The next morning, everyone woke up feeling different. Miria was fully rested and emanated her cheerful energy as usual. Selene was still experiencing the leftover sluggishness and burnout from her recent time in the Awakened state. Even Asterios had not yet completely recovered from spending most of the previous day channeling his techniques into Selene.
Therefore, while the fatigued duo kept resting, Miria took care of breakfast and all other chores. She was glad Selene had an opportunity to spend some more time alone with Asterios.
As they were eating, the topic of Ast’s origins resurfaced again, which wasn’t anything surprising considering how much was still shrouded in mystery and uncertainty.
“Do you think Master’s second source comes from Kaguya?” Miria asked at one point.
Selene was pretty quick to shake her head. “I don’t believe that’s a possibility.”
“We’ve already experienced how his other source has a very fiery nature, almost like it's a scorching blaze itself. There’s nothing in the archives about such energy surrounding Kaguya. She was strong, but she still operated on neutral mana with the blue tint that’s characteristic of Spiritual Foxes of the Moonborn bloodline. Or did that change, Umbra?”
The shadow by her side fluttered and Umbra flew out of it, making his way into this realm. He plopped himself down on Selene’s thigh.
~No, it’s just like you said. Any techniques that woman had used while fighting were enveloped in bluish hues of her energy.~
“And since I myself specialize in the same field as her, I can also tell how different these energies are. I’ve never heard about a Spiritual Fox controlling any specific element. Even the spiritual fire I can invoke isn’t really a fire in its actual sense.”
“I see. Then, is it possible that Master got it from his father and the normal one from Kaguya?”
Asterios took that one on himself. “Generally speaking, it should be impossible to inherit two sources, one from both parents. It would be a different topic if we considered that both came from one since it’s natural for the offspring of an entity with multiple sources to also have them. But, there are a lot of variables here. The highest chances of that happening are of course when both parents are the same species and hold two sources. If crossbreeding is involved, it may not necessarily end with two. It would depend on the potential of both parents. Kaguya supposedly had only one, right?”
“Yes. There is no evidence to believe otherwise. No Spiritual Fox with two sources existed as far back as the archives date,” Selene answered.
“Then that lowers this chance if we still assume that Kaguya is my mother, even if her partner has two sources. And besides that, no humanoid race that I know of does so. It kind of crosses out the man I’ve seen in that flashback. If that was a man. Everything is leaning more toward me somehow receiving a second source rather than inheriting it, I think. I’m not really taking into account the possibility of me being an offspring of two powerful mythical beasts that they somehow stole or something with how I look just like a typical human.”
“Didn’t you say that some of them can shapeshift into a humanoid form, Master?” Miria asked.
“Were you able to shapeshift right after birth?”
“Ah. No. I only learned about it when I was twelve with the help of my parents.”
“Exactly. Even Dragons would need to mature at least a bit to do something like that. And I was clearly a humanoid baby rather than a little hatchling or something, in my early days. Not like I can do anything like that right now, after almost twenty years.”
“But, don’t the changes that occur when you draw on the energy from your second source count as partial shapeshifting? Your hair and eyes do change,” Selene said.
“Yeah! And back when that fire exploded, your skin looked different for a moment too! And your eyes were more… shimmering and compelling!” Miria added with enthusiasm.
“Ah, right. There was that. I honestly don’t know. I think it was an effect of that weird event in my Soulscape. We’ve already tried to reproduce it, but nothing besides my eyes and hair changes.”
“I guess we really lack too much information on this to come to any valuable conclusion. Well then. I also have a question, my Lord. What are we going to do about the village?” Selene didn’t see any reason to drag that topic out and changed it.
“What about it?”
“If I’m not mistaken, the curse is no more. Didn’t Truvi mention recurring attempts at taking it down by the local authorities and how there’s a reward for whoever succeeds?”
“She did say that!” Miria jumped a little with a lively smile.
Asterios rubbed his chin for a brief moment. “I don’t think it’s a good idea to cash in on it.”
