As soon as we returned to the surface, Rache dove towards the island, landing ashore on her hands and knees, panting roughly. Even though she hadn’t actually gotten wet the entire time we were gone, her body was soaked with sweat. Seeing that, I couldn’t help but walk over towards her, leaning down to gently pat her back.
“It’s alright. If we need to make another trip to get more, I won’t ask you to come.” I told her in a soft voice, causing her to shake a bit more. I could practically hear her surface thoughts as I looked at her, and shook my head slightly. “You’re not a burden to me, Rache. You’ve been extremely helpful so far. When we need a material that isn’t so far underwater, I’ll be counting on you.”
At that, she turned her head to look up to me for a moment, offering only a small nod. “Forgetting someone?” Thessa asked, walking out of the water, now drenched from head to toe. Once I had left, it seemed I had done so a bit too quickly, and the water caved in on her. However, she only gave a small sigh, taking the bag of holding off of her waist and dropping it to the floor.
“Thanks.” I nodded towards her as well, reaching for the bag. When I sent my world sight into it, sure enough the space inside the bag’s enchantment had been filled to the brim with water. I decided not to pull any of the stones out for now, since I already knew their effects.
Aurivy… how’s your search going?
Going! She responded back in an anxious tone. Haven’t found anything super dangerous yet. A shark just a bit above the cap is fine, and a few harmless fish. But I’d strongly suggest neutralizing that tidestone vein before anything really bad comes through.
Short of going in and smashing it directly, not entirely sure how you want me to neutralize something like that. I sent back as my eyebrows knit together. I can’t seal it with a banishment spell, that would suck up all the water as well, like a giant drain.
Maybe this is a job for Tsubaki? She asked in a curious tone. And… I had to admit that she could be onto something.
We’ll have to keep it discreet. The message can’t come directly from me. See if you can get Bihena to ask her. As the Goddess of the Ocean, it wouldn’t be weird for her to ask for Tsubaki to help with a threat like this. Once she agrees, I’ll leave transporting the citadel back and forth to you.
I’m on it!
The kitsune maid silently went about her duties, ensuring that the surviving incarnations of the goddesses, as well as the living elven representative were all taken care of. Twenty years had passed since the Keeper’s last visit, and given his patterns she did not expect his return to be soon.
As such, her main body was tending to the chores while she left one of her avatars at the throne room, just in case. That is, until a voice called out to her. “Tsubaki, can I have a moment? Something’s come up.” When she turned her head, she saw Bihena, or rather the living incarnation of Bihena.
The human woman stood there with a troubled expression, much unlike what Tsubaki had come to expect from her divine counterpart. Which let her know that the goddess’s worries had been transmitted to the host, and those were her true feelings. “Of course, Lady Bihena.” She agreed immediately, setting down the broom that she had been using to sweep the hall. “What may I assist you with?”
“That easy to figure out, huh?” Bihena asked with a wry smile. “You never use the Lady when it’s just me… Nevermind. A problem came up in Fyor, and she wanted to know if you were able to handle it.”
Tsubaki turned to fully face Bihena, her hands gently crossed at the front of her skirt. “If the Lady wishes for me to intervene, it must not be an ordinary matter. May I hear the details?”
“Of course.” She nodded. “She and Aurivy discovered a special stone on one of the higher explored floors of Fyor. At first, it seemed to simply create water by converting mana… But now, it looks like it connects to a different world filled with water.”
“And where there is water, there is bound to be aquatic life-forms?” Tsubaki asked curiously.
“Exactly. Some have already come through, and they’re not bound by the world’s level restrictions in the same way. For most of the nodes, that won’t really matter… but there’s one big one. The two goddessses are worried that something terrifying will emerge if it is not dealt with.”
Tsubaki paused for a moment to think over the request, before nodding her head. “Very well. What are the rules of engagement?”
Suddenly, Bihena’s expression seemed to change. The nervous girl vanished, replaced by a more serene smile. “The vein is located at the center of an aquatic city. They seem to worship it, and treat anything that emerges from the stones as divine providence.”
“Normally, I would ask you to make as little impact to the city as possible, to preserve the possibility of future relations. However, given the circumstances this time, any action against the vein will incite the fury of the people. My request is to disguise yourself as one of their own, so that their fury will not be directed at those who could misunderstand. Aurivy is preparing to move the citadel above the target location now.”
“Once you are there, your goal is to completely shatter the mineral vein in order to eliminate the threat that it poses to the world. Do you think that you can accomplish this, Tsubaki?”
The maid simply gave a small nod in response. “I need only see the appearance of the race in question so that I may replicate it. Once the rock has been broken, would you like me to gather the remaining samples for disposal?”
“That…” Bihena hesitated, unsure how to answer. “That would be appreciated. However, it would be best if you kept them within a storage space. The enchantments of the citadel would cause them to be in a constantly active state, and in time they could flood the place.”
