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CHAPTER 357

SHIFTING TALES

Hannah was currently sorting through the documents that Lucky had sent her just last night, most of which dealt with what she had learned from Alison regarding the flames as well as what she wanted Hannah to relay to others in terms of the reaction to it all. She was living directly beneath the smithy, in a small, isolated room, where she usually spent her free time.

With scrounged brows she read through the assortment of papers stacked on top of a triangular, corner desk, room lit up by gems embedded in the thick, concrete walls surrounding her. Just as she was about to pull over the next stack of papers, she felt a talisman inside her void treasure tremble as she reached out and took it, burning it shortly after.

A cyan screen lit up right after in front of her, quickly forming a familiar face on the other side. Ella seemed to be sitting on top of a massive cliff ledge overlooking a wholesome body of water dyed eerily black. She appeared to be alone, having reverted back to her housewife appearance since Hannah last saw her.

“That looks suits you much more.” Hannah cracked a grin as she leaned back into her chair, taking out a bottle of wine and a glass, pouring herself one. “I can look at you without being blinded.”

“Oh my, I didn’t realize I’d become sun,” Ella smiled back. “Well, I’m glad I won’t be blinding you anymore. How are you doing?”

“Kind of bored, to be honest,” Hannah sighed. “Lino’s off doing... I don’t know actually. One day he just showed up and said he was being taken off on an adventure... and off on an adventure he went.”

“Yeah, that does sound like him,” Ella said. “But, if you’ve got nothing to do, I may have a job for you.”

“Do tell.”

“Lucky has already informed me about the Void Cult,” Ella said. “But, no matter what she does, she won’t be able to locate them. At least not with her current strength.”

“What do you mean?” Hannah asked.

“They don’t live in our world,” Ella replied quickly. “They’re actually dwellers of Hell.”

“They’re Devils?” Hannah exclaimed.

“No,” Ella shook her head. “Let me rephrase that: one of the worlds they inhabit is Hell. They don’t have a permanent settlement, which is why it’s nigh impossible to truly ever find them all.”

“How do I figure into this?”

“There’s one world I want you to check out,” Ella said. “Its entrance is located deep inside the Arid Expanse. The locals call it Myrtiha, though you might know it as Land of Chains.”

“... you want me to go into the Prison?! Are you nuts?!” Hannah exclaimed suddenly, a startled expression appearing on her face. “Even Lino would think twice about running amok there, let alone poor little me!”

“Oh, shut up,” Ella rolled her eyes dismissively. “I’ve reason to believe that members of the Cult have recently taken over the Submerged parts. Chances are their recent activities have something to do with that.”

“... I can’t go in alone,” Hannah said after a short thought. “My aura is too distinct. And half the bastards in there were put there by my predecessors.”

“You won’t have to,” Ella smiled strangely for a moment, a sort of smile which sent shivers down Hannah’s spine. “You’ll have company.”

“... I changed my mind,” Hannah quickly said. “I’m fine going in alone. Heck, I’ll go right now. See ya!”

“Don’t worry, I have a feeling you’ll be extremely grateful to me.”

“... ugh, fine. Who am I going with?”

“The Eternal Maiden.”

“.... Ally?” Hannah mumbled in disbelief, slumping back on her chair. “W-what?”

“Yeah,” Ella nodded, still smiling. “It will give you two a chance to catch up. Though, I’ve a feeling Lucky will also be there, so you might want to pretend you don’t know her.”

“... Ally doesn’t want to even see me,” Hannah frowned. “How do you propose we get her to accompany me? Kidnap her?”

“Leave that part to me,” Ella said. “You just get prepared. You should be departing in a week.”

“... alright.” Hannah shrugged, a faint smile creeping on her lips. “How are you anyway? How’s little Criador?”

“Oh, he’s already slowly beginning to walk,” Ella exclaimed with a surge of pride apparent on her face. “And he can almost string a sentence together!”

“Oh wow! You got a genius right there!”

“Yeah, just wait till you have one,” Ella’s smile turned into a smirk. “You’ll truly have a genius.”

“You love Lino and you adore me,” Hannah said. “Do you really think you’ll have heart to make fun of our kid?”

“... so, I’ll be seeing you.”

“Ha ha ha, alright. Stay safe.”

“You too.”

Meanwhile, on the other side of the city, inside a rather luxurious-looking mansion decorated with several rose gardens and even a narrow stream cutting through, Alison was sitting with her head lowered in front of an honest-looking man who was currently inspecting a strange, spherical item. Former would occasionally glance up, wondering why she was called in to see the Arch Patriarch, whether she did something wrong and how she would be punished.

The silent went on, however, for hours. In time, Alison managed to relax, even eventually brewing herself a pot of tea and having a brief fruit-snack. Atmosphere eased, though no words were yet spoken.

