Upon arriving at the front of Lighthalzen's border walls, Elise looked around and found that the sky had turned red. Then, she located Rene and the Arunafeltzian girl on their front.
"Stop calling me 'Dickhead', Rene!", Digotz yapped from her side, "And Kat's girlfriend, have you seen him?"
"U-Um…no. We came close to figure out his current location, though", the older girl hesitantly replied, "But…uh…my name is Bruspetti Shendar, 'Brue' for short. I almost forgot that we never knew each other's names..."
"Alexander Digotz W., call me 'Digotz' or 'Digz'", Digotz introduced himself to the blonde Soul Linker and bowed at her, "Pleasure to meet you again, milady."
Annoyed at the two's familiarity, Rene grumbled.
"Geez, you treat her well compared to me and Elise. Have your memories finally fully recovered along with your noble personality or what?"
"There's no time to waste, you all!", Elise harked, "We need to find Maku, now!"
As she said so, Elise materialized her Grand Cross and swung it on the locked gate, forcefully opening it up.
"Let's go, everyone!"
After she entered the slums area, Digotz followed first, then Rene and finally Brue.
"For what purposes are you searching me for!? And just who the hell are you!?" Maku bluntly asked the green-haired woman. She just smirked in return.
"Oh, pardon us for our sudden intruding and rude behaviors. I am Number i, Emerald Witch L'Rydia. And this man over here is our new recruit Number VII", she introduced and explained, "Well, you showed yourself that you have the same blood red eyes and pale skin as us. Which means, you're one of us."
"One…of you?", Maku muttered as he noticed the color of their eyes and skin, "THE HELL ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT!? I AM BY NO MEANS ONE OF THOSE BASTARDS' LAPDOGS!"
"Don't lie to yourself, Phantom", she teased and pulled his collar to make his face closer to hers before slamming him to the ground. Then, the Professor materialized ten bolts of fire and ice around him.
"We're going to bring you back so that we can assassinate that girl as soon as possible!" she exclaimed, "Molten Ca-"
"NOT SO FAST! LEX DIVINA!"
As the spell silenced the Professor, Elise slammed her Grand Cross from the Professor's above. But her swing was blocked by the red-haired Lord Knight whom she purposefully ignored. Brue, realizing who the Lord Knight was, yelled at him.
"Kat! What are you doing here!?"
Brue's shout made the Lord Knight lower his guard, which prompted Elise to shove him outside of the room. But he quickly cast Endure to himself to make him mostly unharmed. Elise, however, ignored the knight to focus on the Professor instead.
Upon seeing the situations, Digotz and Rene nodded at each other and went off to do their duties.
"Kat!", Brue rushed to her boyfriend and Soul Linked with him, "Are you fine? You aren't hurt, right?"
"Brue…", the knight groaned weakly as he glanced at the face of his girlfriend, "I'm sorry…I never told you that I'm working with the company that killed your mother…"
"There's no need to be sorry!", Brue cried, "I'm sure my father would understand! You just need to be honest with yourself and others!"
Before Katinshuell could answer, Digotz arrived at the lovers' location. Then he brandished his poleaxe and aimed its blade towards the Lord Knight's face.
"Stand up, Kat. We still have things to settle." he taunted.
Brue, understandably, glared at the Whitesmith and aimed her Knife back at him.
"Stop with all of these pointless fighting!" she pleaded, "You two are friends, right? Why don't you just have a talk and be done with it!?"
"It's simple, my relationship with him is different from what I have with Maku", the Whitesmith explained as he put down the girl's Knife-wielding hand, "We only knew each other for several months, yet we managed to hit things off. At least, until yesterday."
The three of them went completely silent for several seconds before Katinshuell regained his grasp on his greatsword. Brue tried to grab the hand that held the hilt, but the Lord Knight gestured her away.
"Sweet talks are useless between us, I guess", Katinshuell smirked.
"I'll repay you for the unfair fight you initiated yesterday, now that I've regained my power!", Digotz declared as he set his sunglasses down.