“Eh? But why? We did take it down.” Miria tilted her head.
“Various reasons. First, the kingdom has been attempting to get rid of it for years. We would definitely bring lots of unwanted attention to ourselves by taking credit for it. That’s not really convenient in our current situation. If we lacked funds, I’m sure our new family would help us out without a second thought.”
“I agree with you on this, my Lord.”
“And also, I believe they would want some kind of proof. Each of you guys might be strong, even stronger with my support, but none of us is highly proficient in magic or techniques that deal with curses or this kind of magical array. Our only evidence is the damaged scale, and I don’t really want to hand it away. They could also be suspicious of how we were able to find it and the formation when top tier mages couldn’t.”
“Now I too think it might not be the best idea…”
Asterios reached out to pat the adorable panthergirl, slowly turning less excited.
“There are much safer ways to get famous if that’s what we would be aiming for. Involving much more exploring and dungeon delving.”
Under his affectionate caresses, a delighted smile appeared on Miria’s lips. “I’d love to do more dungeons with you, Master. It was fun.”
“I wouldn’t mind fighting some more too. It’s the best way to improve. And also for me to exercise my circuits more.” Selene nodded in agreement.
~I’m personally curious about these so-called dungeons from what I’ve seen in your memories. I have a feeling that spending time inside those would let me regain strength too.~
“I’ll see about that then. Let’s decide after we see if we can get any info on our current objective, which is an expert on seals.”
After finishing breakfast, they decided to spend this day making a complete recovery as they weren’t really pressured by time. Miria and Selene returned to their realm, going separate ways this time.
The former went to spend some time with her family—which almost always ended up with her being drilled by her mother on the topic of Asterios—while the latter decided to visit the Matriarch to fill her in on the information they had gathered and to ask for help with researching Kaguya’s past.
Asterios was left alone with Umbra and the two agreed to practice together in hopes of learning more about the ancient immortal’s general abilities and how they could be supported by Ast’s repertoire of magical techniques.
※ ※ ※
Selene was walking through the streets of her hometown, the biggest city of the Spiritual Foxes. The whole location had been built into a huge mountain of marble-like color, and pretty much all of the buildings inherited that trait.
At the highest point of that peak, resided a very elegant-looking temple, which could be seen from almost every location below, excluding those on the other side of the mountain as it still was positioned a bit of distance from the very summit.
Selene, being a High Priestess, always held herself with respect, even with everyone around her aware of the curse. She did look a little strict, cold or gloomy to someone who didn’t know her, but almost no one had any doubts that she’d earned her position with her own hard work and efforts. Which was especially tough considering her situation.
But, today, the people she passed on the street had clearly noticed something different about their priestess. Her usually neutral expression had been replaced by a very faint but easily perceivable smile, and even her steps seemed to have much more grace in them. Many wondered what was the reason behind that change.
After climbing the last batch of stairs, she found herself in front of the main temple, where the Matriarch usually resided. A few people in robes and oriental outfits similar to hers were walking around, with women being in the vast majority. Noticing her, they respectfully bowed their heads, to which she responded with the same. What surprised the other people was that smile again, never seen in public before.
She made her way inside, into a spacious main hall upheld by dozens of marble pillars and columns, confidently walking towards her destination. Not long later, Selene stopped in front of a regular door and knocked on it.
Gaining permission to enter, she stepped into the room.
“Ah! High Priestess Selene! How could this Pursvani be of use to you?” A young man with red hair and fur instantly bowed.
“There’s no need to be so formal, Pursvani. Could you please check for me if the Matriarch has any audiences planned around now?”
“Right away, High Priestess. Please make yourself comfortable while I go through the documents.”
He bowed once more and hastily walked to a desk in the corner of the small room. Selene knew this could take a minute or two so she sat down on one of the pillows meant for meditation and closed her eyes.
Unfortunately, she wasn’t able to even begin as a voice brought her back from the depths of her mind.
