First off, sorry for the length, unlike the past two chapters, I don't have an area where I can easily split this in two. Second off, also sorry for posting this later than normal. I am in Hawaii right now, so I kind of forgot that I am now four timezones behind where I lived before.

I've been looking forward to reaching this point in this arc for a long while. I hope you enjoy.

Chapter Twelve: A Mother's Love

"Lady Governor, another group of refugees arrived just now. What should we do with them?"

"The town is starting to get full. Are there farmers amongst them?"

"I'm not sure, but me and my friends can check." The knight reporting to Melty bowed.

"If there are, help those get settled in the township of Seaetto, and then direct them to start clearing and plowing the ruined farm fields around the area so they'll be ready for more of the variations of Bio-Plant Rat is developing. As for the rest, we'll have to make do with moving them into temporary housing for now. Tell them that if they have any questions or concerns for me or the Heroes, then they should submit them in written form to the town hall for review." Melty said nonchalantly.

"Of course. I shall see to it at once, Lady Governor." The knight bowed once more before rushing to fulfill the young ruler's command. The young man looked excited at the prospect of building up the Hero's Nation, just like his fellow cohorts.

Melty continued her daily patrol around Lurolona without breaking stride, checking on the progress of all her different projects, as well as the state of the people.

The main housing district was almost completed. The smiling carpenters and masons were busy putting the finishing touches on the roofs. Good, everything there was going according to schedule, for once. It probably helped that they didn't have to worry about another raid breathing down their necks anytime soon.

The Church in the center of Lurolona had been completely repaired. The pews, the windows, everything the Tortoise familiars had damaged/destroyed was now fixed and/or replaced. A few of the new citizens were in the process of replacing the old regular windows with stained glass ones that depicted the four holy weapons on them.

"Ah!" As Melty walked in to inspect the delicate and colorful glasswork, the lion therianthrope artist, who originally suggested this idea, turned to greet her with a wide toothy smile and a quick bow. "I almost finish Ruler Shield and Holy Weapons, Girl Ruler!"

He spoke in broken Melromarcian. It was another quirk Melty got to deal with thanks to many of the latest refugees coming from outside Melromarc.

"Speak in Siltveltish if it makes you more comfortable. I don't just speak Melromarcian you know." Melty switched languages, and the lion therianthrope's shoulders sagged in relief.

"S-Sorry, I am trying my best to learn the local language, Lady Governor." The man switched to Siltveltish, which he looked far more comfortable speaking.

"Don't worry, it's not mandatory to speak it. We still haven't decided what the national language will be as of yet." Melty nodded absentmindedly while studying the new windows.

The windows did not include images of the Heroes themselves. All of them seemed to share the same sentiment that they'd rather not be treated like Gods. Instead, what was portrayed in different colors and hues were the basic forms of the four Cardinal Weapons. From the subtle curves of the Small Spear form to the warm green hues of the gemstone of Naofumi's Small Shield form.

It was amazing, really. Melty almost could have pictured Ren on the other side of the Small Sword window, holding his blade up toward the sky with how well done that window was.

Which didn't make that much sense, since she was pretty certain the Sword Hero was preparing to leave for the Capital soon with his friends. It'd been explained to her by Tersia that they wanted to get the young man's mind off things since nothing they tried here could get the Sword Hero out of his current depressive funk. So Melty gave her permission to allow the Sword Hero to go when he was able.

Though she wished she could have gone to the Capital with them as well…

"I'm sorry if I didn't do as good a job on the other weapons." The lion man continued to rub the back of his mane with a nervous chuckle, knocking Melty out of her current thoughts. "I grew up outside Siltvelt. But you could say my parents never lost their old faith when raising me."

"No, this is good. I've seen better at Melromarc's capital, but considering your lack of supplies and a proper workshop, this is excellent. Be more confident in your work." Melty looked to the artist with a small smile.

"Ah, but I want to make sure I give the Heroes my best." The lion man clarified. "If not for them, my friends and I would have never gotten out of Sworn in time.

"I owe them my life."

"... Of course. Just make sure you don't forget to attend your language class today. It should be happening after lunch." Melty said without changing expressions. The nation didn't have an official language yet, but classes were being offered for both Siltveltish and Melromarcian since they'd been the predominant languages in this area before.

The guy bowed to her again before throwing himself back at his work. Melty then left to check on the other parts of the town that were currently bathed in the light of the morning sun.

The dock at the beach had been expanded to house their small fishing fleet. There was also an area of the beach cordoned off with underwater nets and buoys so people could practice swimming, canoeing, or other water activities without fear of being attacked by sea monsters.

The Central Plaza was all finished up. There was the town hall where Melty's office was, the public bathhouse which all the Heroes seemed to enjoy, a small park where children could go and play...

Most importantly, there was a building where fish and monster meat, as well as strawberry oranges and other surplus foods that weren't eaten by the people, were smoked, salted, canned, etc. so they could be stored long term.

Some of this food would be used to feed future residents of the growing nation like the refugees that'd arrived that day. Some would be taken out in times of feasting/celebration. The rest would either be traded outside the Hero's Nation for various goods, or used to provide immediate humanitarian relief for places affected by famines, the Waves, or other natural disasters.

Melty grimaced. The main downtown area had been built now, but the Hero's Nation didn't have much in the name of goods that they could sell. Now that the slavers had been cleared from the nearby mountains, she could see about setting some excavation/mining operations. Though it would probably not amount to much. Otherwise, Eclair's family would have had mines set up ages ago.

The main commodities produced here before the Lurolona Wave had been agricultural goods, as well as fish. That wouldn't bring them a lot of money. There were the monster parts too, but if they relied solely on that, then they'd drive the monster population in the territory to extinction.

And while that would be beneficial in the short term, due to the improved safety conditions of the residents, it would most certainly carry heavy consequences down the line.

The roads leading out from the main plaza had room for different shops and restaurants, which they'd hopefully be able to open soon, once Melty and Elena had more efficient supply logistics figured out.

They did have some of the essentials already. Kusuriya, Jerry, and Mahoya's shops were well established by this point. There was also the addition of a cobbler, a tailor, a florist, a glass shop, a second-hand store, and others. They didn't have a bank yet, but hopefully, that'd change soon.

Melty paused in her walk as she saw Fang and Aria in front of the planned General Store Elena wanted to open. The wolfman was on his feet again, thanks to the dose of Yggdrasil's Elixir Motoyasu had gifted him. His mangled legs, which had been in danger of being amputated just days ago because of sepsis, had been completely healed. And even now, tears of gratitude fell down the sides of his face as husband and wife made plans for what the inside of the shop would look like.

Melty smiled just a little at the sight… but seeing the pair so happy, it wasn't long before her face fell, and she walked away.

She hadn't even thought to wonder why Crystal wasn't with the pair. The girl loved her parents like no one else, even though they weren't her original parents…

Melty shook her head.

Those were thoughts for later.

At night, when her oversight wasn't needed. And when there was nothing else to distract her.

The young princess's patrol brought her over to the outer walls. Feeling a hand on the earthen structure outside the gate, Melty tried to feel a bit of pride at her work, feeling how hard and firm the town's new defenses were.

It wasn't like the walls around the castle back home just yet, but one day, they'd be as strong, if not stronger. And they'd look just as grand too.

Looking up, she saw the knights and townspeople working on the towers that'd stand as sentinels around the inner circle of the town. Earth mages worked alongside Mahoya to reinforce those sections of walls so they'd be able to handle the extra weight of the towers.

They'd have watchfires and large bells to ring in case of future attacks. And the walls were now sturdy enough to support additions like ballistae, murder holes, and catapults.

And, even though it was in the distant future for now, it looked like work was already being done to cut down some of the trees of the forest, so that a second wall could be erected far from the first, allowing for the town to expand outward and use the outlying area for farm fields, suburbs, and other various projects that came to the young girl's mind.

All her plans really were coming together. Every last project was being completed to the smallest detail. Room was being made for future projects she wanted to implement as the town grew into a city. But there were still things she wanted to add to the town proper to make it more aesthetically pleasing for its residents.

A fountain in front of the Church. Trees to liven up the streetsides. Lampposts that could hold magic flames that lit up at night like the ones she remembered seeing in Zeltoble when visiting… with her mother.

Just small, little touches to make her growing nation look a little more natural and a little more beautiful… for her and the other residents.. And for those who'd visit in the future… like…

Melty sighed again.

She just couldn't get her mind off of things, could she… no matter how hard she tried.

Her parents… Mirellia… Aultcray…

Mother… Father…


Melty slapped her cheeks, hard. She could cry in her sleep about it later, but not right now, not at the start of the day, and especially not where others could find her. 'What should I do to distract myself? Now that I think about it, it has been a while I went to see how the township of Seaetto was doing.'

She hadn't really been around the area since the time Lord Reichnott helped with repairing many of the structures to house his displaced people. Lurolona also hadn't had enough people till recently for the town's buildings to be of much practical use.

But if she could use it for more than just more farmland, and could turn the small settlement into a logistics hub that'd help to get the Hero's Nations products further inland…

Melty was busy pondering on these new thoughts of hers when a voice suddenly broke her out of her reverie.

"Excuse me, may I have a moment of your time, Lady Governor?"

"Huh?" Looking over her shoulder, Melty saw a strange woman with black hair and brown eyes standing behind her.

She was dressed in a haphazard patchwork dress and carried a wicker basket in her hands. The woman had a friendly but slightly stiff smile on her face, as if smiling naturally around others wasn't something she was used to.

Parts of her arms looked dirtied from traveling on the road, but her hands were surprisingly smooth and clean. Despite the mature presence around her, she looked strangely young and beautiful.

Something about the woman seemed familiar, but Melty couldn't pin down what it was.

"Um… refugees are supposed to meet with the knights at the gates." The bluette pointed in the direction of the entrance, where a squad of knights was assisting the latest group of people who'd arrived. They were checking for farmers, just like Melty had instructed.

"Ufufufu." The woman laughed into her hand. Something about it stirred something in Melty's memory again.

Did she know this person?

"You mean, my own daughter doesn't wish to spend time with me on this beautiful day?" The lady asked, this time with a more natural, resigned smile appearing on her face. "I suppose that's only fair, given how busy you've been."

Melty's eyes widened in recognition. "M-Mother?!"

Mirellia, disguised with illusion magic, tried to maintain her strained, awkward smile as she began to walk towards her daughter. She held out her arms for a hug, but hesitated.

The Queen felt unsure if this was the proper thing to do or not. When was the last time the two had shared an embrace? When Aultcray and Melty had that moment in his room? When she'd saved her daughter's life on the walls of her city? Before that?

The Queen could count on her fingers the number of times the two had hugged each other in the past few years. She began to worry. Would Melty even see her as her mother right now? Would she be disappointed with her being here, undercover, without regard to her nation or her people, to selfishly indulge in her child for one day?

Mirellia didn't know. Despite what'd happened earlier before her arrival, she began to doubt if coming here had been the right choice or not.

But after only a couple of seconds, Melty's eyes sparkled with joy and tears fell as she raced forward, closing the distance between them instantly before she tackled her mom in a big, loving embrace. "M-Mama!"

"... Ah." The tension on Mirellia's face vanished, and a tear fell down one of her cheeks as she wrapped her arms around the bluette.

Her prior worries vanished. This… this had been the right thing to do after all.

The parent and child held onto each other for a minute. Both of them were shedding tears from the mixed emotions brought by their reunion. The hug itself felt amazing, as if a dam built between the two had suddenly broken.

