The Bryric mansion’s atrium was something of a sight to behold. Fresh green grass, fruit-bearing trees and flower-sprouting bushes could be seen everywhere in this spacious indoor garden. The arched roof was made out of clear glass panes held up by a steel frame, allowing for an unobstructed view of the cosmos. It was a rare sight in Azurvale since there were very few sizable gaps in the Hylt canopy to allow stargazing from the ground. Such spots were highly valued by both businesses and pedestrians, so the fact that the Bryrics had monopolized one of them made for a powerful statement.
The romantic view wasn’t why Nao had brought Keira here, though. It was because this area was as close to a private space as he could find inside the mansion. There were some guards posted around the edge of the atrium and there were two or three guests admiring the scenery, but it was practically deserted when compared to the main ballroom. There would be very little risk of anyone overhearing about the birth of a new Artifact in here. Even if it was a momentous achievement that would earn him a lot of fame and praise, that wasn’t what the Hero of Magic wanted. He felt this was a deeply personal affair so he wanted to keep it as private as possible - the exact opposite of Keira’s usual way of doings things.
Meanwhile the catgirl in question was desperately trying to contain her inner Boxxy-ness while Kuro followed along because he wouldn’t be much of a bodyguard otherwise.
“You sure clean up nice for a scrawny little runt,” he told her casually. “Almost thought someone was impersonating you when you were introduced earlier.”
The elder wolfkin sibling was being his usual abrasive self, but this time around it wasn’t bothering Boxxy in the slightest. It sure felt nice not having that power creep stuff to deal with. However, Keira and Kuro were something that could be called ‘frenemies,’ so it was important to keep up appearances.
“Uh, thanks, I guess,” she said with a slight cringe. “This outfit was the girlfriend’s idea, so I didn’t exactly have a choice.”
“I’m kind of in the same boat. That Clash of Fate stunt you pulled told the entire capital we were here, so we were dragged into this fancy-pants party more or less by force. Thanks for that, by the way.”
“C’mon, it’s not that bad. The food smells amazing and… and…! Hatchoo!”
Both of the males let out a snorting giggle each. They had no idea that Keira had such a cute sneeze, even though she normally tried to act tough.
“Ugh, this place is much colder than the main hall,” she mumbled while rubbing her shoulders as if to get warm.
“Is it? Doesn’t seem that bad to me,” commented Kuro.
“You’re wearing more than a single scrap of fabric though.”
“Oh, right. How does that thing even stay on anyway.”
“Figures. Certainly isn’t your tiny tits holding it up. And are you actually wearing anything underneath?”
“You wanna die or something, ya overgrown fleabag?” she growled in response.
“A little. Would beat being bored out of my skull, at least.”
“Give it a rest you two. It’s Aurora Eve, for pity’s sake. Here, Keira, you can borrow this for now.”
Nao had opened up his Item Box and taken out a folded, blue-colored and fur lined overcoat while the two were squabbling, and was now presenting it to Keira. It was naturally a magic item, one meant to insulate travelers from the harshest of cold climates.
“It’s a bit of an overkill, but should keep you nice and warm.”
“Oh wow! Thanks, Nao!”
The catgirl eagerly accepted it and unfurled it, though rather than putting it on right away, she instead brought it up to her nose and inhaled deeply.
“Don’t sniff it!” protested the owner.
“S-sorry, it just smells really nice,” she commented with a fascinated smile. “Did you shampoo the fur or something?”
“Just put it on already! And button it up so the magic can do its thing!”
The scantily clad girl did as instructed and threw on the blue coat, much to Nao’s relief. He was hiding it well, but in the end that ridiculously skimpy outfit was too much for a pure-hearted virgin like himself to keep a straight face around. This solution wasn’t ideal since the coat did little to cover the catgirl’s smooth legs, but it was a definite improvement. At the very least his robes were quite roomy and a bit thick, so he didn’t have to worry about disguising his awkward boner. As for Kuro, he wasn’t all that interested in her since he liked his women like he liked his pancakes - sweet, stacked, and, if at all possible, covered in syrup. And from his point of view, the Hero of Chaos was neither of those things.
