queen of Heroes...but I wouldn't trust the world to save itself from starvation even if it had a sandwich in each hand. Best be on your way now, interdimensional warfare waits for no one."
It's with a collection of groans and quiet curses that everyone rises to their feet, a yawn cracking my jaw as I peek behind the room's curtain, the city of Lilith—bearing no relation to that annoying brat that still clings to Altera whenever she gets the chance—still covered with refuse and trash from the days of unrelenting party.
Well, at least this particular threat was kind enough to wait until the festivities were over before giving us a rude awakening.
A pair of arms slip around my waist, soft chest pressing up against my back as Tia quietly asks, "Husband? Is everything alright?"
"Yeah, it's fine. Just curious if anyone else was being forced to get up so early."
"Mmm...just us, it seems."
"Aren't we the lucky ones? C'mon, let's get down to business."
A flare of multicolored light illuminates the room, everyone else present summing their clothing with bursts of mana as Kischur tosses me one of the Mystic Codes that'll get us home safely, thankfully not forgetting like the one time that led to this whole situation.
Heh, now there's a nostalgic thought.
"All set? This one's only red so it shouldn't be quite as bad as it could be."
"That so? Don't tell dear Gilgamesh that, she might just go and get herself torn in twain again just to prove a point."
A glower is sent Scáthach's way as the Queen of Heroes hisses, "Continue to bring up that particular subject and this sovereign will mayhap neglect to come to your aid in the near future...then we shall see who is poking fun at life threatening injuries, hmm?"
I shake my head at their familiar byplay, walking to the edge of the portal with my companions flanking me.
...A small smile tilts my lips that I have no control over.
Funny, not long ago I mentioned that this life ever since Irappu and I merged has felt more like a dream than it has reality. Not sure why I felt that way because if this is a dream, some strange hallucination that afflicted my soul at the time of death?
Well, I just hope I never wake up.
"Stop standing around like some drugged up hippie and get in the tube!"
Kischur's playful shout coincides with a foot impacting my ass, sending my body tumbling headfirst into the swirl of reality as my four Heroes astralize, comforting presences surrounding my form as we make the journey to whatever latest threat is eyeing our home reality.
...And I wouldn't trade it for anything.
And that's the final chapter of Death's Heroes, one more story that I can add to the completed list!
I'd like to think I'm on a pretty good role here, posting and finishing works that have been only sporadically or intermittently updated.
But yeah, this used to be my most followed story until I began writing Fourth Route so it feels a little strange to bring it to an end but I put pen to paper (finger to keyboard doesn't sound quite as smooth off the tongue) with a plan in mind and that plan was concluded, no sense in dragging it out and going with something that would disrupt the flow and narrative that was set in stone all along.
Big thanks to all who followed, faved and reviewed over this two year period plus change, and perhaps see you in my other works!