Pre-A/N: Sorry for the delay, but I have reasons. Updates, from now on, might be sporadic. I have OJT to focus on. A more in-depth A/N is below.


Chapter 26

Beta: Worldbringer of Joseun

Cover: LousGndiner


A group of fancily dressed people hurried down a corridor.

Rin would have paid more attention as to who was among the group, but honestly, all she cared about now was staying hidden. The only reason she even knew that they were approaching was because of the ever-present mini-map hovering within her peripherals, which gave her a small glimpse of the entities around her.

Though she had no idea how the peculiar thing worked, she'd eventually get around to studying it, once free time made itself known of course.

"Nobles," Rin sighed in irritation. She stepped out from a pillar as the group of people finally disappeared around a corner. "When will they learn to mind their own business?"

"I'd imagine that they'll remain relentless if you continue to evade them," her companion commented.

"Thank you for the obvious, Ferlna," Rin frowned. "… They'll seriously keep following us?"

"Of that, I have no doubt," she replied. "Either out of personal interest or under orders of their betters, a noble's curiosity will not be sated. They won't leave us alone until they get answers that would satisfy them or their superiors– and while I understand that such knowledge can easily be gleaned from the paper itself, most nobles do not have the patience to do so."

"Lazy bums. Then again, these are nobles from pseudo-medieval times… If I knew that blasted paper would have landed me in this situation, I probably wouldn't have released it," the Tohsaka magus sighed. Then again, with Illya actively keeping an eye on her these past few weeks, there was little chance of that. If there was a card that could potentially win her a game, she would play it. "I'm going to go gray if this keeps up. Do we really have to stay for the entirety of this… event?"

"I believe that leaving early would create a less than favorable impression, regardless of the Sage's approval," she replied once more. "Need I remind you that you were personally invited? It would be seen as a great insult if you left without the Sage's knowledge or permission."

"Didn't he just invite me to share research?" Rin raised a brow.

"Not necessarily," she replied. After noting the lack of personage, the two of them proceeded to walk down the corridor, opposite to where the horde of Nobles and researchers were headed. "While it is true that your invitation could be interpreted as such, merely an invite to an esteemed meeting of academics, there is one factor you did not take into account. That being the Sage showing himself last night."

Rin frowned. "I suppose his appearance meant a great deal then?"

"Indeed," she nodded. "The last time that the Sage of Miral Lake ever appeared before the Academic Guild was when the adventurers first appeared, when it was first founded."

In other words, a really long time ago.

"Ever since then, it was the goal of its founders, and its subsequent members, to call upon him once more, through the efforts of their own merits," she continued. "The fact an adventurer has done so before any of them, or any from the past hundred years, has greatly irritated them."

"So were those guys some kind of hit squad?" She could imagine prideful nobles doing such a thing. If they were, then they were rather pathetic at it.

"No. It is more likely that they are simply wishing to learn from you either as apprentices or through simple negotiations," she concluded. "Though, I believe that you find little worth in interacting with them."

"An accurate summation," Rin smiled. There was one thing that remained true from the day she first took breath. She had no tolerance for idiots… Shirou being the exception. "Though, if they'll end up being this persistent, then we need to think up another strategy – and staying cooped up in our rooms is not one of them."

"Then perhaps we can make an arrangement?"

Rin paused in her step, as did Ferlna. Though, from her rapidly dilating pupil, she did so unconsciously. Not that she could blame her.

"A good day to you, Lady Cowen," Rin greeted as she elegantly turned to face the ever frigid visage of Langrissa Cowen, escorted by two private guards. "It is truly an honor to be in your presence once more."

And it was truly unfortunate that she didn't notice her arrival, despite having looked at the minimap mere seconds ago. Did the Landers have a way to circumvent this? Or perhaps the minimap only worked on 'known' quantities?

What a blunder.

Why was she here?

Rin bowed as Ferlna composed herself enough to do the same, also offering greetings.

"The honor is mine. Seeing the nescient patrol these halls in an attempt to locate the two of you was very entertaining. Lord Kiliva's frustrations, in particular, were splendid to the eye," the words flowed out of her mouth like silk. Coarse and rough silk, but silk all the same, to which Rin felt a slight pang of jealousy. "Though, I trust that you do not wish to exacerbate their patience any longer. Soon, those benighted few will likely be returning with virulent fervor. If you do not wish to encounter them… Perhaps accompanying me to a little tea shall shy them away?"

Tea with one of the Cowen? Rin sighed ever so slightly, but couldn't afford to make herself appear as if she was disappointed with the offer.

"I would be delighted," Rin smiled a familiar plastic smile. "Though, I am reluctant to leave my companion behind. I trust she is also allowed to partake?"

Ferlna shot her a look.

Yeah, that's right. If Rin had to join a tea party, she'd have to too!

"The Balmen girl can join us," Langrissa agreed. "Now, before we waste any more time."

The command of following her was left unsaid as she walked away. After Rin shared a look with her companion, they followed.

Though, not before sending a message to Illya. She'd want to know about this.


What a wonderful day!

Taiga suppressed a smirk as she filed through her lecture notes within the teacher's lounge. It was actually her break, but she wasn't really feeling the urge to go back to the city and shop for treats. Instead, she wanted to ensure that her notes actually made sense, mostly so that she didn't have to sift through them later when she needed them.