“Well, well, well… Look who decided to show up after ignoring the temple for so long.”
Selene opened her eyes just to see a young girl with silver fur and hair enter through a passage connecting this room with another. A heavy sigh escaped her lips a moment later.
“High Priestess Ronye. I’m glad to see that you are well.”
“And I hoped you'd disappeared along with your curse, but it seems that you are still alive.”
Even though the two had been smiling at each other, the poor man doing his secretary job could feel the temperature in the room dropping at a steady pace from this staredown. He decided to choose the best approach for this kind of situation and leaned onto his desk as much as he could, reducing his visible presence to the minimum.
“Well, it doesn’t matter.” Ronye waved her hand dismissively. “The more of your responsibilities you skip on, the more my chances of becoming the next Matriarch rise.”
Selene snorted. “How can something rise if it doesn’t even exist in the first place?”
“What did you say?!”
Selene stood up and patted out her clothes. “Exactly what you heard. The Matriarch will never appoint a snobby brat such as yourself as her successor.”
Ronye entered the fourth stage of her Awakening and flared her aura, filling the chamber with spiritual pressure.
“Have you forgotten where we are? This is exactly what I’m talking about. Start working on that temper of yours before dreaming about becoming the next Matriarch. If she happened to be around, you’d be in for an earful right now.”
“You, someone who is leeching off the Matriarch’s pity, dare to lecture me?! Don’t think I haven’t seen through your mask! You are nothing but a leech taking advantage of her kindness! You’d be a cripple without her endless support!”
“You are right about that.”
The immediate reply threw Ronye off a little and her expression switched into a slightly confused one. Each time she’d confronted Selene in the past, there had never been a time she hadn't fought back with her words. While she was stumped, Selene continued.
“I’m very well aware that without the selfless help of certain individuals, my life would be completely different, no matter how much my own effort I would expend. But, it has nothing to do with your situation.”
Ronye pointed her finger at Selene and sent her an angry glare.
“The amount of time and resources the Matriarch spent on someone with one leg in the grave is completely illogical! And even with all of that, you’ve barely reached the third stage! So much wasted not only on someone cursed but also talentless!”
Selene shook her head. “You are just jealous she’d rather pay attention to someone in need rather than focus on nurturing the second strongest person in this tribe after her. And you really still think you’d even be considered a candidate? Even Pantherkin aren’t so power-hungry.”
The spiritual pressure increased and their clothes started to flutter a little. Selene noticed that Pursvani was starting to have a hard time breathing, being an unawakened Spiritual Fox. But, as usual, the petulant girl lost sight of her surroundings during her fit of anger.
“Stop this farce before you lose even more face in this temple.” She sent the silver-haired girl a cold stare.
Selene closed her eyes briefly and sighed again.
「Looks like I’ll have to ask my Lord for some more of his spiritual massages… I'm kind of looking forward to that, fufufufu~」
Opening them with a soft smile present on her lips, she entered her own Awakening and flared her mana too.
“Or I will have to forcefully calm you down before you cause harm to others.”
“You? Stop me? With your puny third stage? It seems that the curse has finally eroded what little brain you had left! It's time for you to pay for this slander!”
Seeing Ronye lunge at her, Selene’s first reaction was to erect a strong barrier around themselves to ease up Pursvani’s struggle and to minimize the potential damage the clash of their energies could cause.
Normally, even if she had argued with Ronye a lot, and that happened very often since the young woman seemed to hold a grudge against her, she wouldn’t let things escalate to this level. Selene wasn’t really confident in going against someone as strong as Ronye, and there was also her own situation to worry about. But, that was before she had met Asterios.
As four silvery tails swished behind her, Ronye rushed forward with her fist drawn back, surrounded by greenish tongues of spiritual energy. Before she reached the older Foxkin, something flashed under Selene’s knee socks and sleeves, illuminating their surface with blue markings.
