~~Three Oclock in the Afternoon, Twenty-Sixth Day of the Fourth Month, Ninety-Fourth Year of the War Demon Calendar~~
At Pochisley Agency, Pochi and I woke up late.
See, wed gotten to bed quite late last night… which was to say, technically quite early todays morning.
We had a reason for doing that, of course.
We had planned to head to the place of my beginning today, and for that, we needed to adjust our sleep schedule.
In any case, I had also created as much Pochi Bitanded as I could and kept them in the Storeroom.
From my calculations, it would be best to leave at around this hour if we were to teleport to Faltown and then walk to the dungeon.
And thats where the adjustment comes into play.
Considering that I couldnt sleep safely when Im not in town, it was extremely important to get sleep when I still could.
With my current level of knowledge, I still couldnt heal mental stress, after all.
As for the deal with Billy, I hadnt been able to get any information in the little free time Id had.
Still, Id already passed the story over to Irene and Gaston, just in case.
I had also advanced the magecraft tutoring ahead with Lina, Tifa, and Lala quite a bit, and had left an assortment of magecraft-related doc.u.ments for Lina to manage.
Considering how little Warren and the Divine Messenger had told me, Id never know what would happen over there, so I did as much for them as I could.
With that, they would be able to get stronger through self-study, and they still could rely onGrandmaster Irene whenever they really needed to.
Tarawo and Tifa… well, they were the same as ever.
I would greatly prefer that they worked faster toward a decent relationship, but I suppose such things couldnt be rushed.
During my free time, Id also tried to teach some basic magic spells to Betty, but in no time at all, Lina ended up being the one to instruct her instead.
Id never known that Betty wanted to be able to use magic too.
Perhaps shed gotten a spark of inspiration from the brief time wed partied up with Barun.
So far, Id told only Blazer and Bruce about the deal with the Resistance.
At first, Id intended to tell Gaston and Irene as well, but… since itd turned out that one of their fellow Six Archmages was in command, doing that might result in trouble down the line.
I still plan to discuss this with them when the chance arises, but now wasnt the right time.
Fuyu, immediately putting to use the Teleportation spell Id taught her, had come to visit us at Beilanea on several occasions during the past few weeks.
One thing Id overlooked was that the formula Id taught her had the Spell Circle in my room set as its destination, so that one time shed popped up while I was getting changed, things were… quite chaotic.
Fuyus beet-red face shed made that time was a must-see, in a way.
Natsu and Fuyu still got along well, and since the latter had learned the Telepathic Call from Gaston, shed been using it to keep in touch.
As a by-product of their uses of Teleportation, a public connection was established between Beilanea and Regalia, which gave the adventures of Beilanea access to Laeus and Don Kisaragis weapon shop.
Their wares turned out to be quite well-liked.
And, well, hats off to Itsuki for her idea to charge a toll each time the adventurers used the girls Teleportation setup to go there.
It was said that girls were fast to m.a.t.u.r.e, but seeing how everyone got so strong and reliable while I was away, Ive got to thank people like Gaston and Blazer for the guidance theyd provided, too.
Especially since, well… Ill be away again, this time for God knows how long.
“You sure Dont need us to see you off over there”
Well do the shopping before we leave, so itll be fine.”
Without worry for the way forward, I answered Betty.
“Asley, give it your best shot out there!”
“You got it, Natsu! Ill bring some good stuff back for you!”
Lala said quietly as she pulled on the edge of my mantle.
“Y-yeah, if I can find any.”
“Im fine with gold, Sir Asley! A TON of gold! Ooh, I cant wait!”
Itsukis breath grew heavy, excited by what shed arbitrarily convinced herself of.
I replied with a wry smile and an OK sign, to which she reacted in turn with a broad smile.
“”…Take good care of yourselves.””
Always the one to sound wise, this snake.
“Tzar, please take care of everyone.”
“You got it, man!”
“”Shut your trap, Bruce.
Sir Asley was talking to Us, not you.””
Hoo boy, they sure fight over everything.
In a way, that showed how good they got along with each other, I suppose.
