༺ Reunion of Sisters (1) ༻
Hua Ran’s ascension ritual to Hou by Purple Hawk Academy’s Senior Professor Kang Ryun ended as a failure.
As for our next course of action, it was as we had always done. I had already been notified by Lady Josephine and Master Erin on how they were going to deal with this if everything was to go well.
Long story short, it was concealment again.
It was a big problem that the senior professor of Purple Hawk Academy had attempted such a disastrous ritual, but spreading news of that had chances of increasing the public’s wariness or interest in Hua Ran even though she was the victim of this incident.
The former would be people condemning Hua Ran from fear while the latter would be people interested in the potential of Hua Ran’s power.
That was why Lady Josephine, master, and I had been planning on concealing this matter from the start.
And everything had gone according to plan.
“Professor Kang Ryun returned first and got caught up in an unfortunate event… is what we will be announcing to the public. We have already discussed this with the chairman of Purple Hawk Academy.”
“They’re pretty cooperative, aren’t they?”
“Because that is probably the best-case scenario for Purple Hawk as well.”
That made sense – their senior professor, student council president, and their highest-achieving student of the 2nd grade had wreaked havoc at another academy. Although Yuhua and Jinhyuk had been used without realizing the true purpose of the agenda, Kang Ryun was a senior professor, and Purple Hawk couldn’t just gloss over the issue by saying they didn’t know.
“You didn’t forget to charge them for the repairs and stuff, right?”
“…Mister Chairman wanted to let it slip but well, I am of the same opinion as you, Student Korin, when it comes to that.”
“Right? Chairman is a bit too naive–. Oops~. Very kind is the word I was looking for.”
“Everything went well… thanks to you again. Korin Lork.”
Lady Josephine said while deeply staring at me. She still had a strict pair of eyes, but that was only because her default gaze was a bit on the harsher side, and in fact, this was quite warm for her.
“Thanks for your work.”
She said while looking at the bandages that were wrapped all over my body. Despite the regeneration ability, the recovery was very slow which was most probably because of me over-using my aura.
“Feels a bit embarrassing to hear that.”
“We… are in a position where we cannot trust other people with ease.”
80 years ago, Master had been betrayed by her trusted disciple; by her successor, Tates Valtazar.
The shock of that betrayal left a lot of scars in her mind and she became a lot more prudent than before. It was obvious that she couldn’t readily give her trust.
“There will come a day when we can trust each other.”
“…I hope so.”
Josephine slowly stood up, and said one last thing while dropping off her get-well gift.
“Please look after your body. The festival is not over yet.”
They must be very busy considering all the things that happened. I’m sure the busiest person right now was Master Erin, who still had to discuss and negotiate with Purple Hawk.
As soon as Josephine left the room, Marie hopped inside from the door.
Marie pretty much threw her body onto my bed for a tight hug. As if she wanted to confirm that I was alive, she rubbed her cheeks and checked the warmth of my body.
“Are you okay? Does it hurt anywhere? Look at your nails; they’re all gone!”
“Ohh… No wonder it was feeling empty there.”
“I can’t believe it! Seriously, every time! Korin, you overwork yourself every time and you always end up in hospital!”
Slap! Marie slapped my shoulders on repeat but was controlling herself so much that I could barely feel her skin touching my shoulder.
She couldn’t find the right words to say and gave me another hug and stayed that way for a long time before finally letting go of me.
Tears were budding beneath her eyes.
“Don’t cry. It pains me to see you cry.”
“That’s exactly why I’m crying!”
“Were you fine, Senior? You had to fight all the stone warriors and destroy all the articles by yourself, right?”
“President Kang Yuhua and that student called Sa Jinhyuk did destroy one but…”
I knew it. That was why they weren’t there, huh. It was thanks to them that I barely made it in time without being bashed to death.
“But if you think about it, it’s their fault that this started in the first place,” grumbled Marie.
“Don’t be like that. They’re not bad people. Things were just… a little bit unlucky for them.”