It took a while for Mirellia to speak again, but when she did, her voice didn't sound as strained or awkward as before.

"Melty, I'm so happy to see you again."

"S-Same, mother." Tears continued falling down Melty's cheeks. Even though she wanted to enjoy this unexpected but happy event, questions sprang to her mind that she couldn't keep from her tongue.

"B-But why? How are you here? Where's Papa? Is the kingdom alright? Are we going to have a war? A-Am I in trouble?" The questions spilled from the bluette's mouth one after the other.

Mirellia had to pull herself back and put a hand on the girl's shoulder to make her quiet down. The Queen then let out a sigh. She didn't come here to discuss politics. She specifically came here today to get away from such things.

She would answer some of her daughter's questions, however, if only to ease her worried mind.

"No, you are not in trouble, and no, there is no war.

"But thanks to your… decisive actions, I was finally able to wrest full control over Melromarc for myself. Our nobility, even those who were the most stalwart supporters of the Three Heroes Church, now understand very clearly what the consequences of crossing the Cardinal Heroes are. And if there are still some amongst them who would try, they will be removed by their former allies, in fear of drawing the ire of the Hero Nation again through association."

Mirellia spoke in a reassuring tone at first, but after saying her piece, a small, playful smile appeared on her lips. "As for why I'm here? Well, I might have convinced those fools that I was acting on their behalf and traveling here to personally try and appease the Heroes and prevent them from torching Melromarc in retaliation for the most recent attack."

"Huh… I was counting on them becoming too intimidated to retaliate, but I'm surprised that it worked that well." Melty looked thoughtful.

"I did just call them fools for a reason." Mirellia chuckled. "Not that I'd blame them. The story of how Sir Naofumi intimidated the Siltvelt Council by threatening to raze their country and put their heads on a line of pikes has become common knowledge in our nation. This stint we just pulled basically confirmed to everyone that the Heroes have no patience for those who openly threaten them.

"It's not the most subtle or elegant form of diplomacy, but when you have the power to back your threats up, there is no need for subtlety." Mirellia sighed and looked thoughtful too.

Melty felt a bit conflicted. Hearing the Shield Hero's name soured her mood a bit. But at the same time, it was like a huge stone had been lifted off her shoulders.

She hadn't been scared of a war. In terms of power, the Hero Nation already outstripped most armies around the world for various reasons. Yet, she'd been worried about her actions resulting in more deaths and issues for her mother to deal with.

But it hadn't. In fact, it'd made both their situations a hundred times better.

She hadn't caused any additional issues for Mirellia to handle. She'd managed to do something right, for once.

Not that it made the earlier killings feel any better. But the fact that it had prevented future needless slaughters from happening made her feel a lot better in her mind.

As the relief of that knowledge passed, Melty just stood there, still kind of shocked at her mom being there. She wanted to pinch herself and see if this was all a dream.

She didn't know if she could do that, however. If she was dreaming right now and she woke up from this, it'd hurt more than any of her recent nightmares ever could have.

"I see. But still, Mother, why are you here when you could have just sent Shadow to deliver the news?" Melty asked.

"Am I… not wanted here?" Mirellia looked down sadly.

"NO!" Melty raised her voice instantly, which was immediately followed by her looking down in embarrassment. Thankfully, it didn't look like anybody had heard her, or was paying the two any attention. "No, it's just… I don't understand…"

Mirellia's face was expressionless for a moment. It looked like she was trying to think of an answer herself.

"It's true. It is out of character for me to do this," Mirellia tried for a smile again as she pointed out her strange attire. At her attempt for humor falling flat, however, the woman's face fell once more. "But I didn't want to come here as the Queen of Melromarc, not this time.

"I wanted to spent some time with you in the same way that your Father used to. Not as Queen. Not as someone who wanted to check in on the progress of the Hero's Nation. But as a mother. Your mother, Melty."

"Can… Can I do that, please? Even if it's only just for today?"

"I… I…" Melty nearly hiccupped. "Yes. Of course, that makes me so happy, but, but Raphtalia isn't around to cast her illusion magic, so I can't go around in disguise to avoid getting pestered by everybody, and I might be needed today by some of the people, and-"

"Shadow, if you wouldn't mind." Mirellia suddenly clapped her hands.

"I daresay, just give me a moment, Your Grace." A familiar Shadow woman appeared next to the pair.

"Drop the 'Your Grace' please. I don't want to be referred to by that title today." Mirellia said in an authoritative tone.

"My deepest apologies. It's a force of habit, Your Grace." The Shadow bowed in apology.

The short exchange, accompanied by the glare her mother gave her Shadow at the end, elicited a small giggle from the short bluette girl.

A short time later, Melty's hair was a lighter blue, while her eyes had been made the same color as her mother's. Shadow's appearance had also changed completely. She was able to pull off being a body double for Mirellia pretty well, but it turned out that between her disguise skills and illusion magic, she could also make herself look almost exactly like Melty too.

"I shall take care of any business that comes up today." Shadow Melty courtsied, before walking off in the direction of the town hall.

Could… Melty ask her to take over from time to time?

"Now then, shall we?" Mirellia reached into the basket that she was carrying with her and pulled out a few pieces of clothing. The princess recognized them instantly, filling her with a sense of nostalgia.

They'd been buried in her closet back in the castle. The same commoner threads her Father got her for her last birthday when they snuck out together.

"H-How did you even know?" Melty asked.

"I… it's not like I was completely ignorant of the times where you and your father snuck out of the castle." Mirellia turned away. "... most of the time, at least."

"And… well, I want to try this once with you too.

"You know, before you grow up and lose interest in spending time with your parents entirely." Mirellia smiled awkwardly again before looking off to the side. "If you wouldn't mind, that is."

Fortunately, the Queen's concerns were once again unfounded, as Melty began to giggle uncontrollably. "Ehehehehe! Alright! Alright! Of course I'd want to go out after you put in all this effort!"

Now she finally realized why her mom was dressed in such a ridiculous get-up. She was trying to pass herself off as a commoner, just like Aultcray had in the past.

"But first…" The young girl began to give her mother's patchwork dress over with a critical eye. A frown appeared on her face as she felt the fabric around her mother's waist.

It was legit. Shadow had only disguised her mother's hair and eye color and not her attire. Part of the dress was a light brown, but the patchwork parts were all… purple.

"Is there something wrong?" Mirellia asked nervously.

The bluette sighed. "Mother, where did you even get this? Wait, don't tell me you made it yourself."

"Why? Is it bad…?" The Queen asked hesitantly. "My housekeeping skills are pretty rusty, but I thought it turned out alright."

Gods, her mother sure was clueless. A surprise, given how much she loved her people. "Mother, purple dye is very expensive and so is silk. Only nobility wears stuff like that.

"Besides that, did you seriously tear apart one of your fancy dresses to make this! What kind of commoner woman would use fancy expensive silk to make their everyday thread clothes fit better?!" The young princess berated the young Queen.

"Oh, er…" Mirellia had the audacity to look abashed. "I'm sorry, my idea was a spur of the moment thing, I should have requested a tailor after all…"

Melty sighed once more. "Mother, most commoners can't even afford tailors. Many either learn how to make their own clothes, rely on their family members to do it for them, or see if there's anything they can buy from a second-hand store that'd fit them."

"R-Really?" Mirellia looked surprised.

Again, how was she surprised by this?! Was she that out of touch with how commoners lived their day-to-day lives?!

Melty was going to scold her Mother further when her mind suddenly recalled a memory from Cal Mira.

She'd been wondering how 500 Gold Coins was that big of a deal when she learned Therese paid Naofumi for the accessory he made her. It was a lot, but it wasn't that much of an absurd amount of money…

Melty now understood, even more, why Aultcray liked sneaking her out of the castle to try out common life from time to time. Mirellia did love her people and tried to do all she could for their wellbeing. But even then, there were certain things they were blind to since the lives they lived as royals were drastically different from those they served and protected.

"... but this was the outfit I wore when I visited Siltvelt. It's what I wore whenever Victoria took me outside the Claw King's palace." Mirellia's voice dragged Melty out from her thoughts once again.

Oh, so this outfit had sentimental value to the Queen. At least now Melty could understand why her Mother would even consider wearing this.

It also explained why the outfit was so patched up and full of sewing lines.

"How old were you when you last wore that? Ten?" Melty asked flatly.

"... Eleven," Mirellia said defensively.

"And let me guess, you tried to make it big enough for you to fit in it again even though you're in your thirties." Melty shook her head in disbelief as she continued to critique her Mother's outfit. Seeing her squirm over something so insignificant was weirdly funny for some reason.

"I… definitely have gotten out of touch." Mirellia sighed again. "I knew I should have asked your Father for advice before I left."

"Oh, that's right, how is he doing? He's taking his time with his next chess turn." Melty asked her mother curiously.

"Oh, he's doing much better lately." Mirellia latched on to the change of topic, relieved to have something common to talk about. "He started practicing spellcasting again and he's even offering regular input on internal affairs. He just hasn't made his next turn yet since he thought you were still mad at him for…" Mirellia trailed off.

"Well, next time you see him, tell him I'm waiting for his next move." Melty sighed in relief. She chose to let what Mirellia had been about to say drop for the moment. "As for your dress, don't worry. I think I can find you some clothes to wear here."

"... are they really that bad though?" Mirellia winced.

"They are that bad. I don't want everyone to stare at us all day. After all, how am I supposed to enjoy our time together while everyone is wondering why you're dressed like a clown?" Melty grinned.

Mirellia's face flushed. "I do not look like a clown! If you're that against it, then let's just call Shadow back and have her use her illusion magic on my outfit to change its appearance."

Was she that desperate to not have to take off this memento of her childhood?! Did she think they were that important or something?!

"I promise I'll pick you out something cute." Melty grinned a little bigger.

Mirellia tried to answer but found she couldn't.

She eventually chuckled and gave in to her daughter's demands. "Fine, I do look a little ridiculous, don't I?"

"Ridiculous is an understatement." Melty laughed.

"Bullying from my own daughter! Unbelievable!" Mirellia pouted.

While the pair was busy picking something out for Mirellia to wear from the town's clothing storage, Shadow continued to work from the town hall, trusting her associates to keep an eye on her liege as she went around as Melty.

Fortunately, it wouldn't be very hard impersonating the Governess for one day. She might even be able to have a little fun doing so…

Though the fact that Melty didn't use a fan to hide her facial expressions might mean Shadow would have to smile for others… shudder.

"I-Is it alright for us to be doing this?" Mirellia asked worriedly.

"Ahahaha! What do you mean?! You're not scared of a little water, are you?!" Melty laughed.

The two were currently riding in a pair of small fishing canoes. Melty was dressed in her favorite pair of commoner threads while her mother wore a mature dress with faded hues and tones. Even with that, the disguised Queen still managed to look like a young woman in her mid 20's.

Instead of using magic to row, the two were using wooden paddles. Melty seemed a lot more comfortable paddling around than her mother, however.

"Of course I'm not scared of the water! I am a very fine swimmer, if you must know!

"I-It's just that we're doing this in the ocean, where a lot of monsters live." Mirellia stuttered out as she looked down at the water beneath her nervously.

"And? See the buoy's over there? That means that this area's totally safe." Melty said happily. "Not to mention, I see some of the kids here playing in the water all the time!"

Indeed, nearby, Keel was teaching a group of new kids how to swim like true men of the sea.

Against all laws of common sense, she was still dressed in her favorite maid outfit as she was doing this. Did she not have a swimsuit or something?!

