Author's Note: You'll have to excuse a small deus ex machina of an explanation for a character that shows up here. A while back, I binge-read the manga (and Reprise of the Spear Hero), and while writing this, I needed a canon character to make the first part of this chapter work…and this character was the best fit. Needless to say, when writing a certain earlier chapter, I was not aware of their existence, so…my bad. If I didn't have a policy of not editing anything beyond spelling errors for past chapters, I would put some foreshadowing in to make this person less out of the blue. Oh well, live and learn. Hopefully it's plausible enough.

Also, the first part of this chapter is the last of any OC characters, which really, just serve as conduits for canon elements. And, with such little info on Faubley's army, small non-canon liberties have been taken to give a sense of military hierarchy. So don't worry, the main guys are here too.

10 Days until the Wave

Stomp, stomp, stomp. The orderly march of 5000 soldiers beat into Melromarc soil, scarring its land proudly with their invasion. Rows of 10, columns of 10, divided into 50 squares of 100 marching soldiers, swept the landscape with thorough precision, leaving no stone unturned. Empty towns were pillaged for food, noble's mansions were made into temporary bases and remaining peoples were branded as prisoners of war.

Leading this army was an elite group of six old men; the Generals, driving Faubley's spearhead into the body of their enemy. Their march was intended both as a display of power as well as a ground-level survey. It would have been all too easy to raze the years of effort that generations spent building this nation. Series of infrastructures could have been utterly destroyed without a trace left; this was the power of Faubley, and the Pig King could have cared less if such happened.

Yet, due to the nature of Faubley's monarchy, political antagonism was rife. The Pig King sat in the throne, but it was his stewards who essentially ran the country. The Pig King thought of nothing beyond the indulgence of his carnal pleasures. The stewards, though, considered the opportunities which would span throughout the future. A particularly tantalizing thought were the advantages to be seized by claiming Melromarc as their own, absorbing its industries and taking their land. This left the military in a dichotomy. Leaving infrastructures in tact was fine, but how should they handle the prisoners of war they capture?

The stewards wanted them enslaved for free labor, eventually to turn Melromarc into a serfdom dedicated to low-cost, high-output production. The Pig King simply wanted the men killed and the woman brought to him, no exception. The military had to find a way to please both parties, but even they weren't split so evenly on the subject. Various opinions cluttered each rank, but it was only the six Generals whose thoughts mattered.

Some of them wanted to appease the King. Most out of fear for their safety, some to put themselves in favor of the highest authority. Those that didn't care for the King's demands then took up the orders of the Stewards, since they agreed with their idea of expansion. The two eldest Generals, whom the other Generals respected most, stood on opposite ends of the matter. General Raeus, a greedy man seeking only power, wished to please the King and gain his favor. General Frollomagne, a virtuous man of devout faith in both the Four Holy Heroes and the Seven Saints, inclined towards the Stewards orders. He considered it the lesser of two evils. If his honest opinion was asked for, he'd admit to desiring an overhaul of the whole system.

The six Generals raised their arms, signaling for a collective progress report from the city they've scavenged. The command rippled throughout the army ranks, squadron leader to platoon from squadron leader to platoon, until each of the five thousand redcoat soldiers were informed within a few minutes. General Frollomagne turned around and watched the army move in organized patterns. Grey-white hair framed a hard old face, falling down his head in wavy curls, mingling with the long mustache and beard spilling beneath his nose. His eyes burned with the wisdom and experience of a man who's fought his way through dangerous situations aplenty. Yet that same fire was tamed by a strong, righteous virtue.

To his side, desperate screams brought his attention to a squad of soldiers forcing a man and a woman apart. The man cried for his wife, wide eyes soaked to the brim, reaching out hopelessly with all his might as he was pinned by the redcoat soldiers. The woman's screams were loud and hoarse, sprung forth from an intense terror at knowing what her fate was to be. A toy for the Pig King. Their liberated demi-human slaves watched from afar, some conflicted, others happy.

General Frollomagne felt sick at the sight. 'We bear the honor of this world's most holy nation, yet this is what our ruler incites in people? Disgusting…' He clicked his tongue and turned away, unable to stomach the sight any longer. It wasn't the first time he had seen this, and it certainly wasn't the last.

He was but one of 6 generals, each of them with 8-9 Colonels under their command. There were fifty Colonels total, with one assigned to oversee a platoon of 100 soldiers, within which, a further descent of organized ranks formed a structured system for optimal coordination. This meant, despite being among two of the most respected Generals leading the army…he only had a say in the treatment of prisoners captured by his subordinates solely.

The slave-owning couple was caught by the underlings of another General. Their punishment was not his to decide, and so Frollomagne was to leave it at that. But the woman's screaming continued, begging to be killed swiftly alongside her husband. There was only so much he could take.

"ENOUGH!" His voice crushed the cacophony, cutting a sudden silence. "Enslave them both or execute them both. Stop stringing this along, you have camp to make, don't you Soldiers?"

The soldiers stood straight and saluted him. Even if he wasn't their official superior, he was still a General. One of the two most respected, at that. Unfortunately for him though, these particular soldiers were the subordinates of his rival.

"Oi oi, Frollomagne…" General Raeus addressed him without rank, an acceptable practice usually reserved between friends. Of which Raeus and Frollomagne certainly were not. "Are you trying to convince my underlings to disobey the orders I had made clear for them? I am acting in the King's interests, after all."

"I am acting in Faubley's interests." Frollomagne remained calm. "Can you elaborate how the King's demands will be of benefit to our country?"

"He is King!" Raeus scolded. "His word is Faubley's word, and his orders were to kill the men and bring the women back to him!"

"You tell me nothing I'm unaware of." Frollomagne's reply was composed. "But what good does it do to grant Melromarc's men the mercy of a quick death, while sentencing their women to torture of the most sickening kind, of which they will be denied a death from?"

"Punishment, my comrade!" Raeus smiled. "They've enjoyed the fruits of unfair privilege granted unto them by a sinful country…it's about time they reap what they've sown!"

"So we must cleanse the sins of Melromarc by feeding them to the sins that have crept their way atop our own nation?" Frollomagne glared at him. "A piggish king and a traitorous hero…perhaps treachery is atavistic in that particular line of royalty, eh?"

"General Frollomagne…" Raeus said, voice hard. "I would suggest you choose your words carefully. Being of esteemed rank does not excuse you from speaking blasphemy."

Frollomagne scoffed. "I speak no blasphemy, just fact. Luge is a traitor, a disgrace to the Seven Star Heroes, and the King is his elder sibling." A mere look from him was all it took to make his point sink in. If there was one thing that truly separated Frollomagne from Raeus, it was that his authority was more than just a badge and a title. To Raeus, that badge and title was everything, and he knew how to use it to its fullest extent. Without it, however, he was just conniving. Dangerously so, though. He was not to be underestimated.

Frollomagne was different; authority seeped into his very presence, making his words potent, soaking them with power. "Therefore, in my opinion, it is the holiest of duties to be cognizant of a more fitting progeny from the hero's bloodline. One who can assume the role of King for our great nation! If we forget what we as a country stand for, then we become vulnerable against a deceiver who speaks in appealing platitudes!"

Raeus scowled, thinking quickly for a way to twist Frollomagne's words against him.

"Enough of this!" Another General, Galfrey, stepped between them. "We were given two orders to follow through with, and the authority who bestowed them transcends you both. General Frollomagne, you're free to exercise mercy over the women your subordinates imprison, but General Raeus is right as well. We must limit how many women we spare from the King. Too many, and his Highness may question where the toys-" Galfrey grimaced. "-women…he is expecting have gone. From reports, batches of Melromarc's population have relocated in the capital. So as of yet, the numbers are smaller than what the King was expecting."

The fact that there were "numbers" at all made Frollomagne sick. He wanted to vomit, but held it down. He hated the Pig King. As a devout believer in the holy ways of the Heroes, he placed much faith in the God of their world and lived by it. His personal honor allowed him to see the Pig King for what he really was. Raeus merely sought power, and thus, had no shame in appealing to a vile being crowned king if it was the fastest way to the top. Their conflict served as a classic example of the political upheavals that plagues Faubley.

"General Galfrey!" A Colonel yelled out, approaching them with a prisoner. She was rugged in appearance, wearing only a torn, dirty peasant midi, as if she'd been homeless and on the run for the past few weeks. She had a fierce look in her piercing blue eyes under strawberry blonde hair. At a glance, every experienced soldier could see she was no average woman. She was dangerous; the present Generals and Colonels recognized it immediately. Her wrists were bound at her back, while a confiscated sword she kept eyeing was carried by the escorting Colonel. "We found her camping out in one of the taverns! She took out several of the Lieutenants and Cadets with nothing but the back side of this sword before we could subdue her!"

"Oh?" Raeus raised a brow. "Impressive! That's no small feat, girl. It was also smart of you to spare them, otherwise we would have executed you on the spot." He studied her. "Even still, our Cadets show no hesitation immobilizing an opponent with a shot to the leg."

The woman raised her chin. "I am a former knight of Melromarc, after all."

Raeus drew back his smirk, seeing his attempt to get under her skin fail. Galfrey stepped forward, annoyed. "For what purpose do you bring her to me? I'm sure I made your orders clear, Colonel."

The Colonel saluted. "Aye, you did Sir! However…" His face became troubled. "Upon questioning her, we uncovered a rather troubling story. She was held prisoner within the depths of Melromarc's castle, and thus witnessed the destruction wrought upon it by the Spear Hero!"

Galfrey was still displeased. "And what about her story troubles you?"

The Colonel swallowed. "She mistakenly believed the attack to have been carried out by Faubley! The weaponry used was not that of the Legendary Spear, but what she described as successive torrents of bullets that annihilated every square inch of stone architecture." He repeated her words slowly, obviously disturbed by the description. "She insists what she says is true, and the details she provides are too exact for one to conjure without having witnessed something of this magnitude. I could not help but be concerned by this finding."