The trio kept walking around until coming to the base of a rather large oak-like tree, though the blue leaves made it clear it was no regular piece of vegetation.
“Yeah, this will do,” said Nao with a nod. “Here, Keira. This is for you.”
He then casually reached into his Item Box and pulled out a glass case with a blue cushion, upon which rested a single mithril dagger. However, this one looked distinctly different from the one Boxxy had lent him. Although the material was the same, the blade itself was asymmetric and slightly curved, making it appear more like a miniature cutlass than a stabbing weapon. It also had a ball-like lump of mithril at the end of the hilt as a sort of pommel and a slight pink sheen to the edge of the blade.
“… You sure this is mine?” she asked while cocking her head.
“Quite sure. The weapon underwent something of a metamorphosis when I unlocked its full potential.”
“Hmmm, so it was like that,” responded Keira as she took the glass box from him. “How did you even manage to make this happen?”
“… I’m not completely sure, to be honest. I guess you could chalk it to me getting carried away with my experiments. I really put my all into enchanting this, you know. Was trying to give it the Recall enchantment when it showed an anomalous reaction I’ve never seen before. The result of that is in your hands.”
“Recall? What’s that?”
“Kuro, a demonstration if you will? Just try not to damage our host’s lovely garden.”
The towering Berserker whipped his arm out, causing a rather large combat knife to pop out of his sleeve and into his waiting palm. He grasped it and then flung it at a nearby planter, burying it up to the hilt in the moist soil. A few seconds later the weapon disappeared with a tiny flash of light and a barely audible popping sound, only to reappear in Kuro’s hand the next instant.
“Oh! That’s pretty cool!” remarked Keira. “You’d never have to worry about being disarmed or running out of throwing knives!”
“That’s kind of the point, girlie,” stated the elder sibling as he hid the blade. “Well, this is more of a backup weapon, but it does the job.”
“How did you get that past the guards, though? I thought weapons were not allowed inside.”
“Oh yeah, they tried to confiscate it, but I took a page out of your book and dared them to take it from me while giving them the psycho-stare. Worked like a charm!”
“I- I see… Glad I could be of help, I suppose…”
“Well, that was a lie though. Nao just said he wouldn’t come if we had to give up all our weapons, so they made an exception for us..”
“… So what about mine? Does it do the same as yours now?”
“It was supposed to,” stated Nao, “but like I said, there was an anomalous reaction.”
“Oh, right. And you’re sure that’s never happened before?”
“Quite sure. That’s why I find this case so intriguing! I ran a few more experiments after the fact and was able to determine that the weapon had a rather ridiculous affinity with spatial manipulation magic. Mithril is something of a living metal and has been known to adapt and evolve to its environment, but that’s precisely why that specific affinity is so rare. I can’t even begin to imagine what sort of things this item has been through for it to develop such a thing!”
Boxxy could, though. The weapon in question was one of its oldest possessions. It and its twin had spent almost nine months inside the monster’s Storage, a pocket dimension sustained by what was undoubtedly space-attuned magic. If mithril really was as adaptable as Nao claimed, then that was the rather obvious cause of this quirk. Not that Keira would reveal such a thing, though dropping a hint could turn out to be worthwhile.
“I wouldn’t know either,” she lied. “I only just got it on my last adventure. But if it’s about space magic, then perhaps someone kept it in an Item Box like yours for a really long time?”
“The thought had crossed my mind,” he admitted, “but it’s not possible. An unenchanted piece of forged mithril would need to spend centuries in such a space to be affected. And by my estimate, this one is only around ten years old. Fifteen tops. Something truly extraordinary must have happened for it to turn out this way.”
Keira returned her gaze to the weapon as she mulled over those words, her eyesight fixated on the distinct pink glow around the blade’s edge. It was then that Boxxy realized that the supposedly Divine-ranked gemstone it had was most likely to blame. After all, its shiny stabber was one of dozens of items that bizarre thing returned to it after the contents of its Storage had been temporarily following its death. This revelation also led the shapeshifter to consider whether Agent of Chaos had a finger in this, but the Skill was still doing its thing behind the scenes as far as the monster was aware.
However, the matter at hand was far more important than a bunch of what-ifs and maybes.