Even stranger was that the tiger boy Motoyasu brought back with him a while ago was sitting on the sandy beach, watching the dog girl. Though Fohl was probably there because of his younger sister, who was seated in her wheel chair next to him. She claimed that she wanted to enjoy the ocean breeze.

"Really? How is that possible?" Mirellia asked.

"The buoys mark where the netting is. That stuff starts an inch below the ocean surface and goes all the way down to the sea floor. It's pretty sharp too and has plenty of barbs along its length, so most monsters that encounter it choose to stay away rather than throw themselves at it and get hurt.

"The netting's something the Heroes can craft from their weapons, so it's pretty strong and resilient. Unless something from way beyond the shore attacked it, there's no way the small fry monsters nearby could hope to break through it." Melty explained happily.

"In… Intriguing." Mirellia's nervousness vanished as she looked at the floating buoy's with renewed interest. This was something the Heroes had made?...

At that moment, a squid monster surfaced on the other side of the buoys. It let out a horrid screech as it raised one of its arms out of the water, which was covered in cuts. "W-Watch out-" Mirellia tried pushing Melty's canoe away from the sudden threat, only for her to lose her balance and fall into the water.

"M-Mother?!" Melty looked to the side in surprise.

Mirellia surfaced after a couple seconds, spitting water from her mouth as she did so. "Ugh, are you ok?" She asked, wiping the salt water from her eyes before looking at her daughter.

"Yeah. Look for yourself." Melty grinned, pointing in the direction of the monster.

Mirellia looked, and saw that the squid monster was still on the other side of the net. It was screeching even more angrily after trying to climb over and get at the prey it saw, only for it to learn the top, hidden just beneath the surface of the water, was just as sharp as what was under the water.

And then, as if to literally rub salt in the wound, it was suddenly swallowed by a large shark monster surfacing from behind where it'd been throwing its temper tantrum. After devouring the easy meal, the monster then swam back to where it'd made its den underwater, where it'd lazily wait until the Darwinian Cycle awarded it another fresh meal in the coming hours.

"Honestly, I didn't even think about how some of the local monsters would use the area as a way to help them hunt." Melty admitted with a bashful smile. "But it's the unintended bonuses that make things worth the effort in the end, right mama?"

"I… of course." Mirellia sighed as she tried to climb back into her canoe, only to slip back into the water. At least she was a good swimmer, though it was kind of difficult with the dress she was wearing. How did that dog girl swimming nearby in her maid's outfit make it look so easy?! "I'm going to need to wash out my hair after this."

"That's alright! I already know where I want to take you next!" Melty said happily.

She paddled back to the dock with her and her mom's canoe in tow, her mom swimming to the beach to wait for her. And after securing them to a pair of wooden posts, she walked her mom back up the pathway alongside the cliff to the town proper. To their next stop.

"A-A public bathhouse?!" Mirellia looked incredulous.

"Yeah? Commoners don't have private baths, you know." Melty grinned.

"I-I know that much. But you don't have your own personal bath here?" Mirellia asked.

The two were wrapped in towels, with Melty helping to wash the salt and sand of the ocean from her mother's hair. "Nah. That'd require implementing a more complex plumbing system in the town than what we're currently using right now. Even the Heroes bathe in here from time to time.

"Don't worry though, the rooms are still separated by gender, so we won't have to worry about any guys walking in on us."

Mirellia didn't say anything in response. She was looking at the tiled floor beneath her as Melty rubbed some soap into her hair. It didn't smell as sweet as the ones in the castle, but it didn't smell bad either.

"Do commoners also use soap when they wash?" Mirellia felt to ask, after grabbing a bar of soap to examine it.

"Not that I'm aware of. We just got lucky that Elena found a shipment of this for cheap." Melty shrugged but continued in a happy tone. "Everyone living in the town is allowed to use it, since it's far healthier for everyone to have good hygiene."

"I… I see…" Mirellia began pondering on that statement herself. Was this an idea she could also implement back home? She certainly knew of 'some' nobles who could do with smelling better. Though she never really looked much into that side of things with the common people. It would be an extra expense for the crown to take upon itself, but if it led to her people being happier and healthier…

After Melty finished cleaning her mother's hair, Mirellia got behind her daughter and started doing the same for her. Allowing for the bluette's hair to fall freely behind her shoulders as the young ruler rubbed the surprisingly good quality soap into each strand of hair.

"We're so used to others doing this for us, aren't we?" Mirellia suddenly commented.

"Yeah, I realized that myself after I started coming here," Melty said back. "It feels different doing this for each other, doesn't it?"

"It does… but in a good way." Mirellia smiled, this time, looking a lot more relaxed.

The two washed out their hair, and then sat in the warm bath together for a few minutes after that. Several other women came and went, but none of them paid much attention to the mother-daughter couple relaxing in the hot water next to each other.

After they got out and dried off, the pair got dressed in their dried-off clothes and left to experience the rest of the town together.

"Mmm!" Mirellia took a bite from the orange-colored fruit she was holding in her hand. "Is this one of the strawberry oranges I've heard so much about?"

"Yep," Melty answered happily. She was holding a wooden skewer stick with several toasted red fruits on it. "Though, I think I prefer the new cherry tomatoes the town is growing right now."

"Cherry… tomatoes?" Mirellia asked.

Melty bit one off from the skewer, only to smile widely at the flavor traveling across her tongue. "Don't ask me, the Heroes are the ones naming the new fruits."

And we all know how bad Japanese Heroes are at naming stuff at this point.

The cherry tomatoes looked exactly like the fruit/vegetable/whatever you wanted to call them from the Hero's worlds (though ironically, even the Hero's worlds all differentiated on whether it was classified as a fruit or a vegetable), but instead of the namesake it was named after, it actually did have the taste of a cherry instead of a tomato.

Mirellia took another large bite from the fruit in her hands, causing large drops of juice to fall on the front of her blouse. This almost made Melty do a double take in shock. Her mother was always so incredibly prim and proper while eating.

To see her act so casual was just weird.

She was so stunned, in fact, that she didn't even notice as one of the cherry tomatoes on her skewer fell off and smacked against her chest, leaving a noticeable stain behind.

"Hmmm, looks like we'll both need to have our clothes washed later," Mirellia remarked with a giggle.

"Y-Yeah. We can drop them off at the wash-house later if we have time." Melty offered.

It was only a short while later that Melty had the thought that they could just clean their clothes with water magic as they walked. But as she turned to look at her mother again, she saw her eat another fruit, biting into it just as messily as the first. She looked incredibly happy as she did so.

Melty couldn't help but smile and shake her head. She didn't bring it up and instead held her mom's hand as they walked through other parts of the town together. Her other hand held the wicker basket from earlier, which held more strawberry oranges and cherry tomatoes for them to eat.

Melty showed her mother the cobblestone streets that'd been laid down in the last few weeks. The outside of one of the homes that'd been finished recently (the family inside looked at them in confusion, but didn't come out to bother them), the newly renovated Church, and others besides those.

Mirellia looked over the colorful windows at the Church with awe, praising the lion therianthrope in Siltveltish while asking him a bunch of questions as he was in the middle of his work. The man had no idea who they actually were, but he laughed and went along with it, pausing to answer some of the questions, like what he used to get the right colors for each panel representing the Hero Weapons.

Afterward, when they left out the back, Mirellia took a moment to pause and kneel in front of the Memorial dedicated to the missing/dead villagers of Lurolona. As well as the newly erected statue dedicated to the knights who'd given their lives to protect the kids from the Spirit Tortoise's minions.

Melty stood back as her mother paid her respects. The thought suddenly struck her, Lurolona had been her Mother's personal project to establish peace with Siltvelt before the Waves. The Queen had visited the area many times to ensure the people were doing well.

Melty recalled how whenever she visited with her mother in the past, Mirellia seemed to know the names of almost everyone she met.

Judging by the way she whispered some of the names on the Memorial under her breath, she still remembered who they were.

Fortunately, what came after that was far more uplifting for the both of them to experience together.

"Weeeee!" Melty shouted in delight as her mother laughed. The two were at the park she'd noted earlier.

Melty was getting to enjoy the playground that the Spear Hero had designed with the help of Jerry. The bluette swung on a swing set as her mom helped to push her higher and higher.

Melty was skeptical about funding this but Motoyasu had assured her that it was something that allowed kids to be kids in his world. Given they had those who were too young to fight, as well as those who couldn't grow up to fight, they needed something to bring a semblance of normalcy to their lives.

Melty was finding out all the materials that'd gone into building the playground were worth every last copper.

Mirellia pushed her daughter on the swing. Slid down with her on a slide multiple times. Sat across from her on a mechanism known as a teeter-totter.

There were other kids there, playing while being watched by their parents. Melty was certainly the oldest by far. But it didn't lessen her enjoyment in the slightest.

They saw other parts of the town after that. Melty didn't list all of what they did.

They went to the beach again to collect some sea shells at some point. And they ate dinner together at the communal kitchen after that. But the girl couldn't quite recall the other things that happened in between.

Maybe it was because those places had been insignificant, compared to the fact that she was with her mother. Not in the sense that she never had before. But never in this kind of way. And if she had, it couldn't have been for more than a few minutes.

Melty loved being able to spend an entire day just hanging out with Mirellia.

"So this is the food served in the Hero's Nation." Mirellia complimented as they shared dinner together. "I almost feel tempted to steal the chefs here."

"Mother!" Melty whined.

"Relax. I'm teasing." Mirellia's eyes twinkled with mischief. She didn't bother with using a spoon as she lifted the bowl to her lips and drank straight from the dish.

Maybe… it was because of conversations like that… that Melty didn't recall everything they did that day, because it'd been too precious for her to record anywhere outside her own mind.

And maybe, in the end, that was for the best.

After weeks of seeing nothing but grey with flecks of color around her in her day-to-day life, the visitation of the bluette's mother brought much-needed color and clarity back into her eyes.

The ocean came alive with shades of blue. The strong, tall, brown earthen walls sparkled in the evening sun, where carvers were engraving the emblem of the Hero's Nation into the walls. Laughter and smiles were shown on everyone's faces, including that of the knights they came across.

Some of them did recognize Melty, despite the illusion magic and change of dress. Some of them definitely recognized her Mother despite her disguise. But they just quickly looked the other way and found something else to do.

She asked her mother about it, and she raised a brow. "Did they not do the same when Luge ordered them to do so for your birthdays in the past?"

Melty stared at her in awe. Her saying that brought to her mind the few times it happened in the past when she was with Aultcray. She'd been so certain their disguises back then bad been fool proof.

No, the knights knew. They just knew better than to get in the way of the Royals spending quality time together.

Such good men and women… all of them…

The young girl lost track of how many times she hugged her mom throughout the day. Of the things they talked about. At the number of times, they held each other's hands and cried and laughed over the smallest things.

It was probably more than what they'd done together their entire lives. Where she'd known nothing but her mother the Queen, and her role as the Princess and future Queen.

"As for Melromarc, the kingdom is doing better than ever. We recently welcomed a priest from the Four Heroes Church in the newly renovated Church, and your Father and I plan on listening to his first sermon tomorrow.

"I also have documents ready to push for more trade between Melromarc and Siltvelt and possibly Shieldfreeden too, though I haven't heard back from Nelshen yet."

At this point, the sun had set in the evening sky.

Melty found herself and her mother walking towards the front gates of the town. Mirellia, with a smile on her face, was informing her of some of the good things going on in Melromarc. It'd been a fantastic day. The best day either of them had experienced in a long, long time.

