Asterios opened his eyes with Mii lying on his chest. After waking her up with a few rubs, she cuddled to him for a little longer and jumped back to her realm. He collected himself from the bed, tidied it up a bit and went downstairs to see if his mother had already started preparing breakfast. He tried to wake up before her many times to surprise her with a nice meal, but she always managed to be the first one to get up no matter what, as if she had some divine sixth sense.
And the same as usual, she was already in the kitchen, cutting some vegetables while humming happily. She heard Ast’s footsteps and turned around. Considering the fact that she was slightly shorter than her son, and that she was wearing a cute apron over her clothes, many could have mistaken her for his loving wife after seeing how quickly she trotted to hug him, leaving all the work behind. He of course accepted the embrace.
“I’ve prepared your favourite sandwiches today.” She rubbed his back affectionately.
“Thanks, mom. I’m fine now. Sorry for ignoring you yesterday.”
“Don’t mind it! Everyone has their bad moments.”
She guided him to the table and sat him down, presenting the meal in front of Asterios. She poured them both some tea and took place in front of her son with a warm smile. He sighed before looking at her face.
“Mii almost lost her life yesterday.”
His mother’s eyes widened instantly and her face got overtaken by shock and worry.
“No! Is she okay? What happened?” She grabbed his hand over the table and gazed intently into his eyes.
A little bit of green smoke arose on the table to their side and Ast’s familiar jumped out of a small portal. His mom quickly scooped Mii into her embrace and started petting the adorable ball of fur.
“Oh, you poor thing… It must have been really painful… I don’t even want to imagine what they have done to you…”
She kept stroking Mii along the top of her body, squashing her long ears into it. Mii barely got out of her depressed mood but she started feeling guilty again after realizing how much sadness and worry did her rash decision invoke. Ast felt that and joined his mother to brush his finger’s under the summon’s chin, sending her mental messages to stop blaming herself already.
After spending half an hour more with the both of them being consoled and pampered by Ast’s mom, they finally left for the academy. His classes were starting in the afternoon and he had a few more hours of spare time. He decided to check if his punishment had been already decided.
No better place to figure that out than the principal’s office. He arrived at the door, and seeing no queue or anything, Ast knocked on the huge wooden double doors.
“Come in.” A muffled voice of an older woman came from the other side.
He followed the instruction and walked into the chamber. It was a medium-sized room with lots of bookshelves and cupboards. An ornamental mahogany desk was placed in the middle-back, where the source of the previous voice was currently sitting down and scribbling something on a piece of paper.
Ast came closer to the person and bowed lightly. The woman clad in dark emerald robes and a pointy hat raised her eyes from her work. Her attire often earned herself the unofficial title of Emerald Witch and it was obvious where that came from with just a single glance at her. And no, she wasn’t ugly, the opposite actually, as for an older woman she looked quite good. Let’s just say that her style of dressing was quite peculiar.
The principal sighed heavily and leaned back on her chair. “Asterios. As much as I like your company, I can’t quite enjoy the circumstances behind this visit.”
“I’m sorry for troubling you, Principal Teireshia.”
“Don’t be. We both know what you did was right and yet everyone insists on punishing your actions.”
The woman stood up from her chair and walked towards the window, gesturing to Ast to take a spot beside her. He joined the principal at her side a little hesitantly. They both gazed at the beautiful garden visible from this chamber.
“I always thought that you are special in some way. In my whole life, I haven’t met anyone with so much determination. I don’t know why this path is so hard on you, but I always believed that you are just missing some little detail which holds you back from moving forward. That’s why, I did whatever I could to support your growth, hoping that you could find it with the help of our academy.”
“And I’m extremely grateful for Madam Principal’s help. If not for that support, I’d have definitely been long gone from the academy’s premises.”
Asterios made a light bow and she waved his hand at him to stop such courtesies. She then sighed heavily again.
“In the end, I’m just a single person. I can’t walk upstream forever. One day I’ll get swept by the current, no matter how strong I am. And I’m afraid that this day has just arrived.”
She turned to him with a saddened expression. A grey owl flew from behind Ast and perched on the Principal’s shoulder, holding a letter in its beak. She took it from the animal, glanced at it with visible disdain and extended her hand with the letter towards Asterios.
“It pains me so much to do this, but I wasn’t left with any choice. You know that the position of a principal doesn’t hold as much power as people imagine it does. I’ve repelled other professors’ complaints and charges for years, but they finally gained enough supporters in the Council to invalidate my influence.”
