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Thread: [Quest] Lostbelt Raising Project

  1. #381
    You Are Going to Brazil Wyvern's Avatar
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  2. #382
    後継者 Successor zikari8's Avatar
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    Year: 2018
    Location: Royal Quarters, Pinyang City

    “Umm, Starkad, is it okay if I ask you something else?” I timidly approach the giant.

    “What is it?” He responds coldly, but there doesn’t seem to be any rejection in his voice.

    “Well, to be honest, I am pretty curious about your relationship with Alisha. Would it be okay for me to ask you to elaborate on it?” I ask him anxiously.

    “… I don’t mind.” He blankly replies. “However, I’m not sure what to tell you. We are Master and Servant.”

    “That’s all?” I wonder.

    “What else is there?” He says.

    “Well… y’know, after 15 years, just being Master and Servant seems rather impersonal, doesn’t it?” I explain. “You’ve been with her since she was a kid, right? So, you’ve basically watched her grow up. I’d imagine it would’ve been rather unique to have a child as a Master…”

    “Not particularly. In my eyes, all humans seem like children.” He states, unmoved.

    “Ah, I see… well, that does seem like it’d be true.”

    Thinking about it, Starkad is a hero who lived for centuries. I guess to someone like him, there isn’t much difference between an 8-year-old and an 18-year-old; we’re all just babies in our rockers.

    “S-still, I’d think that having a Servant with you as a child would have a pretty heavy impact on your childhood. I mean, it’s gonna freak out the other kids if you have a giant old dude by your side at all times. Did Alisha’s friends mind your presence?” I question, full of curiosity.

    “Not really. To keep a low profile, I remained in spirit form for the most part. A giant walking around in modern society would cause more troubles than just scaring a few children.” Starkad calmly answers. “Also, she didn’t have any friends, so it didn’t really matter.”

    “Eh? She didn’t have friends?” I blink at the surprising statement.

    Suddenly, Starkad slowly turns his head towards me and shoots me his usual blank, cold stare.

    “Do you really believe that the Alisha you know is the type of person who would have had friends?” He asks seriously.

    “Uhh… well, when you put it like that… no, absolutely not.” I find myself answering.

    Certainly, there’s no way that human dumpster fire could maintain any normal friendships. Her very nature naturally turns people away.

    “She’s been like that since she was young too. No matter who it was, she would inevitably make them hate her and end up alone. In that sense, you could say that I was her only companion ever.” Starkad recounts solemnly.

    “Ahaha… it’s a little scary how easy that is to imagine.” I awkwardly chuckle.

    I mentally picture a little Alisha trying to chat with other kids her age and then naturally spewing all sorts of mean things until one of them cries and then they all run away from her, leaving her to play in the sandbox in tears by herself. Yup, that’s definitely what happened. And it’s only a little hilarious.

    “Man… I wonder how the hell she ended up like that. Is that what happens when you get spoiled rotten?” I think out loud.

    If I recall correctly, Alisha’s from some nice, fancy noble family. Her parents probably doted on her so much that she ended up with such an inflated ego and sense of entitlement that it can’t be scrubbed off even now. That’s my theory anyways.

    While I think about it half-jokingly, however, Starkad’s face grows slightly grimmer.

    “… well, a lot has happened to her.” He says after a heavy pause. “And it’s partially my fault. Since she had me by her side at all times, she wasn’t as pressured to make normal friends. And I guess I was also soft on her upbringing.”

    “Ah, no, no, I wasn’t trying to blame you or anyways. C’mon, there’s no need to beat yourself up about it. I mean, it’s Alisha. She was rotten to begin with, so those little factors probably didn’t have much impact anyways. She definitely would’ve been rightfully shunned and ended up alone for the rest of eternity either way. That’s girl’s not just trashy; she’s the whole damn garbage truck! Completely hopeless from day one.” I rant indignantly in order to comfort Starkad.

    To be honest, I was half expecting him to get mad at me for insulting his Master, but he surprisingly just nods.

    “Well, you’re not completely wrong…” He affirms pensively, before cracking a quarter smile. “Hm. The fact that you can say that brings me relief. I’m glad she at least got to become friends with you.”

    “Eh?” I nearly fall over from his abrupt claim. “F-friends? Us!? Umm, are you sure you’re not making some kind of mistake?”

    “She consistently refers to you as her best friend, though.” He states.

    “N-no, that’s just her being an idiot like always. We’re not friends at all. I mean, I totally hate her!” I proclaim while folding my arms stubbornly.

    “Even so, she likes you.” He boldly declares.

    “Oh, come on. There’s no way. She probably just means that she can tolerate me since—”

    “No. She likes you. I can guarantee it.” Starkad once more declares.

    “Gh!” I flinch a bit at his conviction.

    If he says it so firmly, I can’t really argue against it. I mean, Starkad would know best when it comes to his Master. And Alisha has already told me so upfront before, so there isn’t any good reason for me to deny it any further.

    “… then, why?” I wonder after some thinking. “Why does she even like me? I mean, looking objectively, I’m not very nice to her. All we’ve really ever done is get into fights and I’m very clear about how much I hate her. Shouldn’t she really dislike me?”

    “On the contrary, that’s probably why she does like you so much.” Starkad rebuts and sighs. “She… is fond of people who are mean to her.”

    “That’s… pretty weird.” I can only comment.

    “…”

    For another long moment, Starkad pauses and just looks out onto the distant cityscape as if peering into distant memories. Then, with immeasurable weight, his shoulders drop heavily.

    “Nice people scare her.” He mutters.

    “Huh? They scare her?” I repeat, confused.

    “That girl… still has trouble trusting people. Because of that, human kindness terrifies her. She’s afraid of the inevitable betrayal…” He explains somberly, as if each word sunk his heart further into the depths.

    “And that’s why she likes being mean?” I ask with a frown.

    “Indeed. Subconsciously. To her, it’s preferable to constantly second-guessing others…” Starkad nods.

    “… damn.” I curse under my breath.

    I see now. Combining that knowledge with my own observations, I’m finally starting to understand Alisha’s heart.

    That idiot girl is way too warped. I already knew this, but she really has no basic sense of social decency at all.

    Normally, when someone has trust issues, they become distant and jaded. They give other people the cold shoulder and refuse to let others in, out of fear of being hurt. But Alisha’s different. She’s a complete weirdo. Rather than being cold, she’s so warm that she burns everyone around her. Rather than keeping people away, she pulls them in super close until they see what an ugly person she is and run away. She gives people the chance to hurt her, in hopes of finding someone who won’t, but is surprised when she ends up hurting others instead.

    Delicacy. Tact. Civility. Those are the basic building blocks of social interaction. Conversation begins with considering the rules and taboos of society and proceeds by dancing around them. Most people inherently don’t want others to dislike them, so they avoid saying things that will hurt others or make themselves sound bad. Only by restraining our mouths and hiding away our ugliness are we able to tolerate each other and work together as a society.

    But Alisha Helstrom has no such filter. It’s not that she never had the chance to gain one. It’s that she’s personally thrown it away without ever looking back. For her, the ability to lie and hide one’s true thoughts is a dangerous weapon. As long as she doesn’t know how other people truly think, she can’t feel safe from the possibility of betrayal.

    That’s why she’s so blunt and inconsiderate. She doesn’t want other people to hide anything from her, so she herself doesn’t hide anything from others. She doesn’t lie and she doesn’t compromise. She displays– nay, flaunts everything she has to others, including her flaws and follies.

    Of course, if you act like that, it’s inevitable that you’ll hurt everyone around you and get shunned in turn. That’s the natural retribution for an asshole who just says whatever she wants.

    The problem is that she’s not immune to that either. She isn’t thick-skinned enough to roll with the punches and be content with isolation. If she was, she’d just be happy being alone and that’d be it. But deep down, she’s desperate for attention and affection. And she only knows one way to deal with that. Her desire for friends drives her to try being even more honest and open, which only serves to push even more people away and dig her further into her hole.

    It’s a continuous self-destructive cycle that has only one ending.

    Geez, what a mess. I can’t even pity her. She’s just a total trash can of a human. It’s no wonder she has no friends.

    “So what? She likes being insulted and treated like trash? Is she a masochist or something?” I spit out, feeling a little sick.

    “Hm… I wouldn’t say that. She’s a delicate lady too, you know.” Starkad muses.

    “What part of that goblin is supposed to delicate?” I audibly grimace.

    The day I start seeing Alisha as a woman is the day I officially check into the mental asylum.

    “Anyways, that’s why I’d be happy if you continue being good friends with her. As long as you’re honest about how much you dislike her, I’m sure she’ll continue to grow attached to you.” Starkad states in a rather fatherly tone.

