Chapter 76 – An Unexpected Result
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The trio carefully stepped into the remains of the building while Umbra watched over them from the skies. As they have previously assumed, it could have been a two-story building. Now, they could also see that it had quite a few rooms on the bottom floor, judging by the parts of walls protruding from the charred rubble and wood.

Each of them went into a different non-existent-now room to look around. Asterios hoped that seeing the layout of the house or leftover parts of it would somehow stimulate his memory and make him recall something, but he felt nothing when going around all of the rubble. Not even the slightest trace of familiarity. 

It was weird. He knew that part of his memories was sealed by a powerful spell, but he should be able to at least feel something through the bits he still had access to, even if subconsciously. Yet, he had the impression that this was just a random house in some random village.

Was the seal present in his mind so powerful as to block even the slightest connections between memories from past and behind it? That would require an unimaginable level of prowess in mental and sealing techniques, and even Umbra was not sure with his expertise in the mind. The subconsciousness was not that easy to completely block off.

“Master! Come here to see this!”

Miria’s call brought Asterios out of his thoughts and he headed towards the source of her voice. He met with Selene midway and they walked towards the panthergirl together. 

They found her in the remains of a room next to the corridor linking the entrance hall with what most likely was a row of lodgings. Miria was standing in its middle and crouching while looking at something on the floor. Umbra perched on a piece of leftover wall, joining them.

Noticing their arrival, she turned her head to look at them and pointed at the ground.

“Look. Isn’t this weird? Everything else is at least burned to some degree, but this piece of wooden floor looks almost intact.”

Asterios stepped closer to her and glanced over Miria, spotting the suspicious area. It truly looked to be completely unscathed while every remaining part of the room was either charred black almost into coal or heavily burned.

“You are right. Perhaps something was there that covered the floor and was picked up or moved by someone after the accide—ugh!”

A sudden pang of pain interrupted Asterios and he stumbled forward with a heavy grimace appearing on his face.

“Master!” 

Miria immediately stood up and supported his body while Asterios caught his head with his hand. She looked at him with worry as Selene also stepped forward and held Asterios from the other side, just in case.

Meanwhile, he kept blankly staring straight at the undamaged part of the flooring. A weird scene began playing in front of his eyes. His perspective was very low and he was looking up. It was immediately clear to him that he was on the floor of the burning building with how bright everything was while a clear night sky was visible above, through the non-existent roof.

He noticed a silhouette of a person, most likely a woman, standing up from kneeling by him. It was impossible to figure out any details. She was just like a shadow; blurry and unfocused. 

There was another person, he assumed a man, just by her side, also similarly unrecognizable. One thing was clear even with this weird interference. To Ast’s complete disbelief, the man was holding a broken burning beam with his bare hand above his and everyone else’s heads. Neither the man nor the woman was making anything of the fire running amok around them. They moved calmly, staring at him lying on the floor.

The two looked at each other and the man started lowering the wooden beam. He got confused. Was this playing backward? But it didn’t look like the flow of time was reversed. Then, Asterios thought he would get crushed, but the log stopped slightly above him. The fire was dangerously close though. 

Somehow, just as he mentioned it to Selene before, he did not feel like his younger self was bothered by it either, and he could now even see his baby arms reaching out as if to play with it.

He had no doubts that he was left alone and the two people he saw before were gone. His younger self quickly grew bored of trying to catch the fire in front of him and started crying for attention while shifting his head to most likely look for the two people.

Around five to ten minutes later—approximately, since Asterios had no idea if his grasp on time was correct in this vision—he began hearing footsteps, and the familiar part of his memories started playing. Kindra ran into the room and found him under the beam, quickly picking him up and running back to the caravan.

The image blurred and he found himself back in his body, now upheld by both Miria and Selene. The girls noticed his expression turning less strained and helped him slowly sit down. Asterios groaned while rubbing his forehead.

“Is everything okay? Maybe we should stop for today? There’s no rush, right?” Miria moved to his front and glanced at his face with concern.

