Book 1: Rise of the Fake Demon Lord – Chapter 25: All Hail Empress Fardom 2
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"And what exactly are you asking of me?"

Countess Sugimoto sat atop her chair looking down at a three member team.

"We have business with Empress Fardom. If she rules Profectus, you should be able to contact her. All we're asking for is a meeting."

Aria couldn't help but rest her head on her palm.

"Each and every one of you... Listen to me very carefully. I do not have a communication avenue with Empress Fardom. If you want to talk with her, meet her, fight her, sex her up, tickle her wings, whatever. Then go to Folkvangr and earn it. Whatever role you think I have, I assure you, you're wrong."

Allison could feel the frustration leak through her reply. It was thick enough to guess how often she was requested of such things. Glancing to her side to gauge Crim's response, Allison was somewhat relieved to find the man was rather unresponsive. Her worst fear was being unable to control the man during amicable discussions.

"I understand... Has anyone else explored Folkvangr yet? I've heard it's the top tier node. Rather than diving in without knowledge, I'd appreciate an introduction to anyone whose brain I could pick."

Aria thought about the request. It was rather reasonable compared to the demands typically levied against her whenever it came to Empress Fardom. She took a calculating glance at the team before turning her attention to the maid behind her.

"Ruby."

"Miss."

"Its been a while since you stretched your legs. Will you enter Folkvangr for me and gather Intel while there? Try to return in two months, no need to push yourself."

"As you wish."

The group observed Ruby's moment of obeisance before she exited the dais. Returning her attention to Allison, Aria continued.

"There have been groups that entered Folkvangr, but we do not have close enough relations for me to introduce you to them yet. Not between you and I, mind you, but between them and I. You see, so far the only ones to enter and survive Folkvangr are from Relictus... and we all know how our relationship with them is right now."

"I thought that was improving."

"Oh it is. It's hard to remain at each other's throat when a new apex predator suddenly pounces on you. The problem isn't that though. The problem is too few teams have survived Folkvangr. Our information shows the node is similar to every other node with the only difference being how quickly the difficult ramps up."

Allison expressed worry for a moment and looked toward the dais side door.

"Will that maid be okay then? We don't need you to send a woman to her death just to gather intel for us."

Countess Aria broke into laughter after the comment. She couldn't say accurately how strong Ruby was, however she witnessed the sparring sessions between her maid and other grounds at the training grounds over the past few months and knew she was far above the norm.

"I appreciate your sentiment, however Ruby is quite strong. Perhaps even more so than you. She knows her limits well, give her time and she will bring back the information you need."

"Thanks... Out of curiosity, why are you doing so much to get us information? I heard you were essentially under Empress Fardom's thumb. Isn't this betrayal?"

The comment drew another cheerful laugh from Aria. She reflected on her role and interactions with Lapis before managing to recover her bearing somewhat. She smiled at the woman holding a curious expression.

"You want to hunt down Empress Fardom? Feel free to. While I'm considered 'under her thumb' as you put it, I'll warn you now. That woman isn't normal. If you expect to hunt her down, you should expect to fail. Despite 'controlling' Profectus, I've yet to receive a single order from her. Nothing has even barred me from taking arms against the woman myself. I just don't believe I can win, so I'll stick to my duties, thanks. Regardless... Our meeting has carried for too long. There are plenty of taverns, hotels and inns for you to stay at. I won't keep you. Good luck in your endeavors, Ruby should return in two months. Feel free to do as you please until then."

Aria didn't even bother to dismiss the group, only rising from her seat and walking out through the side door. If there weren't so many cowards consuming her time and pestering her about information on Folkvangr before even attempting the node, then she wouldn't have sent Ruby out. Aria found it somewhat amusing that, despite adventurers exploring the random nodes spread throughout the continent, no adventurer dared to enter Folkvangr 'first'.

"I bet she never predicted that. I suppose I should help a little.", she thought with the dais door closing behind her.

As predicted, Folkvangr was silent for those next two months. The expansion of Profectus continued and with it. As new segments of the city were built, immigrating adventurer teams far above the average skill level settled into the new areas, attracted by the relative distance to Folkvangr.

It'd appear more and more teams were practicing on easier nodes prior to tackling Folkvangr.

