Under the crumbling starry night.
I reminisced as I sprinted down the endless ‘Corridor of Stars’ alone, of the days after my initial contact with this world.
…After I first woke up, I heard a ‘Voice’, one that told me that I need to fulfill my mission.
Yes, I have come to a realization.
Even if my mind does not remember, my soul surely would. I was certain that there was something I needed to accomplish before I lost my memories. It was something incredibly important to me, even more than my very life. But the funny thing was, no matter how much time had passed, I could not remember my purpose.
But, my troubles did not stop there, and I soon learned of a greater torment.
I was… immortal.
I chanced upon the realization of my unique circumstances when I was examined by magic. My body would not age. Even though I had all the normal biological functions, my time was completely frozen – a paradox in and of itself. The reasons were unknown, the theoretical basis was unknown, and, of course, I have had no idea myself. It was as if I danced to the tunes of some greater power, where ‘until I remembered and completed my mission, I was not permitted to die’.
Immortality, one of the ultimate goals of the magicians who sought the truth of the world. Truthfully, it was not limited to just magicians, anyone would have had such dreams and aspirations at some point in their life. Yet, the reality was very different.
I was not sure whether it was disgust at my unnatural existence, or jealousy and envy for the existence seemingly superior to them. Whenever I was discovered to be an immortal, everyone would drift away and grow distant to me. The one that had declared his eternal love and vowed to stay with me till the end of days would curse me as a monster and abandon me. The stinging stares and persecution would converge upon my undying body. I would slowly grow angry, fatigued, and stagnant.
Even so, there were still some, albeit quite few, people who were willing to stay by my side. Unlike me, they were all humans – ones unable to resist the flow of time, slowly age, and finally…
After dozens of years had passed since my awakening, I stood before their graves with a bundle of flowers in hand, looking not a day older than when I first arrived in this world. As always, I have not changed at all.
At that moment, a part of my heart broke.
◇ ◇ ◇
The second day after the group’s arrival at the ruins.
Glenn quickly applied himself to the investigation of the observatory.
Leaving nothing to chance, Cecil and Lynn were ordered to stay behind at the warded off camp, to serve as back-up and ensure communication in case of emergencies. Glenn took the lead and entered the observatory’s large gothic doors. The light did not reach far into the interior, and the group was soon enveloped by the darkness. The entire ruins were actually carved out of a single mass of stone, and its mysterious design made the structure impossible to receive any outside light. As such, Glenn, who was at the head of the column, needed to keep his index finger lit with Black Magic [Touch•Light] to illuminate the path ahead. However, they were not alone at the ruins.
“I-I didn’t hear anything about this! Wasn’t it supposed to be a safe ruins?!”
“We will discuss later. For now, we need to get ready for a fight! Here they come!!”
“Darn it! This better be the only encounter!”
There were some presences floating in midair ahead of them and were rapidly approaching the group. Some took on the shadowy figure of a human, some looked like small fairies with wings, and some looked like ghosts. All sorts of specters were attacking Glenn and the others.
“Tsk! Ah, what was it again?! I-… ‹I am the shooter•The root of power…›!!”
Compared to Kash, Wendy, and the others, who were startled by the sudden onslaught and were unable to even enunciate their spells correctly…
“Magic•Bullet, ‹Ein›! And again, ‹Zwei›! And a third, ‹Drei›!” Sistine swiftly unleashed a chain casting of Black Magic [Magic•Bullet].
The magic bullets gathered on her fingers pierced through one specter after another. In a sharp explosion, the damaged specter dissipated into the air.
“I-… ‹I am the shooter•The root of power•Gather at my fingers›!” The other students, seemingly encouraged by Sistine, overcame their nervousness and successfully completed their chants to defend against the specters.
And so, after Sistine and the others pierced them with a hail of bullets, the specters were then slashed apart by Re=L, who was lying in wait with her large alchemized sword.
After a few moments, they successfully defended against the specters’ onslaught. The surrounding air returned to its normal calm with not a single enemy remaining.
“Haa… W-we won…?” Glenn tried to calm the tense students.
“Ahaha~ not bad, not bad at all! You kids are pretty strong.”
At the far end of the column, Celica clapped her hand as she observed the battle while leaning on the nearby wall.
“Leaving the students to fend for themselves, you are a real piece of work, you know…?” Glenn finally relaxed after nervously watching over the students during the encounter.
“You are pampering them too much, Glenn.” Unlike the restless Glenn, Celica was surprisingly calm, “How could my star pupil’s students be defeated by the likes of those? Moreover, even if they are just fledgling magicians, the students are more than capable of handling themselves.”
“Not to worry, and, don’t forget, I am also here. If there is any risk of injury, I will instantly leap in to help. Despite their combat practice at school, they never got to experience any real battles, right? These trashes provide the perfect target practice.”
“Yes, that makes sense. But…” Glenn suddenly turned to where the specters came out, “Darn it, to think this site still had malevolent spirits within…”
Malevolent spirits. Affected by abnormalities within ley lines, they were the fairies and spirits that had gone mad, essentially the result of a perfectly natural phenomenon. Once they were enraged, they would treat who approach as enemies.
“It is nothing unusual. They are easy to appear in ruins like these. Don’t forget, most ancient ruins were built adjacent to ley lines. Either way, it looks like the fights against the malevolent spirits will continue on for some time.”
“Seriously, what about this is F-ranked? How long was this site neglected?!”
“Do not worry, after this expedition, this site may need to be bumped up a difficulty rank or two.” Celica playfully looked at Glenn, “Aren’t you glad that I am here with you guys? Otherwise you probably planned to just call quits, right?”
