~~Late at Night, Colorful Food District~~
The districts patrons were now on their way home, each satisfied by whatever service they had come here for; among them, one young man was walking against the flow.
Even at this late hour, the vicinity was lit brightly by a myriad of colorful lanterns.
For reasons unknown, all those burly men gave way to this one younger, smaller man.
All of them found themselves looking at him as he passed by, giving him strange looks.
But then the young man, whom they were so sure they had in their sights, disappeared in the blink of an eye.
Amidst the darkness of the deep old well, in which the hustle and bustle of the town above could be heard, the cl.i.c.k.i.n.g of the young mans shoes echoed as he ran on.
The small candle flame flickered in the lenses on his glasses, and his footsteps faded away with each step of the way.
The young man took out a knife from his c.h.e.s.t pocket and inserted its tip into a small chip in the wall.
Then he pushed up his glasses with his middle finger and watched on as the wall opened up to the side, accompanied by a dull sound of rocks scraping against each other.
This was the hideout of the Resistance – the one Asley had visited before.
Once inside, several warriors and mages came out to greet him.
“”Welcome back, Sir Warren!””
The young man was Warren the Black Emperor, currently a major figure of the Resistance, and formerly the Magic University Student Council President.
In response to the greeting, Warren waved his hand lightly.
His hair had grown much longer than when he had last met Asley, and was now tied into a ponytail behind him.
Warren handed the small candle-stand in his hand to one of his subordinates and looked at the door to Saylas room… and then narrowed his eyes.
With that in mind, Warren asked the subordinate as the latter accepted the candlestand from him,
“Where has Miss Sayla gone”
“Weve been told that she had been called for an emergency meeting with the Duodecad Conference, sir.”
Hearing that brief explanation, a disturbing set of thoughts ran through Warrens mind.
They were supposed to be trivial thoughts, but the importance of his position here dictated that he could not overlook any of them.
Right then and there, Warren started drawing a Spell Circle at his feet, with speed such that the other mages gulped down lumps in their throats out of awe, completing it in almost an instant.
The Circle then radiated light, signaling the invocation of its spell.
“Sir Warren, is this… a Teleportation Spell Circle”
“We dont have time to talk, unfortunately.
Everyone, please get on this Circle immediately.”
It was quite unusual for Warren to rush others.
“…Are you the last one here”
“Yes, sir! Well, here I go!”
The last warrior faded away.
The Resistances hideout fell into dead silence.
The Circle opened a hole in the dark void.
What appeared from it was a large rabbit with golden fur.
It was an Al-miraj, an E-ranked monster.
“Long time no see, Latt.”
“Quite unusual of you to call me out.
What do you want”
“Id like you to clean up Miss Saylas room, please.”
Latt, Warrens Al-miraj Familiar, looked at Saylas room for a moment, and then nodded.
“Im counting on you.
When youre done, let us meet at the usual place.
Warren stepped on the Teleportation Circle and faded away.
After seeing him off, Latt ran quietly, but swiftly, into Saylas room.
~~A Dimly Lit Room~~
The room was quite spacious, and elaborately decorated throughout.
In the center of it was a round table, around which twelve seats had been set.
This was the Duodecad Chamber, located within the Royal Castle of Royal Capital Regalia.
Two people currently inhabited this room.
“Say, Sir Gaston… did something happen You look quite a lot stronger than the last time we met.
Sat nearest to the door was one among the Duodecad, Barun the Scale Tipper of the Six Braves.
And furthest from the door was one of the Six Archmages, Gaston the Great Mage of Flame.
“Hmph, it seems that youve been sharpening your skill as well, if anything.”
Gaston replied, his eyes still closed.
“Oh You noticed Aw, shucks… Im so happy.”
“Being done in by a random Familiar has taught you some humility, hasnt it”
“Ngh… And I was just about to forget that, too.
Thats not very nice of you, sir.”
Barun puffed up his cheeks.
“If youd actually forgotten, then you wouldnt be nearly as competent as you are now.
You have learned from your defeat, and were inspired to improve yourself – thats what I meant.”
“…Uh, nope, still not nice.”
Barun grumbled to himself; Gastons words had hit so close that it was if he had seen through the young man.
The young man himself had indeed the immaturity in his voice, however.
