Tifa was now out of breath. Her MP was about to run out – any second now.
Lina, on the other hand, was perfectly calm as she fended off Tifa attacks.
Yeah… it’s more or less a wrap at this point.
From my observation of Tifa’s moves, I could tell what she has been trying to do, but her output wasn’t following along with her thoughts.
That was what made it so easy for her opponent – in this case being Lina – to read her actions. I could tell that her plans were theoretically effective. She would go on to become quite a fearsome mage if she were able to act out the things she had been playing in her head, conversely speaking.
As for Lina, her fighting style said a lot about her character. Calm and calculating – reading, prediction, and preparation. She was strategically flexible and reacted well to formulaic battles, but that meant she likely would be vulnerable to those with tricky or unconventional approaches.
All right – for now, I suppose those are the challenges they ought to tackle.
“Okay, I’mma go stop them now.”
Bruce stood up and walked slowly toward the ongoing battle.
Nice timing on his part, as always. It was indeed about time that the match was called off, not to mention that the both of them still weren’t strong enough to take Bruce on.
That, and the guy has always been a great mediator.
“Yes, sir~~ I have to go stop the fight over there, right?”
“Yeah. I’m counting on you.”
Baladd… and a Cursed King Wolf Garm, huh…
“Ngh-! Pochi! How dare you interfere with our battle?! Hmph, I suppose I’m left with no other choice! Victory is yours – but just this once, Baladd!”
Pochi only stood between them, though…
If the information I’d seen with the Appraisal Glasses was true, then he’d been cursed into looking like that, but his personality was a different story.
Hmm, looks like things are going fine on Bruce’s side as well. The time now… should be around seven in the afternoon.
Lina has now regained composure, while Tifa was feeling disgruntled. This, too, was quite a nostalgic scene.
Bruce and Pochi were now keeping watch on the area while also training Lala. Not that they needed to, though, what with Baladd over there being more than enough to ward off all the monsters.
“Now, you two – I’ve got an approximate measure of your abilities. Next, please list out all the magecraft you can use on these papers.”
And so this… unconventional magic class extended into the night. But that’s fine – this always happened back in Faltown as well. Until they were done, I might as well deal with this-
“What is it, Asley? Being too friendly too soon, don’t you think?”
“Yeah, yeah, sorry. Look, I’d hate to interrupt you now, but come here for a second.”
I called Tarawo over while keeping my voice down, then led him a fair distance away from the rest before sitting down.
Tarawo followed suit, sitting down beside me. Seemed to be quite particular about the way he sat, too.
Dignified eyes gazing into the distance. Legs perfectly aligned and stretched. Mouth shut tight, showing no fangs.
No matter how I looked… that’s a Chihuahua.
“Now, what do you want? If you wanted to brush my fur, couldn’t you have done it just fine back there?”
“You… what were you doing before you became Tifa’s Familiar?”
“THAT was what you were curious about? Frankly, I don’t even want to think about it ever again.”
“Just try to.”
“Hmph, then promise me that you would add a piece of high-quality chicken breast meat to my meal tonight.”
Now that’s quite a cheap asking price.
“Very well. Prior to becoming Tifa’s Familiar, I have served under another Master. He… tricked me and initiated the contract without my knowledge.”
“You were in your true form back then?”
“But of course. I have lost my vast pool of arcane energy at that time, however. Perhaps the compelling force of the Lord and Retainer Contract was too powerful.”
“What about the time before you became the previous Master’s familiar? You still had your arcane energy?”
“I did have it. After the contract was signed, my powers gradually thinned down, and even my body started to weaken. It… took me a while to realize.”
I wonder what sort of contract could even bring down his statistics to THAT.
Well, he did say that he was tricked, so…
“How exactly were you ‘tricked’ by him?”
“Ngh – that’s… complicated. It can’t be that important, can it? Why don’t we just skip that detail over?”
A greatly humiliating story, I reckon. It seemed like Garms were quite prideful creatures…
“How about another piece of chicken?”
“Since you insisted so, I am left with no other choice. Listen well now-“
…Cheap pride, apparently.
