Episode 41: Adventure Waits for No One

While Nadine offers one last apology to the baker, an unhappy Mana and Akane drag an unconscious Emile out of the bakery by his ankles, the rest of the group trailing behind.

"You know," Veiss starts. "I was suddenly in the nude too." he says as he adjusts the bandages Emile brought for him on his arms. "But he was nice enough to bring us clothes." Veiss points out as he flips his loose hair over his shoulder.

Mana doesn't say anything and looks anywhere but Akane, still feeling extremely embarrassed.

Akane, on the other hand, can't stop glancing at Mana. "...He forgot to bring you hair ties, though."

Veiss frowns. "So what? You wear your hair loose all the time." he says. "And besides, I think it'd be a bit creepy if he knew where we kept small things like that."

"I mean, I totally knew you found pretty girls distracting, Akane, but I didn't know it was this bad."

"What the f-?" Akane jumps, startled. She drops Emile's leg and whips around to find him grinning up at them from the ground.

Emile hums. "What's wrong? Are you or are you not flat out staring at M-?"

Akane bristles and her face reddens at the accusation (observation, more like). "Sh-Shut up!"

Fortunately for her, Mana seems more preoccupied with the thought of being distracting. She frowns, mumbling to herself and fiddling with her loose hair. Mana absentmindedly drops Emile's other leg as her frown deepens. "What do you mean that's not necessarily a bad thing?" she asks, presumably speaking to Mary.

Veiss rolls his eyes. "Both of you are morons."

Ken and Coraline exchange a look as the four younger Mages argue with each other.

"They're quite amusing, aren't they?" Ken says with a slight smile.

Coraline sniffs. "I suppose they are." she agrees and pauses for a moment, silently observing the quartet.

"Miss Coraline?" Ken calls when she stays silent for longer than a minute.

Coraline hums and turns her head back to Ken. "I would like to join your little gossip circle with Rina." she says. "Keep me updated on these four specifically." Coraline adds quickly when Ken's face brightens.

Ken isn't deterred. "Miss Rina and I are happy to have you!" he says. "Now, did you know that…?" Ken continues, whispering to Coraline in a hushed voice.


Zaflior | Phoenix Fire Guildhall

It's been several days since then.

Akane grumbles unhappily when another one of her guildmates makes a teasing remark about her younger self's attitude towards Mana.

Rina's never hidden anything about her childhood (although that comment about Marcel was quite concerning) and while Mana has given vague descriptions about what Yutsuko has done to her, actually seeing the results of it for themselves was something else entirely. Mana has made it abundantly clear that she does not want to talk about it by talking about literally anything else but that and changing the subject whenever someone tries to bring it up.

And so, Akane and Veiss have become the subjects of the guild's incessant teasing.

Veiss has been teased about his natural blonde hair and childish marvel at everything the guild had to show him in the few days between the incident and now.

Akane on the other hand, has been hearing non-stop teasing about her younger self's eagerness to wed Mana; and to be clear, it was just her younger self's eagerness. Akane's present-day self has no such thoughts about Mana…


"J-Just let me leave!" Akane whines, flustered. "Using me as a human shield is not working the way you think it is!"

Mana tightens her grip on Akane, a panicked look on her face. "Don't you dare open that door!" she cries, her cheeks a dark crimson.


…Hmph.

Mana seems to have forgiven Emile for his accidental involvement in the closet incident and she's finally looking Akane in the eyes again; but Akane can't get it out of her head.

Not like that, obviously. It was just a unique situation in completely unfamiliar territory that Akane's never crossed before and it definitely doesn't have anything to do with Mana specifically.

Just a unique situation.

In completely unfamiliar territory.

Like Mana's bod-

Akane violently slams her head against the table she's sitting at.

"The fuck?"

Akane slowly turns her head to glare at Veiss. "Mind your business." she says, resting her cheek against the table.

Veiss ignores her. "That's gonna bruise." he says, pointedly tapping his own forehead.

"Good."

Veiss frowns. "Your girlfriend won't like that." he tries again.

"I don't have a girlfriend."

Veiss' frown deepens, displeased at the lackluster reactions. "You're being boring. What's wrong with you?"

A vaguely familiar voice speaks before Akane can answer: "Oh wow, you're the one who cussed out Master Glinda!"

"Heh?" Akane sits up and Veiss turns to see an equally familiar young teenager looking at Akane excitedly.


Veiss glares at Akane and picks himself up off the ground. "Pull my hair again and I'll cut yours off in your sleep." he threatens.

Akane looks unbothered and starts examining her nails. "Suck a cactus."

"This is why you have no friends."

"I have Emile."

"And me-!" Mana quickly adds but Akane shuts her down just as quickly:

"No."

