“Hmm…! All right, no problem!”
Asley said to himself in the mirror while tapping his cheeks a few times.
“Hmm…! Hmm?! So fluffy!”
Pochi tried to imitate her Master, but found that her paws’ taps had a different effect.
After lacing up his boots, fastening the clasps securely, and putting on his mantle, Asley opened the door to his room.
He was now in the Fulbright mansion at Brunnera.
Three days ago, Asley and his crew had spent a night at the Royal Castle, and the following day, they had been guided to the audience chamber with the Holy Emperor.
This meeting between them had been considered the first time ever, for formality’s sake, but that did not change the fact that they were already acquainted. Holy Emperor Hudl had talked quite normally, and in turn, Asley had answered to him with confidence.
Empress Idïa and Prince Zaths had most definitely escaped, leaving no trace of their whereabouts, and the Reformist Faction rapidly lost their influence as a result.
“Do you think Leon is living well over there, sir?”
Pochi walked out into the hallway and looked out the window, while recalling the event.
“He should be fine… Kid’s pretty durable, you know. And by the way, did you see Master Bright and Lady Ferris’ reactions when I passed Leon over to the Emperor? Quite a sight, weren’t they?”
“I sure did see them, sir. Of course, they wouldn’t be able to hide their surprise even if they tried!”
Thinking back briefly to the happenings of the audience, Asley proceeded to also look up at the same sky as Pochi.
“Are preparations in order, Sir Poer?”
“Sir Alfred, please, just Poer is fine.”
Despite Asley’s insistence, Alfred, the Head Butler of the Fulbright household, shook his head and cast down his eyes.
“I’m afraid I cannot do that. As things stand now, Sir Poer, you are an important guest of House Fulbright. And above all else, you have saved the Holy Nation from the clutches of the Devilkin. My character is not so crooked as to not give credit where they are due.”
[Okay… so he’s got so high standards for other people because he’s just as demanding and strict on himself, huh? Looking at it this way, I’m actually starting to have a good opinion on this guy…]
“I never thought that praise would extend to me as well, sir! Now I can walk inside the mansion!”
Pochi practically celebrated in how she took step after step through the hallway.
Asley smiled, while thinking back to when Pochi had to come in and go out through the window.
“I simply am following Lady June’s orders. I would gladly assist in cleaning Shiro’s fur as well, if need be.”
“My fur surely would appreciate that, sir!”
[No, doggo, Sir Alfred didn’t mean what he’d said literally. Still, I never knew that Pochi’s fur could feel emotions on their own! Maybe I should collect some of them later… Hmm… and now that I think about it, it’s been quite a while since we last stayed in this place. We must’ve spent most of our time in this era over at the Adams house, huh?]
They walked down the stairs and went into the reception room, where Polco Adams and June Fulbright were sitting in wait for their arrival.
“I see you’re ready now, young Poer.”
“Yes, sir. And milady, thank you for letting us stay here yesterday. We’ve had a good day’s rest.”
“It’s the least I could do for our chosen ones, Sir Poer… ah, I mean… and to thank you for all you have done for me, of course.”
June hurriedly changed her statement mid-way, her cheeks turning a slight red.
Polco noticed the change in June’s emotions, but refrained from saying anything.
June shook her head, as if to get rid of something in it, and turned her facial expression back to that of a smile.
Both of them prompted Asley and Pochi to take a seat first, and after the latter two did so, they proceeded to sit down on the opposite sofa.
“I suppose I should hand this over while I have the chance…”
“What is it, sir?”
Asley opened the rolled-up parchment and scanned over its text contents.
“Oh, it’s the Limit Breakthrough magecraft formula…”
“Mm-hm. Just that would have been easily copied and given to you, but THIS, on the other hand, was hard to come by. It took me quite a while to obtain one.”
Polco placed an iridescent, albeit prominently blue-hued stone on the table. It was relatively small, being no bigger than an average clenched fist.
“Could this be… the fabled Philosopher’s Stone?!”
“That name is used as such by certain individuals. But no – this one is, in fact, a perfectly normal stone.”
[Certain individuals, huh? Some of the Elves, maybe?]
Asley now recalled that the one who had taught him of the Philosopher’s Stone’s existence was Tūs, an Elf.
“Then… a stone that reacts only to Limit Breakthrough, sir?”
Polco widened his eyes, surprised by Asley’s on-point guess.
“Indeed. Its true origin is yet unknown, but it acts as the counterpart to the Limit Breakthrough magecraft formula. You must place it in the center of the magecraft formula for it to function. The Adventurers’ Guild likely has at least a few in their possession as well, disguised as decorations, so as to keep them hidden from the unsuspecting.”
[Now that I think about it, whenever I used the Limit Breakthrough – be it at the Adventurers’ Guild and at Polco’s house – all I saw were Craft Circles. So the Philospher’s Stones were hidden in a nearby decoration piece, huh… Maybe the Adventurers’ Guild had theirs hidden under the Craft Circle or something. Polco said ‘place it in the center,’ but that didn’t specify how higher up or lower down it must be, after all. The Magecraft formula itself is nothing complicated, either… so looks like the medium through which it needs to be used is the rare thing here.]
Asley held up the Philosopher’s Stone, which constantly emitted a minuscule amount of arcane energy, and stared at it.
“We call it the Awakening Stone.”
“The Awakening Stone, huh…”
Asley muttered to himself, repeating June’s explanation.
