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Third Time's the Charm

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The war hadn’t been easy, up to that point, but they had made it. Not together, and not whole, but they had made it all the same.

Tanya, Viktoriya, Rerugen, and the scattered portions of the 203rd Aerial Mage Battalion had made it that far. As needed, their number had been divided or split up, to spread their ability or to train the next generation of mages, but the best of them had stayed together, fighting side-by-side until the death. 

In Dacia. The Legadonia Entente. The François Republic. Throughout the Southern Continent, and even as far as the Russy Federation. Tanya had even flown to ‘Akitsushima’ for a few days.

After her last… battle on the Eastern Front and her subsequent recovery, they had been given a bit of time off in one of the larger cities of the Empire, Dresdun, taking a day to rest. Tanya had been sure that as long as nothing unexpected had happened, they would have been able to survive the war, regardless of whether the Empire lost or won.

Regardless of the other members of the 203rd, all of whom Tanya was fond of, Tanya would have survived, no matter what. She had finally been given her choice of rear echelon positions, and any one of them were so close that she could taste the fine leather upholstery in the cushy offices behind lines. 

She had been so close to securing her future and shoving a roughly-hewn wooden spike – roughly-hewn so that it had plenty of splinters – up Being X’s ass.

And then… it had ended.

She had been having a drink – an alcoholic one, finally – with the rest of her troops at a local pub, when an explosion sounded above her and a burning sensation had overtaken her body. 

As her soul had fled her body, she had remembered the usage of firebombs in the Second World War and the devastation they had caused in Japan. It stood to reason that the Cordiale would use them on the Empire.

And now she was here. A black, endless void.

She clenched her teeth.

No. 

No, she had been so close. She had been so close to the rear, where she could survive.

Then, more thoughts occurred to her. She remembered those beyond her immediate person. Koenig. Viktoriya . Rerugen. Neumann. Grantz. All of them. They had died…

No. It wasn’t fair. It wasn’t.

Tears stinging her eyes, she beat the floor she was sitting on. They weren’t supposed to die like that, miles behind lines. They were supposed to survive . She was supposed to foster their development and have their prowess reflect kindly on her.

She was supposed to protect people she had grown to call friends in the privacy of her mind.

She sat there, feeling quite numb. Her friends – dare she think it, her family – were gone. Burned to cinders or choking to death on ash.

Tanya took a deep breath. No, she couldn’t have a breakdown in enemy territory. Not now. She needed to figure out what that thing’s game was, and she needed to fight it.

She knew that, in a straight fight, she didn’t stand a chance against him. He could pause time like she was nothing but a cheaply-made cartoon. His apparent obsession with turning her into his prophet was one of her only assurances that he wouldn’t just toss her into hell and be done with her.

Regardless, she’d resist and spite him, as she always had, for as long as he took to admit to himself she wasn’t ever joining him.

With that thought, she took stock of her surroundings and immediately ran what she personally liked to call her ‘diagnostic check.’ It reminded her of the technology of her first life, and it was much less disheartening than calling it a ‘post-crisis checkup on her health and sanity.’

She looked down at herself, hoping that she might have her old body back.

No, still the body of a sixteen-year-old underfed girl. She sighed, and surveyed the body she still had. The Type 95 hadn’t decided to move, either.

Well, she still had that cursed piece of jewelry, not that she’d activate it in his presence. She continued to look around, to see if she had anything besides what was on her.

Nope. She only had a few medals, a rumpled uniform, and…

No gun.

Tanya groaned and fought the urge to curl into a ball. Now, she’d have to try and fight a being of incredible power without a gun. Sure, she could use her fingers, hands, and arms as scepters to channel mana instead of her guns, but she’d have to rely on pure formulas instead of bullets, and if she messed up a particularly powerful one, well…

She’d end up as an amputee.

She chuckled mirthlessly to herself. As if she’d even get the chance to take a shot at him. Her situation was hopeless. 

Viktoriya’s face flashed through her mind, and Tanya took a deep breath.

Tanya would fight. If not for her own survival – because that wasn’t happening – then to avenge her faithful adjunct and her friends.

She scoffed. Had she really become the firebrand soldier bent on fighting any battle, no matter how hopeless, that she had tried to make everyone think she was? No, she had just grown personally invested in those around her instead of only caring for herself, which was completely understandable considering how much effort she had poured into them.

Finished surveying her available resources, she looked around, into the black, inky void, wondering if this was some sort of purgatory where she’d slowly be driven mad by her own mind. It didn’t seem like some sort of eternal damnation, like Being X had promised so many years ago.

She was still alert, of course. This could be some sort of test. What the thing was testing for, she couldn’t fathom, but she’d play his game. For now. 

Grimacing, she chose to travel in the direction she thought she had been facing when she had arrived. Hopefully, she’d find… something while walking.

Unknown to the misplaced protagonist was a simple fact: Being X was taking the day off.

No directing mortals, no taunting The Atheist, no having to deal with the various deities, no worrying about The Atheist getting to safety and out from under his heavenly thumb, no having to try and brainstorm ways of saving…

Well. He wasn’t doing anything stressful. Nothing like that.

Just one day to relax and try to find some peace.

Naturally, everything had happened while he was gone.

Without his careful guidance, the mortals’ firebombs had been used on the city of Dresdun, the place he was allowing his lost lamb to rest before he began the next round of attempted conversions, instead of some other city closer to their frontlines.

And with their attack, they had killed The Atheist. 

Not that Being X knew yet. He was trying to take a nap.

Tanya continued to look around, unaware of her nemesis’s sabbatical, and she eventually found a small area lit by some sort of overhead light. There were two chairs, a dark brown one and a light one. There was a desk next to the light chair, and a girl sitting in the chair, dozing.

Tanya slowly crept into the edge of the light, wary of a trap. She looked at the girl sitting in the chair.

The girl seemed to be beautiful, by western standards. She had a full chest, wore slightly revealing clothing, and had shockingly blue hair. She was currently hugging the light blue hagoromo that seemed to be trying to float in the air. 

She also reeked of mana. It was on a scale that Tanya had only known in Being X and, when they prayed, herself and the so-called ‘Bloody Valkyrie.’ Tanya chuckled when she thought of that girl.

Her thoughts slowly spiraled towards what had happened after she’d killed her. The fall, her capture, her r-

She shook her head and bit down on the inside of her cheek. She wouldn’t allow memories of the past to distract her, not here. Never, if she could help it…

Back on track, Tanya continued to study the girl, for a moment. Then her eyes began to drift down, to the creamy expanses of-

Tanya violently shook her head, biting her tongue this time. She wouldn’t fall prey to and be distracted by the hormone-driven thoughts that puberty and her sexual preferences had been inflicting on her for three years, either.

She had better things to do – like trying to survive – than to let her thoughts stray in the middle of enemy territory.

After taking a calming breath, Tanya activated a few basic Observation formulas that she could utilize without needing a Computation Jewel. She searched the chairs, the ground, around the girl, and everywhere in sight that wasn’t the inky expanse that surrounded them. 

She found nothing that might resemble a trap or illusion. She found nothing at all, in fact. Nothing indicated this was a trap, or that Being X was nearby.

She had memorized his mana signature the one time her Type 97 had been nearby during one of his ‘sermons,’ and the memory of that signature was the only reason she hadn’t immediately assumed that he had reincarnated himself into the form of the Bloody Valkyrie upon her repeated meetings with that crazy madwoman.

Still suspicious – what if the girl turned out to be some sort of fighting machine? – she walked closer to the girl. The possible lackey didn’t move, or even seem to notice Tanya’s presence.

Tanya nodded – she hadn’t been rendered unconscious by the girl yet – and she snapped her fingers in front of the girls face. She needed answers, and-

No change.

Raising an eyebrow, she began to poke the girl, who remained unmoving. Tanya tilted her head in confusion, and pressed her finger into the girl’s cheek. 

She still wasn’t waking up. Tanya furrowed her eyebrows as she tried to think of a way to wake her up.

Tanya shrugged as she raised a hand. It wasn’t her fault the girl was such a monumentally heavy sleeper.

Tanya’s hand fell, and a loud smack issued from the point of impact. A mark stained the cheek of the girl, who remained unmoving, besides a slight shift in position.

Tanya stared at her own hand, trying not to get whiplash from glancing between it and the girl.

Had… had she even hit her, or was she hallucinating this entire experience?

Now wary of the sleeping embodiment of blue, she enhanced her arm, hand, and upper body with mana. The Reinforcement formulas were, when kept weak, some of the easiest to do without a Computation Jewel.

“Here goes nothing,” Tanya muttered, lashing out with as much power allowed to her by her mana and body.

SMACK!

The girl was sent sprawling and hit the ground, rolling for a few feet. Seemingly immune to the damage that Tanya had imparted to her, she yawned, and rubbed her eyes as she sat up.

“Whaa…”

“Stupid Eris…” the girl muttered, grumbling as she sat up.

Scowling, the girl looked back at where she’d been resting, finally noticing Tanya, and tilted her head. “Wait, you’re not Eris. Who are you?”

Years of military training and the subsequent years of her identity being doubted – she didn’t exactly look the part of a hardened war veteran, let alone a military officer – snapped into her mind, and Tanya quickly gave a salute. “Major-General Tanya Degurechaff, commander of the 203rd-”

The girl cut her off, tilting her head, an expression of mild interest coloring her face. “Wait, some war world is using child soldiers now?”

Tanya stopped her explanation abruptly. This girl…

She was, no doubt, related to Being X. The woman knew there were multiple worlds or dimensions, even if she wasn’t him.

“How…?” Tanya began to ask, eyes narrowed in suspicion, when the girl cut her off with a negligent wave of her hand.

“I suppose you wouldn’t know,” the girl said, clearing her throat, “but I am Aqua, a goddess who guides humans who die young to the afterlife.” She supplied this fact simply while standing and walking to her chair.

She paused, and Tanya had to fight to contain her palpable anger. Another being that claimed to be god?

In her first life, Tanya had loudly declared her disbelief in god. She hadn’t thought that god would come down to lecture a middle class office worker on their lack of faith, and she had told that being, to his face, that he wasn’t what he claimed to be.

She had spent every moment of the next near sixteen years regretting that decision. She had had to grow up in a knockoff version of Germany and had to fight as a child soldier with magic.

She wouldn’t be repeating that mistake again, no thank you. She might have made some wonderful friends along the way, but she did not like having to play Being X’s games.

No, instead, she’d see what this… Aqua had to say, and then she would leave her in the dust if she couldn’t make herself useful.

Unaware of Tanya’s thoughts, Aqua had been looking for something, searching the scant furniture for something that wasn’t there. “Usually,” she commented, “whenever one of you gets here, I get a book that tells me your entire lifelong sob story, but I can’t find it…”

Unknown to Tanya, Being X had, once more, been the cause of this. He’d locked up the file of The Atheist when she had been reincarnated, to make sure that none of the others tried something. There were far too many trickster Gods and chaos Goddesses and annoying-son-of-a-bitch Deities that might try to mess with his plans simply because they could.

And, while Aqua knew the files were locked up, she didn’t know that the puny, disgruntled, partially adorable girl in front of her was the fearsome Atheist.

The girl closed her eyes, and shrugged. “Well, what does it matter?” she said sitting on her chair, using the small table at her side as an armrest. “I don’t need your files in order to process you.”

Tanya was, honestly, personally offended by that. She might have gotten caught if this Aqua did have her book, obviously, but why wouldn’t this person care about making sure that things were working correctly? 

She was probably some sort of reject.

Tanya smirked. Heh. Reject god.

Aqua continued. “You have two choices. You can choose to start over at square one with a new life, or you can go to Heaven and carry on like an old woman.” 

Being X had lied to her, then. There was some sort of afterlife beyond reincarnation. Not that Tanya thought the bastard had been telling her the truth about most things that had spewed from his mouth, considering that he mostly ranted about how awesome he was and how doomed she’d be without him.

The girl leaned over conspiratorially, looked over her shoulders, and began to speak in a slightly lower but no less discernible voice. “To tell you the truth, Heaven isn’t the dreamy place you all imagine it to be.” 

Tanya merely raised her eyebrows. She’d never imagined heaven.

“There’s no TV, manga, or games. You have no physical body, so you can’t do anything sexual.” Tanya’s anger spiked. How dare she remind her of-

Aqua just continued talking, ignorant of the angry whirlpool standing inches away. “There’s nothing to do but bask in the sun and sing the praises of the Gods for all eternity.” Tanya continued to glare. As if she’d ever sing the praises of any god.

The most she ever did was reluctantly scream them, when she wasn’t-

Tanya bit down on her cheek again. Not here. She wouldn’t remember here.

Mistaking the anger and fleeting panic on her face as shock, Aqua continued to speak. “Yeah, you don’t want to go to a boring place like Heaven, right?”

“Of course not!” Tanya snarled.

Aqua nodded. “On the other hand, starting over from square one isn’t so fun either.” Tanya looked down at her body. No, it wasn’t fun to be reincarnated, especially when you had your memories and were locked in a battle with a supremely powerful being. 

She nodded hesitantly, a delicate looking eyebrow raised slowly. Aqua proceeded to lean into Tanya, almost yelling, “On that note, I’ve got a great offer for you.”

Thoughts crystallized in Tanya’s mind as she ignored the violation of her personal space. 

Was she trying to sell something to Tanya?

Aqua definitely was. In fact, she was slightly panicking.

That book usually allowed her to formulate some sort of way to convince the gullible losers that came in here to do what she wanted. 

Wondering how she would convince this girl to go fight the Demon King, Aqua looked down at her – it was hard not to – and noted the military gear and the bauble around her neck. It looked… magical. 

Smiling sweetly, Aqua took a few steps away from the standing figure of Tanya. “You like having magic, right?”

Yeah. She was definitely trying to sell Tanya something. 

Suppressing the urge to giggle at the thought that this reject goddess might get her to agree to something willingly before Being X ever did, she nodded and crossed her arms. She needed to appear that she was open to whatever idea this ‘Aqua’ was presenting.

She might as well hear it. Maybe it would be better than trying to sneak out of… wherever this was.

Not that Tanya would definitely bite. It would depend, of course, on what she offered and how this deal would be enforced.

She would listen to the girl, though. She seemed to be trying harder and more logically than Being X ever had. Tanya would give the girl a chance for that, if nothing else.

The girl struck a pose, and began to recite a speech that sounded like an ad for a crappy video game for a phone model that was three years old.

“That world, which had long enjoyed peace, is being threatened by the Demon King’s army,” she loudly declared, striking another pose, “Everyone lives in fear of the Demon King’s army’s merciless pillage and slaughter!” As she spoke, she made various gestures to drive home the point, and an additional, golden spotlight shined down as she finished.

The light faded, and she began to speak normally again. “Since that’s the sort of world it is, everyone refuses to be reborn, so the population is declining.”

Tanya internally rolled her eyes. If heaven could contain souls as they praised Being X for eternity, then there was likely a way to create new ones. Otherwise, the universe would have run out of them, eventually.

Probably. She didn’t have a lot of information to go on, but that would be her working assumption.

It was much more likely that the population was declining due to the fact that someone was terrorizing an area, killing thousands. People wouldn’t want their children to be born in a place where they could easily be killed, and would take measures to ensure that they didn’t end up pregnant.

“So we decided,” she explained, “‘Why not send people who have died in other worlds there with their bodies and memories intact?’” 

An interesting proposition. Of course, the girl hadn’t gotten to the point of why she would want to start fighting, but Tanya was sure she’d get there eventually. Tanya nodded in comprehension, and the girl continued her speech. 

“Additionally, I’ll be doing you a big favor.” Tanya looked up from where she had been mentally scheming, thinking about how fast she could rise in an army with the knowledge and experience she now held.

“I’m granting you the right to bring any one thing of your choosing with you. It could be a tremendous talent or a powerful weapon.” Tanya’s eyes widened. 

Having something that she didn’t have to pray to Being X to utilize? Now that was tantalizing.

“You’ll be able to redo your life with all of your original memories. To top it off, you’ll be able to bring one thing of your choosing! And the people of the parallel world will earn them someone battle-ready to help them. Not a bad deal, don’t you think?” 

Tanya nodded. This was a good deal for all of the parties involved. The gods also benefited, of course; they didn’t have to keep housing lazy squatters in heaven when they could be praying or spreading the faith.

But most of all, Tanya benefitted. She’d get another life and continue to spite Being X. 

If he even knew where she was, anyway. He wasn’t interrupting this proceeding, so she would just marvel at her good fortune in the back of her mind.

The girl now stood, straighter and more serious than Tanya had seen her yet. Tanya steeled herself, curling her fists for a moment, before launching into her questions.

“Ma’am, I do have some questions. Will I keep this… magical focus of mine? I don’t really want to give it up…” 

The girl waved her off. “I’m sure that nothing you smelly apes have created could possibly affect the system. You won’t have to give it up,” she said arrogantly. 

Perfect. 

Tanya smiled widely. Aqua thought the smile was created in thanks of her generosity, but any normal person could have told the goddess that the grin was, from one to ten, a fifty-three on any creepiness scale.

Tanya smoothed out her features, and began to speak again. “Another question. When you say ‘original memories’, do you mean the ones that I can remember now?” 

She didn’t want to lose what she had remembered and learned in either of her lives.

Aqua rolled her eyes, seemingly annoyed that she had to answer these questions. “Yes, that’s what I meant. Sorry that you couldn’t keep up, little girl.”

Oh, how Tanya wished that she had her gun so she could split the head of this annoying girl open… or at least some way to contact an HR Department and get her fired for insulting a customer.

But she didn’t, and, more importantly, she needed this so-called ‘goddess.’

Tanya smiled. “I have one last question. What do I get out of this besides going to another world?”

This brought Aqua up short. Didn’t she think it was a privilege enough that she got to be reincarnated by her, Aqua? 

She groaned, and began to answer the question. “Usually, we save this until you’re already leaving, but if you survive, you get one rule free wish.”

Oh.

Well, now she had to go. Being reincarnated again might spite Being X, but if she did this, she’d get a single wish. She could do anything. Become immortal. Have her old body back. She could go back to her original life, or to her second life! She could…

She smiled. She could wish that Viktoriya and all the members of the 203rd were alive, or even that the World War hadn’t happened. She could-

Tanya’s eyes widened and she took a deep breath.

She could even take direct revenge on Being X.

All of her second life, it had been her goal to get to the rear and spite Being X by surviving and being reincarnated. As she’d come to command her troops, those closest and most loyal to her had been worked into her plan. She’d wanted to take as many of them as she could with her.

But this…

She wouldn’t just spite that once unassailable Being.

No, she could exact her revenge, pound for pound, blood for blood, every single pain and embarrassment for something equally bad.

And, if this new world proved to be too dangerous, she could just run away. She wouldn’t have any documentation, and could likely just fly to some other country.

A wide, insane grin split Tanya’s face. “What are you waiting for, Aqua? Show me- ” 

Then Tanya stopped, and the grin fell. What would stop them from simply going back on their deal?

Aqua, oblivious to the fact that the nasty smile on the human’s face had not been one of awe, began to groan. How did she still have questions?

Suspicious once more, Tanya glared at the being. “Wait, how can I ensure that you won’t back out of the deal once this ‘Demon King’ is dead?” she asked, staring at the blue beauties face.

The, apparently welcoming this question, rushed over to her table, from which she pulled out what looked like a pamphlet. “This is a contract. In essence, it details what you need to do, what we’ll do, and how this process will work.

Smirking, Tanya ripped the thing out of the girl’s hands. She’d be studying that. “Alright, now I’m done. Proceed with the theatrics,” she said with a small motion from her hand.

Aqua, relieved that the annoying girl was done, went on to the next stage. “Wonderful! Now, chose! I’ll grant you one power that is second to none!”

--OxOxO--

Tanya had figured out a few things.

Firstly, every single thing that Aqua offered was completely overpowered compared to anything she had ever heard of, excluding the cursed Type 95.

The blue brat – because that was what she was: an annoying, self-absorbed, water-themed brat – had kept badgering her to hurry up, spouting demeaning drivel to incentivize her. 

It was getting on her nerves, but Tanya endured her annoying attempts to get her to hurry and suggested that she go back to sleep while she was choosing. Aqua had thought her suggestion was excellent and had promptly dozed off.

She’d tried to read the contract, but the pamphlet-sized housing for the contract was impossibly enormous. Whenever she turned a few pages, preceding pages would disappear and new ones appeared in their place, creating something that was a few hundred pages long, at least.

She had gotten to the parts she was interested in, however.

She had to stop the Demon King, or the contract would kill her.

Or, at the very least, she had to side with whoever opposed him. There were quite a few loopholes she could see from even the first few pages, but considering the fact that Being X was overworked by his failed business model, she guessed that he wouldn’t be able to write a foolproof contract.

This meant that she could abandon the fight against this person, as long as she helped the people opposing him from time to time. That went for her new ‘Divine Relic’ as well, if she didn’t fight the person…

It would disappear. She wondered if it would also take her Type 95 – and that would be a good thing, considering she literally couldn’t get rid of it. She had tried to damage the thing with knives, but her body’s control was taken from her if she dared to try. When she’d tried to toss it into some unnamed river deep in Russy territory after-

She shook her head and ignored her most recent horrible memories and focused back on her situation.

The wish was enforced by heaven’s mana, and couldn’t be surpassed by anything. If the wish was voided, then she, as the Reincarnated, would be free to go and no longer beholden to the contract, and heaven would face serious… repercussions.

With that over with, she had started to survey the veritable flood of overpowered… things.

Because it wasn’t just weapons. There was clothing and armor, abilities that sounded fanciful, and even race changes. This world, it seemed, would be much more diverse than her second one.

In that world, it was just humans, as far as humans could tell. Here, there were apparently elves, dwarves, beastmen, and all sorts of other things.

But, eventually, she whittled down her choices to simply three.

Her first option was a power boost. It was probably the best for ensuring her own survival, regardless of whatever happened.

The paper that described the object was titled ‘Circlet of Greatness.’ When activated, it boosted whatever the wearer’s best attribute was by a factor of ten. 

Tanya was salivating at the thought of how much mana she would have access to. The downside was that it would also devalue the wearer’s worst attribute by that same factor. 

‘You might have the charisma of a god, but if your stamina’s lacking, even charisma won’t help you,’ was the tagline of the card. Tanya had grumbled about extremely powerful perverted beings upon reading that and thought of the practical applications instead.

Sure, her physical capabilities wouldn’t be wonderful , but she’d have so much mana, she didn’t think that anything could kill her, besides Being X.

Not having to pray to Being X every other week and losing her memory would be nice, as well. With that much power, the Type 95 wouldn’t be necessary for much. 

Of course, wearing something that looked like a crown might get her a few odd looks, but she was sure she’d be able to wear a hat over it or something.

The next thing she could get was far more… indulgent than the first.

It was a skill called ‘Shapeshifting.’ The more she powered it up, the more she could change her body. 

Early stuff would be hair and eye color, with bone structure and muscle density would follow. The final abilities included being able to make pieces of your body into weapons and armor. It seemed good, but Tanya liked being away from the danger, and this ability seemed to lend itself to stealth or physical fighting.

On the other hand, this could help her escape, if need be. She could become anyone and everyone.

And, of course, she could look and feel like her old self again. Which was a big plus.

The last option she had thought of was probably against the rules, but she included it nevertheless.

As Aqua had said that she could take anything that she saw before her, Tanya had thought to take the self-proclaimed goddess with her. Sure, she was more than a little annoying, but Tanya had labeled everyone who wasn’t a superior or trying to be the ideal soldier in the last life annoying, for a time.

She’d even thought that about innocent Viktoriya, when they hadn’t known each other well. 

How bad could she be once they got to know each other?

Besides, regardless of her ability to connect with the goddess, the practical bonuses of having someone as powerful as her should outweigh the possible negatives.

As she deliberated, mind whirling between possibilities where each of the things she could take with her, she reached a decision.

Tanya stood, and walked over to Aqua. She nudged her, and she rose easily this time. Tanya didn’t really want to slap her anymore. She didn’t want to risk this opportunity.

Aqua looked around worriedly, probably concerned that that Eris person, likely some other powerful being, was there. Her dark blue eyes met Tanya’s vivid blue ones. “Oh, it’s just you,” she said. She sat up straighter in her chair, and whined, “Do you have more stupid questions, little girl? I really-”

Tanya snarled out a response. “No, you-!” She calmed down, and bit out a response between clenched teeth. “I’ve made my decision.”

She seemed relieved. “Finally. So what have you chosen?”

“I choose…”

--OxOxO--

A/N 1: Well, here it is. After nearly a year of work, I’ve finished a chunk of this story and have finally worked up the courage to post it.

“This is all you have to show for a year of work?” might be your question, and to that I say:

I have over thirty six chapters backlogged, along with a handful of Omakes. We’ve got OCs, a vast timeline of every event to happen in Konosuba, and way too much time spent doing this.

Lol oh well. I hope you’re enjoying this, please leave a comment – it will probably give me the power to write, like, twenty more chapters – and tell me what you want her to choose.

It won’t impact the story – I decided over a year ago, remember? – but I want to know what you all think she’ll pick.

Oh right. I’m releasing the first ten chapters at once, so I hope you enjoy the beginning - and this image!

This is Fine but Tanya

Chapter Text

Calm Down, Being X

Tanya had almost said what she wanted to take with her when another thought struck her. She didn’t really know how the Elenium Type 95 Computation Jewel worked – Being X had forced the malfunctioning piece of junk to work – much less how it might react to similarly cursed items. 

She asked, “Why not just send me down with all of these items and powers? I’d be able to finish off this ‘Demon King’ in five minutes.” 

And that was with quotation marks, thank you. She didn’t know what this Demon King character was doing, and he could be like her. He could have been forcibly reincarnated and unable to fully control the surroundings around him. 

She’d see if his ideas had merit and if he could protect her from Heaven. If he could, she’d break her contract, rule free wish or not.

Her first priority was safety, after all, and she hadn’t had the luxury of choosing sides in her last life. She’d chose to align with a nation that wasn’t bent on throwing itself at every nation around it

Aqua groaned, tired of the questions the little girl kept giving her. She was like, twelve, or something. Literally no one expected anything from her, so why was she asking these questions? 

Face pointed toward the overhead light, she said, grudgingly, “Because, little girl, we don’t have the power. Sending people into a new life with their memories, bodies and a whole new language is taxing on our stores of mana.” Tanya’s eyebrows rose.

She’d be learning another language? That sounded important, and like it shouldn’t get skimmed ov-

Before she could ask about that, the girl continued. “Sending them with a relic of awesome power means we spend a whole lot more mana trying to do that, which means we are limited to how often we do it and how much we send.”

Suddenly acutely aware of the Computation Jewel around her neck, she prepared to ask another question. The girl in front of her looked desperate, and she was more likely to let things slip that she shouldn’t if she were trying to get her to move on.

Careful to keep the worry out of her voice, lest the blue-haired girl begin to suspect something, she asked, “Would that kill – err, destroy – the soul of the person? If you sent them with more than one relic?”

Aqua began to wail obnoxiously. “Noooo. It’d take all of our mana, and we’d be unable to do much afterwards, but we could.”

Tanya nodded. She was ready, now, and this time, she’d defy Being X, and live for more than twenty years. “Fine then,” she said, quickly stuffing the contract into her clothing. “I choose…”

She had thought over her options and goals. What was she going to do? Stay alive? Join the Demon King? Beat the Demon King? 

She, of course, lacked knowledge about the world she was going into, but if it was like either of hers, then she’d be facing the wrath of nations armed with guns, tanks, and Aerial Mages.

Even the best could be worn away by numbers – the defeat of the Bloody Valkyrie showed that – which meant she needed allies and power. With that in mind, she had gone through her options.

First, the ability to Shapeshift.

While she really, really, really wanted to be her old self once more – more than ever before, considering how tantalizingly close it was – she knew that that power wouldn’t really be conducive to her continued survival. Sure, she could avoid people or nations, for a while, but eventually, she’d be boxed in by the paper trail she left and caught.

Besides, Shapeshifting seemed like it would take too long to fully utilize, and she had her ‘Optical Decoy’ formulas if she really needed to look different . She could change organs and become a living weapon, sure, but that would be after years of hard work and training. Years she might not have, considering the fact that wherever she was being transported to was at war.

Second, the girl in front of her, Aqua.

While she could try to take her, Tanya didn’t know if she could, and she might get her ability to reincarnate once more revoked in the uproar she might cause. Plus, she wasn’t going to be ruled by emotions or sentimentality and pick a self-purported goddess just because she might be like Viktoriya.

Which left…

Tanya held up the paper in her right hand. The Circlet of Greatness.

It was best. She really did need any and all options that could be afforded to her, and in any world like the two she had left, power would allow her to get on the fast track in any army she joined with.

She could always use said power to escape, assuming the worst happened.

Aqua looked like she might cry tears of joy. She wouldn’t have to listen to this annoying brat’s questions any longer.

Aqua ran over to the desk by her chair. She slapped the paper on top of it and poured a tiny bit of mana into the paper. The paper disappeared immediately, and Aqua began to get a few provisions that she would need for her next life.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in heaven, a large red button appeared next to Being X.

He hadn’t been stupid. He had known that people might try things like taking two relics of awesome power, or trying to take the Heavenly being on duty with them into the testing world of his relocation and reincarnation project. 

So, he had developed a failsafe. A large, red button with a sticky note that read “Press to Break Rules.” If he didn’t press it, then the rules didn’t get broken.

He’d reincarnated The Atheist with their memories in a world that wasn’t being plagued with a Demon King using this button, and he had also taken second helpings from the Heavenly Box of Eternal Winter.

Being X really did like ice cream.

Unfortunately, the moment the button materialized next to him, glowing red and blaring loudly that rules were about to be broken, Being X was trying to sleep. 

He’d been having wonderful dreams about The Atheist finally admitting that he was God, and then going on to conquer that world while spreading his holy word, hand in hand with him.

Being X didn’t like having his dreams interrupted.

So, without looking to the side, he smashed the button, quite used to smashing the alarm clocks that he made for himself so he’d actually get out of bed and deal with the stresses of being God. 

This was no alarm clock.

The button was depressed, and several things happened at once.

For starters, the red lights that lined the blank room that he had made for his rest began to blare. He shot out of bed, eyes widening and fighting the urge to let his swearing become screaming. 

Those lights meant one thing. The Atheist was being tampered with. 

He rushed quickly to his view of that world, searching frantically for a person that wasn’t there.

Around Tanya, the black, inky void began to flash between red and the normal black. 

A ring of symbols, resembling the ones that she was told the Type 95 often created, appeared at her feet, and Tanya began to float into the air. Content that, if Being X was going to show himself, he would have by now, Tanya began to monologue. 

Among other things, it was cathartic to vent her frustrations to enemies that wouldn’t be able to do anything about either their death or her retreat.

She glared down at the panicking Aqua below her, who seemed to be alarmed by the red flashing. “Well, Aqua, I would just love to stick around and enjoy your sparkling personality, but I don’t think I will. This is the second time I’ve been reincarnated, and I’ll show Being X that there isn’t anything that can get me to acknowledge him as god.” 

Laughing maniacally, Tanya reveled in the look of terror on Aqua’s face. It was fun to pretend to be some stereotypical, cartoonish villain, but she meant what she said. Regardless of what happened, she’d never call Being X ‘god.’

He’d had his chance.

With that last thought ruining her mind, she floated off towards the light that had opened up, content in knowing that she’d not have to interact with Being X for a good, long time. Heaven had used up its mana, and she’d be free, for a bit.

--OxOxO--

Aqua gulped. The girl – no, Tanya was her name – disappeared. 

Aqua began to sniff sadly. Really, how should she have known that that girl was The Atheist? The one that the higher ups talked about in hushed whispers and that everyone kind of feared. 

She was one of the only people, period , who had decided that when faced with the power of God, she’d still doubt him. After sixteen years, she hadn’t broken, even under the onslaught of an entire world.

Aqua had just violated one of the only rules surrounding the girl. Don’t interact with her

And she hadn’t just interacted with her. Oh no, she’d used Heaven’s power to reincarnate her, and she had two relics.

Yeah, Aqua was definitely dead.

As the red light faded, the area around her changed subtly.

The void didn’t grow any less black, and the overhead light didn’t become less white, and the chairs didn’t stop existing, but it changed all the same. 

The chairs became tarnished, less polished. The light began to flicker. Not often, but noticeably for a place that was supposed to be the definition of perfection. The all-encompassing void around her didn’t seem to be so all-encompassing.

That would be the mana depletion.

Heaven, of course, wouldn’t stop existing. Nothing could do that, but things could deteriorate substantially without enough mana.

As a red telephone materialized on her desk and began to ring, Aqua gulped. He wasn’t going to like this.

She gently picked up the phone, hopeful that by doing so, the voice at the other end of the line might be less angry. 

Her hopes were quickly quashed.

“AQUAAAAAAAAAAAA!”

She recoiled from the phone, and, after fumbling with the thing when it had flown from her hand in shock, she dutifully held it up to her ear. “Y- Yes, Boss?” she asked, hopeful that maybe she wouldn’t be demoted past her current position.

She didn’t think that was supposed to be possible – she was only able to take in souls from a single country on a single version of the planet called Earth – but she wasn’t sure He might bend the rules to punish her for this transgression.

“What did you just do?”

Whimpering, Aqua began to explain. How the girl had slapped her, and how she hadn’t even known who the girl was because she didn’t have her book. She was even able to convince herself that it wasn’t entirely her fault, when the facts were all laid bare.

Aqua concluded her attempt at mitigating her involvement in the affair by saying, “And really, whose fault is it that I didn’t have access to her file? You really should have been more considerate.”

That had, apparently, been the wrong thing to say. The only sound that echoed through the telephone was heavy breathing. After a moment, His voice echoed through the receiver.

“You listen very carefully, water goddess. I would very much like to demote you to a position that obligates everyone else to ridicule you. Fortunately for you, you have subordinates who appreciate your way of running things. Be nicer to Eris, would you?”

Aqua felt a vein bulge at that, but He continued on anyway. “Regardless of your subordinates… mark my words, I will find some way for you to regret this decision.”

The line went dead, and Aqua set the phone down, pouting. Really, it wasn’t entirely her fault. Right?

Aqua huffed. Like that overblown, self-important windbag had said: He couldn’t demote her, so she didn’t have anything to worry about.

On the other end of the phone, Being X was trying not to panic. Heaven would survive sending The Atheist there, as it had survived her first reincarnation and the reincarnation of hundreds of others. 

It might not survive her getting that wish .

Alright, he couldn’t do much about it now. He would fix the contracts, of course, and label the button better. Maybe put an unbreakable glass box around it.

He then remembered something he could do. Smirking, he brought up the book that told of the laws surrounding the reincarnation project.

While that self-important, insignificant, minor goddess might be annoying, Being X didn’t think he would demote her to a position where everyone would be obligated to humiliate her. 

Deities had more important things to do than interact with her, like picking their noses, watching paint dry, or making a working supercomputer using nothing but abacuses and gravity.

No, he’d remove a few restrictions . He wouldn’t do anything directly, no, but if someone decided they wanted to take her…

Well, he wouldn’t stop them. One less thorn in his side, as far as he was concerned.

--OxOxO--

Tanya breathed a sigh of fresh air. Finally, she was free from Being X, for a while at least. 

She didn’t know how long it would take for their realm to regenerate its mana, but he’d be able to send someone after her, eventually. For now, however-

A loud noise interrupted her thoughts. It sounded like the crack of a whip…

She turned to her left, and saw something she hadn’t seen in a long while.

A horse-drawn carriage, with a driver. That driver had cracked some sort of whip, which, she guessed, would motivate the animal.

It was simple. There was a brown horse, and it was pulling a carriage, covered in those typical manila… coverings, just like in old western movies. It had wooden wheels, and barrels hung from each side. By all accounts, it seemed like something representative of the human spirit of adventure. 

There was only one problem.

In both of her times, horses were used sparingly, by either the very rich, police forces, and, in her second life, by the military of a certain backwards country that had taken a few weeks to defeat.

If people were still using horse-drawn carriages in everyday life… then…

She glanced around wildly. People, clothed in simple garb and carrying boxes of food, went about their day. Children chased each other around, waving sticks as if fighting with swords . A group of people, much farther away, were dressed bizarrely. The streets were paved with cobblestone instead of asphalt. The streets didn’t even look regulated, twisting slightly as it went. 

Oh.

She had assumed that, like her first two lives, this one would have people fighting with guns, machinery, flight, and have positions of power that weren’t based on how close you were to a king and how far back you could trace your lineage.

Tanya whimpered.

She wasn’t fighting in a post-industrial place at all. It was all rural. Preindustrial.

This changed everything.

--OxOxO--

Blazing eyes opened.

Compared to the rest of his aging, decrepit body, they had a vigor to them that made him look ten years younger.

The old man didn’t do much, these days. He sat around in his castle, waiting, planning, or conversing with the people here and outside the barrier. His generals were all lazing around, as usual.

No matter what he did, they couldn’t work together for long. They squabbled among each other, vying for his place even though he wasn’t yet dead. They were expecting it, sooner or later, and he couldn’t really stop them from doing so.

Only his prowess had saved him from the few assassination attempts carried out by the more cunning among the Generals that wanted his position – Hans and Sylvia. They were never implicated, of course. 

They were smarter than that. They wouldn’t have become Generals otherwise.

The more loyal of them – Vanir, Verdia, Ragcraft, and, of course, his daughter – had also been instrumental in maintaining his power. Whether familial or personal loyalty, the latter three could be trusted.

Wolbach and Celestina, too. A formerly imprisoned evil god had been an unexpected boon, but Wolbach had aligned with him immediately when she’d discovered the fate of her followers. Celestina was also aligned with him, if only while she searched for her god.

Oh, and the retired one. He was technically useful, but he was just as lazy as they were, choosing to ‘retire’ so he could laze around and mooch off of him without having to fight anything, owing to the barrier that protected the castle he drew his power from.

It was cute, how they fought and bickered and lazed about like children. 

It was also annoying.

If they would just work together, instead of trying to fight to succeed him or undermine each other's power to kill him, they would have been much more successful against the Kingdom of Belzerg.

Of course, he groused, if that Lich or the General she had replaced fought by their side instead of just draining their money, this conflict would have ended years ago.

But something had… changed.

A quick spell left his weapon, appearing to fizzle out in the air, and he grinned malevolently. The howling of the prophet finally reached his ears, but he didn’t need her to tell what was going on.

Heaven was acting against him. They had sent yet another ‘Hero Candidate,’ and this time, they’d given them more than one of their relics. Doing so, of course, risked them not being able to track his movements for a time, but it also heightened the chance that they would survive against his forces.

More importantly, however, was the fact that Heaven would be out of commission for a while. Sending down a Hero Candidate with so much taxed their reserves, which would make them…

Inattentive.

Instead of having to constantly ensure that Heaven wasn’t acting against his forces directly, he could act while they were unavailable.

Licking his lips in anticipation, plans were taken down from the dusty shelves of his mind, long forgotten due to his part-protection, part-sealing in his own castle. Verdia could spend a few months away from the front lines, and Elroad’s minister would need to have an ‘accident’ at the hands of Belzerg, in some way. Yes, things were…

He then paused.

He snarled, remembering what had caused Heaven’s inability to stop him.

Sitting on his throne, the Demon King planned. First, he would need to find out who their new hero was.

Whoever they had sent… they would be formidable. Intimidating. Dangerous.

And above all else, they would be a devout believer in the sanctity of Heaven. They would need to be stopped.

Chapter Text

 

Indeed, everything was different.

If Tanya had known she’d be dropped in the middle of a preindustrial civilization, she would have taken either of the other two options.

Aqua was likely to know more about this world than Tanya, since Tanya had never been to a place like this and that girl probably had at least a passing familiarity with the world she sent people to, and the Shapeshifting ability would have been much better here, where bureaucracy was more limited and she could claim to be whoever she wanted.

Speaking of her options…

She felt the top of her head, and found the so-called ‘Circlet of Greatness.’

She held it up to the light of the sun, studying it.

It didn’t form a complete circle, like a hat or crown might, but it instead tapered off to two points near the back of the headgear. It was richly decorated, with the metal, seemingly woven like cloth, forming sculptures of wings, clouds, and other things commonly associated with heaven.

Tanya scoffed at it. Some of the metalwork resembled spirals and geometric shapes, and those portions were fine. But the rest of it looked quite… tacky, especially with the light the metal seemed to produce.

Tanya couldn’t tell what sort of metal it was. It seemed to shine more than even a highly polished piece of metalwork in the sun should. She didn’t know what it was, but she was fairly certain it definitely wasn’t normal.

Well, she knew it wasn’t Mithril. She…

She shook her head violently. She couldn’t dwell on the past. She had too much to do.

Sighing, she attached it to her belt. It wouldn’t be wise to wear something like that here. She might be mistaken for royalty, and while she’d learned some basics of royal etiquette the two times she’d personally met the Kaiser, this world could have entirely different rules.

And it likely did.

Well, first thing was first. She needed to ensure her mana still functioned like normal. If she couldn’t access it, for some reason, she would be completely doomed. About to activate a simple formula, she cast a suspicious gaze around.

She was garnering a few odd looks from the people passing her by, but nothing more.

Wait, there were pedestrians here?

She confirmed it. Yes, these people seemed to be milling about. 

That meant that this place might not be as rural as she thought. Laborers would likely be working in the fields right now, considering how labor-intensive agriculture was without the help of advanced tools.

She was in some sort of city, then. Nodding to herself, she began to stroll about, quietly analyzing the buildings and people around her.

None of them seemed particularly scared or worried, which boded well for her. The Demon King and danger were likely far away, enough that the people here only felt a small minority of his effects.

She kept walking, soon arriving at an area that seemed to be less on the periphery. The small areas of grass she had seen earlier had now disappeared, giving way to an area of the city that was densely packed and filled with people.

Tanya searched the buildings for some sort of alleyway or area where she wouldn’t be interrupted or seen. Magic hadn’t existed in her first world, and it had been seen as more of a branch of science in her second. She didn’t know how it might be seen here.

For all she knew, it was illegal to all but the highest classes.

She ducked into the alley, dogging past the scraps of trash. Her nose didn’t even twitch at the smell; she had encountered far worse on the frontlines.

Within a second, she began to work through the math required for a Reinforcement formula, flexing her limbs to get a feel for its power.

She studied her movements, and noted the drain on her mana. It was…

Larger.

Doing something like this was supposed to be trivial. She’d used something similar in her classes in order to be at the top of the class even before they’d been issued Computation Jewels. This shouldn’t have done too much to her mana! But now…

The loss was noticeable. 

Tanya scowled. The well, magic was harder here, then. That limited her options, unless she wanted to call on the Type 95’s help.

She wouldn’t be able to zip around the battlefield like she used to, and the best of her arsenal would be limited to a few uses a day, if she didn’t pray to Being X.

The light filtering in from the streets was suddenly cut off, and Tanya scowled. She was trying to think, and having someone interrupt her thoughts was decidedly… annoying.

She quickly dispelled the Reinforcement formula and turned around, only to tilt her head in confusion. Someone was blocking the street, staring at her. He wasn’t saying anything, either.

He wore shabby clothing, even by this time’s apparent standards. They were a patchwork of other, once better clothes, and seemed to hang about his body. He was hunched over, and though Tanya couldn’t make out his face, she thought she saw a flash of… orange hair.

The one good thing about the man, appearance wise, anyway, was the scabbard at his side. While not ornamental or anything, it seemed well cared for.

“Can you move it, buddy? It’s kinda dark in here,” she said in a relaxed tone, waiting for his reaction. He just grinned, and drew a long knife from the scabbard at his side.

“Are you lost little girl?” he asked, advancing towards her. Tanya didn’t move an inch.

Right… she still looked like a little girl, and now she wasn’t well known throughout the land thanks to propaganda and being flung from front to front.

In the Empire, people hadn’t questioned her on who she was, after a few years of service. They accepted that she was an elite soldier after a simple introduction, most of the time.

He was seemingly disconcerted by her lack of reaction. Eyes narrowed, he stepped towards her again. “Now, now, little noble girl. Don’t cry or anything. Just come with me, and I’ll bring you back to your parents.”

Tanya snorted. Really, this thing thought he could take her?

She might not have been dressed in any sort of battle gear – she’d need to fix that once she found out where she could get clothing – but she could definitely take care of this loser.

The creep seemed even more confused, but he continued to advance, nonetheless.

“Listen here. I have better things to do than to beat you down, so if you leave now, I’ll pretend to never have seen you,” she supplied. She doubted the man would comply, and she really honestly want him too. 

She wanted to test a few formulas out, and this schmuck – someone willing to kidnap children – would be a perfect test dummy.

He didn’t look important, and no one would look for him.

He peered at her, for a moment, until he began to crack up. Loud peals of laughter issued from underneath the man’s shabby hood as he doubled over. She didn’t take her eyes off his sword. She wouldn’t risk this being a feint.

He straightened up, looking towards her once more. “Awfully brave, even for a noble, since you don’t have any weapons. Now come along,” he said, motioning his sword towards her.

She just smirked and pointed at him while pouring mana into a formula, deciding that she would kill him. 

He seemed to violently flinch as she began to grin at the feeling of mana coursing through her, but before he could do anything more, she began to work through an Explosive Vaporization formula to send towards the dumbfounded man. 

She didn’t want to destroy the buildings around her, after all, and that formula would be a perfect test.

As the mana continued to build up, she became worried when the formula didn’t shoot out of her index finger after a long ten seconds. He was glancing at her with a confused look on his face, but she was saved from any further confusion as the formula completed itself, albeit while draining more mana than usual.

The man was now rushing away from her, fear apparent on his now visible face. Tanya gulped, and hoped that the extra start time for the formula wouldn’t translate to a formula that could damage the buildings around her. She pulled the mental trigger and watched as the ball of light left her finger and propelled her backwards.

It flew towards the man.

In an instant, his torso and head were consumed in a ball of fire. His forearms fell to the ground, the sword that had been clutched in his hands clattering as the scabbard was set flying away.

Tanya attempted to rise for her position, panting slightly.

She grimaced as she walked towards the sword and picked it up. It seemed that she still needed Reinforcement formulas to brace against the recoil, and it also seemed that any formula she tried to use would cost more mana here.

Tanya swung her new sword as she walked towards the entrance to the alley and picked up the scabbard.

Now, she had a weapon. It might not have been much, but it would work in a pinch. Hopefully, she’d get a gun, but if she couldn’t…

She shook her head. If she could reinforce her body beforehand, she could pack enough punch with just the sword to defend herself, if nothing else.

She continued to look around the alley, and found the singed cloak of the man. She searched it, glaring at the garment.

It was beyond filthy, of course, but she soon found enough to justify touching the thing. A small pouch of money and a smaller dagger were quickly added to Tanya’s belt.

Now sure that she had taken everything, she headed back into the street.

Instead of vaporizing the man and the rest of the five feet of alleyway left between him and her, it only destroyed his head and chest it a ball of fire. The rest of him quickly fallen to the ground.

That was hilariously underpowered for the mana she had poured into it. It seemed her thoughts about her powers being weakened were correct. Though, that problem would be solved if she used the Type 95…

She shook her head. She wouldn’t fall for that temptation. It wasn’t worth it.

GROWL!

Tanya blinked and looked down at her body. Her grumbling stomach reminded her of what she needed to do.

Find somewhere to eat.

--OxOxO--

After concealing her weapons, Tanya had utilized her cuteness and still-high-pitched voice to ask pedestrians where the center of the city was. They’d been strangely accommodating, spouting off about “the town of beginning adventurers.”

Others had been quite… apprehensive of talking to what appeared to be a twelve-year-old, which was a bit odd.

She had eventually gotten clear directions, despite everyone’s varying reactions to her.

She’d woven between the streets, marveling at what she saw. It was relatively peaceful, and people didn’t seem all that concerned. Maybe this place was more advanced than she had thought?

There were public areas of recreation, after all. She’d seen what looked like a park, and a lot of the buildings had trees and grass in front, like the typical American home.

Maybe they just looked like peasants?

Regardless of the oddities of the people around her, It hadn’t taken long for her to reach where she’d been directed to. She needed to find somewhere to eat, sleep, and get information. She didn’t really have that long to look, either.

The sun was beginning to set.

So, she followed another group of people who had weapons. She saw a few swords, some sort of quarterstaff, and a bow. Hopefully, if they were going to rest here, she could too. They headed towards an inviting building, and she followed them, noting its appearance in the case that this was somewhere worth spending her time, should she stay in the town.

It was, from what she could tell, a fairly large building compared to the buildings around it. The outside was some sort of brick, while a number of windows dotted the outside of it. There was some sort of sigil on the front of it. Maybe it was for the person that owned it?

A red-tiled roof topped the building off. The group pressed inside, but Tanya didn’t when the sound of breaking glass echoed from inside. Now cautious, she cast one last look towards the merchant stalls in front of the building before walking in and pushing past the doors.

Tanya peered inside, mouth agape as she stared at the interior. It wasn’t what she’d expected.

Instead of some dimly lit room, with tables and people strewn about in whatever way they desired and a low hanging ceiling, it was fairly open and well furnished. 

The stone floors, instead of mismatched cobblestone or uneven floorboards, was made of some sort of polished stone, arranged in a clear pattern. The ceiling was far above her head, a large statue stood in front of her, and potted plants decorated the entrance to her right and left.

Instead of candles, some sort of lantern dotted a pathway, illuminating the interior. In neatly arranged tables, groups of people, in various states of dress ate, talked, or laughed.

The food…

It looked delicious, and it looked modern.

There had not been much recognizable fare in the Empire. None of it was like anything from her homeland, and even the overseas products that were available in Japan, like hamburgers, were nowhere to be found in that world.

Here, however, she could see salads and fish that were so very different from the meaty diet most soldiers got that was only occasionally bolstered by soup, bread, and, during a particularly memorable month, sawdust.

She smiled in remembrance. Viktoriya had stomached the worst of the sawdust-bread and ‘meat’ that was just animal hide so that Tanya would get more nutritious food, in the hopes that she might grow a bit.

She shook her head and continued to look around. She could see what looked like an actual hamburger clenched in the hands of a large man who was devouring it with gusto.

Like many people in the room, the man was wearing a bizarre arrangement of clothing. Others wore varying pieces of armor or no metal plates at all and simple cloth.

For the most part, Tanya could say one thing about all of the attire: nearly all of it looked like it was straight out of a video game.

Really, who wore metal armor on their arms, leather pants, and bared their chest? That didn’t seem particularly protective. That said nothing about the extremely impractical armor she saw one of the females wearing.

Tanya didn’t think there was any reason to wear nothing but a few measly strips of cloth besides a desire to show off.

Above all of them, in the rafters of the building, was a skeleton of some sort of creature. Who would put something expensive like that in an area where drunk people could damage it?

“Welcome! If you’re here to…” trailed off a light, airy voice coming from in front of her. Tanya looked down from the ceiling.

Someone wearing a typical maid uniform, excepting the muted green colors that highlighted the white apron she wore, had greeted her. Tanya looked up, passed the person’s clothes, to look at her face.

“Er… are you looking for your parents, little one?” she asked, looking around. 

Tanya’s wonderment quickly passed. This world wasn’t like the other two, and it had exceeded her expectations of what an actual preindustrialized world would be. So what?

“I am here to eat, ma’am,” she declared while glaring at the girl. Subtly, Tanya shifted her weight as she rested a hand on her newly-obtained sword.

Tanya had forgotten how it felt to have people constantly question you because of your age. People had gotten out of the habit of it during the war, either because they knew of her and her record, or because they knew her personally.

No one that had known her personally dared to describe her as a child to her face without being ranks above her.

The pseudo-maid merely tilted her head. “But you’re no older than twelve,” she stated.

Twitch.

Tanya sighed, body drooping. On the bright side of the unfortunate fact that she didn’t look older, if they couldn’t tell that she was sixteen , then at least they were likely advanced enough to not consider malnourishment – and, consequently, underdevelopment – the norm.

Of course, it was also good that they didn’t think she was even younger.

When she had gotten her first taste of alcohol, the owner of the beer hall had thought she was ten. It had been humiliating.

Just then, their fledgling conversation was ended by a rude interruption. Both the maid and Tanya looked down.

Tanya’s stomach loudly protested not being allowed to eat delicious food when she could see so much of it. Tanya turned red in embarrassment, and held up the bag of money she had been given by Aqua.

The maid directed her to one of the tables, and Tanya trudged towards it silently.

She handed Tanya a menu, and she felt an eye twitch at the options.

Lizard and toad seemed to be common, while more regular items, like beef and fish, were all priced fairly low compared to those… oddities.

She shook her head. This world had menus and restaurants, but it didn’t know what good food was. Who ate toad , besides the François?

After a while, the maid came back, and Tanya placed her order while hoping her stomach would stay silent.

It did, and the food soon arrived, leaving Tanya to mope over her situation with the comfort of food.

She had decided to dive into her homeland’s cuisine – her original homeland –  first. They had looked at her weird for the specific way she wanted the fish and rice prepared, but she couldn’t care less.

It was truly wonderful to finally eat something that didn’t taste like it had made with sawdust or shoe leather, and while coffee and sweets were nice, she had been deprived of other familiar food for far too long.

“So. What job do you have?” came a voice from her right.

Annoyed at being interrupted, Tanya turned, glaring at the person and raising an eyebrow. She knew the effect of her stare was likely decreased by the fact that her mouth was stuffed full, but she didn’t particularly care.

A twenty-something man stood there, grinning down at her. His hair was blond. 

Not like her own hair, which was a muted yellow even in the deserts of the Southern Continent, but so pale it could pass for white on a sunny day. A deep red jacket, complete with zipper for the neckline, hid most of his body, while bandages covered his forearms. Some sort of choker wrapped around his neck, and red eyes peered down a short nose at her.

She grinned idly. If this world had zippers and jackets, then maybe it had guns?

It wasn’t likely, of course. She’d seen a number of people who were carrying around swords, spears, and other truly archaic weaponry, which meant that she might have to find some gnarled stick to use as a scepter until she could find a way to make a proper gun.

As Tanya thought about her situation, the silence stretched on. The man seemed perfectly willing to wait. Until, after ten seconds, Tanya finished her mouthful of food, set down her utensils, and raised an eyebrow at the man again.

He merely grinned at her. “See, my party’s taken a bet. Taylor and I think that you’re some sort of warrior, Keith thinks you have a rogue-like job, while Lynn, bless her generous heart, thinks you aren’t an adventurer,” he explained, motioning towards each of them in turn.

Taylor was the tallest of the bunch. She had short brown hair and some sort of headband, a piece of armor over his left shoulder, and a necktie, of all things, while a sword longer than her own stolen goods was strapped to his back.

Keith wore an outfit similar to Dust, with longer dark hair and a blue jacket with white fur as lining. He had a bow and, presumably, a quiver strapped to his side.

The last member of their ‘party’ wore a green jacket, a cape, and wore her long hair in a ponytail. Tanya didn’t see any weapons on her. 

As she studied each of the people he had pointed out, Tanya’s eyebrows were furrowed. Rogue-like? Warrior? Adventurer ?

Tanya let the silence continue to go on as her face continued to scrunch up, trying to think of an excuse or a reason that such… video game-like words were being used to describe jobs. Was the language she’d been given faulty?

She’d seen something on the menu proclaim the fish had been freshly grown earlier that month, so it was a definite possibility.

Seeing her face grow concerned, he waved his hands in front of him in a calming gesture. “Oh, we won’t rat out on you. We don’t care if you aren’t an adventurer and have that sword anyway, I just want my money,” he said, a bit of panic overcoming his face. “I have a few debts with them, and I’ll be free if you’re some sort of warrior.”

Tanya, meanwhile, had a conclusion. Maybe the language was approximating words that she knew that meant the same thing. That was certainly a passable explanation.

She turned her attention to the panicking man and the people behind him. He seemed to be trying his best to calm her down and they seemed awfully mad at him.

Oh. They must have thought he was going to make her cry or something. Judging by the motions he was making, he thought so too.

Well, she wouldn’t let them down. She let tears – of frustration at yet another situation she didn’t understand, of anger that she had been separated from her past life again , and of sadness that her friends were most likely dead – well up in her eyes.

She knew exactly how she’d get information, and she’d have a nice, long, stress-relieving cry as well.

Tanya laughed. Internally. Outwardly, she began to bawl like the baby she hadn’t really been only sixteen years prior.

--OxOxO--

She wasn’t about to let these people, as nice as they were, onto the fact that their friend Dust hadn’t actually done much.

She’d spun a sob story about her family being killed – true enough, if one considered her second life – and that all she had was what was on her. The other three had treated her nicely, given her some of their food, and generally cooed over her for a while as they shot harsh looks at their friend.

Sometimes, it was nice being malnourished and resembling a girl four years younger than you were with a voice to match.

Not often. But sometimes.

Now, they were waiting. She had stopped acting like a petulant twelve-year-old, to squeak out a few questions about the place she was in.

Tanya had gotten good at lying to both friends and higher-ups about how she had knowledge that she really shouldn’t have, or how she knew that the Alliance Cordiale’s forces were going to try any specific thing. Trying to justify her ability to speak Akitsushiman to Viktoriya had been the hardest, if only because the looks of suspicion had been so unfamiliar and…

Shame-inducing.

These three were considerably easier, and they bought her act hook, line, and sinker, as expected.

What was this town? She had only been travelling with her father in order to sell some of his stuff.

They were in Axel. It was the beginning town of adventurers, a major crossroad for travelers, and one of the Kingdom of Belzerg’s greatest assets. It was isolated from the forces of the Demon King, due to the distance from his castle, as well as its distance from the border.

The Demon King was having enough trouble with the Kingdom of Belzerg and the tentative help of the countries surrounding it. He didn’t want to antagonize anyone else, and attacking a town so close to the border wouldn’t do him wonders.

What was the money called? She wasn’t from around here, and didn’t know how to use this weird currency.

The money was called Eris. They were named after a goddess whose followers had a strong presence throughout Belzerg.

Judging from the meal Tanya had gotten, they were probably similar to Yen, although that wasn’t all that likely due to the inflation and wildly different economies that the two nations had. She’d figure out more as time went on, she supposed.

Tanya had merely hidden her anger at the mention of the ‘g’ word, letting her left eye twitch for only a moment and hoping her hair wasn’t doing that thing Viktoriya said it did when she began thinking too hard or got really annoyed.

How would she survive? She didn’t have any family, as her siblings had all perished.

They couldn’t support her, but she could earn money by either becoming some sort of servant or by becoming an adventurer. Tanya had thought, for a moment, about becoming a maid and avoiding Demon King entirely.

Then the contract, still pressed into the folds of her clothing with the relics heaven had given her, burned hotly. She winced, and the adventurers had expressed concern.

Tanya just waved them off, explaining it as “Tummy trouble.”

They’d all melted at that, and they had directed her to the Guild’s admission desk.

Tanya had thanked them in the high-pitched tone she had been using, and walked away briskly towards the desk she’d been pointed at.

It seemed that the contract would take steps to ensure she would try to oppose the Demon King.

Fine then. Hypothetically, if someone in her situation were to become a maid, then they would be guaranteed freedom and wouldn’t have to risk their lives.

Tanya paused her steps, hoping that searing pain wouldn’t strike her again.

It didn’t.

Emboldened, she continued her ‘hypothetical’ thoughts. On the other hand, said person wouldn’t be able to get that wish.

Tanya sighed. She supposed she would look at what an adventurer could do, and then compare it to the army.

Tanya turned a corner, and stopped the carefree skip that she had adopted as she had walked away from the group. 

Now that they couldn’t see her, she sighed. Sure, they might not have thought anything was weird with her questions. This was, apparently, some sort of crossroads for travelers, meaning that it wouldn’t have been out of place for someone to wander in not knowing anything about the place.

One could never be too sure, however.

Quickly, she strode up to the front desk, studying the receptionist as she approached. Blonde hair, a kindly face, clothing as… open as every other maid that she had seen here, she seemed to be perfect for this job, as far as looks went.

If nothing else, enticing young people into taking up whatever job they were offering here would be fairly simple, if they only thought with the organ between their legs.

“Hello. What can I do for you today?”

Tanya rested an elbow on the countertop, privately wishing that she were taller so that that action wasn’t so uncomfortable. 

Fighting the urge to glue her face to the woman’s chest – sixteen years of orphanage-brand rags and military uniforms to hide whatever bodies women had underneath their clothing could do that to someone when they finally encountered someone showing a bit of skin – Tanya began to speak.

“Yes. I’ve come to learn about being an adventurer.”

The blonde woman smiled, and pointed at the signs that sat to the side of the receptionist area. Tanya walked around, circling the signs, and began to read the chalk boards.

WHAT IS AN ADVENTURER?

HELLO READER! IF YOU ARE READING THIS, THEN YOU ARE THINKING ABOUT PURSUING A CAREER IN ADVENTURING.

POSITIVES OF DOING THIS:

YOU CAN HELP THE KINGDOM OF BELZERG AGAINST THE CONTINUAL ONSLAUGHT OF THE DEMON KING’S FORCES

YOU GET PAID MONEY TO FIGHT THE VARIOUS MONSTERS THAT CAN ATTACK THE CITY OF AXEL

IF THERE ARE NO MONSTERS, YOU ARE ALLOWED TO TAKE ON JOBS NOT USUALLY AVAILABLE TO COMMONERS

And on it went. It described many, many positives of the job, and not one negative.

Tanya just shook her head with a rueful smile. If it didn’t list any negatives, then there must have been some sort of drawback – there was with nearly everything. Would she be pressed into fighting? Was the pay lackluster?

Tanya shrugged. If this job wasn’t willing to reveal what might be so bad about it, she’d just join the army. She knew how those worked, after all.

Tanya, once again, strode up to the counter. “Ma’am.”

The woman looked down from where she had been… filing paperwork.

“Yes. Are you ready to register?” she asked kindly. Tanya shook her head. This world seemed to be an odd mix of advanced and backward, if it had paperwork and, presumably, the printing press, but it didn’t have advanced weapons.

“Actually, I was wondering how old you need to be to join the army.”

The woman went stiff, clasping her hands together quickly. “Oh, you wouldn’t want to do that,” she said.

Tanya scowled. “Actually, I do. Being part of an army allows for much faster advancement, and-”

The girl cut her off. “No, it doesn’t. The people who join, who aren’t connected, are thrown into the conscript force, shown how to hold a spear, and then told to pray. No training, no nothing. I would suggest that you become an adventurer, little girl,” she warned, her face losing some of the carefree cheer it had contained.

Tanya blanched. She’d been part of the Empire’s relative meritocracy, which allowed for someone to advance through the ranks quickly, regardless of skill, apparent age, or lack of connections. She’d forgotten how much the wider world didn’t really like having young girls with no background in their army.

Well, there went becoming a high ranking commander and dealing the fatal blow to the Demon King after letting others do the hard work. She wouldn’t even be able to command troops and train them her way. She’d be locked into the lower ranks, constantly passed up for nobles of lesser skill.

“And besides,” the woman added, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear, “the minimum age for recruitment is eighteen. The Princess would have joined it if it was the age of majority, and the King didn’t want that.”

Tanya filed away that tidbit. It seemed that this world wouldn’t be as inherently opposed to her for her outward appearance as a woman as the last one would have been, had she not been born in the Empire’s meritocracy.

“Fine, fine. I’ll become an adventurer,” she relented, throwing a bag of Eris onto the counter. The woman smiled, took the money, and ducked underneath the counter. A few moments of grunting and heaving later, she stood up again, carrying some object.

She soon came out from behind the counter, placed the object down, and held up what looked like a blank index card.

The device looked… out of place. There were golden gears and other mechanisms on parts of it, while some sort of sphere, similar in its glowing brightness to her Type 95, sat at the top. Something that resembled a nozzle dipped down between the two legs of the thing.

“Let me formally explain,” she said.

The woman smiled and began to do just that. “Adventurers each have their own occupations, which is kept track of on your Adventurer’s Card, which records other information, like the number of monsters you’ve killed,” she said, gesturing to the blank card.

Tanya, however, was panicking slightly. Not out of any fear of monsters – whatever they were, she’d learn later. No, a much more important question loomed in her mind.

Did people count as monsters?

Because, if so, she’d have to explain how she’d managed to kill upwards of two hundred mages and an unknown amount of foot soldiers, pilots, and seamen, and she didn’t really think they’d accept any explanation she could give them.

The woman carried on, unaware of Tanya’s thoughts. “Whenever you eat food or kill something with a soul, you absorb a portion of its memories, which increases your experience,” she said. 

“When you have enough experience, your level will increase, unlocking new skills and earning you Skill Points. So please, work hard to increase your level,” she finished, bowing at the waist. Tanya nodded back, hoping that her card wouldn’t be able to tell what she had already done and wondering about how much this world sounded like some sort of cheap, mobile MMORPG.

Levels? Skills? Points? Experience? Monsters? None of that sounded like it should apply to real life!

But here she was, in a world where that was reality. Tanya sighed. She’d make the best of her situation, like she always had. She turned her attention to the device the woman had gestured to, on top of the counter.

The woman gestured to the device. “Please hold your hand above this crystal.”

Slightly dubious and letting her skepticism show through on her face, Tanya held her hand out as indicated, and watched as the mechanisms on the side began to turn and the crystal began to glow brightly.

She raised an eyebrow as it drew in a bit of her mana. No doubt, this was how it recorded the information. Perhaps, just as Tanya could record the signatures of enemy mages to recognize named mages, the glowing device could do something more… specific.

A piercing whine erupted from the thing, and a laser erupted from the nozzle, moving quickly across the surface of the Adventurer’s Card.

Tanya leaned in, both anticipating and dreading what it might say. Hopefully, it wouldn’t record the people she had killed. If it did, and someone asked questions, then she’d flee.

It stopped after a few seconds, and as the light died down, the woman picked up the card.

“Let’s see… Tanya von Degurechaff?” she asked. Tanya nodded.

“Yes, that’s me,” she said, motioning for the card.

The woman muttered, “What an odd middle name,” and continued to hold it, studying it. She gasped in surprise, and Tanya’s face fell. 

She had been found out. She would have to fly as far as she could, and hope that she could outrun the authorities. How would she fly without the Type 95, and was flying an ability other people had? She needed to fix tha-

“Interesting! You have a mix of different stats. Your Strength is Decently Low, and your Health is Below Average, but otherwise, almost all of your stats are-“

Then the woman stopped. When she continued to stare at the card, a look of disbelief plastered on her face, Tanya saw her chance and asked another question and hopefully distracted her from whatever was wrong. “What did you mean when you said ‘Below Average’?”

She looked up from the card, tilting her head at Tanya in bewilderment. “Huh?”

Tanya sighed. “Average compared to what? All living things? All Humans?  All sixteen-year-old girls?” she asked, staring pointedly at the card.

If her Strength was ‘Decently Low’ compared to all humans, then it would make sense. She wasn’t that strong without reinforcing her body.

But if her Strength was ‘Decently Low’ compared to all living things, including stuff like grass, then she’d be humiliated. Because being weaker than grass was probably impossible, unless the grass here was a type of… ‘monster,’ or something.

The receptionist opened her mouth, for a moment, as if to respond, then shut it with a snap. She chuckled nervously, and began to explain. “Well, it’s been theorized that it’s compared to everyone else that has an Adventurer's Card, but truthfully, that’s only the best guess.”

Tanya sighed again. Advanced in some way, backwards in others.

They could easily test that by looking at all of the Adventurer’s Cards and calculating the averages. It might be hard to do that over long distances in such a technologically stunted time as this, but even a local survey would help identify the truth.

The woman – whose name she should really find out – shook her head, and continued to stare at her card. “Now, as I was saying, most of your stats hover between Below Average and Above Average, and…” she trailed off again.

Tanya merely made a grabbing motion with her hand, hoping that she wasn’t reading something that told her she was from another world or that she had killed a few hundred people. For rather obvious reasons, that would be detrimental to her continued well-being.

“Besides your Strength being Decently Low, your Magic-Power is Extraordinary! And you already have a bunch of skills!” she shouted. Tanya gave her a weak smile, and continued to grab at it.

‘Please don’t see the people I’ve killed. Please don’t see that she was from a different world. Please , Please , Please .’

The woman didn’t hear Tanya’s inaudible pleas, and started to lay out what she could be. “Of course, you won’t be able to become any sort of Fighter-type jobs, but you could pick up a few of the advanced classes right away! And you even have some Skill Points too!”

Tanya nodded, and then she cringed as the people from around the bar began to surround them and murmur.

“Like what?” she asked, shifting her eyes nervously, still hoping that no one would see anything about her past lives on that card.

“Plenty! Judging by the skills you already have, some of the classes you could pick up right now are: Ranger, an Archmage, or even Enchanter!” she cried out.

The people around them erupted into cheers, but Tanya was just confused. She might have been able to provide a vague guess as to what the last two were, but she had no clue what a Ranger was. Maybe it had to do with scouting?

“Er… can I see what those are?” she asked, motioning for the card again. The woman nodded, and Tanya snatched it.

Finally, she could see what it looked like.

Her name was written across the top, while a simplified picture of the profile of her head was in the upper right corner. Scowling, Tanya noticed that it even depicted that stupid fucking ahoge on the top of her head.

Underneath her name, her age, race, and gender were listed out – 16 and human for the first two, though the last was decidedly… smudged – and under that was a section titled ‘DESCRIPTION’.

‘ONCE A WORKER IN HIS COMPANY’S HUMAN RESOURCES DEPARTMENT, AND THEN A BATTLE-HARDENED IMPERIAL MAGE: TANYA VON DEGURECHAFF HAS BEEN THRUST INTO A THIRD LIFE, INTENT ON TURNING THE GODS’ BARGAIN ON THEMSELVES.  WILL SHE SUCCEED? WHO KNOWS!’

Tanya breathed a sigh of relief that the woman hadn’t read it. She continued down, surveying the other fields.

Her ‘STATS’ resided underneath that description, with a number resting next to each of them. Her Magic-Power number was imprinted in bright blue, while her strength was a dull red. A box labeled ‘LEVEL’ sat near the center, with a 1 on the inside.

Next to her stats was the most important thing: a list titled ‘SKILLS’, with a number ten next to it. That number was presumably the number of ‘Skill Points’ she had.

She looked at the first entry on the list.

‘Passive Shell: Deflects debris and small caliber bullets. Shield strength determined by Magic-Power.’

That was a fairly accurate description of her Passive Shell, even if it was a bit vague. And so she looked down the list. It described each of her formulas – though it called each of them by the archaic term ‘spell’ – and put them into different categories. Her shields and most of her more combat-oriented formulas were considered under Magic-User Type, her Reinforcement formulas were for Monks, while a fair few of her Observation formulas were considered Rogue-Like Type. Her ability to pray and then activate the Type 95 was marked as Priest Type.

Most importantly, however, was the fact that a fair few of her skills were labeled ‘Crafting'. Almost all of them were related to her ability to imbue her projectiles with formulas.

She needed all of them to continue to function as she had, and trying to learn some new way of doing things could take too long.

Being X wouldn’t let this go unpunished, after all. Tanya was sure that once heaven had enough mana, Being X would, at the least, send her another angry rant detailing how she should have just submitted to him already.

If he sent someone after her while she was in the middle of trying to adapt to a new way of fighting, she might very well die.

Besides that, learning a new way to do things could also mean missing out on killing the Demon King. It wasn’t as if everyone else reincarnated to this world would simply wait for her to retrain before trying to kill him.

Tanya looked up at the woman. “Er… miss… What is your name?”

The woman, who had been leaning in, straightened up and chuckled a bit. “Sorry about not introducing myself. I’m Luna,” she supplied. Then, she leaned in again. “Have you decided which ones you will give up?”

Tanya sighed. She hadn’t looked at every skill she had, but she knew one thing. She didn’t want to give up any of her current arsenal.

While each of her skills had been listed as a different type, none of them had been described as belonging to a single job. She wasn’t about to lose what over five years of training and fighting had instilled in her, not without a much more concrete future ahead of her.

Of course, she was most familiar with using a gun, something that she doubted the people here had invented yet. She wouldn’t be able to imbue her bullets with formulas if she didn’t have any bullets. Which meant that she’d probably need to learn how to make one, or pay someone to do it for her.

“Is there any class that would allow me to keep everything I have?” she asked, looking up from her card.

Luna’s face fell, and she began to play with her hair. “Well… there is… one. The Adventurer Job is the most basic one possible. Your skills won’t get boosted like they do if you choose a regular class, and learning more advanced skills from other adventurers means you have to pay more Skill Points,” she laid out.

Tanya nodded, and the woman continued. “But you can learn any skill once you’ve seen it performed, regardless of class, and the Adventurer Class can be easily switched to a different one later on.”

Tanya nodded, and began to weigh her options. She looked back down at her card.

‘Crafting Type’, huh?

“Er… what are the Crafting Type jobs?” she asked.

Luna smiled brightly again, happy to be talking about any other job than the Adventurer one. “Crafting Type jobs are a wide variety of different things. They do, as the name implies, involve creating something. The Enchanter can imbue objects and weapons with mana, while a Creator can mold the elements into beasts to do their bidding,” she explained.

Tanya nodded. “Are there any other ones?” she asked.

“Well,” she said, counting her fingers, “those are the only two I know of that you could have. The Blacksmith is another well-known one, but that has a Strength requirement that you do not meet.”

Tanya grinned. If the name of the job was anything to go by, learning some of a Blacksmith’s skills meant that she could remake her rifle. She wouldn’t have to give up her style of fighting, hopefully.

“Alright. I’ll take the Adventurer Job, please. I’m already used to what I have,” she said, handing her card back to Luna.

The receptionist sighed, shrugged her shoulders, and began to fill out the card using the device that Tanya had first seen. “Alright, then. Your loss.”

Tanya looked at the crowd, who seemed to become less interested. Tanya crossed her arms, and attempted to sound as confident as possible. “That’s just what you think. I could beat anyone in this bar at an arm wrestling contest using my unique skills,” she claimed.

Laughter echoed from the crowd, and Tanya turned to them as Luna handed her back her card. “Oh, you don’t think I can? Or do you all think that someone with a Strength stat like mine can’t win?” she said boastfully, eyeing the crowd.

“Heh, I’ll take you on!” came a voice from the crowd. Tanya watched as Dust stepped forward, pushing past the people. The crowd began to mutter.

“How despicable, Dust will even fight children…”

“We should have expected it, from the pathetic Dust.”

“How deluded is this girl, to think she can beat Dust with such a low Strength stat?”

Dust walked to a table and the crowd glared. Tanya was confused as to why everyone was looking at Dust like he was the scum of the Earth, but she ignored the why and focused on what it meant. They thought that Tanya would lose, even if they wanted to root against Dust.

Head shaking slowly, Luna strolled back behind the counter, and Tanya thanked her silently. That the receptionist wasn’t intervening meant she’d have free reign to establish herself. 

The faster she was established as being powerful, the sooner she could gain allies that could help her take down the Demon King.

Team members, sure, but also regular people. People who had skills or services Tanya might need to increase her own chances of survival, considering none of that would be provided to her for free if she wasn’t in the army.

The man walked over to her, sat down at a nearby table, and crossed her arms. “Before we start this, we’ve gotta have some sort of wager,” he said, grinning.

Tanya, having taken her seat, raised an eyebrow. “What kind of wager?” she asked hesitantly. She wasn’t going to do some vague ‘in the future’ promise. But, based on their first conversation, he probably wanted…

“Monetary.”

Tanya’s skeptical eyebrow lowered, and she retrieved the remaining money she had from within her clothing. Most of her money had already been spent registering as an adventurer and on her meal. This was what she’d taken from that thief.

Dust caught her unsure look at the bag, and Dust waved a hand. “We can skip that, I guess. It’s almost not worth the effort,” he bragged.

Tanya shook her head, grinning at him. “No, you’re right. Need to show I think I can beat you, right?” she said, placing the money on the table.

Dust’s eyebrows rose now. Then, he grinned and placed a similar looking bag on the table. “Alright, little Tanya. Let’s go!”

With that, Dust slammed her arm on the table. 

A person who had spent years of his life adventuring. A petite little girl, wearing what amounted to dirty, thin clothing and a tattered rag of a cloak. Based on how they looked, it seemed obvious who would win.

Appearances were deceiving. No one here knew that Tanya had two items worth more than a good portion of the interior of the guild for their artistic value alone. No one knew that Tanya had spent nearly half of her current life subverting everyone’s expectations besides her own and, near the end, the ever-faithful Viktoriya’s.

Languidly, Tanya placed her elbow opposite of Dust’s. Her speed in doing this wasn’t just to present an air of superiority. She was also stalling for time to test how much the Reinforcement formulas would cost in terms of mana.

It had taken hours of using the Reinforcement formulas in her last life before they could show signs of damage in a user, but that was with a Computation Jewel and in a different world. She would have to use more magic, based on her earlier experiments with the formulas.

She’d see what this experiment yielded.

As Dust grinned, Tanya began to calculate her Reinforcement formula, taking care not to let any of her mana stray towards the Type 95. She wouldn’t be known as anything other than a religious nutcase if she began spouting off about some invisible man in the sky.

“Nervous? Don’t worry, I’ll go easy on you, squirt,” he claimed as he gripped Tanya’s had.

She just smiled at him, and cheered victoriously inside her head as a confused look overtook his face. He wasn’t taking her seriously.

The two of them waited a moment more, and when Keith said, “Give her a lesson Dust!” she took it as the signal to start.

Muscles bulged. Mana flowed. Neither moved, and the crowd grew quiet.

Or, Tanya didn’t. To the observers, it looked as if Tanya hadn’t moved an inch, and that she wasn’t even slightly struggling. Her arm remained perfectly still, her clothes didn’t make so much of a whisper. 

Dust, meanwhile, arm taut beneath a layer of clothing, was pushing with all of his might as the table groaned beneath the force of their struggle.

Tanya, aware that she could, maybe, keep this up for an hour or two, brought her free hand to her mouth. “Is that all, Dust?” she said, pretending to yawn.

He grabbed her hand with his other hand, and pulled down on it, cheating to try and move it at all. Still, it didn’t budge. Tanya just smirked at his rising frustration.

He continued to try and move her arm, muttering, “How the hell are you doing this, loli?”

Twitch .

A strand of hair at the top of her head danced as she processed what he’d said, before it became still.

She had not had that word thrown at her, ever. Germanian had no equivalent, and she had been thankful for that small mercy of the demanding language.

How dare he.

She smiled widely at him, and he tilted his head, likely confused. He was also wholly unaware of the massive amount of mana flowing into the formula.

I’ll make you pay for that!

The force on her hand – strong, to be sure, but not as immense as the presence of Being X when he decided to stop time – slackened for a moment. Tanya’s smile, small and innocent, turned predatory as she finally decided to stop waiting and to really push .

Dust, still shocked by Tanya’s appearance of immovability and very demented smile, was sent flying from his seat as Tanya launched him across the room.

The crowd remained silent for only a moment more, until a grand cheer went up in the crowd. Tanya stood on her chair and raised her arms up, brandishing the money, all the while laughing at the look of fear that marked Dust’s face.

Served the bastard right. She didn’t even break any of his bones for that comment.

Keith rushed over to the toppled man, while Taylor and Lynn walked over to her. “That sure was impressive, Tanya. How’d you do it?” she asked.

Tanya looked to the one she had beaten, and she saw that Dust was looking happy about something Keith had said to him and the small slip of paper in his hand.

Tanya wrote it off; as long as he wasn’t trying to get this money back, he could look at whatever coupon all he wanted.

The crowd around her, who had heard the question, all quieted down, wondering how she had thrown him across the room with a Strength as low as hers. Tanya just laughed. “Sorry to say, even if I could tell you, you wouldn’t be able to learn it. You all have regular jobs, right?” she questioned.

A round of laughter began to bubble up, and more people lined up, eager to test their strength. Tanya sighed in relief. No one had really tried to pry into how she had done it, and that was good. It showed no one would be overtly nosy about her business, as long as it looked clandestine.

Tanya looked at the two bags of money in her hands, and then began to grin. She’d be able to afford a room in no time at all.

She eyed the crowd, watching maids deliver drinks. Maybe a drink or two wouldn’t be out of place, with such a wonderfully light atmosphere? She never got the chance to enjoy hers before she’d been immolated in her last life, after all.

--OxOxO--

A/N: And that’s that! She’d just started out on this journey, and already she’s beginning to question the sanity of this world. Not only is it at war, it sounds just like a video game. How odd.

Well, I hope you’re enjoying the story. Please, continue onward. Tanya has a lot to figure out – mostly due to her assumption that, since the last two worlds she visited had advanced past the steam engine, that the next one would too.

Do you think she’ll give up her weapons? I don’t – I mean, she’s held out against Being X for so long, so she’ll probably have to have something… drastic done to convince her of the futility of that action.

But what do you all think? Please, tell me what you think in the comments.

Chapter Text

A bright light shone into the room, and Tanya groaned as she tried to feel not-bad. It didn't work.

Last night was… muddled.

She had had to consume alcohol in her first lifetime at various company parties. She had gotten used to it, and even enjoyed relaxing and having a drink occasionally.

This body, however…

It was what one would call a lightweight. Plus, Tanya hadn't had anything that even resembled alcohol in sixteen years.

She winced in remembrance. The closest she had been to having alcohol in her second life was when she'd died. They had been at a bar specifically because she was at the age she was allowed to drink in the Empire.

Tanya didn't remember much after that last drink in the guild, besides that she had probably had one too many arm wrestling matches.

She sat up and looked around. Where was she, anyway?

Fearing the worst, she looked around. A room bare of decorations and smaller than a walk-in-closet greeted her vision. Compared to her first life, the room was rather dismal. Compared to her last one it was alright.

She'd been well housed whenever she was away from the front, but housing on the front itself was variable.

Regardless of how nice it was, however, she'd make due, as she always had.

More importantly, it didn't seem like anyone else was there, thankfully. She sighed in relief. She didn't even want to contemplate doing… that with a man.

She shivered, pushed unwanted thoughts of her last life out of her head, and began to check her body for possible injuries. Nothing was sore, besides her arm.

Tanya smiled. She wasn't sure if it was just the sleep, but it didn't hurt too much. She'd probably be fine pulling off some of her more impressive maneuvers in the air, then.

She felt through her clothes, which she must have fallen asleep in, ensuring her possessions in place.

Type 95? Circlet of Greatness? Contract? All in place.

She saw the sword, still contained within a polished blue scabbard, at the foot of her bed. Her money bag – now bulging – sat atop it.

Nodding, she rose out of the bed, and began to get ready for her day.

There were fewer amenities here than in her second life, however, which meant that preparation amounted to trying to tame her hair a bit and straightening her clothes.

Suddenly, she had an idea. She took the pouch of money from her belt, the ones she'd received from Aqua, and the other bag that had been on top of her sword.

She placed the circlet in the slightly larger bag, and placed the smaller bag with her money in it inside that.

She smiled. She'd concealed the more risky relic without having to stash it away in her clothing.

Speaking of clothes…

These things didn't fit in at all.

They were, by her second time's standards, normal for a soldier on leave. Just a simple white button-up shirt, green pants, and black boots. But here, where the culture was different, she was sure that more than a few of the odd looks she'd been given on her way from her… spawn point...?

Well, they looked at her like she'd had a second head. Once she figured out her monetary situation, getting proper equipment would be key.

An army couldn't run, after all, without rations, ammunition, and plenty of supplies, which meant she needed to evaluate her resources and options.

She tread down a dimly lit hallway, into an area above where she'd been last night. It seemed like more seating, to her, but maybe it was some sort of day café.

She'd seen weirder things.

She walked down the stairs, looking out into the room. She started to walk towards Luna, at the reception desk, when people began to call out to her.

"Thank you for the drinks, Miss Degurechaff!"

"That was amazing what you did to those three warriors!"

"Are you buying tonight again?"

As she walked, she smiled and waved, giving them back empty assurances and trying to remember what the hell she'd done last night all the while.

Soon, she reached the front desk. "Er… Luna? What did I do last night?" she asked tentatively.

The receptionist chuckled. "You arm wrestled nearly everyone to a standstill and earned money in the process. You even beat three of the strongest warriors at once!"

She chuckled nervously. Was that all? She hoped so. Anything more might have been seen as suspicious.

Luna continued. "After that, no one else wanted to try their luck, so you bought everyone even more alcohol to try and butter them up. Of course, you passed out after a drink, so the maids arranged a room for you," she said, staring down at Tanya, apparently amused by the whole affair.

Tanya was much less amused. Sighing dejectedly, she asked, "How far in debt am I?"

Luna laughed. "Not at all, actually. You even came away from it all with a bit more money, since we paid you a bit for being an entertainer."

Tanya nodded, casting a quick glance at the money bag hanging from her belt. "So… how do I earn more money?" she asked plainly.

Luna pointed to a board Tanya hadn't noticed yet. "There are quests over there. They give you a rating of difficulty, depending on the number and type of stamps on them," she said.

Tanya strode over, and began to peruse them.

Tanya didn't understand all of the terms they used, but judging by the stamps, most of them were probably outside her ability. At least, until she had tested out all of her skills.

"Luna? Do you have anything easier?" she called out. The woman rushed out from behind the bar, looking at them.

"Well, not really. Most of the monsters were cleared from the surrounding forests long ago, which means that the only monsters available are the easy, seasonal ones that pop up, or the ones that are farther away from town," she explained, looking at them all.

Tanya nodded, considering her options. Then, Luna spoke again. "You could get started on the Giant Toads," she said, pointing to one of the signs.

Tanya looked up at the thing.

'MARCH OF THE TOADS BEGINS SOON. MINIMAL REWARD OFFERED.'

Tanya sighed, resigning herself to yet more questions. "Why the minimal reward?"

"Well," Luna began, "the Giant Toads emerge at two times in the year: spring and autumn. They begin breeding in the autumn, and the young grow to their full size in the spring. They usually stay far away from the city during the spring, satisfying themselves on weaker monsters."

"Lately, they've been coming near the city in the spring, too. So we need adventurers to get them to leave," she finished, smiling.

Tanya tilted her head. "Why not just kill them all if you know where they usually hide?" she said.

Luna shook her head. "Well, they burrow underground to hibernate, so it's hard for beginner adventurers with few skills to find them. Also, they taste pretty good, so we don't want to destroy a valuable food source."

Tanya grinned. This would be nice and easy, then. She'd faced armies of humans in the past. How hard would a couple of overgrown pests be?

-OxOxO-

Tanya grumbled. Not hard at all was the answer to her question.

The quest had been to remove any Giant Toads that strayed into a certain area. She'd rushed to the area, skipping breakfast and intent on finishing it quickly to be back in time for lunch. She'd come out, stood in the middle of a farmer's field, and waited.

For two hours.

The old geezer had told her that if she did anything other than chase out the Toads, he'd give her a bad report. Tanya didn't know exactly how much the supplies she wanted would cost, and she wasn't about to come up short if she could avoid it.

So she'd stood there, doing nothing.

Until now.

She'd had enough, and she was fairly sure that he wasn't watching anymore. He was probably in a different field right now, so she'd just test out a few things inconspicuously.

First, her Flight spells. Her fighting style relied on her speed, agility, and maneuverability in the air. Without those, she'd be a glorified foot soldier.

She took a deep breath. She hadn't been completely idle. She had spent a large part of those two hours attempting to craft a Flight spell that would allow her to circumvent the use of her Type 95. She had been pouring mana into the spell for over ten minutes.

This was it. She took another deep breath, and…

Slowly, she rose into the air, until she was floating an inch off the ground.

She smirked, and rose another inch up. The increase in the mana drain was almost unnoticeable. Tanya frowned.

An increase in only an inch shouldn't have even registered in her mana drain.

Tentatively, she continued to rise, foot after foot.

Soon, she was floating above the rudimentary fences the owner had constructed.

Tanya breathed a sigh of relief the increase was noticeable and not… debilitating. She'd be able to continue fighting how she liked it, if she could replace the cursed jewelry around her neck with something more appropriate.

Just then, she noticed something on the horizon.

A large, bulbous, bright blue toad was hopping. It was nearly double her height, and it was supposed to only be an adolescent. The way its skin shone in the light of the day reminded her of something.

She inhaled.

Something else and worse that towered above her, engulfing her in size and staring down at her with its beady little eyes and it was bald and had power and it was engulfing her and try to to to-

Tanya shuddered, briefly, and pushed down those memories, instead choosing to rocket towards the thing. She was airborne, so she'd never need to fear being engulfed by the thing.

She then began to barrel through the air, propelled by momentum instead of mana as her spell malfunctioned.

There had been a sharp increase in the mana drain, and she cut it off, in fear that she'd go rocketing off at an appreciable fraction of the speed of sound.

She soon impacted the ground, only just slamming Reinforcement spells into action.

Dazed, Tanya looked up into the large, bloated eyes of the pest. It looked down at her, for a moment.

It then lowered its head down, intending to gobble her up.

She snarled. Not that she'd let that happen.

Fast as a thunderbolt, Tanya drew her sword and imbued it with mana as it sliced through the air.

Her attack struck true, showering Tanya with a flood of blood and bodily fluids leaking from the gash she'd torn in its stomach.

Gagging, Tanya shot away from the thing in a moment, airborne once more. She might have smelled worse, sure, but that didn't mean she wanted to get coated in frog guts!

She realized she was airborne once more, and flew around the dead corpse. The drain wasn't nice, when she was moving through the air instead of just hovering. That much was evident.

But… she could manage it. She would have to, actually, until she figured out how to make a Computation Jewel.

Landing, she studied the body.

Her job had been, specifically, to drive them off. Killing them was fine, but she'd need to get rid of the body.

Tanya began to drag it away, towards the uncultivated hills nearby, when a loud, wet ribbet emanated from her left.

Slowly, she turned, and saw three more Toads, all eyeing her. Tanya growled in annoyance, before remembering her greatest asset.

She rose from where she'd been trying to find purchase on the dead toad's slippery skin to begin dragging it, far above where they could try and eat her. She smirked down at them.

"What's wrong? Oh right, you idiots can't fly! I guess you shouldn't have tried to mess with me then, huh?" she shouted. Sure, it was childish, but she'd been standing in a field for over two hours. She wanted to vent.

The lead frog of the trio, apparently, did want to try and fight her. It raised its head, looked at her, and-

Shot its tongue at her.

Oops.

Tanya narrowly avoided the long, pink, rope of a tongue it had shot out. Right. Frogs could do that.

Tanya rose higher, nervously eyeing the road. If someone came by and saw her flying, well…

She didn't know what they'd think. She still didn't know if that was considered 'normal' or not. Flight spells came easily to people from her second world, but they might be seem impossible to the people in this day and age.

She soon retreated to a hill outside of the farmer's land. They seemed content with this, and began to hop towards the home. They were likely headed for the livestock.

She sighed. What a dilemma. What had Luna said? They liked livestock, right?

A new plan in mind, Tanya began to pour mana into another spell she had been working on in those two hours. She these pests needed to be fooled, but this was going to be unpleasant.

Five feet away from her, a… blob of white color that might resemble a child's drawing of a sheep materialized. She frowned and hoped it looked real enough for them.

"Hey, you Toads! Look at this!" she called out. They turned, as one, and saw a fluffy, white looking object.

It was enough for them.

They began to hop closer to her, moving as quickly as their large bodies could. Tanya ran down the side of the hill, and made it look like the illusion was running away. They pursued, and were soon off of the property.

Tanya laughed triumphantly as they hopped away. She turned back to the body, decided that dragging it to the side of the road would be enough, and returned to the field. She'd done enough, for now.

-OxOxO-

It came to an end. Eventually.

A few more of the things had come by, but she'd just led them off with illusions. Overall, it had been a nice, relaxing day full of nothing but watching clouds fly in the sky, reworking her spells to work without a Computation Jewel, and trying not to wince at how much mana she was using without a proper Computation Jewel.

It was peaceful, nearly stress-free… and boring.

Tanya was concerned about the boring part. She knew she'd acquired a… taste for the kind of fights the war served to her regularly – it was hard not to at least enjoy the air, not to mention the challenge – but she shouldn't have missed the opportunity to just take a minute to stop fighting.

She sighed as she walked to the man's house. Having so much violence in her life probably didn't do wonders for her taste in people either.

She arrived at the door and peered inside, searching for the man. She didn't see him at first, but she did eventually spot the old man's small form.

He was curled up on a chair, snoozing away. He greatly resembled some sort of cat, with how content he looked.

Tanya shrugged. She needed to report to him that she was done. She walked into the house, and gently shook the man.

"Hey. Wake up," she said. He rose quickly, grinning.

"Finally decided you've had enough, eh? No worry, I'll show you-" he began. He stopped suddenly, when he saw her clothing.

"Er… Did you fight something?" he asked. Tanya scoffed. Of course she did. She'd had to patrol the livestock for half a day, clothes bathed in blood, and he was asking if she fought something?