The news of skilled adventurers entering Profectus didn't surprise Aria in the slightest. The new inns were built with that expectation after all. With the influx of adventurers from across the continent, news came with them.

Reportedly, Naoki was under heavy siege and was starting to be pushed back to their border. Apparently the situation was far worse as that news was nearly a month old. The old beastman who reported it held a solemn expression each time he told others about it. One might guess he originated from Naoki.

Other news brought in through adventurers were the sightings of a peculiar monster clad in black armor. Unlike the beasts typically seen in nodes, the monster utilized swords and magic, engaging adventurers who managed to reach a certain depth inside more difficult nodes.

Few died by its hand, reportedly, yet those reports were suspicious considering only survivors were able to report that. Too many other groups failed to return from the depths of many nodes drawing questions on the report's veracity.

The last news that spread infectiously was verified the moment Countess Sugimoto encountered it. Apparently, the remnants of Azmodius fully integrated into Klasika with their Queen even entering a political marriage to seal the deal, something once unheard of when talking cross species cooperation.

The news was important enough for Countess Sugimoto to make a public announcement and confirm the news. The world was changing rapidly., such a feeling itched at the pits of even the average citizen's heart. With it came a feeling of both fear and excitement.

On this day, a particular maid crossed the boundary of the outer wall of Profectus. Her attire worn with cuts and blood intermingled in her uniform. Despite her appearance, she walked a healthy gait into the newly constructed Town Center.

Requesting a meeting, Ruby waited in the dais while glancing around at the furnishings. She slipped a smile after seeing her suggestions put into practice after two months. Without an announcement of her entrance, the dais doors flung open and through them, a young woman tackled Ruby into a tight hug.

"I know I said two months, but I was worried Ruby! Welcome back."

"Thank you, Miss. I've collected enough intel to potentially encourage some of the more proactive adventurer groups."

"That's fantastic. We might be able to push things along then... Go shower up, you smell. We can distribute the intel later."

Ruby smiled at the fake vitriolic remark and patted Aria's hand to release her. She cleaned herself up, received a tour of what was built so far in Profectus, and finally deposited her recordings onto paper.

As the document hit Adventurer guilds and hawkers were paid for alleyway spreading, a sudden boom occurred amongst the newly incorporated adventurers. It would appear, they were waiting exactly for that as Profectus experienced a mass exodus soon after.

For safety, the Adventurers Guild required notification from any party that chose to head towards Folkvangr. Needless to say, the lines extended out their door for days.

Amongst those groups, Team Satyr and Allison's group were included.

Across the continent, North of Profectus, another major event triggered. Within a specialized room hidden hundreds of feet under Sacramentum, the pokes, prods, and resulting analytics off a restrained behemoth led a researcher to raise from his desk and scream.

He drew the attention of both the guards and other researchers, yet they only held confusion as the man was jumping around his desk in jovial laughter.

"We did it! We did it! We finally did it!"

He collected himself as much as he could before gathering his team up.

"The behemoths communicate through subspace mana channels! Of all the means we predicted, I didn't expect this to actually be the way!"

"Were you able to verify it?!", another researcher became excited and started questioning.

"Obviously! I wouldn't stand here otherwise. Drop your research targets and refocus on the subspace mana channels. I was only able to detect there was some form of communication happening. I haven't been able to track it yet."

The man hopped off his podium and issued an emergency meeting with his Lord. He made sure to include the topic as he knew his Lord held their research topic in high regard. As expected, it took only minutes for a meeting to be approved.

The head researcher heard his title announce and two large doors opened for him to enter the dais. At the far end of the throne room, he found his Lord awaiting with a patient, but somewhat excited smile. Though he appeared subdued, the man could tell his Lord was excited through the way his serpentine eyes eagerly urged his pace along.

"My Lord. This one was able to narrow down the means of communication between the behemoths and the Queen."

"Continue."

"Yes, my Lord. We found ample evidence that the beasts are somehow receiving and sending information through subspace mana channels. We haven't found a means to tap into or decipher the communications yet, so we can't be sure what type of information is being exchanged, but we have a direction for research now. I've directed the entire team to focus on tracking and deciphering the channels."

"Fantastic. When can I expect to hunt my Queen? I've already spoiled her with this flirtatious game of hers. It's about time I reap my rewards."