Galfrey blinked, annoyance gone, not knowing how to respond. The more he thought about what he heard, the more things didn't add up. The imprisoned woman undoubtedly described manmade technology, nothing like what the Legendary Weapon would produce…but the castles destruction occurred a mere 3 days after the heroes were summoned.

This meant that this was a power that the Spear Hero either had inherently…or Queen Mirellia and King Aultcray have been developing superior Faubley-styled technology, and the Spear Hero got a hold of it. The latter hypothesis posed a dire issue for them if true, especially since it implied there may be more than one such weapon. The other Generals drew the same conclusion immediately without conversing, testimony to their worth of the rank they all reached.

"Does this warrant an airstrike?" Galfrey asked Raeus and Frollomagne. "I know we agreed to maintain an invasion of ground troops so we can conserve the planes for the Wave but if there are secret weapons King Aultcray helped developed..." He looked out at the soldiers working. "This may pose a threat that would needlessly claim the lives of hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of our troops!"

"I approve." Frollomagne said without hesitation. "Nothing disgusts me more than the thought of that shameful traitor counterfeiting the genius inventions of Faubley, bloodline be damned. All so he could help build a corrupt nation."

"Ah, I see you and I are capable of agreement after all, comrade!" Raeus sneered. "I approve too."

The other Generals agreed, and so, the decision to employ use of aerial bombs on the day of invasion had been officiated. They would need to gather more information on the state of Melromarc's capital before they decided how to utilize it specifically, since they preferred the bulwark of its population alive.

However, before the General left…

"General Galfrey…" Raeus called out. "Before you go, please remind me what order you gave your soldiers?"

Galfrey stopped in his tracks. Frollomagne's head perked up, eyes worried. Galfrey glanced at him, then looked at Raeus. He swallowed the anxious knot in his throat.

"To send the women we capture to King Faubley."

The young woman's face paled around hardened eyes. Raeus smiled.

"Fitting, I believe. You did say that this woman was a prisoner of Melromarc. And if she was held within the castle's dungeon, rather than a regional jail, then surely her crime was atrocious!" He justified.

"What was your crime, Miss?" Frollomagne stepped in. Though Raeus made a solid point, he wanted to hear her side before making any judgment calls. The woman turned to him, her shaky voice betraying the panic she suppressed.

"I feel obligated to admit that the official reports state my sentence was due to attacking citizens of Melromarc…"

Frollomagne raised both brows over a small frown. 'A woman of honor, she didn't have to admit that... though she might just be cautious in case we find her court records…' "And what do you say? An official report may not even be half a story…or an accurate one."

The woman met Frollomagne's eyes, easing some of her worries as she could sense he, too, was a man of honor. As the saying goes, it takes one to know one. "I was defending a sanctuary of demi-humans from Melromarc knights that attacked them without reasonable cause. King Aultcray imprisoned me for such actions due to his prejudice for them…"

A fire burst in Frollomagne's chest and he squinted with a deep exhale. 'Of course that fucking traitor would do something so despicable…'

"Be that as it may, Miss…" Raeus rubbed his chin. "What is your name?"

She turned to him, her unease returning. "Éclair. Éclair Seatto."

"Éclair…the fact is, you had still turned against your fellow knights, did you not?" Raeus spoke through stiff lips, holding back a grin.

Éclair choked on her answer before she could get it out.

"I don't care." Frollomagne growled.

"Oi, Oi! General Frollomagne!" Raeus turned to him, the grin he'd been holding barely revealed by a turned up corner of the mouth. "You are outnumbered in the decision of what her fate shall-" Then he shut up, smirk gone, as Frollomagne's angry glare siphoned him of all things but fear.

It was no longer about sending just some woman to the Pig King. Frollomagne's hatred of King Aultcray was an open secret, and no one dared get in the way of it. He scowled, and in response, Raeus hunched his back nervously.

"Faubley's traitor, the Seven Star's worst shame, is responsible for the imprisonment of a good woman…and you try to make that a proper pretense for her to be tortured?" Frollomagne huffed. "Disgusting."

Raeus may have been scared, but he was no coward. Nor was he stupid. A General of Faubley, in no way, shape or form, could ever be either. Especially one that sought their way up the ranks by any means necessary. "Be that as it may, for what purpose would she stay alive? To satisfy your grudge? Would you disguise such a decision under the argument "we must be better than Luge and do the opposite of him?" Be practical here!"

Frollomagne looked at Éclair. "Seaetto, you say? I am to assume that makes you the daughter of Lord Seaetto, right?"

Éclair nodded. "Yes."

"Hm." Frollomagne nodded too. "Then if I'm not mistaken, you are among the top 5 swordswoman of Melromarc, are you not?"

She nodded again, pride in her face.

"What?!" Raeus shook his head. "How do you know that?"

Frollomagne turned only his eyes to him. "I keep up with the politics of Melromarc. You didn't think my grudge for the traitor is merely a blind bias, did you?" He closed his eyes and raised his arm. "GENTLEMEN!" He swung it down, pointing at Éclair. "It would be a wasted opportunity to execute this woman. Her skills are nothing to scoff at! I propose that we keep her as a prisoner of war, and sentence her to be an instructor for our troops! Train them in the fine art of the sword, so that if any of our men find themselves without a rifle or bullets, they have a final weapon at their side to resort to."

The other Generals perked their brows up, genuinely pleased with the suggestion. Even Raeus was forced to concede due to the practicality of such. Éclair, however, wasn't fond of it. In spite of her horror at the fate awaiting the Pig King's clutches, her honor was indomitable. It was what got her through her imprisonment. It was all she had left.

"I couldn't possibly train an army that is hostile to my country! It is tantamount to betrayal!" She stomped, glaring at Frollomagne.

He looked at her, she didn't flinch. She would rather be tortured to death than be of help in the ruin of her country. Such was her virtue. He slowly walked to her and she held her ground, maintaining that same glare, daring him to force her. To even try. He stood in front of her, bearded face looking down, meeting her hard eyes with a powerful look. He bent forward, leaning close to her ear.

"Please…" He spoke softly. "You are a good woman who has been wronged by a disgraceful wretch. I am doing this to spare you. I care not for how efficiently you train my men. Just put up a show as to prove your usefulness…I've got enough blood on my hands as is. I beg you, let me not further stain them with yours."

Éclair jerked her head back to meet his eyes again. They were pained, but honest.

'Put up a show…' She considered his words, wavering. She saw in his eyes a whole history that has wrought him with much regret. She understood it all too well; living by good will and honor, especially in this world of theirs, was not an easy path. "Fine." She sighed in a whisper.

She couldn't see his face, still next to her ear, but she heard a satisfied sniff. "Thank you." He whispered as he pulled back. "Put a Slave Crest on her. Assign her to me." He ordered his Colonel subordinate.

No words between them were exchanged as it was painted, but they both knew that it was only for show. He had no commands for her. The army then continued about their duties as an airstrike on Melromarc's capital was ordered. Éclair observed everything, taking in as much information as she could, in the event she had a chance to report her findings to Queen Mirellia.

She watched soldiers scour the landscape on foot, but soon saw they didn't travel across the country the same way. Well-bred horses stood tall amongst them, with convoys of steampunk vehicles stationed defensively at the center of camp, shut off to conserve limited fuel sources. Caged wagons for POW's accompanied the convoys, with protruding hitches that could attach either to vehicles or multiple horse reins.

The POW's were divided based on age, sex and servility. Any man who put up a fight was killed on the spot. Any woman who put up a fight was slated to become a toy for the Pig King, regardless of the soldier's orders. Éclair's stomach twisted at the realization that she should have been one of them. Honor aside, she did feel extremely grateful for having been spared. Any children that fought were bound, even beaten if problems continued, but spared their lives unconditionally. Any person that complied without resistance was merely exploited for labor. Between involuntary shifts, they were forced to study, or be taught from, doctrines specifically written for Melromarc's citizens. It educated them on faith in the Four Heroes and the Seven Star Heroes alike, but with a catch.

Though it was objectively better to tutor them out of their belief in the Three Heroes Church, the potential benefits of such were squandered by the context within which it was taught. Yes, they were told that all four heroes, including the Shield, were equally important. Yes, they were taught that Vassal Weapon Wielders are as important as the Four Heroes.

It was then explained that Heroes are an existence as close to God as anything material. It was that logic from which the holiness of the heroes spawns from, thus regarding them as deserving of praise and worship. Indeed, a sound belief, compared to the spiteful icon-warfare based in political favoritism; but the problem lay therein. Once these teachings were carefully impressed upon them, this new information was capped by an arrogant declaration.

Faubley has a history of breeding its royal lineage with that of Heroes, the Four Saints and Seven Stars alike. Thus, in their culture, they are the second closest thing to God, immediately following the Heroes. A convenient narrative that grants them supremacy. With Faubley being the most sovereign country, holding enough resources and power to bend the world to its whims should it need to, this belief is unchallenged.

'They all seem to be slave-owning families, though. Has Mirellia passed through here already? That would explain it. But then, the situation for her must be terribly dire if she's being exclusive in whom she warns.' Eclair brought her hand to her chin. 'In a sense, though, there can be some good extracted from this situation then...but I wonder...' She looked at General Frollomagne, overseeing his army with a stern look, as if he acted on a purpose he kept to himself.

"General?" She caught his attention. "If I may ask, why is it that Faubley is attacking us? Forgive my ignorance, but since the castle had been destroyed, I've been on the run."

"That's right, you were operating on the assumption that we were already attacking, correct?" He turned to her.

She nodded. "You can imagine my concern when I crossed through deserted towns, yet my confusion to find not a single soldier of Faubley until now."

Eclair and Frollomagne had no idea that many Nobles, and commoners who could afford to, had already moved, before the Queen even came to their town. Just to be near the casino.

