Perun closed his eyes and sat back down on his recliner, deep in thought.
It seems like it was unavoidable. His contact with the War Council had ended ever since he had declared his retirement.
And now, it seems like there was going to be a reason for him to come visit again.
Perun looked down at his clothes., and then to his hands which still had traces of scars.
(This is fine. It’s just a simple visit.)
“Master, you’re heading out?”
Perun stopped walking along a short corridor and turned around.
(Oh, it’s Eighteen.)
Perun inspected the Earth Mimic from the ground up. There had not been a single flaw in the recreation of her daughter Eva. Its voice, Perun had never deciphered where it came from no matter how much he tried to deconstruct Eighteen from inside.
Because each one of the mimics had a different voice individually, till this day, even Perun who was at the peak of mana mastery, had considered this to be an unsolvable mystery.
Concerned over the master’s silence, the mimic spoke out.
“Ah, no… it’s nothing.”
“Is that so.”
As Perun had made the call earlier, various complicated feelings welled up from inside of him. Was it really okay for his daughters to continue running the dark guild Kuromori? Even if they had been adopted by his hand, Perun genuinely treated them like his kids. As a father, he could not understand why he had not thought about this before.
Had he changed?
Without realizing what was going on inside of his mind, Eighteen broke Perun’s train of thought and spoke out with its artificial voice.
“Are you heading out, Master?”
It had noticed a watch he had worn on his left wrist.
“Yes, I’ll be back before dinner. Don’t worry about, please let those two know.”
Of course, who Perun had referred to, Eighteen understood clearly.
“Acknowledged. I will pass down Master’s message.”
“Mm, you do that.”
The man took the stairs down to the first floor, and unexpectedly, Leilan was still there.
She was at her couch, watching the television with a bored expression. He could detect a small trace of anger in her, an invisible pair of eyes staring at him from the side. When she noticed that Perun had avoided her gaze, he could feel the girl snorting at him.
(...What to do with this girl…)
Perun sighed inwardly as he had begun to realize that the distance between his daughters and him was getting wider. There was, of course a very good reason why he had been so awkward around Leilan specifically for a long time now.
...Namely because, that lass had confessed to him before.
Shaking off that ridiculous notion of getting together with his own daughter, Perun went to the front of the house to put on his shoes.
“You’re going out today, Master?”
Perun replied without turning his head around. Eighteen was part of Eva, thus she must’ve known that he was about to leave the house.
“Then I will send-”
“No need, don’t bring the golems over. They might be harmless, but it looks intimidating to onlookers…”
Indeed, Perun had always seen Eva’s failed inventions time and time again, and the Earth Golem was no different from the mimics. While they looked sturdy and heavy enough to trample anything below its feet, the reality was that Eva did not have a good sense on how to control her mana. As a result, she had always requested for supplementary tutoring from him late at night, about how to make the golems more durable as a weapon. To that, Perun felt rather conflicted on whether or not he should teach her to use her talent in this way.
"Besides, someone is going to fetch me by car. You can't fit your golems in there, can you?"
“...I will try to…”
It seemed that Eva was very reluctant to let him go without a bodyguard.
“It’s okay... or rather, please don't. I’m not going anywhere dangerous.”
Eva paused for a moment and scrutinized her father's face.
“Uhn… Master… Master promises?”
“Yeah, I promise.”
“Hmm…” Eva was still a little suspicious of him.
Perun smiled wryly at the willfulness of his youngest daughter who always had a strong desire to protect him. Was it ‘imprinting’?
The man could only feel comforted that this kind of warmth and concern he felt radiating from Eva (barring the fact that he was always referred to as “Master”) was the ideal kind of relationship he wanted to have with his family.
Perun’s chest tightened, seeing the hardworking Eva overlapping with the crying girl he saw in the past.
The man patted his daughter's head, and replied.
“I’ll be right back.”
Once he was outside, Perun took in a mouthful of air.
When was the last time he had taken a break from his job of handling paperwork? It must have been at least a week. Sunlight pierced his eyes from the top, as he instinctively looked upwards.
A floating island in the sky, with the sun just slightly above it like a halo. That was one of the things Perun had long grown accustomed to after the outbreak of mana.
Truly, the meteorite had changed many things.
But Perun wasn’t given much time to sink in his thoughts again. An expensive-looking car that did not operate with wheels soon arrived before the flight of stairs. More than a car, it looked like a hovercraft in the future, and that was made possible with the energy of mana. It was here to pick up the man along the doorstep of the three-storey terraced house.
The black car stopped, and the side of the car lifted its automatic-canopy door. Behind the darkened windows, a blonde-haired woman with a rather mature look and attire was revealed, her hands still on the steering wheel. A bob-haircut trimmed to perfection, suggestive of her clean and precise personality.
Noticing the approach of the man, she took off her sunglasses and quickly got off from the other side of the car.