“Understood. Then, I am awaiting departure.” As Tsubaki said that, she abruptly turned around, and began walking towards the entrance to the Sky Citadel. Multicolored vapors flew through the air as she walked, entering into her body. In order to ensure a swift completion of this mission, she had even recalled the avatar that she kept in the throne room.
Once she was outside, standing at the edge of the flying cliff face, she saw the golden mist wrapping around the Sky Citadel, transporting it far and away above a vast ocean. Tsubaki didn’t hesitate, jumping directly off the cliff. As she fell, an image was projected into her mind, and her body began to shift.
Her maid uniform shattered, becoming no more than scraps of cloth that flew up in the wind before fading away. Her legs elongated, becoming thinner as her feet became webbed. The fox tail emerging from her lower back became smooth, stretching out as the fur seemed to be replaced by a thin layer of scales, a single fin emerging along the center of its length.
Her upper body came next. Her bulging chest shrank to become smooth, her hair falling off of her head as her ears stretched out. Her eyes grew, her mouth widening and revealing three rows of razor sharp teeth. Finally, the color of her skin shifted to a light blue just as she hit the water.
She had no patience to deal with the various beasts and monsters that approached her as she rapidly descended. Her Knight’s Blade appeared, the large scythe circling around her body of its own accord as it sliced apart anything the closed in on her.
Soon, the lights above vanished, the artificial daylight nowhere to be seen. Instead, she saw scattered lights tethered to the ground below. Large, glowing bulbs held down by vines. She felt a strange energy from the bulbs, one that seemed to scare most of the aquatic life away. Further still, she began to see other creatures with shapes like herself, and immediately dismissed the scythe hovering around her.
One of the creatures looked at her with a surprised expression, before slowly moving to intercept. When the creature opened its mouth as if to speak, Tsubaki heard no sound. Even if she had, there was no way she would have been able to understand their language without prior instruction.
So, she continued to descend. Already she could see the ocean’s floor, hidden under the thick green brine. The glittering blue and black stone that rested just beneath the murky depths looked to be the obvious target for her, as she felt Bihena directing her towards it.
The true problem was, and it was something that Tsubaki only fully realized now, that a door once opened can be crossed in either direction. She could see one of the creatures like her current form swimming into the stone, simply fading from view. Recalling the information that she had been given, she sent a brief prayer towards the heaven.
Requesting Lady Ryone to place a seal on all mana within five kilometers of my current position, if such is within her power. I am unable to physically interact with the target as long as the mana of this area remains abundant. The only alternative action is for me to kill every living creature within that radius. However, doing so is likely to draw something from the other side that smells the blood.
There was a pause after her request came out, before a gentle female voice responded directly to her mind. I understand, dear. You can leave this to me. However, I encourage that you act quickly. Such a seal cannot last long without his assistance, and he is currently otherwise engaged.
Affirmative. Tsubaki plunged deeper as she felt the ambient mana in the water being siphoned away. One unlucky individual that was happily swimming through the stone let out a startled cry, his body suddenly split in two, the lower half unable to fully pass before the seal had been set.
When Tsubaki landed on the surface of the rock, she stretched out her arms. The creatures around her opened their mouths, and this time she did hear something. Faint, like an odd warble, but not a language she could comprehend. Apologies, but this location has been deemed dangerous. She thought to herself, strands of light emerging from her body.
Each strand spiraled out to form a large, metal drill as big as Tsubaki herself. And once they were formed, they began spinning, driving down into the stone and beginning to break it apart with ease. The native creatures had their eyes going wide in shock when their sacred stone was destroyed in front of themselves, the fragments vanishing as soon as they appeared in the water.
This was a mining operation, pure and simple. And with the ambiguous time limit imposed by the Goddess, she was in no position to take her time. She destroyed the vein as thoroughly as possible. Only when it was done did she send word back to Ryone that she could release the seal. And when she felt the mana in the area flowing again, her body vanished, leaving the spectators horrified by what they had seen.
High above the water’s surface, and just beneath the citadel, Tsubaki appeared standing on a wide, black and white platform. Piled on the platform was a large number of stones of all shapes and sizes, leaking water out constantly. This water spilled out over the sides of the platform, down to the ocean below.
Once she appeared, the rocks again began to vanish one by one. However, this time they were not being transported elsewhere, but instead moved into storage spaces Tsubaki kept on her at all times. Or… perhaps it would be more apt to say that they were in her.
When the last rock vanished, the platform shifted, shattering and reforming around Tsubaki’s outfit as her typical maid attire. At the same time, her body returned to its normal appearance as well. With a satisfied nod, she returned to the Sky Citadel.
She held one hand above the other, and as she walked small pouches began to fall out of the flesh of the upper hand, her skin rippling as if it were water. There was no telling when she might have need of extra storage, and so Tsubaki kept multiple bags of holding within her main body at all times.
Mission complete. She sent to Bihena, making her way towards the shrine of the Ocean Goddess in order to send the bags to her.