“It’s… okay… I’m fine… Looks like seeing this spot somehow made part of my locked memories slip through the seal and resurface or something…”

“Oh. That’s good, right? Did you remember something important?”

He nodded and filled them in on the weird memory the best he could, adding his thoughts and sensations from back then into it.

Selene was the first to speak after he finished. “So… Would they be… your parents?”

“I mean… It’s possible…”

“How could they!” Miria stood up abruptly, visibly angry. “What kind of mother leaves her child in a burning house and walks away! There’s no way they are his parents! Why would someone even do something like this! Why didn’t they just run away with him!”

Asterios glanced up at her with a soft smile. Miria noticed it and immediately blushed a little, crouching down again. He gently ran his fingers through her hair when she came back down.

“I don’t know, but with all the little details pieced together… it all feels like… I might not be from here.”

“What do you mean, Master?” She tilted her head.

“Ah. I see.” Selene nodded while rubbing her chin. “When we consider that you don’t feel any, not even the slightest attachment to this village, and the part where these two people clearly place you down in this house to leave you here, it truly looks like something bigger is going on.”

“Yeah. Now, were they really my parents? I did feel like I knew them somehow, but that could have just been the familiarity the younger me gained by being around them. Were they part of the bandits’ group if we still consider that story true? Or were they completely unaffiliated and only made use of the opportunity to drop me here amidst the chaos? I don’t think they wanted me dead, that’s for sure. Maybe they were ordered to kill all the survivors but had a hard time with a newborn and decided to leave it to fate.”

“We are finding more and more questions again…” Miria’s ears flopped down as she commented dejectedly.

“Don’t worry.” He tried cheering her up by brushing her cheeks. “It’s always like that. Nothing in life is as simple as it looks.”

“Pardon my words, my Lord, but when it comes to you, there isn’t even a hint of simplicity present. Everything is so weird and cryptic it's hard to believe you are just a normal human. Unless humans have it in common to have such complex and almost scheme-like lives from the very birth,” Selene added.

“That’s true. My whole life seems to be one huge lie. And it’s only the tip of the iceberg.”

“Then we are going to melt it and reveal everything! I swear!” Miria looked into his eyes with a determined expression.

Seeing her like that, close to his face, Asterios pushed himself forward and lightly pecked her lips. Miria smiled softly and backed away, looking slightly to the side. They both heard a chuckle from above.

“I would tell you two to get a room, but I’m afraid it will be impossible under current circumstances.” Selene glanced at them with a mischievous smile and they chuckled too. “But, as for the revealing part, I think we can start right now.”

They looked at her slightly confused while Selene asked Asterios and Miria to stand up. She moved them away from the unscathed spot.

“Let’s see…”

With a wave of her hand, a few bluish spiritual sigils appeared in the air. Selene compressed them and joined her palms together. As she drew them back, increasing the space between them, Asterios and Miria could see a spiritual blade taking form.

With its entirety completely shaped, Selene grabbed the ethereal hilt of the newly created katana and shoved the tip into the clean wood, sinking it in a few centimeters.

“I’m always amazed how easily these cut through stone or earth,” Miria spoke with amazement.

“That’s not it.” Selene shook her head.

She cut a hole by going around the edges of the visible wood and supported the now unsuspended material with her energy, bringing it up afterward and revealing a hollow space under the flooring, where the foundations should usually be.

“Is it a cellar?” Miria asked. “I didn’t see any stairs or doors leading down.”

A wisp of blue fire descended from Selene’s palm into the hole, illuminating it. They noticed that the space inside was small, closer to something like a crate or chest rather than an underground room. It also didn’t look like something finely crafted but as if someone ferociously dug out the stone with claws.

“I do not know what it is, but the existence of this space was not what brought my attention to the floor.”

Selene crouched down, looked around inside the small compartment, and reached down with her hand after a few moments. She brought something out and showed it to them. Umbra moved to her shoulder.

~It seems you’ve noticed it as well. This thing gives off quite weird spiritual vibes.~

“What’s this? Part of a broken plate? Or armor? It doesn’t look like metal…” Miria mused.