Then returning to the front of Perun again, she bowed her head in 90-degrees and said with a respectful tone.
“...Mia. It’s been a while.”
“...Yes, ...yes it has.”
Mia held in tears when her name was called by the man before him. She retracted her bow shortly after and carefully looked at the physique of Perun.
Broad shoulders, a strong chest and a sturdy waist. Not much had changed much since the last time she had seen him.
“I heard… the Master got married.”
“It is rather late but, congratulations.”
The conversation ended so suddenly, Mia felt that it was rather a shame. If possible, she really wanted to talk to him even more. How her life had been… and how he was living right now...
Should she say something else? But Mia knew the stony and straight-laced personality the master had. Probably, he had no interest in her too. Maybe she had already been forgotten.
“Mia, are you bringing me to the association today?”
“Ah-eh…? Y-yes… I am. Excuse me.”
Mia felt her cheeks burn up with shame.
(What’s up with that awkward reply?!)
Yet it also contained a tinge of sadness.
What would her colleagues say when they see the “Ice Queen” act so flimsy around a man? Mia did not want to overstep her boundaries lest she might be disliked by the master. Just like he had said, Her only role was to escort him safely to the Association’s building in the city.
(Calm down, Mia...)
(It’s only Master Jin. it’s only him… it’s…)
“As expected, you’re not feeling well?”
Mia who had her eyes closed, jolted backwards as she saw the master’s face right in front of her.
The usually composed Mia fell down on her butt, as her face was looked right back at him.
A hand was extended.
“I-It’s okay… I can get up by myself- Huaaahhh!”
Mia lost her balance on her jelly-like legs, but Perun quickly caught her from the back. Her heart... she could feel it beating out of control. Her ears felt hot.
Had her embarrassment reached a certain threshold?
Like a reset button had been pressed, Mia suddenly returned to her occupational look, one that hid all of her emotions under a mask.
“-I apologize for showing such an unsightly scene, Master Jin. Please get in the car. I will be fine.”
She patted the dust off her long black dress and informed Perun.
“Shall we depart?”
Mia bowed her head curtly.
Perun smiled. He had seen Mia since she was younger. She still looked as clumsy as ever.
Since it seemed like Mia was fine already, Perun was about to get in the car when-
A feeling behind his back, scrubbing his spine with a grip of death. Or not?
Perun sensed the suffocating atmosphere a little more carefully.
He was mistaken, that feeling had pierced through his chest and went straight towards Mia who was hidden in view behind his back.
Enemy? Perun’s eyes turned cold.
“Yes, is there anything wrong?”
It did not seem like Mia was aware of it. An ability to perceive killing intent, honed from being in the battlefield for many years. The aura was cleverly concealed, but Perun could see it.
“Say, have you been followed?”
“Followed…?” Shock filled Mia’s expression.
“I… I don’t think that is the case, but don’t tell me…!”
Hearing that remark from the master was more reliable than any of her five senses, that was the overwhelming difference the two had in ability.
Mia could not help but get nervous. The “Master Jin” in her memories had not been in service for a long time, but it was not rusty to the point where his field of expertise in detecting enemies was completely gone.
“Ssh. Be silent.”
Perun warned, and Mia quickly shut herself up obediently, quietly hiding behind him.
One second passed, two, and then a full minute went by.
Perun spread his invisible ‘threads’ all over his surroundings, attempting to sense out anything out of the ordinary, even the spot where he had last felt that murderous glare.
(Traces of blood...?)
(It’s gone… but that density of mana around that stalker… it’s unbelievably thick...)
Perun felt a cold sweat running down his forehead, realizing that such a dangerous person was near the house where his family lived.
“It should be fine now. Let's go back.”
Perun turned to look at Mia’s face. Her almond eyes constantly matching his with a worried gaze.
Yes, that was fine, Perun thought. He was confident that any chances of intrusion would be thoroughly crushed by the one-of-a-kind mana-supplied systems he had designed around the house. Well, most of the parts had been created under the advice of Eva who enjoyed tinkering around with tech, but she had repeatedly discredited herself in its creation so her father could take the glory should he ever decide to sell the blueprints to a security firm.
In any case, Perun was confident that the house with the system installed, could withstand the force of a nuclear missile. So Eva and Leilan who were in it should be relatively fine.
The remaining problem was the fact that the identity of Kuromori might have been exposed.
But thinking about it for a moment, Perun felt that it was unlikely. Since he was the guildmaster, the killing intent should have been focused on him if that person in the shadows ever had any intentions of harming or disturbing Kuromori's operations.
Towards Mia then? While he still had doubts, it was more logical to divert the attention of the enemy away from his house as fast as possible.
The connection with Kuromori wouldn't be made if he acted normally. And he would be able to protect her against the unknown assailant.
