Pre A/N: Warning, I've uploaded three chapters.
If you want to continue from when I last updated. start at Chapter 22.
Beta: Worldbringer of Joseun
"Let's start things off simple. An introduction."
Ferlna reclined back into her seat as she eyed her fellows. There were a scant few she recognized, but that mattered little when they all shared the same look of apprehension.
An adventurer was among them, presenting something they likely had no frame of reference for, and above all, the very same adventurer was invited by the Sage of Miral Lake himself.
Ferlna understood that, in comparison to regular adventurers who respected their superiors out of courtesy, Landers respected those above them with fervor. The Saiguu, Cowen, and any other noble house you could name, were all treated with as much respect as a child would give their mother. The same extended to the Sage of Miral Lake, the one who stood head and shoulders above his peers out of the sheer knowledge he had for magic.
When they held such respect, it was expected that they would not protest to an adventurer attending their gathering. However, they were still wary, perhaps not as much as they had been prior to her presentation, but fairly close.
Whether this presentation becomes something worth listening to, it'll be up to how Tohsaka holds herself in this presentation.
"My name is Tohsaka Rin, but you may call me Tohsaka," she started. "Now, I'm sure you're wondering why I, an adventurer, am here among you all today. As it turns out, I was invited by someone who I believe you recognize. The Sage of Miral Lake, Regan. For that, I am honored to be here today."
Yes, one of the adventurers that you said was bribed by mere gold, but let's not focus on that.
Although, it seems that she is attempting to appear as polite as possible. However, from how practiced her smile felt, Ferlna could feel the underlying annoyance.
"I won't go into detail about my past, as it is mostly irrelevant to my presentation. That being said, I'm willing to answer any question you have at the present time," she said. Those words seem to lure the interest of a few. "However, in doing so, I will request that the venue– and I mean all who are currently in attendance, grant one meager demand."
At the odd request, Ferlna started to notice several cliques of attendees whisper amongst each other, likely to debate on what they should ask.
"And what would this meager demand be?"
"I'm pleased that at least one of you has the sense to ask that," Rin smiled. "Do not interrupt my presentation. That is all I ask."
The fallen noble's eyes drifted upward, away from the seated audience below and upward towards the row of spectators. Surrounded by bodyguards was the inquisitive yet lethargic voice of one recognizable woman.
Why? Why is she here and not upstairs with the other nobles?
Ferlna frowned. A foolish question. With how little the noble lady showed herself to the public, it would stand to reason that she spent her time elsewhere, but Ferlna hadn't considered that she would spend it here, at the gathering of academics.
"Fine. Why did you join this gathering, or rather, why did you accept the Sage's invitation?"
Blunt and straight to the point. When Rin had presented the entire audience the chance to ask one question, the Cowen snatched it like a callous raven. The mutterings and sighs of frustration below her were similarly beneath her notice.
In contrast to the Pearl of Eastal, whose beauty and sly intelligence had the country smitten, her sister was much less so. Instead of the cunning of a fox, what Langrissa held was the unflinchingly cold disregard of those outside her interests. She was akin to the enchanted magic enveloping these halls, a symbol of the Cowen's authority.
The Ice of Eastal.
"Quite simple," Rin answered. "I saw it as an opportunity to correct and stimulate its flawed growth towards a much more interesting direction. I find what little your world has managed to research in these past few hundred years to be… boring. Incredibly boring, and overall a waste of time."
"Boring?" Langrissa muttered. "Fine. You can proceed with the presentation."
Even if her words infuriated those who watched her, they could say nothing. This time, it wasn't because of stunned silence, but of the gaze of the Cowen above them. Her question was answered. If they spoke now, after lady Langrissa accepted the meager request, they would make a liar out of her.
It would make them lose graces with the mightiest family in Eastal.
Such a reckless gamble. Had there not been a Cowen family member present, then these old fogies would've spent at least half an hour discussing amongst themselves… unless Rin knew she was there from the start?
The familiar smile on her companion had all but confirmed it as fact.
"First, let's paint a picture for context. One day, I woke up in this world, and my guild master wished for me to learn how to use magic. The first spell I cast was a simple–" she raised her hand to the side. "Firebolt."
A familiar plume of fire escaped her lazily extended hands.
"My first attempt at the spell was very much a pathetic attempt," she explained. "I could not even manifest the spell. How very un-adventurer of me, I suppose. However, once my guild master explained to me what can be simplified as 'don't think too hard about it', I learned how to manifest the spell."
As Ferlna's presentation confirmed, adventurers learned magic faster than even the most studious of Landers.
"There was only one thing that passed through my mind when I did," her fingers straightened. "What a pathetic spell."
A plume had not emerged. Instead, an audible echo filled the chamber as the fire was blasted forth, searing the wall black with soot.
"That, my dear audience, is a spell I named Finn Fire. I created this spell after learning how the regular Firebolt was cast and feeling the way magic was used within it. In other words, I reversed-engineered the spell. The best part? It costs the exact same amount of mana to cast as Firebolt."
At the announcement, not a sound was made.
It was the same as always. Whenever Lady Tohsaka spoke, she carried an aura of prestige around her. It practically cowed people, daring them to challenge her. It wrought a sense of unease that Ferlna, even now, had trouble getting used to. The fallen noble doubted she even needed to make that meager request to silence the hall.
"The spells I'd learn from here on out were similar. The spells I created, using those suboptimal ones as a base, surpassed their performance without issue. But why? In order to understand this phenomenon, I wanted to experiment," she continued, but she rested her arm on her hips. "To aid my endeavors, my guild master handed me a book that all beginners of the magical arts were given… and it was a pathetic book, something I thought only an amateur had written. I only found out later that it came from someone of reputable accolades, but that only made it more pathetic."
Angered frowns and red faces were common, from what Ferlna could see, likely from descendants of the man who had written the original book or similar ones to it. However, she could also see a few intrigued eyes, yet they were far and few between.