"Yeah. One of those frogs was on your property, so I killed it and moved it to the road," she explained, an eyebrow raised.

This, apparently, brought the man up short. "You… you moved it? By yourself? Without anyone telling you to?" he asked.

"Well… duh. The job said to keep the Toads off your property," she said. He looked down, suddenly, a look of shame on his face.

He licked his lips, and took the small hat on his head off so he could nervously wring it in his hands. "I apologize, young girl. I had meant for you to stand in the field until you quit. This job is usually saved for newcomers who don't have any respect for the people who don't roam the world, fighting monsters," he explained, eyes downcast.

Tanya just smiled. "It's fine," she said, heading for the door. Apparently, she had exceeded what had been expected of her, as usual.

She had other things to do, and it was already past midday. Heading for the city itself, she left behind the farmer without another word.

The farmer's wife, hovering in the kitchen, smiled triumphantly. "Told you that one of them wouldn't actually be a brat about standing in the heat, watching crops grow."

He glared back at her, sullen. "Oh, quiet you. It hasn't happened before now, and with her name and looks, I hadn't actually expected her to be understanding."

-OxOxO-

Tanya had gone back to the guild, to get her payment. Unfortunately for her, Luna said she needed confirmation that she had done her job, and since the job was about completing a task instead of just killing monsters, she needed confirmation from the person that had put it out.

Luna had said that she could look at the number of toads she'd killed, if she wanted one transported back to the guild so it could be used for food. Lacking anyway to transport its corpse, she'd agreed. Every little bit helped, after all.

She'd wanted to enjoy lunch, but she realized, after comparing the money she was supposed to earn and looking at the price of the food, that the Eris and Yen were in no way comparable. The food was horribly expensive compared to similar fare from her last two lives, and the Toad hamburger she had eventually settled on had tasted much worse for it.

Afterwards, she left the building. While the sun was beginning to fall from its height, she still had errands to run.

Luna had given her directions to a few places that Tanya needed to get to. Clothing, of course, was on her list. She needed better clothing, and she needed to get something made that would cover her Circlet. She knew this was a Kingdom, and wearing a crown might be seen as some sort of affront to the nobility.

Tanya wasn't about to get thrown in jail because of her attire.

More importantly, however, were the second set of directions. Luna had directed her to one of the city's Blacksmiths.

It wasn't even a matter of saving money. She needed to get levels in the Blacksmith Job to make her weapon.

A gun it would allow her to greatly increase the range of her spells, give her something she knew how to wield, and allow her to stop casting spells through her fingers.

The risk of blowing them off wasn't high – a Mage in the Guild had scoffed at the idea of such stupid drawbacks, which was a good sign – but the possibility was there as far as she was aware, and it rose they more difficult the spell was.

Which was the problem.

The Type 95 was, unfortunately, her best bet at survival. It meant that the casting time of any of her spells was shortened and that the risk of failure was next to nil, as long as she didn't grossly overpower something.

Without it, the majority of her spells would take far too long to use to be useful against anyone with two brain cells, and that wasn't even factoring in if this world's magic functioned or altered her own.

Of course, those benefits to her survival also came at a price. It was very, very detrimental to her mental health – but the temptation was gnawing at her. She was hoping she could recreate the Type 97 by working backwards. She did, after all, know some of the inner workings of the Type 97 by heart from deconstructing them for maintenance.

Computation Jewels didn't need much in order to function, as long as they weren't damaged. They did, however, require basic maintenance once a month, which included cleaning and the replacement of worn-out components.

The Type 95 needed even less maintenance, probably due to its divine nature, but it still needed replacement parts every once and awhile. Keeping it in top shape and trying to recreate a bleeding edge Computation Jewel would be next to impossible using only her memory.

So she needed a Blacksmith's Skill, first and foremost, because she wouldn't entrust either task to someone who might squeal on her and reveal any of her secrets.

Following Luna's directions, she soon arrived at the building she had described. Somewhat small compared to the buildings around it, the building had a number of shields hanging in the front and a dingy window that didn't look like it had been cleaned in ages.

Tanya just sighed and walked up the stairs to the door. Why would someone leave pieces of equipment out where anyone could take them?

She peered into the room from behind the door, making the decision to walk in after only a moment. It certainly looked like a blacksmith's shop.

Or, at the very least, it looked like the room of someone with a fetish for weaponry, since nearly every inch of free space was covered in it.

Stands in the middle of the room held up an assortment of swords, while baskets of daggers lay next to those. A barrel full of spears sat in a corner of the room, while even more shields and even larger swords lined the walls.

Tanya stared at the largest ones in shock. Could people actually wield things like that? Maybe they were just decorations for someone with a weapon fetish.

A countertop, reminiscent of your everyday grocery store checkout aisle, sat near the back of the room. The room behind the counter was shrouded in even more darkness, which wasn't surprising. The windows were covered in dirt, even on the inside. On the far wall, stands of full plate armor two times her width showed themselves off, while other, miscellaneous pieces of armor sat on a shelf above them.

Tanya looked around the room again, searching for the blacksmith. Luna had told her the man didn't really leave his house that much…

Shrugging, she began to try and cast a few Observation spells. They'd tell her if there was any magical activity. If the man didn't have any mana it wouldn't detect him, but it was still worth a try.

They found nothing in the front of the shop, and when she turned to the back…

Still nothing.

She walked over to the counter, and saw a note.

'Look up.'

Readying her mana in case of an attack, she did just that. Tilting her head upwards, she saw more nothing.

A rush of movement in front of her sparked action. She drew her sword quickly, thrusting it towards the disturbance.

"Hey, watch out there, little miss!" someone exclaimed as her sword was batted aside by a similar looking weapon.

Tanya looked at the man who had deflected her sword.

Taller than her by over a foot, he smiled easily, rubbing the back of his head with his free hand. In the other glove-covered hand, he held a small dagger, which had deflected her strike.

Tanya looked at her own blade. Was she that weak?

"Sorry about startling you, miss, but you really shouldn't attack people like that," he said, posture relaxed and face glowing. Tanya lowered her blade, and the man did as well, setting the knife down on the countertop.

"Why'd you try to scare me to death?" Tanya exclaimed. If he didn't want her to kill him, he shouldn't have scared her.

He rubbed the back of his head. "It gets boring in here, and I like to mess with people."

Shaking her head, Tanya asked, "Would you happen to be the Blacksmith?"

He grinned and said, "Well, I don't know about the Blacksmith, but I am a Blacksmith."

Tanya nodded, studying the man's darkly tanned face. He had a short beard and a few strands of hair groups together on his upper lip that might constitute as a mustache. Above those wisps was a long, sloped nose and small eyes.

Tanya nodded. "Er… I was wondering, sir, if I could learn some Skills from you?" she asked hesitantly.

He looked up, gripping his face in contemplation. "Well, I don't think I have the skill to warrant me taking on an apprentice, but-"

Tanya shook her head. "No, sir, you misunderstand me. I am an Adventurer, capital 'A,' and I wanted to learn some skills, at some point in time. I was just wondering if you would be open to that," she explained, raising her card by the upper left corner, in order to block the revealing description of herself and show him what her job was.

"Ohhhhh," he exclaimed. Tanya squinted at the man. Did he disapprove of her or something?

"Well, while I would like to help out someone as- er, misguided as you, I can't just do these things for free," he said.

Tanya raised an eyebrow skeptically. Misguided?

She shook her head. She didn't have time to explain why she needed to be an Adventurer, nor did she particularly want to. "Of course. Why would I expect you to give away things for free? I was just wondering what it would cost," she said. The man squinted at her, this time.

"Well, alright, then," he said. Tapping a finger on his chin, he suddenly smiled.

"50,000 Eris so that you can watch me work," he said. Tanya raised an eyebrow, careful to ensure that the man didn't catch a whiff of her excitement and dread.

Haggling. Bargaining. Something she was vaguely familiar with in this odd world. She smirked as she began to mentally debate what she could do.

50,000 Eris. She didn't have it, but she could hopefully earn the money in the next week.

Not that she'd pay that much to watch the man. She made sure to seem outwardly skeptical of the price as she stared him in the face. "Oh please. It's not like I have to work with you. I could just go to another blacksmith and get a much better price. And considering the state of your windows, I don't think you can even justify earning that much without a special order. 25."

"I bet you can't even meet the Strength requirement for taking a level in the Blacksmith job. 55," he countered.

The price raise stung a bit, but she didn't let on, only smiling. "My Strength doesn't matter, since the Adventurer job means I can surpass any requirements to learn a skill. 30."

"I wouldn't want you running off and starting a rival business, would I? Plus, I'll lose whatever business you could have done with me, if you take enough levels. 45."

Tanya smirked. That sounded fine. "Just to watch you melt some metal? I don't think so," she said. They stood there, staring at each other, waiting for the other to move.

"Fine, then. I'll cut you a deal," he said, crossing his arms. Tanya nodded. This would be the actual offer.

"I'll demonstrate to you a single skill, Smith, and if you can keep up with me after taking it, I'll only charge you 40, for proving me wrong. Otherwise, it'll be 45" he said.

Tanya frowned. It was only one, but…

That was fine with her, as long as it worked. "Deal," she said, holding out a hand. He shook it, and Tanya headed for the door.

He called to her retreating form, "Hey, where are you going?"

She called back as the door swung open. "Well, I have other things to do. I'll be back in a week!"

She ran out, leaving behind an amused blacksmith. He was used to adventurers just coming in, choosing what they wanted, and leaving again with what they wanted.

She was paying him a premium, too. Thank Eris for that.

He smiled as he walked into the back room, towards his equipment. It was a nice change of pace to be acknowledged instead of just seen as the support.

-OxOxO-

Tanya looked skeptically at the building in front of her. This was it?

Not that she doubted Luna's directions. The woman had been very helpful, to the best of her knowledge, and Tanya was thankful for that.

But… well, if she had to describe the store in one word, it would be 'eccentric.'

There were designs of spinning wheels and pins and needles, cloth and fabrics, and a menagerie of other things associated with clothing painted on the front, while a small sign jutted out from the building's face that read 'Tailor Shop'.

The outside might have been bizarre, but the inside had just been nostalgic.

And… creepy.

It resembled any other clothing store in modern Japan, with clothing on racks or being showcased. That would be nice in Japan, but it was a disconcerting here, to see clothing that looked like it belonged at some historical reenactment on nearly modern shelves.

"Welcome!" greeted the woman behind the counter. She was dressed in pastel pinks, with a rather over the top looking headdress and a long, floor-length gown that covered everything but her shoulders.

Tanya nodded back, and began to peruse the shelves. None of it screamed out to her more than the rest of it, if she was honest.

Just then, the woman cried out, pointing at Tanya's clothes. She looked down, and realized she was still covered in blood. Right, that was why she was there.

New clothes.

The woman rushed out from behind the counter, ushering Tanya over to a pseudo-changing area. She pushed Tanya into the wooden room, and ordered through the closed door, "Change out of those clothes, or I'll do it for you!"

Tanya objected, "What do you-"

The woman cut her off. "My store, my rules. You're not leaving until you've changed into something much, much better!"

Tanya sighed, but began to diligently strip. Viktoriya had, on the few occasions they'd been given leave, done much the same thing, and Tanya wasn't going to argue with someone who probably knew better than her in the clothing department anyway.

Soon done undressing, she detached the Type 95 and her bag of money, throwing both of those onto the bench present in the small, potentially claustrophobic room.

She shoved her clothes under the gap between the door and the floor, picking up what looked like a menu in return. Tanya began to look at her options.

Well, the more… womanly clothes were out for her. She didn't want to wear anything like that.

She was still a man, underneath the biology, and she wouldn't stop beating that into her own head until she keeled over dead in forty to sixty years.

She had only had to wear a dress once – during that stupid propaganda photo shoot – and she hadn't worn one since. Even her attendance at that party where the Kaiser had been present hadn't warranted one, as she'd been able to wear her uniform instead.

Tanya shook her head. She didn't have the foggiest idea about what might be good for her, besides something that didn't restrict her movements too much. She needed to be able to maneuver in the air, after all.

"Miss…." Tanya began. A loud sigh was heard through the door.

"Sorry, that I didn't introduce myself – I'm Lavandula – but what you were wearing was unacceptable! Can I help you?" she rattled off.

"I haven't been an adventurer for long, so I was wondering if you had any recommendations," she admitted.

Tanya heard, from farther away, "Well, do you know what you'll be doing the most on the battlefield?"

"Well, I'll use magic the most often, from a distance, and I'll be moving around a lot. Does that help?" she supplied. Tanya had never had much time to play video games in her first life, and a decade and a half had muddled her memories further.

Considering how much like a video game this world seemed to be, she'd let an expert decide in this matter, as long as their choices weren't too bad.

The woman made a noise expressing agreement through the door, and began to talk.

"Based on your description, you definitely won't want any heavy armor, if you're moving a lot. A poor Strength stat means that you can't equip most of the heavier armor, so you'll probably be fine with some light leathers and cloth…" she trailed off.

Tanya waited for more information to come through the door, but clothes were slipped under it instead.

Eyeing them, Tanya picked them up and-

No. No. Absolutely not!

She blushed as she fought the urge to tear them to pieces, regardless of the price. This was… pathetic. Demeaning.

She wasn't some sort of slut!

There was nearly nothing there. A few pieces of cloth that looked like they were worn over her privates, but other than that, nothing.

"I don't know what kind of person you think I am, but I assure you, I am going to wear more than this!" shouted, shoving the clothing back under the door.

Silence reigned, and before Tanya could ask for her old clothes, more than happy to wear them dirty than wear practically nothing, the woman spoke back, softly. "You're not from this Kingdom, right?"

Tanya blinked. Had she been that transparent based on her clothes?

"Yes, looking at your clothes as something other than bloodstained rags, they do resemble some of the other things we've gotten over the years," she commented, drifting away again.

Tanya sighed. Yeah, she'd definitely made some sort of mistake, if she could tell that easily.

"Let me see… I'll try to find something that fits your tastes, then," she said from farther away. Tanya just stared down, kind of guilty.

She wasn't guilty about rejecting the clothing, of course. She'd never wear something like that.

The woman did know her stuff, however, and Tanya felt sort of bad for essentially insulting someone for something they hadn't realized after she had specifically asked for their recommendation.

Another pile of clothing was pushed under the door, much more hesitantly this time.

Tanya picked it up. It was… better.

A green cloth shawl-like thing with yellow borders sat on top of the pile, while a short white undershirt with a few strings to hold the neckline together sat underneath.

She picked up both, and marveled at the shawl. It was much heavier than it appeared. Did it have leather inside it, between two pieces of cloth, perhaps?

She looked at its neck and was surprised to see a price tag. Under the price – suspiciously pricey, by her estimate – was the word 'mantle.'

She looked at it again. Was that what it was called?

Shrugging, she set them aside, and looked at the rest of her provided clothing. A simple leather belt was fine with her, but the black shorts and a pair of sandals were a bit too open for her.

Plus, her boots still fit her fine. She might need some new ones, if her body ever decided to grow, but until then, she'd stick with the military grade footwear.

"Er… ma'am? I like most of it, but could you alter some of it?" she asked, pushing the pants and sandals beneath the opening again. She heard a long drawn out sigh behind the door, but the woman asked, "What do you want done?"

"Well, I'm going to stick with my boots, but longer pants would be better," she said. She shoved the shirt back under the door, and continued. "The shirt sleeves need to be lengthened as well."

Tanya heard a small growl of anger as the shirt disappeared, soon followed by a response. "You do realize that you will look quite… traditional wearing so much, yes?" she said, hesitancy and annoyance warring in her voice.

Tanya tilted her head. Was that what the culture was like here?

"How so?" she asked. The woman sighed.

"Right, you really aren't from around here. Look, I don't say you can't wear this much, but people are either going to think you're trying to show off, that you're hiding something, or that you're deeply religious," she explained.

Tanya grit her teeth at the last option. "How so?" she asked again.

The woman chuckled, and if Tanya had taken some sort of x-ray vision as a power, she was sure that she would see the woman shaking her head. "If you were a Mage, you wouldn't have blood on you. They don't get that close. If a Thief wore that much, people either think they must have a reason to restrict themselves."

"Besides," she continued as Tanya realized where the confusion was coming from, "people don't have a lot of money in the starting town of adventurers. Wearing a lot of clothing that can be easily torn means you have the money to hire people to fix it or replace it constantly."

Oh.

She'd wondered why so many people had been wearing an odd mishmash of clothing…

She grimaced. If they couldn't afford clothing, then how much was she going to get paid, then?

Tanya shook her head. She'd put off thinking of that until she got back to the Guild. For now, she'd finish this. "First of all, I'm not a Thief. I'm an Adventurer – mind the capitalization – that can use long ranged attacks and magic spells. Does that help?"

A silence began, and before Tanya could break it, Lavandula's voice rang out. "Well, you'll choose one or the other. Pants and shoes, or the shirt?" she asked.

Tanya sighed. Well, if she would be moving as much as she had, then proper shoes were a much better option than having to run around in sandals.

"The first one, please," she asked. The woman took off, her pointed shoes disappearing from the gap under the door.

In a matter of minutes, the woman returned, sliding a new set of garments under the door.

Now laid out next to each other, the pants were indeed longer, reminding her of her other clothes. The shirt's sleeves, instead of being lengthened, were now shortened, barely extending past her shoulders. She put them all on the bench, looking at the newest additions.

A pair of gloves that extended passed the elbow, judging by their length, and a pair of socks. She set the latter aside, studying the gloves dubiously.

Conceptually, she knew they were normal gloves. But they reminded her of the not-a-goddess's sleeves, if in different colors.

They could be useful, at the least. Lavandula didn't seem like she'd take no for an answer with these, if her continued presence behind the door of the stall was any indication.

Sighing, she slipped the gloves back under the door. Tanya would have them be useful, at the very least. She could probably hide a knife or something inside one of them.

"Ma'am? Would you please shorten the gloves and cut off most of the fingers?" she asked.

The woman chuckled. "And actually show off a bit of skin? I thought you'd never ask, darling."

Tanya silently bristled at the pet name. The gloves disappeared, and as the woman's steps echoed away, Tanya heard, "Pick out a set of underwear and a bra from the selection catalogue, while you're at it."

Tanya blushed, but did as told. At least the woman wasn't doing that for her as well.

Soon, the woman returned, slide the altered gloves under the door, and took off after Tanya told her to get plain, simple, unadorned boxers, as well as the smallest bra they had. A sigh had come after that declaration, but no admonishment.

Tanya waited for a moment, studying her outfit.

It wasn't… completely outlandish by the standards of her own time, and most of the oddities – the mantle and gloves – would be minor.

Her underwear was given to her, and Tanya began to put on the clothing.

Soon, she finished. She looked around for a mirror, and… she couldn't find one.

She supposed it was sensible; they were probably more expensive here.

She shook her head – she was going to have to invent quite a few things to get what she wanted – gathered the rest of her belongings, and walked out of the door.

Lavandula clapped her hand together. "There, much better. Now, that'll be 20,000 Eris, if you wouldn't mind." Tanya almost balked, and then remembered her treatment of the woman and what she'd said about affording clothing. Tanya opened her bags, handing over the majority of the rest of her money.

Just as she was about to leave, she turned back. "Er, about my other clothes?"

The woman seemed put out, and pointed to another corner of the room. "They're over there, if you really want to wear them."

Tanya nodded in thanks and walked into the back corner. As she lifted her clothing up, she realized that they were resting on a closed box marked 'SALE.'

Tanya shrugged. She might not have any money now, but maybe she'd want to get something in the future. She didn't have to deal with military regulations anymore, after all.

She opened the box and gasped.

This was all clothing from her world!

Brand names, iconic characters, stupid sayings – it was all there, tags that said 'Made in China' and all.

Tanya looked at Lavandula sharply. "What is all of this?"

The woman scoffed. "Oh that? It's all the stuff we get from out-of-towners. Whenever adventurers die, people are sent after them to ensure they don't rise as the undead. If their gear is salvageable, they sell it to us if they don't want it. We're required to take it, even if no one will ever buy it. They just have some weird designs on them."

Tanya nodded to herself, looking at the clothing. Made sense that no one would buy stuff in a language they didn't understand.

She'd probably get something later. For nostalgia, if nothing else.

As she left, waving to Lavandula, she said, "And make sure to visit the baths!"

Tanya tilted her head. Baths?

"Where are they?"

Shaking her head, Lavandula gave her the directions, and Tanya thanked her one last time before leaving.

-OxOxO-

Tanya surveyed her 'room', glaring at her surroundings.

It wasn't completely horrible. She had some hay to sleep on, there was a roof over her head, and the sound of enemy fire wasn't constantly ringing above her head.

It wasn't what she had expected on her way back from the baths, where'd she'd scrubbed herself thoroughly. You never knew when you'd get your next bath on the front, and Tanya was going to enjoy soaking if she could.

She had expected being able to afford her old room in the guild, but things turned out poorly in that regard.

Luna had told her the price of the room, and Tanya had balked. She didn't have the income to pay those kind of fees every night, not if she wanted to pay for that lesson from the Blacksmith.

That wasn't what Tanya was mad about. She was annoyed that she hadn't been told earlier, of course, but living in a stable was manageable.

What wasn't so manageable was the pay.

Luna had handed her a total of ten thousand Eris when Tanya had asked for her money. Six thousand for patrolling the man's land, and another four for the dead toad. Tanya had taken the money and eaten her dinner sullenly.

She earned half of that every hour during her job in her first life. She would have earned over three times as much money by working at that job, and while she might have been paid in both Marks and promissory notes in her second life, those could get her more than what she'd been paid.

Tanya continued to glare at the repurposed stable, wishing that she could transform it into something better. Perhaps somewhere with lighting, or glass in its windows.

Nothing changed, and Tanya sat on the pile of hay that dominated the room, defeated.

Today had been interesting. Not bad. Not good.

Just interesting.

She explored her limits, learned about this world's culture, and figured out how she would get a gun, eventually. She had also lost the majority of her money, hadn't earned that much, and had to barter for somewhere to sleep.

Tanya smiled.

But it had been liberating.

She hadn't realized with how long she'd been fighting, but it was nice to relax, wear clothing that wasn't issued by the military, and not have to worry about the lives of the people she commanded and her relationships to the people above her station.

Tanya chuckled a bit. Here she was, the feared Devil of the Rhine, the White Silver, laying in a bed of hay in clothing that looked like it belonged to some underequipped goody-two shoes bent on blindly murdering some far off villain.

She settled into the bed, wearing her old clothing. She'd use them as sleep clothing, until she could get something more proper.

Not that that would happen anytime soon. She needed to find over 45,000 Eris, while also eating and paying for her housing. She'd only kept around 2,000 Eris from today's payoff. Adding that to the money she had left from the arm wrestling meant she had a total of 4,000 Eris.

It didn't take a genius to figure out that she wouldn't have enough money by next week to pay off the Blacksmith, never mind all of the backup equipment she wanted to get.

She looked at her money pouch, laying on top of her 'Adventuring Clothing'.

She shot up again. She hadn't tested out the Circlet of Greatness!

Rushing over to the stool she'd set her pouch and her clothing on, she pulled it out of the bag and held it up to the moonlight. It still looked just as ridiculous since she'd first seen it.

She placed it on her head, and waited for a moment.

Nothing seemed to have happened. Maybe a bit of mana would help?

That was the last coherent thought Tanya von Degurechaff had for the next twelve seconds as she pushed a mote of mana into the crown, and a tidal wave of energy returned in its place.

Inhaling sharply, Tanya woke up, noting a slight change in her surroundings. Why was she on the floor?

That question passed as euphoria overtook her. This felt…

Well, it felt as good as the Type 95 had, in the beginning. It was incredible. She giggled a bit.

It was also likely giving her some sort of high, like the oxygen sickness she'd experienced whenever she went up to heights not meant for the Flight spell.

She looked around, noticing the room was suddenly much brighter.

She looked up, and saw that yes, the pseudo-crown glowed a brilliant array of colors. Tanya pouted cutely.

She might have been more in awe, but this was something created by heaven and it was the middle of the night. Hoping it would work, she willed the thing to stop glowing.

Its glow receded, but it still shone. Tanya clapped her hands together, grinning idiotically.

See cast her eyes about the now darkened room. How to test this…

Well, she might as well try illusions first. Those didn't cause any noise, at least.

She quickly went through the 'Optical Decoy spell' – why the military felt the need to make it more complicated than simply calling it an Illusion spell, she'd never fathom – and imagined…

Tanya giggled again, and watched as the room around her changed. Instead of a small, dirty stable, fit only with a pile of hay, a stool, and a singular hook on the wall where she'd hung her mantle, the room now resembled a scene she could only have ever dreamed of.

The room looked five times larger and able to house some sort of party, if she'd wanted. A long table was centered in the room, while some sort of white stone made up a majority of the floor.

All around the room, gold shone. The roof was gold. The tables were gold. The lamps were gold. The windows had golden window frames and yellow-colored glass. An expansive bed occupied the spot where the pile of hay had been.

On that bed were a number of things. Mountains of Japanese food, television, phones, and other amenities she hadn't had in sixteen years populated the bed.

Now, Tanya began laughing happily. It was here, the life of safety she'd wanted. With several upgrades, if everything was as expensive as it looked.

She heard someone knocking on the door to her room, and she blinked as clarity returned at the sound of the voice.

"Colonel, I've got some chocolate and coffee for you."

The illusion broke down and she sank to her knees, sighing tiredly.

Viktoriya. Tanya…

She shook her head. She wished that they had lived in modern times, when homosexuality was accepted.

Of course, Viktoriya didn't seem all that interested in love or romance. She hadn't hooked up with anyone – or even entertained the thought – throughout their time on the various fronts.

Nearly all the others had. Tanya had kept a diligent record of the exploits of the other members of the 203rd, if only so that she could fend off any false claims and rumors. Viktoriya hadn't though, and Tanya had respected the time period's obvious lack of advancement and Viktoriya's seeming disinterest.

She shook her head, and tried to stand. She blinked, and the sound of other adventurers complaining about how loud she'd been and wanting to hear that noise again reached her ears. Tanya shook her head.

She looked down at her body and tried to stand again, only to find that it took an incredible amount of effort to do so.

Scowling, she tried to walk to her new clothing. The Circlet had a cost, right?

She made it exactly two steps before she crashed to the ground, exhausted.

Grunting, she filtered mana into a quick Flight spell, and rose off of the ground. Floating, she rotated herself and picked through her clothing, now as heavy as the iron armors in the Blacksmith's shop had looked, searching for her Adventurer's Card.

Soon, she found it, and blinked rapidly as she looked at it. It was pretty heavy to lift, actually. Not impossible, but it felt as heavy as if it were made of steel.

She shook her head and began to study the card.

Her Magical-Power stat was stronger than it had been, and the numbers were now glowing blue. She wasn't exactly ten times the low-hundreds number that had been their earlier, but it was a great degree higher. What she was confused about was her Strength.

She had known that it would be low, obviously, but was it really negative?

Yes, negative. Somehow, the card was displaying a negative number where it really shouldn't be. Most likely, the card was broken, or her Strength was so far below the average it had rolled into the negatives.

If hay weighed a few pounds like this, then how would she hold a gun?

That… would be problematic.

She quickly began to enhance her limbs with her magic, pouring mana into her Reinforcement spells.

Nothing. Her strength rose a little bit, but otherwise, she felt nothing.

Tanya frowned. How on earth would she fight if she couldn't hold up a gun?

A breath of air escaped clenched teeth. Another thing she needed to deal with. She didn't exactly have a deadline to meet, but the longer she waited, the more people that not-a-goddess would reincarnate.

Slowly, she cut off her connection to the small mote of mana she had placed within the relic, and sighed in relief as she felt the euphoric feeling left her.

That could get addictive, and without the deterrent of having to pray to Being X, it might be harder to resist the temptation.

She placed the Circlet back in the bag, and walked over to the hay.

Today had been interesting. The week would probably be interesting while she worked to level up and obtain Skill Points and somehow find the money to pay for the blacksmith's show-and-tell-me-how-to-be-a-smith. The next months and years were a mystery to her, right now.

Tanya drifted off to sleep, visions of revenge dancing behind her eyes.

-OxOxO-

Tanya woke in an instant.

Being able to wake fast was necessary in the war, when an enemy could have tried a sneak attack. Here, she hadn't expected to be woken at all. She knew no one.

And yet, people still decided to try and get her.

She couldn't see who they were, but they definitely shouldn't have been in her room. They didn't seem to realize she was awake, softly moving closer to her.

They bent over her silent form. Tanya cursed herself, wishing she had kept her sword by her side. She did have one thing she could do, though…

As Tanya filtered as much mana as she could into her hands, a hand clamped down over her mouth, and that was all the provocation Tanya needed. She slashed with towards her assailant, magically sharpened fingernails biting into unprepared flesh.

A scream echoed through the building, and Tanya threw herself out of bed, towards the Circlet. She slipped it onto her head and made it light up like a light bulb.

The face of someone she didn't recognize greeted her light. She advanced on them slowly, and, blinded by the sudden light, they tripped into the large, empty space present in the stables.

"W- Wait! Please! Don't hurt me anymore!" he begged.

Eyes glassy, Tanya didn't take any note of his pleading. He'd tried to assault her, maybe more, like…

Like…

She snarled. "I don't think so. Now, if you'll-"

Another person popped out of another room. "Please don't kill him! He can't help it if he was aroused by your moan earlier!"

What.

What.

He apparently saw the question written in the incredulity on her face, and began to explain. "W- We were just curious, that's all. 'Why you would make a sound like that,' and other questions like 'can you make it again?' were all we wanted to ask."

Barring the apparent gap in her memory – that was why she'd been on the ground, after putting the damn thing on – she really was going to murder them. She wasn't even sixteen.

Of course, the chance was high that the age of consent and other such things were much lower. Still, that didn't mean she had to accept them.

First she needed to confirm what had happened. "How long was the sound?" she asked.

The two men seemed confused. "You don't remember?"

Blushing, she shouted. "Of course not! If I had knowingly made that sound and you'd tried to make me do it again, you'd be dead." She bit out the last word between clenched teeth.

Both shook, and one tried to jump back into his room. She jumped in front of him, aided by a slight burst of a Flight spell. He shrunk back, and sputtered that it had gone on for a few seconds.

Tanya sighed. "Whatever. If you ever try to touch me again, I'll make sure to give you genital scarring to go with the scars on your face."

Both nodded rapidly, and fled into their room. Tempting as it was to punish them further, they had at least shown her that leaving her things out of arm's reach was foolish.

This wasn't the army anymore. No one was going to respect her for her rank here.

Stalking back to her room, she made a mental note to keep her things on her. Sharpening her nails without the Type 95 wasn't hard, but she needed to make it more efficient.

Grumbling, she settled into the hay once more, her Computation Jewel resting heavily on the hay by her head. If she just slipped it on…

She shook her head and sighed. Tanya just hoped her life would settle down as she worked to get that wish.

Visions of repaying Being X for the pain he had caused her and trying to ignore how itchy the hay was, Tanya drifted off to sleep.

-OxOxO-

Can't put this one at the beginning, since it kind of spoils it, right?

Chapter Text

Tanya sighed hopelessly, looking at the bulletin board quests. The quests that would allow her to meet her deadline in a week were rated too high over her level for her to do alone, according to Luna. The ones that were at her level, however, wouldn't let her earn enough money.

She had leveled up in the past few days, the number six replacing the one that had sat in the level box of her card. With those levels came Skill Points, which she had been saving up in preparation of her lesson, ignoring the temptation to funnel them into one of her other abilities she'd kept from her past life.

She didn't think anything he could teach her would take up more than twenty, but she'd saved the ten points she'd started with and the ten she'd earned while leveling up regardless.

In order to get as much money as she could, she'd taken a number of high level quests that were technically outside her ability that Luna had barely let her try. She had fought an assortment of monsters – groups of Horned Rabbits and Giant Worms, for the most part.

Those had been fairly easy. Nothing here could even scratch her Active Barrier spell, which easily withstood the force of unenchanted bullets in her last life. That shield, unsurprisingly, ate up a massive amount of mana, which meant she'd had to use it sparingly and in bursts.

Being able to fly higher than any of the monsters could reach was quite helpful as well, allowing her to wait while they tired themselves trying to get her. Things were becoming harder, however.

She needed money to make that deadline, so she'd stopped eating full meals and had sold her stolen sword for a smaller dagger and money. She probably looked like crap too, since she had even stopped going to the bathhouses to save money. She got disgusted looks from people as she passed, but she wasn't concerned. She just needed to get that skill.

She still hadn't come close enough, though.

She was off by a few thousand Eris, and today was the day she was supposed to turn up. This meant…

She needed a loan. A terrifying prospect, if it was worded in a way that could take advantage of her, but she was from a future where capitalism and the free market had reigned near supreme. How hard would it be to outmaneuver possibly nasty businessmen in a sometimes-backward fantasy realm?

Of course, she would need to find somewhere to get the loan in the first place.

Making up her mind, Tanya walked up to the front counter. Luna was giving the speech she'd given her to someone else new.

Sighing, she waited her turn. Soon, the person, dressed much more appropriately than she had been a week ago, finished their business, and Tanya walked forward, greeting Luna with a small wave.

"Hello, Miss Degurechaff. How can I help you?" she said. Tanya smiled. Luna's presence was nice to have, considering what she'd done for her.

She'd waived the level requirement on the easier monster hunting quests Tanya had asked for, after ensuring Tanya knew what she was up against. That was the only reason she was as close as she was to getting that lesson.

Tanya smile faded as she remembered why she was there. "I was wondering if you knew where I could obtain a loan, actually," she admitted.

Luna smiled. "Well, the guild will loan you up to one hundred thousand Eris," she relayed.

Twitch.

Luna began to stare at the top of her head, but Tanya paid her no mind.

She should have just come here in the first place? Gotten to eat something worthwhile, smelled better than the backside of a pig, and kept her sword?

Tanya sighed. She really should have just asked Luna. She had been nothing but helpful after all, and-

"For more than that, you'll need to see some of the debt collectors," Luna said, pointing to a dangerous looking pair of muscle heads that were standing in one of the darker corners of the guild. Since it was daytime, it wasn't very dark, but they still gave of an aura that made the area seem… sinister.

"I'm guessing they give you loans at some sort of outrageous price?" she asked, seeking confirmation. Luna nodded an affirmative, and Tanya shook her head.

"Well, I'll just take the guild's loan," she said. Luna nodded, bent down beneath the counter, and brought up a piece of paper that she laid out before Tanya.

As Luna explained the details, Tanya began to read the document. "You'll just have to give us a portion of all the earnings you make over a period of time."

Yeah, that was true. But they would also be looking to make money, and would probably charge her more the longer she took and the more she asked for.

Ah, there it was. They…

They'd only take a tiny bit extra? She shook her head and began to read the paper closely.

For every quest she completed during a specified time frame, they would ask for only a small bit of her earnings. If she opted for a quest-a-day timetable, they'd only earn two hundred Eris from each of her quest. If she opted for the price to be attached to one quest a week, they'd earn eight hundred.

It wasn't that much. In fact, she was fairly sure that charging so little money would have gotten a bank from either of her last worlds accused of being a front for some crime ring.

Tanya looked at Luna quizzically. "Why aren't you charging more?" she asked.

"What do you mean?"

"Well, if you wanted to make money, then why wouldn't you charge progressively more the longer it takes?" she asked.

Luna gave her that smile that told her that she thought Tanya was every bit the inexperienced girl she resembled. "The Guild is here to help adventurers and protect the Kingdom. They can't exactly do that if they're in debt, can they?" she asked rhetorically. Tanya nodded, unsure.

It wasn't the best way to run a business, but if they were more like an extension of the government, then that wasn't necessarily their goal.

Tanya shrugged. Regardless, this would be better for her.

Like many forms that she had filled out in her first world, it asked a slew of questions about her, her plans for the money, and how much she'd need. Filling it out quickly, she opted to ask for 8,000 Eris. It would meet the threshold for getting that skill, as well as a few thousand Eris for herself.

Sure, it was a bit more than what she needed, but she also wanted to eat. She didn't know how long this process would take, and not eating lunch afterwards might actually cause her to pass out, with how hungry she was.

Finally finished, she signed her name at the bottom and pushed the document back to Luna, who smiled. She took the piece of paper and placed it in a shelf, where many other such papers seemed to be kept.

Before she could examine them more, Luna turned around again, money in hand. "I hope you spend it well!"

Tanya smiled, before giving the woman a perfunctory wave goodbye as she walked out the doors of the Guild. Sure, it was early morning and she hadn't eaten breakfast yet, but that didn't mean she couldn't get this done fast and then eat a big lunch.

Walking through the twisting turns of the city, Tanya relaxed. She wasn't out in the various farms that surrounded the city, fighting off pests or minor threats, nor was she anywhere near the front lines of this war. She could take a bit of time to enjoy herself.

Soon enough, she arrived at the Blacksmith's shop. Taking a step in, she searched the room. It didn't look like he was here, but it hadn't looked like he was here last time, either.

A steady gaze surveyed the room, before landing on the counter. A note, much like the last time, sat on it.

Not that she'd trust it, of course. She cast a quick glance at the ceiling, before walking towards the back and around the corner of the counter.

He wasn't behind it, it seemed. She picked up the note, and read 'In the back.'

She shrugged. He was probably waiting for her, since he would have closed the shop if he was making something.

She walked into the dimly lit area behind the counter, surveying what she saw.

A variety of tools lined the walls of the room. A sort of desk sat in the middle, covered in other such implements. What she assumed was a forge sat in the back, based on how it extended up to the ceiling and likely beyond, forming the chimney she had seen the edge of on the roof. An anvil and a large tub of water sat closer to the door she'd just walked through.

The Blacksmith wasn't there, though.

Before she could decide on whether to explore further in, towards the other door she saw, she was tapped on the shoulder.

She fought the urge to swing around her blade, instead only spinning her body around quickly.

The man was smiling, but the creases on his forehead told her he was confused. "What are you doing back here?"

Calming at the sight of someone familiar instead of an enemy, she undid the bag at her side, lifting the bag with her money out of the bag with the circlet in it. "I have the money, and wanted to get started early."

His eyes squinted, he appraised her. Tanya stood strong, holding out the bag. She'd faced much worse appraisals in the Empire's army from dubious officers skeptical of her achievements.

A smile broke the weak facade of scrutiny, and the man walked passed her into the dark room. "Alright, then. We'll talk about payment afterwards," he called, pulling out a few baskets from underneath the table in the center.

Tanya looked at them curiously. There were baskets of rocks, ingots, what looked like leather, and skinned animal hides.

Tanya looked up at the man. Why did he have all of this? Shouldn't most of this have been processed already?

Gesturing to the woven baskets, he began to speak. "Now, since this is a one-time deal, I think I'll teach you the foundation of most Crafting Type jobs," he declared.

He began to lay out a number of tools on a table. A mallet, sandpaper, sewing needles, cloth, and more joined the baskets. He lifted one of the ingots out of the basket, and walked over to the forge.

"Just watch me, little girl."

Tanya bristled at his description of her, but she stayed quiet and watched as he said, "Smith," and began.

The next two hours were interesting. He moved in a flurry, heating, shaping, cooling, and finishing his work.

She was amazed that it only took two hours. It seemed ridiculous to make a sword in that amount of time, but she had seen it for herself.

That meant this power must have been able to speed up the rate at which swords, and perhaps other weapons and objects, could be made.

Somehow. Magic was an obvious answer, but even magic couldn't violate the basic laws of physics.

She blinked and looked down, thinking furiously. At least, her version couldn't. It was entirely possible that this world's magic didn't care what was possible according to physics.

He held the gleaming sword up to the light of the still-hot forge. "That is how you do it. You can learn the skill on your card," he said as he walked to the front.

Tanya quickly retrieved it from her bag, and stared at the newest addition. There, at the top of the exhaustive list of the numerous spells and techniques she'd learned in her last life, was a new one, glowing gold.

Just as the man had screamed, it was titled 'Smith.' Before she could work out how to get it, the man began to speak to her again.

"Now, this is the first skill that all Blacksmiths-in-training learn. It allows the user to shape materials into shapes they desire!" he said.

Tanya nodded, eyes fixed on her skill card. "Can I make any object?" she asked. That was the entire point of this exercise, after all, and he seemed to be in a much more talkative mood now.

He nodded his head. "Of course, as long as you have the materials and it isn't too big." Tanya looked up sharply. The ability to create whatever she wanted sounded nice, but she needed to know the limits. "Too big?"

He chuckled a bit. "You can't just make anything. Your Intelligence, mana, and the Skill Points you've invested in the Skill determine what you can make, and your Strength determines the durability of the object," he said.

"I don't have too much mana, which means I can't use the skill to make something as advanced as an entire set of armor. That's why I get more specific skills if I want to make anything very detailed or very strong."

Tanya nodded again, looking down at the card. "Just tap the skill you want, and then tap the picture of yourself," he said, watching her.

Looking at her card, she tapped the glowing word. It changed from green to red, and she lightly tapped the picture of herself.

Tanya's eyes widened. The card was glowing, and her hair was moving as if she were flying through the air on patrol.

That was, by far, what she was least concerned about.

There was something. She didn't know what it was, but all she knew was that this something was being changed. Somewhere inside her, her mana, or soul, or… something was being altered.

It ended soon enough, and Tanya shook her head. It hadn't been a bad feeling, per se, but she was wary of anything that made her feel good without a proper explanation.

The Type 95 felt good, but what she had to do to make it work and its additional effects were barely worth it. The Circlet had knocked her out for a few seconds from the abundance of mana in her system.

Looking back down at her card, she saw the gold skill had disappeared, likely buried underneath the list of her other skills. Along with its disappearance, a whole ten of her Skill Points had vanished, leaving her with the ten she'd started with.

She sighed happily. She'd be able to put points into other skills she had. She'd explore what she could improve upon later. She tucked away the card, and jolted as the Blacksmith spoke again.

"Well then? Give it a try!" he said, inches in front of her face.

Tanya backed up a bit, but shook her head. How he'd gotten so close to her, she didn't know, but she would be getting that discount and not paying 45,000 Eris.

Her penny-pinching was mostly because she wanted to eat, not because the skill wasn't worth it. It was completely worth the higher price, if she could use it to make a rifle.

She wouldn't have to buy clothing, weapons, or tools for a nice, long while, as long as she used enough Skill Points. She might just make about anything she wanted instead of buying it for herself.

That left the question of what she should make to avoid a higher price. She might have been familiar with a number of guns, but those would likely be above her current skill to make. Pistols would likely be out, as well.

Tanya grinned she knew something that might be simple enough for this.

Silently, she began to boost her Strength with Reinforcement spells. She did want this recreation to be as durable as the last one, after all.

Now one question remained. How did she activate the skill?

She thought about the feeling of learning the skill. Was that it?

Tanya stood there for a few more moments, waiting for something to happen. She assumed this was all she needed to do. What was she missing?

The Blacksmith coughed, and Tanya snarled, "Why isn't it working?"

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw the man's eyebrows furrow in confusion. Tanya whirled towards him. "What else do I need to do?" she hounded.

"Er… you know. Say 'Smith?"

Huh?

"What do you mean? That wasn't just for effect?" she asked. He seemed to become more confused.

"Well… duh. You can't add the ability to silently use a skill until you've used it a lot. I could, but you haven't even used it yet," he supplied, eyeing her skeptically.

Oh.

Was that why everything had seemed to be taking so much mana? This world had a different and nonsensical rule where you had to say a few esoteric words out loud to make things happen?

Cheeks tinged red and eyebrows creased, Tanya turned back to the forge, muttering "Smith" as she did so.

Tanya blinked rapidly as information surged through her mind, and her earlier embarrassment was forgotten. She knew now how to shape metal, leather, and a variety of other materials and how to use the pieces and processes she now knew to make weapons and armor.

Most importantly, Tanya also realized just how inadequate the materials around her would be to make her gun. Instead, she settled on the idea she'd had earlier.

Back in her last life, no one was given swords anymore. Not for actual fighting, and only rarely for ceremonial purposes. The Empire had discarded the practice as a remnant of a bygone era and claimed that they didn't need blades in the modern age.

That they didn't have the resources to spare to make anything beyond bayonets was conveniently forgotten in the reports on why they weren't awarded, but Tanya could read between the lines well enough.

She had earned that medal above Norden, however, and she'd even been given a second name. They'd decided to treat her and have a nice propaganda tour to complement her promotion to Colonel and to hammer in to the population just how important the fabled 'Mith-'

She grimaced, and she bit the inside of her cheek once more. She wasn't thinking about that she wasn't wasn't wasn't wasn't-

She sighed and focused back on what she wanted to make as she began to gather materials. Instead of getting some parade saber that wouldn't see actual use, she'd put in a request for something much more… practical.

Tanya worked, ideas about how she'd ever make a gun rattling around the back half of her head.

She hadn't expected to be nearly as fast as him. He had much more experience, after all.

Despite her slower pace, It was still grueling. The forge was hot, and the room wasn't well ventilated, beside the small hole the smoke pushed through in the chimney. Constantly banging, banging, banging a hammer into burning steel was a lesson in monotony.

But Tanya had learned that lesson several times over, watching for the smallest movement on the front or cleaning every last piece of her guns, so she learned to ignore the ache in her muscles, dulling any pain with Reinforcement spells.

Soon, but not soon enough, the blade was mostly done. She still needed to finish it, but her mana was running low. Perhaps…

She shook her head. No, the Type 95 wasn't an option. She honestly had no idea what would happen if the Type 95 was turned to any other task than dismembering her opponents, and while the Circlet would reduce her strength, she only needed it for a few moments.

Gritting her teeth, she flicked a small bit of mana into the Circlet of Greatness, hanging at her side, and she felt her mana reserves replenish.

She blinked it wasn't nearly as much as it had been last night. Perhaps not wearing it on her head reduced both its benefits and costs.

She shrugged. She would finish this and worry about that later. Renewed, she laughed as she funneled over half of the magic into her Reinforcement spells to continue hammering the metal, winding and molding leather, and grinding the blade with the files the Blacksmith had.

In just over three hours, it was finished. She ripped the mana from the Circlet and almost collapsed. She managed to stay standing, however, and Tanya held it up to the dim light still present in the cooling forge.

A shallow saw blade on one side, a sleek, study edge on the other; the foot-and-a-half blade of her specially made Seitengewehr bayonet shone. The engravings on the side, wings and halos the last time she'd had it, had been skipped – she didn't have the skills, and she hated that addition to it anyway.

Along the hilt, a dark leather covering the metal underneath that matched the sheath, were the initials of her friends, meticulously recreated from memory.

Viktoriya's stood prominently on the base of the hilt, and Tanya smiled in remembrance.

Tanya might not have liked how close she had to get to her enemies, but that didn't mean that she wasn't good at it. So when it came time to pick what she wanted as her 'official' blade…

Well, this had been nice then, and it was nice now. It even had her name inscribed on the blade.

Of course, it wasn't perfect. Most of the little ornamentation, like the gold-leaf version of her signature, was no longer present. Now, that signature was gone, with just her initials in a different colored leather. It showed ownership, and she preferred that it wasn't as flashy.

The man behind her, forgotten as she remembered the ceremony where she'd received the thing, whistled in appreciation. "Very pretty. And maybe better than making a simple sword." He smiled, and Tanya smiled right back, happy to have this new power.

She wouldn't be able to get a gun for a nice long while, sure, but it was nice to have a piece of useful memorabilia from her last life.

-OxOxO-

Tanya snacked happily on nice, juicy Giant Toad leg. Not an entire one, of course. Those were too big, even for the voracious appetite of a former Aerial Mage.

She'd been able to negotiate a price of 35,000 Eris with the Blacksmith. Giving the man the knife she'd been given when she'd sold her stolen sword, she'd been able to haggle for that price.

He'd even given her a scrap of paper that she could use to name the thing, officially.

She hadn't seen the need for it – it was just a blade, after all – but she'd done as he suggested and named it.

'Seitengewehr' wasn't original in the slightest, but it was just a blade to her. He'd been pleased by the fanfare, for whatever reason.

After that, she had come back here and spent the rest of her money on a proper meal, instead of the rather bland fare she'd treated herself to over the last week.

As she wolfed down the food, she began to plan her next steps.

She needed some sort of scepter, until she could make a gun. Using her fingers was fine, but using some sort of equipment, regardless of how antique it might have seemed to her, was better on the off chance she lost control of a spell.

Besides, even if she could make something that looked and functioned like a gun, she would still need bullets.

One thing she had never taken too much time to dissect, bullets were going to be tricky. She knew the basics of a cartridge: put some sort of powder in a casing, a metal cone on the top, and a primer on the bottom.

Simple, sure, but she didn't know what materials she would need, besides lead and copper. There was something about sulfur in gunpowder, she was sure, but besides that, she was at a loss.

She needed to find some sort of suitable replacement for her gun, until she could replicate it and figure out how to make a bullet. Losing some gnarled stick would be better than losing a hand, after all.

Using her blade as a scepter was also an option, but channeling mana through something so irregularly shaped would be much more tricky, and if her blade exploded…

Well, she might not need to worry about finding a gun anymore.

She licked her fingers and continued to think. She'd need some sort of hat, as well, to cover up the circlet. Keeping two bags and having to open both to get to her money was just a bit tedious, and having something else that resembled something from her last life would be nice.

With this skill, she wouldn't even need to reveal that she was hiding anything in her hat to anyone. She'd just purchase the materials and make a hat herself.

Suddenly, commotion from the other side of the bar caught her attention. It appeared Dust was groveling again.

She swallowed her mouthful of food and chuckled as she remembered her last meeting with the man. He'd accosted her during the week, begging her for a bit of the money she was saving up. She'd shot him down, of course. But now that she had a bit of extra cash…

Well, she could take him up on his offer to observe his party for a day, and she would try to learn as many skills as she could.

He'd said something about her being desperate, and she hadn't contradicted him. She might get a better deal if he thought she was just as desperate as he was.

Not that she expected to need many of them, but that girl who she hadn't been able to guess the job of was a Mage. Tanya wanted to compare the magic of the two different worlds.

She quickly scarfed down the last of her food and walked over to him. He seemed to be begging Luna for money.

She arrived to hear the receptionist speaking down to Dust. "Dust, I would like to help you. You haven't paid back the guild, however, even when we gave you a loan above our usual amount," she said to the figure that had collapsed on the counter.

"Please Luna! I just need a bit more money, to pay back them!" he slurred, tossing a glance over his shoulder at the intimidating looking gentlemen in the corner. They seemed to be amused by his situation, if the subdued laughter was anything to go by.

Tanya shook her head. It seemed that the man was drunk, if the way he was unabashedly gripping the sides of the desk and not staring at her rack like he usually did was anything to go by.

She looked towards his usual table and saw the half full mug of beer Keith was carrying and sighed.

Drunks. She didn't like how wasteful they were, but they were so very easy to trick.

Tanya swooped in, prying Dust off of the counter. "Come on, Dust. I'll help you pay off your debts. For a price."

Dust whimpered, and looked at the two men in the corner like he would very much enjoy whatever they had to offer him than what she would want.

She had thrown him into a wall, after all, but he also deserved that and much worse for calling her a loli.

As she dragged him away, she saw Keith talking to a figure clad in blue armor and pointing at her.

She narrowed her eyes. He certainly looked impressive, if the cape and his self-assured look were anything to go by. It might be nice to be noticed by important people, but her promotion to head the 203rd showed her that being noticed wasn't always a good thing.

She filed away the man's oddly familiar features for later as she marched Dust towards the men.

-OxOxO-

As she stared at the three irate adventurers and the slightly apologetic drunk, she thought back to how her dealings with Dust had gone.

The amount of money Dust had owed the two men was disgusting – did the fool just drink away all of his earnings, and just how much of his blood was made of alcohol?

Nevertheless, she had helped them fix their relationship.

She'd given them some of the money he owed them, and they'd thanked her before grinning evilly at Dust. He'd stumbled behind her, trying to hide behind her petite form, and she had worked out a deal for them and him so he could pay up.

The two debt collectors had welcomed her help, and more importantly, Dust had promised that she could tag along with them on their next quest, observing their skills. He'd then promptly borrowed more money from the two and drowned himself in alcohol.

After helping him, she'd gone about her day. She'd taken a nice, easy quest being a physical laborer, enjoy a leisurely afternoon of strolling through Axel, looking for wherever magical equipment was sold. The day had seemed pretty good.

It had gotten better that afternoon.

When Tanya had returned to the Guild, the Blacksmith had been there. He'd treated her to a nice meal, and then offered to continue her training.

She'd turned his offer for apprenticeship down – she did need to get that wish, after all – but she had asked to have a part-time job.

He'd agreed, and Tanya, whenever she had free time, now had another way to earn a bit of cash. All she had to do was make equipment as he specified, and he would pay her for whatever she made.

She'd be able to get practice using the Smith skill, he'd get quality items, and Tanya would have easy access to whatever materials and tools he had.

After another night of restless scratching at old hay, she woke up ready to observe Dust's team at work.

Tanya had needed to remind him of their deal that morning, since he barely seemed to remember his debts being paid off, much less his grovelling in front Luna.

That brought her to right now, where Taylor, Lynn, and Keith were all glaring at Dust.

This would inform her of how she should interact with her own party. Was she a superior commander, a friend, or a partner desired only out of necessity?

Judging from how the group often got together and ate at the Guild, she was betting on the first of second option.

They, as well as most everyone else in the guild, respected Tanya for her Strength, as well as whatever else she had done that she couldn't remember due to the alcohol. That didn't mean they didn't speak of her in hushed tones, due to her choice of class and lack of team after over a week.

She didn't exactly have many options, if she wanted to keep her fighting style, so she ignored the naysayers. Plus, she hadn't met anyone who seemed to be willing to submit to the leadership of an Adventurer.

Their loss, really.

A belly full of food accompanied Tanya as she met the group at the front of the guild. All four of them seemed to be staring intently at her, while three were scowling at Dust. For his part, he looked only slightly sheepish.

Tanya smiled. It wasn't her fault if he hadn't told his fellow adventurers that she was tagging along.

"Hello, everyone! Thank you all for agreeing to have me!" she announced, bowing her head deferentially. They did have more experience adventuring, and she was there to learn from them, after all.

All of them greeted her in turn, glaring at Dust all the while.

Taylor strode forward. "We haven't been formally introduced, but I'm sure Dust has already told you about us, yes?"

Tanya nodded, but they introduced themselves all the same. Taylor was the leader, wore some armor and, strangely, a tie of all things. He seemed pretty level-headed, and she was interested in how similar their command styles would be.

Keith was the Ranger, and specialized in all things archery. He was, apparently, the closest to Dust in personality, and she had seen the two loitering around town often.

Lynn was apparently their Mage. A green jacket and a cape clothed her, while her hair was pulled pack into a ponytail. She was very good at Intermediate Magic, according to both her and her teammates.

How magic could be 'Intermediate,' she didn't know. She would probably find out, though.

"So, where are we headed today?" Tanya asked. Taylor held up one of the notices, taken from the quests.

"Since we're all going out, we agreed to take something a bit more dangerous. Apparently, someone out hunting spotted a Brutal Alligator. We're to confirm it exists, and either kill it and any others we can find, or simply report them to the guild," he relayed.

Tanya nodded. She didn't know much about Brutal Alligators, but the name alone implied that they would be something of a challenge.

"All right, then! What will I be doing?" she asked. All of them blinked, and then began to laugh at her.

She narrowed her eyes. What was so funny?

Keith, a small grin on his face, answered her unasked question. "You're just an Adventurer, right? The weakest class that doesn't learn any skills on its own? You can carry our supplies, I guess."

Tanya now raised an eyebrow. They were still underestimating her, it seemed. It might help in negotiating with Dust, but it seemed that their immediate reactions to her hadn't yet been dispelled by her feats.

She grit her teeth and pushed down the urge to lash out. She needed to pay off her debts to the guild and get experience.

She gave them a glowing smile. "Alright. I should be thankful for whatever work you give me."

-OxOxO-

Chances to prove herself had been less than forthcoming. They had spent most of a few hours walking in relative silence, passing plots of land where farmers were working hard tending their fields.

Trailing behind the group of four, Tanya had broken the silence after half an hour of discomfort with a question.

"What's with the tail?" she asked.

She wasn't a part of another race – not that Tanya had seen many of those or could tell the difference. It must have been some sort of accessory, but Tanya couldn't tell what it could possibly be for.

Lynn turned around, an eyebrow raised. Tanya didn't move to add to her question or back down from the skeptical look. She really did want to know.

Sighing, the woman put a hand behind her cape, and held up the tail. It seemed to be a generic, ringed tail, from what Tanya could see, besides the clip on the end.

"This is a tanuki tail. Whenever I'm wearing it, I get a slight increase in Agility and Magic-Power," she explained. Tanya just nodded.

She wouldn't know better, and it did make sense in this world. Magic had obviously been the focus of advancement, instead of science like in her last one. She'd seen several things run by magic, like the box that Luna put her card into to see if she'd killed those Horned Rabbits.

It was like a credit card reader or an internet history in function, verifying if she had done what she said she'd done.

"I'm not some beastman," she added hastily. The others chuckled, and Tanya just felt her eyebrows furrow at the questions that created.

"Where'd you get it?" Tanya asked, filing away the term 'beastman' for later.

She wanted a scepter, and if Lynn had gotten it somewhere cheap, she might be able to get something to channel her mana through, if it was some sort of magical general purpose store.

"It was a special purpose item I bought in the markets. Tanuki aren't all that common these days, and items like this usually get discarded if someone can get a better item," she said.

Tanya sighed again. She'd already searched the open markets, and no one had any scepters on sale. At least, none that were in her price range.

It seemed she was destined to go on more quests, forever trying to pay for the next trinket she needed.

Certainly different from life in the military, constantly doing what you were told and then some in search of advancement and just fighting an enemy. You didn't have to really worry about resources personally, not at the level she had been at. She just did the best she could with what resources had been allocated to her.

Lynn had presented her with a wonderful opening to ask her a bit about how what magic was available in this world. "So Lynn. What kind of magic do you like?"

The girl puffed up, and she slowed her pace to stride next to Tanya. "Oh, you're thinking about actually getting a proper job, then?" Tanya smiled indulgently.

Let her think what she would. Tanya wouldn't disabuse her of the notion, not when she was getting free information.

"Well, I skipped a lot of the Beginner Magic to move onto Intermediate Magic. I didn't have the money or support to get the Skill Points to learn Advanced Magic, but what I have is good."

"What's the difference between Beginner and Intermediate?" Tanya asked. It seemed like a bad idea to skip the basics. She hadn't been one of the best Aerial Mages to start with, after all.

The woman squinted her eyes, annoyed. Tanya just raised an eyebrow. She didn't know, and if she was going to act annoyed because she didn't know something, then she was going to be annoyed at a lot of people in her life.

"Well, it mostly has to do with cast time, how long you have to chant to invoke the spell, power, and mana requirements. Beginner Magic requires the least investment, consumes the least mana, and takes few Skill Points to learn," she explained.

"Appropriately, all of it has very little power unless you pour a lot of mana into them. And to get basically the same effect, Intermediate Magic costs less."

Tanya nodded, all the while remembering that these people didn't know everything. Just as the mages of her last world had thought Aerial Mages should function similarly to planes – she'd proven them wrong with the maneuvers she had done that no plane could have tried to do – who knew what Beginner Magic could do in the right hands.

"Advanced Magic packs a lot more power than Intermediate Magic, but it costs so much that most people just don't have the magical power to complete it."

Tanya nodded along. Already, this idea to pay off Dust's debts was bearing fruit.

Tanya soon asked what Lynn could do with magic. Names of spells had drifted through her head, most of which, like the rest of this place, seemed straight out of a video game.

But nothing even resembled her Flight spells, not even in name. As the girl talked, Tanya also looked at her adventure card, noting that none of the spells the girl had described had appeared.

Well, it was as the Blacksmith had said about his skill. She'd need to witness some of the spells in action before she could learn them, apparently.

Another half an hour of idle chit chat passed, and then they were there.

This forest didn't seem much different than any other one Tanya had been in. Trees moved with the wind, low plants and grasses covered the ground, and an animal or two could be spotted occasionally.

Nothing felt particularly intimidating.

And nothing should have. This forest had had most of the monsters in it exterminated. It was, however, the third farthest forest from Axel.

The first one had been cleared several decades ago, and the next farthest one had been cleared two decades prior to today.

This one had been mostly cleared too, but its distance from Axel meant that no one had reason to encounter the monsters in it, since few people lived this far out.

The peace was shattered after nearly another half an hour of waiting to find something when the five of them were nearly trampled to death.

Not by anything as logical as a Brutal Alligator, either. A wave of small woodland creatures had fled past them, fleeing from the general direction of the area the five of them were supposed to be heading to.

The others had decided that the best way to figure out how many Brutal Alligators there were and to take a few out.

They needed to get them out of the pond in order to figure any of that out, which required bait.

Cue her unexpected volunteering.

They had all looked at her, confusion painting their faces. Keith was their Ranger, and he was the fastest of them there. She had promised she could move faster.

Which was technically true. While he could probably beat her in a leg race, she could fly faster than any human would dare try and run.

Not openly, of course. Flight was starting to seem like a very rare ability, if anyone had thought of it at all. Instead, she would hover a centimeter of the ground and pretend she was moving her legs as if she were running.

She sighed as she strolled into the small clearing. She would have preferred to be out of danger, but she'd signed up for this job. She would prove that she wasn't useless, and they would spread knowledge of her ability at the same time.

Actually…

"Hey guys," she called back to the rest of the party, who had been conversing off to the side of the overgrown path. "Does anyone use this thing for fishing?"

None of them seemed to think so. Tanya grinned. This would be much easier, then.

She started up an Observation spell, but then, she whispered "Observation." Like the Blacksmith had claimed, she had to give up much less mana to use the spell if she vocalized her intent to use it.

She shook her head. How ridiculous.

Regardless of the bizarre rules of this world, she watched as a small screen bloomed to life in front of her.

The spell, in addition to testing if the Blacksmith was right, also tracked the active usage of magic in her last life, and if she was lucky…

Nope. Nothing in there. Tanya tutted, but nodded all the same. It seemed that these beasts weren't magical, at least.

Wondering, Tanya searched the ground for something to throw in the water. A small stone at her feet caught her eye, and she grinned.

Perfect.

"Enchant pebble: Artillery Shot."

A bit excessive, to use an artillery spell on a small pond? Sure. But this would certainly draw them out.

Tanya grimaced as the mana drained from within her, but watched as the pebble in her hand began to glow. This would be stronger than any Explosive Vaporization Tanya could muster, and it cost only twice as much as if she had used a Computation Jewel.

Considering an Artillery Shot should have been impossible without one, she was very content to be able to use it without one at twice the cost.

"Reinforcement spell: Strength," she chanted. With that done, she wound up her arm, and threw the pebble into the water.

Nothing happened, for a moment, and Tanya worried that giving names to her magic had broken it somehow.

The large plume of water that erupted told her how wrong that idea was. Turning to her comrades, Tanya grinned. "Are you guys ready?"

 

All four of them looked shocked, for a moment. Then terror overtook their features, and they turned to run.

With the sound of angry reptiles behind her, Tanya sped off. She wasn't going to do something stupid like turn around and get distracted. She knew exactly what was coming.

She was quickly gaining on her fellow adventurers and making doubly sure that it looked like she was running. It felt a bit odd to work her legs like this, but appearances had to be kept up until she confirmed if people were supposed to be able to fly here.

She soon gained on her fellow adventurers, and passed them. "What are you guys doing? Fight them!" she yelled, panicked.

She wasn't scared because of the alligators, or anything. She was flying, and she could get out of their range easily.

She was more scared that they would die, and since low-level adventurers amounted to pest control, she didn't really want to have any deaths associated with her.

That could be embarrassing.

As soon as the command left her mouth, they turned, as if a switch had been flipped. Lynn leveled her hand at the group of alligators, muttering under her breath, while Keith stood in front of her, unleashing arrow after arrow.

Taylor and Dust, meanwhile, were running around, now acting as bait for them. Tanya sighed in relief.

It seemed they wouldn't be dying after all.

Soon enough, Lynn shouted, "Lightning!"

As implied by the name, a jet of electricity flew from her glowing palm towards a group of the alligators. Two at the front fell, knocking down others in the back. Still, a few of them were upright.

"Should we retreat?" asked Keith, who grasped at the empty quiver by his side. Taylor, who had stopped acting as the bait, seemed indecisive.

Tanya shook her head. They needed orders, and it seemed Taylor was conflicted and unable to give orders. While caution was a good trait to have, when half a dozen Brutal Alligators were chasing you, not having orders could mean death.

"Let's retreat. We'll still get paid if we bring back information, right?"

The others turned to Tanya, looked back to Taylor, who nodded.

"Dust, let's go!" he called.

Dust, who had been running in front of the hole where a pond had been, ran over to them, looking rather winded. The others made to run, while Tanya lingered.

The alligators didn't look particularly fast, but she wouldn't risk it. She soon ran after the others, shouting "Explosive Vaporization!" over her shoulder.

Mana rushed passed her ears, and another explosion, smaller than the one before, sounded behind her.

The party ahead of her flinched, but continued running. Tanya glanced over her shoulder, and grinned. A large cloud of dust now obscured the path they were taking through the forest. Hopefully, the alligators would go back to what was left of their pond and let them go.

After another minute of sprinting, and another five of hurried jogging, they reached the exit, and soon stood in on an open plain.

They all collapsed. Tanya included.

She hadn't been running, but using those two spells and moving her legs like she running and pouring mana into her Flight spells meant she was almost completely dry.

The others didn't seem to be faring much better, either. Dust and Keith had collapsed, sitting against each other's backs. Lynn was lying down, while Taylor was leaning against a tree.

A minute passed, during which they panted and waited to hear the growling of the Brutal Alligators. The growling never resumed, and a collective sigh of relief was released.

Lynn looked to Tanya. "Why didn't you say you could use Detonation and Blast? Those are like… some of the most advanced magics possible!" Lynn asked, panting between every word.

Tanya, now recovered, tried to find an excuse. "Well… you all never asked. You assumed that I was weak because I chose the Adventurer job, even though I could arm wrestle everyone in the guild."

Slowly nodding, the rest of the party seemed to accept this. Tanya, for her part, was satisfied.

She'd shown that she was a valid teammate, and they'd probably tell everyone at the guild about her skills.

Or Dust would anyway. He was drunk nearly every time she saw him, and he wasn't likely to keep anything in his mind secret.

Digging in the bag at her side, she brought out her Adventurer's Card. She'd also learned –

One. One skill.

Right. In all the excitement, she hadn't actually seen anyone use their skills, besides Lynn's usage of Lightning.

She walked over to the recovering Dust, who had begun to rise from the ground. "So Dust. I wanted to learn some skills from you all. Lynn was the only one who demonstrated any," she said.

"You didn't pick a difficult quest where everyone would have to run and avoid fighting in order to ensure I didn't learn anything, right?"

Judging by the panicked look that flashed across his face, duping her had definitely been his intention.

He masked it quickly, though, putting his hands on his hips and staring down at her. "Why would I do that, Tanya? We made a deal, after all."

Tanya smiled. "I don't know. Maybe you want me to keep paying your debts? I don't actually care," she explained, tone light. The fearful look that had engulfed his face disappeared just as fast as it had appeared, replaced by a curious one.

"You don't?"

Tanya chuckled darkly. "Of course not. I'll just start fighting you, and when you show some skills to avoid death, you'll be free." She explained, cracking her knuckles.

His cheeks puckered, he began to walk back towards Axel facing Tanya, fear screaming in his eyes.

"Until then," she continued, grinning savagely, "I hope you like eating Detonations for lunch!"

With that, she began to chase him, waiting for him to give up.

He never did, running for a good fifteen. She decided, as her barely recovered mana screamed at her, that she'd given him enough time to imagine what she would do to him. She rushed forward, and grabbed him by the back of the collar. Sputtering, he was dragged back to his disapproving party.

-OxOxO-

Biting into a piece of lizard steak, Tanya contemplated her long day. The trip with Taylor's party might not have gone perfectly, but at least she had some supplementary skills.

Apparently, she'd killed a Brutal Alligator with her initial spell that had disturbed the water, so their reward had been larger.

Killing a total of four alligators – Lynn got two, while she and Keith had each gotten one – as well as confirming that they had infested the forest had netted their party a total of sixty thousand Eris, after deducting the cost of transporting the dead alligators. Not terrible, but not all that good, either.

She had profited the most, by far. She had earned a level from killing one of the alligators and had learned One-handed Swordsmanship from Dust, burning through two Skill Points to make sure the skill was better than just a basic understanding.

She could even learn Lightning, if she ever had the Skill Points for it. Lynn had also unknowingly informed her of what magic she could use in front of others without arousing suspicion, and she had told her where in the markets she could go to find scepters.

She thought she'd need it, since scepters helped reduce the amount of mana used in a skill, or could help boost their power, according to Lynn.

Lynn claimed not to need one, since she didn't have any advanced magic, but she had espoused their apparent helpfulness on the way back.

Upon receiving her cut, Tanya had looked through the ones at a few of the rinky-dink markets near the guild, and hadn't found any she liked. Mostly because they were expensive and she had very little money.

Long days shouting 'Smith' were undoubtedly ahead of her.

Dust had been the next best off. She'd paid his debts, and all he'd needed to do was suffer scathing glares from his friends. That wasn't too bad, in all honesty.

The others had only got their share of the sixty thousand total, which amounted to twelve thousand each. Not terrible, but not great, either.

Tanya adjusted her new hat as she ate. It was an outwardly faithful recreation of the officer's cap she'd worn whenever she wasn't in the air. For all intents and purposes, it looked like the standard issue caps that nearly every officer of rank wore in the Empire.

She'd gotten the red and green cloth from Lavandula easily. The woman wondered what she was doing with it, and Tanya had easily explained that she wanted to try and make something using 'Smith.'

Lavandula had laughed, and handed her ten times the amount of cloth she asked for. Tanya had been bewildered, but she had explained, "Smith works poorly on cloth. You'll need it, unless you want to learn something from me?"

Tanya had declined and made a hasty retreat at the enterprising look in her eyes.

The leather was also nearly free, since she'd gone to the Blacksmith to work for a few hours. She'd simply taken a number of strips of leather that he usually saved for the grips of his swords.

It was a bit different than her old one. Synthetic materials that she did not have access to were easily replaced by bits of leather or metal wire to hold its integrity, but no one could really knew the difference. The largest difference was what it would do.

Instead of declaring her rank – no one here would recognize military clothing from a world they'd never been to – it hid her circlet.

Hidden in the lining of the cap that was perched on her head, she could just press down on the top of the hat. The circlet would sink down with it, and it would be around her head instead of resting above it within the hat's lining.

Thankfully, unlike the first time she'd been given an officer's cap, this one wouldn't sink down her small head and over her eyes. She had grown up a bit.

It only slid past her eyebrows now.

She sighed happily, despite her hat still not fitting her completely. Having ready, easy access to the other relic was reassuring, even if there were drawbacks to using its full power. Finishing her meal, she stood up to leave.

Only to be stopped. A field of blue obscured her vision, so she tried to back up and glance upwards.

Soon, she found the face of the man who'd talked to Keith. He seemed to be looking at her, confusion marking his narrowed eyes.

"Can I help you?" she asked. Despite her neutral expression, she was jumping for joy inside. If she could integrate herself with someone so obviously wealthy, she could advance faster. Hopefully.

"Yes. Why are you adventuring, little one?"

The hair on the top of her head danced in annoyance under her hat, but Tanya quickly wiped the expression of anger from her face. He hadn't called her a loli, at least.

"I need to. Why does anyone?"

He nodded, the genial smile that had tried to mask the confusion in his eyes matching his furrowed eyebrows. "And I had thought…"

He bowed at the waist. "I apologize for interrupting your afternoon."

He turned to walk away. Well, she might as well. Getting to know strong, rich, and/or advanced people like him would be instrumental in her defeat of the Demon King.

She grasped at straws in an attempt to draw him back. "What's your name, anyway? It seems a bit rude to just ask me questions."

He paused, and turned back around, a somewhat amused smile marking his lips. "I am Kyouya Mitsurugi. And you?"

"Tanya von Degurechaff," she answered, her mind already racing beyond the conversation.

Was this a… Reincarnate? The other people here she met – Lynn and Keith and Taylor and Luna – had very western-sounding names. At the least, she'd never met a Japanese person named any of those things.

If he had this type of name…

He began to walk away, and Tanya's eyes narrowed.

"An odd name, Mitsurugi Kyouya. Wherever did you get it?" she said, testing the words of her first language for the first time in years.

He turned around in a moment, eyes wide. Speaking her first language had apparently gotten his attention.

"You're a Reincarnate as well?" he asked slowly, in Japanese as well. Tanya grinned.

A possible ally had been found. Both were getting odd looks from the adventurers around them, but Tanya paid them no mind.

"Yes," she replied. Both stood there, not knowing how to proceed. Then Mitsurugi spoke again, apparently decided on something.

"Nice. Would you care to continue our conversation?" he asked with a raised eyebrow. She nodded, and sat back down at the table she'd just vacated. A moment later, he also sat down.

They sat there again, waiting. Then Mitsurugi chuckled a bit. "This is pretty crazy, right? Being reincarnated by a Goddess into a fantasy world straight out of a video game to fight a Demon King, and everything else that comes with it."

Tanya winced at the mention of 'goddess', but nodded along. If he wanted to get duped, that was his problem. She wouldn't declare every being of power a god at the drop of a hat.

She'd fought too long to do that, to give up.

"Pretty crazy. You have any advice for a rookie like me?" she asked, strategically rubbing the back of her head to look unsure. Any advice would be good, and building an amicable relationship was her first goal.

Appearing to be wouldn't hurt either.

He chuckled a bit. "Well, I wouldn't suggest spending all of your money, but treating everyone in the guild to a drink is expected if you receive a windfall. Just get the cheapest stuff."

Tanya nodded. She would have never done something like that, since she needed every bit of money she could get. Being ostracized could be worse, though.

A ruined reputation would not do her wonders.

He seemed to think for a moment more, before snapping his fingers. "Right. You'll need a party, soon enough. They can really cover for any deficiencies in whatever job you've chosen."

Tanya nodded again. They talked for a bit longer, and then he stood, stretching. "You'll probably want to choose a class that takes advantage of your relic. I have the Cursed Sword Gram, so I became a Swordmaster."

Tanya chuckled nervously. "I chose the Adventurer job."

A silence stretched on, before he burst out laughing. "Right. Well, you'll want to change that as soon as you can. You need boosts that an actual class can provide," he lectured.

Tanya smiled, but discarded that advice. "Why do you assume my skill doesn't work best with the Adventurer job?"

He blinked, for a moment, before shrugging. "Your funeral."

He didn't know that she had tons of skills and magic from her last life. She wasn't giving any of it up. "Thank you very much, Mitsurugi."

He nodded as well and stood. "If you need any more advice, talk to Luna. She gives out information, and won't blink at any 'weird questions.' She'd met enough foreigners that nothing really fazes her," he said as he walked away.

He spun around again. "Unless… are you set on being an Adventurer? If you change to a Mage or Archmage or Priest, I'd have no problem accepting you into my party. I was passing through here looking for one, but none have really suited the party. I took a trip to a village supposedly full of them, but none of them really matched my team. If you would like…" he trailed off, leaving the promise of an easy way to become part of a party dangling in the air.

However, she knew what she needed to do, and no amount of temptation would get her to give up what she'd learned in her last life.

Tanya gave him a small smile. "No thanks. I need to be an Adventurer." He shook his head bemusedly, and shouted goodbye as he left. Tanya breathed a sigh of relief. Networking was always a chore, but she would benefit from the relationship.

He'd provided good advice, after all. Who knew what else she could get from him?

Suddenly, two girls sat down at the table he'd vacated, glaring daggers into Tanya's face. Tanya just raised an eyebrow. More people?

"What do you think you're doing, talking to Kyouya like that?" Tanya just tilted her head in confusion. Like what?

The other one slammed a hand onto the table like a hammer. "That's right. Are you trying to seduce my Kyouya?"

Tanya colored rapidly. "Wha- Why would-?"

The one on the left snarled savagely, like a cat, and leveled a glance at her compatriot. "You can't trick us! Anyone would love to be the lover of my Kyouya!"

…Perhaps, instead of calling either of the cat-like, a better description would be bitches in heat.

Both seemed to glare at each other for a moment, but neither let up in the unfriendly gazes sent Tanya's way. Tanya shook her head violently. "I would never try to do something like that, you crazy girls. Leave me be."

With that, Tanya left the Guild, heading for the exit and readjusting her hat. Really, the nerve of some people…

Both seemed to be bickering with each other, ignoring Tanya. She felt relieved. She'd profited greatly that day, and hopefully, nothing would ruin that while she tried to assemble a team and make her weapon.

Chapter Text

-OxOxO-

Tanya sighed, wiping the glistening sweat from her forehead.

The Blacksmith had been surprised at her desire to come in to his shop and forge, day in and day out, only taking breaks to replenish her mana and eat, for the past week.

She was fine with the extra work, and her contract with heaven hadn't acted up. She did need her own weapons if she wanted to take out the Demon King, and working at making her Smith skill better would do that. It seemed to be have reached the same conclusion.

The initial surge of information the skill had given her, that week ago, had shown her that she would need to level up the skill if she ever wanted to get a gun.

Despite her desire to just pour all of her Skill Points into the Smith skill, she'd held off. Skill Points were, apparently, hard to get by just leveling up.

There were potions – and potion-making was more similar to cooking or chemistry than shouting arcane words and hoping the mixture would turn into a different color – but those potions cost more money than she thought she would ever get here.

So, she needed to work to get her skill to grow to the level where she was confident in being able to make herself a gun. Until then…

Making swords, spears, and daggers was all she could do. More complicated metal weaponry, like maces or axes, took much longer, and the Blacksmith didn't sell weapons like bows that were simple to make. Comparatively.

Holding it up to the light, her latest attempt at a cog shone. It was still imperfect, but it was closer.

The Type 95 hadn't had any maintenance in the seventeen days that she'd been here, besides a bit of cleaning. She wasn't going to bet that it would hold up forever, so she'd asked for a bit of paper from the Blacksmith.

One trip to the general store – the Blacksmith didn't have paper, besides to keep track of purchases and what little he gave to adventurers so they could name their weapons – had seen her meeting the balding old man that ran the place. He'd been overjoyed to have a customer, and she had thanked him in turn by buying more than she needed.

Sketches of the pieces of each of the components, from the outer casing to the smallest gear she could find, were done.

Recreating them with the technology available to her wouldn't be easy, and creating imperfect replicas would ensure that the thing would be inoperable in a few years. Preserving how they looked now was paramount.

Done with that, her day, now half gone from using Smith and drawing her Type 95's components as well as she could, she'd decided to take up another quest. The loan the guild had given her needed to be paid back, after all.

With a part-time job, she was no longer completely poor. She had signed a contract with the guild, however, and completing it was really the only short-term goal she could complete.

She could technically pay for the loan from her own pocket instead of completing it with money from quests, but she was saving up for a scepter.

A scepter was her next goal, and until she could afford the materials and had the experience to make a gun and bullets, a scepter would have to suffice. A simple stick would burn up in a matter of hours after usage, so something professionally made would be required.

Constantly spending her meager pay from the Blacksmith to pay for that loan would be troublesome, so she'd continued to do the occasional quest. Nothing much – just killing the occasional Giant Toad and watching over fields, mostly.

Today, however, there was a problem: All of the easy quests were gone, leaving only the ones that were above her level, according to the Guild's rules.

She was confident in her ability to kill 'One-Hit-Kill Bears', but Luna had forbid her from taking the quest until she was level fifteen and had a party of similarly strong accomplices.

Seeing as she had no friends that were willing to fight one – Taylor's party had blanched – and she was not level fifteen – she'd only risen another level in the past week, giving her a total of eight levels and nine Skill Points to use – Tanya was sure Luna wouldn't let her take on the quest.

"Can I please take this quest?" Tanya asked, handing the piece of paper to Luna.

She looked annoyed – whether it was for being interrupted or for having that question asked again, Tanya couldn't tell – and she raised an eyebrow as she spoke. "For the last time, Tanya, no. All of the easy quests have already been taken by the rush of new adventurers that always arrive in the spring. If you'd just get here earlier…"

Tanya sighed, annoyed. The reason she didn't come earlier was that she needed a large portion of her mana in order to actually be able to effectively use Smith and ensure that whatever she made was durable.

There was nothing for it, then. Tanya opened her purse, and laid a handful of Eris on the table. "To substitute for my required quest."

Luna obediently scooped up the money, stashing it away. Tanya turned, intending to leave, when a thought occurred to her.

"Hey Luna. I can put a request for teammates on the bulletin, right?" Luna nodded, and Tanya smiled.

She could at least take care of that problem. Luna provided a piece of paper, and Tanya wrote instructions, requirements, and information on it. One problem would be solved. She still wouldn't be able to take on many quests, but with more people, even Luna wouldn't limit her selection too much.

Tanya made her way out of the guild. She'd hang out at the Blacksmith's – maybe she would clean those hideously dirty windows or something – and man the counter.

Whenever she spoke with that disgustingly cute voice that had aided her throughout the war, she could get better deals than he did. He'd given her another job to do, whenever she had the time.

Tomorrow, she'd be sure to go out on a quest with whoever showed up.

-OxOxO-

Resting her head on her arms, figure slouched over the table closest to the bulletin board, Tanya glowered at the piece of paper she'd pinned there yesterday. She'd cut off her time at the Blacksmith's early and shown up for potential interviews, but no one had come.

People occasionally glanced at it, and some of them even seemed to go up to Luna to ask about it, but no one went any farther than that. Some just looked at it and moved on, while smiles broke out on the faces of others.

She'd laid everything out perfectly. She said what her job was, said she'd be leading, and said she was searching for anyone who could be of use. Luna had laid out that new adventurers were coming to the town regularly, with the end of spring upon them.

So why was nobody interested?

One more person glanced at it, before having the gall to actually double over laughing.

That was the last straw. Tanya marched up to the counter, and began to speak with Luna in low tones. "Hey. Why is everyone blowing off my request?"

As per usual, a small smile flashed across her face before her answer. "I took a look at it. While there isn't anything wrong in your attempts at recruiting a party member, you aren't going to get many members."

Tanya merely raised an eyebrow, and Luna elaborated. "Well," she said, clasping her hands together, "you're an Adventurer. Even if people were willing to party up with someone with that job, the fact that you want to lead puts people off as well. They assume you're low level, and that you haven't changed your class yet. Having someone weak lead them is only going to appeal to people who are desperate."

Just as Tanya was about to march over to the request, Luna piped up again. "Plus, the few that have asked about it become totally uninterested once I start to describe you physically." While Tanya was wondering what that had to do with it, Luna just shook her head at the girl.

Luna was wondering when the noble would just give up and go back to their mansion. While Dust was proof that not all blonde haired people were nobles – he didn't have any particular skills to speak of, besides wasting money – this girl had plenty of power that would be better fit to the upper echelons of the world she had clearly left.

Unaware of the receptionist's thoughts, Tanya narrowed her eyes at the woman and turned, walking over and taking down the request.

Tanya sighed. It was obvious that no one wanted to quest with a twelve-year-old. She would have to try a different tactic, then.

Muttering under her breath, Tanya scribbled furiously.

-OxOxO-

The sun rose and cast a streak of light onto Tanya's face. As she did every morning, she shook the hay off of herself and prepared for the day by getting dressed.

Unlike other mornings, however, she didn't start her day by sitting down in the Guild to eat.

Instead, she quickly glanced at the bulletin board, grabbed the first easy quest she could find, and then sat down.

She'd have a full breakfast, instead of the grab n' go stuff she'd been having for the past week in an attempt to get more time at the Blacksmith's. She would go on this quest today, even if it meant she didn't have a party.

She glanced around, and noticed a distinct lack of people. The waitress she usually ordered from wasn't there, and even Luna, ever enslaved to her work, had come in later than Tanya.

To Tanya's growing horror, there were very few people in the guild. Dust was there, but Tanya had started to see him as a fixture of the guild that occasionally moved, whenever it didn't have the money to buy drinks.

A few others were there too, but most of them weren't newbie adventurers Tanya was hoping to form a party with. They were all old hands, getting drunk early in the morning or hitting on the waitresses that were so sparse today.

Besides them and the ever-present debt collectors that always had their eyes glued to Dust, no one was there.

No one was looking at the bulletin board and the request she'd made.

She'd omitted her job, said she could use the 'Detonation' spell Lynn had mentioned, and even stated that she would be happy in any team willing to accept a new member. She didn't even have to lead it.

And yet, no one was there. The entire guild seemed barren.

Tanya slowly walked to the counter, staring holes into Luna's head. For her part, she only flinched a little. It seemed she was used to dealing with irate adventures.

"I made the request more reasonable, as per your suggestion, and yet no one is here. I would like to know if you all decided to play a prank on me, or if there's some sort of holiday today."

Luna, after composing herself a bit, supplied an answer. "The explanation is simple: today is Sunday."

Twitch.

Right. Tanya inhaled deeply as she realized what that meant. Medieval society went hand in hand with religion.

Tanya exhaled. "Fine. Is there some sort of ban on hunting monsters on this day, or something stupid like that?"

Luna scoffed. "Of course not. The Eris Cult is vehemently against the undead and Demons, so they endorse monster hunting, for the most part. The Eris Cult is the nationally endorsed religion, so many people go and listen to sermons and pray on this day, to… ensure… success…?" Luna trailed off, looking at the increasingly twitchy eyelids and hair of Tanya.

Cult?

Eris Cult?

Nationally endorsed Eris Cult?

Tanya gave Luna a wide grin, vainly attempting to hide the anger she radiated. Luna backed up a step, retreating into the area only the receptionists could be in.

The money she'd been using and hounding after was named after a supposed god. The reason her notice wasn't getting attention was due to a religion.

"I had thought you more sensible, but are you part of the infamous Axis Cult that possess a burning hatred of the Eris Cult?" Luna muttered.

A rather nasty scowl overtook her face. The Type 95 began to shine through her clothing, and Tanya attempted to reign in her mana, if not her anger.

At least they called themselves a cult, instead of trying to hide it behind pretty words. There were two of them, and if they were called cults, there were likely more. Damnable. Religions.

Smoothing over her features, Tanya tried to cut off the interaction so she could find somewhere to curse Being X.

"Thank you for your help, Luna, I'd like to take this quest, please! And don't ever suggest I'd belong to something like that!" she said, slamming down the piece of paper onto the countertop. A dent was left, and Tanya was thankful that cracks hadn't developed in the marble counter.

Hesitantly, Luna took the quest, before gulping. Tanya tried to calm down, but if she told her that she couldn't go on the quest…

Luna chuckled nervously. "Well, I don't think I can let you go on this quest, but I do have an idea."

Tanya said nothing, waiting. If she really did have a better idea, she would listen.

Seeing that she didn't have to call for help, Luna continued. "While I can't let you take on something dangerous like Lizard Runners or One-Hit-Kill Bears, I do have something suited to your rumored talents."

Anger receding, Tanya responded. "I'm listening."

-OxOxO-

Damn it, Damn it, Damn it!

Luna had told her this would be easy, if she knew Detonation magic. Tanya did, in a sense – her Artillery Shot spell was probably similar to this Detonation they kept talking about, and maybe her Explosive Vaporization was like the 'Blast' spell Lynn had mentioned during their quest? – and had readily signed up to help the quarry with some controlled explosives.

Unfortunately, a Fire Drake had been nesting on one of the rocks. She'd thought they'd be easy to beat, and that they were just overgrown lizards.

How'd they be able to resist an explosion?

'Very easily' was the answer to that question.

One Explosive Vaporization later, and Tanya was staring the angry beast in the face after its sky-high flight. Her attack might have done damage, but the spell had failed to kill it.

Tanya had been forced to throw herself into the quarry as it tried to bite down on her. She didn't have the room to pretend to run around and use her Flight spells, so sliding down a hill was her best option.

That had lead to a chase around the place. She'd tossed the occasional spell at it, but it seemed to shrug off almost every one. It had to be tiring by now, right?

She hoped so. Something had been hurt on her way down the hill. It wasn't fatal, but it was a pain to stand.

She peered around the corner she'd hidden behind, only to come face to face with a large, reptilian snout. A shouted "Active Barrier" saved her from immolation.

Sweat burst into being everywhere on her body. Her shield, while saving her, was now acting as a very fancy pressure cooker. The flames must have been magical as well, because they were eating through her shield fast. If she didn't act soon, she'd be cooked alive.

Seeing no other option, she drew the Seitengewehr and began to walk forward, increasing the mana in her Active Barrier and weighing the pros and cons of using the Type 95.

The Fire Drake cut off its flame, and if Tanya had been asked to classify what it looked like, she would have sworn that it looked mildly surprised she wasn't burnt to a crisp.

Without the force of its flames to hold her back, Tanya flew forward, nearly tripping. She dropped her shield and plunged her blade into the thing's scaly neck.

Mana-enhanced steel slipped in between scales, and Tanya leapt away, ready for more.

The lizard, it seemed, was not, and it sank to the ground as blood gushed from its neck.

Sighing in relief, Tanya looked up the hill she'd slid down. "Anything else?" she asked, panting.

A rather hurried conversation had followed, where the manager had apologized for not realizing the thing was there. Fully grown Fire Drakes, naturally resistant against anything that involved heat and fire, could withstand a Detonation or two, apparently, and it should have been attacked by a full team. Tanya thanked the man, and continued blasting rock with the little wisps of mana she had left.

His explanation revealed one thing: she needed to get a party. She'd never be allowed to fight things stronger than this is she didn't have a full team, and if she ever were allowed to fight things like that, she'd wind up dead.

She could also use the Type 95, but that would probably lead to her…

She frowned. She wouldn't be declared a religious lunatic, no, but she might start a cult of her own if she was left under the control of the Type 95 for too long.

-OxOxO-

Tanya slowly made her way back to the Guild.

She'd finished her job of using 'Detonation' to help with the quarry. She'd used the spell a few more times before the foreman had cleared her to go. The aching pain in her abdomen had grown during that time.

She had definitely cracked a rib falling down that hill. Maybe even broken it.

But that didn't matter. She didn't have the income to wait in bed for a few months for it to heal, and she had never learned any spells that helped with healing from the expensive and constantly in-demand Medical Mages that made the Empire their home.

She'd have to try and bandage the wound, and she would have to hope it didn't become infected or that it had punctured a lung.

Arriving at the guild at last, Tanya staggered in. She trudged over to the counter, and placed her card on the counter. "Luna. I finished the quest."

Luna cast a quick glance at Tanya, before doing a double take. Tanya grimaced. Did she really look that bad?

Luna took the card and inserted it into the card reader, glancing worriedly at Tanya all the while. For her part, she just tried to suppress the pain.

Soon enough, the machine made a ding, and Luna handed the card back, along with a bag of coins. "Are you okay? You took down a Fire Drake all on your own."

Tanya flashed her a quick smile. "Yeah, I just think I broke a rib. I'll try to set it, but this'll be a hassle," she lamented.

"Do you want to be healed?"

Tanya's eyes widened. They had healing magic?

She voiced her question, and Luna, shaking her head at Tanya's apparent lack of knowledge, said, "Well… yes, of course. I'll call for some aid, so please, just rest in the tavern."

Tanya nodded, and made her way to the eatery. Soon enough, a waitress approached and Tanya placed her order. Fried frog was pretty good, and having something good in her would probably make the healing process bearable.

Other than the frog, her meal consisted of as much food as she could afford to buy. Mages expended a lot of energy using magic, and Tanya wasn't an exception, especially after that fight.

She might have wanted to save money on food, but dying because she didn't eat properly would be unimaginably humiliating.

Actually, wait. Dying to those Horned Rabbits would be truly humiliating.

"How'd that happen?" asked someone. Tanya glanced their way. She didn't remember his name - did it start with a J? – but he had treated her to a meal once and explained why harvesting food was even a job.

She began to explain quickly. The one who'd told her that food often tried to defend itself gasped, and began to shout to the entire guild. "You beat a Fire Drake on your own?"

Adventurers began to congregate around her. There weren't many, seeing as it was, according to Luna, Sunday, but ten of them seemed to have decided that listening to this was better than waiting for their meals.

Aware that she wasn't getting away, she began to tell them about the adventure. The specifics of what magic she'd used was left out, but they were impressed nonetheless. Talking and eating might upset her rib, but increasing her repute among the adventures would go a long way to getting her teammates.

"Clear the way!" came a shout over the din of conversation. The adventurers moved, and Luna approached, followed by…

A priest. Or, rather, a Priest. Someone who dedicated their lives to some ethereal creature they couldn't see.

Tanya's eye twitched.

It made sense, no doubt. Priests were associated with their gods, and what better way to scam people than to heal them and then ask for some exorbitant fee?