For phantasmal beings like spirits and fairies which have gained its body through magic power, elemental spells such as flame, ice, and electricity were relatively ineffective. To defeat them, it is necessary to directly disrupt its magic flow. As such, they would have to rely on Black Magic [Magic•Bullet] and other non-elemental attack spells, where the magician would gather their magic power before shooting it out. In the eastern lands, such techniques were commonly referred to as ‘Chi’.
To be honest, Glenn has the worst affinity with the non-elemental spells. From a gender standpoint, males generally excelled at magic control, while females tend to have greater mana reservoir. However, despite being male, Glenn was very poor at magic control, which in turn matched poorly with non-elemental spells that demanded precise magic control. As such, Glenn was a poor combatant against large gatherings of malevolent spirits.
Certainly, using the Black Magic [Weapon•Enchant] and fortifying fists for combat was always an option, but from the standpoint of efficiency, the ability to chant shortened version of Black Magic [Magic•Bullet] like Sistine and picking them off at a distance was preferred.
For Glenn to be able to leave the fighting to the students was undoubtedly thanks to the presence of Celica in the rear, who would cover for the students should any danger arise.
“Sure, sure. I am just a useless trash. I leave the students in your care, o’ esteemed master… Hmph.” Glenn grumbled as he turned away.
Celica could only laugh at Glenn’s childish tantrum.
While the master and pupil were having their exchange, another conversation went on elsewhere.
“Hey, Sistine. You seemed to have gotten much stronger!”
Kash exclaimed after coming over to Sistine.
“Yeah, how to put it. When the enemy suddenly attacked earlier, you were very calm and didn’t seem to be scared at all. Were you really not afraid?”
“I-… I was actually quite scared. Ahaha~”
…But compared to the time with Jatice.
“Speaking of which, you were also very calm when we were attacked by the shadow wolves earlier.”
“Ah? Really? I was really scared at that time! Honestly!” After hearing Wendy’s words, Sistine hastily retorted.
“And, Sistine was really strong! To be able to use chain chanting, when did you learn how to do that?”
“Oh, that? I-I wonder when…? Ahaha~”
Rumia’s sincere question made Sistine felt a little bit guilty inside, and her forehead began to sweat a little.
“Ugh! D-don’t think you are better than me because of this!”
Wendy and Gibul both glared at Sistine with displeased eyes.
Not long ago, the difference in ability between Sistine, Wendy, and Gibul were negligible. But before anyone noticed, Sistine had pulled away and created a massive gap between her and the other two, making it difficult for the two to accept.
“Then, we must work hard to catch up… Hmm?”
As they chatted away, the malevolent spirits once again approached from darkness.
“Another group? W-wait, aren’t there a bit too many of them this time?! Won’t it turn bad like this?!”
“Let’s see who can take out more, Sistine! I definitely won’t lose this time!”
The students became pumped for combat, but…
“No, wait!” This time, Celica moved in front of the students, “You guys should take a rest this time. After all, you are likely still exhausted from the previous encounter. If you keep pushing yourselves like this, you may suffer mana deficiency~ Just leave them to me.”
“B-but Professor, aren’t there too many of them…?” Sistine worriedly surveyed the approaching attackers.
As Sistine has indicated, there were a very large number of them rushing over to attack. Likely, they were attracted by the noise of the earlier fight.
“To just leave them all to you feels a bit excessive, perhaps it’s better if everyone…”
“Don’t worry about it, and it is the perfect opportunity to give you guys a demonstration. In times like these…” As Celica confidently exclaimed, a sharp pop came from her fingers.
And then another pop…
All of a sudden, dozens of [Magic•Bullet] appeared around Celica.
“Go.” Celica just pointed at the road ahead, countless magic bullets flew down the path while drawing a bright line, almost like a stunning meteor shower, and cut down the approaching malevolent spirits.
A complete slaughter. All the students were stunned by the scene.
“Mm. And this is how you do it, understand?”
“H-how could anyone…”
“This is really… beyond any reason…”
Kash and Sistine were rendered speechless.
They were all well aware that Celica was an existence above them, but only after witnessing her magic up close were they once again reminded just how big a gap really existed.
◇ ◇ ◇
Glenn and the others continued down the path, with their journey occasionally punctuated by encounters with malevolent spirits.
“Teacher, the path branches up ahead. We need to take a left at that junction, and we will reach our first site of investigation: the First Ritual Chamber.”
“Mm, got it.”
Rumia looked at the complete map made by the previous expedition and guided Glenn along.
The ‘Taum Observatory’ as shown by the map was quite expansive.
From the map, this ruins seemed to be a construct of some ancient religion. It has ritual chambers, a prayer chambers, observatories, sanctuaries, and a large planetarium. The rooms were set three-dimensionally within the hemispherical structure and connected through labyrinthine passageways and stairs.
To think that the entire structure was carved from a single stone, and, not only that, the path under their feet showed no signs of corners cut. Just bringing the light close easily revealed that, regardless if it’s the ceiling, the floor, or the walls, everything was perfectly polished. Additionally, the ceiling and the walls were completely awash with etchings and pictures. The time and effort spent by the ancients to construct this observatory were unfathomable.
“But, teacher, doesn’t it feel a bit odd?” Rumia inquired Glenn after moving up through the column, “This observatory, while it did look massive from the outside, the inside felt even larger. Could they really fit this many chambers within?”
Rumia inquisitively looked at the map on hand, thinking perhaps the excitement while inside the structure has dulled her sense of size.
“Hehehe~ Rumia, actually…” Sistine was about to answer Rumia when…
“The space here is warped.” Celica, who was walking next to Glenn, hijacked the conversation.