"The traditional method, of which this adventurer body of mine knows instinctively, is to use the mana within and mentally shape it. This gave birth to the linear spellcasting method, which all mage classes of today use to enact their spells. This means that every spell by a mage class caster uses this horribly inefficient method," Rin explained as she now aimed downward, yet still off to her side. "Allow me to demonstrate with another spell; Wind Bullet."
A gale of wind left her palm which blew the dust where it impacted.
"To give a numerical perspective on the spell. Let's say it costs forty mana to cast and it was capable of dealing forty damage; which means it costs eighty for Landers. This is the gold standard, and anyone who can cast this spell should be able to produce these hypothetical numbers," she said. "However, what happens when we forego the traditional method? Instead of simply formulating an image of how the spell is cast within our minds, why don't we structure it? In our mind, imagine not the spell, but the mana itself taking shape. Imagine it swirling in on itself, almost like the whimsical winds themselves. Finally, imagine it taking shape at your palm, and fire!"
A gale, far stronger than the original bullet, practically blew all the dust away. It scattered into a filthy cloud. However, such filth did not deter her. She looked disgusted at it, but remained professional, as expected of her.
"Take my word for it. That cost the exact same amount it took to cast with the traditional method, yet the output was different. It looked like the same spell, but stronger. Seventy percent stronger, to be precise. Although, your mileage will vary. I've found the range to be from twenty to seventy percent depending on your aptitude for the element," she explained. "I call this method, modular spellcasting, as opposed to linear spellcasting. Instead of one single image of a spell, we separate the mental image of the spell into steps. The start, the middle, and the end. If I had to explain it simpler… It's like comparing a man with his fist out as opposed to a man actually punching. The latter naturally leaves a stronger impression."
And if her fellows recognized what this meant, as Ferlna had all those weeks ago, they'd know that this could apply to every spell in existence.
"Oh, and this isn't the same as those lessons that teach how to have a stronger 'mental image'. Why do that when you can much more easily create a 'mental animation' of it? Wait, do Landers have a concept of animation…?" she suddenly interrupted herself before shrugging it off. "No matter. The point is, every single mage in this world is limiting themselves, and this goes for both Landers and adventurers. Frankly, I'm surprised I was the first one to think of this at all, an adventurer completely new to Theldesia. You were all so focused on theory, trying to find something else, that you missed the flaw at the base of your magical society staring you in the face…"
Ferlna heard a faint snicker from her companion.
"Well, what's done is done. At the very least, I hope to have proven how flawed the linear spellcasting theory is at its core. The applications of this research should be quite simple once you think about it, but I'll go over it for you all out of the goodness of my heart," she lied as she breathed. Ferlna knew that the only good in it was reserved for her family and friends, not the academics who slandered them. "If the output of lesser spells can be strengthened to the degree that the stronger variant seemed on par, how strong will the superior versions of those spells be? Not just offensive spells either. Defensive spells that form a wall, utility spells that simply afflict debilitating status conditions, and even spells that summon a creature from elsewhere in the world… all of it can be improved.
"That, is the reason I've accepted the invitation to come here. I trust this meets your expectations?"
Ferlna furrowed her brow as she eyed Rin's gaze. She looked not to the audience, nor to the illustrious Cowen sitting just above them, but at a corner of the hall in which nobody was standing–
"You… are a different breed of adventurer, aren't you?"
"I'll take that as a compliment, sir Regan."
The Sage of Miral Lake.
"Yes, I suppose it is," an excited sigh must've left him. "I look forward to the following days, Magi Tohsaka."
"… Wait, what–? Hang on!"
"Oh, we can speak at a later date, Magi Tohsaka. After all, we have plenty of time!" he waved his hand before he rested his fingers against each other. Without listening to Rin's calls, or perhaps too absorbed in his own musings, he left the room, disappearing into the labyrinth outside.
It took only a minute before the other scholars began muttering, finally willing to speak now that the presentation had ended.
"Magi Tohsaka, he said?"
"The Sage gave his approval…"
"Something like this hasn't happened in decades..."
That was true… Ferlna mused. The last time the Sage of Miral Lake ever interacted with the outer world, when it didn't concern his own personal research, was when it came to two things. One was a topic that was worth personally investing in.
"Come on, let's get going," Rin said. "I really don't want to stick around for when they want to ask questions."
"When did you–?"
"A while ago."
"But what about the–?"
"Look, do you want to eat some cake, or stick around with the old fogies that you – and I quote – have a distaste for?"
Ferlna considered it for but a moment before glancing to the upper viewing stands, noting the absence of its former attendees.
"… Very well."
… The other was when something was changing, the tides of the ocean of history becoming rapid and unpredictable. Those would be times when soothsayers questioned their ancestors and see a new path in the future.
The Round Table… or rather, the Emiya Family.
What changes would they bring?
"Thank you," a posh voice responded. "Is it the new brew?"
"Unfortunately, we've run out of herbs. It should take a day or two before the requested restock arrives, sir."
Sergiatte Cowen sighed yet merely nodded. "Understandable. Your forethought in requesting a restock shall do well in raising your station. Perhaps you can be a head-maid one day."
"You have already done much for me, sir Cowen. Returning the favor is all I ask."
As the maid bowed and made her exit, likely to attend to her other duties such as taking care of the slumbering princess, the head of the Cowen family frowned as he eyed his family members once more.
"Have the other nobles awoken yet?"
"They haven't, father," Saraliya reported. "However, I see little reason to include them, nor would they attend willingly unless requested."
"As always, the backroom deals that you people go through is exhausting," the youngest daughter of Sergiatte, Langrissa, bemoaned. "Father, they're far too busy having meetings of their own to join. Much has happened to shift their perspective."
"As such, they'll try and approach the adventurers individually," Phenel nodded. "It has worked before. They likely believe it to work again… though, I have doubts as to the efficacy."
