After Ast’s reply, Miria and Selene slowed down a little and exchanged glances behind his back, giving a knowing smile to each other.
~You need to step forward, Selene, or Master is going to summon another girl before you get to be his second mate.~
~I obviously know that.~
~Then why haven’t you made your move yet? I already said I’d be happy with you joining us. It’s not like you to be this reserved. You were always so flirty with Master.~
~That’s different. I wasn’t like that to seduce him. It was just for fun because that’s how I am. But now that I actually want to get closer to him… I’m starting to have doubts...~
~I know it’s weird coming from me specifically, and it’s pretty much me repeating your words, but just be open with it. Master likes you too and you know it. He already helped you so much. Just let him pet your ears or something and then tell him.~
Selene shook her head internally. ~You and your headpats addiction…~
~Ehehehe… Then... Your tail? Or you can ask him for more help with your external circuits. Didn’t you feel good when he touched them?~
A shiver passed through Selene’s body when she remembered all the exercise sessions with Asterios and how pleasant his fingers felt on her skin, even more than when he brushed with them through her fur and tail. It was a truly addicting sensation.
~I bet Master wouldn’t stop you if you two were alone this time. This is your best chance.~
~Shut it. We don’t even know if another one will be joining us.~
Miria then smiled at her again and caught up to Ast’s side, grabbing and hugging his arm while a slight blush crept onto her face as she wasn’t yet completely used to showing her affection in the public without feeling embarrassed.
“How are we going to recruit that someone, Master? Are you planning to ask Mr. Roalt for help? Or some other adventurer?”
He glanced at her and brushed through her hair with his free hand, evoking an even bigger smile on Miria’s lips.
“I thought about that, but I think it’s time we have another try at summoning. Honestly, there’s nothing stopping us from just repeating the rituals constantly until we build up a decent team besides the materials and catalysts—and my capabilities, of course—and we have access to some funds now. I also want to conduct more tests on it.”
“It’s too bad your researcher friend was left behind in Rosewind, my Lord. I’m sure she would be thrilled to observe your attempts,” Selene added.
“Perhaps, but it’s not like I’m planning to do exactly as I said. I’d rather take it a bit slower and spend some time with each summon to learn more about them and their abilities before calling for another. Unless it will be necessary, of course. And in critical situations, I can safely use Evanescent Summoning as we have learned not so long ago.”
“So, you are going to summon a girl who’s good with reconnaissance now, right?” Miria inquired.
Asterios showed an awkward smile. “I certainly won’t be aiming specifically for a girl. It might be hard to believe, but I never did. Well, they say once an accident, two times a coincidence, and three times a pattern, so my scholarly side is very eager to try again. Maybe it is true that I can summon only girls via normal means now.”
Selene chuckled softly from his side. “That would certainly be a hilarious limitation. And a very beneficial one for the Summoner’s Harem.”
Miria giggled and Asterios rolled his eyes. “Oh, please, that’s definitely not ending up as the name of our party.”
Selene moved closer to him from the other side and grabbed Ast’s arm in a similar fashion as Miria, hugging it to her chest. Both of his sides were now occupied by softly smiling girls keeping his arms in their bosoms, attracting even more gazes than before, mostly from men.
“Isn’t it a proof of status and power when a man is surrounded by beautiful women and highly sought after?” she continued while glancing into his eyes with a tinge of mischievousness present in hers. “Or are you perhaps displeased with the idea of embracing another while having Miria?”
He shook his head. “I’m sure you know very well that’s not it as she was the one to even encourage me not to reject others. I have nothing against polygamy as long as all sides are happy and fine with it too. I am more concerned about the general image of you two and other girls in the party if we—”
Asterios suddenly felt a warm peck on his left cheek as he was explaining his stance and quickly glanced that way, stopping in his tracks. He saw Selene giggle teasingly while locking her eyes with him.
Before he could say anything, something poked his cheek from the right and he turned his face to that side, just to have his lips pecked this time, at the moment he finished rotating his neck. Miria quickly hid her red face in his shoulder afterward, avoiding any eye contact.
If that wasn’t enough, he heard someone click their tongue somewhere in the vicinity and Asterios noticed quite a few clearly jealous and envious stares. He quickly started walking again with a quicker pace to lead them somewhere less hostile, with a teasing vixen and a bashful panther still clinging to his sides, slightly flustered himself.
When they passed a few intersections and took some turns, the girls released his arms and started acting as if nothing happened. Well, at least they tried to as Selene’s tail was still betraying the rest of her body with how enchantingly it danced behind her back and Miria kept her eyes glued to the ground with a heavy blush covering her cheeks, barely being able to walk straight.