Asterios received the piece of a neatly folded paper and glanced at it without any change in his expression. He did not have to open it to figure out what the message was. A bit of grievance and sadness surfaced inside his heart, but he quickly calmed himself down, knowing that there’s no point in letting those negative thoughts overcome his mind and allowing them to put the blame on the person who fought to prevent this outcome.
“I’m really sorry, Asterios. I’ll have you hand back your uniform and ID by the end of this week. I really tried everything—”
“It’s fine. I’m actually surprised it took them so long to kick me out. I’m thankful for Madam’s enormous support. I was able to learn a lot using the academy’s sources and facilities and I’ll never forget this favour. Please, don’t blame yourself too much over this, we both knew this had to happen at some point, and as you said, I’m well aware of how much time and effort Madam Teireshia wasted on protecting someone like me. Again, I thank you for all these years.”
Asterios bowed deeply, almost prostrating himself in front of the Principal. He didn’t want to leave on bad terms, not with the person who helped him this much.
She was surprised to see how well Ast received the news. She wouldn’t blame him even if he erupted with anger. Her respect towards the boy only grew with each day, along with the hate for all the injustice he was subjected to.
“I’ll deliver the items before the deadline. Now, if the Principal allows, I’d like to excuse myself.”
She nodded her head. There was no point in trying some cheap and sweet words to cheer the boy up, it would be offensive towards his resolve and strong character.
“Asterios,” she called to him while he was moving through the doorstep. He stopped for a moment. “I’ll await the day when you come back here as the strongest summoner of this era, to show those stupid geezers how wrong they were.”
They both smiled at each other and Asterios left the office. He leaned his back on the wall outside and sighed dejectedly while closing his eyes.
「Whatever. I at least got rid of those prideful punks now. And I was slowly reaching the limits of what else I can learn here. Some more freedom might be beneficial.」
He headed out of the academy while deep in thought. Near the main gate, Tina was just arriving at the academy’s premises. She noticed Ast going the opposite way with a bit cloudy expression and got a little curious to know the reason behind it.
“Hey, Ast. Don’t you have classes soon? Where are you going?”
He just waved his hand without even stopping. “I’m not feeling well today. Need a little breather.”
She didn’t push him for more answers nor did she chase after the man. It was quite weird to her that Ast would skip his classes, but given what happened yesterday, it wasn’t something that exceptional. She shook her head to clear her mind and started walking again. She knew how tough Ast was and she was sure that she would see him again around the campus soon enough.
Asterios strolled through the town without any specific goal. He hoped that it would give him some ideas on how to solve the sudden crisis. Unfortunately, the bustling streets of Rosewind just made his mind even more chaotic so he decided to leave the area and visit one of the places that always allowed him to relax within nature and peace.
Leaving the town’s borders, Ast walked towards the nearby forest to the east from it. Just entering the sea of trees started positively affecting his mind. While he didn’t feel bad around civilization, he always felt much better in the wilds, like all the magical beasts he admired.
He quickly found his favourite spot which was located near a small, beautiful pond. A tiny waterfall was making its way into it from the nearby rock formation. He sat near the water’s edge and glanced around the glade. Calmness filled his mind after he closed his eyes and began listening to the various sounds of nature. All his worries were washed away. Mii seated herself on his lap to enjoy a bit of the sun too. Leaning onto the rocks, they both dozed off.
An hour later, loud sounds of trees breaking and falling down woke them both up. Mii jumped off his lap and started listening towards their source. Asterios quickly rose to his feet and looked to where she positioned her head.
Another tree fell. This one was close enough to make its way into the clearing. Ast’s eyes widened when he identified the person, or rather beast, behind those loud crashes. A giant Brown Bear was headed their way. It already spotted both of them and roared ferociously.
Just from its cry, Ast could realize that this particular bear didn’t hold any good intentions. A few quick glances over its enormous body revealed that the angry animal is heavily wounded from various sword cuts, arrows sticking into its back and some burns, most likely from fire magic.
「It must be running away from its pursuers, most likely humans. We need to flee before it targets us in its rage!」
Before he could inform Mii of the plan, the crazed beast began rushing towards their position.
He shouted and jumped to the side. Mii did the same in the opposite way. The huge mass of fur and muscles charged between them, fortunately missing both.
“Back to the realm, now!”
Ast shouted and broke into a sprint without even looking behind. In no way he had any chance against a matured Brown Bear, even less with it being completely enraged. Mii didn’t want to repeat her previous mistake and instantly followed his orders.
Loud thumping soon followed behind him. Running would get him nowhere. Such a strong predator would catch up in no time. He switched his direction towards the way from where the beast had previously emerged, hoping that he could stumble on the party which should be following their target.