Melty didn't speak, but part of her knew, their time together was about to come to an end.

"And Aultcray…" Mirellia smiled warmly. "I'll make sure to remind him to finish his turn when I go back.

"But just so you know, he was considering taking your bishop last time we talked about it. So plan accordingly."

Melty giggled into her hands. For another brief moment, she felt like a little kid again. Her smile was contagious, and matched her mother's.

Her… mother's… her real mother's smile…

"Melty?" Mirellia asked, this time in concern. "Is there something wrong?"

"No." Melty forced herself to smile again. "Nothing's wrong. I'm…"

Melty trailed off.

Mirellia was looking down at her daughter with concern on her face. It wasn't the fake look in her eyes she used while she hid her face behind a fan to pretend in front of other nations either.

Melty had seen this look a few times in her life. Though the most recent she could recall was when they were in Faubley, and the pair had managed to get out of another assassination attempt together that was a little too close for comfort.

The look that the Queen had on her face as she examined Melty for injuries back then was the same one she had right now.

"... … Mom, I… I know you probably have to get going soon, but…" Melty looked down at the cobblestone street beneath her feet. "But can you please… come with me to one last place?" The bluette asked in a small, quivering voice.

"... of course." Mirellia nodded. "Lead the way."

Melty did so, hesitantly taking her mother back through the town in the direction of the beach.

A large part of her felt tempted to take a detour here or there. To extend the time they'd have together. But… the other part of her knew how important her mother's time was. Knew just how valuable this day she'd taken off was.

She knew that by tomorrow, Mirellia would be back home. Running her country and working on behalf of her people to make their lives better. Just like Melty was doing here. In fact, she was probably going to see about implementing some of what the Heroes did here to improve the lives of the people in her kingdom.

She couldn't ask her to sacrifice more of her time for that. Perhaps, with all the work she took running this small land, she came to truly understand in part what it meant to rule…

As the pair neared the beach, Melty took the path to the left. Walking on and on up a certain hill, until they were in the midst of a group of houses, overlooking the growing town below.

"..." Mirellia was silent as they stopped in front of Naofumi's house.

Melty stared at the foot of the door for a moment. Part of her wondered if Eclair would be inside or not. She didn't know if her presence would make things easier for her, or...

Melty breathed in and opened the door. Stepping inside with her mother.

Simultaneously, Shadow's illusion spell released, revealing the two as they were.

Mirellia and Melty entered the living room. The Queen's eyes widened slightly, seeing her daughter trembling in front of her.

Melty didn't stop at the entrance, however. Instead, she stopped at the stairway leading up… up to her old room, and…

"Dear, I'm sorry to ask, but… do you still have trouble sleeping?" Mirellia asked in a soft tone.

At Melty looking back at her with a shocked expression, Mirellia frowned just a little. "Shadow told me that much. I just didn't…"

"Mo… Mama…" Melty said in a trembling, vulnerable voice. Unable to say more, she simply nodded her head.

"..." Mirellia held her daughter by the hand. "Do you want me to help you up?"

Tears leaked from the girl's eyes. A large part of her wanted to say no. To run away from there. To scream and destroy Naofumi's old room. There was a hodgepot of different things she wanted to convey, almost all of them negative.

But in the midst of all that, Melty wanted help. So, through great force of will, she managed to get herself to nod, even as more tears trailed down the sides of her face.

Without a word, Mirellia lifted her daughter in her arms. Carrying her as if she weighed as little as a baby.

Melty buried her face in her Mom's dress as they ascended the stairs for the first time since the familiar's attack on the town.

Melty's body trembled harder and harder with each step. She hugged her mom tightly as sobs forced their way through her throat.

She couldn't bear to look around. To see where she was going. To see what she was doing.

And yet, despite that, being held by her mom… felt so comforting…

Before she knew it, Mirellia set her daughter's feet down on the floor. And gently, ever so gently, turned her around so she could see the room they were standing in.

A thin layer of dust covered the surface of the two beds, one small and rectangular, the other big and messy, like a giant bird's nest full of pillows and blankets. Dust covered the lone table in the corner, as well as over the carpet and toys left on the floor.

Melty knelt and picked up one such toy. It was something she'd brought from her old room in the castle. A small Filolial plushie her parents had gotten her for one of her early birthdays years ago.

A wave of fresh tears came to her eyes, not because of the toy, but because of the small hairpin that'd been lying on the floor next to it.

It was Filo's. It lay outside a chest of shiny rocks and trinkets her best friend had collected from all her travels.

These were their first gifts from their parents. They were almost worthless in the eyes of others, but to the two young girls, they were priceless treasures.

And here they'd been, lying on the ground, gathering dust after their small family fell apart.

After Naofumi yelled at her. After he said all those horrible things. And after she met him again. After she said all those terrible things.

Melty fell to her knees.

Mirellia wrapped her arms around her daughter again. Resting the bluette's head on her bosom as the little girl sobbed and reeled from the pain.

This hurt. More, far more than last time when it was just her and Eclair. This hurt far more than anything the young girl had ever experienced. Not even her older sister trying to kill her had hurt her this deeply.

"I've been trying mama! I've been trying to forgive Naofumi for what he did that day! But I CAN'T!


"E-" Melty hiccupped. The action quieted her voice down from the hysteric tone it'd taken, but it was still filled with as much, if not more pain as she continued with what she was saying. "Every night, his words haunt my dreams. And every day, I throw myself into different projects, into different studies and preparations and work to distract myself and hope that it'll make the bad thoughts go away, but they won't go away!

"Today has been the best it's ever been, and they still popped up from time to time! I just-

"I can't forget! I can't forgive Naofumi for what he said because… because…

"Because… he told me the truth… that others wouldn't…

"That I came from a dysfunctional family… and was just trying to insert myself into his and forgetting about the problems I had under you and Father.

"I hate him for it. And more than that, I hate him for making me hate you for realizing he was right."

The silence that stretched after that was long. Too profound. Only filled by the sounds of Melty's tears landing against the floor, her sobs having long since run their course.

It was as if she'd died again on the inside. All the color was leeched from her world, leaving herself a picture of blacks and greys.

Melty had confronted the main reason why she couldn't enter the house before. Why, until then, she'd avoided going upstairs, sleeping in her old room… everything.

Because as much as she hated it, as much as she hated him… Naofumi was right.

She had tried to insert herself into his family. She had tried to be their daughter alongside Filo.

Perhaps, at first, it had been motivated by her wanting to always have Filo around. She loved Filolials almost to an unhealthy degree, just like her mother…

But then… seeing a side of life she'd known next to nothing about before, and seeing how great it was… she'd wanted to live like this. She'd wanted this to be her family.

Loving and caring Raphtalia. Sweet and innocent Filo. Grumpy, and rough, yet kind, and nice Naofumi.

To be able to wake up with a set of parents who loved and cherished her. To have a sister who loved everything about her. To have things like love, affection, hugs, bedtime stories, etc be a part of her everyday life, and not just something that happened once in a blue moon whenever Mirellia allowed her the time to be around her Father instead of neck-deep in her studies.

A large part of her was scared that life would never happen again. That, after Naofumi came back… things would never return back to normal.

That it'd turn out that Filo didn't want to be her best friend after all. That Raphtalia wouldn't be able to love and care for her because of what she said to Naofumi… that she'd never get to see the kind side to Naofumi's persona ever again after telling him to fall into a ditch and die.

Melty's tears continued to fall, not only because she was finally confronting the truth, but because she was confronting it in front of her own mother. The Queen of Melromarc. The one woman whom she respected more than anyone else. Who hadn't meant to harm her daughter with the way she raised her, but who was also ultimately to blame for why Melty wanted to join a different family in the first place.

Because very rare were the times Mirellia was her mother in private. Even rarer were the times she acted that way around others. Today was an anomaly in that regard, an effort for her mother to reach out and build something that just… couldn't be built in a day.

Not when it was something Melty had needed her entire life.

Judging by the sounds hitting the floor, it wasn't just Melty's tears landing on the ground. And it only made the bluette hurt worse as this time, she was sure her mother was hurt to the core because of her words.

Melty finally let Mirellia go, falling to her knees in the middle of the room. "I'm… I'm sorry, mother… I didn't mean to say it like that.

"I never wanted to make you cry because of me…"

"I'm… I'm sorry too. I really am a failure as a parent. Time and time again. I always just make things worse whenever I try to make things better." Mirellia knelt in front of her daughter. One of her hands smoothed out a lock of hair on her head. One which she'd helped to wash with her own hands earlier. "Words cannot express how sorry I am…"

Mirellia took in a deep breath. "Melty… do you… remember the first lesson I engraved in you as a child?" The Queen asked.

"... that our lives are to be lived in the service of our country," Melty answered, in an almost monotone, robotic voice.

"... How old were you when I engraved that lesson upon your mind. Not as your Mother, but as the Queen of Melromarc."

"... five," Melty answered, tears pricking the edges of her eyes again.

"And for these last seven to eight years, did I ever teach you anything outside of politics. Of how to hold yourself around others. To, and I quote, be the perfect little diplomat for Melromarc."

"Did I ever teach you about love? About family? Was I ever the one to broach those topics with you instead of your Father?"


"It's okay. You don't need to say anything.

"I already know the answer." Mirellia looked down sadly.

Funny, how she could be a parental figure for others, but fail so horribly with her children.

"... you taught me… about how wonderful Filolials are." Melty started.

Mirellia looked up at her daughter in surprise. But the words she said were only the start. "You… showed me the world, and how big it was.

"You encouraged me to study, so that I'd be knowledgeable enough to help others. You helped me learn magic, so I'd be able to protect myself when you couldn't.

"You infused my lessons with knowledge on the various legends you knew and loved. You taught me about the history of our world, of our lineage to the Heroes of the past.

"You knew about the times Dad would sneak me out of the castle to experience life in the eyes of a commoner, yet you didn't stop him from doing so. You kept dad from spoiling me too much like he did with Malty, but you didn't cut me out of his life entirely.

"I… I wish that you could have been more of a mother for me growing up. That our time together hadn't just been lessons and roleplays for encounters with other nations. I wish so much you could have dropped everything for at least a day like today a lot sooner so I could call you mama and let you know how much I loved you and papa. So that I could have confidently told Naofumi that day when he turned my world upside down that he was wrong, that you did love me, and…"

Melty began to cry harder at those words, hiding her face in her hands.

"And that you could have had the security of having a family to go back to after the new one you made had fallen apart," Mirellia muttered.

Melty nodded, unable to speak as she continued crying.

"Melty, for this lesson I'm going to impart to you now, I want you to take it from me not as Her Majesty, not as Mirellia Q. Melromarc, but as your mother." The woman started while looking out of the window of the room. At the stars slowly appearing in the nighttime sky.

"Forgiveness can mean many things, and can take on many forms. The one form it never takes, however, is in forgetting what happened in the past.

"Sometimes, that naturally happens when we forgive somebody, but not always. Sometimes, it is impossible to forget, especially when the pain is so traumatizing for us to bear at the time."

Mirellia gently pulled Melty's hands from her face, allowing her daughter to see the tears falling down the Queen's cheeks before she then wiped the bluette's tears away with her hand. "We both know the things Naofumi said that day that were false. I have forgotten those things already.

"... But I still remember the things he said that were true. The things I had to confront before I could bring myself to forgive him, to try and forgive myself. Before I could come here to see you."

"M-Mother?" Melty said quietly.