    I do my best to hold back a groan. The thought of Alisha becoming more attached to me isn’t exactly appealing. Rather than becoming her friend, isn’t it more like I’m being saddled with being her caretaker?

    “W-well… I’m not sure what to say, but, if all you’re asking me to do is keep calling her out on her BS like before, I can do that.” I respond, awkwardly scratching the back of my head.

    “That’s good. I’m counting on you.” Starkad nods. “Please, never betray her trust in you.”

    “… of course, I won’t.” I mutter under my breath.

    It doesn’t matter if it’s Alisha or not. I don’t intend to betray anyone.

    Wise-up! Alisha's Status
    Affection Up!
    You understand the scar in Alisha's heart.
    “Um, anyways, I guess should thank you for telling me all that. It wasn’t really what I was expecting, but I guess it’s good to know.” I tell Starkad as it dawns on me just how much the two of us have talked.

    “Not a problem…” He nods coldly.

    I really wasn’t expecting him to be so talkative, since he’s usually so silent. I guess it’s just that Alisha’s so overbearing that she completely takes over when the two of them are together. Or maybe he just likes talking about Alisha.

    I feel like I’ve learned a lot about both of them as well as their relationship. Earlier, Starkad said that they were just Master and Servant. In a way, that’s pretty true, but if I were to liken it to something more normal… I guess I’d imagine something like a rich, young lady and the old butler who’s watched her grow up since she was a kid. A little fatherly, a little protective, very close, but still within the bounds of servitude.

    There’s no doubt, however, that these two have a bond stronger than blood. The care and knowledge of his Master that Starkad has shown just now are proof that they have something that no other Master and Servant can ever reach without a decade together.

    “Well, anyways, it was really nice talking to you, Starkad. We should talk more often.” I suggest nonchalantly, while preparing to call it a night and head back down.

    “… perhaps.” Starkad quietly agrees. “The truth is… I’ve actually also been wanting to talk to you. There just wasn’t really a chance to do so until now.”

    “Huh, really? What about?” I gasp, rather surprised.

    “It’s difficult to explain, but I could tell that there was something I needed to talk to you about. From the moment we met, I could see it in your eyes.” He states seriously.

    “In my eyes? What was it?” I wonder.

    With a heavy sigh, Starkad turns towards me slowly and peers down at me from above. An immense aura radiates from his stance and tone as he replies with intense gravity.

    “Guilt.”

    “… huh?”

    I’m stunned. Out of nowhere, I feel as if the air was knocked out from my lungs. In front of this literal giant, I suddenly feel smaller than ever before. So weak and fragile that a single wrong word would break me into pieces.

    “I can tell. I don’t know what it is, but you’ve done something horrible in the past, right? And that fact continues to weigh on you even now. You are filled with nothing but shame and regret.” Starkad states plainly as if it were the most obvious thing in the world.

    I’m at a loss for words, but he continues anyways.

    “It’s tough, isn’t it? You feel like you’re living on stolen time. You feel like you’re wearing a plastic shell and it’s suffocating. Every time someone does something nice for you, it feels like a thorn in your heart and you want to tell them to cut it out. Every time you catch yourself smiling, you feel nothing but disgust. Aren’t I right?” He says without any hesitation.

    “… stop it.” I mutter uncomfortably, but it’s ignored.

    “That’s why you put up the tough act. Why you push people away and try to avoid intimacy. You don’t want anyone to waste their lives on you. You think happiness is too heavy for you. You’re afraid that the light will melt you away. But even so, you lack the guts to actually be mean to others. You don’t actually want enemies or to be alone forever. In the end… you—”

    “I said stop it! Shut the fuck up!!” I burst, unable to contain myself.

    Out of nowhere, a blazing anger lights up within me. Raging like a storm, it quickly consumes my entire body and I’m yelling at the cold statue in front of me. Anymore and I’m sure I’ll start punching him, even if his body’s harder than steel.

    “Oi, don’t talk as if you know me. You don’t know anything. You don’t know the first thing about me. You don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about. I’m not like that at all, so don’t say stupid shit!” I shout out as if breathing fire.

    “…”

    Starkad remains silent, having shut up the moment I told him to, but his cold stare just spurs me further.

    “Don’t just assume whatever you want about me and push that on someone you barely even know. What basis do you even have for these dumb claims? Because you think I look guilty? Can you really tell that much from my eyes? Of course you can’t! You don’t know anything about what I’m going through. How could you possibly understand me, huh!?!?”

    “I killed her.”

    At that moment, like a small pylon blocking a charging truck, his single statement stops my entire flurry of rage.

    “… huh?” I blink blankly, unsure what he means, not sure if I even heard him correctly.

    “Alisha, that is. I murdered her.” He coolly states.

    That coldness immediately freezes me to the core. I’m too stupefied to even ask what he means, but he continues anyways.

    “It was our very first Holy Grail War together. Back then, the one who summoned me was a pathetic-looking little girl with neither skill nor talent. But she had plenty of moxie. Somehow or another, the two of us managed to defeat all the other Masters and Servants and claw our way to the Grail.” He recounts with a hint of nostalgia. Yet his tone is grim enough for a funeral.

    The expression on his face changes. From a blank, cold stare to a frown that seemed like his large mouth was being weighed down by heavy chains.

    “… you see, back when I was alive, I drew the ire of the Almighty God, Thor, and was cursed for it. He placed upon me an eternal, unquenchable greed… and the destiny to commit a heinous crime for every lifetime I lived…” He explains solemnly, the reluctance evident in every breath. “The moment we had won the war and reached the Holy Grail, a deep darkness suddenly loomed over me. The omnipotent wish-granting vessel was before my very eyes. The greatest treasure in the world was within reach of my hands. I wanted it. I wanted it more than anything. I wanted it all for myself. And then—”

    He shuts his eyes, bringing up the image buried deep within.

    “By the time I realized it, she was already hanging limply off the end of my spear. That tiny body that had been so full of energy just an instant ago was completely empty. I had literally stabbed her in the back and skewered her body in one strike. It was instant death.” He stated bluntly.

    His tone was so cold and objective, it felt like reading an obituary. And yet, the shame and regret in his voice was clearer than glass.

    “… so, what happened then?” I find myself asking.

    “Not much. As you can see, we’re both alive now. I used the Holy Grail to give her another chance at life.” He answers plainly, before sighing deeply. “But… no matter how much time passes, I will never forget what happened back then. I betrayed the Master who I had sworn to protect. I allowed my own greed to overcome everything else I held dear. I’m… the worst.”

    At that moment, for the first time since I ever met him, I saw weakness in Starkad. As he hangs his head and droops his shoulders, the invincible hero suddenly seems so… frail. So hollow.

    “… w-well, you know, you used your precious wish to bring her back to life, so it kind of cancels out. There was no permanent harm done, so it’s basically water under the bridge. No point beating yourself up over it…” I proclaim, trying to comfort him.

    He, however, just shakes his head.

    “I just told you that she has trouble trusting people. Whose fault do you think that is?” He asks sharply.

    “Ah…” I grimace as I put the pieces together.

    Back then, Alisha must’ve been an innocent little girl, too young to know better. She summoned a Servant and entrusted her back to him. Over the course of the war, they must’ve bonded and forged a strong sense of trust in each other. With nothing but enemies trying to kill her, she must’ve grown even more attached to the one person on her side. And then, at the very last moment, she was suddenly backstabbed and killed by her only ally. That would mess up anyone, much less a child…

    The one responsible for the unhealable scar in Alisha’s heart… is it the man standing in front of me?

    “E-even so… it’s not really your fault, right? I mean, you were cursed by a god. You couldn’t help it, could you?” I argue.

    “Do you really think I can accept that? Would you be able to forgive yourself with just that?” He retorts.

    “…” I quickly shut up.

    No, I wouldn’t be able to. Of course not. If it were me, I would never be able to forgive myself. No matter what anyone else says, it was my own greed that led me to do it and my own hand that killed her. That knowledge would haunt me for the rest of my life.

    “I can’t deny it at all. These fifteen years, I’ve had to live with what I’ve done to her. Every time I see her, I’m reminded of it. That… is my guilt.” He says, loaded with emotion.

    I don’t even need to hear anything else to picture how exactly those fifteen years must’ve been like. Living alongside the person who you’d wronged, a living reminder of everything you despise about yourself, I know it very well. Because I…

    “That’s why I can confidently say that I understand you. I know what you’re going through.” Starkad tells me with renewed meaning.

    “… I guess.” I reluctantly admit.

    For a moment, we turn silent as I awkwardly fidget about, still processing the gravity of what I had just learned. Before giving me time to think, Starkad smoothly turns back towards the edge of the roof and looks out to the city below.

