Chapter 77 – It’s All Coming Together
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With another layer of spiritual energy shaped into a flat shield, Selene parried an incoming swipe of the Golem’s large sword, making it slam into the ground by her side. Her dancing tails shimmered with a white glow as she made use of the short window of opportunity to condense a whirring javelin of pure mana above one of her demonic-looking ethereal hands.

Just as the giant was raising its weapon back into the air, Selene pushed her strengthened body to its limits and launched the ferocious projectile straight into the stone puppet’s armpit. But, even this failed to do anything more than making her opponent stagger while creating cracks in its skin and chipping away a bit of its body, which started to slowly regenerate.

She readied herself for another attack, when suddenly, two glowing blades surrounded by crimson flames appeared in the center of the Golem’s chest, instantly starting to melt the stone around them.

The large puppet made a motion to shake off whatever had latched itself onto its back and the flaming points disappeared from its body, followed by a soft thump of air just by Selene’s side. Her eyes widened the instant she laid them on the source.

“Miria? Is that you?”

The now flaming panthergirl gave her a bright smile. “Yep. I got help from Master. Come on, let’s finish it off together.”

Selene was still quite in shock from Miria’s completely unexpected change in appearance, not able to stop staring in awe at the mesmerizing fire covering the areas of her body that previously held hair or fur, but she faintly nodded in response.

With another big grin, Miria disappeared from the spot, jumping forward with her Haste. Selene began feeling the fatigue in her body slightly dissipating and being replaced by a comfortable feeling. She glanced at Asterios behind the giant puppet and saw him crouching over a complex-looking magic circle giving off green hues. She also smiled softly and lunged forward, cracking the ground in the process.

The two girls focused their minds on cooperating together with the use of the bond formed between them thanks to being under the same master and quickly synchronized their actions as much as they could at the current moment. 

And again, when they deepened the connection between each other as Asterios had taught them, Selene was reminded just how much stronger Miria’s bond was when compared to her own, clearly allowing the panthergirl to even almost catch up to her level of power with the support she had been receiving from their master. She shook her head to stop these distracting thoughts and fully focused on their opponent.

As Selene and now boosted Miria switched into full offense, the Golem had almost no chance to make a complete uninterrupted swing of its stone greatsword. The moment it tried, Selene blocked it by slamming her fist, coated with spiritual energy, into the blade. Miria then appeared by its body and slashed at the most exposed parts with her heated shortswords. The stone still showed some resistance, but with Selene’s support, she was able to lead the glowing steel through the melting mineral at a moderate speed.

And just after their first combination strike, the Golem almost lost one of its legs. Miria had to jump back to avoid an incoming fist before she could seal the deal. But, they didn’t give it a chance to start regenerating.

Partially copying the technique Asterios used with Miria in the forest dungeon, Selene joined her palms together and started condensing spiritual platforms at various angles all around the huge puppet.

Noticing the first one forming, the panthergirl instantly made use of it and started jumping around with a flurry of blows fast enough to leave only a crimson smudge behind her figure flying from point to point and creating more and more melting cuts in the Golem’s body.

It had no chance to react and just kept being pushed around like a practice target until Miria stopped to catch her breath, appearing by Selene again. The foxkin wasted no time and rushed in while sucking all of her energy back into her source and then transferring it fully to her external circuit covering her right arm.

The Golem, now dripping with melting stone from countless cuts, which started to slowly harden in an inconvenient way, had its movements restricted even more and allowed Selene to easily appear underneath it.

With a fearless grin, she pushed her right fist up. A loud explosion occurred as her attack connected with her opponent’s body, kicking up clouds of dust in the entire area. The Golem was sent flying into the sky without any control on its part.

Even though the visibility near the ground was obstructed, Miria appeared by Selene’s side without a problem. Retaining all the momentum, she grabbed Selene's hands and started to spin around with her in tow, and after a few quick circles, she launched her friend into the air too.

Selene quickly passed the Golem, which had now stopped rising up, and used a spiritual platform to stop her advance. Knowing well what’s coming, she gathered another burst of mana in the external circuits on her legs and pushed herself off it the moment she noticed two flaming and spinning shortswords heading straight at her.

