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Bryn led everyone to the central castle without any rush. She picked a more scenic route, the one none of them had seen yet. It was a small park of an irregular but more or less oval shape. Beautiful flower beds decorated the sides of the paths leading through it, with numerous marble plaques placed all around.

As she explained, the names of prominent figures that had lived on her ARK were engraved in them. The park served both as a relaxing and pleasant garden and a memory lane. As for the golden statue they had stopped by much earlier, it had been erected in honor of the first and only Sky Queen, the valkyrja who had initiated Operation ARK.

Asterios and the others listened eagerly to Bryn’s short tales as they passed the pretty garden. It didn’t take them long to move past it and pick up the pace a little after the majestic keep entered their sight once more. The sentries let them in without an issue, already used to their presence, and they strode straight to the meeting hall.

This time, they couldn’t hear any noise through the massive gate so the Councilors must have gotten past the initial, stormy phase of their discussion. Bryn took everyone inside and the valkyrjas standing by the round table in the very middle all turned towards the entrance.

“It looks to me like the Council has come to a decision,” Bryn said as she and Ast’s group reached the table.

“We did,” Kara confirmed.

“Though, it has to be one of the hardest decisions we’ve ever discussed,” Rota added.

“There are still many unknowns that worry us greatly but we came to the conclusion that you’ve never led our people astray.” Eir smiled warmly at Bryn.

“Therefore, your petition to host an out-of-season War Games has been accepted with an almost unanimous vote,” the first valkyrja announced.

Asterios was pretty sure that the only thing standing in the way of it being a fully unanimous decision was Hilda. Out of all the other winged women present in the meeting chamber, she was the sole bearer of a visibly displeased expression. While worry and concern were still present on the faces of others, they weren’t as intense, and faint rays of hope shone through them.

“Words can’t express my gratitude.” Bryn made a polite bow and everyone on Ast’s side mirrored it.

“Do you really intend to offer your seat as the main reward?” Kara asked.

“Yes, I do. Since this will be an out-of-season event just as you said, we need something to incentivize people to participate or at least watch,” Bryn replied confidently.

“So be it. Does anyone have any objections regarding this aspect?” Kara looked over all of her fellow Councilors but everyone shook their heads. “Very well. I’ll hope that you don’t lose your position, then. The trust you hold towards your representative must be truly great.”

“I have no doubt that Asterios will not lose to a single opponent. There is no one amongst our best warriors or magicians who can match his strength. And even if there was, you’ve seen yourself how resourceful and capable he is. Don’t forget who we owe the major improvement in our supply situation.” Bryn glanced at Asterios and he responded with a respectful nod.

“We’ll see about that,” Hilda finally joined in, crossing her arms under her chest. “Sanma and Odryn have been growing at an incredible rate recently. You might have missed that since your attention gets increasingly more divided between our affairs and that thing’s world.”

Bryn tightened her fist and was going to rebuke the older valkyrja but Asterios stopped her, placing his hand on her shoulder. He had to use the other one to ruffle through Miria’s hair as she had been close to exploding too. Everyone in his group knew just how much she couldn’t stand others insulting her beloved master. But, there was just no point in getting into an argument with some who hadn’t changed their stance even the tiniest bit since the day they had met for the first time.

“Regarding the details of your plan to cleanse the Descending Spire, we will discuss them after the War Games are over,” Rota said, breaking the tension between the two of her friends. “We shall start the preparations immediately. I think three days is enough time to inform everyone and get the arena ready. We would like to ask you to share the news with Skodul if you don’t mind.”

“Leave it to me. I was planning to show Asterios and the others the arena anyway.” Bryn nodded. “I don’t mind taking care of the Power Division while you manage the other ones. It should be natural since I requested the War Games to be held right now and the reward involves my person too.”

A quiet murmur passed through the gathered valkyrjas and no one seemed to be against the idea.

“That will be all for now, then. We have a lot of work to do. Even if the War Games have been called out of nowhere, that’s no reason to cut any corners. This is a good opportunity to celebrate our improved situation a little bit.” Kara concluded the gathering and everyone started leaving in small cliques.

Before Asterios and the girls walked out of the chamber too, Kara, Rota, and Eir caught up to them. Bryn showed a soft smile and stopped on the side so that they didn’t block the entrance.

“Good gods, Bryn. Why is it that whenever anything unprecedented happens it’s always you who initiates it?” Rota sighed, rubbing her forehead.

