So… I ended up being the one most surprised by that.
I was about to ask Blazer how he was going to deal with it, but he spoke up before I could, elaborating on his statement.
“We got some help from Miss Irene.”
All right, that did clear up most of the doubt I had. But wasn’t Irene herself supposed to be hindered by the same contract as well?
I’ll make sure to confirm that point some time later.
“That’s good to know… still, Idéa and Midors, huh… I know it’s reassuring and all to have University graduates in your team, but don’t you think it’s a bit too dangerous?”
“You have a point there. The Nation is bound to have an eye out for us – for how they ‘broke free,’ among other things.”
Blazer affirmed me of my concerns.
“Now, if something comes up over there, we’ll just deal with it ourselves. There’s no need to worry.”
“Look, Bruce… if we let this go, chances are-“
“We’re used to doing this, you know. It’s the usual business, just replace monsters with humans. That does mean we won’t get to power our way through, though. And you know, you’ve got… stuff… you need to do, right?”
Bruce took a glance at my side.
Man, I’ll admit… he really surprised me with his detection skills.
Footsteps echoed in from the entranceway, easing down the tense atmosphere in this room.
Perhaps this could be considered another improvement my pupil had achieved. She has become quite an excellent mood maker.
“I’m back! -Oh, Chief… and everyone’s here today?”
“Lina~! You wanna check out my fields?! Yeah, yeah?!”
“Welcome back, Lina!”
Lala and Natsu were the first ones to welcome Lina at the dining room’s door.
Reid and Mana followed with their greetings, but without being loud. Then Ryan and Reyna smiled at her.
Pochi put her front paws up in a celebrating pose… except she wasn’t looking at Lina, but rather at the tray of food that Itsuki was carrying in with her.
See if you can read my mind, doggo – what are you celebrating for? Lina’s return, or the food?
“Food is served!”
Once Natsu and Lala’s loud welcome-backing settled down, Lina looked back up and at me.
From the way she’d sounded, it seemed that she’d already known that I was back. I had planned to go see her at the Magic University if she was stuck there this late, but it looked like she’d hurried back here instead.
Well, I still had other plans to head out later either way, so it wasn’t like this was messing with my plans or anything.
“Welcome back, Sir Asley! Congratulations on your promotion!”
“…Thanks. And congratulations on reaching your Senior year, Lina.”
Lina bowed her head to me. From today on, she was finally in her last year at the Magic University.
Silence filled the room in the time before Lina raised her head up – silence save for a certain dog’s munching noises in between me and her.
“Hello? You know that I got promoted to Rank S as well, right, Lina?”
“Ah – s-sorry, Miss Betty! Congratulations to you as well!”
“C’mon, Betty, it just means she wasn’t worried whether you’d make it. Cut her some slack, yeah?”
“Yeah, sure, I’ll roll with that. Here, have a seat.”
Betty, who had been sitting next to me, stood up and pulled her chair off.
It seemed that she wanted Lina to sit here instead. Lina thanked her, and then came to stand next to me.
“Thank you, Miss Betty.”
“It’s fine, it’s fine. I do have some things to talk about with our new faces, you see~~”
Betty, having said that, proceeded to sit herself in between Adolf and Mana.
“Hmm… what do you mean by that?”
Lina turned to me, as if asking me specifically. I urged her to take her seat first, and then proceeded to explain to her the whole story so far.
By the time I got to the part where everyone had joined up with The Silver – from which Lina was greatly surprised by – everyone’s dinner was served. And so everyone settled down around the table, and as usual, offered a prayer to God. Our hearts grateful for all the food in front of us, we proceeded to partake in our meal.
Considering how every night, countless other households were offering prayers to the Devilkin instead… well, I really don’t want to think about it, to be honest.
“Is something the matter, Sir Asley?”
“Uh, well, nothing – oh, actually there’s one thing… so Tifa was sleeping in my room when I came back, you see. She immediately left when she woke up, though… do you happen to know what’s up with her?”
Arcane energy instantly filled the air of the dining room.
It was so intense that everyone – absolutely everyone – stopped eating. It wasn’t even hostile. Just… absurdly… turbulent.
I don’t understand why this would be the case, but… the source of that arcane energy was Lina, her glass cup beginning cracking in her tightening grip.
“So… Tifa was… in your room…”
Perhaps ‘great impact’ would be the appropriate word to describe it. It was enough to compel even Pochi to stop eating, after all.
All eyes were not on Lina, but on me… And Ryan, the only one here who seemed to still be calm, even showed a look of curiosity.