“So… what sort of options did you end up giving it?” asked Keira.
“R-right!” stammered Nao. “I had it written down somewhere… Oh, found it! Here you go.”
Boxxy snatched the piece of paper it was given rather greedily, eager to see what this shiny new thing was capable of.
A dagger forged out of pure mithril by the dwarven smiths of Einharvel. It boasts superior sharpness and a high affinity for teleportation and spatial manipulation magic. The weapon has gained a unique ability as a direct result of the collaboration between Nao Shoki, Hero of Magic, and Keira Morgana, Hero of Chaos.
Enchantments: Severing Edge, Self Repair, Lesser Dexterity, Bound By Blood
Estimated Value: Priceless
‘Collaboration’ was perhaps too strong a word in this instance, but it was certainly one way of looking at things. Unless Boxxy was mistaken, it was as much responsible for the creation of this Artifact as Nao. Also, not that the Mimic was complaining, but how come the name of its Facade was the one being recorded? Then again, Nao had no idea that Keira was not real, so this ‘enhancing’ of the truth was most probably caused by his limited understanding of the situation at hand.
Looking at the item’s performance, however, Boxxy couldn’t help but feel a bit cheated.The offensive and defensive ratings had gone up a bit and it had some useful-sounding properties, but it was rather lackluster when compared to Voidcaller or Winter’s Bite. The durability rating had gone down too. Self-Repair would probably help with that, but it was hard to call this outcome a straight up upgrade.
Ultimately though, the thing by which an Artifact was truly measured by were its unique properties.
“Reverse Recall? What’s that supposed to be?” asked Keira.
“It’s exactly as it sounds,” declared Nao. “Rather than returning to the owner’s hand, the weapon can teleport the user to its position. It doesn’t seem to have a weight or distance limit per-se, but the cost increases proportionally to both. By my estimate, it takes 1 MP to transfer 1 kilogram of matter 5 meters away.”
“… What if I don’t have the MP to make it happen?”
“Then the magic will refuse to activate. You don’t need to worry about it backfiring or anything.”
“But, how do you know? You’ve never seen this Reverse Recall thing, right?”
“Nope, I haven’t. Which is why me and Kuro stayed up all night putting it through its paces. I assure you, I’d never give you anything if I wasn’t sure it was safe.”
“G-give? You mean I can just have this?!”
“Of course! It was your weapon to begin with and I’ve learned a lot by working with it, so I wouldn’t feel right if I charged you for it.”
“But… don’t you want it for yourself?”
“A little, but I wouldn’t have any real use for it. Replicating the enchantment is probably impossible anyway since the base item was rather unique. Besides, the whole point of me borrowing it was because I wanted to make you an extra special gift. Something to show you that there are no hard feelings even though you dumped me.”
“Oh my God! Thanks Nao, you’re the best!”
Keira threw her arms around the wolfkin and hopped excitedly against him for a second or two before pulling away with the case in her hands. As for Nao, he was left rather stunned, embarrassed, and just a little disappointed. If he hadn’t given Keira that coat, then he probably would have felt a pair of soft bumps pressing against his chest just now.
“I can give it a try right away, right?!” she asked while still slightly bouncing in place.
“Should be fine, I think. Just give it a few drops of blood to enact the Bound By Blood. I know, it seems a bit creepy, but it’s necessary if the item is to recognize you and you alone as its owner. Otherwise it wouldn’t know what to teleport, you see.”
“Oh, okay! Wait, you already tested it, right? Doesn’t that mean it’s bound to Kuro?”
“It was, but a Scribe with sufficient knowledge in contract magic can undo the binding. Right now it’s dormant and eagerly awaiting a new owner, which is why I had to put it in that special container. Wouldn’t want to risk anyone but you getting a hold of it, after all.”
“In that case, I won’t hold back!”
The catgirl opened the case and grasped the dagger without further ado. She then gave it a few trial slashes to see how it felt. It was definitely the same weight and balance as before, just in a slightly different shape and carrying various magical properties. She lightly pricked the tip of her finger with it, letting a dollop of her blood run down the dagger’s blade. The resulting crimson streak was absorbed by the radiant white metal, causing it to let out a dull blue glow that subsided as quickly as it had appeared.