Mana hangs her head. "Rejected." she sighs while Emile pats her on the back.

"I told you so." Calypso mumbles under her breath. Fortunately for her, Akane doesn't hear.

None of their conversations proceed any further because Eira and Glinda finally approach their group.

"Good morning, children!" Glinda says cheerfully and Eira gives them a friendly wave. "Are we all ready to go?" she asks.

"WAAAAAAAAIT! WAIT WAIT WAIT!"

Everyone stops when they see a young boy running down from Aberrant Hydra's upper level.

"Neil?" Eira blinks as the boy approaches them.

"Are you really leaving? Oh come on, Eira, can't I come with you?" 'Neil' pleads.

Neil is a young teenager with dark skin and bright purple eyes. His white hair is styled into a spikey uppercut. He wears a white long sleeve button up shirt with purple accents with the sleeves pulled up to his elbows. He wears dark purple pants and Neil's shoes are simple brown boots.

Neil clasps his hands together, giving the Phoenix Fire Mages a perfect view of the purple Aberrant Hydra mark on his right hand. "Please please please please please please please please please please please please please please please-" he begs, only stopping when an exasperated Eira puts her hand over his mouth.

She sighs, "Neil, how many times do I have to tell you my business in Zaflior is private?" Eira says. "And besides, your parents aren't happy with you already. What would they say to you if you went off to the other side of the country without telling them?" she asks as she lets him go, trying to dissuade Neil from any notions he may have of following her.

Neil sighs and drops his hands. "I-I just want-"

Eira gives him an understanding smile. "I know. And you're plenty strong already, Neil, but you can't just run away because you want to prove something." she lectures. "I won't be gone for long."

Neil nods, disappointed. "Okay…" he sighs and drops his head.

At the discouraged look on his face, Eira falters. She shakes her head and smiles again. "Tell you what," she says. "When I get back, I'll go with you on any mission of your choice - within reason."

Neil looks up and beams. "Really?"

"Really." Eira nods.

Neil grins. "ALLLLLLRIIIIIIIIGHT!" he cheers. "I'll - I'll go pick one now to make sure no one else takes it!" Neil says excitedly and runs off. "Oooh, maybe Victoria will come. She's so cool…" and then Neil's hyped ramblings eventually fade away when he runs out of earshot.

Emile raises an eyebrow. "Who was that?"

"Neil Pace." Glinda says. "He's a bit...irresponsible...but he has a good heart." she says. "He's one of our youngest members - fifteen years old if I remember correctly."

Akane's eye twitches. "I can't decide which one is more annoying. Neil or Acro."


Veiss crosses his arms. "Neil, right?" he asks. "From Aberrant Hydra? What are you doing here?"

"Well…" Neil taps his chin.


Arkcester | Aberrant Hydra Guildhall

Earlier…

Neil Pace bounces his leg, restless and impatient.

Eira promised him that she would take him on an adventure when she returned from Zaflior but it's been days. She should be back by now.

Regine and Noah returned last night, bringing stories of what Phoenix Fire got up to in Honeywell. An entire town full of Dark Mages (a secret to be shared only with trusted Mages), a team of their former co-workers coming and attempting to bring them back, weirdly bright colored hair and clothing…

That should've been Neil's adventure! Why is it always Phoenix Fire he's hearing about these days?! Isn't Aberrant Hydra supposed to be number o-?

"Hey! Didja guys hear what happened in Zaflior a few days ago? Some of them were turned into kids and they were running around causing trouble!" an Aberrant Hydra member Neil can't be bothered to remember the name of laughs as they walk into the guild.

Neil's eye twitches. Is that why she's late?

"Neil?" Luna questions when Neil abruptly stands up. She frowns when she sees the look on his face. "Are you okay?"

Neil dramatically takes a deep breath in and lets it out with the force of a thousand suns. "...Yeah. I'm fine." he says and dusts himself off. "I'll catch you guys on the flipside." Neil says with a determined smile on his face as he walks away.

Luna frowns in confusion. "Flipside…?" she repeats.

Yuki wags his finger at Luna. "Silly Lightbulb," he tuts. "That means he's leaving the guild." Yuki says sagely.

Cole, sitting at a nearby table, turns his head and narrows his eyes at Yuki. "No it doesn't."

"Yes it does." Yuki retorts with a smile.

Cole turns around completely to face Yuki. "No, it doesn't."

Luna sighs. "Is this really the fight you two want to pick?" she asks.

Yuki's smile widens, answering Luna's question.

Luna sighs again.


Neil smiles from ear to ear. "I'm here to join Phoenix Fire!" he declares. "I want adventure and adventure isn't finding me in Aberrant Hydra and I keep hearing about you guys lately so I've come to find adventure for myself!" Neil says, speaking at a mile a minute as he practically bounces in place.