The researcher became somewhat nervous at the question. Subspace mana channels were a new phenomena theorized decades ago. The research into them was mostly theoretical as well. No one thought to use them for communication and so the technology was never really researched.

"My Lord, all research surrounding subspace mana channels is theoretical. I expect we'll required at least 4 months to even ascertain the basic laws governing it before we can start tracking it."

"Is there no way to speed it up?"

"My Lord.. None. There's none I can think of. The subject is so esoteric that we don't even know if our theories are correct enough to experiment with. I'm afraid we're starting from scratch on this. If it wasn't for the fact that the channels resonated with some of our equipment, I'm afraid we wouldn't have even discovered the means for longer yet."

"My Queen is an intelligent one... Well, that's fine. This Lord will give her more time. Go back to your research."

"Yes, my Lord."

Unaware of potential troubles coming her way. Lapis remained within Folkvangr tower. She relaxed at the peak with a few holographic panels floating around her. Before leaving, Ruby provided a heads up to Maria and Shino about a potential influx of adventurers.

Though trained, Maria felt undermanned for numbers Ruby reported and was troubled about how to contact Lapis to discuss it. Despite her worries though, a series of humanoid creatures appeared at the front desk addressing Maria as 'boss'.

The young beastman smiled wryly while glancing around the room with a curious look. She brought the idea up with Shino only a day ago and it was suddenly solved without effort. Maria couldn't help but smile after figuring out their employer was rather doting. She brightened her smile further and accepted the new help.

Not long after, the first series of adventurers arrived at Folkvangr. It didn't take long for issues to arise as few would accept children delivering ultimatums and rules to an adult. Their pride prevented them from accepting it.

At first, the adventurers took an aggressive stance against Shino when he approached them at the entrance of Folkvangr. The poor beastman was literally shaking in his boots while delivering his lines. Needless to say, the adventurers were only two steps from torture to gather more info from the poor thing.

Making an example of the group, a series of humanoid golems fell from the side of Folkvangr, decapitating the most aggressive of the bunch before crumbling into rubble. The shock and awe factor bought enough time for Shino to recover his wits and gain a bit of confidence. He issued his warning once again that was ignored earlier before leading the groups in.

Maria held similar luck and as was the case with Shino, it took a few deaths before her authority over Folkvangr was established. Eventually, the groups were calm enough for Maria to deliver her lines with clarity. The question and answer sessions seemed to last hours, but soon enough after, the first groups descended a set of black stairs into Folkvangr dungeon.

The teams took their time exploring Folkvangr. They built maps and established checkpoints throughout. Merchant adventurers brought supplies to sell in the depths of Folkvangr and with their assistance, reaching the third floor became common place for the average high-end adventurer.

Rare minerals became a staple export of Folkvangr and with it, of Profectus. Despite the boons Folkvangr provided, there was an undercurrent wait to surprise those who managed to encroach on the fifth floor.

Observing every fight. Observing every skill. Analyzing every invocation of magic. Petri worked his magic and adjusted the combat data spread to the nodes. There's little doubt that the adventurers of Folkvangr directly contributed to the explosive difficulty increase in nodes across the world.

Lapis checked in on Petri from time to time, observing its tinkering and adjusting thing when needed. Her primary task though involved the holographic panel laying flat on the table in front of her. For the past few weeks, this was her project.

She smiled at the completed design with a hint of excitement exuding from her. She dismissed the plan as she memorized it in detail long ago and took to the skies heading West of Folkvangr.

She soon left landmass behind exchanging it with a stretch of ocean. Her mental map placed her North East of Naoki, nearing the center of a massive body of water she could only describe as a miniature ocean.

Diving to water level, Lapis exerted force bringing herself to a halt just above the water surface. She kneaded mana until it was overflowing and rippling off her body. Her project this time was a massive one, the kneaded mana was far too little and so she dipped into her reserves.

An explosive azure fog whirled around her as her form failed to retain the Faery appearance. She recalled the design from earlier and began to build the invocation schematic in her head. Every detail was carved with desire and every magical component was conceptualized with precision.

Six hours of mental construction and an extra six for kneading the required mana before Lapis finally solidified the magic. She looked to the ocean below her, smiled with grand hubris and invoked the earth shaking magic.