Riftcleaver has now recognized you as its sole owner.
With that confirmation out of the way, Boxxy felt the familiar sensation of new information flowing into its mind. It was made distinctly aware of the weapon’s position and orientation, almost as if it had become a part of its body. It also completely understood how to actually activate the Reverse Recall. The eager shapeshifter hurriedly took a good look around the garden. It made sure nobody was watching and then threw the knife at the same patch at dirt that Kuro had aimed for earlier. It repositioned Keira so that she was about ten meters away and then uttered the command phrase it had just learned about.
A film of purplish light draped over the red-haired beastkin before it went away with an audible popping noise. It was a similar effect to the regular Recall enchantment Kuro had demonstrated, just on a larger scale, yet Keira had not budged a single bit. However, the same could not be said about the newly created Artifact.
The jarring sound of mithril snapping could be heard throughout the garden as the blade exploded into over a dozen fragments. Thankfully it was buried in the soil, so the resulting sharpnel merely kicked up a bit of dirt rather than causing any sort of collateral damage. Unfortunately, that was hardly consolation to any of the parties involved. Except maybe for Kuro, because he was usually the one to suffer whenever Nao’s experiments went awry. It was his personal experience with this scenario that caused him to head off the approaching guards to reassure them that everything was under control.
“… So. That happened,” muttered Nao in a slightly too casual manner.
“‘That happened?’ Is that all you have to say?!” snapped Keira. “What the shit was that?! The stupid thing self destructed!”
“I don’t get it. I ran so many trials and tests,” mumbled Nao as he crouched over the debris. “The mithril was a bit destabilized from the transformation, but this sort of backlash shouldn’t have happened. I made sure of it.”
“Don’t ignore me!”
Keira was about to go ballistic on Nao when Kuro stepped in between the two Heroes.
“Easy there, runt, there’s no need to go into psycho-bitch mode,” he grumbled as he held out one of his own mithril daggers. “Here, you can have this as a replacement for the one my brother broke. I had a feeling this would happen so I prepared one that’s every bit as good as the one you gave Nao, so please forgive him with this. Just don’t interrupt him while he’s doing his thing, okay?”
The catgirl glared at the taller beastkin scornfully for a few moments before snatching the blade she was offered. Boxxy could immediately tell it was just as light and well balanced as the one that just shattered, but the make of it was different. Rather than a dirk, which was a long thrusting weapon, this one was more of a parrying dagger due to the rather large curved guard at the base of the blade. It was perfect for catching and enemy’s sword, but the protruding mithril would make it more difficult to slide the otherwise lethal edge all the way into someone’s soft spot.
In short, the weapon was something meant for self defense rather than a tool used by assassins to gut their victim. It wasn’t terribly useful to Boxxy, was perfect for keira.
“Mmmm, I’m no expert on daggers, but I guess this will do,” stated the catgirl after giving it a few experimental swings.
“No expert, huh? Hard to believe coming from someone with a throwing arm like yours,” noted Kuro.
“That’s mostly due to Projectile Mastery though. Rapiers are one thing, but I’m a total newbie when it comes to close quarters combat with blades this short.”
“That’s precisely why I’m giving you that one. It’s only got the standard suite of enchantments on it to make it sharper and stronger. No Self-Repair, but has a decent Strength boost that should help you and those skinny twigs you call arms block incoming attacks. It’s a lot simpler than the stuff Nao normally comes up with, but that also makes it more reliable.”
The older wolfkin raised a very good point. Tricks and gimmicks had their uses, but once seen through, their effectiveness would go down significantly. Even if Reverse Recall opened up a lot of options regarding mobility, it would only work once against an observant opponent since subsequent teleportations would be easily predictable and exploitable. A more powerful and durable weapon was definitely preferable in that situation.
“Consistency trumps potential, was it?” mused Keira.
“Oh? Those are some nice words, pipsqueak. I guess miracles really do happen on Aurora Eve!”
“Sorry to burst your bubble, jackass, but it’s just something I read in a book somewhere. You should try that once in a while, then you might graduate to being at least as dumb as you look. Anyway, I have nowhere to put this, so while I appreciate the gesture, I’d prefer if you hung onto it for now.”
