Magnus: I apologize for the extended delay, but life decided to hit me from all possible angles and family matters piled up in the last two months. I'll try to publish more chapters soon, but please understand that I can't control misfortune.
Disclaimer: Due to chaotic schedule and life struggles, there will be a shift in priorities, so this story may end up being updated faster than Cursed Blood.
A sad farewell.
At the gates of Axel, a party of adventurers was in the middle of a somber conversation. The sunset would happen soon, and the wind was starting to become cold.
"I'm sorry…" Darkness muttered while shaking like a leaf in the wind.
Lady Lalatina Darkness Dustiness Ford was allowed to work as an adventurer by her father. As an adventurer, she had a lot of freedom that her noble heritage barred from her; she could have friends, explore dungeons, and get into dangerous situations as long as she was within arm's reach of her family. However, she could never escape her duties as a noble.
When she went to say her farewells to her father, he didn't take it lightly.
Marching to the frontlines was something she was immediately forbidden from doing. While she was allowed to risk her life as long as her body could be recovered, as resurrection magic was something her family could afford, dying on the frontlines usually meant no resurrection, thus, no returning.
Lord Dustiness Ford had used his only viable card. He threatened her with taking Izuku's life, and the lives of her newly-discovered family, if she went missing.
"Please forgive me…" Aela bowed while hugging her Bianca, less in a protective way, and more like saying goodbye.
Right now, the Ranger wished she hadn't opened the letter she got today. It was an answer from home, and it had gone wrong in every possible way. Her parents were now on their way to Axel, to meet her beloved leader, and to try to marry him into the family.
She would admit that the idea of marrying her party leader was nothing to run away from, but the intent behind her parents' idea was what gave her pause. They wanted to use Izuku's success to advance their agenda as nobles, to gain prestige and power. Of course, this meant that the inheritance order would have to shift to accommodate the new addition to the family. Not only would Izuku be forcibly transformed into a political pawn, she'd also screw up her brothers' livelihoods.
Also, the mental image of Megumin erasing her entire family… and most likely entire territory… was no less of an incentive to foil such a plan. She had no choice but to await her parents' arrival, Izuku… didn't.
"There is nothing to be sorry about." Izuku answered to Darkness, and then he turned to Aela, "And there is nothing to forgive. You have your reasons, and I respect that."
Both girls had given a short explanation, neither wanting to go into detail. Darkness didn't want to shame herself before her saint, to show how she was still bound by her family, unable to follow the holy figure she desired so much. Aela couldn't bring herself to reveal her noble status, refusing to entangle her leader in the machinations of her family.
They weren't expecting to be hugged by the emerald Arch Druid, much less for the kindness to feel so painful.
It was getting closer to sunset, and their window of opportunity to depart was closing. In another time, in another world, Izuku would have waited until their situations were resolved, until they were ready to accompany him.
"I'll be waiting for you in the next city, in Roggard, as we planned." Izuku explained, showing his unwillingness to stay in Axel any longer. "I'll wait for you until the start of spring."
With that said, both noble girls broke into tears.
As they watched Izuku turn around to take the reins of the carriage, the Crusader and the Ranger couldn't help but feel as if they had made the worst decision of their lives. It wasn't as if the party had been disbanded, more like they had abandoned it. Worse still, Izuku hadn't confiscated their gear, which made them feel even guiltier.
Their eyes blinded by tears, both girls missed Chika and Yunyun tactlessly waving goodbye as the carriage was dragged away by a stomping Behemoth.
Izuku, though, had no chance to wallow in his sadness alone. Megumin had tactfully chosen to sit by his side.
"Are you alright?" Megumin asked, leaning on her boyfriend's shoulder.
"No." Izuku replied with honesty, "I'm going to miss them."
Taking a minute to remember all the adventures, and misadventures, they'd had with Darkness and Aela, he came to a sad conclusion.
"Without them, this trip is going to feel lo…"
A group of voices screaming his name forced Izuku and Megumin to turn around, even though the Behemoth hardly slowed down.
Dust and his party were running after them.
"We are going to help you in your travels!" Dust shouted as he and his group got closer to the still moving carriage.
Izuku was going to miss his party members, but maybe the trip wouldn't be as lonely as he thought?
A couple of hours later…
Well into the night, a single carriage moved at a steady pace. Lanterns at every corner of the roof were shedding emerald light, and only the sounds of the beast pulling it were filling the otherwise empty night.
