Volume 6: Dawn of the Heroes
Life 57: Back to Business
All was good and typical in the Siegreich household with the group's return from their vacationing. The usual antics were up and about. The TV loud and blaring games as Lucina and Anwen were competing at the latter's insistence, Jeanne reading from a pile of books at the table beside her, Astra texting away on her phone while grumbling to herself near the bookish girl, Kuroka catnapping in a warm spot. And the only one doing any of the summer homework the group had, with assistance from Soren, was Xenovia, who had her hands to her head as she stared at the paper filled with Japanese language related questions.
"Come on this can't be that hard. You're a Fallen Angel, you've got the ability of tongues for crying out loud." Soren tapped a finger on the table as he leaned on a hand, Xenovia sighing as she hung her head.
"True as that is it doesn't help with writing one bit. Try as I might learning all of this kanji is just… ugh."
"I had to do it too, so no slacking off." Soren lightly chopped Xenovia on the head as she hung it down in defeat. "It's been a couple of days since we get back, and things have been pretty quiet so far… even if we weren't able to quite have a typical vacation, but hey that's what we get for being how we are I suppose. At the least… having fought that Izunia guy let us all measure where we all were, plus Lucina and Astra got stronger out of all of it too… which just leaves our three sword maidens on the lower curve of power. And I still haven't gotten any word from Artoria as of late about any kind of news regarding potential Relics for them. But, it'll be any day now, I'm expecting that much at least…"
"Hey there kids! Sorry it took me so long to finally drop by!"
All eyes turned when the balcony door flew open, Azazel strutting in loud and proud. Though if he was expecting fanfare, then he was sorely disappointed as he got casual greetings from everybody, who all just went back to what they were doing without another word.
"Ah come on, at least be a bit livelier when I show up! Is this how you kids behave after a good vacation?" Azazel wryly smiled as Astra then looked at him with a raised brow, his daughter clearly not amused with his gaffing. "Then again I guess you all know why it is I'm actually here do ya?"
"Well considering you've been in the Underworld as of late and these texts I've got. Yeup." Astra flashed her phone as she leaned back into the couch, folding her legs as she went back to tapping away. "So dad, for all of us, don't be theatrical."
"Ah come on, let dad have a bit of fun will ya dear?"
"Don't feel like it! Separating us for this next thing… of all the nerve… don't mess with my routine!" Astra huffed as she folded her arms, and now everyone else was clearly curious as to what this was, as now it was obvious what her clear irritation was at least stemming from.
"Don't go pouting now. Besides, I wanna congratulate you too Astra! When I got the news you ranked up, if I'd had the chance I'd have rushed on back to celebrate sooner. But, work is work." Azazel put a hand on Astra's head as she puffed a cheek out, ruffling her hair affectionately. "And speaking of work…"
"Here we go!" Soren said, leaning on a hand.
"I've got a new task for all of you! Well, actually a couple of tasks, which is why my oh so adorable daughter is being so catty right now." Azazel ignored it when Astra yelled at him again about the apparent case here. Anyone who wasn't paying attention was now doing so, Kuroka even waking up from her catnap at the perfect timing for it. "Oh come on look more surprised will you kids?"
"We've been expecting this for a while." Lucina said.
"Out with it old timer, what's so big you're splitting our group up huh?" Anwen added, throwing her legs up as she flopped across her chair.
"You kids just know the perfect ways to take things out of one's sails don't you?" Azazel sighed as he put a hand to his head, the mood in the air telling him to just get on with it. "Alright so here's the down low. The reason you bunch are being split up for a while is what needs to be done. Artoria has found some relics to help the three new members, and I need some help back down in the Underworld with preparing some things and helping the Gremory peerage with their training."
"So how is everybody being split up?" Soren said, Azazel glancing at him, his face asking him to guess. "Well, by Astra's grumbling… lemme guess, me, Xenovia, Jeanne, and Anwen will be going to find those Relics, while everybody else is going to tag along with you to the Underworld?"
"Bingo! Give the prince some bonus points for the first guess being right!" Azazel's laughing only got groans from the bunch more than anything, Astra pouting again. "And hey here's an extra on the bright side, once you're all wrapped up, you'll all get some front row seats with me to watch the Rating Game between Gremory and Sitri when it comes up. Do some work, get some play in return. Sounds good to me, wouldn't you say so?"
"Well… not like we have anything we can say about it, now do we?" Soren said, Azazel sticking his nose up. "We at least have time to pack, right?"
It wasn't much time at all sure, but the Siegriech group had at least had that day to ready themselves for the trip. Soren's ever useful Armiger made sure they could just stow the bags with things in it for the group heading to England away in an easy spot. As the arrangements were, Soren and the three sword maidens would be heading to England via plane arranged by the Association, so a perfectly private flight that would give them time to rest as they'd be getting to business almost immediately after landing.