“Do you know what this is?” startled, Alison suddenly opened her eyes and sat upright, inwardly berating herself for relaxing. Alex stretched out his arm and held the spherical object in front of Alison’s eyes who inspected it momentarily before shaking her head.

“No, I’m sorry Master. What is it?” Alison asked back.

“I don’t know either,” Alex chuckled faintly. “Sword Maiden gave it to me yesterday in exchange for a favor. According to her, I’ll learn what it is when I need it the most. As mysterious as ever, that woman. Anyway,” he set the sphere down and looked deeply into Alison’s eyes, a bittersweet smile creeping up on his face. “I have a mission for you, Ally.”

“Of course, Master! What is it?”

“You won’t like it.” Alex said carefully.

“--my job isn’t to like the missions, but to complete them regardless.” she replied firmly.

“You’ll be joining someone and journeying into the Prison,” Alex said. “A w-- a dimensional pocket of space. According to the Sword Maiden, members of the Cult have recently taken over part of the place and she suspects their recent activities have something to do with that.”

“Oh, of course!” Alison exclaimed joyously, wondering why he thought she wouldn’t like the mission. “I have been hard-stuck for weeks trying to figure out any trace of them. Sword Maiden... she really is as amazing as the rumors claim, huh?”

“... well beyond,” Alex said, sighing bitterly. “One day, when you’re stronger and wiser, you’ll understand it better.”

“... who will I be accompanying?” Alison quizzed, inwardly pondering whether she should ask her Master to let Lucky come with her. Though the two didn’t know each other for long, Alison had already grown beyond fond of the strange, sharp-tongued woman.

“... that’s the part you’re not going to like,” Alex said, taking a deep breath. “You’ll go with Hannah.”

“Which Han---no.”

“Ally--”

“No!!” she screamed out, corners of her eyes growing teary quickly. “H-how can you even suggest that, Master?! She betrayed us!! She betrayed our entire Sect!!”

“Calm down, Alison.” Alex waved his arm gently, causing Alison to suddenly feel a surge of weakness stream from within her, forcing her to sit back down. “I am well aware of what she had done, and I understand you are hurt... but so am I. I had taken her under my wing since she was a child, and watched her grow into a splendid young woman. But, Sword Maiden demanded it be Hannah; I do not know why. Perchance it is because the Empyrean is similarly interested in the Cult but otherwise occupied, or perchance because Hannah asked her -- I cannot say. Regardless of the reasons, however, it’s imperative you join her.”

“... why?” Alison asked weakly, nearing tears once more.

“Precisely because it’s Hannah, Ally,” Alex said. “No matter what she did in the past, she is still your big sister. I’ve no doubt in my heart she still cares very much for you. In extension, she is also the closest person to the Empyrean. He had once more fell into a lull, barely making a sound; I very much doubt he just decided to step away from the conflict. If possible, I’d like you to learn of his recent activities. If not, then at the very least I hope this journey will offer you closure your heart needs.”

“...” Alison didn’t say anything, merely staring at Alex with her bloodshot eyes for a moment before nodding, getting up and leaving. The latter gazed at her fading back with a complex expression, glancing sideways where Ella suddenly materialized from seemingly nowhere.

“... I can’t believe I’m risking her already.” Alex sighed weakly, reaching into his void world and taking out a transparent, misty sort of liquid.

“It’s the right thing to do,” Ella said, glancing at him. “She’s strong enough.”

“You really won’t give me a reason why it had to be Alison?”

“... nope.” Ella smirked, sitting down and taking a sip of the liquid. “Ah, I missed this...”

“What’s the Empyrean up to?” Alex asked.

“No idea,” Ella shrugged. “Off on one of his occasional outings, I suppose.”

“You’re not keeping an eye out on him?”

“... there’s no need,” Ella smiled mysteriously for a moment, putting the misty bottle down and getting up. “He’s figured out the gears already. Anyway, it was a pleasure as always Alex. We should really get together one time and do a fine, family dinner.”

“Perhaps, if we’re still among the living,” Alex said, getting up as well. “Offer me one last courtesy?”

“What is it?” Ella glanced at him.

“Just how strong are you already?” Alex asked. “I can’t ready... anything, Ella. Not even your name.”

“... not strong enough just yet,” Ella mumbled faintly, sighing. “Go back to your family, Alex. Lay low for the time being.”

“...” Alex didn’t say anything as he watched her disappear in front of his eyes. Just a few years ago, he could still match her in a fight -- perhaps even defeat her if cards were set correctly. Just a few years ago... and now, now he couldn’t even begin to see the cloud she was on. He even suspected momentarily she had underwent the Origin Awakening, though he quickly dispensed the thought. Even with her insane talent, he mused, that -- if even an option -- was still centuries away from happening.

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About the author

beddedOtaku

Bio: Bad writer, worse painter, terrible singer. Accumulation of all things gone wrong. Rather proud of it, actually.

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