STOMP! STOMP! STOMP!
It was a loud sound…
"That isn't a golem…" Lynn muttered, lightly trembling while stealing glances at the plant creature diligently pulling the carriage, "That is alive, and has a will of its own…"
The three guys didn't even try to reply. They could only understand that the Behemoth was created by the Arch Druid; the impossibility of such a feat had been poorly covered by the fact that it was Izuku, and their brains couldn't comprehend more than that.
"Maybe you should take a nap?" Dust suggested while patting his own thigh, offering it as an impromptu pillow, "I know it's not as high class as the interior of the carriage, but…"
Lynn simply accepted the proposal, mind too numb to even feel shame in front of the other two guys.
"Of course out here isn't as comfortable as the inside…"
"I've seen expensive rooms less comfortable than this carriage…"
The group had been able to see the interior when Izuku offered Lynn a place inside. While the guys had been awed by the sight of cushioned seats, a clean floor, and the most spotless ceiling they had seen in their entire lives, Lynn had been horrified at the thought of being inside of what she considered a harem room.
She had been a nervous wreck while declining the offer, for all the wrong reasons.
STOMP! STOMP! STOMP!
"At least we don't have to hear anything besides the Behemoth, right?" Dust playfully asked, earning groans from the rest of his party.
They had managed to join Izuku, but now felt that their already diminished pride was being trampled. The beast of myth pulling the carriage was a better deterrent against attackers than they would ever be. They couldn't even offer their help to take the reins either, because the Behemoth was not something they could steer, no matter how much they actually tried.
The idea of being actually trampled into nothingness by a Behemoth who might take offense to simple mortals trying to steer it was something that would never leave their minds either.
"How does one steer a Behemoth?" Keith asked to no one in particular.
"I guess you need to be Izuku to do so?" Taylor supplied, giving the only explanation that made sense.
They could already imagine Izuku actually putting an end to the war, and them getting a small mention as footnotes in the history books as the lowly servants that carried his luggage…
Inside the carriage…
It was a mess.
Izuku couldn't help but to look back at the day, at how his plans failed to come to fruition. Two important members of his team had to drop out of the mission, and he knew that no one was at fault but himself.
'I should have seen this coming…' Izuku thought as he caressed the hair of his girlfriend.
Izuku knew that his plan, from the standpoint of view of this world's denizens, seemed suicidal. The war had been going on for what seemed like forever, those who went to the frontlines were brutally murdered to the point that their souls didn't want to return. Anyone would see his mission as pure folly, as something better left to the King and his men.
But the King and his men hadn't been able to make any kind of advancement in the war effort. The goddesses had been unable to find a proper hero. Something had to be done, and if he wanted to go back home, he would have to be the one to do so.
A bit of rustling distracted the Arch Druid for a second; Chika had shifted slightly, stretching her wing to cover the couple's bodies better.
'I'll be sure to protect you all.' Izuku thought as his heart flipped in happiness at being loved so much, 'I won't allow any of you to get hurt!'
Izuku had studied a bit about the actual war, and had noticed something that he should have taken into account long ago. No one had any common sense.
The frontlines of the war consisted of the King's men fighting against the hordes of the Devil King. However, that statement was an embellished way to say that both sides were holding their side of the frontier, watching the other like hawks to stop an invasion en-masse.
The actual fighting was being done by incursion teams, teams consisting of one strong leader and their party of supporting characters. It was like the videogames he faintly remembered, where the player took on the role of the hero and their followers filled archetypical roles.
Videogame logic belonged to the videogame realm. The real world needed a realistic approach.
"Incredible…" Yunyun muttered, laying on the other couch. She was thankfully using it as a bed, her legs up and away from Izuku's view. "If this is true… I see… so this is what makes reality real…"
Yunyun's rambling assaulted Izuku with nostalgia. She reminded him of his old self. At least now he kept the rambling to isolated rooms and to moments where only his party members could hear him. Megumin loved to hear him ramble though. She'd also made it her mission to record his otherworldly wisdom on whatever paper was available.
Izuku knew he needed to scout the situation first and gather data on the enemy forces. Once that information was compiled, he could construct a plan for a decisive strike that would bring as little risk as possible. With what little he knew of the barrier and the castle, the only plan he had right now was to gather the Crimson Demons and have them bombard the Devil King's castle with a barrage of Big Bangs.