“Take a look at the design on the floor and ceiling, it is a common design for ruins within the empire,” Celica gently ran her finger along the etched markings, “and it seemed to be a spell used by the ancients for the distortion of the space.”
“Hmm? ‘Seemed’? As in, we aren’t really sure?”
“The reason why we are still unsure is that we have no way of deciphering the mechanism of ancient magic with our modern theories. As such, we could only conclude that these markings represent some sort of magic.”
“Umm… So even Professor Arfonia has no way of deciphering the magic?”
“Mm. As far as ancient magic is concerned, even I am completely ignorant.” Celica shrugged her shoulders.
After having her chance to show off snatched by Celica, Sistine was seething from behind.
“In conclusion, because of these etchings, the space within the observatory became warped, creating an area larger than it seemed at first glance. Even without knowing the theories behind it, the truth is quite evident, or so it goes.”
“Although I don’t quite understand what you are talking about,” Re=L entered into the conversation, “won’t it be simpler if we just blow a hole through the wall and cut across?”
As Re=L said such dangerous things, she shifted the large sword on her shoulder.
“Hahaha~ That’s interesting, but not possible.”
Re=L tilted her head sideways in confusion, and Celica kindly began her explanation,
“The ancient ruins and the articles within had already been applied Etherio Coating, and the ‘Taum Observatory’ was no different. As such, everything was made to be completely impervious to any physical or magical altercations, be it Re=L’s strength or my [Extinction•Ray] will only render harmless against the structure. It is also why I made you alchemize your swords outside the ruins.”
“Is that so? While I am not sure about all that details you mentioned, it’s regrettable.”
Etherio Coating. A sorcerous property that completely baffled modern magicians, one of the greatest mysteries of ancient magic.
“This is why, despite the thousands of years, this ruins could still remain in pristine shape.” And then, Celica indignantly threw up her hair, “Bastards… If it weren’t for this annoying coating, I would have done in that lousy Underground Labyrinth long-…”
Not a single person heard Celica’s muttering.
“S-such amazing technology… How incredible are these ancients? Were they really humans like us?”
“No, no! About the identity of those ancients, there are many theories! Such as…”
“Hey! Don’t get overconfident! Don’t forget we are still on the expedition!”
After hearing Rumia’s new question, Sistine hurriedly answered, only to be cut short by Glenn.
◇ ◇ ◇
As they chatted, they traversed a few more passageways, made a few turns, wiped out a few groups of interloping malevolent spirits, and finally arrived at their destination.
“Finally. So this is the first ritual chamber.”
The end of the passageway was a gothic door which opened up to an expansive chamber.
Glenn prepared his revolver and turned to his students. The gun was now fully loaded with magically enhanced bullets and therefore would be effective even against malevolent spirits.
“Umm, while I do not think there are any threats ahead, for safe measures, I will scout ahead first. Everyone, just wait here for a moment.”
“Hmph! To brave the danger for the sake of your students, aren’t you the cool one, Glenn~?” Celica let out a mischievous chuckle and poked fun at Glenn.
“If I don’t do at least this much, then I would definitely become a complete burden on this expedition.”
“Are you sure you will be fine alone? If you are afraid, I can always go with you.”
“Shut it! I’m not a kid anymore!”
“Ah, t-then, teacher, please be safe.”
After giving a strong nod to the worried Rumia, Glenn marched forth.
Upon entering through the gothic doors, Glenn was greeted by a large hemispheric chamber. The floor, wall, and ceiling were thoroughly polished, a constant reminder of how the entire structure was carved out of a single rock. Etched on the surfaces were mysterious drawings that were akin to star charts used by diviners. One could make out the lines that demarcate the ecliptic and the lunar orbit, the sun and the moon, as well as the planets and the stars. The entire chamber gave off the feeling of a mini-replica of the universe.
At the center of the room lay an altar stacked from countless rectangular stones, capped by the statue of a seemingly divine existence. The depiction of the statue seemed to be of a pair of angels entwined together, an existence known as…
“Twins of the Sky, Taum.” (1)
This type of astrological religion, who practiced astral worship, was a common one among the many denominations of ancient’s religion.
According to Glenn’s prior research, the ancient civilization, or rather, ancient people believed that the sky has a will of its own and have been awestruck by it, deified it, and worshiped it. Considering all of this, it was no wonder that for such a ritual chamber, there would be an accurate and easy to understand star chart etched in meticulous detail, where even a layperson could understand. At its center, the ‘Twins of the Sky, Taum’ was the supreme deity of the ancient astrological religion, goddesses that represented the ‘Heavens’.
“But still, why would they worship something as silly as the sky? Never know what went on in those ancients’ minds.” Although Glenn spat out some disrespectful words, he nevertheless was awestruck by a mysterious sense of pressure in the ritual chamber.
Suddenly, Glenn experienced a weird sensation. A knife-like chill crept up his back as his heart was gripped by a feeling of tightness. His vision narrowed and his ears became deaf.
When Glenn first entered the ritual chamber, that ‘thing’ wasn’t there, or rather, it shouldn’t be there. It was a sizable existence that shouldn’t have gone unnoticed. A small girl unwittingly descended before the statue of the twin angels. There she sat, as if waiting for someone to come.
Her hair ashen white, and her eyes shone like red coral with a dark hue, all the while dressed in a thinly veiled dress. On her back was some sort of warped, things, which mildly resembled wings. Things that looked like a jumbled mess of eyes and eels, the very sight of which made Glenn disturbed.
Yet the girl’s face was very human and very beautiful, which when juxtaposed to the revolting wings, elicited only feelings of utter disgust and rejection. As the image of that abnormally-shaped girl entered Glenn’s eyes, he felt his soul becoming invaded, evoking a sense of insanity.