"Due to that… theory frolicking about, correct?" Saraliya let out a small exhale, still maintaining a serendipitous demeanor.
"Do you find believing in such an outlandish tale beneath you, dear sister?"
"Not at all," she smiled. "Although, I'd have thought it'd be beneath you to believe such an idea. After all, you find mingling with your fellows beneath you as well."
"Perhaps let us discuss the implications behind the theory before we go about our day?" Phenel, bless his heart, ended the sisterly quarrel before it began. "Father, do you truly believe that these adventurers hail from another world, one separate from ours? 'Tis a fantastical idea to even consider."
"And yet it is the truth," Langrissa enforced.
"And you believe so, why?"
"People act in accordance to their desires," his second daughter gave them her thoughts. "Nobles want accolades and have the desire to better their territory. Some wish to line their pockets, while others desire pure love above all else. As you have met with these adventurers, I trust you know that they desire much of the same."
"It is hard to believe, but perhaps so," Phenel ceded. "However, this complicates matters. Do you believe the other nobles will be a bit more fervent in their desire to mingle with adventurers?"
"Perhaps more so than before, now that we can safely say these fellows are not similar to the savages inhabiting the Ezzo Empire," Saraliya mused. "Although, even if we know this, would it not be prudent to have them… reinforce the idea?"
"Saraliya," Sergiatte interrupted. "Matters regarding the other countries are not within our reach. Let the nobility of Ezzo handle such matters."
"They are our allies, are they not?" Saraliya smiled. "Perhaps putting them in our debt would aid us in expanding our northern endeavors. The merchants would certainly be pleased."
"That is if the Round Table doesn't outright refuse the idea," Langrissa huffed "If their delegates are anything like that woman, then we may find ourselves on the back foot."
"Care to explain?" her sister raised a brow.
"As you all know, I skipped the opening gathering. I found it pointless to attend when the two of you were already there," she said. Sergiatte withheld a sigh at his daughter's antics, yet he still loved her all the same. "Instead, out of curiosity, I went to view the presentations of those researchers borrowing our palace."
"And what intriguing prospects have they come up with?" Phenel asked. "The last time I've heard of the Academic Guild putting out something of worth was with the mana calculator, but I've heard it was more the Sage's innovation."
"Nothing interesting, but the only reason I attended was because of the rumors surrounding both the guild and the Sage's actions," she continued. "Apparently, the guild had commissioned a freelance researcher stationed at Akihabara, a woman erstwhile known as the heir of the Balmen family."
That name… it was hard to forget it as Sergiatte himself played a hand in their decline.
"Balmen… I see. What else?"
"Her research was, as expected, polarizing," she explained. "The Puppet Body theory. Truth be told, I scarcely believed in it myself. It was just so absurd. For centuries, adventurers aided us as immortal protectors, but to think they were mere people who saw our world through borrowed eyes… Quite frankly, I had half the mind to leave right then and there."
"And yet you didn't," Phenel mused. "Is it because of her companion, the adventurer?"
"So you already know of her… Saraliya's doing, I suppose?"
"Less mine and more of those willing to aid me," Saraliya deflected with a smile. "However, the finer details were left wanting."
"You always find them wanting," Langrissa rolled her eyes. "Anyways, I believed it to have some credibility, as one of the adventurers who believed in it was there to oversee it. This same adventurer was said to have been invited by the Sage."
"The same adventurer who's causing all those Academics to forego remaining in the castle and return to whence they came?" Phenel raised a brow. "They did not even wish to stay for the festivities… what came over them?"
"It's due to the contents of the presentation itself," Langrissa explained. "They decided that it was better to practice this Modular Spellcasting method rather than remain in the palace. That was the smartest decision I've seen those codgers make so far."
"Without a copy of the research?" Phenel asked.
"Copies are always available at the guild, so there's no need to stick around any further," Langrissa smiled as she presented her own copy of it and roughly tossed it upon the table with a few underlines. "As you can see, I've already procured a copy. It goes in-depth on the Modular Spellcasting method and even notes potential avenues to improve on its modular nature by further dividing the processes. There are also suggestions of having a process solely dedicated to one action, such as the gathering of mana so that it will be easier to call upon in the future."
Sergiatte smiled, as his second-eldest was finding more interest in matters outside the isolation of the palace.
"In common tongue?" Phenel asked.
"It means that there's a lot to play around with here," Langrissa sighed in annoyance. However, as she underlined one more passage in the paper, she frowned. "Though, it is a first to see them leave immediately. There are a few who remained, but they'll likely leave sooner or later. That's not the point– and neither are the implications of this research. The point is that the Sage himself endorsed the findings of a researcher, essentially saying it was either true or worth looking into. The fact she's an adventurer means little to them."
"This also means that, by association, the Puppet Body theory becomes less a theory and more a fact," Saraliya mused. "Interesting… have they planned it to this degree?"
"But we cannot overlook the fact they approached the Sage while we were resting unaware in our quarters," Phenel frowned as he focused on the security of it all. "Why were we not informed of this, father? Surely the Sage would have seen it worth his time to approach you regarding this?"
"That man is far too engrossed in his research to care about anything else," Langrissa denied. "Whether intentional or not, the Sage has recognized the adventurer, therefore legitimizing her. What's worse is that she arrived alongside the Round Table delegates."
"And if she was recognized by the Sage, that's more or less saying that the entirety of the Round Table are seen as equals in the eyes of the Sage. I'm certain that the commoners will believe so…" Phenel added with furrowed brows. "Saraliya, what if this was–?"
"A ploy to make them seem much more sociable, more trusted in the eyes of the public? Of course, that wasn't even in doubt," she sighed. "Quite underhanded to do this, when we invited them to a public venue. It doesn't help that the Sage did this of his own accord."