“That’s definitely a scale,” Asterios explained. 

He took the item from Selene and examined it. The scale was around his thumb’s size, maybe slightly bigger. It was dark red and extremely tough. He could also feel some traces of spiritual energy left inside of it.

“This could belong to a Lizardman. They are humanoid species considered monsters with how vicious and primitive they are. Basically, a lizard walking on its hind legs that’s slightly over two meters tall. Or, it could also come from a young Wyvern. The scales of a mature one are usually larger, but they sometimes retain the small ones around certain areas, the age is just my assumption.”

“Could it be a Dragon’s scale?” Miria’s eyes sparkled with excitement.

“No way.” Asterios chuckled. “Even the youngest ones are said to have their smallest scales to be at least twice if not thrice this size. But, it’s not like there are any examples anywhere to see anymore.“

“Assuming that you are not from here, my Lord, I don’t think the owners of this house would hide a scale of a Lizardman or a Wyvern in such fashion. Could it be that the people you saw in your memory left it here? Could the man have been a Lizardman?” Selene asked.

“Well, there would be the problem of how they put it there without damaging the floor if it wasn’t prepared during the construction of the house, which seems quite a far guess to me. I have no idea if the man was a Lizardman. I did not see a tail or its blurred shape. But, if we assume they were the ones to leave it there…”

Asterios furrowed his brows while looking at the scale. It was clear to the girls that he was going through his knowledge and memories after noticing something.

“Right… That could explain the undamaged floor…”

“Did you figure something out, Master?”

“If I’m not wrong, a Dragon’s scale would be almost immune to fire. I’ve heard about ancient relics and artifacts made with their use. Especially armor. It often boasted layer-like protection from it. So, if this really is a Dragon’s scale, it could perhaps have been deliberately placed under me by them to keep the fire at bay. But how would they get one? Who were they?”

~I, unfortunately, don’t know either, but I can sense a connection between this scale and the area we are in. And it so happens that the trace I can sense leads to where I earlier assumed the core of a formation would be if there was one in this village,~ Umbra chipped in.

“Maybe there’s another. We should check it out. Who knows, it might jolt your memory again, my Lord. That is if you are feeling well enough to continue,” Selene suggested.

“Yeah, I’m good. And I don’t want to delay this. Lead us there, Umbra. We will look around on the way too.”

As Umbra took off, they left the ruins of the house and stepped back into the streets. Following the shadowy raven in the sky, they walked through a few turns and twists, glancing around at the remains of wooden buildings, completely burned to the ground. The fact that they all still looked freshly after a fire bothered them a lot. It was hard to get accustomed to the heavy and slightly warm air. 

Checking out a few other buildings, they noticed some weird marks and shapes on the remaining parts of walls or floor that weren’t completely charred. After a moment of thinking, they came to a distressing conclusion that those were irregular outlines created by an intense fire scorching the residents to ashes while leaving their silhouettes behind.

Normal fire could hardly do something like that. The magical nature of it, pointed out by Selene, made their assumption even more dreadful. It had to be incredibly strong and hot. 

And after noticing these, they could now clearly see the possible origin of the flames and their direction with how the shapes were always positioned outwards from that point. He again linked it with his earlier outburst and how it instantly charred the surroundings in a short burst of flames, but Miria and Selene tried to keep him off such thoughts.

Another thing they noticed, after Selene got curious about something and scratched the remains of a wooden pillar with her hand covered in spiritual energy, the wood would return to its previous state shortly after the action was taken. The place truly earned its title of the cursed village lost in time.

Finally, they arrived at the spot Umbra told them about, seeing the raven circle above a small square in the western part of the village. There was some more space here, most likely used to hold stands and booths of a local market or something. Teira should have had quite some visitors with how it was positioned between the bigger cities.

“So… What now?” Miria asked, glancing around.

“Anything weird here, Selene, Umbra?”

“I can feel a similar spiritual signature to the one I sensed around the scale, but… it’s very scattered here instead of focused.”