Under the glow of the light emitted from Glenn’s fingertip, that girl slowly floated up into the air.
“Long time no see, Glenn.” The girl said as she gazed at Glenn.
Her voice was sharp as a vulture’s, directly resonating into Glenn’s psyche – a sound that seemingly consumed Glenn’s soul. No, it was not a normal ‘sound’ transmitted through the air and brought out the squeamish feeling of worms squirming in the ear.
“…Rather at this time, it should be our first meeting, no?”
The corner of her mouth gently curved up, revealing a red crescent in the darkness. An eerie appearance, on a clearly abnormal existence, brought out almost a primal fear in Glenn.
D-darn… darn… darn it!
Before the girl, Glenn’s heart began to beat uncontrollably.
Pushing his body into motion, Glenn shot off the platform. At the same time, he drew his pistol with his lightning fast reflexes and aimed it at the girl…
But she was no longer there.
What was there a moment ago was… gone, as if being startled awake from a terrible nightmare.
“Haa… Haa… H-how…?”
For the next few moments, Glenn heavily panted as he stood dumbfounded in place.
“Hey! Glenn, you there? Did something happen?”
Soon, Celica followed in with a laid back expression.
“Hmm? What is wrong? You look a little pale there~”
To avoid worrying the students, Glenn quietly whispered the details to Celica.
“A mysterious girl?” With furrowed eyebrows, Celica stared at Glenn as if looking at a fool, “Are you sure you aren’t just too tired? Or maybe frustrated? With how heavy you are panting, you couldn’t mean that right?”
“Idio-! Of course not!”
“Haa… It would be bad if you suddenly turn into a deviant and start attacking the female students. I guess it can’t be helped, want me to satisfy you tonight then?”
“Even as a joke that’s going a bit too far!!”
Celica seductively beat her eyelids, to which Glenn angrily retorted. She always teased Glenn like this, but now was not the time.
“Seriously! I am totally not frustra-… I definitely saw a girl!”
“You know, although I never mentioned this, but I have always kept a search field up, to prevent anything from sneaking up and harming your precious students. Even now, the field is still up.”
“Huh? Really? Then that would mean…”
“Yes, this room really was empty. It had neither malevolent nor passive spirits… not even a mouse or a bug could escape my field. Therefore, there was no way for any human to be in here.”
Celica said as she puffed her chest in pride, clearly without an ounce of dishonesty. Not to mention, Glenn knew perfectly well how omnipotent her magic was, so what he saw was possibly…
A hallucination? I merely imagined the sensation and… the sound? But that…
As Glenn thought back to his encounter, he felt that the sight was quite comparable to a waking dream. His memories and feelings of the earlier events became murkier the more he tried to remember.
“Teacher! What happened?!”
In the usual formation, Sistine, Rumia, and Re=L rushed to Glenn’s side.
“Teacher, what is wrong? Is there something on my face?”
Being stared by Glenn, Rumia inquisitively tilted her head to the side.
“N-no, it’s nothing. Please do not mind it.”
Certainly that was a hallucination… Glenn muttered to himself after looking at Rumia’s face, After all…
“Then, everyone!” Glenn pulled himself back together, clapped his hands a few times, and called for the students still waiting by the door, “Let us begin our investigation of this chamber! Re=L, you keep watch by the entrance, Rumia and Sistine will record the etchings on the ground, and Wendy will assist with the interpretation of the tablets, good luck. The remainder of you guys will check for any trap doors or unnatural magic responses. This process will be quite time consuming, so please work diligently.”
If even Celica’s search field did not pick anything up, it was almost certainly a hallucination or a dream.
Perhaps I really am just exhausted…
Considering how much has happened on the very first day of their investigation, Glenn could not help but get worried about the prospect.
“Haa…” Glenn quietly let out a deep sigh.
◇ ◇ ◇
Under the crumbling starry night.
I reminisced as I sprinted down the endless ‘Corridor of Stars’ alone, of the long and solitary days I have spent indifferent to the world…
I do not need anyone, I am perfectly fine alone.
Because, I am stronger than anyone else.
I was seen as a monster, I was rejected by others, and, now, even those few who had understood me have departed this world. Ultimately, I was shackled by my thoughts.
After that, I threw myself into the world of war, sinking deeper and deeper into the path of destruction. I lacked the courage to end my own suffering, but at the same time, I could not bear the loneliness of living for all eternity. Despite the perpetual solitude, I continued to fool myself. I feigned my fortitude, and I feigned my desire for solitude. I kept fighting, and I kept winning, without even much of a thought… In my countless fights, I sought for a conclusion, for some sort of an end.
The me at that time stood at the edge of insanity.
Immortality. To never be able to age, to never see the end of my journey. Then there was the constant nagging of the ‘voice’ in my heart, and the mysterious sense of mission that I felt. All coupled with the emptiness of my soul and the unbearable loneliness. At that time, I sought out battle after battle. Because only in the field of war, could I temporarily forget it all.
But, thinking back to those times – those long and hellish years, there were still people who approached and reached their hands out to me. For one, the swordswoman known as the strongest of the empire… Yet, I pushed them all away and continued to run alone, taking on the role of a victim in a tragic drama.
The one who truly sought solitude was none other than myself. I had never realized this simple fact, nor have I tried to realize it. I just kept on fighting and fighting. Even my research into magic was for the simple purpose of acquiring a greater power, and, with that power, I went on fighting.
Until, the day…
I… met Glenn.
◇ ◇ ◇
Third day of the expedition.
The investigation was proceeding smoothly.
At dawn, the group would enter the site to begin investigation and wipe out any malevolent spirits that coincidentally crossed their path. Once a certain chamber has been fully investigated, the group then proceeded deeper into the structure for the next chamber.
