Okay, here I am overlooking a gigantic mountain.
A GIGANTIC mountain, I realize, as my full vision comes into view.
Holy Goddess! I can see everything!
In full 360 degrees, I see an entire continent before me. There is a large metropolis that stretches on all the way to the coast on one side. On the other, a deep canyon surrounded in an aura of red haze. Yet another side has a tower looming over everything around it, up so high that nothing else in the entrire continent can match it... except for the mountain I am currently on.
Miss M, in a much more modest outfit than usual, stands next to me looking out at the world with her binoculars. “What a time it is to be alive,” she says.
“I thought you’d enjoy this,” she tells me. “Great, ain’t it?” She smiles at me, but for some reason she doesn’t look quite as devilish and silly as usual. She’s still the same in appearance, a three-foot-tall imp like something out of one of Francis’s moving pictures, but it appears like... something has changed for her since the two minutes ago in my perception, when we last met.
“Where are we?” I ask.
“Top of the world, honey.”
“And why are we here?”
“Strategy,” she answers. “Very cold strategy.”
“—strategy?” I ask. “What do you mean?”
We’re in a library, one so big that it seems like it goes on forever, even past the curvature of the planet. Miss M is facing the back of some giant ogre sitting at an extremely large desk.
“Shit!” she whispers loudly. “That stupid dragonsword again!”
The giant ogre’s head lifts, and then turns around to notice Miss M and myself.
“You cretin! You traitorous cretin!” the ogre shouts.
“What in blazes is going on here?” I ask.
“Trying to retrieve the Lost Book of the Four Trinities!” she shouts. “No time to explain!”
She takes off running from the ogre as it gets up from its chair, then she poofs her dragonsword out. Not a moment later, she reaches her hand out at me and poofs me into her inventory—
I see Miss M’s face, soft and weary as it peers directly at me. The woman wears a blanket over her body and huddles close to the warm fire burning directly below my ghostly visage.
“Do you want to talk?” she asks.
We’re in a small hut. From the looks of this house, it is actively occupied. Does this mean Miss M is... living here, wherever it is?
“Um, well...” The past few minutes of popping in and out of various places has been extremely confusing to me. It’s been so visually overwhelming, essentially teleporting from place to place for only seconds at a time. I’m having a great deal of trouble keeping up with all of it.
“It’s okay if you don’t,” she says. “I’m just a bit lonely these days.”
“I mean... Of course, I’m okay with staying here as long as you want,” I say. “You are always the one poofing me away, you know.”
She laughs softly. “You may be right. It’s all my fault for my selfish greed of trying to get you to the end of the line before you wake up. I just thought it would be such a hassle, and then ever since then... Well, you know. You only dream for about two hours a night, did you know that? I don’t know how long you’ve been awake for since we met in the forest all that time ago, but you could leave at any moment. And if something happens to prevent you from coming back...”
“You seem like you’ve had a lot of time to think about all these things,” I say.
“Yeah,” she answers. “It’s been a long time out in the wilderness. A lot of time to think.”
“Did you manage to retrieve the Lost Book of the Four Trinities?” I ask.
“The book, when you were being chased by the ogre or something. It only happened a second ago. Um, to me.”
“I don’t really—oh, THAT. That was ages ago. By The Goddess’s name, I hardly even remember that adventure.”
“Miss M... how long has it been since you came to the Vast Continent?” I ask. “You said it took you two and a half years to get to those caves way back when. And since then?”
She sighs. “Let’s not talk about that right now.”
“I... I see. What would you like to talk about?”
“I don’t know. I think I just need someone to talk to right now. About anything.”
“Miss M, are you... okay?”
“No,” she answers. “Not really, no.”
“Is there anything I can do to help?”
“Come a little closer.”
I nudge my ghost body close to her, as she sits on the floor with a blanket wrapped around herself. Once I get close enough, she wraps her arms around... well, herself. But her body phases through my translucent self. It is the closest thing to a hug I can give.
“I wish I had friends,” she says. “When I was a demon queen, I felt this way too. But when I was with Team Fanghook, even if it was short, at least I had people to talk to. At least I wasn’t so alone...”
“You’re a great friend, Miss M.”
“I’m not, that’s the point,” she mutters. “I’m a villain. A bad person doing a bad thing, and it’s costing me everything to get there. But I’m not even strong enough to reach them, you know Eryk? With this puny body and my B-Rank skills, I just don’t stand a match against the guardians.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Oh, The Goddess, please forgive me.”