The sea began churning and from its surface, excessive steam fed the already built storm above it. The storm grew in power, taking a twisted form, and with it the ocean surface followed.

Lapis gasped for breath at the expenditure, though the pouring rain and her drenched appearance failed to dissipate the pride emitting off her. She spent a few hours to recover herself and verify the magic was executing properly before returning to Folkvangr for rest.

The storm system at sea appeared natural and so was ignored by the world at large. Had a brave soul ventured into that storm though, they would have found a platform appear from just under the ocean surface.

That platform exhibited glowing traces similar to Petri, though far deeper in color and pulsing far faster, as if it were growing and adjusting itself. Between those glows, the platform would occasionally shift sections of itself revealing hints of a glass bubble internal.

More observant visitors would potentially grasp glimpses of a creature curled up inside that bubble.

While Lapis' new project developed unbeknown to the world, Allison and Sahib arrived at Folkvangr for the first time. The pair was missing a third as Crim was far too powerful to join the two in training. Rather, Allison preferred Crim to train in his own way. The team was never really a 'team' after all.

The two were more or less hostages or bait. They were finally released from close observation after Crim confirmed his target didn't show any interest in the two despite their close proximity to Folkvangr. The man himself disappeared soon after acquiring information about Folkvangr as if he sensed something.

Allison thought he'd go straight for Folkvangr, yet he instead launched himself without warning towards the ocean for some reason instead. Though she had some complaints, Allison was rather relieved for the overpowered man to finally leave them.

Though they could go their own way and return to Inmont or explore elsewhere, Allison figured training in Folkvangr would be a good thing. The difficulty was high, but due to it being the focus of the world right now, the support provided to adventurers entering Folkvangr was unmatched.

Such thoughts led to their current situation.

Having spent about 6 days in Folkvangr, Allison and Sahib managed to reach the fourth floor, mostly since the upper floors were already cleared out and held by previous adventurers and merchants. In truth, the two only needed to engage beasts on the third floor and push from there.

Currently, they were encroaching on the fifth floor. Allison looked at the map in her hand and thanked the previous adventurers that scouted ahead of them in the back of her mind. The map made their trip far simpler since they didn't have to map it out themselves.

The two located the stairs and after defeating a pair of beasts, descended only to hear the sounds of intense combat.

Blocking an obsidian sword strike with his own, a swordsman retreated back to his team's side. Their group had been pushing the fifth floor for a couple of days now. They were finally making progress until a new creature appear.

The spearman of the group launched himself forward while thrusting his weapon. The creature with obsidian armor used its sword to knock the spear tip aside and utilized quick footwork to encroach on the spearman's bosom. Its fist dug deep into the spearman's side sending him flying back into the arms of a healer.

"Damnit! The fuck are you?!"

Allison held a hand up to keep Sahib from descending further. The spiraling stairs provided a unique vantage point for the fight below. She heard the frustrated swordsman yell out before charging once more.

The fight must have just kicked off as the team appeared surprised by the monster's strength. Allison watched the close quarters combat with the obsidian humanoid in detail.

Swinging his blade from the side, the swordsman injected mana into the blade's edge projecting a red hue across its edge. Despite what appeared to be a mediocre block, the creature shattered the projection and his own sword in tandem.

The loss of the weapon didn't appear to affect it though as it instantly moved into an offensive stance planting a fist against the man's surprised face. The swordsman slammed against the dungeon floor hard enough to bounce his body before the obsidian creature rotated a leg against the man's side in mid air.

Once again, a member of the team was caught by the others supporting them. With their vanguards helpless against the creature, a magician in the group finalized a magic and invoked it.

Allison watched as the magic scribed itself along the floor leaving molten trails and extended itself like tendrils in the ground to the creature. The team collected their members and retreated to the stairs while the magic distracted the creature.

As she watched the two parties taking their own actions, her eyes fixated on the magic racing through the ground. The magic reminded her of what Crim used against the adventurer ground a while back, though smaller in scale and more focused, which made sense considering the target.

The obsidian creature held its hand out and as if grown from the ground, a replacement obsidian sword reached its hilt into the creature's hand. It tore the sword from the ground and with a single swipe, eradicated the magic crawling towards it while leaving a massive fracture following his strike path.