"When did they even approach the Sage? We haven't seen them make a move since they arrived." Phenel noted.
"It must have been earlier, much earlier," Saraliya mused.
"We shall dwell upon it later. There is little we can do when it has already happened," Sergiatte said. "For now, we will have to advise the other nobles to be more cautious when approaching the adventurer delegates."
"And in regards to their suggestions from last night?" Phenel asked. "Do we discuss with the nobles regarding an overseer, or shall we convince the other nobles with a non-aggression pact?"
Saraliya sighed. "It is best we do not decide as soon as possible. There are several days left, after all."
"Being overtly cautious?" Langrissa snickered.
"Merely suitably so. Father, that adventurer you spoke to, the one with white hair, she is the most suspicious of them all," she advised. "Whilst the other delegates seem to be very passive, that one alone appears as if she has designs outside of this gathering. The fact she retired early, only to rest in her quarters while her fellows mingled with us, proves she sees herself as above such things. Her attendant also appeared withdrawn at the party, yet not to her own degree."
"Do you believe her intentions to be ill?" Phenel asked.
"No, I do not," it was not Saraliya who answered, but Sergiatte himself. "Whatever her intentions, she appears to have the backing of her fellows. I feel as if they are men of character. Even if her intentions prove to be disingenuous, we shall play by their hand, especially if it allows us to reach a favorable conclusion."
"You haven't been wrong before," Langrissa mused as she twirled a quill. "However, what if her intentions do not fit our own or the intentions of her fellows? Or rather, what if the intentions of the Sage himself run counter to our own?"
"Let us assume the Sage merely wants what helps his research," Sergiatte answered. Though, there was little he could do in regards to the Sage. A man of his repute needed little of the Cowen family to conduct whatever it is he wished. "In regards to the upcoming meeting with the other nobles, once they have awoken, we will discuss the Round Table's offers in-depth."
"Then we won't reach a conclusion until the last day, won't we?" Langrissa sighed. "This is why I skipped that gathering."
"Perhaps not skipping the next would be better, dear sister?"
"Perhaps if there was anything interesting there, I wouldn't."
"Perhaps you should focus on your responsibilities instead of your interests?"
"Perhaps we shall focus on considering whether or not the two of you require a beverage or two," Sergiatte raised a brow. "Crabby this morning, aren't we? Perhaps a family breakfast will sort you two out?"
His daughters, bless their souls, sighed in defeat.
""As you wish, father.""
"Splendid," he smiled. "Now, let us retire to the dining hall. I've requested one of the maids to attempt their hand at what the adventurers call a pizza."
"Perhaps we should watch your health, father," Saraliya jested.
"Or even your belt," Langrissa snorted.
"They have a point, father-in-law."
"My own dearest family, turned against me?" He chuckled. "What the adventurer's arrival has wrought– hmm? Have the maids cleaned this room last night?"
"My apologies, sir Cowen. The staff was focused on cleaning up the ball and preparing for the next," a maid replied. She had been standing idle behind him, ready for any order to be issued.
"I suppose it cannot be helped. Call someone to clean it up," he muttered as he rubbed his beard. "… and perhaps contact the royal stylist; have them whip up something to prevent hair loss. I fear for my scalp."
"As you wish."
Illya sighed as she cut off the connection between her familiars.
Well, that was interesting.
The ones in that particular room might need replacing once the maids finish cleaning. No matter, as she was capable enough to summon a few more, and relocate unnecessary ones if need be.
Slowly, Illya left the room she was assigned and headed towards the balcony. It seemed that the other Round Table members had awoken early and requested breakfast.
"You certainly took a while," Rin commented as she neatly and elegantly ate her dinner. "The others couldn't even wait for you before they started eating."
"They have little reason to," Waver also commented. "However, I'll have to request that you refrain from such tardiness in the future, especially with the current circumstances."
"Sorry, I was just feeling a little unwell," she apologized.
That headache of hers didn't seem like the usual stress-related headache. Those usually faded with time and relaxation, yet these didn't disappear at all. On the contrary, it just became more frequent. Illya might have to consider looking into it.
She greeted the rest of the Round Table and took a seat, all the while they talked about how delicious the food was. From what she could see, it was what Landers thought a standard breakfast should include. Absurd amounts of bread, potato salads, fried croquettes, meat loaves, and probably a few egg-based dishes… Actually, scratch that. This didn't look like a regular breakfast at all. Were they just trying to get on their good side? It must've been on the Cowen's orders.
Although, in her humble opinion, it was nothing much in comparison to what Shirou and Sakura could whip up.
"This is pretty good!" Michitaka complemented after washing down his breakfast with a drink. Although, he looked to be going for more.
"You should have expected this after last night," Takayama chided, to which Krusty chuckled at. "With how interested sir Sergiatte was with the cooking, it's little wonder that they've attempted to recreate it."
"Yeah, but I thought they'd take a while before they could do it," Michitaka defended himself as he swallowed another bite. However, he furrowed his brow as he started contemplating. "Wait, doesn't that mean we're affecting this world?"
"A little late to be thinking that, don't you think?" Rin commented. "Whether we like it or not, the inventions and innovations we create cause the wider world to react."
"Quite," Takayama agreed. "It is for that reason that we must avoid being a destructive influence. To do so, we must know more about this world."
"Like Susukino?" Illya prompted. "There's little we actually know about what's going on there. Speaking of which, what's the situation on our hypothetical borders?"
"A few adventurer parties have attempted to breach," Krusty relayed. "However, those attempts are far and few between. We've allowed the ones not from Brigandia to seek sanctuary, but there were a few merely attempting to lie their way through. Those that have been caught were … sent back with little issue."
"They've been getting bolder, haven't they?" Michitaka frowned. "What in the world's making them do this? What do they even gain?"
"The answer to that, we may never know," Shiroe sighed. "However, if we are to attempt to ascertain that, we may have to start considering outside variables."