Jinhyuk, who had been wanting to avenge the death of his family, and Yuhua, who was trying to save her cousin – the two of them were just desperate in their own ways and the real villain was Kang Ryun, who had manipulated them by making use of their desperation.
We had to avoid hating the wrong people.
“You always speak like an adult. Even though I’m older than you…”
“How about you call me ‘oppa’?”
“You’re doing that again! Trying to be called ‘oppa’! Sometimes, it feels like you have an obsession with being called oppa!”
Marie flapped her arms around and gave a cute outburst but before long, she turned dejected and murmured after lowering her head.
“I… don’t want you getting hurt all the time, but… You will continue doing things like this in the future, right?”
I couldn’t say no to her question.
I was someone who had the duty of saving the world, who in spite of that grand aspiration, was weaker off than most other players.
Since I was nothing but a sub-player with some spearmanship skills, my body was bound to suffer during the process.
“You’re not saying ‘No’. Korin, sometimes… it feels like you’re living in a different world.”
Tightly holding onto my fully-bandaged arm, she pleaded with her eyes fixed on me.
“I… can fight with you. Please let me stand by your side. I can help you anytime.”
“…You are already helping me so much.”
Both in the King of Iron Mountain incident and this time around, I was receiving more than enough help from Marie. In fact, I even thought I was being too rough with people.
“Senior. I’m a weak person.”
“No, Korin. You’re not weak.”
“Things like that are subjective. In comparison to the upcoming evil, I am way too insignificant of a person and I cannot overcome them without receiving help.”
“Anything’s fine. No matter what you are fighting against… I will stand by your side.”
I felt extremely grateful.
And I felt so blessed to be able to hear something like that.
All the enemies standing in my path were tough and powerful villains. Some wanted to satisfy their wicked greed, some for their incorrect convictions and some only wanted to destroy the world.
What was the way for me to save the world against these powerful enemies? The answer to that question was always very simple.
Please fight together with me. I requested the girl whom I had once saved.
She replied with clear teardrops flowing down her cheeks. Even though I was the one making the request and even though I was the one that was supposed to thank her for everything, she was the one crying instead of me.
“What is this; you’re ruining your beautiful face. Smile. It’s all done and dusted in a good way. Smile and you’ll be happy.”
“How can I smile! When you’re in the hospital like this!”
“I’m asking you as the patient! Smile. Just smile! When beautiful ladies smile, everyone gets double the happiness.”
We continued talking for a long time.
After organizing her loosened clothes, Marie stood up from the bed. Her reddened eyes and the tiny beads of sweat all over her body attested for the things that had been happening until just then.
Straightening out my hospital clothes that had drooping collars, Marie summoned Doggo.
“I’ll leave Doggo behind, so he will look after you! My parents said they’ll be sending some medicine from home and Doggo will bring them to you when they’re here.”
“Ohh~. Is Doggo going to look after me? What a good boy~”
Unlike what Marie was saying, Doggo didn’t seem too keen. He liked his mother but was very rude to his father.
Of course, he might take his revenge later on if I said this out loud so I swallowed those words instead.
“No! Doggo, listen to me! You need to be nicer to your daddy!”
Marie started preaching like an actual mom that was scolding their infant. She was definitely quite abundant with maternity. Yes… Ah I mean her personality of course.
“Ah, and you know that Guardians Guild thing? I’ll apply for that soon,” said Marie.
“It’s going to be time for harvest soon. With all the holidays coming up, we need to do it now or everyone will be busy taking a rest at home.”
“Oh~, you’re right. Thank you.”
“Un. Korin you’re the Guild Master… and I’m the Deputy. What about the rest?”
The ‘Guardians’ was essentially a fixed party of the core members that would be moving with me outside for external matters. Not everyone would be combatant, and there would be some who would be helping me in various ways.
I had already gotten several confirmations and acquired the three core members so it was probably okay for me to tell Marie their names.
“First off, Alicia Arden and…”
“Hnnn… I knew it. She… Well, I guess there’s no helping it.”