“Perhaps someone is having a bad influence on her,” Eir suggested with a tiny smirk.

“Master is not a bad influence,” Bryn replied firmly.

“I’m just joking. Don’t take it so seriously. I’m not Hilda.” Eir chuckled. “I can’t deny how much we have received from this person.”

“You aren’t wrong, though. Everything began from the moment she met that man,” Kara agreed, raising a brow at Bryn.

A faint blush crept onto Bryn’s cheeks. “I was just lucky to be summoned by such an amazing master, nothing else.”

“Or it was fate,” Eir suggested and the trio of winged women exchanged knowing looks.

“Nevertheless, if it was luck, then I hope you haven’t run out of it because you will certainly need a lot considering what you want to do,” Kara said. “I want to believe in it as much as you do. We want to believe in it as much as you do. I hope you can show us a good reason why we should.”

“Just you wait! Master will tear everyone into shreds!” Miria exclaimed with a lot of enthusiasm.

“Fufufu~ That certainly would be a sight but I think it wouldn’t be wise to injure our upcoming army too much. He should just make everyone faint with a snap of his fingers.” Selene hid an impish smile behind her slender hand.

“Why do I feel like that wouldn’t even surprise me.” Tina sighed while shaking her head.

“Well, he did almost make me lose consciousness just from looking at me way back then.” Silvia let out a quiet chuckle.

“You know what would surely make all the women faint? If he suddenly flung his schlo—mwwwhmmm!”

Grea didn’t get to finish her sentence as Asterios sealed her mouth with his hand. He smiled wryly at the three valkyrjas.

“I’ll try my best to live up to Bryn’s expectations. We are thankful for this chance. I just hope that my appearance won’t cause too many issues for you,” he said.

“It’s very likely that the crowd will be confused at first and you might even get booed but I’m sure that they will shut up when you show what you are capable of. If your companions aren’t overselling you, that is.” Eir smiled at him.

“It’s going to be the first time in history that an outsider partakes in the War Games. What’s more, it won’t be just one but six of them. People will be extremely curious to see what’s going to happen after they get past their negative first impressions,” Rota said.

“That’s what I’m hoping for.” Bryn nodded. “Now, it’s better for us to leave. Thank you for supporting me, Kara, Rota, Eir. I bet you put a lot of effort into convincing others to agree while also fighting against Hilda’s faction.”

The valkyrjas shared polite nods and Ast’s group continued on their path out of the castle. After they reached the plaza in front of it, Bryn took the lead once more and guided them to the main arena, where the War Games would be taking place, and where Skodul should be found.

Soon, a massive structure entered their sight. It wasn’t as high as the tallest towers of the castle they had left but its width and overall bulkiness were just unparalleled. Even from the ground, they could tell that it had a shape of a giant circle. Six stories tall, each level was riddled with arches and openings, giving it a specific feeling. It somehow resembled the tiny coliseums Rosewind’s Academy used for exams and other activities but scaled up and much more detailed. A grand and breathtaking battleground for sure.

They moved to one of the arched openings on the bottom floor and Bryn guided everyone into a smooth tunnel. Asterios was certain that without having prior experience traversing this structure, one could get fabulously lost inside the multitude of corridors. Countless paths crossed each other and they passed a valkyrja or two as they made it through.

After about three minutes of walking, they found the exit and stepped into the middle section of the arena. The girls looked around in awe, including Silvia. She had seen her fair share of fighting grounds, including the few in the royal capital, but the structure made by valkyrjas trumped everything. And the fact that it was out of gold, silver, and other metals made it just so much more impressive.

Asterios felt like it would take a normal person good minutes to cross the diameter of the circular stage spanning in front of them. Cascading rows of benches and seats surrounded it, with twice as many levels as the structure had stories. Multiple, decorative gates were present on the bottommost wall. Besides the areas for the audience, a sizable box was separated to form a big section for important guests and observers, most likely.

“It looks like there’s no training today,” Bryn said, glancing around the flat surface. “To not let it just lay to waste, the arena is used almost daily by the troops. Skodul is its supervisor and one of the best instructors. She’s an old Valkyrie, with lots of battle experience, and taught many great warriors.”

“Do you know how to find her? This place is massive.” Tina squinted her eyes at a few open gates.

“True. There are a few sections in which she could be right now, depending on if she is alone or with a squad.” Bryn nodded. “But, there’s a way. See that pillar in the very, very center? Let’s get closer to it.”