“Apparently, this name was taken from an ancient legend.”
Pochi promptly turned to look at Asley, questioning how the latter had been unaware of such a legend despite how long he had lived. Naturally, Asley understood her doubt, but he simply shook his head, admitting that he knew nothing of the legend’s particulars.
At the same time, Polco looked up and started reciting the story,
Brave One with Red Wings departs, on the Journey to defeat the Devil King,
Overcoming many Lands and Trials, they stand against the Monster,
Burden of Future on both Shoulders, in the End they fall to the Earth,
Bathing in Glory of Success, the King’s Magic swept to the Wind,
Man’s trembling Souls lifted, their Celebration resounding,
Brave One with Red Wings, enlightened, emerges to Rescue,
Brave One with Red Wings, enlightened, strikes the King,
Brave One with Red Wings, enlightened, claims their Victory
“That’s more or less it. More of a fairy tale than a legend that actually happened, I suppose. The words may have distorted to time, but I hear there are similar stories all over the world.”
“Red wings… interesting. Could it mean that this ‘Brave One’ is not human? And an enlightened one, to boot. Then there’s the part where they fall, and stand up to face the Devil King again…?”
“Since they have wings, they might be a monster or a beast, sir!”
As Asley and Pochi pondered over the story, Polco and June chuckled dryly.
“Hehehehe… now, are you sure you want to keep them waiting?”
Reminded by Polco of their appointment, Asley hurried out of his seat.
“O-oh, no! ! They’ll kill us if we run late! C’mon, Shiro!”
“That doesn’t sound nice! Better brace yourself, Master!”
“What the-?! Don’t talk like you’re not in one this too!”
“But I’m not, sir! Not related to me at all!”
Pochi did the taunting googly eyes expression.
“SAY THAT AGAIN, FURBALLLLLL!”
Asley, taking offense, stretched Pochi’s cheeks out to the sides.
Both of them turned away from Polco and June, who stared in mute amazement at their carefree attitude; then they walked toward the reception room’s exit while arguing every step of the way.
“Oh, please take good care of Chappie for- OWOWOW?!”
“For us, milady! And please tell him that I’ll take care of Master- OWOWOW?!”
“No, there’s no need for that, really! Though, please do remind Master Bright and Lady Ferris to do their- gah?!”
“Their homework! They’ll get a big fat red stamp if they skip out- hah?!”
Even after they had gone out the door, and even past the gate, Asley and Pochi’s voices could still be heard from within the Fulbright mansion.
Polco smiled as he saw them off.
“Are you sure about this, Lady June?”
June did understand what that question meant to her, but…
She said nothing, cast down her eyes, and turned away from where the two had gone.
“….What are you talking about, sir?”
The way she acted suggested that she was listening to their voices, rather than looking at the empty space they once occupied.
Polco was of the same mind. He let out a short, quiet breath, and proceeded to do the same as June had.
Meanwhile, at the south gate of Brunnera…
An Elf sat with her arms crossed astride a crimson Ox, looking towards the Giants’ Passage.
A handsome man stood with his back leaned against the city wall, his golden hair swept by the dry wind.
“They’re LATE. I knew he was all talk…”
“No way – surely he’s up to snuff, what with all the things be’s been doing. Let’s wait a while longer.”
“Hmph, Lylia and I are all you need.”
“Bah… why’d you have to be so similar to your Master, eh, mister Familiar – oh?”
Giorno threw out a frank comment to Seki’teigyu, and then turned to look into the city behind him.
Lylia and Seki’teigyu noticed the subtle change in Giorno’s attitude, and were somewhat intrigued.
They heard voices coming from the distance.
Not the hustle and bustle of the city, but the clash of two specific voices that stood out among all of them.
“You fool, you fool, you fool! What happened to staying cool when leaving them, sir?! That wasn’t how we planned it at all! We didn’t even get to say goodbye properly!”
“I should be the one complaining! It’s because you botched it, you damn furball! Did you see Master Polco’s face?! Well, I didn’t!”
“Because I COULDN’T see it! You kept distracting me!”
“Well, I didn’t get to see Lady June’s face, sir! Now we’re even!”
“What the hell?! You’re the one who started it!”
“Okay, fine! But you’re not having dinner tonight!”
“You can’t do this to me! That’s abusive treatment!”
“Okay, fine! I won’t do that!”
“Okay, fine! But you’re not hav- wait…”
Seeing Asley and Pochi act as chaotic as ever, Giorno narrowed his eyes and scratched his head.
“Well well… those two sure are alike, aren’t they?”
“That foolish Master…”
“…And his stupid dog.”
Lylia and Seki’teigyu grumbled in unison.
Once again, they were headed for the city of Sodom.
As a group of four, they had headed out of there in the past, journeying north. Now they were heading south back there, as a group of five.
Seki’teigyu began walking slowly. Giorno followed close behind.
And running after them were Asley and Pochi.
“Anyway, Master! The faster the Devil King is taken care of, the better!”
“Aye-yup, good luck, doggo!”
“TOGETHER! No way in hell I’m gonna do this myself, you fool!”
“TOGETHER! Now you said it! No turning back, you furball!”
They had lived in relative peace in Brunnera for quite some time.
But just south of here, the road was full of turmoil and hardships.
From there was where Asley and Pochi’s journey to defeat the Devil King truly began.