Whereas those who were going to the Underworld would be going with Azazel via the inter-dimensional train devils took when going to and from the Underworld and human realm. The goodbyes given for the time were mostly standard, at least aside from Astra's pouting about wanting to stick with Soren, though all it took to make her relent was a promise for a date not long after they got back home and a kiss long enough Lucina had to stop Astra from trying something more drastic.
Now one might ask, what with being able to use magic and all, why they didn't just teleport and make the trip faster than a twelve-hour flight? The simple matter was that teleportation magic didn't simply have that kind of range. Transporting people between closely-parallel planes when one had the proper links? Easy and simple, even though transport between different realms like the Underworld and the human realm involved going through the Dimensional Gap, an effectively endless void that marked the barrier between one realm and another, leading to all of them but also none of them, which as such, required some kind of physical protection due to its nature rendering anything but beings who could be called paradox's of existence itself practically erased within mere minutes of being thrown in there, hence Devils and their special train system or magic circle networks.
But to say, teleport a person, much less an entire group, from one side of the world to another? By comparison such a distance required titanic amounts energy that rendered such a feat simply impractical, and most casters simply lacked the reserves to achieve something like that. Hence why for this simple situation, the group headed to England was going there by private plane.
And it was for that reason that, once the plane was at level flight and coasting, that Soren had decided not to sit around. As one could expect, being a private plane it wasn't as massive as your typical airbus, but sizable enough to have plenty of room for the occupants to move around if they wished… typical, but Soren knew better than to think Azazel would have just chosen a normal plane to transport them. So he of course went to check the back cabin, as private planes this lavish, and this one was apparently personal property of one of the many companies Azazel ran, usually had some kind of room for the passenger(s) to make use of.
And he was right on with that suspicion.
The room appeared normal, if expectedly lavish, the kind of thing you'd get out of some kind of movie when the rich business mogul is shown in flight for whatever reason. But, a dull person Soren was not. Looks could always be deceiving, so ignoring the admittedly soft looking bed for now, he went to sifting through the drawers of the nearby dressers… and he wasn't surprised about what he found in some of them.
"Aside from towels and some night clothes, of course things like this are here…" Soren sighed as he shut the drawer, not wanting to bother with the particulars and just worry about it later. He was starting to feel a bit tired anyway, and he knew that the second they landed, it'd immediately be to business. So what was the harm in a bit of a nap before they got to trying to make a game plan during the flight?
Perhaps seeing Fou show up as his eyes closed should've clued Soren in that his sudden bout of drowsiness wasn't quite his hypersomnia kicking in yet again.
"Hello yet again little prince!"
Soren's eyes snapped open from the instant they had closed. He couldn't help but groan as he found himself at Merlin's tower again, his eyes boring down at the magus as he spun his chair around. It was quite apparent to Merlin off the bat that Soren wasn't quite pleased with this, as could be expected.
"Oh don't look so sour Soren, is it so bad I wanted to have a little chat?"
"Don't just go randomly casting Sleep on someone dammit!"
"I mean but are you really doing anything right now though?"
"… I'll concede to that." Soren leaned back in the chair he was at least this time seated in, folding his arms as he took a moment to scan around the room more. He had to wonder just how Merlin got his hands on the things he did, particularly the complex looking computer set up… though he also felt it was better to just not question that. "So what's caught your whim this time huh?"
"Well considering how things are now shaping up for you, I figured why not?" Merlin said, twirling around. "You're heading to England, the location of the kingdom of good ol' you know who, and on a search for Relics, one of which related to a Knight of the Round Table to boot! How could I not want to at least chime in on it a bit while you're on the oh so long flight there eh?"
"I mean that makes sense, but I get the feeling you wanna do more than potentially yammer my ear off about that time."
"Truth be told, yes." Merlin spun around again as Soren double-took from the honest statement about it. "While I would oh so love to pull your ear a bit about things, since oh do I have stories, the reason I pulled you here was actually to give you a bit of a warning: Watch out for the ones calling themselves Heroes."
"Wait… the Hero Faction?! What do they have to do with any of this? Yeah they can be a problem case but so far they haven't done anything crazy… actually, they've been weirdly quiet these past few months."
As the name would imply, the Hero Faction was a group of people, all entirely human, who had connections to "Heroes", or just people of notable bloodlines that at least fit the notion in some way. While the Association had tried to reason with them, in fact several of them were former members from Soren's recollection of some files, they were in all essence an independent group who acted entirely on their own. The problem was that unlike the Association, that would recruit even non-humans to their ranks, the Hero Faction were a human supremacist group.