They did exactly that and soon stood in front of a thick metal pillar about six meters tall and three thick. It looked retractable, standing in the middle of countless cuts and lines in the metal flooring. A weird, shiny mirror was attached to its surface, bent slightly around it to accommodate the curve.

“What’s this?” Miria asked, curiously brushing her fingers over the mirror.

“It’s one of the absorption pillars. Skodul always leaves one out after finishing a session so that whoever would like to test their physical or magical strength can do so without having to look for her. The mirror-like plaque can withstand any attack and changes colors depending on how powerful the impact was,” Bryn explained. “It’s just one of the variations but, easy to imagine, the most commonly used one. There are also iterations that can be used to test Healing Magic and such. They operate just a little bit differently.”

“And how is that alluringly interesting piece of magical machinery going to help us?” Grea asked with a grin.

“The colors go from purple, blue, green, yellow, orange, to red.” Bryn counted on her fingers. ”Anything above green should catch Skodul’s attention since she wears a bracelet connected to the arena and knows when something is used. It should save us a lot of time since I’m sure that any of you are able to reach that far. Want to give it a try?”

Everyone shared a look and then directed their gazes at Asterios. He shrugged with a chuckle.

“I mean, I could, but if we want to be certain that it works, I think Selene holds the crown of the heaviest hitter.”

“To be honest, I’ve been researching a few things mentioned in Kaguya’s analysis of external spiritual circuits and could use this opportunity to test a technique or two out,” the fox lady replied.

“Oooooh! Yes, please!” Miria clapped.

The others were equally interested in seeing it and stepped away to give Selene some more space while observing her attentively. She moved to the pillar close enough for her to reach it with an extended arm and grazed the shiny surface of the absorption mirror. Nodding to herself, she took position.

Asterios and the other girls expected her to draw her fist back as usual, but instead, Selene surprised and confused them a little by doing the complete opposite. She kept her right arm extended straight forward and curled all of her fingers in except for the pointer and middle ones. They were bent in the knuckles instead and pressed into the metal.

One by one, more bushy tails materialized behind Selene’s back. In just a moment, she reached her current limit and brought eight fluffy clouds out. Then, she closed her eyes and focused deeply. The circuits hidden under her right sleeve started glowing increasingly; the emitted light pushing through the smooth material.

But, the most surprising part was their expansion.

While everyone in Ast’s group was already aware that Selene’s marks had grown to some extent, now reaching almost halfway through her upper arms instead of ending short of her elbows, they suddenly watched the shining patterns crawl even further before their own eyes. They followed the lines slowly appearing on their friend's skin up to her very shoulder, going as far as to inch onto her neck.

When the circuits finally stopped expanding, she took a deep breath and a noticeable spiritual pressure burst out of Selene’s body, slowly starting to increase in intensity. Instead of causing a small spiritual storm, it instead made the air around her feel heavier and denser. Soon, the atmosphere in Selene’s close vicinity was so thick that bits of dust and separated metal began floating up from the ground.

Bryn squinted at the point of connection between Selene’s fingers and the absorption mirror. It was hard to spot but she was almost certain that the surface close to the fox lady’s knuckles had changed colors. With how small the area was, it wasn’t possible to figure out which one from afar. It could very well be blue or green.

Then, just as the spiritual density around Selene grew by an entire magnitude, her external circuits flashed strongly. Bryn’s eyes shot wide as the previously small contact zone grew to the size of a fist and flickered through green, yellow, and red colors in a fraction of a second.

“Wai—”

“HAAAAP!”

Bryn’s shout was cut off as Selene’s entire body tensed heavily and her external circuits flashed strongly. Her fist rushed forward past the remaining distance created by her extended knuckles and smashed into the absorption mirror the very moment the plaque passed the brown hue and turned pitch black.

An earth-shaking gong echoed through the entire arena as the ground shook violently. The magical plate crackled with ominous, black lightning and suddenly cracked. Selene’s fist bore into the crumbling structure and an enormous explosion of spiritual energy blasted through the entire pillar.

It was torn off the ground and sent flying ahead inside a swirling tunnel of cyan spiritual energy. A jagged, regular trench was carved in the floor up to the very back wall of the structure, where the released attack smashed into it with another powerful tremble, denting the metal heavily and lodging the pillar in it like a javelin.

Selene exhaled heavily and held her limply hanging right arm. The noise of a metal gong still reverberated through the arena as she stood in front of the beginning of the path of carnage she had just created. The patterns slowly receded back to their initial state.