Most of it was about the sub-tank role, but she had slowly begun to fill out her notes whenever the other Samurai Tank was feeling too lazy to teach his class or something.

… Damn, she should really try to remember their names. It honestly took her a long time, back at Homurahara, to even try to remember her colleagues' names. She imagined it would be just as troublesome here, but luckily, she had friended every single staff member, so she should be able to look at her friend list and… Isami. Right, that sounds easy enough to remember.

Taiga snickered to herself. Though, knowing how she was, it'd take actually meeting the person and having a nice long chat with them before she'd internalize it.

Rat-a-tat.

Then she heard a knock on the door.

"Fuji-nee, are you free?"

"Shirou?" Taiga raised a brow. "Is that you? Yeah, sure! Come on in. What do you need?"

A part of her should've felt concerned at how her honorary little brother was looking around the room in wariness before closing the door behind him, but it was Shirou. He'd probably die before he ever did anything to hurt her.

"You haven't been responding to my messages," he said as he chose to lean against the door. "So I decided to just come to you myself."

"You did?" Taiga muttered as she checked her friend list. There weren't any notifications for any messages that he could have… Oh.

"I may or may not have ticked a box that said ignore all incoming messages," Taiga winced. She then winced harder because she knew that Shirou was sending her a deadpan look. "Look, I can't focus if I keep getting pinged by co-workers and all that, alright?"

She was on a break for a reason!

"Fine, that doesn't matter right now," Shirou shook his head in exasperation. "Look, just tell me the truth. Do you know that kid, Rundelhaus Kode?"

Oh.

"Yeah, I know him," she answered. "That stick-in-the-mud and I needed directions to the nearest city that wasn't filled with bozos. The kid wanted to head to Akihabara, which we also wanted, so we tagged along with each other. Good kid with a good head on his shoulders."

"I'm glad that you have a high opinion of him," Shirou smiled. "Then, would you mind telling me why you're risking his life by letting him be here?"

"What're you…?"

"He's a Lander," Shirou frowned. "You know that, don't you?"

Cat's out of the bag now.

"… Yeah, I do," Taiga frowned.

"I shouldn't even be telling you this," he went on. "You're at a much higher level than me, so you should already know how dangerous it is for a Lander to be here– training to be an adventurer by learning from the others."

"Is it really a bad thing?"

"Considering most adventurer tactics heavily revolve around reviving fallen allies, it is," Shirou frowned. Oh, she knew that. There was a reason a sub-tank existed outside of the main tank getting tired, and it was that sometimes bosses and elite monsters simply pulled out some bullshit skill that one shot the tank. Although, that only gave more weight to Shirou's words. "You know that we can't revive Landers. He's putting himself in mortal danger each and every time he walks out there. Worse, if he passes his classes, he's going to actively seek that danger with his party, who will have no idea that he can't be revived."

Taiga winced. "Yeah… I know."

"Then why?"

Why indeed?

"I couldn't exactly convince him otherwise…" Taiga muttered. Neither of them could. Or rather… Neither of them would. "It's complicated."

"Then uncomplicate it," Shirou continued to frown. Though, there was a hint of… something behind his eyes. "We have time."

A quick glance at her menu's clock definitely said so.

Damn. Looks like there's no getting around this one.

"Alright, look," she started. "When you travel with someone for a month, whether you like it or not, you get to know them. I got to know the kid after protecting him from a horde of over-leveled monsters. I learned about his dreams after keeping him alive. I felt the kid's passion for becoming an adventurer throughout all of that. He knows the dangers that come with being an adventurer. Both four-eyes and I told him – showed him what sorts of dangers he'd be facing if he kept it up. It didn't faze him."

And that kid's gotten close to death more times than she could count.

"He's wholeheartedly driven, and I know from experience that changing his mind is a fool's errand," Taiga concluded. "The best I can do now is teach him until he's ready. I'd be a failure of an educator if I couldn't accomplish that much, now could I?"

Shirou continued to stare. Though his frown had faded and a neutral expression took shape. "… Are you sure?"

"As sure as I am that, if that whole Holy Grail War thing never happened, you would've kept trying to be an ally of justice," Taiga snorted. "By the way, does Sakura know you gave that up or…?"

"In front of her, I try to make it look like I haven't," he answered honestly. "Sakura already blames herself for too much. If trying for that forsaken dream brings her peace of mind, then I won't make a fuss out of it. But, you're changing the subject."

"Am I?" Taiga smiled. "Are you really sure that you've given it up? It's been your dream for years. Giving it up isn't easy. Every now and then, you're surely going to be feeling the urge to try again, maybe even more so now that you're effectively immortal. The Landers weren't exactly quiet about your actions by the Cathedral."

Shirou frowned deeply and looked away.

"… And what does that have to do with the kid?"

"Like you, Rundelhaus Kode won't give up on his dream, not easily," Taiga declared. "In that stubbornness, you're similar."

Extremely. Even in his dying breath, Rundelhaus Kode would probably never give up his goal of becoming an adventurer, no matter how impossible it was for him to do so.

If Illya were here, she'd word it like this; a mortal trying to become immortal. A fool's dream, one that would have dragged many to ruin… but, an adventurer, in the eyes of the Landers, was more than their lifespan. It was a way of life.