“Fair enough. I’ll leave it at your guild tomorrow morning.”
Kuro took the weapon back from her then hurriedly put it away under his coat. As for Nao, he continued mumbling under his breath about ‘coefficients’ and a something called a ‘matter matrix’ while inspecting a mithril fragment between his fingertips.
“Keira,” he called out after a while, “you wouldn’t happen to have any magic items on you, would you?”
“Err, not really? Other than my clothes, I mean.”
“Oh, right. Hmm… No, nevermind. Neither the dress nor the coat would cause this sort of reaction.”
“Which reaction? What is it that actually happened back there?”
“Well, from what I can tell the Reverse Recall ability outright failed, much like a person botching a Spell. The dagger bore the entirety of the subsequent recoil, which was why it, uh, exploded. However, I can’t think of any reason why this would happen, other than another piece of magic interfering somehow. It’d have to be a powerful persistent enchantment of the opposite element - in this case gravity - but you obviously don’t have anything like that on you.”
There was such a thing on Keira’s person, actually. Two of them to be precise, both of which were among the trio of plain-looking iron rings on her left hand. One of them reduced her mass by 40% while another did the same with her weight. Both of those were gravity-based enchantments, and relatively powerful ones, too. Yet despite wearing both of them at all times, the catgirl was still heavier than someone of her size and stature should be, so there was no way Boxxy could openly admit to that. Thankfully, the shapeshifter had an easy out for once.
“I’m sorry. It was because of Chaotic Disposition.”
Having Henry take one for the team would surely satisfy Nao’s curiosity whilst avoiding a thorough investigation of Keira’s belongings. The shapeshifter claimed that the unpredictable Skill flared up at the same time that the dagger took some of its MP, resulting in the catgirl being afflicted with a made up gravity-based effect. The catgirl had supposedly been so startled by this catastrophic outcome that she failed to realize it could be relevant.
“I… I see… so it was just some incredibly bad luck…”
None of that served to console Nao, though. This was his first Artifact, so having it break beyond repair due to circumstances outside his control stung quite a bit. If it was because of his own incompetence or due to an oversight of some kind, then at least he would’ve learned from the experience. But since this was, as far as he was aware, a cruel twist of chance, then the only thing he had to show for his hard effort and enthusiasm was a pile of shiny scrap. He didn’t even bother questioning how extremely unlikely it seemed since it had happened to the Hero of Chaos.
“Or incredibly good luck,” pointed out Keira. “If this had happened to me out in the field rather than in a controlled environment, then it could’ve gotten me killed.”
It was actually a legitimate excuse that the Mimic had used to convince itself it didn’t really want that stupid Artifact.
“… I think I’ve caught a glimpse of why Gilbert chose you as her Hero, Keira,” said Nao with a tired smile. “I’ve never met anyone with such a unique perspective as yours.”
“Uh no, I’m not really all that special. I’m just a natural pessimist that always considers the worst case scenario. That way I’m either right and I’m ready for it, or I’m pleasantly surprised and can truly appreciate the good things in life. It’s a win-win in my book. Being a Hero of Chaos is what made me this way, not the other way around.”
“Heh,” chuckled Nao with a defeated smile. “The Hero shapes the God just as much as the God shapes the Hero, was it?”
“… Where did you hear that phrase?”
“Hm? Oh, it’s something Lunar once told me when I asked her why she chose me specifically. Why do you ask?”
“Because it’s weird. Vinny told me that exact same thing once as well, though the context was a bit different.”
‘Different context’ was putting things mildly, though. What actually happened was that the Goddess of Misfortune had uttered those words to Teresa during their confrontation and Boxxy just happened to overhear them.
“Not surprising. Our patrons seem to get along quite well so stuff like this happens,” claimed the other Hero.
“They’re friends? I had no idea.”
“It’s just my impression. Lunar’s tone the last time we spoke made me think she was rather fond of Jabba-Jabba at the very least. I guess if our bosses get along then it’s inevitable we’d get along too.”
“Mmm, I suppose that makes sense, in a way. What are we going to do now, though? About the Artifact, I mean.”