“And Renya Claire.”
“Oh~. A female?”
“Yes. She’s a pretty lady working in intelligence.”
“I see~. Pretty?”
“And next up will be Ren and Ron.”
“Who are they?”
“They’re a sibling of wolf beastmen. Ren’s a girl so just make sure you check Ron as a boy.”
“I’m thinking about recruiting Yuel but I’m not sure yet. Well, but we’re close so I’m sure she’ll help out for the most part.”
“That druid girl… Are you guys very close?”
“We’re close enough to joke around and have some meals together.”
“Lastly, Hua Ran is a must so don’t forget to write her down. Professor Josephine allowed it as well.”
Just like what happened after Marie’s incident, it looked like it was pretty set in stone that Hua Ran would be under my care from now on.
That was when the sound of something breaking reached my ears. Turning around, I noticed that the pen in her hands was now in two pieces. Why did that pen break, I wonder?
It was strange that Marie was staying silent so I spoke to her, but she didn’t say anything for a long time and instead, she quietly and slowly walked towards me.
Her clear eyes that used to glisten in gold had turned into red by the time I noticed it. Umm… that’s probably because she just recently sucked blood, right?
“Are you trying to drive me crazy?”
After my body recovered enough for me to move around, I visited Alicia who was in the same hospital as me. By the way, Doggo was driving the wheelchair for me.
“Ehew, little Doggo. Great work helping out with your daddy.”
He turned his head away with a flick.
“Buddy… You’re not really liking this, are you?”
I’m sure you want to be with your mommy. How unfortunate that you have to stick with your daddy but you know what? You have to listen to your mom! What can you even do huh?
After seemingly reading my impure thoughts, Doggo furiously flipped the wheelchair.
“Huhu… It’s things like that that give away your feelings. You immature little kid…!”
“Mister Doggo! Please do not howl in the hospital!!”
Due to moving around everywhere across the campus ever since the start of the semester, everyone seemed aware of how Doggo was a slightly special dog. He was going around running errands for his mom every time so that wasn’t anything strange.
“Ugh… What are you doing?”
Alicia seemed to have heard the ruckus from inside her room and she asked that as soon as we entered the room.
“We’re here for a visit. Are you feeling okay?”
“Ughhh… Do I look okay?”
Lying down on the bed with bandages wrapped all around her body, she moved her chin slightly to face our way. Leaving behind Doggo, I sat on the chair that was placed next to the bed.
“Wow~. You look like a mummy.”
“Uguk…! Whose fault do you think it is?!”
“Huh? Nn… Well, you are welcome, I guess.”
Because she had to take dozens of steps through the Domain just to save me, her entire body was in tatters.
Her bones were back together thanks to the made-by-Marie elixir, but apparently she still needed to rest for at least 2 weeks in the best medical facilities. There was only about 1 week left of the festival so she probably wouldn’t even be able to make it to the closing campfire.
“I’m probably going to be leaving soon, but I guess you need to stay hospitalized for a bit more.”
“Hing… I wanted to go to the campfire though!”
“You can wait until the winter banquet.”
“But that’s different from this.”
She was right. Besides, even though I had experienced them multiple times in the last iteration, this was the first one for Alicia and I felt a bit guilty considering how she was in this state because of me.
“I will get you a Ghesquiere dress for the winter banquet.”
“Hukk…! Really? Y, you mean that super expensive brand?”
“Tell me anything else you need. This oppa here is loaded with money now~”
“You’re not an oppa! We’re the same age okay? …Oh right! What about your hotel? Did you earn a lot?”
“Huhuhu. We do have enough to buy our esteemed investor a dress.”
“A, am I going to be rich now as well?”
“You can fill a bathtub with gold coins…! Okay, maybe not, but you can probably fill them with silver coins.”
We, who had been petit bourgeois until just yesterday, danced despite having bandages all over our bodies.
Discussing what to buy with Alicia was a very fun conversation topic.