“Damn that man – I get irritated just by recalling him. But perhaps I was partially at fault, what with me dropping everything and chowing down when he threw a hunk of salted-and-peppered meat in front of me. I wasn’t paying attention… and ended up nodding to the questioning part of the Lord and Retainer Contract’s invocation.”
A few pieces of chicken probably would have done the trick.
Anyways… now I get it. The Lord and Retainer Contract had been initiated with an underhanded method – by manipulating instinctual greed.
That was the key factor to the drop of his abilities.
“So what about your body?”
“This is probably the result of the contract that Tifa has forced on me.”
I started to ask, but Tarawo promptly shut his mouth tight. Then he glanced over at me, hinting at something he’s wanted to say.
…Ah, so that what you’re playing at. You clever little…
“Fine, another piece.”
“Fwahahaha! You have a good heart – and chest – Asley.”
Whatever even compelled Tarawo to praise my chest when he has something good to say about me?
“Back at the Thirsty Desert, my previous Master has enforced one last standby order when the contract was voided, you see. Then I met Tifa and begrudgingly formed a new Lord and Retainer Contract with her, under the condition that she would help me out of there.”
“What’s the specifics of that order?”
“If I remember correctly… it was to find myself another Master.”
“…Oh. So that’s it, huh…”
“Hmm? Did you figure something out?”
“Most of it, actually. Fixing that form of yours is going to be pretty difficult, though.”
The Lord and Retainer Contract was a special magic spell that called upon one’s instincts. It posed the symbolic question of ‘do you acknowledge your Master?’ to the Familiar candidate.
That process had been ignored not only once, but twice.
The first time was when he had been tricked by his former Master, the contract finalized by manipulation of greed.
The second time was with Tifa. As dictated by the previous Master’s standby order, this unwilling Lord and Retainer Contract wasn’t even supposed to go through, but the order had been bypassed with a great desire for survival. By ‘find another Master,’ it meant he was supposed to fully recognize the new Master-Familiar relationship dynamics. The act of ‘begrudgingly accepting his new Master as means of survival’ was what had cursed him.
Neither of those would have posed an issue if Tarawo had his wits about him, but his personality, misfortune, and excessive pride had served to influence him otherwise.
“Hmm, looks like I’ll need to think about it some more.”
“Asley! Can I return to my former form, my former powers?! If so, how?!”
“Calm down. I could brew up some medicine to temporarily turn you back, but it would also make your power-changing curse stronger. The only way to dispel the curse is that you have to wholeheartedly acknowledge that Tifa is your Master.”
“I do! I acknowledge her!”
“You can’t just say you do. It doesn’t work that way.”
“But why?! I don’t understand! WHY?!”
“You have to trust and understand your Master. Always consider what she wants and needs. Take for example the fight with Baladd just now – you should go to her without having to be called. That mindset will eventually lead to your arcane energy being released. But as things stand now, you’re not even willing to help even when you’re called over. Saying you acknowledge Tifa as your Master while acting like that won’t do anything to get rid of your curse.”
Tarawo was at his wit’s end here.
What I’d said might come off as harsh, but I wouldn’t be able to get my point through Tarawo’s wall of pride otherwise.
A long time was needed to build a relationship of mutual trust between any two entities. Tarawo still had a long way to go until he and Tifa were on the same page.
“I’ll be investigating the curse in more detail, too.”
“…I’m counting on you.”
Tarawo said in a barely audible whisper.
“Is something the matter, teacher?”
Tifa was standing behind us – I didn’t even realize when she’d gotten here.
I suppose I should have expected her, what with Tarawo being so loud just now.
“Ah, well… I was just talking with Tarawo here about his arcane energy and former appearance.”
“…Be careful not to cause Sir Asley too much trouble. Got it?”
Tifa, like a witch out of children’s picture books, gave Tarawo a cold, hard stare.
But despite how she acted upfront, perhaps she was in fact worried for Tarawo in her own way.
“Hmph, Asley was the one who approached me on this topic.”
“Just answer me. Did I make myself clear?”
On second thought… perhaps they simply weren’t on the same wavelength just yet.