    After a long pause, he suddenly speaks up again.

    “You know, after what happened, I felt so bad I couldn’t bear to see her. I didn’t want to confront her and what I had done. But, when we finally did come face-to-face after that, what do you think was her reaction?” He abruptly asked while still looking away.

    “Huh? Well… she was probably furious, right. I mean, you betrayed her. She probably wanted to wring your neck or something like.” I answer logically.

    “Hm. That’s what I thought too.” Starkad nods, before suddenly smiling wryly. “But… she wasn’t angry. Not at all. She didn’t even bring it up. She just… smiled at me like always.”

    “… well, knowing her, she was probably too dumb to even get angry properly.” I comment.

    “Perhaps. But even so… that smile saved me.” He says tenderly.

    Like that of a father remembering the first gift his daughter ever gave him, a broad, uncharacteristic smile of his appears on Starkad’s face.

    “I thought to myself, how can I be forgiven if you don’t blame me? But I eventually realized it didn’t matter. I didn’t need forgiveness, nor did I deserve it. I would just have to live with my sin and my guilt for the rest of eternity. I was able to accept what I had done.” He recounts warmly.

    “… so you decided to continue being her Servant from then on? Your guilt drove you to seek redemption by protecting her for the rest of your life, right?” I ask him gloomily.

    “Pfffffttt. Ahahahahaha!” He heartily laughs out of nowhere.

    “Eh? Wh-what’s so funny?” I ask, shocked.

    I had never seen Starkad make so much noise before. I didn’t even think he was capable of laughter, yet here he is bellowing like I had just pulled out the joke of the decade.

    “Hahaha, no, no, it’s nothing. It’s just that I had a feeling you would think that. I probably would in your shoes too.” He laughs, before calming down into a giant grin. “But you’re wrong. I don’t stay by her side out of guilt or pity. I do so because I like her. I care about her, so I want to protect her.”

    “Huh?” I’m actually surprised. I thought for sure my answer was what he was leading towards.

    “You see… at that time, I realized something important. Even after several centuries, I never figured it out, but the truth is that it’s no good to stay with someone for negative reasons.” Starkad declares confidently.

    “Pardon?” I cock an eyebrow, not sure what he’s talking about.

    “It’s just how the world works. Negativity cannot create positivity. You can’t make someone else happy by being sad. Guilt, regret, shame, pity, self-loathing, those things may drive you to want to do things for others that seem selfless and good, but the truth is they won’t be able to make anyone happy. All it does is make other people feel bad too.” He says so boldly, while pumping his fist, not a sliver of doubt within him. “Only positive emotions can create more positive emotions. That’s why it’s called sharing happiness. If you want to make someone happy, you have to be happy yourself.”

    “Make people happy… by being happy yourself…?” I repeat in disbelief.

    “That’s right. That’s the secret to life.” He nods assuredly. “In the end, the only person who can forgive you is yourself. You’ll never be able to get rid of the guilt that haunts you. But you shouldn’t let it control your life. If there’s someone you care about and want to make happy, then you need to make an effort to become happy for their sake. That’s what I needed to tell you.”

    Starkad places his giant hand on my shoulder. Instead of feeling heavy, though, it feels soft.

    “Alright. That’s all I wanted to say. Lecture’s over. I’ll leave the rest to you.” He declares, before quickly getting up to leave.

    “… um, thanks. I guess.” I remember to respond even in my daze.

    “You’re welcome. Good luck, young man.” He bids me farewell and then vanishes into spirit form, leaving me alone on the roof once more.

    Just like that he’s gone. Silence returns to the roof and I immediately crumble to the ground.

    “… only I can forgive myself… be happy for their sake…”

    Over and over, the numerous things I’ve learnt today race through my mind, faster than light, heavier than darkness. I bury my head into my knees as if trying to drown out the noise.

    “… dammit. I just… what am I supposed to do…?”

    The things I feel. The things I want to do. The things I need to do. I reflect on each one, piece by piece, desperately trying to untangle the mess in my mind and heart.

    In the end, I spend the rest of the night alone on the roof thinking long and hard…


    Wise-up! Servant Sheet acquired:
    Lancer - Starkad


  3. #383
    後継者 Successor zikari8's Avatar
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    Year: 2018

    Location: Royal Quarters, Pinyang City

    “…”

    Within melancholic silence, I take a sip of tea and blankly stare at the rippled reflection in the cup.

    It is the day after my date with Yingying and my talk with Starkad. Everyone else has cleared out to do their own things, leaving me alone to continue contemplating everything by my lonesome in the tearoom.

    Even after thinking all night long, I still don’t feel any closer to a satisfying answer.

    Starkad told me that I need to be happy in order to make others happy. What does he mean? What am I supposed to do with that knowledge?

    I mean… to begin with, I don’t deserve to be happy. I know that much for sure. It’s just not fair if I’m allowed to be happy. I’m determined to make sure that’s the case, but… if my happiness can make other people happy, would that be okay? Can I really become happy for the sake of others?

    No, what kind of dogshit is that!? Of course not. That’s just an excuse. Saying “I’m doing it for other people” is just an excuse to let myself gain the happiness I don’t deserve. I’d just be deluding myself into thinking I’m doing it for someone else, but the truth is I’d just be a piece of shit indulging himself in joy in spite of all he’s done. A villain who can party after a massacre is worse than scum.

    No, that’s also just an excuse. Am I really so stubborn to push that line of thought even if it just hurts the people around me? Saying I can’t do it because it’s not right, I’d just be dragging everyone else down to hell with me. Shouldn’t I do whatever it takes to protect others, even if it means drowning myself in the worst villainy?

    No, but that’s a dangerous mindset. If I think like that, I’ll become nothing more than a monster. As they say, the road to hell is paved in good intentions. If I only think about what sounds good and ignore the righteous path, I’ll end up becoming everything I hate.

    No, but that’s…

    No, but even so…

    No, but…

    “…………….tch.”

    Dueling thoughts clash within me and burst like fireworks. No matter how long I ruminate, the mess in my mind doesn’t feel any clearer.

    Frustrated, I take another sip of my tea, scalding hot enough to make my brain tingle. That sharp pain makes me feel a little better and I manage to take a calming breath.

    Right. Before I even think about whether it’s right or not, what am I even supposed to do? According to Starkad, I should become happy but… how do I do that? How does someone become happy?

    … I don’t know. I have no idea.

    I’ve never really thought about it before. I’ve never wanted to be happy, so I never considered it. In fact, is it even something people think about? I get the feeling most people don’t have a clear path to happiness, they just sort of follow their heart and go for things that make them happy. But… what about me? What makes me happy?

    Hobbies? I don’t have any.

    Interests? Not really.

    Possessions? Couldn’t care less.

    There’s nothing. I can’t think of anything off the top of my head that I want.

    Okay, well, maybe that’s too specific. Instead of thinking about what make me happy, perhaps I should recall points in my life where I was happy and reverse-engineer from there? So then, thinking along those lines, the happiest moment of my life is…

    That’s no good either. I can’t think of anything. All I can remember are the shameful first ten years and the gloomy ten years that follow. There’s not a single moment of happiness is any of them.

    There’s just nothing. No matter how I think about it, no matter how I look at it, there isn’t any happiness in my life. There’s nothing I like. There’s nothing I want. There’s nothing I’ve accomplished. Just 20 years of meaningless boredom…

    I’m… empty.

    “Um, dear?”

    Suddenly, a surprising voice cuts into my mind, parting the sea of thoughts swarming through me. I quickly recognize it as Yingying’s. I must’ve been so distracted thinking that I didn’t notice her approaching from behind me.

    “What is it, Yingying?” I casually ask as I turn around, quickly pushing aside all my troubles as to not worry anyone else.

    The moment I do, though, I’m immediately frozen stiff with shock.



    “… umm, what do you think?” She asks me nervously, but I’m far too stunned to even react.

    Before my very eyes, Yingying was wearing something I never ever expected to see. It was an off-shoulder, short skirt, navy blue French-style loose dress with white frills and an apron tied around the waist. In other words, what is commonly known as a maid uniform. And on top of that, a cat-ear headband and a cat tail were added on as accessories. It is, all together, a very surreal sight.

    “… eh? What’s going on?” I blurt out after I return to my senses, still completely dumbfounded.

    “Wh-what’s wrong, dear? Is something the matter?” Yingying stiffly replies.

    As she does so, though, she leans in closer to me, placing her quickly reddening face right in front of my eyes. Worse, because of the loose, open shoulder dress, the pose gives me an all-too close look at her cleavage.