The table and Tanya groaned as she pushed against it, but she was standing all the same. The priest held up her hands in front of her body, motioning for her to stop. "You don't need to stand, miss! Please, sit back down, and I'll have that on the way to recovery in no time."

Tanya glared at her, and the woman backed away. "I think I feel better now," she said stiffly, attempting to stand up straight.

Neither of them, nor the adventurers around her, looked particularly convinced. "Now, now. There's no need to be shy. Just sit back down, please."

Tanya remained standing, for a moment, before she sat back down. "How much will this cost? I won't have it done if it's too much."

Luna and the Priest looked at each other, before the latter began to speak nervously. "Well, we usually ask for around thirty thousand from the adventurer if the injury isn't life threatening…" she trailed off, backing away with the rest of the crowd at Tanya's glare.

It was cheaper than she expected and also more than she would have liked. And that caveat of 'from the adventurer' meant she was also taking money from the guild. Still, this was bypassing weeks and months of recovery, so she didn't have much choice. Tanya passed the bag of money she'd just earned to the woman.

"Take exactly thirty thousand, and not an Eris more," she said stiffly. Luna nodded, and the priest began to chant.

Tanya grit her teeth and let out a hiss of breath between clenched teeth. The magic didn't feel like anything that Being X, the two relics she had, or Aqua had done to her. It was revitalizing in the way a long night of sleep was.

Still, she didn't like it.

Soon enough, the pain faded, and Tanya breathed deeply. Broken ribs were always annoying.

Tanya supplied the woman a stiff "Thank you," and then began to make her way out of the Guild. She needed to get to the Blacksmith's and do some work. She'd been planning to spend that money on a new scepter.

She'd just have to work harder, then.

-OxOxO-

Tanya breathed a sigh of relief as she stared at her Adventurer's Card.

Her Strength stat had risen, and she hadn't gained a level.

Of course, the Fire Drake had given her a boost. She was close to leveling up.

That her Strength stat had increased, solely through working, using the Smith skill, and fighting meant that she wasn't limited to leveling up to increase her stats. Exercising could also increase her stats, even if it was just by a few points.

She glanced at her Skill Points. She had nine of them.

Shrugging her shoulders, Tanya studied her older skills as she walked back to the stables that served as her home. She had nine points, and nothing to spend them on.

Of course, she could just pour all of them into Smith or One-Handed Swordsmanship, if she really wanted to upgrade something. She needed more skill in both, if she was going to survive until she could make a gun.

Scrolling through her skills, dozens passed her eyes. Her various Flight spells could have their maximum height increased. Not important in a world where flight seemed to be a fantasy to most people, instead of just restricted to those who knew how to in her last one.

Her Artillery Shot spell could have its maximum power increased. She didn't think she'd run into anything that could withstand that spell very well, but she'd keep it in mind.

The Fire Drake had withstood an Explosive Vaporization, after all. Something might be able to take an Artillery Shot, like the Bloody Valkyrie had been able to.

Her Active Barrier spell could have its defense increased. She could enchant blades to be even stronger, or to have a fantastic effect. She could make her Napalm spells even more destructive or longer lasting. All were intriguing, but none seemed right.

Then one seized her interest. Her Reinforcement spells…

There were more of them.

The one's she had now increased their target's pain tolerance, Strength, and Dexterity. An increase in all three was needed in order to withstand the forces that mages underwent every time they fought.

The 203rd and some of the enemies she had fought against could react to bullets, with their help. Not guess that they were coming, but react to the signals that they received from Observation spells or even their own senses, if enough mana was used.

But it said on her card that, in addition to being able to increase their efficiency, other stats could be boosted by giving up mana.

She could increase any of her stats, besides Magic-Power. She could increase her Agility, Intelligence, or even Luck.

Tanya grinned.

She looked at the one that increased her Agility. It cost…

Eight Skill Points.

She looked back up at the Skill Points she had. She'd be down to one if she got it, but she'd be able to increase her speed directly, instead of just pouring mana into her Flight spells.

She sighed, and poked the skill, and then touched the profile of her head. She felt her knowledge of the Reinforcement spells changing.

She blinked. Of course, it had been so simple. How hadn't anyone else in the Empire yet realized this?

It was quite odd to realize how to better utilize something she had believed she had once mastered, but she didn't dislike the feeling. In a way, she imagined this was what Schugel must have been like before he'd been infected by Being X's simpering tones.

She took a deep breath, and she began to pour the mana she'd recovered since leaving the Blacksmith's shop into the spell. "Reinforcement spell: Agility."

She began to walk. In ten seconds, she crossed the entire stretch from the store she'd just passed to the Guild. She turned, and ran in the other direction, reaching that same store in only two seconds.

She cut off the mana, and chuckled. By using her Flight spells, she had been able to outpace planes in her last life, and with this, she'd be able to outrun the cars from her last life too.

With how many Skill Points had been in her Flight spells when she got here, she could fly faster than she could run. Doing this cost much less mana, which made it well worth it in a world where she would be battling most enemies on the ground, until she got a proper Computation Jewel and just flew above all of her problems.

Pleased with herself, she turned back to the guild, only to trip on a flagstone and smash into the road.

…Yeah, she'd run out of mana.

She waited for someone to help her, or for her mana to return. It seemed as though she still had a lot of growing to do, and the one skill point she had left wouldn't help much.

More than ever, she really needed a team.

-OxOxO-

Aqua whimpered.

In Heaven, it had been a few days since her mistake. Reincarnation and the general processing of souls had been halted since then, as the windbag and the other bigwigs decided how to react to The Atheist getting another relic and chance at life.

But that didn't matter that much to her.

Gods and Goddesses, both weak and strong, had come in spades. They'd gloated, taunted, raged, cried, and nearly everything in between, asking why she'd done that when it wasn't even her fault.

It wasn't her fault entirely, anyway.

That overblown windbag shouldn't have locked up The Atheist's files. The system shouldn't have gone through while there were two relics in possession of the Reincarnate. She had a dozen other excuses, but all of them boiled down to 'Why are you blaming poor Aqua when there are plenty of other things to blame?'

Even angels had shown up to mock her and declare that they should be elevated to her position. Only one of them had even been remotely polite about the whole affair.

Now all of them were here, every single God and Goddess and Deity, in the largest expanse in Heaven, to discuss the Resurrection Project. Now that a major incident had occurred, they needed to make sure that everything would be fine for the foreseeable future by pooling their power.

The windbag said he'd keep their ideas in mind, but truthfully, no one really expected him to listen to them.

He'd simply nodded his head at each of their proposals. The project should be shut down because of the possibility for mistakes caused by cocky teens and resistive braggarts. The contracts should be more complete. They should rescind the wish portion from the contract all together, and just tell whoever they reincarnated that they should be happy to have a second life.

Eventually, after nodding his head absently at each of the millions of proposals, he stood. His outer demeanor was calm, but the roiling clouds from which this part of Heaven was composed told a different story.

"Everyone. I have heard your proposals, and I think there is one topic missing from what has been suggested: What to do about The Atheist."

Whether it was a witty pun to hide it, or full blown, entire body shaking, discomfort was shown at the introduction of this particular topic. No one said a thing, however.

In their entire history, almost no one had simply thought they weren't Gods. They'd been called false Gods, true Gods, pretenders, or visions of the Devil.

No matter what they were called, nearly everyone they contacted directly thought that they were, in some form, Gods or divine beings of some sort.

From the small pool of people who still doubted them after their revelations, none lived long enough to regret their choices.

All but one.

They were all wary of someone who could survive everything they could throw at them, apart from actual combat with a Deity.

Still, no one suggested that they had a good idea about The Atheist. Doing so could imply that they thought they knew how to best her, and suggesting that you could do something even the head honcho hadn't yet done was a very fast way to get you punished. Severely.

"Luckily," the being at the head of the table said, "I have a solution."

He pulled out a copy of the contract that bound most of the souls of the Reincarnates, and pointed a page. "The contract now states that The Atheist, in addition to the Demon King, is a target. We've provided a full description of her, and the added incentive of her relics to aid them on their quest to destroy the Demon King," he declared.

Everyone clapped.

That meant they wouldn't have to deal with the hassle of keeping track of the relics after their owner died and that the Demon King would be defeated all the sooner, since someone having multiple relics obviously made them more powerful.

Aqua shivered, looking up and down the table at those who looked rather indifferent to the whole affair.

While The Atheist might have been creepy or disconcerting in her ability to resist their power, the Demon King was a threat. He had convinced a number of them, the Gods and Goddesses, to abstain from his fight against Heaven, or to even rebel and support him.

Wolbach, having left and been sealed long ago, was the most conspicuous absence. Others were missing. Gods that weren't widely worshiped, or who disagreed with the head honcho's newest policies that had been sparked by The Atheist.

With that last declaration, the meeting was dismissed, and everyone either disappeared or walked to the transportation circles place throughout the room.

Aqua sighed as she was moved. She'd do better, this time. She knew it.

She soon arrived in the waiting room. Eris quickly walked over to her, waving a piece of paper in her face. "Er, Aqua, He changed the rules on what constitutes as 'young' in order to drive up the number of people reincarnated, and he's shifted your scope outside of Japan," she said, trying to hand the paper to her.

Aqua growled as she talked. Perfect Eris. She'd never done anything to annoy anyone, and she didn't even try to interact with anyone beyond work. She just did her job, getting endless praise from everyone for being lucky.

Except for her. Aqua hadn't once thought the girl was more than what she was: an overblown, breast-padding brown-nosing workaholic.

"Oh please. If that's all he changed, then it doesn't mean all that much. I'll get some different types of humans is all. Just open up the gates already," she commanded.

Eris began to rise up to the ceiling, muttering about the windbag needing her. Aqua just shook her head as she walked forward to greet someone new. Someone who wasn't The Atheist.

-OxOxO-

Chapter Text

Tanya stretched as she rose. Another day.

Hopefully, she'd actually get a team today. She'd left Taylor's after gaining experience with the whole concept, and after killing a Fire Drake yesterday, a few adventurers that didn't have parties would join her for sure.

Luna had told her she could just switch to being an Archmage if she really wanted teammates, and Tanya had, once again, spurned her advice. She needed the skills she had.

Blearily, she looked around her room. Everything looked like it had yesterday. Clothing left hanging on a clothesline, relics stashed under the patch of hay she was laying on. Everything looked normal.

But something felt…off.

She stood, and looked into the main area. Two adventurers were standing conversing. That seemed normal too.

She looked out her window, into the pastures just outside of the walls of Axel. Nothing.

She dressed hastily. She had once thought that feelings of foreboding were irrational, and while she still believed that…

They had also helped her in a surprising number of situations. She wouldn't ignore them.

She paced into the main area, and began to head out of the wide doors, rushing to find somewhere she could utilize her abilities if she was attacked. As she walked past the pair of adventurers, their mouths and hands, moving animatedly, stopped.

The hair on their head froze. Their happy expressions on their faces became fixed.

They had stopped.

The feeling of anxiety passed and a grin broke out on Tanya's face. Finally!

She'd been wondering how long it would take him to get in gear.

"Well, well, well. Finally found the time to speak to me, Being X?" she gloated.

The faces of the two adventurers, rookies like her by the look of their gear, changed from happy to grimaces full of loathing.

"My lost lamb, so far from her home. Still faithless, despite the new world you've come to inhabit. You need only pray in order to-"

Tanya cut him off with a ringing, frantic burst of laughter.

Shaking her head, Tanya began to speak. "Oh, Being X. You've tried so hard to 'redeem' me, to turn me to your side, it's honestly pathetic. In order for reform to take place, a problem needs to be recognized, and I have done nothing wrong. You on the other hand…"

She spat her last question at him, and she was shocked to see that both of the people he was controlling were looking down, as if… sad.

She shook her head, ignoring the ploy, and Tanya wiped the shock off of her face and grinned arrogantly. "Now, if you're here, I was wondering… should I simply wish you out of existence, or replace you?"

The pair of eyes trained on her narrowed, but Tanya simply raised an eyebrow, daring him to think that she was lying.

The eyes trained on her both widened. "Oh, don't think I forgot about that. Aqua was quite nice, telling me all about how I'd get one rule free wish. I thought about simply wishing to go back to either of my other worlds, but…"

Tanya trailed off, and she frowned. "The 203rd was almost completely dead by the time we settled in to drink at that pub, and I don't think the ones that did survive the initial bombings would wait around to keep getting bombed. Without them, there's really no point in going back to a place where I'll be in even more danger. My original life is an option, but for destroying my friends, I think I'll take some petty revenge. So should I depose you, or…"

Tanya giggled a bit. "Maybe I'll make you live out my lives? That would be interesting. Of course, if I wanted you to really experience pain, I'd just wish for you to be born as a slave. That'd teach you, right? You'll learn not to give people who despise you the means to kill you, at least. Or…"

She smirked. "Maybe I'll wish that you no longer believe in yourself? What would happen, I wonder, if you were to stop believing in your own infallibility?"

Both of the bodies he was inhabiting seemed quiet and contemplative. Tanya took a breath. She'd managed to shut the idiot up.

"It seems I am running out of time to use Eris's followers to speak to you," he muttered, giving Tanya yet more information. "Know this, Tanya. You are nothing more than an annoying fly."

Tanya just rolled her eyes. She'd been called every lowly creature under the sun, from 'worm' to, on the day she had been officially promoted to Major-General, 'amoeba.'

He seemed to not care that she wasn't exactly paying close attention to his long-winded speech, which was a change of pace. "Yes. An annoying fly. Luckily, I found the flyswatter."

With that, time resumed its normal pace, and the two adventurers shook their heads, before continuing their conversation. Tanya stared at the spot they had been frozen in, before turning back to the entrance and walking into the sweltering summer heat of the Kingdom of Belzerg.

He claimed to have a solution to her. That didn't bode well…

-OxOxO-

Gripping the rod she'd just purchased, Tanya walked into the guild.

Yes, she'd caved and finally decided to spend her hard-earned cash on a scepter. The possibility of Being X trying something meant she couldn't afford to take the extra effort casting magic through her fingers would incur.

So she'd bought something simple. It wasn't a gnarled stick, which was its only saving grace.

She smiled to herself as people around her took notice of the scepter. She was an Imperial Mage, after all.

She wouldn't be using something like that to channel mana through.

A long rod of polished, dark wood half of her height, the… scepter was topped by a pair of metal claws grasping a red orb. The shop owner had assured her the type of crystal – or gem, she could care less – enhanced the effectiveness of fire or heat-based spells, which was helpful, if true.

Tanya didn't particularly care. She just wanted to ensure her fingers wouldn't explode from too much concentrated mana. Hopefully, she could make an attachment that, after paying the Blacksmith for the materials, allowed for her Seitengewehr to be attached to it.

Walking in, it didn't look like everyone there was out to kill her. That was good. Hopefully, Being X hadn't decided to plant suggestions in their heads that she was untrustworthy.

She walked up to Luna, who seemed to be talking to some of the other adventurers. She spotted her, and made to finish with them. They gave her a cordial goodbye, and then began to converse with Tanya. "You finally decided to switch, then? I can't tell you how long I've been hoping you wouldn't get yourself killed while playing at-"

"Actually," Tanya interrupted, preparing herself for another lecture, "I didn't. I'm still an Adventurer."

The genuine smile that had lit up Luna's face quickly decayed, becoming stiff. "Well. As you know, the Guild recommends that you change your job, since you have the stats for it. If you couldn't, I wouldn't badger you so much, but since you continue to act so willfully…"

Tanya rolled her eyes. "Right. Well, I just wanted to say hi. Has anyone checked out my request?" she asked, looking towards her request for a team.

It seemed to have been buried under yet another layer of requests for monster clearing and help with harvesting vegetables. She'd have to rescue it, and maybe put it in the more sparsely furnished corners. It might only be buried under scorn instead of having a heaping pile of paper on it as well.

"No. No one is desperate enough to party up with an Adventurer."

Tanya sent a glare at the woman, before marching up to the board. She perused them, for a moment, before her eyes hovered over one.

…it had to be a joke, right?

Who would pay that much to have squirrels exterminated?

She picked it up, and walked over to the counter. "Hey Luna. This one is a joke, right?"

Luna glanced at it, glanced at Tanya's face, and then shook her head. "Foreigner, right. They might not be a big deal where you come from, but Squirrels are dangerous. Their barbs can rip through cloth, so you need armor, and they attack in large packs, so if they swarm you, you could be turned into mincemeat."

Tanya tried very hard not to let her lower jaw hang too close to the floor. Barbs?

Tanya sighed, and then checked the paper again. It said you could take the quest regardless of level.

Tanya informed Luna of that fact, and she gave Tanya a slightly more hostile smile than normal in return. "While that is true, I wouldn't recommend it."

Tanya merely raised her eyebrows, and Luna sighed, letting the permanent smile droop ever-so-slightly. "Fine. You've surpassed everyone's expectations so far. Just pray that you'll survive in one piece."

Tanya clenched her jaw and continued to smile. Just for that, she'd make sure she came back without a scratch. They were squirrels, after all. How hard could they be?

Tapping her foot impatiently, Tanya hurried passed the next person in line with her quest in hand. She bumped into the next person in line accidentally, and she spat out a quick apology as she hurried out the doors. She had a job to do.

-OxOxO-

Tanya scowled as she thought back to her fight, taking a moment to rest in between the hills that lined the path back to Axel. They were tougher than she had thought, for sure.

They were as fast as Squirrels from her last two lives, which was slightly intimidating when there were twenty of them and were all the size of bulldogs. Still, she'd assumed they couldn't touch her in the air.

Like with the Giant Toads, they proved to be more resourceful than she gave them credit for. They'd tried jumping at her, and, when that failed, the chestnut trees they ransacked became springboards.

She had, of course, evaded them. Mostly. One had managed to land a scratch on her Active Barrier spell, and had cut through half of the mana she'd supplied it.

Not as impressive as what she could do, but it was scary that these things could pack as much punch as some guns.

Armed with her scepter, she'd quickly rained a pair of Explosive Vaporization spells down on them. Most of them had perished, and the few that hadn't had been quickly taken care of by her Seitengewehr.

Tanya adjusted her officer's cap as she walked back to Axel through the heat. The hat had originally been made with the intention of never leaving the battlefields of Europe which was, on the whole, much less warm than it was here. Her usage of less synthetic materials didn't exactly help ventilate it all that much.

The whistle of the air was the only warning she had. Instinct took over, and an Active Barrier was silently thrown up and shattered in an instant.

Still, whoever attacked her had paused. That was all Tanya needed.

Her blade rang as it exited its sheath as fast as Tanya's pain-dulled, mana-reinforced body would let her swing it. And as hard as she had hit, the attack was blocked by a sword longer than her own arm.

Thankfully, physics helped her, and her own attack, bolstered by magic, carried through. The opponent's blade was sent flying, along with its owner, down the trail.

"Reinforcement spell: Agility!"

Tanya smirked, ran forward, and slammed her assailant with the butt of her staff. A muffled grunt left their body as they hit the ground.

Tanya snarled, and pulled back her blade. Her attempt to skewer the fool were parried, but she didn't let up.

A slash, a slash, a stab, and a swing of her blade were all repulsed, and Tanya let go of her agility buff as she prepared another strike. Expecting the attack before it came, her attacker overextended their own blade.

Tanya grinned.

Swinging both her weapons, the top of her scepter hit them in the knee while her blade pierced his arm.

No scream rang out, and the opponent took advantage of her shock at their lack of reaction, swinging their sword in a wide circle. Tanya dodged back easily, chuckling internally.

They'd had the opportunity to attack her, and they'd gone for a flashy and useless move to create space?

At least her opponent was hardy, if they could still fight with a hole in their arm. She'd take the time to study them when they weren't a threat.

"They were right, you are strong. But I will prevail. I figured out what you were doing, and I laid in wait. As th-"

Tanya cut off the monologuing fool with an Explosive Vaporization. As much as she would have liked to take to the air and wait for the blood in his body drain from his arm, her fight against the squirrels had drained her. This needed to end fast.

He tried to dodge, but the ball of fiery light followed him, hitting his blade. It seemed to shrug off the hit, and Tanya grimaced.

"Hey! I was talking there. You shouldn't interrupt me; it isn't honorable."

He let his sword tip drop past his slacks to the ground, entering a clearly non-threatening stance, and Tanya shot him a confused look. Honor?

Tanya shook her head. What a fool. However…

"I am sorry. Could you please carry on?" she asked sweetly. He smirked, and then began to speak again, brandishing his sword to and fro.

Tanya chuckled. She had no problem utilizing the idiocy of honor bound fools to her own advantage.

"As I was saying… as one of the Goddess Aqua's chosen, I'll defeat you, the hated Atheist, claim your relics for my own, and go on to defeat the Demon King! It was a mistake for you to brush passed me this morning; I might not have recognized you otherwise."

Tanya merely smiled sweetly at him, eyeing his wounded arm and cursing herself internally. Blood was beginning to pool around his right foot, staining his leather shoes. His unhealthy pallor was becoming even whiter. She just had to keep the idiot talking.

"What does your weapon do, oh noble hero?"

Seemingly oblivious to the blood running down his arm, he gestured to his weapon proudly. "It increases all of my stats, gives me an unparalleled ability in swordsmanship, and make me immune to pain! It is clearly the best weapon for one working to defeat an evil entity in a game-like world!"

His shouting became strained, and his breathing, labored from his fight, was now labored for a different reason. Raising his blade again, he said, "Now, prepare to-"

"Flight!" she cried.

Tanya cut him off, flying higher than she had when fighting the squirrels, scepter in hand. She raised it above her head, and her opponent raised his sword to block it. The sword would have deflected her hit, and, after she had launched herself into the air using her Flight spells, she'd be too fatigued to fight him off.

Of course, she wasn't planning on swinging her scepter. A quick adjustment of her Flight spells shot her to the ground, faster than gravity ever could, and she kicked him in the stomach, underneath his blade.

He cried out in pain, and collapsed to the ground. Tanya landed, and kicked his sword away from him. As soon as his fingers left the grip, he began to scream. Tanya ignored it, grabbed his sword, and tossed it.

With her strength, that meant it cleared the hill, landing on the other side. He'd never get it.

"What… did you do to me?" he cried, grasping his arm. Tanya didn't respond. She looked at him, for a moment, and then let her scepter fall to the dirt as she grasped the handle of her blade in both hands.

Her shadow obstructed the sun, just starting to dip down in the sky, throwing the person's face into clarity. Tanya winced slightly, but continued her motions.

"Wait… please…" he gasped.

Tanya shook her head slowly, and plunged her sword into the kid's neck.

Because that was what he was. His uniform, the now paper-white flesh on his face, and the glasses he was wearing all pointed to that fact. He was a kid, in over his head and high on the idea of a real-life video game.

Grimacing, she gazed at his body for a few moments. "Really? You'd stoop to sending children after a soldier?" she said, speaking to the wind. Being X could monitor her, and she hoped he was.

She looked towards the sky. "I thought you couldn't sink any lower. It is hypocritical of me, I know, for killing them when I so deplore the waste, but why would you do this? It's wasteful, and just a little bit sickening that you'd force people who haven't even graduated from high school to fight a soldier twice their age, mentally speaking."

She glared at the sky for a moment longer. Then she set to work.

A quick search of his pockets found a few items: a wallet, a few pieces of gum, and, most importantly, his contract.

Like her own, it was titled 'Contract of Reincarnation and Opposition to the Demon King' in bold lettering. Unlike her own, a smaller line underneath the title said, "and The Atheist."

The Atheist. Tanya raised an eyebrow. That was the best name Being X had for her? He could have at least followed her naming sense and called her 'Heretic X,' or something.

She skimmed the table of contents and flipped to the pages dealing with her. Both of Tanya's eyebrows rose.

A picture of her, eyes glowing gold, glared at her from the pages. A short description of likeness, personality, and abilities followed.

For all the detail they had captured her likeness with, the way they described her personality was warped. They didn't even say why she'd decided to oppose them, just that she had and that she was dangerous.

The description of her abilities was equally lackluster. It went over what she could do, but didn't give any specifics.

She raised an eyebrow at the last line. Among the other strategies they suggested – most of which boiled down to 'get out of Axel and fight her once you've leveled up' – they told them to use mental warfare by mentioning the one she… loved.

Tanya fought down the faint blush she could feel radiating off of her cheeks. Viktoriya was not her 'love.' She was… no, she had been a close confidant, and nothing more.

And… even if Tanya did harbor some feelings, Viktoriya would never return them. There was no way someone raised in 20th century Europe would be like that, and if Tanya tried to delude herself, she'd just set herself up for failure-

She blinked. Why was she still thinking about it?

She shook her head, staring down at the piece of paper. She had gotten very… distracted by that. And she had only just read a single, throwaway line of text in a mountain of legal documents.

She scowled. She'd just have to watch herself. Getting tripped up by unrequited feelings was dangerous, and it wasn't like they even mattered.

She sighed sadly. Viktoriya had probably perished, like Tanya, in whatever fire bombing run the Cordiale had been doing to Dresdun. There wasn't a chance that she would see her again, especially now that she was… here.

As she continued to look through, Tanya just wondered why they hadn't done this with the Demon King. There weren't any pictures of him, a description of his abilities, or anything in her contract.

Shaking her head, she flipped through, wishing this path had been lined with trees for shade. This thing also promised that anyone who killed her would get her relics.

Tanya blinked, and then scanned the document again. Yep. It was official.

Being X, for all his power, was the stupidest thing she'd ever met. The contract said they had to fight her, a war veteran with more knowledge on how to kill her enemies than anyone they could choose to Reincarnate.

Tanya growled. This person had obviously not taken the time to try and get prepared, but if someone who was more practical – perhaps a weasel might have more forethought – got reincarnated…

She could get beaten. Theoretically. She would need to prepare for the possibility of a fight on the scale of the one with the younger Sioux, at least.

Speaking of reincarnation, however…

Tanya gazed down at the person's body. How was she going to explain this?

-OxOxO-

It hadn't taken any explaining, actually. Not yet, anyway.

She'd laboriously dragged his body over the hill, and let it roll down. It had soon rested against his former sword, and Tanya had needed to rest for an hour.

Relatively refreshed by her quick rest, she had blown a hole in the side of the hill and buried both there, Hopefully, neither would be noticed until she could figure out what to do with them. Axel had a pauper's cemetery, apparently.

She might have to make an anonymous… donation.

She'd gotten back to the guild in record time, after that, and received her reward for the quest.

Luna had mocked her for looking so beat up after her earlier confidence, and Tanya had agreed with her. Let her think Squirrels had done so much damage to her.

The reward had been less than expected, after the costs of transporting their bodies and the trees she'd destroyed with her Explosive Vaporization had caused. She hadn't complained, though.

Sighing, Tanya made to head out, when she glanced at the board. Requests filled it, taking up every inch of space.

"Hey Luna," Tanya said, calling to the receptionist. "Why are there so many quests?"

Eternal smile ever-present, Luna launched into an explanation. "The Eris Thanksgiving Festival is coming up soon, so the number of quests to make sure it goes well have skyrocketed recently."

Tanya sighed. She'd have to take one. None of them had a party limit, since large groups of Adventurers were going, so they'd be good experience for as long as she didn't have a party.

Working to help glorify some lying existence irked her, but money was money, and since the Blacksmith was likely to be enjoying the festival, it was unlikely she could just work there for however long it took.

Grumbling, Tanya left the Guild. She had a body to take care of.

-OxOxO-

A quick stop at the general store, where she'd purchased a nondescript burlap sack and a shovel – how she had forgotten to get that useful tool, she'd never figure out – and Tanya had taken to the hills, stripping the body of its modern clothes and placing it in the bag.

Reinforcement spells had been used liberally, to ensure she could carry the thing. He may not have looked like it, but the kid was heavy.

A few hours of dragging the body around the city of Axel and deciding to take the long route to ensure she wasn't interrupted had passed, and Tanya was there, wishing she had a flashlight to explore the place she'd found.

It was the pauper's cemetery, where everyone who wasn't rich or who hadn't saved up enough was buried. People could come back as many types of undead, depending on how powerful they were in life and if they had any lasting grudges, so they usually had rights performed for them so that didn't happen.

If you were poor, however, you got put on a list, which meant your body could become an undead while the Priests performed the rights for those who paid and the long list of everyone else.

This meant that no one would notice a single unmarked grave, and Tanya would have been fine just digging a shallow grave, dumping the bag inside, and calling it a day.

That had been her plan.

Tanya snarled as she looked at the figure in the graveyard. Why didn't any of her plans ever go well?

She couldn't see them clearly, but she could make out their silhouette just fine. They were tall and were wearing some sort of long garment, which could have been anything from a dress to a trench coat.

She should have done more research. No one was supposed to be here, so why was this person?

Suddenly, the entire cemetery began to glow. Tanya, laying on the ground and peering over a particularly large mound of dirt, saw that they were at the edge of some sort of magic circle. Several silhouettes stood around them, standing guard.

They were speaking. Not loud enough for Tanya to make out the words, but just loud enough to be able to distinguish it from the relative absence of noise in the rest of the graveyard.

Tanya tilted her head. Were they sending off souls to their next life, praying all the while?

Tanya grinned. An opportunity, then. She'd just bury the body underneath someone else's grave, and they wouldn't notice them at all. Any lingering pieces of their soul would be sent onwards, and Tanya wouldn't have to worry about the body rising again and causing trouble.

She looked around for a grave that looked freshly dug. She found one, soon enough. No one here could even afford a gravestone, but she could tell well enough from the upturned Earth. Perfect.

Digging as fast as she could and still not fast enough, Tanya wished that she'd had more practice digging trenches with the rest of the infantrymen. It would have helped.

Soon, she'd displaced the old body, dug down another couple feet, and threw in the bag with the body in it. Tanya couldn't hear much of that person's speaking anymore, which meant she was probably finishing.

Just as the crunch of feet over dead leaves and gravel reached her ears, Tanya finished, ducking behind the largest mound of dirt within leaping distance. Sweat, accumulated from her work, continued to build on her forehead, but no sounds of alarm were raised.

Tanya breathed a sigh of relief, dropping her shovel. Then, something grabbed her shoulder and threw her over the tombstone.

A yelp of surprise escaped her throat, but that was all. Tanya pushed her attacker away and grabbed her shovel, brandishing it steadily.

The attacker's rotting face greeted her. Tanya ducked its swing, and made to slash it.

Hair ruffled by the passing spell, Tanya could only watch warily as the undead was torn to pieces. She whirled around, towards the spells source.

The bewildered face of a beautiful woman meet Tanya's eyes. Tanya took a moment to take her in, never lowering her shovel and slowly moving her hand to her blade's sheath.

Tanya licked her lips as she gazed at her. A cloak squeezed the figure of the woman, her gorgeous body almost hidden by the thing. Brown hair drifted down passed her shoulders, and the woman's pale skin glowed, even with the limited light provided by the half-full moon and stars.

"Are you alright?" the woman asked, Tanya nodded hesitantly. This must have been the person who'd been muttering by the graves.

Her guards were nowhere to be seen, however. Tanya lowered her shovel, but didn't dare drop it. Things could get messy if they wanted to quiet her, for whatever reason.

"Yeah. Thanks, by the way," Tanya replied. The woman lowered her hands towards her sides, likely in an attempt to put her at ease.

"Were you helping their souls?" Tanya asked.

The woman nodded hesitantly. "Y- Yes. The people here didn't have the money for a proper burial, so they can't move on. Eris cultists don't often come here, since they focus on people who pay them. So I-"

Tanya waved her hand. "It's no problem."

A silence stretched on, and Tanya shrugged, finally. "Well, I think I'll be heading back. It seems like you've got everything covered here," Tanya said as she turned away, hoping the woman wouldn't inquire as to her reason for being there.

"Wait a second. Why are you here?" the woman asked, and Tanya's shoulders lurched.

She spun back around. "Well…" Tanya trailed off, trying to think of an excuse.

It was best to weave in a kernel of truth, right? "I don't have a party, so I thought I'd patrol the graveyard for undead and try to level up that way," she supplied.

The woman nodded, and began to talk, nervously casting her gaze about. "Um… it really isn't recommended that you do that. Undead can start to swarm if they think they'll have a chance at killing, and panic and fear can wake them."

"Plus, Priests can easily level up using undead, since even healing magic is effective against the undead, who have gone against the Gods' will. The guild used to ask that adventurers leave them for new Priests…" she trailed off, tapping the tips of her fingers together and looking at Tanya apologetically.

"Oh…" Tanya said, attempting to sound sorry for having made a mistake while filing away the important information. She felt an odd kinship with beings who had defied the so-called gods, even if they had to die before they could do it effectively.

Feeling it would be prudent to introduce herself – the woman, if she could help the undead and use the magic Tanya had seen, was at least magically powerful – Tanya held out her hand. "Tanya von Degurechaff. Adventurer."

Wiz tilted her head, muttering something that included the word 'noble,' until she shook her head and holding out her own hand and smiling. "I'm Wiz. I run a magic items shop."

Tanya perked up. "Can you give me directions?"

The woman, seemingly overjoyed, forgot how suspicious the circumstances were and the odd fact that she was carrying a shovel and gave her the directions. Tanya made to leave. Hopefully, no one would discover that body for a nice, long while.

She sighed as she left the graveyard. That had been close. She wouldn't be able to use this place as a hiding spot for long, either.

Wiz could get suspicious. Maybe there was a lake she could just throw bodies and equipment into…

-OxOxO-

Tanya sat at one of the tables in the Guild, enjoying her breakfast of porridge. She'd visit the Blacksmith today, and get that attachment to her scepter made, at least.

Using her Seitengewehr as a sword wasn't horrible, but she'd been trained to use blades as an extension of her gun. Clipping it onto a scepter would be similar, right?

As she ate, the sound of the room washed over her. If she closed her eyes, she could imagine she was eating in the mess hall of her days-in-training, where she'd learned to be the ideal soldier.

Dust sat in a corner, drunk as usual. Others, from newbies who'd just started to veterans who really should have moved on, ate, conversed, and enjoyed themselves.

And Tanya sat close to the counter, wishing she could go on better quests and hoping for a teammate.

"I happened to see your recruitment poster. Are you still recruiting party members?"

Tanya nearly spat the food in her mouth out from surprise, but she recovered. She hurriedly chewed her food and turned sharply to the voice behind her.

What met her was… a beauty.

-OxOxO-

A humorous image for your trouble.

Chapter Text

Yes. A beauty.

In fact, there were two beauties. One on the left. One on the right. They sat on the chest on the person who had tried to talk to Tanya.

Over the course of her life as a girl, Tanya had tried to suppress her hormones as much as she could by thinking about anything but sex and her situation.

It was actually pretty easy, back then. There were very few women in the Empire's army, and the only ones she interacted with on a regular, friendly basis with were a few members of the 203rd.

Her puberty was also not doing too much for her. That was helpful in a few ways – less distraction, she didn't have boobs – but also annoying in others – she looked like a twelve-year-old and had the height to match.

She still stole glances at other women occasionally – again, mostly with the 203rd – and if she ever got caught, she'd just glance down unhappily at her own body in an attempt to use its lackluster appearance as an excuse.

They'd given her all sorts of tips, and, along with the time she had spent in the hot springs of Bidin-Budin with Viktoriya, they created wonderful fantasies that Tanya wished she could properly 'take care' of.

These days, it was getting a bit worse. She now had a healthy diet that didn't contain leather or sawdust or tree bark, and the town of Axel was full of women who didn't mind showing off an inch – or twenty – of skin.

In this case, however, the mounds of plentiful flesh were just too much to ignore. They were huge. And not just 'I-have-chronic-back-pain' huge. This pair of breasts needed to have the armor that contained them shaped to fit them.

Armor wasn't supposed to work like that. That sort of thing was stupid, expensive, and doing so probably decreased the armor's overall defense. They were ridiculous, and underneath all that armor…

…They probably did the name 'breastplate' proud.

Of course, the person they were attached to wasn't bad. Beautiful, long golden hair that Tanya imagined her own hair could resemble if she ever let it grow out was pulled back into a ponytail, for the most part, and sharp, aristocratic features were the norm on her face.

Tanya shook her head, wiping the corner of her mouth with a nearby napkin. She set it down and cleared her throat. "Could you repeat that?" she asked, hoping her voice wouldn't waver or crack.

"Are you still searching for party members?"

Tanya nodded, and the woman closed her eyes and clasped her hands. "Thank goodness. I have been awaiting the arrival of someone such as yourself," the woman said, exhaling heavily at the end.

Tanya's eyebrows furrowed. Was she nervous or something?

The woman stood up straight, and made to introduce herself in halting sentences. "My name is Darkness. My calling is that of a Crusader. May I p-p-please join your party?"

Tanya surveyed the rest of her appearance. Heavy armor adorned her body, with most of it being centered on her chest and hips. The rest of her body was clothed in some sort of yellow cloth, and, if Tanya had to guess, she probably had chain mail underneath it all.

She was truly what came to mind when she thought of the word 'Crusader'.

Yes, she must have been nervous to be stuttering that much. Tanya also stood up. "My name is Tanya von Degurechaff. I am an Adventurer, and I am looking for a party to lead."

"Is it true that you take on quests several times over your level?" she blurted out, leaning against the table Tanya had been using.

Tanya shook her head in amusement. It was always fun to see newbies. She'd seen her fair share of new recruits whenever the General Staff had decided to move some of her group to other units, leaving gaps to be filled.

Tanya nodded in response to her question. "Yes. I've been trying to level up, but Luna wouldn't let me take on anything stronger than Squirrels."

The woman began to pant, and gripped Tanya's arm. She tried to pull away, but the woman's strength matched her beauty. "It's worse than I thought! For someone with such a low class to take on such monsters…"

She grinned. "As a knight, I cannot overlook such difficulty befalling someone of such a tender age!"

Twitch.

Tanya glared at her. "I am sixteen."

Her mouth was wide open, and the only sound that escaped it, instead of her continued ranting, was a strangled exhale of confusion.

For a moment, she just stared at Tanya, her face frozen in the decidedly odd expression the woman had worn while she was practically assaulting Tanya. Then, mutely, the woman slowly loosened her grip, stepping back and shuffling her feet.

"…I apologize."

They stood there, being glanced at occasionally by the patrons that surrounded them. Tanya smirked. Well, the woman would definitely would feel at least obliged to go with her on one quest, at least.

"Well, I am recruiting, so tell me a bit about your strengths."

The woman flicked the bow that sat at the base of her neck nervously. "Well, the truth is… while I am confident in my Strength and stamina, I am clumsy…"

"Which means?"

"None of my attacks ever hit their mark."

Tanya blinked slowly. She looked at the woman for a moment, before pinching the bridge of her nose, before shaking her head, trying to disperse any bad feelings she was getting. "That's fine. You're just starting out, right? You can learn eventua-"

"Oh no. I wouldn't ever want to kill something when I could just be acting as a shield."

Tanya blinked again, her forehead creased. Did she hear that right? She didn't want to kill?

"…Let me get this straight. You want to be attacked?" Tanya questioned, dread rising in her gut.

It wasn't possible. This place was still in Medieval times. The Eris Cult had to frown on such things. It didn't make sense, and Tanya hadn't even contemplated the possibility of such a thing occurring, but…

The woman made a lurid moan that convinced Tanya that yes, the woman very much would love to be attacked. She pinched the bridge of her nose again, leaving the woman to her fantasies.

Yes, the woman was a masochist.

And?

Tanya didn't have options. She wasn't willing to compromise on the leadership aspect anymore, which meant that no one would want to party up with her. But…

Tanya cast another look at the Crusader. She noticed, and proceeded to violate Tanya's personal space. "Please, do whatever you must with me! As a Crusader, my job demands that I work to lessen the suffering of the weak!"

Tanya pushed to woman away from herself steadily, straightened herself, and took a deep breath. She had no choice.

Sighing, Tanya said, "Alright. Since there are a ton of quests due to the Eris Thanksgiving Festival, we'll join one of those." She stood up to go to the counter.

The woman perked up. "As a Crusader who is a part of the Eris Cult, I would be happy to!"

Tanya paused mid-step. Right. Crusaders had something to do with religious wars.

Walking dejectedly to the counter, Tanya was already regretting her decision.

-OxOxO-

They'd decided to help protect the farmlands. Now, more than ever, they needed to ensure that the farmers were protected while they harvested all of the food that would be eaten during the festival.

Darkness had wanted to go to the forest, but Tanya had convinced her that they'd get in everyone's way, since she was only level three and Tanya was level eight.

They might be able to fight any insect monsters one-on-one, but neither of them could withstand a swarm. Darkness didn't seem to care about the danger, as she only grew more excited, and Tanya had needed to backtrack and claim the monsters on the farms would be better.

Tanya didn't know that, of course, but she didn't want to fight a swarm of insects. Her offensive magic couldn't really deal with targets surrounding her.

Her gun could, of course, but not her magic alone. Not without giving them more than enough time to kill her.

After deciding on when to depart, they'd parted ways. Tanya had gone to the blacksmith's and fitted her staff with her Seitengewehr. She could use it more effectively now.

She glared at the other adventurers that were eyeing the two of them warily. It seemed that both of them had a reputation. Tanya knew where her own came from – she'd taken on quest after quest, when most adventurers often didn't take more than three per week, and she'd taken on all of them alone.

Tanya could guess where Darkness had gotten her reputation.

Soon enough, they arrived at the farms they'd been assigned to protect. "Darkness. Be sure to show what you have. I'll need to know for whenever we're coming up with strategies."

The woman, suddenly serious, nodded. They'd passed a group of adventurers on their way back from defending, and it didn't seem like they'd have it any easier.

Snails as tall as Tanya were already beginning to encroach on the farm, and the rustling in the tree line told Tanya that more monsters were likely to begin to attack. The food was also beginning to emerge from the ground, ready to defend itself.

Shooting a glance at the others in their group, Tanya realized she was the only one who could use magic, if the armor and weapons of all the others were anything to go by.

"Alright. You all defend me while I defeat the Adaman Snails," she ordered. The others who had signed up for this quest looked at Tanya, mirth and ridicule shining in their eyes. Darkness just nodded her head, and began to charge at them.

Tanya watched her run and shook her head. If she was supposed to protect her, how would Darkness do that if she wasn't even near her?

Tanya gestured with her staff. "Explosive Vaporization!"

A ball of light sped off, nailing one of the snails on the shell. Those around her gasped in shock. "How'd you cast it so fast?"

Tanya just shrugged. Intermediate magic and Advanced magic was supposed to have some sort of chanting that preceded it. It seemed her magic hadn't gained that requirement upon coming here.

The others began to spread out, challenging the snails. Tanya nodded. It seemed they had thought twice about her order.

The one she'd fired at had a hole blown in its shell, but it seemed to still be moving. It, along with most of the other snails, seemed to be heading for Darkness.

For her part, she seemed to be trying to attack one of the snails. It was going… poorly.

Every time she swung her sword, she managed to miss. It hit the ground, or it swiped through the air, or the snail moved an extra inch to the left. No matter what she did, she couldn't hit a Snail. They might have been big, but they were slow, and not in any way threatening.

If she had had a phone, Tanya would have been tempted to play that Benny Hill song.

"Go! While they're focused on me, destroy them!" the woman cried out as she tried, again and again, to hit the slow, sedate snail.

Tanya sighed. She was distracting the snails, at least. One by one, Tanya sent an Explosive Vaporization towards each snail. They all hit, damaging their shells.

The other adventurers would swarm whichever ones she hit, stabbing through the cracks in their shells while avoiding their front.

Darkness, meanwhile, was now surrounded by snails, and she was still missing them.

"Unhand me, filthy Snails!" Darkness cried out as the snail behind her bumped into her knees. The woman collapsed to the ground, and the snails began to smother her.

Scared for her teammate, Tanya activated a small Reinforcement spell and hurried over to Darkness. The others seemed to be distracted with harvesting the snails to notice her sudden increase in speed.

When she got there, Tanya blanched. Darkness, pressed into the ground by the weight of a snail, was panting. Heavily.

Tanya lost the willpower to help her out, and began to take care of the ones surrounding Darkness, one by one. It seemed she was doing something to keep them focused on her, since they didn't react to her.

Her blade soaked in snail guts, Tanya finished soon enough. Darkness laid on the ground, blushing and panting.

"They're dead, you know."

Darkness turned her head to Tanya, and then looked at the snail lying on top of her in confusion. Indeed, Tanya had already gutted it.

Darkness pushed the body off of her easily, retrieved her sword from where it had fallen, and thanked Tanya, still blushing. Tanya nodded, much too occupied by the fact that it looked like Darkness could have pushed the snail off of her at any second.

Most of the snails seemed to be dead now, and the other adventurers met with them at the cart they'd brought, which was full of provisions to last them the next few hours.

"I can't believe someone with the Adventurer job can use such destructive magic," commented one. The others made various sounds of agreement, and Tanya accepted their thanks graciously.

"And you! You charged in and attracted so many of them with your Decoy skill. You're truly a model knight!"

Darkness blushed, and Tanya stared at the ground listlessly, her earlier praise forgotten. Model knight?

What kind of shield runs off and gets smothered in a Snail's slime willingly?

A moment's reprieve was all they got, however. The vegetables were growing bolder, which meant they needed to be harvested.

The farmers they had protected fought with them, and a few adventurers ran over to help them. In the meantime, large animals were beginning to charge out of the forest.

"Wild Boars!" exclaimed Darkness. Without hesitation, she ran to meet them head on. Tanya watched, fascinated. How did she think running directly at something with sharp, pointed tusks and moving faster than a regular human could run would go?

Arms wide, Darkness met the full force of the boar head on, grasping it by its tusks.

"You filthy pig! Are you going to subdue me and use your weight to hold me down while your friend violates me?"

Mouth agape, Tanya watched as Darkness threw it to the side. Another was charging at her, and both they and Darkness seemed to be anticipating the fight, if for different reasons.

Tanya just sighed. Even if Darkness could withstand their attacks, the Crusader couldn't deal damage with her sword.

She ran over, scepter in hand. Both boars, circling Darkness, didn't notice her.

She struck fast, ducking to the side of the one with its back turned to her and slipping the blade of her scepter between its ribs.

It squealed, turning around. Tanya plunged her blade into its side furiously. The other one charged Darkness, who cried out in glee.

Tanya backed up, eyeing the boar. It eyed her too, and began to run at her. Tanya ducked to its side, avoiding its charge easily and scoring a hit on its back leg.

It squealed again, and Tanya grinned, watching happily as its back leg trembled. It seemed she'd hit something important, and it was trying to stumble away.

She cast a quick look over her shoulder at Darkness. Darkness seemed to be relishing in the furious blows the boar was raining down on her. It seemed to have stopped trying to charge Darkness, and was now slashing at her with its tusks. Tanya shook her head and took off after the other Wild Boar.

Tanya caught up to her stumbling prey, and quickly sliced its back leg. It well to the ground, and Tanya finished its life quickly. Looking around the wet, battle-ridden field, it seemed most of the other adventurers had been able to fight off the rest of them. That just left the food and Darkness.

Tanya marched over, stabbed the thing in the throat, and glared at Darkness. "You… you can't hit anything! I thought, when you said you were clumsy, that meant you just hadn't taken a few skills, or that you just weren't steady on your feet," Tanya began, gesturing to the woman's feet with her scepter.

"Instead, it turns out you're just pathetic! I…should…" Tanya trailed off. Darkness's face had that same beet-red look it had had when she'd been 'trapped' under the snail.

"So brutal…" she muttered. Tanya spun around, resting her scepter on her shoulder.

Not worth it. How was she supposed to discipline her troops when they wanted to be punished?

She sighed. Well, she'd trained the 203rd. She could find some way to properly motivate Darkness, even if she didn't have artillery or pain or the backing of an entire nation to do so.

Looking at the other groups of adventurers conversing and congratulating each other, Tanya almost wished she'd chosen an actual job.

Tanya tossed one last glance over her shoulder. Darkness seemed to be enjoying herself, at least.

With a huff, Tanya began to trek over to the other group of adventurers. The crops needed to be finished, and as long as she wasn't covering for Darkness, she might as well help.

-OxOxO-

They crowded around the desk, making a racket, waiting for Luna to emerge from the counter.

She, along with everyone else there, were waiting for their reward. They'd done some hard work, and they wanted their hard-earned cash.

With how much the scepter had cost, she needed the money. She'd finally figured out how to best make most of the gears, which meant she could rest easy knowing she wouldn't have to spend any more money buying materials from the blacksmith.

She would also be able to finish off her loan.

The door to the guild burst open, and Tanya, like the rest of the crowd, turned. More adventurers streamed in. Some went to the eatery, but most of them joined Tanya in line, waiting for their payment. Tanya looked around for her teammate.

Tanya couldn't see her and frowned. Where was she?

Just then, a voice pierced the din of grumbling adventurers. "Everyone, payment is now available! Please form an orderly line, and-"

Before she could finish, people began to swarm the counter, ignoring the second part of her announcement and trying to vie for their money. Tanya was no better.

Utilizing her smaller size, Tanya slipped through the crowd, delivering a sharp kick to the shins of those who wouldn't move.

Being small had its perks, occasionally.

She arrived at the front. "Luna, the reward for me and another blonde-haired, blue-eyed adventurer named Darkness, please!" she hollered over the noise. The other receptionists seemed to be overwhelmed by the roiling crowds, but Luna was above it all.

Tanya passed the woman her Registration Card, and she quickly confirmed her kills. The system of confirming what adventurers had done with the farmers who hired them seemed to break down around this time.

Luna passed her two bags, and Tanya thrust one back. "Pay off my debts, please!"

Luna nodded, and Tanya fought her way back through the crowd, ignoring the grumbling, moody adventurers by her sides.

Soon enough, she found herself in the eatery. She scanned it, and found Darkness.

She practically threw herself and the bag down, startling Darkness. "Your money," she panted.

Darkness tilted her head. "What about yours?"

Tanya took a sip of the liquid Darkness had ordered and sighed happily. A bit of alcohol wouldn't hurt, right?

"I finished off a loan I took in my first week," she replied. This seemed to confuse the woman more.

"But I thought you were…" she said, the rest of her statement dying on her lips. Tanya glared at her for a moment, before sipping on Darkness's beer. The skeptical expression told Tanya she needed to get her own.

Soon enough, a waitress graced their table and Tanya ordered a meal and a drink. Darkness seemed to be thinking, and Tanya let her. She needed to do a bit of that as well.

The Crusader was… interesting. She – maybe literally – couldn't hit the walls of any room she stood with her sword. While a detriment, that wasn't even her biggest problem.

The woman across from her grunted in pleasure, and Tanya went back over her words. Had she said that aloud?

Taking more care to keep her thoughts private, Tanya went over that problem.

She was a complete and total masochist. The definition of the latter half of S&M. That was quite uncomfortable to be around, and it could be dangerous if Tanya ever got in trouble.

The last problem was, of course, religion. As a Crusader, she no doubt had very biased thoughts about her god, as well as non-believers like Tanya.

She would probably oppose Tanya if she ever found out about what she wanted to do with that wish.

However, she did have a disgusting amount of Strength and stamina. She could probably have beaten Tanya at arm-wrestling that first day she was there, and that she could easily move around Wild Boars and Adaman Slimes as if they were pillows was impressive.

Tanya gazed at said impressive woman again. Her armor had been slightly damaged by both the slime of the Adaman Snails and the blows of the Wild Boars she'd fought. The rest of her body, however – the portions where black cloth had been – were much more exposed, hinting at the muscle and flesh that lay beneath the armor.

Yes. She was very… attractive in a number of ways.

Tanya scoffed at her own thought as her food arrived. Attractive didn't cover it. Hot, gorgeous, voluptuous, and bouncy sure did, though.

She was also a local. Tanya didn't really have much knowledge of the world. Consulting with the Blacksmith and Luna could help, but Tanya didn't even know what questions to ask. Sticking with someone who did know had its benefits.

A question floated passed Tanya's lips. "Why didn't you get your money yourself?"

Darkness shook her own head. "Well, I had to go take a quick bath."

Tanya made sure to keep her face as blank as she could, even utilizing a few tricks that Viktoriya had taught her.

Well. That settled it.

Tanya didn't have to guess at what was beneath the armor; she would see it. A grin – carefully curated so that it wasn't lecherous – split Tanya's face, and Darkness shuffled.

"Well Darkness, I hope we can continue to do good work together, at least until the festival is done," she said. Darkness looked up from her food, her blushing face becoming serious. "You mean…"

Tanya nodded, rubbing the back of her head. "I don't exactly have many options, so how about we stick together?"

With that, the woman leapt up. "You won't regret it!"

Tanya nodded, and rose. She needed to get back to stable and crash for a while. The mana drain of using so many Explosive Vaporization spells was beginning to make itself known.

Tanya heard the muttered, "I know I won't," that came from Darkness's direction and sighed dejectedly. Any help would be good help, of course, but…

Why was she saddled with such depravity?

-OxOxO-

Tanya scowled at the board. Nothing good.

She'd been adventuring with Darkness for a week. She'd leveled a bit, and poured a few points into the Smith skill. She was confident that she could at least begin to experiment and figure out how to make a gun.

That, however, was the easy part. Yes, upgrading Smith took time, but she knew she could do it eventually. Her main problem was what went in the guns.

Cartridges – a bullet, some propellant, a cap, and casing – were needed. The bullet and casing were, like the gun itself, difficult to accomplish with the technology she had, but entirely possible.

However, she had never taken the time to learn exactly what went into the propellant. She knew that it wasn't black powder – the replacement of actual black powder didn't create smoke and allowed for more visibility on the battlefield, a fact which had come up during her time at the Military College – but she would have liked to have that much.

If she didn't get something explosive, her gun would become a fancy-looking stick, just like the scepter she was using.

She hadn't yet found anything, and she was beginning to think she'd need to invent chemistry itself in order to get something that worked. Gunpowder had sulfur in it, right?

Tanya shook her head, turning her thoughts back to the board. The festival was a week away, and no new quests had come up.

Darkness wanted to take on some of the harder ones. Tanya had promptly shot her down.

She might have been confident in her abilities, but even she didn't think that taking on hordes of Insect monsters alone was a good idea. She could only destroy so many at once, after all, and Darkness could not distract all of them, even if she did have that oil on her.

She'd made herself content with taking on small fry in the morning and working at the Blacksmith's in the afternoon. It didn't seem like there was much to do.

She walked over to Luna. "Hey Luna," she greeted. The woman smiled.

"What do you want Tanya?" she asked, and Tanya uneasily smiled. Luna knew her well.

"Have any Hero Candidates come in?" she asked. She didn't know when Being X would send in another person, but she had no doubt that he would after a week. He didn't give up easily.

She shook her head. "No, not yet. We can't even really tell, to be honest, unless they show the traits of one."

Tanya nodded, thankful that she had that going for her. She looked like anything but a Japanese person, and she had been saved from scrutiny due to that fact and that she hadn't exactly shown off her 'Divine' relics.

Tanya sighed. "Hey, can I- "

"No."

Tanya scowled. "I got a teammate, right? Why won't you let us take on stronger stuff? Or at least check my card?"

The whole reason she wanted a teammate was to move on to stronger enemies, and Luna still wouldn't let her. She told her as much every time she came to ask.

"If you need to ask, then you definitely shouldn't be taking it on," Luna said. Tanya pouted, but made her way back to the board. She'd level up soon enough.

Pulling a quest down, Tanya held it out to Luna. "Fine then. We'll take this, then."

Luna looked at it. "Just Giant Toads?" she asked, a genuine smile playing across her lips.

"Ha ha," Tanya replied sarcastically. "In all actuality, I want to try and get Darkness to learn to hit something."

Luna handed the quest back to her. "Good luck with that. I told her that for the first few times she came here over the past few months, when parties kept politely dumping her. I gave it up as a lost cause after that."

Tanya nodded absentmindedly, before whirling around, glaring at Luna. "You haven't told me to change out of the Adventurer Job in a while," she noted.

Luna just smiled.

A scowl now firmly in place, Tanya readjusted her hat as she sat down to eat. As soon as Darkness got there, they'd be gone.

-OxOxO-

Finally, Darkness had shown up. When she'd told her what they were doing, Tanya had written off her odd happiness. Darkness hadn't actually gotten to level up much, since she couldn't hit anything. She had apparently gotten to her current level from eating lots of food that was high in experience.

Giant Toads would be easy to hit. She couldn't possibly miss such a close target.

"Alright Darkness," Tanya said as one of them began to approach, roused from chasing after some livestock by their approach, "I want you to fight it on your own. You need to level up, too."

Tanya looked away from the bulbous blue frog that was looming closer, towards a… frantically undressing Darkness.

She promptly swore. She was not having another 'my clothing is too tight these days, let me bare my chest to you, another female' episode like with Viktoriya.

She could peep all she wanted in the bath houses, after all, and other people might see her out here. "What are you doing?"

Darkness had stripped off her heavy armor, and was just wearing the black bodysuit that was usually hidden beneath other layers. Tanya might have taken the time to ogle, but right now, danger was approaching.

Instead of responding, the woman ran towards the amphibian. Tanya groaned into her hands as she picked up what Darkness had dropped.

"What are you doing!" she repeated, shouting at the girl's back.

"If a Giant Toad sees any metal, it won't swallow you. They can't digest it!" she shouted back. That might have made sense if she wanted to convince it to close in on her so she could hit it up close, but Darkness had also thrown away her sword, making it rather obvious that she had no intention of fighting against the frog.

Tanya grit her teeth and picked up one of the pieces of armor that rested against the girls hips, holding it as if it were a shield. It worked well enough. She ran, trying to catch up with the woman.

She outpaced her, but Tanya activated a burst of her Reinforcement magic and caught up with her in time. "Darkness, if you want to level up, you'll need to actually kill it, right?"

Finally, they came to a stop before the thing. It seemed to be shying away from Tanya, thanks to the piece of armor she had picked up. Its bulbous eyes were glued to Darkness.

The long, sticky tongue shot out, and Tanya jumped in front of Darkness. Instead of her, however, the tongue got caught on Darkness's armor.

The tongue recoiled, as did the frog. Tanya grinned, and pushed Darkness's sword into her hands. "Now, try and hit it, at least."

Darkness seemed rather put out, but she grasped her sword anyway. The frog seemed much more reluctant, but as Tanya backed away, it seemed captivated by Darkness once more.

Tanya nodded, and cast her gaze about. It wouldn't do for the both of them to be surrounded while they were focused on this one. Nothing seemed to be approaching yet, and Tanya breathed a sigh of relief.

She looked back at Darkness, and-

Even as she groaned at Darkness's obsession, she tried to look on the bright side of things.

At least Darkness was enjoying herself?

She had, in the few moments Tanya had looked away, been swallowed by the frog. Her head was sticking out, and judging by the expression on her face, she was thoroughly enjoying the experience.

"To be eaten by a Giant Toad…" she said. Her tone told Tanya she was ashamed, but her face told her she was getting off to the experience.

She shook her head, took her scepter from her back, and slashed at the thing's gut. Tanya was showered with gore, and Darkness was flung out of its mouth as it died.

Tanya stared at her dispassionately. Darkness seemed to be in pure bliss, writhing on the ground and covered in the frog's digestive fluids. She glanced at Tanya, and she only seemed to fidget more.

Tanya shook her head and walked back to her partner's armor.

Only four more to go. Tanya picked up the woman's belongings, and trudged over to her. After a week of this, Tanya was beginning to lose hope that the woman would try to improve herself by her own initiative.

And Tanya really didn't want to break out military instruction. It might be effective in training people who had signed up for the army, but Tanya didn't think Darkness would stick around if Tanya was too harsh.

As Tanya dropped the woman's armor on her, she remembered that Darkness would probably enjoy anything Tanya could put her through.

She sighed again, and began to scout the surroundings for more frogs. They needed to get four more if they wanted to get it done that day, and she didn't want to be roaming the streets when the festival began tomorrow.

-OxOxO-

Tanya looked down the hollow tube and frowned. It still wasn't straight, and the grooves weren't defined enough. She threw it into a pile of similar looking tubes that were to be melted down later.

Tanya had gotten around to selling the sword of the Reincarnate she'd killed for a tidy sum. It seemed to just be a regular sword without its owner, and Tanya had sold it to the general store under the pretense that she had made it. After collecting that tidy sum, she'd decided to start trying to make her gun.

It was grueling work. She didn't think that any of these tools were used in her time, substituted for more modern, specialized ones. Still, she did the best she could.

That didn't amount to much, unfortunately, but she'd keep trying. She had to.

As it was, the festival was beginning today. Darkness had wanted Tanya to come with her, but Tanya had told her she wouldn't be participating. She had work to do, and this 'Thanksgiving' gave her the perfect excuse to do so.

The front door opened, and Tanya scowled. The Blacksmith had increased her pay and told her that she would man the shop while he was out celebrating. Apparently, there was some sort of open market going on, and he wanted to participate.

She'd just accepted his orders with the expectation that no one would be coming in due to said festival, but it seemed someone wanted something.

She came out of the back and sighed. Darkness, armor in hand, was studying the swords. "Hey. You here to get your armor repaired?" she asked her.

Darkness looked up. "Tanya? What are you doing here?"

She rolled her eyes and turned away. "My job. Come into the back, would you?"

This seemed to surprise the woman, but she followed obediently. "You have a job besides adventuring?"

"Of course," she said as she picked out another piece of steel, "you don't?"

Darkness, a single eyebrow raised, said, "Of course not."

Tanya glanced at the Crusader, but shook her head. There was probably some kind of cultural disconnect. "Anyway. What did you want? Does your armor need to be repaired?" she asked, gesturing to the armor she was carrying.

She nodded. "It's a bit specialized. It's made of very tough metals and-"

Tanya snatched it away before she finished. She didn't need to know.

The Smith skill was… quite baffling. You didn't need extra materials in order to fix it up completely, as long as your were a high enough level. The Blacksmith had even claimed that fixing it after it was broken could make it stronger, if you were as highly leveled as he was.

She sat down and got to work, gently tapping the armor and watching it reform.

It might have taken a blacksmith from either of her previous worlds hours to get this much done, but here, a few taps of a mallet fixed any holes, while a few brushes of sandpaper smoothed out what could take even more time.

It was amazing, and this speed was what had allowed her to get as close as she had to recreating the gun in only a week.

A few minutes later, and everything looked brand new. "Here you go, free of charge."

Darkness looked surprised at that. "No, I couldn't just take away your time like that," she said as she grabbed the bag by her waist.

"Don't bother," Tanya said as she began to heat the sheet of metal, "You're a friend, so it would be foolish to charge you for it."

The woman went quiet. Tanya worked, grunting in exertion. Eventually, covered in sweat and wishing she had more mana to fuel her Reinforcement spells with, she finished shaping the metal. She looked down the tube, and grinned. It seemed great.

She set it against the wall, and looked at Darkness. She tilted her head, eyes narrowed. "What's wrong?"

Darkness seemed to be looking down, oddly serious. "Are you going to the festival at all?"

Tanya sighed. "No, Darkness. I already told you, I'm not going to the festival."

"But what about your family? Wouldn't they want to look at the shops with you?"

Tanya smiled gently. "I'm a foreigner, Darkness. My family isn't here, and even if I was in my homeland…" she trailed off.

"I'm also an orphan."

Darkness seemed floored. "But… you have…"

Tanya looked at her, leaning in towards the Crusader and waiting for more. But no more sound came from the woman, and with a shouted farewell, she left the shop.

How odd. She seemed to think she was from around here.

Shrugging, Tanya looked at her drawings of her gun. It wasn't good, by any means; she wasn't an engineer, and she hadn't ever been to art school. It was, however, enough to remind her of the look and feel of every part of her gun.

Trying to ignore the choir that was passing outside, Tanya continued working, unaware of the forces moving around her.

-OxOxO-

The second day of the festival had arrived, and Tanya was regretting staying up so late last night. She'd finished most of the bulkier pieces of her weapon, which just left the pieces with moving parts and pins.

She'd figured out how to make a proper spring early in the morning, and finally retreated to the stables after locking the place up. Unfortunately…

The shop had been broken into.

The Blacksmith, of course, didn't blame her, and it didn't seem like anything had been taken. All of Tanya's work had been under the tarp in the backroom, right where she'd left it. None of the weapons had been stolen either.

He'd reported it to the police, and Tanya had told the police what she could. A mystery seemed afoot.

That, however, wasn't the most regrettable aspect of this whole affair. The Blacksmith had decided to close up the shop, telling Tanya to enjoy herself. She had gone to the guild instead, searching for work. All of it, however, was gone.

"Well, we've killed off as many of the monsters we can without detrimentally affecting the monster population, so all quests involving monster extermination have been postponed," Luna explained. Tanya sighed, and went back to the board. Other quests weren't worth the effort.

An adventurer, regardless of job, wanted to gain experience. Doing menial labor like helping at construction sites or carrying luggage meant she wouldn't even get the satisfaction of experience for the pitiful pay she earned.

However, the Blacksmith was gone, which meant Tanya had nothing to do.

The doors of the Guild burst in, and Tanya spotted Darkness walk in. She smiled fondly at her disheveled appearance. She had probably run over to the Blacksmith's looking for her.

Tanya sat down and ordered a meal. As long as she had nothing to do, she might as well eat. That increased her experience, at least.

Darkness, after conversing with Luna, sat down across from Tanya. "I can't believe that someone would break into a store like that."

Tanya shot her a confused look, and Darkness looked just as confused. "I mean, why would anyone try and rob someone with so much work to do? Becoming an adventurer is much better than becoming a bandit or criminal."

Tanya made a noise of agreement. She hadn't thought about it, but that did make sense. With people so easily able to become powerful, it was a wonder why they'd want to do something like that.

"Well," Tanya said, pulling out her bag, "I don't have anything to do. I suppose I'll just sit around here."

From her bag, she pulled out a piece of paper and a pencil. She'd been trying to figure out how to make gunpowder. She knew it had to do with sulfur – the smell of the spent cartridges told her that much – and maybe coal.

It had been called 'black powder,' once. Maybe that color came from something that burned?

Darkness leaned on the table. Tanya looked up, and saw a mischievous gleam in her eyes.

"We could…"

Tanya groaned. "Why? Why should I go out and participate in something so inane when I have so much work to do?"

"Well, there are lots of exotic products in the stalls, and everything is priced better since it's a time of thanks to Eris."

Tanya looked up sharply. Exotic products and good prices sounded wonderful. Maybe she'd even find a bit of gunpowder-

Wait. "Darkness, the festival ends with fireworks in two days, right?" she asked hurriedly, leaning into the table. Fireworks meant gunpowder.

Darkness, taken aback, responded easily. "Well, yeah."

Tanya grinned, stuffed her paper back into her bag, and shot up from the table. That settled it. "Then I'll go."

Tanya ran out of the guild, followed by a trailing Darkness. Unfortunately, they ran right into Dust.

"Hey, watch where you're...," the adventurer trailed off, staring openly at Darkness's assets. He shook his head and, with renewed vigor and no small amount of lust, continued. "Yeah, watch where you're going! Can't you see that I'm trying to get into the guild? I guess you two will need to apologize to me, right?"

Darkness, face blushing, opened her mouth. Tanya cut her off; they had a mission. "No. We're trying to get to the festival. I suggest you move."

He opened his mouth, but Tanya grabbed the scepter on her back and raised an eyebrow. "…alright, I'll just go in," he said.

"You aren't coming?" Darkness asked.

He let out a single "Heh," and then he turned to Darkness. "Even if I had the money to spend on that, I'd much rather get drunk in here; getting thrown in the police station is only good if I'm going to go to sleep."

As he stared at Darkness, something caught his eye. "Hey, what's the big idea?" he said, pointing above Tanya's head.

"My scepter?"

"Yeah, why have you got a sword strapped to it, as if it were a spear? And why let that mantle get in the way?" he asked.

"I have a bit of training in that area, thank you. Now, if you'll excuse us…"

With that, they left a contemplative Dust behind and set out for the festival.

-OxOxO-

Tanya peered around her curiously. People seemed to be giving her and Darkness a wide berth, for some reason. The shops they'd picked up food at – apples topped with some sort of sweet fluid for Darkness and something that resembled a kebab for herself – had seemed oddly deferential.

It seemed odd, but Darkness didn't seem to think anything of it, so she let it slide.

Tanya had looked around for the fireworks, but hadn't found anything yet. Maybe they weren't brought out until tomorrow?

Nevertheless, she continued to look. They wound through crowds, passing by stalls, to no avail.

Soon enough, they arrived at a wider street with fewer stalls. "Tanya, get to the side of the road!"

Tanya felt her arm get yanked by the Crusader. She was being dragged down a hall made of stone and red and flags and soldiers and a horrible thing and no no no no-

And she shook her head, opening her eyes and finding herself standing close to one of the buildings and not in the Russy Federation at all. People walked down the middle of the road, looking like something out of a parade in her first world.

People, dressed mostly in purples, yellow, whites, and always with some sort of winged motif, walked down the street. People began to call out.

"Oh, beloved Eris!"

"Thank you, Eris!"

"I pray for good luck, Goddess Eris!"

Mingled horror and confusion overtook Tanya's mind as she glared at those around her. Turning to Darkness, she bit out, "What is this?"

Not letting her eyes stray from the procession, she told Tanya, "It's the traditional Eris Thanksgiving Festival parade, duh. Every year, people dress up like Eris so that she may descend and walk among them."

Tanya scowled at them all, wishing that she could be anywhere other than watching a group of cosplayers. Why did someone have to rob the blacksmith? Why did she have to be here?

Tanya blinked away her anger. Right, she wanted to find the fireworks. As the crowd began to mingle with the parade, Tanya continued to walk on the sides of the road. She needed to figure out where the fireworks were.

Wait, maybe Darkness knew? She'd known that there would be fireworks, right?

"Hey Darkness. Do you know where the fireworks are going to take place?"

Darkness seemed thoughtful. "Around the bonfires, of course. Where else would the bugs be going to?"

The mention of bonfires had brought Tanya up short – why would you keep gunpowder around large, open fires? – but the mention of bugs derailed her thoughts entirely.

"Bugs?"

"Of course, why else" Darkness said, fluffing the stupid wing-thing on her shoulder, "would we shoot Blast and Detonation magic into the sky?"

Oh.

Once tensed shoulders now lax, Tanya began to trudge down the street, hoping to end this embarrassment. They didn't have fireworks; they just had some stupid Mages send magic into the air.

Now thoroughly discouraged, Tanya let Darkness lead them around. Games – throw something at something else to win a prize – were beaten handily, while nearly every stall they visited having nothing of interest on sale.

Darkness was unwilling to buy herself a shield, since she technically had a two-handed sword. That she didn't use it for anything didn't seem to matter to her. A weak glare was all Tanya could manage.

Various stones – that apparently had 'mystical properties' – seemed unappealing for their price, except for the Manatite. It was on sale, and her Observation spells screamed that they were basically mana in physical form, so Tanya had bought a bit.

With this, she'd be able to go for longer without having to take a break when using Smith.

Soon enough, Darkness had brought them to one of the open areas of the city. The city's park was near this one, and a large ring of stone was being constructed while people, most clad in robes and cloaks, loitered.

Darkness suddenly stopped and turned around. "You seemed pretty interested in the fireworks, so I thought we'd look at where one of the bonfires is."

Tanya nodded thankfully, and then began to talk to others there. Most of them were going to either be using Detonation or Blast to combat to bugs, or they were helping to create the large bonfire that would attract them.

Upon inquiring as to whether she could help, she was pointed towards the apparent foreman.

He seemed to have a stout build, and very little care for formality, judging by his bare chest. "Hey," she said as she walked towards him.

He looked down at her curiously and bent over a bit. "Hello there, little girl. What do you want?"

Tanya grit her teeth and didn't let her anger show. Their opinions about her stature didn't matter. She'd become used to others thinking she was a kid. "I want to help with the fireworks."

The man straightened up, laughing heartily. "Now, now, little miss. We can't have you doing that." He cast his eyes about, before they landed on Darkness, who seemed to be eyeing the stones surrounding the growing pile of wood speculatively.

"Why don't you and your sister leave this stuff to adventurers?" he said as he patted her on the head.

Dispassionately, she motioned to the scepter strapped to her back. "I am an adventurer. I can use Detonation. Please let me participate in the fireworks."

For the first time, he saw the scepter – clawed jewel, Seitengewehr, and all – and seemed panicked. "S- Sorry about that. We have more than enough people participating in the official fireworks, so I'm afraid that you'll have to join the rest of the non-hired adventurers in the defense of the city," he said, a hint of fear in his voice.

Tanya scowled. She wanted to earn something, if she was going to have to participate in this stupid festival. She looked at the numerous adventurers in the area, and then looked back at the foreman, idea forming.

"Why not make a competition out of it? The people who kill the most bugs, or who have the biggest Detonations, get paid, while those that can't keep up don't get anything," she suggested, smiling.

He glanced at her speculatively, not as if she were a little girl or a simple adventurer, but as a potential source of money. He bent over, eyes level to hers. "Keep talking."

Tanya grinned. "Additionally, you could force people who want to use Detonation to pay a fee for being able to use it over the city. You are, after all, giving them front row seats to some of the best experience they'll ever get."

The man grinned greedily, and Tanya smiled warmly, cackling internally. It seemed like she'd be able to participate after all.

He was still smiling, gray mustache quivering with excitement. "And if people don't participate because they don't want to pay, that means we'll have to pay fewer people, right?"

Tanya smiled benevolently as if she'd come up with the idea, and the man began to chuckle creepily. "I think I'll give you a cut of the profits for this one, if the idea goes through. Come back here in a few hours, and I'll tell you the results."

With that, the man rushed off. Tanya grinned. Another source of income was always good, and she was sure she'd be able to use more explosive spells than anyone here.

-OxOxO-

Tanya sighed as she sat on the bench. Darkness had wandered off somewhere else, saying something about helping with the preparations or buying something. Tanya had waved her off.

The problem of her gun was beginning to seem impossible. It had been decades since her last modern chemistry class, and she'd never touched the subject during her time in the Empire.

She took out her Registration Card. As always, several notices underneath her current job announced that she could easily change to another – Blacksmith, Archmage, Mage, Monk, Priest, Ranger, and Creator. Tanya sighed.

It was beginning to look like she might have to. Archmage would be best, if she wanted to continue on her quest to get that free wish. It would boost her magical abilities, and she wouldn't exactly need to have those Crafting skills if she wasn't going to be imbuing bullets with mana.

She shook her head. Until she could say that it would be unfeasible to make the stuff, she'd keep trying.

"Hey, Tanya. Fancy meeting you here," came a voice from behind her. Tanya shook her head at the drunkenness.

"What are you doing here, Dust? I thought you told us that you were just going to get drunk in the guild?" she asked, still staring up at the sky, trying to think of a way to make gunpowder.

"Yeah, well…" he trailed off. Tanya turned around.

She promptly shouted as the bench she was sitting on was pierced and jolted backwards, along with her guts.

Dust was not standing behind her. Rather, two people, one wielding the lance stuck in her guts, the other apparently normal, were smirking at her.

Neither looked especially impressive, except for that both had black hair. The one who hadn't tried to stick a large piece of sharpened metal into her guts had golden eyes, while the other had dark eyes.

They both must have been Reincarnates, then.

The one with the golden eyes opened his mouth, and the voice of Dust came tumbling out. "Thank you, Atheist. Your relics will be very helpful in our take down of the Demon King."

The lance was withdrawn from her gut, and Tanya gasped. A rather large hole now penetrated her organs, spilling precious fluids into the cold, cruel world.

The one with the lance high-fived each other. "Man, the pamphlet said she'd be difficult. That was easy!"

Tanya grit her teeth, letting their words wash over her. She needed to get away and get help. Killing the fools would come later.

"Now, we'll do as agreed. I couldn't have snuck up on her without your distraction, and you couldn't have beaten her with just your Shapeshifting," the one with the lance said to the other.

They began to discuss her relics, and what they were going to do. As if she were already dead.

Slumped onto the bench, a wide smile split her face. They were fools.

A mote of mana was born. Laboriously, it traveled through her soul, attempting to reach her head. Soon, it was there. Tanya lifted an arm.

Neither of them noticed. Tanya would have laughed maniacally, if she wasn't scared a lung had been punctured.

She pressed down on her head, and the mote flew towards the circlet resting on her head.

Tanya's grin only grew wider as she began to feel revitalized. She knew it was just the Pain-Reducing Reinforcement spell she'd doped herself with, but it was ffffffffiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiinnnnnnnneeeeeee.

The Active Barrier she'd placed in her guts to stop the internal bleeding and the Flight spell, whose force was usually applied to her entire body, pressed down on her wound, staunching the flow of blood.

Both seemed to be making noise.

"Is that a halo?"

Sounds of surprise.

"I thought she didn't have that circlet?"

Bubbly, girlish laughter escaped her throat as she began to rise from the ground, propelled by yet more Flight spells. Who cared about the content of their words? They'd almost killed her.

Getting healed would come after a bit of revenge!

The scepter on her back floated into her hands elegantly, and a wall of blue sprung into life, thrumming with mana. She opened her mouth, tempted to gloat. Her eyes narrowed as they began to draw their weapons.

She didn't have time for that. She didn't have the physical capability to contend with them and keep herself together.

Barely grasping her staff – even holding onto something took effort – she leveled the worst glare she could at them. Reds and yellows poured from the top of her scepter, hurling towards them and exploding on contact with whatever they hit.

Both managed to dodge. She glared madly at her staff. She needed her gun. Bullets traveled faster than they could react. They'd be dead if she had that.

It seemed, from their attire, that both of them had been here much longer than the other one who'd tried to kill her.

It made little difference.

Eight years of fighting in a modern war outpaced any experience they could have had during the life of a student and their weeks playing at being a hero.

Both managed to dodge a few more spells, and Tanya growled. She didn't have the time for this. Biting her lip hard enough to draw blood, a plan sprung to mind.

She needed to kill the weak link.

Her gaze shifted to the weaker of the two. The one with golden eyes. The one who'd taken the Shapeshifting ability.

An angered scream tore out of her throat, giving both of them pause. The anguished expression on her face shifted rapidly into one of gloating pride, and an Artillery Shot flew from her staff.

Furious eyes boring into her own, he managed to dodge, but that was fine. It hadn't been him she was aiming for.

The bench behind him exploded, sending pieces of metal and wood in all directions. Including into his body.

He was silenced. She turned to her other opponents, only to see he was screaming the name of the one who'd died. She laughed a bit.

A furious glare was sent her way. "How dare you laugh!? I am Hideyo Yamamoto, and armed with the Bulwark Breaker, I'll avenge my friend!"

Tanya laughed harder. He was monologuing in the middle of a battle. What an idiot!

She giggled. Not that their efforts would make a difference. She would kill them anyway.

He began to run at her, screaming, and she let it happen. He couldn't do anything, not with the mana she was fueling into her practically opaque active barrier.

The tip of the ornamental thing touched her shield, and Tanya screamed, falling to the ground and writhing in pain. Her mana left her shield, flooded through her body into the spell, only to be consumed in the dissolving shield.

Faster and faster, mana left her body. In the few glimpses she caught of the man's face, in between the wracking pain, he seemed rather stoic. He wasn't even pushing the ridiculous thing into her shield; it was just unravelling it.

She cut off the mana flow out of her body. The shields, the pressure on her wound, the mana in her circlet. All of it stopped. The pain wasn't back yet, but she didn't think that would last long.

She gasped. She… she had to pray, to give in to Being X. It was her only option-

He leaned down and snatched her visible Type 95, breaking the metal cord tying it around her neck. He tossed it behind him and continued to glare.

She began to take in deep, gulping breaths. If she gave in, acknowledge him as her god, then she could win, even without the-

NO! Never, she'd never, never give in! Being X was lying! He'd never help her, even if she did give in! He…

He'd already proved that! He…

She calmed down as she realized that…

This was it. She had almost no mana left, and with its departure, she had no strength. She was done. It was even getting hard to think.

Heaping gulps of air entered her diminutive body, Tanya took a look at the person standing over her. A scowl marked his face.

"Well?" she asked. Logic dictated he should kill her. She knew humans didn't always work on pure logic, but it was obvious what he should do.

She wondered if she'd get to see Viktoriya before she was cast into whatever punishment Being X had planned for her.

"I was sent here to take out you and the Demon King. I will do that. I just want to know. Why did you do it?" he said.

Tanya didn't have to fight to keep the smile from her face. She was too tired to smile.

He was letting her talk? She took another few gulps of air.

"Do what?" she gasped.

She could guess what he meant. She just wanted time. Every second was another speck of mana she might get.

"'Do What?' What do you think! Why did you oppose the Gods! How could you possibly think they're not holy, after everything you've seen?" he shouted.

Another few gulps. What could she do? She was out of options, without any mana…

Wait. She'd bought that piece of Manatite, right? It was in her bag.

"Look at my biography, if you're so interested," she spat. She needed to play into his expectations of a defeated villain on the verge of death. She inched her hand towards the bag at her waist.

"How did you…" he trailed off. He shook his head. "I've read that a few dozen times already, thanks. I want to know from the source."

Tanya kept breathing. It was beginning to grow steadier. Tanya just hoped that it wasn't a sign of her dying. The effects of the Pain-Reduction Reinforcement spell could last a long while, so she wasn't exactly sure how much pain she should be feeling.

"At first, it was just the principal of the thing. Why would some grand deity descend and stop time on the part of one atheist? But…" she trailed off, and he leaned towards her, resting his weight on his lance.

"Then, it became a bit more personal. Their meddling caused nations to go to war; caused millions of people to hurl themselves towards their 'enemies.' Oh, I don't doubt that the countries of my last life would have gone to war eventually on their own; but too many things pointed to 'divine' interference."

Taking long gasps of breath between each sentence, it seemed the fool was actually affected by her speech.

"The death of my comrades was just icing on the cake. They died with me, and this whole excursion has been a sort of last 'hurrah' for me. I…"

She sniffled pathetically, and his gaze softened. Tanya almost grinned.

Then it hardened again. "Then I'm sure you can understand how I feel about how you murdered my friend."

Tanya let out a gasping chuckle, moving her hands towards her abdomen, hoping he wouldn't notice her moving her hands towards her bag. "You tried to murder me. That I lasted this long was amazing. Besides…"

She grinned viciously at him. "How do you think you'll explain this to the authorities? I've been here longer, and I have friends. You two probably broke into the shop last night, too. Murder, breaking and entering; I will have my revenge. Hopefully, you'll end up behind bars for a nice, long while, if you aren't executed."

He glanced around worriedly, panic overcoming his face, and Tanya slipped a hand into her bag. Frantically, she searched for the thing. Where was it?

He turned back to her, and she relaxed her posture. Even the slightest suspicion that she might be able to win might send a lance through her head.

He sighed, and leaned on his lance again. "Honestly, I don't even want your stupid relics anymore. You killed my friend, and they'll be tainted."

Tanya shrugged. Her hand had been moving around silently, searching for the Manatite. It still hadn't made its way into her hand.

"Stop right there, criminal scum! How dare you attack an upstanding adventurer! You'll have to face me and torture me in order for me to stay silent."

Darkness burst into the area from behind a tree in the direction of one of the entrances of the park, her breathing labored and her face red.

He turned around, still resting on his lance, staring at the beauty incredulously. Tanya took that as her cue.

With what remained of her strength, she lunged towards her scepter and swung in a wide arc. It slammed into the man's lance.

He crashed to the ground cursing, unprepared to have his weight swept from under him.

Tanya couldn't support herself. Lying on her back, she shakily pointed the front of her scepter at him and shot the weakest Explosive Vaporization she could at him. It didn't even wound him.

Much.

A chunk of his arm had been blown off, and the man began to scream, but Tanya ignored it. Tanya just grunted. Through it all, Darkness had watched, sword in hand, unprepared.

"What are you waiting for? He tried to kill me!" she shouted, dumbfounded.

Darkness shook her head and raised her sword towards the screaming man.

She hesitated.

Tanya snarled, pressed the mana she had accumulated into her circlet, and shot another three Explosive Vaporization spells at him.

The rest of his body was blown apart, and his blood and guts were scattered all over the area.

Totally spent, Tanya collapsed. She'd used too much, too fast.

Covered in his remains, Darkness rushed over. "Tanya? Tanya, are you okay?"

Tanya gave her a shaky smile, and she managed to register Darkness's shout for help as she passed out.

Chapter Text

Groggy, foggy thoughts circled through Tanya's head. Well, she wasn't dead, then.

The last two times that that had happened, she'd been fairly cognizant of her surroundings. She was surprised, honestly.

The only people who knew serious healing magic were people with the Priest job. If Being X had just stopped them from healing her…

Well, she sure as hell wouldn't be feeling this bad, that was for sure. She'd be dead.

She opened her eyes, and looked around the room she was in. It was better than her stable, if the bed underneath her was anything to go by. No windows, very little in the way of physical possessions, besides…

Tanya glared. In an alcove on the wall, some sort of statue sat. It was definitely religious, if the wings on the back were anything to go by. Just under that alcove, Tanya's clothes, looking brand new, were neatly folded. Her hat rested on top of the pile, and the Type 95 sat next to it.

Sighing, Tanya began to run through what she liked to call her diagnostic check. The name was a bit of a misnomer – she wasn't a machine – but it reminded her of the technology of her first life, and it was much less disheartening than calling it a 'post-crisis checkup on her health and sanity.'

She tried to move her limbs. Each of those was working, even if they ached every time she even thought about moving them. Sitting up slightly, a peek underneath her sheets confirmed that she…

She frowned. She was naked, and her abdomen looked untouched, which would be bad ordinarily, but she was only confused due to the lack of even bandages.

She supposed in a world so replete with easy access to fast and efficient ways to fix people up, such things were unnecessary, but they did help to stop bleeding, at least until she got to the Priests.

She blinked. What if she made bandages?

She was making a gun, after all. There had to be a ton of things she could make to reap in a ton of cash.

Tanya filed the idea away for later and laid back down on the bed, glaring up at the wooden beams that held up the ceiling. At the very least, it was a good thing that this world wasn't practicing superstitious methods of bloodletting.

She laid there for an hour, thinking about trying to get up, regardless of the inevitable pain, when the door opened a crack. Tanya sent an inquiring look towards the door while simultaneously raising the sheet to cover her up to her shoulders, and a Priest peeked through.

"Hey, Degurechaff. I'm just here to cast a bit of healing magic," she said. Tanya raised an eyebrow at her.

She certainly didn't seem to be the type to be a nurse of some kind, with how… lacking her bedside manner was.

Tanya shook her head and refocused. She nodded hesitantly, her mind already conjuring the cost of repairing near-fatal wounds if a single broken rib had cost her 20,000 Eris. She would be paying this off for the next few months, at least.

The woman stepped in, and Tanya's brow creased. "You're the one who healed me a few weeks ago, right? What's your name?"

The woman nodded. "Ashley," she provided as she brandished her hand. Her hand glowed.

Tanya inhaled sharply at the squeamish feeling she felt as her insides… shifted. While decidedly uncomfortable, the fact that she didn't feel any pain meant she was probably close to being done recovering.

The woman got up to leave, when Tanya cleared her throat. The woman turned around, and Tanya asked the question that had been buzzing inside of her mind.

"Can you teach me a bit of Healing magic?"

Ashley seemed a bit surprised. "You're a Priest?"

Tanya shook her head. "An Adventurer, actually. If I'm going to get this injured, I should probably be able to heal myself, right?"

The woman looked thoughtful. She had every right to. There were very few people who could ask to be taught the magic instead of just being able to select the skill from a list.

She sighed. "Alright. As long as you can pay, I'm fine with whatever."

Tanya glowered at the woman, who raised her hands defensively. "Don't look at me that way. Organizing the Eris Thanksgiving Festival takes a lot of money in order to pay the guild to put out so many requests."

Tanya rolled her eyes and nodded anyway. It wasn't like she didn't expect it; she just did not have the money to be spending even more.

The woman smiled radiantly, and knelt at the side of Tanya's bed. Looking around, she picked up Tanya's scepter. "Hey, what are you-"

The woman poked the side of her own left arm with the tip, and a pinprick of blood formed on where it had touched her. "Now, what you're going to want to do is to focus on the mana in my body and guide it towards the wound."

Tanya, Adventurer Card in hand, stopped the motion she was making to learn the skill. "Wait. Does that mean you've been using my mana to heal me?"

She nodded. "You can only Heal others with your own mana if you have quite a lot of it."

Tanya nodded unhappily – she'd be bedridden for even longer – and chose the skill. She growled internally as the last two Skill Points she had disappeared.

Tanya held out a hand towards the woman, poking it above the covers. "Heal," she said as an odd feeling came over her. She knew where the mana of this woman was, and directed it towards the pinprick of blood.

Soon, the blood disappeared as it retreated into the body. The skin looked good as new, and Ashley clapped her hands.

"Wonderful! That you can control it to that degree already… would want to change jobs?" she asked, a hopeful expression playing across her face.

Tanya swallowed the acidic response she'd been about to spit out. The woman had taken the time to use Heal on her and teach her a useful skill, even if she was being paid. Tanya shook her head politely, and the woman sighed dejectedly.

She stood, making her way across the tiny room. As the woman left, she pointed to the dresser next to her bed. "By the way, the expenses for your treatment are there." She swiftly slammed the door shut.

Curiously, she picked it up. Her jaw dropped.

She saw red.

Any and all sympathy she'd had for Ashley evaporated. The injury she'd had last time, the cracked rib, had taken 20,000 Eris and a handful of minutes to heal.

The hole in her abdomen, by contrast, had been as large around as two baseballs and had almost went through her entire body, had taken over twenty four hours to heal, and cost her twenty times more.

She owed 400,000 Eris to the stupid church. She'd be paying that off for months. Maybe even a few years.

Ignoring the screaming pain in her legs, she shot from the bed, paper clutched in hand. "Ashley, get back here. How much did that skill cost? Ashley!"

Throwing her clothes on and ensuring both relics were secured in place, Tanya began hobbling along the short hallway of the church. She soon found herself in a large room dominated by pews with occupants sitting in them.

She scowled at them all, but shut her mouth. They wanted to worship some being in the sky they didn't even know existed? That was their problem.

She'd have no part of it though.

Hobbling faster, she walked down the aisles, searching for that Priest. Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw the entrance doors slowly gliding shut.

Grimacing at the pain, she hobbled faster, soon breaking into the bright light of-

Night.

It was night time. The streets were lit by magical means, providing the whole area with a more modern feel than she had expected. Of course, the huge bonfires and groups of adventurers could have something to do with the light.

Tanya didn't have enough mana. She'd miss out on the fireworks.

Tanya shook her head, searching for that priest. Ashley was nowhere to be found. She cursed under her breath. She must have slipped away while Tanya was dressing.

Dejectedly, she sat on the ground, back resting against a building. The crowds passed her by, heading towards the bonfires that had been lit. Tanya watched them pass, colors and sounds drifting passed her as she tried to think of a way she could get so much money.

"Tanya?"

She shook her head and looked up, only to see the legs of her teammate. "Oh, Darkness. Nice to see you." Tanya looked back down at the ground again. She really needed to figure out how to get that money. Maybe she could make something from her old world, like bandages, and sell it?

The sword in the Crusader's hands dropped to the ground, and Tanya looked up. "I knew you were a clumsy mess, Darkness, but really. We aren't even fig-"

She stopped short. While the Crusader might usually have enjoyed her scathing remarks, it didn't appear she'd even heard them. Her face, instead of blushing, seemed rather upset.

It seemed she'd been crying, as well. "Darkness?"

The Crusader knelt down and embraced Tanya. The next question she had died on her lips.

Well.

That was interesting. She had certainly felt a little touch-starved after a few weeks of interacting with her new assets and acquaintances in a professional and distant manner. This was…

This was nice.

Tanya shook her head. No, she had things to do, and waiting for Darkness to stop hugging her would probably take a while. Tanya continued to sit in her embrace for a little longer than was practical, but Tanya couldn't bring herself to care about practicality. Just for a moment.

Then she sighed. It was time to end this. "Hey, this is a bit sudden. We haven't even been adventuring together for a month and you're already making moves on me?" Tanya said. Darkness stiffened, and immediately stood, still holding Tanya.

"He- Hey Darkness. Why'd you pick me up? I'm not complaining, of course; everything still hurts. A little warning would have been-"

With that last remark, Darkness dropped Tanya like a sack of flour. Tanya swore as she hit the ground on her scepter. That would sting in the morning, along with all of her other injuries.

Picking her sword off the ground, Darkness readjusted her hair and said, "Honestly. We're having a moment, and you decide to say something like that and ruin everything."

Tanya stood shakily, ready to retort – everyone in the 203rd had made jokes that were much more crass – but then something caught Tanya's eye. A shock of the clothes of the Priests of this world. Tanya began to hobble after what she saw, and eventually tapped the person on their back.

"Hmm?" the person said as they turned around, dread leaching into her features as she realized who it was. "Ah… Degurechaff. We can't refund you, so please, leave-"

Tanya shook her head. "I'm not going to hurt you. Regrettably, it was you people who saved my life. I just want to know how much the skill cost."

