Lilith paced back and forth in one of the living rooms, trying to figure out what to do about Judy. She didn’t have any information on what might be going on; Mae helped her scry into Judy’s last known lodging, but it was empty. If the state of it was any indication, it had been abandoned suddenly; several of Judy’s personal effects were still lying around, food had been left to rot in the pantry and fridge, the place was uncleaned, none of which screamed a planned absence.
But that was it. Her attempts to scry Judy herself were all thwarted, and Judy herself was saying that everything was fine, and now she wouldn’t even respond to Lilith anymore. According to Mae, Judy had developed a technique that allowed her to disperse her consciousness into her swarm in times of emergency, giving her increased resistance to mind-altering effects. It wasn’t perfect, however; the main consciousness in her own body was the one able to initiate the convergence of the consciousness and any resisting parts of her in the swarm could only hold on for so long.
It was a defense mechanism, apparently. Much the same way Lilith’s own Parallels would start to experience issues if they went against the main consciousness, so too would Judy’s swarm consciousnesses. The general idea had been for those consciousnesses to only need to be separate long enough to reach out for help and prevent crucial information from leaking while help came.
They hadn’t counted on someone being powerful enough to thwart Lilith’s attempts to find her. And that cinched things for Lilith. Effective immediately, she would be placing Watches on all her family and friends. It had seemed an unreasonably paranoid thing to do and a waste of Worship, but she was really regretting not doing it.
Fortunately, she had enough Worship to spare that expense now, but it still didn’t let her place one on Judy.
She bolted upright, realizing a potential avenue of attack. The bird was likely still hanging around the adventurer’s guild, waiting for Eve to finish. So, as soon as Eve was done, she would place a Watch on the bird and see if that counted as placing one on Judy. If it did, then she would have an unstoppable way to find Judy, and if she could find her, then she could save her. Would save her, no matter the cost.
The door opened, and Kali strode in. “Fear not,” She said imperiously, “for I have come to save the day.”
Lilith shot her a tired look. “Unless you have really good news, please be serious. I’m not exactly in the mood for theatrics.”
An expression of profound relief flashed across Kali’s face. “It’s good to hear that from you. Don’t worry, I’ve got really good news. I was able to get out of my meetings early so I could put out this fire, and I picked up Judy on my way back. I’ll be honest, you weren’t capable of handling this one on your own. Not so soon after waking up while having your opponent knowing everything important and you knowing nothing. Judy’s asleep right now, waiting for me to unbrainwash her. It’s going to take a few hours, but I’ll have her back to normal in no time, so let Eve know she can continue her work without worries.”
“Oh. Um…thanks.” Lilith said, then shot a quick message to Eve. Kali just said that she’s taken care of the situation so…carry on, I guess. Everything’s fine.
Thanks. Eve replied, panic creeping into her tone. That’s one of today’s problems solved.
Just peachy. I can take care of it, but I really wish our senses were connected. I don’t want to be the only one suffering through this. I take some solace in the fact that you’ll be getting this later tonight, though. Prepare yourself, for – she cut off and was silent for a couple of seconds. Alright, can’t talk, gotta focus, bye!
Right. Well, Eve was a capable woman, so Lilith was confident she could handle whatever she was dealing with. “Alright, she knows.”
“Um…good.” Kali said, suddenly awkward. She sat down on one of the couches, looking shyly at Lilith. “So…we need to talk.”
Lilith sat down across from her, nodding solemnly. “I’d say so.”
Kali fidgeted for a moment longer. “Um…sorry.” She began, “I…didn’t know how to say something. What would I say? “Hey, so, you’re actually the reincarnation of this super famous person who was also my girlfriend and I accidentally split you in half because I tried too hard to keep you the same when reincarnating you”? You can’t tell me that doesn’t sound like the result of some shady past life regression service or something. I thought that…I don’t know, after we had gotten to know each other better I would bring it up. You didn’t really need something like that dumped on you right after everything you went through.”
She sighed. “I mean…I guess I was really just scared to own up to everything. You trusted me so much and I…messed it up. How could I really face you if you knew that? That who you were was only half a person? That your whole life was carefully watched over and guided so as to push you towards where you are now?”
She shook her head. “No, I just…thought I could let things be for a time. That we didn’t have to worry about it for now. And then Solomon decided that the way we were going about things wasn’t helping anyone and worked with Carmen to fix things.” She sighed again. “And she was right. I let my fear get in the way of what was best for us. Again.”