Rundelhaus Kode wanted to live the life of an adventurer. How did Taiga know? Because he told her. With eyes brimming with life, he told her that their journey together had given him more fulfillment than a lifetime of nobility ever could.

She'd be a failure of an educator if she denied him that.

"You really tried to change his mind?" Shirou inquired one last time.

"Me and that Clocktower Lord," she emphasized. "Don't worry. He's not going to die anytime soon."

Maybe in a decade or two, when he's lived a full life and settled down with a family to call his own, but not now when he was at the prime of his youth.

"Then, I'll trust you on that," Shirou smiled. "But, I suggest telling Illya about it. She'd want to know about this sort of thing. Alright?"

"Gotcha! Report it to the boss!" She gave an exaggerated thumbs-up. "Anything else?"

"Not really. I was just worried you were doing something you couldn't handle," Shirou shrugged. The fact her little brother was worried about the life decisions of his elder sister… that rubbed her the wrong way. "What are you– Fuji-nee!"

"Treating me like a little kid, aren't ya!?" She growled as she ruffled his head, drilling a knuckle onto his denser-than-a-newborn-star of a skull. "You got cocky without your big sis around, didn't you!?"

"Stop!"

She didn't stop, not until the bell rang and they had to go to classes.

But at least she was satisfied, and that was all that mattered right now.


Ferlna sat in relative silence as Rin took her own seat. She silently praised the gods once she realized that her companion actually waited for their host to take a seat first. When the Ice of Eastal raised a brow and gestured to the seats, they wasted no time seating themselves.

It was a small round table, whether that was an intentional gesture remained to be seen. However, the fact that they were sat in what must be the Cowen's personal room meant that they wouldn't be pursued by the Academic Guild's ilk, so there was little for Ferlna to complain about.

Although, it wasn't any better, as they had traded one nuisance for another. Ferlna prayed that the Cowen couldn't read her mind lest she be expelled from the palace.

Ferlna had no illusions as to why they were brought here, especially if the Cowen's perceived fascinations last night were any indication. In trying to avoid discourse with the Academic Guild, they had found themselves partaking of it with Langrissa Cowen, which they could not refuse lest they insult their host.

Quite the blunder.

It took a few minutes, but the tea finally arrived – an exceedingly rare blend of leaves from the northern provinces only made rarer due to Susukino's recent occupation.

Hopefully, her adventurer companion would know exactly what it was she was doing. Otherwise, they might end up jeopardizing much of what they were trying to accomplish.

"I suppose the two of you care little for fanciful words, if the wording on your shared papers were any indication?" Langrissa raised a brow. At their nod, she snorted. "Finally, a reasonable batch of fellows. One shouldn't spend ages reading a single paragraph to determine what the author wants to say. It only serves to waste time… Speaking of which, I doubt either of you want that. Shall we get to the point?"

"If you don't mind," Rin replied while Ferlna merely nodded. She did not trust her tongue at the moment. "But first, I will have to thank you for getting us a more private venue, one with an open view such as this."

"Do you not get to see more fantastical sights as an adventurer?" She genuinely questioned.

"Well, when you've been cooped up in a city for a month or so, you eventually want to stretch your legs and do some exploring," Rin reasoned. "I'm sure you're well aware that the current situation makes it hard to travel."

"Quite," the Cowen snorted. "Now, onto more interesting topics. Your research has gone into extensive detail about the manipulation of mana and the creation of various processes so that they can be streamlined. It is an interesting philosophy. Where did you get the idea?"

"So we're starting from there?" Rin mused. "Very well. I wouldn't consider it an odd philosophy to have. Axes are better for chopping wood and shovels for digging despite being similar in that they are lumps of iron stuck onto a wooden rod. If we consider a spell to be an entire tool, what's the point of creating it from scratch when you could simply modify the end of it?"

"While unfeasible in reality, the malleability of mana makes it a frighteningly easy endeavor," Langrissa agreed. "I suppose that our present methods, should they remain unchanged, only serve to create an entire tool instead of reusing, as it were?"

"Exactly," Tohsaka gave a slight thumbs up before waving her hand away. "Although, as much as I delight in discussing magic, I must know. What is the real purpose of calling me here?"

Ferlna found it extremely concerning that the Tohsaka chose to be this blunt. Though, once she realized that Langrissa Cowen simply nodded and hadn't taken it as an insult, she relaxed.

"I suppose you could call it a curiosity," Langrissa admitted. "A part of me wonders why you had not kept such findings a secret and consolidated it. You could have amassed power and taken over the surrounding estates, perhaps even the League of Free Cities itself."

Ferlna winced at the truth of the idea.

"Would you believe me if I said that we don't care about that?" Rin raised a brow.

"I would," Langrissa replied as they blinked in surprise. "Though, I imagine the other nobles would not. A conundrum, is it not?"

"Well, that's a relief, but why?" Rin found herself asking once more.

"I sense a kindred spirit within you, one that also cares very little outside of your interests," Langrissa answered. "Think nothing of it. Rather, shall we continue with your paper?"

"I suppose I'll oblige," Rin mused as they, once again, continued to discuss the topics tackled in her research.

They shifted topics rapidly, likely due to the Cowen's own interest spiking towards different directions almost at a whim. One moment, they were discussing whether or not the research actually had applications in strengthening magic and the next it was about whether or not a different form of spellcasting could exist, outside of the Linear and Modular methods.