"Get out of the way!"

The team pushed Allison and Sahib aside while rushing up the stairs. As she looked down at the creature, she noticed it didn't appear to chase the group, nor did it seem to have any intention to finish them off. With that in mind, a daring idea came into her mind.

"Hey Sahib... Want to... try?"

Her eyes remained fixed on the creature as it was staring back up at their group as if waiting for their decision. Sahib always followed along with Allison, so he left the decision in her hands.

"Let's try. If we obviously can't, we'll retreat. I can't help but feel that thing wasn't out to kill that last group. This is a good opportunity for us..."

The two resumed their trek down the spiraling staircase. Each group's attention locked onto the other. As Allison and Sahib took their last step, finally entering the fifth floor in an official capacity, the obsidian creature took a stance.

Allison finally got a proper look at the thing as the distance and dim lighting made it impossible earlier. Her eyes gaped upon realization.

"You're!"

"..."

"Holy shit..."

She couldn't understand how the last team was so blind, this creature was the same thing that appeared in the mirage when Empress Fardom first declared herself to the world. Obsidian armor wrapped around it with horns jutting from the helmet.

Its sword reflected what dim lighting there was and the jagged layout of the armor pieces drove a feeling of danger into whoever stood against it. Rather than engage from the start, Allison hesitated for a moment and attempted to communicate.

"Can... Can you speak?"

"Sure. What do ya need?"

The creature took a stance with his sword resting over his shoulder as though the killing intent earlier were nothing more than a fantasy. Though she asked, she never expected the warped voice to actually reply back. Stunned in place, Allison floundered internally while trying to collect herself.

The voice once again resounded, more masculine than before.

"If there's nothing, we should get this fight out of the way. I can't let you pass any further."

That woke her up. Curious about the statement, Allison drew her knife and started moving closer while asking.

"Is there a reason? Are you the last obstacle until we can fight Empress Fardom?"

"No, I just don't want to let you through today. Maybe next week. I'm just showing my face a bit as a more... personal... introduction."

He restored his stance after Allison reached a certain distance from him, surprising the girl. Her combat style was somewhat unique compared to the world at large. She was, after all, a summoned hero transported to a different world twice over now.

The mere fact that the man across from her felt the need to take a stance just before she entered attacking range meant something, but she couldn't place what that something was exactly. She readied her knife, but asked once out of curiosity.

"Do you know me, what I am?"

"Of course. Nothing escapes Empress Fardom. Try not to bite your tongue."

His figure flickered with each step crossing meters until his shadow covered her stance. Allison swiped to deflect the sword strike while Sahib circled around with a dagger in hand. He invoked magic as he traveled attempting to seal the obsidian knight's movements and divert some of his focus away from Allison.

The knight flickered from view, reappeared at a distance and swiping up with his sword. The mana imbued traced his arc and flung itself at the two while tearing away ground the in its wake. Allison reacted, kicking Sahib and throwing herself with the momentum to the side as the arc drove between them and struck the stairwell behind them.

Despite shuddering and creaking, the stairs seemed intact, and even began restoring the small gash on its edge. Allison and Sahib glanced at each other, communicating with their eyes and both launched themselves towards the obsidian knight.

Mana swirled and Allison felt the Knight empowering himself with body reinforcement. He preempted their tag team strike aiming at Sahib first. His fist drove the boy into the ground shattering the ground that caught his fall, but not before Sahib encased his hand in a layer of viscous mana.

The mana appeared to weigh quite a bit as the Knight's movement became sluggish. Allison slashed with her dagger after catching up only to have it deflected by the grip of the Knight's sword.

Though he couldn't swing fast enough to strike back, the Knight had a penchant for reacting with the most off cuff methods. Allison followed her strikes through focusing on speed rather than power, yet the Knight utilized the spikes extending from his armor to deflect the blade every time.

The two exchanged a series of blows until Sahib recovered enough to withdraw from the immediate fight. He took a distance and focused on the surrounding ground around the two combatants before invoking magic once more.

Jagged rocks erupted from the ground attempting to pierce the obsidian Knight and to the surprise of Allison and Sahib, succeeded. Driving through the central torso of the obsidian armor, the primary rock impaled the knight going even as far as lifting its body into the air.