As the Lord Knight and the Whitesmith dashed towards each other, Brue could only pray in tears.
"O Goddess Freya, please Link my Soul to theirs…I want to understand their burdened heart…"
Meanwhile, Elise kept parrying the green-haired witch's spells and reflecting them back to her. The dumbfounded Maku, confused at what's going on, yelled at the two.
"What's going on here!?"
"We're going to make you Transcend today, idiot! But she and the knight who's fighting Digotz right now are blocking our path!", Elise angrily replied and pointed her finger at the Professor.
"You're blocking our path, girl!", the woman yelled as she charged her Damascus with lightning energy, "And you're going to return to our side, Phantom!"
"'GIRL'!? ELISE IS OLDER THAN YOU THINK, WITCH!"
It was Rene, who whipped out the Professor's Damascus from her hand and knocked her down with a single kick on her back. This action also freed Maku from the cage of fire and ice bolts, which prompted Elise to rush at him.
"Are you alright?" she asked as she healed the man's bruises and pulled his well-prepared bag down from his desk, "Also here, your bag."
"I-I'm fine, and thanks…", the white-haired man hesitantly replied, "But seriously, what's going on here? Why are we the only ones who can still move right now? And why does she call me 'Phantom'!?"
Suddenly, the sky's color was repeatedly interchanging from red to green to blue. A bird's shrieking could also be heard from a distance, which added to the direness of the current situation.
"Our time is running short, so let's escape for now!", Elise exclaimed as she grabbed a Blue Gemstone and raised it to the sky, "Warp Portal!"
Meanwhile, on the streets of the slums, Digotz and Katinshuell were still clashing the blades of their weapons. Both were equal in power, and thus when one tried to push the other, both of them were pushed back instead. Brue, who had been watching from behind the lamp post near the tavern, wanted to stop them. However, she couldn't bear to do it physically.
"Wait, physically?", an idea suddenly entered Brue's mind, "Rene did her best to distract the other enemy, so there should be no one else who can stop me to cast a spell!"
Brue then channeled blue-tinted spirit energy on her palms, and formed them into two small spirit balls, one on each palm.
And so, she threw the spirit balls on the two fighting men. But before the balls reached them, a peculiar-looking bird attacked the two by pecking them on their heads, which caused them to duck down. Brue was puzzled at the sudden intrusion, especially after witnessing that only a select few people could- "…oh."
"Josepha, you're still here!?", Katinshuell asked the bird, "Where's Kenneth!?"
Before Katinshuell could get his answers, the Estun balls Brue launched earlier hit him on the back of his head, which brought him on his knees. It seemed to Brue that Digotz caught the balls while Katinshuell was distracted by the bird's presence, and then threw them towards his enemy. After the red-headed Lord Knight was brought to his knees, the Whitesmith gestured him towards Brue.
"You've done all of this to meet her again, right?", Digotz asked, "Here you go."
Katinshuell shrugged on the remark and retorted, "Not like this, though…But considering the alternative, I'm willing to take this one chance…"
"It's fine, Kat…", Brue assured, "We can face Rekenber together…"
A shriek of the peculiar bird, followed by the rapid interchanging of the sky's color, interrupted the three's ongoing conversation. The peculiar bird disappeared as Brue tried to memorize its features, and the sight of blue aura enveloping her body from the ground confused her even more.
"It's Elise", Digotz murmured and then informed the couple, "Hold on tight, you two. We're going to teleport out of here soon."
Before Brue could properly react, their bodies were brought into an inter-dimensional tunnel. Her first reaction was to hold onto her boyfriend's cape tightly. She assumed that the High Priest girl from earlier –Elise– casted Warp Portal on them. Along the ride, Brue thought to herself,
"But this is physically impossible! Even Ellen can't do it, and she's an Archbishop. Mr. Digotz shouldn't be able to catch my spell without making his hands limp for a while, either. Maybe it's a perk of Transcendence? No, I'm pretty sure those two irregularities don't have the same circumstances, but…Wait, Rene! The stone on her choker did impossible things too! Goddess Freya, what kind of trials did you sign me into?"