Unfortunately, such a decision would mean the doom of any slave and captive inside.
Izuku hated the idea of making sacrifices for the Greater Good.
"Fluffy… so… fluffy…" The voice above Yunyun sounded like someone having a vivid dream, "Gimme… lemme…"
Izuku smiled at the scene.
Wiz was currently sleeping on the net designed to hold cargo. It didn't look anywhere near as comfortable as the couches, but her new instincts demanded a place above ground. Her new senses also demanded food, sleep and other bodily functions; things that the newly reincarnated Avariel had forgotten about during her tenure as a lich.
It had been rather endearing how she gorged on the light meal they had consumed, how she screamed about how delicious all of it was. Then she got scared about the feeling of losing consciousness, and entered a state of child-like glee upon discovering that she was going to be able to actually sleep and dream.
She failed to understand her new body though, and ended nearly passing out in exhaustion… much to Chika's relief.
Below the verdanette's feet, a mass of muscle and scales shifted ever so slightly, reminding Izuku that he was still struggling to kick out the slave mentality from his beloved girls.
When the couch proved too small for Liza to serve as additional cushioning, she took to the floor in a desire to serve as a footrest for her beloved master. Izuku protested, he really did, but the sad eyes of the albino gator-girl won out in the end. Now he had to go through the humiliation of resting his feet on the body of a girl.
It was hard to think of himself as a hero in such a position. He doubted that anything short of a metric ton of metal could prove uncomfortable for Liza, though.
The carriage continued moving into the night, the rhythmic stomping, muffled by the thick walls, was a welcome lullaby to those inside. While the sadness still lingered, Izuku still felt his resolve taking root; he had finally moved from the starting line. New allies would join his party along the way, with some unable to stay until the very end, but he understood that his goal was too high for most people.
His most important people were going to stay by his side until the end though, and that fact gave him strength. Knowing that they wanted to stay with him beyond that end goal gave him hope though. Even if he were forced to abandon the powers he had gained to keep his precious people, he'd keep advancing.
Yesterday was left behind, just like the Town of Beginners. Izuku closed his eyes and surrendered to sleep as he understood that tomorrow would illuminate a new path to the future…
Or so he hoped…
The next day…
Halfway to Roggard, in the middle of the road, a troublesome scene was taking place. A large and beautiful carriage was being assaulted by highwaymen.
Around a dozen men, each sporting different types of armor and weapons of varying quality, were laying siege to their victims. The scene was stark, but it didn't look like a normal robbery; all over the path were bodies and lots of blood.
One female knight was holding her shield high, defiance written on her features, while her two fellow soldiers were lying on the ground in pools of their own blood. However, the dozen bandits seemed slightly hesitant, if still leering at the woman before them; a dozen of their companions, most of them cut to pieces, littered the ground between them and the last standing resistance.
"Give up, cunt!" The leader of the bandits shouted, "Surrender and we'll let you live. After taking turns with your body anyway!"
There were no cheers or followups. The rest of the bandits might have been scum, but they hadn't stayed alive this long by throwing themselves into obvious danger.
The knight didn't answer, instead taking a ready stance. The first to step forward would be cut in half. And even if it meant giving up her life, these bastards would never get to lay their eyes on the precious cargo inside the carriage.
'Just a little longer…' The knight thought, 'A patrol should show up any minute now…'
According to the ruling noble of this area, there were regular patrols along the path. Also, according to the same noble, there were no bandits prowling said path. If such noble lied in the report, then executions would be in order… assuming someone survived to make the report to the capital, that is.
"The spell is ready!" A hooded man shouted, "I'm putting her to sleep. Don't forget to bind her before starting any fun!"
Now the bandits cheered, both in relief and lust.
The knight was about to panic, half of her mind screaming that interrupting the spell was vital to avoid defeat, and yet the rest reminded her that her cargo couldn't be exposed to danger upon changing her position.
She could only pray for a hero to arrive…
STOMP! STOMP! STOMP!
The loud sound was accompanied with rhythmic tremors. Every living person present turned toward the source, knowing very well that such sounds belonged to a massive creature, the kind that would no doubt eat them all and then continue to trample some random city's walls.
They didn't expect to see a carriage being pulled by… a small Behemoth?