"Why?" Krusty raised a brow.
"I'm sure we are all aware that Demiqas, Brigandia's guild leader, would rather languish in what he conquered. Londark, Brigandia's strategist, also feels as if he would rather quietly remain out of sight," he explained. "However, with Susukino's recent aggression, it is clear that they find reason in pushing this campaign. We can rule out food as a primary reason. We can also rule out wealth as that matters very little to us adventurers. There's a chance it could be out of petty revenge…"
"But that's unlikely," Henrietta surmised.
"Yes. While there are other factors, I believe that an outside compulsion is the likeliest candidate," Shiroe concluded. "Do you find this speculation lacking?"
"Not really," Illya agreed. "I've guessed much of the same. Although, having someone or some group capable of influencing an entire city of adventurers… there are very few capable of that."
"Things keep getting more complicated," Michitaka groaned. "Forget it. What are we doing now? We have some downtime until the next banquet."
"The calm before the storm," Illya scoffed. "This is where the real trouble starts. While there is some time between each banquet, the majority of nobles use that time to… mingle."
"You mean backroom deals?" Michitaka muttered. He was surely familiar with those. You didn't become one of the largest crafting guilds in a server without having your own private connections. "You assume that they'll be conducting these deals to a degree that they won't have time to deal with us?"
"On the contrary, I think that they'll start approaching us individually to start these deals," Illya relayed. At Shiroe's nod, she continued. "I'm sure you're all aware of what occurred last night."
"Other than the banquet?" Michitaka raised a brow.
"The scholar's gathering, I presume," Krusty smiled.
"Correct," Illya nodded. "You are also aware that my guildmember attended the event?"
"It's half the reason we care about the gathering," Shiroe muttered. He pushed his glasses up once before he continued. "I assume the plan was successful?"
"Plan?" Michitaka muttered.
"The plan to make the Landers sympathetic to our situation," Krusty reminded.
"To an extent," Illya reported. "As expected, not many immediately took the report of our true origins seriously. Instead, they saw it fit to lambaste the researcher instead."
"And where is she now?" Henrietta asked out of concern. "We share some responsibility for her wellbeing now."
"Ferlna will be fine, but whether or not the Round Table aided her in her research, she would've received that sort of backlash regardless," Rin saw fit to intervene. "Her research would not have changed. Her findings would not have changed. If anything, we mitigated the backlash by providing her some sort of backing. She'll be fine."
"If so, then why has she not appeared to dine with us?" Henrietta pressed.
"Because she's opted to sleeping in. There's no event that she needs to attend today, so she decided that it was more worth her time to curl up in her bed," Rin sighed. "Then again, after all the preparation we had to go through for our presentations, it makes sense that she wants to take a day off."
"I suppose that makes sense…" Henrietta relented.
"Pardon, presentations? As in, plural?" Krusty frowned. "I was under the impression that the plan was to have both of you present, as a show of unity between Landers and adventurers?"
"Ferlna decided it'd be better the other way around," Rin shrugged. "In the end, it did work out. The Landers were much more open in their response to her findings. Had I been up there alongside her, it was very likely that they would have been inclined to withhold their judgment. Ultimately, it would have made debunking their questions a hassle moving forward."
"Not that it isn't already a hassle," Michitaka sighed. "So we should be expecting more than a few to come up to us for clarification? That should be more than doable."
"I suppose so," Shiroe nodded. "However, before we get to that, you mentioned giving your own presentation, correct? What exactly was it about, if not about our situation?"
"How to efficiently improve their spellcasting," Rin explained as she took a swig of juice. Neither of them knew what sort of fruit was used, probably some fantasy fruit. "Speaking of which, I should give you guys a copy of it too. You might find it useful."
"Improve spellcasting…" Shiroe muttered with a hand to his chin. "… What exactly do you mean by that?"
"I won't go into specifics, but basically, think of how you guys normally cast spells. You think of it and let the spell go off naturally, correct?" Rin raised a brow. She only lowered it once she got a few nods in response. "The basic gist of the research is that, while our bodies allow us to perform the natural actions for a spell or skill, they do not automatically give us the maximum output efficiency for those spells or skills."
"For example?" Krusty asked, seemingly the most interested in the topic.
"Live demonstration is easiest to go with," Rin said as she pointed her hand upward. A regular plume of fire escaped her. "That was a regular Firebolt–"
"Did you cast it without saying anything?" Shiroe asked in shock. "You can do that?"
"What, did you guys not… know?" Illya frowned. "Wait, how have you guys been fighting mobs these past two months? Did you call out your attack names or something?"
The nods she got in response were staggering.
… These nerds.
"… Look, let's use a punch analogy," Illya said as Rin had opted to rub her eyelids in exasperation. "You can throw out a punch, but you don't have to call out what kind of punch it is. You get it? So long as the motion is carried out, the corresponding verbal action doesn't need to be conducted."
"That'll be handy in PvP encounters," Krusty nodded as he ran his hand through what seemed to be a message. So he was telling his guild about it already? How diligent. "However, I think it'll be somewhat detrimental in PvE scenarios. It'll make managing group cooldowns a pain."
"Psst, Illya. What's a PvE and what does he mean by group cooldowns?"
Illya sighed as she motioned for Waver to tell her about it.
"I presume that Rin-san's research – if we go about the punching analogy once more – would be in improving the base punch?" Shiroe decided to continue.
"That's the gist," Illya nodded. "However, instead of focusing on what was said last night, shall we move on to the real reason we were talking about it? I believe we got sidetracked."
"R-Right," Michitaka said. He had been throwing random punches off to the side when the analogy came up, likely to feel it out or something equally inane. "It's all work and no play with you, isn't it?"
"Only when I'm not at home," Illya rolled her eyes. "Basically, the nobility will be much more willing to talk to us now. They might even attempt to bribe you, which won't really work."