~I suspect there might be an array hidden here or something similar. As Selene said, the energy is spread around. We should be careful. I have no idea what it could do. Besides maybe being responsible for this curse.~

Asterios opened his circuits for the blazing mana, changing his appearance, this time again with his pupils turning vertical even without borrowing Miria’s power, and checked the new weapon he got from Imadil.

“Alright. Let’s take a look around while having our guards u—”

“Master?” Miria interrupted him and Asterios turned around. “The scale?”

He saw her pointing at him and glanced down where her finger was aimed at. The dark red scale was levitating in the air above his spatial pouch, slowly making its way up while surrounded by a wisp of bluish energy. He was extremely confused at how it got out of the magical storage more than how it was able to float by itself.

Asterios tried catching the scale but he instantly let it go while releasing a loud hiss and rubbing the inner side of his palm. The scale burned him incredibly bad even through his quite durable glove, which was part of the offensive artifact on his forearm.

Everyone observed how it reached a certain height and flew to the center of the square. Shortly after, the ground started shaking as the scale flashed with blue light. Miria and Selene instantly jumped in front of Asterios, taking defensive stances to protect him in case of an attack.

But, whatever spell or magic the scale was part of, didn’t seem to do anything else besides making the earth tremble heavily. After around thirty seconds, the tremors stopped, with the scale still hung up in the air.

“That’s it? What was the meaning of this the—”

*CRACK*

*CRACK*

*CRACK* *CRACK* CRACK*

Tens of huge crevices suddenly appeared over the whole place, stopping Miria from finishing her sentence. Moments later, chunks of earth broke off the ground with loud noise and surged towards the scale, starting to merge together and form some shape.

“You gotta be kidding me…” Asterios exclaimed in disbelief.

In front of their eyes, a huge humanoid silhouette was being created, with the stone and earth present in the square as its base material. But, the moment the flying chunks joined together, they changed color into unanimous dark grey, announcing a change in their structure.

In just a few seconds, a two-meter-tall dark grey statue kneeled in the center of the square. It had a general shape of a humanoid, a thick lizard-like tail coming from above its butt, hands with clawed fingers, and a scale-like carving around certain, external parts of its body. Besides that, it looked like a human. Or maybe a demon with its ears being much sharper than those of humans.

“Is that how Lizardmen look in your world, Master? Because it certainly doesn’t seem like any species of Lizardkin I know of from back at home,” Miria commented.

“No. The head is nothing like it and the visual representation of the scales is way different too.” 

It then stood up, rising to something around four meters in total. They instantly spotted the red scale lodged in its forehead.

“Oh, great… If that thing is this Golem’s core then I’m not even sure if we can destroy it,” he added.

The stone statue’s eyes then flashed with a blue glow and its head turned exactly at Asterios.

“I don’t think it likes you, my Lord…”

The Golem extended its arm to the side and more chunks of earth started breaking off the ground and flying up into its open palm, clearly forming a greatsword.

“At least that stone blade shouldn't be much more than a blunt club,” Miria commented.

~Duck!~

Immediately after the sword had finished forming, the statue lunged at them and made a quick, horizontal slash. They all crouched to avoid it under Umbra’s call. The blade cut through a few remaining stone and wooden parts walls like through butter, surprising everyone with its sharpness.

~Everyone, scatter! Miria! Enhance your weapons and see if you can even scratch it! Selene! Go all out! We aren’t taking any risks here and your strength should be a decent match for it! Umbra! Stay up there and be my eyes! We are running away immediately if things go south!~ Asterios shouted his orders through their mental connection to make use of its quick transmission.

Miria and Selene immediately jumped to the sides and deepened their bonds with Asterios. He didn’t use part of his attention to see flashes of their vision, but instead, he went all-in on sharing his sight with Umbra. One of his eyes turned fully black.

While dodging another attack, this time vertically from above, Asterios quickly drew correct sigils on the ground and activated them after finishing the last one. They merged and flew to his glove, where he bound the full rune, allowing him to boost his physical capabilities thanks to Miria.