[Hmm, I suppose he was the newest addition to our ranks… It must have been difficult, what with his abilities not matching up with his looks.
Perhaps it was his defeat to Pochi… or perhaps his encounter with Asley that had changed him.
Now hes getting closer and closer to Dragans level- Hmm]
Gaston raised an eyebrow in conjunction with the opening of the Duodecad Chambers door.
“What, its just the two of you Some emergency meeting this is.
Im busy, you know…”
The new arrival was one of the Six Archmages, Irene the Invincible Sprout.
Stepping inside, she rambled on to no one in particular and took her seat next to Gaston.
Looking at Irene, Barun muttered to himself,
“Shes gotten stronger, too… I wonder what happened…”
“Whatre you looking at”
“Uh, nothing – I was just surprised… and stuff.”
“I should be the one saying that!”
Irene glared at Barun, prompting the latter to shrink away.
[Ugh, Miss Irene… why is she always so angry Wait, no, I dont think she was like this until recently…]
Irene g.r.o.a.n.e.d in ill humor; that moment, the door opened again.
“Oh, my… The two heavy hitters of the Six Archmages are here already I should have come earlier… We all have a short life ahead of us, isnt that right, Jacob”
“Stating facts doesnt make it any less rude, Miss Catherine.
Please dont lump me in with the likes of you.”
These two – Catherine the Benevolent Petal and Jacob the Demon Blader – were among the ranks of the Six Braves.
Seeing the pair act and speak so disrespectfully toward Gaston and Irene, Barun heaved a sigh.
This was what one could consider a frequent, mundane occurrence among them.
Barun looked at Irene, expecting the latter to retaliate against the sarcasm directed at her, but she only kept quiet in her seat, much to his surprise.
Instead, the one to respond first was Gaston, contrary to Baruns expectations.
“The old hag and me, were having a contest to see who dies first.
Want to place a bet, hmm”
“Id rather not… Ill save the money for your funeral service instead.”
“Eh, thatd be the one helpful thing you do.”
Gaston closed his eyes once again.
Catherine and Jacob walked forward to their seats.
“Oh, you were here as well, Barun Youre so little that I didnt notice you at first.”
“You know I never miss my summons, maam.”
“Barun, boy… I think Miss Catherine meant to askwhy are you still in the Duodecad Conference …you know.”
“And you know Ill walk out the very second Im actually fired, sir.”
Barun gave a brief, nonchalant answer and remained silent.
This, too, was a common occurrence.
Then Gaston opened his eyes, and Irene turned to the door – right as it swung open with a bang.
“We will be in trouble if you were to destroy the door again, Sir Charlie.”
“GAHAHAHAHA! Dont worry; I can just fix it then!”
“And your repair will most likely not make the cut; that will not get us out of trouble, sir.”
Two more of the Six Braves – Charlie the Thousand Morphing Blade and Dragan the Dainty Tiger.
Catherine looked quite uncomfortable to hear Charlies rough voice echo through the Duodecad Chamber… but she refrained herself from making a comment.
Such was the degree of superiority of the giant man, whom even Gaston respected.
“GAHAHAHA! Sir Gaston, way to follow up Dragans nitpicking!”
“Yes, I suppose I am… getting better, Sir Charlie.”
“And Miss Irene, youre as beautiful as ever!”
“Flattery will not get you anywhere, sir… But thank you.”
Charlie sat in the other chair next to Gastons, then rested his elbows on the round table, causing it to creak.
“It seems that well have to replace the table one of these days, too.”
Dragan, watching Charlie be seated, muttered that to himself and proceeded to sit down as well.
Then, in the corner of his eye, he noticed Baruns presence.
Charlie, too, felt that Barun gave off a different impression from when they had last met.
Catherine and Jacob were the only ones oblivious to that fact so far.
On the other hand, Dragan was quick to notice even the smallest changes, in part due to his personality; sensing that Baruns improvement had brought the young man ever so closer to his level, he felt a streak of cold sweat run down his back.
“Well, well… this is getting interesting, isnt it, Sir Gaston”
“Good enough for me to die with my eyes closed, at the very least.”
“GAHAHAHAHAHA! Sir Gaston, youre as strong as Sir Argent – I cant even imagine how you would die at all!”