    “W-w-woah! Hold on!” I yelp, leaping out of my seat before I see something I shouldn’t. “What’s up with those clothes!?”

    “O-oh dear, what are you talking about?” She replies with a suggestive smile, before straightening herself, brushing back her hair, and placing her hand on her hip to fully show off her curves. “Are you perhaps… excited, right now?”

    “No, I’m more confused than anything!” I retort incredulously.

    “Eh!? No way! You don’t like it!?” Yingying gasps.

    “Impossible!” Someone else yells out of nowhere.

    When I turn to the source, I randomly find Assassin peeping her head out of the bedroom door.



    “What the? How long have you been there!?” I yell out, more confused than ever.

    Before I can even make a move though, Yingying dashes towards her, her little cat tail flopping wildly behind her.

    “Assassin, it didn’t work!” She cries before jumping into Assassin’s chest.

    “Oh, there, there, it’s okay. It’s not your fault, Yingying. It’s all Master’s fault for being so dense.” Assassin says gently, while comforting Yingying.

    “I get the feeling that I’m being insulted for something that’s not my fault…” I remark doubtfully. “More importantly, what’s going on here? What’s with that outfit?”

    “Oh, Master. I’m disappointed in you. I thought that after yesterday’s date, you were finally ready for the next step, so I sent Yingying to seal the deal, but you’re still as obtuse as ever.” Assassin sighs. “Could it be as I thought? Do you really have no sex drive after all, Master?”

    “Huh, he doesn’t?” Yingying gasps, completely devoid of sarcasm.

    “Of course, I do! Don’t be stupid!” I retort.

    Don’t say idiotic jokes in front of Yingying. She’s too pure hearted; she’ll actually believe you.

    “Are you sure about that, Master? I mean, just look at your dull reaction. You have such a cutie in front of you and you still haven’t made a move.” Assassin cocks a brow doubtfully.

    “Th-that’s not related. I have my own reasons, okay?” I argue back, as I feel like I’ve done countless times.

    “Then explain this!” Assassin fires back energetically.

    Then, with a gentle motion, she has Yingying face me in full display. Once again, I’m treated to the full sight of the maid outfit-clad, cat ear-wearing Yingying. Not only was the outfit pretty cute, but the bare shoulders and thighs exposed was rather troublesome to not look at.

    “Look, Master! Look how gorgeous she is! A superbly beautiful girl! With perfect proportions! In a maid outfit! With cat ears! And she’s your wife! Who loves you dearly! If you call yourself a man, then you should’ve pushed her down and made love to her already!” She scolds me boldly.

    “Shut up. Even I want to do lewd things with Yingying too, okay?” I retort angrily.

    “Eh?”

    “Ah.”

    “Ara ara…”

    All three of us pause as we linger on what just slipped out of my mouth.

    “Uh, umm, no, that’s not… I didn’t mean that… I mean, I do, but not like, I don’t…” I fumble for words, quickly hiding my reddening face.

    Yingying also blushes and looks away out of consideration. The awkward air of embarrassment is thick enough to cut. That is, except for the shameless woman over here.

    “Ara ara, perhaps my intervention wasn’t necessary after all. It seems Master has been growing up a lot while I wasn’t looking.” She chuckles with a smug smirk.

    “Dammit, you bitch. That’s right, you’re not needed so get out of here!” I yell, chasing her away.

    “Ohohoho, then I shall make myself scarce. Have fun, you two~” Assassin beams as she flees into spirit form.

    Honestly, that woman must be bored out of her mind if she has enough time to mess around like this. I know her intentions are good, but still. If she keeps sending wave after wave like this, even I’ll falter eventually. Wait, no, that’s probably her plan. Clever girl.

    “Um, sorry about that, Yingying. Assassin forced you into this, right? I’ll lecture her later.” I apologize, turning to the bright red girl behind me.

    “Ah, no, it’s all right. I wanted to do it myself.” Yingying quickly replies. “If anything, I should apologize. I didn’t mean to make you angry or anything…”

    “Oh, no, no, I’m not angry at you. Not at all. It’s all Assassin’s fault anyways.” I swiftly assure her.

    “Well, um… that aside… do you not like it?” She asks, humbly motioning to her outfit.

    “Eh? Th-that’s…” I stutter while flustered.

    On her cue, I take a good up and down of the brand new clothes, taking in carefully not only the fabric itself but also the curves and lines behind them. Before I know it, I find myself gulping.

    “Uh, well, y’know… I guess they suit you so… yeah, I like them.” I answer, trying to do my best to hide any unsanitary thoughts I might have.

    “I see, that’s great!” Yingying beams innocently. “I’m glad. Assassin told me it would make you happy.”

    … huh?

    “Umm, then, if that’s all, I’ll go change back.” Yingying declares, heading back towards the bedroom.

    “W-wait, hold on for a second.” I hurriedly stop her at the last moment. “Um, sorry, could you repeat that? What did Assassin tell you?”

    “Hm? Well, after we noticed you seeming a little down last night, Assassin came to talk to me and gave me this outfit. She said that any man would be happy if their wife wore it for him, so I gave it a shot.” Yingying answers sincerely.

    “That’s…” I gasp a little in reply.

    An outfit that can make any man happy? Isn’t that exactly what I’m looking for right now? Could it be that his particular outfit has some clue that can help me figure out how to be happy? Assassin might be a mischievous slut, but her wisdom shouldn’t be underestimated. Isn’t it possible that she orchestrated this incident to give me some sort of clue?

    “Sorry, Yingying. If it’s okay with you, can you wear that outfit for a little bit longer? I’d like to… look at it for a bit.” I beg of her, desperately.

    “Huh? W-well, if you want me to, that’s fine…” Yingying agrees despite clear confusion.

    “Thank you. Then, um, please stand still for a second…” I bow my head and get to work.

    With a keen eye, I carefully observe Yingying, or rather the maid outfit she’s wearing. Making sure to not miss a single detail, I examine it closely from every angle for any clues it might hold to the question on my mind.

    I thought so earlier, but it is rather… well, exposing. Both the shoulders and the legs are on full display. The cut of the top is also rather low and loose, really showing off Yingying’s cleavage… If she’s not careful, the whole dress might even slip down, completely exposing her chest. In terms of sensuality, it’s not on the level of Yingying’s formal dress, but the frilly design has its own appeal too. I guess it’s a mix of cute and sexy rather than just one or the other.

    Ah, no, no, don’t get distracted. I need to figure out how this outfit is the key to happiness.

    “Hmm… say, Yingying. Do you know where this outfit came from? It’s different from this world’s fashion, right?” I decide to ask her.

    “Uh, well, I think Assassin made it herself. I saw her sewing at night once while you were sleeping.” Yingying answers.

    “When did she…” I mutter dubiously.

    Well, it’s not like I’m that surprised. I never saw it before, but it does kind of make sense that Assassin’s good at sewing. As long as it’s a domestic skill, she gives off the feeling that she’d be really good at it.

    But, if she did make it herself, isn’t there an even bigger chance that there’s some hidden clue inside this dress? Why else would she go out of the way of creating this ridiculous outfit?

    But what could it be? Do maids have something in particular to do with happiness?

    The role of a maid is, in essence, a domestic worker. They take care of stuff like cooking and cleaning… so then, does that mean those services are vital to happiness? Certainly, one’s life would be pretty sad if they couldn’t clean or cook. Having someone take care of those things for you does make your life substantially easier. Is that it?

    A good home means a good life! Is that the secret to happiness!?

    Hmmm… no, it doesn’t seem that simple. Am I too focused on the maid aspect? Certainly, I can’t ignore the other key piece: the cat ears and tail.

    What could cat-like accessories have to do with finding happiness? Well, certainly, there are people who like animals. Those who keep pets and dote on them could very well say that that’s what makes the happy. But is that all? It feels like there’s some deeper principle here that I’m missing.

    To begin with, cats might be nice, but superposing these features on a human… how does that fulfill the same purpose? Logically speaking, wouldn’t you rather just have a cat, than a person with cat ears? That discrepancy might be the key to figuring this out…

    “Umm, dear? You’re, um, really close…” Yingying’s voice suddenly breaks off my thoughts.

    When I return to reality, I quickly realize that I’m rather close to Yingying, having zoomed in to examine even the finest detail of the outfit.

    “Oh! S-sorry.” I immediately retreat a few steps back. “Umm, that’s enough. I think I’m done looking. Sorry about that.”

    “I-it’s fine.” Yingying replies rather bashfully, bringing a hand to her still rouge face. “I’m glad to see you have such an interest…”

    “R-right. In that case, would it be okay if I ask you a question? Did Assassin tell you anything else?” I question her, having come to the limit of my own thinking.