Akane frowns in distaste. "I only have room for one squirrel in my life." she says. "My squirrel has enough hyperactive energy to go around for all of us."

"'Your' squirrel?" Veiss smirks.

Akane scowls. "Shut up."

Neil puts a hand on his chest. "I can be something else then!" he says, undeterred. "What about a dog? I can be a dog!"

Akane grimaces. "A dog…?"


Soncha Kapa | Prison

Klaw Clears exercises in his cell with several bags of flour equaling the weight of a certain Phoenix Fire Mage on his back as he does push ups. "...Fifty-three Akanes, fifty-four Akanes, fifty-five Akanes…"


She shivers. "N-"

"Neil Pace?"

The three of them look up to see a surprised Nadine looking at Neil.

Akane and Veiss groan as Neil recounts his story at an even louder, more excited volume than before now that he's face-to-face with Phoenix Fire's Guild Master.

Nadine takes a second to process the information.

Akane and Veiss wait with bated breath.

"HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!"

Neil's face drops in confusion while Akane and Veiss wince.

"M-Master Nadine?" Neil asks.

"Ahahahaha!" Nadine laughs, nearly doubling over. "This is great! Oh, I can't wait to brag to Goldkuhl-" she says and wipes a tear from her eye. Nadine gestures vaguely at Akane and Veiss. "You two show him around while I go make a call." she says and grins at Neil. "We'll talk later, Neil Pace." Nadine says before bursting out laughing again as she heads upstairs.

Neil beams and looks at the two Phoenix Fire Mages expectantly.

Akane face palms. "I need to go make sure Mana is still breathing. You take care of that." she says to Veiss and heads towards the girl's dorms.

Veiss grumbles and turns towards Neil. "Come on, I'll show you-" he pauses, processing what Akane just said. He whips around. "What the fuck do you mean you have to make sure she's still breathing?!" Veiss yells and points at Neil threateningly. "You. Sit. I'll come back for you in a second." he says before running after Akane.

"Wh-? I'm not actually a dog!" Neil whines.


Phoenix Fire Girl's Dormitory | Mana's Room

Veiss isn't sure what he was expecting but it definitely wasn't the entirety of one of the walls being turned into a giant…map?

Mana glances behind her when she hears her door open. Pretending that she doesn't look completely disheveled and insane and that she doesn't have dark circles under her eyes, Mana smiles brightly at the sight of her guests. "Veiss, Kanny!" she greets and gestures at her wall. "I finished!"

Akane feels about as tired as Mana looks. "Are you finally going to share what this is?" she asks, glancing at the wall of pins, threads, and notes on a giant map of the continent.

Veiss isn't sure he wants to know what this is.

And so, Mana explains.

While Mary was on mute in Mana's younger self's mind, she discovered that she was able to dig through the memories that version of Mana possessed. In an attempt to gain forgiveness and discover anything about what exactly Yutsuko did to her and Mana, Mary dug through as many memories as she could. She sorted through what she and Mana could originally remember and what they couldn't-

"-and after writing it all down in my journal, we put it on the wall all organized so we can organize and gather more information in an organized manner!" Mana says cheerfully.

Veiss frowns. "She's about to drop." he says.

"Yup." Akane nods.

Mana laughs loudly as she walks over to sit on her bed. "Take a look at it for as long as you want!" she says as Veiss and Akane examine her map of notes. "I know where I want to go next but Danate said he needs me first."

Akane narrows her eyes. "What the hell does he n-? Ah." she sighs when she turns to find Mana passed out on her bed. "And she's down."

"These are all the books on curses I could - oh."

Akane and Veiss turn towards the sound of Emile's voice. Veiss raises an eyebrow. "Curses?"

Emile blinks. "Uh…yeah. Yes." he says and closes the door to Mana's room behind him. "Mana and Mary are pretty confident that's either what's keeping Mana from aging or what merged them together in the first place." he explains as he sets his pile of books down on a table by the wall map. "So they sent me to go get these books." Emile says and picks one out of the pile. "I was pretty sure it was the Curse of Ankhseram but that wouldn't add up with what we've witnessed so far." he says and flips through the book before showing a page to Veiss and Akane.

Ankhseram is a God who rules over life and death that was worshipped by the ancient city of Mildian

Ankhseram wields the ability to inflict his Black Art as a curse, referred to as the Contradictory Curse, on anyone and does so on those who dare contort the balance between life and death. The curse immortalizes the victim and causes them to uncontrollably exude a black miasma that instantaneously kills all life it touches. The only way to stop this is for the victim to forget the value of life.

