Mixen picked Whitey up and followed the Hero’s team.
He laughed over the fact that he can forget something so important in an instant… however deep down, he was annoyed.
‘...I was always like this, worrying about it is just a waste of my nerves.’
Mixen tried not to think about it and was successful. But he did not bother with controlling his expression.
He looked sad…tired…outright depressed.
Whitey couldn’t not notice it. She saw this side of him more often as of late… The kitty knew what should be done.
Carefully threading the air, she came closer to him.
Whitey snuggled into his arms, and Mixen instinctively picked her up, without showing any reaction.
She wanted to get his attention with that weak sound.
Mixen looked down at her. He saw a cute purring ball of fur struggling to find a comfortable position.
This is why he always hated and adored his memory at the same time. Be it bad or good, he could forget it easily.
Looking at the sight of Whitey, all his worries were washed away.
“You were always there for me… Be it now… or then.”
It was as if he spoke to somebody else… or was it addressed to Whitey?
Even he wasn’t sure.
However Whitey didn’t care about that.
She heard his words, but her full attention was somewhere else… Whitey looked at his face.
Not like he smiles at Naty.
Not like he smiles at his Father.
Not even like he smiles when he laughs by himself.
It was twisted, awkward… as if it was the first smile in his life.
She looked at that smile, and couldn’t see anything apart from it.
There were no features other than that smile…
Mixen’s current smile couldn’t even compare to the one he usually has.
And yet… Whitey thought it was the brightest smile she has ever seen in her life.
She felt like only she has seen this smile.
That it was just for her.
His smile was for nobody else… but her.
She was happy.
It took Mixen more time than he expected to catch up with Leon and his team.
He came just in time to watch them fight some demons.
Without even caring about his enemies, Lance turned to Leon.
Leon casually answered.
“Why are they so weak?”
Lance was bored. This couldn’t even be called a fight.
With a swing of his fist, something that looked like a goblin with small wings was sent flying into a nearby tree and died on impact.
“Shouldn’t you be happy!? You lunatic!”
Naty overheard their short conversation and screamed from behind.
“What?! You know that we need strong enemies to become stronger ourselves!? Leon! Tell her!”
It was hard to hear each other over the sounds of battle and demons’ screeches.
“Quiet! Both of you! Concentrate on the battle! We will meet more strong and even more weak enemies in the future! It’s weird that we only met strong ones until now…”
Although getting distracted against demons like this was no big deal, if something similar happens when they are facing proper opponents… it might be deadly.
‘Having you waste my time on watching such boring battles would suck.’
It didn’t take long before the one-sided beating was over.
Nobody was tired, but they still decided to set up a temporary base.
The Hero’s party had a regular procedure for this.
Everyone had a role with an assigned job, but…
“Can I switch?”
Melissa didn’t even take the ingredients out before going to Leon.
“Why so suddenly?”
“I’m just bo~red from all this cooking… Can I go with you instead?”
She tried to persuade Leon with her charm… Except Leon was a dimwit who would only notice that someone liked him only if said straight.
Women’s magic simply did not affect him.
“And have Lance cook instead of you?”
Just the thought of it made everyone cringe in disgust.
Even Timothy who usually didn’t show any emotion on his face was clearly against it.
“My soup wasn’t that bad!”
“You put pepper instead of salt! And sugar instead of pepper!”
Naty had nightmares of that incident.
“Someone switched their usual spots! I’m not to blame!”
Mistaking sugar for salt might be a genuine mistake, but…
“They look entirely different you small-headed moron! Mel, take my place, I’ll cook.”
Melissa gave a thumbs up to Naty, hiding her real emotions.
“Okay, then we’re switching for the time being. Let’s go La-”
“Can I… dip for today?”
Agness stepped forward with a seemingly unreasonable request.
Leon looked at her as if inspecting and nodded.
“You indeed looked under the weather during the fight. Take a rest, we still have a long way to go. I’ll take your place. Lance, you can do it by yourself, right?”
Right now, Melissa was internally screaming over the fact that Leon paid attention to Agness even during the fight.
“Aww~, no competition? Well, I guess I could train while doing it!”