He decided not to pry further into their sudden actions, although noting the slightly unusual behavior, especially from Selene. While she did tease him a lot, she didn’t cross the line of direct physical contact yet, besides the time when she was heavily aroused due to his help, and she seemed happy with what she just did.
They sat on a bench in a small park to wait for Miria to cool down a little and discussed the summoning they were going to conduct soon. Asterios explained that he would rather leave the premises of the city and do it somewhere hidden than use one of the specially prepared rooms the Summoner’s Guild rented out for summoning. Its branch was certainly present in such a huge town as Tyrienheim.
The reasons for that were obvious—he didn’t want to disclose too much information, and the service offered by the guild was obviously monitored. Additionally, with how unpredictable his summoning was, Asterios didn’t want to risk something going wrong in the middle of a city. The girls naturally agreed with his reasoning.
With Miria back to her usual self, which was only slightly blushing instead of furiously steaming from embarrassment, they headed towards the Adventurer’s Guild to do three things—register with an advisor, ask about a nice clearing outside of the town, and see if there’s any information on Teira.
They reached the grand, wooden building without any issues. It seemed that most of these were kept in a similar fashion even when almost all neighboring houses and shops had stone or other mineral facades. It certainly created an interesting vibe with how unique the place looked.
Inside was as noisy as they remembered it from when they came here to report their arrival and completion of the escort mission. This time though, pretty much all receptionists were extremely busy. All besides one, whose queue was nonexistent.
The lone receptionist looked to be a cute girl of short stature. Even from afar, it was obvious she must have been standing on some kind of a platform or a stool. Noticing her very short but sharp ears, Asterios recognized her as a Dwarf. A peculiar one at that. Most subraces were quite burly, but this one was clearly slim.
She had unusual, dark emerald hair, woven into two thick and short braids hanging over her shoulders and onto her chest. The girl's eyes were in a similar hue, and she had a charming, almost adorable face. Asterios wouldn’t go as far as to call it childish, but the girl certainly fit in the cute and sweet category. Which again, wasn’t anything common for dwarven women. It was even harder to judge her age now.
“I have a bad feeling about this, my Lord.”
“Well… You don’t know until you try, right?”
The trio approached the girl standing at her post with a clearly bored expression, almost lying on the counter while supporting her face with her petite hands. They stopped in front of the receptionist, making her only lift her gaze in an uninterested way.
“What? Nevah seen a slim Dwarf, eh?”
The unusual, almost hostile tone the receptionist addressed them directly with surprised the group, but not as much as hearing such a fitting and adorable voice use a heavily dwarven accent, which was another thing Asterios found unexpected.
It might not have been something uncommon hundreds of years ago, but in the current age, barely any families existed that still spoke this way. It actually was seen as racist in some circles to make jokes about the way Dwarves spoke in the past. He definitely wasn’t expecting to hear this accent ever, without having a chance to meet someone of the ancient dwarven lineage, and it would be even more surprising to find them working as a mere receptionist.
“Ya think I didn’ catch yer gazers drillin’ into me from da entrance, ha? Starin’ at me like at sum rare beast? If ya came here fer a show then sorry to disappoint ya, not in da mood.”
“It’s not like that. We—”
“Ya, ya, they all say that. Still curious? Papa boned an Elf chick and bam, here comes yer Truvi with a bod of a 132cm tall little goddess, the voice of an angel, and an accent of a century-old, half-drunk, seasick pirate, which is da only FREAKIN’ thing she gets from da great Pappy. Funny story, eh? Now scram before I break more than just da guild’s etiquette.”
The girls were still a bit confused by the hostile stance of the receptionist called Truvi, but Asterios was starting to get the picture, at least partially. He could imagine many people approaching her expecting a cute and sweet girl—maybe even planning to hit on her as it often happened to the receptionists—and then hearing Trudi’s way of speaking, even if not filled with annoyance.
Such a situation could easily evolve into Truvi being some kind of a rare occurrence as she called herself before. Just her unusual body would be enough to be a target for rumors, especially between Dwarves who were completely into more burly individuals of their race.
With everyone starting to approach her just to see her for themselves and hear her different accent, it wouldn't have been unexpected for Truvi to turn almost hostile to anyone who glanced at her even just a little funnily.
“Still here?” Truvi raised herself from the counter seeing that Ast’s party just kept standing there in confusion. “If ya think am not gonna keep mah words—”
“No, I believe you would,” Asterios firmly interrupted her. “I apologize if we came out as rude by staring at you so much, but we didn’t come here to make fun of you. We are looking to register for an advisor and you seemed to be quite free, but perhaps we are just bothering you, sorry about that.”
Truvi's emerald eyes widened and she quickly started patting out her uniform. She threw her braids behind her back and brought up what most likely would be called her best smile.