“Thank you, sir.”
Charlie let out a hearty laugh, while Gaston smiled quietly.
Irene faked a smile in an attempt to express her agreement, but she was in fact not amused, as shown by her eyes.
[Ive been thinking this for a while now… but the geezer sure is similar to that musclehead Philosopher.
Hes going to get stronger until the day he dies – well, he might slow down, but theres no telling how far he can go.]
Suddenly, the door opened again, accompanied by the sound of a staff tapping the floor.
A man in black walked in without a word.
His long, blonde hair had some gray mixed in, signifying his age.
He had a slash scar running from the left of his left eye all the way over the bridge of his nose to his right eye.
The man, completely blind, poked the floor with his staff at regular intervals as he walked to his seat of choice.
“Greetings, everyone – I believe it has been a long time since weve last met.”
“Hello, Sir Russel.
Its good to see you alive and well.”
Russel the Glorious Dark – another one among the Six Archmages.
Charlie greeted him, while Irene pulled out the free chair next to her and told him where to sit.
“Thank you, Miss Irene.”
“Just… hurry and be seated.”
With a smile on his face, Russell nodded quietly and took his seat, with his staff leaning on the round table.
By now, Catherine was tapping her fingers on the table.
She couldnt bring herself to complain, what with her being in Charlies presence, but she was quite irritated by how all of the Duodecad Conference had not yet assembled.
Although it was not yet the appointed time, she had a short temper, and already was getting impatient.
The door opened again.
“I-Im terribly sorry for running late!”
The voice was that of a young woman – a mage; she presented herself to everyone, holding her c.h.e.s.t as she tried to breathe.
She had short silver hair and wore a blue robe.
Out of breath, one of her silver eyes was shut and her shoulders were trembling.
She was in her mid-twenties, relatively young among the twelve; although she was not actually late, she apologized for arriving after her seniors.
Catherine, further annoyed by that attitude, leaned on the back of her chair and complained,
“Now, now… whatever could make you arrive later than us Hmm, Amil”
She was Amil the Super Silver Spirit, yet another one of the Six Archmages.
Panicking toward Catherines remark, she bowed her head again.
“Thats… not something she ought to apologize for, is it”
Charlie said, scratching his cheek.
“I dont think so, no – on the contrary, perhaps weve been putting too much of a… sense of obligation onto the young ones.”
“She was on time; thats good enough.”
“Was there something you take issue with in particular, Miss Catherine”
“Wed be scolding Miss Catherine if she were to barely make it on time, though…”
Gaston, Irene, and Russel commented after Charlie in succession, while Barun muttered mischievously to himself.
Naturally, that prompted Catherine to glare at Barun… but the latter had already turned away, instead offering Amil a seat.
“Come, Miss Amil.
You ought to be seated.”
“Oh, thank you, Sir Barun… Say, I see were still missing three”
Look, over there.”
Amil turned to where Barun pointed at – the seat in between Jacob and Dragan.
“Since when were you there, Miss Natasha”
“Came in right behind you…”
“Yup, she just slipped past you when you came in, Miss Amil.”
One of the Six Braves, Natasha the Unholy War Princess, said quietly.
A pale-skinned woman, she had large eyes, a small mouth, and long silver hair.
She wore white lightweight armor adorned with silver and gold ornaments.
She looked at Barun, narrowing her eyes for a moment; it seemed that she has sensed the latters recent change as well.
“Oh, what a surprise, Sir Barun!”
Amil pumped up both her fists… with the side effect of jiggling abundant c.h.e.s.t.
Staring at that happening, Natasha grumbled,
“…You picking a fight with me”
“…Um, howd you even get to that conclusion”
“If youre fighting, then let me join in as well.”
“Not you, too, Miss Irene!”
Barun and Jacob chuckled dryly.
That prompted Natasha and Irene to glare at those two instead.
But before they could say anything, the door opened once again.
“Well, well… I see you all are early today.”
The one who appeared was a large middle-aged man with a full beard, wearing a gray robe.
His staff tapped on the floor as he walked along.
He greeted everyone, prompting Irene to turn away from Barun and address him instead,
“Exactly five minutes before the appointment as always, Stoffel.”
He was the fifth of the Six Archmages to arrive – Stoffel the Blank Mask.
