Once I had returned to the Admin Room, I set the time to fast forward once again while Leowynn rushed out to go learn more from Irena. This time, my aim was to skip ahead by ten years, while giving myself some more time to train the World Sight. After creating the world spirit queen, I thought that I had an idea on how to finally perform the fusion successfully.
As for Tsubaki or Anna, I wasn’t really worried about them. Not only had so many people assured me that Tsubaki could handle it, but she even had the active protection of the Goddess of the Underworld. Anna was even less of a concern, as she had so many goddesses vying to play the motherly role.
Before heading to my training room, I sent a quick message to Terra, letting her know what I was up to so that I wouldn’t be disturbed.
So… this is Hell? Tsubaki questioned, feeling a deep chill settling over her skin. All around her was what appeared to be a broken landscape. Shards of grey earth floated through the air at odd angles, various disturbing creatures visible walking along them.
That’s correct. Irena’s voice spoke up in Tsubaki’s mind. You are the first living being to ever enter here. As if to confirm the words of the goddess, an achievement window appeared in front of Tsubaki stating the same thing.
The first thing that Tsubaki did was to mask her presence, not wanting the creatures of Hell to discover her before she had gotten a proper grasp of her power. The last thing that she wanted was to get thrown into a fight before she could naturally control her body.
As such, Tsubaki focused her mind, and began to sink down into the ground. Knowing how to manipulate spiritual energy was one of the basic prerequisites to achieving the Perfect Self class, so it was only natural that she knew how to control the environment within the Underworld. All she had to do was put a bit of thought into it, and she could create her own little testing area.
Bihena walked through the halls, carrying Anna in her arms while smiling happily. The small human girl leaned her head against Bihena’s shoulder, enjoying the feeling of being carried around. It had been a long time since her father had been able to carry her, so it felt good to just rest in Bihena’s arms.
Along the way, they passed by Trixy, the halfling representative. At first, Anna hadn’t seen her, until Trixy called out. “Oh.. uhm… Bihena, right? Nice to see you!” She spoke warmly towards the goddess walking along. “Is that the new human representative? She seems a bit young…”
Bihena didn’t seem to mind being talked to this way, and instead rather enjoyed the informality. “That’s right. This is Anna, and she’ll be living here from now on. I hope that you and everyone else will welcome her here.”
“Of course!” Trixy nodded her head, skipping along to keep pace. “I was just worried that it might be a bit much for her. I’ll help out with whatever I can! And I know Tsubaki will, too… Speaking of which, have you seen her around?” Trixy glanced around meaningfully. “I haven’t seen her today.”
As Anna finally turned to regard the halfling, she saw a girl not that much taller than herself. However, even so she gave off a more mature feeling. Her face did not seem like a child’s. This was her first time seeing a halfling, so she wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.
“I think that the Keeper took her for some training.” Bihena answered noncommittally. “I’m sure that she’ll be back before too long.”
Hearing that, Trixy made a rather troubled expression. “Is… is that so?”
“Something the matter?” Bihena asked, finally able to see the communication room at the end of the hall after turning another corner.
“Well, Pool’s been getting a bit wound up lately. I was hoping that Tsubaki would be able to help calm him down again.” The halfling girl glanced downwards as she said that. For so many years, Tsubaki had been helping to keep her martial spirit in check, to stop it from going out of control from the need to battle.
“Pool is the creature living inside of you, correct?” Bihena glanced towards the troubled girl, who nodded. “Let me show Anna around, and then I’ll see what I can do.”
Trixy froze in her steps, surprised by the offer. She had never spoken with Bihena personally before today. Sure, she often played games with Aurivy, but she had never expected the human goddess to offer to help so readily. Perhaps, some part of her thought that Bihena would act as Melora did.
“I… I’d like that!” Trixy nodded her head with a wide smile, moving ahead to open the door for Bihena, so that she did not have to disrupt Anna’s position in her arms. “I’ll uh… be waiting, then?”
Bihena let out a light laugh, closing her eyes as she stepped into the communications room.
Three… two… strike! Tsubaki lunged forward from her position below the great monster, concealed within the very ground it stood on. The instant she moved, her body began to shine. Her slender arms turning into two long blades that pierced the stomach of the creature.
The beast, looking like a giant, eight-legged cat, roared as it was stabbed into. As if on instinct, its stomach shifted, turning into a giant mouth that swallowed up the attacker. Still, the giant feline had a displeased face. It turned its body, and began to sprint towards a forest made of slowly shifting trees.
As it ran, its body seemed to slow down. From a full sprint, it came to a light jog, then a walk. A low cry came from its throat as it was forced to crawl, feeling the pain coursing through its body. Finally, it collapsed to the side, its body bursting like a balloon of black sludge.
Walking out from the dark mire was Tsubaki, her body swiftly cleaning itself of the mess that had been left. In the corner of her vision, she briefly noticed a message notifying her of another level-up, before she turned and sprinted for the same forest that the cat had been running towards.
“Mister Bracken?” Anna asked, sitting next to the elf representative in the library. It had been a year since she had become a representative for the humans, but only recently had she begun to properly fulfill her duties.
“Hmm?” The elf glanced over from his book to look at Anna. As one who sought knowledge such as he did, it was no wonder that he had ended up becoming the girl’s tutor. At least, when that kitsune goddess wasn’t around.
“Why do ki and mana reject each other?” She tilted her head curiously as she asked that. “If they’re both energies that we generate, shouldn’t they get along better?”
Bracken let out a light laugh, setting down the book that he was reading and turning to sit sideways in his chair, facing Anna. “Now there’s a question I haven’t heard asked in centuries. You see, it’s quite simple.”
Bracken lifted his hands, both palms facing upwards. In one, a blue ball of condensed mana appeared. “Mana is the energy of thought. It is our ability to control the rules that govern the world around us.”