"What the actual f…"
An arrow impacted the skull of the bandit, killing him in an instant. His demise was enough to make all the others lose their composure completely.
"Nice shot!" Dust exclaimed from atop the carriage, his praise seconded by Lynn.
"I was actually aiming at the one who looked like the boss though…" Keith muttered as he nooked a second arrow.
At the reins, Izuku made his best effort to ignore the archer's confession, and repressed the nausea from seeing someone die in front of him… again.
"Protect the people." Izuku commanded, finding it hard to swallow how the other adventurers followed his command, and how likely they were going to kill the bandits as a result. "Anything else is secondary!"
The emerald Arch Druid wished that the bandits would run away.
A couple of minutes later…
It had been a total victory, so one-sided that it was more like a massacre. Much to his dismay, Izuku Midoriya felt like all that blood was on his hands.
Why didn't they run away?
Why didn't they try to surrender, to beg for their lives?
It was inhumane, but Izuku remembered why this was a common occurrence. There was no prison for bandits, only death. There were no human rights for those who decided to live outside the laws of the kingdoms. Rather than having their belongings being sent to their families, their bodies were being looted by the adventurers that had killed them.
Seeing Dust and his party, even the sweet and caring Lynn, strip the bodies of the outlaws like it was expected of them was making Izuku's stomach churn.
"Adventurers!" The female knight called to the group, "I request that you stop what you are doing!"
"Finally…" Izuku muttered, still sitting on the carriage, not wanting to have anything to do with the disgraceful show of inhumanity unfolding, "Someone sens…"
"I need you to take us to Axel at once." The knight stated in a firm voice, "You'll be handsomely compensated for this service, and I will add a bonus to compensate for setting aside your looting rights!"
"What?!" Izuku couldn't help his shout, was it too much to ask for some humanitarian sensitivity? "Why?"
The knight looked ready to explode with indignation, as if taking offence, but immediately controlled herself.
"My lady is being afflicted by some severe ailment. No one knows if it is a curse or some other form of malediction, and I fear she may not have enough time." The knight explained, obviously pained, "Her only hope is to take her to the town of Axel, where a sage has been sighted, someone said to be able to deal with any sort of affliction."
"I see…" Izuku replied with a heavy voice.
Curses, afflictions of unknown origin and a sage. That had to be Keel…
Izuku wanted to say no. This wasn't his responsibility. He actually hated how inhumane the people of this world acted. But, looking at their carriage, he knew that there was no repairing it; the bandits had done quite the number on it, not only destroying the wheels with magic, but breaking the entire undercarriage as well.
Even complaining about using the lethal force felt wrong after seeing the other two guys dead on the ground. They had given their lives to protect whoever was inside, and leaving her to her own fate felt like disrespecting the dead.
"What about your dead comrades?" Izuku asked, still hesitant to accept the request.
Saving this one life would set him back, and not just for a few days. Winter was coming, meaning that he'd be stuck back in Axel for months.
"They knew the risks and…" The knight started with a solemn voice.
"I can revive them!" Just to be interrupted by a girly voice.
A young girl exited the wrecked carriage, sporting blond hair and a blue nun habit.
"Just give me ten minutes." The nun continued as she approached the fallen soldiers, "You need that time to move the sick lady anyway."
"Understood." The knight replied and then moved to the carriage to assist the individual within.
Izuku felt immediately annoyed by the attitude. This knight had decided on her own that they were entitled to his carriage, that he had no right to deny them. If he were to be honest, this world wasn't exactly deserving of his every kindness; truth be told, the life of a single noblewoman would be insignificant when weighted against all the lives that would be lost on the frontlines if he had to return to Axel and forced to spend the winter there.
He got ready to explain his point to the knight. He got ready to order his new friend to resume the march to the next city.
"Hold still, milady." The knight said to the rather petite girl in her arms, only part of her blond hair visible due to the cloth enveloping her, "We'll make it in time. I swear upon my life."
Then Izuku saw the face of the girl. The cold sweat, the pain…
Megumin and Liza had been by his sides the entire time, silent observers to the whole ordeal. And now, Megumin had a resigned smile on her face. She knew exactly what was going to happen.
"Megumin, get inside and arrange for one of the couches to be cleared for the girl." Izuku requested, sounding resigned and yet sporting an apologetic smile, "Guys, move the luggage so the revived soldiers can ride up there with you."