“...Don’t take it too far. You still need to return in an hour.”
“Stamina training! Hell yeah!”
Leon smiled at the never-changing character of his best friend.
Even throughout different lives, Lance is the same.
...Which couldn’t be said about the other team members.
“And take a bath before you come back!”
Naty’s nose became too sensitive this time around.
“Where am I supposed to find a bath in the forest!?”
…And just a tad bit more spoiled.
“I don’t care! Find a lake or at least a stream!”
“Fine, fine. I’m off.”
Leon still found it as strange.
Before, Naty and Lance would never quarrel.
The only time something similar would happen is when Lance was overprotective of her.
And Lance didn’t change, he still is overprotective of Naty.
It’s as if she demands even more.
Being deep in thought, Leon was startled by Naty coming right up to his face.
“Were you listening?”
“...No, sorry, I… was thinking about something. Can you repeat?”
“Ha~, I asked what we should cook…”
Leon took a step back and looked inside a spatial bag.
“We need to use the ingredients that will expire soon…”
Someone was puzzled by those words.
The duo, however, was oblivious to the pondering wind and continued making their meals.
Time went by, and no more words were spoken.
Both knew what should be done, so they quietly followed the recipe to the t.
It became boring.
Boring to watch and boring to be in their shoes.
The wind even considered accompanying Lance on his training.
…Until he heard some peculiar words being spoken.
Naty seemed off.
Too awkward for her usual self.
Maybe that was due to a lack of chatting matter, or maybe something else.
“Can you… tell me what your favourite colour is?”
It was surprising to hear such a simpleminded question from Naty.
She wasn’t the type to become closer to someone by casual conversation.
Naty only did that to Mixen, and only to lure him into giving some sensitive information.
And why would Naty try to become closer to Leon now? They were through ice and fire together after all.
Perhaps she had another reason for learning more about him?
‘Is she suspecting him? Did something finally strike her curiosity?’
“W-What!? Can’t I ask a simple question?! The silence was getting on my nerves!”
She was red.
In an attempt to hide her embarrassment Naty turned her head 180 degrees… at least tried to.
‘...Or maybe she’s just bored?’
Leon couldn’t help but smile.
It’s been a while since he saw this side of her.
“Ah!? R-Really? You’re not saying that just to mess with me?”
One would think that Leon said it just to get on her good side.
After all, her hair was yellow, and most of her clothes and jewellery too.
It wasn’t hard to guess what her favourite colour was.
…Except Naty could tell if Leon was lying or not.
“Haha, it’s just a coincidence.”
Leon’s favourite colour indeed was yellow, she confirmed that with her ability…but the second reply was a lie.
Naty became even redder.
She could think of just one reason apart from coincidence.
‘Is it because of me?’ filled her mind.
And it wasn’t wrong… technically.
Leon’s first-ever answer to such a question was “red”, just like all the boys’ pick.
But after he met her… it changed.
“So what’s your favourite colour?”
Without dropping his wide smile he asked back.
“A-As if you really need that answered!”
Naty wanted to hit him, but held back, because she didn’t want to hit him with a knife.
But she wasn’t really annoyed, even had a smile.
They seemed to enjoy themselves… unlike certain someone.
'Oh. My. God. This atmosphere is killing me. Can you be done already?'
Their meal was far from being done, and so were they.
Naty asked another question.
"...Say… why are you doing this? All of this."
Her tone was strangely serious.
Because of the sudden shift, Leon didn't quite get it.
"Sorry? What do you mean?"
Naty placed down the bowl and looked him in the eyes, signifying the importance of this question.
"Being a part of this party, saving people… risking your own life. When I asked Agness, she said that this journey was just the first step to get rid of all the filth in this world. Mel said she was just following you… jokingly. I and Lance don't really have a choice… Timothy is being forced too, and you already know Tera's convictions… But you… What about you?"
It was unexpected.
Leon never thought someone on the team would ask him this.
In his head, he was the Hero.
What reason does Hero need to be on the Hero's team?
Except, now, he wasn't.
Leon didn't know what to say, he just stared at Naty in a daze.