Knowing well that Asterios would be able to dodge that vertical swipe, Selene focused on quickly activating the furthest stage of her Awakening, and three bushy tails appeared behind her back. She wouldn’t let another attempt to harm her master be made and immediately pushed herself off the ground, slamming her fist against the side of the stone blade.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t enough to break it as she wanted and only created a few tiny cracks over its surface. But, at least the Golem turned its focus from Asterios to her, which already was a success. She was pushed back to the ground and started avoiding the stone puppet’s blows.

His new toy wouldn’t be of much help here so Asterios focused on what he was best at; his techniques. He quickly drew Haste sigil and passed it onto Miria as she ran by him after coating her blades with her wind mana, already starting to conjure another spell right after she left.

Miria arrived at the Golem’s back and timed her lunge with its next attack aimed at Selene as Asterios instructed her mentally. Her powered blades slashed at the giant’s stone skin but left only shallow streaks in it, bouncing back with a loud clang. Asterios was right. This wasn’t just a normal stone.

Sensing her attack, the Golem swung its left hand at her, leaving the sword only in his right, but Miria had been warned about it in time and easily got out of its reach. She glanced at Asterios with a smile. She was really impressed how he could watch over them while preparing techniques at the same time.

~Don’t let your mind wander now! Praise comes after the fight!~ he berated her, sensing her emotions through their deepened bond.

~Sorry!~

She felt her skin getting covered with a layer of protection shortly after, coming from Ast’s Iron Skin spell he just attached to his glove. Refocusing her thoughts, Miria started looking for any weak points in their opponent’s body.

Selene had no problems dodging or blocking the Golem’s blows, but her own attacks, even boosted spiritually, could hardly do anything to it, which was slightly ticking her off. She knew she wasn’t the strongest being in her Awakened state, but it was the first time her raw strength had this little effect.

~Don’t let it get to you. This is not a normal golem. If nothing will work, we are going to run,~ Ast’s voice echoed in her mind.

~But it could be a hint about your past.~

~I would rather forget all about it than have to forget about you.~

The sudden, almost confession-like words from him took her by surprise. The short disruption in her focus resulted in Selene’s dodge being a bit too late and she quickly crossed her arms in front of her in anticipation of an incoming hit. But, it never connected.

Black tendrils shot out of the statue’s shadow and stopped the stone sword shortly before it reached her. Selene quickly jumped back and they disappeared. Umbra flew out of her shadow shortly after and rose up into the sky again. She nodded at him with gratitude.

~Focus. And go all out. We will cover you. You have the highest chances of doing something to it.~

That one line from before replayed in Selene’s mind. A soft smile made its way onto her lips and a warm sensation started to spread through her body. Being cared for this much by someone really felt incredible, even if she knew he didn’t mean it exactly like that. She was thankful Asterios was on the other side of the puppet or he would definitely notice her slightly rosy cheeks.

She pushed all the unnecessary thoughts away when another sensation began spreading through her body; one that increased her spiritual efficiency by a lot.

~Your wish is my command, my Lord.~

A powerful pressure flared through the air as Selene’s external circuits flashed brightly; both the ones on her arms and those on her legs. She poured as much mana into them as she could, making the demonic apparitions show themselves up again. 

This time though, besides huge spiritual arms floating above her physical ones, two demonic legs from thighs down appeared too, on her sides. They kind of looked like the legs of a Werewolf monster from Ast’s realm crossed with some demonic race.

She lowered herself and tensed her muscles. A wide grin appeared on Selene’s face and the ground cracked a moment later as she launched herself forward, aiming at the joints of the golem’s raised arm it just directed at Miria.

A loud boom resonated through the air when Selene’s ethereal fist crashed into the stone puppet, throwing it off balance. She jumped back and landed near Miria to observe with her the aftereffects of her attack.

When the Golem turned to them again, they could see much more visible cracks in its surface, but they still were far from good damage. Selene clicked her tongue. She would definitely not last long enough in her Awakened state to grind that puppet into dust.