There was a sense of satisfaction at seeing his orders being carried out without hesitation, it really felt good to be listened to, one of the few good perks of coming to this world. As Megumin entered the carriage to ensure there would be enough room, Izuku turned to his faithful companion.
"Liza, can you help that knight with the girl?" Izuku's request was immediately answered with a nod and a grunt from the albino gator-girl, "Be gentle."
Izuku's warning came with an odd sense of urgency, something the female knight didn't fail to notice. The woman looked tired, her rather slow pacing an obvious sign that fighting the bandits took a lot out of her.
"I… carry…" Liza said as she reached her target.
The knight frowned at the sight of the slave before her. Her self-restraint was made obvious as she bit back curse words, obviously aware that she needed the help of the boy with the carriage, and that she had no strength left to force him to cooperate.
"There is no way I will surrender her to you…" The knight spat with as much politeness as she could, "There is no way a brute like you would treat my lady with the required kindness…"
A cherished slave was still a slave. A slave trained for heavy lifting would treat the noble in her hands just like any piece of luggage. Slaves were slaves for a reason, and their reliability would not change no matter how well-trained and cherished they were. The knight had come to this conclusion while seeing the albino lizardwoman approaching, clad in armor while looking clean and well fed. Both a worker and sex toy no doubt.
Liza didn't even stop when she reached the pair. She didn't acknowledge the voice, the defiance, or anything really. She simply understood that the armored human wasn't going to let go of the sick human. She still needed to bring the sick human into the carriage though.
She went for the easiest solution.
"What the hell are you doing?!"
She lifted both the armored lady and the sick girl into her arms.
She even walked faster than the knight could when not carrying anything at all, reaching the carriage in no time.
For the albino gator-girl, there was no difference between carrying one, two, or a dozen of anything. Her master wanted them inside the carriage, so she'd take them there. Applying brute force was the easiest way for her to solve problems in life, after all.
"Remember me to never get on her bad side…" Taylor muttered while watching the scene.
The knight had heavier gear than him, and Liza didn't give a single fuck about it.
"Does she have a good side?" Keith muttered, "Besides whatever side she shows to Izuku?"
"Gator-kin are scary…" Dust just shuddered while remembering how Liza had nearly killed him… with a glancing blow.
Lynn didn't comment. Izuku was equally kind and scary, trying to split hairs was pointless.
Suddenly, a black harpy landed on the roof of the carriage.
"Chika saw no more baddies nearby." The black harpy reported, causing the mediocre adventurers to wince, "Master got new friends?"
The albino gator-girl was intimidating, and the adventurers accepted that she would probably tear them apart with zero effort if they ever offended Izuku, but at least her mere existence didn't hurt them.
Chika hurt them, every time she spoke. The black harpy could also hurt monsters with her mere voice. And Izuku had her around all day and night?
In the rider's seat, Izuku sighed.
He was defeated yet again by his need to save people. The girl was suffering, and she was not responsible for the problems plaguing him. Sacrifices were unacceptable, at least that's what his heart told him. Sacrificing her for the sake of his mission would be not only hypocritical, but inhumane. If he were to be honest, he would admit that if he had decided to leave them behind… he would have turned back to help them within five minutes.
"Master… ok?" Liza asked as she resumed her preferred position by his side.
Izuku sighed in defeat.
"Don't worry, it's just a case of Izuku being Izuku, despite his best efforts to be different." Megumin replied as she took her seat yet again.
"It's just…" Izuku trailed off, seeking something, anything to blame. "I'm tired of things not going as they should be."
Crossing the gates of Axel was going to be exceedingly embarrassing now, rescue of a noble or not.
"Master is feeling down?" Chika asked, and then smiled as she got a bright idea, "Chika knows how to make Master feel better!"
Izuku blinked in confusion. He quickly panicked as the petite avian girl guided Megumin to change seats… or rather… guided her to sit on his lap.
Both teens blushed for a moment…
"D-does… this…" Megumin stammered a little, but quickly began to lean onto her boyfriend, "Help?"
"I-It…" Izuku stammered too, but then hugged his girlfriend, "Does…"
Basking in the warmth of the petite Crimson Demon truly helped to soothe the nerves of the Arch Druid. The contact felt natural, and while their romance was not as intense as they had seen with a few couples in Axel, it was slowly escalating in how comfortable they were getting in public.