    “Assassin? Well… there were a few other pieces of advice she said would probably make you happy…” Yingying recalls.

    “Please tell me about them. In detail.” I urge her avidly.

    “W-well… um, she said that I could try adding nya to the end of my sentences.” Yingying recounts.

    Nya? Like the sound a cat makes? So, it does have something to do with cats after all. I knew it!

    “Please try it for me!” I ask her earnestly.

    “Eh? W-well, if you want me to…” Yingying agrees after some surprise. Then, bringing her hands up into a clawing motion, she purrs softly. “Is this okay, nya~? I’m your wife, Yingying, nya~”

    Guh! What’s this? Why did I suddenly feel a throbbing in my heart? Yingying’s cuteness suddenly rose by 13%!

    What a mysterious motion, despite its simplicity. There must certainly be some hidden power behind all of this.

    “Hmm… anything else?” I ask her after composing myself.

    “Well… as a last resort back up plan, she also taught me a little dance. She said it was her personal secret technique in the past.” Yingying explains.

    A secret technique? That’s certainly promising. If it’s something that Assassin used to use, it must be pretty amazing.

    “I’d… like to see it.”

    “O-okay. Then, here I go…”

    At my request, Yingying begins dancing.

    A minute later, I begin regretting asking her to do so. To put it bluntly, it was a very… titillating dance. Though the movements themselves weren’t very big or flashy, it put the dancer’s entire body to work through subtle, yet complex motions. And in doing so, it gave a very sensual impression. The rolling of Yingying’s body to the rhythm had no small effect on me and I was entranced before I knew it…

    No, wait! What am I doing? This isn’t the time for dirty thoughts. I’m supposed to be observing closely to figure out the secret to happiness. My intentions are completely pure. This is just for research!

    “Hm?”

    Suddenly, I notice something. As Yingying dances like Assassin taught her to, she’s beginning to sweat quite a bit. I guess those quick, agile movements must be rather taxing even for her. But more than any of that, if she keeps bouncing up and down and dances that vigorously in that loose dress, won’t it slip and—

    “H-hey! Yingying, watch out!” I cry out, as my fears come true – the maid outfit starting to slip down her upper body.

    I desperately dash towards her and press my hands towards her chest to catch the outfit from falling off at the last moment.

    “Phew… that was a close one…” I sigh in relief as I make it just in time, my hands tenderly supporting her chest…

    … wait, what? Now that I’m thinking about this rationally… aren’t I just groping her?

    “Kyaaaaaaaa!!” Yingying bellows and immediately strikes me with a chopping right.

    “Bleugh!” I’m instantly blown back by the blow and crumble to the floor.

    Ahh, my cheek feels like it’s on fire. How nostalgic. I’m immediately reminded of how Yingying and I first met…

    “Ah! D-dear, are you okay? I’m sorry, I attacked on reflex.” Yingying apologizes, rushing to my corpse while pulling up her clothes.

    “I-it’s fine… I’m… weirdly getting used to it.” I croak in response.

    Seeing that I was okay, Yingying quickly relaxes and helps me back up.

    “G-geez, dear, you’re so naughty… You shouldn’t do that during the day…” She mutters while blushing.

    Um, Miss Yingying? That line doesn’t sound very convincing when you have such a big smile on your face.

    “W-well, on that note, shall we call it a day? I think I’ve seen all I needed to.” I decided to suggest as I reflect on the burning pain in my cheek. “Thanks a lot for going along with me, Yingying.”

    “Ah, not at all.” She beams. “Then, I’ll go ahead and take a bath now. I’ve worked up quite a bit of a sweat…”

    With my permission, she heads over to the bathroom, before abruptly stopping short at the door.

    “Umm… actually, dear. The truth is, Assassin made more than one outfit for me to wear.” Yingying announces, looking back over her shoulder at me with quivering eyes. “If you’d like, perhaps I could wear them for you sometime later?”

    I see. Other outfits, huh? If there are ones, perhaps that’s why I couldn’t figure out the answer by only seeing one of them. Then, do I need to examine all the costumes before I can piece the puzzle together?

    “That’s… well, I would be grateful, if you would, I guess…” I respond awkwardly.

    “Great! Then it’s a promise.” She smiles before diving into the bathroom for good.

    And so, the two of us began our private cosplay viewing sessions. For some reason, I feel like I’m barking up the wrong tree, but I won’t know until I try.

    In the end, I was unable to uncover the secret of the Maid Uniform. What great mystery and salvation can lie within this strange garment? Could I find other clues in the other costumes that Assassin has made?

    I don’t know, but I won’t give up. My path to finding the meaning of happiness has only just begun!

    … by the way, they were really soft and bouncy…


    Choice!
    With new wisdom on your side, you continue to make progress in both your relationships and your preparations for the battle. As time marches on, what will you do next?
    1. Get marriage advice from Berserker
    2. Discuss battle strategies with Rider
    3. Get battle training from Alisha
    4. Ask Emperor Yao about this world’s mysteries

    Note: This will be your last choice among these options. Choose wisely.
    References
    Yingying's Maid Outfit - Ecchi


  4. #384
    死徒二十七祖 The Twenty Seven Dead Apostle Ancestors Bird of Hermes's Avatar
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    While good ol' Ben has had some good emotional development, the battle plan is the only front we haven't made progress on. That and we need to check in with Rider anyways.

    Let's go with 2

  5. #385
    You Are Going to Brazil Wyvern's Avatar
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    Yeah. This is our last choice and we to do some planning for the battle. So 2. it is.

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  9. #389
    後継者 Successor zikari8's Avatar
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    Year: 2018

    Location: Red Scarf Pirates Hideout, Level 1

    “Hello? Excuse me, is Rider here?”

    With a loud voice, I call out as I enter the hideout of the Red Scarf Pirates.

    It has been about a week since my date with Yingying and today I’ve come to visit Rider at her pirate hideout. Even though it’s called a hideout, it’s actually a rather conspicuous small housing complex on the outskirts of the capital. There’s enough space to house all of the Red Scarf Pirates and a few facilities for their use.

    In accordance to Rider’s demands, the Emperor had arranged a place for her pirates to stay and cleared out this building for her. I don’t know what it was being used for before or where the people who were originally living here went, but it’s just a show of the Emperor’s power to relocate an entire building of people with a single command. I have no doubts the previous inhabitants willingly and eagerly obeyed without any questions the moment the Emperor told them to move out.

    “Hmm, doesn’t seem like there’s a lot of people here, today.” Assassin comments as she peruses the seemingly empty hideout.

    “Well, it is the day. I’m sure most of them are busy.” I note before heading further into the hideout.

    After a bit of searching, we finally run into someone near the storage/armory area.

    “Hm? Ah, it’s Big Bro and Miss Assassin. What’s up?” Scarface, one of the pirates, greets us as he heads out the armory, holding multiple swords in his hands.

    “Yo. We’re looking for Rider. Is she here?” I greet and ask in one breath.

    “Big Sis? I think she’s at the Palace Training Grounds right now.” He answers.

    “Huh, really? We must’ve missed her.” I reflect.

    The Palace Training Grounds are in the city, so we ended up coming all the way out here for no reason. That said, I wonder what she’s doing there.

    “Well, thanks. We’ll look for here there, then.” I say to Scarface.

    “No problem, Big Bro!” Scarface enthusiastically replies, waving his numerous swords in a cheerful and very dangerous manner.

    “Woah! Careful with those. What are you even doing with all those swords?” I remark, quickly dodging back to avoid the onslaught of blades.

    “Hehehe, d’you wanna know?” Scarface chuckles for some reason. “Y’see, the other day, Big Sis told us all a story that gave me an idea. She told us about how one stick alone is easy to break, but three sticks at once are hard to break.”

    Oh, that’s the story of the Three Arrows. It’s a parable about the importance of working together. I guess, since arrows don’t exist in this world, Rider substituted regular sticks. It’s a simple lesson that even children can understand.

    “And that’s when I came to my genius idea! If you bundle things together, they become stronger, so what if I bundle a bunch of swords together? After I tie 9 swords together into one, I’ll be invincible in battle!!!” He exclaims wildly.

    … never mind, it seems there are some adults who can’t understand it at all.

    “Master…” Assassin mutters.

    “Don’t say anything… He’s trying his best…” I command with a sigh.

    I wish the pirate the best of luck on his new plan and bid him farewell with a salute.

    God speed you goddamn idiot, god speed…






    Year: 2018
    Location: Training Grounds, Pinyang City

    As Scarface indicated, we were able to find Rider at the Palace Training Grounds.

    What we hadn’t expected to find, though, was the scene unfolding before our eyes.