That was when Doggo took out a bill from his furry coat. The name of the store was Puppy Coat Manufacturing Salon, or something like that.
…I feel like there was a white gold coin written on the bill, but that was probably me seeing things, right?
She ended up hurting Korin. She was close to hurting a bunch of people again just like last time.
After that incident, Hua Ran spent the next few days blankly staring at the white wall from her bed.
Her memories of that time were still vivid. Despite having his limbs crushed and wrecked because of her, he didn’t blame her and instead reached out for her hands to soothe her mind.
『I told you I’ll help you… until you can make a decision for yourself.』
His words touched her soul.
He told Hua, that the important one was not the nature of one’s birth but their choices. He told her that how and what she was born as didn’t matter.
She wondered. How could he say such a thing?
Everyone was afraid of Hua. They were wary of Hua and condemned her. Screaming at Hua that she was a monster that shouldn’t have been born, they threw stones at her.
“Korin… was different.”
He called her a child, and said he will help her…
Why did he do that?
She used to hate this world.
She hated Ran who used to have happiness that never belonged to her, and the world was full of people that wanted to use her to suit their needs. Everyone and the world hated her which was why she hated them back, and yet…
Strength was the only value she used to have. Using strength as an excuse was the only way she could justify herself for pushing away the original owner of the body to take control of it.
That was why she didn’t want to show anyone her weak side. She did not ask for anyone’s help.
『I can help you.』
His kindness stung her heart.
His consideration and concern pierced her heart like a sharp blade.
Korin was thinking that Hua would make the right choice. Why was he certain when even she herself didn’t know what she was supposed to do…? Even though she didn’t want to make that choice as ‘Hua’…
『Make… a decision you can be proud of. So that… you don’t regret it.』
How was she supposed to do that…? What did she have to do… to make a decision that she could be proud of…?
What should I do?
The only path in front of her was a cliff going straight down. The only future she could see by taking a step forward was dropping down the abyss… How was she supposed to even face her own sin?
What are you… telling me to do?
『We’ll look for ways together.』
I hate you, Korin Lork.
You… make my heart ache all the time.
– Tap tap!
It was then. Hearing the sound of someone knocking on the window, she opened the curtain and found Korin Lork waving his hand while dangling on the windowsill of the second floor.
Ever since her birth, Hua had been alone the whole time. Deceitful relationships had always been broken down in an instant and she had been used the whole time.
That was why she didn’t allow people to enter her boundaries until now, but…
Korin Lork was crossing her fences as if they were nothing, while reaching out to her with his hands.
There was a short quarrel but Hua Ran let me into the room before long.
That was the first thing she said out of the blue. It was a cold statement, but I could tell that she had been very concerned about my well-being.
“Were you worried?”
Ohh, I could now tell albeit by a little. Although Hua Ran rarely showed any expression on her face, it was exactly because of that that I could tell her emotion based on the small changes of her expression.
“How have you…”
“There’s a way to change to Ran, right? Do it quick.”
Hua Ran rushed me as if she wanted to get it over and done with. Even though… she really might vanish if Ran couldn’t accept her existence and rejected her.
Did she give up? No, that was probably not it. It’s just that… this child had made a decision. She must have decided not to run away from the responsibility of her choices anymore.
“What a good girl.”
I caressed her hair. Usually, she would have flicked my hand away but she obediently let me stroke her hair and closed her eyes as if this was her last moment.
She seemed determined.
It was then. Hua Ran suddenly held onto my hand and fidgeted her fingers while hesitantly looking for words.
“I want fish.”
The last lingering attachment stopping her after she resolved herself was my cooked fish dish.
“…Get rid of the bones, please.”
I came back after cooking a mackerel in the kitchen. Calmly, Hua Ran waited for me to debone the fish and slowly put them into her mouth.
She loved fish so she used to munch through them in one go but this time, she was slowly consuming them as if she wanted to buy even a little bit of more time.
It was natural for her to be anxious.
It was normal for her to be scared.