"Hm." He smirked. "I see no coincidence in a good woman like you being spared the Spear Heroes wrath. How exactly did you survive?"

There was no pride in her expression, only relief as she spoke. "In the dungeon, my arms were bound upwards to chains from the ceiling. So when the ceiling fell apart, I was freed immediately. So as destruction rained upon me, all I did was charge forward, desperately, leaping down into the rock chasm surrounding the castles foundation. I hid in a crevice, away from stray bullets, and stayed there until nightfall came. I climbed out and sprinted away, sparing no time to inspect things. I assumed the town to have been under Faubley's occupation by then."

"Ha!" Frollomagne chuckled. "Far from the truth, we had no idea of this event until much later! Say, before I explain myself, would you happen to be privy to any secret weaponry that your Queen or…" His eyes squinted. "King…had been developing? At least, what you'd be willing to admit. I'd rather not invoke your Slave Crest, unless I'm forced to."

"There is no need, I can't say I'm aware of anything." She shook her head. "But if the Queen had ordered the production of secret weapons, I would think, at least, some knights she trusted would be informed. Unless she withheld such, to prevent complaints of favoritism." Éclair thought for a moment. "Does this have to do with your presence here?"

He flattened his mouth. "No. This is something else entirely. I'll be brief. King Aultcray, or the traitor as I call him, had summoned all four heroes in Melromarc, against the order which had been agreed upon during an international conference. Apparently, it was also against your Queen's wishes too."

"WHAT?!" Her eyes went wide. "That bastard!" She turned her head down in shame, face crumpled.

"That's not all I'm afraid, Miss Seaetto."


"Queen Mirellia had, to my understanding since I wasn't present, put on a clever display of wit to convince everyone not to attack. In spite of what the traitor has become, the world remembers the might of his unfathomable genius. Leaders still quiver at the thought of incurring his disfavor. Not to mention that with the four heroes in your nation, she convinced the world leaders that it was in their best interest to leave Melromarc as is…" Frollomagne's eyes darkened. "Only to then discover the Spear Hero killed Aultcray and Princess Malty."

Elcair's stomach plunged, hauling an overwhelming chill across her.

"A major part of the Queen's negotiation's included a deal concerning Princess Malty and our King…but with her dead, and the threat of the Cane Hero removed…well…" Frollomagne gave Éclair a pained, almost sympathetic, smile. "Here we all are."

Éclair grit her teeth and whipped her head away, flinging tears from her eyes. "That…what a dishonorable wretch!" She growled. "Poor Queen Mirellia…she must be in so much pain…and Princess Melty too…" She brought her hand to her mouth at the thought of the innocent little girl, thrust into sudden tragedy.

Frollomagne turned away from her, giving her the respect of shedding tears without prying eyes, and looked towards the sky. He held his hands behind his back, tilting his chin up, observing the sun painting the tops of clouds with wispy touches of gold. "Éclair, will you humor my thoughts as I share them aloud? Though I must forewarn you, they may not be something you readily agree with…"

She looked at him, still pained, but curiously. She wiped the tears off her face, softening her reddened eyes. "There can be no productive discussion unless people are willing to share their honest thoughts, and hear them out, no?"

He turned to her and smiled. "I agree." He drew in a deep breath, looking back towards the sky. "I believe that the events which have transpired are meant to be. The work of God itself! You are a good woman, Éclair, but even so, as one who is loyal to Melromarc, I feel compelled to remind you…that both Melromarc and Siltvelt have bastardized the ways of God. Shieldfreeden, Zeltobe and other countries are not exempt, but these two are the greatest offenders.

"What with Melromarc and its strange emphasis of three heroes, and Siltvelt with its unnatural worship of one. The weapon themselves don't matter, the fact is that these factions arose out of political propaganda, and have now evolved into false religions. It is only natural that Faubley, the nation of the hero's bloodline, be the one to correct this."

"B-but the Queen! She despises the Three Heroes Church!" Éclair defended. "General, you seem educated in our nation's affairs! Surely you are aware then, that if Queen Mirellia had her way, not only would all four heroes be equally worshiped, but demi-human slavery would cease to exist! She wants social equality for all!"

"I am aware, and for that, your Queen has my respect." He brought a finger to his lips. "But that is to remain between us." He smirked with a wink, then became serious again. "However, Éclair, there is a major flaw I must point out for you…" His face hardened. "The power Queen Mirellia has was not all her own. She would not have been able to achieve what she has, to rule as powerfully as she does, without help from that traitor…a man of Faubley's royal bloodline. A man who was once worthy of the Vassal Cane.

"And yet, that same man is responsible for keeping that corrupted church of incomplete worship, against your Queen's intents…and that same man is the one who allowed the very slavery your Queen wished to eradicate, keeping it strong and thriving. The reason I call him a traitor is so I never forget what it is he has betrayed. But now that the traitor is gone, even if Faubley had refrained from attacking…do you believe the Queen would unequivocally be able to have her way now? Do you truly believe that, if things had proceeded as they are but without our invasion, that the Queens ideal society would come to be?"

Éclair turned down, ashamed. "No."

"And why not?"

Her lips tightened. "Because, as you said, King Aultcray, the Cane Hero, was half of her power. Not all nobles obey her merely because she is the highest authority, but with the Cane Hero under her, they were a lethal combination. Her silver tongue and cunning wit mixed with his strategic genius and mighty reputation made for a terrifying pair. Without him, it pains me to admit this, but Melromarc would have dissolved into a civil war, with over half the country most likely electing a noble who supports both the Three Heroes Church and human supremacy."

Frollomagne nodded. "You see? It is simply impossible for your Queen's noble vision to be manifested upon corrupt soil, tainted through years of a false religion and the sins of our holy nation's traitor. So thus, Faubley enters as the God-given cure to a disease of blasphemy. It is only right, you understand?"

Éclair couldn't bring herself to nod, but she couldn't feel entirely disagreeing either.

Frollomagne clasped his hands in prayer, paying respect to the God of their world. "It is in my personal opinion, as a holy man, that things are unfolding in a manner most necessary. The heroes belong in Faubley, and dare I say that we are merely acting out the forces of destiny to bring about what the spirits in the air have decided."

"So its destiny that you conquer Melromarc and take all four heroes for yourself in one swoop?" Her eyes snapped to his.

"Fret not, for that is a limited perspective!" He became passionate, his eyes shining with purpose. "I have preached many times to my men, that the King of Faubley is a foul, unworthy evil that should be excised from the throne! I say this, because I know of a great man who is most deserving of becoming the leader of our Holy Nation!"

Éclair found herself captivated by his eyes, burning deeply with meaning. "There is a new Vassal Wielder in Faubley! He is everything they say the traitor once was, but even better! His prodigious talent is unheard of, his power unbelievable, and his genius? Unimaginable! He alone has uplifted Faubley's technology to new heights, and as a hero? How God has blessed him, he is capable of wielding not merely one, not merely two…but FIVE different Vassal Weapons!"

"F-FIVE!?" Éclair stuttered. "Impossible!"

"It is not!" Frollomagne was quick to impress the reality of his words. "As I have said. He is a Legendary Hero unlike any which history has seen before! Therefore, I proclaim, it is DESTINY in the works! It is FATE that the Four Heroes who have been unrightfully summoned in Melromarc come to the holy land and unite forces with the Hero of the Whip!"

Éclair was stunned. She had no idea such a man existed. "General Frollomagne, what is the name of this man you speak of? I profess my ignorance in that I can't say that any individual comes to mind."

Frollomagne smiled. "Of course we wouldn't want to share him with the world until the time is right! But as General of this army, doing God's work, I cannot help but believe I am witnessing something higher than any of us, and it is working its magic on us all. Nonetheless, Éclair, this man, the Genius of Faubley…" He looked her in the eyes, and she looked back, entranced by the sense of spiritual divination radiating from him. "His nameis Takt Faubley!"

8 Days until the Wave

Trees blurred beside him. Wind rushed against his face, deafening, immersed in his personal hurricane, his whole body cutting through the air like a bird. No. Like a jet. He zig zagged mid-air, dodging sudden trees, twirling through branches, moving at a speed that would have killed a normal person. But leveling up in this world made one stronger and faster, with senses that adapted to the increase in stats.

'I wonder if this is how Killua and Hajime feel!?' Kazuma thought as he flew through the forest with his 3D maneuver gear.

He pushed a button on the side of the left-hand crossbow. A harpoon-like arrow at his left hip exploded forward. The coils unraveled in hypnotic spirals until it lodged itself in a thick tree, pulling the coil taut. Kazuma's body yanked to the left like a titan itself had pulled him, but he moved naturally with the momentum, smiling all the while.

'The agility, the speed, both keeping me airborne from the sheer force of it all…this is awesome! And Killua's faster than this? Hell, if I was ever sad, I'd just go out for a lightning-rushed run and feel better!' Kazuma thought to himself. Then frowned slightly. 'But I guess if this was normal to me, its novelty would basically be lost.' He released the left-coil and shot the right one upwards, nailing the top of a tall tree, and angling his body like a space launch. 'Well, if I can get better at this, then maybe I can take him out here and help get his mind off things too.'

Both Kazuma and Hajime have noticed Killua becoming more withdrawn over the past few days. The reason? It was nearing the end of a whole month since his sister had been abandoned. Killua never mentioned it outright, but it was obvious to the two of them that was what bothered him. Naturally, they both agreed to do what they could to help cheer their friend up. So today, Hajime took a break from his projects to try something with Killua, while Kazuma left for his daily practice with his 3D gear.

The coil at his right pulled taut, wrenching him up, the speed pushing his cheeks back into his ears. There was a small opening between the canopy tops, and though the forest ceiling was just leaves and branches…he knew how bad they can hurt when whacking him at these speeds. He learned this from personal experience, the extra hard way. He had been practicing with the 3D Gear Hajime had given him non-stop, and his first week had been a series of embarrassing failures.