The man sculpted himself an obviously fake smile in response to Irenes greeting.
“It is with your invention that my time adjustments have become much easier.
Thank you very much, Miss Irene.”
Irene was a little creeped out by Stoffels unmoving, emotionless smile.
[As stoic as ever, this man…]
Irene g.r.o.a.n.e.d slightly, while Stoffel headed to his seat… while maintaining the same expression.
“Um, you havent fixed your face yet, Sir Stoffel.”
Catherine said and proceeded to chuckle.
“Oh Well, well… I beg your pardon.”
Stoffel slid the palm of his hand from his forehead down to his chin, correcting his face to its previous non-expression.
“Well, well… this is quite a surprise.”
“Sir Baruns strength – Have you not noticed, Miss Catherine I suppose he has already surpassed Sir Jacob and Miss Natasha, dont you think so Hahahaha… yes, so amusing.
That was a good one.
Oh, you really havent noticed That is… also amusing, I suppose.”
As he mocked Catherine, he was completely expressionless – the only emotion he showed came through the change in the pitch of his mechanical voice.
Catherine, at a loss of words, turned to give Barun a hard stare.
Her face was reddened with embarrassment.
Naturally, Barun turned away; on top of all the surprise, Catherine and Jacobs stares – especially Jacobs – were prominent with anger.
“I reckon we are in for a generational shift soon! Well, well… that is a delightful thing indeed!”
Irene, seeing how everyone except the panicking Amil had gone silent, now had quite a troubled look on her face.
“To not re-evaluate their views on those they have deemed inferior – such is a common mindset of mere pawns.
Well, well… it is quite enjoyable to watch pawns bicker amongst one another, wouldnt you agree, Sir Gaston.”
“What is it, sir”
“Just zip it.
Youre a pain in the a.s.s.”
“Well, well… I beg your pardon.”
Stoffel smacked his own forehead and proceeded to sculpt himself an apologetic face for Gaston to see.
Catherine bit her own lower lip so hard that she started bleeding; Amil timidly called out to her,
“Um… You need healing…”
She glared at Amil, making no effort to hide her anger.
“She is right – there is no remedy for ones foolish mind.”
Stoffel remark, quiet yet still audible to Catherine, finally prompted Catherines hand to reach for her sword.
Stoffel stood up and prepared to accept the challenge.
His face was the same as when he had apologized to Gaston.
The next moment, a loud noise shook the Duodecad Chamber, redirecting the feuding pairs attention.
It was the sound of the round tables destruction.
…By a gigantic fist.
The fist of a warrior, showing with it countless scars and years of tempering.
The fist of Charlie the Thousand Morphing Blade.
“Apologies; it seems that my hand has slipped.”
Charlies words echoed through the otherwise silent Duodecad Chamber.
And Gaston followed,
“It seems that mine are starting to slip as well… Hmm”
Gaston has his staff pointed at Catherine and Stoffel.
With that, Catherine promptly sat down, looking quite peeved; Stoffel bowed once before sitting down as well.
And of course, his face was still in the apologetic look he had sculpted earlier.
“I knew this would happen… This is coming out of your paycheck, Sir Charlie.”
“Now, Dragan, didnt you say that it was about time to get it replaced anyway”
“We have yet to submit a petition for one.
Give it up, sir.”
“As meticulous as ever, I see…”
“We have protocols to adhere to, sir.”
Once Dragan was done saying that, the conversation ended; Amil took another look around the room.
“Say, is Miss Sayla still not here Were already past the appointed time…”
“Right, now that you mentioned her… Its quite unusual for Miss Sayla to run late-“
As if to interrupt Baruns statement, the door opened.
Everyone present thought that Sayla had finally arrived.
However, as they turned to look, they instead saw one man walking in.
Gaston stared at Billy… then caught a glimpse of what he had in his right hand.
“Billy the Holy Healer… Why is he here”
Right when Catherine finished her sentence, Amil let out a little scream.
Immediately following that, everyone present turned to look at what Billy held in his right hand.
A light blue ball of yarn… was what one would think of at first glance.
But in reality, it was hair.
The prominent under-eye circles had helped Amil quickly recognize that as being Sayla.
Sayla… only from the neck up.