“Can... I forgive you?”
“Not yet,” she says. “Not yet.”
She lets go of herself, or of me I guess, and says, “If I steal the potion, it’s going to destroy the temple’s only defense against the New Slayers. But if I don’t, then I’ll never be strong enough. What do I do, Eryk? What do I do?”
“New Slayers? What? Miss M, you really have to explain.”
She sighs again. “It’s good hearing another person’s voice, but I know I can’t keep you here. I’ll see you again some other time, Eryk Solbourne.”
“Miss M, wait. I really don’t unders—”
“You see this?!” Miss M shouts. Her voice is deeper than before, less pitchy and squeaky. “This is the entire destiny of Mystix! I will change the fabric of reality!”
I get a good look at her. Boy, she’s grown.
Now five feet tall, still pudgy and impish, but closer to the size of a true demon. Her hair is also significantly longer, as if she hasn’t cut it in years—a mess of curls and tangles. She holds up a dragonsword in one hand, and in her other her palm is extended, ruinc symbols floating in front of it as if she is about to cast a mighty thunder spell.
We are on a rickety bridge in the middle of a canyon. Fire consumes the ground below us. There is a massive battle going on down there, almost a mile down.
“YOU CANNOT TAKE THE RELIC,” a booming voice replies. “YOUR ARMY IS DEFEATED. YOU MUST TURN BACK OR FACE DIVINE RETRIUTION.”
“The Goddess believes in me, for I am the demon queen Mestopholees,” she says. “Nothing you say will change that.”
“A DISGRACED, DEFEATED DEMON QUEEN WHO SERVES A REALM WITH NO PURPOSE. YOU ARE THE LAUGHING STOCK OF MYSTIX.”
“I may be, but I’m going to obliterate your entire race the moment I seize power again,” she replies.
I try to butt in. “Hey, Miss M, would you mind—”
“SO BE IT,” the booming voice says. Out of the smoky arena emerges a gigantic red eyed black dragon. It swoops in and breathes fire in our direction—
And then Miss M poofs me away before the flames get near.
The next time I come to, I’m in another cave, although this time it’s much lighter.
Miss M is covered in bandages, including her left eye. Her hair is again short, but at the ends of her hair are char marks, like it was burned off, not cut.
But unlike the past few times I have met her... she seems happy. Elated just to see my not-quite-face.
And I feel pleased just to see her happy.
“We’re almost there,” she says. “But... I have to go back.”
“You are really going to have to explain,” I say.
“No need,” she says. “We’re so close I can almost taste it.”
“And yet you’re ‘going back?’ I don’t understand, but I understand practically nothing, anyway.”
“I don’t have enough space in my inventory to carry everything,” she says. “Silly, isn’t it? I’m a level 6 A-Rank and I still don’t have enough inventory slots for the mission.”
“You’re... wait, you’re that high up? Wow!”
“It’s been a while, Eryk,” Miss M says. “I’m sorry for keeping you cooped up in there for so long. But now... I’m going to have to make you wait.”
“Yes. Please stay in this spot. I have to return to the beginning one last time to help a friend. It’s the right thing to do, and... I’m not going to keep taking the easy way out of everything.”
“Miss M. You’ve changed.”
“Not quite enough.” She pats me on the head. Or, rather, she attempts it, and then her hand sort of phases through me a little bit. “Stay here, and I’ll be back by the time you fall asleep again. Hopefully.”
“You’re asking me to wait for a whole day?”
“Yes,” she says. “Or longer.”
“Longer... How much longer?”
“If not a day, then something will have gone wrong. In that case... I don’t know. Wait maybe three or four days. If I’m still not there by the fifth day, leave me behind. Head down that cooridor and you’ll figure out the way.” She points down a hallway-like structure in the cave, seemingly carved out by hand and lined with torches. “Do you understand?”
“I do,” I say. “Thank you for all of this.”
“No, please don’t thank me,” she says. “You might live to regret it.”
“Miss M, don’t say that.”
“I’ve sacrificed so much to get here. But I won’t sacrifice you. No matter what, I am going to make sure you’re safe. I’m not going to abandon my friends anymore.”
And then, without turning to look back at me, she runs off in the opposite direction of the stone hallway.
I stay floating, keeping my thoughts steady.
I wake up.
My vision returns to normal.
And I’m staring up at the ceiling in Francis’s bedroom.
No alarm. No noise at all but the buzzing of the ceiling fan, and Francis’s occassional snores.
Tears form at the edges of my eyes.