"...after all… You never struck me as selfless. Even when we were younger, you were always weird… Or, I guess, mature would be a better term. Taking everything seriously, always at the top of your class, training in not only magic but sword too… unlike a certain someone who only did what he liked. And you even went out of the city just to earn some money… you didn't need to depend on anyone… you did that all for yourself. Even… even at that time, when you saved Mel… I could see it on your face, you did it… knowing that you'd get back the worth of that elixir… But I don't blame you. Saving someone's life is a noble deed, even if done to gain something. Be it fame, money or something else… it is fine if the person is doing good just to gain something…"
'What a saint-like mindset… she doesn't even suspect how wrong she is.'
Suddenly a face of a certain boy came to her mind.
Naty didn't want to remember that, so she focused on the present.
"...I wanted to hear you say it… What drives you forward on this dangerous journey?"
Leon was stunned.
He never considered how he looked like in the eyes of others.
He always thought about the future.
How to make things better, how to do it more efficiently.
But he never thought about himself… his own reasoning.
Was he really doing it just because he was chosen to be a Hero?
Leon closed his eyes.
He rummaged through his memory.
The people he saved.
The deeds he has done.
The evil he vanquished.
What made him do that?
What pushed him forward?
Leon opened his eyes, now full of confidence.
"Naty, do you remember where I was raised?"
Leon had a weird expression. His tone implied that he'll talk about something sad, but his smile was so beautiful and pure that…
"...i-in a bandits' d-den?"
…simply calling him handsome would be an insult.
"Yes. I was raised there, by them. The ones who plundered, kidnapped, and even killed. I still rem-"
"Okay, I'm done. Can't take this anymore. Whitey, we're leaving."
"...when they pushed me around, forc-"
Mixen didn't care… or that's what he said to himself.
He took the cat into his arms and tried to leave.
But Whitey wasn't happy about it.
She bit his finger.
"...-pite it all, I-"
"What? Do you mean you want to listen!?"
"...become better, stronger-"
"Oh, I know! You were just fascinated by his face, weren't you? That's it, we are going home!"
"...the hours I spent studying we-"
"Hm? Why are you sulking? Is looking at his face that pleasant?"
"... didn't have time for myself-"
"W-Wait… why do you look like you're about to cry? Cats don't cry, r-right?"
"...n't a normal kid-"
"Nonono, h-he~y, how about a treat?"
"...had no dream-"
"You d-don't want it? Then, then… then how about pets? I'll rub your belly just as you like it!"
"...yet I had a clear goal-"
"W-Why are you looking at me like that?...s-stop…"
"...so that no one has to-"
"Y-You… Dammit! Fine! Fine! I can't win against those eyes! We'll listen to his damn monologue, but we're out of here right after!"
"...being on the team, following the Hero's goal…it makes it easier to achieve my own… no, without you… it wouldn't even be possible."
"...Hm? Is that all? Oh well."
"Hey! Cursing isn't allowed. C'mon, a deal is a deal."
This time, Whitey didn't throw a tantrum and willingly jumped into Mixen's arms.
He "disassembled" the air table they were watching the show on and was about to fly away… but then his face went cold.
He looked at Naty's face.
What he saw was a smile.
A smile that he was familiar with…very familiar.
"We're going home…right now."
"...Did you just sigh? How the hell can a cat sigh?... I'll blame it on the fact that you aren't a normal cat."
Mixen took off soon after.
Whitey was used to high-speed flights at this point… that didn't mean she liked them.
Sometime later, Mixen spoke to Whitey in a low voice.
"Can you… not do that anymore?"
"I know you were just pretending… but still. I can't even take a child's weeping properly… and just imagining yours is… the worst."
Yet again Mixen returned home without notice.
It was out of courtesy, he knew the answer.
Strangely, he didn't get an answer, instead, he got a fireball to the face.
It didn't just appear randomly but was precisely manipulated from the second floor, down the stairs and through the hallway.
Mixen didn't expect to be ambushed in his own house.
However, it wasn't faster than his reaction time.
The fireball was extinguished halfway through the hallway.
His expression didn't change at all, but he thought it didn't fit his character.