Especially their leader, who Soren knew to be named Cao Cao, the same as the legendary figure spoken of in the Romance of the Three Kingdoms. The simple fact was the Hero Faction wasn't fond of how humanity tended to get continually screwed over by the Mythologies for their own ends, even with those who could hold exceptionally powerful Sacred Gears, so those who were part of the admittedly small faction often did so in order to strike out against them, be it Devils or even Heaven itself. And Soren could only imagine what the recent peace accords could have brought about, as before they were merely a small band of troublemakers… but with the previously warring groups suddenly making peace? Who knew how much the group would grow?
"So first the Khaos Brigade, and now them too? Damn… I remember Vali's pal Bikou mentioning they were going to be fighting the Northern Gods… old man Odin's gotta be pissed dealing with them."
"Oh I'm sure things are going fine for them up there. Thor is quite powerful after all you know?" Merlin chuckled as he spun back to face Soren, who clicked his tongue as he looked to the side. "Ah yes, you met the God of Thunder didn't you? I believe it was some time last year wasn't it?"
"Yeup." And Bahamut spoke up first. "It was when Loki was acting up, again. The kid nearly lost an arm while fighting Fenrir, and he's got the scar from one of that furry bastard's fangs as proof. Then Thor showed up and, well… that's about all I need to say really."
"Can we please stop bringing up the fact I got my ass kicked by Fenrir?"
"I refuse to let you live down getting chomped by that idiot."
"And I refuse your refusal!"
"Hahah, you two are certainly the best of friends. A lot more than me and this rat here that's for sure." Merlin moved his had when Fou, from the side of the room, threw something his way. "Well now, I won't keep you for much longer Soren. Oh, actually, I do have a little hint for you that should help out your Highwind friend, as she is of Mordred's blood: The secret key is a traitor's oath. Good luck!"
"What the hell does that mean?!" And the instant he responded, Soren found he was awake and back in the plane's bedroom, having shot upright as he reacted. The one thing he failed to notice was that his sudden bolt sent Fou flying off of his head and across the room. "That damn magus! Why does he have to be so damn cryptic?! Just tell me it straight if you know what the deal is you shifty bastard!"
"Where you having some kind of dream?"
"AGH?" Soren yelped as Xenovia spoke into his ear, the young man letting out a growl as Xenovia put her hands up. "Don't sneak up on me! You know I hate it when people do that!"
"Well, it's not like I tried to. I've been here for a few minutes, actually." Xenovia said, Soren looking to Fou now returned to his shoulder, lightly smacking him with a paw for the earlier stunt. "You were taking a while longer so I decided to see if anything was holding you up… or if you'd just decided to sleep."
"And yet you waited?"
"Well I tried to wake you up so we could get to talking about what to do, but you wouldn't even make a noise."
"Yeah blame Merlin for that. Bastard dragged me to Avalon again to give me some cryptic ass hints." Soren folded his arms and let out a huff, brushing Fou aside, the creature jumping from his shoulder and curling up on a pillow.
"He can do that?"
"Apparently it involves grabbing my consciousness or something. Don't know and don't really care." Soren also chose to flop down, letting his legs hang in the air for a second before they fell to the bed with audible thuds. "Now I think I actually do wanna sleep a bit just to get some time outta the way… we got like twelve hours so we can just plan later."
"I think it'd be best if we got the general plan out of the way. You know more about the ways that the Association operates after all."
"Point." Soren sat up and ran a hand through his hair, giving a nod. "I have at least a rough idea of sorts, so yeah let's go."
Xenovia gave a nod, and they exited the room back to the main cabin, Soren giving a sigh as he sat back down in one of the chairs and rotated it around, Jeanne glancing up from her book while Anwen was on a handheld.
"Huh so you are coming back out. I was half expecting you two started going at it with how long that took." Anwen smirked as she glanced up from her game, Jeanne hiding her face in her book as she went red, Soren just rolling his eyes as he slouched and leaned on a hand.
"I mean that's surely on the table." Xenovia said, a sly smile on her face.
"You said game plan first, so we're doing that." Soren let out a breath then adjusted his seating. "You're already aware of the Association's structure so I'll skip right over that. You all worked with the Church before so it's basic knowledge… so instead I'll give you a run down of what exactly we'll be doing: Relic Hunting."
"That sounds pretty self-explanatory." Jeanne said, Soren nodding.
"In a way yes. But at the heart of it, it tends to be more complex. Especially when you try to be specific about it." Soren then materialized Balmung into his hand, popping the sword from the sheathe. "Relics are of course objects like Balmund, Durandal, and Clarent. Powerful weapons or items from ages past that can be considered on par with or stronger than some Sacred Gears. Nobody really knows how to replicate them, especially among humans. But, they also tend to be powerful enough that even when broken into pieces, even the shards can express incredibly powers."
"Like Excalibur." Anwen said, her hands tightening up a bit. "Though I thought Excalibur was a special case. The thing's like a super weapon in form, and all the shards do is express one of the powers it had as a whole… then again that Artoria woman has Rhongomyniad, which is even stronger."