Relief flooded the features of the priest, as did greed. "Another fifty thousand Eris, please."

Dread immediately resurface on the face of the priest as she saw the face Tanya made. The anger dissipated, replaced by a small frown. She still couldn't feel all that mad at the brown-haired Priest. She would have finally kicked the bucket otherwise. "Fine. How long do I have to pay?"

She told Tanya, who groaned. Darkness stood by, watching the interaction.

"Fine. I'll pay it off by then," Tanya said. She grabbed her bag from her waist, rifled through, and gave the woman all the money she had on her. It was everything she had saved, but it paid for three-quarters of the price.

With that, Tanya stalked away. Darkness, realizing that Tanya was leaving, shook her head and began to follow the diminutive girl.

Tanya was still focused on her bag. Where was the stupid-

"Aha!" she exclaimed, holding the red piece of Manatite she'd purchased at the Festival. "Why couldn't you show yourself back then? I'd have won handily if you'd just have shown up."

Darkness caught up to Tanya. "Tanya, I'm going to go home now."

Tanya turned on her. "Why? The bugs are going to be coming to town, right? There's a lot of experience to be had."

Darkness gestured around them, to the darkened streets located away from the main areas of the festival. "Well, you clearly aren't, and I can't hit anything anyway."

"Stupid knight," Tanya muttered under her breath. Said knight looked embarrassed and aroused, but Tanya ignored her. The stupid thing would have been a perfect chance to-

Wait. Tanya looked at the crystal in her hand and grinned. She could participate.

"What are you talking about, stupid knight? With this Manatite, I can throw one Explosive Vaporization out, at the very least," she declared as she drained the mana out of the thing. It felt much like how using Heal had, except she was directing the mana into her own body.

Revitalized, she set off towards the bonfire, Darkness following close behind. "To be surrounded and devoured by unfeeling insect monsters. Just the thought of it-"

Tanya turned around again, another idea forming in her head. "Hey Darkness. How'd you like to try something?" she asked, a malevolent smile tugging at her lips.

Darkness looked oddly apprehensive, but Tanya was sure she'd like it.

Probably.

-OxOxO-

The foreman looked surprised. "You're here?"

Tanya smirked. "Yeah. Sorry I wasn't able to get here yesterday. Something… came up."

The man nodded, and then gestured around himself. The adventurers who had been sedate yesterday were now all eyeing each other suspiciously. "As you can see, your suggestion has riled them all up. They'll compete with each other, driving up how many bugs we'll get and the price of admission as well."

Tanya's shoulders fell at that. She didn't have the money to participate anymore. Her own suggestion had come back to bite her.

"Say, what's wrong?"

Tanya told him she'd lost her money, and a troubled expression came over his face. "But aren't you…" he trailed off, glancing at her for some kind of confirmation.

Tanya still had no clue what he was talking about. "Probably not."

He seemed a bit troubled by this. He shook his head and said, "How about a bet?"

Tanya narrowed her eyes. She probably wasn't going to like this.

"I have the money I said I'd give you right here," he said, gesturing to a cloth sack at his waist. "You could take it now and be on your merry way. But," he said, twiddling his mustache, "if you kill the most bugs here, then I'll give you the profit and the largest prize. If you don't however…" he trailed off.

"You won't get any money."

Tanya's shoulders fell. Well, it was about what she was expecting. Tanya sighed.

First thing was first. "How much is in the bag?" she asked. If she could pay off her debts, then she'd take it.

“100,000 Eris.”

Tanya opened her mouth, wanting to take it. If she gave most of it to the greedy church, then she could get a loan from the guild, and – if Dust was anything to go by – get a larger-than-normal loan if she begged enough.

Just then, a voice rang out from behind Tanya. “Are you ready? They’re going to start soon, you know.”

Tanya turned around and stared at Darkness. Right, the woman had been enthusiastic about Tanya’s plans to use her as bait and to let her be engulfed in a fireball of power.

She looked at Darkness. She’d saved her life by distracting that Reincarnate, and Tanya had been able to go on harder quests, with her there. Plus, she’d get even more money.

Tanya shook her head. She needed the money now, especially if she was going to… reward Darkness…

She tried to repress the shiver. And, if she was rewarding Darkness, she would need to pay the money back for whatever new debts she would acquire.

Tanya sighed heavily. “Fine. I’ll agree to your wager. But you’re going to help me.”

An eyebrow raised, the man agreed. “Darkness,” Tanya said as the man walked away, heading towards the group of people holding torches, poised to drop them into the bonfire pits.

“The plan has changed.”

-OxOxO-

This was stupid. Unbelievably stupid, in fact, but she had little choice.

Darkness was standing on the largest rock that the two of them could find around the bonfire, while the foreman was standing behind Tanya. The fire had begun to spread, igniting each giant log of wood.

“So, how are you going to do this again?” the foreman asked, sounding very nervous and skeptical. Darkness looked just as nervous.

“You said you want a large explosion, right? Well, doing it on the ground would be hazardous. I’ll power up here, and then I’m going to send that rock, and Darkness on top of it, into the sky. She’ll use Decoy, attracting all the insects to her, and I’ll throw the largest spell I can at the rock,” she explained to the man.

"And just how are you going to 'power up'? Or send her into the sky, for that matter?" he asked logically.

"And how am I going to survive the fall?" shouted Darkness.

"You just will, alright? Don't doubt me," she shouted while doubting the plan.

She wanted that money, and she needed to pay off her debts, and she wanted to pay back Darkness a bit, so she'd do what she had to. Besides, what was the worst that could happen?

She sighed. A lot could go wrong, up to and including her starting a cult to worship Being X. However…

She did need to see what using the Type 95 here was like. It still had its curse – she could feel that – but if it was less powerful, she needed to know now. Learning in a somewhat controlled environment was far better than suddenly figuring it out on the battlefield.

Still, this plan was stupid, and not, as her accomplices thought, because she was sending Darkness into the air; she was sure she could catch her before she hit the ground, as long as her stats were buffed.

Speaking of which…

"Hey Darkness. Do you want me to enhance you?" she shouted. Darkness, peering down from the one-story-building sized boulder, looked curious.

"You can…? Well, what can you do?" she asked.

"Strength, Dexterity, Agility, and Pain-Reduction," she replied. Darkness looked affronted.

"You would- would deprive me of the pain of a Detonation spell and hundreds of insects? How cruel!" the Crusader moaned. Tanya sighed.

"Reinforcement spell: Strength!" she shouted, pointing towards Darkness. With that done, Tanya pushed her hat down onto her head.

A great heat wave hit all three, and they turned to look at the bonfire. It was beginning, then. Tanya sighed, and turned towards the foreman. "Remember when I start chanting, I want you to brace my shoulders. Use all of your strength."

Without hearing his response, she fed a mote of mana into the Circlet, giggling as she felt her pitiful mana reserves swell. Twirling her staff – using magic; she had no strength to speak of – she planted the bottom of the thing into the flagstones, cracking them.

The faint sound of buzzing reached Tanya's ears, and she nodded. A quick adjustment of her scepter pointed it towards Darkness.

"He- Hey Tanya? I'm not sure about thi-" was all Darkness could say before she was sent hurtling into the air. The foreman muttered nervously behind her, but Tanya didn't have time to notice. She began chanting a prayer, activating the full power of the Type 95.

"Oh Lord, please grant this weary traveler in a land far from home and full of nonbelievers a boon with which to rain destruction on the mindless beasts of this heretical land."

With that, the intricate screen of an Observation spell bloomed to life in front of her, tracking the stone's every movement.

She began laughing.

She had way too much mana. It actually hurt a bit, to have so much energy available.

That was fine, however; as long as she was using the blessed Type 95, nothing could stop her in this uncultured land.

"Uh… are you sure that you can hit something that high up?" the man asked, firm grip still attached to her back. The other adventurers had turned towards them.

Soon, the rock reached the peak of its arc through the air, coming to a stop, for a moment. As it did, swarms of insects – beetles, mantises, anything that could fly – swooped down from the clouds, attracted to the flying Crusader and her Decoy skill.

She grinned, pouring more and more mana into her staff. It was glowing brightly at this point, and bright flares of mana lashed out from the top of it.

She inhaled, and as the rock began to fall, shouted. "Artillery Shot!"

The flagstones the scepter was embedded in cracked, she and the foreman were sent flying backwards, a globe of pure light shot out of the scepter, and the crowd of adventurers gasped.

She readjusted herself, righting herself with Flight spells, and watched as the spell traveled.

In the lapse where she had been sent end over end, the spell had already traveled a hundred feet towards the stone. Every other adventurer, those who had been staring at them and those who hadn't, now watched it make its progress. By now, it seemed as if the sun had risen again.

She sighed appreciatively. It sure looked nice, but so much of her precious, holy mana wouldn't have been leaked if she had her gun already.

The spell pushed upwards, streaking towards the stone. A brilliant flash erupted as it detonated on impact.

Billowing heat erupted from the sphere, growing, growing, growing. Expanding until it encompassed the rock, the bugs, the clouds. All of it was blown away in the heat and light, delivered to her.

Then the smoke. What little had survived the explosion – the bugs on the other side of the rock she had detonated – was swallowed up in the fireball of smoke.

Then came the sound. An all-encompassing roar as air was displaced, followed by the shattering of anything made of glass.

She grinned. Now, it was on to kill the Demon King!

Tanya frowned. No, Tanya had to save Darkness and then deactivate the Type 95. That was the plan.

But that plan was so boring! It would be much better to fight and kill and hurt and-

She shook her head and took a deep breath. No, she wouldn't be controlled by this thing. She looked up again.

Tanya sighed as she watched the explosion fade. No one could top that. The man who'd braced her against the force of the spell gasped, horrified. "What did you just do!?"

Tanya turned to him. "I won our bet. I'll be taking my money now, thank you very much."

The man, terror and anger on his face, grabbed two sacks at his waist and thrust it into her hands. "Here. Two hundred thousand Eris. Now leave!"

Tanya tilted her head, curious. "It's not my fault you weren't prepared."

The man, face turning an interesting shade of red and purple, began to speak slowly. "I was prepared for a Detonation spell. I wasn't prepared for an Explosion spell! That was completely overkill, and it damaged the town! Who's going to pay for all that, huh?"

Tanya shrugged. "I don't know. I gotta go catch Darkness, so… see you around!" she shouted, whispering a Reinforcement spell under her breath. With that, she ran off. She wouldn't want to be seen flying after all.

Leaving behind a crowd of angry adventurers and townspeople, Tanya made her way into a darkened alleyway. A quick Observation spell told her she was alone.

Tanya activated an Optical Decoy spell, and then took off from the ground, searching for Darkness. She had probably been launched even higher up. Another Observation spell was activated, and Tanya stretched it to her limits.

There.

Something registered, and Tanya flew towards it, soon arriving at the almost entirely de-clothed Darkness. Tanya giggled a bit as she applied a few Flight spells to the woman slowing her descent. She would have taken a moment to admire her, but she was cartwheeling towards the ground.

Assured they were falling at the same rate, Tanya grabbed Darkness in a typical bridal carry, and sped off towards the guild.

Darkness came to, and looked around. Tanya tried to ignore her inquiring gaze, focused on getting to the Guild.

"…Tanya?"

Tanya winced, but remained silent. She was running on fumes, and the Circlet could only boost what was already present. She blinked.

She hadn't deactivated that?! She was still being influenced!

She took a calming breath. If she ran out of mana, they'd both end up as pancakes. She would have to let it happen, and take whatever mana high this thing bestowed upon her as well.

A minute of howling wind filled the silence of their nonexistent conversation, and then they landed near the guild. Tanya set Darkness down, and sighed in relief.

She quickly undid her mantle and passed it to the girl, and she quickly covered what was left of her clothing in the thing. Tanya sighed.

"Well, it seems everything turned out alright. Darkness…" Tanya trailed off, looking at the woman's face.

Blushing, heated, and panting, Darkness asked, "Can we do that again?"

Tanya blinked slowly as the effects of the Circlet drained away. "No."

The woman groaned in pleasure, and Tanya shook her head. "Here, take these," she said, handing the bags of money to the Crusader.

She tilted her head. "What do you want me to do with these?"

Tanya rolled her eyes. "Pay off my debts, obviously. There should be two hundred thousand in those, so I want fifty back," she turned towards the entrance to the alley, when Darkness's voice rang out.

"Why- why won't you do it?"

Without turned around, Tanya said, "I'm too weak. And you can do it right? After all…"

Tanya turned her head to Darkness, smiling. "We're friends, right?"

She knew the line was cheesy, but Darkness didn't seem to get the concept of friendship yet.

She had saved her life without needed to. She was under no orders to protect her, like the 203rd, and she could easily have left her if she wanted to.

With one last smile, Tanya activated a burst of a Reinforcement spell and sped home. Weaving through street after street, stall after stall, knowing full well that she would be out for a nice, long while after all this magic.

Until she didn't.

She stopped in front of one. The sign above the small table had the words 'Magical Items' written across it.

Bottles, orbs, and other miscellaneous objects sat on the table. A woman with red hair and skin as pale as the moon was slouched over, head resting on her hand as she stared hopefully at passing adventurers. Each one took a look at her merchandise, and then made a hasty retreat. It was… what was her name?

Wiz, that was it!

"Hey Wiz!" Tanya greeted, walking towards the woman's stand. Said woman looked entirely too sad.

She perked up. "Tanya?"

Tanya nodded and walked forward. "Sorry I haven't been able to come over. I've had things to do," she said.

Which was the truth. The past few days had been hectic, and she didn't have the money to spend anyway.

Tanya looked at the various products. "So… you make magic products, right? Tell me about some." She had an extra fifty thousand, after all. She might be able to buy some.

"Of- Of course!" she said, rising from the sitting position. Bottles were displayed, with odd effects.

"This one, when drunk, will boost the power of the Paralyze spell, increasing its area of effect!" she said, holding a brightly colored yellow bottle under my nose.

She flinched away before I could back up, but hope was still alive in her eyes. "Er… sorry. I can't use that spell…" Tanya trailed off.

The woman nodded. Perhaps because Tanya hadn't fled immediately, she tried to get her to buy anything.

Potions that she couldn't utilize because she was an Adventurer, oils that enhanced the power of attacks at the cost of the users own health, even items that helped with daily conveniences. Nothing interested Tanya; she could already do most of that on herself, or she wasn't too fussed about convenience.

The woman fell to the table, dejected. Tanya patted the woman. "Sorry I don't need anything, Wiz."

The woman's form shuddered. "It's fine. I suppose I'm used to it by now, anyway…" she trailed off, resting her forehead against the table.

Tanya looked at the table, for anything that hadn't been shown to her. A rack of potions, all colored red caught her eye. "What about those?" she asked.

The woman looked up. "Oh, those? They just explode on impact with something."

Explode?

They exploded?

On impact?

Tanya's eyes grew wide, and a smile on her face began to grow wider. "How much are they?" she asked stiffly.

The woman looked up. "Sorry?"

Tanya bent over the table, gripping the woman's arms. "I said: how much for those? I'll pay anything."

The woman, surprised by her intensity, began to speak. "Well, since it is the Eris Thanksgiving Festival, I bought a lot of them, since there aren't usually many people who can use Detonation or Blast. But because someone killed almost all of the insect monsters, no one's come to buy them. I'm actually going to go over there, since they think someone cast Explosion, and they want and expert's opinion," she babbled.

Tanya tried to keep her face blank.

It seemed she'd deprived the woman of quite a bit of her money. Well, she was going to be helping out now, right?

"How much?" Tanya repeated.

"Each potion only costs ten thousand Eris…"

Tanya winced, but she nodded anyway. This was it. This was what could substitute for gunpowder. "I don't have the money with me, but I will buy five of them tomorrow."

The woman's eyes grew big. "Tha- Thank you. Could you please let go of me? Your grip is painful…"

Tanya immediately let go, apologizing profusely. Then she began to laugh. It was probably the exhaustion, but she didn't care. "Thanks to you, I'll finally be able to recreate gunpowder! Thank you, Wiz!"

With that, she turned around, and sped off towards the stables. She needed to get to sleep so she could get her money from Darkness.

Her… friend.

She sighed. Pretending that everyone always worked for their own personal self-benefit only worked in economics. Logic wasn't the only foundation of the world or of most people, even if it was her preferred one.

Tanya had opened herself to emotion, and emotion had driven her to get revenge on Being X for reincarnating her the first time and killing the Viktoriya and the 203rd. What was a bit of friendship, compared to that?

-OxOxO-

Darkness, left in the dust of Tanya, began to walk out of the alleyway automatically. Her friend?

"I guess I'll go give these to Ashley, then…" she mused to herself, mind clearly dwelling on the battle-hardened girl winding through the streets of Axel.

Her friend?

Darkness smiled. That had been the whole point of becoming an adventurer.

Well, one of the points. Avoiding her father's pleading that she get married and getting to experience the brutality of monsters were others. But…

She sighed. Her father had spoiled her, after her mother's death. He hadn't wanted her to be upset, and had kept away anyone that could be considered a friend, leaving only the greedy sons of other nobles – possible suitors – to play with her.

Darkness panted at that thought. Filthy, corrupt, wife-beating nobles…

She shook her head. She was thinking about Tanya.

The leader of their duo. Someone who, despite their insistence to the contrary and oddities, must have been a noble. It wasn't even just the physical characteristics.

It was the haughtiness she displayed when confronted with certain things, like unpaved roads or people acting like they were better than her. She clearly expected to be respected, despite her insistence that she wasn't what she thought she was.

And her name. Not only was it pretty long, it had three names, like her own. No commoner would ever think of doing something like that.

Darkness pouted as she remembered her efforts to figure out her past. There wasn't a single 'Degurechaff' in the registry of nobles, and her father, when she'd asked, had never heard of someone with such a name.

Still. Her powers meant she had to be noble; all of the nobles, after all, were at least distantly related to someone who had defeated a Demon King in the past. Besides the Crimson Demons and Hero Candidates, only nobles had the kind of power she did.

She must have been some sort of rare Priest-noble as well; she could cast support magic, and she had learned Heal from that Eris cult priest. Tanya had an aptitude for it, which meant she must have been the daughter of a high-ranking noble, bred to be a king's loyal representatives to their church.

Her musings were interrupted, in a moment, by her realization that she'd made it to the Church. She glided inside, and soon found Ashley, head bowed in prayer, along with everyone else.

Darkness tapped her on the shoulder. She looked up, and Darkness handed her both bags. "There is two hundred thousand Eris. Please take what you're owed."

The woman nodded and rose from her seat, walking towards the area where only the priests and those they healed could enter, and not looking at her lack of good clothing. The accusing glares of other worshipers pierced her, and their unhappiness that she was only wearing Tanya's mantle and what little was left of her armor was palpable.

Her face blushing madly, Darkness sat in the seat Ashley had vacated only moments earlier and bowed her head to hide her blushing and panting and-

Then, after a moment, she was finished. She didn't exactly have a lot to do right now…

Well, she was already there with her head bowed in prayer. She might as well pray and thank Eris for her good fortune.

-OxOxO-

She sat in her chair, filling out yet more paperwork.

That made a total of three.

Three people, innocent and young, had been sent after that madwoman, had been reincarnated, with explicit instructions to attempt to kill a war veteran armed with relics that could match anything the Gods could make.

Three more people were killed, in addition to the hundreds they'd tried to throw at the Demon King.

Eris sighed. She prayed that Aqua would actually do her own paperwork, instead of shifting it to her, but she did as she was ordered regardless. She filled out the forms that stated that another Reincarnate had been killed.

Pretty soon, they'd need to send someone down there to seal them again.

A feeling overcame Eris, and she sat in her chair, blissful. Right, the Eris Thanksgiving Festival was taking place. Smiling happily, she let the feelings of thankfulness wash over her.

They really made the job worthwhile.

Suddenly, she realized she'd received a prayer from one of her Crusaders. Smiling warmly, she let the voice reach her ears.

"Oh Goddess Eris. Thank you. I've prayed, day after day, for a friend. I became an adventurer, and I met one eventually. It must be thanks to you!"

Eris nodded sadly. It was Lalatina, then?

The woman who'd become an adventurer in the hope of finding friends that weren't nobles trying to get at her father's status. Her smile faded a bit.

Eris's eyebrows creased as she went over the words again. She didn't remember arranging for her to meet someone...

She'd been planning to meet the girl herself, actually, whenever Aqua was told to seal the relics. The work would, of course, be pushed onto her, and she'd need to go down.

She continued to listen to the prayer. "She is bossy, exacting, and powerful. She has plenty of secrets… but then, so do I. And she understands my desires. So I thank you, Eris, giving me the chance to meet this girl."

Eris nodded worriedly at that, hoping for a name. What was this person's name? How had they so thoroughly entranced her-

A gasped broke free from her throat as she heard the dreadful, horrible sentence that followed. She ran it through her head, over and over, like a record. She shot to her feet, paperwork forgotten. No, not forgotten.

It was just insignificant in the face of this crisis. She'd ask to be able to go down and seal the relics, and help her Crusader as well. Aqua could survive for a while without her, right?

She began to search all of Heaven for the one The Atheist called Being X, a sentence cycling through her head.

"I thank you for letting me meet Tanya von Degurechaff."

-OxOxO-

Tanya yawned as she rose from the pile of hay in her stable, stretching languidly. Then she remembered what had happened last night, and shot out of bed.

"The Explosion Potions!"

Grinning madly, she dressed in record time. Today, she'd get that potion. If she put a bit of it into each cartridge…

She'd finally be able to have her gun, as long as she had enough points in her Smith skill. Bullets would rain down on the monsters, and she'd be set to continue towards getting that wish.

Of course, she needed to start patrolling Axel. Leaving the other reincarnates to their own devices was a mistake, as the second day of the festival had shown. So she'd stay in Axel for a bit, raising her level.

It wasn't like that was odd. There were some adventurers who had been in Axel for ten years, despite the fact that it took, at most, five to get to the point where you were expected to leave.

That Tanya was advancing so fast was extraordinary to Luna, but Tanya thought it was pretty par for the course. She had already been isekai'd once, after all. She had experience with rising through the ranks of the unremarkable to stand out to her superiors.

Happily, Tanya began her walk to the guild. She needed to get her money from Darkness, after all.

Whistling merrily, Tanya made her way through the city quickly. Lingering might open herself up to attack. Who knew how many Reincarnates were gunning for her?

She arrived at the Guild, only to be brought up short. The windows, usually shining brightly in the early morning light, were gone. She winced.

She'd done that, right?

Slowly, she made her way in. She gasped.

Two stereotypical European knights – proper ones, with plate armor, chain mail, and helmets – were consulting with Luna. Five more were positioned throughout the guild, asking other adventurers or staff questions.

Tanya gulped, and slowly turned around, trying to leave the guild.

"Halt!" Tanya heard. She ignored them, attempting to act as though she hadn't heard them.

One of them grabbed her shoulder, and Tanya fought the urge to spin around and try to attack the person. Trying to convey confusion and a bit of fear, she turned around. "How can I help you, mister?"

She asked her question in the highest pitched voice she could without it cracking. Even after years, she could still make it sound as innocent as back in Dacia. That she hadn't developed physically meant that she could abuse people's preconceptions.

The blue-clothed old man who'd stopped her seemed slightly moved by her performance, but he pushed on regardless. "I'm Gerrard, the current Head of Police in Axel. We're investigating the usage of an Explosion spell to destroy the insect swarm from last night's Eris Thanksgiving Festival."

He certainly looked like a policeman. Blue clothing with yellow highlights, a small cap adorned the man's head. A thin mustache sat above his lip, and a sheaf of papers was clasped in the hand he wasn't using to stop her. Behind him, two of the seven knights present stood there, menacingly.

The fact that he existed was odd, considering the fact that the concept of a police officer wasn't very old, especially in her last world. What were they doing in medieval times? Had some Reincarnate introduced the concept to the ruling class?

Dismissing the question, Tanya tilted her head and tried to appear innocent. "But mister Head of Police sir, I'm not an adventurer."

"Then what about your clothing?"

Tanya's eyes widened a fraction, before she looked down at them, quickly attempting to retain her innocent ploy.

"Oh, these? I didn't know they were adventuring clothes. They were in the back of mama's closet, in a box marked 'for sexual play.' There were a bunch of ropes in there, too. Could you tell me what that means, mister? 'Sexual?'" Tanya asked.

The man looked incredibly uncomfortable, and Tanya sighed in relief internally. As soon as she got out of there, she'd go to the Blacksmith's and lay low. Or maybe Wiz's shop? Regardless, the man's stammered apology was coming out, and Tanya was going to be set free.

The lack of weapon was probably helping her. She'd left it embedded in the street, and she'd need to get it as soon as-

"Hello Tanya!"

Oh no.

Darkness, unaware of her predicament, trotted up to her from a nearby table. "That explosion last night was one of the best feelings ever. Are you sure you can't do it again?" she said, a pleading look on her face.

The Head of the Police's face, by contrast, seemed to be vaguely interested. Tanya's face was undoubtedly strained.

"Oh, here you go, by the way," she said, handing over a bag of money. "This is what's left. Are we going to go adventuring today? I know you don't have all that much money for some reason, so I don't mind."

Darkness continued to talk mindlessly. As the man's face became more smug – with a hint of empathetic regret present – Tanya's face became more and more strained as she attempted to bite through her own jaw.

Finally, the accursed woman stopped talking, and she began to look between the policeman, his two guards, and Tanya. Maybe it had finally dawned on her what was going on.

"'Something you found in your mother's closet', huh?" the man asked. The two knights at his side motioned to the others in the guild. They brought with them the stares of most of the guild.

Tanya laughed nervously. "Well, you know…"

She trailed off, eyes cast down at the floor. While she tried to look as regretful as possible, she was already planning her escape. As soon as there wasn't a roof above her, she'd leave.

A quick stop at the Blacksmith's and Wiz's, where she'd get everything she'd made, and then she'd leave. There had to be nations all around the Kingdom of Belzerg. One of them should be willing to harbor her, right?

Surrounded by seven knights, the police chief held up the papers in his hand, reading to Tanya. "You are suspected for several counts of destruction of private property, destruction of public property, and the murder of two adventurers. You will come with us, and you will be subject to interrogation."

Tanya nodded solemnly. A noise to her left showed her Darkness, looking rather conflicted. Right, Tanya needed to rescue her. She might be imprisoned in her place, and abandoning her friend didn't sit well with Tanya.

The man pointed towards the doors. Tanya turned around, wondering how'd she save Darkness as well.

The woman in question jumped in front of the group of nine. "Stop! I won't let you take Tanya alone!" She declared.

Tanya's eyes widened. Wow, she hadn't really expected that from-

"You'll have to take me too. And once you have me completely at your mercy, you'll abuse your power as the Head of the Police to ravish me, right? You'll be forced to use dirty tactics in order to get me to comply with your orders and as all of the knights hold me down, you'll take out your anger at me. Right?" she asked, lust shining in her pale blue eyes.

Tanya swiftly retracted her compliments.

The Head of the Police looked rather uncomfortable. "No. If you wish to accompany your friend, you are free to do so."

Two knights moved aside, and Darkness was in the circle with Tanya, blushing madly. Tanya let the pity she felt for the woman fade and grinned to herself. Now, she'd be able to make an escape, and they'd be able to survive.

"That was stupid," Tanya commented. Darkness moaned weakly, and Tanya sighed dejectedly.

"I know," the woman said. A flash of confusion twisted Tanya's face. She knew?

"But I have a plan."

"You do?" Tanya asked nervously. Not that Tanya doubted her own plan; she had knowledge of the future and a job that favored survival over power or efficiency. She was fairly sure that she could outwit a bunch of medieval bumpkins.

But if Darkness had an idea that didn't involve fleeing to another country, Tanya wasn't exactly against it.

Darkness nodded. "I have a bit of understanding of the laws, so I think I can save you without resorting to… that," she muttered.

Tanya whistled appreciatively. Access to those laws was probably restricted, so that she'd been able to get to them spoke of the woman's resourcefulness. Whatever 'that' was supposed to be, she didn't know, but this might actually not be as bad as she had thought.

Tanya knew she should stop doubting the woman. It was just that her kink was quite distracting from her good qualities.

"Alright. I'll go with your plan instead of mine."

Darkness nodded, and they began to walk along the streets of Axel. People were made to move out of their way, and they arrived in the more affluent portion of Axel.

City houses larger than the entire guild lined the road in this part of town. Tanya had never taken the time to visit, considering how busy she was.

The windows here weren't even broken. Tanya asked Darkness about that.

"Oh, the manors and their wealthy owners always get preference. Since the guild has already paid for the trouble you caused, new windows have been installed everywhere in this area of the city."

The furious scribbling of the police chief told Tanya to elbow Darkness in the stomach. She didn't even flinch. "Is that how weak you are without buffs?"

Tanya looked down at the ground, muttering. She knew it didn't help her situation, but if made her feel just a little bit better. "Stupid fantasy world. Stupid video game terms. Stupid, stupid, illogical world!"

Darkness, wisely, distanced herself from Tanya. Soon enough, after braving the harsh stares of passersby and others, they arrived at the police station. Just as they entered, Darkness uttered something that would have made Tanya stop in her tracks, if it weren't for the knights surrounding them.

"Don't worry, Tanya. As long as they use the magical item that can see through lies, we'll be fine. They'll soon realize this was all a big misunderstanding."

The knights behind her quickly ushered her into the two-story brick building, pushing her back. Tanya walked along, mind on Darkness's words.

A truth-detecting device? That didn't sound good…

Trying desperately not to panic, they were soon ushered into a small room. Two tables were present. One was occupied by a blond haired man, who, judging by the papers arrayed in front of him, was probably some sort of scribe. The other had no occupants.

Tanya walked in, but turned around when a shout echoed behind them. "Hey, wait! I'm trying to support-"

The Head of the Police continued to cross his arms as the knights grabbed Darkness. Her face was red, but she did seem actually upset. "No means no," the police chief said.

"We'll interrogate you later. Please wait in one of the cells," he said. Tanya's eyes widened.

There went her legal support.

The door slammed shut, and the Head of the Police sat down in a chair. Motioning towards the other one, Tanya took that as her cue to sit.

Well, she could still break out if anything went wrong. It would be harder, with the building around her, but an Explosive Vaporization or two would help negate that problem.

The man set something down on the table. "Do you know what this is?" he asked.

Tanya gave it a glance. It looked like some sort of bell, with two halves. The left was light and had a simplified bird's wing on it, while the other was dark purple and had a bat's wing on it.

Clearly some sort of evil vs. good motif. Tanya raised an eyebrow, and the man sighed. "I'll take that as a no, then. It's a magical device that ensure you're telling us the truth."

Tanya didn't answer. It would be very, very important that she did not lie and that she did not tell the truth. Well, as far as the number of people she'd killed.

Because she had killed a few hundred at least, and telling someone that was likely to get her imprisoned for a very long time, or for as long as they could hold her.

"For the record, we need to know a bit about you. Bureaucracy, right?" he said, attempting to tell a joke. Tanya stayed quiet. He was probably going to try some sort of good-cop bad-cop thing.

Why else would you be nice to someone who had shown the capability to shatter the glass of nearly every building in town?

The man sighed at her lack of laughter. "Alright then. Where are you from, and what did you do before you became an adventurer?"

Tanya licked her lips. Tough questions meant that she'd try to give vague answers.

"I am from the Empire. I worked for the military."

The mustached man in front of her blinked rapidly, then glanced at the bell on the table. It made no noise.

He squinted at it. "I am a woman," he declared.

The thing made a light chime, and he looked back at her. "To recruit a twelve-year-old…" he wondered.

"I am physically sixteen."

The scribbling of the scribe behind her stopped, and both men, again, looked at the bell. "I work for the Demon King," the police chief said. It chimed again.

Silence reigned, and then the chief cleared his throat. "Moving- Moving on. I haven't ever heard of a place called 'Empire' before…"

Tanya said nothing. She wasn't answering anything that might implicate her. Seemingly put off by her previous answer and her unwillingness to let her lips flap, he cleared his throat.

"So, what were you motives for becoming an adventurer?"

Tanya answered immediately. "I want to kill the Demon King."

Ding.

The policeman stared at her, eyes wide, and Tanya smiled nervously. How to word it…

"I want to personally take revenge for a crime done to me, and combating the Demon King is part of that," she answered, smiled strained.

The bell failed to go off, and the scribe behind her continued to write.

The police chief looked suspicious, and Tanya didn't blame him. She had gotten caught in her lie.

"Alright, then. Now, to recap your crimes. The thousands of counts of destruction of private property, including the windows of every building in town as well as the counts of the destruction of public property, mostly in the park, were paid for by the guild, as per usual. You'll have to take up your debts and their payment with them."

Tanya nodded eagerly, internally grateful that she was only being prosecuted for one crime.

"…However, you did murder two fellow adventurers. The only reason you're not being executed for disturbing the peace is that various members of the guild swear that you are competent and powerful, and with the way the war is going, we need people like you," he explained.

Tanya swore she'd treat every person in that place to the best booze she could find, even if she got put into more debt.

The silence stretched on, and Tanya took the time to answer. If she worded things correctly, she might be able to avoid jail-time.

"It was self-defense," she offered. The bell didn't ring.

"Irrelevant. You still killed two people who could have been assets to the Kingdom by fighting monsters and the Demon King."

Tanya's mouth puckered. Then, the man's words sparked an idea.

"What if they became Adventurers under false pretenses? What if they never intended to kill the Demon King?" she asked him.

The man peered at her speculatively. "Go on," he said. Tanya began to talk.

"I know for a fact that the two of them were hired to kill me, and that they were planning on collecting the reward as soon as I was dead," she declared, standing from her seat.

She also knew they might try and kill the Demon King, but what she had said was the truth.

He glanced at the soundless bell and scowled. "If they were hired to kill you, then…"

He stood and bowed at the waist. "I apologize for assuming you would do something to harm the Kingdom. You will be released promptly."

Tanya smirked. It seemed she would get out of this without being implicated in scandal. "Well, it's only right. With this thing, you know I'm not lying."

The man nodded. "Just a few more questions."

"You haven't talked to any members of the Demon King's army, and you haven't committed any other crimes, right?"

Tanya rolled her eyes. "How would I have? This is the town of beginning adventurers. And even if I have, it would be because they're a spy or something."

The police chief nodded absently. "And the other question?" he asked, seemingly regretting the whole thing.

"No, I haven't committed any other-"

Ding.

The police chief stared at her with renewed interest, while Tanya was trying to come up with what else she'd done.

Her first life?

No, nothing would be considered a crime from there. What about her second?

Oh right. She'd killed several hundred people. But she'd been a soldier! That had to mean it was a part of her job instead of a crime. Right?

Of course… there were the borderline war crimes. Like bombing the capital of a nation while giving them the impression that a kid was pranking them. Or the bombing of a bunch of civilians that were considered 'enemy soldiers' since they hadn't followed orders to evacuate. Or her attack on the enemy capital, where she had personally destroyed several of their most important cultural landmarks and sang her country's anthem above the destroyed city.

And there was always what had happened during the next few years of war against the Russy Federation…

The police chief was still staring at her. Tanya needed to come up with something.

Wait. What about this life?

Tanya breathed a heavy sigh of relief. "Right. On my first day in Axel, a thief attempted to kidnap me. I might have also killed him…"

The police chief nodded. "How long ago was that?"

"About a month."

He nodded, fears apparently abated. "Well, then. Since he tried to kidnap you, I suppose you're fine. You're free to go. Take your weird friend with you, please."

Tanya nodded, and rose quickly. She needed to leave before she got asked anymore uncomfortable questions.

As she left the small room, she heard another question. "Just how many people have you killed?"

Tanya froze, for a moment. The scribe's pen had stopped. Tanya began to sweat, but she kept her mouth firmly shut.

The man's chair made sound as it was moved, and Tanya assumed he was staring at the back of her head.

How many had she killed?

She wasn't even sure, but she knew it was in the hundreds. Maybe even over a thousand.

She hadn't had the bravery to look at that section of her Adventurer's Card yet. She didn't want to acknowledge how much damage she'd personally caused. It was a massive, utter waste, and she didn't want to know.

There was one thing she knew, thought. She had killed a great many people more than three.

Just then, the door burst open. Two knights rushed in and, brushing passed her easily, began to furiously whisper to the Head of the Police. The man's eyes grew to the size of saucers.

"You mean-!" he began to shout. One of the knights cut him off with a rapid shake of the head. The police chief turned to her, fear evident.

"We- We apologize for doubting the veracity of your words, Tanya von Degurechaff. Please excuse our insolence!" he shouted, bowing deeply at the waist. The other two knights followed suit.

Tanya, confused about the situation, replied uneasily. "Alright…"

They stayed there, bent at the waist. For a minute, everyone stood stock still. "Well!" Tanya said, louder than necessary, "I think I'll just find my way out then."

No one said anything, and Tanya walked out.

Creepy.

A thought struck her. The creepy Shapeshifting guy and his accomplice. What had been done about them?

Tanya turned around, and the three men stiffened. "Hey, what did you guys do about the two adventurers who tried to kill me?"

One of the knights spoke, still bent at the waist. "We sent the bodies to the pauper's cemetery. Their belongings are currently being kept as evidence, along with- with your weapon, ma'am."

Tanya felt weird. Only the members of the 203rd, during those first few months, and a few of the more brown-nosing foot soldiers had acted this scared of her.

"Well… can you take me to them?"

The subtle shaking of the Head of the Police was hardly noticeable, but the clanking armor of the knights was much harder to miss. What were they so scared of?

The police chief stood up straight. "I will-" he started to say, voice high pitched and cracking like a tween. He cleared his throat hastily. "I will escort you, Miss Degurechaff."

Tanya nodded hesitantly, and followed the man out of the room. The scribe cast an inquiring look at the knights, who began to explain.

Before she could see his expression, the Head of the Police was out the door. Tanya followed the man's fast pace, and they eventually arrived at a room. Behind the heavy iron door, a room full of equipment lied.

Tanya whistled appreciatively and began to walk towards a box. She found the lance of that Hideyo guy. It looked just as gaudy as last time. "Can I take this?" she asked speculatively.

"Of- of course, ma'am!" the man shouted from the entrance to the room. Tanya tried to ignore the man's nervousness, and soon found her own scepter.

Or what was left of it, at least. The top of it, claws and jewel, had been completely changed. The gem was gone, actually, while the claws were all twisted. Tanya uttered a tsk-tsk as she stared at it. That was why using guns and bullets was so much better.

It was very hard to warp something that was completely symmetrical and didn't have the ability to store lots of mana. That sort of thing tended to overheat, leading to the mangled mess before her.

Well, it seemed pretty useless, but she'd take it anyway. She needed to remove and fix the Seitengewehr at least. She'd probably trash the rest, or something.

She thanked the man, and he led her to the entrance. Soon they arrived at the entrance. He still seemed terrified.

She hated it. Fear didn't really help in the long run, and if someone saw that the chief of police was scared of her, that would undoubtedly reflect badly on her.

"How about we reintroduce ourselves?"

The man blinked. "Huh…?"

He'd thought he'd done everything correctly. He hadn't spoken up, he hadn't looked her in the eyes. If she was even remotely connected to the Dustiness family, then she had a massive amount of power. Compared to him, she was miles above his station.

He wasn't even related to a noble family. His hair was graying, but wisps of hair on the top of his head were a plain, ignoble brown. His eyes were small and orange, nothing even close to the vivid blue that all nobility possessed.

He'd risen as high as was technically possible for a commoner, and it seemed that he was dealing with forces that could have him killed on a whim.

Tanya rolled her eyes. She sighed. "I said, let's reintroduce ourselves. You're obviously scared for some reason, so I want to assure you that I'm not upset about being arrested."

He nearly let out a cry of relief, but he managed to stifle it. He held out his right arm. "Gerrard. As you know, I'm the Head of Axel's police force."

Tanya smiled. "That's better. Tanya von Degurechaff. Adventurer with the weakest job and rising star. I'll see you later!"

She waved goodbye, and the man bowed his head again, thankful to not be headed for the chopping block.

Tanya shook her head as she walked away. What had been done to ensure she was set free and treated so respectfully? Had it been Darkness?

Sighing, Tanya made her way out. Soon enough, she found herself outside. Bathed in the bright light of midday, Tanya lamented for the lost time, and looked around for Darkness.

An hour passed, and Tanya couldn't find her. She'd searched the entire building, the small wooded area that surrounded the building, and even a few of the streets nearby.

Nothing.

Tanya had shaken her head. Well, she wasn't the woman's minder. She had things to do, Tanya was sure, so she made her way to her first stop: the general store.

-OxOxO-

Tanya smirked happily as she left the store. The old man in there could drive a hard bargain, but truthfully, Tanya didn't care. She'd gotten that lance thing as a bonus to staying alive.

Happily pocketing an additional hundred thousand Eris, Tanya sighed. She knew she wouldn't be keeping it for long. She did, after all, need to pay for all the damages to the city.

But she would still buy those potions while she could.

Focusing on her task, she began to walk back into the city, weaving between streets and alleys, searching for the store where Wiz had said it would be, that week ago.

Soon, she arrived. It looked pretty small, for the quality of products that were inside.

Of course, Tanya thought to herself, this was the city of beginning adventurers. They didn't have the money to spend on expensive products. The bell above the door rang as Tanya strode in.

The woman behind the counter perked up, before a wide, warm smile split her face. "Tanya! You're actually here!"

Tanya nodded. "I said I would be. Now, show me those potions!"

Happily, the owner showed off her a rack of potions. Wiz pointed to one. "This is the one that explodes on impact with something."

Tanya nodded. "And I can take it out of the bottle, right?" The woman nodded, and Tanya picked up the bottle gingerly. "How many more do you have?"

"I have the five you said you would buy."

Tanya smirked triumphantly. "Good. If you ever have any more of them, I'll try and buy them. I'm going to need a lot of this stuff."

Wiz handed a rack of five potions to Tanya, and Tanya held them with both hands, hoping they wouldn't combust because she took a wrong step.

"Hey Wiz. I have a list of other things I might need. Do you know where I might be able to get them?" she asked, setting the rack down gingerly and, after rifling through her bag, handed a list to the woman.

"…well, I'm not entirely sure what you need most of this for, but a lot of this stuff is pretty specific. Copper, zinc, lead…" she trailed off. Tanya sighed hopelessly. It seemed she might have to melt down any jewelry she could get her hands on.

Then an idea came to Tanya. Jewelry was made of gold or silver, which had monetary value. What else had monetary value?

Eris. Were there copper Eris?

"Hey Wiz. What are Eris made of?"

The woman brightened. "A single Eris is made of… copper!"

Tanya nodded and then moved on. "Would the general store manager know where to get this kind of stuff?"

The woman nodded. "If anyone did, it would probably be him. He's got tons of stuff in that store of his."

Tanya nodded and turned to leave. "Thank you very much, Wiz!"

With that, Tanya left the small store, heading back to the general store. If he didn't have what she needed, she'd ask the blacksmith.

-OxOxO-

"You again? Why do you always come to slack off here!" shouted the balding old man.

Dust simply sniffed indignantly. No one used the geezer's store, anyway. Why should he care about Dust being there?

Just as Dust was about to say that, the bell above the door rang. Both turned to it, and the man shouted in surprise.

"Back again so soon, Miss?" he greeted. Dust simply stared at the little girl with a rack of potions clutched between her two hands. What was she doing here?

"Hello again. I'm looking for a number of products, and I was wondering if you had access to any of them," she said, handing over a piece of paper.

He nodded hurriedly. "Well, I don't know about the lead, but we have plenty of copper and Brass jewelry, though I don't know why you'd want that when we have much better stuff…"

He trailed off, and the commanding girl just stared at him. Sighing, he walked into his back room.

Dust watched, interested. What did that blonde loli want with a bunch of half-rate jewelry?

The man walked out from his back room – which Dust knew was poorly organized from the time the man had been absent and he'd decided to take a look around, along with collecting a number of small items – and showcased a case of gleaming jewelry. Necklaces, earnings, and armbands were there, and the woman above them was smirking.

Tanya looked at them as the man walked back into the storeroom – likely looking for the Brass. "You are sure these are pure copper? If they aren't pure, I will find out."

"Yes, yes, they're all assured to be pure," he said, showcasing a much larger case full of brass jewelry. The girl's gaze intensified.

"And the other things?"

He shook his head. "I don't have any of this stuff. If it's a type of soil, then you could try and take to some of the farmers or the botany group, I suppose."

Tanya nodded, and then pointed to the case of jewelry and asked, "How much for them?"

"Well… since no one usually buys this stuff, I suppose I could give all of this to you for… seventy thousand Eris?" he suggested.

The woman's mouth dropped open, and she glared at the man. Grumbling, she took out her bag. "See if I ever sell my weapons to you again…"

An idea came to Dust. If helped out the girl, she'd feel pretty indebted to him. Maybe she could help him out of his debts?

Usually, he would have wanted to be able to harass any girl he saw, but she was much too flat for him.

Dust stood from the rickety table he was at, and marched up to the store owner. "Hey, I don't think it's very nice of you to try and scam the girl. Why don't you tell her how much it should actually cost?"

The man looked at the ground, and Dust smirked. "Dust, I have no idea what you're-" he began.

Dust cut him off. "Don't play coy with me. I know of good quality jewelry that costs less than that." The girl behind her glared at the owner.

"Hey, is that true? To think, I've been selling you good quality weapons, and you'd try and scam me?" she said, interrogating him. The man smiled weakly at her, and shot a murderous look at Dust.

"Really, miss, I don't know what you're talking about."

Tanya looked speculatively at Dust. "You said something about cheaper stuff, right Dust? Why don't you show me where?"

He nodded, and as they both turned their backs, the shop owner cried out. "Please! I'm sure I can lower the price a bit. How does fifty thousand sound?"

Tanya spun around again, smirking evilly. "For the weapons I've sold to you, I think you'll sell them for forty, right?"

The man nodded helplessly, and Tanya grabbed the case of jewelry, balancing her rack of potions on top of it. "Thank you!" she shouted as she left.

The man stared glumly at the bag of Eris the girl had left her with. Dust wisely took the time to leave – the man would definitely direct any lingering anger at him.

He soon found himself outside, looking for that flat-chested adventurer. He soon found her – she wasn't moving very far, considering that she was trying to balance what she had with her.

"Here, I'll help you," he said, pilfering the rack of potions from the top. The girl gave him a skeptical look, but accepted his help.

She then stuffed the case of jewelry under her arm, as if she were just carrying a pillow. "Uh…"

She scoffed. "Reinforcement spells. Come on," she said, walking quickly. Dust caught up to her.

"So what's in these potions?" he asked. The girl leveled a glare at him.

"What do you want, Dust?"

Dust gasped, as if shocked. "Tanya, I'm affronted that you would think I couldn't act peaceably. Just because I'm making idle conversation doesn't mean-"

"Dust," she said, cutting him off. He shut his mouth quickly. She must not have been in the mood, then…

The silence reigned for a moment, before Dust began to talk again. "Really, you didn't even thank me for the help I've provided…"

The woman pinched her nose. "Fine, I'll pay you five thousand for helping me out. Just don't drop those."

Dust shut his mouth, satisfied. Five thousand wasn't much, but he could definitely pay off a debt or two with that. He continued along, whistling happily to himself.

"Oh, and if you do drop those, I'm not paying for the hospital bills you'll rack up due to being exploded."

Dust stopped in his tracks, casting a wary glance down at the rack of potions. He hurried to catch up with the girl. "These explode?"

She nodded. Dust remained quiet. What in the name of Eris did that girl need explosives for? The Eris festival had finished yesterday, so using them during that was out.

Just as he was pondering the subject, the woman stopped in front of the Blacksmith's shop. Dust hastily caught himself, managing not to trip. "Alright, we're here."

She dropped the jewelry on the ground unceremoniously, before she picked out two bags from her waist. "There's your money."

With that, she yanked the potions out of his hands. He tilted his head, before shrugging. If she was having trouble, it wasn't his problem.

Just as he turned to go, he heard her speak up. "Hey Dust. You're in debt a lot. Have any advice?"

He peered at her. How had the noble-in-disguise gotten debt? Wouldn't her parents just pay for it?

"Well…" he started, scratching at his chin, "It's always best to get your debts with the guild and debt collectors cleared first. Borrow from friends and acquaintances first, and then from businesses you frequent. They're much less likely to charge you interest."

Tanya nodded, honestly surprised. "I didn't know you were so knowledgeable, Dust."

He grinned victoriously, strolling up to her. "Well, it's only expected. A few more tips. The police station is much better than being out on the streets, and I can say this with certainty," he boasted, planting a hand on her shoulder.

Dust froze.

A glimmer of killing intent rolled off the girl, and he wisely retracted his hand.

"You are quite pathetic to boast about such things," she spat out bluntly.

With that, she took her case of jewelry and retreated into the building. Dust was thinking furiously, and he made a decision to never get on her bad side.

To be able to not only level that intent at people, but to control it to such an extent….

What had the noble-in-disguise done to be able to do that?

-OxOxO-

Tanya sighed pathetically. She knew it wasn't wise to put this off, but she had finally figured out everything she would need to make her gun. She would get everything she needed for that first.

A quick trip to the botanist – who helped to upkeep the town's parks, the small decorative plants that she'd seen in the guild, and anything agricultural that happened in the city – and she'd found exactly what she was looking for.

Something that retained liquid.

Sure, she could use some sort of cloth, but that wouldn't hold as much as she was sure this would. Tanya had bought a few bags of the soil then and there, and she went on her way.

Now, she had everything. Well, except for the lead, but the blacksmith said he had some. Now, she was almost there. Just a week or two.

Of course, Tanya mused as she looked at the Guild whose windows shone once more, that would come after her punishment.

She'd broken a large number of windows inside the city. The police had gotten thousands of damage reports. She had also, in the magically-induced high she'd been on from activating both relics at once, torn up a portion of the park. The botanist had actually thanked her for that, once she'd seen the scepter on Tanya's back.

Taking a deep breath, Tanya walked inside. No one noticed immediately, but Tanya didn't care if they did.

She'd be lambasted by Luna soon enough. She'd cost the Guild enormously, after all. Why wouldn't she be?

She walked over to the front desk. Luna did a double take as she took in her appearance and then realized who was standing in front of her. Her smile became fixed in place.

"Is there something the Guild can do to help you today?"

Tanya lowered her head a fraction of an inch, before shaking off the embarrassment. She face her punishment head on. "I'm here to inquire about the price of the damages I caused…"

Luna's fixed smile took on a hint of confusion as the corners dropped slightly. "You… You want to know?"

Tanya nodded. Luna, apparently shocked, shook her head. "No, it couldn't be…"

She cleared her throat and readjusted her hair. "For damaging every piece of property in Axel, the Guild has had to pay extensive fees for repairing the damage, as well as money to compensate the people who lost sleep."

Tanya groaned into her hands, but motioned for the woman to continue. "The Guild, as is usual with adventurers, paid for most of it. However, the difficulty in making so much glass at once means you'll need to help pay for the fees, as well as do community service time."

Tanya continued to nod dejectedly. This was going to be expensive. Luna looked at her, an eyebrow raised. Her smile suggested she expected something from her.

"Alright." Tanya threw the last of her money on the counter. "Here's fifty thousand Eris. How much more do I owe?"

Luna blinked, and Tanya grew confused. That was what she expected, right?

"You'll actually pay?" she said, half-shouting and half-jubilant. Tanya responded. "Well, duh. It isn't like I can't."

The woman began to stutter out a response. "Act- Actually, adventurers skip their community service time often, since they just argue that they're needed to defend the town. None of the staff are really fighters, so the most we can do is restrict their quests."

Tanya scoffed. "That's stupid. We're like a business, right? If there's constantly rivalry between the different parts because we can't work together, you'd just replace us with people who can do the work better."

Luna shook her head. "There isn't anyone else, actually. The Demon King's invasion means that anyone that could be vaguely considered a mercenary was hired to help fight in the first years of the war. They're all gone."

Tanya shrugged. She wanted to be sure her reputation continued to grow, and if this guild told other guilds that she wouldn't pay her dues, she was sure to get worse treatment.

Besides, that wasn't all of her money. She'd kept five thousand Eris, most of it copper, in order to melt it down to use in her weapon.

Luna took the bag of money hesitantly, as if she couldn't believe it was actually there. "Well, since you helped pay that much… if you take on three months of community service, we'll only make you pay four hundred thousand Eris."

She groaned. She knew that that idea had been a bad one, that using them both at once would be a horrible, no good idea, but had she listened to her rationality?

NO! She'd decided to pay back Darkness. Well, she had news for her whenever she got back, as long as she didn't ditch Tanya for being a pauper.

Tanya sighed and focused back on her situation. She was trying not to think about that number, and even then, she was nervous. What did 'community service' entail? She was sure it would be worse than simply cleaning the parks of litter.

Luna ducked behind the counter, and brought up a piece of paper. "This is a list of things you can do. In addition, you have to complete three quests a week, for free." Tanya didn't respond. The list was absolutely massive.

It seemed community service amounted to 'slavery', since she had to work for free for anyone at any time they needed help.

On the other hand, as soon as she completed her gun, she'd be able to clear many, many quests.

Tanya nodded solemnly. "Alright. Three months of community service and four hundred thousand Eris. But," she exclaimed, staring into Luna's eyes, "if this list has anything weird on it, I'm not doing it, and I'm maiming whoever dared to ask. Alright?"

Luna nodded happily. It seemed she really appreciated getting that money. With that done, Tanya thought she'd ask about Darkness.

"Oh, the Crusader?" Luna said. "Yes, she and a Thief went on a quest earlier today. They still aren't back, so I suppose they're still gone."

Tanya nodded, and began to search the guild. She needed to learn a bit of magic for the next step of making her gun.

If Darkness had made another friend, all the better.

Tanya was going to be dead weight for a long while, and she wasn't really feeling all that interested in looking at her.

Chapter Text

Darkness gleefully skipped. Yes, she skipped.

She hadn't skipped in a long time, but she hadn't had reason to. Her father's insistence on her getting a husband that was the antithesis of everything she wanted in a man had dampened her happiness for a long time.

But now…

She had actually killed something!

She hadn't just sat there and been Tanya's shield, absorbing insults about her lack of ability and attacks in equal measure. She'd actually killed something.

"Chris, can you believe it? I actually killed monsters. It's my duty as a Crusader of the Eris Cult, and I was actually able to do it!" she exclaimed, beaming at the Thief.

Said silver-haired thief was smiling along with her. She didn't say anything about how she had needed to immobilize them in order for her to do it. She was just complimentary of her ability to do what she did.

It was a bit different from Tanya, sure – Chris had made sure Darkness hadn't gotten hurt, and had refused to insult or look down on her for her choices – but it wasn't horrible.

It wasn't nearly as pleasurable in that regard, but earning experience on her own was a reward in itself.

"Do you want to go on an adventure tomorrow?" she asked. That gave Darkness pause, but then she started walking again.

"Sure! Tomorrow, we'll go with Tanya. I'm sure she's been released, since I told the knights about my parentage…" she said, murmuring the last part to herself. She'd told the knights her identity and shown them the necklace she'd worn around her neck since the age of five, and they'd let her go and gone to get Tanya. The other five knights had escorted Darkness out.

As she stood outside the prison, the worried expression on her face had faded as she talked to the silver-haired Thief. She had even offered to go on an adventure with her to take her mind off of her friend.

And she'd actually killed something!

Darkness looked around herself, and turned around the see that Chris had fallen behind. Darkness waited for the Thief to catch up. She did that sometimes.

Darkness continued to think about tomorrow. With Chris allowing her to kill things, and Tanya's insults, pitying looks, and baffled anger, tomorrow would be even better.

They both wandered into the guild. A quick stop at the receptionist's desk and they sat down in the eatery.

Darkness sighed. "I just hope Tanya is okay…" she trailed off.

Chris waved her hand dismissively. "Oh, don't worry. You don't need to think about her too much, right?" Darkness nodded her head.

Tanya was resourceful. She would be fine.

"May I take your order?" came a quiet voice from behind her. Oblivious to the incredulous face of the Thief, Darkness turned around.

She gasped.

It was Tanya. Wearing the clothing of one of the guild staff. Her shoulders were barred to the air, and her hair, usually allowed to hang about her face, was pulled into a very short ponytail.

"Tanya?"

Face red, the girl nodded slowly. "Please, miss. I have to take your orders," she muttered. A quick flick of her eyes towards the bar, and Darkness followed her gaze to the people sitting there.

A group of women, all wearing costumes similar to Tanya's, were giggling while looking and pointing in her direction. "Why are you… did the Blacksmith fire you?" she asked.

Tanya shook her head slowly. "Community service."

Darkness nodded slowly. A harsh penalty.

"By the way, do you have four hundred thousand Eris? Unless you'll also charge me interest," she stated, head still bowed. Darkness, however, had stopped paying attention.

She stood rapidly. "Tanya, I can't let this travesty go on! You must be released from this punishment, at once. Unfortunately, someone still needs to do the service. I will take your place!"

With that breathless sentence, she ran up to the counter, face bright red. Tanya watched, hoping that she'd pull it off.

She'd at least enjoy being harassed and stared at by everyone.

She looked at the other occupant of the table. "And you are?"

The woman smiled. It didn't seem to be a particularly happy smile, but at least it wasn't the lecherous grin that a number of other adventurers had leveled at her and regretted.

Luna might not have been able to tame adventurers due to a lack of power, but Tanya had no qualms about cracking a few skulls. Especially when she looked like she did and they looked at he like he had.

"I'm Chris. I helped Darkness out on an adventure today," she said. Tanya shook her hand. This silver-haired woman seemed normal, at least.

"Nice to meet you. Do you want anything?" Tanya asked. The woman nodded stiffly, and belted out an order. Tanya quickly wrote it down. "What kind of job do you have?" she asked.

The woman replied, "Thief. Most of the skills are based on your Luck stat, which means that the people who can become Thieves are very lucky to do so!"

Tanya nodded, and looked over to Darkness. She was talking to Luna, and her body was no longer heaving. She'd probably been let down, then.

"Alright, then. Your order will be served soon." Tanya walked towards Darkness, unaware of the suppressed laughter of the person behind her.

"…Alright, here you go, then," said Darkness, as she handed over a bag of money to Luna. She accepted it gladly, and Darkness walked over to Tanya.

"I paid your debts," she said simply. Tanya's mouth was slightly agape. Why did she just have that much cash on her?

"Thank you, Darkness," she muttered. Darkness gave Tanya her order, and walked back over to her table, without another word.

Tanya sighed. That was one problem gone. Hopefully, the next three months of having to do whatever anyone wanted would pass quickly.

Maybe she could even supply extra money to Luna to have it waived?

Regardless, she could just avoid having to do the work by hiding out in the Blacksmith's shop, working on her weapon. It wasn't like people were annoying enough to interrupt her work, right?

-OxOxO-

"Wind Breath!"

Hand outstretched towards the fire, Tanya chanted this again. She'd learned this bit of magic for this moment.

Fresh air flew into the forge, heating it to yet greater heights. Tanya continued to pour mana into the spell, watching as the lead melted. Soon, it became liquid, glowing in the container the blacksmith didn't know she was using.

Hastily cutting off the flow of mana, she picked up a pair of tongs and lifted the container. Careful not to drop any, she began to pour it into the molds she'd made.

Making bullets and cartridges one at a time would be tiresome, so she had made many more molds. After this, the final phase could begin.

She glanced towards the tarp in the corner. The gun had been mostly done since yesterday, when she had found the time to finish it after her last free quest for the week. The spell she'd learned had helped with clearing the sawdust that had accumulated after hours of making a stock for the gun.

She glanced back at the mold. It was filled.

She moved on, moving down the line and filling each I turn. With the extra Skill Points she'd gotten from the insects, she'd gotten Wind Breath and improved her Smith skill. She was sure she could finish.

Pounding and bending metals – some of it unheated, since she could exert the needed pressure to change them using her Reinforcement spells – had taken longer than she'd wanted, but the Blacksmith was gone, apparently.

He'd said something about travelling to the capital, and Tanya had wished him luck. His absence was all the better for her – with all the time she'd spent in here, she was sure he would have gotten annoyed at not being able to use the forge himself.

Molds filled, Tanya set the container down, waiting for the metal to cool and casting nervous glances towards the front.

The sign might have said the store was closed, but one look at the billowing chimney would show that someone was there. And it wasn't like she had many places she populated.

The last four and a half days had been… demeaning. Everywhere she went, it seemed everyone knew she was doing community service, so people could request that she do things like work for them for free.

She was in high demand, for some reason, and people seemed to take pride in seeing her powerless.

Tanya frowned as she began to delicately pour small portions of 'gunpowder' – made from the soil the botanist had given her and soaked in the explosive potion she'd bought from Wiz – into the cartridges. This stuff was very reactive.

As the task became mechanical, Tanya began again to think of her community service. She'd had to scrub floors, carry packages, fix walls, and wait on more people than she could count.

Tanya clenched her teeth at the thought of everyone who had taken pride in seeing her deferential to them. Regardless of her figure, she was an adult in this world, so petty things like 'child labor laws' were likely nonexistent.

Tanya wanted to leave Axel as soon as she got her weapon, damn her level. The thought of the Reincarnates who had assaulted her, however, gave her pause.

If she left, they would be able to start out in Axel without any blockages. They'd be able to amass wealth, tactics, and become versed in using their powers. They'd become forces to reckon with, and Tanya doubted she'd find anyone equally powerful that would help her for what little she could offer them.

She would be stuck in this town for longer than she would like, waiting for the next Reincarnate to come through. She shook her head as the molds began to cool.

Using the tongs, she picked up each mold, pouring its contents into the large bucket of water, cooling each. A few minutes of seething at her punishment passed, followed by tediously plating each bullet in the brass she'd obtained from the jewelry.

A bit of mechanical force pushed each bullet into its cartridge, and they were finished.

Twenty cartridges, each filled with an experimental explosive powder, gleamed in the light of the dying forge. Smirking, Tanya picked up the scepter in the corner.

She had had to go back to using her fingers since the Festival, which was worrying. Darkness, during the higher difficulty quests, had spared her a worried glance between all of her provocative moaning.

And she was right to. If Tanya could destroy a scepter using magic like that, what would happen to her hands?

Which was why she had stayed up late trying to finish her gun and bullets. Now that they were done…

Tanya grinned. Testing how well modern weapons stacked up against monster from a foreign world seemed to be a grand idea.

-OxOxO-

Darkness stared at Tanya in shock.

This was weird. It was weirder than when Tanya would finally give up on trying to get Darkness to hit something. It was weirder than seeing her working in a Blacksmith's forge. This was even weirder than whenever Darkness caught sight of her doing menial labor.

Why she didn't just pay off the rest of her community service using her family's money, Darkness didn't know. Maybe she was running from her family and was using an assumed name?

It was the most plausible conclusion she had come to. Her father still hadn't found anything about a 'Degurechaff' family, and the only person who even vaguely matched the description Darkness gave her father was Iris, of all people.

For obvious reasons, Tanya wasn't the Princess. Darkness was probably going to give up on it. Tanya would tell her in her own time, she supposed…

Darkness shook her head, focusing back on her rapidly approaching teammate. It was odd.

She wasn't brooding, she wasn't dejected, and she wasn't even angry or haughty. No, she seemed positively…

Happy. She seemed to be strolling up to the bulletin board, rising up on her tiptoes and not shooting a scowl at her legs. She picked out a quest, and walked up to the receptionist.

The look of mingled amusement and confusion on the receptionists face told Darkness all she needed to know. Tanya was happy.

Tanya, seemingly happy about what she'd been told, began to walk over to Darkness. A faint tune reached Darkness's ears.

…Was Tanya whistling?

Unaware of the confused or shocked looks coming from the few people who weren't talking with their comrades and from her own teammate, Tanya sat down with a contented sigh.

"Good morning, Darkness!" Tanya exclaimed. Darkness said nothing back, just staring.

The leader of their group said nothing in response to Darkness's silence, simply ordering from the shocked maid that Tanya had been glaring at hatefully only yesterday.

Had she gotten rid of her community service, or had something else happened?

"Er… Tanya. What is this? Are you okay? Are you sick?" Darkness asked. Tanya glanced at her, actual innocence shining in her eyes for one of the only times Darkness had ever seen.

"Whatever do you mean, Darkness? I'm alive and have a relatively easy job, we're taking on a quest today, you're here, and I have a scepter."

At the last line of Tanya's speech, Darkness above the woman's head for the first time.

It seemed that she had gotten a new staff, and it must have been the reason for the joy Darkness had seen.

It was unlike anything Darkness had seen, though.

Her blade was in its normal place, of course, jutting out from the top of the staff. That was odd, but Darkness didn't fault the woman for wanting to be able to protect herself. Her ability to sharpen her weapons helped out in that regard.

The staff it was attached to was bizarre. It looked like a piece of tubing she might have in the mansion, or that carried water into the city. That was all she could see of it, considering it was strapped to back.

Tanya noticed her gaze, and took the thing from her back and placed it on the table. It seemed even more foreign up close.

Part of it seemed to be made out of wood, but most of it seemed to be made of metal. It wasn't straight, with it bulging and jutting out in random places. Most of the length of it seemed to be dominated by the smooth, metal tube she'd seen.

Darkness glanced up from the staff at Tanya's triumphant face, eyes closed and smirking. Darkness looked back down at it.

She shrugged. "If you think it'll work, then I guess it's fine," she said, digging back into her breakfast. Tanya opened her eyes, shock present.

She shook her head, pitying the woman. She didn't know what it did.

Tanya dug into the meal that was placed in front of her. She'd get to show it off soon enough.

Minutes later, Tanya would receive the reaction she was looking for. "Wha- What's that?" came a stuttered half-shriek from behind Tanya.

She turned around, and saw that Chris was standing behind them, finger shakily pointing towards the gun on the table. Grinning, Tanya beckoned the girl over. "This, Chris, is a special type of… scepter from my homeland called a Mondragon Rifle!"

The woman's pale skin turned even whiter, and Tanya continued to talk on, not noticing the slight shake that had overtaken Chris. "With this, I'll be able to cast more spells than ever before! Nothing will be able to stop us now!" she declared.

Chris attempted to make herself look normal – if The Atheist realized something was amiss, she might be attacked – and tried to speak to Darkness. "Darkness, what do you think about going on a quest today?"

The woman's eyes lit up. "Yes! With all of us here, we'll be able to take on even stronger enemies!"

Chris rubbed the back of her head nervously. She had wanted to spend more time with Darkness, but Heaven had come knocking. At least The Atheist had been doing so much community service that she hadn't been able to do any quests besides the ones the Guild mandated she complete.

Darkness, finished with her own food, turned to Tanya. "Is there anything else this… interesting from your homeland?" Darkness asked Tanya. She seemed to think for a moment.

"Sure. I haven't made anything else, but using those Smith skills just to make this seem like a bit of a waste…" She trailed off. Chris was praying that she didn't get any more ideas.

Introducing a weapon like a gun to this world could be disastrous. The violence it had caused in other, similarly advanced worlds had been enormous, and the presence of magic, other Reincarnates, and the Adventurer's Cards meant that the advances offered by Tanya would be horrible.

She feared for her people. Tanya finished her own food, and swiped the gun off of the table. "Alright," she said, a fake smile playing at her lips, "time to adventure!"

-OxOxO-

As they trekked through the plains, walking along the worn dirt road, Tanya considered Darkness's words.

Making things from her past two lives – both to help in adventuring and to sell to the wider world – wouldn't be a terrible idea, and they would certainly provide another steady source of income.

She shook her head as she watched Chris and Darkness converse, laughing happily together. With her rifle by her side, she was sure to be able to take on anything this backwards world had to throw at her.

"What's our quest, anyway?" Darkness tossed back to her.

Tanya brought out the piece of paper she had taken down. "We're to kill a group of Slimes," she provided.

Tanya hadn't played many video games in her last life, but she knew that Slimes were supposed to be easily killed. However, this world had surpassed anything the medieval age was supposed to have, with lighting and police and bureaucracy, all without the aid of industry.

She had taken the high danger rating on the thing seriously.

Darkness stopped in her tracks, spinning around. "Slimes? Aren't those dangerous?"

Tanya nodded. "Apparently, but we can take them. They have some sort of core at the center and can resist physical attacks, right? I can take care of them," she said, waving off the woman's concern.

Darkness turned back to the front of the road, muttering under her breath. Tanya stared at the woman dejectedly, thinking for a moment that she was upset about not getting to fight, and only sighed when Darkness moaned when she caught sight of Tanya's pitying gaze.

She should have known better.

Chris, by contrast, seemed deep in thought. Tanya left her to her thoughts, focusing on her plan for the Slimes.

Soon, they arrived at the forest they were rumored to be in. The Guild usually left them to their own devices, considering they rarely left the deeper parts of it.

However, with how many insect monsters had been killed, monsters were beginning to venture out farther, threatening the people who used the safer parts of the forest and the surrounding area and growing fat off of the weaker prey.

"Alright. I should be able to take them out from a distance, but if they survive, I want Darkness up front distracting them while I try to finish them off. Chris, you aren't likely to be able to help them because your defense is too low. Just hang back," she commanded.

Chris pouted, while Darkness began to drool as a far-off look appeared in her eyes.

"Why do we need to listen to you?" asked Chris.

Darkness glanced at her curiously, while Tanya scoffed. "You are a part of our team, of which I am the leader. If you have something against Adventurers, you'll probably want to find a new team," she said, glaring unmercifully.

Darkness looked upset at that thought, while Chris made to apologize to Darkness. Tanya didn't say anything else as she watched the tree line. She meant what she said.

She needed the assurance that the people under her command would listen to her. If they didn't listen to her…

Well, in her last life, she had just reassigned them to another group or punished them, if they were part of the 203rd. In this life, with her lack of official authority, she would just ignore them and refuse their attempts to join a party. It was much more direct, but Tanya didn't really mind.

A rustling in the forest caught Tanya's attention. It sounded as if something was coming towards them. She smirked cruelly. Finally, a bit of target practice after a month of not having access to her gun.

As large as a truck, the thing moved out of the forest slowly. It seemed to be sizing them up. Tanya just grinned. Finally.

"Incoming target," she relayed to the others. Chris stopped her apology, and both took up fighting stances. Neither of them was rushing forward.

Tanya let a low chuckle escape her throat. Finally!

"Enchant bullet: Explosive Vaporization. Enchant Bullet: Penetration. Guidance." She let the spells flow from her lips, giddiness welling up inside her at finally being able to take care of enemies with the same ease as she had in her second life.

The thing seemed to think it could take them, rushing towards them as fast as it could. It was a large pile of something that was almost a liquid, so it was moving perhaps as fast as a regular human. That meant it was much too slow to avoid anything she could throw at it.

Gun shaking slightly from the adrenaline, Tanya's finger depressed the trigger, and out the front of her gun a bullet arced through the air. To Tanya's enhanced senses, it was almost beautiful. To the two women behind her, they probably only caught a glimpse of the light radiating from it.

A spent cartridge was ejected from her gun, and the bullet slammed into the Slime. It traveled into it for a moment, pushing through slime like it had pushed through the air.

It was only stopped by the core of the Slime, where it promptly detonated.

The thing seemed to swell, for a moment, as if it was trying to resist the explosive forces that had gone off. That moment ended quickly, resulting in billowing, fiery smoke and a wave of heat to escape it, the explosion was larger than anything she could do without the gun – she was too close to do things like that anywhere near her own body.

Tanya deactivated her enhancements, basking in the shocked gasps of the two behind her. "That, Darkness, is why I was so happy this morning. Nothing as simple as having a good night's rest could do this. Now, I'm set for life!"

Turning around, she saw that both of them seemed to be frightened. "What's wrong?" she asked them, confusion and Amusement fighting for her face. They weren't…

"What was that sound?" asked Darkness. Amusement won out, followed by a small chuckle. They were scared of the gunshot!

Tanya soon came up with an explanation. "At its most basic, this scepter shoots a piece of metal using a miniature explosion," she explained. Tanya turned away from them, searching the ground.

Since she was the one paying for the bullets, recycling the cartridges was a necessity, whenever they were doing routine work like this. It was just another measure she'd use to save money and pay back Darkness and the Guild.

Picking up the cartridge, she let her gun hang from her shoulder as she cast a quick 'Wind Breath' at the metal tube. It was still warm, but the spell was helping to cool it down. Tanya gazed at her fingerless gloves, making a note to get something a bit more suitable, once she had the money.

Tanya looked at both of them again. Now that the initial fear and confusion had passed, Darkness looked… disappointed.

Tanya sighed, disgusted. "Are you really that set on being abused?"

The woman's eyes lit up, as she nodded despite her rapidly reddening face. Chris gazed at her with fondness, and Tanya sighed again. "Fine. We'll find something you two can fight, alright?"

Darkness seemed much more cheered by that, as did Chris. Suddenly, she took off into the forest, shouting something about finding something they could fight. Tanya just shook her head. What a teammate to have…

Suddenly, something pinged on her Observation spell. She enlarged the screen and began to inspect her surroundings though it. She'd had that thing focused on the Slime, but it seemed it had picked something else up.

She cast a probe out towards the two, and two pings showing normal humans appeared on the screen. They seemed to have found something, if the sounds of Darkness's moaning were to be trusted.

Tanya cast it about herself, frowning. If it hadn't been them, then…

She gasped as she passed over the direction of Axel. A large, contiguous pillar of mana signatures was dissipating, larger than many things she had even done. That had to mean…

Another Reincarnate. Tanya glanced down at the gun that was hanging from her shoulders and grinned. She was fairly sure she'd be able to convince anyone from her last life that wasn't terminally ill to do whatever she wanted them to.

Hearing the sounds of laughter echoing from the forest, Tanya smiled a bit as she sped off towards the pair of adventurers. Reincarnates could come later. For now, she was going to enjoy the friendship she had built with the Crusader and the company of the silver-haired Thief.

-OxOxO-

Tanya basked in the warmth of the baths of Axel. Supposedly, they weren't very good compared to elsewhere, where adventurers were more common and had more cash to spend. But to a sort-of-retired soldier, who could count the number of weeks where she had bathed twice while deployed on one hand, they were luxurious.

The view, of course, only made things better. A completely naked Darkness was one she was quite happy with, and she was envious of whichever man would eventually wed and bed her.

She couldn't obviously, and she would eat her hat if she found a religion that advocated same-sex marriage.

Still, Tanya thought as she gazed at the ridiculous breasts, it was a nice thought.

Tanya cast a quick glance at Chris as she leaned on the edge of the bath and sighed. The Thief seemed oddly shy, like how Tanya had been back when she had been an orphan and been tasked with cleaning herself. She kept giving Tanya odd glances, but seemed totally fine with Darkness.

Tanya shrugged internally. She hadn't been around her for very long.

Tanya resisted the urge to stare at where she knew Darkness was. The first time they had bathed together, Tanya had caught herself staring openly at the woman. Darkness could not have not noticed too, and had had a rather embarrassing talk with the woman about her own chest.

Tanya rose from the water, ready to wash herself down with one last bucket, and then to dress once more. She needed to find that Reincarnate, once they got their reward for the day's work in subjugating that Slime.

A faint giggle reached Tanya's ears, and she glanced at both Darkness and Chris.

Neither seemed to have noticed it. Judging by the serene look on Darkness's face and the embarrassed but not suspicious look on Chris's, neither of them had made the noise, either.

Tanya looked to the windows. Why someone had put windows on the side of the building instead of on top of it, she didn't know, but she knew they were the most likely place for some pervert to be looking in.

Steam obscured her vision, but that was fine. She could just follow the laughter.

It sounded again from the window to her right, and Tanya crept down, stalking towards it. Both of her bathing companions seemed mystified, but Tanya just made a shushing motion towards them. Both played along, and Tanya soon came to the window.

Again, giggling came from the other side. Wishing she had brought her Type 95, Tanya leaped up to the window, roaring.

The person on the other side – Dust, the shock of blond hair told her – shrieked and stumbled down. Growling, Tanya rushed out of the room, forgoing the final washing-down with the buckets of warm water. The other two seemed to have realized what was happening.

Rushing into the changing area, Tanya threw on her clothes and the Type 95 in record time. Even Darkness's bountiful form was ignored in the rush.

As Tanya rushed out of the bathhouses, she missed the look of triumph on Darkness's face. Hurrying to catch up to her leader, she put on her own amulet – the one that told any who looked at it that she was a part of the Dustiness house – and rushed after Tanya.

Tanya activated her Observation spell and then decided on what to do. "I can't find anything, but we can try to look for them. You two go to the general store while I head to the guild."

Both nodded, taking off around the corner. Tanya, instead of running the opposite way, towards the guild, ducked into a nearby alley way, following the faint trail of Dust's mana.

It seemed that he had a bit of potential. Not as much as her, or even many of the actual mages in the Guild. He had enough that it was noticeable. Traceable, even.

Tanya grinned as she took off, rising to a height where no pedestrians or lowlifes in the alleys would see her from the ground and where no one would see her skirting close to the rooftops. It was a bit taxing, but it seemed that Lynn had been right about scepters helping reduce mana costs in this world.

Ducking between alley after alley, Tanya smirked as the sound of footsteps pounding on flagstones crashed into her ears. She was getting close, then.

A few more moments, and the red jacket of Dust bled into her view. Quieter than the wind, Tanya passed over his head, ducking behind a corner and waiting for him to round it. His footsteps stopped abruptly as she stuck out her foot.

The sound of him face planting into the ground and skidding to a stop, paired with his swearing, was like music.

"Hey! What do you think you're doing, you-" he began, only to go white as he realized who was walking towards him.

He chuckled nervously. "T- Tanya… Normally, I'd want some sort of compensation for getting assaulted like that, but I'll let it slide." Tanya just raised an eyebrow.

He shrunk back even farther, probably wishing he was some sort of creature that could dig through the ground. Tanya smirked, and Dust began to babble again. "Er… it's a deal, right?"

Tanya just smiled plainly. "I wonder if Luna will miss you."

She wouldn't, and if Tanya explained what had happened – or, better yet, never even reported it – his death would be lamented by few.

He licked his lips, sweat forming on his brow. Tanya just continued to stare at him, and then began to walk towards him.

Panicking, he began to back up, for a moment. He seemed to find some well of strength within him, because he stopped retreating. "So what? It's not like you have any proof, right?"

Tanya shrugged her shoulders. "Maybe, but I know that even if we did report it to the police, you would just get time in jail, which doesn't deter you. I think I'll take your punishment into my own hands," she said slowly, still advancing on him.

His eyes widened and his mouth puckered as he thought of what she could do to him with the realization that she wouldn't go to the authorities. "Wait! I'll go to jail, just please, don't do anything to me!"

She took her rifle from her back. "I wonder which one to puncture first…" she trailed off, pointing the thing towards the man's lower region. His imagination filled in the rest.

Dust seemed actually scared. He quickly assumed a kowtowing position, forehead pressed into the stone. "I beg you, the one who is known as 'Tanya the Evil' for your brutal efficiency and unwavering willingness to abandon fellow adventurers, please spare me!"

Tanya stopped in her tracks. "'Tanya the Evil?' What idiot spread that around?"

He looked up from the cobblestone, fear and dread telegraphed. "Well… the efficiency part is because you take so many quests when most adventurers don't take more than three of them a week, while the abandoning teammates is from… uh… me."

She sent him a skeptical look, and he glared at her. "Don't blame me. You're the one who sent a Detonation spell at a pond and then outraced us."

She groaned, and assumed a more relaxed stance. "Whatever. Besides, you shouldn't fear me; I've grown above the need to care about things like my own breast size. What do you think will happen to you when I hand you to Darkness and Chris, though?"

He stared at her blankly. "I'd still be more scared of you," he replied, completely unfazed.

Tanya sighed and, not for the first time, wondered what she had done to deserve the life she'd been given. Then she remembered she had insulted a being that claimed to be god and thought that that would work out well.

She shook her head. "We're getting off topic. Teach me a new skill and I'll let you go."

He opened his mouth, and then closed it, a thoughtful expression coming over his face. One of conniving glee then appeared, and Tanya experienced a bit of uncharacteristic apprehension.

Dust stood, smiling. He had come to a startling conclusion: Tanya could replace him. If anyone asked about a noble from a foreign land who was good with a spear, they would seek out one from the three adventurers with blond hair: himself, Tanya, and Darkness.

It wouldn't take long before they figured out that neither Tanya nor Darkness were that noble, and that he was the only option, despite his attempts at throwing them off with his lack of culture.

But… if the girl in front of her was any good with a spear, then they would think it was her, instead the lazy, uncultured drunkard.

In fact…

He looked up at the girl – because even if she said she was sixteen, she sure didn't look like a woman – and at what was pointed at him. It looked something like a spear.

He rose from the ground, smirking. Tanya took a step back, aiming it at him. Dust never looked energetic or motivated. Maybe lustful, but that was about as far into 'happy' as that man's emotions went.

"May I see your spear?" he asked, laying his hands out.

"It isn't-"

"Regardless," he said, an eyebrow raised, "you are using it as one, currently."

She couldn't fault him for that. She took out the magazine at the bottom – she wasn't risking being killed by a ricochet or misfire – and handed him the thing, staring at him curiously. He held it as if it were an actual spear, instead of a gun with a blade on the end.

"Hmm," he said, hefting it. "Well, it's balanced. It doesn't have a lot of reach, but that isn't necessarily horrible. I'd say from your stance that you don't actually know much about using spears, right?"

Tanya nodded hesitantly. She technically knew less than the infantry the Empire; they were supposed to charge at the enemy with those things.

Mages were meant more for reconnaissance, protecting planes, accompanying ground movements, and carrying out special operations. That Tanya had used her blade as much as she had was just to subvert her opponents' expectations that they would be having a battle of purely magical skills.

Even then, she didn't know all that much. "What would you know?" she asked, suspiciously eyeing the man as he slashed the air with her rifle.

He looked at her, just as suspicious as she was of him. "You want a skill or not?"

Tanya rolled her eyes. Of course she did. She didn't even have to take the skill if she didn't want to, and she'd be getting it at no monetary cost to herself.

"Fine. I won't ask about your history – because you use a sword and wield a spear like you were born with it in hand – and I won't tell them about who was peeking in on us. In return, you'll give me skills and lessons on Spearmanship," she said, holding out a hand and smirking.

A similar smirk was plastered on his face, and Tanya wiped her hand on her clothes after they shook hands. He seemed rather pleased with himself, and turned to walk off. Tanya copied him, heading in the opposite direction.

"Hey." Tanya turned around, looking curiously at the squinting man. "How did you catch up with me?"

Tanya just smirked, ignoring the question. Dust walked off, and both parties gloated to themselves that they were getting the better end of the deal.

-OxOxO-

While Chris and Darkness scoured the Guild, Tanya had another reason for visiting the area.

The other two were set on finding the person who had intruded on them. They were stationed inside the guild, searching for that person by talking to various groups and looking for someone who reacted embarrassed upon meeting them.

Tanya couldn't care less, but she was happy to let them try and find someone that didn't exist.

She had described an entirely false person – brown hair, brown eyes, on the taller side – so that Dust wouldn't be found. All of which were entirely subjective descriptions. The definition of 'tall' would probably be different for the two of them.

So Dust was safe, and Tanya got to sit outside and bask in the sunlight while they talked to people. Of course, she had a reason for being outside.

Luna had said that no one resembling a Hero Candidate had come in yet. Tanya knew a few things that set them apart from regular adventurers though, something that Luna didn't seem to have grasped yet.

All of them were dressed in clothing from her first life. All that Tanya had to look for was someone in a t-shirt, or office clothing, or something with a language she knew on it. Some of that clothing had made its way into this world's attire – Taylor and several policemen had ties, while jackets and zippers were commonplace – but all of it was piecemeal. Only reincarnates would be wearing all of it.

All Tanya needed to do was wait for them to show up to the guild. They would need to, if they wanted to fight the Demon King.

On the other hand, it was possible that they had decided to skip this town and move on to the next one. Regardless, either suited her options.

As long as they weren't a threat to her, she would be fine with them.

Another hour passed, and just as Tanya was getting bored with basking in the sun and contemplating if she should deconstruct her gun for a bit of practice, her target walked into view.

Smirking, Tanya made preparations for the ruse she was about to pull. Pointing a weapon at someone else in broad daylight was probably against the rules, which just meant she needed to get out of broad daylight.

She rose from where she had been sitting and stashed her gun in an alley nearby, covering it with an errant bag of trash. She methodically tied her hair behind her head, and then threw on the hood that she had sewn onto her mantle. Her hair was highly noticeable – only she, Darkness, and Dust had it, among the adventurers – so hiding it was a necessity.

Tanya thought, for a moment, about her friends and the last life she had been forced to leave, and let tears well up in her eyes. This needed to be convincing.

She activated a Reinforcement spell, and she began to study the girl. She was wearing a black shirt, had her hair in pigtails, and was wearing glasses. The glasses hinted at her past – Tanya hadn't seen many of those – but the shirt she was wearing raised a very large flag.

The black t-shirt she wore said 't-shirt' on it in white lettering. Tanya didn't understand why anyone would buy or wear something like that, but the fact that it was written in kanji meant she was a reincarnate.

Of course, the fact that she was holding a scepter taller than its holder, that also looked based on both fire and ice was another clue, but the final nail in the coffin was the look of wonder that enveloped her face as she looked around, with long, sleek, black hair whirling around her face as she tried to take in everything.

Tanya was sure she would have looked like that, if she had been told she was going to a fantasy world.

As it was, the girl seemed completely unaware of the amused looks the shoppers and shop keepers present in the adventurer-specific stalls were sending her.

Tanya smirked as she let tears flow from her eyes. This would be easy.

Running towards the girl and crying furiously, she passed her and braced herself. With all of the might endowed upon her by her Reinforcement magic, she kicked a protruding stone and tripped.

She fought the urge to right herself with a Flight spell or activate an Active Barrier. This needed to be convincing, after all.

She felt pain bloom to life in her body as she slammed into the ground. Blood began to pour from her nose, and Tanya curled up on the ground, only half-faking her sniffling as she repeated a sentence in her head like a mantra.

'Come on, girl, why don't you help the short, pathetic girl who has fallen near you. It's the start to your adventure here.'

"Are you okay, little girl?" she asked. Tanya clenched her teeth at the reminder of what she looked like for only a moment, and she looked up at the girl. Tanya just continued to cry, staring up at her pathetically, trying to avoid direct eye contact, as if she were shy.

The girl leaned down, crouching next to her. "There, there. It's okay. Why don't you tell me what's wrong?" she asked, handing a handkerchief to her.

Sniffing, Tanya took the piece of cloth from her, wiping away the tears and blood. "Th- Thank you, ma'am," she whispered. The girl continued to smile, patting Tanya on the back. A bit more coaxing on the girls part, and Tanya began to regale her with a fabricated story she had made in the past hour.

"I- I was walking through the alleyway, trying to get home. My momma doesn't have money. So- some mean men took away all of the food that I went to get. Momma's gonna be mad!" she cried, once more descending into sobs.

The girl continued to pat her on the back, and Tanya smirked internally. "Is there anything I can do to help?"

Tanya looked up at the girl. "We- Well… you could help me! You look like a powerful adventurer! Maybe you can scare them into giving me back the food!"

The girl paused for a moment, indecisiveness marking her face. Tanya looked back at the ground, as dejectedly as she could, and began to speak. "We- Well, it's okay. I just hope momma doesn't have to sell daddy's old clothes. He went to the army, and hasn't been back. I hope he's okay…"

That seemed to do it. Resolve seemed to come over the girl's features, and she stood, taking Tanya's hand in her own. "Come on. We'll go show those mean men, right?"

Tanya's face lit up, and she rose quickly. "Come, this way! I know where they hide out!"

She began to run towards the alley she'd stashed her, ignoring the girl's cries that she slow down and be careful. Tanya pointed down the alley, motioning the girl closer. She rushed past Tanya, unaware of the smirk that Tanya finally let show.

Activating her Agility Reinforcement, Tanya kicked the bag of trash off of her gun and picked it up. Just as the girl had begun to turn at the curious sound, Tanya leveled her gun at her and shouted, "Freeze!"

Tanya began to activate the other portion of her plan. People could still see into the alley way, so solving that problem was necessary.

An application of a few Illusion spells would hide them for now. She was on a time limit, since making the alley seem to be anything other than unnaturally dark took too much mana, and some curious passerby would eventually wonder why it was so dark during the middle of the day.

She would have enough time for this, though.

The girl finished turning around, and her eyes widened. She seemed to do just as Tanya had said, not moving an inch. "But…"

Tanya smirked, but didn't answer the unasked question.

The girl had a brain; she should learn to use it. "Drop the weapon. If you do not, I will have no choice but to fire on you."

Stiffly, the scepter dropped from her hands, clattering loudly against the ground. Tanya grit her teeth. This needed to end faster.

"P- Please…" the girl muttered. Tanya just glared.

"There, there," Tanya said, mimicking the girl's earlier words, "no need to be scared. I just want you to say something for me. Then I'll let you go."

The girl didn't move, and Tanya took that as her cue to tell her what to say. "Speak the words, 'I promise not to harm Tanya von Degurechaff, otherwise known as The Atheist.'"

Her body was beginning to shake, and Tanya walked forward. "Hey. Just say that, and you can leave."

She stuttered out the sentence, and Tanya watched as the staff at her feet contracted. It shrunk, and the fire and ice that it seemed to exude retracted, becoming simple designs on the side.

Sighing, Tanya dropped the Optical Decoy spells, and let the gun rest on her shoulders. "There, that wasn't so hard. You can go."

The girl seemed to blink, sinking to her knees as a gasp left her body. "But… why? Why not kill me? I could become a threat."

Tanya chuckled. "You may not have realized it, but by swearing not to hurt me and actually meaning it, you invalidated the contract you made with heaven. Your scepter doesn't have whatever special properties it had, and it's little more than a particularly strong scepter now."

The girl continued to stare at Tanya, fear and confusion present. Tanya sighed. "Look, I don't hate you or anything. It's just…" she said, trailing off. She grabbed her gun with both hands, taking a bit of solace in its familiar presence.

"That contract meant you would be motivated to kill me. Now that it's gone, you don't need to. You won't get the power of my relics, and you won't get a wish if you kill the Demon King. I suggest that you find a quiet job and ignore becoming an adventurer," she explained. She turned to the entrance to the alley, but the girl's voice called out.

"And if I want revenge?" she shouted. Tanya turned, a calculating look in her eyes, all of the pity she felt for the girl gone.

"Let me make this clear: you live because I don't think you can become a threat. If that changes however…" she trailed off suggestively. The woman shrunk back, clutching the scepter.

Tanya walked over, and the woman pointed it at her. Tanya rolled her eyes. "It's lost its power, and you haven't even gone to the Guild. You don't have any skills that you can even use."

Tanya grabbed it with both hands, and yanked it away from her. Leaving behind the girl, who seemed to be on the verge of a breakdown, Tanya felt a bit of pity. She sighed, and grabbed the bag at her belt.

"Here. You don't have many Eris, but you can have this," she said thrusting a handful of money towards her.

She knew that she shouldn't pity her. She knew she probably should just kill her.

But… she was just a child, and Tanya couldn't really fault her for her idealism and wanting to run off towards danger to protect the innocent. Those feelings were at least better than the rage that fueled the people that Tanya had fought.

The girl grabbed the ten thousand Eris Tanya had handed her. Without another word, Tanya turned back to the entrance. Darkness and Chris might be looking for her.

Eyeing the staff in her hands, Tanya got an idea. Chris had refused to teach her any skills, saying that she didn't have anything that would be worth her time. Maybe this would suffice as payment?

-OxOxO-

Chris stared at the staff in her hands.

She recognized it. It had been created recently, by a God she didn't know the name of. It had even been sent out with a promising Reincarnate.

And here it was, lying in her hands, not a day after they had been reincarnated.

Eyes cold, she looked up at the blonde madwoman who had handed it to her. "Well? Will you teach me a skill now?"

Chris nodded mechanically, wishing she could descend to the world in her true form and teach this cruel person a lesson. She had been right to help spread the rumor about her being 'Evil'.

She had killed someone for this. She had killed an innocent teenager for this. She had decided that learning a skill, that protecting her own life, meant more than any and all of the people that Heaven sent to stop both her and the Demon King.

Chris would take it, and she would seal its latent power.

Why The Atheist was giving it up, Chris didn't know. It could magnify the level of her spells exponentially. No one could stop her then.

Still, if she was going to give it up…

The blonde beamed at her. "Thanks Chris! Sorry we couldn't find that pervert…"

Chris just nodded, ignoring Darkness and Tanya's antics as the former lamented not finding and being ravaged by this mysterious pervert.

Chris took a deep breath, trying to clear her head. It was better if she got the relics, instead of them landing in the hands of some corrupt noble.