“I apologize for m...y inappropriate behavior, dear adventurers. M...y name is Truvi and I’m pleased to make yo...your acquaintance. How can I help yo...yo… ARGH, FRICK, I CAN’T!”
It was clear she tried to speak to them in a polite and sweet tone, using the proper accent, but everyone in Ast’s party was able to see how tough it was for Truvi to pronounce words differently until she finally broke the act and caught her head with her hands.
“Laugh as much as ya want… Frick… Am so gonna get fired this month… Should’ve stayed in da forge with Papa…” she said dejectedly.
“Ummm… Miss Truvi?” Miria called out to the receptionist quietly, capturing her attention.
“Can’t you just talk… normally? Ah! I mean, however it feels right for you, not normally like everyone else!”
“Ya think I haven’ tried, kitty girl? But with mah voice? Am just a laughin’stock. No one takes it seriously fer longer than a month…”
“Honestly, I don’t care if you speak with a Common or Dwerguhian accent,” Asterios joined.
“Ya know Dwerguhian?” Truvi raised her gaze, slightly surprised.
“A little bit. Just enough to decipher the old texts with understanding. I can’t speak it though, my tongue never wanted to cooperate with me on that.”
He then gathered some mana in his finger and drew crimson lines in the air as when he was making a sigil, but this time there was more than just one symbol. Truvi’s eyes widened even more than previously when she read the word ‘Friend’ in Dwerguhian, which was also called Old Dwarven in the current times when most races just used Common.
“I believe we can help each other. But first, I would like to know: are you a good advisor?”
“Help each other? Errrr… Ya must have figured it out, am da least popular one unless ya count all da clowns comin’ fer entertainment.”
“I didn’t ask about your popularity. I want to know if you are good at your job.”
Truvi blinked a few times. Adventurers usually only cared about their advisor being popular or cute so that they could boast to others. And popular advisors often had better contact with the higher-ups due to their efficiency, so that meant better deals for their adventurers.
She quickly straightened her posture and hit her petite chest with her fist. “Am da best one here! Ya can’t find bettah! I’ll support ya like no one evah!”
“Then that’s great. If I interpreted your words correctly, you are lacking a protege, right? And a receptionist without any protegees might get laid off, especially if they aren’t too popular either,” Asterios repeated what he heard from Ellie in the past.
“Ya hit da nail on da head.”
“Then, would you mind becoming our advisor?”
Truvi raised one of her brows. “Eh? Even aftah I was so rude? Ya serious?”
“I am. I believe you had decent reasons to be skeptical. We can just act like it never happened.”
After listening to Ast’s reply, Truvi assumed a thinking expression while glancing over him and the girls. Asterios was sure she was still doubtful, wary of being made fun of again as it might have happened in the past.
She finally sighed and then lowered her head. “Aight. I apologize fer my previous actions. I promise to do ma best if ya register me as yer advisor.”
“No problems here, Master.”
“Glad to be working with you then, Truvi. My name is Asterios, a D-rank Summoner and the leader of this party.”
“Imma fill da paper right now and we can get to da business. What’s yer party’s name?”
“It’s not ye—”
“Summoner’s Harem!” both of the girls said in unison.
Truvi glanced up from the form she was filling and met Ast’s eyes as silence fell between them.
“Pfffftt.” At least until she suddenly snorted and started giggling quite adorably, switching into soft laughter at the end. “Ahahaha…. Haha… Ha… That’s certainly a unique one, but I can see it, haha.”
Asterios glanced to his sides. “Really?” Seeing Miria’s and Selene’s determined expressions, he sighed and turned back to Truvi. “Really.”
“Aight, Mr. Harem Summoner. I’ll be back in a jiffy.”
After she jumped off her platform and disappeared behind a curtain, Asterios dragged his hand across his face. “Rudy will never let it go after she learns of this…”
"Look at it this way, my Lord—no girl uninterested in sharing you will ever bother you with that party name, fufufu~"
Truvi came back visibly happy. She didn’t try to speak differently anymore and they spent a few minutes talking about this branch and Tyrienheim as a whole. The trio quickly got used to her accent, especially Asterios.
Asked about a nice place without much happening around, she brought a map and a few notebooks, going through them like wind and plotting countless lines on it. It seemed that Truvi wasn’t just boasting and actually was a skilled and knowledgeable receptionist.
In ten minutes, she presented them with a heatmap of the forests around Tyrienheim, which included common monster routes and adventuring paths. Asterios was truly impressed. He only expected to learn about the decent spots, not receive a complex guide in the form of an improved map.
Truvi told them that it was just some basic information and she could create a much better and more detailed map if they gave her a few hours. Asterios declined, taking a mental note of who to go to if he ever needed that kind of help.