Suddenly, just before her fist connected with its target, a demonic-looking, ethereal hand blocked its path, catching it firmly and forcing the blow into an immediate halt as ripples of force traveled through the air.
A smirk appeared on Selene’s face. “I always wanted to do this at least once.”
A second ghostly apparition materialized at Selene’s other side and started to shrink. She positioned her arm in front of it and slid it inside, wearing it like an oversized sleeve, and started to draw her fist back.
Ronye tried to pry her hand out of the clutches of the first one, but it wouldn’t even budge. Selene’s posture then suddenly shifted and the next thing Ronye’s senses registered was a sharp pain in her abdomen as that gloved fist slugged her right into the stomach with incredible strength, shaking the whole room with the impact.
Selene withdrew the spiritual arm holding Ronye’s hand and the girl's body hung limply over her fist. She had lost consciousness from that punch, which resulted in her Awakening wearing out and the pressure in the air receding.
Hearing nothing but silence after two powerful impacts, Pursvani peeked his head from his desk and his eyes instantly widened. He had not expected Selene to be the winner of that clash.
She glanced at the man, making him jerk up. “So, the Matriarch?”
“Right here,” a voice answered from behind her.
Turning around, Selene saw Lerisse just closing the door to the chamber. She quickly withdrew her Awakening and bowed her head respectfully. As much respectfully as she could be while still holding the younger girl in the air, lodged over her fist.
“Looks like the situation is… resolved.”
“I apologize for causing a commotion at the temple, Matriarch.”
“Come with me. Pursvani, take a little break. Let Rondel take over.”
Selene threw Ronye over her shoulder and followed Lerisse to the Matriarch’s chambers. Naturally, such a weird procession after a powerful spike of spiritual energy earned them a few curious stares, but most people could easily guess what had happened from taking a single glance at the two behind the Matriarch. Everyone knew how aggressive Ronye could be. Some even stealthily nodded their heads at Selene.
Moments after they entered one of the private rooms, the Matriarch sighed heavily and rubbed her temples.
“What did this idiot do this time?”
“Sorry about this, Lerisse. I decided to stop pushing her taunts aside and just told her the truth. Seems like it stung more than I assumed it would.”
“Throw her onto the sofa right there. I’ll have a talk with her later.”
Doing as instructed, Selene used her spiritual energy to float Ronye’s body onto the appointed furniture and walked after the Matriarch to sit down on a bench with her.
“As much as I would want to believe that this will humble her a little, I think both of us know how this is going to turn out,” Lerisse began.
“Yes. But that’s fine. She can hate me as much as she wants as long as it serves as her motivation to get stronger. It could be much better if we managed to fix her personality a little, but I’m starting to think that it’s not possible.”
“It looks like I will really have to pick someone in the second stage as my successor… Anyway, how did you come out of this unscathed instead of her? I saw only three tails back there.”
Selene puffed out her chest a little and a smile appeared on her face. “It’s all thanks to Asterios and his amazing treatment, of course. I feel like I’m almost as strong as a fourth stage now. I’m really lucky to have met him.”
Lerisse chuckled and shook her head. “Yet, it seems that you didn’t take my advice to heart.”
A tinge of rosiness covered Selene’s fair cheeks. “How can you even tell that with just the scent…”
“Listen…” She placed a hand on Selene’s thigh and looked the younger woman in the eyes. “Don’t make the same mistake as me. That’s all I ask for. You’ve already suffered enough. I don’t want to see you plunge back into the depths of depression after you’ve finally found your guiding light.”
They stared each other into the eyes until the Matriarch sighed and withdrew.
“So, what brings you here today?”
“I have a few very concerning matters to discuss.”
And then Selene proceeded to share with Lerisse what they had possibly learned about Kaguya, how she could still be alive, how she might not be as noble as portrayed, how someone trustworthy had confirmed her direct ancestry with the Princess, and how Asterios could even be her son.
“...and that’s why I would like your help to check as much as we can in the archives. Possibly, in the vaults only you have access to too. This is really important to me, Lerisse.”
