I'm having a very shitty winter. Sorry if my chapter lengths aren't up to snuff, but my mood very much so affects my writing. I still tried to put this out today, though, at the request of Mage of Hope. Tomorrow is my last week of school before Christmas break for two weeks, in which I will lose things to do very quickly, so I'll probably spend my time writing.

Also, Heartstring Bugs is a very awesome visual novel, and I have lots of tips if you want to play it -cough cough-.

They had decided that for the moment, the two groups would travel up the mountain together, since it was in their common interests. Plus, there had been tough monsters on the way here, and the mountains were where the oxygen was thinner, so the monsters had to be tougher, right? Sheila thought so, anyway, and Hisui was inclined to agree. Survival of the fittest, and whatnot.

So, seeing as they were going to be together for even a small amount of time, Sigma seemed to take this chance to try and hit on the available girls.

"Blue eyes aren't something common in the places we've traveled... though yours take the cake." Sigma smiled down at Marine, who leered at him, eyes narrowed in suspicion.

"...Alice has blue eyes... er, a blue eye. And before you continue hitting on me, how old are you?"

"Sixteen." Was his response, not expecting it to matter. Age doesn't matter in love!

To his surprise, Marine scoffed, turning her head away. "Hmph. You're three years too young for me." A pause, and then a snort. "Just a word of advice, but don't even try Sheila, you'll piss Iris off."

Sigma had stopped listening after Marine turned him down, looking ahead to where the other two girls were chatting with Hisui. Hisui and Iris seemed to hit it off, since they were both "peaceful" people, and Sheila exchanged tidbits of knowledge with the newcomer. Of course, that only helped Iris warm up to Hisui more, since a friend of Sheila's was most definitely a friend of Iris.

And then Sigma proceeded to make the biggest mistake he had made in his life thus far (if he didn't include traveling around with the grumpiest- second grumpiest, Marine seemed even worse- girl he'd ever met). He slung his arm over Sheila's shoulders in a friendly fashion, startling both her and Iris. Hisui watched, only slightly interested (but slightly irked) in her companion's behavior; it happened often enough that she just didn't see the use in preventing it, but she's pretty sure Iris's calm smile just twitched... No, it was definitely twitching. She looked kind of mad.

"So, what are you girls looking for Old Mason for~? Research, like Hisui here, or what? Doesn't look like you're planning to assassinate or vandalize him, so I'm out of guesses."

Sheila stopped smiling for a millisecond at the implication that he had assumed they were there to harm the poor, lonely old man, but then she shook it off and grinned. "We're gathering some materials, and he accidentally took our order, so we're just coming to exchange packages~!"

Alice brought out a few odd looking tools out of her bag, as if to emphasize the claim. Marine silently applauded the duo for quick thinking. It wouldn't really go down well if they said they were trying to find holy fruit that fell from the sky because a tree told Alice to do so. Also, that Alice is a Celestrian, something that has never been seen by mortals before, but she didn't have wings or a halo or anything because she fell off the damn floating building in the sky.

Yeah... Marine inwardly grimaced, that would make us look like fucking wack jobs. Although Marine was semi-frustrated that Sheila of all people was telling the lie, it was something that couldn't be avoided. Everyone had to grow up someday.

Hisui nodded in approval, "Have to return what isn't yours. Mason is an agreeable fellow, I'm sure he'll give it back no problem."

The four girls grimaced simultaneously, all recalling how agreeable the Abbot had been when they went to fetch the first fygg.

Iris recovered quickly, and clamped her hand down tightly on Sigma's shoulder (the only not being used to hold onto Sheila), getting his attention. When she was sure that Sheila was no longer paying attention (Alice appeared to have started a discussion on mythical beasts), Iris allowed a dark aura to wrap around her, casting a slight shadow on her face.

"Please remove your filthy hands off my dear Sheila, and refrain from being overly friendly towards her in the future." Her face kept up the pretense of looking friendly (just in case Sheila glanced over), but her voice betrayed pure loathing. Sigma was quick to comply, and made a mental note to never touch Sheila again... or at least when Iris was around.

Marine laughed in the background at how the idiot completely disregarded her warning.

It was a cave.

A cave was making them stand around, outside the entrance. Why?

Because Alice refused to go inside the cave.

"Caves are creepy. There's no way I'm going inside." She huffed.

"There's no other way up, Alice." Marine rolled her eyes. Kid's excuses are terrible.

"No! I'll just climb up the mountain like I did last time." Alice took out another sword from her bag, took off her shoes and socks, and started climbing. In just one minute of watching, she was already above Iris's head.

"Okay~! Have fun, Alice~" Sheila cheered and waved at her before walking inside of the cave, the others trickling behind her.

Hisui was the last to follow, and kept glancing back to the entrance. "Are you sure we can just leave the kid like that...?"

Marine waved her hand nonchalantly, "Alice? Nah, she's fine."

A bunch of gold-colored boulders rolled up towards them, stopping further discussion when one of them spontaneously exploded. Sheila quickly healed everyone, and Iris sliced up one of the boulders into shards. Hisui took out a knife and teamed up with Sigma to take another one out, while Marine just continually smashed remaining boulders (and even a few normal ones), not even bothering to use proper sword wielding skills. This commotion sparked more fights, and Marine started cursing up a storm as they went along.

Alice better fucking wait for us!

Alice sat in a nest, leaning her face on one hand. How the hell did climbing up the mountain make the hocus chimaera birds think she was a fallen hatchling? Not only that, but why was she the only one in the nest? There weren't even any eggshells lying around! The stupid bird was sitting behind her, preventing Alice from just jumping out of the damn thing.

The others had been inside the cave for just FIVE minutes, and I was at least a quarter of the way up the damn mountain! Then this stupid bird came out of NOWHERE, and grabbed me with its claws (at least I still have my swords)! Sure, it got me up the mountain faster without the need to go through the blasted caves, but now I'm stuck here... Well, I can see the exit of the cave from here, so I'll just yell at them to come get me when they come out. Alice huffed. She could just kill the bird and leave, but the bird hadn't really done anything to harm her (besides a single claw mark on her back, but whatever), so it wouldn't exactly be fair.

Alice is the epitome of fairness... some of the time. Now is one of those times. She did find a bunch of cool stuff in the nest, though. Birds sure do have an eye for treasure, She mused. It was definitely useful stuff. As she looked around the nest in boredom, she noticed that there were an awful lot of eggshells at the very bottom of the cliff that the nest was placed on. So they all fell off from the wind and died instantly. No wonder there's nothing here.

Alice felt a twinge of pity for the poor, stupid bird behind her. It just wanted to raise its kids, maybe teach them to fly, only to have them murdered by mere chance before they even hatched. Survival of the fittest could possibly apply, but they'd never know the principal, because they didn't even have the chance of living. They would never see the sun rise, or know the coldness of the wind, never have that first feeling of freedom beneath their wings...

They would never know the feeling of being alive.

As she was pondering upon the unfortunate lives of wild monster babies, Alice spotted Marine exiting the cavern (mostly because she was yelling about explosives), the others quickly trailing behind her. They were all covered in dust (or was it soot?) for some reason, and Iris was wiping off Sheila's face with a handkerchief that Alice had never seen her holding before. Shrugging it off as one of those things humans are capable of, Alice cupped her mouth and called out to them, waving one arm.