    Bang! Bang! Bang! Bang!

    Boom! Boom! Boom!

    The sounds of gunfire and thunder reverberate through the area as the two combatants dance through the battlefield. Bolts of lightning zip dangerously through the training grounds only to be returned with an oppressive gatling of gunfire. It’s an intense back and forth that immediately brings to mind images of artillery warfare.

    On one side, Rider, our familiar Queen of Pirates.

    On the other, Alisha and Starkad, the dynamic Master and Servant duo.

    For some reason, these two parties are now launching attacks at each other

    “What on earth is going on?” I wonder as the flashy spectacle unfolds in front of me.

    “Hmm, it seems like they’re sparring.” Assassin remarks, a lot less fazed than me.

    “Eh? Why?” I gasp.

    “Well, the other day, I do recall Rider mentioning that she wanted to know how strong the other Servants are, for strategizing purposes. When she said that to Berserker, he immediately ran away though, saying he was against barbarism.” Assassin recounts.

    “I guess that makes sense…” I nod.

    I suppose, as a strategist, you would want to know precisely how strong your units are. And what better way than to experience their abilities firsthand.

    Speaking of which, now that I think about it, I’ve never actually seen Alisha and Starkad fight before. I’ve witnessed Alisha’s abilities back in the Forest of Meat, but Starkad hasn’t gotten much action.

    Considering that, perhaps I should watch this battle carefully as well. I might be able to learn something…

    “Tch. You sure are a pesky little girl.” Rider groans as the battle rages, her beautiful cheongsam already caked in dirt.

    With a rifle in each hand, she unleashes a volley of bullets while swiftly circling around her prey from a distance. A rapid-fire barrage rains down on Alisha from several directions.

    But, without even flinching, Starkad positions himself in front of every attack, shielding his Master from the projectiles with his body. Even though he isn’t wearing any armor, he remains unhurt – the bullets literally bouncing off his skin.

    Strange. From what I remember, Rider’s gunfire was a lot stronger than this. The shot she used against Lancer on Level 4 was like a cannonball, but now they don’t seem too different from regular bullets. Is she exchanging power for rapid fire? Why? Those puny attacks won’t hurt Starkad no matter how many she fires.

    While I’m pondering such things, though, the situation suddenly changes.

    “All right, here we go, Starkad!” Alisha cheerfully calls out as she aims her wand at Rider. “Take this!
    Magical Archery, Series of Wind
    Sagitta Magica, Series Aerialis
    !”

    The magical energy concentrated on her wand bursts forth and numerous magical arrows soar forth. They curve past Starkad in front of Alisha and home in on Rider’s position.

    Rider quickly responds to the attack and aims her guns. With careful precision, she begins shooting down each arrow as it nears her, causing them to burst in mid-air.

    At the exact same moment, though, Starkad makes his move and lunges forward at Rider with his spear. The moment he gets close, he’ll smash her down and end the fight in one blow. However—

    “I don’t think so!” Rider shouts and quickly points one of her guns at Alisha.

    Before Starkad can even take a second step towards her, she sprays another flurry of bullets in his Master’s direction. Without any hesitation, the giant jumps back and blocks the barrage with his body, just before they reach his Master.

    “Darn it! That timing should’ve perfect.” Alisha pouts as her Servant returns to her side. It seems her plan failed.

    “Haah… hahaha, nice try, girlie. But it won’t be that easy to reach me with your sluggish spear.” Rider remarks with a cocky smirk.

    “Hah, you’re one to talk. No matter how many you shoot, your bullets aren’t going to get past Starkad.” Alisha fires back in a haughty tone.

    I see now. I more or less understand the battle situation.

    Normally, if you were to compare the two parties, it’s obvious that Alisha and Starkad should be way stronger. Starkad could easily crush Rider with a single attack. However, that’s only if he can manage to attack her.

    Right now, Rider is keeping her distance away from the range of Starkad’s spear and keeping him in place by harassing his Master. The moment Starkad goes to attack Rider, he’ll leave Alisha defenseless against the barrage of bullets. That’s likely also why Rider is using rapid fire rather than her bigger attacks, in order to increase her attack speed.

    Clever. Very clever. Even though she’s hopelessly outmatched in power, Rider is managing to force a stalemate by abusing the conditions of the fight.

    This is how the Queen of Pirates fights. This is how she survived and dominated the most cut-throat ocean in history.

    Relentlessly attacking the enemy weakness, perfectly controlling the spacing and timing of the fight to her advantage, and then ruthlessly striking down the opponent the moment they get impatient and overextend, she is able to even defeat enemies far stronger than her.

    —However, she isn’t the only person here who is intimately familiar with the Art of War.

    “Fine, then. I’ll do this the dirty way.” Alisha suddenly declares and brandishes her wand.

    “Hm!? Oh no, you don’t!” Rider quickly responds.

    Perhaps sensing something dangerous, she charges up two big blasts with the power of cannons and fires them at the female Master.

    But, of course, Starkad stands in front as always and takes the heavy blows without flinching. And the instant after, Alisha’s done charging up her own spell.

    Flee, one gust of wind. Windflower Dancing Dust
    Flet, une vente! Flans Saltatio Pulverea!


    With a flick of her wand, a powerful gust of wind surges forth and blows through the entire area. Though it isn’t strong enough to blow Rider away or do any damage, its wide range and force kick up the dirt and dust on the ground, covering the training grounds in a heavy dust cloud.

    “Kah, kah, dammit. A smokescreen?” Rider coughs as she reflexively moves to stop herself from inhaling any of the dirt in the air. Even then, though, she remains on guard and keeps her eyes peeled.

    To her, it was immediately obvious what Alisha’s plan was. While this smokescreen is up, Rider can’t aim at Alisha, which means that Starkad is finally free to attack.

    There’s no doubt about it. She won’t waste this opportunity. Before this smokescreen subsides, Starkad will come and land the finishing blow. So, then, Rider’s highest priority now is to survive until the dust cloud disappears. She needs to ready herself for a sudden attack and keep on guard for any sound or movement nearby. Above all, she can’t make any reckless movements.

    On the surface, it might seem like the best idea is to get out of the dust cloud as soon as possible so that she can see again, but that’s the trap. The moment she steps out of the dust cloud, she’ll get hit by an ambush. On the other hand, the fact that she can’t see inside this dust cloud also means that the enemy can’t see her. As long as she’s in here and keeps her presence to the minimum, the enemy can’t precisely target her. Which means, their next move is…

    Magical Archery, Series of Lightning
    Sagitta Magica, Series Fulguralis!


    Numerous bright magic arrows suddenly fly into the dust cloud – just as Rider predicted.

    Since the enemy can’t see her precise location, they’ll launch an attack with a large spread to lock her down. And immediately afterwards, Starkad will come to finish her off. But since Rider saw it coming, she was prepared to deal with it.

    She carefully dodges the spread shot of arrows by a hair and immediately points her gun at the direction that the arrows came from. Now that she saw where the arrows came from, she knows Alisha’s location. And the moment Starkad comes to attack her, Alisha will be defenseless. If Rider attacks at that instant, she’ll be able to finally land a hit on Alisha.

    Which attack will land first? Starkad’s spear or Rider’s bullet? That question will decide the battle.

    Or, at least, that’s what she thought.

    White Lightning
    Fulguratio Albicans
    !”

    “What!?”

    Out of nowhere, a large lightning bolt leaps forth and strikes everything in the vicinity. Not expecting it, her reaction was delayed, and she ended up taking it head on.

    “Guahh... Dammit…” Rider grimaces as she’s shaken up by the attack.

    It wasn’t strong enough to take her out, but its electric nature left her paralyzed for a few seconds. And in that brief interval, a magus girl closes the distance, having managed to make out Rider’s location by seeing her shadow in the bright flash of lightning. Not taking any chances, she carefully lines up her wand at point blank-range, practically poking her target with it’s chest with it.

    “Tch… clever girl.” Rider remarks helplessly.

    Windflower Disarmament
    "Flans Exarmatio."


    A sharp gust of wind bursts forth.

    And the battle is concluded.

    “… phew. It’s over.” I sigh in relief as I recognize the wind spell blasting through the dust cloud, followed by the sight of two rifles tumbling onto the ground.

    Exarmatio, a classic disarmament spell that strips the enemy of their weapon. In this case, it uses a sharp gust of wind to remove all the items attached to one’s body. If that lands and gets rid of Rider’s guns, it’s game over for her.

    Thanks to the wind spell, the dust cloud quickly disperses and the two figures within are visible once more. As I suspected, one of them is bent over weaponless, while the other stands triumphant with wand in hand, both of them covered in sweat and dirt, and—

    “Pfffffttttttttt!!”