“So… Blazer, do me a favor and take those two in check, will you Im asking you, too, Sir Ryan.
We need all the support we can get.”
Hope you dont face any issue over there.”
“Safe journey, Sir Asley.”
“…Dont you dare die on me, man.”
“How about you dont jinx it, Reid Look, just take good care of your sisters back here.”
“Hmph, like you need to tell me.”
Mana, exasperated at how Reid crossed his arms and turned away, let out a dry laugh.
“Trust me to take care of my Master, Reid!”
“Sir Asley, please be careful out there!”
“Thanks, Adolf! You do your best, too!”
We fist-bumped, albeit a little awkwardly on Adolfs part.
Which reminds me, lately hed had this sparkle in his eyes each time hed talked with me… whats up with that
Before I could ponder it over, Pochi ran up and said as if to break me off from prolonged talk
“Well then, well be off!”
See you guys later!”
This business had started with a lighthearted enough tone, but ever since Id passed along the Divine Messengers story to them, everyone turned serious.
Pochi and I felt the same, of course.
If it was an option, I wouldnt have left them now, what with there being so much work and trouble going around.
That was why I resolved to come back as soon as we could.
Once we were done shopping, we headed out of Beilanea through the south gate.
But before we could go far, one man stopped us in our path.
He had a tiger-like monster with him… wait, isnt that a Murder Tiger!
“…Arent you supposed to be in school, Hornel”
“Youre asking that on purpose, arent you Student Council members are permitted to leave University grounds during class time as long as its for buying equipment for the University.
You must have remembered that.”
“Whats there to buy at a gate Howd you know that Id be here”
“I dont know where the leak originated from, but its common knowledge at this point.
There have been talks of this girl at your Agency… Itsuki, I think shes called – going around selling information.”
…I have a feeling that shes gonna become a Miss Big Shot in the future.
“I was the one who sold that sweet info to Itsuki in the first place, though!”
And Pochi, well, I have a feeling that she had always been a Miss Big Shot in spirit.
“It seems that she only sells to those she trusts, of course.
I heard the news from these guys, though.”
Hornel pointed diagonally behind him with his thumb, and I directed my line of sight there.
Midors stood there with hands on his h.i.p.s and an encouraging grin on his face.
Idéa was there, too, her arms-crossed pose with her elbows in her hands pushing her c.h.e.s.t together.
Anri and Claris waved to me, the former quite energetically, the latter relatively lightly and with slightly downcast eyes
“Huh, the equipment youre buying must be pretty big, huh”
Even I need to ask for help sometimes.”
Hornel said, still sounding quite confident.
The Murder Tiger, on the other hand, seems pretty ticked off.
Looks like its gonna bite Hornels leg any second now… oh, it just did.
“Uh, you all right there…”
Thats how tigers show affection – Ngh-!”
Dude, its fangs are really digging in.
“S-so… any idea when you will be back”
But Ill try to get it done as soon as possible.”
I would greatly prefer that Hornel stopped pretending not to care, but I still felt inclined to humor him.
Really, I cant even tell whether or not hes grown up.
He did tone down his passive-aggressiveness though, so theres that.
“Listen… Ill be joining the Royal Capital Magic Guardians.”
“Yeah, Lina already told me.”
“And you… what will you do”
“Well… Ill be a Philosopher… or something.”
“Hey, too soon! If I had tea in my mouth, I would have done a spit take right on your face back there!”
“You heard him, Master! I knew Hornel would know that youd never make it!”
O, woe is me! Even my Familiar doesnt have my back!
Good God, my Familiar and old classmate are such handfuls.
And just look at Idéa – shes clearly enjoying herself looking at this go down.
Ignore them, Asley, ignore them.
I heaved a sigh, grabbed Pochi by her tail, and then started walking away from the gate.
In the end, all my friends behind me sent us off with words of encouragement.
Starting to feel fuzzy inside, I squeezed my fists.
Whoops, I forgot that I still had Pochis tail in one of my hands.
“You better be back soon!”
Never have I expected Hornel to say that.
Even with Pochi jumping up to bite my head, I couldnt help but smile.
I mean… I was able to tell that hes actually all grown up now.