Perun considered sending a message to let his daughters know, but he ultimately decided against it. It was best for his cute daughters to stay at home without any concern. That was Perun's duty as both a father and as the guildmaster.
Still, as a safety measure, Perun reminded himself to take a detour later for the day and see if there were still any suspicious people around.
That way he would feel more at ease.
Back in Eva’s room on the second floor, the petite-looking girl had already known that the ‘dangerous person’ was her sister who was watching the outside with a different pair of eyes.
She recalled its name.
An ability that condenses mana containing the connection Leilan has with the undead around a living target’s eyes, causing it to corrode like rotten flesh. But in exchange for normal vision, the caster can see through the target’s eyes as if it were their own.
It had the same effect for the other Decaying series skills, correspondent to the body part it could usurp; a a very convenient pseudo-human puppeteering ability, Eva thought. It would be difficult to trace the origin of such a torturous skill, so there was no chance of her Master figuring out.
Yes, they should all be innocent and weak girls in Perun’s eyes. The jobs they did as a Dark Guild had not yet been known to him, as they were moving towards a far greater goal for their Master's sake.
In any case, Eva smirked thinking about the screams that the person was making now.
Ah, her sadism had tingled her arousal.
Eva licked her lips, as she tossed and turned around the bed, her fingers slowly reaching towards her nether regions.
“Hua… haannn~ Ah ah~...ahn… Master… Master… Master~ There… that place is… ahhhh!!!”
Her eyes rolled upwards, and her mouth had strings of drool still leaking out at the ends.
Still, it felt a little empty, if it wasn’t the real deal.
As Eva panted to calm down her flustered breathing, her thighs pressed together while indulging in the afterglow.
Her expression darkened.
“I’ll leave this to older sister, since she doesn’t cut corners when it comes to Master too...”
“Yeah… there’s nothing to worry about… that female pig will regret touching Master with her filthy hands…”
A yawn escaped from the girl’s mouth. Her eyelids begin to feel heavy. It was still half past noon, but Eva had been working since yesterday night. The fluffiness of her bed began to ease the tension.
Eva nodded, as the uneasiness from the absence of her Master mixed in with her rising fatigue. As expected, making the ‘mana battery’ today used a fair bit of her geomancy. The mana within her had been depleted.
The thought of killing Mia… if Leilan did not do it in the end, then Eva would do so herself when she woke up tomorrow. That was for the best.
“...Rechargeeee… huhe...hehehe...hehehehehe… Mas...ter… ...wuv… you...”
Eva who was hugging the body pillow that had the image of Perun plastered on it, soon fell asleep.
(What happened to my eyes?!!!)
(IT BURNS!!! IT BURNS SO MUCH!!! PUT IT OUT! SOMEBODY, PUT IT OUT!!!)
(THAT’S RIGHT, MY HANDS, I’LL JUST RUB THEM O...FF…)
(S-something… fell off…?)
(Vision… it’s back…)
(Wh...at… those things on the ground…)
(My… my god… OH MY GOD, MY RIGHT EYE!!! MY EYEEEEEEEEE!!!!)
(NO, THIS IS NOT POSSIBLE… WHAT IS HAPPENING… THIS IS A NIGHTMARE, THAT’S RIGHT, IT’S A NIGHTMARE!!!)
The man screamed internally, as he slowly felt that his head had not been under his control the entire time.
Understanding so only made him squirm more in terror.
What was he looking at?
It was a man, and a cool-looking woman well within his strike zone, but why?
Why was that vision seemingly causing his body to tremble?
Why is he feeling this kind of fear?
The more he looked at that scene, the more he felt that his head was about to burst from some kind of unknown pressure squeezing his skull.
(I don’t understand… I don’t understand anything…)
He was supposed to be in charge of a raid today. To hunt down the dark guild Kuromori from an anonymous tip they had received. Was this a trap all along? Since a while ago, they had already lost contact with the other squad. Before he knew it, his colleagues had died after having their skin mysteriously corroded. Was it his turn now?
He could not even scream.
The feeling of his body turning into paste was not a pleasant feeling.
It was just like the feeling of being cooked alive. His skin sizzled and the bare flesh behind it stung like a painful stimulant.
Another scream he could not make.
Why was his voice not coming out?
And finally when he had gotten control over his lifeless hands, he moved over to touch it.
(They are… stitched…)
The man felt like vomit was filling his throat.
But it only stung his lips, the metal piercing his mouth like being stapled together. He did not even want to look at himself in the mirror, of what he had become.
Melting… everything is melting, leaving only his skeleton intact.
Had his brain turned into mush?
The man no longer knew. The pain had far exceeded what he could comprehend, and he soon devolved into a vegetative state.
No words to convey his pain. No actions to convey his suffering.
As his life flickered before his eyes, he remembered the guild he was sent to hunt down.
One responsible for the undertaking of assassinations and various other illegal acts.