"Here I come, grandfather!"
It had been three weeks since Jason, Giselle, Iris, Nozomi, and Seika had returned from Edolas. It had been a difficult task to explain to the guild that, so soon after losing Gaikou Ryuusei to the hands of an enemy, yet another comrade had fallen.
In truth, the guild was not over Blake's sudden death, but with three weeks of their own way of grieving, the group had decided the time for mourning was over. To try and take their minds off it, Jason, as well as Nozomi and Seika, had engaged in a sparring match; their first form of familial bonding since the girls had arrived.
"That's right; babysteps." Jason insisted, as Nozomi propelled her own body forward at inhuman speeds; enhanced further by her lithe form and light weight. Spinning on her heel, the girl delivered a swift kick towards Jason, which the oranged-tressed man caught with relative ease, flipping Nozomi in mid-air with a simple flick of the wrist.
Straightening herself out, Nozomi landed directly onto her own palms, and flipping onto two feet, quickly releasing a flurry of punches in Jason's direction...only to quickly see he'd vanished.
And then she felt a light tug on her braided ponytail.
"An interesting thing, long hair," Jason quipped, having Nozomi's hair so tightly gripped she dared not move for fear of it being ripped out by the roots through her own movement alone, "is that it's nearly as dangerous as having a cape. No matter how fast you are," he tugged on her hair gently for emphasis, "your little braided lock will always trail behind you."
"...Tch..." Nozomi clicked her tongue in irritation. How could she move without ripping out her own hair?
"Now...where'd your cousin go?" Jason's brown irides shifted left to right.
Iris herself was...chasing her own tail. "What IS this thing that keeps ELUDING me?"
Momoko sighed, "It's your own tail."
"I feel like dabbing her tail in toilet water and rubbing her tail on her face to make sure she doesn't do anything else retarded." Giselle, reading a book titled, "Quantum Mechanics and You", snarked off to the side.
Seika, meanwhile, approached Jason from the side; her fists balled up as she launched several spheres of blackened flames towards Jason, intent on knocking him back as she remarked casually. "You two seem to be getting along. Not like the older you, who, while an okay guy, was a bit distant. It seems you've taken some antidepressants. Or that cape-swooshy lady slipped something in your tea."
Coating his hand in magical energy, Jason thrust it through the black flame spheres with ease, before letting Nozomi go. "I think that will do it for today's practice; and secondly, I wouldn't touch a cup of tea made by Giselle."
"I'm the only one who can make the Master tea anyway," Olivia replied, drifting outside, smiling airily. She was holding a steaming tea cup. "I wouldn't allow Giselle to touch a glass meant for him." The woman handed the cup to Jason, who took it with a word of thanks.
Taking a swig of the liquid, Jason cast Olivia an eye. "Is something the matter? You look like you have something to say."
"I tried to avoid mentioning this immediately, as you just went through quite an ordeal," Olivia placed a thin finger to her chin, "but that girl we took in, 'Mina', fled while you were gone. Tsuruko tried to keep her here, but she managed to escape."
"I see," Jason finished the rest of his tea in brief silence, before handing the empty cup back to Olivia, "I suppose it was my fault for taking the child in when I found her on the side of the road. With our luck, this will become an issue in the future. However, we have other priorities; that one child can't take up our time."
"Hmm," Seika released her fighting stance, adopting a more casual slump. Lately, she seemed to be fairly lazy. "It seems we need a tighter security."
"Or, you could just not invite everyone and anyone into this craphole." Giselle snarked from a fair distance away.
"We didn't invite you." Momoko snapped back.
"I'm here because I want Hikari back. I don't want to join your hugs and rainbows fest." Besides, Giselle was already resigned to another 'hugs and rainbows fest'.
"I'm quite certain you're thinking of another guild entirely," Jason replied, brushing Giselle off entirely.
"I just remembered, Master," Olivia interrupted, reaching her cleavage, she pulled out a white envelope. "The strangest letter arrived in the mail today. It was sent from a Fiora Asakura...though I don't believe we have an acquaintance by that name."
"You don't, but I do." Giselle swooped in from above, right out of nowhere, while snatching the envelope from Olivia's hands. With a simple blink, her eyes fired a laser that opened the envelope immediately. "...Hmm. Surprising."
Momoko asked, "What is?"
"Surprisingly that she can survive jumping out of the window of a ten story building, getting shot in the back, and get her arm torn off, and she's contracted a fatal illness.