At dusk, the group would return to the campsite.
“So to say, everything was done by alien invaders!”
“W-what are you talking about?!”
“Kash, what is that all about?”
“I came to this conclusion as we were investigating the seventh sanctuary’s etchings! Considering those odd drawings on the wall, the ancients must have been ruled over by aliens! This would also explain why the ancients had such advanced understanding of magic.”
Under the twinkling night sky, only a single red campfire flickered in the surrounding darkness. There, everyone sat in a tight circle. In the frigid night, the heat of the crackling fire warmed their bodies and casted long shadows into the distance while the students chatted and laughed away.
Perhaps due to the enthusiasm Sistine showed in ancient civilizations, every night around the campfire, the students would eagerly express their own thoughts on the ancients, somewhat giving the air of a professional gathering of archaeothaumatology scholars.
“Hey, everyone, dinner is ready!”
“Oh! Lynn, we were all waiting for you! I am starving!”
Lynn, who was the best cook of the expedition, began to serve everyone their meals. Around the fire, the students could barely contain their anticipation. At the same time, while the students were clamoring at the arrival of their meal, Glenn and Rumia were going over their findings under the light of the campfire.
“Teacher, after having Wendy gone over the translations of the drawings and etchings in the observatory, were there any leads on spatial-temporal magic?”
“Sadly, none so far…” Glenn paused the work he has on hand to answer Rumia’s question and let out a disappointed sigh.
“Either way, if this observatory really is the ritual site for some sort of magic, then there will definitely be a control room somewhere – an undiscovered ‘hidden chamber’ in some corners of the ruins. Such was the belief of the previous investigator.” As he said that, Glenn revealed a self-deprecating smile, “Honestly, I do not believe we will find anything on this trip. Something as absurd as spatial-temporal magic has no place in reality, I think…”
“Hey! Why are you being so pessimistic over there?” At that time, Sistine came over to where Glenn and Rumia sat.
It seemed she came over to bring the two dinner. She was carrying a tray with four bowls of stew. In the cold, the bowls emitted clouds of white steam. Sistine seemed to be angry as she handed Rumia and Re=L each a bowl of soup.
The stew was made by carefully boiling dried vegetables and meat, with herbs and mushrooms collected from the vicinity. At a glance, the stew was well flavored and very delicious.
“Thank you! The nights are quite chilly, so I won’t hold back!”
But, as Glenn extended his hand to receive his bowl, Sistine purposely pulled away.
“You should not give up! Not give up, you hear?! If you don’t work seriously, you may end up glossing over what you could have discovered!”
“I-I got it! I got it already, just please give me my dinner!”
“Also, even if there weren’t any discoveries in the end, you still need to carefully report how you conducted the investigation in your reports. You must not cut any corners and report everything! Seriously, even in your everyday life, you are always so sloppy and lack any passion…”
“Uwaaa!! More than your lecture, I want my meal!!”
The two began to bicker as usual.
Gulp. Gulp. “Mm. It is delicious.”
“Ah? R-Re=L?! Those are Sistine’s and Teacher’s! You mustn’t… Ah, it’s empty already.”
Perhaps Re=L was very hungry. Before anyone had noticed, Re=L had already finished off the two’s share of stew.
Celica gracefully sat on a boulder a short distance away and watched the exchanges with a smile. In her hands, she held the ‘Sorcerer of Melgalius’. Her gaze was filled with kindness, as if a mother looking upon her beloved child.
And then, a wave of shouts came from around the campfire.
“Hey, Professor! Please come and listen to what Gibul and I were talking about and tell us what you think. I believe my hypothesis was more reasonable!”
“What are you talking about? No matter how you look at it, my hypothesis should be the better one!”
“Uwaaa!! My dinner?!”
“No way! E-even my dinner… Ahhh!!”
“Hehehe~ Professor Arfonia, please come join us.”
“Mm. I still have many questions that I was hoping you could answer!”
Celica looked out at the boisterous group.
“Really, you guys are very loud. But… I guess I could…” Celica revealed a wry smile as she closed the book and joined the group by the campfire.
Her footstep was surprisingly lithe.
This sort of peaceful and mundane days continued as usual…
◇ ◇ ◇
On the fifth night.
As the cold night chilled the bones, Glenn came to the location that Celica told everyone about. On the far side of a small mountain to the north of the campsite.
“Oh? It looks quite nice here…”
Glenn stood before a natural hot spring lined by small boulders. The scent of sulfur tingled the nose, while the water was murky from the minerals mixed within. The steam floated up from the surface and enveloped the surroundings in white. Even from where Glenn stood, he could feel the warmth from the spring, pushing away the cold evening air.
This natural hot spring was discovered by Celica a few days ago. Celica posited that from what she sensed through the spirit veins, the surrounding area was thermally active. Therefore, as long as they searched around, they were bound to find one.
Although the temperature of the spring was a bit high for bathing, Celica was fully prepared. She had set ice rune on the surrounding boulders, chilling the water to the perfect temperature.
Because of Celica’s achievements, the female students, who were originally forced to wipe down their bodies with wet towels, came to worship Celica as a god.
“Seriously, that woman sure knows how to enjoy herself… I bet she wanted to soak in the spring as much as the next person…”
Even the relatively dense Glenn came to felt sorry for neglecting the girls by camping out for days on end, so Celica’s discovery was very timely for Glenn.
However, Glenn had been busy every night organizing the results and wasn’t able to use the hot spring. But now that the work on hand had been sorted, Glenn noticed he was completely putrid, so he took the time to come out to the spring for a soak.