“Me and Kuro are going to explain to those stern looking men over there what happened and get their help in digging up the remains. I hope you won’t mind if I keep the shards, but throwing away good mithril like that would be a terrible waste.”
“Fair enough. Can I keep a few as a sort of souvenir, though? Even if it didn’t survive for very long, it still had my name on it.”
“Haha, that it did. Alright, I’ll put aside a few pieces for you.”
“Thanks. And I’m sorry it didn’t work out.”
“That’s okay. Easy come, easy go, I suppose.”
“Yeah… Anyway, I don’t want to keep my date waiting any longer, so I’ll see you later. Ah, you’ll probably want your coat back.”
“You should hang onto that for a while longer. The party will probably come back here in a few hours, you can give it back after that.”
“Okay, if you say so. I’ll see you around then.”
The two Heroes parted ways and went about their respective evenings. Keira returned to the ballroom and left Nao’s coat with one of the maids before seeking out Rowana. She found the elf mingling with some other daughters of affluent families in an effort to avoid the rest of her family. The two of them then finally had that dance, though the elf had already downed a few drinks and was feeling a bit tipsy, not to mention frisky. She slipped a hand underneath Keira’s butt cleavage more than a few times as they danced in order to massage her backside, though she was nowhere as discreet as she thought she was.
This dragged on for another half hour but the couple inevitably had to return to their table. It would appear that Elias had pacified the parents somewhat and convinced them to postpone the topic regarding their daughter’s chastity until they were at a more suitable time and place. The party continued smoothly from that point on, with an extravagant dinner and a number of performances by dance troupes, singers and actors. As the clocks approached midnight, the guests were kindly invited into the atrium for the highlight of the evening, just as Nao had guessed. Keira therefore put on the borrowed coat once more, much to Rowana’s dissatisfaction.
However, Boxxy couldn’t help but feel a bit curious as to why they were gathered here specifically. It understood the moment when the year changed over was a significant one, but this seemed like a strange place to celebrate it. Still, it made sure to play along since it couldn’t just say this was the first time Keira had experienced her first new year’s party.
“Ten! Nine! Eight! Seven!”
That was why Boxxy found itself looking up at the night sky along with everyone else while they collectively chanted a countdown.
“Six! Five! Four!”
Seriously though, was something as trivial as the date changing over worth getting so worked up about?
Even keeping in mind that its perspective and values were quite different from that of actual people, Boxxy found it quite odd that even jaded-looking old geezers were so into this pointless ritual.
And how come the staff were dimming the lights so much?
It was at that moment that the starry sky was swept away by a mysterious multi-colored glow reminiscent of a drunken rainbow. It swept across from east to west, rapidly drowning out the presence of any and all celestial bodies until the heavens looked like an abstract art piece. The clouds of seemingly solid light waxed and waned at random, filling the audience with a sense of childlike wonderment as they cheered and applauded. The ethereal light show continued to linger as the sound of celebratory bells filled the entire capital.
Keira felt Rowana hug her tight from the side, snapping her out of her stunned reverie.
“The aurora seems a lot more beautiful this year, doesn’t it?” she said dreamily.
I see, so that’s what this aurora thing is all about, concluded Boxxy.
As a connoisseur of all things shiny, there was no way the monster would fail to appreciate something that splendid.
I want one.
However, its wish to obtain an aurora of its own was just as unlikely of being fulfilled as its ridiculous dream of laying claim to an actual star.
“Also, that coat smells really nice,” commented the elf.
“I know, right?”
But as all the guests were busy looking up, a certain individual was looking down at them. A slender woman, wrapped from head to toe in concealing clothing that obscured all her features aside from the sharp black eyes and mutilated elven ears. She was lying down on the edge of a Hylt branch overlooking the mansion where Boxxy currently was, looking over the well-dressed crowd through the glass ceiling with the aid of an enchanted spyglass.
The highly suspicious individual then stood up and put away the compact telescope.
“The target’s presence has been confirmed,” she reported inside her head. “Commencing operation.”
“Understood,” replied the Psionic at the other end of the thought-link. “Let’s go nab ourselves a Hero, shall we?”
And with that, the half-elf assassin codenamed Edge leapt off her perch, with many more shrouded figures following suit.