Slipping the envelope out of Giselle's hands, Olivia briefly skimmed it. "This woman is...interesting. It says she's contracted a fatal disease, and would like to pass her own powers to another worthy successor. This is a summons to all remaining guilds — what few persist after the Council's purge — and individuals, to meet her on Mount Host, the largest mountain in Joya."
"The one bordering Ministrel?" Jason inquired.
"The very same." Olivia nodded.
"Are any of the Guilds from the Guild Haven heading towards Mount Host?" The orange-tressed man queried.
"I'm actually not sure," Olivia replied. "Akatsuki is one of the few Guilds that actually makes itself known to the main Earth Land. Most of the Guilds here seem to keep their activities limited to the world within the Haven, or to the few clients the Haven allows to pass through our borders."
"In which case, this Fiora woman might not get the turnout she expects," Jason mused.
"Not many people in this pocket dimension, I assume. You dingbats are the only people here, so I wouldn't worry about it." Giselle quipped, "I mean, there's probably no chances of anyone else being here."
"How can you be so sure~?" Iris asked.
"I just know these things."
"Is Mount Host a big trek?" Momoko asked, peering over the table. "I don't feel like walking too far."
"Fairly," Jason replied shortly, "it wouldn't be Joya's largest mountain without being considerable in size."
"We all tend to arrive where we need to be with little to no issue to begin with," Olivia lampshaded the guild's strange ability to arrive at destination's with limited trouble, "so I don't think it should matter."
Giselle extended her arm outwards, releasing a wormhole with the Warp Ring. "Now with a two hundred percent chance of not fucking up." Giving her usual two fingered salute, she told the group, "Later, nerds." With that, Giselle Mercury headed to the destination of Mount Host.
Momoko sighed, "Take me with you!"
However, Giselle's wormhole had already shut off.
"Well, count me out. Not gonna do any physical activity today." She grumbled.
"I suppose you'll have to amass a party to tag along with you," Olivia suggested.
"I'm definitely going," The firm voice of Wendy Marvell sounded out of the back entrance of the Akatsuki guild building. The well-endowed woman sauntered out of the Guild, her sharp eyes locked on Jason. "I'm getting fairly tired of you leaving me behind on everything, Jason, so there is no way I'm letting you even start choosing your little ragtag group of misfits for this mission without using a high level Sticking magic to glue myself to your back!"
"You were the first person I was coming to ask, your worries are baseless," Jason assured her, though whether he was simply trying to avoid a firm backhand or being entirely honest remained to be seen.
Iris curled up into a ball and sped towards the group, stopping herself before she hit a table. "Count me in!"
Surprisingly, that was the only person else willing to go with the others. Of course Iris wanted to go- she wanted to go nearly everywhere, really.
"If you're so averse to walking, Momoko, then we can travel another way," Jason assured her, turning her head towards the sky. "RISKAL!" His voice echoed into the sky and was met with silence briefly...until a large shadow covered the sky, and Riskal, Jason's own pet legion, descended to the ground.
"Bring your equipment within the next five minutes," Jason ordered, "and Riskal will take us to Joya."
"Fine, fine, I'll go." Momoko sighed. "Damn thing reminds me of a flying bison. But not as cuddly."
Iris looked up at the skies in wonder, as she looked at the beast. "He reminds me of my oldest brother."
"Wait, you have brothers?" Seika cringed at the notion.
"I have thirty siblings."
Due to Riskal's speed, it didn't take long to make it into the sky and cross the country borders to exit Fiore, and at this point, the group was flying over miles of open ocean. Jason, it appears, had taken a route over the sea to avoid a Legion flying over Bosco.
"Well, Mary was certainly...upset," Wendy broke the silence in attempt to make small talk. Mary Jane was, as expected, livid at Jason's decision to postpone their attempts to rescue again merely to chase after a strange letter from a girl he didn't know.
"We'll get to Vivian...eventually." Momoko sighed.
Iris seemed like she could knock Momoko off her spot. "Grr...Though I suppose you're right. I'm sorry, Viv."
"In the overall, this journey will be beneficial in rescuing Vivian," Jason assured them, "as this woman is promising us something we all need; power. And a way to get it." It was obvious to anyone present that Jason was still hung up on his own losses to Crux.
Iris sighed, "Can we just hurry up with it. I'm sure Viv is in horrible pain."
"I wonder if you'll like these Final Wind Magician live-action movies."