Her breath hitched, her eyes becoming moist. “I just…I’m sorry. I don’t have anything else to say. I’ve done nothing but mess up with you over and over and over again and I couldn’t even be there when you woke up and…” She sputtered out, breaking out into tears which only grew in intensity.
Several times, she tried to regain control of herself and say something, but it just wasn’t working. It was like a floodgate had been opened, and she wasn’t capable of closing it herself. So, Lilith went over to the couch Kali was sitting on, wrapping the other girl up in a hug.
For a while they just sat there, Lilith’s shirt growing increasingly wet as Kali cried into it. “I’m so sorry.” Kali eventually mumbled. “Please forgive me.”
“It’s fine.” Lilith said, stroking Kali’s hair gently. “I can’t say I don’t wish you told me earlier, but I understand why you didn’t. Old Lilith wouldn’t have been receptive…no, wasn’t receptive, and you didn’t have any good opportunities to tell Carmen and not have Lilith know. You were doing your best, and that’s what matters. You made a few mistakes, sure, but you were trying. I’m sure the me from before would say the same thing.”
Kali let out a sort of cry-laugh. “She would have said exactly that.”
“There you go. Don’t beat yourself up about it too much. Just learn from your mistakes and don’t do it again.”
“Let’s carry on as we were before, I want to take some time and more fully explore my feelings before we go any further.”
Kali sniffed, her crying beginning to slow down. “Yeah, that’s reasonable. I…sorry. I’m a mess right now, and I’m getting you all wet and…”
“It’s fine. Sometimes you just need a good cry, and it feels better when you have a shoulder to cry on. You’ve been alone and scared for years now, you deserve some emotional release.”
They maintained the hug for another long while before Kali once again broke the silence. “I love you, Lilith,” she murmured.
“Love you too.”
A receptionist came to get Eve a few minutes after her fight with the elf. “Your party’s registration is finished, please come to the back with me so we can give you some more detailed instructions on how things work around here.”
Eve groaned inwardly. She didn’t want to deal with whatever shady business was going on here, not with the Judy situation being what it was, but she had to. She couldn’t just randomly leave in the middle of things.
Anna and Jameson hadn’t had any informed her of any trouble, so she let the receptionist lead her to the back. She was taken to a small room, where Anna and Jameson were sitting in a couple of comfortable chairs. “Have a seat.” The receptionist told Eve. “Someone will be with you in a minute.” Then he left, closing the door behind him.
“Are you all fine?” Eve asked, probing a chair carefully and, when she was satisfied it was safe to sit in, sitting.
“Yeah, it was just some paperwork.” Jameson said. “How were things on your end?”
“Some girl took umbrage to me being a kid and picked on me, so I showed her who was boss. It was like a development out of a generic isekai anime. You’d think people would know that appearance doesn’t have any bearing on strength but…guess some people just aren’t that bright.”
“That’s because it was a development out of a generic isekai anime.” Someone said, opening the door. It was…Bruce, the guy who the elf lady had been talking to.
“I’m glad that you’re familiar with the culture, that makes this way easier. Long story short, the guild is run by filthy weebs, and that’s one of our programs to help out newbies. If we see someone coming in who looks unprepared or like other people might discriminate against them, we have an established adventurer goad them into a fight to test their mettle. If they’re weak enough that they’d die out there, the adventurer won’t take it easy on them. If they’re not, then they throw the fight to give the newbie some credibility among people who don’t know the trick. It’s not exactly a secret, but we try to keep quiet about it, so it’s not really widely known either.”
“Cool, I guess?” Eve said. “That’s a pain, though.”
“Are you OK? You’re not hurt anywhere, right?!” It was the elf woman this time, rushing into the room and grabbing Eve into a close hug. “I’m really sorry, I hate having to haze kids, but this jerk,” she jerked her head at Bruce, “made me.”
“Hey, I hate hazing kids too! No one likes it!”
Eve, once again trying to suppress her desire to hurt this woman, wormed her way out of the hug. “I’m not a kid. I just look young. Please stop treating me like one.”
“Oh really? How old are you?”
The woman raised an eyebrow. “That’s barely more than a child. But, regardless, what’s your name? I’m Ava!”