"No, not yet. As your mother, I want to make sure you learn this. I know what your Father has said on it, so I will try to not repeat his words, but it is important that you learn this Melty, not just because it'll be important as a ruler, but because this is a skill you'll need to have in your personal life.

"I have not forgiven Naofumi totally. I'm not at that point yet. That will come after he comes back, and after I see what he says and what he does to make it up to you for burdening you with so much pain." Mirellia continued.

Melty swallowed. She still felt too scared, too uncertain to imagine what'd happen after Naofumi came back. Especially with the way she'd been acting for the last few weeks.

"... I say this because I love you, Melty." Mirellia sighed. "But to forgive is to learn how to let go of the pain others cause you."

"... but, mother, I can't forget-" Melty began to say.


Mirellia slapped her hands together, the sharp sound stopping Melty in surprise. "Forgiveness is not forgetting." The mature woman repeated, her voice putting anger and emphasis on those two words. "It has never been, nor will it ever be about forgetting.

"Only fools would think to combine the two so haphazardly! It would be too cruel to ever ask anyone to do something as horrible as that in regards to all their past hurts and traumas!"

"Melty…" Mirellia's voice had calmed, but her entire body began to tremble. "Do… do you remember your older brother 'Luge'?"

"…?!" Melty looked confused at first, but then, her eyes widened in recognition. "W-Why are you bringing him-"

"Do you remember him?" Mirellia's face fell further, but she pressed on.

"Of course I do, but why? I thought that was something you didn't want anyone to ever bring up because… because of…?" Melty trailed off.

"Because of how he died?" Mirellia supplied.

Melty gulped but nodded her head.

Strange, for a woman that always looked so young, it was like Mirellia was rapidly aging before the young girl's eyes. "I ordered his name to be erased out of historic records and forbade anyone of ever speaking of him or how he died under threat of execution back then.

"I had my reasons. We could not afford another war so soon. And more than anything, I was stricken with deep grief at the time.

"Now, please, allow me to personally tell you exactly what happened that day. So that you may understand why I was wrong and why it is important to never forget."

Mirellia proceeded to tell her daughter a story.

It'd been around a decade since the end of the war. Siltvelt and Melromarc were still rebuilding relations between each other. To help with that, Siltvelt sent one of their noble family's sons to stay at the castle while Mirellia sent her son to stay at the palace in Siltvelt's capital.

Things had been going well. Aultcray had gone from wanting to exterminate the hakuko to acting like he never wanted to see them or other demi-humans ever again.

Even though her husband tried to act to the contrary, he had been healing, thanks to interacting with the demiboy who'd shown such an interest in his magic. And to try and help things along, Mirellia had organized a dinner with both sides so she could show her husband how their son had bonded with their demi-human friends, and how he and the demi-boy were the best of friends to each other.

"As you may recall, during that dinner, a rare poison was slipped into your brother's drink." Mirellia said in a deadpan. "I learned after the fact that it was an old, far deadlier variation of Ouroboros Poison, one only talked about in legends from ancient history books on Zeltoble, believed to have been from around the time it was founded by a past Hero of the Axe."

"This variation was thought to have been completely exterminated beneath Zeltoble's Capital centuries ago," Mirellia continued. "I have no idea how a trace of it survived, or how it got into the assassin's hands, regardless, the Ouroboros Poison was smuggled into the castle and slipped into Luge's drink before the main course had come out."

Even just hearing the name, Melty felt a shudder go down her spine. The name of that poison was tied to many, many evil things that'd happened in the history of their world.

"As you may recall from my lessons, Ouroboros poison is the most dangerous poison in existence. Only Yggdrasil's Elixir, consumed in the first ten seconds after ingestion, is enough to survive the poison, and only in scenarios where the person ingested an amount no larger than a single drop. Otherwise, the victim is doomed to die, no matter what spells or medicines are used on them. Such poisons were said to even be used to assassinate past Heroes in the height of their power."

Mirellia breathed in deeply. "The use of this poison is outlawed by every nation, and alchemists discovered to be making it in the modern era are killed without mercy and without hesitation whenever and wherever they are found out.

"Any writings pertaining to how to make Ouroboros Poison are burned to ensure the knowledge of how to create it is unable to spread."

"The variation of it that was used that day, however… was worse. Far worse. It is less a poison and more so an infection. One that not only kills whoever ingests it but changes their body into a monster that seeks out other victims to infect after the host body is dead."

"I… I did not know it at the time… there was no chance of saving Luge. He was gone before any of us could realize what was happening."

Mirellia could still recall the moment when it happened. When her son crumbled over in his chair, screaming in pain for his parents as his body writhed and changed. Growing larger and larger before everyone's eyes.

His lovely, silver hair was consumed by pulsating sacks of flesh. His stumpy legs and arms grew many times beyond their size. His clothes ripped and tore as sores leaking puss appeared all over his flesh.

A single large mouth appeared where his stomach had been, lined with hideous, blackened, yellow teeth. This abomination roared for sustenance soon after it'd appeared.

One of the Council Members, a lion therianthrope, ran towards the former Luge. Yelling the boy's name with a look of worry on his face.

The next second, the lion man was on the ground, screaming as his arm had been bitten off. Chewed up in the former prince's monstrous mouth.

Two knights, one Melromarcian, and the other Siltveltian, both ran up to try and help the gravely injured Councilman when Luge tackled one, biting his face off. As his Siltveltian counterpart turned and stared in horror, the former lion man on the ground rose and, with the new mouth sporting out of his rapidly growing grotesque chest, tore into the man's neck with wild abandon.

Mirellia hadn't even been able to react as all this happened. She'd just stared in stunned horror as the twisted remains of her son stood from the knight he'd just infected, and jumped in her direction to infect his mother.

Waiters ran in terror. The rest of the Council of Siltvelt backed away in fright. Little Melty was cowering behind her mother, the remaining Shadows and Knights in the room all moved to try and stop the sudden threat to the rulers, and yet, Mirellia just stood there, unable to tear her eyes away from what was happening.

Luge… her young, little Luge…

It was as the monster that had been her son was about to tackle her and bite down on her shoulder that someone reacted in time to protect her.

And that someone had been her husband, the Staff Hero. Aultcray Melromarc.

Aultcray's Vassal Staff slammed into the creature's maw with enough force to send it flying back into the center of the table. Mirellia looked up, seeing her husband standing protectively in front of her.

"Everyone, stand back! My weapon is telling me that one scratch is all it takes for these creatures to turn you into them!" Aultcray planted his Staff on the tiled floor.

The three other infected individuals roared in his direction. The former bodies of the two knights and Council Member charged to feast upon the Wise King.

"Drifa Bind IV!" Rods of earth suddenly shot up out of the ground, wrapping themselves around the charging monstrosities. Despite the powerful binds, they struggled to break them and were already succeeding.

On top of that, Aultcray's former son was trying to get back up. The horrible screeching was still coming from his remains.

The King blinked tears from his eyes as words rapidly fell from his lips, each one blurring into one another as he put together the puzzle in his mind.

Mirellia still sat in stunned shock. Her knights and Shadows surrounded her and Melty, pulling them back at the King's orders as the monstrosities struggled forward to infect the Wise King.

Little Melty reached out an arm, screaming for her older brother. Mirellia gasped, Luge's name finally coming to her lips as a storm cloud formed above the castle itself.

Aultcray brought his fist down. "Wrath of the Lightning God, V!"


And just like that, a huge streak of lightning came into existence. The ears of everyone there were hit by the sound of the lightning bolt's appearance well before their eyes got what they were seeing seared to their brains.

The hairs of everyone stood on end. The explosion of power rocked the very foundations of the castle itself.

For the longest while, Mirellia couldn't stop coughing. Her ears rang worse than they ever had on any battlefield she'd been on during the war. And the taste of ozone wouldn't leave her mouth.

When the ringing finally began to fade, she heard the sound of someone screaming.

Looking up, she saw the ceiling above the dining hall had been completely blown out. Bits of rubble had fallen everywhere, but somehow, not around Mirellia and little Melty, who was shaking and crying while attached to her mother's leg under her robes.

Some of Mirellia's knights and Shadows were helping the remaining members of Siltvelt's Council up to their feet. Others looked at the demi-humans in disgust or had their weapons levied towards them as if waiting for war to be declared on the spot.

But when Mirellia discovered who it was that was screaming, her heart froze in her chest.

The monster that had been Luge Melromarc, as well as the three individuals whom he'd infected, had been entirely incinerated at the hands of his Father. All of them were destroyed so thoroughly that no one else would be infected by the rare strain of Ouroboros Poison that'd consumed the young boy in both body and soul.

The threat that could have consumed their country and then their world had been completely eradicated.

Aultcray had fulfilled his duty as a Hero.

And the man who'd lost so much in his life didn't look like he could have hated himself more than he had in that moment. Screaming and crying over the ashes containing what had been his son, Luge.

Mirellia continued to tremble as Melty stared at her, new tears forming in the Queen's eyes.

The young girl recalled what her Father had said before about forgiving Naofumi. About letting their hatred for others die.

She then recalled from her memory of that event, how even through her cries, she heard her Father's screams. How she poked out from under Mirellia's cloak, only to see her Father throw the Vassal Staff that'd been connected to his person for so many years away from his hands, how the Seven-Star Weapon vanished into thin air as the King's sobs turned into cries of rage, and promises to never fight on behalf of the world that'd taken everything from him ever again.

"Please, I'd rather, our enmity with demi-humans… our enmity with the Shield Hero… died, with the man who was once your father…"

Melty's body trembled as she came to understand in no small part just how hard it'd been for her Father to say those words to her.

"Why… why are you telling me all this?" Melty asked in a weak voice.

"Do you think I've forgotten what happened that day?" Mirellia's face darkened. "Do you think your Father has forgotten it either?

"Do you think any of us could ever forget something like that?"

No. She didn't say it out loud, but Melty's face said it all for her.

"That demi-child who'd stayed with us… the one who'd been good friends with Luge…" Mirellia continued. By this point, her body had stopped trembling. Her hands shook from a rage she could hardly contain. "After spending some time in the dungeon, he confessed to being the one who slipped the poison into Luge's drink. And Aultcray personally executed him in front of a large crowd right after he confessed, without wanting to hear anything else from the young boy…"

"I still recall how scared he was. How destroyed… for all I know, perhaps he did put the poison in Luge's drink. But even if he did, I don't think he knew what it actually was. That it was somebody else who told him to do so."

"... … …"

Mirellia hadn't been able to react to anything going on at the time. Those days were a blur for her as she tried to hold her own emotions together and not give into the motherly rage that would have kickstarted another war.

She couldn't put her hand on little Melty's head to try and comfort her. She couldn't hug her husband, who raged and cried for many nights, having lost the Staff because he no longer wished to protect the world that'd taken not just his family, not just his sister, but his own son.

The loss of the Staff was one of the 'sole' reasons Melromarc's nobility didn't force Mirellia to declare war on Siltvelt at the time, and why the Queen managed to restrain her anger from going that far. Having to be satisfied with the execution of one demi-child who'd 'confessed' to the horrible crime.

The whole of Melromarc was in mourning over the loss of the crown prince. Mirellia had no idea what to do… how to let go of that all-consuming pain that'd filled her being to the brim.

The one thing… the only thing that kept the Queen herself from deciding to declare war, from fully blaming Siltvelt for her son's death, for making the connection that the demiboy couldn't have known what he was slipping into his friend's drink, was when she saw her eldest daughter. In the aftermath of Luge's death, and again at his funeral.

Malty did not look sad. She did not look apathetic. She did not look depressed. She showed no negative emotions whatsoever.