Ferlna, seeing no room to intervene in their conversation, simply took out her usual notepad and continued to take note of whatever outlandish ideas Rin had suggested without realization.

A kindred spirit… Yes, if there was a way that she could describe both Tohsaka Rin and Langrissa Cowen, it was that. They shared an innate aloofness that made them hard to approach. Though Ferlna was aware that while Rin would easily put up a facade for appearances without a fuss, Langrissa actively spurred the idea.

Ferlna could accurately surmise that, if these two had met earlier in life, they would have gotten along extremely well.

Or like fire and water, either way.

"Speaking of which," Langrissa interjected as yet another concept must've taken her interest. "Are you looking for a way back to your old world, where you adventurers say you hail from?"

Rin blinked.

"And… this interests you, how?"

"It would be dreadfully boring if adventurers like you leave," she admitted. "Centuries since we managed to obtain relative peace, and yet, it was only recently that any burst of progress was made in regards to magic. You are not the only one appalled. I fear that we would return to that stagnant state should adventurers leave our lands."

"Hmmm. I suppose you don't have to worry about that," Rin answered. "Certainly, there are those among us who wish to return to their idle lives back in our old world, I am not one of them. Remaining in this world would be much more of a blessing than not."

… and, considering what lady Tohsaka had told her of their old world's magical society, it would also be their safest option.

"Hmm, then I will take your word for it," Langrissa nodded. "As enlightening this discussion has been, I'm afraid we will have to cut it short. There are other matters I must attend to."

Ferlna furrowed her brow for but a second. The Ice of Eastal, the distant jewel who actively avoided noble matters, having something to attend to? It was likely that Rin also realized the peculiarity of the statement, but kept quiet as they took the initiative to leave.

"Very well, we will no longer occupy your time," Rin smiled. "It was a pleasant discussion. If you would like, we could meet again at a later date?"

"A splendid offer, one I accept," Langrissa narrowed her eyes. Though, from the twitch of her lips, it appeared to be a smile. "The Academic Guild is hosting a meeting tomorrow afternoon. I have been ordered to attend by my father. Honestly speaking, I dread it. However, if you were to be there, that's another matter entirely."

"I will have to take it up with my guild master, but I imagine she would see no problem with that."

"Ah, yes. Your guildmaster. As a favor for indulging in my whims, let this be a word of caution," Langrissa frowned once more. "My family does not trust her. It would be wise to change that in tomorrow's ball."

"We are well aware of their… distrust, but I will see to it that Illya gets the message," Rin frowned. "A good day to you, Lady Cowen."

"To you too, Magi Tohsaka," she smirked at Tohsaka's wince. "The same salutations extend to you as well, Lady Balmen."

Ferlna flinched.

"Still not over it, are we?" Langrissa raised her brow. She knew. Ferlna swallowed bile. "Very well. You may leave."

… and so they did.

Even in her frazzled state, Ferlna did not miss Rin's inquisitive gaze.


Another report.

Polished nails, faded and unattended, flew towards a frail quil. It did not take long before items of note were circled, cautionary tales underlined, and irrelevant goose chases dashed.

Saraliya would have to thoroughly educate her… employees, if they thought the expiration of fishing rights was worth note, especially in such tumultuous times.

Presently, she resided in her personal study. The room itself was small and cramped. Saraliya easily imagined that more claustrophobic individuals would feel immediate unease with it, but this was Saraliya's preference. Everything she needed was easily in reach, whenever she needed it.

Efficiency over comfort. She didn't even wear her usual gaudy dress, but instead settled for a silk nightgown that wouldn't obstruct her actions.

It was essentially a hidden room. One that none outside a select few, a few maids that attended her since childhood and her beloved, could even find. For her self-appointed role, it was a necessity she embraced.

It didn't look pretty, but her personal maids made clear efforts in cleaning it up. Though, she had to advise them of where she'd prefer specific items on several occasions. One misplaced quill greatly infuriated her, though she was not petty enough to punish anyone for such a small mistake.

She wasn't like those Westlande buffoons.

However, Saraliya narrowed her eyes, she had noted a distinct lack of news from her friends within the area. She'd usually receive letters from them by now, but their lack of any was both frustrating and unnerving.

Just when she thought her worries wouldn't get worse…

It certainly didn't help that the current adventurer delegation– that so-called Round Table, was making waves not even a day into the gathering. Knowledge of a so-called other world was not far-fetched. It was once a popular theory that monsters came from such worlds, summoned forth by the accursed Alvs, destroying the local ecosystem as they went.

However, never in her years would she imagine that even adventurers could have come from another world too. She had interacted with them on countless occasions, and the most she had thought of them were that they were rather violent but life-like humanoid golems.

Nevertheless, as someone in her position, she could only think of them as potential invaders, even if their presence have only been benevolent as of late. As a child, her grandfather told her tales of two-faced jackals, hiding amongst their court only to betray them and flee into the night. This Round Table appeared too much like those jackals for her liking.

Especially that fellow pale-haired young woman. Although, knowing adventure's ages, she was likely older than her by a magnitude or two.

Illyasviel, as she had introduced herself, was different to the other adventurers. Where her peers had held themselves like commoners awed by the beauty of the palace, that woman – and her compatriots – paid little heed.