"Let's not to off topic." Soren waved a hand, Anwen giving a huff. "Relic Hunting has a few ways it works. There're the easy ways, and then hard ways. The easy ways are simple enough. A certain has the Relic, or it finds an appropriate wielder on its own and passes to them naturally. The harder ways… well… you ever played an RPG that had some bullshit challenge you had to clear to get the super weapon? Which by that point you wouldn't even need it? It can be like that depending on the Relic in question."
"I feel like you're exaggerating." Anwen said.
"Kind of. It really depends on the case here in what it is you're looking for or going after. Maybe it's just sealed behind a riddle locked door that only a proper wielder can solve, or, and this is actually pretty common, the people who did the sealing slapped some kind of trial onto their lock… and some are pretty sadistic about it… or Merlin did it and he's being a goddamn troll. It's hit or miss." Soren got a tic in his brow at the mention of Merlin, and Fou's appearance on his head came at the same time. It didn't need to be asked that Soren had more experience of the non-direct kind with Merlin.
"So basically, depending on the case of what we have to find, it'll depend on how difficult getting our hands on it will actually be." Xenovia said, then humming. "Well, finding something for Jeanne and Anwen would be obvious… but as for me, that's a much bigger question."
"Yeah. Hopefully they found something out at the least. But, basically, that's what we'll need to be prepared for. We'll likely get some time to adjust and get information from some of the others there. Besides, you three still need your memberships finalized and to get the necessary standard issue equipment aside from the combat uniform." Soren then pulled out that pocket watch device he used so frequently. "This here is what's called a Porter. Useful for all kinds of things. Communication via magical signals, radar for certain energy sources, and a few other tools… some of which are still in testing admittedly."
"We better not be getting dragged into some whackjob's experiments while we're busy." Anwen grumbled, Soren looking to the side with a stilted face. "Ah come on Boss at least say something!"
"Sadly I can't make any assurances about the possibility of that one. The Scholars Division is kind of uppity, especially their head. If they need something field tested they just slap it onto us Freelancers before they make it widespread. I've uh… been blown up more than once because of it."
It was silent again as Soren had yet another moment of silence as he was clearly reflecting on some past incident that speaking of just didn't sit well with in his head.
"Anyway! You should all be getting one of your own plus any other kit they figure we'll need! That's really all I think needs to be said, so let's just relax for the rest of the flight and then get onto business once we get there."
"Sounds as good as any plan to me. Now I've got a Smash tourney to get through." Anwen nestled back into her seat as she booted her game back up, plugging in headphones to make it clearer she didn't wish to be bothered.
"Soren, about the… idea." Xenovia skirted around saying it outright in front of Jeanne (as unneeded as it was). Soren just nodded. "We'll be a bit, Jeanne, Anwen."
"Oh, are you two going to… ah." Jeanne rather quickly realized what Xenovia meant as the Italian girl nudged Soren out of his seat and the two retreated to the room at the back. The door audibly locked. Jeanne blushed a bit as she thought about it, burying her face in her book again. "They do it quite often, don't they?"
"I mean you see how much Astra and Lucina get on him?" Anwen said, glancing up at Jeanne with a smirk. "I've listened in once or twice. Boss must know what he's doing. So hey, if Xenovia wants to get more of it while she can, I say let her."
"Y-You've listened in?! Isn't that rude?"
"Not if they're the ones being loud as hell." Anwen then had a thought. "What, you curious about it?"
"N-Not at all! Well… maybe a little. But, I think such things need to have a time and purpose." Jeanne cleared her throat as she straightened out her seating, Anwen just rolling her eyes. "Let's just remain focused on the coming task. What do you think we'll be facing?"
"Hell if I know. I'm not exactly thrilled about stuff that involves my bloodline though. It's always been troublesome… but you'd remember that much." Anwen's tone was bitter, but also uncaring.
Jeanne could only nod. Being descended from Mordred came with it's troubles. For Anwen it had meant the Church had kicked her out as soon as it became clear she was the new wielder of the "cursed" Clarent.
But then it made the blonde girl think. She had some connection to Joan d'Arc herself. She knew the history of the person well enough. She'd somehow had the fortune of inheriting the spirit of someone who, after much time and reform of the Church, had been recognized as a Saint… but she had to wonder, did what happen in the past bear some effect on that? Did how Joan facing such a harsh fate have some kind of potential effect on the Relic they would be looking for?
"This is going to be one busy week, isn't it?" Jeanne's sigh was met with a nod from Anwen.
Back to business it was.
I had this sitting around about ready to actually finish the chapter for months and I just didn't… I need to stop overthinking things and just do it when I can. Whatever, now that I'm started I should be able to actually get on with things. I did it before in Volume 5 and I can do it again here! Time to go all in on the Fate style situations. Hehe.