"Are you insane!? What if I didn't react in time?!"
"You deserve it!"
From the second floor was heard an angry voice.
Valeria came down with something in her hand.
"What did I do!?"
This was a genuine question, he had no idea.
"Why would you give this to us if you don't even check it!?"
She threw a Magic Letter at him.
'...I forgot… again. Didn't my memory become better this time around?'
"... I'm sorry?"
"You think this is gonna cut it?!"
She was clearly pissed.
There wasn't really any room to dodge, and Mixen wouldn't do that anyway.
‘She's prepared to burn the whole house down.’
Spell after spell, they exchanged blows.
It was a repeated cycle, except Valeria was becoming progressively angrier with each passing loop.
She was speeding up as a result.
"How! Are! You! Keeping! Up!?"
'Playing with Whitey in the air is harder…But this needs to stop before she throws something heavier at me.'
"Father! Say something to her! She'll burn the house down!"
Michael was standing on the stairway, leaning on the handrail.
He was there for quite some time now.
“Looks like you’re having fun, though?”
‘It is fun. Like popping balloons.’
Valeria stopped and looked at Michael.
Immediately followed a fireball.
A clearly smaller and weaker version of the ones she threw at Mixen.
It would disappear without even touching Michael.
From the lack of reaction on Misha’s face, it can be determined that he faced this quite often.
“Shouldn’t you be angry at him?! Why am I the one who’s always worried?”
Michael simply shrugged.
“Why would I worry for him?”
“He’s your son!”
Michael smiled and took a step down the stairs.
“That’s exactly why. I believe in my son.”
The words sounded strong. There was not an ounce of hesitation or doubt.
Valeria figured that arguing over it was pointless.
“...You should be more strict with him.”
She gave a sharp stare to Mixen.
“I am strict enough. I don’t want to bind my son’s freedom…The only thing important to me…”
Michael stood in front of Mixen with his arms wide open.
“-Is to welcome him home.”
For a moment Mixen was overwhelmed with a strong headache.
Not because he was surprised or anything, just that…
‘...This feeling… it’s so similar to-’
Before he even finished his thought, Michael forcibly grabbed him into his arms.
“No need to be shy! It’s just a hug.”
This wasn’t their first ever hug… but the first hug in a long time.
‘...a hug is good…But what is this grip?’
Unknowingly to him, Michael decided to check if Mixen was slacking off with his training.
Mixen got a bit riled up, so he applied a bit of strength.
Michael was now in the air.
If comparing two’s sizes, it would be like comparing a bear to a wolf.
So this sight was quite bizarre.
“Whoa! Haha! That’s my boy!”
Mixen soon put him down.
“You’re underestimating me, Father!”
Michael laughed and placed his hand on Mixen’s shoulder.
“Believe me, I don’t. I’m sure that I of all people know you the best! Ha!”
…He could never imagine how wrong was.
‘It’s better to let him live in this delusion.’
“Obviously! Nobody truly knows me! …Except for you of course. You were there… from the very beginning.”
Mixen was getting unnecessary emotional again.
‘...There is nobody left…’
A clap out of nowhere startled Valeria and Michael.
Mixen continued talking as if nothing happened, without dropping his smile.
“Now, where’s Lara? She isn’t home, right?”
He casually changed the topic and the atmosphere returned to normal.
“Oh, she’s outside the city. Training with Luthor… He’s unexpectedly good at teaching.”
Michael followed this with a complicated look.
He still had his smile, but something in his stare changed.
Mixen could read that.
Michael was undoubtedly sad that he couldn’t teach her herself.
‘I should visit AL soon.’
“Shouldn’t she be returning by now?”
Valeria said that looking at the clock.
‘Indeed, 6 minutes and 32 seconds away.’
“I’m kind of thirsty, do we have tea?”
“Give me 5 minutes.”
After making unexpectedly good-tasting tea from random leaves, Michael poured three cups.
“Pour two more, Father.”
As if on cue, the door opened.
Despite looking exhausted, Lara was cheerful.
Mixen put his cup down and stood up.
Immediately after being noticed by Lara, he heard a happy scream.