Since we needed to move fairly far away from Beilanea before being able to safely use Teleportation, Pochi got off my head and gigantified, then let me get on.
But then Pochi didnt start running, and only pointed forward with her nose.
I looked to where she pointed at, and saw that many familiar faces were standing on the outer side of the wall.
Haruhana, carrying her Kozakura katana, reminded me once again of that time Betty lectured me.
Tifa, holding the same model of the Star Rod as the one I used to have – shed found it by chance at a pawn shop, and had bought it out of personal compatibility despite it technically being designed for boys.
Irene leaned her back against the wall with her arms crossed, looking quite disgruntled.
Here to round Hornels team up, Im sure.
Lina, holding the Blazing Dragon Staff, one of the two staves Gaston had entrusted me with – she had gotten that one because Id chosen to keep the Torrent Dragon Staff for myself.
Shes always been taking good care of it.
Theyve all got things going on for themselves, yet theyre here.
Ive never had such a joyous send-off.
Never once in my long life.
Its… making me feel all fuzzy inside.
I forced myself to look away, locking my gaze on the direction I intended to go.
I did that only because it was hurting all the way up to my eyes.
Pochi lowered her head and tried to put me down, but I stopped her.
Seeing to have understood me, she only closed her eyes and raised her head up.
I may be shedding tears of joy, but I dont want anyone to see me like this.
Embarrassment was the major factor, but I also felt that if they saw me, then I wouldnt be able to move on.
Without wiping my tears as they dripped off my chin, I raised my staff and shouted to those behind me,
“We wont be gone for long!!”
My voice, wrung out with my diaphragm so as to hide my shivering, served as a sign for Pochi to go ahead.
Everyone shouted back to us, wishing for our safe return, each with their definitely-not-shivering voices.
One among them – the classic Archmage – made a sarcastic remark, but in the end said something actually serious to top our parting off.
Man… Ive never felt so blessed to be alive as I am now.
“Oh God, why!”
“Just our luck, sir!”
So here we are, at the Dungeon after heading south from Faltown.
The S-ranked monster Beta Chimera had taken up residence in front of my old home, and it was, for reasons unknown, backed by the A-ranked Imperial Ogres and B-ranked Ogre Fighters.
Ah, yes, a full course of B, A, and S.
Even though Im Rank S myself, this is still beyond my capabilities.
How the hell did things end up like this!
“This wouldnt have happened if you did your scouting properly!”
“I wouldnt have needed to do any scouting if you hadnt stopped for snacks!”
“Oh, you know, I only ran for the short distance of ALL THE WAY HERE because some damned fool would never stop crying! Because of that, I was just A LITTLE BIT hungry!”
“Well, thanks for your service!”
“Good to know that you understand, you damned fool!”
…That exchange occurred while I pinched Pochis ears, and Pochi stuck her nails up my nose.
“Look, Pochi, just do the usual!”
“You mean Im baiting again!”
“No, I mean fight all of them!”
“Do your part, you damned fool!”
“All right, then take the B and A ranks! Oh, the S, too!”
“AWOOOOO!! …Wait, isnt that still all of them!”
“Its just the usual!”
“Oh, for the love of… please get it done quickly!”
Pochi gigantified and ran on ahead.
Ill never forget how brave she looks… or so I think for the umpteenth time, since I always would, thanks to Pochis usual behavior overriding any and all dignified image I would momentarily have of her.
“Its… its over!!”
And so Pochi and I collapsed onto the ground.
It wasnt as tough as an SS Rank enemy, but it still was difficult taking them by just the two of us.
Yeah, not easy at all.
All right, then……”
I pulled myself up and stood before the oh-so-nostalgic Dungeon.
Pochi sat up beside me, and together we locked our sights on the entrance of the cave.
As if the action was expected, we turned to each other, and then back to the darkness of the way ahead… We took one step, then another, and another, until the entrance was within an arms reach.
We looked at each other again before taking a deep breath.
Together, we shouted,
“”I live with death close by my side!””
For the third time, we turned to look at each other, laughed, and then stepped forward.
-Into the place that marked my beginning.