“But still, despite being surrounded by beauties, I had to bath alone. If only there was a companion for the occasion, hehehe~” As Glenn fantasized, he took off his clothes.
…Just to mention, not so long ago.
“I want to go peeping! I want to gaze upon paradise! Even if it will cost me this life of mine!”
At the campsite, the brave Kash fought a difficult battle against the girls for his hopes and aspirations. But despite his best efforts, he was defeated. However, that is a story for another time.
“Now…” After Glenn hid his clothes behind the boulder, he entered the hot spring, “Uwaaa… So good…!”
The pleasure and warmth enveloped him. The finger tips numbed by the cold nights were revived with jolts of pain. The stiff shoulders and waist relaxed as the blood recovered its circulation. Even the fatigue accumulated through days of investigation was slowly being lifted away.
“Haa… So comfortable…♪”
Above him were the snow-capped tips of the nearby mountains, glistening under a sky adorned by stars. The moon shyly hid behind the slowly drifting clouds. The tranquil scene soothed the soul, which would be made more complete for Glenn if he could have a cup of brandy at hand.
For the next few moments, Glenn soaked in the hot spring, while he gazed at the night sky and hummed a lighthearted tune.
“But still, how to say this, those guys are really giving it their all…” Glenn muttered to himself as he appreciated the stars above.
Only at this moment did Glenn felt the sting of regret for involving the students in his own personal matter and bringing them out to the middle of nowhere. Despite it being a mere F-ranked ruins, the investigation was more complicated than Glenn had initially imagined, and he was somewhat remorseful for not adequately thinking it through before asking the students.
Yet despite all his concerns, the students were working very hard, and not one has voiced any displeasure. To have everything proceeding so smoothly, it would undoubtedly be thanks to the students’ passion if they were able to wrap up the expedition early.
I should also think about it carefully… really…
As Glenn’s senses became muddled from the relaxing atmosphere, he just remained stationary and let his mind wander.
Beyond the stones that line the spring, there appeared a presence.
“W-who goes there?” Glenn tensed up and declared.
“Oh? This voice is…”
And then, the shadow unhesitantly approached Glenn and the hot spring. As the steam dissipated, the person revealed before Glenn was…
“Ah? It’s Glenn. So you’ve come.”
It was Celica.
She stood at the edge of the hot spring completely nude. The only thing that covered her porcelain white skin was a single towel held at her breast and the large amount of steam. Yet, even they could not completely hide her beautiful figure, with curves that resembled of the beautiful ancient sculptures.
The sudden appearance of the otherworldly beauty made Glenn gulp as his heart raced.
“How is the water, Glenn? I bet it is quite nice, right?”
“Y-you bastard! At least confirm that there was no one here before taking off your clothes!”
As if trying to get away from Celica, Glenn quickly shuffled to the center of the hot spring, with his back turned to her.
“Y-you stay over there! O-otherwise, I’ll just leave! Also, I wasn’t peeping, so you must not blast me with y-your magic.” The sudden development made Glenn abnormally nervous.
“Hmm? Why are you acting all nervous? I don’t mind at all.”
Not sure what went on in her mind, Celica giggled as she bent down and let her long smooth thighs slip into the water, followed by the rest of her body.
“W-wh-…?” Sensing her entering the hot spring, Glenn’s whole body grew stiff.
“Hehehe~” Celica let out a mischievous chuckle as she approached Glenn.
“Here we go~”
She let her back lean on Glenn’s. With their skins touching, Glenn felt the sensation of coming in contact with a sheet of high grade silk.
“Ahh, it’s nice here.” Celica let her weight collapse on Glenn and relaxed.
On the other hand, Glenn is already reaching his limit.
“W-w-what are you doing!!”
“It shouldn’t matter, right? After all, we are family~”
Glenn has grown incredibly nervous, yet on the contrary, Celica remained the same calm self.
“Not to mention, didn’t we bathe together frequently when you were young? Shouldn’t we have already gotten used to seeing each other nude?”
“T-that was a long time ago! At that time I was still just a brat!”
“Don’t worry about the details. Bathing together once in a while isn’t bad…”
Glenn had noticed that this was not the usual impish Celica and decided to not push the topic.
“Like that time, soaking together in the bath… is not bad.”
Celica’s soothing voice repeated the statement once more and made Glenn felt warm and fuzzy inside.
Certainly, as long as Celica did not mind, why should I mind?
Glenn slowly regained his original calm. Inside, Glenn thought that occasionally revitalizing their relationship was not a bad idea.
Glenn lost all will to retort, and Celica just gently laughed in response.
With that final exchange, the two just silently enjoyed the hot spring back-to-back. The warmth transmitted through their backs, the slow breathing, and the sound of the beating heart added to the temperature of the water. Without a single word, the time gently flowed…
A long while passed since they started soaking in the bath before the silence was broken.
“Speaking of which, you really have grown… Glenn.” Celica calmly exclaimed.
“Your back feels so broad now, and to think it was so small back then.”
“How long did you think has passed since you picked me up from the streets?”
Glenn’s face seemed to have been dyed with a tinge of red, but that may have been cause by the heat from the water.
“Hasn’t it been over ten years? It would be weird if I didn’t change.”
“Is that so… It has already been that long. Time sure flies…”
Glenn felt a bit awkward by the conversation.
Haa… If I think about our relation, it was really somewhat of a curiosity.
About ten years ago, after a certain event had turned Glenn to an orphan, Celica decided to adopt Glenn on a whim. That was when the two of them first met.
To Glenn, Celica was like a mother, a sister, and a friend. Even to this day, Glenn has yet to find the perfect word to describe their complicated relationship. If one had to definitely describe their relationship, it would certainly be…
“S-speaking of which, how are your injuries?” Because the conversation has become more and more awkward, Glenn forcibly changed the topic.