Mixen smiled and opened his arms for a hug.
Lara didn’t care about not having any strength and lunged straight at him.
It wasn’t just a jump, she was flying head first.
In other words, a headbutt.
…For some reason their collision sounded like two metals hitting each other.
Neither of them looked hurt, however,
“Hehe! Uncle would usually fall after that!”
Michael was a bit embarrassed but didn’t say anything.
Luthor was carefully watching this scene from the side as if waiting for his turn… like a puppy.
Mixen held Lara in his arms and looked straight at her with a smile.
He said nothing.
It is not certain if he could even hear them.
His head was filled with…
‘Dammit! Dammit! Why now! Why ever!? Even after setting up defences… Those damn memories work like dominos! And Lara called me like this forever! So why! I can’t deal with this now! I have enough troubles as is! I!... I don’t want to…’
Mixen was still smiling.
Except his stare was blank.
It took Lara sometime before she noticed it.
As if a robot he opened his mouth.
What came out of it was…
“You gained weight.”
Michael couldn't hold it in.
However, the person n question didn’t laugh… she sulked.
“You meanny! Let me go!”
She wiggled her way out of Mixen’s arms, he let it happen.
“Aww~... No hug for your big bro?”
Lara was already half step into the kitchen when she stopped.
She wanted to seem rebellious… but also wanted a hug.
Mixen stretched his arms again.
“C’mon~, no headbutting this time, though.”
Lara turned around and reluctantly came closer.
Because of someone being potentially the best ‘hugger’ in the world, Lara became a hug addict.
Mixen was one too actually.
After telling them his usual made-up story over a cup of tea, Mixen went to visit AL.
Mixen manifested from thin air in front of AL to try and prank him.
What he got was his usual greeting.
He didn’t even flinch or look at Mixen. Just continued to sign some papers.
“Wow, you sure are good at this.”
This wasn’t the first time Mixen did something like this to AL.
Al signed the last document from the pile and put down his pen.
“I knew you’d come soon, so.”
“Hm? How so?”
“Well, you are quick, so getting here wouldn't take much time.”
This didn’t answer Mixen’s question.
“That’s not what I meant. How did you know I would be coming?”
Mixen started suspecting that there was now yet another prophet to deal with.
“The letter, obviously…You didn’t read it, did you?”
“...Ha, ha… I did, of course… But can you be so kind as to remind me of its contents? My memory is messy as of late, haha.”
You didn’t need to be a detective to see through this lie… but Mixen wasn’t really trying to hide it.
“...We got a reply from one person to who you sent a letter recently. It came from the Silver Kingdom.”
“Oh, it must be Koma. You have it here?”
“Yes, give me a second.”
AL opened one of his closets.
Mixen saw it coming.
He decided to let it happen.
The closet was filled with letters to the brim.
All those letters fell out and covered AL’s feet.
AL didn’t show much of a reaction.
He just sighed.
It must’ve happened before.
“...Can you send it to my house?”
“...Okay, it’ll take some time.”
“...I can tell.”
There were at least a few hundred near identical letters.
“...Popular, are we?”
AL gave Mixen a glance.
A glance of a very annoyed person.
“I’m not in the mood for jokes.”
“Bummer. Anyway, how is my little investor doing?”
He switched the topic as AL clearly needed something to distract himself from work.
“...You mean Rose? She’s doing fine. Slowly but surely rising up the ladder.”
It was a bit surprising to hear that Rose wasn’t too out of the ordinary for Mixen.
After all, someone who caught the eyes of a prophet… or a regressor, can not be someone as average as that.
What both AL and MIxen did not know however was that Rose was spending too much time and strength on activities disconnected from her work.
“...How about the assignment I gave her?”
“Oh, your training equipment should be in the warehouse, you can just take it, I’m sure you’ll find no troubles doing that.”
“...That’s good, I’ll take ‘em… Though that isn’t the assignment I was talking about?”
“Hm?...A~h, that assignment. Unfortunately, no. It’s far more complicated than it might seem. She said that although some progress was made, without analysing an appropriate artefact or at least one with similar properties, it would be near impossible.”