The two girls nodded at each other and engaged with the Golem at the same time, starting to exchange blows. Miria mostly attempted to drive her blades into the broken parts of the statue, focusing her enhancements on their tips, but it didn’t have much effect. Her speed wasn’t that useful here.

Umbra assisted them by restraining their opponent's movements from time to time and allowing them to make much better prepared and coordinated attacks. He himself didn’t regain enough of his strength in this realm to cause serious damage with his shadow abilities and the puppet had no mind to assault or control.

Asterios was fortunately left alone after the initial attack and could throw his supportive magic at them, but he wasn’t able to achieve that much either. For the whole fight, he was focused on figuring out some weakness to their enemy, but it was proving impossible. Miria and Selene could barely scratch the scale in its head. He was starting to think that the Golem had no weakness and it was its main tradeoff for its lacking combat capabilities.

It could barely react to Selene’s and Miria’s attacks; one boosted by her Awakening and the other making great use of the Haste she received earlier. But, in the battle of attrition, they would be the final loser, no matter what.

Lacking any ideas and not wanting to prolong this for no reason, he decided to make a final attempt.

~Miria, let’s try something out. Come here for a moment.~

Evading another swipe, she stepped back and appeared in front of Asterios in a flash, breathing roughly from all the exercise she was getting.

~Hold on for a moment, Selene, Umbra. Just delay it.~

“Turn around,” he spoke to Miria verbally.

She did it without any questioning and waited. Ast’s hands soon appeared on her exposed lower back and slid up under her top. She was a little confused but trusted him completely.

Asterios started drawing on his scorching hot energy, filling his spiritual circuits to the brim. After reaching their limits, his hands started trailing over Miria’s back, getting increasingly hotter as he condensed his mana in them. He wasn’t sure if it was going to work, but considering the fiery nature of his second source, he was hoping it would.

He finished drawing the sigil he wanted and started pouring all of his blazing mana into it. Miria’s body shivered and she let out a loud moan as something warm started filling both her spiritual circuits and her whole body. She was getting hotter and hotter.

Asterios finished filling up the formation and sent the last wave of his energy to activate it, causing Miria to moan again, making Selene a little curious about what was happening on the sidelines.

Miria felt as if someone suddenly threw a barrel of highly flammable oil into the already burning furnace which was her body, causing an immense explosion of flames.

“Oh wow…”

She opened her eyes after hearing Ast’s surprised voice and immediately understood why it was like that. The fur over her arms was literally burning. No. It was the fire. Almost as if it had been part of her from the very beginning. 

The tongues of crimson flames could be spotted over her legs, tail, and head too, which still retained their previous features, just made out of the literal fire. And it didn’t hurt her. It felt warm. And comfortable.

She couldn’t see it, but Asterios had her back in full view, and what initially started as a sigil covering the top part of her back was now a huge crimson red glowing tattoo from her shoulders to her bottom. At first glance, it looked like a Phoenix or a Dragon. He wasn’t completely sure.

“Looks like we are quite compatible,” he said as she turned to face him.

Even her eyes were now crimson red too, just like his. Miria received Ast’s perspective for a brief moment, allowing her to see herself through his eyes, and didn’t know how to feel. All she could think of was that she looked cool.

“And I thought you couldn’t get any hotter,” Asterios threw in his two cents after hearing her thoughts, making Miria giggle a little. “While this wasn’t what I expected, let’s leave the pondering for later. Can you make use of my energy inside you?”

She closed her eyes and scanned her internal circuits, immediately noticing she felt almost the same as that day in the cavern when they switched bodies, but this time, the powerful energy seemed to belong as much to her as it did to him.

She opened her eyes again while bringing both of her swords up and starting to pour the blazing hot mana into them. The blades began turning slightly red, then crimson, then orange, and then almost blindingly white, bursting in crimson flames too.

“Incredible…” Asterios muttered.

Miria checked them out and nodded to herself, raising her gaze back at Asterios, now completely focused.

“I’m going in.”

He nodded back at her and she disappeared with her Haste, leaving an afterimage of the crimson flames that couldn’t catch up with her.

 

It suddenly got hot here ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

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