Inside Sue's belly I lost conscious. When I woke up I found myself sitting on a queen size bed. I turned my head around to scan my surroundings. Right next to me a woman greeted me.
"Good morning, Milla-nee!"
It was Grace. I involuntarily hugged her. She welcomed me with open arms.
"Grace, it's you, right? You're not a ghost, right? This isn't a dream, right?"
My voice was shaking a bit. Grace gently patted my head.
"Yes, it's me and this isn't a dream. We're both safe now, Milla-nee."
I noticed Grace's body was wrapped with bandages.
"Grace… I'm sorry. Because I let my guard down you got hurt."
I had no excuse. I made the worst mistake possible.
"It's alright. This is nothing. My life belongs to you, after all. But please, promise me not to put yourself in danger like that again."
It almost felt like we were daughter and mother. But she was right. I'm done exploring other Demon Kings. I'll just lay low for now and try not to draw anymore unwanted attention to myself. As I was in deep thoughts the door to the bedroom opened.
"Oh, you have finally awakened, onee-chan!"
Odin was the one that walked in. I only realized then, that we were in Odin's castle. Sue brought us here since Odin was closer than my home.
"Grace, would you mind letting me have a moment alone with Milla?"
Grace turns her head to me and I nod to tell her that it's alright. Grace got up, got dressed and left the room, closing the door behind. Afterwards Odin took a serious face.
"Milla, I must warn you. Never use the Berserker Mode again, unless your life depends on it!"
"To be honest, it's all a blur. I can't remember what happened that much."
"Then I suppose I should take the time and explain. After your slime brought all of you to me she told me everything that happened. Judging by the description the ability you used is called Berserker Mode. I witnessed it a few times in my own coliseum. It is an ability that uses life force instead of mana. That's why you were able to come back to life like in our fight."
I see. But if it's so OP, what's the problem?
"I know what you are thinking. But please, refrain from using it. As I said it uses life force. Judging by the description your slime gave me and your internal damage, I would estimate that you shaved of 300 years from your life span. Do you understand where I'm getting? It's an ability that eats your life away."
Wha…? That's scary. Odin's right. Even if I have the life span of a Mazoku, that doesn't mean I want to shorten it. But wait… there's something that's bothering me.
"Odin, I understand. But earlier, you said that I took internal damage. What do you mean? Phoenix Resurrection aside, any wound I take, regardless if it's external or internal is instantly healed at the cost of mana."
"You aren't wrong. You didn't suffer any physical wounds. But I am talking about your mana circuits. They are… how should I put it… scrambled. Your healing abilities are a primary instinct. Similar to breathing. But if you think of mana circuits like blood vessels, then yours are full of holes right now. Just try making a small candle flame appear in your palm."
I did what Odin told me. Normally I could do something like this in the blink of an eye. But this time I was struggling. I had to pour more mana than usual. Odin's description felt accurate. If my mana circuits have holes in them, it's obvious that I need to use more mana to overcome the leaks.
"You get it? Onee-chan, you're lucky I have seen this mess before and can slightly deal with it. Stabilizing Grace was childs play compared to you. Not to mention that your servants told me you came back to life 3 times. Because of this, your mana was completely depleted. In a critical state actually. I had to inject mana directly in you to stabilize you."
"Thank you, Odin… But, can't my healing abilities fix my circuits too?"
"They already saved your circuits from ripping themselves apart. But that's all they can do. It's the same principle as a potion. You drink the potion and you heal. But if there are cracks in the container and the potion leaks, tell me, can the potion 'heal' those cracks?"
"Okay okay. I get your point."
"Please remember, you yourself aren't a full fledged Phoenix. A phoenix is truly immortal. It can even come back from it's own ash. Even if it dies of old age it will be reborn again. But, you were only gifted with the power to heal damage caused by wounds. You won't revive if you eat your life span away. Immortality belongs to the gods. Time is an enemy we all must face sooner or later."