“Hmmm… This is really concerning, I have to admit that… It’s true that Princess Kaguya is said to have loved battling strong opponents, but I don’t think anything has been noted on her straying from the honorable path. Don’t worry, I’ll do what I can. If she’s changed over the span of these centuries, this could spell trouble for our realm too.”
Selene glanced at the unconscious girl lying next to them. “You should allocate more resources to Ronye. She has talent, no matter how rough she is. I don’t need them anymore. She could possibly be the only one able to protect the tribe if she keeps up gaining strength at the same pace as right now.”
“As selfless as ever.” Lerisse smiled at her gently. “But, I think you are forgetting another member of our tribe who turned out to be blessed by the heavens and is clearly going to surpass me too.”
“Who?” Selene raised her brow curiously.
“You, of course, silly girl. If that Asterios is as amazing as you make him look, I’m certain that you will set a new high for our tribe in no time, with his support.”
Selene blushed a little again and averted her gaze.
“Alright. Go now, before that scoundrel wakes up. I’ll leave a note in your house if I find anything worth mentioning. It would be good if you showed up from time to time to serve as Ronye’s sparring partner. It will be beneficial for both of you.”
She nodded and stood up, starting to head back.
“Ah. One more thing.”
Lerisse’s voice stopped her and Selene turned around. The Matriarch was pointing her finger at the spot where she had been sitting before.
“I know that you are still not used to it since it’s something new for you, but consider wearing thicker underwear around full moon if you are still going to act stubborn,” she said while grazing her finger over the marble and then holding it up towards her friend.
Selene’s thighs subconsciously clamped together and she nodded politely at the Matriarch before jumping through the crimson gate with a wry smile.
Lerisse sighed heavily. “If the next time she comes back still a virgin, I might need to spice up her tea with something…”
※ ※ ※
Asterios was a little confused with how Selene suddenly popped out of the portal while holding down her dress to her stomach, but she explained herself by saying that she had almost tripped when something had caught the material as she had been entering, and thus she had ended in that weird stance. He nodded and returned to his training with Umbra.
Later, she asked him for some more help in nullifying the aftereffects of her Awakening, still lingering in her body after their fight with the Golem, as she said, and Asterios of course obliged, giving her a careful massage with his fingers full of his scorching hot mana.
Selene did not hold back and the air in the tent was filled with sensual moans for the whole process. Whenever his hands closed on her buttocks when moving over her thighs or waist, the words spoken by her friend resurfaced in Selene’s mind.
But, even though she had already made her mind long ago, she still wasn’t sure how to voice it out properly. One would think that it should be really simple with her mischievous and teasing nature, but when it came to Asterios, she was starting to overthink things a lot.
Would he even take it seriously if she said it while acting as she usually does? Should she try to behave a little more serious or timid? Or would that make her look totally not like herself and be something that he found weird?
She was actually getting jealous that Miria had the push of her strong desire during the full moon. All that was happening to her right now was just making her more sensitive, warmer, and also wet, but no instinctual urge had been dispelling her doubts.
In the end, even though she had gotten a bit aroused during the massage, nothing really happened that evening and night. Asterios went to sleep with Miria in his arms again while Selene laid down behind his back.
「There will be a full moon tomorrow. I’ll act on it.」
They started their journey back to Tyrienheim right from the morning. Selene rode behind Asterios this time and made plans in her mind on how to approach the situation while still keeping up her usual image.
Nothing disrupted their travel and they safely moved the desired distance during the day, setting up a camp for the night. To buy some more time to think, Selene offered to be the one to hunt this time and disappeared into the forest.
She successfully tracked and took down a boar, bringing it back for Miria and Asterios to prepare as they were much more knowledgeable and experienced about that stuff, especially the panthergirl with her being an actual hunter.
After everyone had their fill and rested well enough, sitting around the campfire and just enjoying the breeze, she finally decided to speak up.