So, despite her fears that the only reason the psychopath had killed the Reincarnate was to get a weapon to barter for skills with, she would accept whatever she gave her.

She would worm her way into this crazy loli's trust, and stab her in the back as soon as she could. She was a Thief, after all.

Assassination was not above her, not with this… pseudo-Demon.

Chapter Text

Tanya spun her latest acquisition in her now fully-gloved hands. Really, it was getting too easy to dupe these Reincarnates.

Since that first one, who Tanya had lost track of – she hoped that was a sign the girl was enjoying a nice, quiet life away from adventuring – Tanya had taken care of ten of them in the past three weeks.

Five of those encounters, like the one she'd just finished, shared the same progression as that first one: she'd taken their weapons, given the unfortunate teenager money, and either sold the weapon to the General Store or given them to Chris in exchange for skills.

And while she couldn't exactly get a good price from the General Store manager – she had to accept a smaller reward in return for his agreement that he wouldn't sell the items to Hero Candidates – she did get over 70,000 for each.

Her other five encounters had gone differently.

Three had dropped their weapons and said the words, but the power had not faded from their weapons in the slightest. Their weapons hadn't shrunk down or changed in any way.

After she allowed a warning shot to miss their heads, two of them had folded and repeated the words with feeling. Their weapons had changed to reflect that.

But one of those three, the one with a pair of blades, had still not meant the words. She knew because his pair of weapons had reappeared in his hands as he attempted to flee from her.

They had still intended to kill Tanya, and, when she had easily caught up with him, she had gotten… creative.

Or, more creative, anyway. He was only a teenager, after all, and employing real torture against him would have been unnecessary, as well as distasteful.

A slice to the leg and a few Optical Decoy spells had gotten the kid to cave. She had healed their leg, but not given him, or the other two that hadn't meant their words the first time, any money.

They had tried to subvert her desires for a minute too long, and they should have taken her deal at the beginning.

She grimaced as she remembered the other two outlying encounters. They had gone... horribly.

Neither had had a weapon, but a skill, like the Shapeshifting Reincarnate that had attacked her after the festival. She had still made them swear not to hurt her, but…

The beings that claimed to be gods and goddesses had likely altered their very being to give them those powers, delicately altering their DNA to enact changes on what they could do.

In taking away most of that power, heaven had been decidedly less delicate.

It had taken most of her mana, but she had been expecting it the second time. Casting Heal had saved the Reincarnate's life.

The first one who had had a skill instead of a weapon, however…

They had ended up a piece of mangled flesh. She hadn't been expecting them to collapse and begin screaming the first time, and she had been unable to help them in time.

After getting rid of what was left of them – this time, she'd fed it to a Giant Toad, which was a much simpler way to dispose of the body, given their willingness to eat anything that wasn't made of metal – Tanya had added their needless death as another reason on her mental list of reasons as to why she hated Being X and his cadre of beings.

Still, she hadn't needed to kill anyone else.

Not that she wouldn't have, if she had needed to, but she really didn't want to. That the truth-detecting item would definitely catch a crime like that after a while was only one reason.

Shaking her head, she dropped the latest weapon off at the general store and grabbed a bag of money the owner had silently placed on the counter. Sometimes, Chris would take some of it in return for a skill.

She probably just sold whatever Tanya gave her to the general store – or some other store that specialized in weapons – for a profit, but Tanya didn't mind, since she'd gotten training in how to best utilize the skills Tanya learned from her.

Pulling up her hood as she left the general store, Tanya walked down the streets of Axel, relishing in the feeling of no one being able to tell her what to do. With all the money she had earned from giving the general store the weapons, as well as everything she had been able to earn from the quests she could easily complete with her rifle, she had paid Darkness back and given Luna enough money that she waive the remainder of the community service time.

Everything seemed to be looking up for her.

She thought that, knowing full well that thinking that usually meant things would end up bad for her. And with how her Luck stat had somehow fallen in the last three weeks, she was sure she would regret daring the universe – or the 'goddess' Eris – to spite her.

However, the point needed to be made that, while she was having a good time, no one else seemed like they were.

Except Darkness and Chris, but that was because they were with her.

Monsters had disappeared farther into forests than anyone could remember them ever going. Adventurers were beginning to take on harder and harder quests in an attempt to earn money, and Dust had even asked for compensation for his services in teaching her Spearmanship.

Tanya had given in, aware that she was one of the only adventurers with money to burn, let alone enough to survive.

She was living well off of all the weapons she managed to sell, and, when she had given up a lot of her cash to pay off that community service, the three of them had just gone on a quest to kill a One-Hit-Kill Bear.

Tanya had eviscerated it, and they had eaten well.

However, while many adventurers and the people that supported them – Priests, Blacksmiths, some Merchants, and others – were suffering, many were taking the change as a good thing.

Less monsters meant farmers could farm more and only have to fight with their crops instead of also contending with monsters. Merchants could lower prices on their products since they didn't have to hire adventurers to protect their caravans.

Of course, if a large portion of the population didn't have money to spend, businesses might start hiking prices up in order to compensate, keeping even more people from spending money on them, which…

She shook her head. The people running Axel were likely responsible, well-adjusted members of society. If the economy began to get out of hand, they could step in. She had nothing to worry about, probably.

Regardless of Axel's economy, Tanya was just glad she had a source of income beyond adventuring, even if it was, at the very least, extortion.

Scowling at the bag of money in her stone gray gloves, she adjusted them again. She didn't like them as much as her old fingerless ones, but they were longer, and she had even managed to stash a few 'surprise knives' in both.

Even if she somehow lost her gun, she would have a distracting and potentially life-saving weapon thanks to them.

In addition to the new gloves she'd acquired two weeks ago, she'd also constructed a pair of goggles last week, which hung from her neck.

She didn't think she'd need them very much – her Passive Barrier could replicate their function effectively – but Reincarnates could present problems, if they managed to slip away from her for some reason. Using any frivolous spells, no matter how small, to replicate goggles in a battle against a competent Reincarnate could be deadly.

Walking into the guild, Tanya brightly sat down next to Darkness and Chris. "Hello. Have any ideas for any quests today?"

Darkness, equally radiant, held up a piece of paper. "Yes. It's a quest to stop two rampaging beasts on a plot of land. They're both rumored to be super strong. I don't care if you need time to use that 'rifle' of yours. You'll be too distracted with one, and when the other escapes your notice, it'll ravage me!" she cried out.

Tanya looked at it. "Denied."

Darkness's head dropped a fraction of an inch, but she didn't seem all that upset. "You really are relentless, huh?"

Tanya looked at Chris, who shrugged noncommittally. She had gotten like that ever since Tanya had begun to learn skills from her.

Tanya sighed. She needed to explain to her that Tanya wouldn't drive her out of their party after learning all of her skills.

Tanya had gotten a few of them that seemed useful – like Lurk, which lessened your physical presence by obscuring you from an enemy's senses. It was basically a much better version of trying to use her Optical Decoy spells to hide herself, except those couldn't erase her scent or any sounds she made.

But others, like Enemy Detection – she had her Observation spells, which would only fail if they had very little mana – and Steal – she didn't have the Luck to trust something like that – she had waved off.

Tanya shook her head, focusing back on Chris's words. "Nothing easy. All of the monsters are in hiding, since something strong has moved into the area."

Seeing Tanya's inquiring gaze, Chris let out a put-upon sigh. "Luna announced it a few days ago, while you were doing your part-time job," she said, reminding Tanya that she needed to get more of that explosive potion Wiz had.

She had used up the last of it in the past few days, making as many bullets as she could. She had twenty rounds, arranged in clips and packed into pockets attached to a belt – or a 'bandolier,' as Lavendula insisted it was called – she had bought and hung from her shoulder to her hip.

"If there's a strong monster around, anything that it could kill hides, waiting for it to move on," Chris continued, unaware of Tanya's thoughts.

Tanya nodded, and then cast a quick gaze around the guild. There didn't seem to be as many adventurers. She knew that there was still work to do – people that needed part-time work done, or farmers that needed help harvesting their crops – but none of it yielded much experience or money.

"Do we know what it is?" Tanya asked Chris, ignoring Darkness's continued attention on Chris's words, the fantasies they created, and…

She shook her head. Darkness only seemed to be moaning more, now that Tanya was actively ignoring her.

Chris opened her mouth, but then closed it with a snap. "No. All the guild knows is the general area where things like Fire Drakes and Squirrels have gone quiet. It's probably around there."

Tanya nodded, coming to a decision. In her time in the Empire, she had wanted a bit of fame. Too much – and, if she was honest, the amount of fame she had acquired – would mean she would be promoted to a rank where, if the Empire lost, she would have been thrown out or executed for the trouble she caused her enemies.

Too little would have meant she would be constantly on the front lines, waiting to be killed by a large enough group of mages that even she couldn't fight. Her efforts to become less than famous had been… less than successful, if her being put in command of the 203rd and becoming a propaganda magnet was anything to go by.

Here, however… if she wanted that wish, she needed to kill the Demon King. Doing so would require that she get close enough, and doing that meant she would need to spearhead some sort of group that could stand toe-to-toe with him.

Getting as much fame as she could would hasten her rise to the top of the list of Adventurer Parties that populated the countries newspapers.

Newspapers had been a shock for her – people were literate here? – but it seemed that most adventurers, no matter how rich or poor, learned at least a small bit of the written language, in order to accept quests.

Mind made up, she announced to Chris. "Well, we should deliver the adventurers from this plight, right? Let's try to find out what this threat is, so that the capital can send supporting forces, at least."

Chris looked curious, and Tanya thought she saw her mutter something under her breath, but she didn't catch it on the part of Darkness, who, after hearing Tanya's declaration, had shouted in glee.

"To be ravaged by something that scares even Griphons away… berated and derided for being stupid enough to seek something like that out… just the thought of it-"

Tanya cut off the masochist. "Yes, yes, you wouldn't be able to contain yourself. You can talk all about it to Chris while I go get business done."

Trying to ignore the armor-clad girl behind her, she walked to the front desk. Her eyes flicked down towards Luna's impressive bust for only a moment – she didn't want to be caught, like Dust always was – she smiled at the woman. Luna smiled back.

"Is there a quest for scouting out the new monster?" she asked. Luna's genuine smile fell, replaced by the resigned one Luna adopted whenever she tried to convince Tanya to change classes.

"Technically, yes, but the guild strongly recommends that under-leveled parties stay well away from that sort of thing," she said, already taking out the quest from behind the counter. Tanya smiled and picked up the piece of paper.

It was nice to know that she could learn that Tanya was going to ignore her 'recommendations.'

Honestly, Tanya suspected that it was some sort of contractual obligation. Luna knew Tanya was strong enough to take on Fire Drakes and Slimes, and she even had backup these days. How much worse could this be?

The quest was worded, surprisingly, much like the one for the quest she had taken on the Brutal Alligators. Go in, figure out what is causing the problem, gauge their threat, and leave. Only, the last command was worded much more strongly.

Instead of a vague suggestion that they shouldn't try to fight Brutal Alligators, this one almost screamed it at her. It even mentioned her by name…

Wait.

"Did you write this, Luna?" she asked, both annoyed and amused. The discouraged smile was replaced by a small frown, and Tanya's eyes rose.

Luna never showed anything other than a smile.

"Tanya. You are one of the only adventurers in this town who has ever accepted community service. I, quite literally, have never seen someone else do that. Pardon the concern I've shown one of the most moral and reckless adventurers I have ever met," she uttered.

Tanya brushed off the compliments. If Tanya was moral – and she had no qualms about killing other people, if the rewards outweighed the risks by enough – then there were probably more people like Dust in here than she thought.

"Aww… I didn't know you felt that way, Luna," she said, trailing off suggestively. The receptionist was probably just trying to get her to reject the quest, with such confession of admiration.

Tanya wasn't going to listen.

The woman scoffed, but she didn't let her smile fall. "I am not an Axis Cultist, Tanya."

With that, she began filling out information related to her and the quest on the paper she had been shown. Tanya looked up at her cap, deep in thought for all of the two seconds in took to seriously consider her latest though. Then, she shook her head.

There was no way that was some sort of… euphemism, right? No religion would alienate so many people by catering to the desires of a very limited section of their population.

Right?

Shaking her head to get rid of that ridiculous notion – how many people could even be gay, in Medieval times? Twenty people? – she snatched the quest out of Luna's hands, walking over to Chris and the still-aroused Darkness. This would be a nice, easy quest. They weren't going to fight whatever it was, after all.

Not unless a chance to surprise it and bag a nice, juicy reward appeared.

-OxOxO-

After a few hours of getting together supplies – Tanya wanted to come back with results, after all – and they were about to set out towards the north, where the thing was rumored to be stationed.

Then, some… thing stopped them.

Tanya blinked and shook her head. Well, calling it a thing was a bit mean, so Tanya amended her thought.

Dust stopped them, party in tow.

He was standing leisurely by the gate to the town, while his party argued behind him. They all seemed rather angry – not even with him, what a rarity – but Dust was just staring down at the ground with a small smile on his face.

Tanya was suspicious. Dust didn't often leave his natural habitat – the bar of wherever was naïve enough to waive his debts for an hour before realizing their mistake – but she walked out of the gate anyway.

"Hey, what do you think you're doing, you flat-chested Thief!" he shouted. Sighing, Tanya turned around.

Dust was pointing at his boot, where a scuff of mud had suddenly appeared. Chris looked slightly embarrassed, but she seemed more enraged.

"Excuse me?" she asked, voice dangerously low. Tanya shook her head.

Why the woman tried to ignore the obvious – that her breasts were pathetic – Tanya didn't understand.

Tanya, with her spitefully provided female body, had long grown to accept that there wasn't a whole lot you could do to change your body…

Wait…

Tanya thoughts crashed to a halt, and she inhaled deeply, ignoring the outside world.

Unless…

Shapeshifting, while a dirty cheat supplied by Being X, had appealed to her, in part, because she had wanted her old body back. Constantly using her energy to convince herself that she was still a man, despite the change in… circumstances, had been tiring and wasteful throughout the last sixteen years of her life.

What if… this world, with its utter lack of care for physics and math when it came to magic or potions or anything, could give her what she had lost…?

She shook her head, trying not to get her hopes up. Another question for Wiz, or perhaps Dust, who wouldn't remember anything as long as she gave him enough alcohol.

Speaking of Dust…

She looked again at Dust, whose face was tinged red and wearing a smile. He seemed a bit unhappy that she hadn't responded to him, but he was, indeed, smiling.

Tanya groaned.

If he was smiling, he was drunk.

She ran over, and separated Dust from Chris, who looked murderous. "Look, we don't have time for this. Nice seeing you Dust, I'll see you tomorrow for the lesson, have a good day!" she said in one breath. His companions looked over curiously, while Dust looked down at her.

A lecherous grin overtook his face, and Tanya heard Darkness gasp at that. "Right~. See you Tanya!" he said, giggling. The other three approached, all glaring at Dust, while Tanya just groaned internally. She wanted to find whatever this thing was as fast as possible, and-

"Did he give you trouble?" questioned Lynn as Taylor took ahold of the man's arm, while Keith looked on, flashing Dust an apologetic look.

Chris nodded, while Tanya tried to wave them off. "Not at all! We were just heading out on a quest, so-"

"What quest would that be?" Lynn interrupted.

Tanya blinked at the ravenous look in the girl's eye, and cast an appraising eye at the three of them. All of them looked like they had seen better days, if the unwashed quality that pervaded their equipment – still stained with the blood of monsters.

Tanya quickly realized what they wanted.

"Would you like to come with us?" she asked hesitantly, already planning to ask Dust that question when they came back. All three lit up, while Dust only seemed disgusted.

Earlier sympathy forgotten for his blond-haired friend, Keith stamped down on Dust's foot before he could insult them. "We would love to!" Lynn, Taylor, and Keith shouted in unison while Dust swore.

As they walked out of the gate, Tanya increased the priority of trying to fight whatever this monster was. It seemed it was affecting Axel worse than she had assumed, if these three were willing to go on a quest with her before even hearing about what it was.

Tanya turned to them the moment they walked out of the gate, and she began to lay out what they were doing. None of them looked particularly happy about doing this quest, but they still decided on going.

Chris was glaring at Dust, who was staring at her curiously, as if he was confused about why she was staring at him.

How drunk was he, for him to forget that he'd tried to con her only a few moments ago?

Trying to ignore that question, Tanya set off on the road with everyone else in tow. They walked through plains, eyeing the idyllic scenery, absent of any and all monsters.

It was nice to have even less to fight than usual. Nothing as difficult as the front lines of her last life had presented itself, that pair of Reincarnates excluded. This world was a cakewalk, so far, and it seemed almost inevitable that she would achieve her goal, eventually.

She breathed in deeply. This was what she had dreamed of, when flying in the skies above the Eastern Front. A warm town sequestered away from any fighting, where she could live out her days doing her job and ignoring Being X.

Another half hour of walking set them in front of a forest. "Now," Tanya said, interrupting Darkness's rambling about the foe they would face and the feelings of discomfort shown on the faces of the other party that was accompanying them.

"We're here to figure out what is living around here. Luna says that it could be anything from a very strong Dragon to a minion of the Demon King. That means that they're most likely living in some sort of cave, or somewhere hidden from normal view," she said, walking backwards over a rise in the path through the forest.

The others caught sight of something behind her, and Tanya sighed internally. She really wished she had the 203rd here. They knew how to listen to a briefing, at least.

"Luna said that there are plenty of caves hidden in this forest, so we should stick together in our parties and look around. We'll meet up here in two hours and report what we've found. Got it?" she asked. All of them were still looking behind her.

She glared. The nerve of them, to ignore her while she was speaking. "Hey! What's so…" she trailed off as she looked behind her.

Right. That would count as a possible hideout.

A large, gloomy castle marred the beautiful landscape, placed on the top of a large cliff. There seemed to be at least four towers, thick, intimidating walls, and numerous buildings contained within.

It gave off a feeling of foreboding, which was rather impressive considering they were at least a mile away. "Good eyes, everyone," Tanya declared, not daring to turn around.

That much scorn directed at her would definitely not be good for her, especially since she could hear Chris, Lynn, Dust, and Keith all snickering.

No one moved, staring at the impressive sight in front of them, and Tanya hesitated.

"Well, what are we waiting for?" asked Chris. Still, no one moved, and even Tanya was put off by the foreboding feeling emanating from that thing.

Darkness, unsurprisingly, took the first step forward, face red and panting. "To think that something could control that place…"

She was already heading down the path. Tanya turned away from the sight in front of her to the other members of this quest.

The four tagalongs seemed quite unsure as to whether they should go, and Dust seemed to have sobered up at the sight of the towering castle. "Hey… should we really try and go over there? Maybe we can just head back now…"

Tanya shook her head vigorously. "No. We need to figure out what it could be, at least." She also wasn't letting Dust get away until she'd asked that question and knocked him out with alcohol.

With the end of her declaration, she followed after Darkness, wishing the Crusader would at least start running so Tanya could imagine that her panting was due to exhaustion instead of lust.

After that, the others seemed to have made up their mind. They followed, wary of whatever could call that castle home.

-OxOxO-

Tanya followed behind them as they neared the castle. Using Chris's and her own Lurk skill, they had kept a low profile, closing in on the imposing structure. Their tagalongs had lost whatever enthusiasm they had had back in Axel, favoring their lives over this quest.

Tanya did too, but she was sure she could survive whatever this was.

Darkness's moaning had only begun to grow louder as they approached the castle, which was setting off warning bells, sirens, klaxons, and many other loud, jarring sounds in Tanya's head, making her wonder if she should reconsider. Still, they pressed on.

Tanya was behind the rest, ensuring that the back half were protected, while Chris led them forward. Tanya was also casting Observation spells at the castle quietly. She wanted to use better ones, due to the readings she was getting, but doing so risked Lynn turning around and seeing Tanya doing magic she had never heard of.

And the readings she was getting…

She hadn't found much. All of her magic was insisting that nothing living was present within the castle, which meant it was faulty – not entirely improbable, since she still didn't have a Computation Jewel besides the Type 95 – or this monster was some sort of undead.

Thus far, Tanya had begged off quests involving the undead, since she wasn't entirely convinced her bullets would work that well on things that didn't feel pain.

There was no doubt that she could just blow them up, but using the number of Explosive Vaporization spells that would be necessary to take them out if they surrounded her was daunting, especially if she were underground or somewhere else where using that spell could mean collapsed roofs.

None of that even took into account that using that spell repeatedly would leave her tired and probably immobile after a while.

Soon, they would be in sight of the front door, and Tanya began to maneuver into the front of the group. If they got there without figuring out what it was, Tanya would need to go in. The usage of Flight magic would be necessary, and she didn't want to display that openly.

Behind herself, Dust and Chris seemed to be the most composed of their group. Chris wasn't new – she had proven herself reliable and cognizant of the strengths of her teammates – and Tanya had begun to expect more from Dust since he had started those lessons.

His skill with a spear – better than anything she had ever seen – begged the question as to why he was a Warrior, instead of something that specialized in spears, but Tanya had promised not to pry into his past.

In the past three weeks, she would show up at the guild, he tutored her in the middle of a nearby dump, and she benefited greatly from knowing how to better use her gun as a spear, if she ever ran out of ammunition.

The gates of the castle loomed, and Tanya sighed. She didn't know what was in there, which meant she would have to go in. Chris motioned towards a bush, and all of them took refuge behind it, staring up at the towering castle. "Well, now what?" asked Taylor. Tanya opened her mouth, but then Chris spoke up.

"I can see that the place is crawling with soldiers. They're patrolling the hallways, towers, a few of them are stationed at the gate. As long as we keep Lurk active, though, we should be fine…" she relayed.

Tanya's eyes widened. That must have been the Thief's Enemy Detection was more useful than she gave it credit for, if Tanya couldn't get anything out of her Observation spells.

"It's… they're undead; I can see one through the uppermost window. They're all undead."

Tanya looked at him, bewildered. "How can you see that?" she asked.

A few Observation spells could be used as substitutes for binoculars by 'zooming in' on faraway images, but she didn't have the capability of doing that without a Computation Jewel; what did he have?

"My Farsight skill. I can see stuff far away, and it has night vision and thermal vision at higher levels," he relayed, staring intently at the various windows and walls, looking for more confirmation. Tanya nodded, thinking rapidly.

She had no idea about this. She didn't have knowledge of this world, and what she knew about undead amounted to 'they were once living things,' which was sort of implied by the name.

Tanya stood. "Well, I guess I'll go in and confirm what we're facing."

Darkness and the other four looked at her skeptically, while Chris looked rather pensive. "You're kidding, right? There's no way we can fight our way through that many undead, not without a Priest," Taylor pointed out. Darkness nodded her agreement, before her face also became pensive.

Darkness voiced her thoughts. "If we go in, we'll definitely be torn apart, ravaged by the undead who are attracted to life and pushed to destroy it in equal parts. No doubt, you all will need to escape while I am left behind as a sacrifice. They'll beat on me, and then their terrifying leader will appear…" she panted, eyes becoming unfocused.

Chris didn't voice her thoughts.

If The Atheist went in there, she would definitely get torn to shreds by the thing that waited inside, a Demon King's General.

It was kind of hard for a Goddess like herself to miss the movement of that many undead, so she knew precisely what was in there, even if she couldn't give any proof to the guild. Still, she knew what was in there, and if she gave The Atheist the slightest bit of encouragement, she would definitely attempt to start fighting.

She was the Devil of the Rhine, after all. Why wouldn't she want a good fight?

Chris smirked internally. This was it. The Atheist would get what they deserved, and they would be the one bringing about their own end through hubris. It was perfect!

"I think we should go in," Chris said, nodding to Tanya.

Tanya shook her head. "I'll go in, Chris. You guys don't need to trouble yourselves-"

Chris cut her off. "You'll need the skills I have, right? I can use Unlock to help us move through faster. You need me." Tanya looked at the other four, who all looked as if they agreed.

Just as Tanya was about to nod, she felt ping on her Observation spell. Trying to look as deep in thought as she could, she began to pace, turning her spell towards the direction Axel was in.

Yes, another Reincarnate had come in, judging by the geyser coming from the south of their current position.

Tanya grit her teeth. She needed to get back. She didn't want to fight with them, and the more entrenched in the idea that they were 'god's chosen' became, the higher the possibility that she would have to threaten or fight them rose.

Plus, if they had a skill instead of a weapon, Tanya would rather attempt to Heal them while she had mana.

Tanya licked her lips. She needed to go back. Now. She tried to calm down, hoping that her voice wasn't shaking in worry. "Dust, Taylor, Keith, and Lynn: any ideas as to what it could be in there?"

If they could figure it out based on what they knew – lots of undead, strong enough to scare all monsters away from Axel – then they could just leave and give Luna their best guess.

All of them looked at each other, while Lynn rubbed the back of her head. "Well, only high tier undead can control other undead, so that means that it's anything from an Undead Dragon, a Vampire, a Lich, or even a Dullahan…"

She gasped. "Could it be the Demon King's Dullahan?" she asked, turning to the others.

Taylor gasped, as did Darkness, if for different reasons. "You're right!" both shouted.

Darkness was panting even harder, and Taylor looked legitimately fearful. "It's definitely him. And if it is, then we need to leave. Now."

Chris looked frustrated. "But-"

Taylor shook his head. "I know you and Darkness are devout Eris Cultists – and I am too – but we can't take something like that on."

He and the other three already seemed to be running back the way they came.

Darkness seemed undecided, while Chris looked upset.

Tanya was wishing she could remove the fact that she was leading two religious nutcases – how had she missed that Chris was an Eris Cultist? She usually never missed things like that – and helping their religion at the same time from her head.

Chris grit her teeth. They'd be back later, and she had no problem with abandoning the loli then. She began to stalk after the others.

Tanya followed, dragging a nearly catatonic Darkness behind her, wondering why she had to be the one who dragged the masochist through the forest and trying to think of how to take care of this newest Reincarnate.

Looking back at the castle, she grinned. She might be leaving, but that didn't mean she couldn't leave the supposed general with a parting gift.

-OxOxO-

As Verdia walked through the halls of the newly renovated castle, he sighed appreciatively. Finding a place like this to stay had been a boon, and it would be a shame if this place fell into disrepair.

Originally, he feared he would have to stay in some moldy, wet cave. While his night vision was obviously excellent, he knew that even he could make mistakes, and tripping, losing hold of his head, and spending half an hour trying to reunite his body and head seemed like a particularly frivolous waste of time.

Of course, the weaker undead he could gather still suffered from decay, even if he didn't. Their degradation wouldn't assist in building power, and a wet cave would only speed up decomposition.

Just as he prepared to head into the secret addition of the parlor, a knock sounded on the wooden door. He gave a sound of consent, and one of his higher-leveled Undead Knights wandered in.

"My General. Enemies have been spotted approaching the castle." The animated body said this listlessly, and Verdia nodded. He left the room, followed by the soldier.

"Interesting." Without another word, he stuck his head out of the nearest window, leaning out to try and catch sight of the front of the castle. He saw nothing.

He brought his head back in, and tilted it. "It seems they've left…"

Scowling, he headed back into the parlor. "Increase patrols. They were probably here to figure out why the monsters have disappeared, and it seems they've been scared off, after realizing what was here." The knight bowed his head slightly, and then stalked off to inform the rest of the castle.

Verdia didn't want to interrupt them from their cleaning work. He pulled on the unlit mana-fueled lantern that hung on a nearby wall, and watched in satisfaction as the secret entrance to his lair opened. He chuckled as he walked down the stairs.

Even if Vanir, the Demon King's Duke of Hell, was the one famous for wanting a nearly unconquerable dungeon, Verdia occasionally liked to fit the aesthetic of a brooding boss, awaiting some chosen hero.

He looked around. The throne, the completely dark room, the temperature…

All of it fit perfectly. He looked around, for a moment, and then sighed dejectedly as he sunk into the throne at the back of the room.

It would be perfect, if he wasn't stuck here.

He would never disobey a command of the Demon King – the being had proved his leadership abilities too many times for that – but still. Axel?

The town of rookie adventurers? A rinky-dink town in the middle of nowhere?

But his King had explained it easily, and Verdia couldn't find fault with them.

Monsters wouldn't dare come out thanks to his presence in the area. Without them, new adventurers would be deprived of experience.

Stopping the flood of reinforcements from here to the Capital and elsewhere on the front lines was important, and he was the only one free enough right now.

He sighed as he thought of the other reason he was there. He was supposed to determine if the 'double blessed' 'Hero Candidate' was still there. If they were, he was supposed to take them out.

He doubted it; all Reincarnates had been able to arrive at the front lines within a week of arriving and given preferential treatment so that they would withstand his King's forces. The prophet – damn that charlatan – had suggested they investigate, and his King had ordered him to comply.

He moved his wrist and shook his head.

He could begin to build up his forces at least; the graveyards of Axel were unlikely to have many good corpses, but the rumors of a Griffon and a Manticore battling for territory nearby intrigued him. Turning either of those into an undead would be a huge pro on the chart of why the hell he had to come here, of all places.

A thought occurred to him, and he sighed dreamily, lifting his head higher, as if it were really in the clouds. Wiz, a General in her own right and the 'bandit of the Demon King's coffers,' was supposed to have set up a shop in the town. If his head were screwed on straight, he'd pay her a visit…

Oh well. He'd need to inquire about the 'Hero Candidate' soon enough; as the strongest mage in Axel, Wiz would be sure to show her face when he made his appearance in front of the city and threatened the rookies with death.

The kingdom was unlikely to send any of the Reincarnates to someplace like this, not with how few of them had been showing up recently.

He thought back to the adventurers that were supposed to have shown up in front of his new base. They weren't likely to amount to much, but maybe they'd provide some sort of fight if he visited the town?

BOOM!

Verdia's head was sent flying, tumbling away from his body. Head shouting, the body scrambled to reclaim the seat of its thoughts. The back wall, where the throne had been situated, crumbled away, leaving the room bare to the windy mountain air.

His head tumbled precariously close to the edge, but his body managed to grab it. Verdia sighed, and secured his head under his arm.

That done, he looked out into the air. "What…" he trailed off as he gazed out over the land. The very familiar land.

He nodded to himself absently. Yes, this was the land underneath the cliff face his new base was situated. The question of how this – him staring out at it from his formerly-underground lair – had happened was not readily apparent, but he identified it soon enough.

Just as he could perceive all motion around himself and dispatch with anyone who threatened him using a special technique, and how Rangers could look into the distance, muttering a skill allowed him to pick out minute details in the far away from himself.

Of course, he was undead; that meant that the skill was focused on finding large pockets of power, in the form of a soul.

He soon found it. They were small, and had some sort of oddly shaped staff with a blade on the end of it.

Interesting. Mage's didn't usually care about self-defense, trusting in their allies to protect them. He deactivated his enhanced vision – staring at people's souls often gave him headaches – and squirted at the figure in the far off distance.

While her physical appearance was vaguely interesting, his thoughts were much more intrigued by the markings on her soul. They meant one thing.

"Reincarnate…"

It appeared that their party had scouted out this position had left with a parting remark, or they had attacked his castle in some sort of show of courage.

He surveyed the magically-created hole; he wasn't a Mage, but even he knew that this had to be something strong, like the usage of Detonation magic.

The temptation to pursue them, but he stayed his hand.

If they were audacious enough to use magic on his castle as a parting remark, they would be back, and if they had wanted to showcase their courage as they fled with a tail tucked between their legs, then they wouldn't.

He grinned. If a Reincarnate that could use Detonation Magic was in town, then they might actually put up a good fight.

Smirking, he went back inside and rose through the staircase. No doubt, that explosion caused some sort of ruckus inside. It wouldn't be as bad as if they had attacked the castle directly, but there was going to be some damage. He'd finish cleaning up, gather reinforcements from where he could, and then wait.

The Demon King had told him to await reinforcements, after all, and he knew how to follow orders, unlike many of his fellow Generals…

-OxOxO-

Tanya sighed in satisfaction. Even though the moment was tainted by using the Type 95 to mutter praises of Being X, the sizable explosion in the side of the cliff looked good. It seemed to have even opened up some sort of cave, if the depression near the center of the blast was anything to go by.

She might have liked to do more actual damage by hitting the castle itself, but damaging its foundations would hurt it more in the long run than anything else she could do to the building directly.

At least she didn't have to drag Darkness anymore, who seemed to have finally recovered from the news that they were facing one of the Demon King's Generals and from the fact that Tanya had been dragging her along for a mile as if she were a piece of freshly-killed meat.

Standing, she asked the one question Tanya hated getting whenever someone realized that she was singing the praises of a god. "You're religious?"

Tanya sighed tiredly. She couldn't really get mad at her. In a Medieval setting, it was expected that she be religious. "No."

Darkness was taken aback by the vehemence in Tanya's reprisal. "But you-"

"Imagine you could kill any monster that faced you, Darkness," she began. She knew that she had to illustrate these things.

She nodded. "Imagine: you aren't a helpless Crusader that can only carry out her goddess's will with the help of others. There is just one, tiny, minute problem: in order for you to kill anything, you have to declare that your god is nothing but a figment of peoples' imaginations," she said, spitting out each word.

Darkness's decidedly uncomfortable expression told Tanya all she needed to know about that notion. A moment of silence reigned, and then Tanya began to walk off. She had a Reincarnate to attend to and some questions to ask an inebriated Dust.

Personally, she was hoping that they had something more interesting than a weapon or a skill; maybe they would have something more similar to her circlet?

-OxOxO-

Chris and Darkness, thankfully, parted from Tanya rather quickly. They wanted to get a bath, and Tanya just told them she had some other business to attend to.

Lynn, Taylor, and Keith were standing outside the guild, waiting for Dust to stop stumbling around and walk in with them. Tanya quickly put an end to that as she wrapped an arm around Dust's shoulders – which was very hard to do when you were as short as she was. She smiled at the other three.

"You all go sort out our pay! Chris and Darkness will get back very soon, and we'll be back soon enough as well. I need to talk to Dust."

They peered at Tanya and Dust curiously, but they didn't complain, and Tanya dragged him off down a side alley.

He was confused and sputtering, but she paid him no mind. "Listen here, Dust. I need to ask you a question I don't want you to remember, so… how much money do you need to get blackout drunk and not remember any of today?"

He gawked at her, but she didn't blush or let her gaze waver. Dust was a very straightforward man whose vices were simple. He might have a complicated past, but she didn't honestly care beyond a faint curiosity.

Tanya saw him fight the call of his alcoholism for all of five seconds before greed took over. "50,000 Eris will get me the required amount of cheap alcohol, but the better stuff will cost you 100,000."

Tanya sighed, but she did as asked and divided out the larger amount of money. She would earn a lot of it back using the Reincarnate.

He didn't even count out the money, and Tanya took a deep breath.

Tanya asked her question.

His eyebrows both seemed to be trying to join his hairline, but he answered diligently and asked for another 50,000 Eris. She gave it to him, and he left, completely ignoring the guild and heading to where she was sure some gambling den was.

Tanya, meanwhile, was smiling. Not smirking, or grinning. It wasn't sarcastic or sad.

She was happy.

She turned back to the guild. The Reincarnate would be no trouble at all, and then she could continue to grow stronger, earn money, get ready to fight the Demon King, and, now that she had her answer…

She could save up to purchase a gender-switching item from wherever she could find one.

-OxOxO-

She gasped, drawing in a deep, heaving breath as she woke up. Where…

Where was she?

Her horizon seemed dark, unendingly dark, but a single light illuminated her surroundings and fended the emptiness off. She was in a chair, unrestrained, and another chair was opposite of herself, empty.

Had she been captured by the Cordiale's forces?

The sound of slow, even steps reached her ears, and she spun around. Or tried to.

She was stopped by the chair she was sitting in, and before she could throw herself out of it, the sound of a voice that grew louder in time with the steps interrupted her panicking.

"Viktoriya Ivanovna Serebryakov. Welcome to the afterlife. Unfortunately, you passed away only moments ago."

Then it all came back to her, making her thankful that she was sitting. She would have collapsed if she wasn't.

The bar. The bombs. The explosion. The smell of the air as a building burned, consumed in a blaze of destruction. It wasn't that different from other air raids, except that her friends, the people she'd spent years with, had…

They died.

Grantz and Neumann, killed in the month before the attack. The rest of the 203rd nearly destroyed by that… monster. She gasped as one last name entered her consciousness.

Tanya.

The leader of the 203rd. The White Silver. The one she-

Numb to the breakdown Viktoriya was having, the woman continued to speak. "Your life was a difficult one, full of hardship and strife. But you persevered."

Viktoriya's breathing calmed. She had won?

"How… how did the Cordiale's forces get so far?" she pleaded. She had to know, and hoped for another reason, any other reason, than the one she suspected.

Dresdun was deep in the Empire's territory, far from the front lines in Northern Ildoa and deep in the Russy Federation, and even farther from any effective attack from the Albish. Additionally, no air raid sirens had gone off, and they had had no warning.

Some of that could have to do with people not wanting to bother Tanya after… what had happened near Moskva, but for them to have absolutely no warning…

"It seems the Alliance Cordiale's spies infiltrated the city and disabled all of the alarm systems," she said, looking into the small book by her side and confirming Viktoriya's fears.

She clenched her eyes and grit her teeth, but she made no noise.

Tanya had complained often about the Empire's problem with spying and nationalistic insurgents. The General Staff simply thought that they didn't need to concern themselves with either of those things, which had led to the Empire being surprised by several declarations of war, some scattered uprisings from within the Empire's disputed territories, and, most annoyingly, other countries' desire to aid them.

She almost sighed at the thought of Tanya's hour-long rant about the General Staff not seeking allies, which brought her thoughts back to Tanya…

She continued to try and stifle her tears. They were the cause of her own death and the death of-

Viktoriya gazed at the woman lifelessly. It didn't even matter anymore, if this woman was telling the truth. She was dead, and any lasting hatred she felt burn within her would be wasted on hating people she couldn't touch any longer.

Viktoriya doubted that the woman before her was lying. With her beauty, Viktoriya wouldn't have doubted her if she said she was an angel or representative of God.

"Well, did I at least take some of them with me?" she asked, hoping for a consolation prize.

"Yes. You took down… quite a few before your death."

Viktoriya sighed. She'd avenged the Colonel, at least. "At least I died fighting…"

Blue hair shook, as something flashed across the woman's face. Before Viktoriya could categorize what it was, though, it was gone. "Yes… well, you have questions, no doubt, so I'll begin to explain a few things," the woman said, standing from her seat in the white chair.

"My name is Aqua, and I am a Goddess who guides humans who die young to the afterlife," she explained.

Viktoriya's eyes widened as she tried to digest that. More than one god? That was certainly odd, by Christian standards.

She shrugged internally, trying to suppress how… peculiar that was. Someone must have gotten things wrong when writing the Bible… or something.

At some point. The evidence stood before her.

Apparently.

"Now, thanks to some recent… events, the age of what is considered 'young' up here has been vastly increased. You now qualify under that definition, and won't be sent to Heaven automatically-"

"Er…" Viktoriya interrupted. Aqua paused her speech, an eyebrow raised condescendingly and a hand on her hip. "Yes?"

Viktoriya shrank in her seat a bit, but asked her question regardless. "I have options?"

The woman scoffed. "Yes. If you hadn't interrupted, I would have explained immediately. Since you died 'young' and have enough karma, you can either choose to be reincarnated without any memories in that world you just left, or go to Heaven."

Viktoriya's heart soared. That meant…

Tanya could be in Heaven.

Then she sighed. Of course, her loyalty to the Empire meant that she could have just gone right back in for even the smallest chance of fighting for them again.

This… stumped her. Tanya might be in Heaven, memories intact, or she might have been reincarnated and lost to her forever.

Viktoriya shook her head. Tanya wasn't here, and she needed to decide on her future for herself.

Tanya had playfully criticized Viktoriya's desire to stay near her, and if she could see her now, she'd probably scold Viktoriya for just following her, instead of thinking for herself.

If only…

She sighed. But, no, Tanya had practically spelled out that she wasn't interested in a relationship or in her that way. Still…

It was hard not to want to stay near the one constant of the war. Her immediate family had been murdered in the Russy Federation's purges, and Elya had been sent to a different part of the army. Through being shifted from front to front, mission to mission, Tanya von DEgurechaff seemed to be the one familiar thing she knew.

"Of course, there is a third option."

Viktoriya's head snapped up. "What is it?"

Aqua grinned, and began to speak as a heavenly light sprung into being above her. "A world, which has long enjoyed peace, is being threatened by the oppressive Demon King and his army. Everyone lives in fear of the terror he inspires!"

Viktoriya sat, transfixed. It sounded like this world was suffering, much like the Russy Federation's people had under the harsh hand of communism.

"Since that's the sort of world it is, no one wants to be reborn, and the population is declining. So we decided to send people born in other worlds to oppose him," she said as the light above her faded.

Viktoriya nodded, and vengeful rage sprung to life once more. Whether or not Tanya had decided to go there, she needed to.

She hadn't seen her homeland freed, even if the Empire had been close to finishing the fight. She'd settle the score with someone who seemed just as bad as the communist rats had been.

"Also, the Gods will be doing you a big favor by sending you down with any one item of your choosing," she said.

Viktoriya nodded thoughtfully. Powerful equipment would be extremely helpful, if Tanya's mysterious Type 95 was anything to go by. Having something like that of her own was tempting.

Viktoriya hopped out of the chair. "Where do I sign?"

The woman grinned again and shook her head. "While you don't have to sign anything, there is a contract."

She presented a pamphlet to her that made Viktoriya wonder how she had pockets on such… revealing clothing At least, it was revealing compared to their uniforms-

She shook her head. This was not the time. Viktoriya took the pamphlet and began to read some of it.

The title proclaimed: "Contract of Reincarnation and Opposition to the Demon King" in bold lettering, while a smaller line underneath the title said, "and The Atheist."

Viktoriya looked up. "The Atheist?"

The Goddess's face, wonderfully beautiful until that point, became a twisted pout. "Yes. They were someone we reincarnated mistakenly, around two months ago, in the time of the world you're going to. They have two of our relics, and they might join the Demon King. They both need to be killed."

Viktoriya nodded. The Colonel wouldn't forgive her for not trying to understand everything about her situation that she could.

She sat back down in the chair, cracking her knuckles. She had questions she wanted answered.

-OxOxO-

Aqua suppressed another groan. This-

This time-wasting, breast-padding bitch!

She had asked question after question, going on and on for over half an hour, and that had been before Aqua had shown her the relics.

Couldn't this girl tell that she, the magnificent and beautiful Aqua, had other people she needed to attend to?

Sure, the souls that were awaiting her guidance wouldn't be cognizant of anything until she met them, but what did that matter? She wanted to get done with her work so she could watch some anime!

She looked at the girl again. Aqua didn't know why she was trying so hard.

She had died while fighting, not doing the action itself. She hadn't even shot that many people!

Aqua suppressed another round of laughter at the thought of the girl's death. She had only taken out as many enemies as she had because the anger-fueled mana overloaded her 'Computation Jewel' and detonated it.

While laughing at the girl's death might have been stress relieving, it also might have alienated the girl, which she had been told not to do, since the Boss had gone through all the trouble of raising the age and expanding the number of places she got souls from.

Plus, with how many Hero Candidates were rejecting the contract, they couldn't keep sending down people without being sure they'd follow the guidance of the Gods.

They'd sent a number of people through who… probably didn't have the karma necessary for anything more than a few centuries of purgatory, all in the hope that their fanatical devotion to Heaven would stop them from reneging on the contract.

Eyes felt up the woman as she continued to sort through the various pieces of paper and card in front of her. She was certainly nice on the eyes, if nothing else, but those breasts…

Aqua glared at them enviously, even as contained as they were by the girl's restrictive clothing. She had to be wearing padding to make them look bigger than hers. Just like Eris.

No one was as pretty as her!

Grumbling, Aqua summoned a bag of chips and began to snack. Napping on the job had been banned.

Or, napping on this job had been banned, since The Atheist had been the one to suggest the idea. She sat there, waiting and answering questions and waiting and answering more stupid questions!

She sighed internally. At least Aqua had been able to mitigate how important The Atheist was. A few words of assurance had totally convinced this girl – like all the others – that they wouldn't have to worry about them, as long as they had a cheat item.

She was sure none of them, no matter how devoted to Heaven, would try and fight that crazy bitch if they knew who she was.

Finally, after nearly another half hour of waiting, the girl finished. Standing up, she walked to Aqua holding up a piece of paper. "I'll have this skill, please!"

Sighing in relief, Aqua stretched her arms, grumbling about the indignity of having to wait an hour. She stole the paper from the woman's grip, slapped it down on the table, and watched as it disappeared. As it left, a large magic circle appeared beneath the girl, and she gasped.

Happy that someone seemed to be in awe of her power, she quickly handed a bag of Eris over to the woman.

Watching the girl rise, Aqua marveled at her apparent ease in the air. Many of those she reincarnated panicked as they rose, but she didn't.

As she rose up, Viktoriya called down, "Thank you, Aqua!"

Aqua smirked, and began the last portion of her speech.

"Viktoriya Ivanovna Serebryakov. You will now be sent to the new world, as one of the candidates who will defeat the Demon King. If you do, you'll get a gift from the Gods."

Viktoriya blinked. A gift beyond being able to live again? "A gift?"

Aqua smiled. "Yes. The Gods will grant any one thing you ask."

Viktoriya gasped. If Tanya was dead…

She could wish for her back!

"Don't worry, Colonel! I'll defeat this Demon King, and I'll save you too!"

With that, the floating woman disappeared. Aqua sighed in relief, releasing a bit of pent up stress. She had another hour before she would be required to talk to another human.

She didn't know how long it would take to keep up the increased workload without taking out a bit of stress on the hapless humans, but she was sure it would happen eventually.

She didn't have anything against them, but she couldn't even berate her underlings anymore. Not since that incident.

All of them except for Eris would just bring up what had happened, and then they'd begin to laugh at her while she denied being the only person at fault.

Besides, the Boss took out his anger on The Atheist all the time. She could certainly do it to a few humans she'd only see once, right?

Aqua settled into her chair and smacked the table by her side. A TV soon sprang into being in front of her, and, unaware of the boon she'd just delivered to Tanya, began to watch a bit of daytime television.

Chapter Text

Tanya whistled as she left the guild. The six of them had been given a nice, large reward for determining that it was most likely a Demon General, and they'd split it evenly seven ways.

The other three – as Dust was nowhere to be found, with Lynn having to hold onto his money – had thanked them for the chance, and then promptly asked that they never go on another quest with them.

Tanya didn't blame them. For the average adventurer, fighting a Demon General was pure fantasy, left to the 'Hero Candidates' – the general public's name for the people they didn't know were reincarnated from a different world – that were clearly able to handle that sort of thing. Many were lucky if they reached that level and lived through the experience.

Tanya, however, was a Hero Candidate, even if no one knew. And who knew what the future held?

Maybe a Hero Candidate in her own situation would find that their goals aligned with the Demon King's more, and they might decide to void the contract.

Maybe they'd be able to think about actually performing actions that would violate their contract, instead of thinking of doing so in the third person. She sighed.

Tanya would find out the answers to those questions sometime soon, probably. For now, she needed to find that Hero Candidate.

When asked about the location of a new one, Luna had given her an amused look that Tanya couldn't decipher, spouting something off about 'hero-worship' and 'nobles,' and then finishing the statement with a wiry, "No."

Tanya had tried to decipher those odd comments she got from time to time. No matter how hard she tried, she didn't know why people kept saying the word 'noble' around her.

She obviously wasn't a part of this world's nobility; she wore regular clothing, didn't have a lot of money, and didn't have whatever governmental jobs the nobles had here likely held.

It wasn't her looks, either; the only blond-haired people she knew were herself, Darkness, and Dust. They weren't nobles, if Darkness's perversions and Dust's general demeanor were anything to go by.

Tanya clicked her tongue as she remembered that wasn't entirely true. She was technically a noble in the Empire, but earning that title through the War College was hardly anything, as far as nobles went.

Tanya shook her head. It wasn't the time to lament about her past. A Reincarnate was running around, and had been doing so for a few hours. The sun was beginning to set, and the city was darkening. She needed to find them.

She would check with the Blacksmith first; Tanya didn't doubt that some Reincarnate might hit the weapons shop before going to the guild.

Tanya walked, idly surveying the passersby. They seemed to be generally happy, and Tanya couldn't fault them for liking the lack of monsters that made their lives easier.

She would need to put a stop to that, though. Snuffing out the lives of strong monsters – like the Demon King's General – was only expected, and she would complete her job as perfectly as she always did.

Strolling along, she almost missed it. The people of this land had hair colored to be anything but brown or black or blonde – she'd seen people with purple, white, neon pink, and everything else that could be found on a rainbow – or something that was even more outlandish, magically altered to be eye-catching. One head of brown hair was unremarkable, even if it did stand out for how not-odd it was.

But Tanya saw it anyway. A tingle of something familiar in her Observation spells – more than the dreaded feeling of heavenly mana that she had learned to recognize after years of using the Type 95 – drove her to look around.

She smiled in anticipation. It must have been the Observation spells catching a whiff of a relic of some sort.

She had seen many of those, after all.

She followed the trail.

Axel wasn't exactly crowded, even when the Festival had been going on, so it shouldn't have been hard, but no matter how hard she tried, her prey kept escaping around another corner, ducking passed her line of sight at the last moment.

It was vexing, but it also spoke of experience.

Tanya narrowed her eyes and sighed, disgusted with herself for taking so long to think of the obvious solution. She ran into a nearby alley, and repeated the trick she had done with Dust, using the air above the dark alleyways to cut corners and try to find her quarry.

They were fast – they must have had some sort of relic that increased their speed – but Tanya caught up eventually. They stopped, and Tanya spotted them.

They were sitting down on the curb of the road, looking out into the city at various shops, head swiveling around constantly, not looking behind them. Tanya smirked, and took aim with her rifle.

They were more of an amateur than she thought, then.

A faint blip on her Observation spell told her that she wasn't safe, and Tanya threw up her Active Barrier.

A shot rang out, slamming into the back of her shield.

Tanya, only a fraction of a second from spinning around and launching a bullet into the space behind her, froze.

An illusion was in front of her? She had heard a shot?

"Who are you? Why are you following me?" came a panicked voice from behind her.

It was light, lighter than one might expect for someone handling a firearm in a dark alley.

But… Tanya knew that voice.

She knew how it rose in pitch whenever its owner encountered a situation they didn't expect, like right now.

She knew how it sounded as it gave commands and received them over a radio.

She knew how, half asleep, it groggily but diligently asked what was troubling her enough that she would wake from her sleep, shouting obscenities or crying.

She knew how, when Tanya's own voice had trembled when she had first told the voice she was terrified of the Bloody Valkyrie, it had bolstered her with unwavering conviction.

She knew that voice.

The urge to do something stupid, like fall back on the regulations of the Empire and demand her rank, flew out of her mind as fast they had entered. The possibility of Being X masquerading as this person was too high.

Tanya turned around slowly, lowering her hood and trembling. She didn't even try to hide the look of shock that she was sure was plastered on her face.

"Viktoriya?"

A gun clattered to the ground in front of her, and the form her faithful adjunct stared at her. Tanya's own rifle clattered to the ground, and Tanya reached out a hand, running towards the frozen woman.

They embraced.

The vestigial thought that it could be anyone other than Viktoriya left as she was held. No one else held her like this.

Tanya sniffed.

She had used her anger and sadness at her situation to her advantage, reminiscing on the thoughts of her dead comrades on her first night in her third life, to extract information about Axel from Lynn, Taylor, and Keith.

She had used those same feelings to stimulate her tears in the past three weeks, to dupe whichever adventurers looked like saps.

Tanya was sure she might have even cried when she was impaled.

This was different. It wasn't faked masquerade or a response to pain.

It was relief at having something familiar back. It was joy at seeing her and holding her again.

It was a mirror of what had happened in Moskva.

She didn't stop it or clamp down on her emotions. This was Viktoriya; she could trust her sister-in-arms with anything.

So, she cried. Long and hard, letting out everything and holding nothing back.

Just sobbing.

They sat there for a while. Not speaking. Ignoring the falling sun and the rising night.

Just standing, waiting.

Viktoriya spoke first. "Not that I dislike this, Colonel, but…" she trailed off. Tanya smiled softly to herself, sniffing loudly. She didn't even know where to begin, but snapping at her for calling Tanya by her old rank wasn't the way to go about it.

"It's alright, Serebryakov. I assume you met Aqua…" she trailed off. The woman nodded, and both continued to speak softly to each other.

Another moment passed, and Tanya pulled away slightly. Hesitantly. "It's been so long…" she muttered.

Viktoriya's eyebrows furrowed. "It's only been a few hours at most, right? We were just in Dresdun. I died fighting the Cordiale."

Tanya shook her head. "It's been over two months for me," she said, clutching at Viktoriya again and all the harder at the reminder of how long it had been.

The woman stiffened, and Tanya leaned back and looked up at her expression.

"But…" she trailed off. She pulled away, and Tanya let go, hesitantly.

Tanya, blushing, straightened her clothes. She shook her head, remembering how different she had been at the beginning of that damned war.

Cold, calculating, and utterly obsessed with viewing people as resources.

Trying to be the 'perfect soldier' and cutting off as many emotions as she could was… irrational. People have emotions, and not utilizing the hatred she felt towards Being X on the part of the ones she cared for was as irrational as it was to ignore them, especially with how potent said hatred had grown to become.

Yes, the possibility of her anger overriding her logic, self-interest, and reason was there. However, she was using those emotions to enhance the conclusions of her logic.

She wouldn't be overcome with them.

Besides, she'd been shown the benefit of using emotions by others. The François's insistence on continuing the war had been the beginning, and throughout the war, both of Being X's premier pawns had shown the effectiveness of utilizing their anger and emotions. Tanya was proud to say that she could use her anger too.

And Tanya had an ample amount of that to burn through.

As Viktoriya brought something out of her slightly burnt clothing, Tanya's blood froze.

It was a contract.

It was that contract.

Before she could warn her, ask her not to look, plead with her to not bring it out, she already had. Shock, fear, sorrow, all of it mingling together into one confused mess.

Then, nothing. Her face had adopted that stony poker face Tanya had helped her improve, that had been a part of how she was able to win any card game the others challenged her to.

Tanya just stood there, trying to say something, anything.

Then Tanya lowered her outstretched hand, standing stock still with shoulders hunched. Let her make her own decisions.

Face blank and white as a piece of printer paper, the woman looked up. "Tan- Is thi-" she tried to say. The look of guilt on Tanya's face confirmed her fears.

Indecision bloomed for a moment, and then Viktoriya grasped the contract firmly, crumpling it.

Tanya made up her mind. She wouldn't be silent. She tried for one of her more apologetic voices "Would you have believed me? It sounds so… outrageous, and no sane-"

"Yes."

Tanya stopped, blinking rapidly.

What?

What?

She understood the shock on Tanya's face. "Tanya von Degurechaff. We've been through too much. You've saved me too much, and I've helped you some too. Maybe not nearly as much as you have, but… I've done my best. I would do anything for you."

Taking another look at the disfigured contract, Viktoriya shook her head, smiling ruefully and ignoring the tears stinging the corners of her eyes. "I couldn't hurt you, no matter the fake moniker. Devil of the Rhine, White Silver, Mithril-"

"Don't call me that."

Viktoriya was cut off, and sympathy flashed across her face.

Tanya ignored it, too focused on what she told herself was anger. Tanya couldn't help snapping, though; with flashes of handcuffs made of that material dancing across her mind, she wouldn't let anyone call her that name again.

Not even Viktoriya could cure the… taint.

"…Sorry. But the point still stands. Tanya von Degurechaff, or even… The Atheist. I couldn't hurt you, Tanya, be…"

A brief look of confusion passed over her face, and then-

She dropped to the ground, screaming in pain.

Writhing.

Flailing.

Tanya moved. Terror etched into her face, Tanya tried to figure out what had happened, deploying Observation spells. She wasn't hurt, but-

She stopped, panic frozen. Viktoriya didn't have an item, which meant…

Tanya extended her hands, screaming. "HEAL!"

The screaming seemed to subside into heavy breathing for a moment, but then it started again. Tanya swore pain and death and everything against Being X and Aqua and whoever, flooding mana into both of her relics.

"HEAL! HEAL! HEAL!"

Every time she cast it, Viktoriya only began to scream louder afterwards. Tanya whipped out her Adventurer's Card, looking at the Heal skill and the points she had.

The brief lament that she was giving up so many Skill Points flashed through her mind, and Tanya screamed in anger at the selfish thought, watching as all nine of them disappeared. She felt herself being altered, but she ignored it, turning back to Viktoriya.

"HEAL! HEAL! HEAL!"

The screaming was beginning to subside, but it was still too much. Tears flowing down her face once again, she began to chant.

"Oh Lord, please grant this lowly believer the power to save one more devout than itself!"

She felt the power fill her, and she began to scream angrily as she flooded more mana into the Circlet, ignoring the halo that she didn't care enough about to stop from appearing.

"HEAL!"

A moment passed, and the screaming and pain subsided as the light from her hands intensified.

It all stopped, and Viktoriya began to break down into sobs. Tanya collapsed, noting detachedly that she was crying with her.

Mana flowed back into her body from the Circlet and the Type 95, and Tanya dry-heaved as she gripped the body of Viktoriya.

"Don't leave me again, Visha. Please. Please"

She sat there, for a moment, waiting. The body below her didn't stir, for a moment, and then it took a shuddering breath.

"I told you I couldn't hurt you, Tanya."

Tanya cried out again, gripping the tattered clothing of Viktoriya. Again, they rested, and Tanya didn't let go this time.

-OxOxO-

An hour of lying there was all Tanya could take, and she decided to try and bring the unconscious Viktoriya to shelter. She fished her own rifle and Viktoriya's pistol from the floor of the alley, and began to survey the streets.

The sun was completely down, and the streets were dark. Tanya knew that she could fight off any of the riffraff normally, but she was running on fumes.

She had few options. They had strayed too far from the Blacksmith's shop and the guild, and she didn't even know the way to the Eris Cult's residence.

Troubled for a moment and wondering if she would need to break into someone's house, Tanya gasped in delight as she remembered another person she could call on.

Lifting up Viktoriya, Tanya carried her, bridal style, through the streets of Axel, trying to find the shop where she had bought the key to her weapon.

Fifteen minutes passed, and Tanya was panting laboriously. She was almost out of mana, but she'd make it, regardless of how many spells she had to reinforce herself with and the long term damage they might do.

She owed Viktoriya that much.

They arrived at the darkened store, and Tanya cursed. The place was closed.

Muttering an apology to Wiz under her breath, she kicked the door next to the handle, sweeping into the shop, and placing Viktoriya in a seat at the small, white table present in the store. She fished her Circlet of Greatness out of her shirt, and she funneled a bit of mana into it, lighting the room and holding it high.

No one. She must have been at the cemetery, then. Tanya cast another look towards Viktoriya, who seemed to be resting more easily. Tanya sat down next to her, trying to rest herself. She was tired.

For a moment, her eyes drifted shut. She was really tired, actually…

After just resting her eyes for a moment, Tanya was jolted to life by a high-pitched shout. She shot up, fumbling with the gun that was resting in her lap. Tanya calmed down in a moment, looking at Wiz.

Right. Unlike the way she had probably left it, the door was broken in – and Tanya probably wouldn't have been able to do it if it weren't for how little crime there was in Axel and how that lack of crime led to a lack of paranoid security – and two people were still there, taking a nap and ignoring the door they had broken down.

Tanya didn't exactly have a way to defend herself, so she chose a much simpler interaction to give herself time to think.

"Hi."

The broken look on Wiz's face as she looked at the door, hanging off of its hinges and illuminated in the early light of the day, tugged at Tanya's heart. She winced, berating herself; she'd left herself and Viktoriya undefended.

"Sorry?" she provided.

Wiz looked rather dejected. "Now I'll have to borrow even more money to break even…" she trailed off.

Tanya winced again, and she brought out a large bag of money. She had been planning to give it to whichever Reincarnate came through, after she took their weapon, but since it was Viktoriya, she didn't need to give her anything.

"Here some money for the door, and I'd like to buy more of those explosive potions, please," she said, offering it. Wiz's face lit up, relief flooding it. She took the money gladly, walked into her shop, turned on the magical lamp above their heads with a flick of her wrist, and began to make herself busy behind the counter.

Then, looking down at Viktoriya, she added, "And anything that'll restore mana. My friend needs it."

As the sounds of Wiz moving about reached Tanya's ears, she heard them fade slowly. Her gaze wavered from Viktoriya, looking at Wiz curiously. She was looking rather conflicted about something.

Tanya almost groaned out loud; she really didn't want even more problems to deal with.

"Well, I suppose it's fine if I tell you… You have bought lots of stuff, and you even came back…" Wiz muttered. Lit by the bright light of the lamp and the rising sun, Tanya looked at the odd Archmage.

She had bought stuff from the woman exactly twice, and she had only bought five things last time. Was that really considered a lot of time and money to spend on the shop?

Apparently it was. Wiz walked forward, clasping her hands in front of her still-ridiculous chest, and took a deep breath.

"I'm actually a Lich." She said this earnestly, eyes shining with a hint of resignation or apprehension.

Tanya was sure this was some sort of deep, dark, secret, but she had no idea what that meant. What's a Lich?

Wait. Something from earlier that day – no, yesterday, the sun that was rising in the window told her – tickled her mind. Something Lynn or one of the others had said…

Finally she remembered. "That's a type of undead, right?"

Wiz blinked, and she gave a halfhearted laugh of nervousness. "She says 'a type of undead?' like we aren't the strongest ones around, heh…"

Wiz trailed off as the skeptical look on Tanya's face didn't fade in the slightest. Wiz's cheeks puffed up indignantly. "Hey, we are! We have tons of special skills, we're invulnerable to physical attack, and we have tons of mana!"

Tanya just blinked. She opened her mouth slowly. "You don't exactly give off the feeling of 'life-hating' monster to me. You'll have to excuse me if I'm not terrified of a pale shop owner who can't seem to sell very much, if I'm considered some sort of valued and trusted customer."

The woman's pale cheeks lit up as much as they probably could, but the deep embarrassment on her downturned head didn't match how little blood was flowing into her cheeks.

Tanya shook her head. "Whatever. Can you help her?" Tanya asked again. Wiz still seemed confused.

"Don't you get it? I'm a Lich."

Twitch.

Tanya pinched the bridge of her nose. "Look, I couldn't care less; if you were the Demon King himself, I wouldn't care," she said, angrily staring at the woman.

"If you can help her, you will."

Tanya tightened the grip on her gun. The woman knew how to help Viktoriya, if she was revealing a secret with the expectation that Tanya would mystically realize how Wiz could help. She was helping Viktoriya, one way or another.

Even if the amount of mana the shop owner was suddenly giving off was very intimidating.

Then, the mana seemed to evaporate, and Wiz was just staring at her, puzzled.

Still seemingly confused as to her ambivalence to her true nature, Wiz pulled down the collar of Viktoriya's clothing. Tanya grit her teeth as she watched her lay a hand on the defenseless Viktoriya's shoulder, but she stayed silent.

"Drain Touch."

Suddenly, shining specks of light burst into life, seemingly inside of the lich. Before she could ask, the light steadily traveled through the woman's outstretched arm, into the girl seated in the chair.

Slowly, the woman's eyes ground open. They seemed confused, for a moment, and then widened. "Tanya-" was all she could get out, and then Tanya muffled her sentence by pouncing on her.

"Viktoriya!" she cried. She was okay. She had mana. She wasn't some sort of catatonic mental patient, and she hadn't been killed.

Tanya's Heal had managed to save the last person with a skill instead of a weapon, but it had taken an hour. Tanya had ambushed them when they were returning to the guild, and she was thankful that she hadn't had to listen to Viktoriya scream for that long.

Tanya didn't know if she could take something like that.

Stiffly, Viktoriya held her, laughing with Tanya at the absurdity of the situation and the joy they felt. It seemed that they were alone in the world.

Of course, they weren't. Wiz looked very curious as to who could be this close to someone the town was calling a 'Detonation Devil' and 'Evil.'

How the kind Tanya had gotten that last nickname, Wiz had no idea, but she ignored it.

Wiz finished using Drain Touch, and quietly backed off from the clearly emotional pair. They didn't seem to be willing to part, so she rose from the crouching position she had taken and made her way to the shelves of the store, looking for those potions that Tanya was clearly fond of.

Meanwhile, Tanya tried to suppress the growing embarrassment she was feeling about gripping onto Viktoriya for so long, and decided that they had been doing that long enough. She pulled away, and she straightened her cap.

Now that she had a moment and wasn't feeling as tired as before, Viktoriya took a moment to survey Tanya. Instead of the uniform she had worn for as long as Viktoriya could remember, she was instead wearing something much more casual, at least to her eyes.

A green mantle with a hood and bordered with a yellow lining adorned the girl's shoulders, and she wore a plain, thin white shirt with a belt of some kind across her front, travelling from her waist to her shoulder. A glimmer of bright yellow from one of the pockets told Viktoriya that they probably had extra clips in them.

Plain, unremarkable black pants held up by a simple brown belt and what looked to be her standard issue boots clothed her bottom half, while gray evening gloves clothed her hands.

Overall, it was quite different from the uniformed superior she had always known. But Viktoriya didn't really mind; it was nice to see Tanya let her hair down a bit, figuratively speaking.

Tanya cleared her throat, and Viktoriya blushed a bit, realizing she had been caught staring. Tanya chuckled. "It's no problem, Viktoriya. I'm aware this isn't exactly standard issue, but we don't exactly have denim jeans in this fantasy-land."

Viktoriya nodded, and licked her lips indecisively. Tanya winced; she knew they needed to have a discussion about where they were.

And other things, like how she wasn't exactly just sixteen years old.

She opened her mouth for a moment, before a sly grin overcame her face, and words spoken in the Empire marched from her mouth. "I know you probably have a number of questions, but we should probably wait."

Tanya motioned her head towards the oblivious shopkeeper, who was gathering her potions. Viktoriya nodded. She hadn't been told this stuff for years; she could wait a few moments more.

Tanya walked over to Wiz and tapped her on the back. "How many potions will I be getting for so much money?"

The shopkeeper turned around, touching her fingers together nervously. "Well…considering the number you're buying in bulk, you should be able to get five."

Tanya blinked, stopping short of gaping at what her math told her. "You're making me pay thirty thousand for each? It was only ten thousand during the festival!" she exclaimed.

She was all for the free market, of course, and Wiz raising the prices in response to Tanya's demand wasn't exactly criminal, especially in a fantasy land that hadn't heard of the term 'laissez-faire'. Still, that seemed like a very generous markup.

Wiz whimpered and said, "The festival means that we need to take down the prices, since it's supposed to be a time of goodwill…"

Tanya could hear Viktoriya mutter, "Potions?" from behind her, but Tanya would explain that soon enough.

"Fine, fine," she muttered, taking the potions on the counter and walking back over to Viktoriya. Tanya needed to get her introduced to the guild.

Tanya walked out of the door, and a shout of the woman's name brought Viktoriya out of the building, walking just behind her. Wiz looked on, wondering if another customer would visit that knew something about Tanya's friend.

After walking through the dimly lit streets of Axel for five minutes in complete silence, Tanya turned around. "Alright, stop. I'm not your commanding officer anymore; you can walk next to me," she said, Viktoriya bowed her head, and Tanya bit back the urge to reprimand her for being so apologetic.

She wasn't apologetic to anyone but her; it was a habit she must have picked up after so many years of being her adjutant.

"We're going to be dropping this stuff off at the Blacksmith's and then I'm going to get you registered with the guild," she said, motioning towards the potions gripped tightly in her hands.

Viktoriya, amused, half-asked "Potions?"

Tanya sighed. "Alright. It might come as a bit of a shock, but this world is much more like a…" Tanya trailed off.

She wasn't well versed in fiction by any stretch of the imagination, and she had no idea what might fit that genre in the perspective of a girl from the 1920s. She shrugged. She'd try her best.

"It's much more like the superstitions about magic; there are potions, most people who can use magic need to chant to use a spell, absolutely none of it has anything to do with mathematical formulas like in our world, and there is much more… diversity," she explained. Viktoriya looked confused, so Tanya sighed and continued.

"Right. I'm not exactly an expert, but there's magic that can shoot fire, water, create ice, explosions, wind… there are ways for people to reanimate corpses, the Demon King's fortress is sealed behind a giant magical barrier, things like that."

Viktoriya blinked. "Did you just say reanimate the dead?" she asked, mingling fear and skepticism bleeding through her voice. Tanya nodded silently, stepping into the Blacksmith's shop that Tanya had brought them to.

"Yeah. It might be a bit weird, but I think it's pretty interesting." Tanya walked in, giving a passing wave to the Blacksmith, who seemed to be staring at the potions in her hands for some reason, and stashing her potions underneath the tarp. As she came back out from the back, the Blacksmith's questioning gaze reminded her of something.

He didn't really know that she was using his back room as a storage room, did he?

She smiled weakly. "Uhh…"

An eyebrow raised, he began. "Well, while I might be concerned with why you have so many explosive potions – and don't deny it, that box has the word explosives on it – I'll waive it, since you're a smart girl and you're going to be paying me to house them here," he said, pity and clarity mingling in his eyes.

"What I am more interested in is who this woman here is," he said turning towards Viktoriya. The woman blushed and waved cutely, but other than that didn't respond.

Tanya saw the man's eyes flicker downwards, toward Viktoriya's chest, and Tanya attracted his attention with a very pointed cough.

"That is… my best friend. While she might be too modest to say anything, I have no such quarrels," she said, staring coldly into his eyes. He tried to look away, or back at Viktoriya, but Tanya gripped the man's chin forcefully.

Tanya, staring into the eyes of the Blacksmith, missed the blush on Viktoriya's face, as well as the saddened look she sent at the floor that soon followed it.

"Stare at her like that again and I'll make sure the police will regret investigating the crime. Understand?" Tanya threatened, making sure to keep her tone level and quiet.

Shouting at people was much less effective than making sure to let them know that you're within full control of your facilities and still making a serious threat.

He nodded slowly, and Tanya brightened up. "Good. Come on Viktoriya, we need to get you registered."

With that, they left his store, leaving the Blacksmith to seriously reconsider if he should let the girl use his shop.

His mind flashed back to her expression of total contempt, and he decided that he was sure he'd regret throwing her out as well.

-OxOxO-

Soon enough, they arrived at the guild. A subdued atmosphere brought on by the lack of people greeted the pair of Reincarnates as they strode into the guild. They were ignored by most – it was morning, but the rush of adventurers preparing for quests had already passed, leaving only timid, new adventurers that had only joined recently and people like Dust, who were only too happy to be drunk for as much of the day as possible.

Tanya walked purposefully up to Luna, who seemed curious at the presence behind Tanya.

Whenever she got quests, she was never accompanied by the silver-haired Thief or the Crusader. Who was this person that Luna had never even seen?

Uncaring of her inquiring smile, Tanya introduced her companion. "We're here to get her an Adventurer's Card, if you would please."

Luna's face lit up, and she brought out the device that allowed for new cards to be created. "Wonderful! I'll give you the introduction."

After that, a whirlwind of instructions and facts passed, making even Tanya blink. She'd come a long way since that first night, when she'd gotten her own introduction.

"Any questions?" the receptionist asked.

Viktoriya seemed like she had questions, but, in response to her questioning look, Tanya shook her head. She would explain everything if she had any questions.

"If you'll just hold your hand above the crystal?" she asked, gesturing towards the device. Skeptically, Viktoriya placed her hand above it, and gasped as it swirled to life. Tanya smiled nostalgically as she thought back to her own introduction.

Wait…

Tanya's eyes widened. Right, Viktoriya had killed people as well, which probably showed up on the card. Tanya searched her memory, confused.

Had she failed to check if the card showed the number of humans you killed?

She sighed. She'd been putting it off because she was just a bit scared of the number of people she had killed – it was over two hundred, at least – but she needed to know now.

She looked at her card, tapping the small box that said 'KILLS.' This box was checked by the machine in the back automatically whenever Luna pushed a card into it when she was confirming quests, but Tanya knew that that information was mainly stored on the card. Dust had taken the time to boast about the number of Goblins he had killed, and he had presented his card as proof to his drinking buddies.

She looked at the list. Slimes, Giant Toads, Squirrels, Goblins, and numerous other low-level monsters that were easily killed, if one knew what they were doing. Finally, she reached it.

Humans…

Tanya blanched as she read the number next to it, and then she felt a bit of bile building up in the back of her throat. She'd killed… how many people?

No matter how many times she blinked, or rubbed her eyes, or waved the card around, the number didn't change.

Tanya let a hiss of air out between her teeth. This was… ridiculous and, quite frankly, disgusting, but she didn't doubt it was possible.

She had never thought about who she had killed beyond the Aerial Mages she fought. She had expected it to be in the hundreds, not…

She sighed. With what they had been forced to do in Arenne on the Eastern Front, however…

She shook her head. The Adventurer's Card couldn't be forcibly altered, as far as she knew, which meant she knew exactly how many people she had killed during the war.

Hand shaking, she tapped the minimize icon on the square of text, and stood abruptly. Viktoriya hadn't killed that many people, obviously, but the risk of being tried and executed for mass murder was high.

The card finished, and Tanya tapped her foot as Luna began to read out the woman's stats. "Wonderful! You have pretty good stats all around, with a large spike in your Magic-Power and Intelligence, and Below Average Agility."

She nodded, and Tanya swiped the card from Luna, presenting it to Viktoriya. Tanya began to distract Luna, hoping to play off the action.

Luna was staring at her, annoyance present in her smile, and Tanya waved her hand. "Sorry. I remember what it was like to have you talk about that stuff without being able to see it."

Luna, mid nod, had her gaze dragged to Viktoriya, along with Tanya's. The woman was blushing and had just made a rather loud exclamation in Russy that Tanya wasn't familiar with, which meant she had just said something very bad.

Tanya, about to ask, stopped. When Tanya had been looking at her own card, the description it had decided to provide about herself had surprised her. That was it, then.

Tanya ignored Viktoriya. "Now, I was wondering if you have any quests you'd like us to take care of. I can get Darkness and Chris, so party size isn't the question, with all four of us."

Luna looked down at Tanya appraisingly. "She still needs a job."

Tanya waved her concern off. "She'll be an Adventurer."

Luna's shrank back for a moment, and Tanya prepared herself as she saw an eye begin to twitch.

Luna didn't like that idea. "Absolutely not," she bit out, her smile now plastic and in place.

"I might have lost you to that weak, stupid job, but I'll not lose someone else. If you have so much confidence in her and if she has a lot of the same skills you do, she's close to you in ability, right?" she asked, gripping Tanya's shoulders.

Tanya brushed the woman's grip off easily, pulling Viktoriya towards her. "She'll be taking the Adventurer job, Luna."

Tanya heard a foot stamp from behind the counter, and Tanya shrank back. She'd never done something so childish. "No! Please, Serebryakov, think about this decision. Becoming an Adventurer when you could become an Archmage, an Archpriest, a Ranger, or even an Enchanter is ludicrous! Don't listen to her!"

Viktoriya tilted her head, and Tanya began to speak in Germanian once more. "We need that job. Everything we do – from cast spells to shoot guns – is intrinsically linked together. If you choose a single class, you'll lose access to important skills."

Viktoriya nodded, and, in whatever the language of Belzerg was called – Bezergian wasn't likely an option, since the people here expected foreigners to be fluent in the language as well – replied to Luna's questioning glares that were Tanya for speaking a language she didn't understand. "I'll be an Adventurer, please."

She presented her card, and Luna groaned, pressing down on the box in the right-hand corner, selecting Adventurer. Tanya smirked, and Viktoriya quickly snatched her card back.

Tanya and Viktoriya beamed at each other, and Luna interrupted their moment. "You said you wanted a quest, right? How about one of the durians?"

"Durian?" both adventurers echoed.

Luna smirked, and an uneasy feeling settled in Tanya's gut. The woman was obviously mad at her for making another person take the path of an Adventurer.

"They're quests no one wants to take for… whatever reason. We've either put a low amount of money on them to dissuade inexperienced adventurers, they contain unspeakably strong opponents, or they have some possibly immoral actions that need to be done."

Viktoriya backed off, but Tanya only tilted her head in thought. She was sure they could take anything this odd world could throw at them. And if they couldn't, they'd just refuse. "Sure thing! What have you got?"

Luna's eye twitched at Tanya's jovial attitude, but she retrieved a clipboard from underneath the counter. "Take your pick. If you can't do one, I'm sure both of you could take a different job and take on any quest easily."

Tanya began to cycle through them, unaware of how Viktoriya was looking between her and at the description of herself on her Adventurer's Card.

A Griffon and a Manticore seemed to be a bit too strong, even for her. She'd definitely have to use the Type 95, and Viktoriya could get seriously hurt.

Exorcising a spirit was out, since neither of them had any skills that affected spirits and Tanya wasn't about to pick up any.

Do reconnaissance on the Tranquility Princess…

"Tranquility Princess?" Tanya asked the receptionist. Luna smirked.

"Yes. Tranquility Girls are high-experience plant monsters that take on the appearance of girls in order to lull their prey, humans, into staying by their side. They'll feel attached to the girl, and won't attack it. Most can't even bring themselves to think of harming them, while those worst affected by their charm either carry out the plant's will or become its fertilizer," Luna explained, smirking.

She probably thought that the two girls in front of her would be overcome with emotion, but Tanya thought this sounded pretty good. If looking human was their only defense they were going to be very easy pickings for two veterans of World War One.

"Additionally, they provide food for their prey. It isn't, however, something you want to eat. It'll wreak havoc on your central nervous system, making you lose all pain and hunger."

Tanya blinked at the suddenly advanced terminology, but she was soon considering the task once more. Viktoriya, head tilted, asked, "Why don't people exterminate them, then? There have to be some people that will do anything for money."

Luna scowled, and then sent a speculative glance over Tanya's shoulder. She followed her gaze and found that Dust was begging his friends for money.

…Yeah, he might do it.

Luna sighed. "The elderly and terminally ill will often seek them out, wishing for an easy death, and this particular monster has been interviewed by numerous adventurers, and all of them swear that it only wants to kill those that seek it out. We're still not convinced, and this one's forest has become a suicide hotspot."

The anger and desire for revenge that had been present slowly drained away, leaving only resigned acceptance in the receptionist's voice. "It's decreasing the reputation of the guild to have a monster that close, and the logging guild is getting… insistent that we kill it."

Tanya nodded, and then smirked wickedly. "We'll take it. Don't worry, you won't have to worry about it again."

Luna blinked, suddenly looking at Tanya nervously. "Act- actually, we just want you to go and interrogate it. If it's true to its word, then we don't really want to remove it, since older adventurers only have a violent death to look forward to."

Tanya froze. "Uhh…"

Attempting to ignore the problem – she had just admitted to being very okay with killing something human-shaped, if she got paid well – and knowing that Luna would probably never forget this, Tanya handed the clipboard back to Luna and then muttered, "Can we have a map?"

Luna nodded, bringing out a compact map of Axel and the surrounding land. A key in the corner told her that the shaded regions were their breeding grounds – deep inside forests, close to a water source of some sort, and close to smaller trails, while there were several red marks in the shape of an 'x' told her where ones had probably been defeated.

"The one you're going to interview is west of Axel," she said, pointing towards a large swath of land that was entirely shaded. It seemed to be a noticeable fraction of the size of Axel, at least one-tenth of its size.

Tanya nodded. "Are there any other ones you want us to look into?" she asked. Luna pointed to several spots on the map.

"There's rumored to be one on the road from Arcanretia and the Crimson Demon Village, and there are a few other places that might have one. Otherwise, we don't know for sure," she said, pointing to a section of shaded forest near the edge of the map.

Tanya blinked. "Crimson Demons?"

Luna interpreted her expression. "Crimson Demons are a type of modified humans, despite the name. No one's sure how, but all of them have a massive amount of Magic-Power – rivaling yours – black hair, and red eyes. Some think they're all crazy, while others believe that a town full of Archmages couldn't possibly be as eccentric as a scant few people claim they are."

Tanya nodded. That seemed interesting, but going at least one town over from Axel seemed to be a long way, with how their Flight spells now acted. She'd get that one later, when she had other business or when she finally figured out a way to get the Reincarnates to stop coming after her permanently.

"They have clearings around them, right?" Tanya asked, moving on. Luna nodded slowly, squinting at Tanya. She just smiled.

She wasn't about to tell the receptionist that they could survey the land from above and find them that way.

"Alright then. We'll be off!" she said, leaving the guild. They began to walk back through Axel, when Viktoriya, walking reservedly by her side, piped up. "I don't have many bullets left…"

Tanya spun around, scowling. "Where's your rifle? You said you died fighting the Cordiale, right? I don't think you did it with that peashooter," she said, pointing to the pistol Viktoriya grasped in her right hand.

Viktoriya shrugged. "I don't know. I haven't been able to find my Type 97 either," she admitted. Tanya scowled, and then looked at the woman's clothing.

Sure enough, while the white undershirt that she wore was intact, the outer clothing she hadn't shed yet seemed a bit tattered. "Maybe the Type 97 detonated?" Tanya offered. Viktoriya nodded slowly.

It was an explanation both were willing to accept, and in no time at all, they had reached the gates of Axel. "What about your friends?" Viktoriya asked.

Tanya turned to her, a question on her face. "You said something about a 'Chris' and 'Darkness,' right?"

Tanya nodded. "I did. Unfortunately, we're going to be using our magic to complete this. I haven't been able to find any hints that the people of this world have figured out how to fly, so we probably don't want to broadcast that we can," she said, flashing her Adventurer's Card to the guards by the gate. They both waved her through amiably, gazes lingering on Viktoriya.

Tanya scowled at them, but she moved on. They had a quest to complete, and these quests were probably very profitable. This would be a good score, and their spells ensured that anything plant-based wouldn't survive for long.

-OxOxO-

If it were ever seated at a table – not that anyone had ever done something as stupid as to bring one of those this deep into the forest – many would mistake it for human, at first glance.

By design, it looked very much like a beautiful human woman: flawless, pearly skin, long brown hair, a piece of clothing that showed a large amount of skin while also hiding anything too risqué, and a few accessories, like a flower in its hair and three gold bands on its right arm.

But the similarities ended when one looked closer: its hair looked thicker than any hair could actually be, and the clothing looked too good, too perfectly maintained, for someone this far in the forest. Two triangular lines – a deep, dark green that no one could tell was anything other than black – rose from its jawline and ended near its eyes. Its ears were pointed, peeking out of its hair, and the flower in its hair looked far too healthy to have been picked and used as some token of affection.

Still, people could easily mistake it for a human, or some sort of crossbreed between a human and a beastman.

Of course, if one looked below its waist, they would discover the falsehood of its appearance: it had nothing but roots. Younger tranquility girls took the full appearance of a human, but it had no need to look weak. It had several humans who took pity on it and helped it keep the forest clear.

It smirked. Yes… the 'forest'. It was amusing that they thought of the surroundings as anything other than an extension of itself.

In truth, it could probably leave the human-looking portion of its body dormant and solely subsist on the light of the sun, leaving behind any resemblance to a monster they recognized.

But while it might be able to feed like that, without the reputation of a suicide hotspot keeping away loggers, it had no doubt that she would be torn down or infested with monsters.

Besides, becoming a bunch of trees was so boring.

It smiled. And how entertaining this would be. Being the forest, it knew that two people were approaching its human portion, coming from the direction of the nearest town. It was sure that it could convince anyone into leaving itself be, at least.

The last few people that ineffective guild had sent to determine her intentions had become quite willing to do as it wished, after a few moments of reasoned thought and, in one case, bribery.

Voices floated on the wind, drifting into the things that resembled ears on its head. "…keep your spells active. It seems we're getting close."

It smiled. A female; this would be all too easy. They were usually at least somewhat moved by its 'duty'.

"Welcome, travelers. Have you come seeking an easy death, or are you lost?"

No one was lost. The road that did go through this forest was clearly marked, and it would be almost impossible for them to somehow wander off of it.

Unless it was feeling bored and obscured the path using the forest; that was fun.

"Or have you come to see… me?" it asked. The dark-haired, dark-eyed adventurers that could never kill it and always helped the most in clearing its woods had said this line would entice any who had heard it. She was knowledgeable about humans, and that line worked a lot, for some reason.

It smiled bashfully, staring right at the pair.

Tanya smirked. She loved being right. "As you can see, it's already trying to entice us. Just keep your Oxygen Conversion spell active; I know it's somewhat taxing without a Computation Jewel, but even if we'll only be here a few moments, the chances of it having some sort of airborne poison or drug or aphrodisiac are high."

Tanya ignored its words, its body, and the way it was staring at them. She knew better. "Hello. As part of a quest by the guild, we are here to conduct an interview to ascertain your intentions. We are also authorized to exterminate you, if need be, so please don't act aggressively."

It nodded. This one seemed sharper than most. "Of course! Just don't touch my roots; they're deadly to humans and oblivious to my feelings," it said, staring down sadly. Tanya nodded quickly and set down the backpack the guild had foisted upon her.

It sniffed, but said nothing else, studying the two woman. They were both using magic – the air was different around them – and it didn't know what it was. More importantly, it was trying to figure out how to convince them to leave it be.

It turned to the brown haired one. Unlike the short, mean one, she seemed to be more curious instead of wary.

That was good; it could build on that.

Turning to the taller, plumper woman, it beckoned closer with an arm. "Don't be shy; I don't harm anyone who doesn't desire to be released from life. Just mind the roots."

Slowly, the girl approached, looking curiously at the roots and tree trunk that made up her lower body. It smiled.

The woman paused, casting a glance at the turned back of her superior, before pointing towards its roots. "How far do those extend for? Do you have to…" she paused, making an uncomfortable expression, "help many people?"

It laughed lightly, smiling warmly. It was time to figure out how far it could take this. "Quite a way. Thank you for being so concerned with my health." The woman nodded, and the small one turned around, carrying something.

From within, she brought out the magic item she had seen on the inside of the police station, and held it flat in her palm. It tried to feign ignorance. "What is that?"

Tanya smirked. "Oh, you don't need to be concerned, unless it rings," she said.

The plant nodded, smiling. "Okay. I'm just a monster, so I know that you don't trust me."

Its eyes hadn't moved from the thing held in her palm, and Tanya was sure it knew exactly what the item was. The chance that the thing didn't know what it was was small, but Tanya would be even happier.

Tanya narrowed her eyes at Viktoriya deliberately. "Come over here. We're not fraternizing." Viktoriya nodded, falling in line behind her. Tanya was hoping to use the patented good-cop bad-cop technique, making it trust that Viktoriya wouldn't kill her.

They had already rehearsed what would happen, and Tanya had been holding up the magic item when Viktoriya had asked those questions.

They needed to know how best to get rid of it, after all.

Viktoriya looked troubled, and the plant smiled. "Don't look so depressed, ma'am. As soon as we're done, you'll be able to trust me."

Viktoriya brightened up, and Tanya hid a smirk. It was time to begin.

"First question, Tranquility Princess: what do you think of humans?" this one was easy, and Tanya didn't really care about this one; she was going to ask it very pointed questions later on that would be much harder to weasel out of.

It pause, and then said, slowly, "…humans are incredibly important to me; I don't think I could live without them."

Viktoriya shifted, and Tanya nodded. Viktoriya was supposed to look conflicted, in the hopes that it would rely on her when they moved to end it, if it turned out to be hostile.

"Do you absorb the humans after they die?" she asked it, tone just as even as before. The forest around them began to quiet down, and Tanya raised an eyebrow. It was attempting to simulate tension by manipulating its environment; a good move against rookies.

Viktoriya exclaimed "Tanya!" while the Tranquility Princess reacted. It seemed taken aback at first, but then tears began to form in the corners of its eyes. Viktoriya stretched out a hand, and Tanya swatted her hand out of the air. It didn't answer.

"I'll ask again; did you decompose and absorb the bodies of the adventurers?"

Looking lonely and staring at the ground, it answered. "Yes, they became my food. They've become a part of me… they'll live on inside my body… I'll-"

Tanya cut it off. "Your first answer was satisfactory. Now-"

Viktoriya turned on Tanya, cutting her off as planned. "What's the big idea? It's said its answers; we should leave it alone."

Tanya sighed, glaring at her. She looked actually hurt by the glare, and Tanya almost apologized. The woman was very reliant on her approval.

Still, she pushed on, and Viktoriya knew that it was all an act.

"You can wait, if you're uncomfortable. I promise that I won't kill it, alright?" Tanya offered, sounding annoyed and keeping an eye on the Tranquility Princess. Its eyes seemed to light up when the magic item didn't ring.

Viktoriya scowled and stomped out of the clearing, while Tanya turned back to the Tranquility Princess. "Now, you have no support. We'll be getting to the interesting questions, so consider your answers."

It smirked, and Tanya gave it a smile that matched. It seemed that it thought it was safe. "Interesting? Like these?" it said as it cupped its breasts. Tanya stared at them, for a moment, before looking away.

"Yes, it must be embarrassing to be so flat; no man will ever want you when you have that cutting board strapped to your chest," it goaded. Tanya played into its expectations, glaring down at her body and trying to ignore just how… bouncy the Tranquility Princess was.

It thought she was unsatisfied with her development, but she just hated the entire damn thing.

"So what are you going to do? Despite your hard exterior, you won't kill me; you just said so," it said, crossing its arms over its chest. Tanya stared at them for a second, mouth opened a fraction of an inch, before she clicked her mouth shut.

She smirked, trying to ignore the worrying lust she felt. Was puberty about to start hitting her harder, now that she had real food and a much less stressful environment around her? "The quest the guild gave me was to do reconnaissance on the Tranquility Princess; I don't have to kill you," she said.

It smirked, but its expression turned quizzical when Tanya smirked back. "Of course, if I report that you lied to us, and that you should be exterminated, someone will come along who's brave enough to do so."

It scowled. "I help you humans; this forest remains cleared of monsters because adventurers fall over themselves to help me, I help the aging and the sick and the suicidal pass on to your so-called Gods, and all I receive is their bodies and a bit of help from those willing to do so."

Tanya wasn't moved in the slightest, and she was honestly pissed that it assumed she had a god. "Well, considering I would like to have more areas to kill monsters in, I'm not particularly moved."

It glared now, and Tanya almost laughed at how innocent it had seemed earlier. "I've been here for over a hundred years; do you really think no one else has figured me out?"

Tanya shook her head. She knew that; she was sure this thing had another trick up its sleeve, if what it had said earlier didn't register as a lie. It probably had some sort of incentive.

It smirked. "What do you think happens to adventurers who die here?" she pointed at the ground, likely referencing the equipment buried underneath.

Tanya scoffed. "Why would elderly adventurers come here with a bunch of worthwhile equipment if they're trying to die? Unless you have good equipment from not-so-elderly adventurers you murdered?" she countered.

This brought it up short, and Tanya chuckled. "Well, I think this interview has been telling of your true nature, but I'll ask some more questions," she said as it seemed to be panicking. It was probably trying to search whatever it had that counted as a brain for answers.

"By the way," she added, sitting on the ground and grinning, "I'll be taking silence as an answer I don't like, since you do seem to know what this thing is."

She began. "Have you ever killed anyone maliciously?"

It grit whatever it had for teeth – if it had anything but half-truths and lies in its mouth – and Tanya continued on. "Let's try again. Have you ever convinced adventurers to become suicidal through association with you?"

It blinked again, and it answered. "No."

That brought Tanya up short. It hadn't? The thing smirked, and Tanya clicked her tongue. So much for that…

Wait. She looked behind it, at the large tree. She could see some sort of fruit on it. Tanya snapped her finger, smirking.

"Have you ever provided that dangerous fruit to adventurers, aware of the effect it has on them? Aware that they'd die if they ate too much and that you could claim their dead body afterwards?"

Its eyes widened, and Tanya smiled pleasantly. When it continued to say nothing, Tanya stood up and stretched. "Well, I think that's all. We're done here."

It began to sniff, and tears welled up in its eyes. Tanya shook her head. So unbecoming.

And it didn't even realize what was about to happen.

"I'll save you the energy. Viktoriya! You can come over now!"

The woman ran over, darting out from the tree line, and Tanya sighed happily. It was nice to have backup she could trust completely. Sure, Darkness and Chris were fine, but she was sure that they wouldn't have been able to do it.

They just weren't cut out for this type of thing.

It cried out. "Help me! Please don't report that I'm evil to the guild!"

Tanya chuckled. "We won't have too; you'll be dead."

It blinked, too surprised to keep up its act. "Huh? But you said…"

Tanya pointed towards Viktoriya with an outstretched thumb, handing the woman her rifle with the other. "I said that wouldn't kill you. She said nothing of the sort."

It looked to Viktoriya, emotions flashing across its face.

Viktoriya displayed none of her earlier sympathy.

It was confused.