Reaching the first weapon coming her way, Selene’s vision slowed down thanks to the buff from Asterios. She had an easy time calculating the spins in her head and preparing her body. With a perfectly timed kick that hit the pommel of the flaming shortsword, she sent it down at the falling giant’s neck with a loud explosion of spiritual energy.

Aware of the attack, it somehow managed to cross its arms before the speeding blade hit it, but that only made it worse. The force behind the heated-up sword not only easily penetrated both of its stone wrists but also propelled it back even further, sending it crashing against the ground and creating a huge crater in the center of the market; its arms now pinned to its neck and the ground.

Without a second of delay, another flaming blade came raining down from the sky and pierced right into the red scale embedded into its forehead with another loud boom. Thanks to both of those impacts, the area was now again covered in dust.

Selene softly landed on the ground and waved her ethereal arms to create a gust of spiritual wind along with her descent, clearing the air up. The trio was ready to continue the fight further, even though all of them felt quite drained. 

But, when their opponent had been revealed, they all noticed its body not regenerating anymore. What's more, it was starting to crumble down after losing its previous grey color, reverting back to the brown of the earth it picked up at the beginning.

Umbra flew down into the Golem’s remains to check it out as he had the safest way to quickly escape and his shadowy form raised his survivability too.

~It’s done,~ he reported.

Miria and Selene exhaled in relief and the latter withdrew her Awakening, already starting to experience the backlash from using it so much. She stumbled backward but hit something before falling. A man’s arms wrapped themselves around her waist and her head relaxed back on someone’s shoulder.

“Good job. Take it easy now and rest on me,” Ast’s voice rang just by her fluffy ear.

“If you insist, fufufu~” she replied and relaxed all her muscles, letting Asterios hold her.

Miria walked to them while still enveloped in crimson flames.

“I do think this is very cool, but… am I going to stay like this, Master?” she asked as she looked herself over.

“Try expelling all of my mana from your circuits.”

She nodded and closed her eyes to focus. After a few moments, the fire gradually died down and revealed Miria’s black fur hiding behind it. She sighed softly and opened her eyes back.

“I kind of miss that pleasant warmth now…” Miria stroked the fur over her forearms.

Asterios chuckled. “You’ll experience it again many times. We do have to learn more about this.”

“What did you do back then, Master?”

“Honestly, what happened wasn’t really what I expected to happen when activating the technique. Since your wind enchantment was completely ineffective, I wanted to try sharing with you my fiery mana while drawing a fire-attribute formation on your back. You aren’t really experienced with that element so it was meant to allow you to draw on my energy inside your body and channel it through the sigil to create and control fire like you have been doing with your mana and wind.”

“Ooooooh. That sounds great. But not as great as what had happened, hahaha.”

“Definitely. Perhaps thanks to our compatibility and strength of the bond between us, it was somehow affected. The sigils I drew on your back changed after you absorbed everything I had sent you and then things happened. You are just incredible. That’s all.”

Miria giggled as a faint blush adorned her cheeks. “It’s only thanks to you. The more time we spend together, the stronger I get. I could never do something like this on my own.”

“I’m glad you are happy. But, let’s check the Golem first and continue the chat later. Mind helping me out with Selene?”

Miria glanced at the comfortable expression on her friend's face and smiled softly. “I think you will be fine, Master. Someone has to be on the lookout in case anything else happens, don’t you think?”

“Right...”

There was Umbra to keep watch over them, but Asterios didn’t feel like pointing that out. Since Selene clearly had trouble even standing up, he scooped her into a princess carry and headed towards the destroyed lumps of earth.

“I guess you’ve regained your masculinity now, fufufu~” Selene chuckled at him with a mischievous smile.

“I’m pretty sure you’ve carried me twice, so no, not yet.” He smiled back at her.

When they reached the remains of the Golem, Selene urged him to let her down for the time they would be investigating as she wouldn’t want to inconvenience him too much. Albeit a little reluctant, he agreed, and Miria supported her in his stead.

In front of them was a semi-deep crater with a mass of crushed stone and earth in the center, with two steel shortswords sticking out from the ground near each other. While the first one was embedded hilt-deep into the soil, the second one was sunk less than one-third of its length. It was the weapon aimed at the supposed core.