That hope got soon crushed into bits when the bear caught up and bashed its heavy body against Astersios in its mad charge.
He fell to the side and rolled a few times on the ground until he hit a tree. Ast quickly raised himself to a crouching position and took out a knife from behind his back. It looked like a puny toy in front of the giant beast.
The bear arrived at his side and began swiping his front paws while still on all fours. Asterios wasn’t utterly weak physically. He believed that stamina and a healthy body was crucial to withstand the pressure of summoning magic. Thanks to that, he was able to dodge most of the attacks, while grazing the beast with his blade here and there.
Such tiny wounds didn’t have any effect though and the strength difference was clearly visible. The beast finally managed to land a solid hit on the summoner and sent him flying back with three deep slash marks on his chest.
Asterios groaned in pain after hitting a tree and sliding down to the ground. The predator, sensing its victory, rose onto its hind legs and stood above the weak human. Ast suddenly got reminded of his recent dream and its resemblance to the current situation was uncanny.
“Cough, cough… So… I literally saw my own death back then… What a shitty revelation…”
Just like the last time, he stared at his assailant with a proud smile. No one could deny his efforts. He didn’t regret anything. Well, perhaps there was one thing he would actually regret, which was leaving his mother who cared for him for so long, alone in this world.
「Stay safe, mom. I hope you’ll find some good man to ease your grief.」
He sighed and started preparing himself for the inevitable. Seeing the bear raise its arm, he focused his mind on nullifying the contract with Mii.
He furrowed his brows. She wasn’t present in her world. While he was confused by the weird discovery, he watched as the beast’s claws began descending onto him.
Suddenly, something round flew from the side and obstructed its path, receiving most of the force of the hit onto itself and cushioning the impact of the muscular paw on Asterios. It still was strong enough to break the tree on which he was leaning on and launched both him and the weird object a few meters backwards.
He squeezed the soft ball to his chest while rolling on the ground. After they finally stopped, he instantly realized what the weird thing was.
“No... No, no, no, no!”
He got to his knees in a flash, ignoring all the pain, both his own and the one coming through his connection with Mii, and glanced over the bloodied body of his beloved partner. There were three enormous cuts engraved deep into her side. Litres of blood was spilling onto the grass. He instantly began transferring all of his mana into her body, but the openings reached almost further than half of her body’s width. There was no amount of mana that could speed up regeneration to the extent which would allow fixing those mortal wounds.
“Mii! Please, no! Why?! You should have just kept hidden, you stupid, disobedient rabbit!”
Mii raised her small, twitching nose and brushed over Asterios’s cheek. He could feel her mind getting filled with gratitude and pride. Both from getting to meet and serve such a wonderful master. She grazed his cheek one last time before closing her pained eyes and stopping to move.
Asterios watched as her body slowly began to turn into smoke. A sign of a deceased summon returning back to their world, realm, home. Forever. As a soul. In a few seconds, she was gone.
The world around him went silent. Everything lost its colours. He stared into his hands while completely frozen. Time did not stop though. The predator was preparing itself to finish what it failed to achieve with its previous attack.
Ast didn’t pay even the slightest bit of attention to it. He began feeling like something inside him was cracking, bit by bit. He experienced something similar in the past, but not to this extent. And it wasn’t in a metaphorical sense. Something, in fact, suddenly shattered when his mind got filled with anger and grief. He felt as if some invisible barrier surrounding his body suddenly disappeared.
Scorching hot energy burst out from where his heart was and quickly enveloped his whole body. Asterios’s scream of despair roared into the sky, sending out a wave of powerful energy and pushing the bear slightly away. He could not see it, and most likely wouldn’t even notice in his rage, but his hair turned completely white and his previously blue eyes were now crimson red.
Before the claw began descending again, Asterios felt almost all of the newfound energy disappear and was hit with sudden drowsiness. As he started to lose his consciousness, he saw a shadow jump in front of him and repel the beast’s strike with a swat of its hand. A figure of a girl appeared between him and his assailant.
He watched as the unfamiliar stranger rushed at the Brown Bear while unsheathing two curved shortswords from behind their back. The girl avoided each of the beast’s attacks with unimaginable ease and grace, slashing back at it with speed faster than his eyes could follow.
Asterios started doubting them when he noticed something long swishing behind his saviour's back. And he could swear that there were two weird triangular objects on the top of her short black hair. As he began falling forward, he saw the figure of this weird woman jump into the air and behead the creature with an upside-down pirouette. His face slammed into the ground and everything faded into black.