It’s like they’re stabbing me, man… who knew getting stared at could hurt so much?
“W-well, I mean… she did look pretty tired… so, yeah, she probably was tired!”
Why would I even say the same thing twice?!
I hadn’t even known that Tifa was in my room in the first place, so there was no way that I’d know the right thing to say, either!
Amid the cold stares, I totally forgot about the food as I, clueless as I was, chucked out one excuse after another.
Gah, I’ll say this now… Both mentally and physically, I’m pretty sure I’m the most exhausted man in the world right now.
It was so surprising how Lina’s arcane energy just never stopped coming. As far as being a mage is concerned, she’s a freaking genius.
That was the impression I’d gotten from her. Ryan very much appreciated how strong she had become, but Bruce had… expressed a slight bit of reservation.
After Lina had gotten back to her room, Bruce had said to me,
“Man! If she was actually angry, I bet she’d be scarier than even Betty.”
As one would expect, Bruce was promptly put out of commission by Betty’s triple combo, his knock-out solidified by Lala’s ten-count.
And if my excellent pupil were to be scarier than THAT… well, she would turn out to be quite fearsome indeed.
As we went on later into the night, the dining room grew quieter and quieter. Only six of us remained here now – me, Pochi, Ryan, Bruce, Blazer, and Tzar.
Betty had gone back to her room earlier because she had been put on breakfast duty tomorrow. As for Reid and Mana, they were planning to get some work from the Guild tomorrow.
Once everyone else was asleep, we started talking about the incidents that had been happening these past few days.
“So, Asley… do you happen to know something about the Assault Kobold with the black aura?”
“There isn’t quite enough information to work on, but I think that’s not black magecraft. It’s more likely some magic with applied effects of the Reverse-Soul discipline.”
“And what would that ‘Reverse-Soul’ be?”
“”Reverse-Soul… it is the taboo art of raising the dead. Those brought back are devoid of intelligence and logic, rendering them inhuman. We have only heard about them from anecdotes Ourselves.””
Tzar took the chance to answer Ryan’s question in detail.
“That’s messed up, man.”
“Sir Asley, what did you mean by its applied effects?”
“Contrary to its name, the Reverse-Soul never involved any actual reviving, you see. All it does is fill a vessel – in this case a dead body – with powerful arcane energy and control it with sustained magic. That IS a naturally occurring phenomenon, mind you.”
“Ah… you mean the Ghouls and Zombies and those kinds of monsters, Master?”
“Right. Those monsters are essentially dead bodies – be it human or otherwise – coming alive after coming in contact with arcane energy in the air. And by the ‘applied effect,’ I meant that it might have been used on a living target instead of a dead one.”
“Then what about the monster corpses that got their hearts gouged out?”
“”We were wondering the same. Could there be a plausible explanation for that, Sir Asley?””
“The Reverse-Soul in its original form is quite a dangerous branch of magic, you see… So much so that it could draw out every last point of the user’s arcane energy. Which is why I believe this particular user had used bodies of targets on the brink of death – or at least, not immediately dead. Theoretically, a barely-alive vessel would have some arcane energy left in them. The caster may have used those bodies’ residual arcane energy to feed that one Assault Kobold’s corpse instead.”
“I see… In short, the caster used the bodies of other monsters as substitutes in order to be on the safe side.”
I nodded in agreement with Ryan’s statement. At the same time, Bruce clicked his tongue, annoyed and unnerved.
“That thing’s no joke, man…”
“”Indeed. And so…””
“Considering the timing… ‘that man’ is a likely suspect.”
“The man who attacked my home… Cleath, was he now?”
“But why would he do that, sir? If the Reverse-Soul was performed on the spot, then that would mean Beilanea was his target… But in terms of the Kobold’s strength, wasn’t it just a bit below Rank A? Wouldn’t it make more sense for him to use some stronger monster?”
Bah, leave it to my Familiar to think up scary alternative scenarios.
She was right, though.
“I still don’t know what his motives are, but… it’s likely that his spell isn’t complete yet.”
“So that was… a test run, then? It would make sense that the Assault Kobold was already missing an arm, and that he used a C-ranked monster instead of something stronger.”
“Yes. Beilanea is full of personnel able to take down even monsters close to Rank A, after all. This way, it makes it easier to get rid of the evidence, too. Even if he failed, some adventurers will probably turn up to take care of things some time down the line.”
“”And this approach would not have worked out if he were to try it near the Royal Capital. Hmm…””
“But you know… if that spell is completed…”
“…Then it would be a big problem.”
Blazer’s words made the dining room fall into an even deeper silence than it already was.