“What were you thinking?!”
Alright, I’ve done it.
“Do you even realize your situation?!”
There is no turning back now.
“Lynett, are you listening?!”
Vivian’s ringing voice forcefully pulled me out of my thoughts.
“Yes, I am.”
After accepting my challenge, Aoban left the refectory and as soon as he disappeared, I was dragged out, away from the growing commotion. We were now in a secluded place, not too far from the dormitories, and although I haven’t checked out of politeness, I’m pretty sure it’s been at least ten minutes that I’ve been listening to Vivian’s non-stop nagging. It feels like I’m being scolded by my mother, really. Once she finally seemed to have finished, she bit her cracked lips and buried her head in her arms, slowly shrinking. She looks ten times more worried now than she was when she realized she accepted Lucius’ duel.
“I think what you did was really cool,” Jalone’s hesitant voice broke the silence.
“Don’t encourage her!” Scolded Vivian.
I smiled wryly at her, trying to ease her worries.
“It’s just a duel, you know? Just like you and Lucius. It’s the same thing.”
“That’s why I’m mad at you!” The young girl stressed, her voice filled with both concern and anger. “You’re repeating my same stupid mistake! You got carried away by your emotion and signed your own death warrant! Besides, it’s not the same thing! You’re not fighting Lucius, your opponent is Aoban Whiteheart! He’s a swordsman, and one of the best!”
Yeah, yeah, brother is amazing, I get it.
“Vivian,” I called her out. “Just worry about your own duel, I’ll take care of mine.”
Her eyelids twitched at my unreasonable demand.
“Have you forgotten? I promised you that you would win,” I reminded her, “and I certainly intend to do the same. So have some faith in your friend.”
The young girl stayed silent for a few seconds, her eyes squinted, before a forced smile appeared on her face.
“That’s unfair of you. To use the friendship card.”
As Vivian let out a resigned sigh, Jalone suddenly butted in front of me.
“I have faith in you!” He exclaimed. “I’ll be rooting for you!”
A little surprised at first, I smiled at his enthusiasm.
“Thanks,” I patted his head.
The boy happily received my gratitude and Vivian finally let out a small chuckle, only Frost had yet to make a comment about this seemingly hopeless fight.
“Can you win?” He eventually spoke up.
I turned my attention to him. His arms crossed in front of him, he was looking at me stoically.
“I’ve already had a glimpse of your powers,” he continued. “I know you’re strong, much stronger than you look. But can you win against your brother?”
I couldn’t tell if he was worried about me or simply assessing my power as a teammate.
I tilted my head to the side.
“I can,” I nonchalantly responded.
Despite a very slight squint of his eyes, Frost’s expression remained unchanged.
“Aren’t you being overconfident?” He inquired. “You realize your opponent is a swordsman, right? No matter how skillful you are, as a mage, you are clearly at a disadvantage here.”
That would have been true for anyone else, but I’m me, so I’ll be fine. Since Frost only received a sigh from me as an answer, he continued.
“I know he’s your brother but… Do you really understand how strong he is? Have you ever even seen him fight seriously?”
“Have you ever seen me fight seriously?” I retorted with a slightly irritated tone.
Frost did not answer immediately. I could guess that he was recalling our little clash from the other day. By now, he probably understood that I was merely toying with him back then.
“What are your chances for this fight?” Frost finally asked, after remaining silent for a while.
His rigid eyes were giving me a hard stare.
I smirked, raising both my thumbs up.
“One hundred percent!”
Vivian and Jalone both gasped at my bold declaration. Frost, on the other hand, kept his composure. However, his expression softened a little. Whether he believed me or not, my assurance relieved him to some extent.
“Don’t let us down then,” he said, displaying a half smile. “We’re counting on you.”
“Why do you care?” I sneered. “Besides, it’s just a duel, it’s not a group fight. Whether I win or lose, it won’t affect you in any way.”
“It will,” the boy sighed, his facial muscles tensing up once again. “Our group’s image is already bad enough as it is. We have a reputation to build.”
I guess that’s true.
“So don’t you dare lose or I’m out of the team,” he added, hopefully jokingly.
Not that I intend to lose, though.
After somehow easing their mind, I parted ways with my teammates. It was getting late and the curfew was approaching, but since the dormitories were close, it didn’t take me long to return to my room. Thankfully, I didn’t come across a lot of people on my way back. Considering my brother’s reputation, the news of my duel with him surely spread around the school, so I didn’t really want any more judgmental stares. I had finally calmed down after all.