'But not even Eren Yeager got it down his first try.' He smirked, squinting his eyes against the wind rush. 'Though it would have been nice to be a natural at it like Mikasa…c'mon luck stat, do your job!' He thought, half-joking.

His exit drew near. A small break that revealed a glimpse of the bright blue sky, surrounded by layers of branches ready to claw at him. With the metal coil hauling him upwards, he angled his feet towards the sky and shielded his face, aiming to kick through. He pierced, like an arrow through a thin slit, and broke over the canopy tops. Flung into the air, suspended, it felt like he was flying. Unbound by gravity, he enjoyed the floating feeling as the coils retracted fully at his hips, returning with loud clacks. Propelled by nothing but force, as if Megumin channeled an explosion through a pipe his width, he screamed out to express the excitement his racing heart produced.

"WOOOOO!" Before him was an open field, crawling with monsters. Many of them turned up his way after screaming. None of them were that high of level, but every kill counted. When gravity placed its gentle touch upon him, he aimed both his crossbows at the field. "SNIPE!" He squeezed the triggers.

10 arrows per 1.5 seconds, and since this is a Legendary Weapon, at least a third of the arrows would reappear in the cartridge once they struck their target. The monsters in the field didn't stand a chance. A hail of super-powered arrows honed in with individual precision, killing each creature with a single blow. As Kazuma fell back toward the earth, a translucent set of numbers scrolled in his vision, indicating a raise in level for both himself and his party. He smirked, then shot the coil from his right hip at the top of a nearby tree.

He broke through the canopy with a few arrows and a kick, then bobbed, weaved, spun and flipped with acrobatic fluidity at calculated trajectories, until he reached the ground. With a coil lodged in a tree he skid in an arc, digging steel braces on his boot heel into the dirt, spraying the forest floor up where he cut into the ground, slowing to a halt. He transformed his weapon, changing the 3D gear in a bright flash to a bow slung over his shoulder. He stood up straight.

"Yo!" He bounced his hand off his forehead, saluting the stunned faces of his party. There was a cool aura to him that left them in awe.

"W-wow, Kazuma-sama!" A young paladin, now nicknamed Slayer-Strayer, stood shocked with sparkling eyes. "That was amazing!"

"I'll say!" Galeff, their largest adventurer, said with a thumbs up.

"Huh…" A brunette woman huffed. "Well, Kazutrash-sama is a hero, after all. I kinda forget with all the pervy, sleazy, creepiness." Kazuma's shoulders twitched, dimming his aura of awesomeness.

"Don't worry, I do too." Ritsuka said to her.

They spoke low, but not exactly in whispers. Kazuma heard them, but couldn't bear to even glance, lest his pride shrivel from awkwardness. Considering his latest installment in the casino…he knew he had it coming. So he ignored them with as crafty of tact as he could.

"You've shown great improvement!" A gangly mage commented, returning Kazuma's cool aura. "You were much more graceful than the first time you tried using that thing. Remember when you had sling-shot yourself right into a tree? You curled into a ball and clutched at your family jewels for a straight ten minutes!"

"AH, HEY!" His cool aura fizzled out entirely. "Don't remind me of such a lame memory! Plus it still hurts to think about…" He grabbed his groin in reminiscent pain.

The Old Mage, Galeff and Slayer-Strayer shared a hearty laugh and Kazuma couldn't find himself mad at them.

"Kazuma-sama…" Ritsuka walked up to him. His gut twisted as she did, anticipating a deluge of insults amidst praise. "I'm glad you're taking your role more seriously now, but I'm not sure if I can condone your unorthodox method of becoming stronger."


"Past texts reveal a consistent pattern in how the heroes should level up traditionally, and-"

"Oi, Ritsuka, I understand how you must feel as an inhabitant of this world…" Kazuma rubbed his thumb over the jewel of his Legendary Weapon. "But the more I learn about how to level up, the more I see just how game-like this world really is…and how broken the balance is with Killua and Hajime involved. Take this for instance…" He pointed at her sword. "When I first came to this world, if I was to face you with your sword, unarmed, do you think I'd stand a chance for even 5 seconds?"

"No." She replied without hesitation.

Kazuma smiled. "Try it now…of course, hold back if you want, but…" He thought for a second, then picked up a piece of wood from the ground. "Here, actually...pierce this." He held it a foot away from his chest.

"Hmm." Ritsuka accepted the challenge, having noticed the drastic improvement in his strength and reflexes.

Her sword rung as it withdrew. She observed the hero whom she served, feeling unnerved by his cocky smirk. 'I'm going to pretend that piece of wood is your face...' Her muscles clenched, building power for a quick release. 'This is for building such a DISGUSTING, DISGRACEFUL ESTABLISHMENT!' With the speed of a snap, she thrust her sword at him, closing in on the wood too fast for him to move…if her underestimations were correct. In that snap second, Kazuma's free hand moved in sync with her thrust, and the tip of her sword slid directly between his fingers.

"HUH?" Her eyes went wide. The tip of her sword was but a mere inch away from the wood, yet his pinch was strong enough to catch it. Granted, if she had intended to harm him, her thrust would have been stronger, especially since his party's levels increase as a byproduct of raising his own. It would have forced him to take more evasive actions, but that was it. The feat he performed now was undeniably amazing.

"See what I mean?" He released it, smiling proudly, excited to have caught her sword with his fingers. "When an attack comes my way, it's as if everything starts to move in slow motion, and as you can see, my strength is now borderline superhuman. This is all due to my level being raised. The number ascribed to me determines my strength, my stamina, and the efficiency and power with my weapon."

Ritsuka's mouth dropped into a gaping smile. "I'm impressed! Sincerely!" Then she furrowed her brows. "But what does this have to do with Killua-sama and Hajime-sama?"

He shook his head with disbelief. "Despite what you just saw of me, I'm nowhere near Killua's base level of strength yet, and Hajime is like 10x that…and neither of them have been leveling up…" Kazuma's eyes grew hard. "So I want you to think about how they'll be affected by raised stats…"

The thought brought a chill to Ritsuka's heart. "And their levels will definitely raise during the first Wave."

"Exponentially, cuz I'm assuming the monsters there will be higher level than anything out in that field." Kazuma's eyes remained hard.

Ritsuka hardened hers as well. 'He must be worried whether or not he can continue to contain them…'

Meanwhile, in Kazuma's head... 'If they start leveling up soon, I'm gonna lose the edge I've gained…I WANT TO BE AS POWERFUL AS KILLUA FOR AT LEAST A FEW MINUTES!' His only concern was catching up with one of them for as short a period he could maintain.

The disconnect between them couldn't be further.

Kazuma sighed. "Anyway, let's head back to town. I think we've trained enough today!"

With nods and murmured agreements, the party surrounded Kazuma and they walked back to the Castle Town. They walked out the forest, trotting along a dirt path that slithered its way into the town's entrance. Members of his party conversed amongst each other, dividing themselves into several distinct conversations. Kazuma kept himself out of it.

There was an edge to each conversation, a tension birthed from an unspoken rule that everyone knew to follow. It was to pretend Kazuma's newest addition to the casino—his "solution" to the matriarchy—didn't exist. The woman in his party had been absolutely aghast at it, while most of the men we're simply creeped out. Most, not all. Regardless, it gave Kazuma the perfect pretense to keep to himself.

"Do me a favor when you get the chance…" He thought back to Killua's request before leaving. "I want you to profile every member of your party the best you can. The King, Myne and the Three Heroes Church still have supporters out there, and we can't overlook that some of them tried to make their first move when they assigned us party members."

Kazuma walked with his hands behind his head, slyly observing the people packed around him. 'Ritsuka…seems genuine. The fact that her opinion of Killua has changed over the course of time honestly doesn't come off as an act. Plus the reason she got elected as an interim ruler is because she highlighted the issue of undercover factions possibly taking control…I trust her. Galeff, Slayer-Strayer and that Old Mage, I can tell from a glance, wouldn't have even stayed adventurers if it wasn't me they teamed up with.' Ever since Kazuma had stolen the panties of a Sorceress, who not-by-coincidence left the party the next day, their loyalty towards him seemed to have actually increased. Tenfold, in fact, with his newest addition to the casino. Their motives were as clear as day.

'Lojir and Verest seem like adventurers just trying to make a name for themselves, and I was their best opportunity. I can't tell if they're loyal, but they don't seem to have any real ulterior motives. Then there's Elena Haven.' Elena was in the middle of a conversation with Ritsuka when her eyes met Kazuma's.

"Uh…" He stuttered, not sure how to react being caught staring. She then scrunched her face and crossed her arms over her chest, shielding herself. 'NOOOOOOOO!' He mentally despaired. He brought his hand up to his mouth, holding his face like he was about to cry. 'My reputation just keeps getting worse and worse…even though I'm totally not helping it get better.'

He shrugged it off. Overcoming self-inflicted shame was becoming a habit. 'Anyway, I get the feeling that she doesn't want to be an adventurer in the first place. She's a noble, right? Maybe there's something family-related she's avoiding, or maybe she was forced into this? Who knows...' Kazuma exhaled, tallying most of the members of his party and deeming them harmless.

This left one which he already had concerns about, even before Killua's request. His eyes shot towards a large man dressed in a suit of armor. His visor was lifted, revealing a mean round face with a mustache. This man was the one party member Kazuma wished would leave. He was a self-righteous bully who, in spite of the King's and Myne's trial, still hates the Shield Hero. He hated Killua even more when he hired demi-humans to work at their casino.

'Mald…' Kazuma rubbed the back of his hand, worried. 'Is he just an arrogant prick…or is there something more to him? Either way, he's the one I'll tell Killua to keep an eye out on the most.'

They entered the Castle Town. The steel braces on Kazuma's boot heels clacked as he walked. Accompanying his feet whenever he used his 3D Gear, they were designed specifically for skidding across stone surfaces. The party walked through, heads held high as common folk regarded them with respect and awe. Kazuma furrowed his brows, whipping his head back and forth. "Hold on…there's a hell of a lot more people here now! Humans AND demi-humans!"