It was a little frustrating. From what Saraliya could tell, her father had wanted to show the riches of Eastal so that an alliance, or some form of cooperation, would be at the forefront of their minds.

Then came their… suggestions.

An overseer, an alliance, or tumultuous separation.

Saraliya was no fool. Her father must have also realized that their suggestions also doubled as a threat. If they did not collaborate, then even if their country were to be attacked by other adventurers, they would not aid them.

If, she kept in mind. Saraliya started to loathe that word.

Worries of the Round Table incentivizing other adventurers, perhaps those in the fallen capital of Susukino, ravaged her mind like a feral ape. All of the Cowen could agree, it was to be avoided completely. And therein laid the trap. Even if they offered… less than agreeable terms for possible collaboration, they had little to say against it, not with the lingering threat from the north.

Only an adventurer could combat an adventurer, especially with the Knights still missing. Whether or not the adventurers had something to do with that mattered little.

What mattered now, Saraliya thought as she sifted through the last few reports, was creating a reliance. They needed to somehow convince the adventurers that the League was ideal, or even required, for their continued presence on Yamato.

They've proved social thus far. Perhaps she could leen into that further… Rayneshia was bored lately, wasn't she?

Saraliya shook her head. No, she wouldn't involve her daughter if she herself didn't want to get involved. She had forced her first-born into a life she did not want and now she had no choice but to look at the result. Risselthea, Hope of Eastal, nothing more than a disgraced runaway.

Saraliya acknowledged her failure in it, and purged Risselthea's name from the family records so that her name would be nothing more than a rumor. If she wanted a quiet life with her paramour, then she would get it.

At least she was doing fine, nurturing a grandson. Her friends had said so. Though, a cynical part of her noted the possibility that, should the Cowen be wiped out, Risselthea's child would inevitably have to take control of the house.

It was this cynical part of herself that her beloved cautiously adored.

Once again, she wondered what was wrong with her husband.

But then–

"What…?" she muttered to herself.

–Another report.

Saraliya scanned its pages and scanned its pages again. Word after word, the documents had slowly wrought a frown on her beautifully sculpted visage.

"Impossible…"

The Ezzo Empire… but how? No matter what happens, if an empire's capital was taken and its citizens enslaved by malicious, immortal conquerors, it should have fallen.

How was the empire still in operation?

It should have still been an empire oppressed, but why were the Ezzo Empire's mechanical soldiers, which only their royal family could control, moving down towards their borders?

Was someone from the royal family still alive?

If they were, why were they not staging a rebellion? Why not take back the city? She understood that the Ezzo Empire was besieged by giants almost daily, and that those soldiers were their only line of defense when adventurers could not be relied upon, but this was their empire. The culmination of more than a dozen generations worth of Ezzo noblemen and noblewomen.

Why leave it at the hands of… barbaric adventurers!?

For all intents and purposes, the Mechanical Soldiers of Ezzo were said to be just a little weaker than the Knights of Izumo. The fact they were marching towards their borders… it was unprecedented.

"Father will have to know," she noted. "Something is amiss."

Saraliya hated when things were amiss, but she hated it even more when she missed something obvious. With that in mind, she combed through the reports once more, a second reading with new information and context.

It was then that she noticed that the expired fishing rights belonged to a northern province… one that they hadn't received a renewal notice from. In fact, they haven't heard from the province in days.

Then they must've already pushed further than that.

However, she couldn't relay half-baked information. They, the short-sighted nobles her father appointed, were prone to rash decisions and loose lips. If rumors of the Ezzo Empire invading reached the masses…

Saraliya had only read of pandemonium, yet she feared she would soon experience it.

As she drafted requests to send to her friends further north, she realized that the next location that they might hit would be Seven Falls. A small outpost of knights was also stationed there. The complete lack of response from them mirrored the fishing province.

Was this their plan? Saraliya pondered. Did the Round Table somehow collaborate with their brethren in Susukino, or was this something else entirely?

Unfortunately, only time would tell.

Sarailya hoped it would tell her soon.


Night fell and Illya held back a sigh once they all retired to their designated meeting room.

The day was relatively quiet for her. Other than the surprise meeting with Langrissa Cowen, which Illya had observed before Rin had even sent her a message. She was thankful that she did though.

Luckily, as earlier observations had proved, Langrissa only truly cared about her interests. Of course, she cared about her family to some extent, but it was clear that Langrissa would not be their enemy. Getting on her good side this early on was a blessing.

Though, they could think about that later. Right now?

"Then what should we do?" Shiroe commented. "I believe it is a bad idea to attend only one."

And what was the Villain-in-Glasses talking about? Events, obviously. Fun for family and friends~!

"A banquet with Lord Barte, an evening party composed of young knights, a dinner with Count Kirino and the Academics Guild…" Krusty mused. "Tomorrow seems to be a packed day."

"After a day of barely doing anything, that's to be expected," Michitaka sighed. "Also, sorry, but the Academic Guild is too much for me."

"Same," Krusty snorted. "Well, luckily we have quite a few academically inclined personas here. Don't we?"

"I hope you don't mean me," Rin frowned. "I've already spent the day entertaining one Cowen. I don't want to deal with the others."