Viktoriya shrugged, an apologetic grin on her face. "Sorry. Tanya says I need experience to defeat the Demon King, and you Tranquility Girls are apparently very full of it," she said, readying Tanya's rifle.

The forest around them shifted, the trees becoming a wall, and light dwindled. The Tranquility Princess rose, its small, human portion now being dwarfed by the roots surrounding it.

It was mad.

"I may not be especially good at fighting, but I'm sure I can take out a pair of under-leveled worms like you! And you'll never kill all of me; this forest is my domain!"

They both shrugged and then shot into the air, rising passed the tree line and into the sky. "You heard her; burn the forest to the ground. I'll put up this item. If you need any help, just holler!"

Viktoriya waved her off, ignoring the faint shouts below her. "Don't worry. A couple Napalm-Type Combustion spells should do the trick."

Tanya nodded, and rose higher still as shouts of 'Napalm' and the frustrated obscenities echoed beneath her. They had at least three more spots to hit that they had seen on their flight to this forest, and they could probably find more if they expanded the area they could search.

Of course, Viktoriya would get tired quickly; Tanya wasn't sure how to make a Computation Jewel that wasn't a Type 95, and without one of the devices, Viktoriya would get tired from fighting quickly.

Tanya would have to carry Viktoriya to the next spot.

Tanya smiled. Somehow, she would have to bear carrying Viktoriya around like she was some damsel-in-distress for a few days.

She giggled to herself as the sounds of battle faded. She was sure she would find some way to cope with such a 'burden.'

-OxOxO-

As the sun sank into the horizon, two women wore pleasant smiles as they walked into the guild. There hadn't been anything all that dangerous – the Tranquility Girls were stronger than them physically, but Reinforcement spells and lots of Napalm more than made up for the difference.

As they walked in, Tanya held out her hand. "Alright, I'll take your card. We need to show proof to the guild that we killed them, and these things confirm that."

A questioning look from Viktoriya meant Tanya had a chance to explain what the cards were, what they recorded, and how their skills and Skill Points worked. Viktoriya nodded along, flashing her card looks of unease from time to time.

Tanya still hadn't lowered her hand. Viktoriya, casting one last look down at her card, waved her off. "Oh, I can do it Tanya. I need experience with this world, after all."

Tanya squinted at the woman, but relented. She didn't want to show Tanya her card, obviously, and Tanya wouldn't begrudge her that because she totally would have looked at it.

It wasn't that Tanya didn't respect Viktoriya's privacy; it was just that the looks she had been shooting her seemed odd, and Tanya had a sneaking suspicion it had something to do with either Viktoriya's stats or the description on her card.

Tanya gave the bag the guild had given her – filled with that truth-detecting magic item, a copy of that map, as well as some shovels, for if they killed the Tranquility Princess and needed to move it – as well as her own card, and walked further in.

Tanya sat down at a table, offhandedly ordering a bit of food as she thought. Viktoriya was as patient as Tanya was, but she was probably very interested in all the secrets Tanya hadn't told her. Tanya needed to figure out how she would be wording everything.

She was going to be offloading some of her less… harrowing… baggage; that took quite a bit of mental and emotional preparation.

Just as she was about to start, however, a strangled gasp echoed from the counter. Tanya swerved around, eyes searching for Viktoriya. She was standing there, looking rather confused. From there, Tanya looked around her.

Luna was… staring… at their cards…

Uh oh. Had she found out?

Tanya jumped up, rushing over and ignoring the curious gazes that attached themselves to her and the rapidly developing scene near the counter. She hoped she could smooth this over, but they might need to leave Axel if she had looked at the cards and figured out just how many people they had killed.

"Is there a problem?" Tanya asked, staring at the cards grasped in Luna's shaking hands. Tanya gave Viktoriya's hand a quick squeeze of reassurance.

"Y- Yo- You- You killed ten Tranquility Girls?!" Luna nearly screamed, terrified. Tanya breathed a sigh of relief, and then smiled. It was just that.

"Yes. We investigated the Tranquility Princess, found her to be evil, killed her, and then moved on to some other ones. Is there a problem?" she asked.

Sounds of outrage came from behind the pair, and both turned around. Tanya finally realized that everyone was staring at them, rage, shock, and fear on their faces.

Tanya was mystified. "Were we not supposed to kill them?" she asked, turning to Luna.

She shook her head hesitantly. "We- Well… nearly every adventurer has some reservations about killing something that looks so human, and there are mitigating circumstances that most might consider…" she trailed off.

Tanya felt the stares pounding into her as she surveyed the crowd, but she didn't cave to the pressure and start apologizing. "They are monsters, they kill tons of adventurers, we get good experience and money for it, and they all had some half-decent loot buried underneath them. Why wouldn't we kill them?" she asked, looking into the crowd.

The stuff they had found underground hadn't been good, by any means – most of it had been burnt a bit or damaged from exposure to the elements – but the general store manager had taken most of it, and Tanya had dumped the rest in a trashcan, besides a small, thin knife. She wanted to put it in her glove.

Speaking of money…

She turned around to Luna. "By the way, the Tranquility Princess claimed she controlled the entire forest, so we burnt down a large portion of it. You might want to look for her roots, just in case," she said. Luna looked rather faint, and whispers broke out in the crowd.

"So cruel and heartless…"

"If she killed the Demon King, she'd probably take over from him…"

"I don't care if she's legal, that loli is dangerous…"

"She really is 'Tanya the Evil'…"

The first one wasn't objective – she was ruthless and efficient, not cruel, and the 203rd proved she had a heart somewhere in her chest. The second one seemed like it might be an interesting proposition, but those last two hurt.

Her reputation, that was; her enemies and Being X had called her worse names.

The crowd withered away, and Tanya admitted that maybe she had glared at them a little bit too much. Or a lot.

She wasn't exactly a good judge of these things; the glare she'd sent might have made some of her soldiers pause for a moment, but that lot would have required some berating before they actually cringed.

Tanya scoffed. "Besides, I only killed three of them; Viktoriya killed seven," she said pointing to Viktoriya. She waved pleasantly, and the murmuring started up again.

"I don't believe her."

"She probably got forced to do it."

"Maybe we should save her from the loli."

Twitch.

Tanya ignored their comments and rolled her eyes. She turned to the receptionist. "Luna, our compensation?"

Torn between thanking her for taking out so many menaces and alarm that someone was so blasé about killing things that resemble humans, Luna ducked into the back.

Soon enough, she brought out a copy of the durian quest, a book, and the map from earlier. "If you could, please mark this map with the locations of the ones you subjugated while I calculate your pay."

Tanya nodded, easily marking the area of each spot with a red 'x'. Then, she waited, eyeing the adventurers who were still staring at them. She scowled. She really didn't get it; why were they so mad?

Luna still seemed pretty torn, but she put the book below the counter. She then popped back up.

"In addition to the durian quest, you cleared out a number of outstanding quests put up for any Tranquility Girls. If you would sign here…" she said, holding out a number of pieces of paper. Tanya was about to sign them, when something at the bottom of one caught her eye.

She pointed out what looked to be smudged dirt to Luna, who shrugged. "These ones are probably stained from the months and years of being incomplete. We haven't always had the best places to store this stuff."

Tanya nodded, and then signed them all one by one. Luna went into the back once more, and came back out, bearing a serving tray, and, like usual, it had what was probably money on it.

But it wasn't anything Tanya had seen. She'd seen tons of copper, iron, and, and even a handful of gold Eris. But on this one, a single, shining coin sat.

Voice shaking, Luna said, "This is a Mithril Eris. It is worth… one million Eris!"

The guild quieted down, and the derisive muttering about her suddenly stopped. Tanya looked at it, and then at Luna. "Please break this up. I'm going to be spending some of it, and carrying around something so Steal-able is asking to get robbed."

That it might be made of that most despised metal was also part of it, but she wouldn't be telling anyone.

Luna nodded, bringing the tray behind the counter. Tanya turned to see the guild looking at her differently. "Well. It seems we've earned quite a bit from this endeavor," she said, rubbing her chin. She smiled, and looked up at Viktoriya.

"Why don't we go get you looking like a real adventurer? These schmucks obviously don't know a thing about being courteous to those stronger than them." She smirked, but no one moved.

Tanya raised an eyebrow. The single instance in which Tanya had seen Dust earn more than 100,000 Eris, the people who had been calling him a waste of space that morning had come back to him, begging for a couple of drinks.

It seemed that even wealth wasn't good enough for them in this instance.

Just as she was beginning to doubt whether or not they should have killed those things, Luna came back, holding a huge bag larger than Tanya's head and Luna's bust combined.

She smirked lecherously as she took the money. "Luna. Pay for everyone's next meal, and put it on my tab. I'll be back in a bit," she said, activating a bit few Reinforcement spells to support her struggling arms. She walked out, closely followed by Viktoriya.

As soon as the doors closed, shouting and laughter erupted from behind the closed doors. Viktoriya seemed a bit put off, stopping to stare at the guild, but Tanya just kept walking.

"It's a sort of tradition that people who get huge scores pay for everyone's food. Otherwise, we would have kept it. Now come on!" she said, taking off in the direction of the Tailor's shop.

Viktoriya's clothing was sort of out of place, and Tanya was looking forward to a night in an actual bed, if she let her money talk for her.

Chapter Text

It was dark out. When they'd visited the guild and then left, the sun had dipped below the horizon, darkening the streets. While Axel wasn't as advanced as the Capital was rumored to be, it did have magical lighting on its main streets, with lamps much like the ones in the guild lining the streets and making nightlife possible for those with the time for it.

Walking through the streets of Axel, they had hit everywhere Tanya could think of: first had been the Tailor, who had been happy to get Viktoriya out of the smelly, dirty clothes she had been utilizing for a bit too long and into something more appropriate.

In keeping with Tanya's monochrome clothes – gray evening gloves, a white shirt, black pants, black boots, with the only color coming from her green cloak – Viktoriya had opted for something in the same vein of color, if not style.

She too kept her boots, and choose pants that might have looked more fitting on a man and that were necessary for the colder conditions higher in the sky. Besides that, she opted for a longer white shirt than Tanya's, one that was much baggier than anything Tanya had seen her wear, with the sleeves opening up at the ends.

Both of their gloves matched, at least, and instead of a mantle like Tanya, she decided to wear a green jacket that resembled their old flight gear.

Tanya sighed at the thought as they headed up the stairs of the inn they were in. Their old flight gear…

She had to admit she missed having the stuff. The clothing was much warmer than anything here, and while that wasn't necessary on the ground, it would be if they ever stayed in the air for extended periods of time.

So would those boots, come to think of it. Tanya, unfortunately, was no scientist, and while she had often deconstructed both her rifle and her Computation Jewels for maintenance, the clunky, flight-stabilizing boot that each mage wore were not one of the things Tanya had looked at often. Recreating them would likely be impossible.

Tanya's thoughts turned back to what had led them into getting a room at this inn. After getting Viktoriya new clothing, Tanya had dropped Viktoriya's old clothing off at the Blacksmith's, before thinking better of that – Tanya was still… unhappy about the looks he had sent her – and leaving the place with more than they had planned to drop off.

They had come here a little while ago to purchase their rooms, and then they had split up.

After some deliberation, Tanya had dropped by the guild while Viktoriya went to that barn. Tanya paid her tab that everyone had managed to rack up in the two hours they had been gone, and Viktoriya had picked up the few possessions Tanya felt were safe enough to leave in the barn – a clothes line, a pillow, and a bed sheet.

Tanya pushed open the door. Now, they were in that room Tanya had paid to be allowed to stay in for the next month. It wasn't overly large, but it had room for the both of them, two beds, and a small window that overlooked one of the quieter streets of Axel.

A magical light illuminated their room, but Tanya wouldn't have cared if she had needed to use candles. She was just happy to be inside and out of that barn.

Of course, to get the room, pay off those debts, and help out Viktoriya, she'd burned through half of the million Eris reward. She thought that having a place to stay and calming the other adventurers' fears that they were somehow evil for taking care of a measly ten monsters.

The day as a whole had been one of the best yet, and it was all thanks to the woman resting in the opposite bed. Darkness and Chris were nice, but neither knew her, not like Viktoriya did…

Although…

Tanya grimaced. Viktoriya really didn't know Tanya's first life, and Tanya had been meticulous in keeping the fact that she even had one hidden from everyone. She had slipped up a few times, referenced things that weren't invented yet here and there, but no one had suspected the ridiculous truth.

She looked at her adjunct, and decided. She'd tell her. She knew that she had another past, and keeping it secret would only cause her to resent her all the more.

"Viktoriya." Immediately, the woman's eyes shot open, staring at Tanya. After a few seconds of pessimistic procrastination, Tanya began simply.

"I haven't been honest with you, and I suppose it's time to fix that." Another moment of hesitation, and Tanya began to lay out her first life.

Being born a man, growing up in Japan, being an atheist, going to college, working a nine to five job, and getting killed by someone she had fired. Her meeting with the one who claimed to be god, and her continued spurning of his insistence that she convert.

Finding herself in a world similar to her last, but one with magic. Enlisting, being given a cursed piece of jewelry that she now had to rely on.

She left out a bit. Some vivid descriptions of how much she despised her body, hatred that she wasn't taller – but there was nothing for that, thanks to the Reinforcement spells that protected her from the neck-snapping forces inherent to being an Aerial Mage at the cost of stunting her growth – and, of course, each and every memory from the last month before they'd left.

Tanya wouldn't be talking about that last thing.

Ever.

Finally, after nearly an hour of explaining herself, she finished. Viktoriya was quiet, and seemed to be deep in thought, probably trying to reconcile what she'd learned with what she knew. Tanya didn't hope for lenience, but-

"Okay."

Tanya blinked, and then blinked again, waiting for an elaboration. Or hatred. Or suspicion.

However, Viktoriya's smiling face just shone, not wavering in the slightest. It did waver when Tanya began to show signs of confusion, such as her mangled screeching. "What do you mean!?"

Viktoriya said nothing, and Tanya decided she'd elaborate, if Serebryakov wouldn't. "'Okay' doesn't cut. Are you angry? Unhappy? Filled with enough potent rage to spite me for nearly two decades? I need more than 'okay!'"

Viktoriya just sat there, considering her words for a moment. Then, happily, she said, "Well, I did say I'd believe you, right? Besides, considering everything else I've seen today, it doesn't seem that outlandish. Although…"

Tanya winced. Here it was. Viktoriya was going to begin to rant and rave at her for keeping so many secrets for so long. Emotional scarring on both their parts was sure to follow, and-

"Are you okay?"

Tanya blinked at the question. Was she okay?

She gazed at Viktoriya curiously. "Okay? What do you mean?"

She winced slightly. "I… after everything you've been through, after everything you've had to fake and lie about and hide, and after what happened in-"

Tanya cut her off with a glare. Her statement died on her lips, as did the nervous bravery shining in her eyes, and Tanya sighed. "I think I'm mostly good, Viktoriya. Anything else?"

Tanya could clearly see she wanted to talk about that, about what had happened after her battle with the Bloody Valkyrie, but Tanya wouldn't, so she was trying to move the conversation away from-

"Are you really a man?"

Twitch.

The girl across from her brought a hand up to her mouth, hiding her snickering and trying to look anywhere accept for the strand of hair on top of Tanya's head that had just bobbed in annoyance at an unavoidable reminder of her situation. Tanya just sighed, cursing her hair in addition to everything else.

"Is that really all you have questions about?" she asked. An earnest look from the woman across from her confirmed it. Tanya grimaced.

"Well… I don't have a dick, if that's what you're asking. Although, you already saw that much at Bidin-Budin. On the inside, though, I still consider myself a guy. Plus…" she trailed off, smirking evilly and not upsetting a lightly blushing Viktoriya, who was very much used to those smiles by now.

"This world has magic items, similar to that truth-detecting item that the guild gave us, that can change a person's gender. And once I get one, I'll be slightly more free from this prison of a body!" she shouted happily.

And it was a prison. There were upsides, of course, but her ability to peep in on women was much like having a great view of the beach from a prison cell: you couldn’t exactly get to what you saw.

“Really?” Viktoriya asked, shock ringing in her voice. Tanya nodded, and began to wonder why she seemed so surprised. She had already said that Tanya’s past was nothing compared to this place, although…

Tanya’s eyes widened. Was the reason that Viktoriya hadn’t ever wanted a relationship with any of the men in the 203rd…

“Wait! Uhm…”

Tanya trailed off, and she felt a blush begin to build on her face. “I… suppose I never considered the idea, but, Serebryakov, do… you need one of those-”

Tanya’s face had continued to burn until it felt like it was practically one fire, and Viktoriya’s face soon mirrored her own. She was sputtering, and Tanya felt incredibly awkward, and-

“No! Of course not, why-”

Tanya felt extremely uncomfortable, but Viktoriya just sighed and straightened her hair nervously. “Tanya. With all due respect, hell no !”

Tanya breathed a sigh of relief. Obviously, Tanya had made a huge leap in logic. She was just as straight-laced as she assumed she was, and her lack of relationships was simply due to the war and nothing else.

She shook her head. What an absurd thought, that a pre-modern Europe would ha

Things were silent, for a moment, and then Viktoriya cleared her throat. “Well, I guess that’s everything…”

Tanya nodded, ignoring the contemplative look on the woman’s face – Tanya had just dumped a lot of information on her – and she went to turn off the light. As she turned it off, Viktoriya asked another question.

“Tanya. Do you remember all of those times we changed in the same room? Or those times that I unbuttoned or took off my uniform? Or the time we were invited to that hot spring in Bidin-Budin? Or that time we were on the eastern front and we needed to bunk together, and you were very insistent on us sleeping together in order to keep warm?”

Tanya smiled. She remembered each of those times fondly, and had thought of the many times in the last few months, with her separation from her last life and Viktoriya.

While they weren’t exactly safer times – only the Tranquility Princess and that pair of Reincarnates had matched the danger of a single veteran aerial mage, proving this war was just… ridiculously peaceful compared to the Empire’s war – she had certainly had a much more concrete life ahead of her.

“Yeah! Why…” Tanya trailed off, gulping reflexively. Right. Viktoriya now knew why Tanya had been so insistent.

Stiffening her shoulders, she braced herself for abuse, but it never came. She turned away from the switch on the wall, only to see that Viktoriya was turned towards the wall next to her bed, away from Tanya. Thankful for her mercy, she slipped into her bed and stared at the ceiling.

A voice pierced her ears and thoughts of safety. “I won’t attack you. I just hope you can live with yourself for taking advantage of me when I was unaware,” she said softly.

Tanya paused for a moment, before she began to softly chuckle. Wow.

She knew that berating Tanya wouldn’t really do much, so she opted to let her stew in her shame. Plus, the way she worded that soft statement was suggestive enough to make Tanya associate that with something much worse than simply staring.

A magnificent move on her part, because it would definitely get her to apologize, eventually.

Turning over, Tanya attempted to snuggle into the soft sheets to imprint the comfortable feeling into her body and to suppress any memory of lying in itchy hay.

She was also trying to hold out. She wouldn’t apologize…

Not for at least a week. Yes, she was fine with what she’d done, and some of those situations that Tanya had used to snuggle up to or get a better look of Viktoriya had also had legitimate reasons for occurring other than Tanya’s puberty-driven urges.

She could hold out for a week.

She was a war veteran, after all; how hard would it be to resist the lingering guilt she felt… even if Viktoriya’s presence meant it wasn’t exactly lingering anymore?

-OxOxO-

Arrayed in a dark room, women dressed in casual clothing sat around a table, each clutching a drink of some kind in their hands. Most adventurers would be shocked to see them in anything that had more cloth than your average fishing net, but they weren't catering to the male adventurers of Axel.

Not tonight.

A gathering of devils had begun. The average human imagination would place such a thing as heinous, as a meeting between separate eldritch horrors, each bent on enslaving humanity to serve their whims and ready to betray the others for the barest hint of additional power.

The male adventurers of Axel, more familiar with them, would think of such a thing as dream-worthy material.

Among a group of such low-ranked devils, however, it looked more like a meeting between good friends or business partners. They had been in Axel for years, and they weren't going to leave anytime soon, barring some sort of tragedy.

No one knew each other's actual, full name, of course; those held particular power over devil-kind, but the lack of knowledge about that area was expected. Most arrayed around the table knew her as the youngest one there.

An outside adventurer would likely just call her a 'Loli Succubus', when comparing her flat-as-a-board chest to her associates' assets, but she was fine with that.

Everyone had their fetishes, and they were happy to cater to them, as long as everything was in a dream. No human could punish another for their thoughts.

Tonight, however, they had closed their shop. They had had to apologize to the various adventurers, and even had to pay them back for failing to provide their service.

The Succubi were not particularly fussed about that, however. This meeting was important, more important than regular money.

The Succubus that adventurers knew as the 'Receptionist Succubus' stood, clearing her throat. "Now, we're going to party, but before we get too inebriated, we should discuss the reason we're partying," she said, cyan eyes flashing in delight.

Everyone else there was only slightly put off by the delay – they did want to know of their benefactor.

"We got word from several customers, and, when I went to the guild itself, from nearly everyone there, that someone decided to take care of some of our oldest foes," she intoned.

They had all learned this hours ago, but no one interrupted. It was fun to pretend you were some high-ranking devil, like Vanir or Maxwell, making a speech to hordes of weak, pitiful devils.

"That's right; Tranquility Girls!" she shouted. Everyone scowled, barely repressing hisses of anger.

"They entice adventurers, get them to stop approaching our shop, and consume their bodies once they've died of malnutrition! We can't take them on – we are too physically weak – and despite the money we've put up for their extermination, no one has been able to kill any," she said, muttering the last part. No one here held any sympathy for them.

They killed humans that were weak enough to fall to their charms, humans that they would have an easy time extracting money and emotion out of.

"Until today! Today, not only was the Tranquility Princess finally exterminated, but nine others with her! Tonight, we celebrate their destruction!"

A cheer went up, but no one drank. Receptionist Succubus wasn't yet done.

For effect, Loli Succubus stood. "Who do we have to thank?"

Everyone turned to Loli Succubus, deep in thought. Receptionist Succubus sighed. "We haven't yet determined that. Despite asking people in the guild, we only learned a few things." All were quiet, waiting to absorb this information.

"One: it was a pair of adventurers, but nearly everyone agreed that one probably pushed the other into it. Two: one is thought to be a noble, since they're very powerful and have blonde hair. And Three: both were women."

At the second pronouncement, everyone's spirits wilted, but at the last one, everyone became visibly saddened. Finding them would be hard, and paying them back would be even harder.

They did, after all, want to thank whoever it was; those quests were technically contracts, and the fine print at the bottom did say they were entitled to further compensation from the people at this building.

It was hoped that male adventurers would see the writing, realize who was offering the quest, and take off to do their bidding.

That two females had been able to complete the quest was odd – none of them thought that they were capable of that sort of thing – but they didn't really care. They did need to complete the contract.

Silence reigned, until Loli Succubus spoke once more. "How do we find them?"

No one seemed to know. Even Receptionist Succubus seemed troubled.

"Well," she began, playing with a strand of her hair, "we could try to ask our customers about blonde-haired adventurers; there can't be many of them, right? We'll be able to find the Tranquility Destroyer that way."

Everyone made sounds of agreement, and then began to throw themselves into their alcohol, forgetting about their troubles. Even Loli Succubus, who looked like she was too young to know what the word 'inebriated' meant and who was centuries older than any human, was having some.

They were enjoying themselves, intent on worrying about and figuring out the identity of their benefactor at a later date; for now, they would drink!

"Three cheers for the Tranquility Destroyer!"

They partied long into the night.

-OxOxO-

Blazing eyes surveyed the brightly lit room, and an aging body, tired from fighting long past its prime, tried to act as regally as it could when there were possible enemies all around it.

Oh, Hans, Sylvia, and Vanir had all sworn allegiance, but he was getting very old for a Demon King. He didn't really fault the first two for testing plans to try and usurp him.

It was only natural for those that saw him as weak to try and become the most powerful, but without him at the helm, he was sure things would collapse. He was the only one who knew why this fucking war had been started in the first place.

Or he was the only one who cared, anyway.

While he would love to retire and let his daughter lead, she hadn't yet consolidated power. He had to wait for that, at least.

Suddenly, one of the doors at the far end of the room burst open, and two things walked in. Calling them people, despite their looks, would be folly.

One appeared to be a rather normal looking man. Not overly normal that some people would be disgruntled by it – he was nearing six foot, and his blonde hair drifted passed his shoulders, which was odd for a man – but normal enough that people wouldn't be able to describe him as either ugly or handsome.

Of course, this was by design.

Everything from his perfectly tailored black clothing with golden highlights to the very shallow cut on one of his cheeks, where one might cut oneself with a shaving razor, was manufactured, for standing before him was Ragcraft, the leader of their intelligence division and a Doppelganger of the highest order.

Next to him stood Vanir. Clad in a dark suit and a bright yellow tie, he looked like the perfect gentleman, besides the odd, black and white mask that was divided down the middle. While unassuming, these two were some of the best people in his entire army.

Vanir sat down opposite of him, across the long table that could seat ten beings – his generals, himself, and the 'retired' General that Wiz had taken the place of.

Of course, that NEET hadn't actually ever shown up to a meeting after his place had been taken by Wiz, so they just used it for guests.

All of the seats were not filled.

Wiz was in Axel, maintaining the barrier and losing him money. Celestina was retraining herself, since she had gotten that power boost, presumably because her Goddess had been released or, more depressingly, the number of her followers in the world had gone down. Wolbach was still searching for her other half, and Verdia was in Axel, currently keeping watch for a specific Reincarnate.

Not that the others in the room knew about the Reincarnates' actual origins. Only Verdia knew that they were more than people from a faraway land blessed by the Gods to fight him and his forces.

The two of them called the Reincarnates 'Hero Candidates' like everyone else, but they knew what they really were.

Instead of ten, only six chairs were filled. Hans, Sylvia, and Vanir on one end, and him, his daughter, and Ragcraft on the other. He'd called this meeting due to the new threat.

Of course, Hans had an objection. "Hey, when are you gonna get more people? I'm getting kinda hungry, and-"

"Silence."

He didn't often demand they be quiet – he needed them to be happy so they'd take orders, and he couldn't afford to easily kill subordinates as good as these.

However, he was angry.

"All I ask is that you serve me. Not even well. I just need you to follow orders if I give them, and in return, I try and help you achieve whatever desires you have, since you couldn't care less about my cause," he spat out.

The two at the end of the table attempted to act above his words, but his personality had only gotten more forceful as he aged, unlike his power.

"Sylvia. The Chimera. You finished your modifications to your body ages ago," he began. The man – because no matter how feminine his face was or how beautiful his tits were, she had a penis and thought of himself as a man – tried smirking. That smirk rapidly faded at his next pronouncement.

"Now, instead of leading my forces, you sexually harass whichever minions don't know about your modifications, which is far too many because you two," he continued, pointing at both Hans and Vanir, "ensure I have to replace them constantly."

Neither looked particularly upset, especially Vanir, but he let his annoyance be known.

He first addressed Vanir. "In battle, you do nothing but get our force's hopes up with pronouncements of victory and then feast on their disappointment when a Hero Candidate – or ten – shows up. Then you actually help out, fighting the adventurers and feasting on their shame and disappointment. Then you abscond from the fight, leaving both sides to go home with few casualties and you to come back more well-rested than anyone fighting a war has ANY right to be."

"Then you come in here, feasting on my guards' emotions," he finished. Vanir still didn't look upset, and the Demon King didn't care.

Hans snickered, and he glared at the Toxic Mutant Slime. He might look like a man now, but the sheen of purple sweat showed what he really was. "You're no better. You eat. I understand that you're a Slime, but if you want food, go out and get some of it from whichever battle we're fighting in instead of using my guards as fucking toothpicks!"

Hans seemed to have melted into his seat a bit, but he raised a hand anyway. The Demon King grit his teeth. "I know Slimes don't have teeth; it's a metaphor, you fucking dipshit."

He let his words sink in, and then he sighed. "Those not with us are trying to amass power, at least. And Ragcraft."

He turned to their guest. While not a Demon General – he was too weak, physically and magically – he was the leader of their intelligence division.

The Demon King's tone became honestly mournful. "I apologize for ruining your thirty-year plan. You've been so deep undercover, and to force you to fake your death to carry out another plan is in bad taste."

The Doppelganger, who had been shifting his form idly, settled on the intimidating, expressionless, pitch-black human silhouette. A slightly nervous voice echoed from it. "Of course, my Demon King! It's no problem. We live to serve you, after all…"

"Yes…" he trailed off, eyes narrowed at the nervousness present in his tone. Then Vanir stood, and Ragcraft sunk into his chair.

"Moi would like to inform the enfeebled and slightly insane Demon King that what the idiotic Doppelganger said is not the whole truth!" he shouted, smirking happily.

A weak, pleading, "Vanir…" was emitted from Ragcraft, but the Duke of Hell carried on.

"The one known as Ragcraft the Prime Minister of the nation of Elroad forgot his original purpose! So entranced was he by his position and his wealth and the splendor he brought to 'his' nation, that he forgot that he was sent to destroy Belzerg's chief economic supporter!"

The Demon King looked at Ragcraft, who had taken the form of a mouse and was trying to burrow into his seat. It wasn't hiding them from his shame.

"That's right! And what Ragcraft learned from his experience, was that if he had not become a part of their government, their monarchy would have already gone bankrupt long ago and been unable to support Belzerg anyway!"

The Demon King fought down the disappointment he felt towards his underling – that was what that Duke of Hell wanted – and took a deep breath. He counted to ten. He tried to do a bit of math.

Still, excess energy, created through his emotions, leaked out. The others were too distracted with their amusement to notice.

He finally calmed down, and when he looked up again, Vanir was rolling on the ground, pointing and laughing at Ragcraft. Sylvia and Hans were trying to hide their own amusement, but it was pretty obvious they wanted to join Vanir in rolling on the floor.

"Fine," the Demon King muttered, trying to figure out just how he would salvage this. His daughter, seated to his right, touched his arm, and the last of the anger drained out of him.

"Fine. Everything's… fine. You aren't there anymore, and Belzerg was implicated in your assassination. They'll be distracted by that, and we can begin a few plans early. I have orders, and you all will follow them," he bit out angrily. Sylvia and Hans straightened immediately, while Vanir and Ragcraft took a moment to adjust themselves.

"Hans. The Axis Cult is poised to fall, with nearly all of their resources committed to one city?" he asked rhetorically. Hans nodded slowly, but the Demon King didn't shirk his duties and had read the slime's reports over the years. He already knew this fact well.

"You'll travel for two months and destroy their main resource. Remember the promise we made to Wiz, or I'll personally teleport her to you so she can kill you," he said, ending with a glare and a warning.

They wouldn't harm any non-combatants and get torn to shreds by an undead, no matter how much easier it would be to finish the kingdom off if they could just massacre a few towns and turn their inhabitants into their own soldiers.

"Sylvia. You're on the front line duty. We need them distracted while Verdia does his best in Axel, and Vanir is too unreliable." Said Demon didn't seem to take any offense, but the Demon King didn't expect him to. He was older than nearly anyone, and it took quite a bit more to get under his skin.

"Daughter. You're going to continue training and consolidating." She nodded, and what went unsaid was that she would be trying to win Hans and Sylvia's supporters over to her side. With them absent, she should be able to win over some of the more indecisive among those plotting his death.

"Vanir. You have another month, and then the majority of our contract will be finished." Vanir gave him one of those smiles that he knew meant he was completely satisfied, which wasn't good, since Vanir's satisfaction usually meant he was getting fed some disappointment eventually.

Soon, Vanir would be gone from the castle, the residence and fighting portions of the contract finally done. He provided a very important piece in balancing his forces and the forces of that foolish king. And, with most of the contract done, Vanir would be obligated to help him recruit more demons and continue maintaining the barrier.

He felt very foolish for being made a mockery of in his own castle, but it was almost over.

Foolish… King…

The Demon King grit his teeth and snarled. That damnable pawn! His opposite in Belzerg might have been old, but he was nothing but a battle maniac, too jumped up on adrenaline to care that the people and powers around him were using him.

He sighed angrily, and dismissed everyone besides Ragcraft. All of them left without a word.

Ragcraft was still slumped in his seat, but the Demon King didn't care. He sighed and spoke slowly. "Ragcraft. Make sure your intelligence gathering apparatuses are up to date, and then you'll be meeting up with Verdia for some special work."

Suddenly, Vanir burst into the room again. "Moi would like you to know that the Doppelganger has already checked his minions in Belzerg on a vacation he took when he remembered he was your minion, using it as an excuse to take a break from thirty years of dealing with royalty."

The Demon King shook his head, once more trying to convert his disappointment into something else, since the Duke of Hell wouldn't get any pleasure out of anything but shame and disappointment.

"Whatever," he snarled, settling on feeling angry. "Go join up with Verdia, and begin building a network in Axel. The Kingdom's source of new adventurers and Hero Candidates is a target we want to be informed about, no matter how weak they might seem."

Ragcraft nodded helplessly, and with room empty, the Demon King sighed. Usually, the room would have soldiers in it, but Vanir and Hans and Sylvia scared his forces. They all tried their best to stay away if they could.

He grumbled to himself. There was no one that had more troublesome companions than him. None of them got along, they bickered with him and each other constantly, and they were almost not worth the effort.

And, if there was someone with a more annoying, grating, expensive group of idiots around them, then he genuinely prayed for their health. They must be on the verge of death with friends worse than his generals.

-OxOxO-

Darkness sighed, once more disliking her noble heritage.

Oh, it had its uses; if she hadn't inherited her mother's magical resistances, she was sure that Tanya's spells would have killed her during the Eris Thanksgiving Festival, and she would never have been able to deal with the punishment she took from monsters.

Her father's insistence that she get married was grating, however; she liked punishment, and her father knew this fact.

Instead of settling on punishments she would like, he got creative. This time, she'd been told by her father to sift through piles of birth registries if she wanted to find Tanya's family.

That hadn't been enjoyable in the least.

It was, however, very effective, since her father was getting closer to just ordering her to sit down for a meeting with some nobles son. Maybe even Alderp's.

She shuddered at the thought, and made her way through Axel even faster. Some adventuring would be calming, and then she could try to help her father with the latest crisis: the appearance of some sort of Archpriest.

A massive Heal had been used four nights ago, and while no one knew who had used it, the effects were far reaching. It had managed to cure the wounds of people in a mile radius from it.

If the Priest had come forward, or if the churches didn't have a monopoly over who their adherents were healed by, there wouldn't have been a problem.

However, no one had come forward and the churches did have a monopoly, which meant both the Eris cultist and the very small number of Axis cultists present had decried the other, spouting that the other was overstepping their boundaries and that they should be punished. Hopefully, a few hours adventuring would take her mind off things.

Finally, she burst into the guild, and made her way to the table Tanya always sat at – right in the center, equidistant from the counter, the kitchen, and the front door. She made to sit down, but she paused.

Chris was standing, staring at the back of Tanya. Darkness couldn't blame her as she walked forward and stood next to the Thief.

Someone was sitting next to Tanya, conversing amiably. Long brown hair that drifted halfway down her back and clothed in a green jacket, her tone suggested she was happy. Darkness wasn't sure if she was, because the words flowing out of both of their mouths were utterly incomprehensible to her.

She looked at Chris, who didn't react to Darkness's added presence. Sighing, she tapped Tanya on the back warily. Tanya turned around, stopping her conversation.

She looked annoyed, for a moment, and then she loudly exclaimed, "Oh, Darkness and Chris! I kinda forgot you two existed. Come sit down, I can introduce you!"

Darkness moaned a bit, getting a rather alarmed look from the new addition. Tanya spoke more rapid-fire nonsense at her, until the woman gave a Darkness a look that spoke equally of confusion and judgement. Darkness sat down, soon followed by a golem-like Chris.

"Darkness, Chris, allow me to introduce you to my…" she trailed off, apparently confused about how to introduce her. She introduced herself. "I'm Viktoriya Serebryakov. I'm her friend."

Darkness shook the woman's hand. "I am Darkness, Crusader of the Eris cult," she provided simply. She was thinking too much for any superfluous introductions.

She was trying to figure out how this woman played into Tanya's history. She was older than Darkness was – maybe in her early twenties. Was she some sort of trainer or protector? Someone who had taught Tanya?

Chris also shook Viktoriya's hand, providing even less than Darkness had. "Chris. Thief."

Tanya, about to talk more, was cut off by the sound of a bell echoing through Axel. She stood. "Sorry you two, but we've got places to be. I've been showing the ropes to Viktoriya for a few days, so we're going to take a break. Have fun!"

Without another word, the two left. Darkness felt incredibly lonely, for a moment, before shaking her head. It was fine.

With Chris there, Darkness could still get some experience. Even if she wouldn't get scolded for being pathetic by Tanya in the process.

Chris stood, ignorant of her surroundings and of Darkness, and Darkness let out a small whimper at the thought of being cruelly abandoned. Chris turned to her, about to say something.

Then, she thought better of it. Maybe Darkness could help?

"Say Darkness? Isn't it sort of suspicious that Tanya suddenly has a new friend?" she asked. Darkness nodded slowly. Chris smiled, but then frowned as Darkness began to speak.

"Well, I guess… but we really don't know everything about her, right? It's not like we've been adventuring together for years. I'm sure she has her secrets. Let's just go on a quest."

Chris scowled. Even if she didn't exactly like it, she couldn't take down tons of money from Heaven, and she did need to earn more. With Darkness, however, she wouldn't need to worry about being kicked out for loitering; no one would dare touch her with how much money the noble had.

She smirked. "I've got a better idea. Want to hear it?"

Darkness nodded hesitantly, and Chris began to talk. She didn't have access to the millions of languages she could usually access when she was in Heaven, but neither of them had been speaking this world's language. That meant a Reincarnate had come to her side, instead of only being deprived of their relic. She needed to figure out what had happened.

-OxOxO-

Both women tried their best to be unseen. However, Darkness was very recognizable.

Chris did her best to change that – armor was stashed at the guild, and her long hair was put in a bun. Her Lurk skill made most of that moot, but an emergency wasn't out of the question.

Unseen, they stuck close to walls, attempting to follow the pair.

Chris scowled as they trailed behind. Axel wasn't as populous as many other cities, but it was nearing midday and people were beginning to do their daily tasks. Going to market and selling what they'd made, or trying to get passing adventurers to buy their supplies. It wasn't easy.

They managed to keep travelling, ducking and dodging, and attempting to keep sight of them. Tanya had thrown up her hood, but the woman with her – Viktoriya – was tall.

They followed, followed, and eventually found their way to what appeared to be Tanya's place of work.

She claimed to have worked for a Blacksmith, and Darkness had claimed to see some of her work. Chris thought it was rather obvious; she was nothing without her modern weapons, and believing The Atheist would adopt the ideas of her situation was a bit naïve, seeing as she was still denying her actual gender.

They didn't dare go in; that place didn't look big enough to remain unseen for long, even with Lurk. Despite the warnings Chris had given on the way there, Darkness still attempted to make small talk.

"Who do you think she is, Chris? She must have to do with her past, if they can both speak whatever that language is," the Crusader mused. Chris shrugged, trying to ignore her; she was trying to think on just how this had happened.

Soon enough the pair came out again. Only this time, both were sporting upgraded equipment.

Now, both of them had pistols strapped to their waists and rifles slung across their backs. Chris searched her mind furiously. What Japanese reincarnate looked like that and could use weapons? Some sort of foreigner?

"Did she teach her how to use those?" Darkness suggested. Chris froze. No, they couldn't have taught each other, even if-

Chris gasped. Could they have served together? In that war?

Oh no. Chris turned white as her thoughts began to spiral downwards. Now she had two relics and one of her sycophantic subordinates? This was bad.

"Chris? Hey Chris? Do you… what's wrong!" she said, getting louder and louder. Chris shook her head.

She could have a mental breakdown once she was back in Heaven and had taken a closer look at those papers Aqua had so flippantly signed.

They were off again, and Chris worked to shut out Darkness's questions about what she was scared of. Winding through streets and pedestrians trying to keep up, Chris was still trying not to panic, and she was able to manage that much.

She cursed herself under her breath. Why could she only manage? She was a Goddess; why hadn't they beaten this maniac already?

Finally, they caught up again. Now, they were stalking down an alley in one of the dingier parts of Axel. Chris smirked. Whatever dirty dealings they had with a shop down here would turn Darkness to her side, at least. The pair stopped at a shop, and Darkness and Chris jumped behind a pile of trash.

Trying to ignore Darkness's cries of pleasure as she was pecked by Crows, Chris looked through the open door, at the two people inside talking to someone else. She seemed to be the shop owner, seeing as she was standing behind the counter.

They were talking with the owner of the shop. Animated discussion was taking place, and it seemed that they were learning some sort of skill from her.

Or, at least The Atheist's lackey was. A gust of cold air blew the door shut, and Chris swore.

She turned around, and shooed the Crows away. "Stop messing around, Darkness. This is serious."

Darkness, seemingly put out for some reason, stood from the ground. "I don't get it. Why are you so scared? Is that woman dangerous to Tanya?"

Chris's eye twitched, and she was tempted to say something she'd probably regret. Then an idea came to her.

She nodded slowly. "I know of that language they were speaking. It's a harsh language used by a warmongering nation in a faraway land. They're even more militant than Belzerg."

Darkness's eyes widened.

That was a shocking statement, since Belzerg was… quite militant. Their royalty were referred to as 'Barbarian brutes' by their detractors in the surrounding nations, and for a nation to somehow be even more militant was…

Darkness nodded, and Chris thanked the Crusader for being so curious about her party leader's history. She cleared her throat, wondering how to word this.

Driving away support from The Atheist was the best she could do, since Chris couldn't exactly come down and do battle with the girl. Heaven needed all the mana it could get.

Slowly, she began to speak. "I think that that person might have tricked Tanya, somehow. She's obviously much older than her, but Tanya acts as if she's her leader, with how she's catering to her desires to show her around. That's awfully suspicious. It's entirely possible that this Serebryakov is trying to use Tanya."

Darkness's eyes widened, and Chris only felt a bit sorry for using the Crusader's suspicions that Tanya was a noble against her.

She shook her head. Chris was her Goddess, after all… it was only right.

"Then… what should we do? Tanya doesn't strike me as someone who's easily tricked, so she must be powerful. And if the rumors that they killed ten Tranquility Girls are true, then she might have pushed Tanya into doing something that cruel…"

Chris just nodded along. This was perfect! Darkness would help her drive a wedge between the two, and then Tanya would spurn Darkness for trying to do so.

Her faithful Crusader would be saved from their influences, and The Atheist would get deprived of help.

Both waited, staring at the shop. Another fifteen minutes passed, during which Chris had to 'save' Darkness from the Crows more than once. Then the pair came out again. Viktoriya seemed to be pocketing her Adventurer's Card, while Tanya was skipping. Both watched, concealed with Lurk.

"Skipping? She definitely did something to Tanya. She's never that carefree."

Quietly, both continued to follow after them, but nothing else seemed to happen. They visited a restaurant, had lunch, and then just… walked around, conversing in that language of theirs.

Soon, Chris and Darkness stopped, ducking down an alleyway. Chris wasn't weak, but keeping up Lurk for hours at a time was not exactly easy work. They rested in the shade, thankful that the sun had begun to dip down in the sky.

Soon enough, Chris was rested. The pair stood from where they had been sitting, making their way through the streets and asking people if they'd seen two people with odd staffs walking about. They caught up to them just in time.

People were shouting. Whether they were shouting to run, or for the police, Chris wasn't sure which was more prevalent. It seemed that someone had made trouble.

In the middle of the street, it seemed they were surrounded. Six people, four male and two female, were staring at them angrily. Serebryakov seemed wary, but The Atheist hadn't even taken up her gun.

"What do you all want?"

All of them had black hair and dark eyes. Most of them were sporting regular clothing, but some hadn't yet given up the clothing that marked them as being from Japan. All of them were holding weapons – a spear, a wand, a staff, a pair of knives, a sword, a bow.

Chris was confused. They were alive?

She scowled. How had she taken their weapons from them, then?

She shook her head. She really needed to begin looking through some of those files. Maybe The Atheist had some sort of power that could do that? She didn't know.

Regardless, she needed to begin acting. Maybe she should try and diffuse the situation-

"You can probably guess, Degurechaff! You took our weapons and got us stuck in this backwater instead of going to the capital like all the others! You're going to pay for that!"

Then they all readied their weapons. "Did the other…" she trailed off, counting off her fingers. "…Three people not think you could do it?" she asked, apparently unfazed.

Their leader, the one with a pair of knives, growled. "No. Those cowards don't think we can take you. They're scared of your weapons, but we know the truth."

Tanya readied her mana, and Viktoriya did the same, both ready to respond in an instant. Darkness made to jump out from the small crowd that had surrounded them, but Chris held her off with an arm. "If we let them attack, we might figure out how Serebryakov is controlling Tanya. Patience."

Darkness shook her off. "No. I'm not convinced that Viktoriya is doing something. We should stop this before things become dangerous."

The leader continued to monologue, drawing all of their attentions. "The truth is, that for all of your power, you're a pathetic fool! You've relied far too much on your technology, when we have magic at our fingertips!"

With that, the two mages – the ones with a wand and a staff – began chanting. Tanya almost just put up an Active Barrier, interested in what the weaklings thought they could do, but she wouldn't allow herself to be caught off guard just because she was curious.

Maybe she'd extract information later. For now, it was time to fight.

"Engage!" Tanya shouted. As one, the pair of women jetted off, moving faster than either Chris, Darkness, or the crowd could follow.

The effects of their movement were much more obvious than their movements.

Both the mages doubled over, holding their stomachs. The leader, blades in hand, rushed towards the repositioned Tanya, as did the one holding a short-sword in her right hand. The apparent Ranger held back, while the one with a spear moved towards Viktoriya.

Darkness moved forward, breaking through the crowd, and Chris followed, scowling all the while. She needed to keep up the illusion that she was Degurechaff's ally, for now.

It appeared neither were needed. From the time they'd pulled their eyes from the pair to focus on getting through the crowd, both had already begun fighting physically.

Tanya ducked a frenzied blow from the one with the sword, pulling her rifle from her back. She jumped back from the pair, hanging in the air for longer than normal thanks to the barest hints of a Flight spell. All three of her opponents scowled at her, and Tanya smirked right back.

Above all else, this was a good stress test for their new equipment. Not the guns; Tanya had already tested those.

No, a pair of Type 97s, hanging from both of their necks, were the real reasons they hadn't just run away and let the police handle them.

It had taken her a few days, but with the Type 95 and a few more points into Smith, it wasn't extremely difficult. Both had one in the past, and the Type 97s were made using the Type 95 as a template anyway.

However, Tanya wouldn't have been able to make it without Viktoriya's help. Her skill had been the ability to gain an intrinsic understanding of weapons, armor, or anything that could be considered an 'item.'

Upon her arrival, she had immediately used that skill to learn the inner workings of the Type 97s. She was probably nearly as good as Schugel had been, and Tanya had been immensely thankful.

Regardless of their new equipment, these attackers weren't stupid; or rather, they weren't in their preparations.

They were stupid to try and fight her.

The probable-Warrior and the probable-Thief closed in on her, while the ranger nocked an arrow on his bow. Tanya, finally having landed, shouted, "Active Barrier!" and waited.

They came forward, striking her shield, and doing nothing to it. Arrows, knives, and swords; nothing was really doing damage. They were draining mana, of course, but Tanya didn't much care. She needed to demoralize them, since it would be annoying if they kept attacking her.

Besides, the Type 97 made it so that she didn't have to do nearly anything to simply stand there and revel in how much more efficient her spells were.

Slowly, the hits let up, and they just stared at her shield, unnerved. "Damn you! Let's get out of here, before the police get here!" the Ranger shouted. The other two seemed to think it as a good idea, but Tanya quickly burst that bubble.

She aimed her rifle, and shot each person in the leg. They were only twenty meters away, so she was sure that the wounds hadn't hit any bone and had gone clean through.

Their screams reminded her that they definitely still hurt, though.

Tanya looked to Viktoriya and her opponent. His leg was encased in ice, and Tanya sighed appreciatively. Learning a bit of this world's magic wasn't bad, and Viktoriya had expressed an interest.

Tanya was just happy Wiz had been nice enough to teach her 'Freeze' and 'Freeze Gust'.

She had also confirmed the existence of a gender-swapping item, after phrasing an interest in the limits of magical items and referencing the Shapeshifting 'Hero Candidate' that had tried to kill her.

Portions of the crowd began to move, and police started to close in. Tanya cursed; as much as she'd like them behind bars, she was sure they'd reveal some things she really didn't want known.

Blindly, she cast 'Heal' on all three of the people she'd shot, and dragged the two mages who had just started to recover towards them. Viktoriya dragged the one encased in ice over, and all eight of them presented themselves to the rapidly assembling police.

"Gerrard!" Tanya cried amiably. The thinly-mustached man smiled weakly as Tanya walked towards him, shaking his hand.

They hadn't met since their last interaction, and he was glad for it. He just wanted to be the Head of Police in a relatively quiet town; dealing with nobles was not his idea of a good time.

"Miss Degurechaff. I suppose you can tell me what's going on?" he asked hesitantly.

Tanya beamed at him. "Of course! These adventurers are all upset about a… trade they had with me in the past. They decided that they wanted to try and take their revenge, but I and my friend Viktoriya were able to handle them."

Gerrard looked at the group. All six likely had dark eyes, in addition to their dark hair, but he couldn't tell, since all of them were staring at the ground mutely.

He didn't like where this was going. "Well… what would you like me to do with them?" he asked. He was praying to Eris that she wouldn't ask them to be executed.

"Oh, I don't want you to do anything. Let me and the guild handle this one. Those are within the rules, right?"

Gerrard gulped as he looked down at the noble. Well, it wasn't horrible…

Unless she meant she was going to do something like have them fight in the fighting pits that wealthier nobles were rumored to have, never to be seen by the outside world again. Then it would be decidedly less not-horrible.

One of the kneeling adventurers shouted, and the others followed suit, attempting to decry Tanya.

"She's pure evil!"

"She's lying!"

"She killed ten Tranquility Girls!"

He blinked at the last accusation, and then he suppressed a gasp of surprise.

Nearly frozen, he looked down at Tanya, a question shining in his eyes. She shrugged. "I killed three, Viktoriya killed seven. They're a public menace anyway."

Gerrard gulped, mind suddenly focused on a building far away from his current location and situation. "You can do what you wish with them. You've proven yourself to be a capable adult, so I think you can handle them. Just don't be too rough."

Tanya spoke to him. "Oh, I'm not going to hurt them. I don't want them to attack me, so-"

A cloud of dust interrupted her.

Tanya looked around, and realized that a large portion of the crowd had disappeared suddenly. Tanya shrugged; she got what she wanted. She turned to the six people – prisoners might be a better word to describe them, but she wasn't going to be keeping them like this for long.

Tanya picked up their weapons, and began to walk. "All of you, come on," she ordered. They began to march towards the guild, all six of them glaring daggers at Tanya and the mystery woman at her side.

"We'll just make a run for it; you can't catch all of us…" muttered the man who had held a spear. The other five seemed to think it was a good idea, so Tanya stopped, fixing them all with a dangerous glare.

They were subdued by that, for the most part. Tanya hadn't healed up the legs of the people she'd shot entirely, and sprinting would likely tear their wounds open again.

She looked at the two that had been damaged the least; the Mages.

One – a short girl who had decided to adopt the stereotypical attire one often imagined mages wore – was sniveling. The other – a tall man who was still wearing a t-shirt – was stone faced. She looked back to the girl. Tanya would try her first.

"What was your plan? It's obvious that you were going to try some sort of magic. If you two teach it to us, we'll let you go, no further punishment needed."

The girl perked up, but the tall, stone-faced male was the first to speak. "It's a deal."

The other five looked at him, betrayed, but he shook his head. "I spent two weeks saving up for that staff; I'm not gonna risk losing it. Come on, Shizuka. We need to live to fight another day."

"Rin…" she trailed off, looking at the others. They were glaring at the two, but the girl caved to her fellow mage. "We… we were going to use paralyze on you two. After that, the others said they'd take your money and weapons…"

Tanya nodded slowly. "Alright. Teach us the skill and you're free to go."

Rin smirked, and Tanya, hands full with their weapons, said, "Viktoriya, aim." She did so without question, and the group jumped backwards.

"Not here. We'll be going down this alley." They moved, a group of eight varyingly dressed people filling into a dark alley. Some of the pedestrians thought it was somewhat comical, but the shock of blonde hair, not hidden by a hood, told them it was noble business.

They ignored them.

Tanya handed the girls wand back to her. "Use it on your friends. If you turn on us, you can be sure to get a bullet in the leg for your trouble," Tanya said. The girl whimpered, but she took her wand and leveled it at the group of four.

They were protesting, but the blade of her gun weighed more heavily on her mind than their pleas.

"Paralyze!"

Their movements stopped, all of them frozen. Only their mouths could move, and they were all cursing Tanya, who shook her head. Of course they would blame her when it was their own fault they were in this situation.

"Alright. You two can go," she said, handing the man his staff back. Both Mages, conflicted about what they had done, quickly left, avoiding the gazes and remarks of their friends.

Tanya, meanwhile, looked at the rest. All of them squabbling among each other about who was to blame for their failure, since their plan was obviously foolproof. It seemed they had reached the consensus that their Mages were to blame.

Tanya shook her head. "I could do whatever I wanted with you all."

With her declaration, their squabbling ceased. She took the respite to illustrate the possibilities.

"I could shoot all of you and Heal you. I could take all of your clothing, weapons, and money, and then I could leave all of you in this alley. Or I could have let the police have you."

All of them were silently staring at her. "I told each and every one of you that your lives were built on the fact that as long as you weren't threats to me, you could do whatever you wanted."

Tanya muttered, "I knew I shouldn't have let people who wanted to murder me go free…"

One of them spoke up. Their probably-a-thief leader. "Not all of us wanted to kill you."

Tanya froze, and then fixed him with a glare. "Explain."

He looked entirely uncomfortable, but he continued to talk. "You just assumed that we'd take up arms against you, but we didn't have to-"

Tanya cut him off. "The possibility was still there, and I can't take the time to get to know you all. One of you come in every week, and I don't have the time to make friends with all of you and kill the Demon King."

Tanya shook her head, dropping their weapons in disgust. "We're done here. I'll let you live. You all are young, and-"

The other female – their warrior – interjected. "We're older than you are, loli."

Twitch.

"She really does have an ahoge."

She shook her head, staving off her anger for a moment. "Idiots. I've been reincarnated before, so despite my appearance, I'm closer in age to fifty than five."

All of them looked rather shocked, except for the man who had had the spear, who looked… intrigued. Tanya quickly realized why he might feel that way, and fought down the urge to end him for thinking things like that about her.

She sighed tiredly. They had tested their Type 97s, and they had gotten an extra spell out of it. Tanya and Viktoriya better things to do that to lecture lackluster losers. "Whatever. Next time I'll steal your stuff. You all really need to learn not to mess with someone stronger than you."

Tanya walked off, turning her back towards them and heading towards the guild. Viktoriya followed, and the four people, trapped in an alley, were left to think for the few minutes that the Paralyze spell would last.

-OxOxO-

He was sprinting, attempting to push his body harder than the four younger men he'd brought with him and a number of other male adventurers that had heard her words. All of them were heading towards one place.

Last night, the Succubus had said they weren't doing any dreams, full stop. Nothing for anyone. After everyone at the staff meeting the police were having mentally acknowledged that everyone else there hadn't reported the Succubus, including himself, they had asked the girl why.

She'd said something about celebrating the death of the Tranquility Girls, but he hadn't cared about that. He was much more interested in their description of the one they wished to thank.

They had claimed that the slayer was blonde, worked with another female, and was probably a noble. Everyone in that room had thanked the Succubus for the information and thought the same thing:

Degurechaff.

She worked with that heir of the Dustiness family and she was almost definitely a noble, even if no one had found her name in the registry.

Before leaving, the Succubus had promised them, if they could find the person, free dreams for three months. Straight.

And Degurechaff was that person.

And so, they were fighting to get to the shop. The small, unassuming shop where dreams were made.

It wasn't like Gerrard didn't dislike himself for breaking the law partaking in their wiles, but he was a man with urges that he couldn't resist forever.

His wife of nearly thirty years had been dead for five, and with their help, it was almost like she wasn't gone.

In the dreams, he didn't even always have sex with his wife; sometimes, he just talked with her, desperate to have even a piece of her back.

Three months, free of charge, was more than very tantalizing.

He was lagging behind, gulping in heavy, frantic breaths. Gerrard cursed. He looked to the adventurers that were pulling ahead, fighting against the more able men he'd brought with him, and saw that they were pushing down pedestrians and carts in an attempt to slow each other down.

An idea came to him, and Gerrard smirked.

"Hale, Michael, Fischer, Gabriel; as the Head of Axel's Police Department, I order you to stop the adventurers who are causing property damage," he panted out.

All four men paused their running, for a moment, but continued to sprint forward, uncaring of his orders. "Sir, we're sorry, but we won't!"

He continued smirking despite the pain in his lungs. "If you don't do it, I'll be assigning you to night duty for six months. With oversight from the female policewomen!"

The implication was obvious: if you got the reward, you wouldn't be able to enjoy it, and wouldn't get to make usage of the shop for another three months. The female policewomen were also very hardworking and wouldn't allow them to slack off.

All four paused again, and then began to shout as they tackled adventurers to the ground.

"Goddamn it!"

"I'll get you for this, Gerrard!"

"You better enjoy yourself, you bastard!"

"FUUUUUUCCCCK!"

He pulled ahead of them, panting for a different reason now. Free dreams for three months!

The idea tantalized him, and he continued to push forward. Just a few more buildings, and then…

It came into sight, and began to walk more slowly, assured of his victory. He reached the door, and reached out a hand to turn the doorknob.

He paused as his hand touched another. Blankly, he turned his head to his right, and stared right into red eyes and blond hair.

"Why hello, Mr. Police Chief! Fancy seeing you here."

It was Dust.

Judging from his tone, the color of his cheeks, and the way he was talking to him as if Gerrard didn't despise Dust for abusing their kindness by using their prison as a free inn, he was drunk. Very drunk, if he was judging the stink of vodka correctly.

Gerrard was still wearing his uniform, giving up all pretense that he was just another citizen making use of the Succubi. He grit his teeth, and gave an angry smile to Dust. "Hello Dust. If you'll excuse me, I have business to attend to."

He attempted to remove Dust's hadn't from the doorknob, but it stayed firmly in place. He looked back up, to see Dust's smug, smirking, satisfied face. "Now, now, old man. We can… can negotiate. I'll let you take their prize, as long as I can use the police station as my personal inn for the next year."

He weighed his options in his mind. A year of having to put up with Dust for three months of dreaming of his wife and having sex with her.

"And don't threaten me with an extended jail stay; I'm giving T- Tanya lessons, and she'll be very, very upset if I can't attend them anymore," he claimed.

Gerrard doubted it – what this petty criminal could possibly teach Tanya, he hadn't the faintest idea of – but even the threat of a noble wasn't something one took lightly.

He glared at Dust, and let out a single bark of laughter. "Cunning, Dust. Real cunning. But you forget: the police of Axel don't deal with criminals!"

With that, the figure of a small, aging, only slightly emancipated man, with tanned skin, small, shrewd eyes, and a thinning, graying mustache, burst through the window of the door, sending glass across the interior of the room and ruining his uniform.

Uncaring of the incredulous Dust – "He's dealing with Succubi; of course the police of Axel deal with criminals" – Gerrard shouted at the top of his lungs to the crowd of shocked customers, surprised at seeing the chief of police in an illicit shop.

"It's Tanya! Tanya von Degurechaff is the Tranquility Destroyer!"

-OxOxO-

They all sat around a table in one of the more secluded corners of the guild. They had banded together loosely, a team of four and a team of five. Earlier that day, they had attempted to extract revenge. But they had nothing to show for it.

"Why did you two help her? She gave us back our weapons anyway, and we wouldn't have been restrained if it weren't for you two," Kei said.

He was, nominally, the leader of the nine of them, and a Thief. He wasn't exactly the best planner, but he was willing to mediate between all of them if it meant he moved closer to getting revenge against The Atheist.

Shizuka was reserved, but Rin tried to make excuses. "I didn't know that! I wasn't losing something I've worked for two weeks to get."

All of them glared, but none of them said anything after that, or, almost nothing.

There were three there that hadn't helped in the assault. One couldn't care less – she'd help if she thought they had a chance, but she didn't think that would be happening, since Tanya had guns. The other two had the gall to defend the loli.

"What did we tell you would happen? Trying to fight her is stupid, and with her experience, we should be working with her," spouted off the tallest among them. He'd given up all of his old clothing for the stuff they had here, despite him being one of the newer recruits.

Kei slammed his fist on their table in the guild. "Why do you insist on defending her, Takashi? She almost killed you-"

Takashi cut him off. "She saved my life by using her own skills. She didn't have to, and could have left me to die. No one would have known, but she decided to save me. And she has helped all of us!"

All six of them who thought she should be punished looked down, while Aya pointed out, "He's right."

Hiroshi, the spearman among them, glared at the woman who thought they shouldn't be involved with Degurechaff at all. "Can it, Aya."

She laughed to herself, and everyone else rolled their eyes. They'd grown used to each other's bickering, and the only thing that really united them was their similar origin and how all of them had been beaten down by The Atheist.

Just as it seemed Shizuka was about to speak, someone cleared their throat. All nine turned towards the noise. They didn't draw their weapons – they were in the guild, and none of them had seen The Atheist come in.

It was someone they didn't recognize – which wasn't just possible, it was likely, since all of them were rather bitter about their experiences and had acted very much like brats to whoever had a good opinion about Tanya.

Tanya, while not a paragon of moral fortitude, did give people free alcohol and was polite. Subsequently, she had acquaintances and drinking buddies, and they had no one.

"Yes. I assume you all are Hero Candidates?" she asked, a confused and hard look in her eyes. All of them were shocked, for a moment. No one had asked them that question, since none of them had an overtly powerful weapon, despite their odd appearance.

Aya spoke first. "We don't have weapons. What'd lead you to that conclusion?" she asked. While the girl wasn't convinced about getting revenge, she was surprisingly protective of them.

The person smiled. "Let me make myself clearer. You all are Reincarnates?"

That really got their attention, and even Aya couldn't speak immediately. This was, apparently, to the silver-haired person's design. She wanted to talk.

"I have a proposition for all of you. It involves getting revenge on The Atheist and the relics she unjustly robbed from you. Would you like to hear me out?"

One by one, the people there agreed to hear her out. Slowly, as the silver-haired thief spoke, matching grins broke out on all their faces, all of them eager to complete her tasks.

Kei the Thief, Rin the Mage, Hiroshi the Spearman, Saki the Warrior, Jin the Ranger, Shizuka the Mage, Aya the Mage, Evan the Priest, and Takashi the Warrior. All of them, despite their misgivings about fighting Tanya, agreed to do so, if they were reunited with their possessions.

Chris smiled as she watched the group of nine rejoice, thankful that she had finally figured out how to best The Atheist.

Chapter Text

Tanya opened her eyes, and yawned. A bright new day had dawned, and things were…

Well, they weren't exactly progressing. They were stuck in this town until she found a way to ensure new Reincarnates didn't try to kill her anymore, and with the presence of one of the Demon King's Generals, monsters were becoming less and less common.

Thanks to that General, her growth had nearly frozen, and unless they were able to find more Tranquility Girls, they wouldn't be doing much growth until the General left or until the Capital got enough soldiers to send some to Axel.

"Good morning, Viktoriya!" Tanya called out, jumping from her bed. She expected a prompt reply – neither of them had been able to shake the light sleep most soldiers were forced to take – but no sound came from the girl.

She sighed and shook her head playfully. "Sleeping in? We didn't even do that much yesterday…"

Tanya trailed off, her eyes suddenly glued to the window. Outside, a bird was frozen in flight. And not literally frozen, as in caked in a layer of ice or encased in an ice cube, which was probably possible in this weird world.

Rather, it wasn't moving.

"Being X," she grit out. It seemed he'd decided to come and try to taunt her once more. She would start by taunting him for timing this to coincide with a bird's taking flight-

She expected to hear the voice come from the bird, but Tanya inhaled sharply as a voice came from her right instead.

"Atheist."

A sickly sweet voice exited Viktoriya's mouth, who was now sitting up on the bed.

Tanya felt her world begin to shake as she turned towards her right stiffly. That thing dared…!

Unaware or uncaring, the thing spoke. "I am quite upset with you, young lady. You've been clipping the wings of my harbingers, and-"

"Fuck off, you piece of shit."

The thing wearing Viktoriya's body seemed surprised, and Tanya pushed forward. "Get out! You've proven your insistence on torturing me in some sort of attempt to get me to convert, and at this point, your inability to admit defeat is changing from pride to insanity. But that doesn't fucking matter."

"For some reason – her past, the world she was raised in, whatever the hell it is – Viktoriya still believes in god after slogging through eight years of hell. If you lay so much as a speck of mana on her for no other reason than her association with me, I'll-"

The thing smirked cruelly, and Tanya almost verbally whimpered at seeing it directed at her. "You'll what? You wouldn't dare touch your precious Visha. Or… do you even care about her?"

Tanya moved a shaking hand towards her pistol, but it continued talking. "Yes, you probably only see her as a resource, available to take a bullet for you. She's also quite nice looking, yes?"

With that, the thing controlling her friend used her arms and hands to fondle her. Tanya looked away, blushed, and then shook her head violently. She might not be able to do much, but she didn't doubt that it might try and hurt Viktoriya.

Tanya let out a little laugh. It was time to go on the offensive. "Maybe, when I eradicate that Demon King, I'll probably have figured out a proper way for you to be killed. First, you'll get the honor of experiencing every injustice ever delivered on so-called non-believers. Then-"

It cut her off again, and Tanya's anger only continued to mount as it used Viktoriya's voice. "Say what you wish, my lost lamb. I am here to inform you that we won't be reincarnating anyone else until you leave this town permanently."

Tanya paused, somewhat confused. He'd never shown anything that even resembled leniency when it came to her, and this might resemble that, in a skewed sort of way.

It elaborated. "You're causing too much damage, so we'll just wait until you leave. If you desire to wait around here for another of our Reincarnates to defeat the Demon King, then be our guest."

It gave her one last parting smirk. With that, the sound of a bird's flapping wings reached her ears, and Viktoriya's head lolled to the side. Tanya leapt on her.

Tanya took a deep, shuddering breath as she laid her head against her shoulder and straddled Viktoriya's lap. Then, she backed up, staring her in the eyes. "Viktoriya, are you alright?"

Her eyes fluttered, and she stared down at Tanya. "Huh…? Tanya, what…"

She never finished her thought, as she looked down at Tanya straddling her lap and blushed. Tanya immediately jumped off of her – that was not appropriate, in any way – even as she continued to talk.

"It was Being X! He possessed you."

Viktoriya looked shocked, and Tanya explained to her what had happened. How… not like her it had been, to speak that way, to smirk at her like that, to… do such a provocative thing.

She seemed like she wanted to wave it off, and Tanya thought, for a moment, that she would declare Tanya crazy, and that she would have to go back to hiding her true thoughts – and why did that idea seem so painful, now that she'd already revealed everything? – but Viktoriya did look up and give her one of her patented disarming smiles.

"Alright. Is there anything we can do about it?"

Tanya's anger, so ready to lash out thanks to Being X, drained from her. Her gaze drifted downwards, towards Viktoriya's pajamas and the space that separated them. "Not that I know of…"

Her head jerked back up. "Wiz might! With everything else this world has, there might be some sort of thing that can break spells or block that kind of attack!"

"I'll never have to listen to another of his rants again!" she said with a smile on her face.

Viktoriya smiled warmly. "Wonderful. Could you leave?"

Tanya nodded absently, leaving the room to allow Viktoriya to dress. She walked into the hallway, wondering how many potions she would have to buy to get another spell, one that might dispel any of Being X's attempts at conversation.

"Hey, Tanya. I didn't know you slept here," came a voice from down the hallway. She turned.

Dust, hair ruffled and eyes bleary, was staring at her confusedly. She shrugged. "Those Tranquility Girls pay well, and we wanted to stay somewhere."

Dust was confused. Tanya was a noble, right? Why was she staying here?

He shrugged, guessing that she was really trying to seem like an adventurer.

He furrowed his brow. He remembered something about Tanya and trying to seem a different way…

He shook his head and dismissed the thought, instead wondering how long he could get thrown in jail for, since his plan with the Head of the Police hadn't worked out. Then the rest of her sentence registered in his mind. "Wait, we?"

The door opened up behind her, and Tanya went into the room, preparing to dress. Dust, meanwhile, was staring at who had walked out of the room.

A verifiable beauty had walked out of the room.

Tanya was cute; and, in time, she was likely to look beautiful, if she ate well. It was inevitable with nobles.

Dust wasn't a lolicon, however, and Tanya's bright golden hair reminded him too much of his history. This girl, on the other hand…

Well, she looked a bit old, but that didn't matter in the face of her other attributes. Namely, a very nice looking body.

Imagining the things he could do to her, Dust smirked. He was about to try the oldest trick he knew – pretend they'd hurt him so they'd treat him to a meal – when he remembered that she felt comfortable sleeping in the same room as Tanya.

Just as he was weighing his options, the aforementioned person came out of her room, dressed as always. She looked at her friend, and then followed her gaze to Dust. She smirked.

She flashed him a wide grin, and Dust sighed. That meant she was going to want lessons. "Yes, Tanya?" he asked grudgingly.

She shook her head, amused, and clapped the man on his shoulder. Not easy with their comparative heights, but she managed to convey some friendliness. "Don't sound so glum, Dust! You have two students today, after all."

He perked up, looking again at Tanya's friend. She smiled, and he finally saw the weird staff-spear strapped to her back, just like Tanya's. He smirked, stood tall, and prepared himself. He wanted to get his money's worth, after all.

Tanya beat him to the punch, however. "Yeah, yeah. We'll pay for the lesson, of course. With so few monsters, it's expected that you'd be more money grubbing than usual," she said, waving a hand flippantly and walking down the stairs towards the reception room, followed by her friend.

He sighed angrily. It wasn't like he wanted to be broke – indeed, he'd rather be able to pay for his drinks and not worry about his tab more than usual – but even if he felt like doing honest work, there wasn't much to be had.

With a Demon King's General so close by, monsters just weren't coming out, and the guild favored weaker and newer adventurers if there was any easy work, like carrying luggage or clearing away Crows.

The sound of Tanya's voice marched up the stairs, demanding him to follow, and, realizing he'd spent a bit too much time thinking about his present situation without alcohol in his system, Dust made his way down.

As per usual, Dust brought Tanya to the dump. There weren't exactly many places people could train inside the city without being seen, and during those first few lessons, when Dust had been paying her back, he'd hoped the smell would drive her off.

Oddly enough, neither seemed particularly burdened by the smell of rotting garbage.

While he led them between heaps of trash, picking out the occasionally interesting piece of not-quite-garbage and pocketing it, Tanya spoke to Viktoriya in hushed whispers.

"The smell is bad, but it has nothing on the trenches. Despite his outward appearance of being a degenerate, he's quite good with a spear," she said as Dust hollered and lifted up an entire chair whose only problem was a dark stain on it.

Viktoriya tilted her head. "Why do we even need to learn how to use a spear?"

Tanya sighed. "As I told you before, this world doesn't have personal Flight spells like we do. As such, no one thinks such a thing is possible. We want to keep it as a kind of last resort or strategic asset, in case we run into something really powerful, and knowing how to use a bladed weapon well will give us a veneer of being a normal job," she explained.

"But isn't the rest of our magic suspect?" she asked. Tanya made a noncommittal noise of assent.

"If they found out the specifics, yes. However, they have one magic system, and they've had it for who knows how long. They don't think another system of magic is possible. Subsequently, they'll write of anything we do as their magic, if we aren't too obvious about it."

Further conversation was stopped by Dust as they arrived near the center of the dump. Most people couldn't stand the smell, and just left their trash near the borders. They had been able to set up a small clearing in the center, hidden by walls of trash.

Dust turned around, giving Tanya a quick glance. He then turned his full attention towards her friend. "You gonna introduce us?" he asked blandly, schemes for a free meal already spinning in his head.

Every Eris he saved on food was another one he could spend on alcohol, and while he didn't think she was weak by any means – anyone who associated with Tanya seemed to be either strong or weird, if the crowd of dark-haired people accosting them yesterday and her companions were anything to go by – he was sure he could get something out of her.

Tanya smiled. "Yes, this is Viktoriya. This'll be her only lesson with you – she just needs you to teach her the Spearmanship skill – since anything you teach me I can teach her."

Dust frowned at that. "Hey, I don't think that's very fair. Shouldn't she decide who she wants to learn from?"

"I choose Tanya."

Tanya smirked, and Dust stared at the twenty-something woman. He opened his mouth. "You know, you're going to waste away on a shelf forever if you don't try and get to know people."

Dust expected anger from the woman. She was twenty-something, and no one had thought to marry her in the years since she turned fourteen. That had to be insulting. "At this point, you should be thankful that someone even shows interest in you."

Instead of the expected anger, she only tilted her head in confusion. Tanya, on the other hand, was very angry. She muttered to Viktoriya about the different culture here, and how adulthood was at fourteen, in their private language. She nodded her head in understanding, and she simply shrugged at Dust.

Dust, annoyed about her lack of reaction, opened his mouth again. But Tanya spoke up, voice low, before he could.

"I would like to inform you, Dust: I bought all of your debt over a week ago."

Now, he tilted his head, staring at her with only a small iota of understanding on his face. "What do you mean?"

Tanya grinned, and began to advance on Dust. "Well, that means I found every single person or business you owed money to, and I paid off your debts. I gave them contracts, and I am the sole owner of your debt."

He seemed worried, and Tanya continued. He wasn't scared yet. "That means that you now owe me 300,000 Eris, and I will be charging you interest," she explained. Horror had dawned on his face, and Tanya stared up into his red eyes.

"So I suggest you begin teaching us, because the more you teach us, the less money you'll owe me. Understand?"

He glared at her. "You really are 'Tanya the Evil'…"

She waved him off. "Oh please. I've been called a devil. Just 'Tanya the Evil' seems to be a step down," she said, moving towards a particular pile of trash and handing him the spear that he trained her with.

"Now, start teaching!" she shouted. Dust complied, aware that she might increase his interest if he tried any funny business where she could see him.

He smirked internally.

Over two months ago, Keith introduced him to the Succubi's shop as an apology to losing to Tanya in an arm wrestling contest. He'd made ample use of it since then, and he would be doing so tonight.

He knew just how to get revenge on her; He might have been very drunk, but he remembered that the Succubi were looking for her. She'd probably done something evil to them, just like the Tranquility Girls.

He knew just where they could find her, considering he slept just down the hall from them.

-OxOxO-

Tanya left the dump satisfied. Buying up his debt and motivating him with threats of increased interest had done wonders for his usually lackluster teaching skills. Now, it was nearly midday.

The pair of women walked through the streets of Axel, enjoying the carefree atmosphere. Compared to their own nation, it would have been impossible to find a town this big that wasn't geared towards the war.

They enjoyed it. Or Tanya did, anyway. Viktoriya was thinking.

Tanya noticed, of course, but said nothing. If her adjutant wanted to think, Tanya would let her. They spent another few minutes this way, and then Viktoriya spoke up.

"Tanya… you said that in your world, people weren't all that interested in religion, and only the very religious allowed it to dominate their lives, right?"

Tanya nodded. "Yep. Most were nominally of one faith or another, but they did little to practice it. I can intellectually understand why Being X was mad if he thought they were all supposed to be praying to him, but I just laugh at his misfortune these days," she said, kicking a stray rock down the road. "Why do you ask?"

Viktoriya shrugged. "Well… you might be against it, but you're more… fervent about your hatred than most of the people in your world were about their love for it, right?"

Tanya nodded, kicking the rock again and wondering where she was going with this.

Keeping her tone as even as she could, Viktoriya continued. "If you're allowing you're hatred for him to dominate your life, aren't you exactly like those people in your world?"

The rock Tanya had been kicking was sent flying down the street, breaking a distant window. Tanya was frozen.

Twitch. Twitch.

Viktoriya continued on walking and talking, tapping a finger against her chin. "Yeah. If you're revolving your life around religion, even if it is hatred of it, then you're just like a person who's totally devoted."

Viktoriya blinked as Tanya's footsteps failed to sound next to her, and she turned around to see Tanya.

She was staring down at the ground, right eye twitching in time with that odd strand of her hair that everyone knew about and said nothing of. She was staring down at her shaking hands.

"Uhh… Tanya?" asked Viktoriya hesitantly. The woman said nothing, choosing instead to stare down at her hands, shaking her head from side to side. The faint mutterings of "IamnotIamnotIamnot" could be heard if one strained their ears.

Viktoriya winced, and loudly declared, "We're going to go to the guild now, alright?"

Tanya nodded her head minutely, and then continued to shake her head and mutter. Viktoriya walked in front of the pair, but she had the distinct impression Tanya was just letting her feet take her to the guild.

Viktoriya frowned. Why did she always have to go and say something stupid? She had been lucky last time, when she'd tried to confess and Tanya had gracefully given her an out after making her preferences clear.

She sighed sadly. Maybe one day she wouldn't nearly ruin everything by opening her mouth.

-OxOxO-

They arrived at the guild soon after, quietly pushing open the doors and silently sliding into the seats at their table. Chris and Darkness looked up, surprised to see them.

Chris had assumed they'd be doing something nefarious, like taking potshots at the local orphanage with spells or planning to sacrifice babies for fun or something. Darkness had assumed Tanya was residing in whichever mansion her family controlled, avoiding the relatively destitute adventurers.

Tanya actually said nothing, just staring at the table and going over what Viktoriya had said. After a silent, painful minute, Viktoriya ordered for them, not having the heart to say anything else to Tanya. The waitress's response confused Viktoriya, and she couldn't help but ask "What do you mean, you don't have that?"

The waitress shrugged. "With the lack of quests, all of the farm work for this summer has already been completed. There's no more food to be harvested until the migrating vegetables come through, and no more monsters means that we can't get any experience loaded food."

Viktoriya sighed, sparing a glance at Tanya, who hadn't reacted to the news at all. "What do you have?"

"Bread and water," she said. Viktoriya stared at her incomprehensibly. The waitress gave her a what-do-you-expect-me-to-do-about-it look, and Viktoriya just nodded her head.

As she left, Viktoriya stared at Darkness.

"I saw tons of good food in the market. Why don't they just go get food?" she asked.

The Crusader perked up, happy to be of help, but still slightly wary of the new addition. "Well, the guild usually gets all of its food from donations from farmers and 'donations' from merchants, and the rest of it from quests. With most of the work done, they can't donate anymore, and the guild isn't used to shelling out money to buy provisions. That takes time to do."

Viktoriya just stared glumly at the table, wondering how to get Tanya to perk up. Then an idea came to her. "Why don't we go on a quest?"

Tanya had complained that they didn't have the experience to learn that Paralyze spell, since it cost ten Skill Points. Maybe getting those points would help her out?

Darkness lit up, while Chris seemed thoughtful. Tanya didn't react.

Darkness jumped to her feet, and ran over to the board. Viktoriya just patted Tanya's back, hoping this would work snap her out of her funk.

Darkness brought over many. Viktoriya rejected most of them, seeing as she wasn't exactly sure of the relative strengths of the monsters. A Manticore and Griffon sounded strong, and if they were closing off portions of the mountain, they must be.

She settled for the Rookie Killer extermination quest. Instead of asking for people to take on Goblins and to look out for Rookie Killers, it specified that they should kill a Rookie Killer.

The danger of seeking one out was apparently implicit, but Darkness was thrilled and Viktoriya, after a brief explanation from Darkness, felt they could take it on, with Darkness in front and their Flight spells in case of emergencies.

Then Chris spoke up. "I've got an idea. We want to end the shortage of monsters, right? Why don't we try and take on the Demon King's General?" she suggested.

Darkness's face burst into crimson, and Viktoriya began to think. A Demon King's General sounded like a strong monster, if it could cause a shortage of other monsters.

And hadn't Tanya said something about wanting to check out her options in relation to that entity? She'd worded it in a roundabout way, but she had said she would switch sides if Belzerg was going to lose.

"Do you know anything about him?" she asked Darkness.

Chris spoke up, this time. "He's a Dullahan. They're pretty strong undead that have an unattached head. They can control tons of undead, and have very strong physical attributes."

Viktoriya's face lit up. If it had a bunch of weaker enemies, then they could just take those on, if their leader was too powerful too beat, in which case, they'd retreat after destroying some of them. If they could, though, they'd beat them into the ground.

Viktoriya smiled triumphantly. "Okay! That seems like a good idea!"

With that, they left. Viktoriya didn't know better, and Darkness was too enamored with the idea of getting abused by an undead to care about the probable difference in skill.

Chris knew, but that was precisely the reason she'd suggested it.

And Tanya was just following them around, much too concerned with her identity crisis – she wasn't obsessed with religion, she wasn't!

Had they consulted with Luna, Viktoriya would have realized what a bad idea this was, especially with Tanya so out of sorts.

As it was, Chris was wondering if she should give those weapons back to the Reincarnates after all. It seemed she'd do a good job of killing them herself.

-OxOxO-

Sporting his usual disguise – which he really needed to change, since the person he was pretending to be had supposedly been assassinated on the order of the Kingdom of Belzerg – he stared up at the imposing castle. It was dark, gloomy, and he could feel eyes boring into him.

He smiled at it nostalgically. It reminded him of the castle he had just left, minus the barrier that surrounded the Demon King's residence.

In other words, it was exactly what Ragcraft assumed Verdia would do with his castle.

He walked up to the front, and knocked on the door. "Hello? I've come to see Verdia! He's probably received word of my arrival?" he shouted.

While it was hard to move armies and people across Belzerg, sending messages was fairly simple, especially since he could assume the guise of anyone he desired in order to get it sent.

Nothing happened immediately, but the great gate that he was standing in front of eventually shuddered…

And the door right next to it opened. A beckoning hand drew him closer, and Ragcraft found himself whisked through the castle by four undead, each of them appearing to be strong-looking knights.

Soon enough, he found himself in some sort of study. While not nearly as opulent as anything he had known in his time as Ragcraft the Prime Minister, it was clean. Books dotted a number of shelves, and shining marble made up the floor.

"Welcome Ragcraft, Leader of the Demon King's Intelligence Division," intoned the deep, reverberating voice of the Demon King's Dullahan. Ragcraft smiled back. "Verdia. Wonderful to finally meet you."

The headless knight gave a hearty laugh that told him either his lungs hadn't decayed very much or his voice was dependent on some other apparatus for functioning. "Indeed. And, in a roundabout way, we're on the same side again."

Ragcraft smiled. Verdia had been a particularly tricky opponent for the Demon Generals back then, but he'd come around to their side. It was nice that they could be cordial.

Verdia gestured his head about the place with one arm. "So, the place is nice, yes? I've spent some time on it, and besides one setback, it's ready to contain a grand army."

Ragcraft smiled thinly. "Yes. About that… while you claim that to be true, the halls certainly weren't filled with undead. The Demon King wants to know if the 'double blessed' Hero Candidate has been located and if you've increased the size of your army yet."

He might have been surprised about the existence of Hero Candidates – he had been out of contact with the Demon King for nearly thirty years, after all – but they were some of the biggest spenders in Elroad.

He'd gotten very used to their appearance, and how oddly proficient at some of Elroad's exclusive card games they were.

The Demon General sitting on the leather couch grasped his head in both hands and slumped downwards slightly. "Yes. Well, the problem with that is it is hard to acquire corpses."

He raised an eyebrow farther than humanly possible in an attempt to display his skepticism. The Dullahan placed his head on a rag on the table and crossed his arms. "It's not my fault. I can't exactly get close to the town when there are Priests everywhere. Plus, an enormous Heal was cast in the city. There must be some super-powerful Archpriest there."

Ragcraft massaged his temples. "Fine. I assume you have some idea of who the 'double blessed' is?"

He shrugged noncommittally. "Not really. Only one adventuring team has dared to approach, and none have since. I assume they've probably moved on." Ragcraft continued to massage his temples.

Then the Dullahan spoke up again. "As is, the team that did approach us was the one to leave that giant hole in the side of the mountain we're on." That gave Ragcraft pause.

He nodded. "Alright, that suffices on that front. But you should have moved in by now. He ordered you to kill everyone who resisted our rule the moment you confirmed the absence or presence of them."

'Those who resisted' was a very specific term, since they had sworn to Wiz not to hurt the non-combatants. They needed her to help maintain the barrier, so they were stuck fighting those who fought them directly.

Ragcraft continued chiding the more physically imposing Dullahan. "He gave you and most of your soldiers' equipment buffs that can resist any Priest's attempts to cleanse you. A single Archpriest, regardless of power, can't do anything to you."

He sagged. "It just doesn't seem fair…"

Ragcraft sighed deeply, clasping his hands. "Verdia…"

The being seemed quite upset, so Ragcraft attempted to make his tone softer. He didn't need to take out his shame at forgetting his goal and being discovered by Vanir on Verdia.

"Regardless of fairness, we need to stop the flow of new adventurers. With Axel gone, the only area completely safe for young adventurers to level up is in the Crimson Demon Village, and that's only applicable to their own kind. The sooner the war is over, the sooner you'll get your revenge."

Ragcraft grinned internally as her heard the Dullahan's jaw tighten. Things were progressing. "Now, I'll go to the Axel cemetery for the next week and bring you back bodies. I have money, and I can look like just about anyone, nobles included, so finding some lowlifes that can be hired to cart them away from Axel shouldn't be too hard-"

KABOOM!

Ragcraft tried not to squeal at the loud noise, and Verdia jumped up and pushed passed the undead knight who had likely been trying to tell them of the invaders, and Ragcraft shook his head. Even thirty years ago, he'd been more inclined to fight than to think.

That was fine. With Ragcraft here, they couldn't possibly fail to take over Axel.

-OxOxO-

Chris was panicking.

Instead of her usual guile and tact, The Atheist had, at the insistence of Viktoriya, said something about 'not particularly caring' and flung some sort of explosive spell at the main gate of the castle.

She wanted the Atheist to die, but she wasn't exactly sure what would happen to her if her mortal vessel was killed.

Thankfully, they were all still concealed by her own and Tanya's Lurk. Maybe they should come back later-

Out of the door they'd blown down, numerous undead began to sprint towards them. Chris was confused, and then she remembered that Lurk didn't work well on the Undead.

Darkness, always unaware of the dire context of their current status if it meant she'd get a bit of pleasure, charged to meet them, face bright red and sword swinging haphazardly.

"Wait!" Chris shouted. She didn't want her Crusader to die too…

Viktoriya took aim with her rifle, urging Tanya to do the same. A moment passed, and then they began.

Viktoriya's expression darkened as she watched. None of their bullets seemed to be doing much. They could pierce their bodies – some were limping and others had dropped their weapons – but all of them were still coming.

Chris swore and she began weighing her options. Darkness, or The Atheist? Which would she choose…

Her love for her followers won out. She wouldn't sacrifice anyone else to try and kill or convert Tanya, and letting them get close enough to kill The Atheist would also mean letting Darkness get captured or killed. "Tanya, try using Heal on them!"

Both turned to her, and Chris explained. "The undead despise healing spells, along with other skills learned by Priests. It's why they're so sought after when exploring dungeons."

Tanya nodded slowly, and then paused. She began to shake again, and Viktoriya dropped her rifle to stare at her as she began to mumble again. "P- Priests? I'm a Priest?"

Her hand fell from her weapon, and Chris was confused by the confused, hurt expression on the girls face.

In the first place, she was the Devil of the Rhine. Why was she feeling anything but hatred and pride?

She turned to Viktoriya, who shot her a helpless shrug and gripped Tanya's hand again. "I might have pointed out that her hate-fueled obsessions with religion makes her just as bad as someone who's obsessed with praising religion. She might have come to the realization that she's let religion define a bit too much of her life."

Chris inhaled deeply. She needed to focus if she wasn't. Now was not the time to break out into laughter.

Even if she really wanted to.

"Can you use some sort of explosion spell?" she asked Viktoriya.

She nodded. "It's not nearly as powerful as Tanya's-"

Chris rolled her eyes. "I don't care just save my- err- I mean, Eris's follower!"

Viktoriya nodded, aiming down her rifle. A muttered 'Enchant Bullet: Artillery Shot!' and a pull of her trigger sent a piece of high explosive towards the oncoming hordes, blowing through the first ones.

As Tanya was raising her own rifle – still going through the motions and trying to work through her swirling thoughts – a voice rang out.

"HALT!"

Viktoriya lowered her gun and Chris stood still, unsure who the order was for. Tanya had stopped, not lowering her gun and just muttering to herself. Darkness, on the other hand, didn't stop, intent on rushing towards the army, who had begun to fall back towards the castle.

Chris rushed forward, using her greater speed to catch up to Darkness and jolt her out of the daze she'd worked herself into. Both retreated closer to the tree line and watched as a figure was revealed by the opening of one of the giant doors of the gate.

The Dullahan. A General of the Demon King's army. A former Knight.

Verdia.

Chris felt her hatred stirring against someone who would defy the Gods by becoming the antithesis of life and joining the Demon King. She did realize it was sort of hypocritical, if she was associating with The Atheist, but she was working to fix the latter problem permanently.

She didn't charge forward, however. She knew she didn't stand a chance in this form. She began to smirk as she looked Tanya and her cohort.

They were what she had come to end, one underestimating the danger and the other unaware of her situation.

The thing began to monologue, and Tanya's eyebrow twitched, the first sign of anything other than self-doubt she had shown yet. "Foolish adventurers! Approaching my castle without a Priest and with the knowledge of the dangers inside was foolhardy! Considering your weakness, I will let you off this time. It seems-"

The clearing of a throat was heard, and the Dullahan looked off towards the side. Some faint whispering, too faint to hear the words of but present enough to identify its being there, took place between the Dullahan and some unseen figure, and the Dullahan sighed dramatically.

"Oh, very well. Sorry, but we won't let you guys go. It's nothing personal, we just… have to do this…"

The thing readied its sword, brandishing it towards them, staring at them with just a hint of sadness in the angle it was holding its head. Still, it began to pace forward-

Ragcraft was debating if he should order the knights to help their master or if he should go inside. He wasn't made for fighting, and while turning his body into armor and his hands into blades might work, it hurt to do that and every blow against the makeshift weaponry doled out further pain.

Still, he should help dispose of the low-leveled trash, at least-

Viktoriya got her spells ready. It looked intimidating and she was sure she could feel some sort of bizarre energy radiating from it, but Tanya said she should always be through in testing her enemy's weaknesses-

Darkness was panting heavily, and bringing her own sword to bear. Oh, she knew she couldn't hit anything, but she'd put up a valiant fight, and then be held down in his dingy, dark, dungeons and drained of life-

Chris was getting herself ready, trying to think of what to do. She wanted to kill the undead, but she wanted Tanya to die, but she didn't want Darkness to die-

Unseen by any of them, Tanya had begun muttering 'personal' under her breath in a variety of tones. Flatly, confusedly, hopefully, and then, finally, she shouted, "PERSONAL!"

All of them paused in readying themselves, staring at Tanya.

She was smirking, still unaware of her surroundings. "My conflict with that self-proclaimed god has moved far passed a simple battle of philosophy and religion. For everything he's done to you, to me, our countrymen and opponents, and to the countries we hailed from, the conflict is now personal."

Viktoriya stared at her, blinking slowly. Chris and Darkness looked to each other, just as confused as the pair of Demon King affiliates that opposed them.

"I'm not obsessed with religion; I'm obsessed with proving him wrong and living my life peacefully!" she declared, nodding to herself.

She rested her gun on her shoulder, staring amusedly at Viktoriya. "I hope that answers your question, Viktoriya. Now, where were we…?"

She trailed off, noticing for the first time where she was. Her eyes widened in realization and her triumphant grin became decidedly more fixed as she stared at the Dullahan across from them, the people around her, and the mass of decaying limbs and body parts sent flying by Viktoriya's spells.

"Uhh… what's happening right now?"

Before the others could explain, the Dullahan began to shout. "What do you mean?! I was just about to slay you all, despite my misgivings, and you don't even realize what you've done?"

Tanya turned and looked at him. If she remembered correctly, people didn't usually carry around their heads like groceries, meaning this was probably the undead General, considering the castle they were at.

She shook her head, ignoring his monologue. He was saying something about not wanting to do it, and her pushing him over the edge. She took advantage of his distraction to motion towards Viktoriya.

She nodded her head, showing she still remembered the small little motions she had taught her so they could communicate silently, just in case. This broke the trance the Dullahan seemed to be in. Meanwhile, Viktoriya looked to Tanya, and Tanya spoke softly.