"Many noble families have moved closer to the capital because of the opportunities your casino provides." Ritsuka said, eyeing him as if he should be more aware how much they're transforming their society. "I'd expect even more people to come soon."

"Hehhh?" Kazuma looked around, curious and proud. Ritsuka said no more, seeing him satisfied with her explanation. These were her orders.

It was over a week prior that she was approached by a woman who dressed as a noble, but Ritsuka suspected was actually one of the Queen's Shadow's. She was given a simple order: "Keep the invasion of Faubley a secret from the Heroes, as best as you can." Ritsuka suspected no ill intent from the Queen, but when she pressed the suspected Shadow for the reason of such a strange request, the Shadow repeated words she accredited to Mirellia. "The one who controls the flow of information holds the advantage."

Eventually, Ritsuka could only pinpoint one solid theory to make of those words. 'She wants their help in fighting off Faubley, but knows they won't cooperate with her so easily. If they start taking action against Faubley now, our forces would be a nuisance to them...but if she reveals this news to them as if she's already engaged in it, it would make her seem less desperate. She assumes, and rightfully I believe, that they'd be more willing to help someone they deem proactive and competent.'

Kazuma waved back to a group of children flailing excitedly at him, as if it was their first time seeing one of the Heroes.'They must be new here. Damn, if we got more people coming, we should start building apartments! We can charge rent and rake in even more-' Kazuma stopped, eyes wide and shaking. He screamed out in anguish.

"NOOOOOOO!" He broke into a sprint, piercing through from the center of his party.

"Kazuma?!" Ritsuka yelled, drawing her sword and pointing in his direction. "Follow him!" She ran after, party in tow.

The town's people watched fearfully as Kazuma booked it towards the casino. He ran past the wall that Hajime transmuted and dropped to his knees, skidding to a stop. He clutched his hair and looked up toward the sky. "HE SHOT IT OFF!"

Ritsuka and the rest of the party stopped behind Kazuma, all of them turning their faces up to the top of the casino. A broken sign was bolted to the three spires, reading "-Pirates Treasure". The left side of the sign was broken off, cutting out another word that was supposed to be part of its name. Ritsuka's eyes twitched.

"K-Kazuma…" Her voice bordered on a growl. "Is this what you were screaming about?"

"He destroyed my sign!" He whipped his head to her, pointing hastily up at it.

"I'm out of here." Elena said, leaving with the wave of her hand. Lojir and Verest followed her.

He didn't care. "Oi, Galeff! Slayer-Strayer! Go get me a large plank of wood big enough to nail back to it! And have that word painted on!"

"Aye!" They saluted him and ran off.

Kazuma lazily stood, grumbling to himself. Concerned bystanders shrugged, relieved to see it was a trivial shenanigan. Only one man remained troubled. Mald looked on with a deep frown.

"Kazuma-sama…" His eyes never left the church-turned-casino. "I know you've dismissed my words earlier, but I implore you to reconsider!"

Kazuma looked at him, keeping his face still. "Look Mald, I know you're still not entirely trusting of Killua cuz he's the Shield Hero…but I'm telling you, if he reaaaally wanted to do something evil…there isn't much to stop him."

Mald's face scrunched like he bit something sour. "He HAS committed evil! Kazuma-sama, you must understand! He has employed demi-humans, for Three Heroes sake!"

"Ah ah ah…" Kazuma waved his finger back and forth. "What did I tell you Chuuni means?"

Mald struggled in resisting a scowl. "Anti-slavery..."

"Ex-ACTLY!" Kazuma swung his arm down in emphasis just as Galeff and Slayer-Strayer returned.

"Is this the right spelling?" They raised the giant wooden board with the word "Chuuni" written in big letters.

Kazuma gave a thumbs up with sparkling eyes. "YOU GOT IT!"

Mald scoffed and turned away, stomping off. Kazuma watched him suspiciously before a tap on his shoulder distracted him.

"I don't believe you." Ritsuka whispered to his face, eyes stern.

"W-what?" He jerked back.

"Anti-slavery Pirates Treasure…" Ritsuka never broke her gaze. "It doesn't make sense grammatically. Also, it would imply Hajime supports slavery since he shot it off…yet he doesn't mind demi-humans at all. What does Chuuni actually mean?"

Kazuma's face turned red. Between the muscle control to keep his lips from curling up and the laughter he squeezed inside his chest, it looked like he was choking.

"It's-a-secret." He spit the words out quietly and quickly, lest he ruin the serious façade he mustered all his strength to portray. "ANYWAY!"

His yell startled Ritsuka as he dashed by her, grabbed the sign and used his 3D gear to climb up to the top of the church, using spare arrows to nail the plank back onto the sign.

Once done, he entered the casino, 3D gear rustling at his sides.

"Ah, Bow Hero-sama!" A young tanuki girl, about 10 years of age, ran up before him and bowed in respect. "Welcome back!"

"Huh? H-hey!"'…who is this?' Kazuma stared at her, surprised for a second. She pulled her head back and lowered it, anxious, hoping her presence hadn't offended the Bow Hero. Kazuma thought of Mald for a moment, then grinned. He dug into his pocket, pulling out a silver coin. "Here! A little tip for keeping tabs on the door!" He flicked it up and she caught it with a clap.

In reality, he tipped her out of spite towards Mald, but the beaming smile she gave was a pleasantry of its own. He stepped away from her and blasted a coil up to the observation deck, transmuted from the center of the ceiling, with two ropes dangling down next to two beefy demi-humans standing guard. Using it as a support point, he flew up and over the casino lounge, drawing stares of wonder from people at card tables. Below him, mesmerized nobles who didn't even notice him were stuck staring at flashing machines of pachinko and slots.

Perched against its side, he peered into the room. The walls were lined with primitive-styled arcades, such as rotating pinball machines with maze-like designs, and the hot-spring tub had been moved in here. Killua and Hajime, however, were nowhere in sight. 'Well, guess it doesn't really matter if no one's here. Everyone below assumes at least one of us is up here anyway.' Even if not, one of the ropes the guards stood by was attached to a device resembling a telegraph, connected to a horn in the dome.

With the coil still stuck in stone, he pushed himself off with stat-increased strength, letting the slack coil unravel from his hip, until his momentum died out and he arced below the deck like a rope-swing. It was an exhilarating experience to free fall from such a high ceiling, making indistinguishable figures of the people below. When the swing aimed his body towards the back end of the casino, he released the stuck coil and shot the other one above the hall leading to the dome.

As he was pulled towards it, he passed over a line of men, a mix of nobles and commoners, collectively waiting to enter an age-restricted area. His perception slowed down as he flew over this spot, and a proud smirk cut up his cheek as he did. He saluted the mole and cat demi-human bouncers, making sure everyone was fairly admitted. Speed resumed for him once he was past it, the two bouncers just catching his saluting figure flying by in a blur.

He skid just above the ground as he entered the back area where the dome was, sparks flashing beneath his heels. He swung upwards, spun in midair while pulling his coils back, then shot and bolted them at both sides of the vaulted door, slinging himself at it. The loud casino sounds silenced, leaving only the whine of his coils and the scrapes of his heel-braces grinding in his ears. It felt like a whole other world back here, solitary and confined from the lively, colorful space behind him.

"Lightning Shot!" He shot an electric arrow with his right crossbow, piercing the vaulted doors. They began opening in time for him to fly right through. 'Hey, maybe I could try training with them now…I mean, who knows?! My level might've been raised enough today where I can at least keep up!' He flew through, brought his coils back, and skid across the floor to a stop. The near silence that felt like a whole new world…died under the sounds of a war zone.

A machine gun hung blasting from the ceiling, rotating slowly in small circles, pointing inside an enormous glass box with an open top. A surging silhouette zapped throughout it so fast that it looked as if an electric current was been generated by the frantic mess inside. The glass walls of the box were continuously being stained with paint. Kazuma stood there with flat, unsurprised eyes as the doors slid shut behind him.

'On second thought, I'm still not even overpowered fucks.'

"KAZUMA!" An angry voice shouted, and the machine gun stopped.

Killua stood atop piles of rubber bullets, each coated with fresh paint, yet he himself only had a few marks on him. "Wait, that hasn't been 10 minutes, has it?" His godspeed fizzled out, a bit of sweat broken on his brow, and a quickness to his breath revealing the effort he exerted. He then noticed Kazuma. "Oh, hey!" He waved at him with a catty smile, as if he knew something was going to happen.

It felt good to see Killua smiling. 'Nice, he's gotten his mind off of it. Thanks Haji-' Then Hajime dropped in front of him from the top of the dome. Kazuma didn't flinch, even when he was grabbed by his shirt collar and dragged face to face.


Kazuma pressed his lips flat. 'As revenge for you getting laid…' He turns his eyes away from Hajime, despite their proximity. "….cuzitsfunny."

A gunshot echoed, though not as loud as his usual shots. "OOOOOWWWWW!" Kazuma jumped up, grabbing his behind. "DID YOU JUST SHOOT ME IN THE ASS WITH A RUBBER BULLET?!"

"I ricocheted a rubber bullet off the wall and struck your right cheek. Now here's the left." Another gunshot, another howl of pain.

Kazuma hopped around, slightly higher due to increased levels, each ass cheek in hand, squeezed tightly. Killua was cackling, his anticipation of Hajime's reaction paid off with Kazuma's comeuppance.

"Name it something else." Hajime put his gun away.

"But it's perfect!" Kazuma stopped jumping. "Think about it…you already got the eye-patch!" Hajime's brow twitched at that. "And your robot arm is basically a cyberpunk hook hand! It's perfect, see!"

"Then just call it Pirate's Treasure!"

"But Hajime…it's not just any pirates treasure…" Kazuma put his arm around him, despite knowing better considering his next words. "It's a… Chuuni Pirates Treasure!"