Allison withdrew from the fight back to Sahib and watched her surroundings. She couldn't bring herself to believe the attack was successful, the Knight was far too experienced to allow for that. Despite those concerns, the obsidian knight started fracturing while still impaled.

Its armor decayed into dust and yet its sword remained fixed to the ground after falling from his hands. Even after waiting an hour or so, the results didn't seem to change.

"Did... we win?"

Allison couldn't help but question, yet the situation seemed just that. She moved forward with Sahib to the fallen sword and picked it up. It was of excellent quality, far better than either hers or Sahib's dagger.

"Do you want it? It's pretty good."

Sahib shook his head side to side, still focused on the surroundings as if he didn't trust the results of battle. Allison shrugged her shoulders, placed the sword on her belt holder and tapped Sahib to retreat. The two were too injured to continue in such an awkward state, they needed some rest before pushing further in.

As the two retreated to the merchants in easier floors, Countess Sugimoto in Profectus received an unexpected visitor.

"Queen Dazzlevine... Welcome back to Profectus. I hope your journey was rewarding. To what do I owe this meeting?"

"If by rewarding, you mean I had to sell my body for my people's future, then it went as well as it could have."

The undisguised disgust in her reply evoked a bit of pity from Aria, but she tapered that feeling as soon as she realized it. A Queen was a role where the individual feelings no longer matter. She knew Queen Dazzlevine was aware of such things, though the times might have brought her to her knees far faster than her previous fate would have.

"I'm sorry to hear that, however it seems your negotiations were successful at least. How should I address you now that you're married into Klasika?"

"Keep it as how you've been calling me. I only sold my body, not my pride. The grace of having men obsessed with the faeries bodies came in handy this time... I should be lucky in a way, though I don't feel it. Back to point though, I'm here to assist Profectus as part of my agreement with Klasika."

"Agreement?"

"Yes. I hear you're reclaiming land as planned last time I was here. I'm here to help with terrain management and resource trans-location."

"I see..."

Countess Sugimoto eyed the Queen with a critical gaze. Something wasn't quite right, but she couldn't affirm what. The silent pressure continued until a thought came to mind. Aria waived her hand to the guards and dismissed them to behind the dais doors, providing the throne room with privacy.

"Why are you here Queen Dazzlevine? You can't expect me to actually believe you're here to move soil and pull resources. That's not a Queenly duty."

Queen Dazzlevine glanced at the maid behind Aria and hesitated to speak.

"Ruby is one of my most trusted people. You can think of her as equal to me and speak freely."

Queen Dazzlevine sighed once before her visage decayed visibly before the two. Her once youthful appearance shriveled up with wrinkles appearing near her eyes. The once 20 year old looking Faery shifted to a 40 or 50 year old surprising the two witnesses.

"Without going into detail, there's a reason why faeries can't procreate with other species. It's not a problem for men of our race, but... as you know, I'm the only female Faery... assuming Empress Fardom isn't one of my kind, anyways... Wedding night nearly killed me and I escaped here to recover. I'll provide the assistance mentioned earlier and restore my body in my free time."

"I am quite curious about this."

A feminine voice belonging to none of the participants echoed through the dais. Its soft tone felt harmless and yet all members on site reacted the same preparing for combat.

A magic enveloped the hall, isolating the room from outside interference and from the dais main entrance, a winged beauty with azure eyes faded into existence. Her eyes fixated on Queen Dazzlevine from the start.

"Now how did this happen to you? You were not this weak prior..."

Lapis' eyes glowed bright as mana drifted from her body. Every step rippled as magic invoked itself transforming the hall into a analytical engine. The number of concurrent magics firing off simultaneously drew sweat from even Queen Dazzlevine as she finally realized how much she underestimated this "world's enemy".

Lapis continued to close the distance and as if expecting Queen Dazzlevine to fight back, the space surrounding the room solidified. To her horror, Queen Dazzlevine was neither able to move nor invoke magic. Her fear of the woman approaching her sprouted for the first time in her heart.

As Lapis approached, the glowing flickers of her azure eyes remained constant. She stopped half a meter or so from Queen Dazzlevine before reaching her hand up and caressing the Faery's cheek. Her eyes emitted an even stronger presence and Queen Dazzlevine felt her body being invaded by foreign magics.