"I'm certain of it!"
"Whatever they've done to her, we'll repay in kind," Jason replied shortly as Riskal made a left descent towards a mountain looming in the distance. "Here it is...Mount Host."
The girls looked at the imposing natural structure, and true to its claim, Mount Host towered over the entirety of Joya; even from the other border, it was visible in the distance, clouds swirling at the peak.
"A terminally ill woman lives on this mountain?" Wendy inquired as Riskal landed onto a rocky surface of the mountain.
"At least she doesn't release her magic through her fists and has a head seal." Iris snarked, rather uncharacteristically and out of nowhere. "I think so. Maybe it's not too far away."
Momoko herself immediately vomited off of the legion. "Damn transport!"
"Wait, why did you throw up just now?" Iris queried. "Aren't Dragon Slayers supposed to feel sick immediately, and it's never funny?"
"I didn't really think about it until we got to the mountain..."
"I've never understood why Dragon Slayers get motion sickness," Wendy mused, walking over to Momoko, her hands glowing blue. "Perhaps it has something to due with the inherent medical nature of my magic, but I've never experienced that kind of ridiculous weakness." Placing her hands on Momoko's head, she created a light blue sphere of magical energy, created from the pure air of the mountain around them, and touched Momoko with it. "Troia." The light faded, with the spell taking effect.
"That should remove any of the last effects of the motion sickness," Wendy chirped, stepping back. "Speak up next time, and I'll make a point to heal you during the journey."
"Damn you and your white magic." Momoko rolled over like a happy seal, flopping around momentarily with her arms stretched wide. "Maybe I could do something like that with water, by redirecting energy paths in the body." She had been watching too many cartoons- but it was plausible.
"Feasibly, yes, but given you have no medical experience, please don't attempt it lest you kill us all," Wendy replied pointedly.
"Bah, I learn faster than you anyway." Momoko grumbled back. "If a cartoon characteroonie can do it, so can I!"
"...That's now how it works," Wendy sighed, feeling Momoko was being far more childish than she was. "Besides, I've already eaten your water; anything you can come up with, I can mimic and recreate flawlessly, with the added addition of my own magic. Now can we stop wasting time with hypotheticals?"
"Anything you can do, I can do better." Momoko grumbled under her breath. "Are we there yet? I'm afraid to look down."
"You won't be looking at anything if you don't catch up to us," Wendy called back, and true to the statement, the group had already left, walking on ahead in spite of Momoko being left behind, next to Riskal. "You should run."
"Argh, wait!" Momoko chased after the group. "I shouldn't have skipped leg day...." Then she'd turn out like that red echidna.
"Are we there yet?" Momoko followed behind the group as they approached their destination.
"For the five hundredth time, almost!" Iris shouted back at her, "You sound like me! Did we undergo a changeling spell or something?"
"Momoko, you didn't need to come along," Jason reprimanded sharply. "Alaskiel would have been a more reliable source if all we're going to here is simply complaining."
"We ought to consider ourselves lucky," Wendy interrupted, stopping everyone with the show of a hand and bending down. "Either Giselle's been through this way in a very bad mood, or our prospective hostess has a dark sense of 'home'." At her feet was something dark, and she scraped her hands through it. "It's flaky and brown, but there's no doubt about it, this is blood. And given how dry it is, this isn't recent, but it is human. I think other people tried — and failed — to reach this 'Fiora'."
Iris' ears perked up. "I can smell a horrible stench. Maybe it's corpses."
"No doubt it's corpses, you mean." Momoko snapped back at her.
"So she deliberately places dangers before her own home in the hopes of weeding out the weak," Jason noted without emotion. "Interesting woman; however, let's proceed."
And proceed they did, clambering up the mountain until they'd reached a lone house.
"Eh?" Iris looked up at the address on the side of the mailbox. "...The big problem is that who would send mail here?" The eternal question was left unanswered. "Let's go in."
Opening the door, Iris herself noticed nothing but pitch-blackness. "Jeez, are there no lights here?"
"...did she simply let herself in?" Wendy sighed at her companion's lack of etiquette. "Can Akatsuki even enter a building unannounced?"
"Oh, Fiorun, look at this." A familiar voice could be heard, talking to a young woman. This young woman's body was incredibly small, around 130 centimeters, or 4 foot; a delicate feminine shape, almost doll-like. She was a bit too skinny, with her eyes appearing just huge; her nose was small and her lips were thin; she was sort of like a malnourished kitten. She had long flaming red hair separated into two bunches, which seemed to constantly sway; as well as red eyes. She was always wearing a green ensemble and white muffler, with her twin blades strapped to her back.