Instead, she was smiling.

From the moment he transformed into a monster to when his ashes were cleansed and laid to rest, she was smiling the whole time with delight whenever Mirellia saw her.

And then, when that demi-child was taken out of the dungeons and executed by Aultcray in front of a whole crowd of people, Mirellia spotted Malty amongst the crowd, surrounded by other young nobles, laughing in triumph to herself.

And that was when Mirellia realized, that the only other person that could have ascended to the throne despite being a man had been eliminated.

And Malty had gotten away with it.

"But… but if you knew the truth, then why-" Melty managed to speak, only to get cut off.

"Because I feared what it would do to our family. To Aultcray, to me, to you. To our name. To our positions if the truth came out. But more than anything, I was afraid of facing the truth that one of my daughters was a kinslayer. That she'd endangered the entire world all because she'd wanted the throne for herself.

"So instead, I tried to forget. To pretend that nothing happened. That I was just paranoid and that this really was an assassination done by Siltvelt.

"I grit my teeth. I sent your sister away to Faubley and made sure that she would only have limited contact with you. I didn't allow you to spend a lot of time with your Father. I tried to act as if nothing was wrong.

"In short, I made a mistake. I made many mistakes."

Mirellia put a hand on her daughter's shoulder. Her body still trembled from a rage that was buried in the depths of her very soul. The rage of a mother who'd never been able to properly mourn the loss of a beloved son, and who'd never gotten the chance to bring the real perpetrator of his death to justice.

Which was why that rage was accompanied by great pain. Pain that she could never, ever, hope to forget. And maybe never even move past it, because of who was responsible for it. Yet despite that…

"Melty. Forgiveness is about allowing life to go on. To not let the mistakes of the past stay caught up in the present. To realize that there are still things to hold onto before life is consumed by a torrent of hate, pain… and immeasurable regrets."

Mirellia sniffled, her rage dissipating to sadness. "I regret many things, Melty… how I raised your older sister… the fate Luge suffered… how I didn't try to save that child and learn the truth… how I couldn't comfort Aultcray after all the loss he'd suffered… … … how I raised you with the sole purpose of replacing me… to put my country and my people on the right path in case I failed…

"I regret many things… I don't know if I could ever make up for being such a horrible mother to you and your two siblings… …

… … …

"... … … but, the one thing I will never regret, is giving birth to someone as great as you, my daughter."

Melty began to cry again, and Mirellia hugged her youngest close. She rubbed a hand through her daughter's hair as she continued to speak.

"I told you before that I wanted you here in the Hero's Nation to gain experience in ruling, Melty. I also told you I wanted you here since it was where you'd be the safest… but the main reason why I wanted you here was because I wanted you to experience a life I could never give you.

"I wanted you to have the chance to make genuine friends. To form deep connections with the people and the Heroes, especially Naofumi and his family. I wanted you to experience something of a normal life. Something I was never able to give you in Melromarc. And something that I still can't give you now, since I am still bound by my duty to my people.

"I am so sorry that I haven't been more selfish in raising you. That I haven't taken the time to sit with you and talk with you and hug you and… do all the things a mother should do for their daughter.

"I hope that what I've said hasn't been in vain. That I'm not helping you to confront this pain only to be disappointed upon Naofumi's return. I do hope you'll meet the Shield Hero I met after the battle with the Spirit Tortoise, the one I can no longer hate since he has changed for the better, and who'll want to protect you and everyone else he cares about for the rest of his life, and not the bastard he portrayed himself as before.

"Because if he staged it all for me, if he hasn't changed and did all that acting to get back in my good graces, just so he'd have the chance to try and hurt you again...

"I won't care anymore. I will kill him myself. Even if I have to seek out a batch of Ouroboros Poison to do it, I will make certain that he suffers for betraying you before he dies, the Gods so help me."

Hearing her mother speak with such wrath on her behalf, Melty gulped.

"I'll… I'll try to let go of the pain, mama." The bluette finally promised. "I don't know if I can, but I'll try."

"When Naofumi comes back, I… I'll see what will happen then. But I promise that I won't run away or try to hide or hurt him or anything.

"I'll try… I'll try to move past what happened and not hate him, or you, Mama."

"... thank you, Melty." Mirellia sighed. Her daughter spoke with no anger in her tone.

Indeed, Melty was far better than her own mother. Mirellia knew she'd grow to be a far better person than she ever was.

Melty continued to cry, embraced in the arms of her mother.

The bluette had no idea how long it took till the tears stopped. Or when it was that she fell asleep.

All she knew was that after a while, she began to hear a familiar lullaby. One she remembered hearing as a kid, when her Papa put her to bed every night.

"When one person loves another,

"What do they lose in return?"

Melty felt as she was laid on a soft surface. A familiar fragrance filled her nose, bringing relief to her mind. The tiredness and weariness of the last few weeks caught up to her within seconds.

Yet, even as she drifted off into sleep, the voice of her mother followed her into her dreams. Full of care and love, just like when she was a small child.

"When time seeks, what was lost in time…

"The song it knew…"

"I love you, Melty."

"... elty…"

"-elty? Melty!"

The bluette sat up in surprise.

As she rubbed the tiredness out of her eyes, she saw a heavily breathing figure standing in the doorway.

"Eclair?" Melty asked confusedly.

"Oh, thank the Gods! I couldn't find you anywhere after the sun went down! I was starting to wonder if you'd gone into the forest to vent against the monsters there again! But a group of knights you'd been talking to in the town hall said you'd just vanished after sunset, and no one was able to find where you'd gone, and…" The rose-haired knight sighed with relief.

"Well, I'm just glad to see that you were safe."

"... …" Melty looked around the dark room. Pulling up the blanket that'd been tucked around her.

She then realized. She was lying in the middle of Filo's bird nest of a bed.

Looking down at herself, she found she was still dressed in the commoner clothes from last night. The front of her chest was still stained from the cherry tomato that'd fallen onto the fabric.

Her tongue flicked out over her lips, tasting the remnants of dinner from last night, as well as the salt from all the tears she'd shed.

It hadn't been a dream.

Looking out the window, Melty saw the night had gone. The light of dawn was beginning to show its face on the edge of the horizon. A bird was chirping outside her window.

And already, she could hear Granny's voice in the distance. Likely berating the Spear Hero while she sparred with one of her favorite pupils.

Had she slept through the whole night? In her and Filo's old bed no less?

No nightmares? No tossing and turning? She'd actually gotten a full night's sleep?

"Melty, is everything alright? I… now that I think about it, I thought you didn't want to be up here." Eclair said in an unsure voice. "Did something happen?"

Melty still didn't answer her. She was still looking around the room. Taking in where she was, what had happened last night.

The hugs they'd shared. The tears they'd shed. Attempting to make up for almost ten years of being emotionally distant from each other in one day.

And more than that, the fact that she was able to see everything in color again. Without a speck of grey clouding her mind.

The Lady Governor of the Hero Nation looked up at her confused protector, giving her a real, genuine smile. "Thanks for letting me sleep in your room till now, Eclair. But I've decided that I'll be sleeping here from now on.

"The bed's softer than yours. And, as I found out, it still smells like my best friend."

"H-Huh?" Eclair looked startled.

Melty got up out of bed. Tears appeared in the corners of her eyes. But, this time, they were not tears of pain or sadness. Of regret or loathing.

"Thank… thank you so much for watching over me these last few weeks, Eclair! I really appreciate it!" Melty ran from her bed, wrapping her arms around the sword woman's waist.

"You're a great friend. And I'll always remember what you did to help me out!"

Eclair continued to look surprised, her mind struggling to process what was happening. It probably didn't help that she'd pulled an all-nighter trying to find where the young ruler had gone.

Melty continued to smile though as she let go of and walked past the stunned knight, running out to get herself ready for the day.

Eclair finally snapped back to reality and started smiling. She didn't know what had happened to Melty last night, and her tired mind couldn't bring herself to think about it too much.

But what she did know was that Melty was happy. The small bluette was safe, and beyond that, she finally looked better for the first time since Naofumi burned bridges with her and everyone else long ago.

The rose-haired knight ran down to her room, where she promptly collapsed in her bed for the first time in weeks. She got a quick power nap in so she'd be able to best serve the Lady Governor after she'd bathed and changed. The dutiful knight was then up and ready by sunrise when Melty began going around with renewed vigor, tackling the challenges thrown at her that day.

There were various projects she was working on. The knights she interacted with. The refugees she spoke to and the people she lent a hand to and helped.

There was a time when she was asked for clarification on a law. There was also a time when she had to help resolve a property dispute.

She took a break after that and sat and watched as Jerry taught an impatient Blue about his craft. Her break didn't last long as she drew up plans for the fountain in front of the Church and talked with Jerry afterward to see about getting it implemented, as well as making arrangements with the florist to make sure he had a variety of flowers ready to plant around its circumference by the time it was finished.

Melty traveled to the settlement of New Seaetto after that. Talking with the knights and people there in discussing a layout for the city, the surrounding farmland, several large storage buildings to get kickstarted on her idea of setting up easier trade inland, before returning to Lurolona and grabbing a shovel so she could start digging holes for the saplings she wanted to plant along the sides of the roads.

She labored alongside Eclair and the other knights who wanted to help her. Each individual wanted to contribute to the building up of the Hero's Nation alongside their young ruler. More than that, they wanted to support Melty in what she was doing. To alleviate her burden, even if only just a little bit.

Because even a commoner could understand a little in part what it took for a benevolent ruler to run a nation.

Melty hadn't forgiven Naofumi for what he'd said that day. Not yet, at least. She was going to wait till he came back and she got to see him again before she made a decision…

But the young princess was no longer afraid of what'd happen after the Shield Hero, Raphtalia, and Filo came home. She did not feel afraid of knowing whether or not Filo wanted to be her best friend, or if Raphtalia would be there for her as her surrogate mother figure. Or if she'd want to accept Naofumi as a surrogate father again or not.

A part of her still hated him. A part of her still hated herself and maybe her mother. But that hatred wasn't as large and all-consuming as it'd been before. It did not drown out the love or care the bluette held in her soul for those around her, including Mirellia.

Whether she'd rejoin the Shield's Family or move into the government building to put distance between herself and the Heroes, she didn't know…

As the Governor of the Hero's Nation came back into her old room later in the day to wash and change into her commoner clothes so she could dig holes alongside the knights without ruining her royal dress, she finally noticed something else about the room.

All the dust had been wiped off of everything. Her Filolial plushie lay right next to the pillow she'd been sleeping on earlier, while Filo's hairpin and other toys were resting in their chest.

As well as that, Melty's chessboard was back on the table, the pieces set up to resume where they'd left off.

What Melty did know was this: even if things didn't work out, even if she didn't rejoin this family here, even… if she couldn't be best friends with Filo, she already had two parents. Parents who loved her and cared for her with all their hearts and souls.

They couldn't always be there for her, unfortunately, and the two of them weren't the best at parenting.

But ultimately, they wanted what was best for their daughter so she could live her best life. Happy, and unrestrained by events of the past.

Melty smirked. 'So you actually thought you could steal my bishop, father? Alright, I'll show you how big a mistake that'll be!'

Melty hummed as she planned her next move. She would move one of the black pawns on her side forward a space to cover her bishop, while also opening up a path for one of her pieces that she'd been planning to use in an attack on her father's King. She then went to go about the rest of her day.

She couldn't wait for her next turn.

At the end of it all, one thing was clear.

Melty was now emotionally better, and ready for the Shield Hero and his friends to return home.