"Unfortunately, you're our best representative," Illya sighed as she gave out the order. "Don't worry, I won't send you alone. Ferlna will be sure to join you. Also, Shiroe, if I may impose? The three of you should do fairly well."

"I planned to join that from the start, but any help will be appreciated," Shiroe thanked. "Speaking of which, who is Count Kirino? I haven't heard of him."

"Try not to mention that to his face," Illya smiled. "He's the elected leader of the Academic Guild. While he is a mere Count, he does have higher connections. One of which is likely Lord Kiliva, who is the overall lord of Tsukuba and where the guild itself resides."

"So someone not to cross, I see," Shiroe mused. "Krusty, why don't you handle the young knight's gathering? I'm sure you'll enjoy the dance." He pushed his glasses up as he said so.

As if an unspoken arrangement was dealt between the two, Krusty smiled and pushed up his own glasses. "Very well. It isn't a bad idea."

"Then I suppose I'll handle the banquet with Lord Barte," Michitaka sighed.

"I'll lend you my own Enchanter to help out, because he hasn't been doing anything as of late," Illya added. "That, and he's well accustomed to handling nobles."

Especially one presumptuous enough as to hold a banquet in a fellow noble's abode.

"To be laundered like an item, how reminiscent," Lord El-Melloi II snorted, likely in remembrance of his previous employer. "Fine. It shouldn't be too much of a hassle."

"I wish I had your confidence, man!" Michitaka laughed.

"Will Krusty be alright?" Henrietta asked as she rubbed the villain's little assassin like an owner would their pet. "You'll have to deal with a lot of nobles. Flattering lords and ladies is not an easy task."

"If it comes down to it, I can help out," Illya offered, as she easily remembered her etiquette lessons. Lessons that she'd have to learn, lest she be branded with hot iron, which would then be 'healed' by grafting new skin in its place.

"No, it's fine," Krusty reassured. "Lately, I've found a shield that's so durable that it's nigh-unbreakable. I'm sure it'll be fine."

"Fine by me," Illya shrugged as the others questioned him a tad bit. To be frank, she actually cared very little at the moment. "If you don't mind, I'll retire for the evening. It'll be a long day tomorrow, so I suggest you all do the same."

Though, of course, being the sleep-deprived gamers that they were, they would hang out with the others long into the night before feeling the slightest inkling of sleep. At least Shiroe took her suggestion seriously and mentioned he would do so in a few minutes.

Illya left the room and entered her own quarters, and knowing full well that nobody was watching, dropped to one knee. Her arms flickered to her head and, in a surprisingly short time, the pain faded.

These migraines had gotten worse.

They were small, almost insignificant a month ago. However, as time passed, it got worse and worse. A few days ago, it got exponentially more frequent, and the pain she felt usually followed suit. When she arrived at the Ancient Court of Eternal Ice, it had finally boiled over.

The worst part about it was that she had no idea what was causing it.

This pain… It was almost like she was fighting to keep control of Berserker again, except the pain was localized entirely on her head. She tried minor healing magecraft, even potions of varying grades, yet nothing alleviated it. Only time and patience seemed to drive back the migraine.

"Krentelfal," she muttered, acknowledging the spirit phasing through the wall beside her. "You've been able to go around everywhere in this place without being seen, right?"

"Indeed," he asked with concern. "Though, I fail to see why–"

"Look for him," Illya ordered– or rather, practically pleaded. "The Sage of Miral Lake should be here. Find him."

She had no idea why this was happening to her. Her extensive experiments had proven nothing was wrong with her body. The immortal adventurer form was as perfect as it could ever be. She had half the thought to think it was an attack, but even those left behind a trail of mana.

This was an internal problem, one that must've dated from the second she arrived in this world… Impossible, did her adventurer body inherit the flaws that her old body did? That didn't make sense. It was a physical body, and the flaws that existed on it shouldn't have transfered over to this world. Only her soul was transferred, right?

Regardless, she only saw one way to solve her problems currently. Any experiments on her condition can be done at a later time, preferably under supervision. Only someone with several centuries worth of knowledge could aid her, and that came from the Sage of Miral Lake himself.

Whether he liked it or not.

"Are you sure you don't need the others to know…?" Krentelfal asked gently. "I'm certain your family would be able to help you."

"To comfort me? Maybe," Illya held back a grim laugh. "I'll see what they can do. Just make sure you find the Sage. Don't kidnap him! Just… guide me to him when you can. We don't want to start an incident while we're here."

"… Are you sure?"

"I am," she noted he had yet to move. "… Krentelfal."

"… Very well."

And in the next instant, he phased through the floor.

A white lie, she had told him. She needed both Lord El-Melloi II and Rin to be at their peak, without being distracted by her perceived condition. If they were distracted during a vital meeting, then they might cause a scene.

It was fine. She kept secrets before, and her family knew that, so keeping one more shouldn't be too difficult. It shouldn't be.

Whatever this issue plaguing her was, she'd solve it out of sight, where the Cowen and the rest of the Landers can't see it. Knowing nobles, they could take advantage of this somehow. That couldn't happen.

Another shadow of pain assaulted her. It was like her brain was being crushed within her own head.

She was the guildmaster. She would take care of this on her own. It was her responsibility. Her family needed to be happy. She needed to keep them happy. No matter what it took.