Another gunshot, but Kazuma was prepared this time. He sprung away from Hajime, feeling the rubber bullet graze the hairs off his ass. "HAAAA!" He howled victoriously, glaring at Hajime with burning eyes, pointing at him out of fists reach. "I. DODGED IT!"

"Kazuma, you got a hole in your pants." Killua said from behind, traces of giggles bubbling in his voice.

"Huh?" He turned around, and indeed, a small whole was opened over a patch of red skin on Kazuma's ass.

"Hey, greatest hero by default…" Hajime put his robot hand on Kazuma's shoulder. "You should go change, lest what little of this world that worships you bears the sight of your butt cheek. You'll go back to your world with the knowledge your remembered in legends, in a bunch of different cultures, as the hero who looks like he got his pants spanked off."

Kazuma grit his teeth at first, but after remembering something, smirked instead. "Yea, I'll go change. Maybe take a dip in the hot spring-tub as well!" He began to march away with a rather arrogant strut.

Hajime watched him suspiciously. 'He's planning something...or planned it? Hiding it?' His eyes widened. "WAIT A FUCKING MINUTE!" He disappeared, using Supersonic Step to leave the room out the watchtower of the dome. A few seconds of silence passed, then a muffled gunshot could barely be heard from outside.

"AAAHHHH! NOOOO!" Kazuma grabbed his head. "HE SHOT IT OFF AGAIN!"

The next second, Hajime was back in the room, standing before Kazuma. "Goddammit, I'm gonna shoot that fucking word off EVERY SINGLE TIME if I have to, so help me!"

Kazuma smashed his forehead against Hajime's, able to bear the sting of pain with heightened stats. "Well I'm gonna NAIL IT BACK ON every single time, so help you!"

They bared their teeth, growling at each other like dogs. Killua watched with curious eyes. 'I wonder if Kazuma knows just how much Hajime holds back when they get like this…'

"Fine!" Hajime pulled back. "Then you know what I'm gonna do? When I'm done building everything in here, I'm gonna transmute another casino right across the street!"

"Oh yeah?" Kazuma taunted.

"Yeah! And I'm gonna name it: The Virgin Islands."

"Huh?" Kazuma's eyes grew scared.

Hajime nodded triumphantly. "I'll divide the inside into two separate lounges. I'll name one lounge… Satou, and the other…Kazuma."

Eyes wide, pupils constricted, Kazuma stared at Hajime in disbelief. He knew he was more than capable of doing it…and he knew he was serious.

"WELL GO AHEAD, THEN!" He shouted daringly. "I'll build a bunch of life-size loli vampire dolls and post them outside the entrance of Chuuni Pirates Treasure! And I'll mold them to bow down at a giant picture of you!"

"Ugh." A shiver ran down Killua's spine. 'Why did I get serious Milluki vibes there…that was weird.'

Hajime cringed, then smiled and shot back. "Then I'll hold mock rituals every morning when my casino opens where attendants sacrifice a virgin with spears to bless them with riches. I'll hang a giant voodoo doll with a picture of your face taped on, and I'll let the women have first stab! I bet they'd like that!"

Kazuma's face turned red. The two otakus glared at each other with intense menace. Then they heard the vault doors open, turning to Killua pressing an electric palm into them.

"Hey guys, I'm gonna head out for a bit-"

"GAAAAAAAHHHHHHH!" Kazuma bellowed a fierce warrior cry and sprinted towards the door, shooting his 3D gear again.

Startled and confused, Killua hopped out the way as Kazuma flew past him. He whipped around the corner and flung himself into the grand open space of the casino. He flew over the machines, garnering stares from demi-human workers and gambling nobles alike, yet again. The front door was in view, drawing nearer to him as he sped forth. 'I'll carve the word Chuuni right into the-' Then a weight smashed into his back and he plummeted. Hajime had tackled him to the ground, caving in the stone floor in the process.

"You didn't seriously think you could out-speed me, did you?" Hajime asked, pinning Kazuma down in a semi-wrestling move.

Kazuma turned to him, showing half the grin on his face. "Can't blame me for trying, right?"

"Well, you have gotten a hell of a lot faster, that's for sure…" Hajime released him. "But it's gonna take a ton more of whatever you're doing to catch up to even Killua."

"Yea, yea, I know." Kazuma sat up, dusting himself off. "I'm still gonna fix that sign the first chance I get though." He smirked with a mischievous gleam in his eyes.

Hajime scowled. Killua walked up to them, bringing over a wet-floor sign made of cheap planks. He placed it in the center of the concave spot.

"Ummm…." Raphtalia interrupted, accompanied by curious demi-human child. "Is everything here…okay?" Her shoulders were nervously hunched, and the other child was hiding behind her.

Hajime and Kazuma stared at them for a moment. They looked at each other, then Hajime grinned deviously.

"YOU TWO!" He pointed at them, startling the anxious children further. "Who do you think is the coolest hero of us all?"

"THE SHIELD HERO!" They replied immediately with renewed vigor, causing Killua to cringe out of their sight.

Hajime's eyes went flat. "Ok. I should have seen that coming…BUT THEN…" He thrust a finger at them again, hope returning to his face. "Who do you think is the SECOND coolest hero?!"

Raphtalia and the other child looked at each other. "Ummm….you are?" Their reply was simply an attempt to appease the notorious Spear Hero. Hajime counted on that.

"SOOOOOOO…" A trolling grin dug into his face. "BY DEFAULT…that would make HIM the least cool, and thus, the lamest hero!" He pointed right at Kazuma.

Kazuma raised his head, seemingly unfazed with a mischievous smile of his own. "Oi, kids…you know what a Chuuni Pirate really is?"

Hajime shot a glare at him, but didn't miss a beat. "You kids know what a Virgin Otaku is?"

"Oi, shut the fuck up!" Killua grabbed them both by their ears, yanking their heads down. "I wish I didn't know half of these terms, so I'm not gonna let you corrupt innocent children through your petty nerd squabbles!"

Everyone in the casino watched with sheer astonishment. These were the mighty heroes of legend, whom together, conquered the Three Heroes Church and proclaimed to stop the Waves in 3 months max. Along with that, no one has forgotten the royal family's trial and how Hajime had executed the King and the first Princess.

Yet, here these same heroes are, playing around as if it was any normal day for them. Here was the deadly Spear Hero, whose infamy was currently going down in history, being yanked around and teased by his two companions. Everyone feared and respected him, yet the camaraderie between these three provided such a contrast to the image everyone had in their heads. It was relaxing, in a strange way. For them to see the three heroes like this, made them feel less like they were under the oppression of tyrants, but instead, simply experiencing changes at the hands of three good friends.