The other, was a woman with a strangely sleepy face; Iris could smell a faint fragrance, probably the smell of her shampoo. She wore what was like a military uniform, and was around 20 years old. Her messy lavender hair, eyes decorated with thick dark circles, and the stuffed bear covered with scars whose face was for some reason peeking out of the pocket of the military uniform, were her special characteristics. The woman's white skin lacked a sun tan of any sort, and she had a refined face. It was very easy to think that such a person would be living in this posh place—her snow-white skin was akin to that of a princess.
"So, Phenex, what does the letter say?" The flame-haired woman, Fiora Asakura, asked Giselle.
"Well, it's hard to make out," Giselle sighed, "it's because of the shitty quality of the paper and the purple crayon used...and she can't spell, even though she's fourty. But she says that something bad is going to happen soon, and it has to do with the Nega End again."
"Deary me." Fiora clutched the white belt she was wearing. "Doesn't look like I can help this time. I'm in no position to fight. But if she fights, you can stop the Nega End once more."
"Of course." The left side of Giselle's mouth formed into a half-smile. "She takes after me, after all."
Iris, out of the blue, asked, "Uh, excuse me~ Which one of you is Fiora Asakura?"
Giselle simply applied her palm to her forehead in annoyance. "You cannot be fucking serious, Iris."
Wendy groaned in frustration, slapping her hand to her face. "Iris, please let the rest of the guild do the talking."
"My apologies, Fiora, for arriving without any formal announcement," Jason immediately stepped in. "We received the summons you sent out to various guilds and mages, and it would seem we're the only ones that made it alive."
"It's fine, it's fine." Fiora sighed. "Kinda figured you'd be the only ones to show up. Phenex told me that you guys somehow are usually the only people to do anything about something- at least if it was thirty years ago, you'd have some real good competition."
"Wait, how old are you?" Momoko asked.
"But you don't look a day over seventeen! How is that possible?"
"Hell if I know." Fiora silenced her bluntly.
"To be honest, I was expecting a crabby old woman less than half my height with a hobby for insults," Wendy admitted.
"That's neither here nor there," Jason waved off both Momoko and Wendy's pointless banter. "If you knew we'd arrive, Fiora, then I think the reason for our presence is obvious; you invited us with the promise of your 'power'. We're interested in what this power is."
"It's the power to unite two souls, merging minds and bodies together. Something that'd allow you to trample the opposition." Fiora explained, "Though I only have time to teach it to one person, since in a way, I plan to keep fighting through them, because of reasons."
"To power to merge two souls...?" Jason blinked; if he wasn't mistaken, hadn't he performed something similar with Blake? Granted, she was dormant now, but the end result was the same. "And how do you intend to choose the successor to that magic?"
Fiora singled out one of them out of numerous. "I'll choose the Sky Dragon Slayer user."
Momoko grumbled audibly, "Why her? Why not somebody who actually needs the power up?"
Giselle actually laughed. "Oh, I've heard that so many times before."
Fiora answered, "The reason for that, is because, if you have a strong fighter, you'll need to make them even stronger. It only makes sense."
"Me?" Wendy pointed at herself, blinking in bewilderment. "While I certainly don't object — even if I'm not fond of sharing my soul like a five Jewel hotel — I'm confused as to why you'd pick me when there are other stronger fighters here. I'm not belittling myself, I'd just like a reason."
"I'm choosing you, because your magic frequency matches up with mine, that's the simplest way of putting it. That and, wind and flame have an interesting reaction together, it's simple science." Fiora explained, "But you'll get a new body when we merge. Are you okay with that?"
"I figured as much," Wendy shrugged it off. "But tell me, is the merger permanent, or is it temporary and reversible? I'd rather not permanently merge into someone who may despise Jason," Wendy cast an aside glance at Giselle, "as I've seen what that looks like."
"It's not permanent bodily change. Once we merge, I'll be living inside your soul. You should set up a bar for me there." Fiora smirked as she laughed to herself. "But whenever you want to call upon my power, just think about me when you flare your magical power up, it's pretty simple."
"So it's like a transformation. That's simple enough," Wendy concluded, placing a hand on her hip. "Alright then. Fiora, right? Why don't you show me how to merge with you."