“You have some guts,” Nomi declared as soon as I entered the room.
She was looking at me with a smug face, her lips forming a full grin.
F***, she knows.
I tried to ignore her as I closed the door behind me and headed straight to my bed, but she had no intention of leaving me alone.
“I heard you challenged your brother to a duel,” she smirked, clearly amused by the situation.
“So what?” I sighed.
“Well, I can’t tell if you’re brave or just stupid!”
…Ok, maybe I’ll just ignore her completely.
“Hey, don’t be upset,” Nomi called out as she read my expression. “I’m on your side.”
“As if,” I grumbled. “I bet you can’t wait to see me bite the dust.”
“Like I said, I’m on your side,” she repeated. “I’m hoping for your victory.”
The young elf was displaying a large smile. It was hard to read her. I couldn’t tell if she was serious or simply mocking me. So far, she has only acted with hostility toward me, so it was difficult to believe in her sudden support.
“You think I can win?” I inquired, raising an eyebrow.
“Of course not.”
“I said I was on your side, but it doesn’t mean I think you can win,” the young elf shrugged. “I mean, you’re a mage, right? In a duel, you barely have any chance against a swordsman. And your opponent isn’t just any swordsman. Only an idiot would actually believe you can win this fight.”
“Then why are you on my side?”
Nomi gave me a meaningful look as a grin crept onto her face.
“Well, I’d give anything to see the great honor student, Aoban Whiteheart, defeated by his own sister. That would be quite a sight, don’t you think?”
Ah, I get it. She may not like me, but she dislikes my brother even more. What’s her problem, for real?
“So, here’s a tip to help you for the duel,” Nomi continued since she received no answer from me. “Your brother’s swordsmanship is quite exceptional, but it has a weakness.”
I frowned at her words, as she suddenly piqued my interest.
“His fighting style is exclusively offensive,” she explained. “He is terribly lacking when it comes to defense, so it’s not so hard to lay a hit on him. Just don’t let him attack first.”
That’s quite interesting, although I doubt it will really help me. But…
“How do you know that?” I asked, my eyes full of suspicion.
“I’ve sparred with him a few times,” the young elf casually revealed. “I just figured out that the best way to fight him was to not let him land one hit after another.”
My eyes squinted even further.
“You’ve sparred with him?”
“Yeah,” Nomi confirmed, “we’re in the same class.”
The same- wait…
“You took the swordsmanship major?”
The young elf nodded.
Ah… First a demi-human mage, now an elven swordswoman. What is the world coming to? I set different stats for each race for a reason. But if she’s in the same class as Aoban, then she must be in the advanced classes, right? Then it means she’s actually good at it?
As Nomi remained indifferent to my judgmental stare, I suddenly realized something. A swordswoman?
“Are you interested in the upcoming Tournament?” I asked.
The young elf didn’t answer. She simply frowned at the sudden change of subject instead.
“Would you like to-”
“You’re not going to ask me to join your team, are you?” Nomi cut me off.
“In case you’ve forgotten, let me remind you that I am not your friend,” she continued in a dry tone of voice. “Just because I’m supporting you in your duel, it doesn’t change a damn thing.”
Right. The usual disdain and arrogance in her attitude returned, her previous amiability vanishing in one instant. Well, at least, that’s the Nomi I know.
The smell is very subtle but the flavors are strong. The sweet and creamy aroma awakes my taste-buds as I let the warm drink sit on my tongue. The taste is rich and unique. It leaves an alluring sweetness in the mouth after each sip. This one is definitely much stronger than the one from yesterday.
“Do you not enjoy your tea?” I asked the young woman sitting next to me, as I take another sip.
“Mmh? Ah, no, it’s good,” Azariah responded after gathering her thoughts.
She’s been daydreaming a lot lately, completely unaware of her surroundings.
“Do you have something on your mind?”
The young elf remained silent for a while, staring blankly at her cup.
“I was just thinking about that boy,” she eventually explained. “We shouldn’t have let him go, after all.”
“Don’t worry too much about him,” I advised. “I told you I’ll take care of it. He should have arrived safely by now.”
“I hope so, but…”
She has a kind heart.
“If that’s not the case, we’ll know soon enough.”
Although that is very unlikely.
“But where is Yoko?” I tried to ease her mind, moving to another topic. “She was supposed to meet with us a long time ago.”
“Lady Yoko is in the mistress’ chambers,” the maid beside us answered.