"Cast Reinforcement spells on Chris. We're not fighting him."

Viktoriya seemed conflicted, for the briefest of moments, and then saluted. She walked over towards Chris as casually as one could when being lectured by a Dullahan, and began to cast her spells.

Tanya did the same on Darkness. She nodded her thanks, and as the Dullahan paused for effect, Tanya stopped him.

"I'm sorry about interrupting your day, Mister Dullahan. I'd pay for the door, but I assume you don't pay your undead legions and don't really need money. Goodbye!"

With that, she and Viktoriya took off towards the forest, while Chris and Darkness sprinted towards the Dullahan, intent on destroying the undead. Seeing as both Viktoriya and Tanya had gripped onto their partners arms, this meant both pairs snapped back into each other, sending them sprawling.

The Dullahan, confused by her words of apology and enraged by her attempt to flee, now felt very empty inside.

He turned towards Ragcraft, who was concealed just inside the castle's door. "Are you sure we shouldn't just let them go?"

Seemingly as weary as he was, Ragcraft nodded. "Yes. It's obvious that none of those… adventurers are Hero Candidates, and that small one said something about not being obsessed with religion. She couldn't be double blessed."

Ragcraft, remembering the last time he had seen them, disagreed. He didn't want to kill them, though, so he couldn't say anything without probably having to do that.

Without a word, they retreated inside, conversing as the party outside bickered. "So you'll help with the graveyard, yes?"

Ragcraft sighed. "Yes, I'll get your corpses. Just start preparing to attack the town. They obviously know you're here, and we will only remain free from harassment from the Capital's knights by relying on Sylvia being consistent in her attack on the capital."

Verdia grimaced. He… she… whatever. They were the very definition of inconsistent, and if they were still trying to fight Hans for leadership, anything could send them back to the castle, intent on bickering with the slime.

Verdia nodded, and then turned towards the gate. "Well, I'll be ordering the undead to begin clearing more of the forest to fix the front gate. Prepare some believable personas, preferably ones that don't use your actual name."

Ragcraft frowned at the implication that his last disguise had been lackluster, but he shook his head regardless. He did need to prepare.

As Tanya and Viktoriya dragged the undead-hating Chris and the pain-seeking Darkness back to Axel, Tanya began to think about simply going back to their room and going to bed.

-OxOxO-

Tanya prepared for bed, making herself comfortable. She fluffed the pillows, readjusted her blankets, and took off all of her clothing – besides the Type 97, since she needed to protect herself and it wasn't a relic that had the possible dubious ability to affect her mind.

Outside the room, Viktoriya, having changed before her, was waiting.

Tanya had promised not to look if they both changed in the same room, but Viktoriya wasn't exactly trusting her. Tanya couldn't really blame her, either.

She sighed unhappily. Just the reminder of her strict rules when they were in Axel's baths – no turning around, no lounging, she had to take them as separately as possible unless unavoidable – made her long for the days when she could look as much as she wanted without getting in too much trouble.

The Eris Cult didn't like same-sex marriage, after all; she'd done a bit of digging in-between robbing the Reincarnates of their weapons and power, and those who were raised with its values were sure to think such a concept was impossible.

Tanya had used belief to stare at Darkness for as much as she dared.

She finished, and called out to Viktoriya. She came in, and both settled into their beds.

Tanya was cursing herself for getting so distracted. She'd probably given the Dullahan a bad impression of her, and… one in her situation might want to talk to him amiably about the possibility of an alliance.

"Goodnight, Visha," she muttered. Viktoriya nodded, and turned her back to her, saying nothing.

Tanya clenched her teeth. This had been her routine since she'd asked if Tanya could live with what she'd done.

And it still did bug her, but she'd hold out a week. She only had two days left. She definitely could, and wasn't contemplating, daily, how grand an apology she should make.

Tanya rolled her eyes at her own actions. Who was she kidding?

"I'm sorry for taking advantage of you, Viktoriya. I'd… never do something..."

She sighed. "Even if you didn't know, I really shouldn't have done something like that. Alright? You know that I'd never try and…?" she asked, trailing off and trying not to have to voice the end of her sentence.

The last part was just… in case Viktoriya had been harboring thoughts about what Tanya might have done. Tanya's fears about Viktoriya thinking Tanya might have ever rap…

She shook her head and dismissed her own memories with a grunt,. Regardless, Tanya's worries had been growing since that second day, and-

Viktoriya turned over immediately. "Of course I know you'd never do anything like that! I was joking, but you took it too seriously, and I wanted to see how long you'd-"

Tanya felt her worry begin to dry up, and Viktoriya sighed. "Thank you for the apology, and of course I know you'd never do anything like that." With that, she laid on her back.

Tanya, also, turned onto her back, staring at the ceiling and waiting for sleep. She was tired from a day full of using magic and thinking very hard about her identity and her sixteen-year battle with Being X.

That her hair twitched occasionally at the thought of Viktoriya's joke went unnoticed.

-OxOxO-

Three distinct voices, each muttering in the dark, broke Tanya's sleep light sleep.

She fought the urge to clench her fists or to shout; if intruders had gotten this far, it would be wise to hear what they might let slip in a room they thought was silently sleeping. Through her eyelids, she could see a light, likely from the hallway.

"You're sure, Dust?"

Carefully keeping her face still and trying desperately to quiet her heavy breathing, she thought furiously. What did Dust have to do with this?

And if he did have something to do with this…

Her breathing calmed. Even Dust wouldn't sink so low as to make deals with rapists. He would have probably joined some kind of criminal gang by now if he was okay with that.

"Yes, yes. She's the one you're looking for. It might have taken you days to find her without my help; don't I deserve a reward?"

A long, drawn out sigh snuck into her ears. "Fine. Go and fall asleep; you'll get triple what you were promised, at no extra cost."

Tanya tried to think about what reward he would want enough that he would gleefully shout about getting that also involved sleeping, but she put that aside. She'd be calling in his debt tomorrow, and she'd relish in whatever pleading he had to do.

Maybe making him relive whatever painful past he obviously had would be enough revenge?

His gleeful giggling drifted away. Speaking, this time closer to Viktoriya, broke out. "This is her partner?"

Tanya wasn't so concerned with their words. She was much more worried about the lack of another sound. None of the floorboards had made a peep while they moved. That meant Thieves – not unlikely, considering she'd earned a million Eris, and she couldn't think of anyone else that could be that silent.

"Look at her…" said one. Their voices were closer now, directly above her. She fought hard to keep her breathing even.

"I wonder what this barrier is…" trailed off another. Tanya's eyebrow's moved slightly, and Tanya cursed herself while wondering what kind of thieves could sense the mana in her Passive Barrier she constantly maintained, now that she had her Type 97.

"What are her dreams like? Just a quick peek wouldn't hurt, right?" asked the first one. Tanya couldn't help the confusion that crossed her face.

She heard gasps, and she shot up. The jig was up; now it was time to fight.

She began pouring mana into her Type 97, and, despite being covered by cloth, it lit the room up. Unfortunately, she was a touch too slow, too unprepared.

"Sleep!" shouted the higher voice that belonged to the smaller one. Tanya's Passive Barrier, only fit for deflecting debris and in place to detect that something had tried to attack her, shattered.

Tanya began to feel very, very, verrryyyyy sleeeeepyyyy…

She shook her head, lurching out of bed and fumbling with the top of her bed stand. She collapsed to the floor, but her prize was in her hand.

"Ohhhh go… god… please grant this ser… ser… sleepy one the power to vanquish…"

Her voice was beginning to strengthen, and Tanya could feel the tiredness fading. Anger began to build. She wouldn't be kidnapped.

Not again.

Never again.

But the pair seemed to have recovered. One was shouting sleep, over and over and ovvveeeerrr…

And as Tanya finally lost consciousness, she saw that Viktoriya had been put to sleep as well.

A flash of anger disturbed her drifting off, and she tried, feebly, to struggle, to try and resist she always had.

However, mana was a very effective tool in the right hands, and Tanya wasn't full rested from the day's activities. Another moment of struggle passed, and then she finally succumbed.

Chapter Text

Tanya opened her eyes blearily, and she began to try and look around. She was annoyed when there wasn't much light coming towards her eyes. She tried to time the end of her sleep with dawn, to get as much done as she could, but-

Then it all came rushing back to her.

She had been forcibly put to sleep, and the cloth covering her head wasn't a blanket, but instead rough burlap. The lack of light wasn't due to it not being dawn, but the lack of constant light in whatever room she was in.

Her breathing beginning to become frantic, Tanya began to run through what she liked to call her diagnostic check. The name was a bit of a misnomer – she wasn't a machine – but it reminded her of the technology of her first life, and it was much less disheartening than calling it a 'post-crisis checkup on her health and sanity.'

She began to try and calm her erratic breathing. She was fine, nothing had changed, she was okay and she wasn't there with him and she was alive and okay and not on the eastern front and-

She groaned, and she tried to move her hands to cover her face in an attempt to repress her memories. They were tied behind her back, and she grit her teeth.

Great.

With a sort of mantra running through her head – they weren't handcuffs, they weren't, they were not they – she realized that she had neither the Type 97 nor either of her relics.

She only had her mana. Of course, that also raised the question as to where her stuff was.

Her opponents might have thought her defenseless without a fancy stick and her hands tied behind her back, but she knew better much better.

A burst of Observation spells told her that no one was in the small room besides her, and she nodded to herself as she began to build up mana.

"Sharpen Blade."

While she didn't have a blade, per say, she could channel the mana into her nails to make small, glowing extrusions that were sharp enough to cut through skin and muscle.

As it turned out, the ropes holding her hands together could be cut as well.

Minutes of carefully maneuvering her fingers passed – she didn't want to hurt herself – and the ropes, fiber by fiber, were sliced away, leaving her hands free.

She cut off the flow of mana, and ripped the bag off of her head. She found herself in a dimly lit room, lit only by a single mana-fueled light near the door.

The walls were the smooth stone that lined the interior of nearly every permanent building in Axel. A small window near the top of the right wall of the room, one that, from the brief glimpses Tanya could get through it, showed the streets of Axel.

It was a bit odd for them to store her somewhere easily viewed by the outside world, but they probably wanted to move her somewhere else soon. She smirked at the knowledge that, even succumbed, she'd overcome their spell before they thought she could.

She stalked towards the door, straining her ears, hoping to catch another conversation. The last one still confused her.

Peeking in on her dreams didn't seem probable, even with magic.

Then again, someone had invented a truth-detecting device and a gender-switching magic item. Mind reading didn't seem all that infeasible.

She heard nothing through the door, and tried the handle. Surprisingly, it moved under her hand, and Tanya peeked through the unlocked door into an empty, unlit hallway.

There was another door across from her own, and a staircase on the right. Tanya could now make out faint sounds of conversation, and straining her eyes showed her that a small amount of light was drifting down the stairway, likely through the cracks between a door and its frame.

She grit her teeth. Obviously, she couldn't escape through her room – she'd need a real blade if she wanted to cut through iron or steel with the spell…

She looked to the other room. She'd check in there for something to cut her way out. If she couldn't find anything, then she'd wait for someone to check on her. While they checked her room, she'd sneak up behind them and take a hostage.

She tiptoed toward the targeted room, turning the knob and slipping inside. Her hand brushed against the wall for a switch, and it found one easily.

What met her gaze wasn't other people, in a similar situation to herself, or boxes full of weapons or cash that might be expected to accompany an operation that made a habit of kidnapping women. Instead, Tanya was shocked.

Shelves of paperwork strewn across desks and peeking out of boxes met her gaze, and Tanya stared incomprehensibly. What kind of illegal business left a paper trail this big?

Tanya tilted her head and went up to one box.

'Dreams for O Month'

Tanya blinked, and rubbed her eyes, unsure if she was dreaming. Yes, it still said 'O Month'.

Eyebrows creased, she wondered why this place would use symbols for its months instead of names. What…

She shook her head. If she could wonder about the naming conventions of this fantasy world, then she was wasting too much time. She thought rapidly, wondering about their purpose.

Were they attempting to assemble some sort of black market of information? If they could peer into dreams, then they'd learn about everyone's secrets and perversions. Tanya gulped, and backed away from the piles of contraband. She needed to tell Gerrard.

Even without the moral objections she had, telling the police about this would mean she'd get their gratitude forever. Their gratitude would return dividends in her being able to get out of any sticky situation she found herself in.

She could imagine any number of situations that was applicable, most of which involved that truth-detecting device and an investigation into her past.

Alternatively, she could blackmail the people upstairs with her knowledge. She didn't know what she might want to purchase over the black markets, but there had to be any number of interesting things in this world.

Suddenly, the sound of a door swinging open crashed into her ears, and Tanya lunged for the light switch, hoping that they hadn't seen the light. With the lights in the room off and the door above shut again, she was plunged into darkness.

Soft steps sounded down the steps, and Tanya hid just inside the doorway of their apparent records room. They became louder, and then softer again. Betting they'd come to check on her, Tanya peeked around the corner, and saw a figure's back.

She smirked, and stepped out of the room. They flipped on the switch in that room, and Tanya saw them recoil as an empty chair greeted them.

After muttered "Sharpen Blade," Tanya flew towards their back, propelled by rough Flight spells. Tanya grunted as she hit them, and both tumbled to the ground. Tanya had overestimated their weight and flown over them into the chair she'd freed herself from.

She rectified her mistake quickly, jumping back over the fallen chair and landing, once more, on her still-dazed captor.

Tanya took a deep breath, and then realized that they – a she by the tone of her stuttering voice – seemed to be calling for help. Tanya looked down, and smirked.

The cloak they had been wearing had covered their front, presenting them an apparently vexing trap to get out of.

Ignoring their muffled shouting, Tanya leaned towards her chair and the ropes she'd left on top of it, managing to grab it. A few quick movements of her hands had one of her captors bound and their cloak tied tightly around their neck.

They continued to squirm about, but Tanya ended that quickly. She grasped one of their legs, punctuating her order to "Be quiet" by scratching their leg with her sharpened nails.

They shouted out for a moment, but she made no more noise after that. Tanya nodded.

"Good. Now, you're going to help me get out of here. If you don't struggle, you won't get injured. If your friends try to stop me, however, I can't guarantee your safety. Understand?"

The person she was straddling nodded slowly. Tanya stood, dragging them up by their shoulder. "I'll undo the tie around your neck to let you speak. I hope you're persuasive, because if you don't convey how much danger you're in, you won't be able to speak again."

She loosened the tie, and they took in a gasp of air. Pressing her right hand into her back and holding her shoulder steady with her left, they walked out of the room. "Plea- Please! You have it all wrong! We just-"

"Quiet!" she snapped. She wasn't particularly fussed as to why they kidnapped her – she wasn't exactly sure if this world practiced had either slaves or serfs, but she knew for a fact that there were sickos that would want her for her diminutive body.

One of those Reincarnates had looked at her speculatively, after all. She would kill him first if they ever tried it again.

She shuddered and tried to suppress a surge of memories – a warmer-than-usual night in the Russy sky, falling endlessly, the feeling of a cloth pressed to her face – and focused on her objective.

Fighting down revulsion, Tanya walked them up the stairs. "Once I leave, I'll report you kidnappers to the police. I'd clear out of here, if I were you."

They chuckled nervously. "Oh, the police won't do anything about us. They'd probably protect us, in fact," she teased smugly.

Tanya froze, and then fought to keep her balance as her bargaining chip continued forward, unaware of Tanya stopping.

She cursed; they must have gotten some information on the police as well. Then, Tanya sighed tiredly. That could be rectified easily enough, even if it would be tiring.

She smirked, trying to keep her nervousness out of her voice and buried deep within her mind, where it belonged. "Change of plan: we're going back down, and I'll destroy all of your files."

A Napalm spell would be difficult, but she should be able to pull it off. It was a shame she'd be destroying evidence, but she wanted the police to act. She'd still get a bit of thanks for destroying the records of whatever they were being blackmailed with.

She resisted, harder than they had earlier, twisting her body in an attempt to throw Tanya off. "No, wait-"

Tanya pressed into their back with her nails, and they screeched. Tanya tilted her head; she hadn't pressed down that hard…

She shook her head. Focus on the mission.

"What don't you understand about the blade I have pressed into your back?"

They continued to struggle, and Tanya fought to keep her balance. "No! I must struggle; the livelihood of my associates is at stake! I can't let you destroy them!" she shouted, fear and determination lacing her tone.

Tanya growled and continued to struggle. They continued to make commentary. "Besides, why would a woman want to kidnap someone as cute as you?"

Ignoring their attempt at persuasion – and that was a really weird attempt – Tanya grappled with them. They still wouldn't stop, and Tanya grit her teeth.

Angry now – why wouldn't they stop moving? – Tanya reinforced her arms, grabbed the other woman's arm, and twisted.

Even with her reinforcement, she would have never been able to do more than bruise someone without a Computation Jewel. Something more painful might have been possible with a Computation Jewel, but nothing would come of her attempt.

Back in her second world, anyway.

Here, however…

CRACK!

They screamed loudly, and Tanya worked to get the makeshift gag back on. Here, with presence of the levels she had gained and the increase in effectiveness her Reinforcement spells got just from using them, snapping bone in this woman's arm only took mana.

"I told you, we're-"

Her words were cut off by the sound of a cascade of feet, and Tanya began to panic a little. They were crying now, not fighting at all – Tanya expected someone in this sort of business to be more capable of taking pain, but they were probably the Mage that had put her to sleep.

As much as she wanted to ditch her and fly out, she needed her equipment back. Leaving things like her gun, relics, and Type 97 lying around could mean disaster.

She wanted to be the one to introduce this technology to the world, after all; she had ideas of what to do in the far future, after she killed the Demon King and finally got free from Being X.

Tanya carried the woman over her shoulder, taking a moment to admire her bare legs. She ran up the steps, and kicked down the door.

The action worked, but the door had been locked. Tanya cursed, and began to dull the pain in her legs with a few Pain-Reduction Reinforcement spells. She'd probably torn something, but she didn't have time to-

Tanya's thoughts froze as she assessed the scene outside the door. She was speechless.

Soft mood lighting lit the room a lurid shade of pink, and numerous chairs, each of them dyed blue and made of leather, were arrayed around the room. Each was separated from another by leopard skin, of all things, hung on a bar of metal reminiscent of bus seats, giving them an impression of being booths rather than simple seating. A small, stout table sat in front of each one.

Tanya might have been confused as to why a kidnapping ring had such a suggestive interior – maybe they also ran a strip club? – but the occupants and the center of the room destroyed her earlier assumptions and left confusion in their wake.

A table, filled to the brim with delicious looking food that Tanya hadn't enjoyed since the Demon King's General had shown up, was the largest thing in the room. A sign above the table – which looked like it could seat at least thirty – said in cluttered, obvious lettering, 'Thank you, Tanya von Degurechaff!'

At one chair, near the head, Tanya could see her rifle, pistol, and Type 97 resting out in plain view.

More than all of that however, were the people in the room. Each and every one of the people seated around the table or standing and staring at her in shock were, in three words, 'sexy as fuck'.

Some wore an elaborate series of pins, hooks, and metal loops, stretching cloth across their bodies. Others wore more, showing off plenty of skin and wearing enticing, frilly pantyhose.

Tanya could even spot a few of them that had nothing that even resembled a bra or bikini, using their hair to cover anything that would get them rated mature in some sort of harem anime. Tanya could let her mind fill in the blanks as to what was underneath, though.

For a moment, they stared at Tanya, and Tanya stared at them.

With her mind imagining what the little that remained covered looked like, all Tanya's mouth could do was let out a very intelligent "Uhh…"

All of them still seemed more confused than hostile; more worried than angry. Slowly, Tanya set the woman she had been carrying over her shoulder down, and cut a hole in their cloak.

Underneath, the woman wore a very similar outfit to those in the room, even if she wasn't as well-endowed as the others in the room.

She gulped. It was official.

Tanya had come to an incorrect conclusion, and needed to fix that mistake, and she needed to try very hard not to stare at anyone in the room.

However, her conclusion was logical; she had been kidnapped in the middle of the night and tied up in a dark room. What else should she have assumed?

She decided to choose a middle ground: no accusations, and no apologies.

"What is going on here?"

One of them – pink hair cascading as far down as Darkness's with pointy ears poking out of it and wearing see-through gloves that were longer than her own – walked towards her slowly.

Tanya tried to not get too distracted, ensuring she was sparing enough concentration to keep her spell running. It was hard not to, however, with just how much of the woman seemed to jiggle with every step.

Frankly, it was obscene, and it bordered on ridiculousness.

That didn't mean Tanya didn't like it, however.

Softly, the woman spoke, an edge of fear present in her voice and cyan eyes. "We were hoping to thank you?"

Tanya blinked, and then tried to phrase her question as diplomatically as possible, given what she'd gone through. "For what?"

She smiled down at her, as if the answer was obvious. "Why, for killing so many Tranquility Girls, of course."

Tanya looked to the other occupants of the room, who were all nodding energetically. Carefully, she set the girl in her arms down. "Well, I'd love to accept that, but you should probably Heal her. I kind of broke her arm…"

All of them gasped and seemed stunned, for a moment, until two of them rushed forward. Tanya hesitated for a moment, before snapping her fingers. "Oh right. I'll just use Heal on her, and she'll be fin-"

"NO!" all of the screamed. Tanya shrunk back, but didn't give up her hostage/patient. "Why not!?"

The one with the pink hair, who seemed to lead them, spoke quietly, panic on her face, her former tepidness nowhere to be seen. "We're Succubi! We'll be eradicated if priestly skills are used on us if the worshiper doesn't believe in a Dark God."

Tanya pinched the bridge of her nose, more annoyed with their description of some religion than their claiming she was a part of one. Why would someone call their own god 'Dark'? That seemed like the worst way to attract followers.

She sighed, and shouted "Heal!" anyway. She remembered Wiz saying something about Heal being effective against undead because the skills of a Priest relied on their connection to their god, back when she'd first met her.

Tanya had no such connection, meaning hers was technically weaker than a Priest's, if said Priest had as much mana as she did.

They all shouted for her to stop, but, bit by bit, the girl's soft crying, which Tanya hadn't heard, began to fade. They all stared at her, flabbergasted.

"But… aren't you an Adventurer? Why do you have a Priest skill?"

Tanya nodded, wondering how they had figured that out, and handed the girl over to the pair waiting. She turned to the tall, pink-haired one. "That brings up my next question. Succubi?"

She nodded, and Tanya elaborated. "No, not are you all Succubi. What is a Succubi?"

She remembered something term that, vaguely, from her time in Japan, in relation to some sort of marketing scheme done by another company in a desperate and oddly successful attempt to save themselves from bankruptcy. She didn't remember many details, though.

Clearly, they had something to do with sexuality, because Tanya had no idea why they'd wear clothing like that otherwise. Besides that, Tanya assumed they were some sort of being that opposed 'gods,' if they couldn't be healed by a Priest.

They acted surprised. "We're very minor demons who feed on the vitality of men," she explained.

Tanya opened her mouth again, but the woman expected her question. "We have a mutually beneficial relationship with the men of Axel. We give them whatever dreams they desire, about whatever they want, and we charge a bit of money and take some of their life force."

She seemed rather nervous, and Tanya could guess that she only really explained that to first timers they saw as a source of food an income instead of someone they were indebted to.

"Then what were you talking to Dust about?"

One of them, purple hair drifting passed her shoulders and ending in curls, jumped up from her seat. Tanya blinked at the wondrous sight, and exhaled through her nostrils, wishing now, more than ever, that Being X hadn't imprisoned her in this stupid body.

Maybe she'd do the same to him and ignore every other option, purely out of spite. She'd done a lot more out of spite, after all.

"Well, I came around to give him the dream he paid for, but he was awake. He told us about where you were staying and a bunch of stuff about you, and we told him he'd get three days of dreams for the price of the one he paid in return."

Tanya's eye twitched, and she swore she'd get back at him. For now, however, she would continue focusing on her newest acquaintances. "And the kidnapping?"

That was what most vexed Tanya. If they had wanted to talk to her, she would have come easily, if they had openly expressed their admiration for her having killed the Tranquility Girls.

Luna had thanked her, and some of the Crusaders had thanked her for doing a job that needed to be done, but that was about all the 'praise' she'd received.

The purple haired succubus shrugged apologetically, rubbing the back of her head. "We panicked?"

Tanya sighed deeply. "Fine, whatever. Why do you care so much that I killed a bunch of plants?" She began to make her way to what she assumed was her seat, and most of them began to sit down.

It seemed that they didn't hold any grudges for her attack on them. The tall one flashed her a smile.

"They kill adventurers using their wiles, depriving us of a food source. We want them eradicated out of both a sense of self-preservation and… a bit of jealousy."

Tanya nodded all the while, sinking into her seat heavily. Well, this was certainly a very interesting night. But for now…

She looked out across the table as she slipped the Type 97 around her neck, shouldered her rifle, and put on her belt and pistol. She'd eat her fill – it would be rude to reject what they'd offered, and all this food looked wonderful – and then ask them some questions. Like just how much those dreams cost, and how long she'd get free dreams for killing the Tranquility Girls.

-OxOxO-

Ragcraft muttered to himself angrily. Why that Dullahan didn't just march on the town, he didn't know.

Sure, they couldn't kill everyone, but there weren't many people who'd sit by and let an undead do what they wanted with their town. They'd resist, no longer be considered non-combatants, and cut down to feed his army.

Plus, he'd get more and better undead soldiers by just killing the adventurers that came to stop him, instead of scavenging graveyards.

He sighed tiredly as he made his way towards the graveyard. Verdia did have a sense of honor, which was probably what stayed his hand.

He shook his head and continued to trek forward. It was nearing midnight, which meant that absolutely no one would be here.

If someone was there, then he and whoever they were could both raid the cemetery. He couldn't really think of another reason someone would be out here at this time of night.

The people buried here were just poor or homeless. Priests didn't take the time to send their spirits off, since they couldn't pay for the service.

And while they technically went on a waiting list, by the time the Priests got to them, they'd already become some sort of undead. He didn't need to be a Priest to know that.

He finally got to the top of the hill – the undead couldn't get down without possibly tripping over themselves and injuring their already decaying bodies – and groaned at the sight that greeted him.

He'd marched through the dark, tripping time and time again because he couldn't see in the dark in his human form, and what waited for him?

Someone sending spirits to Heaven, in the middle of the night, using a magic circle, of course.

He pinched the bridge of his nose, but continued on, changing his stature and features. Before, he had been just slightly taller than average with dirty blond hair that drifted down to his shoulders.

Now, with a much brighter blond mop of hair that was cut shorter and bright blue eyes, they'd have to listen to him. He looked and could act like a noble; threats would accomplish his goals.

He stalked through the expansive graveyard, dodging behind the occasional sickly-looked tree or mound of dirt whenever he could. Catching them in the act would be crucial, and-

His thoughts stopped as he approached them. He had assumed guards surrounded the 'Priest,' but a closer look at them showed him he had been wrong. Instead of living guards, perhaps Crusaders who would help a young, naïve Priest be a good person instead of lusting after money, they were Zombies.

Full-fledged, rotting corpses, given new life by a master. And while it could mean he was facing a Necromancer, he had an answer that was much more plausible.

Wiz. A Lich, someone powerful enough that she could defeat most of the forces in the Demon King's castle, if done by surprise. And, more recently, as the Thief of the King's Coffers.

The idea to imitate Verdia struck him, but he wrote it off. Even a Doppelganger couldn't imitate the energy that the undead gave off, and Wiz didn't like him anyway, if the Dullahan's annoying muttering was anything to go by.

Instead, he strolled behind her in the guise of his midnight-black silhouette. She would recognize him as a strong monster, at least, and then a conversation could begin.

He crept up behind her, and when, only a foot from her, one of the zombies finally noticed him, he tapped her on the back. "Wiz."

She shrieked, and the bright circle dimmed as she lost concentration. Arms raised, as if to start casting a spell, she tilted her head at the sight of him. "Who…"

"I am part of the Demon King's army. I had come here for a different purpose, but I think he will thank me for checking up on you," he rattled off. She nodded hesitantly, turning back to the circle.

He stood next to her, and asked his first question. "Why are you losing so much money?"

She pouted miserably as she watched souls fly towards Heaven. "I don't know. I try my best, but no matter what product I try and stock, no one seems to buy them."

He nodded, and was about to move on, when she added, "Oh, except for one. A special customer of mine buys five impact-explosion potions every week or two. I don't know what she uses them for, since no one has said anything about repeated, large explosions, but I'm too afraid of scaring her off to ask."

As she continued to talk, Ragcraft, instead of sharing the happiness present in her tone, was mildly annoyed. "And? You've still been losing money, and month after month, the Demon King has to spend resources getting enough money for your rent and sending it to you."

She began to pout once more. "I'm so- sorry…"

Ragcraft sighed again, wondering if he should have just remained the Prime Minister of Elroad instead of coming back. "Just… make some safe investments, or ask someone you know for help. Now, this one is off the books, but… what do you think of Axel?"

She smiled softly, and began to tell him about the town, some of her favorite parts of it, and how she wished some of her products would sell. He smiled and offered occasional advice, but he was otherwise uninterested.

The Lich still hadn't given up on portions of her humanity, just like Verdia.

He phrased his next words carefully. "Say, Wiz… The Demon King has been wondering about Axel, and has been thinking about moving me here to monitor it. Also, he moved Verdia here recently, and he's been causing problems for adventurers by depriving them of monsters."

This wasn't even just information he'd asked of the Demon King and Verdia. In the few hours he'd been in Axel, Ragcraft had observed that the economy was stagnating.

He had been the Prime Minister for Elroad, after all; he knew a thing or two about an economy that was not just hurrying, but sprinting towards ruin.

Axel was declining, obviously, due to the lack of monsters.

Adventurers, with their lack of spending money, had to settle for horrible food. Farmers couldn't sell all of their food, leading to them having to lower prices, despite doing the same amount of work. They made up for it by putting up fewer quests for adventurers, saving them a few Eris and dooming the adventurers to even worse food.

Shops were forced to lower their prices to try and attract even the smallest bit of business. They had to pay their employees less or even fire them, leading to more people having less money to spend.

People would tighten their belts and continue spending less, and the whole thing would repeat for a few weeks or months, until aid was provided by an outside source, likely either the nobles, the clergy, or the royalty.

Wiz seemed to have seen some of it too, if the truly saddened expression that marred her face was anything to go by.

He then raised his own tone. "Not to worry, Wiz; Verdia will leave as soon as we confirm a few things about Axel. If you could help, then we'll leave even faster!"

Her face lit up at the opportunity to help, and Ragcraft internally shouted in triumph.

If they could figure out the defenses of the town, they'd have an easier time of getting in, taking all the people who survived with them to use as undead, and then retreat to the castle and teleport out with the help of Wolbach, who was still searching for her other half and should be here in four weeks.

"Of course! What do you want to know?" He smiled at her, morphed his body into the one he'd worn while travelling there, and began to ask questions.

He asked about the strength of the adventurers, and she told him that there were two or three that could be considered truly strong, as well as a few who were over level thirty.

He asked how she knew, and she told him that she often strolled through Axel while buying ingredients or new products. She heard things, and she still talked with plenty of people, even if she did try and stay in her shop to catch whoever might show up.

He asked about the presence of Hero Candidates, and she told him there was a large group of people who resembled them in looks and who didn't have the matching weapons.

He asked about the double blessed Hero Candidate, and she told him that none of them had any strong abilities or weapons to speak of.

Ragcraft felt he could almost giggle, but he stifled it for now. "Wonderful! One last question: can Verdia use this graveyard for-"

"No."

He blinked at her uncharacteristically blunt response, but he nodded regardless. It seemed that she hadn't become entirely soft once she had become an undead.

"I understand, Wiz," he told her while thinking of how he would be coming back tomorrow once he had hired some adventurers.

She seemed taken aback, and he smiled softly at her. "Keep up the good work. I'm sure you'll be able to break even soon!"

With that, he morphed his body back into the silhouette and loudly walked towards the beginning of the slope of the hill. Soon enough, he saw her turn away – this form's ability to survey its surroundings was unparalleled, so literally seeing out of the 'back' of his head was child's play – and he crouched down, preparing to transform.

If he'd had a face, he would have grimaced, but he didn't have a choice. He needed to figure out which bodies were best suited for becoming undead, and he couldn't do it in broad daylight or under the watch of Wiz.

He felt his arms and legs mold together, and he felt his neck disappear. Slowly, his body became one of his stealthiest forms: a Giant Worm.

They were easily killed by adventurers, but that was only when the Giant Worm tried to take on an adventurer. If they remained underground, they were nearly impossible to find.

It took him but a moment to adapt to his newest form, and then Ragcraft was off, burrowing through the ground, bumping into the occasional body, and making a mental map of where the best ones were.

He would be at this for a few hours, and then he would trek back towards Axel for a bath.

-OxOxO-

As she chewed on a frog leg, Tanya eyed the Succubi around her, wondering if Demons preferred to feel awkward during their celebrations.

She rather doubted it, but the atmosphere definitely suggested it. She'd eaten her fill and sipped at the wine, trying not to feel awkward as everyone spoke quietly. It didn't feel like a celebration.

The sounds of others eating, the occasional comment about the food or even the weather, and some whispered questions that Tanya couldn't make out from her position filled the room for several minutes.

It was almost unbearable, but Tanya was too busy eating and enjoying the alcohol to care, for now.

Finally, she had finished with her first serving. Just as she swallowed her last morsel, she began on her next serving, shoveling more food – Squirrel, Toad, and even a bit of Rookie Killer – onto her plate, carefully ensuring that her pajamas remained free of sauce.

The Succubus to her right blinked as she watched Tanya eat. "You have a rather voracious appetite for one so young."

Tanya almost spat out that she was sixteen, but that would have sent food flying across her plate and killed the pathetically weak conversation.

Since Tanya wasn't feeling homicidal, she just nodded. "Lots of mana usage means you have to eat a lot of food. I used to eat even more, back when I was a mage."

She tilted her head. "I thought you were an Adventurer?" she asked, and several of the surrounding Succubi looked their way, interested.

Tanya nodded slowly. She supposed she should reveal a few personal details that she could afford to let slip, if she was going to use their debt to build some sort of relationship with their business.

No doubt, they earned tons of money by providing dreams to frustrated teens and adventurers. She wanted a bit of that money, since she was sure the money she had managed to accumulate doing quests would disappear soon enough.

She'd already spent a large chunk of it on getting provisions for Viktoriya and building their equipment, and the materials used in Computation Jewels weren't cheap.

"I am. I fought for my nation in a war. Joined when I was… eight? Nine? Something like that."

The others seemed shocked, but Tanya had grown used to that reaction. She just sipped on her wine imperiously, hoping they wouldn't ask too many questions about the war.

After a moment, conversation began to spring up after that, no doubt about her, but it was more sufferable than the near-silence of earlier.

"By the way, what's your name?" Tanya asked as she nibbled at a bit of cabbage. The woman next to her smiled.

"Sorry to say, but we can't give those out freely. Those have power over weaker demons, among our other weaknesses…" she said.

Looking up from where she was staring at her plate, she looked up. "You can call me 'Receptionist Succubus' if you need to address me." Tanya nodded, but didn't pry into the weaknesses further.

She could ask Darkness about their weaknesses tomorrow. No doubt, most of those weaknesses had to do with religion, blocking her access to using such methods. Still, Darkness was a Crusader, which meant she might know a few more.

As Tanya looked around, it seemed that most of them had already finished eating. "You all said you feast on human vitality, right? Why eat at all, then?"

She shrugged. "There aren't enough jobs to be able to feed on them alone, so we supplement our diets with whatever food we can buy."

Tanya nodded, and went back to her food as the Succubus's attention was caught by another Succubus. A few more minutes passed, leaving Tanya to stew in her thoughts of what to do with the opportunity before her.

They would be good allies, if they treated her to food whenever she took out a Tranquility Girl.

Suddenly, one of the doors out of the room that Tanya hadn't seen burst open, and the three Succubus that had left earlier ran in, all of them happy. Several got up to greet them, including the receptionist.

Tanya turned to the purple haired Succubus who had been one of her kidnappers. "What's the big deal?"

Her happy expression faded into one of puzzlement, and then she nodded. "Right, you might not know. Demons of all kinds have really weak bodies. Pain and damage done to them, even clipping a simple nail, is very harmful. We're just happy she didn't go insane or die from that arm break."

Tanya's gaze turned to the Succubus who she'd hurt, and she grimaced. She'd nearly killed one of them, and now she was trying to make inroads…

"I guess I should apologize…" she mused.

The girl next to her waved her off. "No, it's our fault for kidnapping you. It's just… you started saying that prayer, and we were sure you were going to exorcise us," she said, looking apologetic and rubbing the back of her head.

Tanya fought the urge to grab a quick look at her breasts, and, for the millionth time that night cursed Being X for not giving her a male body.

Tanya rose to go apologize anyway – she wanted to have an upper hand in negotiations, and they could use the Demon's near-death as ammunition against her – but the scantily clad demon began to talk again.

"By the way, what Dark God do you worship? There are rumors of a Regina worshiper working near Belzerg, but…"

Tanya continued to walk, ignoring her question. Everyone – and she meant everyone – expected everyone else to praise some sort of god.

In her last world, it had gotten very annoying, and it hadn't gotten less annoying here.

Here, at least, there was justification for everyone's interest in it: you got support from whichever church you worshiped, and you got barred from entering the premises every church you didn't worship.

She shook her head as she walked towards the gaggle of Succubi, who was seeming a bit overwhelmed by all the attention she was getting. She wouldn't give anyone a definite answer as to her religion.

Let them assume she praised what they expected her to praise.

Tanya broke through the circle, lightly pushing them out of the way instead of elbowing them. What if elbowing a Demon gave them internal bleeding?

She didn't know, but giving someone internal bleeding seemed to be a very bad way to keep these people thankful to her, so she erred on the side of caution.

They parted easily, and Tanya cleared her throat once she was in front of the girl.

Her eyes widened, and Tanya began her apology. "Ahem. I am sorry for causing you so much harm. I wasn't aware of the possibility for death, and I didn't know what was going on. Still, I shouldn't have broken your arm just because I was trying to escape."

Tanya bowed her head, hoping she had done enough. Instead of some sort of icy acceptance like she had expected – Tanya certainly would have been absolutely furious at anyone that tried to kill her, accident or no – Tanya was hugged.

"Aw, it's alright. We lolis have to stick together, right?" she asked her happily.

Twitch.

Tanya felt her right eye twitch, and she was sure that stupid strand of hair on the top of her head was waving wildly, but she stiffly returned the hug. "Yes…"

The crowd around them began to return to the table, and both began to walk towards Tanya's spot on the table. "How'd you all sneak into our room? I didn't hear any of the floorboards creak."

A pink eyebrow climbed up the girl's forehead, before she giggled. "We can fly," she said.

Two purple wings sprouted from her back, thin and lithe. The girl began to float up, until she topped Tanya in height.

Tanya just raised an eyebrow, and the girl broke into a fit of giggles, curling up in the air. Tanya nodded respectfully as she slipped into her seat.

"Cool," she said as she took yet another sip of wine. The self-proclaimed loli slipped into the one to her left, her wings receding and a small pout forming.

"'Cool'? Usually, we get asked how we can stay afloat," she said crossing her arms, clearly fishing for the question. Tanya smiled amusedly, weighing if she should show her magic off.

Smiling widely, she decided she might as well. They had shown her theirs, after all. "It's just using mana or a spell, right? Just like me?"

The Succubus, on the verge of agreeing with her, whipped her head towards Tanya, eyebrows knit and eyes staring.

A grin on her face and a bit too much alcohol in her system, Tanya rose from her seat an inch, before scooting her chair back and rising further.

"No WAY!"

The gaze of every other Succubi was drawn to them, and they made similar declarations as they realized Tanya was flying in the air under her own power.

Tanya basked in the praise. "Yes way! Just a simple application of mana and force is all it takes!"

She began to do little tricks she'd picked up in the spare time the 203rd often had as it traveled from front to front, battlefield to battlefield.

A cartwheel, a bit of marching through the air as if she could walk across it, and even walking on the ceiling.

Thankfully, she didn't even have to worry about some stupid nightdress falling down around her head, as she hadn't gotten around to getting actual pajamas. She was still wearing the clothes she had first come here in to bed.

She wondered, for a moment, why that mattered, and then she decided that didn't matter, and that the people around her cheering loudly were much more important.

They ate it up, and Tanya sighed happily. She didn't often get good praise – she was awarded medals and favorable reports, but no one had ever held a party in her favor before, except for the 203rd.

Then, she stood on the ground, surrounded by scantily clad women all asking questions. She only halfheartedly hid her lustful gazes, mentally writing her actions off as her choosing someone to answer the questions of.

She picked the Loli Succubus. "Are you some sort of Devil?"

She chuckled. "Nope, pure human!"

She picked another one with a much more attractive figure – blonde, honey-colored hair and wearing even less than the average succubus there. "What else can you do?"

Tanya laughed. "All sorts of things! I can cast numerous Detonation spells, Lurk like a Thief, and cause untold damage to any who stand before me! Plus…" she trailed off, gathering a bit of mana.

"Reinforce Agility!" she shouted, pouring in as much as she could. The people around her slowed down, and Tanya ran to each, touching hair, pieces of clothing, and giving even a passing caress to their exposed skin.

She assumed her previous position, and reacted to their near simultaneous cries of fright at the unexpected touches.

Then, applause broke out. Tanya surveyed them again, picking out the purple haired one. "What Deity do you praise?"

Tanya froze.

The other Succubi all began to clamor for the answer. "Yeah! They must be super lenient on Demons, so Wolbach seems like she'd fit!"

The Receptionist Succubus spoke up, shaking her head. "No, she's not in any way representative of Sloth. It must be Regina!"

Another spoke out. "What could she be vengeful about? Plus neither of them can bestow flight! She must praise some sort of God from that Kingdom she mentioned that she fought for!"

More and more, they tossed forward names. She recognized none of them, but Tanya knew one thing: she followed none of them.

Faster and faster and faster, they continued to shout out names. They continued to dare suggest that she would bow before another being and call them god.

They continued to shout, all of them looking at her, having decided that only she could tell them.

"Which God! Which God! Which God!"

"NONE of them!"

Her shout had silenced them, and Tanya snarled at the cowards. "Do you all assume I have to have help to do what I do? That I have to bow my head, crawl through the dirt and grime, and beg for someone else to save me?"

Still, none of them spoke.

"Never! A thousand – No, a million times never! After all they've done to me, I couldn't, wouldn't and won't!"

With that, she snarled again, pushed passed the crowd, and sunk into her chair, glaring at them. Shamefaced and confused, they all followed her, sitting back in their chairs.

Tanya took a deep breath, trying to sober herself. She shouldn't have said that, but she couldn't take it back. She'd just have to make amends the old fashioned way: talking.

She cleared her throat. "I am sorry for the outburst, but I stand by what I said."

None of them dared to make a move, and Tanya pinched the bridge of her nose. Great. She'd ruined one of the first parties thrown in her honor.

She shook her head. "Moving on: I was wondering how much that Sleep spell costs to learn," she said, staring at the Loli Succubus.

She jumped out of her chair, bowing at the waist. "I- I'll demonstrate! I need more practice, after all…" she trailed off, looking to the others in the room.

The purple-haired one rose slowly, and Loli Succubus simply chanted, "Sleep!"

The Succubus seemed to waver on the spot, and another rose to set her in her seat. Tanya looked to Loli Succubus, and her stature straightened.

"Um… The spell isn't as effective as Paralyze, and it can be resisted by either high magical resistance or by someone with a strong enough will. But, since the skill is a part of being a Succubus, it should cost fewer Skill Points to learn for anyone we teach!"

Tanya nodded, patting her on the shoulder. She cursed as she realized her card was back in her room, and sighed. "I'll just have to learn it tomorrow. Now, I have a few propositions for you all, if you'll let me speak."

They seemed to pause for a moment, and Tanya winced at her own stupidity. She glanced down at the table, and swore she wouldn't drink in situations like this. She was obviously very lightweight if three glasses of wine could get her to spill so much.

The Receptionist took the first step, leaning towards her. "We'll listen to you, Tanya."

She smiled, and began to relay her ideas. They spoke, long passed morning and well into the middle of the day. But Tanya got her ideas out, and they had even taken up a few of them.

It was a start.

-OxOxO-

Chris was worried about The Atheist; not for her, of course, but about her whereabouts.

She had taken yet another day to come down, leaving her angels and Aqua to the work she usually got.

She had needed to get those Reincarnates their weapons back, however. It hadn't been easy, diving down to the bottom of the lake she'd been throwing them in, but she'd managed it.

She'd hand them out, give them a bit of training, and then, hopefully, see the end of The Atheist.

After that, she could pay a trip to the Demon General that was living nearby with them, watch him get defeated, and then wish them luck as they headed towards the capital.

Of course, giving them their weapons meant she needed to watch for The Atheist, so she didn't catch her giving them back their weapons. Unfortunately, if the shouting of Viktoriya was to be believed, The Atheist had disappeared.

Darkness and Chris had both tried to calm her when she'd burst into the guild earlier that morning looking distressed, but they hadn't succeeded. She had honestly only become more worried when they said they hadn't seen her.

She'd left again and been back within the hour, claiming she'd searched all of Axel for the petite Adventurer. She'd raised a complaint with Luna about it, waving around a large sack of jangling money she'd give to whoever found her.

Most of the other adventurers had left after that, scouring Axel. Chris was currently sitting with one of the few groups that hadn't left – the posse of Reincarnates. They were arguing whether they should help search for her.

Chris shook her head at their squabbling. "Enough. We wait here. You all still don't have your weapons back; I'll get them to you in a few days." Most of them glared at her, anxious to be reunited with their weapons, but all of them quieted down regardless.

She had wanted to bring them in sooner, but she would have to travel passed the guards, and coming back with a large bag of weapons wasn't exactly inconspicuous. She could have just Lurked out and Lurked back in, but she would have to wait for someone to go through the gate.

And since there weren't any monsters to slay, that meant she would have to wait for merchants, who were starting to become scarce with the lack of monsters and their parts.

Suddenly, the door burst open, startling the ten of them and the others who had decided to stay. None of them looked enthusiastic, and all of them were shying away from their leader.

Followed closely by a worried and calmer Darkness, Viktoriya marched up to the front desk, grabbing Luna by the small amount of cloth on her arms. "We couldn't find her! The guards said she never came by, no one has seen her, and you said she hasn't come her yet! That means she's missing, probably in the basement I told you I could sense her in!"

Chris felt sympathetic for the hapless-looking receptionist, who tried to pry the other girl's grip off of her. "P- Please! Adventurers go missing all the time! Have you tried the police station?"

Chris winced at the way Luna shrank away from what must have been a chilling stare. Chris couldn't see it, but everyone who had was backing away rapidly. "You dare suggest that Tanya wouldn't know how to evade every law known to mankind?"

Chris tilted her head, wondering at the odd description. One would usually assume an ardent supporter would say something about her being too pure to remain outside a prison cell; clearly, she knew her superior.

For the umpteenth time that day, the doors of the guild were blown open. All eyes turned to them, realizing that the police had assembled there. Leading them was, of course, Tanya von Degurechaff.

As a cheer went up at her being found and the police began to spread out, Chris wondered if the adage about speaking the devil's name applied to those who weren't actually demons.

Viktoriya ran towards The Atheist, and she embraced her for a moment. Then, she pulled away, leaving the shorter one smirking. "Well, it's nice to see you all so happy to see me, but before we continue…"

She spun on the spot, pointing towards the bar and the only person not staring at her. "That's the man! He's the one who led those strangers to my residence!"

Three police officers rushed towards him, dragging him towards Tanya, Viktoriya, and a rather sheepish looking older man.

"Dust…" he trailed off.

The adventurer looked angrily at them. "Hey, what's the-" he cried, only to cut himself off as he stared at Tanya. She smirked back at him.

Suddenly, his annoyed tone became rather apologetic. "Tanya! How nice to see you. Did you have an interesting meeting last night?" he asked, an eyebrow raised suggestively.

Tanya, unfazed, turned to Gerrard. She was going to enjoy this. "This is him, Gerrard. He's definitely the one."

He looked down at her, pleading with his eyes that she didn't have to do this. In her earlier meeting with Gerrard at the police station, however, she had outlined exactly why she needed to do it.

This was revenge on Dust; he'd led people she didn't know to where she was staying. Sure, he knew them, but Tanya didn't know if he would sell her out for a bottle of booze if given the opportunity. She just wanted to make it clear to him what she could do.

This was also revenge on Gerrard. He'd told the Succubi about her in the first place, and she didn't really want people giving her name away so easily. So, she wanted to make a spectacle out of this.

When he'd asked why he should help her, she had pointed out that, while his fellow policemen might not care about what he did, the policewomen surely would.

He'd caved in an instant, and here she was, watching as Dust was clapped into handcuffs.

He brought out a hastily written notice of imprisonment, and read out what it said. "Dust. You have been a petty criminal for months, harassing people, conning people, and even peeking in on bathing women. However, you've gone too far this time."

He paused, and looked down at her again. She smiled, and motioned him to continue.

Groaning, he read out the last line. "For giving the location of Tanya von Degurechaff's current residence to potentially harmful aggressors, you are charged with one month of jail time, with no chance for getting out early."

He looked quite pleased, but Tanya cut off his dreams of living comfortably for a month quickly. "That is, you won't be in the holding cell, but an actual cell, under the supervision of the policewomen."

Now, he looked angry, because he hadn't ever been in a real jail cell, since most of his crimes were really not worth the effort. He opened his mouth again, but she waved the police officers onward, and they began to leave.

Gerrard, throwing one last annoyed glance at Tanya, read out an addition she had made. "Additionally, if you attempt to appeal this, you'll be put in court, where all of your other crimes will be reviewed, since you were never technically tried for them."

With that, Dust threw one last glare at Tanya, before he hung his shoulders and trudged on, in a calculated display to gain sympathy.

Tanya only felt a twinge of it, which was soon crushed under her feelings of watching a well thought-out plan being executed perfectly.

Viktoriya stuck close to Tanya as she sat down at her table, and Darkness sat across from them. Before any of them could wonder about Chris's absence, she nodded to the Reincarnates.

"Remember: I'll have your weapons for you tonight. Just be here by then."

All of them gave her an assortment of goodbyes – from Shizuka's demur "Goodbye" to Kei's steady nod.

She sat down and began to talk amiably with Darkness as the other two spoke in their own language. Darkness didn't seem to mind – she'd asked what it was about and left it at that – but Chris did.

The whole point of her being close to The Atheist was to learn about her and try to get her killed. Crucial details could be passed between the two of them, and Chris wouldn't even know.

She stood, offering to go get a quest. She needed to get those weapons.

Chapter Text

Tanya breathed a contented sigh as she walked towards the bulletin board of quests. Yesterday's quest had been simple and easy – help escort a few families that wanted to move to a nearby town called Hora that supposedly had a few monsters kicking around.

While the normal expectation would be that they, as their hired adventurers, would fight off any monsters, there had been nothing. All four of them had just helped carry supplies instead, and Tanya was starting to wonder just how bad not having any monsters around might be.

They'd made it back, those three had bathed together while Tanya collected their meager reward, and she had taken her own bath alone before retiring for the night.

Today, she was deciding on their next quest. Chris had begged off helping out by claiming she had some other work she needed to do, and all of them had given her a hearty goodbye.

There wasn't much; the last of the Durian quests – including the ones to exorcise the spirit– were gone, besides the one with the Griffon and the Manticore. She sighed as she saw that nothing new had been added.

She could work at the Blacksmith's, but he was contemplating shutting down shop until the Demon King's General left. Without monsters to slay, the only work he had was to fix broken farming equipment and other smaller jobs. He wasn't even willing to pay her anymore thanks to how little business was coming in, although he assured her he wouldn't get rid of all of her things.

Of course, without anything to do, she could go help the Succubi set up… their newest venture. She had already given them her and Viktoriya's last 100,000 Eris from the Tranquility Girl quests, to help them get started. They claimed that they didn't need anymore help, but she was sure they were just trying to be polite.

Just as she was about to go back to their table and admit that they should just disband for the day, Luna waved to her. Tanya smirked as she walked forward. Hopefully, she and the other guild staff had found another Tranquility Girl Viktoriya could kill.

"Hello Luna," she said. Luna smiled sweetly at her, and Tanya only grinned more.

If she was desperate enough to put energy into looking happy, instead of only using her permanent smile, then this would probably be good.

"Greeting, Tanya!"

She opened her mouth, as if to continue, and she just sighed instead. Tanya blinked in surprise as she adopted a much more frank look. "Uh…"

Tanya resisted the urge to wonder if she'd been struck with illness and was hallucinating, or if she was just dreaming, but she could have sworn that Luna's sigh was forlorn.

"Thank you for taking the community service. I don't think I ever… properly thanked you for that."

Tanya tilted her head. "Is it really that big a problem?"

She hung her head down, and Tanya managed to work down the urge to let her mouth hang open into simply staring wide eyed. "Are you kidding? We don't have any adventurers on staff to force them to, and they always have an argument ready about how 'they're important to the defense of the town' and how locking them up might impact the ability to defend it."

"Well, what about the army?" Tanya asked. Luna shot her a very piercing stare, but Tanya managed not to fidget.

She sighed again. "If you mean the Guards or the Knights, all of the best of them are fighting or dead by this point, which leaves all the poorly trained reserves to guard relatively unimportant towns like Axel. They'd actually hurt us more than help, considering they'd probably wind up as Zombies or other undead if they tried to fight."

Tanya tried to get a word in, but Luna sighed once more and gave her one of the most genuine smiles Tanya had seen. There was clearly some lingering frustration hidden behind it, but it seemed she was better. "Again, thank you for actually doing what an adventurer is supposed to do. Now…"

"I couldn't help but notice that none of the quests are to your liking. Perhaps you would like to take on a new one we're issuing?" she asked.

Tanya nodded, and Luna pulled up a piece of paper. "Yesterday, a noble I've never seen came in and loudly declared that he wanted some adventurers. When asked why, he said he was relocating the pauper's cemetery," she explained, pointing to the plans she had laid out.

Tanya nodded in understanding, thinking that she should steal that idea for the Succubi's newest venture. If they hadn't already done it, she would direct them to make the cemetery more accessible to the town's Priests.

Maybe she would pay them to give rights to the town's poor. It would only increase the Succubi's newest, more open identity's reputation, after all.

She didn't like the idea of paying a Church, of course, but she couldn't exorcise the undead herself. Her Heal simply didn't have belief behind it.

She grinned to herself. If she wanted to, she could always use her Lurk skill and Optical Decoy spells to steal her money back from them. It wasn't moral in the slightest, but they were part of a religion. She was sure they'd done worse.

Luna continued on when Tanya nodded. "He took two of them, but none of them have come back. We'd like you three to investigate the graveyard for them. Losing such a nice looking noble would be disastrous."

Tanya gazed at Luna for a moment, wondering if she was more interested in the noble and his looks than the missing adventurers, but she nodded regardless. This quest didn't seem like it would be too hard.

She skipped over to the quiet pair of them, brandishing the piece of paper. "We've got work to do! I'll explain on the way out!"

And, as they left and headed towards the gates, she did, giving her personal comments about Luna's possible infatuation to Viktoriya in Germanian. Darkness looked put out to not be included, so Tanya explained in this country's language.

Instead of laughing, she acted like that was normal. "Luna's twenty-something at this point. People will begin to pass her by because she isn't young, and she'll have to work at the guild forever."

Tanya shrugged. "Our homeland doesn't consider someone an adult until much later than the age of fourteen, so I guess it's expected that there would be differences in how we interpret that."

Darkness stared at her with a raised eyebrow. "Why? How far away is it that you've got something like that? Even the remnant states of Norse aren't like that."

Tanya kept her unhappiness at the topic rise to the surface, but it seemed that she wouldn't get a chance to talk yet. "And another thing. Why are you an Adventurer, and how did you survive in a war with that job? You know you're both lucky to have survived so long with a trash job like that."

As they presented their Adventurer's Cards and weapons to the Guards, who waved them through after a cursory glance, Tanya shot a look at Viktoriya, who looked just as lost as she did, though Darkness probably wouldn't pick up on the slightest movement of her eyebrows or the way her pace picked up ever so slightly.

She opened her mouth, and then she closed it again. She couldn't use her own abilities as examples – Darkness hadn't heard of them, and even if she wasn't a Mage, she had demonstrated her intellect enough that she probably knew the basics of what magic could and couldn't do.

"Well, maybe the job isn't actually all that bad," she offered. Darkness's skeptical look told Tanya exactly how much merit she gave that idea.

Tanya sighed and decided she would at least try. It would take her focus off of that pesky question about where they had come from. "Look… if you combine a Crusader's defensive skills – I wouldn't know what they are, since you seem intent on increasing your resistance to every kind of damage – a Thief's Lurk skill, and Basic magic, like Create Earth and Wind Breath, you could create a bodyguard that could remain unseen, take a hit for their charge, and create a smokescreen to cover their retreat."

Tanya grinned in thought. "You create a better job that way. And I'm not alone in this. Viktoriya is just as strong as I am and has nearly all the same spells. I'm obviously doing something right, and so is she."

Darkness just shook her head. "If someone could do all that stuff you mentioned, then they could probably just take the Bodyguard. It might be advanced, but doing that would boost your skills and stats."

Tanya watched as Darkness continued to talk. "And, if taking those skills is about doing everything yourself because you can't get any teammates-"

Twitch.

"-then you should have given up the job when you got me and Chris! You're obviously suited to being a Priest-"

Twitch.

"-with your Heal and those odd buffing spells. Viktoriya would be the Archmage, Chris would be the Thief, and I would be the Crusader. We'd cover each other's weaknesses and help us focus on growing our strengths."

Tanya resisted the urge to punt the girl over a nearby hill – Tanya could do it, sure, but the Crusader would love every second of it – but she sighed and gave it a moment of thought.

Not her idea to become a Priest – never happening, she wouldn't ever give in to him – but the idea of people becoming something of a single machine.

She hadn't ever considered it. There had been a limited amount of 'teamwork' in coordinating the various companies and platoons of the 203rd, but there had been nothing like this.

Trying to stick together in a four man team in her last world, leaving one portion of their spells to each soldier, would have been suicide – Active Barrier spells couldn't do their job and cover more than one person; four Flight spells at once, on four different mages was impossible for all but Tanya and the Bloody Valkyrie; and presenting four targets together like that would have made them a much bigger target – but she wasn't in the Empire anymore.

Tanya glared at the ground. She just wasn't used to not fighting in the air. Attempting to apply everything you know about one doctrine of fighting to another resulted in either laughably pathetic attempts at fighting – Dacia's soldiers grouping themselves together might have worked on a cavalry charge, not on Aerial mages…

She sighed. Or, doing so would result in needlessly limited fighting styles. Everyone in the Empire thought Aerial mages should fly like planes and obey physics to an extent, but she'd shown them that creativity with your Flight spells allowed you to dart around and hack every theory of flying to pieces.

Tanya conceded a nod to Darkness. "I suppose you're right that I haven't been thinking in the right way about working together as a small team."

Darkness's face lit up for a second, and Viktoriya's seemed to grow concerned, but Tanya shook her head decisively. "We won't be changing our jobs, however. We're used to working like this, and changing that would be devastating to our productivity."

Darkness sighed tiredly while Viktoriya nodded, and they remained silent, for a moment, simply walking and taking in the scenery.

Then, Viktoriya began to speak to Tanya quietly. "Tanya… shouldn't we be thinking about the future as well?"

She turned to her, stuffing her latest ideas into a corner of her head and looking at her. "How so?"

"Well, you did say we might be switching sides if we need to. We don't really know much about the other side, though. Shouldn't we start trying to figure out what they could offer us, or if we should even join them? What if they wouldn't ever accept… humans, or something, and we were tricked?"

Tanya supposed that she was right. "You have a point. Thank you, Viktoriya…"

Tanya trailed off, too deep in thought to notice Viktoriya looking away with a light blush. Tanya turned to her rigid former adjutant. "How about you figure out what this side thinks of the Demon King, while I go and interview the undead at that castle?"

Viktoriya raised an eyebrow. "Is that wise? Couldn't you-"

Tanya waved away her concern. "If he's a threat, I'll just make a quick getaway. I…"

Tanya finally realized what Viktoriya was getting at, and she grit her teeth. "I won't be taken by surprise. I'll get back safely. I promise."

Viktoriya still looked concerned, and Tanya fought the urge to raise an eyebrow. She was still nervous, even though Tanya had given her word?

Eventually, she nodded, and not a moment too soon. The hilltop the graveyard was on was beginning to come into view, and Tanya quickly whispered to Viktoriya. She recommended that Viktoriya keep Darkness from investigating anywhere near the castle, just in case she caught sight of Tanya. Unless, of course, she seemed like she would keep it a secret.

Darkness suddenly interrupted their planning. "What are you two talking about?"

Both of them didn't flinch at the question – Viktoriya's poker face was legendary and Tanya's was nearly as good – and Tanya gave her one of her practiced reassuring smiles. "Oh, we were just talking about that noble who wanted to relocate the cemetery, and how I wanted to tell this charity I know about of it."

Darkness looked rather intrigued. "Charity? Like some sort of church?"

Twitch.

Tanya shook her head, ignoring the faint twinge of anger she felt. "No, nothing like that. I haven't discussed everything with them, but they want to provide jobs, housing, and food to the poor, and education to orphans and children."

Darkness looked intrigued, but Viktoriya piped up. "It's interesting, but education was mandatory and state-run where we come from."

Darkness looked surprised at that. "The only education that happens here is done by nobles and hired tutors…"

Tanya interjected before they could continue. "Speaking of the charity, I promised to help them and forgot. You two finish the quest!"

With that, she began to run back towards the town, leaving both of them to their discussion. Hopefully, they'd find something to track down tomorrow, or maybe they'd even finish it.

Tanya did want to finish the quest, but Viktoriya was right that she should begin to ask about the other side. Tanya wanted assurances if she could join them when they were about to deal the deathblow to Belzerg, and this would be a good litmus test.

Was this General open to negotiation, or would he see the person that assaulted his castle and fly into a rage? Did the Demon King keep rational people in his employ, or was he a cliche that wanted nothing but to spread death and destruction?

-OxOxO-

Chris stared at them, open-mouthed shock clear on her face.

"What do you mean, you're leaving!?" she shouted. Currently in one of the side streets of Axel, they place they were in had boxes strewn about and few other people that only paused to stare at them for a moment before walking away. She thought it was the ideal place to begin handing out the relics.

"Exactly what we said, Chris. We don't think we can win against Degurechaff. She has guns, our weapons aren't anywhere near as powerful anymore, and she could end anyone of our lives in an instant, or just shoot us in a leg to prolong the pain," said their spokesperson, Aya.

In her hands was her relic. Behind her, Shizuka and Takashi stood, Shizuka with her wand and Takashi with a staff that none of them had seen before. Chris was fuming – they didn't want to fight Tanya, even after she had given them their greatly-less-overpowered items back.

She tried to smile at them. "But she needs to be stopped; we can't let someone so dangerous to walk around-"

Aya cut her off. "We don't care; she can do whatever she wants, as long as she doesn't try and kill us. She didn't kill us, and for that, we are thankful. You all can get yourselves killed fighting a war veteran if you want."

Chris felt her face heat up in anger, but she paid it no mind. "So you'll let her do what she wants, spiting the Gods and trying to destroy everything?"

Takashi shook his head. "She hasn't done anything like that. She's not a paragon of virtue by any means, but she isn't trying to massacre the human race or something."

Kei stepped forward. "Stop! We need to be united in this, and I'm ordering you-"

Shizuka stepped forward, speaking softly. "We said we'd follow you as long as our goals aligned. They don't anymore, so we are leaving."

Kei deflated, but Chris continued to try to get them to stop, but none of them paid her any heed, walking out of the alley with their weapons in hand. The other four who remained all consoled her. "Don't worry, Chris; we'll help you take her down," said Jin.

Kei motioned towards the pile of relics. "Yeah, we've got enough here so that some of us can have two relics! There's no way we can lose!"

The other nodded, and Chris conceded that they did have a point. She had dragged up every relic she could find in that lake, gathering ten total. Even if three of them had just wandered away, the remaining seven depowered relics could be split between the five of them.

That was another thing: two of the Reincarnates weren't there.

Evan and Saki had taken the quest put out by that kind looking noble who wanted to move the pauper's cemetery, and neither of them were back yet. It was worrying, but they'd divide up their relics until they came back.

Chris shook her head and stared at the group of determined adventurers. "You're right! We'll use our power to weaken and destroy her!"

They began to divide up the relics, and Chris wondered how much longer it would take. The Atheist would likely move on from Axel if more Reincarnates weren't arriving.

-OxOxO-

Darkness talked idly with Viktoriya about the charity Tanya had mentioned. The ideas they had about helping people seemed radical, but none of them sounded particularly bad. She'd need to talk Tanya, as well as whoever owned it.

Darkness liked her lips as another silence overtook them. Chris's words about Viktoriya's possible motivations were still rattling around in the back of her head, and without Tanya there…

"Hey… where are you two from? It must be far away if it has its own language." Darkness saw something flash across her face for a moment before it became pensive, while Darkness stared.

Her age and features told Darkness that she could be some sort of nanny or servant, and she always acted subservient to Tanya, following behind her and almost never being seen without her.

However, they seemed to be more than master and servant, as if they were good friends. Darkness couldn't wrap her head around it, and her fear that Chris's theory was correct was growing stronger.

Viktoriya smiled. Tanya had told her to distract the Crusader from heading towards the castle Verdia was holed up in, and Tanya did say she had spilled a few secrets to the people running the charity.

"Well, she spent her… early life in Japan," she began, only to pause in her explanation at Darkness's gasp.

"The same country that all of the Hero Candidates with outrageous powers and Divine Relics come from?" she asked. Viktoriya shrugged her shoulders. "I suppose so."

Darkness nodded to herself. A noble who might also possess one of those relics would be on par with the power of the royalty. She suddenly understood why Tanya had been so assured of her ability to be successful despite her horrible job.

"Then she spent over ten years in the Empire, fighting its enemies," she continued.

"What kind of enemies?" Darkness asked. Viktoriya made a pained face.

Darkness sighed internally. "I won't pry if you don't want me to."

Or, she wouldn't yet.

The woman thanked Darkness, relieved that she wouldn't have to lie. Tanya had told her to weave in as much truth she could into what she said, and lying too much would only get Viktoriya confused. She'd be more likely to slip up.

Having to say they fought monsters wasn't true; they might have fought dozens of people and communists, but only… one of them could be considered a true monster instead of simply being monstrous.

After that, Darkness continued to contemplate Tanya's past, and Viktoriya let her stay quiet. They soon arrived at the graveyard, and found…

Nothing.

No noble, no adventurers. Just empty graves, displaced dirt, and practically dead trees and grass that lined the hill the cemetery was situated on.

Viktoriya stood watch while Darkness surveyed the graveyard, trying to find something. The only thing they found that was out of place were a couple dozen empty graves. Some areas had more holes than others, but neither of them could find anything of note besides how a large number of bodies were just… gone.

"Nothing… they might have finished and gone to their new location…" Darkness mused as she looked at the annotated map of Axel. The noble had wanted to move the graveyard away from where it was to a more suitable location.

The map said that the land near the Kowloon Hydra's lake was barren, and that moving the graveyard there would mean undead would rise less since it would snatch up as much mana as it could get. The notes made by the noble also claimed that they could just toss strong undead into the lake, where they would be drained of their power by the Hydra.

It was possible this could allow it to rise earlier than its predicted ten year resting period, but it wasn't like they could do anything about that thing anyway.

"Alright. It seems that there's nothing here. We might as well head towards the-"

Darkness stopped suddenly as she caught sight of something. In the muddy, displaced dirt were deep grooves, reminiscent of a cart's tracks. She looked up, following them around the graveyard, and quickly found that they trailed off down the hill, away from the direction of the Kowloon Hydra's lake.

"Viktoriya, look! Tracks!" she shouted. Darkness heard a nervous laugh from behind her, but paid it next to no mind. They had found a clue.

But that begged the question: why were they going that way?

"What do you think Viktoriya?"

She shook her head, still unsure of how to try somewhere else, instead of going towards the tracks. They were pointed towards the north of Axel, where Viktoriya knew the Dullahan's castle was.

"What?"

"There's tracks. Why would the cart be travelling that way?"

Viktoriya shrugged, coming up with an easy excuse. "Could bandits have mistaken them for wealthy and undefended targets?" she suggested.

Darkness turned to her, suspicion shining in her eyes. "Bandits? That would be an odd sight… I suppose that some adventurers might turn to crime with the lack of quests, but the guild usually supports adventurers if they really need the money that badly…"

Viktoriya winced at her blunder, and she shakily suggested they go check the supposed spot of the new graveyards.

"What? Shouldn't we try following them first?"

Viktoriya crossed her arms. "These tracks aren't going to disappear," she said, praying that they would despite her declaration. "We should go check the new site, in case someone is there that can explain why they aren't there."

Darkness agreed with her verbally, privately thinking that maybe Chris was right about Viktoriya being suspicious after all.

They walked there without as much as a word passing between them.

-OxOxO-

Nearly imperceptibly, Tanya's eye twitched. She was sure that stupid

As opposed to the first time she'd been there, her Observation spells told her more than nothing this time. She still couldn't see the undead, but she could see that there was a single living being inside.

Additionally, they told her that, unlike the last time she'd left the castle, body parts and craters left by her Explosive Vaporization were no longer around, likely covered by freshly dug earth.

Tanya sighed, wondering how to go about this. She had attempted to wipe out the Dullahan's forces the last time she had been there, in her self-questioning stupor. Just flying in and announcing herself seemed like a surefire way to get herself immediately attacked.

She'd try knocking, then. She didn't have time to puzzle out what the Dullahan might accept as an apology gift, so her words and good intentions would have to suffice until she figured out what might be suitable.

As she flew from where she had been resting on the last forested hill between the castle and the road towards it, she noted that the hole she'd blown in the side of the mountain had started the weather away, except for a small indentation in the center. She winced; she'd apologize for that as well, and for the room she had probably hit.

As she sped towards the castle's gates, she saw that there was something going on in the courtyard of the castle, and that undead could now be seen patrolling the walls of the castle.

She sighed. He'd found more corpses; she could hope that he had found them in the wilderness, but the sudden disappearance of a noble and two adventurers in relation to a graveyard meant that he had most definitely had something to do with her current quest.

She landed, silently reinforced her arm, and knocked on the gate. Three resounding bangs sounded, and Tanya was sure that no one couldn't have heard the sound.

She waited, for a moment, and then a rasping shout echoed over the walls. "Who goes there?"

Tanya shouted back. "An Adventurer! I-" she hissed as the contract sent coursing pain through her torso.

The contract reminded Tanya suddenly why she had wanted Viktoriya to come with her originally. Sighing angrily, she grit her teeth and amended her statement.

"One in my position might desire to speak to the Dullahan amiably." She tried to raise her voice, but the lingering pain made it come out as more of a struggling statement.

Tanya was sure that it would take a few minutes for them to get permission to come in, and in that time, she would recover and figure out a proper apology for her accidental attack on-

"Go away. The master is busy and wouldn't entertain you regardless."

Tanya stared angrily at the door, opening her mouth to argue. She glared up at where she heard the voice come from, but nothing responded.

Then she shook her head. She wouldn't get anything done by talking to this underling; she would need to go to the top. Flying over the walls was out, but she had seen a much better entrance…

-OxOxO-

She decided to announce her ire with an overpowered Artillery Shot. She quickly activated Lurk and her Flight spells, and then, after taking a few seconds to finish the spell, she shot one towards her last hole.

The entire hill seemed to shake, and Tanya flew towards the new hole. A minute of searching found the remains of the depression in the middle of the hill she'd spotted last time.

Most of what was probably an underground storage room was gone, leaving only a door and the very narrow, spiraling stairway beyond it. She frowned.

Going inside of a building – somewhere she hadn't exactly spent a lot of time fighting – wasn't entirely smart, considering her powers, but she did need to find out more about the Demon King's army and goals.

Everyone said awful things about him and his army: they wanted to kill every human being, their leader was pedophiliac and homosexual, and he wanted to crush everyone underfoot.

Unfortunately, she couldn't exactly trust the opinions of the general populace; propaganda was a powerful thing, and she didn't doubt that some of the wilder claims about the being were false.

No one would willingly follow a leader like that…

She bit down on her teeth and fought to forget her memories of a person as bad as every allegation against him – round glasses and more red cloth than she ever wanted to be near streaked behind her eyes – she went over her words, waiting for pain.

When none of it came, she tentatively decided that gathering intelligence didn't conflict with her obligation to oppose the Demon King, though the clenching in her chest felt very… uncomfortable, even if it wasn't painful.

She drifted upwards, rounding the spiraling staircase and coming to a blank wall. She deactivated her spells and began to search for some sort of switch, since a doorknob or handle were both absent from the blank wall in front of her. Just as she found a small button on the wall that looked tempting, the wall opened on its own.

She immediately began to throw up a weak Active Barrier and studied the figure in front of her, glaring. Then, slowly, she began to lessen her glare.

A hulking figure blocked her view: dressed plate armor, only portions of his arms and torso lacked the heavy, dark metal. It was as close to black as it could be while also retaining its shiny luster, and crystalline portions of it shone bright blue, hinting at some sort of magical power.

What wasn't heavily armored were covered in a mesh like the bodysuit Darkness wore underneath her own armor that was even darker.

Her gaze drifted up to where its head would be, and then drifted down to a spot under its arm, where its head actually rested. Tanya couldn't make out any of its face, but considering the head was detached from the body, it probably didn't look very good.

Of course, the bright, shining red light and the heavy breathing the head was exuding might also have something to do with the dark shadows that seemed to cling to him.

A cape drifted down from his shoulders, shaking slightly, like the rest of its body. The rest of her glare faded.

It managed to stutter out two furious words that were tinged with hints of respect and worry. "Why… who…"

Deciding to stave of the thing's anger, she held out a hand in this world's universally accepted sign of greeting. "I'd like to learn about the Demon King's army, please!"

As Tanya breathed a sigh of relief that the contract wasn't burning through her, the palpable anger drained away in an instant.

"…Huh?"

Tanya gave him her most genuine smile. "You heard me! I haven't been able to find much in Axel, so I wanted to learn more from you."

He didn't seem to have picked up on her sincerity, since he seemed more annoyed with a shake of the hand holding his head. "Run back to your father, little noble girl. I don't have time to play games, and you haven't even brought your companions…"

Tanya's eye twitched, and she sighed angrily. "One: I am an orphan. Two: I am sixteen. Three: I am not leaving."

Now, Tanya felt pity coming from the towering figure, and she fought to not lash out. She didn't want pity for her underdeveloped body; she wanted something different.

"…I'm sorry about your family," he managed to grind out, and Tanya blinked as he continued to stare at her hand.

It seemed he felt sorry about more than just the disconnect between how she looked and how old she was. Tanya tried not to let her surprise show.

Both stood there, her hand outstretched in greeting and the other's hand holding his head.

He seemed to survey her, for a moment, until he came to a decision and shook her hand.

He sighed. "Very well. I have been bored. If you can entertain me, I'll consider talking to you."

Tanya followed behind eagerly. She hadn't really wanted a fight, but if he was willing to trade vital information for something that simple, she'd gladly play the part of an entertainer!

They walked through the castle, and Tanya marveled at the wealth she saw. It wasn't extremely opulent, and there wasn't any gold or tons of mysterious artifacts, but what was there was well taken care of.

"One in my position would say you've done a great job refurbishing a castle that's been abandoned for years," she complimented, wincing at the questioning look he sent her. Her wording made it sound like she wouldn't.

"But you wouldn't?"

She shrugged helplessly. "One in my position might not be able to do something… direct like that, and they'd want to discuss that."

He gave her one last look of questioning, but she said nothing more. Then he began to grouse. "Not like you did anything to help this place in the looks department. You've shot Detonation magic at my home twice now; nobles would execute a commoner for daring to set foot on their land, much less shooting magic at it."

Tanya shrugged, thankful that he had picked up how she had to speak so fast.

As they walked through the place, the Dullahan asked her about her lack of fear of the undead eyeing her hungrily. She simply shrugged.

"I've faced worse."

A bunch of half-dead corpses had nothing on her. She could likely hack any of them to pieces, and while popular media in her first life told her that bullets might not be all that effective on Zombies, even they needed bodies.

Tanya could burn them to a crisp in any number of ways, and if she was ever overwhelmed, she could fly above them.

He scoffed, throwing a glance at her rifle. "Unless you think that odd… spear on your back can cleave through bone, you won't have any luck."

"It can."

The girl stayed silent after that, and Verdia was conflicted about the brat who had dared to come to his fortress three times, and who had the gall to not assault his castle properly, trying to skip all of his minions.

"Have a lot of experience cleaving through the undead?" he asked.

"Sure," she lied emphatically. She might not have a lot of experience fighting undead, sure, but every one of them she had seen so far were formerly people. She had quite a lot of experience fighting them.

Both were silent after that, simply walking towards the courtyard. Verdia was barely containing his questions – like how the hell she'd managed to get a gun, of all things – but he could be patient.

As they got to the courtyard, Verdia mused that Ragcraft would be happy to have another corpse for their eventual invasion if she died, and he hoped that this Reincarnate had what it took to survive.

Tanya's nose wrinkled as she caught a whiff of the courtyard. It had been easily ignored when they were inside the castle, but it was unbearable here: the stench of death.

It was like… well, not an old friend. It was more like a weird family relative nobody liked and who they put up with anyway because it was polite.

She shook her head. Smelling it now was still a slight shock, however, with how little death she had witnessed in her two months here. Comparatively.

Dozens of bodies, all of them arrayed throughout the open area of dirt. Dozens more undead were arrayed around them. She turned slowly to Verdia, who shrugged just as flippantly as Tanya had during their discussion.

"We need more soldiers, and their bodies were in the pauper's cemetery. No one cared about them."

"Wiz did," Tanya said quietly. The Dullahan perked up. "You know Wiz?"

Tanya nodded and raised an eyebrow. "Do all of you undead have some sort of club, then?"

He pointed at one of the better dressed Undead Knights, motioning him towards the center of the courtyard. "No, but the Demon King's Generals all know of each other, even if some of us have yet to meet in person."

Tanya watched the Undead Knight walk towards the Dullahan, when his words caught up with Tanya. Before she could rationalize what the Dullahan had revealed about Wiz, a grinding sound reached her ears. She turned to see the Dullahan had drawn a circle on the ground. He backed away and pointed towards it.

She tried to play off the surprise she felt at discovering Wiz's apparent side-job as one of Belzerg's enemies. "So, how are we doing this? I think a fight to the death would be a bit improbable…"

He chuckled. "Oh no. You claimed to be so strong: let's see you take out a few of my knights!"

Suddenly, a dark shadow extended from under the Dullahan, and three more knights rose up from the ground, joining the one that opposed Tanya.

She filed away a reminder to ask him about how to do that later, or if there was another variant of that. Summoning allies, undead or not, seemed like a very good ability to have, if it meant more bodies between her and her enemies.

He stepped out of the circle, and Tanya debated about how much she should show. She wasn't exactly confident in her ability to finish them off just by using her 'spear,' but revealing how much magic she could do might push the interest she was hoping the Dullahan would have on her into dangerous, 'you-are-now-my-sworn-mortal-enemy' territory.

Then, his voice rang out from the sidelines. "You may use any of your tricks, Mage."

She frowned as she grabbed her rifle from her back, gathering mana in the Type 97 that hung from her neck. "Fine; I'll show you what I can do!" she shouted, knowing full well that she would hold back a bit, as she always did.

Verdia leaned forward, eyes figuratively glued to her rifle. Was it the real deal?

The two undead in the front began to charge her, one wielding a mace and the other wielding a sword. The other two, both holding melee weapons of their own, hung back, probably wishing to take her down while she tired herself out against their friends.

She waited until both were close to her; until she could almost taste the disappointment the Dullahan felt at her being a showboat; until she could smell their repulsive breaths.

Then she watched, smirking, as both of their overhead swings struck the ground directly in front of her.

She turned her head to the Dullahan. "Are you sure you want them to fight me? It seems like they've rotted a bit too much to be good fighters." From what she could see, he was just as confused as his minions.

Both of them rushed her again, swinging their weapons around their bodies widely.

Unheard by any of them, the sounds of her whispered "Reinforcement spell: Agility," exited her mouth a second time, and she leisurely dodge both of their attacks, assuming her earlier position and deactivating the spell.

Again, she reveled in the confused tilt of their blackened, stretched skulls. She turned to Verdia again, raising an eyebrow and letting how much she was trying not to smirk show.

He seemed upset for some reason she couldn't possibly fathom.

"Hit her!" he shouted.

Both of them spread out, surrounding her. She just sighed, and whispered, "Reinforcement spell: Strength" and "Reinforcement spell: Agility" as both tried to sandwich her.

She twisted around and ducked, allowing them both to nearly hit each other and blocking the slightly more accurate sword-wielder's blow.

Still, she appeared the epitome of calm as both struggled to strike her. Verdia seemed stupefied, and Tanya decided, if he wanted entertainment, she would have to hit back too.

She jumped out from between them, slicing through the head of the sword-wielder and shooting a single shot through the head of the other. She smirked as they collapsed-

Only, they didn't. One was missing a chunk of it head and helmet, and the other did have a hole through its head, but both were still attempting to attack her.

She blinked in confusion. Both seemed relatively okay.

She backed away again, but the one with the sword anticipated it and jumped forward, forcing Tanya to deflect his blow the body of her rifle. She glared as her thoughts, once again, focused on her first life's popular media regarding reanimated corpses.

They were undead, which meant she would have to get more destructive or more creative if she wanted to knock them out. Slicing off limbs wouldn't kill or incapacitate them all that much.

She dodged back from the mace-wielding knight blow and focused on the sword-wielder. They were missing part of their head and still functioning fine, and so she sighed.

She jumped back from both of them, and while they tried to chase after her, she didn't give them much of a chance.

"Napalm!"

In an instant, the entirety of the area in front of her was drowned in flames. She waited, for a moment, and then cut off the spell to see the results.

She smiled as the last of the magical flame petered out without mana to fuel it. Instead of two magically reanimated corpses, there was only charred earth and some pieces of twisted metal where they had once been.

She turned to the other two, scratching her head. "Sorry about your friends. Maybe you should avenge them?"

They immediately turned to Verdia. "Hell no!" cried one, while the other was shaking its head emphatically. Tanya blinked owlishly.

Verdia, whose attention had been totally focused on her, spun towards them. His body thrusted his head towards them. "The Hell do you mean, 'Hell no'!? You don't get to refuse orders!"

They simply stared at him blankly. One stepped out of the circle, and the other followed him. Tanya gave the Dullahan a skeptical look – what kind of General couldn't control his subordinates? – and he sighed and shook his head. "Fine. I will fight you."

She gulped and began to assess him more completely. He was now wielding a sword that looked similar to Mitsurugi's in size – where had he been keeping that? – and his head was exuding that menacing red light again.. The other undead behind him, standing above corpses menacingly, turned to look. Presumably, they were interested in what might occur.

Tanya shook her head and lowered her rifle. "Hey, I came here to talk. If you want to fight, I'm afraid I'll need to leave," she warned and winced in pain. The contract clearly wanted her to fight as well.

Verdia cursed under his breath. He wanted a good fight; he'd had nothing to do, with only his minions and Ragcraft around. Reading, doing his job, and keeping things tidy were nice, but he wanted a good fight.

More importantly, if this girl had a gun that worked…

Well, guns weren't exactly honorable or noble, but they were very good at what they did. Either side could decimate the other if they got ahold of it, and he wanted to know how much damage it could do to his armor.

Verdia pointed his longsword and prepared to make a speech, when both of them were interrupted.

"What are you doing, Verdia!?"

A figure emerged from the small door at the side of the large gate Tanya had knocked at. Both turned, and Tanya presumed that this was the single living being in the castle. Blond, curling hair that managed to reach his shoulders, sharp blue eyes, and aristocratic clothing, he seemed to exude snobbishness.

Tanya was unimpressed, but the Dullahan – named Verdia, apparently – seemed rather embarrassed. "Err… this adventurer assaulted the castle, and I was just about to duel her."

The blond human looked rather unimpressed, shaking his head. "No. Just kill her and get rid of her; we don't need weak distractions," he snarled, throwing a token glance at Tanya.

The Dullahan, looking slightly apologetic, corrected himself. "Actually, she said she wishes to learn about the Demon King's army. I was testing her, and-"

Now, the man turned to her, an eyebrow raised.

She nodded slowly, and the man began berating Verdia again. "Why are you fighting her!? We're not exactly inundated with useful pawns, much less humans!"

Tanya felt odd being compared to a pawn – verbally, at least. She was sure that Being X considered her that much – not that she cared what he thought – and the General Staff was probably nice enough to consider her a knight, but the General Staff never said it, at least.

Smiling, he gestured towards the door Tanya and Verdia had come through. "Please go inside, and ask for directions to the study. We'll be with you in a moment."

Tanya smiled and cursed him internally for barring her from whatever interesting conversation they were about to have.

The last glimpse she got of them was of Verdia and the man about to argue, both of them attempting to appear taller than they were. She asked the doorman – who seemed to lack a rather large chunk of his chest – for directions, and, after a few minutes of walking through the place, she found it. She sat down on one of the couches.

Neither of them showed up, however. She was left waiting for five, then ten minutes, and she sighed, stood up, and began to peruse the books in the study.

Despite everyone's insistence that an undead like Verdia must be turning the castle into some sort of hell, it didn't seem like he was particularly evil. He wasn't massacring Axel, even though he probably could if she didn't fight him, with how comparably weak everyone was.

She began to scan some of the books on the wall. Most of them seemed to be the fare of this world: books about monsters, the royal family, Hero Candidates, various towns, Shakespeare, philosophy…

Wait. She went back through the list, forehead wrinkled. Shakespeare?

She looked back across the tomes she'd been surveying, and found that a book titled 'The collective works of William Shakespeare, Volume 1' sat on the shelf, looking innocent and completely out of place.

She stared at it for a moment, and then shrugged her shoulders. Someone had managed to bring a copy of that with them, apparently, or they had just copied his name. This world continued to surprise her.

She grinned. This world also gave her good ideas. She didn't know where she'd find a book to sell to the world as her own, but she'd make a lot of money if she did.

Or, if nothing else, she'd get a bit of money. All of it, however, would be worth it, since she wasn't having to put in hundreds of hours writing something.

Suddenly, the door behind her burst open, and Tanya hurried to sit back down. Both Verdia and the human looked quite cross with each other, but they seemed to have worked out some bargain.

Verdia crashed into the couch opposite of her own, while the human surveyed a selection of scrolls. He pulled one out, and laid it down on the table.

Ragcraft cleared his throat. "As is standard, a non-disclosure contract is-"

Verdia swiped away the piece of paper Tanya had begun to survey. "Unnecessary. Seeing as this is not a standard meeting, using the standard material would be folly. We'll discuss such things afterward."

The human bristled at the break in procedure, and Tanya raised an eyebrow. From what the human had said, they didn't get many people offering to join them; that they had a standard procedure seemed a bit odd if that were the case.

Verdia didn't seem to be willing to budge, however, and the human looked nervous. Finally, the stalemate was broken, and the human sat in the third seat perpendicular to Tanya's and Verdia's, giving off one last huff of annoyance.

"Fine. You seem intent on dictating this meeting, so I'll let you."

The Dullahan seemed quite happy with himself, if the chuckle coming from his helmet was anything to go by. He set his head down on the table, and placed a hand on his chest plate.

"As you are no doubt aware, I am Verdia: The Demon King's Dullahan, and one of the eight Generals under his employ," he said in a grandiose fashion, sinking lightly into the seat opposite of her and staring at her intently.

Tanya didn't feel all that scared by the stare. She'd had worse in both of her last two lives. "I am Tanya von Degurechaff, Adventurer of Axel," she said simply, deciding that he probably wouldn't care all that much about her titles.

She turned her head to the human, who, at the Dullahan's prompting, muttered, "I am Ragcraft, and I think this is a waste of time."

Verdia shook his head. "No. As you said, we need resources, and slaughtering all of Axel for corpses is out of the question."

Tanya perked up. "Why?"

He turned his head to her, the tilt of his wrist conveying amusement. "Well, aren't you rather cavalier about the lives of your fellows…"

She shrugged. "I'm just curious. You probably could, and any reason that you haven't is probably something I should know about," she said.

The Dullahan sighed. "A treaty we made with a powerful individual means that we can't attack any non-combatants, which means… most of the town."

Tanya's curious expression became quite a bit more fixed. They didn't like the destruction of non-combatants, huh…?

Tanya kept her memories of what she'd done at Arenne buried deep within her mind. She had a feeling whoever had made this kind of contract would not appreciate what she had done, even if she had followed the letter of the law.

Verdia cleared his throat, and Tanya fought the urge to giggle at what was clearly a reflexive action, considering he didn't have a throat. "Now, I would normally be much too busy attempting to get undead to rise, but you have intrigued me, Hero Candidate."

Tanya froze, and Ragcraft shot out of his seat. "How-"

Verdia cut off his question. "I am an undead. More than that, I am a high leveled undead, and I have abilities that aid in the occasional hunger I feel for the living."

Both of his listeners said nothing. "Your soul can't lie about its origin; you've been blessed by the Gods."

She gave him a single nod – he could think of them as gods if he wanted – and the human next to her began to speak up. "But she looks nothing like one! If anything, she's some sort of noble that's closely related to the noble family. They have all sorts of Divine Relics kicking around in their treasury."

Verdia shook his head resolutely, not an ounce of a tremor present. "No. I know a Hero Candidate when I see one."

Then Verdia stood, taking a scroll from the wall. He laid it out on the table, and moved his head so that it was staring intently at Ragcraft. He huffed, but he produced a quill from within his clothing.

Verdia took it, and began to write rapidly. Tanya hadn't been prepared for her secret to be figured out so easily, but she was honestly more shocked to see what Verdia writing.

She couldn't read it yet, since they were sitting opposite of each other, but she could recognize the characters' shapes easily enough.

They were Japanese.

She looked up, but the voice from the head that had been placed on the table interrupted her thoughts. "Here. This is just a preliminary contract; I'm no good at these things, and you could probably figure out a way to get out of it if you wanted."

He turned the paper upside down, and edged it across the table for Tanya to read. She picked over each word, looking for ways to get out of it. What she read confirmed the question she had been about to ask.

Verdia was, without a doubt, a Reincarnate, just like the ten people she'd deprived of their weapons. Just like that sword wielder she'd talked to during her first days in Axel. Just like herself and Viktoriya.

Well, not like her and Viktoriya; he was like all of the others, though. This contract proved it.

It asked that she keep her knowledge of her weapon and its capabilities a secret. It asked that she not introduce electricity, any weapons invented after the industrial revolution, guns, tanks, planes, or anything that could massively aid either side to anyone she thought my try and reproduce it.

Besides that, she saw no reason she should comply. She looked at the Dullahan again, and she saw that Verdia was rapidly writing on another piece of paper. He passed it to her, and she scanned it, nodding as she went through what she would get.

As long as she didn't leak any of the more important information she was given, she'd get some history on Belzerg, information on each of the Demon King's Generals, and told a direction to look if she wanted to learn more. She looked up as she read the last paragraph, to see that Verdia had picked up his head again and was grasping it.

"You're giving me pretty permanent information for such a small promise. I could even fight you," she pointed out. Ragcraft, who had been staring at the first page of the contract in confusion, suddenly screeched.

"What does she mean, 'she can fight you?' Just make a clause that says we can renegotiate it when we want, summon her to a location, and then kill her when she comes with a simple and effective trap!"

Both of the room's other occupants looked at Ragcraft, one an annoyed sideways glance and the other an amused grin that reached her eyes.

Verdia sighed. "Yes, it is temporary, but I am purposefully leaving holes for you to exploit. You said you wanted to learn, and I assume if you've come this far with the other contract you're under, you're considering a change of sides."

It wasn't phrased as a question, but Tanya nodded regardless.

Verdia pointed to the pieces of paper in her hands with the quill, tilting his head a bit. "If you do want to do something listed on that piece of paper, you'll restrain yourself from doing something that might sour relations, as long as you might change sides."

Tanya looked down again, and admitted that he was probably right. She wasn't sure what situation would force her into needing to go to the Demon King and give up the promise of a free wish, but she was sure it could happen.

Like if Belzerg was about to collapse, or if Being X did something… rash.

She eyed the pen in his outstretched hand as he offered it to her.

A few strokes later, and Tanya sighed. Kicking the decision as to whether she would switch sides down the line wasn't exactly smart, but she needed more information. Plus, she wanted to at least consult Viktoriya on which way she wanted to go.