Asterios tried pulling it out, but it proved impossible for him. He could try another technique to borrow more strength from Miria, but he wasn’t really the type to show off or take shame in being weaker than a girl.

Before he could ask one of them for help though, Umbra’s shadowy tendrils began rising from under his feet and quickly enveloped most of his body like a one-piece armor.

~Try it now, Master.~

Encouraged by Umbra, Asterios placed his hands on the hilt again and pulled up. He could feel the incredible difference in strength as even the ground under him cracked during this attempt. Logically speaking, his legs shouldn’t be able to sustain such pressure, but it definitely had something to do with this shadow suit.

After a moment, the sword popped out of the ground and almost made him fall onto his butt but black tendrils shot out of Ast’s back and stabilized him by burying into the earth behind him.

“This is quite handy. What exactly are you doing?” Asterios asked.

~While I could create a humanoid form with my shadow, or anything else being able to grab things, it’s way easier to just cover you with an exoskeleton with my body and use it as the base. I can leave the control to you and only focus on the effects, like increasing your physical strength.~

“That’s so amazing!” Miria praised him. “Does it make Master safer too?”

~Well, this certainly provides a good defensive layer, but technically speaking, it’s still my own body. I won’t get hurt by simple weapons and the weakest magic, but at the same time, I’m very used to changing my shape when avoiding attacks and I could end up doing that subconsciously.~

“Ah. I’m sorry, I didn’t think of that. Yeah, that could be dangerous. For both of you. And it looks way obvious anyway. But it can be useful when sneaking around at night.”

After she finished, the shadow enveloping Ast’s body seeped through the material of his normal armor and disappeared. Asterios pulled his collar a little and revealed a thin layer of black misty undergarments over his skin.

~No one said I have to be on the outside.~ Umbra chuckled in their minds.

Asterios nodded and made sure to remember such a useful trick for possible later use. Right now, he returned his focus to Miria’s blade he was holding in his hand and everyone else also glanced at it.

“After all of that… and only this much?” Selene was the first to speak, not even trying to hide her surprise and amazement.

On the very tip of the sword was the dark crimson scale, pierced by the metal. But, the shocking part was the fact that it had been barely punctured by the previously heated-to-white flaming weapon, additionally launched towards its target by Selene’s incredibly powerful kick. Yet, the tip had not sunk into it deep enough to even threaten the scale with splitting it into two.

“There’s no way this is a Lizardman’s scale or any other beast's from this realm. Even amongst those I do know, this level of durability would be something that’s characteristic for Tier 1 or Ascended ones,” Asterios commented, examining the sturdy petal.

“Maybe it was reinforced with magic?” Miria asked.

With Umbra’s help, he pried the scale off the blade and threw it at her. Miria started applying as much force as she could onto it, but the scale was as tough as before, even with a glaring cut in the middle.

“Then it should lose the effect already. There’s no longer any spiritual energy inside of it. It can only be explained as something natural for this scale. And that’s starting to make me believe it could really be a Dragon’s scale. How did they manage to obtain one?” he pondered.

“Oh.” As Miria fumbled with the scale, a thin white string fell off it. “Isn’t this hair?” 

“I think so too.” Selene caught it. “It seems to have been tied around the scale’s edge. And… It’s very weird… I swear its mana signature feels familiar, but I can’t wrap my head around how exactly…”

Umbra peeled himself off Asterios and sat on his shoulder in his raven form.

~It’s only natural you’d feel a connection to it. I could never forget this energy no matter how many millennia would pass. There’s no doubt that it's hers.~

Umbra’s tone slowly switched into his ancient-sounding one as he spoke in their minds. A clear sensation of disdain could be perceived from it.

“Hers?” Selene asked.

~Kaguya…~ 

“Princess Kaguya is Master’s mother?!” Miria gasped, covering her mouth with her free hand.

Everyone stared at her in silence, still taking in just the connection between the strand of white hair and the fabled heroine of all beastfolk. All of them knew Umbra wouldn’t make such claims halfheartedly and that he had no reason to deceive them.