“Would you like me to go pick her up?”
I sighed loudly.
“No, there is no need. It’s only a matter of time before she joins us anyway.”
Yoko has been more aggressive these past few days. Is she growing impatient? At this point, it’s just stalking, isn’t it?
“Is she going to be alright?” Azariah asked, her eyes tight, full of concern.
“She will,” I smiled gently at her. “Don’t worry about it.”
At that moment, a loud crash coming from upstairs resonated in the mansion.
And here we go again…
Suddenly, a swarm of servants started to rush back and forth in the hallway, running frantically, as the maid beside us tried not to pay attention to it.
“What is it this time?” I complained.
One of the servants, who had heard me, stopped at our side.
“We apologize for the commotion, we will deal with this immediately,” he bowed his head.
I feel sorry for them, always cleaning up after Yoko.
“What did she do?” I asked.
He seemed hesitant to reply.
“Well, Lady Yoko she… She replaced the mistress’ shampoo bottle with… glue.”
Oh, come on, Yoko. This is just childish.
I placed a palm across my face, letting out a loud sigh of dismay, as the two women at my side gasped in horror.
“The mistress,” the maid quavered. “D-Did she…?”
“She washed her hair with it,” the servant confirmed her unspoken thought. “She is furious.”
Wouldn’t be the first time.
Azariah suddenly got up from her seat.
“W-We need to find Lady Yoko!” She exclaimed, her face completely blanched.
“It’s alright,” I tried to reassure her, unsuccessfully.
“No, no, no, we need to find her before Lady Nora does or…!”
The rest of her sentence remained choked in her throat, but the fear on her face spoke for herself. Judging by their expressions, the servant and the maid shared her feelings.
At that moment, completely oblivious to the mood, Yoko entered the room. Ignoring the astonished servants staring at her, she carefreely came to join us, a proud smile on her face.
“You should have seen her face!” She boasted, letting herself fall into one of the seats.
“You are being so immature,” I complained in a low voice.
“Silly pranks like this are the best way to deal with people like her!” She bragged, a wide grin playing on her lips.
“A prank…?” Azariah mumbled, bewildered. “My Lady, do you realize what you’ve just done?!”
Yoko played dumb as she silently tilted her head, an innocent smile on her face.
“Lady Nora is especially sensitive when it comes to her hair!” The young elf explained in a panic. “Ever since she-!”
The loud sound of a door slamming interrupted her as the said-Lady barged into the room, followed by a couple hand-maids. Everyone froze in horror at her sight. Everyone except Yoko. As if she had been expecting her, the grin on her face spread larger.
“My Lady!” The servants quickly greeted her.
But the mistress of the house completely ignored them. Her eyes were set on Yoko and Yoko only. She stomped her way to us as the goddess at my side remained perfectly still in her seat, unimpressed.
“You!” She snarled, glaring furiously at Yoko.
“I like your hairstyle,” Yoko noted with a smile, clearly provoking her.
Her hair was a mess. Usually long and smooth, it was now unruly, all tangled up on her head, and vaguely resembling a bird’s nest. I must admit it, it is quite an amusing sight. However, beside Yoko, the others were completely frozen in fear, they clearly didn’t share this thought.
“Do you have a death wish?!” The little lady yelled. “To offend me in my own house, do you want to be hanged?! I do not care if you are a guest or a foreigner, I will not let this go!”
“Offend you? This is a misunderstanding, My Lady,” Yoko declared, purposely exaggerating her innocent act. “I would ne-ver~! I admit switching the two bottles was my mistake, but aren’t you also to blame for not explaining to the poor ignorant guest that I am which one was the shampoo bottle?”
“Explain?! What kind of idiot doesn’t tell the difference between shampoo and glue!”
“I know, right?” Yoko exclaimed as she clapped her hands. “Only an idiot would actually put glue in their hair!”
Ah… She’s not even trying to be subtle about her provocation.
“Don’t be so upset!” She continued, all smiles. “One shampoo or two, and I’m sure it’ll all come off! Just make sure to not confuse the two this time!”
The servants’ faces kept decomposing at each one of Yoko’s remarks as their mistress was boiling in anger.
“Don’t worry about it,” Yoko continued to tease, as she had no intention of stopping there. “It can’t be that bad! I’m sure that-”
As Yoko tried to reach the little lady’s hair with her hand, one of her handmaid suddenly butted in to shove her arm away. However, the swift movement also brushed her mistress’ head, causing her hair to fall off.