    —And for some reason, both of them are stark naked.

    “You win this one, girl. You have my praise.” Rider states respectfully, straightening up her naked back after her defeat.

    “Hehehe, that’s right. I hope you understand now the difference in our levels.” Alisha proudly boasts, puffing out her currently bare chest.

    “I was careless. I was too focused on the Servant that I didn’t consider you would try to defeat me yourself.” Rider reflects with a heavy sigh, causing her exposed breasts to jiggle.

    “Well, it’s only natural to be wary of the biggest threat, considering the difference in power. No matter how cautious you are, you can’t keep track of every moving piece when you’re outnumbered. That’s the disadvantage of not having a Master by your side.” Alisha calmly analyzes, like a lecturer in a birthday suit. “In fact, that you were able to last so long despite the massive power gap is worthy of praise. I thought you were just a pretty Servant who got her legend just by flaunting those lumps of fat, but I guess not.”

    “Ufufu, and you, it seems, have more than just a foul mouth after all, girlie.” Rider fires back, proudly looking down at the nude girl beneath her.

    “Ha ha, says the mouth that wanted to test my strength and got handedly beaten.” Alisha snaps back with stark animosity.

    “Ufufufufu~”

    “Hahahaha!”

    “UFUFUFUFUFUFUFU~~”

    “HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!”

    “Stop laughing and put some clothes on, you idiots!!!”

    Full of indignant embarrassment, I run up and bonk them both straight to shameless jail.






    Year: 2018
    Location: Training Grounds, Pinyang City

    “So, what was it you wanted to talk to me about, boy?”

    Taking a seat at the end of the training ground, Rider asks me such with a nonchalant attitude. She’s fully clothed again, having just materialized more clothes with magical energy.

    As for the idiot girl who put too much power into her disarming spell to the point that it not only removed weapons but also clothes, she went to wash off the sweat and dirt at the training grounds shower while Assassin went to get her another pair of clothes.

    “Right, I wanted to give this to you. It’s a report from the Emperor’s court. It seems they’ve finally decided on some details about the upcoming battle, like the designated battlefield and what not.” I answer and hand Rider the file I had brought with me.

    “Ah, good. This information will help a lot.” Rider thanks me and then immediately digs into the file.

    It’s somewhat amazing how quickly she can turn serious. Is that an ability acquired by sailing on the sea of pirates? She always looks so feminine and sexy, but her attitude is so tough and manly. I honestly find it quite charming.

    Anyways, regarding the reports, I had a look earlier, but I’m no tactician so most of it went over my head. In simplified summary though, it dictates as follows:

    The day of the battle is set for about four weeks from now (exact date to vary based on the condition of the war and preparations).

    The location of the battle has been chosen beforehand to be a medium-sized city on Level 5. Since it’s underground, there naturally aren’t any nice open plans to fight on; just a bunch of city-size enclosures connected by tunnels. Besides the small lightning raids that are occurring right now, in order for a large-scale battle to happen, it has to take place in a city.

    As for the city itself, it’s a rather standard, cramped affair. Rectangular in shape, there’s one big main road cutting through the city and then small narrow rounds in between buildings elsewhere. And, as always, the buildings themselves are rather tall in order to make use of as much space as possible.

    Just before the battle, the citizens in the city will be evacuated and then the demon army lured in. Once they’re in, the barrier will be erected, trapping the enemy forces inside and beginning the all-out battle.

    Beyond those details, the battle strategy is open to our party’s input.

    “Hmm~ well, it’s not bad. Given what they have to work with, it fulfills are the basic conditions.” Rider comments critically as she reads through it.

    “Do you have any ideas for our battle strategy?” I ask her, anticipating some wise advice.

    “Hm~ There isn’t much complicated stuff to talk about in this kind of fight. There isn’t anything to protect or invade; it’s just an annihilation match to wipe out the enemy forces. For the most part, the demonic beasts lack intelligence, so they won’t be rolling out any complex strategies of their own. In that case, all that needs be considered is the best way to kill as many as possible.” Rider states coldly.

    “… mn.” I squirm a little in the face of her indifferent tone.

    I know that’s how it is but talking about death and war so emotionlessly still makes me feel a little uncomforting. I know we’re just fighting mindless demons, but the very words themselves make me want to squeal.

    “What’s wrong?” Rider abruptly asks, noticing my sudden quietness.

    “Ah. It’s nothing. Just thinking.” I quickly deflect. “Anyways, what do you think about the deployment of our forces? Even if we’re just wiping them out, we need to also protect the magi casting the barrier spell.”

    I point to one point on the map where the magi will be positioned while they maintain the grand barrier spell.

    “Hm… Is there any way we can move them further back? I’d like them as far from the battlefield as possible.” Rider asks.

    “Unfortunately, it seems like that’s the furthest back they can go while still maintain the barrier across the whole city. The barrier needs to be really strong, so their range is limited.” I explain. “If they get attacked while they’re casting, the barrier will break and the whole plan’s in dust, so we need to protect them at all costs.”

    “… and how much control of the imperial army troops will we have on the battlefield?” Rider questions, clearly thinking deeply about something.

    “Uh… well, their military seems pretty strict, so I don’t know if they’ll listen to outsiders… Ah, wait, now that I think about it…” I suddenly remember. “The Emperor gave me a sort of badge thing. Apparently, the soldiers will listen to my command as long as I show it to them.”

    “Oh my~ that’s useful.” Rider whistles.

    She flips through the report one more time, concentrating so hard that I didn’t dare interrupt her, before nodding to herself in satisfaction.

    “Okay~ Let’s keep it simple. We’ll block off the side streets and funnel the army down the main street where we’ll position our main forces: the big oaf, the girlie, and me along with the imperial army’s main company. The big oaf will be the vanguard, and the girl and I will give him ranged support fire. The army will protect us in case any of the demons get past that wall of muscle.” Rider dictates in a half-serious tone.

    “Eh? Will it be okay for Starkad to be out in front my himself? Even if they’re just minor demons, with their numbers, they could swarm him.” I point out.

    “Ufufu~ I see, you don’t know. It seems that big guy’s got special tough skin which absorbs attacks. As long as they’re weaklings, it won’t matter how many of them there are.” Rider rebuts.

    Huh, it seems that Starkad has some special defensive skill. If that’s the case, it’ll be nice if he can hold off the entire demonic army by himself…

    Wise-up! Lancer's Status
    Giant’s Shell: B
    The tough shell of the Ancient Giants. It is able to absorb the energy from attacks and convert it to magical energy, negating any damage. If the attack exceeds his absorption limit, based on the rank of the attack, he will be unable to convert the energy and will take full damage.
    At this rank, he is able to absorb all attacks C-rank or below. Through years of special training, he is now able to also siphon the magical energy from this Skill to his Master.
    “What about the other Servants then? If they aren’t on the frontlines, how shall we deploy them?” I ask.

    “We can put the lecher on defense, protecting the magi. He has a little fighting power so he can deal with a few demonic beasts if they manage to get past our fortifications. Oh, and we’ll put Assassin with him to keep him in check, just in case. She’d be dead weight anywhere else.” Rider coldly declares.

    “Well, you’re not wrong…” I’m forced to admit.

    “As for you and Saber, you’re on standby. Out of all of us, Saber has the highest mobility so she can get across the city faster than anyone else. If any unforeseen problems happen, you two are in charge of getting there and dealing with it as fast as possible.” She commands.

    “I see… well, I don’t really have any complaints.” I nod along to her firm orders.

    It was less of strategy and more just placing each unit in its most effective role. As Rider said, there isn’t any need for anything complex. Everyone just has to do their best and we’ll pull through together.

    “However, Rider, this is all under the assumption we’re just fighting Demonic Beasts. What about when Servants appear?” I bring up keenly.

    My mind immediately wanders to the person Berserker told us about: the raven-haired woman who seems to be leading the Demon Army. Though we don’t know for sure, I’d bet good money on her being a Servant. Even if not, we won’t win without dealing with her.

    And who knows if there are other Servants within the army as well. Worst case scenario, we may have to fight several enemy Servants.

    “As I said, you’ll be in charge of dealing with any problems. So, if a Servant shows up, you and Saber should rush to fight them.” Rider answers without hesitation. “We’ll make further calls on the field depending on the situation. If things are tough, I’ll probably send the girlie and the giant your way for backup.”

    “But then only you and the imperial army will be there to fight the demonic beasts.” I remark with clear concern.

    “It’s fine. It just means the army will have to head in and be the vanguard. A lot of them will die but… that’s war.” She says, coldly.

    Once more, I feel a shiver and gulp unconsciously.