“Umm… Before joining the expedition, didn’t you venture deep into the Underground Labyrinth? I had seen it when you first entered the hot spring. There are still many unhealed injuries on your hand and feet.”
While his original intention was simply to change the topic, Glenn had unwittingly stepped on a landmine.
“Uwaaa… I can’t believe you were able to ogle my entire body in that short amount of time. Ahh~ Is it really safe for us to stay under the same roof? What if you give into your desires and force yourself upon me? You need to take responsibility if that happens, alright?”
“W-what are you talking about?!”
Celica stifled laughter could be heard.
“…Mm. It should be fine. The healing limit has long passed. As long as I regularly use healing magic on the injuries, even the scars should be gone in time. Don’t worry.”
“I-I am totally not worried about you! Haa… But seriously, it is all because of how obstinate you are with exploring those dangerous ruins. If not for that, such problematic matters would not have happened.” Glenn let out a long sigh.
“Speaking of which, you should have been interested in that Underground Labyrinth from a very long time ago, right?”
The Underground Labyrinth. A mysterious large scale ruins located right under the Alzano Imperial Magic Academy. The difficulty was rated as S++, ranked as the most difficult of all the ruins in the empire.
To be honest, the first nine levels of the Labyrinth were completely safe, so much so that the school turned it into the site for the archaeology practicum.
However, beyond the first nine floors, the danger was on a completely different scale. To put it into perspective, the only person who was able to obtain permission for expeditions past the tenth floor in all of the empire was Celica alone.
“Why can’t you pick an easier hobby? Given your skill and capability, won’t it be easier to just start a magic research laboratory, hire some students, and invent some useful magic tools?”
“Yes, can’t argue with that.”
“And yet, you stubbornly keep on challenging that lousy Labyrinth. Each time you return littered with injuries, and, this most recent time, you almost lost your life!”
Glenn’s serious voice made Celica unable to open her mouth.
“Celica… I think it is better to just give up on that Labyrinth.” Glenn sternly told Celica, “I am not saying you lack the ability, but rather, that place is not meant for humans to set their foot in… For a place like that, it is better…”
Given how twisted was Celica’s personality, it was rare for Glenn to have the opportunity to talk to her seriously. Glenn believed this might have been the best chance to breech the topic.
“So, please don’t go there anymore? Give up on that Underground Labyrinth.” As such, Glenn said what he always wanted and needed to tell Celica.
“O-of course there is the pride as a seventh-ranked magician, and things like there is no longer any other option… but still, your life should be the top priority.”
“If… you end up meeting misfortune… I…”
Celica remained silent.
I could not give it up. Her silence permeated such feelings.
“…Hey. Can you at least… tell me your reasons?” The disappointed Glenn tried to change the topic, but even this was met with…
“…You can’t say?”
“…Sorry.” Celica lightly uttered words that were filled with sorrow.
Before anyone noticed, the once proud woman was nowhere to be found.
“I am… really sorry… Glenn…”
In her place, was a delicate girl filled with remorse.
“Hey, Glenn, you know… before I had met you, I was a deplorable existence.”
“I’m sure you have heard that I lost all memories of my life from before four hundred years ago.”
“Yes, I also heard you became an immortal…”
“Before I had met with you. With a life that had no end in sight, with the unease from losing my memories, with my unbearable loneliness, I was always irritable, claiming a slight respite of calm through destruction. While there were still people who approached and reached their hands out to me, I pushed them all away and continued to paint myself with the colors of misfortune… a completely deplorable existence.”
“But, I came to find redemption after adopting you. I’m sure you are feeling gratitude towards me for taking you in, but it was rather I who should feel gratitude towards you.”
Why did she bring all this up?
Although Glenn was unsure, he just quietly listened.
“But… After I had gained so much from you… After I had already been blessed by our relationship…”
Glenn felt the increasing tremble from Celica’s back as she talked.
“Because of my selfish wish to push you to greatness, I didn’t think twice before recommending you to become a Court Mage. When I irresponsibly forced you to endure those hellish days, when you should have every right to hate me for it… despite all that had happened, you still… to me…” Celica abruptly stopped.
With both her hands tightly squeezing her trembling shoulders, Celica did not utter a single word more.
As silence descended, a heavy atmosphere enveloped both of them, until…
“Although I could not understand the nature of your troubles… nor understand what you seek…” Glenn carefully picked his words and spoke in a cheerful tone, “Hahaha~ you should not be so critical of yourself! Surely I had met with some misfortunes, but you shouldn’t mind it so much! After all, given our relationship…”
After a moment’s pause, Glenn asked in the most heartfelt manner.
“Aren’t we… family?”
Yes. To Glenn, Celica was like a mother, a sister, and a friend. Even to this day, Glenn has yet to find the perfect word to describe their complicated relationship. If one had to definitively describe their relationship, it would certainly be…
“Family… is it?”
Celica emotionlessly replied.
“Glenn, do you really see me as… family?”
“…Ah?” After being blindsided by the unexpected question, Glenn momentarily frozen and missed his opportunity to reply.
The heavy atmosphere once again returned to the pair. Soon enough, Celica broke the stifling silence…
“…Sorry. It seemed that the heat from the hot spring is getting to me, just forget what I said.” Celica lifted herself off Glenn’s back and stood up.
“Tomorrow will be the last stop of this expedition, at the deepest recess of the observatory, the planetarium chamber. Is that correct?”
Celica has returned to her usual self.
“I’m sure you will be able to wrap up this expedition splendidly by tomorrow, so give it your all.”