Shaking, she did everything should could to move and yet her only freedom existed in her thoughts. Atop her chair, Countess Sugimoto wasn't fairing much better. Though they held an alliance, it wasn't exactly normal for Lapis to suddenly appear without notice in front of her. Her thoughts cycled but were interrupted by Lapis a moment later.

"This is quite interesting... No wonder your species lacks a feminine presence... Should I fix it?"

Queen Dazzlevine's eyes widened at the remark. As a Queen, she held only one primary responsibility, to find and preserve any female faeries given the rare occurrence. She found the restraints restricting her decaying as Lapis drew back her hand.

She passed Queen Dazzlevine and payed a minor obeisance, most probably for appearance sake, to Countess Sugimoto.

"It has been a while Countess Sugimoto. I have come to discuss terms."

"Wait! You said you can help!? How!?"

Queen Dazzlevine, free of her restraints finally, refused to allow the possibility to pass. Though rude as it were, she interrupted the two. Seemingly unaffected by the interruption, Lapis once again focused on the faery.

"I can, but what will you offer me in return?"

Queen Dazzlevine realized the situation she got herself in, but the trade was potentially worth it. She hesitated before asking.

"How can I trust you're worth the trade?"

"Hahaha! You can not. However, I do understand the requirements of trust as fundamental premise considering the values at play. My power at this stage should be apparent to you. Know that I have capabilities to analyze materials and rearrange them. Your species is reliant on mana, consuming it for vitality, yet mana is a quite impressionable thing. Your species' female counterpart requires an abundance of neutral mana, yet such a thing is neigh impossible find in nature. As such, your race lacks many female members."

Queen Dazzlevine knew quite a bit about her own species. Knowledge, as it were, was power and with it, the potential to reverse their detrimental situation. She knew the issue of mana was somehow related to faery reproduction, but they always lacked the means to isolate what exactly was affecting them.

She trusted the knowledge the woman across from her provided. It registered on a instinctual level, verifying what suspicions she always held. If the woman was capable of determining the reason upon a simple glance, she could potentially provide their species a future as well.

'Her eyes reflect her thoughts', sighed Aria internally. She realized the faeries might just betray the rest of the world from this moment on. Her gaze rotated to Lapis once more, admiration apparent within.

"Then shall we discuss terms, Queen Dazzlevine? I will inform you your situation right now is related to the same issue. Sex with the human male influenced what used to be pure mana collected inside you. Your current appearance is a reflection of that taint. In good faith, I will help you this once as evidence for the future."

Lapis extended her hand and with it, enormous amounts of mana wrapped around Queen Dazzlevine. Her movements restrained, she found herself unable to even scream in pain as tendrils of mana bore through her skin and spread within her.

While Lapis was dropping in on Aria and Queen Dazzlevine, another peculiar fight broke out in Folkvangr. Standing before Team Satyr was the same familiar figure that accompanied Empress Fardom during the Profectus takeover.

The team was already prepared for combat as they were in the depths of the fifth floor. The unexpected encounter caught not only Team Satyr, but even Hiiro off guard for a moment. He had been engaging in fights in different nodes throughout the continent and with Folkvangr finally kicking off, he chose to show himself in its depths to gather data for Petri and reveal himself more often.

He was reminiscing of his time with Allison and Sahib while walking around and encountered the team while he was distracted. The encounter could only be called awkward as both teams froze on eye contact.

"Engage! Cover me!"

Kelvin wasted no time after the initial pause before issuing orders to engage Hiiro. Following up beside him George and Silas readied their weapons and started kneading mana to support them. Their body reinforcement already invoked, the team closed the distance in but a moment.

Far in the back, Zeena invoked a series of magics to isolate the battlefield, preventing Hiiro from escaping.

As he was caught off guard Hiiro intercepted the three vanguards on pure instinct and reaction alone. He flickered with quick steps to the side dodging the beastman's mana infused swipe and follow on gashes that stapled the ground.

Without a sword, mana coursed through his system without any invocation and reached his hand, detonating as he forced it out through his palm. The impulse provided enough instant acceleration for Hiiro to dodge the inbound sword strike Silas trailed behind George with.