When Maku opened his eyes, the first thing that he saw was Elise, who was perfectly standing on his right. Then, he looked around and noticed Digotz and Elise's Gypsy friend were trying to stand up behind them. The blonde Soul Linker on the far behind crawled to the downed Lord Knight's side. All while the Professor who attacked him earlier was still unconscious.
Then, he noticed that they're no longer in Lighthalzen slums. The rushing sound of the breeze and the chill he could feel in the air suggested that they were teleported to somewhere above the clouds. The scenery seemed familiar to Maku, but he couldn't remember the exact time of him visiting it.
"Welcome back to Valhalla, Einherjaars of Midgard", the winged woman greeted, "Lhistuse Lye, is this man one of the 'lost lambs' you've been searching for?"
"Yes, Grand Valkyrie. And with this Crystal shall he Transcend and raise to be your Einherjaar", Elise replied as she offered Maku's chain bracelet at the Grand Valkyrie.
"Wait, what? Since when did you fetch it from my bag?" Maku protested.
"I grabbed your bag, remember?", Elise explained, "Now, do as the Grand Valkyrie instructed and don't regret your decision."
Maku nodded in response to Elise's words and laid his left hand above the bracelet that was on top of the Grand Valkyrie's palms.
"State your name and conviction" the Grand Valkyrie instructed.
The white-haired man took a deep breath and started to narrate,
"My name is Maku Grun, an ordinary man born in Lighthalzen's slums", the white-haired man confidently answered, "Ever since I met Elise, I've been curious about what was going on between me and Digotz. Was he on the wrong side? Or was I? Were we both? Those questions haunted me in the past four years; when we were found collapsed in front of Lighthalzen's borders. But now that everything's clear to me, I can say without a doubt that I want to know more about the world that I live in. I know that I was part of something bigger, but what is it? That's why I want to Transcend; to give me more power to uncover the dark truths behind myself and everything that surrounds me."
"Conviction accepted", the Grand Valkyrie stated, "From now on, you are a Stalker! One who walks on the line between order and chaos, may you banish the wicked with your own dastardly methods!"
"So, I was a Rogue until four years ago, huh…" Maku pondered as his clothes changed to that of a Stalker's, "This covers more than Rogue's attire that I once wore…and this power…"
"Well, at least you have better clothes now." Digotz teased while nudging his elbow at his friend.
"Better than yours", the white-haired man snarked back.
Realizing that his friend was referring to the disastrous fashion choices that is the Whitesmith's opened crop-top vest, suspenders that didn't match up with the rest of the belts, dark blue arm-length arm warmers that clashed with his own white fingerless gloves, and his tie now being tied around his right side, Digotz could only accept his defeat with exaperations,
"…I resent that remark"
"Aah, ahahaha…", Brue just giggled at the two guys' antics. Katinshuell just sighed with a satisfied look.
"I'm sorry for ruining your pride, but", Elise suddenly interrupted, "This is just a transformation that also powers you up, remember? You still need to touch up that rugged attire of yours."
"But before that!", Rene suddenly interrupted and pointed her finger on Katinshuell and then L'Rydia, "What are we going to do with those two?"
"Trene Tiiney, isn't it? You have the rest of the Agents aiming for you. It's better for you to hide and leave me and Emerald Witch L'Rydia behind", the Lord Knight hesitantly informed.
"I can't do that! Not that we've done this much to make you and Brue meet!", Rene insisted.
"We Agents have a way to track each other's location…", he added.
"However, it only works for the areas surrounding Lighthalzen, am I correct?", Digotz questioned, "We're above Juno right now, so they can't track us…hopefully."
While listening to her comrades' conversation, Elise silently approached L'Rydia's unconscious body, removed the pin that was attached on her shawl, and made it vanish with a spell.