"We are ready up here!" The nun called from atop the carriage.
One look at the two soldiers was more than enough to understand that the Priest had used Raise the Dead, and not Resurrection. The poor guys were going through revivification sickness, their stats lowered and their senses muddled until they had a chance for a proper rest.
A small window behind Izuku slid open.
"Everything's ready inside too." Yunyun reported with a tone of satisfaction, as if fulfilling some sort of duty, "Although I wish that the knight lady would stop acting as if we were kidnappers."
"She can get out if she doesn't like it there." Megumin bit back on Izuku's behalf, taking offense at such attitude.
"I apologize." The knight quickly retorted, "I humbly accept your aid in this endeavor. So, please, let's start moving."
The woman didn't sound apologetic, or humble, but Izuku knew that making the girl suffer more than strictly necessary was not the right answer.
"Alright then…" Izuku finally said, and then directed his voice to the friend he had created, "Let's go back to Axel, Komoe."
The name that was chosen for the Behemoth was that, Komoe. Chika said it was cute. Liza said it was small. Yunyun called it adorable. Seeing that the consensus was that if the creature didn't mind the name as long as it got it, he went for a combination of small and cute in Japanese.
Because he knew a certain explosive blonde would probably get an aneurism if he ever caught wind of such a thing.
STOMP! STOMP! STOMP!
And thus, the carriage turned around, and began its trek back to the Town of Beginners. This time faster than before, but still at a peaceful pace.
Behind a tree overlooking the scene…
Chris sighed in relief. The hero would return to Axel, meaning more opportunities to reach out to the beloved Avariel.
"At least I didn't have to intervene…" Chris muttered, turning to look at the corpse below her, "Too much."
Following that carriage had been a nightmare. The beast Izuku created was more than just a mindless golem or a primitive awakened bush. It had intelligence, malevolent intelligence even. Whenever she got even a little close, it turned its head as if to search for her, and she was pretty damn sure it didn't want to cuddle up to her.
Finding these people had been a sort of a blessing, really. She knew the boy was too soft for his own good, that there was no way for him to not take in the injured and the sick before delivering them back to town. Of course, she wasn't going to stay idle either.
That group of bandits was larger than what it seemed at first, they had a sentry ready to run back to their main hideout to gather reinforcements if things turned ugly. Slitting the throat of said sentry had been an easy way to support the Arch Druid, even though she couldn't boast about the feat.
"Now back to Axel." Chris muttered with unsettling happiness, "Time to worm my way into that party, and into the heart of the beloved!"
Winter was coming, and the thief knew all too well that Izuku would not move during that time. Being so soft-hearted was the most exploitable of his weaknesses.
Magnus: I seriously encourage you to read the notes. I'm honored you find this entertaining and to your liking, but it feels awkward when people praise effort and planning I'm not giving to this story. Even though I'm trying to increase quality, this is just a practice of tropes, not the real Isekai project.
Omake – A dark omen.
In the bowels of the Devil King's castle, inside a sealed chamber only a handful of people could enter, a shadowed figure looked upon a lone pedestal.
"This isn't good…"
On the lone pedestal, a small crystal box was being displayed. The contents of the box, visible to anyone, was a small vial with a bright crimson fluid… or at least it should be so.
"This isn't good at all…"
The vial was broken, having shattered completely. The liquid no longer the vibrant crimson it was supposed to be, but a viscous black mess. It was the remnants of a phylactery, one that showed that the powerful undead it belonged to had been slain in a way that unraveled the magical bond that shackled their soul to the world.
"Well played Wiz. Well played indeed."
The shattered phylactery belonged to the Ice Witch, the ridiculously powerful Lich that shouldered half of the power of the barrier that protected his castle. The way it had shattered meant that the pact had been fulfilled, that she had done her job, that her soul had been forfeited and, in the process, she had finally saved her friends.
"You ended it on your own terms then. You earned your freedom… and I hope you found it worth it in the end."
While there was no resentment in the voice, there was an obvious undertone of stress. The barrier would still hold strong against common means of attack, but now any relic weapon would be able to breach it. Heck, even a really powerful Explosion spell could do it at this point. Replacing Wiz was out of question, there was no way someone as powerful would ever knock on his door and make such a pact as Wiz did. Improvisation was in order.