“That sucks. I’ll see what I can do… Thanks, AL.”
“...Read your messages.”
Mixen smiled mischievously and vanished.
The next few days went by quickly.
Lara got the letter, and begged Mixen to bring her to visit Koma.
Although he could, he decided to postpone it for now.
Nothing out of the ordinary happened.
The children were as playful as usual.
Whitey was now happily playing with them too.
The only thing worth noticing is that out of all the troublemakers, Luthor was the biggest one.
It was a surprise to Mixen.
Although Luthor’s behaviour was the best out of all of them… That in itself was a part of the problem.
Though, Mixen did nothing about it.
The whole ordeal wasn’t of a big enough scale for Mixen to step in personally… yet.
After Mixen left, Valeria and Michael were washing the dishes together.
“Are you really not worried?”
“As I said before, no.”
“...I was thinking just now…Him getting hurt is not the only bad thing that can happen.”
“Have you thought about it?”
“I did. Still nothing to worry about, he can handle himself.”
“You should know. He’s strong.”
“That… He’s too strong.”
“Isn’t that a problem?”
“I don’t get how that’s a problem.”
“...I’ve met many people… powerful people.”
“You probably never even talked to them.”
“I, however, was forced to not only talk to them… but cooperate or even work under them.”
“Why are you ta-”
“Just listen… You know why I hate nobles so much?”
“...You’ve grown sick of them?”
“That’s… only a part of the reason… All higher nobles, those with power… They get corrupted. One way or another.”
“...I get what you want to say… That won’t happen to Mixen… He won’t abuse his power.”
“...It’s a bit more complicated than that…”
“Nobles aren’t born evil, they aren’t raised evil either… What makes most of them evil… Is a mistake.”
“...A slip of a tongue, being fooled, robbed, dishonoured… Things that tend to happen to nobles. Mistakes. Be it their or even others… It forces them to make actions… that stray them from the right path.”
“But you know what kind of a mistake is the worst?”
“...It’s an accident… Something you did not want to do… but it happened. Michael… what if Mixen hurts… someone he doesn’t want to hurt?”
“Do you think he can handle it? Killing an enemy is one thing… but an innocent person? The mental toll you get… the ghosts that haunt you… If it’s Mixen… he-”
“...Sorry… I… didn’t mean to.”
“It’s okay, come here.”
“Oh, c’mon, everyone in our family likes hugs, you’ll come to adore them too.”
“Pffft, fine… Come here, big guy.”
“Can I tell you a story?”
“It was when Mixen was just 6, close to 7. We were with our usual training a bit faster than usual. He would usually ran off to Lance and Naty to play… but he didn’t. Instead, he took his wooden sword and stood in front of a tree. Without a stance, he swung at it. He gave it his all, I could tell from a glance… However, I didn’t hear any noise. He forcibly stopped his sword right before it hit the tree. He did it for thirty or sixty minutes every day.”
“Why would he do that? I know a fair bit about swordsmanship, control over your sword comes naturally, what he was doing was just straining his wrists!”
“That’s why I tried to stop him at first… I asked him why he was doing it. You know what he said?”
“Hah… It was the most Mixen-like response you can imagine… He said that he didn’t want to accidentally hurt someone.”
“...That… is so childish… He probably didn’t know he’d need to kill in the future.”
“When I first brought him a wooden sword and showed him a real one, he asked what are they used for… I answered.”
“...That isn’t something you should’ve told to a child.”
“...I wasn’t mentally stable at that time… But he didn’t cry or refute me, he just mumbled something under his nose… He said that he’ll need to prepare himself.”
“How… old was he?”
“I think it was when he just turned 5.”
“...With your method of raising a kid… he should’ve become a serial killer.”
“But he didn’t.”
“Wich is unbelievably lucky.”
“...I won’t let you raise Lara by yourself.”
“And I’m glad.”
“By the way… Shouldn’t we have told him?”
“...Told him what?”
“That you’re planning on moving in.”
“T-That… I don’t think I’m ready to tell him…”
“Why? He likes you, you know it.”
“...Will I be enough?”
“Yes… Yes, you will… just like you are enough for Lara.”