"This should be enough to fool them for a while…", she quietly whispered and gently put her right hand's palm on top of the Professor's closed eyes, "But just in case...O Father, smite mine enemy into silence...Lex Divina…"
After she made sure that the spell's effect was planted, Elise carried L'Rydia by her shoulders towards the crowd that were the comrades she had to protect for the time being. Elise and the Grand Valkyrie then exchanged a look before the latter nodded in agreement.
"Before I teleport you out of this realm, I want to talk with that Follower of Freya right there."
Brue was surprised when the Grand Valkyrie addressed her and answered awkwardly, "W-What is it, The Grand Valkyrie of Odin?"
"Are you well aware of the Valkyries of Freya?", the Grand Valkyrie asked her.
"Not particularly, except for the fact that they're currently collecting shards of Ymir's Heart to revive Goddess Freya. Or that's what the High Priests of my sect told me", Brue answered.
Upon listening to the answer, Grand Valkryie understood that the Follower of Freya that Lhistuse brought with her was just as lost as any other Followers who had Transcended in Valhalla.
"I see. Should you encounter one of them, please remind them that humanity's technological advances have grown up enough to make an almost exact copy of Ymir's Heart. Don't let those who possess the copies and the Valkyries of Freya to be hostile towards each other; we aren't prepared enough for another Ragnarok yet."
"I...I understand. I'll make sure to do that should I encounter one of them", Brue affirmed.
"By the way, Lhistuse Lye, where should I locate you lot?"
After leaving everyone else in the Grisheim's residence, Elise visited Oliver once again, but this time it's in his cottage located somewhere around the Sage Academy's complex. As she knocked on the door to his room lightly, Elise said,
"Oliver, we need to talk."
"…Come on in", a soft yet deep voice called from the inside. Elise did as the voice permitted, and opened the door. As she stepped into the room, it transformed into a boundless space of starry sky. A slightly older-looking Oliver, donning the Legendary Sage's cape and a modified version of his coat, had been sitting on his usual work table.
"It's about that Ain guy, isn't it?", Oliver immediately asked.
"Yes", Elise replied without hesitation, "Ain Jormundloge, a scientist of Rekenber who made his breakthrough about 20 years ago. His expertise including bio-engineering, Ymir's Heart reconstructions, espionage, mind manipulation, and most importantly, research centered on 'miracles'."
Oliver's eyes widened as he listened to the last point that Elise listed. He then quipped, "By 'miracles', do you mean the power that we possess? If I remember correctly, there should be three of them, right? Me with Dreams -maybe Mirage would be more accurate, if you ask me-, you with Time, and we still don't know who gets the Void one. I assume he got my data from the reports of that research facility…But how far is he in his research, I wonder?"
"That's the problem that we need to talk about, Oliver", the High Priestess continued as she manifested a pin bearing the Schwartzvalt emblem on the surface of the desk they're sitting on, "This pin belongs to an Agent under Ain's command. I've completely muted the signal that it sent to Rekenber's HQ in order to protect Rene, that man, and the owner of this pin. When I dispersed this pin into my personal pocket dimension, all of its memories were shown inside my mind. And I've seen that Ain had found the ones who bear the Void, and that he's planning to lure The Spare Vessel into what remains of Terra Gloria in order to awaken its power."
"I see…", the novelist simply replied, "It's for the better that I have to stay in Juno until 'that time' comes, then? And this time, I have to keep it a secret from that Benkaistein guy, since you said to me that his knowledge of the matter was one of the factors that ruined your previous run…"
Elise leaned on her chair and relaxed her back, "Correct. The events leading to this one was the same as the previous loop, so Maku, Digotz, and Harley should know next to nothing about the correlation between our power and Ain's experiments. Also, even if Bruspetti knows, she's more concerned about Katinshuell for now. And I've already asked Rene to keep an eye on L'Rydia and do her best to fool her. I just hope the three stooges are wasting their time with Benkaistein right now so that he couldn't overhear our conversation."