Despite best efforts though, Team Satyr were anything but novices and as Kelvin followed up with mana infused strikes, Hiiro was forced to put his faith in dense mana platings that formed around his arms. His situation be damn, the odd thought of being thankful for Lapis' spartan training passed through his head.

Three strikes smashed into the mana shields, all deflected for the most part. Hiiro restored his stance and used powerful footwork to obtain distance from the team before they could follow the attacks up. As he reached a certain distance, he found himself slammed against a barrier of some sort, halting whatever progress he was making.

Extending from the barrier, vines constructed of mana wrapped around him and held him in place. His cornered appearance seemed to drop the hostility of Team Satyr a bit as Kelvin found the courage to close the distance between the two at a casual gait.

"Do you remember me? I remember you. It's hard not to after you attacked Profectus."

As Hiiro kicked off his own version of Lapis' analytical magic, he observed the approaching youngster and his friends. He certainly remembered the crew, it was hard not to. He smiled behind his helmet and felt a strange compulsion to respond.

"I remember you as well, kid. You've grown stronger."

"Glad to hear that. Someone has to stop you after all. Why are you down here?"

"Shouldn't I be? This is our territory after all. Rather, you're the invader this time, aren't you?"

"I don't need a question as an answer. Is Empress Fardom here as well?"

"O...", Hiiro halted himself.

The analytics magic started reporting its results and from that, Hiiro turned his focus to the glowing verdant eyes far behind the team. With his analytics magic kicking off, he was astonished to find the density of mana swirling around the Elf, and with it, he finally understood that compulsive feeling earlier.

Such a realization caused Hiiro to break into a laugh. He was really tricked by the youngsters this time around. He knew he'd be getting a mouthful from Lapis when he returned now. Taking deep breath, Hiiro focused on what Lapis taught him and pictured his imagination consuming the scene around him.

Mana reacted inside him and with a final urge, Hiiro forced his imagination upon the scene, overwriting the compulsion magic that affected him while wiping out the hallucinatory restraints in tandem.

Free from his restraints, Kelvin no longer remained undisturbed and took a stance once more.

"Elf, you're pretty good. Almost had me there. Geez, with talents like this, I can expect to see your group in the future..."

Hiiro stretched his arm and kneaded an immense degree of mana letting it flow free to the ground. The excess mana dripped from him in puffs of azure fog similar in fashion to Lapis. As the mana was kneaded, an obsidian sword with silver trims extended from the floor, and with it a killing intent.

"...assuming you survive, of course."

Hiiro tore the blade from the ground and utilized the excessive mana rippling around him to perform a short range teleportation, bypassing Kelvin and his two vanguards.

As if prepared for just that, Zeena screamed while driving her weapon at the ground. Thorns erupted along Hiiro's landing point, yet their tips were all sheared off by the time Hiiro reappeared.

Surrounding herself, an extensive number of spiraling magics invoked once after another. Hiiro accelerated towards her while preparing an attack, but also held admiration for the young Elf considering the speed of invocation was nearing Lapis' simultaneous invocation speed.

Steps before her, Hiiro brought down his sword with all the force of his collected mana behind it. The spirals of magic shattered one after another, yet all served similar purposes and deflected small portions of his strike on mass.

Though no singular spell could halt his strike, the sharp strike dulled. Though the bulk of the power behind it gone, the strike tore through her final barrier and left a gash across her torso.

Behind him, Hiiro felt Kelvin appear from thin air and a curious strain of despair ran through him. He ignored it and used coarse footwork to drop his body low and roll to the side.

His reactionary movements proved accurate as a silent gash hundreds of meters long appeared along the strike path. The devastation drew a whistle from Hiiro, but it was only that.

Team Satyr regrouped around Zeena and while George applied emergency aid to the Elf, Silas seemed to be communicating somehow with Kelvin as the two's facial expressions changed repeatedly. As he observed the group, Hiiro received a message from Lapis and brought out a wide smile.

"Hey kids, you did a good job and got one over on me. I'll leave this as a reward. Keep improving and we'll have better fights in the future."

Hiiro tossed the silver lined sword to the neutral battleground between them before a dense mana descended in the room. The mana itself started crystallizing and a moment later, the obsidian knight disappeared from Team Satyr's view.

 

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