It also helped that, as of yet, those changes had been mainly for the better.

~~~ [Later]

"So if Hajime and I start hunting monsters too…we'll become stronger just like that?" Killua asked, body floating against the surface.

"That's the gist of it…" Kazuma sunk until the tip of his chin tapped the water. "I was hoping to catch up with you guys at least before you found out…but with the Wave coming in just over a week, I don't think that's possible. Plus I'd feel bad if the Waves are stronger than we anticipated and you guys could have used some leveling up."

When time came for the casino to close, the three of them gathered in the hot-spring tub to relax for the end of the day. It merely consisted of joking and romping the same way they did in the observation deck, and just about everywhere else they went. It was their daily routine now.

"I'm not particularly worried." Hajime said, head rested against the poolside.

"Me neither." Killua added. "I'm actually looking forward to it!"

"Of course you are." Kazuma turned away, grumbling under his breath.

"Hey!" Hajime lifted his head. "At least you're alongside us! C'mon, you gotta be looking forward to fighting with people who can actually be useful in know, at all times I mean!"

"Yeah, I get what you mean." Kazuma chuckled. "It'll definitely be a new experience, that's for sure!"

Killua creased his forehead. "Say, Kazuma…is your party really that useless?"

"There was not a single detail about my pain and suffering I've exaggerated." He gave him a serious stare, before blinking it away. "Why?"

"Well…" Killua's shoulders slumped. "Aren't you worried about them at all, then?" 'I don't understand how you can be so cheery through all this? Everyday is fun with you guys, but I gotta keep my guilt in check, otherwise it'll consume me from the inside out... I need to know what your trick is to handle the-'

"Nah, not really." He replied nonchalantly, surprising Killua. "The only real danger that's ever come our way was the Destroyer, and we took care of that already. I mean sure, Aqua attracts the undead and all, but she's also the only one who can dispel them. At this point, my worst fear is returning in deeper debt than I left in, but that's about it. Actually…" Kazuma held his face in stiff fingers, veins bulging taut around horrified eyes. "I was summoned in the middle an important job. A noble hired us to use Aqua's Sacred Dispel to cleanse a recent bounty of treasures he bought off of raiders thieving the Devil Kings army. There was a ton, and we had to do one at a time…"

As Kazuma's arm started shaking, Killua turned his eyes down, dejected. Then he forced a smile on his face. "And that's worrisome?"

"I was the CRUX of the whole operation." Kazuma wrapped his arms around himself, as if the hot-spring tub was no match for the cold anxiety seizing him. "I used a magic pendulum as a tool to discern mostly fakes from the authentic, but also cursed treasures from regular ones. Some were even possessed! So if we found one, I would hand it off to Darkness to keep it still for Aqua to cleanse. If things got out of hand, we had Megumin there to take care of that in a worst case scenario. In fact, we used her already, on the day I was summoned here, but the project was going to take us at least 5 days, and I was brought here only on the second…"

Hajime leaned forward. "And without you there, separating the good from the bad, you're left with a masochist who is willing to be cursed, a Goddess who attracts the undead and has the worst luck imaginable, and those two together would probably force your trigger-happy loli-nuke to…" His words trailed off as his own eye went wide with realization.

"Yup." Kazuma nodded at him, face still stressed. "You figured it out, huh? Chances are…without me there... Aqua's bad luck, Darkness's eager masochism and the Devil Kings stolen goods will combine into a situation where Megumin will excitedly blow up all the treasure to save themselves from being attacked by curses."

"And since that noble probably paid a ton of money for that treasure…" Hajime finally met Kazuma's worried glare. "That will plunge you into MASSIVE debt." Kazuma could only nod. "But we're gonna be out of here by the next month if things go according to plan, 3 at most if need be…you think things will get even worse by then?"

"HA!" Kazuma threw his head up. "Don't underestimate how troublesome they are!" He stuck a finger at him. "Well, what about you? You got a freaking God after you! Aren't you worried about your party back home?"

"Not at all." Hajime readily replied. "Unlike your party, mine aren't cursed with bad luck or stupidity."

"Just masochism?" Kazuma smirked.

"Egh…" Hajime stuttered. "…Yes. Unfortunately. But that just makes me even less worried. If something was to happen to Tio, she'd just enjoy it. The only one I would be worried about is Myu, but considering the overpowered babysitters surrounding her...all they have to do is lay low and complete a few unchallenging adventures from time to time for money." He shrugged. "They'll be fine. I've said it before, this is more of just a stupid inconvenience for me."

"A dangerous inconvenience for me! I can't afford to die in this world!" Kazuma slinked back. "Unlike Axel, this world is actually balanced, so these Waves aren't something for me to take lightly… Wait… technically that means Axel is potentially more dangerous, with final-boss types attacking beginner towns…" 'Geez, I lose wherever I go!'

"Dude, seriously, just stick with Killua and I, and you'll be good." Hajime waved away his concerns.

Kazuma relaxed at that. "Yeah, you're right."

"I'm jealous of the two of you." Killua finally spoke up. They turned to him, his downcast gaze hiding his expression. "You guys have nothing to worry about back home." His voice was low, weak, as if anything louder would make it crack.

Hajime and Kazuma looked at each other, concerned. They realized they fucked up, rambling off about who they left behind.

"H-hey now…" Kazuma started. "Didn't you say that she's your sister, after all? That you'd believe in her making the right decisions?"

"I told you how she can grant wishes, right?" Killua never lifted his face.

"Yeah." Hajime replied, sternly, making sure to be a voice of reason. "You also told us that you had her promise to never grant anyone else wishes besides you, correct?"

"What if she asks someone else to make a wish for me to return?" Killua's reply was nearly a whisper. "What if she explains how to activate Nanika to someone, and promises them a wish as a reward? Summoning me back is no small feat. You know how many people could die as a repercussion of a wish that powerful? It could attract my family's attention, and they'll know I haven't been watching her…but the worst case scenario is if they ask for a wish first-"

"Killua," Hajime snapped. "You're still here. And you know what that means?" He moved in front of his blank gaze. "It means that she hasn't done that."

"Yet." Killua met his eyes, worry making them shake. "What if she's on the verge of doing it?"

"And what if she's not, and she's actually fine?" Kazuma chimed in. "Then you're just unnecessarily tormenting yourself. You'll just become paranoid if you're constantly thinking that, and that'll affect your ability to see things rationally. Please, we can't have you do that dude! You're the smartest here!"

"Look, you're worried, we get that." Hajime never broke gaze. "But Kazuma's right. That worry of yours, mixed with your intelligence, is gonna concoct a thousand and one paranoid thoughts that seem super realistic to you. But isn't that why you've decided to have faith in Alluka instead?" He put a hand, his human one, on Killua's shoulder.

He looked up at him, and Hajime grinned. Killua still looked unconvinced. "It's hard…to not think about it…"

"I never said it'd be easy, but you've been doing well." Hajime lowered his voice, looking him hard in the eyes, making sure his words reached him. After all, they both shared a unique connection that no other would understand. "Keep it up. I promise you, when you see everything I've got planned, you're gonna feel silly that you've worried this whole time."

Their eyes locked as Hajime refused to let Killua sulk back into his insecurities. Eventually, the slightest smirk broke at the edge of his lips. Then a weak stream of water began tinkling onto Hajime's head.

"The fuck?" They both turned to Kazuma, using Create Water, spurting a thin rope of it from his palm.

"Sorry…" Kazuma said sarcastically. "Your bromance was getting hot and steamy."

"Oh, shut up!" Hajime hurled a huge wall of water right back at Kazuma, smashing into him like a tidal wave, causing him to fall and cough. "Looks like the Waves are here a few days early!"

Kazuma thrust an open palm towards Hajime's crotch. "FREEZE!" A tutu of ice grew outward from his groin.

"HOLY FUCKING SHIT, THAT'S COLD!" He smashed the ice off himself.

"BWAHAHAHAHA!" Killua broke helplessly into hysterics. He fell back into the water, clutching his heaving chest, trying not to drown as tears added to hot-spring water.

Hajime and Kazuma snuck a glance at each other, acknowledging that their antics had fulfilled their purpose. Though Hajime did mentally note to get Kazuma back for that sometime later. They got the ball rolling, taking Killua's mind off the fact it had been three weeks since his defenseless sister had been left alone, and they had to keep it going. They wrestled with each other for a few moments longer, Hajime slowly but easily overpowering Kazuma, until a thought hit him.

"Oh, Kazuma, I wanted to ask…" He segued, latching onto something Kazuma mentioned earlier. "If you were to compare the monsters in the field you hunted earlier to the Destroyer, how big of a difference would you gauge their levels?"

"Hmm." He stopped wrestling. "I don't remember their actual levels, but if I rate those monsters at 20 points…" Kazuma rubbed his chin for a moment. "I'd say the Destroyer was about a 1000."

"Hohhh?" Hajime grinned. That same sinister, terrifying grin when he's got nothing good in mind.

Kazuma blinked, recognizing it. "Oi…what's with that face of yours?"

Hajime sat back down, leaning into the poolside. "I like that point difference. That's all."

"STOP BEING OMINOUS!" Kazuma smashed the water. "YOU DO THAT EVERY TIME I TRY ASKING YOU ABOUT WHATEVER THE HELL YOUR PLAN IS! What exactly are you gonna do with all those things your building?"

"The answer isn't that big a mystery, though, I don't think. Killua's got the overall gist already..." Hajime smiled. "I'm just waiting for you to figure it out."

Kazuma began counting off on each of his fingers. "Destroy the planet, destroy the planet, destroy the planet, destroy the-"

"Anyway…" He pulled his smile back, assuming a confused face. "Why the hell was a boss-level monster like that even attacking a town of beginners?"

"Like I said…my old world was stupidly imbalanced! I told you about that slime I fought, remember? A slime! They're supposed to be the weakest creatures! And yet-"

"Right, right, that overpowered one!" Hajime thought for a moment. "Well, not all of them are weak. You know Rimuru? What if your guy was like that?"

"Ha!" Kazuma chuckled. "Then that was the worst time and place for him to reincarnate! Oh dude, I just thought of something funny! Imagine if Goblin Slayer was isekai'd to Rimuru's world? He'd have an existential crisis over the goblins there!"

"HAHAHA!" Hajime slapped his knee. "That'd turn his world upside down!"

They both chuckled at the thought. Killua slowly went from laughing along to being confused.

'Imbalanced worlds? Reincarnated slimes? Rimuru? What in the world are they...oh.' With an exhausted huff, he understood. "Is this more otaku stuff?"

"Ah ha!" Kazuma reacted with exaggerated gestures. "I see our Isekai Kouhai here is finally learning our ways!"

"As long as it's not the way of the Virgin Otaku, I think he'll be good." Hajime said, quiet but intentionally audible.

"HEYYYY!" Kazuma roared. "As if being a fucking lolicon is any better!"

Hajime jumped up, immediately defensive. "YUE'S JUST SHORT!"

"Uh huh. Yeah." Kazuma nodded with a tone of disbelief. "And a vampire too, right? How old is she again…300 years?"

Hajime's shoulders went limp. He looked away. "…Yes."

"WHAT A CLICHÉ LOLI WAIFU!" Kazuma got up close in Hajime's face and snickered.


Kazuma grated his forehead against Hajime's. "I'M GONNA SAY AT LEAST SHE'S NOT A 300 YEAR OLD VAMPIRE!"

Again, Killua watched the cringe exchange between them with a flat look. 'Wow. These two seriously do remind me of Milluki. Maybe the wrong Zoldyck got isekai'd, he'd fit in like a puzzle piece with these two.'

The nonsensical argument continued as Killua washed himself free of the day's work, rubbing off a few spots of paint from the rubber bullets.

~~~ [Later that night]

Killua plopped onto his left side in bed. The room was large, giving that much more space for the silence to overwhelm. Darkness spread almost everywhere. Only to his left where he faced, there was a glowing sliver of light from the overhead moon. It managed to cast over the giant wall, lining a muted silver streak on the carpet. Several tiny strands of dust floated carelessly in the thin shine, visible to his sharp eyes that caught all movement. The sound of his breathing seemed louder than it actually was. His ears had nothing else to focus on in the utterly silent room.

It had been three days since he had last slept, so at last, the fatigue that enveloped normal humans after half a day finally caught him. Perhaps it was the tiredness, but his mind flitted from one memory to the next; recapping chronological moments in disbelief, now that he had stopped and given time to really acknowledge the results.

Things started off as a mess when they were first summoned to this world, but once the three of them had firmly established their presence here, it had been generally smooth sailing. It helped immensely that they become super rich within the span of a week. Following that, every day consisted of playing arcade games, training with unique weapons and hanging out with one another like friends in a college dorm. Alongside gathering information about the world and Waves, devising optimal strategies.

Hajime and Kazuma may have had a rocky start, but once their differences were settled, they were all inseparable buds. Killua's mind replayed events from random days, positive moments in time picked without reason, all bringing a smile to his face. He even chuckled aloud at the most recent antics between the other two, particularly the icy crotch assault. They were constantly bickering at each other for petty yet shared faults.