"I'm sure they're doing just that" Oliver smiled as he closed his eyes and made an astral projection that showed a section of the city's library with two men arguing with another man while the guy behind tried to calm them down.
"All according to plan", Elise concluded with a smirk, "Also, you've gotten a pretty good grasp on your power, huh? The scenery here is so pretty; it's just like inside the Dimensional Crack."
"I like this scenery", Olivier looked upward, "It helps me easing my mind from all of the responsibilities I have to face as-"
Elise smiled lightly and cut him from continuing his sentence, "Well, whatever. Currently you're Oliver from this loop's foreseeable future. As soon as you release this illusion, you're going back to be the same childish Oliver Hilpert illusion that you'll be putting up until 'the time' comes anyway."
The Sorcerer closed his eyes to think of any other questions and asked, "By the way, you used the plural form when referring to the Void bearer. Was the Void split into pieces?"
"I can only say this", Elise paused before answering with a single word, "Yes."
"Anyway, Elise, can I ask you something that's completely unrelated to our story?" the novelist raised another question, only with a cuter voice.
Elise noticed that the starry sky illusion dispersed and his appearance reverted when he asked the question, and lightly asked him back,
"What is it?"
"The 'E.' in Queen Catherine E. Gaebolg's name...it stands for 'Esha', right?" he shyly asked, "As in, the same 'Esha' in Mark Esha's name...?"
"You're that afraid of the possibility that the royal families might sue you?", Elise snarked, "As far as I know, no. But didn't you attend the Banquet three weeks ago? The Queen isn't exactly approachable as for now but I doubt she'd reject an important guest like you."
"Ah, about that…"
Oliver rolled his eyes and picked up a notebook to cover his blushing face,
"I-I...was too busy with my own books...that when I went outside of the Royal Library...that the mess caused by the Heart Hunters deep inside the Castle was happening..."
Elise shrugged in annoyance,
After she bid farewell to Oliver, Elise walked towards the Government Office under the Floating City's night sky. When she was about to approach the gate's front, she saw a sharply-dressed woman ahead of her, who was walking slowly towards the same direction as hers. The woman clutched her right arm and dragged her limp left foot while walking, indicating that she was hurt. Knowing the woman's identity, Elise ran towards her.
"Excuse me, ma'am. You look hurt", the High Priestess greeted as she touched the woman's right arm and whispered a healing chant, "I'll heal you. Please bear with me for a few seconds."
Soon after, the woman's body was shrouded by a gentle green aura. The aura soothed the body's injuries for a minute before it dispersed. After the spell finished its job, Elise whispered to the woman,
"Thank you for buying time for Kazien, Trene, and Bruspetti to escape from Ain's Agents, Nel. Or should I say, Neil?"
"The pleasure is all mine-", the woman expressed her gratitude as she turned around to see her savior, only to be taken by surprise upon looking at Elise's face, "You…! Elise Lhytus!"
"Oh, so you remember me?", Elise teased.
"I...Only now I can remember everything from our last meeting four years ago. Up and including the rest of your guildmates who sought for Oliver Hilpert's Crow of Destiny", Neil answered, "Now tell me, where is he right now?"
Elise smirked and gleefully replied, "Your beloved fiance, I presume? He's having a pajama party with his friends over at the Grisheim's residence."
Neil's expression changed to that of an embarassment, and she facepalmed to hide it.
"Dirty thoughts much? Even though you spent three years traveling together with those two goofballs?", Elise teased while taking her phone out of her pocket, "That being said, do you want me to give you his current phone number?"
"Yes, please", Neil uncovered her face and took her phone out, "So that I don't have to stalk him physically all the time. I'm not a stalker with a capital S; that's Maku's job from now on."
"You...tried your best. Both for your efforts thus far and the words you just spoke", Elise begrudgingly responded and showed her phone's current screen to Neil, "Here. Below his number on the list are the current numbers of Maku, Trene, the Grisheim twins, and myself. And the two numbers above belong to the two who saved you from Elsaria Sylpheed a month ago."