Asterios hastily appeared by her side and supported his vulpine mate with his body. Selene smiled at him warmly and welcomed the help. Bryn followed him shortly and immediately started using her Healing Magic without a single word spoken. The other girls took their time to approach the group.

“Is your arm okay?” Asterios asked as he looked at the unresponsive limb.

“I think so.” Selene chuckled softly. “I’m gradually regaining my feeling in it. Thank you, Bryn. And I’m very sorry for the damage. I really didn’t think it would end up this strong.”

The Valkyrie shook her head, focused on her spell. “You don’t need to apologize. I didn’t think that you would be this much stronger than the capabilities of the absorption pillar. I’ve never seen anyone reach the brown stage, not to mention causing it to go full black and shatter. It’s a mistake on my part. You are a powerful individual and your bond with Master certainly enhances your strength even more.”

“Selene! What was that?!” Miria beamed at her friend with sparkling eyes.

“I think we are all curious about this. I’m taken aback. I would have never thought that your attack could be this destructive with a punch that had no time to gain any velocity,” Silvia added with a tinge of wonder in her calm voice.

“I’m glad I decided to start with the weakest variation first, then.” Selene smiled wryly. “This is a technique I’ve come up with after learning more about external spiritual circuits. Kaguya’s research notes that there are entities capable of expanding the marks temporarily, which grants them an immense power boost. So far, I can only do one limb for about a minute at max. I have to forgo all the other patterns too or my control slips. There’s still so much training and studying in front of me. I’ll also need to make my body stronger. But, I think we know of a great way of achieving that.”

Asterios shook his head as she gave him a sly smile and leaned forward to place a kiss on the mischievous vixen’s lips. He resupplied Selene with some lost mana while she enjoyed his hot tongue. They soon parted as she started being able to move her fingers again.

“Does it have a name?” he asked, still letting her rest on him.

“One Inch Punch. The very initial level. There’s also Two Inch Punch and Three Inch Punch but I’m afraid that my arm will not survive their power yet. I’ve already felt like it was being ripped off my body earlier. The rebound is immense,” she replied.

“Damn. Looks like I need to step up my game. That Dragon’s Summoning Magic research must have some hidden gems like this too.” Grea clicked her tongue.

“You are so amazing, Selene! To think that you would come this far! I’m so jealous!” Miria hugged the fox lady affectionately.

“Thank you, Miria. But there’s nothing you should be jealous of. You’ve been making incredible progress with your bloodline too, no?” Selene brushed through the panthergirl's hair. “Besides, you know what to do to grow quicker. Nothing stops you from having Master train with you more.”

A deep blush quickly spread over Miria’s face as everyone chuckled together. Her tail danced happily behind her back as she kept sneaking glances at Asterios. He caressed her ears with a gentle smile in response.

“What on Tyr’s name is going on here?!”

A clearly angry voice reached their ears from above and everyone turned their heads to the sky. A winged figure descended towards them, slowing her descent with mighty flaps. It was an older woman with short gray hair and many scars covering the exposed parts of her skin, uncovered by the golden-brown leather armor she was wearing.

“It looks like it worked.” Tina giggled.

“Perhaps a bit too well.” Asterios chuckled wryly.

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A note from Saileri

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Enormous gratitude towards our  Living Legends of the highest tier - Moheebi3abc, Julian S., Alvzorin, Lynderyn! No less respect for our EX-rank Guild Member - Michael S.! And naturally towards all the S-rank Guild Members - Magiwarrior, Fandley, S. Kigi, Luiswu, Skyell, Dennis W., Vincent S., W. Jennings, Sonicblackfox, Robert H., Fussel, Trenton S., SIDracon, James M., Rando C., Eatsbreeze, Daniel T.! We wouldn't be able to have such epic adventures without your support! This Guild Master is greatly honored by your presence!

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About the author

Saileri

  • Poland
  • Your Friendly Neighborhood IT Guy

Bio: 【Greetings!】

I'm a fresh, amateur novelist with a vivid imagination! Currently a Master's student in the field of Marketing, and certified IT tech with love and passion for games and books, especially fantasy!

At this moment I'm publishing two novels:
» Rise of the Weakest Summoner - action-adventure high fantasy with lots of magic, encounters and cute demi-human/monster girls
» I Own A Brothel In Another World - a lore-heavy isekai slice of life fantasy with tons of worldbuilding and character development

My community Discord:
» https://discord.gg/uPjt6DJ

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