… Wait, what? Her hair fell off?
As I watched the big clump of hair on the ground in confusion, all the servants suddenly averted their eyes, cold sweat forming on their forehead. Then I saw the bare head of the little lady, and I understood.
“A wig…?” I mumbled.
The handmaid who caused the incident immediately collapsed on her knees.
“M-My apologizes, My Lady!!”
Her head sank to the floor, I could only imagine the face she was making. Fortunately for her, her mistress’ anger was not directed toward her. Or at least, not anymore as Yoko’s sudden burst of laughter broke the tense silence.
“What the hell? A wig? Hahahaha!” She didn’t even try to contain herself. “What are you, a grandma? Why in the world are you wearing a wig?”
The servants were growing nervous, seeing their mistress’ body shaking in rage. They could see the anger boiling as hot as lava in her system, ready to erupt at any time, and Yoko’s hysterical laughter didn’t help in calming her down.
“The mistress has a medical condition, this is no laughing matter!” One of the handmaids explained, trying to hush Yoko. “She was a victim of a malicious attack a while ago! The incident made her lose all her hair and ever since, she’s been under a lot of stress, making her unable to properly grow it back!”
However, her desperate attempt to ease Yoko’s fit of giggles was unsuccessful as the goddess simply laughed louder instead.
“Hahahaha, I’m sorry but, this is hilarious! Don’t you think?”
Judging by their expressions, they clearly don’t.
“A medical condition? You should have said so sooner!” She mocked. “This way, I could’ve have helped you properly glue it to your head!”
That was it. That was the final straw. Unable to withstand the humiliation any longer, Nora let the raging sea of anger inside her burst out in an action that she will soon enough regret forever. Completely red in the face and with fires of fury blazing from her eyes, she slammed her hand against Yoko’s face, shutting her down at once.
She’s done it now, huh.
“If it wasn’t for my brother, you would be dead!” She growled with a threatening tone.
You’re the one who’s dead, mortal. You fell into her trap.
Unaware of the situation that she just got herself into, the little lady stomped out of the room to vent out her remaining rage, followed by her panicked handmaids.
The atmosphere was now more tense than ever.
“A-Are you alright?” Azariah spoke up, as she was the first one to get a grip on herself.
Yoko did not respond. She was blankly looking at the door where the little lady just disappeared with wild eyes, as she silently brought a hand to her reddened cheek. Concerned about her lack of reaction, the young elf turned towards me.
“What should we do?” She asked with a small voice. “It wasn’t as bad as I thought, but… I think Lady Yoko is shocked!”
Of course she is. A mere mortal dared to lay a hand on her. That is not something she would ever tolerate but… This is also what she had been waiting for.
A noxious smile slowly crept onto her face as her eyes crinkled at the edge.
“Are you… Alright?” Azariah repeated, confused by her sudden change of expression.
But Yoko did not answer. She immediately turned her attention to me instead.
“Harri,” she called out. “You saw it, right?”
“Yeah, I saw.”
“She laid a hand on me, didn’t she?”
“Yeah, she did.”
Her grin widened, slowly revealing all her teeth.
“What does the First Rule says?” She asked rhetorically.
Absolute neutrality. Do not show favoritism to any mortals and do not take part in any of their affairs. We are mere observers. We shall only intervene when the balance of the world is at stake… or when an act of blasphemy has been committed.
“And what about Her rule?” Yoko continued, as she did not expect an answer.
Keep a low profile and do not attract any attention. But if anyone becomes openly hostile, fight back.
“So this is my go-ahead, huh?”
Her tail swaying back and forth behind her back in excitement, I could only feel sorry for that foolish lady. In a swift jump, Yoko got up from her seat and leaned toward me.
“You’re going to lose your bet you know?” She whispered in my ear.
Then, she gave me a meaningful look before heading to the door.
“Shouldn’t we go after her?” Azariah suggested, still worried. “She seems… shaken.”
“She’s fine, don’t mind her,” I told her as I got up in turn.
“Yes, there is something I need to take care of.”
Yoko has a point. At this rate, I’m probably going to lose our bet. I should probably also speed things up.
Now then, where can I find this ‘Uncle Jack’?
Synopsis: Somewhere in the universe, there was an altar. On it, laid a bloody eye as big as the sun itself. It burst with light and bathed the entire star system in red.
"The aura of an ancestral artifact!" Someone's voice rose in surprise.
The Great Galactic Era had begun.