Above his other hand, a golden ball of ki appeared. “Ki, on the other hand, is the energy of the body. While it does have some external applications, its true purpose is to let us control ourselves.”
“Now, the two energies, one to control the world and one to control yourself. When brought together, they conflict, each trying to dominate the other.” As he said that, he brought the two spheres of light closer together, and Anna could see how they shook wildly, small shockwaves lashing out.
“But why can’t they just get along?” Anna asked again in a huff, puffing her cheeks out as if none of this answered her question.
“I’m getting to that.” Bracken rolled his eyes. “You see… they actually can. You just need to find the proper balance. Control yourself and control the world, and you will find harmony.” As he spoke, the two spheres seemed to calm down. Anna watched with wide eyes as strands of gold and blue began to reach out from the two spheres, intertwining between them. “That’s what we call chakra.”
“Ooh… How come that’s not in any of these books?” Anna asked, glancing towards the pile of books in front of her. They were her study materials for the day, going over the various energies of the world.
“I think that the Keeper wanted some things to be a mystery.” Bracken told her, closing his hands. The two balls of light vanished, allowing him to conserve his energy. “If he just hands us everything, then there will be nothing for us to learn on our own.”
This is your final test. Irena’s voice spoke into Tsubaki’s mind. She had long since lost track of how long she had spent in Hell. Had it been one year? Two years? Twenty? Day and night had no meaning here. There were no seasons to pass.
In the distance stood the ruler of this little segment of Hell. A humanoid monster roughly Tsubaki’s own size. Its fingers resembled long, blackened claws, spikes growing on the back of its arms and legs. Its face was a blank mask.
Yet Tsubaki had learned long ago not to trust appearances. The fact that it had such a small body was not a sign of weakness in Hell, but one of strength. Those monsters with towering bodies were the weakest, the spirits easily severed due to the lack of cohesion.
Next were the monsters that had returned to a form similar to that of what they had once held. This showed that their consciousness had triumphed over the hundreds of other spirits they consumed, though their bodies were still large and cumbersome.
The most terrifying monsters of Hell were those who had shrunken down, and taken on a new form. This meant that they not only had a single consciousness controlling them, but it was intelligent enough to condense their spirit to perfection. Tsubaki had always done her best to avoid these creatures after her first encounter with one, which had been the one time that she had been forced to run away from a battle.
Defeat this foe, and I will teach you how to open the path back home.
Tsubaki gave a sharp nod, bringing her hand up towards her chest. Throughout the entire time that she had been training, she had been fulfilling her Knight’s Oath. As such, the energy within her body had grown, taking shape as she fought.
“By my oath, I mark this soul for extinction.” She muttered quietly, stretching her hand out to her side. The spark of divine energy flashed brightly within her body, rushing along her arm. Her Knight’s Blade formed from that small divine energy, and its mere presence pushed away the spiritual energy around them.
The blade was not a simple sword, instead forming into a large scythe. The blade of the scythe seemed to form the image of a crescent moon, the shaft resting in the center of it. This was the Blade that she created when she earned the achievement Knight of Death, a Knight’s Blade designed to sever souls.
Naturally, the distant creature noticed the violent disturbance within the spiritual energy, its head turning to face her. As if planned ahead of time, the two lunged at each other together.
“Alright, Trixy! That was fun!” Anna said as she stretched after their spar. She was now in her later teens, her body showing signs of entering womanhood. She was a full head taller than Trixy, who let out a light laugh at the comment.
“Keep this up, and you might be able to play with Pool in a couple years.” She said encouragingly. “Now, what do you say we go grab a bite to eat? I’m famished.”
Anna gave a sharp nod at that. “Agreed! I’m supposed to send a lesson back to the Jax king today, so a good meal would help.”
“Isn’t he the one that keeps asking you to marry him?” Trixy glanced towards the human girl curiously, causing Anna to groan.
“Ugh, no. That’s the king of Hold. Jax’s king is the one that loves to question everything.”
“Ahh… Want me to have dinner ready for you when you’re done with him?” The halfling asked helpfully, reaching over and patting Anna’s back, earning a small smile from the girl.
“Would you? It’d be amazing of you.”
Trixy gave a small nod, preparing to say something when her eyes widened. She sensed a vague, familiar presence appear suddenly, and then vanish just as quickly. “She’s back!?” Trixy cried out, breaking out into a dead sprint down the hall.
Anna let out a yelp in surprise, sighing before running after her, having to use ki to keep up. “What’s with you all of a sudden?” She called out from behind, only to hear Trixy laugh ahead.
“Tsubaki’s back! She’s finally back!” Trixy would never be able to forget that presence, having sensed it so many times when the two of them sparred. She knew all about how her oldest friend liked to hide her presence, but the fact that she had sensed it even for a moment meant that Tsubaki had returned.
“Tsuba… the other kitsune?” Anna questioned, her eyes widening. She pushed more ki into her legs to catch up with Trixy. “But she’s been gone for six years, right? I thought her people had already chosen a replacement.”
“Bah! They can’t replace Tsubaki! Udona herself said it, she’s always still been alive!” Trixy’s laugh echoed in the halls they ran through, tapestries fluttering in their wake. It only took them a moment to reach the front garden, where the two of them came to an immediate halt.
Standing in front of them was, indeed, the golden haired kitsune Tsubaki. Her body looked every bit as young as the day when Trixy first saw her, and she was even wearing the same maid outfit. However, she was a bit taller… though her body was slowly shrinking down to her old height.
“Tsubaki, you’re back!” Trixy cried out, her eyes watering as she lunged forward, wrapping her arms around the surprised kitsune.
“Was I gone that long?” She asked in a dazed tone, reaching one hand down to gently stroke Trixy’s hair.