There was no guarantee that she would be able to regain control over her body after changing the owner once. Despite resolving herself, the child was still very scared.
Although it took quite a long time for a single meal, I patiently waited for her regardless.
“I… am done.”
“Let me wash the dishes first.”
After cleaning up everything, we went to the backyard.
Hua Ran resolved herself and looked at me with a composed pair of eyes. However, she still couldn’t hide the tension on her face. Things like this actually made her look quite cute.
I took out the silver spear that I was carrying behind my back as she watched me while vacantly blinking her eyes.
She mumbled while looking at the ferocious-looking gem that was stuck on the spear.
– The attack will always hit the target.- It will separate the flesh from the soul.
– The attack ignores defense.
It was the 100%-accuracy soul collecting ability of the Grim Reaper that only existed as a concept. Of course, the effectiveness would be greatly reduced when used by a human but… it would be infinitely different when I was the one using it.
〚I do not perceive spirits.〛
Because of the absolute rules of the Precept, as soon as I used the power of this Orb which counted as a spiritual attack, the accuracy would be multiplied negatively by an infinite amount.
As a result, it would become a never-landing spear that couldn’t kill people.
‘But there’s a catch.’
I took out a blue stone from my pocket that resembled a gem. It was a manastone carved by a first-rate blacksmith into the perfect size.
That was one of the manastones I purchased in bulks at the festival, which was then polished by Ferghus.
“It’s a faulty manastone used in the festival. When I take this to the Orb…”
The manastone was then absorbed into the Orb. Strictly speaking, it was closer to the manastone burrowing into the Orb of the Grim Reaper.
Now, let’s think this through one more time.
Adding mana to the ‘festival-use faulty manastones’ made them explode from overload. In the game, the explosion range decreased with higher accuracy rating to make it easier to clear the mini-game, and a lower accuracy increased the explosion range.
No matter how low your accuracy rating was on the system, the maximum range limit was 100 meters.
It was a decent AOE skill that was often used in the game.
Now, what would happen if the manastone was absorbed by the Orb of the Grim Reaper, when it has the same rules of the 2nd Precept applied to it?
“Watch. I’m going to do some magical stuff.”
Jumping onto the tree in the backyard, I landed on one of its branches.
The explosion of mana wouldn’t go through the wall and wouldn’t reach the sky either, so staying here should keep me out of the range.
“I’m going to throw it!”
Either because of her trust in her Unbreakable Vajra Body or me, she didn’t even blink her eyes after I tossed the spear at her. The spear that was traveling straight at Hua Ran suddenly turned its direction in mid-air and landed on the ground.
It was a strange phenomenon that didn’t abide by the original laws of physics, but that wasn’t the end.
The manastone absorbed by the Orb of the Grim Reaper led to a small explosion that dispersed the mana inside it. In the blink of an eye, the backyard was filled with the Grim Reaper’s mana.
Yes, this was it.
After a single groan, Hua Ran immediately fell on the ground.
It was simple.
The Orb of the Grim Reaper was one that targeted the soul. After absorbing that specific trait of the orb, the manastone exploded and applied the power of the Grim Reaper to Hua Ran who was within the range of the explosion.
‘A little trick people found by playing around with these niche items.’
When used by a human, the Orb of the Grim Reaper wasn’t a strong weapon but when combined with these festival-use faulty manastones, they were surprisingly quite effective.
It was effective to the point that they could make me indirectly have an impact on spirits despite my inability to affect them due to my Precept.
Strictly speaking, it was not me that touched Hua Ran’s soul and it was the exploded manastone so I wasn’t going against the Restriction.
“I was going to use it inside the Evil Extermination Formation if necessary but…”
It was a shame that I couldn’t use it there, but it was still okay since I got to use it here.
“Hua Ran. I only used a little bit of mana this time. How do you feel? Are you okay?”
She opened her eyes. After rubbing her eyes and looking around her surroundings with unfocused eyes, she turned to me and opened her mouth.
Hua Ran, or rather, Ran said with a bright and refreshing smile on her face.