They finally reached the last topic. The village of Teira.
“Hmmm… That cursed place, eh? Whaddya need to know?”
“Cursed?” Asterios raised his brow.
“Oh boy, we ar in fer a story, eh?”
“Well, I know that it was raided by bandits almost two decades ago. Did something happen afterward?”
“It’s not about somethin' happenin’ but more about somethin’ not bein’ able to happen.”
“What?” Asterios was only getting more confused.
“Baby steps, boy. First, while in da area, ya feel like in a weak static field. Ya know, hair standing up, tingly skin. Second, magic is greatly suppressed. And third, da most important, it’s as if time has stopped there.”
“What do you mean by time has stopped there, Ms. Truvi?” Selene was the one to ask this time.
“It’s just Truvi for ya girls. And ya too, boy. Anyway, in simple words, vegetation doesn’t grow, all da rubble, ruins, burnt wood, stays exactly like da day aftah da incident, no matter da weather or other stuff. They tried to rebuild da village, but with da curse present, it was just too inconvenient. That's why da kingdom was sending mages to lift it each month but they didn’t succeed. Now, they only send an expedition once a year.”
Asterios rubbed his chin. That certainly was extremely weird and highly suspicious. Why would a village burnt in a common bandit’s raid be left in such a mysterious state? And even the kingdom’s mages couldn’t do anything about it? Was there actually more to it than he believed? Was it somehow connected to him?
The girls sensed Ast’s tense mood and Miria placed a hand on his shoulder to bring him back from the depths of his mind. It worked and Asterios smiled at her gently before moving his gaze to their new advisor again.
“Thanks for the information. Are there any restrictions placed on that area? Like no trespassing on the kingdom’s operation zone?”
“Nah, it’s all clear. There’s even a reward if someone figures out how to fix da old curse. There’s nothing left in there besides rubble. It’s actually quite a popular sightseeing spot, hah. People love da mysteries.”
“Thanks again. It surely sounds intriguing. We might drop by at some point. Till next time then, Truvi.”
Saying their goodbyes, Asterios and his girls left the guild and headed back home. Kindra should already be back and he wanted to let her know he’d be leaving the city for a brief moment to have another try at summoning.
They reached the building and found his mother inside. She roped them into a short break while she listened to what they have been doing after they split. Asterios explained his plans afterward and then stood up to leave, but stopped for a moment.
“Something wrong?” Kindra asked.
A thoughtful expression showed up on his face. “We should find you a man.”
“I’d be much less worried if you had someone by your side when I’m not around. Especially knowing that half of your family isn’t too happy about your return.”
Kindra stood up hastily. “I don’t need a man!”
“Hmmm… A woman then?”
“I see. That would certainly explain why you are always teasing all the cute girls around me so much.”
“I’M NOT GAY!” Kindra shouted at Asterios, took a few big steps, and crashed against his chest, hugging him tightly. “Why are you bullying me...”
“Gee, I wonder why too. It’s not as if I was raised by someone whose whole life was mostly teasing others or something”
Kindra giggled in his embrace. “You never took after me so much though.”
“I feel like the presence of a certain someone began tipping the scales. I could resist one prankster but two might be too much for me.”
It was Selene who chuckled softly this time from the sofa behind them.
“I really don’t need any other man in my life…” Kindra whispered.
“If it was someone different right now, they would have surely taken that as a confession,” Asterios chuckled at her.
Kindra raised her gaze and started poking his cheek with her finger while smiling charmingly. “But it’s you and not someone different in front of me right now. The you that knows me inside out.”
Asterios raised one of his brows, making her smile a little bit more awkwardly.
“Well… Maybe except for some family matters, hahaha…”
“What do I have to go through with you…” He shook his head. “I was serious though.”
“I know, but so was I. I’ve never felt the need to find a boyfriend or a husband. I know I shouldn’t say that it won’t ever change, but it’s still the same right now.”
“I obviously won’t pressure you, but I will think of something else, and you can’t reject it when the time comes.”
“I won’t. I don’t want you to worry about me all the time too. Especially now, when you have a lot of other personal matters to worry about.”
She grabbed his cheeks and pulled Ast’s face down to plant a kiss on his forehead before stepping away. They smiled at each other and Kindra basically pushed him out of their new house so that he went ahead with his plans.
Selene jumped back to her realm for now and Miria served as Ast’s steed during the short journey to the outside of Tyrienheim. They passed the gate without any issues and headed for one of the spots clear from the lines Truvi plotted on the map. Miria brought them there in less than fifteen minutes.
A small clearing in a dense forest was found by her shortly after they arrived. Selene rejoined the party as Asterios was jumping off Miria’s back.
“Well then. Shall we have a go at it?”