“It’s Eve.” Eve said, forcefully stopping herself from snapping at the woman.
“And I’m Bruce. You’ll have to forgive the airhead over there, she gets really unreasonable when it comes to kids.”
“If she likes them so much, why make her do it?” Anna asked. “That seems kind of mean.”
“Hey, she puked in my car!” He protested. “It took like, five hours to scrub that out myself, and I swear there’s still a lingering smell!”
“We’re getting off topic,” Ava said. “We’re going to be your mentors, so let’s all get along.”
“Why you?” Eve asked as cutely as she could, trying not to let her annoyance show. “Wouldn’t that be suspicious, given you just attacked me?”
“It’s fine, it’s fine, I was playing the part of a concerned citizen, it’s nothing I can’t smooth over.”
“By that she means she begged and pleaded to be the one to teach you guys because she thought Eve was too cute, and the guild relented.” Bruce said. “It’s really not a big deal, though, we can deal with any problems. Now, I didn’t catch the names of you two, what were they?”
“And I’m Anna.”
“Cool,” Ava said distractedly, edging closer to Eve. “Seating is kind of tight here, so why don’t Eve and I share a seat while we talk? That way we can all be sitting.”
“I can stand.” Eve replied, edging away from Ava.
“Nonsense!” She replied. “You have to rest your body whenever you can, you always have to be in tip-top shape in case something happens out here. There’s no telling when a major monster attack might occur.”
“We’ll be fine, just a little–” She cut off as she received a transmission from Lilith.
Kali just said that she’s taken care of the situation so…carry on, I guess. Everything’s fine.
Eve sagged in relief. That really was good to hear. She wasn’t looking forward to having to deal with whatever could take out Judy so easily.
The slip in concentration provided the perfect opening for Ava to lunge towards Eve again. She narrowly dodged and began complaining to Lilith before another slip in concentration nearly got her captured. So, she cut off the communication and refocused on defense.
“Knock it off, Ava, she doesn’t want to sit with you.” Bruce said, clearly exasperated. “Sorry, she really likes kids. Not in that way, it’s just…there are circumstances.”
Ava sighed. “Fine, fine. Eve, you sit, I’ll stand.”
Well, she wasn’t going to pass so long as Ava didn’t try anything. So, she sat down, carefully watching Ava for any sign of movement.
“Alright, let’s begin.” Bruce said, sitting down in the remaining seat. “What are your Classes? I want to recommend some jobs to you, but I need to know your skillsets first.”
“I’m a swordswoman, Jameson’s a mage, and Anna’s our monster tamer.” Eve said.
“So…those are her dogs?”
Anna tilted her head. “Yeah, that weird?”
“No, it’s just…it’s impressive seeing dog monsters so obedient to a sheepkin. Usually their instincts tend to make them more disobedient to sheepkin in particular, so…”
Anna pet Fluffy’s head. The dogs were currently the size of regular dogs but retained a more…ferocious appearance to drive home that they were monsters. “It took a bit, but you just have to show them who’s in charge and then show them how nice things could be if they listen. They’ll fall into line no sweat.”
“Right. Well, material collection will probably be good for your team. The dogs can keep watch while you look for things. There are a number of useful plants and minerals in this area that we send new adventurers to get while they get used to the area.”
“We can come with you too, if you want!” Ava said hopefully. “It’s not uncommon, and there’s strength in numbers, so it’s the safest option. If you get in over your head, you can count on me and Bruce to bail you out!”
“We’ll be fine.” Eve said, eager to be away from Ava. “We can take care of ourselves.”
Bruce sighed. “I wouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the offer if I were you. I get why you wouldn’t want to work with her, but the first thing you need to learn is to never take unnecessary risks. Your safety is your top priority at all times, and out here letting your guard down for a moment can get you killed. This isn’t like those generic isekais you mentioned earlier, even the small fry around here are strong enough to kill people, and it only gets worse further away from the frontier towns.
“You have to learn to ignore any petty squabbles you might have and work together with people you might not like. It can be the difference between life and death.”
“We’ll take you up on that offer.” Jameson said quickly. “We appreciate it.”
Ava clapped. “Good, good! Let’s go get you a job. Bruce will show you all the request board and how to take a job, and then we’ll be on our way!”
Eve sighed internally. It was going to be a long day, wasn’t it?