“Slow down a little, Miria.” Asterios tried calming the panthergirl down after noticing her rising excitement through their bond. “Let’s not jump to conclusions. First, there’s no proof that she was amongst the two people I’ve seen in my memories; they could have somehow gotten their hands on both the scale and her hair. Second, even if she was the person, we are not exactly sure the two are my biological parents and not just some random people. Who knows if they didn’t kidnap me or something. And third, didn’t she live and disappear like hundreds of years ago, if not more?”

“While I do want to agree with your skepticism, my Lord, this would explain a lot if it was true,” Selene chimed in, meeting his gaze. “If we look back, everything that happened to you after the barrier around your body had been broken, was somehow connected to her.”

“Really? How so?” Miria turned to her with sparkling eyes.

“During that incident where your second source of mana exploded, shattering the barrier, you ended up somehow summoning Miria. She is not only from the same realm as Kaguya but she also grew up on stories about her and fell in love with them, ending up pretty much as her biggest fan.”

Miria looked away, starting to feel her face getting hotter when being described like that. Selene chuckled softly and continued.

“Then, when you attempted your first summoning after that happened, the wisp of your incredible energy lured me in, who is not only again from the same realm as Kaguya and Miria, but also of the same species and bloodline, the Spiritual Foxes and Moonborn. And Umbra stated that I am her direct descendant. Unless it was just his way of calling me her kin.”

~I’m not sure if every single member of your subrace emanates the same aura as the only individuals from your kind I’ve met are you and Kaguya, but I made that statement while being fairly sure that you are related to her by more than just species.~

Selene nodded. For a brief moment, she wondered if that would make her and Asterios blood relatives, but she quickly shook off these thoughts as it wasn’t the time to cloud her mind with such worries. Besides, it did not matter as long as the two people would truly be each other’s Soul Mates.

Ekhm. And finally, even Umbra. He encountered Kaguya in his past, fought against her for quite some time, and holds a strong grudge against her, no offense. All three of us can be considered somewhat related to Kaguya. Considering the Summoner's affinity Grea mentioned, it could be affected by your ancestry.”

Again, silence fell on them. No one could really deny Selene’s claims as they did hold some truth and logic to them. Umbra was the first one to break it.

~And if we consider the strength of that woman… it wouldn’t be so surprising to assume she would be able to fight with a Dragon on equal ground. If my realm wasn’t the only one she appeared in, and I doubt it was, she could have faced one or more in another.~

Everyone looked at the scale Miria was still holding with thoughtful expressions. Especially Asterios seemed to be thinking very deeply about all the revealed information. Selene nudged Miria with her elbow and nodded her head towards him.

The panthergirl brought them close to Asterios and she nuzzled her face into his neck, rubbing her adorable ears against his chin, incidentally causing Selene to lean onto his chest too.

“We finally got a clue to solving the mystery of your past. Shouldn’t you be more happy, Master?”

He used his free hand to brush through her hair. “I am. It just takes a moment to take all of this in. And nothing is yet confirmed.”

“With all due respect, my Lord, it will never get confirmed unless we find your real parents, someone who knew them and you before you’ve been left alone, or unless we get rid of the seal on your memories and they prove to hold meaningful answers.”

Asterios nodded. “Yeah. You are right. And from the options you have listed, only one sounds like something we have decent chances succeeding at.”

“The seal, right?” Miria asked.

“Yes. Now, after checking my birth village, which actually might not be where I was born, the next step we take should most likely be trying to unlock my memories.”

“Ah. My Lord, look.”

After gaining their attention, Selene pointed around. The remaining ruins and parts of the damaged structures were now visibly less fresh. Some rubble they remembered seeing was not present anymore, and after staring at their surroundings for a brief moment, they could easily notice parts of the debris crumbling and disappearing, turning way more worn out by weather and time, and nature quickly overtaking the place.

~It looks like either the scale or the formation that held the Golem was responsible for keeping this place stuck in its previous state. Now that their power is no more, two missed decades are catching up. Something like this requires an immense amount of spiritual energy to pull off,~ Umbra commented.

“Miria, Umbra, let’s try to see if we can find anything else before this place gets swallowed by grass and vines. I’ll stay with Selene.”