    That’s right. This time around, people are going to die. It’s inevitable. Rider’s strategy takes the brunt of the violence away from the army, but once the enemy Servants show up, they’ll have to fight the demonic beasts head on. And a lot of them will die.

    I… I’m still not able to just accept that casually. I guess that makes me a shitty leader and Master.

    “Hm?”

    Just as I try to pull myself from sulking, I look up and notice Rider also seeming glum.

    “Hey, what’s wrong? You look troubled.” I comment.

    The moment my voice reaches her, she flinches for a second before glancing at me with her sly eyes. Yet behind that serpentine gaze was a hint of pensiveness.

    “… hm, if you’re noticing it of all people, I must be out of it.” Rider sighs.

    “Oi, what’s that supposed to mean? I get the feeling you’re mocking me.” I bark back.

    “Ufufu~ Whatever could give you that impression?” She laughs, but it’s plainly hollow.

    After another pause where I wonder if I should say something, she sighs once more and speaks up.

    “Yes, indeed. I am… a little perplexed about a certain conundrum.” She admits reluctantly. “To tell the truth, I’ve been debating the past few days whether I should bring my boys with me to the battle.”

    “Ah…” I gasp, immediately understanding her dilemma.

    She’s wondering whether or not to have the Red Scarf Pirates join the fight.

    Rider’s power increases drastically when her men are around, so it’d be certainly useful. But at the same time, as we just said, a lot of people are going to die. The pirates won’t be an exception. If anything, with their lack of formal training, they may be killed off even easier than a standard soldier.

    “…”

    “…”

    Both of us bask in a tense silence as the question looms over us.

    What should Rider do?

    Choice!
    You are discussing the upcoming battle with Rider and have come to a question that has left her greatly troubles. Should she bring the Red Scarf Pirates with her to the battlefield? How should you respond?

    1. She should bring them with her
    2. She should leave them behind
    3. No opinion
    4. Write-In


  10. #390
    4. Have the Red Scarves on standby, maybe with Zerker to help protect the mages

  11. #391
    屍鬼 Ghoul
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    4. Ask the Red Scarves what they would want. Where do they want to be, with Rider, or placed somewhere else?

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    Your average angst/edge supplier BnEl15's Avatar
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    Siding with Alax's 4 here. We also have a few weeks to give them some basic training.

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    1. People die in the war, people also die if they lose the war. Having more boys means increasing their chance of survival.

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    1. We need all the manpower we can get.

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  16. #396
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    If it's any consolation, they are of the few who lived a life not dictated by this Lostbelt's law - - dying free, in a sense.
    Fight well, you glorious bastards.
    The Act of dozing off in the afternoon is a luxury indeed.
    Coffee would be nice, though.

    [Collection of my Servant Sheets]
    Now Revamped!

  17. #397
    後継者 Successor zikari8's Avatar
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    Year: 2018

    Location: Training Grounds, Pinyang City

    “I think you should bring them.”

    Calmly and firmly, I tell Rider what I think.

    “Hm? Are you sure?” Rider questions, seemingly taken aback by my strong answer.

    “Yeah, I’m certain. I’m pretty sure that’s what they would want too.” I nod. “You should know better than anyone that those guys would want to be able to fight by your side, no matter what.”

    “That’s…” Rider pauses for a moment in contemplation.

    “They said it back on Level 2, didn’t they? That they would follow you for the rest of their lives. That they were willing to give their lives for you. If that’s the case, I think it’d be wrong to hold them back out of a misguided desire to protect them.” I argue firmly.

    “… yeah, you’re right.” Rider nods with a half-smile.

    That’s what it comes down to. Sure, having them around would increase our manpower considerably, but the main point is what they want. There’s no doubt that being able to fight and die for their Big Sis would bring them far more happiness than staying behind, unable to do anything for her.

    “Heh, how silly of me to even hesitate. I must be getting soft.” Rider scoffs.

    “Well, I think that softness is good too. It shows you really do care about them; I’m sure that’d make them happy as well.” I beam.

    “Mn… hmph, don’t think you can tease about it, unless you want your other arm to be unusable again.” She pouts.

    “Ah, then, I’ll pass. For now, I’ll just enjoy how cute your pouting is.” I chuckle a little.

    “Ara~ it seems you do want another bullet hole, after all. Calling me cute is off limits too.” She glares.

    “Geh! S-sorry. I’ll stop, I promise.” I quickly surrender.

    I really should be careful not to push Rider’s buttons too much. She is still pretty dangerous.

    Honestly speaking, though, I’m pretty glad that Rider was able to ask me about this. She’s always so strong that it feels like she has everything together, but even she has things she worries about after all. If she can share some of those worries with me, that would make me glad.

    I really do want to be able to help her. I really do want her to be happy.

    Wise-up! Demonic Rider's Status
    Affection Up!
    You are someone Rider feels comfortable confiding in.







    Year: 2018
    Location: Training Grounds, Pinyang City

    “Yo! I am the back!”

    “I’ve returned. I also brought lunch too so we can all eat together.”

    Just after Rider and I finish our strategy meeting, Alisha and Assassin finally return and all of us begin having lunch together. Huddled around in a small circle at the edge of the training grounds, we enjoy a little banter as we happily dig into Assassin’s lunch boxes.

    Suddenly, though, the peace is disturbed as Alisha abruptly perks up with a cat-killing curiosity.

    “By the way, Rider, I’ve been wondering… do you have a gekirin?” Alisha suddenly asks.

    “Hm~ I wonder~” Rider slyly answers. “Frankly, I don’t actually know myself.”

    “Huh? Wait, what’s that?” I can’t help but ask.

    Completely clueless, I turn to the ever-reliable Assassin for help.

    “Well, Master, in eastern legends, it is said that dragons all have a scale somewhere on their body that grows backwards, usually below its throat. If you touch that scale, the dragon will enter a state of rage and probably kill you.” Assassin explains.

    “Huh. I had no idea.” I admit, attentively listening.

    “The term actually comes from an essay by Han Fei. I don’t remember the exact quote, but to paraphrase, he uses it as a metaphor about people having pet peeves or trigger topics that they don’t want to be stepped on. He warns that, in order to persuade someone, you must be very careful about not touching their so-called gekirin. In essence, a dragon’s gekirin is basically a landmine that should never be touched.” Assassin concludes with the grace of a wise lecturer.

    “Its rare, but I’ve heard rumors of magi with dragon-blood manifesting one as well as Servants with draconic attributes. It seems that there are cases where touching the gekirin puts the dragon in a state different from sheer rage too. Like one who becomes cold and tyrannical when you touch it, or one who enters a state of panicked frenzy. It’s quite the discussed topic in certain circles.” Alisha adds eagerly.

    “I see, I see…” I nod along, completely enthralled.

    To be honest, I’m actually quite interested in the topic.

    I don’t think about it too much, but it is true that Rider has the attributes of a dragon now, due to the distortion of her Saint Graph. That phenomenon itself interests me, so I’m also curious if she adopted those physiological attributes as well. If so, it could have a lot of implications about how the distortion works.

    “Umm… Rider, to be honest, I’m rather curious about this as well. For the sake of research, would you mind if we found out if you had one…?” I nervously ask the dragon lady sitting across from me.

    “Ufufu~ Oh, boy, I don’t mind at all.” Rider responds with a bright smile.

    Oh, phew, Assassin’s story made me think she wouldn’t like it, but it seems she’s okay with the idea.

    “But just know that, if you ever touch it, I’m not responsible for what’ll happen to you, okay~” Rider beams.

    Never mind, she minds! She really minds! She’ll be super mad if I try and find her gekirin!

    But I’m so curious. Having her turn me down just made me even more curious. I want to find out. I want to touch it. I want to see what happens when I touch it.

    Even if I do touch it a bit, Rider won’t be that angry… would she?

    “Master… why do I get the feeling you’re planning something bad?” Assassin whispers to me with a sharp glare.

    “Guh! I-I don’t know what you’re talking about…” I quickly look away.

    Assassin must have caught onto my dirty desires and is pre-emptively disapproving my mischeviousness. But even so, I can’t get it out of my head. The morbid curiosity is eating away at me. I don’t think I can rest without finding out. I want to see what Rider is like when her gekirin is touched!

    What should I do?

    Choice!
    You have learned about the gekirin, the dragon’s reverse scale, and have become incredibly curious about Rider’s. What will you do?

    1. Touch her gekirin
    2. Restrain yourself
    3. Write-In


  18. #398
    屍鬼 Ghoul
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    1. TOUCH IT

  19. #399
    Your average angst/edge supplier BnEl15's Avatar
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    1. TOOOUUUCH~

  20. #400
    2. Restrain yourself

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