"How do you know…?", the blonde asked while her fingers were typing on her phone's screen and her eyes looking back-and-forth between the phones' screen.
"Mr. Gregor informed me."
"But of course. It's plausible that you would have access to his information network.", Neil remarked in a deadpan manner while typing down the numbers still, "Anyway, from what I've gathered, those two happened to be triple agents for Rekenber, Rebellion, and an unknown third party."
As Neil finished typing down the numbers, she looked back at Elise with a concern and asked her,
"Do you happen to be this unknown third party?"
The High Priestess was taken aback by the question. She knew that not giving the Secretary the right answer would doom Trene and Ain's Agents later. But giving her a direct answer would result in 'that time' happening sooner than in the most ideal scenario. She had to keep it ambiguous, as the result of her 88th loop had proven.
"No. But I know who they are.", Elise replied to her conversation partner, "They're deeply tied to Elsaria Sylpheed and what happened thirteen years ago. That much is what I can say for now."
"Thank you, Elise. You're a big help today", the Secretary offered her right hand to initiate a handshake. Elise complied and responded accordingly. Both women exchanged a look before they took their right hands back.
"Do you want some milk tea?", Neil offered, "I shall arrange a meeting with His Excellency for you right now, so that we can have a nice tea time and a chance to explain yourself."
"Thank you, but" Elise softly refused, "Should you arrange that precious meeting for him instead? I didn't give you all of those phone numbers for nothing. But, I would like one cup of warm milk tea. Put them in a thermos, please."
Neil giggled and turned her back towards the entrance door of the Government Office. "Very well. I shall do as you commanded, Miss.", she playfully responded.
"As you should", Elise whispered to her as she followed the Secretary to enter the building, "And please, keep yourself busy with what's to come for the Secret Wing."
When the two women arrived at the Receptionist desk, they saw a black-haired man in a grey suit behind the corner. Elise sat on a nearby waiting seat, and Neil approached the man.
"Good night, Philofontes. I didn't expect you to come back so soon.", the blonde greeted him.
"Good night too, O'Neil. The negotiation went a lot smoother than expected, all thanks to Lazy and the Savior Adventurer", the man informed her in a low voice, "That being said, who's that girl?"
"Our guest. She managed to recover the First Son's memories and brought him here. He's currently resting in Grisheim's residence. And she demands me to give her a thermos' worth of warm milk tea as a reward.", she replied.
Philofontes was taken aback by Neil's answer, but he lightly coughed to retain his composure. Then, he pushed up his glasses and nudged his head in the direction of the left corridor.
"Let's give her the best warm milk tea we could afford at this moment. O'Neil, we're going to the employees' cafeteria", Philofontes smiled at his fellow Secretary and left the receptionist desk.
"On your trail", Neil followed, "Also, tell me how Lazy managed to do that."
After the two Secretaries left the scene, Elise closed her eyes and thought,
"So the Search for Terra Gloria has come this far. It was not a coincidence that we overheard Spica Nerius' voice from Digotz's room five days ago. This timing should be enough to achieve the happiest outcome. I have faith in everyone. Please, don't make unnecessary acceleration."
"The rest of the Guild shouldn't be affected. But Kirika, Harold….please be well."
(To be Continued)
Well, sorry for not updating in what, one year and half? I am having lots of free time due to COVID-19 social distancing, so might as well finish this chapter. The other chapter I teased at the end is still in the finishing process, don't worry. It will serve as a 'meanwhile' and a continuation of this chapter. If you follow me on Twitter, you know whose PoV it will have.
Anyway! Almost everyone involved in this part of SQ-verse is here. So, after this arc ends, I'll change the fic's structure so that it tells everyone's stories all at once. It's easier that way, and you can see traces of it in this chapter.
With that said, please keep yourself safe and healthy! 2020 still has 9 months remaining; we can get through this!