"I thought we could've confused Mana's Darkness Magic for Ankhseram Black Magic but Mary seems to want to keep Mana from forgetting the value of life despite, y'know, forgetting it herself." Emile says as he takes the book back and shuts it with a sigh.

Veiss thinks for a moment. "So it can't be that because she wouldn't be able to use her Darkness Magic if it was, right?"

"Right." Emile confirms. "Anyways, why did I pass by that Aberrant Hydra kid sitting in our guildhall whining about not being a dog?"

"I'm not a dog!" comes the voice of said Aberrant Hydra kid. He stands in the doorway of Mana's room holding out a piece of paper. "That doesn't matter right now anyway." he says and shakes the paper impatiently. "Where do I go to file for a mission? Come with me on this one!"

Emile bites back a grin. "Are you asking us to take you on a walk?"

"I-" Neil's face reddens from embarrassment as Akane and Veiss stifle their giggles. "Sh-Shut up!"


Phoenix Fire Guildhall | Nadine's Office

"Oh Glin-!~" Nadine's smile drops. "You're not Glinda."

The panicked face and eyes of Luna Luster and Cole Match fill the surface of Nadine's Communications Lacrima Crystal. "M-Master Nadine!" Luna cries, relieved.

"Is Neil there? He's there, right?!"

Nadine pinches the bridge of her nose. "Goddess have mercy…" she sighs and looks back at them. "What is it now?"


Nadine sighs dejectedly as she heads back downstairs. "So much for bragging to Glinda…" she says. She frowns when she sees Rina filling out their mission book. "Rina, who just left?" Nadine asks, dreading the answer.

Rina looks up. "Hm? It was Akane, Emile-"

"Please just say Veiss and Mana." Nadine whispers under her breath.

"-and Neil Pace." Rina says with a smile. "A transfer from Aberrant Hydra, how exciting! Akane said he wasn't officially a member yet but they figured it was okay since you said you would talk to him later. He was really excited to get to work." she says cheerfully.

"Master Nadine?" Rina calls when Nadine just stands there with an exhausted look on her face.

"Will they be long?"

"Uh, n-no, I don't think so. They should be gone for two days at the most, maybe three."

"I see."

"Is everything okay, Master?"

Nadine sighs again. "Just…let me know when they get back. Immediately." she says and turns around, heading back upstairs.

Danate comes to stand beside Rina's table and the two of them silently watch Nadine disappear before turning to each other. "Is everything okay?" Danate asks, worried.

Rina shakes her head and looks down at the files in front of her. "I think the welcome party for Neil is off."


On the train towards their destination…

"Investigating a creepy cave…I'm so excited!" Neil wiggles in his seat in anticipation.

Novem crawls from Emile's lap to Neil's and makes himself comfortable. "I like you. You remind me of Mana."

Akane, sitting across from them, scoffs as props her elbow against the windowsill and rests her head on her fist. "Mana's-"

"Cuter? Funnier? More trustworthy? More affectionate?" Emile presses. "I have more adjectives, just let me know when I've hit the jackpot." he says with a laugh, amused with himself. Akane merely flips him off.

Neil hums. "Is Mana one of the ones that was with you the last time you were in Arkcester?" he asks.

Emile winces at the mention of their last trip to the city and the memory of who else was with them. Fortunately for him, Akane answers so he doesn't have to: "Mana is the one with black hair."

"Got it, got it…" Neil nods to himself and absentmindedly starts petting Novem. "Is she your girlfriend?" he asks, innocently curious.

Emile lets out a loud laugh as Akane's elbow slips off the windowsill and she slams her head against the window. "Ow, shit!" she swears and cradles her head in her hands.

Emile can't stop laughing, "Oh, this mission is gonna be great." he says with a grin.


"So she's like, emotionally repressed or something?" Neil asks.

"That's right." Emile nods.

Neil tilts his head to the side. "But she doesn't want to be?"

"Bingo!" Novem praises.

Akane briefly considers lighting the forest they're walking through on fire before deciding that would be more trauma than it's worth and she would likely get thrown in the same prison as Klaw.

They arrived at their destination, Veneto, not long ago and now they're heading into the forest again (again on Akane's part, at least) in search of the cave they've been assigned to investigate.

To occupy the silence, Emile decided to fill Neil in on all the 'important' Phoenix Fire lore.

"And what about you?" Neil asks.

"Oh, I have amnesia." Emile states simply.

Neil blinks. "Woah. Okay. What about Mana?"

"She has amnesia too."

"O-Okay…and Veiss?"

"...You'll never believe this."

PF x SS x AH

A/N and akane's panic begins

another mini arc before the big segc arc where we take a trip overseas