"Your Grace, if I may speak."

"You may."

Mirellia sat in her carriage, the walls of the Capital loomed in the distance. The sun was low in the morning sky.

She was dressed in her royal garbs again. Her signature fan rested on her lap. The short rest she'd taken during the night seemed to have been enough to reinvigorate her senses. Though, her eyes were still tinged with red from the tears she'd shed alongside her youngest daughter.

It'd been too long since she and Melty last had a heart to heart. She only regretted that she couldn't have weeks or months to stay and make sure she was ok.

In the present, the Queen focused on her Shadow and the conversation she'd initiated.

"Why didn't you warn your daughter about there being a possible traitor in her domain?" Shadow asked.

"..." Mirellia's lips remained straight as she pulled her fan up to cover the bottom half of her face. "Was there any reason for me to do that?"

"Because the other Shadows have concluded that the sons of those nobles were indeed being fed information by someone from inside the Hero's Nation. Though we still haven't determined who or how." Shadow said in a straightforward voice. "This said individual is also the likely perpetrator who's been tampering with all the Hero texts in or around Melromarc."

"..." Mirellia's fan stayed up. "I could have told her… but what good would it have done if I did.

"From what I gathered from your reports, I am certain she already knows of the danger herself, and has been trying to address it." It was one of the few things she could say she did right.

Her youngest daughter, unlike her eldest, was not an idiot.

"Perhaps, but then, was setting her on the path to work with the Shield Hero again truly that important?" Shadow asked.

"No. That was also not my reason for visiting. Had I not noticed how much she was hurting, I would have never brought it up.

"More so than that. I wanted to be there for her yesterday because I meant it when I said this to Naofumi." Mirellia snapped her fan shut, and gave her Shadow a serious look.

"I do not want my Melty to turn into another Malty."

Mirellia's voice nearly choked as she said her next words. "I have neglected giving my second daughter love for most of my life, out of fear she'd turn into her sister. And that has been my biggest mistake by far.

"For one day, just one, I wanted to make sure Melty knew that, before anything else, her mother loves her.

"If yesterday leads to her mending her relationship with Naofumi, if it leads to her being able to be happy and to experience what it's like having a family, I will be happier for it. But above all else, I wanted to make sure Melty never has to question if her own mother loves her or not ever again.

"No child should ever have to experience that…" The Queen felt horrible that she'd been responsible for something so cruel and reprehensible.

"I… I daresay, I'm sorry for broaching the subject." Shadow apologized, bowing her head as she did so.

"It is fine, Shadow." Mirellia set her fan on her lap again. "It is over now.

"What's done is done. There is nothing else I can do…"

"... My Gr… Mirellia, may I at least say something in regards to you and the young princess?" Shadow asked.

"Of course," Mirellia said.

"I think you did your best trying to raise her," Shadow said, no trace of a lie coming from her lips.

The words made the Queen look at her loyal spy. "I daresay, you weren't perfect. But whatever you might think about yourself, I know that you never meant to harm Melty. Even if you think you didn't, you still showed your love to her in ways only the two of you could understand. And I believe that Melty was aware of that too, and just needed to be reminded of it.

"You might not think you deserve to call yourself a mother. To be able to consider yourself her family. Indeed, I have met parents who do not deserve that title in the slightest. They are more abominable than even some monsters out there.

"But there is a difference between bad parenting and being a bad parent. You are nothing like those bad parents I've watched before. I know whatever thoughts you have, you never raised Melty with any ill intent in your heart.

"I know that with all my heart after all these years serving under you.

"I'm certain the other Shadows would agree with me on that matter. Correct?"

Looking around, a flurry of masked faces encompassed the pair from the shadows of the carriage. None of them spoke, but they nodded their heads as one, before returning back to their positions.

"It appears I am right," Shadow spoke calmly, looking to her liege once more.

"Shadow…" Mirellia spoke after a moment, her head facing the window again.


"... Thank you," Mirellia muttered. A fresh tear fell down the visible side of her cheek.

Shadow caught the tear as it fell towards Mirellia's lap. She then gently swabbed the side of her liege's face with a piece of cloth.

"Of course." Shadow bowed her head once again before she sat back down.

"Have there been any reports of my first daughter from the ones meant to track her down?" Mirellia asked after a long moment.

"None, I'm afraid." Shadow shook her head.

Mirellia sighed. She looked twice her age after everything that'd happened. "If only I could find her."

Even after all this time, Mirellia never found out the truth of what happened that day.

Mirellia wanted, before anything else, to know if Malty had been responsible for the death of young Luge. Everything wrong with their family started from that day.

It was after that that Aultcray's hatred of demi-humans and the world finally consumed him, and he lost access to the Vassal Staff through his promise to never fight on behalf of the world ever again.

It was after that when Melty had her fifth birthday, and Mirellia decided to raise Melty strictly, completely different from what Malty had experienced as a young child.

It was after that when Mirellia sent Malty to Faubley, and eventually, chose to make Melty her heir over the first princess when she just couldn't bring herself to trust her first daughter or get her to change her ways.

Before, she'd been too afraid of destroying her family any further to confront her eldest about it. Even if she'd caught her that day in the Capital and had a slave crest put on her chest, Mirellia wouldn't have dared to ask an answer to such a question, fearing how it could have torn her family and her country apart even further.

But now, right now, when her family had nothing left that it could lose… when her people had all but forgotten what'd happened to their beloved prince… she wanted to know.

Before anything else, before death itself came for her, Mirellia needed to know if she'd been right to blame Malty for Luge's death all these years or not.

Or if her mistrust of Malty had been misplaced, and that it had been Siltvelt who killed her son all along, as all the evidence had pointed toward back then.

She didn't know if she'd be able to swallow her pride then. If she'd forgive Malty, or herself, in that scenario. If she'd give into hatred and join her husband on a crusade the likes of which the world had never seen, all to wipe out the last remnants of the demi-human's main national power.

Whatever happened, she needed to know.

She just needed to know so she could find peace with herself.

"So, Judas. Is there a particular reason why you decided to grab one of the Lurolona slaves in secret without consulting with me first?" A bald man with a robust physique began to speak in the poorly lit room. He wore a pristine white suit with a black dress shirt underneath and held a lit cigar in his meaty hands.

"You mean with all of us, right, Saxon?" A woman sitting next to the bulky bald man spoke next before taking a drag from her cigarette holder and then exhaling the smoke, adding to the lingering cloud of it in the air above them.

"I know what I said." Saxon grimaced and took a drag from his cigar before making a side glance at the woman. "We may be cooperating here, but it's still me who is in charge of rounding those brats up."

"Enough. Let's not get off topic." Another voice came from a different part of the smoking lounge. It belonged to a very thin pale man with elongated fingers. They almost resembled spider legs while clutching the ornate ivory pipe that the man was holding. "Judas, explain yourself."

All eyes in the room fell upon the old, intimidating man in charge of the Bookmakers Guild. Every other member of the City Council, with the exception of the head of the Merchant's Guild, was present.

Even when under the scrutiny of his peers, the old, imposing, scarred man smirked with confidence. "I received a tip about Councilman Hickwaal planning to attend a slave auction, and merely followed up on it since it was out of character for him to do such a thing.

"I didn't have time to gather the Council to discuss what to do. I simply acted as the rest of you would have when I realized he was buying a Lurolona child."

Most of the others in the room glared, but didn't try to argue. He was right, after all. The only one who disagreed was Councilman Ziro. However, he didn't speak, as he wished to just go back to his home for the night and knew it'd take longer if he spoke up about anything.

"How did he gain that knowledge though? Was it Deloukas?" Saxon narrowed his eyes.

"No, I already checked." Judas shook his head. "He had no involvement with that particular auction. The goods were all fresh captives. Refugees and the like. That's not one of his usual channels."

"One of us then?" Saxon glared mistrustfully at everyone else.

"..." "..." "..."

Almost every individual there looked at one another. Ziro, again, wasn't amongst them. To everyone else, it looked like he was tired of wasting his time there.

The man in the white suit then began to darkly chuckle. "No, of course not. We all are sensible people looking to benefit here. What's more likely is that it's my prized fighter who is at fault here." Mr. Saxon grinned before taking a drag from his cigar and exhaling the smoke in three perfect rings that floated forward and upwards. "After all, Larsazuna never was able to figure out what she and that Sir Bubba were talking about in private.

"I wouldn't be surprised if she decided to feed him info in order to save one of her precious little brood."

"..." The eyebrows of the others began to furrow with worry, including Judas. "What shall we do about it then? The plan is to have Nadia execute Sir Bubba in the arena, correct?"

"Yes, I will make sure Nadia is plenty motivated to kill this measly gladiator." Mr. Saxon chuckled darkly before shaking off the ashes from the tip of his cigar

"You are talking about the 'measly' gladiator that obliterated your new favorite clown toy yesterday, is that correct?" The woman with the cigarette holder laughed haughtily.

The large, brutish man glared at her hatefully.

"Councilman Delilah is correct." The man with the deathly pale skin nodded. "Even if Nadia is motivated to kill him, we must account for the fact that she is possibly using Hickwaal's new gladiator to get more Lurolona brats back to the Hero's Nation."

"If that is what they are doing, then our biggest payday ever is in danger of being ruined." Judas raised his voice in agreement as well before looking everyone over. "We must ensure that if that is the case, we are ready for when Nadia tries to turn on us with Sir Bubba."

"... what are you suggesting, then?" Ziro finally spoke, if only to have them get to the point.

Judas grinned at the fat, most powerful man there finally speaking. "Why, I am so glad you asked, Councilman Ziro."

"Is that fat pig back yet?" Lesty complained.

"No," Mauld said in a bored tone. "Now shut up."

"Make me." The noble girl snarled.

Bitch continued to stew in her spot while her two cohorts bickered. She hadn't gotten to kill anything tonight, again. And by the looks of things, she wouldn't get to kill any other filthy demi creatures anytime soon.

"It's not fair! Why must they do this to me!" Bitch complained.

At her words, the two briefly stopped bickering to look at her. "I know, its so unfair, right Malty?!" Lesty fulfilled her role as Cheerleader #1.

"I just hope this grand fight the bigwigs are hyping up is worth having all the other fights being canceled." Mauld boredly crossed his arms.

Bitch obviously didn't care about said fight since she should have been the one executing more filthy Lurolona demis in the eyes of thousands. Oh, how it would have made the Heroes suffer if they only knew.

"You know what, let's go so we can see what this big fight is all about." Bitch decided. If these individuals were the reason why the spotlight had been taken from her yet again, then she'd add them to the list of people her boy toy could obliterate for her later after it was all said and done.

Hopefully, with her around to watch and laugh.

"Eh, sure. Might as well, am I right?" Lesty chuckled while again supporting her best friend.

"It could be useful. I think I could learn some fun ways to get back at Sir Itsuki since its a death match." Mauld smiled darkly.

"Oooh! A death match, you say?!" Bitch's interest suddenly piqued. If one of the individuals responsible for taking her time away was going to die, well then, that'd make the big fight a hundred- no, a MILLION times better!

She began to laugh evilly into her hand. My, she suddenly couldn't wait for the day of the fight to arrive all of a sudden.

A short, silver-haired girl lay in her makeshift bed. Looking between a variety of different needles on her person.

These needles had a special ability that allowed her to see and hear what was happening on the other end where the needle was placed.

On one, she saw from the needle she'd placed on her former sponsor's person, the Council discussing their plans for the big fight between Nadia and Sir Bubba.