I see. I never considered the fact that I can still die from old age. I got too reliant on Phoenix Resurrection. And if I think about it my ability only works if I have mana. If I deplete my mana, I won't be coming back to life. I need some body part to still be intact in order to resurrect. But if someone were to blast me so hard that nothing would remain of my body, then I would be dead. I also don't want to shorten my life.
"You don't need to worry. A few more days of rest and your mana circuits will naturally recover. And again, unless your life truly is in danger, never use that power again. As much as I want to fight you in that form, I care for you too much. So…"
"Ouch… Fine… Stop hugging me… I promise I won't use it again… so gimme some air…"
To be honest I don't even think I can use it again even if I wanted to. Last time it triggered out of pure rage. I was on autopilot. I can't remember anything after the transformation. The person who caused so much pain for Milla tried to take away my Grace. I promised Milla I will get revenge for her too. That vampire head meant nothing. So now besides destroying Ren and the church I'll have to destroy her too. But that will wait for another time.
"Thanks Odin. For everything."
"I am your slave, but above all, we are sisters now. I told you before, but I never had family. I won't lose you, even if I have to sacrifice the world for it!"
That's so sweet. Heartwarming moments like this… I want them to last forever.
◇ ◇ ◇
The vanguard ships from Olympia Empire finally arrived on the shores of Xenovia. This time however it wasn't on Milla's shores. Over 500 ships were deployed, and a total force of nearly 500000 soldiers. But not all ships arrived at the same time.
For now only 20 ships reached the beach. The other ships were in waiting near some small uninhabited islands near the main continent. The reason for this was because the first wave had to build a proper camp. This was a long term military campaign, so people started stripping the ships and build some sort of wooden fort. Some ships were pulled all the way on the beach and turned either into military barracks or more spacious living quarters for the higher ranks.
The heroes were of course in the front line ships. Right now, Ren Takeda was bringing food for his companions.
"Alright, let's all eat! We need to be in top shape for when they are going to need us."
He handed out the portions for everyone and they all started eating. Shiori was also at their table, but she didn't touch her food. Ren smiled and talked to her.
"Come on, Watanabe-san. We got to work together so we can return home. Don't worry. You just have to sit in the backline and take care of the support. Leave the fight to us."
Ren was right. She had to do her best. For Ryusei and Momoyo who were no longer by her side. But was there any point in returning without them? How would their parents react? But perhaps Ryusei and Momoyo wouldn't want for her to be so sad over them. She took a spoon and started eating the stew. Once she finished, Ren addressed her again.
"Say, Watanabe-san, since we are in the same party now, you don't mind if I call you by your first name, right?"
"Good. Then Shiori, you should also hang out with us more. We need to know how to establish our formation as a party."
"Then it's settled!"
After eating the party decided to separate and get some rest from the long sea ride. Ren had an evil smile as he went through the ships' hallway and back to his room.
As Shiori also wanted to return to her room, a few thoughts crossed her mind.
"Why did I agree? It feels really strange for him to call me by my first name. And why did I want to spend more time with them? If I'm uncomfortable with them, why didn't I say no? Is it because we're classmates? Did losing Ryu-kun and Momo-chan make me seek comfort somewhere?"
No matter how Shiori viewed it she couldn't understand why she agreed to Ren's request. She wasn't aware of the danger she was in. When Ren brought the food, he made sure to put in Shiori's portion a few drops of the drug the archbishop gave him. It was the beginning of Ren's plan.
◇ ◇ ◇
"So, onee-chan, about that other girl that's with you…"
"You mean Himeko? I'm still trying to figure her out. She should be strong, but she's as weak as newborn."
"It's because of the limiter placed on her."
I couldn't believe what Odin told me.
"That child has a magic seal placed on her. A limiter. Maybe because she's a mixed blood, someone didn't want her to grow too strong."
"Odin, can you remove it?"
"I might… hurt her. But the seal is made with elven chants. Most likely her mother was an elf that got rapped by various other races. It's not a pure elf spell, but an elf might have an easier time removing it than me."
That's interesting. Lucky for me, I have an elf under my wing. Lorina should have finished the prosthetic limbs by now. I guess I need to pay her another visit.