Miria nodded and left the fox lady in his arms before jumping forward. Umbra launched himself into the air too and flew in the opposite direction. Selene allowed Asterios to easily pick her up again and they too began walking around. She could return back to her realm, but as long as Asterios didn’t tell her to, she wanted to stay with him.

They could only look around for less than an hour more before the terrain was almost completely covered by tall grass and wild plants. Many remaining burnt wooden beams and parts crumbled down while only some still stood proud as evidence of the fire.

Asterios recalled everyone and they met in front of the place where the main gate stood in the past. Nothing else caught their eye during this quick search so they decided to move back to their camp and rest.

On their way back, Asterios rode on Miria while holding Selene in front of him. They traveled in silence until Umbra descended from the sky and perched on Ast’s shoulder.

~I can feel something bothering you and I know what you might be thinking. You have no relation to whatever she did and I’m not someone who pushes the blame from a parent to a child. I can’t promise not to bear negative thoughts about your potential mother, but know that she has nothing to do with our own situation.~

Asterios nodded. “If she really is my mother, then it’s not like she has given me enough reasons to unconditionally try to defend her. I can’t say I view her in a positive light with what bits of information I have on her from you guys. She doesn’t really strike me as a good person either. Sorry, Miria.”

~Don’t be, Master. She might have been my idol, but if she was the woman to abandon my mate in a burning building shortly after their birth, I will be the first one to punch her in the face when we meet her.~

He chuckled softly and rubbed Miria’s ears from above.

“And no matter how highly my people may think of her, this is just another case of them believing in something that is not true, like with my supposed curse. It’s not hard to imagine how the lack of information resulted in her heroic image over the years. She certainly isn’t a hero to me. Not anymore. I would have never thought learning that I share blood with Princess Kaguya could make me feel so disgusted.”

“We share something more than just her blood then.”

Ast’s comment made her feel relieved and she leaned more into him with a soft smile which he wasn’t able to see. They continued in silence until they were back in their camp. Since Asterios was casting his rejuvenating techniques onto Selene on the whole way back, she was now a little better, but still relied on his help.

Miria jumped back to her realm and brought some snacks and drinks. They sat together and started eating.

“What’s our next move then, Master?” she asked, curious if Asterios had any ideas.

“We don’t have a lot of options. If we still want to focus on researching my past, then asking around is the best choice. Maybe Mom’s family will know about someone dealing in seals. Or Grea. Or the guild. Personally, I don’t. That is unless you girls want to do something else.”

“I’ll do whatever you want me to do!” Miria answered cheerfully; her tail making happy dances.

“Me too, my Lord. I’ll see what I can do in our realm. There could be something of help to us amongst the books and records on Kaguya. I still have access to them. And the Matriarch will definitely be willing to help after I share my findings with her. To think that she could still be alive after so much time...”

~It does not matter to me what direction we’ll be heading. Anything is better than that cursed realm. I’m still worried I won’t be able to come back here each time I return to that hell,~ Umbra added.

“I see. I guess we’ll pick up the weapon from Imadil’s smithy and start asking around. It should be ready by now or sometime soon. Maybe they will know something. Elves are good with all kinds of magic.”

After discussing things between them for a while longer, Asterios focused on alleviating the aftereffects of Selene’s Awakening at its highest possible stage, taking the opportunity to also help her a bit with her external spiritual circuits at the same time, as both things involved his mana.

Selene couldn’t get enough of the feeling of Ast’s hot and very pleasant energy roaming through her whole body, sometimes replaced with various other spiritual effects taking place as the result of his skillful techniques. It created a combination that could only be called an all-in spiritual and physical massage. No piece of her internal and external spiritual circuits was left strained after they were done.

The process was very effective, but unfortunately, very time-consuming too. The sun was long gone when they decided to stop. And while the two of them were focused on it, Miria had caught a deer by herself and managed to prepare it with the help of her parents.

Therefore, they started a fire and held a small feast to regain strength for tomorrow. Magic couldn’t solve all the issues caused by exhausting oneself. Good food and rest was always the most important part. And that’s exactly what they focused on, leaving to sleep shortly after finishing eating.

This time though, Selene decided to stay with them and shared a tent with Miria and Asterios. He dozed off with the snuggly panthergirl in his arms, and a calm foxgirl with her back against his own.

 

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