"Alongside researchers attempting to get a clearer picture, I imagine," Krusty sighed.
"Actually, you don't really have to worry about them. Most of them already went back to their home cities to conduct their research," Illya notified.
Krusty raised a brow. "And you learned of this, how?"
"And what of the Cowen family?" Henrietta suddenly asked. "I know we discussed a lot, but we didn't really talk about the Cowen family and what they might plan on doing."
Illya spared Shiroe a glance. He nodded in gratitude.
"First, let us go over their likeliest goals," Shiroe started. "One, they wanted to ascertain our ambitions and goals, but we likely dispelled much of those concerns last night. The combination of our attendance and the result of the scholarly gathering will likely make them want us on their side, lest foreign powers dip their toes in us first."
"They'll want to go after combat guilds and crafting guilds first, I suppose," Michitaka mused. "However, we won't be able to monitor every guild and its players. Sooner or later, one of them will accept a deal with them… And it's not our place to stop that, and neither is it our purpose."
"Which is why it is important to ascertain their intentions, to more accurately determine which type of guild they'll approach first," Shiroe nodded. "This means we will need to gather information."
"Not that I disagree with you," Illya cut in. "But can you not have your Assassin stalk the inner parts of the palace?"
"Do you doubt my abilities?" Akatsuki, the Villain-in-Glasses' little ninja, frowned.
"No, but I believe your absence will draw more than a few wary eyes," Illya said. "Remember, even if we've alleviated their concerns for the moment, there's always Susukino upstairs reminding them what could happen. Sure, the intellectuals won't worry as much, but the common folk and the idiots among them?"
"I presume you mean Saraliya," Krusty muttered. "Has she been watching us the entire time last night?"
"Not just last night," Illya sighed. "With how competent the game made her sound, she must have bugged our room too– probably even this balcony."
"Then I trust you have already taken measures to prevent this?" Krusty smiled. "I can't imagine that one such as you would allow such invasion of privacy to continue, would you?"
"Of course not," Illya smiled.
"Then may I also assume that you are merely reciprocating their attempts with your own?"
"You assume correctly~"
"Again with those familiars…" she heard Akatsuki mutter in what seemed like minor irritation.
"I see, so you have already filled the palace with familiars?" Shiroe realized. At Illya's nod, he continued. "I assume it is also a trade secret to tell us how you prevented Saraliya from 'bugging' our rooms?"
"I'm sure you'll all understand one day," Illya smiled. Especially if they take the time to read through Rin's research. It wasn't hard to realize that mana, when not predisposed in the form of pre-learned spells, can be molded to form completely new spells. All they needed to know was how to mold it. Illya and her guild only knew that because of prior experience.
"Nevertheless, we should look towards what we should do when they inevitably come after us for deals," Krusty mused. "Of course, I already know how to handle these matters. I'm certain Michitaka also knows how to handle himself, being a leader for a crafting guild. I'm certain they won't approach miss Henrietta in the slightest, no offense intended, and I'm certain we need not worry about Illya."
"Yeah, no need to worry about her," Michitaka snorted. "Wait, then that just leaves…"
"Shiroe, your social skills are… well, they leave much to be desired," Henrietta reported.
"Imagine the Villain-in-Glasses socializing," Michitaka smirked. "Especially when he's snubbed so many people back in the day."
"I do recall being ignored as well," Krusty smiled.
"My lord, they do have a point."
"Not you too, Akatsuki…" Shiroe sighed. "Alright, I'll try to hang back and let the rest of you handle the discussions."
As the rest of the Round Table continued their discussion, Illya turned to the lord of the Clocktower. The same lord that had been quiet throughout the entirety of the meeting. She raised a brow in concern.
"You've been quiet lately. Something wrong?"
"I came along to offer aid in case of more unscrupulous nobility," he said as he swirled a glass of wine. He was drinking this early in the morning? "It seems more capable minds have ended up coming along with you. My counsel is unnecessary."
"I'm certain your time will come sooner or later," Rin mused. "For now, let the guild leaders do their own thing."
"Why must you speak of us as if we're a different breed," Illya bemoaned.
A flash of irritation passed by once again.
Luckily, nobody even noticed her wince, but just in case, she quickly hid it by stuffing her face with a loaf of bread. Dry and bland, but at least there were still croquettes around to use as filling– or was it stuffing?
As the Round Table peacefully ate, blissfully unaware, Waver Velvet raised a small brow at his guild leader.
I am in hell.
Oh wait, he didn't have a diary. No, he was just writing whatever he wanted down in a notepad, which Minori thought he could have. Apparently, it was a spare, one of many that she had. Good ol' Minori, always prepared.
Tohya just finished up morning classes on tanking basics. It was cool learning about why they had to stand at the front of the boss and why they had to cycle between different defense buffing skills instead of blowing all of them in one go.
It was also cool that he learned that, as a Samurai, they could equip two weapons like a Swashbuckler, but it wasn't a good idea unless they were a sub-tank, which was a tank that would take care of the main tank's duties when they get too low on health and the healers couldn't heal them.
Taiga-sensei apparently liked being a sub-tank so if the players wanted to learn how to do that, there was an extra class they could attend. Unfortunately, Tohya had no urge to do so. He turned down the offer to join when he got it, but it was cool that it was there.
However, the absolute coolest thing was a class they called Party Tactics.
Ah, he remembered it like it was ten minutes ago, which it was. Taiga had handed them a slip where they'd write their name and ideal members for a party of five. Said party consisted of one warrior class, two recovery classes, one weapon attack class, and lastly, one magical attack class. Although, he heard some call them tank, supports, physical DPS, and magical DPS respectively.
Of course, knowing he'd work best with his sister, he had listed her as one of the recovery members he'd like in his party. He also listed Isuzu as a weapon attack member, but after that he didn't have anyone else in mind so he left them blank.
He idly thought about that guy he met yesterday, shuddered, and threw the consideration out the window.