Exiting the hidden chamber, the Devil King turned to look at two servants.
"You." The Devil King called to the first servant, a demoness, "Gather all the spellcasters we have at hand and shift the power of the barrier to the outer layer. We need to at least make it look strong enough to discourage potential heroes."
The demoness nodded and darted away to fulfill her duties. Word of two potential heroes had spread like wildfire in the castle, and she sure as hell she didn't want to face them, especially the one that destroyed Beldia.
"And you." The Devil King turned to the other one, a woman with draconic features, "Call all the generals. We need to reorganize the army, and delegate functions until we find proper replacements for our fallen comrades."
"About that… sir…" The draconic girl was exceedingly hesitant in her voice.
"What?" The Devil King was getting a bad feeling out of this.
"Vanir, Hans and Wolbach are…" The draconic girl took a couple of steps back, "Gone… on a vacation… I think?"
A moment of silence filled the hallway as the words sunk in…
And so, the Devil King cursed the very heavens for gifting him with such a band of incompetent idiots.
Omake – A cry for help.
There were things that were universal, like how gossip and rumors traveled at speeds faster than light, or how they reached the furthest corners of the world like wildfire in a dry forest.
"Hey, did you hear about the Axis cult in Axel?"
"That they stole from a noble, right?"
"I knew those weirdoes were also thieves!"
In a world with magic, rumors and gossip were carried by magical means. And when such means were backed up by institutions like the Adventurers' Guild, they stopped being rumors and gossip, and instead became the truth.
"Can't say I'm surprised. They always seemed suspicious to me!"
"I heard they evaded taxes too. No wonder they were kicked out of their church!"
For one fallen goddess, those words were as hurtful as being stabbed with rusty swords. She had gone through such humiliation to help them, and now this happened?!
"This can't be right…" Aqua muttered as she walked to the inn she was staying at, "My cute worshipers couldn't have done such a horrendous thing…"
She had done everything right for her worshipers. She even completed her contract with that nerd!
Thinking that her own followers would commit such a travesty was something she couldn't fathom. In her mind, the only explanation was that her cute head priest had been assaulted halfway to the capital, thus, it hadn't been his fault. There was no way her own children would backstab her… right?
"I heard they lied about the taxes they owed, that they gave false information on purpose to steal from the town and the crown."
"That's why they stole from a noble?"
Aqua froze in her tracks. If that is what really happened, that meant that the head priest was the rotten apple.
Then she remembered that the one who gave the money was Izuku!
That softie would no doubt help her again if she pleaded enough. Of course, that meant throwing the bad apple under the bus, and bringing some sort of peace offering… maybe some cute girls?
Maybe… some cute slave girls?
"I say we demand an audit on the Axis church in this town. If they did that there, they could be doing the same here."
"I say we kick them out of town right away!"
Aqua began to run. She had a new mission, to save her cute worshipers. Traveling back to Axel was the priority now. Finding a way to get Izuku to help was going to be her biggest concern. The only saving grace was that Kyouya would be easy to convince; he had been rambling about clearing out the marks on their cards anyway.
A couple of minutes later…
"What?!" Aqua was getting hysterical, her request had been denied, "Why can't we depart right now?"
"Because there is no money!" Kyouya was at the end of his rope, "You wasted it all already! AGAIN!"
Aqua actually had the decency of wincing at that remark. She still shifted the blame to the boy though, he had promised that she would have everything she desired when he asked her to join; but right now, there was no room to argue.
"It would take a week of work to pay for the tickets to Axel, and that doesn't take into consideration food and shelter." Kyouya further explained, looking as if he was in the middle of a breakdown, "Do you understand? We are stranded here until you decide to show some restraint."
Aqua pouted while trying to hold back her tears. She was being blamed for everything, and couldn't argue out of fear of being denied of the chance to save her cute worshipers.
"One week?" Aqua asked with a timid voice.
"If you can go without eating, yes." Kyouya replied, still sounding angry, "Or if you get a part-time job at the market to get food."
The Swordsmaster had thrown the bait, not really expecting the goddess to bite.
"I'll do it…" Aqua replied with a haunted voice, "For my cute worshipers… I'll do it."
That week was going to be hell, but both made a silent oath to see it through and return to the place that started all this trouble. Only one of them was plotting to ditch the other though.