On another, she heard one of the 'Speakers' she was tracking preaching to a crowd of individuals.

On yet another, she saw the 'Listener', talking to himself… or perhaps, it was one of those times when an anomaly appeared in the air next to him and he talked to it.

The girl focused on that needle, briefly listening for a moment before finding out the 'Listener' was only talking to himself once again.

"So quiet. So quiet again today. Why? Why? Why? Oh, angel, why must you torment me so? Why are you denying me your sweet voice again? Your guidance and wisdom! I am so eager to fulfill the will of the gods, but how can I do it when it's... so... QUIET!?"


"No, no, I am not upset. Never upset. I know my role. I know my place. I must remain patient. Yes, heeheehee, I will wait. I will wait as I always do. And when it's time, I will serve their will again. Hahahaha..."

They were her main reason for being here… besides the fact that the death matches against the monsters here gave the girl access to good exp and materials for new weapon forms in this world.

She put the 'Listener' needle away. If she could only track down her enemies through them…

As she was about to store the rest of her needles back in her weapon, the girl focused on the last one. The one she'd planted on her most recent opponent, Sir Bubba.

Or, as she'd come to learn from observing him, this world's Spear Hero, Motoyasu Kitamura.

Motoyasu had been sparring with an older, frankly scary-looking lady when she checked on him earlier that day. Then, when she checked in a couple of hours later, she found that he was administering this world's miracle medicine to a small, bandaged tiger girl.

Now, she found him lying in bed, studying the needle she'd planted on his gambeson with a small, soft, hopeful smile on his face.

The girl blushed as she looked away. It was certainly a surprise that Motoyasu had found the needle on his person since nobody else besides her Sister had found them when she placed one on them. She normally did such a great job inserting it in a person's clothes or armor that nobody noticed.

Except he had.

She finally managed to get herself to look at Motoyasu again, only to find that his face had fallen. There was a look of great pain on his features.

The girl stared, the rest of her blush fading.

The Spear Hero sighed. When he spoke, it was as if the girl was standing next to him.

"I hope I meet her again… I know she was a gladiator fighting in those death pits…

"But I just can't get her out of my mind… I want to know why she had to do that… Why you were so strong? Maybe… ask if you'd want to fight alongside me…"

The girl was still staring, her face shocked at what she'd overheard when Motoyasu sighed. "Right, like when Rino wanted to fight by my side…"

A door opened in the background.

"Blondie, are you staring at the needle that Clown Girl gave you again?" Amber asked.

"N-No!" Motoyasu suddenly sat up in bed, putting the needle back in his gambeson.

"Blondie, you know Amber can tell when you're lying." Amber grinned as she lay down on the sheets next to her Hero.

As Motoyasu tried to defend himself, the girl put the needle back into her weapon. Keeping her from listening in on the rest of their private conversation.

The girl was blushing heavily again. Her heart was also beating erratically in her chest. This wasn't the first time she'd overheard his thoughts regarding her. But it still embarrassed her all the same!

It was honestly surprising that he thought about her a lot. In reality, she hadn't been able to stop thinking about him too ever since their fight.

She tried to tell herself that it was because he'd been surprisingly strong. Or that she'd been curious if he was somehow connected to the Cult of the Waves… something she obviously didn't need to consider anymore, thankfully, since they hated the Cardinal Heroes with a passion.

But… even though she'd hidden the needle, she was still able to picture Motoyasu's handsome face in her mind. His sharp features, his charming smile… clashing with the pain hidden in his orange eyes.

It… reminded her…

S'yne looked down at the gemstone of her scissors sadly.

No, she shouldn't be distracted by something like this. Not when her world… her Hero… … …

She needed to keep moving. To hunt down those responsible for it. And…

The girl pulled the needle out one more time.

Amber was now giggling and was hugging her Hero from the side. Motoyasu was laughing as well, and his smile was wide and genuine.

The girl watched, a smile slowly forming on her own face. That sense of pain still seemed to linger in the Spear Hero's gaze, but it was also matched by a boundless love and warmth.

Maybe… after her business here was done… she'd figure out why she found one of the Heroes of this world so interesting.

After all, he had been pretty strong… and he was also handsome…

S'yne began to blush again, remembering their duel. Strong was an understatement. She definitely had to see him again, if only to find out if the other Heroes of this world were as strong and kind as him! And not just because she wanted to get close to this handsome Hero or anything!

Because if the other Heroes were as strong and kind as him then… perhaps her days of wandering could finally come to an end.

Maybe, at last, the wandering Vassal Hero had found a group of Heroes strong enough to help her avenge her Hero and their fallen world together.

Author's Notes:

So, just so the anime-onlies will know, the thing about Mirellia and Aultcray having a son (who I named Luge since there isn't a name for him in Reprise), that is canon. The info on how he died, is also canon. The reason why Aultcray lost the Staff, why Mirellia showed such distrust for her first daughter when she returned from Faubley, the reason why Mirellia raised her second daughter so strictly… it is never spelled out explicitly, but that is canon.

I… don't really have words for this. This bit of info I learned from Reprise, I learned well after Hope was written and done, and more than halfway through my writing of Shield Kid…

To you readers, I pray that whoever needs this in their life, knows that forgiveness is not about forgetting the pain or the one who caused it. Forgiveness, in my opinion, is the act of letting that pain go, to release that grudge, as many times as you need to when it comes to your mind; so you can give your body and soul room to heal, to move past what happened, and hopefully, eventually, be able to live your life without that pain dragging behind you wherever you go.

It does not always mean letting said individual who hurt you back into your life. Or accepting them for who they are or, more importantly, forgetting who they were. Some people will never change and will just hurt you again and again and again if you gave them the chance. I do not believe that to be what forgiveness entails.

But forgiveness allows YOU to heal. It allows YOU to change. And it allows YOU to move on with your life. To hope that things will get better again. That the sun will regain its hue. That the trees will regain all their lost colors. That you will be able to trust other people again. Even if it takes years, even if it takes a lifetime. And maybe, just maybe, because of it, said individual will change, and become somebody far better than they were before, if they are extended such a chance.

Because believe me, the last thing any of us need are more regrets we can certainly live without... Take it from someone who was too young when he had to first learn that for himself.

Hero Clips!

Why Shadows Should Never be Left in Charge

"Oh no, will I actually have to smile around others?"

Shadow, disguised as Melty, was sitting in the Lady Governor's office at the town hall. Nobody had come into the office yet, so she was occupying herself looking busy with paperwork.

Though, despite trying to distract herself, the ninja woman couldn't help but shudder at the thought of needing to socialize with others directly. "I daresay, that would be horrible if that Eclair woman came in and I had to pretend like I was cheerful."

Yep, she couldn't snack on the souls of the damned if she had to smile while she was doing it. Hmmm, speaking of which.

Shadow took her rations bar out from a pocket as she bit into the end of it. She stared down at the set of proposed laws Melty was crafting up next that'd help distinguish property lines and all that mumbo jumbo further as she did so. Now what could she do to make Melty's job just a little bit easier?


Actually, this wasn't related to property laws or anything, but the female ninja did have her own ideas for what'd make this place a bit better.

Shadow began writing them down the new list of laws and changes that were to be effective immediately.

I daresay, Melty wouldn't mind such drastic changes to the Hero's Nation, right?

"Shadow, what is this?" Melty asked in a monotone voice.

"I daresay, what do you mean?" Shadow asked curiously.

"You know what I'm talking about?! Why is everyone in the town wearing masks now?!" Melty asked angrily.

Indeed, the various townspeople walking around the main Square all had masks on their faces. The same mask Shadow wore, to be specific.

"I daresay, I thought it'd help to give the people some character," Shadow said.

"I daresay, its a fine day we're having today."

"I daresay, it is indeed."

Melty's eyebrow ticked up as she heard two people walking by, having a rather strange conversation. "And what is with the I Daresays? I thought that was meant to be your verbal tick."

"Well, I thought the local language could use a little more refinement." Shadow shrugged. "It's not that different from Sir Motoyasu's I say at the end of his sentences."

"Yeah, except his I says make no grammatical sense whatsoever, just like your I daresays." Melty pouted while crossing her arms.

"I daresay, our verbal ticks make perfect sense to us." Shadow shrugged again. "You even say Motoyasu's I say from time to time."

Melty wanted to say something, or rather, shout something to express her displeasure. Before that happened, however, Motoyasu appeared on the scene, looking confused at what he was seeing.

"Did this place turn into a hidden ninja village while I was gone, I say?" He asked.

"What do you mean hidden?" Melty asked him in shock.

"I was walking around outside the walls, and it was like illusion magic had been cast over the entire place and-" Motoyasu was explaining.

"Kaieeeee! HYAH!" Granny suddenly appeared, dropping Moto to the ground with a precise karate chop to the center of his head.

"Ow ow ow ow ow! Granny, what the hell-"

"I daresay, it is time for the Lady Governor's newest ninja training to be implemented on you, Spear-dono! Huyah!"

"W-What?!" Motoyasu yelled in pain and confusion.

"I daresay, do one hundred laps around the town without making a single sound! Now! The real training will begin afterward!" Granny ordered, forcefully pushing Motoyasu as she did so.

"N-No! Our morning spars are hell enough as it is- ow!" Motoyasu cried as Granny chopped his head again.

"I daresay, two hundred laps!"

"Wahhhhhhh!" Motoyasu cried as he went through the start of another hellish training montage, courtesy of the even scarier looking ninja Granny.

Nearby, an unfortunate tiger boy, who'd already been very confused and disoriented by the drastic changes that'd happened in his life already, finally lost it upon witnessing what'd happened to Motoyasu and turned around screaming in terror. "AHHHHHH, I CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE! GET ME OUT OF HERE!"

"I daresay, hold still so I can beat you properly, Big Brother!" Atla, now dressed in ninja garbs, chased after the young Fohl. She was karate chopping the back of his head repeatedly as she did so. "Gosh, it's been a couple chapters since you were introduced and yet you still haven't done anything noteworthy in the main story."

"Atla, please stop speaking like that! You're scaring me- ow!" Fohl continued running and yelping in pain as his younger sister's assault didn't relent.

"Isn't she supposed to still be in a wheelchair?" Melty asked confusedly. "And who is she to say that Fohl hasn't done anything?! She hasn't done anything either!"

"I daresay, everybody knows ninjas don't use wheelchairs," Shadow said. "And to your point, once she is healed, do you really believe the young tiger girl will sit around and do nothing like her weak older brother?"

"..." Melty stared blankly at the ninja woman.

"I daresay, I'll be the strongest ninja of the sea, dattebayo!" Keel interrupted as she posed proudly. At least the dog girl was still dressed in her maid outfit, though the mask did look a bit weird on her.

"Wasn't it 'Believe it'?" Anya asked curiously.

"Hell if I know!" Keel laughed.

Ren took one look at what was going on, and proceeded to wrap his arms around his loyal girlfriend, their dragon daughter, his Filolial friend, his Filolial's Filolial friend, Tersia, and Farrie. "If you need us, I'll be going through a minor character arc in the Capital." The Sword Hero said dryly.

"Gwah! (Get us out of here already, Cool Hero! Rikka's Tyrant Eye has had enough of this craziness!)" Rikka squawked.

"Good luck!" Blue yelled while waving happily to the bluette girl.

In a flash of light, the Sword Hero vanished along with his friends and family.

Yep, it was one weird mess Melty ended up being left with thanks to Shadow.

And that was how the young bluette learned to never trust the ninja lady with running the affairs of the Hero's Nation on her behalf ever again.

Till Next Time