He had tried super hard to switch his dorm, even waking up earlier than the weirdo to head to the faculty. Unfortunately, he couldn't swap. So many people had decided not to room with the Sorcerer that he was practically the only one able to share the room.
Seriously!? Out of nearly two-hundred students, all the dudes didn't want to share a room with him!?
They did say there were spares, but they were on the girl's floor… Yeah, no. That wasn't an option. Naotsugu-nii would never let him live it down. No dice.
In the end, he sucked it up and went to classes, hoping to not deal with the guy anytime soon.
Honestly, how bad could it be? He was only sharing a dorm with the guy. They could just completely ignore each other and go about their day as normal. People ignored Tohya back in the real world, so he imagined it'd be easy.
It was supposed to be easy…
"Tohya, are you okay?" Minori asked concerned.
"You hungry or something?" Isuzu raised a brow. "Lunch starts in like, half an hour, so hold on until then, okay?"
"No worries! I'm sure my dearest friend is merely feeling pre-battle nerves!"
"Do you want me to get you something to eat? I have some cookies in my inventory…"
"No, no I don't. It's fine," Tohya sighed. "It's fine. Let's just do as the teacher says and introduce ourselves."
And that's how Tohya found himself here now, writing in his notepad multiple solutions to his current predicament. None of them would work. Darn. He sighed as he gazed at the area around them.
For this class, the instructor advised that they were to find somewhere on campus to rest and simply talk with one another. Something about it being the easiest way to create group cohesion, whatever that meant. At least they were sitting in the cafeteria, which was a plus.
Is this retribution? Is it because I left the form blank?
At least the other recovery class girl seemed nice. They could probably get along fine.
"I'm Tohya, my class is Samurai, and I'm level twenty-nine," he introduced. Naotsugu-nii always said that a tank had to be headstrong and reliable, so might as well go first– with a big smile on his face too! "My class has long cooldowns so there'll be moments where I can't pull aggro as fast as needed. This means that, in this party, we'll have to go through dungeons slower than most."
Something he learned from Taiga. He was glad because he sure as hell didn't know that. Honestly, the closest idea he had when going dungeon diving was to throw himself at enemies until something worked.
"Not to worry! We'll be sure to care for you even if you slack off."
Tohya felt his brow twitch. "Alright, can you introduce yourself next then?" He asked in thinly veiled annoyance.
"As you wish!" He twirled both his cloak and a newly equipped staff. "My name is Rundelhaus Kode! You can call me Rudy!"
A few seconds later, Tohya coughed. "And your class?"
"Can't you tell just by looking?" He snickered. "A Sorcerer!"
"… and level?"
"Twenty-five, why? You certainly ask a lot of questions, mister Tohya. Are you sure you're not an inquisitor?" That's not even a class to begin with! "Anyways, you need not fear! My elegant and devastating techniques will annihilate the enemy! You can rely on my glorious magic!"
"Well, I'm sure we will," Isuzu smiled. "I'm Isuzu, a Bard. Just because my class likes to stay back doesn't mean I will too. I'll be attacking alongside this guy, but I'll also be buffing everyone at the same time."
"I had thought a bards place was in taverns," Rundelhaus mused. Oh right, they could call him Rudy. "What exactly can a Bard do as an adventurer?"
"Well, like I said, we buff," Isuzu explained further. "But the buffs we give last for as long as I'm still casting the spell, and these buffs can vary from just bonus damage to passive healing– or even cooldown reductions for non-global spells. However, you guys need to be in range at all times, otherwise, the buff is gone. Usually around eight or ten meters away from me."
"Q-Question…" The most unfamiliar face raised a hand. "B-But what does a non-global spell mean?"
"You don't know?" Isuzu widened her eyes. "I'm surprised…"
"They're spells that have their own innate cooldown, in contrast to skills that share a cooldown with other spells. We call skills that share a cooldown global skills," Minori answered. "I'm sure you've noticed some spells that go on cooldown even when you don't use them."
"Ah… now that you've mentioned it…"
Minori simply smiled in understanding. "It's okay. I didn't know what they were until someone explained it to me. It might've taken me much longer to figure that out…"
Tohya also smiled.
Everything could've been different if he didn't show up and help them out. Even now, Tohya wasn't sure if he did it out of a whim, or if he was after something from them. But that certainly didn't matter anymore.
"Ah! I should've introduced myself!" the new girl panicked. "My name is Serara, a Druid, and I'm level twenty-five! My– my class specializes in healing spells that heal over a long period of time. But I also have a lot of high-powered spells– and can summon companions to help out!"
"That's great!" Tohya smiled. "I'll be counting on you!"
"I suppose I'm next. I'm Minori and my class is Kannagi," his sister introduced next. "My class can heal, but I'm more suited to applying damage reduction buffs. Later on, when I reach a higher level, I can also use special 'Evil Exorcism' spells that deal a lot of damage."
"And what level would that be?" Rudy raised a brow.
"Sixty, but it'll take a long time to reach that," Minori sighed. "But right now? I'm level twenty-one."
"So the lowest among us," Rudy sighed. "Don't worry, I suppose we can help you get a higher level… assuming they let us go into dungeons in the first place."
"Well, they did say that we could journey out into the surrounding forest," Minori suggested. "However, we aren't really allowed to go too far. It's too dangerous."
"Outrageous, we're adventurers!" Rudy scoffed. "We can handle any danger!"
"Even other adventurers?"
"And you are?" He asked as he leered over Tohya's shoulder. It was only because of that that the Samurai noticed someone behind him.
"Just a concerned human being," he said as he looked down towards him. "It's nice to see you again. Enjoying classes?"
"Ah, I remember you! Shirou, right?"
"You know him, Tohya?" Minori asked in slight concern.
"Yeah, he helped me find you guys yesterday," he answered. "Oh, and he also helped us buy a new sword, remember?"