With that said, Celica left the hot spring and departed. Glenn, who alone remained in the hot spring, was confounded by the meaning of Celica’s earlier words. In the end, Glenn couldn’t figure out her thoughts.
“What is going on with her? The academy and the Underground Labyrinth, the expedition this time, and even myself… to that person, what does it all mean?”
Glenn’s mind was a complete blank. No matter how much Glenn tried to think, he could not understand.
Was there really something that linked the three together? Glenn simply could not draw up any reasonable conclusion.
“Ahh! Really! What is she up to-…!”
As Glenn frustratingly rubbed his head, the presence of several people appeared behind the rocks.
Glenn was completely frozen.
“Sisti! Hurry up!”
“Seriously, stop rushing me.”
Glenn could see from between the cracks of the rocks that it was Rumia. Although she had most of her body wrapped in towel, but she was definitely… nude.
“Tomorrow will be the last day of the expedition, so this is the last opportunity for us to soak in the hot springs! We can’t miss this opportunity!”
It wasn’t just Rumia and Sistine.
“The hot spring’s temperature is perfect, and I have heard that soaking in hot springs is good for one’s complexion. I really wish we could keep on coming here.”
“Mm. We really need to thank the Professor for finding the hot spring.”
There were also the voices of Wendy and Teresa from beyond the rocks, and if one simply extrapolated slightly, Re=L and Lynn should also be among them.
The girls who came to bathe in the depth of night slowly approached.
Ahhh! Hadn’t they already soak in the hot spring and went to sleep? Are they seriously coming for a second time? Is that even possible?!
Glenn impulsively dived into the water.
“Mm. Open air hot spring is definitely the best!”
Almost immediately, the naked girls came out from behind the rocks and arrived at the edge of the hot spring.
D-darn it! Why did I reflexively hide?!
Glenn instantly regretted his thoughtless mistake that led to this dilemma.
Why did I do something so stupid? Why didn’t I just loudly announce my presence to them earlier? Won’t they take me for a suspicious peeper who purposely hid away?
At that moment, as if flaunting their youthful watery skin, the girls entered the hot spring one after another.
“Uwaaa… As I expected, this hot spring is too good…”
“Mm… Very warm.”
Sistine stretched her tired limbs, Rumia comfortably immersed herself in the water, and Re=L sat with sleepy eyes while she splashed around. Each of them enjoyed the hot spring in their own unique way.
“Lynn, without your glasses, you look surprisingly beautiful!”
“Hmm? Ah… I-is that so? I-…”
“Hehehe~ Lynn, you should be more confident about yourself!”
Wendy, Lynn, and Teresa also soaked in the hot springs.
Glenn was now fully surrounded by six beauties. To any outsiders, the scene looked like a paradise worthy of envy, but Glenn himself was completely preoccupied with his own worries to care.
Uwaaa?! These guys, how long do they plan on staying here! Could I really hold my breath until they all leave?! Impossible. I will definitely die.
Darn it! Maybe I should just chant [Water•Breathing]… No, that would give me away with all the bubbles!
The girls didn’t notice the troubled Glenn and just lightheartedly chatted away.
“Speaking of which, are we really fine like this? Won’t Kash-san come again…?”
“Ah, no need to worry, Wendy. I have already strung Kash up and hung him by the feet.”
“So be at ease. Although it would be fun if we could roast him a little.”
H-how scary! Are they demons?!
“Ugh… Rumia, yours are still as magnificent as always.”
“R-really? In terms of bust size, aren’t Professor Arfonia’s and Teresa’s larger…?”
“C-certainly, Professor Arfonia’s figure is perfect… Everything about her is like a beautiful sculpture from a bygone era. I am so jealous!”
“Teresa, you really don’t appreciate your own blessings enough! To us, you are no different from Professor Arfonia!”
“Hahaha! Speaking of which, yours still look so small, Sistine! On this point alone I am superior to you!” Wendy triumphantly proclaimed.
“Ah? Lynn, you… Despite how short you are, could you r-really be larger than-…? Are you the type who appears thin when wearing clothes?”
“Hmph! Lynn is about the same size as Rumia, right?”
“Luuumia! Why is everyone’s bust round, while mine is flat?”
“Sistine is also quite flat.”
Hmm… So I see…
The submerged Glenn just obtained some seriously good intelligence and quickly began to sort out the details in his head.
In short, as far as the combat potential of the female members on this expedition…
Celica >= Teresa > Rumia = Lynn > Wendy > Sistine > Re=L
Hmm, this is definitely gold-… Heck no! This isn’t time to escape from reality! I am really running out of air!! The water is also getting a bit hot and my head is getting dizzy! I am about to die here!!
Surrounded on all sides by naked beauties laughing away in the night, Glenn continued to resist, suppressing his pain and desire to breath. Until, the need to breath finally overwhelmed his sensibilities…
A huge burst of water appeared in the middle of the girls.
“Haa! Haa! Air… is really a wonderful thing!”
With the sudden development, all the girls were dumbfounded and simply stayed where they were, completely naked.
Glenn glanced at the girls, and, after comparing with what he remembered when he saw Celica earlier…
“…Correct.” Glenn revealed the face of having a great discovery, looking incredibly refreshed.
“W H A T… I S… C O R R E C T?!” The reanimated Sistine grumbled with veins clearly visible on her forehead.
She raised her left hand toward Glenn while gathering magic power in her palm…
That night, deep within a certain mountain, the scream of a lone man echoed.
(1) Taum, as a twin figure, is a reference to Manichaeism of Mani’s divine “twin”. (Written in Aramaic as Tauma) Along with this reference, one can see the influence of dualism on the author as well as its depiction of Celica in this volume.