Her shoulders ached with unseen weight, but she could still stand strong and proud.

It wasn't heavy.

The silence was the only heavy thing here.


After questioning Fuji-nee – and making a hasty retreat – Shirou attended the first class on Swashbucklers, which was taught by Nyanta.

All in all, he had learned that his class excelled at high damage within a short period of time and high mobility. They also inflicted debuffs which could aid the party's damage output, but that fell secondary to the trash clearing capabilities the class had.

And by trash, as his instructor had so eloquently put, were simply all monsters in a raid that weren't the boss. In other words, the Swashbuckler took care of everything that would be a problem to the backline before supporting the front.

They mostly achieved this through one of their main skills, End of Act, which was basically an AOE – area of effect – attack that inflicts instant death, being more effective against lower level monsters. Though it's cooldown was long, it was very useful. So long as there were monsters in range, whether it was a hundred or a thousand, if they were weak enough, then a Swashbuckler could wipe them all out.

Luckily, he was Level 53, which was high enough to learn the skill by three levels.

The rest of the lesson was about, as he mentioned to that party a while ago, his rotation, and the variations of it.

Viper's Thrash into Early Thrust, into a Break Trigger, then another Early Thrust, into Danse Macabre, into yet another Early Thrust, and ended with Quick Assault.

The first Viper's Thrash applied a bleeding damage over time effect, then Early Thrust applied a bonus damage modifier for the next instance of damage, which places a playing card icon on the enemy – hence why it is used in-between attacks. It was also a Global Skill, which meant its cooldown was shared with other Global Skills, of which the cooldown was extremely short. Shirou remembered it being slightly different for all classes.

It was followed by Break Trigger which popped the icon to deal massive damage. Then after applying yet another early thrust, you used Danse Macabre, which was a burst of damage, almost comparable to an Assassin's signature Assassinate. However, Shirou had no idea how strong that was, but it must be worthwhile if it had infamy of any kind.

After that, you could technically do what you wanted until Break Trigger came off cooldown, which would be followed closely by the cooldown of Danse Macabre, but it's recommended for newer players to just perform another Early Thrust into Quick Assault, which was just a short cooldown attack– or combo filler. It allowed enough time to reapply the first skill's bleeding effect, Viper's Thrash, which should be off cool-down by then.

The bread and butter of all Swashbucklers, or so Nyanta says.

Though, he did point out the flexibility of the rotation, in that you could try and stack multiple Early Thrusts to create a big burst of damage, as they stacked multiplicatively.

Although, trying to keep up with his instructor's teachings was extremely challenging. Especially when he hadn't a single bit of context as to what the DMG, DOT, CD, and GCD abbreviations meant, a sentiment that Sakura also mirrored. He thought that they meant damage, damage-over-time, cooldown, and global-cooldown respectively, but he could've misremembered… He hoped that he didn't misremember.

And there was much more of such lingo that he barely caught onto… It was truly tiring.

Shirou was more of a doer than a listener, so after class had ended and his duties in the kitchen were fulfilled, he opted to go off into the forest to try it out. He had invited Sakura to join him, but she said that she needed to head into the city to purchase some new treats for Raijuu.

Of course, he offered to go along, but she said that a few West Wind Brigade members were going with her on a girls-night-out. Shirou easily knew when he wasn't wanted. Though, Sakura promised to make it up to him, even if she really didn't need to do so.

Shirou looked around the forest, noting that there was absolutely nobody around, and took out a production-class falchion. This one he had crafted himself.

Though, he didn't do anything weird to it like last time, with Fuji-nee's blade-that-never-was. He learned from that experience and opted to wait until his blacksmithing subclass was maxed or somewhat close to being such.

He swung the blade. Balance was good, though he could have tapered the end of it a bit more. A learning experience, he supposed.

A Viper's Thrash out into the open, where he imagined a monster would be, followed by Early Thrust as soon as his body would let him. Once again, he frowned that his body had moved for him. Break Trigger could activate without a target having an icon, but it would do almost no damage.

He idly wondered if Early Trigger could boost the damage of Noble Phantasms? Maybe a Caladbolg shot could take advantage of several stacks of the skill. Nyanta did say it was multiplicative.

Early Trigger. Danse Macabre, which caused his body to pirouette as if dodging a blow. He noted that, with this skill, he could activate it before he landed an attack, which should increase his damage output by a solid twenty percent.

Maybe he could apply that skill with Kanshou and Bakuya? Maybe Nine Lives could benefit from one of the AOE skills, like Whirlwind – one of the few AOE attacks outside of End of Act, to turn it into a wide hitting attack?

Once again, Early Thrust, followed by a Quick Assault allowed him to reposition soon after. This skill, in his opinion, was pretty good. It didn't feel as if his body was being moved with it, but instead, felt as if he was guiding it to a direction.

But still, it felt wrong.

Something, inherently, didn't sit well in his gut as he danced with his blade.

Rin and Illya had already proven that the mana in their bodies could be used for spells, and that depending on how they manipulated that mana, they could make those spells stronger or more efficient. In Rin's very own words, it could revolutionize the way people used mana for even the most mundane spells.

Then what about the tank and weapon classes, who didn't have as many spells as the mage or support classes?

Letting his body move in accordance with the skills, Shirou found himself in a rhythm. The cycle of skills continued until he could no longer see the sun above him. Instead, a frigid moon rose above the canopy.