"I actually do wonder how Milluki would have reacted, being summoned here." He rolled onto his back, resting his head in his hands, letting the thoughts color his dark field of vision. "Hey, maybe when I get back, I should command Nanika to isekai Milluki somewhere. I bet he'd enjoy that!" He giggled to himself. If he really was going to isekai Milluki, he knew right away he would send him to Kazuma's world, just to mess with him. He laughed harder to himself, letting the scene play out. The thought of his brother having to deal with that troublesome trio would drive Milluki mad.

Then the laughter died in his throat. The scenes playing before his eyes fizzled out, and the darkness returned as a grim reminder. The fun he was having with his new friends was the result of, essentially, interdimensional kidnapping. The thought made him guilty and sick. While he was playing around, having a grand ol' time here, Alluka was abandoned and alone back home.

Nasty thoughts he'd been stomping out from sprouting, now bloomed invasively in his mind. Scary thoughts, fed by suppressed fears, taking vengeance for being ignored. For whatever damn reason, no matter how hard a person steels their heart in daylight, the grips of sleep pry it back open so vulnerably. Plus a tired mind easily conjures vivid scenes.

He saw himself, rubbing Alluka's head by the open door of their hotel room, morning sun shining from their window and the hallway. Then he left, leaving her alone, with a calendar behind her that marked the day he went to investigate the ruins. He reached toward the scene, knocking his fingers against an unbreakable glass, forced to observe preset events he had no authority to alter. Like he was omnisciently watching his sister in the past, on the day he was summoned away.

"No…" Killua said to himself, trying to command the ugly thoughts to stop.

It failed. Alluka sat at their dining table, drawing childish pictures with crayons, swinging her feet on the chair just a tad too big for her. Then the scene fast-forwarded to nighttime. She repeatedly peaked out in the hallway, closing the door with slumped shoulders and a sad face. She waited up for him all night, refusing to sleep, until she couldn't stay awake any longer. When she awoke with a sudden jolt, she looked around the room, growing worried, then peaked out in the hallway again. He was still gone.

"NO…." Killua growled, clenching his teeth, trying harder to force the thoughts to stop.

They just became more realistic. He no longer observed behind glass. He was an intangible phantom, stuck by her side, unable to be heard or felt. He saw Alluka being kicked out of the hotel, unpityingly shoved onto the streets by security, and demanded to leave. She begged for help, asking anyone that would listen if they've seen her brother.

Killua tried to reassure her, standing before her eyes, yelling to her face that he was right there. Her eyes never locked on his; she was blind to him. She started grabbing people as they walked by, forcing them to listen, pleading desperately for their help. She cried out questions they couldn't answer, such as what if he got lost? What if he was injured? What if he was killed? Or what if he…abandoned her too?

"NO!" Killua screamed, lurching up to a sit. He was back in his dark bedroom, sliced out of his trancelike visions. Yet, he clutched his ears, futilely trying to stop the one, but most terrible, sound that stuck with him from those visions.

Sounds of screaming. "ONII-CHAN!" Alluka's screams. "WHERE ARE YOU!" Desperate, pained, terrified. Riling his every instinct to hold her close, a current impossibility. "HELP ME! PLEASE!" It had been so long since he had last heard her voice, but his mind recreated the tones and the pitch with haunting clarity. The voice of his sister, one he longed greatly to hear safe and sound, cried out in despair with such realistic lucidity, that for just a second, Killua had to wonder if it was real. Were these screams truly occurring, at this moment? Somehow, across the borders of universes and dimensions, had Alluka's cries reached him?

Again, these were just thoughts, manifested by suppressed emotions, but in his tired state, a near dreamlike quality had given extra life to them. The fears he avoided thinking of had sprung forth from the black box of mental oppression. Overfilled, the top cracked open, spewing out its poisonous inners to sicken his mind with hideous delusions. They took violent advantage of his sleepy brain, paranoid feelings incarnating as images.

Dozens of varying scenarios, all of them of Alluka, and in one way or another, she was scared, alone or in imminent danger. In one moment, she ran out in a panic on the street, seconds away from a car smashing her. Then, the scene cut and changed. Now she was chased by a group of men, masked and dressed in black, holding weapons. Next, she was caught up in the mayhem of a terrorist attack pulled off by the Phantom Troupe. Most frightening was when Illumi appeared before her, smiling, taunting her with Killua's absence.

Throughout this, her screams remained so crisp, so clear, and so accurate. It wasn't something that Killua could think up at will. It was an abuse of intimate memories, like sound files tampered by an enemy. Alluka's voice screamed things that were daggers of the perfect shape. Emotional blades specifically forged to hurt his most sensitive spots.

They did their job well. Killua cried, unable to hold it in any longer. He pressed his hand over his mouth, muffling the sounds of his own sobbing, tears streaming down his face, snot running against his fingers. He couldn't stop it. The more he tried, the harder he heaved. He knew he had to get it out of him, but it hurt to do so. Crying could be such a painful relief, after all.

As he wept, the awful sounds finally faded away, leaving his sharp ears to focus on his moans and sobs. It sounded alien to him. The empty, spacious room around was barely lit by the moon outside. Whatever he could see was blurred by tears coating his eyes, making an already dark room harder to see. Again, it just reminded him that he was here, in another world, while his sister was scared and alone. Far, far away.

"I hate this world…" He said, voice cracking. He sniffled in a deep breath. "I HATE this world…" His arms stiffened and chest felt hot. 'If it wasn't for these crooked scumbags that steal peoplefrom other worlds to save their planet against their will, Alluka would be just fine!' Wrath seared from his chest and through his body, burning with the fury of white-hot incineration.

He tried to think back to the fun, happy memories with Kazuma and Hajime. To balance out the situation, to remind him of his new friends, and to calm himself from giving into that darkness which Hajime helped him avoid returning to. But the feeling wouldn't leave. Unfortunately, there was only one thing that could satiate his pain at this moment.

Alluka, in his arms, alive and well. All else be damned.

"I FUCKING HATE THIS WORLD!" His throat tore as he screamed into his palms, fingers digging around his face to muffle his spiteful declaration.

It was a necessary catharsis, inevitable in its occurrence. How much of it was true would be sorted out with a sober mind achieved by a good night's sleep. For now, however, Killua continued to weep softly, drying an unending onslaught of tears. The moon shifted ever so slightly, shining on him as he sat up in bed, mentally undoing the paranoid illogic which guided most of those dreadful images.

That same moon shined on someone else, miles and miles away from him, but drawing nearer by the minute. Through the window of a royal carriage, the moonlight cast down upon a ten year old girl, sobbing uncontrollably, wiping away tear after tear that refused to let up, as if her heart sought to dry her out from the inside.

"I hate him…" Melty's voice cracked through sobs. "I hate him so much…" She sniffled. "I don't even know him, BUT I HATE HIM!" Her anger made a snarl out of her scream, but she resumed crying immediately after. Harder than before.

Mirellia pulled Melty into her side, caressing her shoulders, embracing her with a mother's tenderness. She looked out at the piercing white moon, a beacon against the violet night sky. She kept her composure, for the sake of both her daughter and her Shadows sitting around them.

"Melty…" She said. "I need you to try and get some sleep, ok?"

Melty nodded, trying to control herself from moaning even further, but could only maintain a few seconds of silence. Her little shoulders convulsed and the sobs forced themselves through. Mirellia caressed her head, running her fingers gently through her precious daughter's hair. Her only daughter.

'I don't want to bring you, in all honesty.' Mirellia thought, looking down at her. 'I can't bear to lose you too.' At that thought, she pulled Melty in tighter, resting her head against her breasts. A heaviness ached in her chest at the thought of Malty. Despite the person she became, it wasn't easy for her to forget the happier times. Bonding with her in that unique, maternal way over nine months, nervously but excitedly. Finally being able to hold the tiny, fragile infant that was her first daughter.

Back then, she didn't think twice about making her the heir to the throne. She expected great things from her. After all, the one who had sired her was none other than the Cane Hero. Aultcray had almost seemed to love her even more than Mirellia, spoiling her beyond her own good. The memories stopped. Her jaw quivered at the thought of her deceased husband, as if her daughter wasn't enough. She blinked away the tears, refusing to shed anymore. She had to be strong.

She turned forward, looking beyond the carriage driver, between the hooded heads of her Shadows. Nothing but a moonlit dirt road for miles. It wouldn't be until morning they arrive at the capital. She looked down at Melty again, her quieting sobs indicating the brink of crying to sleep. 'I don't want to bring you…but I know it would be unfair to leave you out of this too…' Mirellia drew her free hand into a fist, grief replaced with hope, anxiety and fury. 'When we meet the person who killed your Sister and Father!'






Authors Note...again: Welp...sorry about that wait. Long story short: Was making this story my number one priority for a while through my free time, 'twas fun, but 'twas neglecting other things I had to do. Had to delete and rewrite this chapter at some point, got demoralized, and indulged in the other things I was slacking doing before. Am now trying to strike a balance between it all, and as you can see, chapters will generally be longer. So basically, my update schedule will most likely be long, and sporadic, from here on out.

Also, for anyone concerned about the slow pacing of the story, just know that I have a minimum (most likely it'll be more, knowing myself) of at least 25 chapters before I finish this whole thing. A lot can happen in that span. Just a fun little fyi ;)

Also one last thing...there are certain symbols that FF does not seem to display on their site. Such as the asterisk, which I will put three of right here: ***. If they showed up, that'd be a first for me, cuz they usually don't. I'm hoping that these things ~~~ do show up (hopes the symbols between "things" and "do" show up). Cuz if not, i'm going to have to stick to the awkward [indication of time or something else passing or changing] and doing that has the potential to break the pacing of the reading. So far, I think it's been ok, but it looks kinda dumb to me to have [later] to break up a passing of time or what have you...when we have symbols to do that. This is just so all of you on the other side know of this trivial struggle I have lol.