Minori looked as if she was trying to remember, but once she did, her eyes brightened in recollection. "Ah, that's right! But that was a month ago, I'm surprised you remembered that."
"I have good memory," Shirou smiled. "But some would say it's because I have a thick skull. Anyways, how are you guys doing?"
"We're doing great," Isuzu answered in Tohya's place, no doubt quickly getting accustomed to the new person. "Say, haven't I seen you in the kitchen before? Are you one of the teachers?"
"Nah, just someone who helps in the kitchen," he answered. "If anything, I'm as much of a student as you guys are."
"Truly?" Rudy smiled in interest as he twirled his staff. "What's your class? Level?"
For some reason, Tohya felt that Shirou took a moment to study Rudy, but that's weird. What reason would he have to do that?
"Swashbuckler, level fifty-three."
"That's more than double of–!" Rudy gawked. "I fail to see why a successful adventurer such as yourself is even here!"
"Unfortunately, I don't know much about being a Swashbuckler, or how to even use the 'skills' I have. I gained most of my levels thanks to my guild master, but that's because she was worried about us dying. We don't really want to try our hand at respawning even if its been proven that we can do it. If we do, we feel like we'll start taking things for granted."
"Ah, I suppose that makes sense…" Rudy faltered. However, he bounced back with a smile. "I suppose this means you are also in a party, no? You said you were as much a student as we are, correct?"
"Wait, isn't he supposed to be working?" Isuzu suddenly realized. "It's nearly lunch."
"I've already prepared everything for today. The other attendants can help out," he waved it off with a sigh, as if he was lamenting something he couldn't do. "I just had some spare time when I noticed you guys."
"So…" Serara suddenly called their attention. "Does this mean you're not attending classes?"
"Only a few that my guild master recommended," he said. "I'm currently learning the Swashbuckler rotations and combos. It's a bit tricky to get used to though. I like moving my body more than letting my body get moved by the skills."
"Rotations? Combos?" Serara's eyes were spinning. "More… more things to learn?"
"Ah, so you don't learn about rotations this early?" Shirou muttered. Tohya nodded alongside the others, but he was sure Minori probably already knew what those were. "Sorry, you don't have to worry about it now. Just focus on learning everything one step at a time."
"It seems that the world of adventurers gets wider by the minute…" Rudy sighed. "A challenge to be sure, one that I intend to conquer!"
"That's the spirit, I think?" Shirou smiled awkwardly. However, he must've taken a look at his in-game clock, because he furrowed his brow and started walking away. "Sorry, I just remembered that I was supposed to meet with someone. Take care."
"Before you leave… You'll explain what you meant earlier, correct?" Rudy suddenly called. "What did you mean when you said 'even other adventurers', mister Shirou?"
He paused as he turned to look at their party's Sorcerer.
"I meant what I said," he smiled, but Tohya felt it looked sort of… sad. "Monsters like goblins and dragons aren't the only thing in this world you need to be careful of."
Rain. Mud. Monsters and a party that fell apart every time they went out to grind. A musty base with players leering over them, as if they were nothing more than walking piggy banks.
Tohya knew – and he was certain that both Isuzu and Minori did too – that there were people out there that were just as monstrous as the deepest raid bosses.
And then he blinked as someone else left their table.
"Serara-san?" Minori called. "Where are you going?"
"I just remembered that I'm supposed to help out with the kitchen!" she panicked. "I signed up to help Nyan– someone I know! You can carry on without me, right?"
"I'm sure it's fine," Minori said. "But remember that class continues after lunch. We're supposed to meet by the entrance where someone will accompany us to the forest. We can grind and practice group coordination while we're there!"
"I understand! I'll be there!" she replied as her voice got fainter and fainter.
"Hmm," Rudy frowned. "I suppose a parfait will do some good. We were allowed to leave the campus back to the city, right miss Minori?"
"Ah, I think so," Minori nodded hesitantly. "But you'll have to check with the teachers."
"That I will!"
"Ah, wait! I'm coming along. I want a parfait too."
And with that, both Rudy and Isuzu were gone.
"Well, you've gotten a bit more confident."
"A school is… very familiar to me. I think that helps a bit."
"… Should we eat lunch?" Tohya smiled.
Minori smiled as well. "Nothing else to do, I suppose."
Shirou sighed as he walked out of the building and started searching the area.
"… A Lander, here?" He sighed. "What're you thinking, Fuji-nee?"
Next Chapter: September
A/N: Yeah, that's close to 30k words offloaded in three separate chapters.
Not gonna lie, I definitely shot myself in the foot by saying I'd post a chapter every month at the start of the year. New Years Resolution and all that, but I guess the saying is true; nobody keeps to it.
I felt really bad about not updating this story in the months I should have been writing for it, so I wrote most of this in one month to post as a big update. I'm thankful that Worldbringer was able to keep up and help beta-read these chapters. I don't think I'd be able to write this story effectively without him. There were a lot of errors that he caught and pointed out, so I'm truly thankful for that.
Now, if you noticed that the next chapter will be coming out in September, no that isn't a mistake. I think it's best for my productivity to revert back to my normal schedule of one chapter every other month. I also want to use the month of August to catch up on chapters I didn't write for My Ideal Academia, and yes, I can promise that I'll post at least one chapter for it, but I'm aiming for three, just like with what I've done here.
But in all seriousness, this has been delayed because of some issues IRL. Faulty classes, confusing decisions made by my college, laptop crashes, Kiryu Coco graduating (I wish her the best in future endeavors), and above all, summer flu. My nose has been dripping like Niagara falls throughout the summer and it's been an absolute pain to do anything. I didn't even get vaccinated yet man, this fkn third-world country I swear.
Oh yeah, to those who it may concern, I got all the fairy knights of the Round Table– BUT NOT MORGAN HERSELF REEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
That is all.
Until next time,