The more he thought, the more he was confused. This world, was it inherently biased towards magic? No, it felt like something was… missing. Another piece of the puzzle he had yet to see.

Shirou was not tired yet. He noted that his mana had gone down quickly. He only had around a hundred left.

… Which was equal to the amount needed for the skill, End of Act.

"Might as well," he muttered.

Shirou breathed in and allowed the skill to take hold.

End of Act triggered. Shirou momentarily felt himself become weightless, as if floating with the wind itself. He knew, instinctively, that if there were enemies around him, he would have fluttered between all of them and swiped at their vitals.

The skill lasted for but a second, and he was on his feet once again.

But Shirou frowned as an idea took hold.

He swung his forged blade, eyeing it with a frown as an incredulous look took hold, recalling Nyanta's advice.

Vocalizing the attacks, or as they later learned, thinking the specific skill names, allowed them to come out. Their bodies knew the inherent way to use them. As skills took shape, mana was used. For spells, it was the fuel.

Then what about the skills that didn't have any visual usage of mana? What was it fueling? What was it consuming? What was it used for?

Nyanta highlighted the differences between using a skill and mastering a skill. Merely vocalizing the skill was using it. Knowing when to use the skill was mastering it… but that was wrong.

True masters of a skill performs out of instinct. There was no need to think of performing the skill, because your body would have already performed it. It was the same way some fighters instinctively duck when an attack was coming their way. With Nyanta's explanation, it was like the fighter was thinking 'dodge' when he did so. It didn't fit.

They didn't think.

They acted.

"But… that can't be how it works…" Shirou muttered.

He placed his sword back in his inventory, and afterwards, knowing he had only ten mana left, traced the very same blade he had sheathed.

Then, he moved.

He didn't move his body, guided by an unseen hand.

But himself alongside the traced blade, one with the experience itself.

A series of strikes, impeccable footwork, and quick slashes flowed together in a dance of one to an audience of none. The wind was a song to the skill, yet the melody ended as the trees around him became riddled with scars.

His feet rested on the grassy floor.

His mana?

Zero.

"That is how it works… So that's what the mana cost is used for," Shirou took a deep breath and sighed. "Looks like I'll have to tell Illya about this, won't I?"

And Nyanta too, he supposed. They were allies, weren't they?

And so Shirou fluttered with the wind, as the End of Act skill would have made him do.

Using a skill was vocalizing it. Knowing a skill was vocalizing it at the right moment. Mastering a skill was using it without the guiding hand of mana.

It was good that they were teaching the others here. These teachings he had would come in useful. Though, knowing some people, he'll have to explain it in a way others would understand.

Overcoming the need to use your skills in the traditional guided way.

Overskills would do quite nicely.


Next Chapter: 2021


A/N: I'll be honest, I just posted this because I wanted to get this out there, to those who haven't read my other story.

But first I figured that I need to go further into detail about my logic and reasoning about Overskills before I go into detail about my IRL responsibilities.

Using a skill outside of its intended way like with Nazuna's barrier platforms could be considered a form of Mastery (if what the several barrier-skill Isekai i've been reading is right). Akatsuki's clones are a Fusion of two skills (like a smash, as dubbed by Hajime no Ippo, being a mix between a hook and an uppercut). Krusty's Overskill is increasing his ATK/DEF at the cost of his experience.

One is being flexible with their use, another is a fusion of two distinct abilities, and another doesn't even fall under modified or fused skills but a new creation entirely utilizing experience, or memories as we know, as a cost instead of mana.

I think the author's original intention for how Overskills function, outside of giving our MC's unique power ups outside of being restricted by game mechanics, is to reinforce the subclass secret being applicable to more than just subclasses… which is also considered to be an Overskill, if the wiki page is to be believed. In this sense, Rin's discovered Overskills since Day 1 (or Day 2, technically).

Also, don't think that creating an Overskill is easy just because both Rin and Shirou made it look easy. Rin's one thing because she's just a plain genius, but there's a reason I had Shirou trace the blade after he experienced the skill.

We good? Great, I'll go into IRL things now.

OJT stands for 'On the Job Training', and it's a thing that I as an IT major – am required to do. I'm not sure if I'm allowed to disclose the total required hours I must work, but I think that it's alright to say that I'm going to be very busy from December up until the tail-end of March. Until then, I'll be heavily writing up some chapters to upload at the end of the month(s). It'll be the first time I'll be writing chapters (for many stories, as well as a new one I had steaming in my head for a while) ahead of time and posting them sporadically, but considering I'm going to be missing in action until March is over with, this is the best you're gonna get.

It's Nanowrimo, so I might as well make use of that to write as much as I can (even if I'm only at 19,950 as I'm typing this out). It's not like I'm going to get any free time after it.

Also, if someone can make a TVTropes for this story, that'd be appreciated. KEKW begging for an entree on the internet.

Until next time,

monkaW

A/N 2: Fixed Typo for the Viper's Thrash skill. I copied it off of a google doc I found with all the Log Horizon skills translated from a syosetsu entree detailing them from Mamare Touno (the LH author). It called it Trash and I saw no issue with it until the next mention of the skill, which was spelled correctly. Thanks to SentinalSlice for pointing it out. (Alongside other typos)