Just… deciding without her felt a bit… distasteful, especially since Tanya couldn't order Viktoriya to follow her if she didn't want to. Tanya would have to get her input if she wanted to keep Viktoriya around, which she did.

She couldn't see his face, but the way he straightened out, it seemed he was relieved. "Fine. You may explore the castle while I assemble the information the contract outlines."

She stood, eyeing the angry Ragcraft and the tired Verdia one last time. She then turned on her heel and left the room, quickly walking through the castle.

She frowned. The smell of rotting bodies and the undead was beginning to remind her a bit too much of the war in her last life and what had brought her to Dresdun and fighting the Bloody Valkyrie and-

She distracted herself by pushing the doors in front of her open, and came to the courtyard, and grimaced as she looked at the dozens of undead. She saw one of the Dullahan's armored knights standing above a group of them, shouting, screaming, and generally attempting to be intimidating.

That intimidation was reduced from only mildly off-putting to completely ineffective when Tanya watched them bend down and begin to shout at a partially decomposed body.

Morbidly curious as to why they were shouting at a body, she walked over. She loudly cleared her throat, and the knight swiveled around, staring down at her.

Their furious gaze weakened as they realized who she was. "Oh, it's just you. Curious, I suppose?"

Tanya nodded, and he gestured to the bodies lazily. "We've been told to try and encourage the undead to rise. While our presence can help weak undead to rise, Verdia claims that more effective forces can be raised. He isn't entirely sure how, but he told us to… experiment."

Tanya nodded idly. She tore her gaze away from the corpses, looking at the knight. She was hesitant to help them, but Verdia had mentioned that, if she was logical, she would try and build a cordial relationship with the side she might decide to join. This probably counted.

"Well, undead are created because they have grudges, right? Have you been appealing to what they might still resent others for?"

The knight's contorted skull twisted around towards her, and Tanya began to explain. "Well, if you want to appeal to people, their backgrounds definitely determine what their grudges will be. A peasant and an adventurer will be angry about different things."

She gazed across the small group of bodies this knight was attempting to cajole into rising. "There seems to be a mix of people here, based on what's left of their clothing. Sort everyone into groups, and then appeal to what they might have been angry about."

The knight still seemed a bit confused, but he seemed to be enthusiastic, if his orders to the rest of the knights and zombies standing around were anything to go by.

Mostly, they just sorted everyone based on what was left of their clothing, but Tanya blanched when more than a few of them opened up the bodies to poke around in their stomachs, to look at their diet.

They didn't lack creativity like Tanya had thought a bunch of corpses would.

Soon, the activity stopped, and three main groups had formed. Former adventurers, peasants, and the poor. A fourth pile was in the corner, with people that were too rotted for anything to be determined.

Tanya muttered "Wind Breath," and sighed happily and the smells assaulting her nostrils drifted away from her on a gust of magically created air.

The knight she had been talking to, identifiable form all of the other knights by how he was slightly less decayed, stalked over to her, less mad than before. "Would you speak to them? We're not exactly made to speak eloquently."

She looked at him skeptically, but they gestured to their uncovered throat. Tanya winced sympathetically as she saw the rotting flesh and assumed that his vocal cords weren't in any better condition than his rotting exterior was.

She walked towards the pile of the poor; she had been poor during her years at that orphanage, and pinning the blame for their grudge on greedy nobles and the Eris Cult, which literally prided itself on Luck and money, would be startlingly easy.

She cleared her throat, and gestured towards the grouping. Over forty bodies were laid out, lined up in a large square formation.

"The poor and destitute. You have languished in that graveyard, waiting for your Cult to purify you, to send you up to heaven. Despite your poverty, you hoped that they would do this, as is their duty."

She began to pace in front of the group of bodies, feeling rather self-conscious to not be able to gauge if her audience was receptive to her speech.

She was coming up with this on the fly, and she could edit what she was going to say next just as fast. Knowing how to change the way she worded things relied on feedback, and she didn't have any.

"They have forsaken you. Forgotten you. Decided that you were too poor to bother with, and that you would be better served as target practice for their Priests. Do not feel as if you have failed, however; your poverty, your inability to pay for your souls' release, was their fault."

She stopped, staring out into the distance. "Yes! The clergy, the Cults: they taxed you, demanded too much from the people least able to pay. You wept, begged that you be allowed to continue to try and pay them back later."

At least, Tanya hoped they did. She didn't know what the tax codes were like in this world.

Maybe Darkness would know? She seemed to know a lot about that sort of thing.

"They ignored you. The clergy decided you weren't worth the effort to care about personally."

She paused for a moment, turning around again and gazing at the undead who had arrayed behind her. All of them weren't moving at all; she couldn't even hear the ragged moaning that the zombies let out.

"And your 'protectors?' Where were the nobles? Where was the King?"

A smaller pause, and then she began shouting. "Ignoring you! Pursuing a war they haven't been able to win since your conception! Or even helping the clergy rob you with their taxes!"

"Rise!" she shouted, staring intently at the bodies and hoping that she wasn't just spouting hot air. "Do you care about yourself? Do you care about the people you left behind? Do you desire to save them from the very same poverty that claimed you?"

"Rise! See the clergy, see the nobles, and see the king. Remember every slight done to you because they desired your wealth!"

"Rise! Take revenge on the people and the nation that decided that those unable to afford their help should just be forgotten once they died! Remind them that you exist! That, even in death, you and your fellows should be taken care of!"

She finished, panting lightly. She might have been annoyed at how much her words resembled the communist rhetoric of the proletariat's rise against the bourgeoisie, but even she knew how effective they were at motivating the oppressed into fighting for their country, however misguided their attempts at making a competent or healthy economic system turned out to be.

She waited a moment, waiting for as much as a twitch from the bodies. A rustle of rotting cloth. A gurgle of undead flesh. Even the flicker of an eyelid.

Then, she saw it. One by one, bodies began to do as she hoped. They twitched and, slowly, began to rise from the ground, lurching about slightly, but standing all the same.

She turned around and found that her vision of the clapping crowd of undead she heard was obscured by metal. She looked to her right, and found herself staring into the lightly shining eyes of Verdia.

"Thank you, Degurechaff."

Without another word, he placed a large leather bag into her arms, and brought his head as close to her own as he could without touching his helmet to her face. "A book on the history of Belzerg, as well as a number of papers with information on each of the Demon Generals. I bid you good day, Reincarnate."

He whispered the last word, and Tanya tried to give him a smile. It probably looked more panicked than she – probably – felt, but she didn't really mind.

The profound interest shining in his finally visible features made her very wary. If she wasn't careful, she might be conscripted into becoming a professional orator.

-OxOxO-

Tanya strolled back to Axel, wondering if she would be able to make a quick stop at the Succubi's shop before she left. Or maybe Wiz's shop.

Both groups definitely knew a thing or two about the Demon Generals. Or, they probably knew more than she did.

If they could confirm some of the information she had been given, Tanya would at least have a bit of peace of mind.

As she rounded the corner of the path out of the forest that surrounded Verdia's castle, she bumped into someone. Tanya was sent backwards from crashing into the tough surface, and she landed on her backside.

Quickly, she shot up, words of apology at the tip of her tongue. Then she froze as she registered the identity of the person she had crashed into.

Darkness.

Tanya's mouth puckered slightly, and she looked behind the Crusader to see that Viktoriya looked very nervous, if the way her eyes were shifting rapidly between the two of them was to be believed.

Darkness spoke first. "'Helping out a charity,' huh? I can't believe I fell for that…"

Tanya shrugged and gave her best attempt at a reassuring smile. The Crusader's listless gaze didn't seem to appreciate it.

"Cheer up, Darkness! I was just… taking care of another Tranquility Girl!" she said. Darkness looked inquisitive, and Tanya began to explain.

"The guild told me there was another one around here that they wanted taken care of. I just did that. I didn't think you could take it, so I asked Viktoriya to make sure you didn't interrupt me."

Darkness nodded slowly, and Tanya gave a sigh of relief. With that, she began to march towards town. Viktoriya followed, and Darkness soon caught up to them. "Hey, I could have watched, at least. I'm not sure that you two are telling the truth about them being evil, but I wouldn't have interfered."

Tanya rolled her eyes. "Yes, you would have. You would have jumped in front of me and tried to stop the quest and to play it off as your 'solemn duty as a Crusader to protect the innocent,' when in actuality you would just be hoping that I'd have to force you to leave her alone and manhandle you a bit," she said with a negligent wave of her hand.

Darkness let out a grunt, and Tanya shook her head. She turned her head to Darkness, who was catching back up again. "Anyway, what were you two doing out here?"

Tanya watched as Darkness's face lit up, and saw Viktoriya stiffen from the corner of her eye.

"Right! We investigated the graveyard, and found…" she trailed off, and Tanya looked at her questioningly.

Darkness flicked her eyes towards the back of Viktoriya. She'd made them go all the way to the lake, look around for hours, and only then start travelling over here.

Darkness wasn't the smartest noble around, but it was impossible to ignore the seed of doubt that Chris had directed her towards.

She's told her that Viktoriya was suspicious. She hadn't believed her completely, but the girl had taken time to distract her from finding out more about this quest.

If Tanya was to be believed, she'd done it to keep her away from this area, where a Tranquility Girl was supposed to be.

Darkness's forehead creased. Why would one of those be around here? No monsters or adventurers would dare tread so close to one of the Demon King's Generals without being desperate, and it didn't seem like there was much water around here regardless.

She tried to sound casual. "We found some tracks from a cart that lead to this road from the graveyard. We were about to see where they led."

Tanya nodded. "We'll report it to the guild, and ask them what we should do. Following them seems logical, but if we were to head towards Verdia's castle, we might get killed," she explained calmly.

Darkness nodded, and Tanya spun back around, smiling at Viktoriya. She sighed tiredly, and Tanya asked what was wrong in their language.

"Oh, it was tiring to try and keep her away from your dealings. But I managed. How did your talks with Verdia go, anyway?"

"Everything is good so far. The Dullahan's contract was very interesting and rewarding, I'll have to show you-"

Tanya's sentence was abruptly cut off by something slamming into Viktoriya. Tanya paused, for a moment, to watch as she slammed into the ground.

Tanya heard something crack loudly.

Tanya watched as Darkness rose to her knees, holding Viktoriya in a bear hug. She struggled for a moment but then she cried out as Darkness squeezed.

Her gun was already in her hands, trained on Darkness's head. The Eris Cultist was smirking, still squeezing Viktoriya. "I'd put down your staff, Tanya. Your master might not survive the pressure," she said, a light blush touching her cheeks as Viktoriya struggled violently.

The urge to activate her reinforcement spells and violently mutilate the person daring to touch Viktoriya faded, and she lowered her gun. "Darkness. What the hell do you think you're doing!?"

She smirked. "I'm getting answers. Something happened to you, and this person was the beginning of it. Now, throw away that weapon."

Tanya grit her teeth, but an idea came to her, and she smirked. Making an effort to look concerned, she began to build up mana.

Finally, she snarled, and tossed it away, slowly holding up her hands. "Fine. I'm unarmed, and – SLEEP!"

Darkness had let her guard down, and was totally unprepared. Both women sank the rest of the way to the ground, flush against the ground.

Tanya lunged towards Viktoriya, and pulled her away from Darkness. A moment of indecision followed, where she wondered how hurt she was, until she lightly hit herself in the head. She didn't need to know, really.

"Heal."

She poured mana into the spell, and watched as her pained expression faded into one of contentment. Tanya sighed happily, and then set her on the grass near the road. A burst of Flight magic sent Tanya towards her rifle, and she was standing over Viktoriya, gun in hand, a moment later.

The sound of ringing steel sounded behind her, and Tanya turned around, anger stretched across her face and directed towards the panting Crusader.

"I'll ask again, Darkness. What's the big idea?"

She glared at the still-sleeping Viktoriya. "She's the problem. Or, your conversation was. I don't understand your language, but," she said as she grinned triumphantly, "I recognized a few words. You said 'Verdia' and 'Dullahan,' so obviously, you've made contact with the General in the castle."

Chapter Text

Tanya, gun held in an iron-grip by her side, went back to her conversation. She then began to berate herself.

She might have gotten perfect knowledge of whatever language this place used – because she still hadn’t gotten a straight answer as to what this place was called from anyone she asked – but her knowledge of Germanian was incomplete.

She had no idea what the word for ‘Dullahan’ was, or if there even was such a word.

She’d just used this world’s equivalent.

She shook her head and kept her aim steady, trying not to show her panic. “How do you know I’ve made a contract?”

Darkness, blade pointed at Tanya, smirked. “I didn’t. I said you’ve made ‘contact.’ You just told me that. Plus, Tranquility Girls wouldn’t choose to come out and attract the attention of the guild while a general of the Demon King is here. ”

Tanya’s eye twitched, and-

She rolled her eyes and began to violently berate herself under her breath for thinking of Darkness as nothing but a masochistic Crusader and for panicking so much as to give away information. She turned away and sighed to herself.

“Darkness is clearly smarter than I gave her credit for…” she muttered. She resisted the urge to sigh again. Tanya needed to calm down.

Darkness squawked. “Hey, don’t turn away from me! I’m being serious! You can’t just ignore me because I haven’t been able to hit anything.”

Tanya resisted the urge to scoff at that – of course it did – but she shook her head. She deconstructed what was happening, and what might happen.

She would either convince Darkness, or she wouldn’t. One option seemed nearly unbelievable, which meant…

She breathed in, and she waved a negligent hand and she ignored her words. “Fine. What do you expect this to do?”

Darkness tilted her head, and Tanya explained. “Why confront me?”

Darkness lowered her blade an inch and Tanya smirked internally, careful to keep a defeated and disgruntled expression on her face. Getting her to talk would give Tanya time to think. She wasn’t the best at coming up with on-the-fly plans, but she could always go with the patented ‘fly away’ tactic.

“To free you. This woman has made you behave suspiciously. You’ve been making deals with Demon Generals, you get weirdly defensive whenever anyone says anything bad about her,” she said.

“Plus, she’s obviously evil. She killed seven Tranquility Girls, and even if others think that you pressed her into doing it, I have figured out the truth,” she said, dropping her voice.

Tanya searched the eyes of the Crusader opposing her, and Tanya saw that she wasn’t joking. “You have no proof, and you can’t do anything anyway.”

Tanya admitted to herself that she was really starting to dislike Darkness’s smirk, especially with how persistent it was. “I don’t need proof. She will be behind bars once I give them the word and explain that she’s been controlling one noble and that the heir to the Dustiness family wants her there!”

Tanya stared at her incomprehensibly. “ Dustiness family? Do you own a bunch of old artifacts that you never clean or something?”

She looked dumbstruck for some reason. Tanya couldn’t imagine why that would-

“We – both you and I – are members of the nobility .”

Tanya blinked once, doing a double-take to make sure Darkness hadn’t suddenly burst out laughing, and found that Darkness looked just as serious as before, only now there was a hint of desperation.

Tanya waited, for another moment, for Darkness to double over laughing. And when she didn’t…

“HAA!” Tanya blurted out. Darkness only grew more confused, and Tanya snorted uncontrollably.

Tanya doubled over laughing. She disregarded Darkness’s blade, sure that she wouldn’t be striking Tanya with the look of indignation that she managed to catch before she sank to one knee.

As Tanya continued to laugh, Darkness took one hand off of her blade, thrusting a hand inside of her armor. She dragged out the small necklace she had worn since she was a child.

Shaped like a stylized shield, the outside of it shone in the light of the day. Six lines jutted out from the centerpiece, a pair of wings. They formed what some members of her family called a heart and that others called an arrowhead, depending on whose writings she was consulting.

All of it was made of pure gold, and anyone with even a passing familiarity to it would recognize it for what it was: the crest of the Dustiness family.

Tanya looked up, and saw that Darkness was holding out a necklace. “This necklace bears the crest of the Dustiness family, grand nobles and close friends of the king. I, Lalatina Ford Dustiness, have worn it since I could walk.”

Tanya stopped laughing for a moment, before she doubled over again. “That- That name! Lalatina? What kind of name is that?” Darkness went red, but before she could try again, Tanya calmed down a bit.

Letting out the occasional giggle, she wiped a tear from her eye as she managed to stand and speak. “Alright, Darkness. You… seem to think you’re a noble, and you think I’m one too. I’ll ignore how untrue that is, and listen to whatever hilarious explanation you have.”

How she had come to the conclusion that either of them were nobles in this world was beyond her, but this would be good, regardless of her reasons. Tanya felt she could almost forgive Darkness for attempting to harm Viktoriya if this was humorous enough.

Instead of the righteous zeal and triumph she thought she’d be feeling, Darkness felt indignant.

“You look just like a noble! From the eyes and hair to your chin, you look like a noble,” she said.

Tanya blinked. “It's kind of odd that you’ve noticed the shape of my chin. Also, by that logic, Luna and Dust are also nobles because they have blond hair too. I haven’t seen many people with that color of hair, but I assumed no one wanted their hair to look bland, when you can get polka dots colored onto your hair.”

Darkness faltered for a moment, but she carried on, even if she was a bit quieter. “You have three names. No peasant would dare take on three names.”

Tanya paused as she remembered the ‘von’ that had been added to her name after the War College. She winced. That… kind of did make her a noble, didn’t it?

“You have some sort of amulet,” she continued, her voice rising slightly now that Tanya hadn’t immediately shot her down. “You almost never take it off, except for baths. Just like mine!” 

Tanya grimaced. She must have mistaken the stupid Type 95 or the Type 97 for something it wasn’t. She suppressed a groan.

Being X continued to cause trouble for her with his curse, even if he hadn’t intended it.

Darkness began grinning as she noticed the troubled expression on Tanya’s face. She had to be fighting Serebryakov’s control.

Darkness nodded to herself. She needed to keep going. Maybe Tanya would break out of whatever it was on her own?

“And Tanya, you’re powerful. You can cast more Detonations in a day than any mage I’ve even heard of, except for a number of Demon Generals. You must be a noble.”

Tanya tilted her head. “Why does being powerful mean I’m a noble?”

Darkness sighed. It seemed she wasn’t making as much progress as she thought. “All nobles are powerful. Whether physically, magically, or mentally, all nobles are better than anyone. The power you have surpasses even the prowess granted to me by my bloodline. You’re on par with some of the weaker rulers Belzerg has had in the past, with that mysterious staff and how much mana you have.”

She tried to desperately appeal to the person she had known before that Serebryakov had rolled around, staring into Tanya’s eyes.

Tanya was stumped. Darkness didn’t strike her as the kind of girl who would do this to play an elaborate prank on her, and she certainly seemed to have convinced herself that Tanya was a noble. 

Scowling, Tanya pinched the bridge of her nose. “Say I was to entertain your fantasy that I’m some kind of noble. What do you think would happen?”

Darkness’s expression fell a bit, but she began to explain what would happen now. “Well, you’ll let me take Serebryakov into custody, and-”

“No.”

Darkness seemed shocked. “What do you mean? You’re a noble. You must see that she’s-”

“Better than I am.”

 Darkness was silenced, and Tanya decided she’d need to tell her a bit about her past. 

“You are right,” she admitted softly, “that I am a noble. However,” she said, glaring at Darkness until the triumphant look on her face died, “I earned my title. I was dropped off at an orphanage at a young age, and I grew up there for a few years. I learned the language by three, and joined the army around eight or nine.”

Darkness stayed silent, waiting for more. “I fought a war for years, went to college, and graduated with a high enough score to get given a noble title, and nothing else. No land or privileges were granted to me, besides the ‘von’ in my name.”

“Throughout the war, it has been that woman,” she said, gesturing towards with her gun, “that has helped keep me sane enough to keep fighting. A desire to… flee from the fighting and become a paper-pusher behind lines certainly motivated me for a large portion of the beginning of it, but Viktoriya and the others I met helped show me that surviving is not living.”

She shook her head, ignoring the dismayed expression on Darkness’s face. “I strongly advise that you stop trying to convince me that Viktoriya is to blame for my behavior.”

Darkness looked conflicted, and Tanya began to speak again. “You knew me for what, five, six weeks? I’ve known Viktoriya for years. I know who I would choose if I must, but Darkness, I don’t want to choose.

She held out a hand. “Come on. I can explain a bit more, if you’ll just stop.”

Sweat had been forming on Darkness’s forehead, and Tanya sighed as she watched Darkness grip the sword in her hand tightly, and then take it up with both again. “No! Chris told me how suspicious she was. But…”

Darkness looked panicked. “If this is you, then I’ll have to take you in anyway.”

The panic drained from her face, replaced with a nervous calm. “If your family has done something like ally with the Demon King, or if you’ve so much as talked to a General, I’ll have to take you in. But-”

“Dehydrate.”

A sickly orange light shot from the slightly raised tip of her gun, crashing into Darkness and sending her sprawling.

She didn’t like that spell; it felt more than just a bit inhumane… but at least it wasn’t her most inhumane one.

Tanya shook her head as an image of Darkness, foaming at the mouth as eyes bulged. No, this spell was not the most inhumane one the Empire had developed by far .

She picked up Viktoriya on her shoulder, and began to walk slowly towards Darkness. She was writhing on the ground, resisting it. Instead of a dried husk, like a piece of stretched leather, she looked surprisingly healthy for how much power Tanya had put into that.

Tanya had expected to be surprised. She’s said something about the ‘power of her bloodline,’ and with how fast she’d woken from her slumber, Tanya hadn’t really thought she’d be killed.

“Goodbye, Darkness.”

She sent a quick Heal towards the girl as she took off sprinting. A cloud of dust followed her, and soon, she rose into the sky. Darkness couldn’t see them, and she very much doubted she was in any position to try to.

As she readjusted her hold on Viktoriya, she hoped that Darkness would come around eventually. Her final words had sounded like she still thought she was part of this country’s nobility.

If Darkness wasn’t listening to her, and she thought Tanya was a threat…

Until the Crusader believed her, leaving Axel might be necessary.

--OxOxO--

Chris strolled into the guild leisurely. She had been training with those Reincarnates all of yesterday, so she thought today, she’d earn a bit of money and donate it to the Eris Cult.

She looked around, intent on finding Darkness and the other two at the usual table, but she was mystified when she found it empty.

She cast her gaze around the guild, and almost gasped. Darkness was at the bar, surrounded by empty glasses. All of them had alcohol in them, and none of it looked like it was the same stuff.

She crept up behind the blonde, and nervously tapped her on the shoulder. “Darkness…?”

Darkness swung her body around, and Chris had to fight to keep both of them standing as the Crusader threw herself onto her. “Chhhriiiissssss…”

She patted the Crusader on the back, and put her back on the stool. She turned to an amused looking bartender. “Has she paid?”

He nodded stiffly, and she put herself under the Crusader’s arm.

They walked, lurching out of the guild and into a nearby alley. “Geez, you’re getting heavy.”

Darkness, who had been muttering about leaving all that alcohol behind, suddenly began to bawl. 

“I’m not! My muscles aren’t made of adamantite!” she whined, and Chris finally could take no more, and both of them sank to the ground. Chris took a moment to catch her breath, trying to ignore Darkness’s wailing.

“What happened? You’re a Crusader, right? How much could you have drank to overpower your resistances?”

Darkness ignored her question, and Chris sighed and leaned against the wall, supposing that Darkness would speak after she had a cry.

Twenty minutes later, Darkness had finally been reduced to sniffling. Chris turned to her, an eyebrow raised. “Do you want to talk about it, or do you want to keep crying?”

Darkness sent a shamefaced stare in her direction. “I’ll talk about it.”

Chris nodded, sitting up straight and leaning away from the wall. Slowly, Darkness began to talk.

“I… found out some things about Tanya. She’s… not what I thought she was.”

Chris nodded sadly, making sure to keep the euphoric joy she felt off of her face.

Oh, Darkness was torn up about it now, but she would look back on this fondly when she realized just how horrible that devil was.

She nodded sympathetically. “Was it Serebryakov?” she asked, making sure to keep up the fantasy she had spun. Darkness sniffled a bit, before hesitantly shaking her head.

“I… I don’t know. Tanya’s done some things that I don’t think could be accomplished while under another’s dominion, but I don’t want to believe she could do them on her own…”

Chris nodded along, fighting to keep a grin off of her face. Darkness would have to accept the Atheist for who she was, soon enough. It would just take a bit more evidence.

And she knew just how.

“Darkness, I think I might know a way to break her out of whatever’s controlling her, if that is the case,” she said softly, and Darkness’s eyes filled with hope.

As Chris explained her plan, she felt a warmth begin to build up inside her. It was so nice to help her followers and accomplish her own goals at the same time.

--OxOxO--

Two figures moved about. One would have preferred to be hooded, but the other pointed out that they might stick out more by looking suspicious. So, both tried to look normal, as if one of them didn’t have a contract with one of the Demon King’s Generals.

They traveled quietly, slipping into the backdoor of the place they’d been frequenting most often. If the customers in the front realized that both of them were in the building, a concerning amount of people would pay to see them dressed like the people who handed out the paper forms that nearly littered the place.

As it was, Tanya was sure that more people out there thought of her or Viktoriya dressed up like Succubi – or in even less – than she would like – a resounding zero.

She couldn’t police people for their thoughts, though, so she’d just take solace in the knowledge that she was one of two women who was in on the secret of the shop.

She sighed in relief as she got into the shop. In the few days since their encounter, Darkness hadn’t spread word of Tanya’s deal – as far as Tanya could tell – but she was still paranoid about it. Every wayward glance in her direction set her on edge.

Both walked through the hallway and into the Succubi’s locker room, and placed her heavy cloak inside. Viktoriya put her own jacket in the one to her right, and both walked through the hallway and into a back room that the adventurers outside were too horny to even think about, much less contemplate its existence.

Tanya greeted one of the Succubus, and she smiled. The charity was beginning to take shape.

A line had formed and Tanya sat down at the desk. It was like the ones outside, except older. They’d probably replaced it with all the money they had been earning.

“Tanya, what kind of books should we use for the school?”

Tanya thought, for a moment. With all of the money she’d donated, they’d decided to splurge a bit on what they could start by doing. Tanya had, during their discussion during her first meeting them, suggested they start up a school so they could portray themselves better.

They had taken the idea and ran with it, and were close to starting something. They’d already asked the matron of the local orphanage if they could use their building, and once Tanya had shown up, they’d bent over backwards.

“Find… a selection of books, try to figure out which is the most accurate by comparing them, and buy that one,” she finally said.

She wasn’t very familiar with what this world had, and letting them do the work would probably get them what they wanted – the ability to represent themselves to the impressionable youth – much better than Tanya could by guessing.

That Succubus retreated, and as the next began to question her, Tanya thought back to her encounter with the matron of the orphanage.

Now that Darkness had it laid the power of the nobility before her, she realized that a lot of the respect and fear she’d been getting – both from that woman and from… everyone, really – was probably because they thought she was some sort of noble.

It was annoying to realize that, comparatively, she’d been able to get where she was because of an intrinsic bias in her favor, instead of just through her skills.

Of course, she wasn’t going to shout to the world that she wasn’t a noble, since she’d already used her perceived position to get the charity recognized as an entity, legally.

Predictably, the church had opposed it, since the Succubi would be giving out handouts for nothing instead of helping the poor in return for piety, but Tanya had pushed through their complaints with gusto.

Tanya smirked as she told Loli Succubus that she could use her relatively childish looks to try and convince people to donate more to them. That this was hurting the Eris Cult’s membership made her feel satisfied.

For an hour, she helped solve problems while Viktoriya rushed to fill out paperwork with a pair of Succubi at her side. The faithful woman had been skeptical of the ‘literal Demons,’ to use her words, but once Tanya had explained that they helped Axel by distracting their patrons from finding more violent ways to spend their time, she’d seemed relatively fine with the idea.

No doubt, Viktoriya was more okay with it since none of the Succubi were wearing their ‘work clothing’ and instead wearing sensible clothing that anyone in Axel could be seen wearing. They blended in easily when they walked around in these clothes, and the…

Tanya grimaced. The Mithril Foundation was becoming well known, despite how new it was.

When they had asked for a name, Tanya had decided that using her detestable – horrible disgusting terrifying fear-inducing – nickname on something other than her would be a good idea. No one in this world knew of that name, and since Tanya would never let anyone call her that name if she had the power to, no one would ever know.

The line was almost gone. Tanya sighed; she would usually stay here for a few hours, answering questions and helping, but today, only ten Succubi were helping here.

Yesterday, they had explained that they needed to conserve energy, since adventurers weren’t making enough money to even visit their shop. She said she understood, but she wondered how much longer the town could survive without monsters.

Tanya was jolted out of her musings by a request.

Tanya knit her brows. “You want me to what ?”

The blonde-haired bombshell of a succubus cringed away. “Well, some of the parents in the area have expressed a desire to have their children join the orphanage’s school, but they want their children to be escorted through Axel. We’re not especially powerful, so…”

Tanya raised an eyebrow. “There’s enough crime for that?”

The Succubus shook her head. “Ah… not exactly. They’re worried that they might be caught outside when the Demon King’s General finally decides to attack, and they want assurances.”

Tanya sighed at the question and began to think and wish she could just tell them to figure it out on their own.

No matter what she did, the Succubi tried to get Tanya more involved with the charity. She might have suspected they wanted to do something convoluted, like bring the charity down and tank her fame with it, if Tanya wasn’t convinced of how genuine their thanks was for taking care of those Tranquility Girls.

About to refuse, Tanya tried to think of anyone else that could do the job. Dust was in jail, would demand a salary, and no one with a brain would trust their children around him. Most other adventurers would demand a salary, Luna was always busy, Darkness was…

She smirked as she remembered someone she could ask. “I told you, I might need to leave the town at any moment, but I think I might know someone who could help.”

Tanya began to explain, and the Succubi nodded as Tanya and Viktoriya left to visit Wiz.

--OxOxO--

Wiz greeted them happily as they walked in, and they returned the greeting. 

Wiz rushed behind her counter, ducking down and bringing up a rack of five potions. “Your explosive potions are ready, Tanya!”

She smiled, but she moved them aside. She wanted to ask some questions before she began asking favors of her. “Actually, I wanted to ask you something.”

She looked curious, and Tanya smirked. “How’s life as a Demon General?”

Her pupils shrank back, and she began to stutter out a reply. “I… I don’t…”

Tanya waved her off. “Don’t try and deny it. I spoke to Verdia and Ragcraft four days ago. Said something about being annoyed and working around you, but they gave me this-”

Wiz had frozen, her gaze furious. “What do you mean, ‘working around me?’”

Tanya shrugged noncommittally, turning around and pacing towards the shop’s window. “Well, I was asking about all the bodies they have, and they told me you had tried to stop them. The pair of adventurers and the noble that went missing were apparently working with them, or something.”

She turned back around, and her eyes shrank as she saw Wiz get angry. The air was cooling, and a very intimidating, wasteful light – likely caused by unformed mana – was coming from her. Viktoriya walked towards Tanya, one hand on her rifle.

“Uh… Wiz? Are you okay?”

The cool air, slowly, began to recede, and the light around her faded. “Yes,” she bit out.

“What’s so bad about them using the bodies?” she asked. Wiz sent a furious glare at her, but it softened as it saw the genuine confusion on her face.

“Tanya… how…”

She just shook her head. “Normal undead seek out Priests in battle because they seem more like the thing they oppose, and because they desire to be purified. Only undead with a particularly strong resolve can resist, but most swarm Priests in an attempt to seek salvation.”

Tanya’s eyes widened.

She’d helped chained dozens of souls to a life they’d seek release from.

Probably. Her speech to them about raging against the Priests might have cured that particular aspect of their being…

Tanya winced. Yet another thing she could be tried for in a court – or that would cause any of the likely dozens of plucky hero types to try and murder her – should she get caught. She doubted, though, that that would happen.

If she couldn’t save herself – however unlikely that was – Viktoriya would, just like…

She shook away her memories desperately, distracting herself by smiling at Wiz. “Well. I suppose I probably shouldn’t ask, but could you do something for us?”

With a curious and cautious tilt of Wiz’s head, Tanya cleared her throat and launched into her explanation.

“The Mithril Foundation is a charity that wants to improve the poorest people’s lives. Recently, they’ve run into a problem,” she said.

“They’ve set up a school for the orphans at the edge of town, and are planning to begin schooling them. Parents of children in town have expressed some desire to have their children learn from them, for free, instead of having to hire tutors or allowing their children to go uneducated. They want someone to escort the children to the orphanage.”

“Unfortunately,” Tanya said, letting out an annoyed sigh, “I can’t do it. I’m planning to travel outside of Axel soon, but I thought that maybe you’d want to do it?”

Wiz’s face had lit up from the beginning. “Of course I’ll…”

She stopped, an apologetic frown on her face. “I mean, I’d love to. But from what you said, Verdia and Ragcraft will probably try and steal more bodies as soon as they can. I need to start patrolling as much as I can, and I can’t leave the shop unattended with how low sales have been.”

Tanya cursed internally, wondering what she’d do now, when Viktoriya spoke up. “Well, what if we bought some of your stuff to make up for the drop in sales?”

Immediately, Wiz’s face lit up as she trotted over to a wall of her shop, while Tanya’s emotions bickered about what a bad idea this was. She wanted to get Wiz to do this, but buying a piece of defective junk didn’t seem to be a good idea.

She brought them a selection of potions. “You seem to be interested in potions, with how many of those explosive ones you buy, so I present to you: the Forbidden Potion Series of potions!”

Tanya gave the woman a smile, but the shopkeeper didn’t seem reassured. It wasn’t that Tanya wasn’t interested; it was that she had a very specific idea in mind when she had begun buying the Explosive potions, and she had no idea what she’d do with what was likely junk.

“Could you tell us about them?” she asked, trying to seem interested.

Her acting worked well enough, and Wiz nodded, apparently encouraged. She brought out a simple looking black bottle. “This potion will raise your levels!”

Tanya looked interested, and then narrowed her eyes at the Lich. She hadn’t bought much from Wiz, but there had to be some sort of side effect. Almost anything that granted instant power, like her relics, had some sort of drawback.

She gave them a small smile. “It also reduces your mana to zero?”

Both of them shook their heads simultaneously, and Wiz nodded. “Of course not, both of you have lots of mana. You probably don’t want to alter your fighting style. In that case, how about this one?” she asked, holding up a potion bottle that looked to be the same color of human skin.

Ba-bum.

Tanya and Viktoriya backed away as it throbbed in Wiz’s hand, and Wiz shook her head at the wary look they both sent her. “Don’t be put off by its appearance! It will greatly increase your Magic-Power, and has the slight effect of also killing all of your hair follicles.”

Wiz handed it to Tanya, and she set it aside, much too unsettled by how it felt like glass and looked like a tube covered in skin. She would buy that if Wiz had nothing else – sacrificing all of her hair for more power was interesting, but she didn’t really need more of it right now.

Well, she could always purchase the thing and then never use it, right?

Wiz pointed to another one, which was tiny. “This potion will reset your level to zero!”

And another. “Viktoriya,” she said, motioning towards the one shaped like the classic caricature of a heart, “despite your age, you still haven’t been seen despite your availability and attractiveness. This potion will attract the opposite gender, at the cost of making you smell like a goblin.”

Tanya’s nose scrunched up at the thought of someone smelling like a goblin – they were somehow able to smell worse than the members of the 203rd after days on the ground in the East – and then she went over the rest of the woman’s words.

“Hey!” she shouted, indignant on Viktoriya’s behalf, “don’t insult Viktoriya. She’ll find someone she likes eventually. No one in this town is worthy of her anyway, and…”

Her eyes narrowed. “If it was so good, then you would have used it by now, wouldn’t you?”

As Wiz’s face began to grow incredibly sad, Tanya thought about the subject of Visha and marriage and-

She shook her head. Tanya knew she wasn’t going to be bedding Visha anytime soon – the girl had been raised in 1900s Europe, which meant she was definitely not homosexual – so Tanya would do her best to help her, whenever she wanted to find someone.

Wiz backed away slightly, and Viktoriya, politely, placed it back in the rack. “No thanks.”

Wiz was about to point to another one – this one looked mostly normal, but the label on it had a picture of a puppet with its head removed. She didn’t even want to know what that was about. “Why are these called ‘Forbidden’ anyway?”

Wiz tapped a finger against her cheek. “Well, the person who sold them and the rights to them said they’re all very good. The only reason they’re bad is because most people won’t want them… and they’re all illegal to make.”

Tanya sighed. It seemed like all of these potions appealed to very select groups of people, which wasn’t very good for business. If you wanted to sell something, you would try and get as many people to buy it as possible. 

She picked up the level reducing one – if Darkness found out about it, she’d buy it so she’d get a good time from anything and everything, including grass .

Wiz looked sort of disappointed as Tanya set it down on the counter, so Tanya pointed to a tall, skinny, bronze-colored bottle. “What’s that one?”

Wiz looked at it, and shook her head. “This one is… pretty useless. If you drink it, you’ll attract monsters to you for the rest of your life. I don’t know of a way to remove it, so you’d be stuck as monster bait forever.”

Tanya picked it up. Darkness might like it to drink it, but Tanya wasn’t dealing with monsters forever, whenever they reconciled. Tanya might not have been on any quests that required her to sleep in the wilderness, but she wasn’t going to defend the camp all night because the Crusader wanted to get hit.

She looked at it, eye studying it idly. It attracts monsters, huh?

A small smile played on her face as another idea came to her. “Hey Wiz. How powerful is this attraction?”

She shrugged. “I don’t know exactly, but that’s only because it exceeds all other measures of how powerful something can be when warding off or attracting monsters. Why?”

Tanya let the small smile on her face grow. “I’ve got an idea on how to increase sales. Want to hear how?”

Wiz blinked. “You aren’t really going to take over from the Demon King when you kill him, are you? You look really scary right now.”

“Yeah~,” Viktorita sighed. Tanya missed her former adjutant’s forlorn sigh as she continued to grin at the potion and plan. She knew just how to fix a great many of her problems at once.

--OxOxO--

“All adventurers, report to the guild! We have an emergency quest!”

Dust grumbled as he heard the speakers sound again. That was the third time in five minutes they’d sounded.

He looked back into his cell from where he was standing on a chair he’d been given, staring out of his window. It wasn’t like he had much to do anyway.

It wasn’t like this place was horrible; sure, the food wasn’t up to its usual quality, and the hay in his room hadn’t been changed out since he’d got there, and his time in the recreation center had been restricted, but it was better than being outside of it, with no money to buy food or to pay for a room.

He was getting bored though, and none of the female police who watched him were very fun.

They’d promised to beat him within an inch of his life if he harassed them, and after he’d tried doing it anyway and gotten beaten, he hadn’t tried again.

Tanya had delivered on her promise that he would be watched by the female police officers, and he hadn’t figured out a way to get out yet. Maybe this would work?

He stepped down from the chair, and banged on the door. A small slit at the bottom allowed food to be pushed in, and otherwise, the door was completely flush with the surfaces surrounding it.

Not that he’d try and break out. He’d get put in here for much longer, and he’d rather sit through the month quietly. The sound of clanking armor reached his door, and a voice sounded from the other side.

“What do you want, delinquent?”

He tried to sound agitated. “Didn’t you hear? They want all adventurers, and that means I get to leave.”

He heard the pause, and he allowed his hopes to rise. Then her snicker destroyed his hopes. “They alert us about these things in advance, you know. They needed police help this time, and they told us that you can stay in here, unless…”

His hopes rose again. “Unless?”

Her tone hurried, the knight began to explain. “If you do what they want, you’ll get five free drinks, regardless of size, every night.”

His eyes popped out of his head. “You’ll receive an allowance from them, and they’ll be indebted to you for years to come.”

Dust pressed himself into the door. Those sounded too good to be true. “What do I have to do? I know I’ll get out of here in a few weeks, but getting those terms seems like a dream come true!”

She then explained what he would have to do, and then Dust’s hopes fell.

No way would he do that.

He told her as much, and she sighed as well. “Yeah, knowing you, you’d never be that self-sacrificing. You’d be more popular if you were willing to put your life on the line, you know.”

He chuckled a bit. “I’m not coming out of here.”

He heard her click her tongue, and Dust smirked at having detected her attempt at reverse physiology. He heard her steps fade away, and went back over to his chair, looking out the window again.

How they thought they’d convince any rational person to become super monster bait for the rest of their lives, he didn’t know.

--OxOxO--

Tanya stared around the room. People – from the most bland looking humans, to people who claimed to be elves and dwarves who seemed to be just a bit taller or shorter than average, to the ‘beastmen’ that gathered in one of the dingier corners of the guild – were dressed in as little as a scarf around their neck and a few strips of cloth covering anything that might be considered risqué to as much as full plate armor, stared towards the front of the guild, where Luna was sitting in front of the door, or looked around the room, bored.

Wiz sat next to Luna, chatting about something. Tanya couldn’t make out what it was over the din of the conversations around her, but she guessed it had to do with either the potions or some other adventurer-related thing.

Tanya had spent most of the rest of yesterday getting the Succubi to Wiz’s shop and then helping Wiz direct them to make the five racks of ten potions next to Luna.

She might have cared about getting permission to make the illegal potions, but the Succubi were well-known among the police, who would understood that they wouldn’t be able to prosecute the Succubi for their crime without implicating nearly half of Axel in their ring of sin.

As soon as an hour had passed since Luna had sounded the alarm, she stood from where she’d been seated next to Wiz and a bunch of other workers at the guild. “Everyone! We’re going to be telling you what you need to do!”

The conversation that had been going on quieted, and Tanya and Viktoriya rose, walking towards the bar area. No one was there, and anything that resembled a glass or cup or alcohol had been removed.

Both of them stared out and watched as Luna cleared her throat. “Everyone. You all know what the problem plaguing Axel is: the General of the Demon King, Verdia!”

Terrified murmurs rounded the room, and Tanya took the time to seek out familiar faces in the crowd. She saw that Lynn, Taylor, and Keith were seated relatively close to Luna. Darkness was looking determinedly away from Tanya , and Chris sat by the Crusader’s side, glancing towards Tanya occasionally. 

The Reincarnates she had divested of their weapons were scattered into three groups. Four of them sat near the front door, while another pair sat close to her own position. She could make out one last head of black hair close to the counters where people talked to the receptionists, which had been shut behind wooden paneling that was placed there every night when Luna left.

Tanya was sure that she had taken care of ten of them since she’d had her nearly fatal encounter with the Shapeshifter and the Lancer, which meant some had either moved on, or they’d died.

Luna’s speaking cut off her thoughts before they could continue to a place she didn’t want to contemplate. “Simply put, we couldn’t beat Verdia if we tried. However, something must be done about how few quests we can assign, yes?”

Luna had been shocked at Tanya’s proposal, but she’d heartily endorsed it.

Another murmur, this one of agreement, went up. No one had much money, and almost all of them had taken out loans from the guild. The whole system – and indeed, a large portion of the town – was only functioning because the capital was sending them money, according to Luna.

That money was only coming in because Axel provided an excellent source of new adventurers, with how the monsters weren't wiped out wholesale. If new adventurers didn’t begin joining the main forces in the capital and along the cities fighting the Demon King, however, those funds would be cut off.

“Thankfully, Wiz has found a solution,” she said, gesturing to the ‘woman’ behind her. The Lich waved a little, and many adventurers returned her greeting… energetically . She didn’t seem off put by the wolf whistles, though.

Tanya stood straight from where she’d been leaning against the bar, slowly walking through the crowd. She was floating on half an inch of air, to ensure her steps were silent.

Luna gestured to the potions on the table, holding up one. Everyone stared towards the skinny, tall, bronze-colored bottle Tanya had been shown yesterday. “Using her knowledge, as well as funding and help from the Mithril Foundation, she made this potion, and the ones on the table, that attract monsters.”

The guild was quiet for a moment as people digested her words. Then, applause began, followed by cheering and calls of hallelujah to Eris. People rose from their seats, clapping and cheering. They were moving towards the table, eager to earn money by taking out some monsters.

Tanya made no noise, quietly moving around tables and people as she made her way towards her target. They wouldn’t be celebrating in a moment.

“However, there is a drawback,” Luna continued, motioning for crowd to quiet. It did so, and only a few hushed conversations continued among the standing adventurers. 

Tanya began to gather mana in her Type 97. “In order to activate, someone must drink the potion. And monsters will be attracted to whoever drinks it for the rest of their lives.”

All of the quiet commentary ceased. No one was especially interested in sacrificing themselves, except for one person.

And, as Darkness began to raise a shaking hand, blushing furiously, eyes pinpoints as she imagined how much she could be ravaged with something like that and her Decoy, Tanya stopped her fantasies.

“Sleep. Reinforcement spell: Strength.”

The woman slumped over, and Tanya held onto her by her shoulders. Chris looked alarmed, but Tanya shook her head, warning her off. 

The Thief looked indecisive, for a moment, until an odd smile overcame her face and she turned back towards Luna, who was still brandishing the bottle.

Tanya had secured Darkness’s immunity with Luna.

Tanya had also pointed out that Darkness would likely get herself killed. Luna acted confused, and then she’d thought Tanya was lying when she’d told her about the Crusader’s fetish.

Tanya shook her head. Apparently, no one else had ever caught her being a masochist yet. Memories of her first quest with the woman reminded her that everyone thought she was a model knight, charging off into danger and soaking up damage.

Luna had, after Tanya’s explanation and a single plea to believe her, agreed that Darkness would only be considered a last resort. Tanya wasn’t sure if Luna understood that Darkness really was a masochist, but she didn’t have the energy to try and convince her of that.

She sat down at a table, placing Darkness in the seat next to her, and watched as Luna looked around. Everyone, too busy eyeing the exit and windows of the guild, remained quiet to the plea Luna was making with her eyes.

Luna drew their attention back to her. “Please! You’ll be compensated with free drinks and an allowance, in addition to whatever work you do! We’ll be indebted to you for years! You’ll get a large amount of cash!”

Still, no one spoke up. Luna sighed, and she snapped her fingers.

Suddenly, the windows of the reception counter burst open, and police began to pour out. From the rafters, unseen by all, more police officers began to drop down, hanging onto pieces of rope that had been placed there. A flurry of motion passed, where they positioned themselves around every window and door. The rest of the guild staff had come in through the front doors, helping the police officers shut them.

Before anyone could blink, the room was locked up tight. The adventurers around her were beginning to panic, while Viktoriya slipped into the seat across from her. A young voice jumped out of the crowd.

“Why?”

Luna shrugged apologetically. “Sorry, but Axel is in real dire straits. If we don’t start bringing in monsters soon, the nobles will soon become unreasonable. They might force you all to fight Verdia with the aid of their guards, just to see if someone could do it.”

The adventurers were getting antsy. If Dust had been there, he might have done something stupid, like provide everyone with the idea that they should just destroy all of the potions.

Thankfully, there wasn’t anyone moronic enough to suggest something like that, so the adventurers waited for a minute. Conversation began to break out, mostly from younger adventurers.

They asked the older adventurers to be spared.

None of them looked particularly inclined to be merciful.

Tanya sighed. Fine, she’d use the last card they had. They could keep the adventurers in here for as long as they wanted, but they’d never get anyone to volunteer by starving them.

So she’d try something else that even Luna didn’t know about.

“Male adventurers. Please come this way.”

She said this two more times, and they began to come towards her. She walked to a corner of the guild, which ‘conveniently’ had no policewomen near it.

She turned to them. She could spot Keith and Taylor, and the new kid that had asked Luna ‘why’ was there too. She didn’t see any of the Reincarnates, however.

She cleared her throat, and then began. “What do you all think the shortage has been doing to Axel?”

Most of them shrugged noncommittally, but Taylor stepped forward. “It’s been bad for the people, right? We can’t provide monster parts, and we can’t spend our money getting our things repaired. They’ve been going out of business and having to move.”

The other adventurers nodded slowly, some of them remarking about the quests for helping people move to nearby villages or even farther away, like other cities and the capital.

Tanya stared around the rough grouping of people, casting one last glance at the females scattered around the rest of the guild. She then turned her gaze back to them. “What do you think will happen to businesses if Adventurers don’t do business?”

No one answered, and Tanya pressed forward. “Axel is unique; its police are lenient, the guild is lenient, everything is more relaxed because everyone here is supposed to be a new adventurer. If Axel get wiped off of the map because no one can do business, however…”

“A business that some of you enjoy will soon be forced to disappear. Forever.” She finished her last sentence with a raised eyebrow and a smirk. None of them understood, for a moment.

Then, they began to put things together. A man in full bronze-plate armor gasped. Keith began to choke on his own spit. A bronzed man with horns on his helmet whimpered. A few of them didn’t realize the truth, but Tanya knew that enough of them had.

They probably wondered how she’d found out about the Succubi’s shop, but none of them were dumb enough to say that out loud.

Some of the more… ‘innocent’ among them might seek to turn them into the police, and uncover the whole operation.

Smirking, she held up a slip of paper. “This is a coupon. The first five people that drink the potion will be able to go to the wonderful shop of their dreams, and partake in their services for five years.”

They stared at her incomprehensibly. “For free.”

All of them paused for a moment, and then they made a mad dash towards the front, fighting to be the first there, visions of just how many dreams they’d be have dancing inches in front of their faces.

They were too late, however. To Tanya’s wonder, someone was already there, sipping on one of the five racks of potions.

Her long black hair dipped passed her shoulders, and most of her clothing was as black as her hair. A black cloak, a black dress, even her staff was a solid black, with the only spot of color coming from the top of her staff, which held a simple, blue orb.

Tanya might have described her as physically beautiful, but the miasma of disrespect and general apathy she gave off was almost visible.

She smiled at them. “Hello! I’ve already finished off one of the racks; you’d better decide which of you will get the other four before I take those too!”

Tanya watched as the male adventurers who so greatly desired her tickets devolve into fighting, clawing at each other’s throats.

For her part, Tanya was just staring at the Reincarnate.

…Hadn’t she given that staff to Chris?

--OxOxO--

“Maybe I should look into poisons…” she muttered under her breath.

They were heading to a vast field just outside of Axel. Everyone who had been trapped in the guild had been let go the moment the last of the potions had been consumed, and they had decided to head out, to see if this would work.

Tanya was walking with Viktoriya. Darkness was still asleep, and Chris had volunteered to stay behind at the guild.

Tanya had smiled at her and thanked her, privately wondering how Chris was arming the Reincarnates.

She didn’t particularly care about the why . Some of the ‘Divine’ Relics still held a bit of latent power. Tanya had wanted Chris’s skills, however, and she had thought they would be sold to the General Store and never seen again.

Back in the guild, when Tanya had looked around Chris, she had switched her train of thought when she’d noticed that a number of the other Reincarnates were also staying behind. Thoughts of how best to skewer the Thief had instead began popping up in her head, like daisies in the spring.

Tanya was silent for only a moment longer – to make it away from the sight of the gates – before she turned to Viktoriya. “ Chris is a possible threat. I’ll tell you more when we get back.

The woman blinked, digesting the information. She nodded unerringly, and had stared ahead, walking along with the rest of the adventurers.

The five who’d drank the potions – the Reincarnate, the bronze-plated adventurer, a heavily bearded man with heavy armor on his arms and not much else, an older fellow with streaks of gray running through his short hair, and a small, unassuming Thief – were in the center, being guarded by the rest of them.

No monsters had jumped out yet, but they’d heard rustling in the taller grasses as they’d walked to the field. Nothing had come out yet, but many were finally hopeful.

Another thirty minutes of walking placed the five of them squarely in the center of the field. Everyone else was standing far away or had concealed themselves, waiting with bated breath for the monsters. Tanya and Viktoriya, under the cover of Tanya’s Lurk skill, had taken off into the air. Just in case.

Then, something happened. The ground began to shake, quake, and rumble. Tanya and Viktoriya, concealed by Tanya’s Lurk, looked around themselves, Observation spells shining brightly.

Soon, from the distant forest, figures began to gather near the tree line. Then, the grasses surrounding the plain began to quiver. Portions of the ground, bumpy and uneven, began to disappear as slimy surfaces revealed themselves. 

Everything seemed to pause for a moment, before it all began barreling as one towards the five adventurers in the middle.

Tanya could see all manner of beast – One-hit-Kill bears, Slimes, Squirrels, Frogs, insects, Worms, Rabbits, Wolves, and even a goblin or two. And that was what she could name.

Just as they had revealed themselves, the Adventurers did too. Thieves dropped their Lurks, and they met the beasts head on. Soon, pockets of adventurers were being surrounded by monsters.

However, Tanya wasn’t worried. All of the adventurers, from what she would see, were greatly enjoying their time, happy to finally be able to fight after weeks of inactivity.

Everyone was cheering, or they were shouting the spells and skills. Except for exactly seven people.

Two of them were, of course, herself and Viktoriya. The four males who’d drank the potion were watching the others who were fighting with envy, while the Reincarnate was laying on the ground, her hat covering her eyes.

This tactic of lying in wait and using the monsters’ fixation on the five of them to kill the things while they were distracted would only work if none of them moved away.

The whole thing was based on the predictability of the monsters movements, and Tanya could honestly say she was impressed by everyone’s collective ingenuity. She hadn’t even contributed that much.

Slowly, Tanya floated down from the sky, softly landing next to the Reincarnate. She dropped her Lurk, and waited for them to notice her.

When none of them did, she cleared her throat. The four males made shocked sounds, but the girl just smiled.

“I suppose you’re her to ask me about this?” she asked, shaking her scepter above her head. Tanya nodded, and she sat up.

“Buzz off, bozos,” she shouted, and the other four backed up. She stepped closer to Tanya and Viktoriya, and before she could ask what she was doing, she threw out a Fireball.

It touched down in only a few seconds, clearing an area and ensuring that they weren’t about to have a conversation on top of a monster. Aya turned to them as she walked backwards towards the spot she’d cleared.

“I don’t like bugs,” she said. Tanya blinked, and then followed her with a scowl at the waste of mana. Viktoriya trailed behind as the woman in front of them…

Tanya blinked at the sight of a shining orange barrier.

Slowly, the other four, who had been watching them closely, clicked their tongues at her and turned their backs, mumbling. Tanya felt the urge to leave the woman alone too, but she fought it when she realized that it was the barrier attempting to mess with her head.

Mess with her head…

“Hey.” The girl’s word broke Tanya out of her trance, and she stared at her.

The girl smiled. “It’s not a force field like I was promised, but it works well enough that, should things get messy, the other four will die before I do,” she said, smirking and looking knowingly at Tanya, expecting some kind of a reaction.

Tanya nodded. “A good plan. Can I buy it?” she asked, keeping a straight face and trying not to smirk.

The girl sighed. “Jeez, you’re not very fun, are you? But that’s fine, I wouldn’t expect you to be, not with the sob story you have for a past.”

Tanya bristled at the reduction of the horrors she’d been through, but the woman didn’t care. She sat back down on the ground, patting the rough circle that had been cleared with her Fireball spell. Tanya sat and, after a moment, Viktoriya followed.

The woman took off her outer cloak, and considering the heat of the sun, Tanya couldn’t blame her. She gestured to her scepter. “I got this back from the silver-haired Thief in your party. Don’t trust her.”

Tanya glared at the ground, and the woman chuckled.

Tanya looked up, and the girl spoke, mostly to herself. “Yeah, I’m glad I backed out of that deal.”

Tanya sent her a questioning eyebrow, and the woman shrugged. “Four of them – and that Chris girl – think that they can take you on. They really want you dead, for whatever reason. Myself and two others thought differently, and we’ve decided that fighting you isn’t worth the trouble.”

Tanya nodded. “A wise decision, Miss…”

She smiled. “Just call me Aya.”

“Aya, then. The other two who sided with you are…”

She smiled, handing out the information freely. “Shizuka, the one with the wand, and Takashi. He’s-”

“The one who had the skill,” Tanya finished for her. He had been the one she’d managed to save, and she’d taken care to remember his name.

Aya nodded, and Tanya asked her last question. “Why tell me all of this? You don’t have any obligation to me.”

Aya frowned briefly, and it surprised Tanya that the woman could care enough about something to frown about it. “My death wasn’t a nice one. I was thankful to be given another chance, but I wasn’t going to fight in a war I knew nothing about just because they told me to. I wanted safety, more than anything else, but I was also interested in seeing something new.”

She sighed and looked into Tanya’s eyes. “You could have taken away that second chance, robbed me of everything I had, and left me to die. You could have even killed me yourself. Instead, you gave me money, allowed me to carry on, when I could,” she said, gesturing to her scepter with a nod, “become a threat again. Regardless of whatever else you’ve done and promised, you allowed me to live.”

She let her hat fall back onto her face. “Plus, you found this potion. Thanks to that, I got what I wanted: a life free from actual danger with tons of people that’ll fall over themselves to help me. By giving you this information, I don’t feel indebted to you, and you won’t feel like you can boss me around because you spared me.”

With that, she settled down, using her cloak as a pillow and curling up on the ground. Tanya stood up, gesturing to Viktoriya. It was time to help out.

They could take care of the treachery later when they got back.

--OxOxO--

He tried to get away. He knew that he probably shouldn’t be out here – he’d recently come in from his backwater village. He had been the only adventurer there for many years, defending the village from monsters when the guild in Axel couldn’t be called upon in time.

Once here, he’d been praised as a natural and taken an advanced class. Then, not a week into arriving here, the beautiful woman at the front of the guild had been surprised at how strong he was. He just wanted to prove himself to her and everyone else that said he was strong.

Now he realized just how outclassed he was.

He turned around, and gulped as he stared down his enemy. Fur as black as night and heavily built, the Rookie Killer’s yellow, feline eyes seemed to stare into his very soul. He’d tried fighting a group of goblins, and had been able to take out a few with his two-handed blade.

It seemed to be wary of the adventurers around it, but it seemed to notice that they were busy with others.

He grimaced. Of course it knew that. Rookie Killers were some of the smartest monsters around, despite their inability to talk like more dimwitted monsters, like Goblins.

Sword shaking, he raised his blade. If he was to die, he’d do it fighting.

It seemed to wait a moment, before it moved. He could hardly keep track of it, but he was able to see that it had raised its paw high, aiming to slash down on him. He raised his own sword, praying that he’d be spared-

“Sharpen Blade.”

Suddenly, the beast was gone. Only a whoosh of air told him that the thing hadn’t simply disappeared. He looked around himself, and gasped in awe.

A woman had run her blade through the beast’s head, her oddly shaped spear pointing through its left eye. The thing didn’t seem to have even been able to react to the woman’s attack.

She turned around. “Are you alright?”

He didn’t respond. He was too taken aback. 

She had short blonde hair that stopped just above her shoulders – though some of it also hung lower – and a green cloak that seemed to swirl around her. She had on gray gloves that concealed her hand and forearm, and she was clutching the odd spear in them.

She asked again. “That cut looks pretty nasty. Are you okay?”

He shook his head, and touched his nose.

Wet.

He lifted his fingers in front of his face, and noted he was bleeding. “I- I don’t feel it…”

The woman sighed, and said, “Heal.”

He felt the wound closing, and he marveled as he touched his face again. He could feel that a scar had been left, but not much else.

The woman stood up straight, looking around herself. Just as it seemed like she’d be leaving, he blurted out, “Who are you?”

The woman turned to him. “Tanya von Degurechaff. And you?”

“Rex.”

She nodded. “Well Rex, I’d suggest that you should get yourself a party. Having people you can trust help you in fights like these is important.”

With that, Tanya left, leaving a star-struck man to contemplate what he was doing with himself. He began to look around and spotted another pair of people – one tall male with dark blue hair and a female with some armor and a spear – and hastily made his way over to them, thoughts focused on the woman who’d saved him instead of his surroundings.

--OxOxO--

Verdia looked out at the legions of undead.

He shook his head. Well, legions was a bit of a hyperbole.

He had a few hundred undead under his employ now, and thanks to Degurechaff, he’d managed to get quite a few undead of superior quality.

When he just stood around and attempted to bully them into rising again, the best he got were simple Zombies, Undead Knights, and, with the occasionally angry Mage or Priest, a Zombie Maker.

With her instructions on how to appeal to their grudges, however, they hadn’t spawned a single Zombie. All of them had become Knights, Zombie Makers, and even a highly coveted Undead Mage had risen.

An Undead Mage was smarter than many low-tier undead, and Verdia had been wanting one for quite some time. They didn’t compare to beings like himself or Wiz, but they were powerful enough to resist a Priest’s attempts to exorcise them.

Despite the good success, Verdia couldn’t help but be annoyed at the Reincarnate. He’d been hoping to stall his attack on the town by saying they didn’t have enough forces, but with these undead, he could take out the town in no time.

Plus, he wouldn’t have to attack it and kill a bunch of people that couldn’t really even be called opponents. The town, from Ragcraft’s reports, was on a steady decline. They wouldn’t have been able to be considered a town in a few months, with the damage his presence was doing to their economy.

Suddenly, the faint sound of burrowing reached his ears, and Ragcraft, in his Giant Worm form, popped out of the ground, shook a bit of dirt off of himself, and then began to stalk towards Verdia, wearing his human form again. 

He sighed tiredly, but he gestured to the seat next to him. Ragcraft threw himself into it.

“We have no more bodies.”

Verdia felt an eye twitch. “Why not?” he asked, keeping his voice level. He could guess, but it was best to-

“Wiz. She figured out our plan, and was at the graveyard when I showed up. And get this: she said that the corpses are technically ‘non-combatants’ and that she would abide by our taking them anymore.”

Verdia chuckled. That was an audacious claim, but Wiz wasn’t interested in what they thought or the letter of their contract with her.

If they touched them, she’d try and kill them.

Verdia looked at his forces, numbering over six hundred, and noted that he didn’t think he could take her, not even with the undead around him.

“Well, I suppose we’ll have to-”

Ragcraft cut him off with a smirk. “No. I slipped in and retrieved a letter from our king. We’re to both report back, and you’re to explain why you made that deal with Degurechaff. And before we leave, you’re to begin an attack. Don’t use all of your forces, but he’s ordered you to remind them of how fearful they should be feeling with a Demon General so close by.”

Ragcraft stood still, glaring triumphantly, and Verdia sighed. The reminder of how he was technically failing in his mission by not finding either the Double Blessed Reincarnate or by destroying the town irked him. He sighed. He supposed he might as well attack it.

If this Double Blessed Reincarnate were there, they would have to come out and fight him. If they weren’t he’d be fine.

Maybe… a comparison to Norse? They were supposedly very technologically advanced, and claiming that Degurechaff might be able to do more damage in the long term than even the Mobile Fortress Destroyer might get him to see his view.

Chapter Text

Around her, four people were seated.

This was greatly different than the usual.

There were no other adventurers around them, or wait staff, or even police officers or guards. The only observer that was likely to be looking in would be a rat or two.

There was also no great view of the interior of the guild. No skeleton could be seen hanging from the low, squat ceiling above them. No plants dotted the interior of this small room, and no windows could be seen around the room.

The only thing that was similar to the guild was the good lighting, but even that was different, considering it came from the candle-lit lamp at the center of the table instead of the popular and efficient mana-fueled lights.

Of course, all of this was familiar and expected of the group that had decided to hog the backroom of a local eatery for the fifth time that week. Chris hadn't wanted this conversation to be overheard, especially not with what was going on in this town.

The Atheist was being hailed as a hero. She'd found those potions, and she'd given them to the guild, and she'd helped people when they were fighting, and she took the time to talk to everyone.

The town thought that she could do no wrong, and they'd even begun supporting that girl's charity.

Oh, there weren't any connections that she could find, but it was named Mithril and had no connections to a religion. She scowled down at the table.

No one else could be that pompous.

Charities, when they did pop up, were always connected to a noble trying to do something for their own gain, or to the church attempting to garner more followers.

Since the thing had no connections to anyone – as far as anyone could tell conclusively tell – it was the real deal.

It didn't want to do anything but help people.

She clenched her fist. As if that Demon would do anyone to help others without some plan for her own gain.

A sound outside of the room alerted the occupants to another that was coming to join them. The door slowly opened, and Darkness walked in. She looked hesitant to enter, but Chris could see the resolve shining in her disciple's eyes. Chris smirked, and then turned to the other four.

They were different; with the funds she had – sorrowfully – stolen from the lock box in her own church, she'd been able to keep providing for her students.

They were all decked out in relatively high-level gear, garbed in fitted clothing that matched each of them to a tee. Each of them were also holding onto various relics.

Rin, the only Mage among them, was holding onto the three relics that channeled mana: The Typhoon Staff, which he'd been reincarnated with, Evan's Book of Spells, and the staff of someone they didn't know.

It had a distinctive fire and ice motif, but none of them knew where it came from. They'd written it off; they didn't care, as long as it helped.

Kei, the Thief among the Reincarnates, had two: his Knives of the Fortieth Thief, and a huge sword that hung by his side. Like the staff, none of them knew who had owned it, and they had once again chalked it up to a former Reincarnate that Degurechaff had killed.

Hiroshi was also holding onto two relics: his own Extendable Spear, and a much hardier looking lance. It looked like it had once been pure white, but it seemed to be stained red on one end.

While the stain was concerning, it was also useful, so they ignored the blood and planned on what they'd be using it for instead.

The last two relics had been handed out appropriately. Jin had taken back his Never-Miss Bow, and Chris had decided to wield Saki's sword. She didn't technically have access to the skills necessary to wield swords, but it was short enough that she could use it as a dagger and face no negative effects.

They had spent a week training. A week making sure that they could win this encounter.

Chris knew that, in a one-on-one fight, or even a five-on-one fight, they wouldn't win, not without preparation, planning, and Luck, all of which they now had in spades.

That was what they'd been doing. Preparing, training, and making sure to level up their skills. Now, with Darkness's help, they'd be able to win.

Darkness sat down. "Thank you all for helping me get to the bottom of this. With your help, I'm sure we'll be able to talk sense into Tanya and-"

Kei choked, and Rin and Jin both looked at Darkness skeptically. Seeing as their Spearman looked to be trying to say something he shouldn't, Chris jumped across the table to silence Hiroshi, and then turned to Darkness, fighting to keep a nervous expression from her face.

"No problem, Darkness! We have a plan, and you'll help us complete it, alright?"

Darkness stared at them, and shook her head slowly. Chris explained Darkness's part in the plan.

"You'll be distracting Viktoriya. She's probably eager to trick more people, so if you present yourself as being willing to listen to her explanation, I'm sure she'll wander off with you. After that, we'll surround Tanya and gets some answers from her."

Darkness nodded, a ghost of a smile gracing her lips. "Alright! I'll help out!"

Chris, after giving her a bit more of the plan, as well as the all-important potion that would help in their endeavor, urged her to give them information on Tanya. She nodded, and rushed off to a nearby room, looking for something to write all of the locations Tanya frequented.

Chris turned around as soon as the door shut, to face four angry looking adventurers. "What was that about?" Kei asked.

Chris rolled her eyes. "Darkness doesn't know what we're really doing, but we need her, just like how we're going to need all five of us to pull this off. We definitely won't win with both there; we can take out Serebryakov afterward."

One by one, they nodded, and then they began to go over the plan again. It would require precise timing, and screwing up anything would most likely result in their deaths.

Well, in their deaths. Not hers. Chris was sure she'd be fine, with how much of her was still in Heaven. Degurechaff would have realized she was a Goddess by now if she still had a lot of it.

-OxOxO-

Tanya and Viktoriya walked towards the Blacksmith's. It was time for them to part ways, at least for now.

She knew she'd have to visit again eventually; their Computation Jewels would still need maintenance occasionally, and she was sure that she'd be able to recreate another gun with some more work – maybe the first Sioux's submachine gun?

However, she had to say goodbye for now. She'd take anything she'd left in there and leave it with the Succubi, and she would wish him the best of luck and hope he did the same.

Chris was gunning for her, Darkness was unlikely to help Tanya, and Tanya had no doubt the Thief might try and attack her at any time with the help of whichever Reincarnates were stupid enough to join her.

She reached the shop, and went in. The windows were clouded again, and Tanya had the vague desire to find a Mage and learn Create Water, just so he wouldn't be able to keep them dirtied up with her around.

As it was, she sent a Wind Breath towards them, blowing some of the dust away. She looked inside, and saw that he was standing in the back, working at his forge. The bell above the door rang, and he looked towards her.

A nostalgic look crossed his face. "Ah, Tanya. How nice to see you again."

She shrugged. "Yeah, sorry about my absence. As it is, I'm thinking of leaving Axel soon, so I thought I should get rid of all my stuff…"

He waved a hand. "Nonsense! You can leave the stuff here. I don't know what it is for, but some of it's been helpful in making some more intricate weapons." he said, gesturing towards some of the tools she had invented in order to make her gun, as well as the more mechanical portions of the Type 97s.

Tanya shook her head. Maybe she'd introduce helpful things like this to this world later, but for now, she couldn't risk this stuff getting out. Not after her second contract. "Sorry. I really shouldn't leave this stuff laying around…"

She walked into the back, and began picking things up. The latest batch of 'gunpowder' laid sealed up, and all her tools looked to be in pristine condition. She picked it all up, handing off some to Viktoriya.

It seemed the Blacksmith was staring. "That's a lot of stuff to carry."

Tanya heard Viktoriya respond. "Not really. We've got… buffing spells, so it's not that bad."

Tanya picked up the last of it – a bunch of metal she'd left lying around - and saw that Viktoriya was holding a large number of metal parts, tools, as well as the gunpowder case above her head with one arm.

Tanya swept passed the Blacksmith, pausing as she reached the door. She turned around.

"Thank you, for everything…" she trailed off, and then she began to laugh.

Honestly, the way they had met well over a month ago had startled her so much that she'd forgotten a basic tenet of introducing yourself to someone. It wasn't even some small thing, either.

He looked confused, and she answered his unasked question. "I never even found out your name. What is it?"

He smirked. "You know, no adventurers really care. They just demand that I make them things, or they call me by my profession. Nice to see that you're flustered about taking so long, at least."

Before she could say anything else, he said, "The name's Bill Smith."

Tanya blinked. That seemed… very appropriate for a Blacksmith, and she supposed that people were often named after what they looked like or what their profession was. It was a common enough occurrence back in the Empire, even a lot of the Aerial Mages she commanded had a von in their names.

She nodded. "Then thank you, Bill." With that, she left the shop, carrying her things with one arm and waving the other.

Viktoriya thanked him as well, and then they walked out the door.

Tanya sighed as they walked. She still needed to make arrangements with a caravan of some kind in order to travel to a different town – perhaps the Capital that Luna had mentioned was requesting more forces from Axel? – but things were almost wrapped up.

Viktoriya, meanwhile, was idly wondering if the capital had any coffee. The stuff here was so bad that even she couldn't make anything out of it – and she had been able to do a lot with the terrible stuff the General Staff often foisted onto them – and she wanted to have something good around when she broached the delicate subject of 'talking about the war' with Tanya.

Both continued to contemplate their latest schemes when Tanya bumped into someone. She was stopped, the things in her hands crashed to the ground, and Viktoriya bumped into Tanya, dropping her own things.

The person made to apologize. "Sorry, I-"

They stopped, and they became as stiff as Tanya and Viktoriya already were when they realized who it was. They hadn't ever looked down at the stuff

It was Darkness. Her sword, apparently clutched in her hands instead of in the scabbard at her side, had gone flying.

She stumbled over to the items she'd sent flying, gathered them up, and roughly pushed them into Viktoriya's hands. She bent down to grab her sword, and, as she made to leave, Tanya grabbed her. "Darkness-"

She shook off Tanya easily. "No, Tanya. You were the one who used magic on me, right? To stop me from volunteering to save the town and get ravaged by monsters? I hadn't thought you'd stoop to that level, to deprive me of pleasure, but-"

Tanya shook her head. "I was saving you. That potion is going to attract monsters, and it lasts forever, as far as Wiz can tell. When the capital sends in some Hero Candidates to chase Verdia off, they'll fade into the background with no future to speak of."

Darkness's anger seemed to fade. "You mean… you were looking out for me?"

Tanya scoffed. "Of course. What do you think I am, some Sunday morning cartoon villain who revels in the suffering of others? I have reasons for what I do. You didn't let me explain before you seemed like you might try and accost me."

Darkness looked embarrassed and perplexed, and Tanya could feel the inquiring gaze of Viktoriya at her odd turn of phrase, but Darkness sighed regardless, as if she were about to continue.

Tanya didn't let her. She was having to relocate thanks to her, after all, so she'd get in a bit of petty revenge. "Honestly, that you would assume I charge off into a meeting with a Demon King's General with no plan is brain dead. That's your job, after all, Lalatina."

She began to blush, and Tanya smirked as the Crusader began to blush from embarrassment instead of her usual shame and pleasure.

She'd finally found a way to punish the girl without also getting her off.

Tanya's thoughts were interrupted by the Crusader's next words. "Then, you had a reason to make a contract with Verdia?"

Tanya sent her a glare, and then looked around. There weren't any people out today – odd for a Tuesday, but more regular when you realized that trade hadn't picked up quite yet. It was getting better, but on a street this far into Axel, it wasn't unexpected.

She grit her teeth. "Yes, I have reasons for doing so. I managed to get information on each of the Generals. Nothing too important, but valuable for someone like me, who doesn't have access to whatever you nobles have that constitutes as your information network."

Darkness looked somewhat upset – Tanya would be too, if she ever jumped to false conclusions about other people and her surroundings. Eventually, she shook her head. "Fine. I can accept that you had your reasons, and I can't exactly ask you to give up your life fighting for no reason, but…"

She hesitated, and then turned to Viktoriya. "Serebryakov. Can I talk to you," she asked, glancing at Tanya and adding, "alone?"

Tanya felt a bitter, angry – it had to be angry, because she was not afraid of a monster she hadn't seen in nearly four months, she wasn't – ball of emotions well up inside her, but before she let it show, she pushed it down.

Viktoriya was nice to have around – an understatement that would only grow more understated if she ever got a hold of some coffee beans – but Tanya wouldn't get to have her around for ever. She would eventually find someone she wanted to settle down with.

Tanya couldn't lean on the girl for support forever. Eventually, their interests would diverge. Tanya would have to deal with her messy emotions and life on her own.

Viktoriya sent an inquiring glance at Tanya, and she responded as kindly as she could with her emotions swirling, "Make your own decision."

The woman let her gaze linger on Tanya for a moment, and then she smiled, nodding.

"Sure thing, Darkness!"

Viktoriya offered the things she was carrying to Tanya, who took them without complaint. With that, the two walked off, leaving Tanya standing in the middle of the street as they walked down an alley. She gazed around.

There really was no one here? The shops, restaurants, and businesses all seemed to be locked up tight.

Her eyebrows furrowed. She looked up, and noted that it was nearly midday. It wasn't a holiday, and it wasn't Sunday…

And yet, Darkness had managed to run into Viktoriya. She was clumsy, sure – she couldn't hit the broadside of a barn with her sword, even if she was inside it – but even she could spot the two of them walking down the street.

She strolled towards a light post, and set down the pieces of metal and tools in her hands. Silently, she poured mana into the Type 97 and began to activate her Observation spells.

Nothing. None of the shops had anyone in them, and the nearest people were Darkness and Viktoriya.

Tanya cursed herself for not testing the Lurk skill with her Observation spells, but she could guess that they were using it.

That left her to try and figure out their location. They were hidden from her sight, and their mana was also be hidden. There were other ways to find them, since the skill only made the imperceptible.

They still existed physically.

Tanya sighed, and resolved to start carrying around more items. Some sort of smokescreen would help-

The idea to use that spell briefly drifted through her mind, but she shook it out. Even if she could direct it with Wind Breath, Viktoriya might get caught in it, and extreme pain, if not death, was guaranteed if you got caught by that spell.

She shook her head and sat down against the front of a fruit store, leaning her head back against it. They might try and do something rash if she looked defenseless.

Still, nothing came. Tanya had no doubt the attack would come if she started to head towards Viktoriya, but she wanted to upper hand, and surprising them would definitely give her that.

She looked down at the ground, and saw the loose cobblestone that paved nearly every road in Axel. She smirked, and began to pry one up.

She was sure that Chris and, if Aya was to be believed, the other four Reincarnates were wondering what she was doing. But they couldn't ask each other, or the Lurk would come crashing down.

She held a pile of them and shouted "Reinforcement spell: Strength." Then, she began to crush the stones to dust with her bare hands. This would probably intimidate them at least, even if her next plan didn't work.

She was sure it would, but it was always nice to have backups in mind.

She whispered, "Smith," and the process took only a few seconds. She surveyed what she'd created, and what she had to work with.

A pile of dust, a bunch of metal, a box of gunpowder, as well as her rifle, pistol, two Computation Jewels, and her Circlet of Greatness.

She smirked. Against only five people, none of which had a bullet or gun between them, she was sure her victory would be laughably easy.

She frowned and shook her head. Getting cocky, especially with people who had Divine Relics, would mean they could surprise her.

She didn't like surprises, especially when they were from her enemies.

She sent one last look at the pile of dust on the ground in front of her, stood up straight, moved her things from the Blacksmith shop behind her, and took a deep breath.

She activated her Passive Shield, and she shouted, "WIND BREATH!"

The pile of dust scattered practically detonated, sending particles of crushed rock and sand across the alley. She was protected, her things were protected, but the storefronts weren't. The window of each and every building were caked in dust if they weren't broken, and Tanya was sure that dust had most certainly blown into the windows that had.

Most assuredly, the cart that had been hidden from her view, where she could see several dust-covered figures materializing, certainly hadn't been protected.

The coughing figures shortly stopped coughing, and Tanya sighed tiredly. Chris's trademark silver hair was clearly visible, even under the cover of dust. She could recognize the others as some of the ones as well, even if she didn't know their names.

They were Reincarnates. She could see that the three that had given her the most trouble in her taking of their weapons were there, as was that Mage that had helped her out the last time they'd tried this.

One she did know by name, however. She smirked at the glaring figure. "Kei, right? How are your legs? I've shot them so much that they must be tired from carrying around so much dead weight all day."

He glared, but he said nothing. Tanya couldn't see much of his face due to his stereotypical, ninja-like clothing, but the blades in his hands were fairly recognizable. Tanya turned to Chris. She opened her mouth, tempted to ask her why she'd done this.

Then she remembered the last time she had been mouthy with an enemy, and she shook her head.

Then, she reconsidered. It wasn't like Tanya wanted to fight, and if she could convince the others to stop, she might be able to use them as a shield, if things went badly.

"So, you all have decided that attacking someone with a rifle is a good idea, when all you have is magic and Medieval weapons? What makes you think you can win?"

For a moment, they were all quiet. Then, Kei spoke up. "I'm sure you're aware of it, but taking during a fight is a very stupid idea."

Tanya smiled widely and shrugged. They didn't have to know-

"Besides, stalling for time won't help you. That bitch of yours is sleeping deeply, along with the Crusader," said Chris.

Tanya grimaced at that. Well, maybe they already knew. She continued to stand stock still, waiting for one of them to either move on her or start talking.

The man with the bow stepped forward. "My family would have been much better off if the Japanese were not bombed by the Americans at the end of the Second World War. I just wanted to take the place of some alternate version of myself."

She stared at him for a moment. Then she looked at the others, wondering if they really thought he was right in the head. Disconcertingly, none of them batted an eye at his words.

"I really don't want to know anymore…" she muttered as a hand drifted towards her rifle.

She looked at the Mage, hoping he wasn't criminally insane or something. He just shrugged. "Eh… maybe it sounds like I'm aiming a bit high, but being the Pope was a lifelong dream of mine. Getting placed in that position would be pretty convenient."

She looked to Kei, sure that he'd be just as… odd. "Oh, nothing like that for me. I wanted to see if they've got any openings in Heaven though. Eternal life and worship sound pretty nice."

Sure, Tanya's wish wasn't exactly the most… humble one to exist, but she had had over sixteen years to fuel the fantasies of what she'd do to that self-proclaimed god if she had the chance. None of these kids looked to be older than twenty five.

Shaking her head to get back on track, Tanya looked to Chris. "What do you want?"

Chris was, at this point, a bit of a conundrum. Was she a Reincarnate Tanya had missed on accident? Was she some self-righteous adherent to Heaven…

But no, then she wouldn't have known about Tanya, and Tanya was fairly sure that the Reincarnations were fairly consistent – no more than one a day, always before noon and mostly in the morning.

Tanya scowled. If she wasn't a Reincarnate, though…

Tanya's eyes widened as she gave the girl a hard stare. It couldn't be…

Tanya's thought process was interrupted by the man with the spear. "Jeez, you guys want such extravagant stuff. All I want is the ability to get away with pedophilia."

Tanya's thoughts did not resume after he finished her sentence, and she stared hard at him. He smirked as he scratched at his beard.

"Hey, stop staring at me like that. I can only get so hard-"

Twitch.

Tanya took off from the ground, but none of them flinched.

Tanya nodded; the contract she'd taken from the first reincarnate had outlined her powers. They must have a vague idea of what she could do.

She studied them as they began to surround her, taking special care to note the movements 'Chris.' Most of them seemed to be better outfitted than even her – she could see metal or leather armor covering almost every inch of each of them.

The archer was left in front of her, covered by Chris and Kei.

Tanya took her gun from her back, building up a spell.

The Mage – dressed in greens and yellows, with a hood on his head and rings on fingers that clenched a staff in one hand and a book in the other – shouted. "She's charging!"

Chris and Kei both held out a hand. Tanya made her choice, and pointed her gun at the three of them, choosing to shoot an Artillery Shot and to apologize for the damage later.

Her safety was paramount. Collateral damage was acceptable.

Twin cries of "Steal" erupted from the pair in front of her, and Tanya gasped as she felt her spells collapse with the removal of the Type 97.

She didn't have to look down her shirt to guess what had happened. Both the Thieves were holding onto her Computation Jewels. She snarled, and continued charging. No jewels meant she was disadvantaged, but-

Both of them jumped out of the way, and Tanya growled. She pushed the built-up mana into a Reinforcement spell, pushing herself to reach them.

"Jin, now!"

The archer – dressed in the leather's typical of any Robin Hood lookalike – released his arrow, shouting "Please, Goddess Eris!"

Tanya felt her entire body spasm at the stupid, pathetic cry for help, and she aimed her gun again.

She deployed a weak Active Barrier, and smirked as she felt a spell wash over it. Someone had attacked her from behind. She'd get to them after she took care of the person in front of her.

Jin's arrow twirled through the air.

This projectile had been part of their plan, which amounted to having the Thieves steal her precious weapons.

After that, she'd be defenseless. They'd all attack at once and finish her as quickly as possible.

Unfortunately, they hadn't counted on the value of either of her Computation Jewels being as high as it was. Jin was currently hoping he might slip it passed her shield somehow, with the help of the blessing of the Axis Cult that Chris assured them would work.

He wouldn't have been able to. The arrow, had it impacted a shield that had no problem eating up punishment from guns, would have bounced off.

But that blessing still worked.

It twirled through the air and impacted the only portion of Tanya not protected by an Active Barrier.

Tanya lurched as she felt a force slam into her gun. Dumbfounded, she looked at her rifle, slack jawed in awe at what had happened.

His arrow had…

It had sneaked into the barrel of her gun and jammed itself inside. Tanya looked up from what had happened, to realize that her opponents had also stopped to stare.

Tanya eyed Chris and Kei, and she burst off to the side with what weak Reinforcements she could use without the Computation Jewels.

Viktoriya was likely incapacitated, if she hadn't already come to help. That meant she needed to finish this to get back to her, which meant she needed a Computation Jewel. She focused on Kei.

The ninja-like male brought up his blades to oppose her. Tanya smirked, and raised her gun, thankful that she had worked with Dust so much. As he began to thrust his blades forward, Tanya sneaked a boot under his guard and into his midsection.

The Thief doubled over, groaning, and Tanya pulled back her rifle, intending to skewer him. Then, the whizzing of something sliding through the air told her to move.

She jumped over the Thief, and watched as a spear had narrowly missed her. She looked up and found that the man with a staff – clad in knight's armor – was brandishing a spear in one hand and a lance in the other.

She almost spat out a derisive comment about the impracticality of trying to hold two weapons like that, when she recognized the one in his off hand.

It was that weapon she'd been nearly killed with, still stained with blood. Her blood.

Her blood…

She shook her head. NO! Now was not the time to have a flashback and PTSD and-

Tanya glanced behind the man as she felt sweat begin to build on her body, and saw that the others were approaching. The thought of running crossed her mind, but the thought of Viktoriya, wherever she was, stopped her.

Her stare grew pointed. She dropped her dysfunctional rifle and shoved her hand towards her belt, brandishing her pistol.

She wasn't leaving Viktoriya.

The man's eyes widened behind his helmet, but Tanya didn't wait for him to recover from the shock of seeing a second gun. His words from earlier brought images to her mind.

Red and yellow and extravagant hallways and not being able to stand and a sharp, bitter smell and hopelessness and weakness and failure and-

BANG! BANG BANG BANG!

One, two, three, and a final fourth shot left her gun, and while the first ricocheted off his armor, the next two sneaked between the weaker portions of the shining metal, while the last blasted through his exposed nose.

One down. Four to go.

She looked down at Kei – who seemed to be recovering admirably, for someone who hadn't been in a war – and pushed mana into her Active Barrier as he attempted to knife her from his kneeling position. They didn't penetrate, but they did make an ear-splitting screech.

All of them winced for a moment, but Tanya recovered fastest. She deactivated the barrier and watched as Kei tripped forward without the force of the barrier to block his attack. Tanya smirked, and aimed her pistol.

Shots entered his body, again and again and again and-

Until Tanya realized her gun was out of bullets. She jumped back, watching as the three remaining fighters eyed her warily.

Tanya shoved a hand into her bandolier, and retrieved a clip of bullets. Chris extended a hand. "Steal!"

Tanya grunted as she watched her pistol appear in the Thief's hands. She put the clip back into her bandolier and picked up her rifle. Fine, then. It seemed she'd need to use her-

"Steal!"

Again, two voices rang out. Tanya grit her teeth as she felt the hat on top of her head, along with the Circlet of Greatness, disappear. She looked down, to see that her rifle was clutched in the hands of Kei.

He was chuckling like he wasn't full of holes. How-

Tanya looked at him again, and realized that he had another weapon in his off hand. A sword, from the first reincarnate she'd killed. The one that blocked pain.

She sent a violent kick at his back, sending the sword flying. He cried out, but instead of pain, it was an order. "Use Steal!"

Eyes wide, Tanya bent down and tore something away from the almost-corpse. Before Tanya could get her rifle back, it was gone, clutched in Chris's hands. The Ranger, the Mage, and Chris all looked relieved.

Tanya looked at her hand, and chuckled. She'd torn the Type 95 away from Kei instead of her rifle.

Typical.

"Are you watching even now, Being X?" she asked the air. She watched as they all stiffened.

They shook off whatever shock they might have felt at knowing a 'god' was watching them, and they looked cocky.

She didn't care.

Tanya grit her teeth, and she picked up a dagger that Kei had been using. She plunged it into his back, noting that he didn't even seem to be mad about finally getting killed.

Two down. Three to go.

They looked less cocky, but the superiority returned when Tanya reached into her glove and retrieved a small knife,

It was small; smaller than the short sword Chris was wielding, and only two times as big as the slim, long arrowheads the archer used.

Chris had the gall to laugh at her. "What do you think you can do with those? You haven't put any points into using daggers or knives."

More memories assaulted her. A woman was flying above her, staring down at Tanya's empty hands and aiming a rifle at her face.

Tanya snarled at the gall. The Superiority.

Tanya gripped the small knife by the blade, and she threw it towards them. Discouragingly, it flew passed them, into the cart behind them.

The Mage chuckled once. "You missed us, you stupid-"

The Ranger spun on him, glaring angrily. "What did I say about flags? Don't say stupid shit like-"

BOOOOM!

Before he could finish his thought, the knife impacted the cart they'd been hiding in, and the whole thing went up in flames.

All of them spun around, and Tanya sent another dagger towards them, a grin on her face and a laugh bubbling up from her throat. She was finally getting to use the explosive knives she'd made!

This one landed to the left of the Mage, and it detonated, engulfing him in flames. The other two were sent in opposite directions.

Three down. Two to go.

Tanya took a moment to bask in the quickly dying flames – it was starting to get cold out – and then she turned her attention towards Chris.

Tanya moved quickly. Tanya brandished her Type 95, and she began to spout the words that she hated and relied on in equal measure.

"Oh god, grant this disciple the power to destroy those that would worship any other than thee!"

She felt her exhaustion fade away, and she flew over to Chris, picking up her Type 97 and her rifle.

She looked down at the Type 95, and she felt an eye twitch as she looked between it and the Type 97.

Why… why hadn't Tanya gotten rid of it? Hadn't Tanya wanted to toss it in a ditch on the Eastern Front? Hadn't Tanya only kept it around because the General Staff would get mad?

Why, because it was the only shot she had here, of course. What other reason would she have?

Tanya blinked wearily, and she deactivated the Type 95 and carefully placed it in a pocket. She looked down.

Chris was writhing from the fire and flames that were so close to her, and Tanya kicked her in the side. As she recovered, Tanya placed a knife on top the writhing girl's thigh.

Tanya stilled the writhing Thief by smacking her on the side of the head, and she smiled cruelly. "Don't move; these things are pressure sensitive, and I bet you really don't want to activate it, unless you want to be reunited with your precious god so much."

She stilled, her eyes widening, and Tanya walked to the Ranger. He was also writhing on the ground. Tanya sighed.

"I said I'd kill you if you became a threat."

The Ranger seemed to understand the situation he was in, but before he could beg, she plunged her gun's blade into his neck. She looked around, ignoring the blood that came gushing out and how his body was still struggling.

Four down. One to go.

All of the Reincarnates' weapons had landed within the range of the supplies from the Blacksmith's. All nine of them. Tanya smiled at her good fortune, and turned away, towards Chris.

She saw that Chris was fighting the pain in her twisted ankle trying to balance the knife on her thigh. Just as she calmed enough to try and reach it, Tanya lunged over and sank her blade into her hand.

The girl screamed, but Tanya looked on furiously.

"I know who you are."

Chris froze for a second. Her anger and hate fled as panic replaced it. How could she have possibly-

She grinned. "Mary Sioux."

Chris stared, her shock draining away, and Tanya continued. "It's been a few months since I beat you last, and here you are, following me around. It's almost like I'm your god instead of Being X."

Chris blinked. It was about all she could do as the girl standing above her laughed. "Oh, it's quite obvious. You aren't a Reincarnate – I would have sensed you after I came here, and you would have moved on from this town if you came before I got here."

She shook her head. "How didn't I realize it? Being X hasn't ever helped me out, so his 'advice' that he wouldn't be sending down anymore Reincarnates was to throw me off long enough to smuggle you in."

Tanya continued to stare down at her. "Who else would be this enraged with me? Who else would have the dedication?"

Tanya shook her head. "Well, whatever. I win again, I guess. I don't really care – he'll obviously send you down later. I just want to know one thing: how involved was Darkness?"

The hateful thought to poison The Atheist's relationship and to cause The Atheist even more pain crossed her mind, but the urge died as she imagined how she might brutalize Darkness if she thought the Crusader was complicit.

She turned her head away. "No. We tricked her. She thought we were going to get rid of whatever influences she thought were on you. We gave her a potion to give to Viktoriya to knock her out, but it activates the moment it opens. They're passed out in that alley."

Tanya gripped the girls face, leaned in until they were inches apart, and stared into her eyes.

Yes, this was Sioux. No one else was this passionately hateful of Tanya, besides Being X and the first Sioux.

Chris stared at Tanya, searching for an inch of compassion or something that might allow her to escape anything at all-

She found nothing in the girl's steely gaze.

The girl's gaze…

The girl's gaze…

That… was an idea. But…

Chris felt revulsion build up in her stomach, but she fought to keep it off of her face. She couldn't give it away. No matter how much she hated the idea, the action, it was her one chance.

Tanya inhaled and shook her head. 'Chris' was too angry to tell anything but the truth, then. Darkness was probably fine, and if they made up, Tanya probably wouldn't have to flee.

Tanya began to rise, and Chris saw her chance to get away slip away slowly.

Before she could think about it anymore and become too disgusted in herself to act, she moved, pushing her body from the ground, fighting through the pain of her still impaled-hand and the soreness she felt in the rest of her body, trying to keep her lunch down, and closed the gap between them to what it had been moments ago.

Chris saw the beginnings of shock building up on the girl's face, but Chris pushed passed the three inch barrier of air that had separated them.

She locked lips with Degurechaff.

She kissing her.

Hard.

Tanya dropped her spells, relaxed her grip on her rifle. This was…

Different. Interesting. Her face was turning red, and memories of her first life and the wonders of not having to constantly debate about her own sexuality that she'd tried to repress shot to the forefront.

Everything from when she'd first lost her virginity to just two days prior to her first death.

Just as she gathered her thoughts again and quashed the memories, Chris had already moved.

Her free hand gripped the dagger on her thigh, and threw it towards the pile of junk Tanya had set down.

Chris pulled away, face green but a triumphant smirk still dominating it. "You really shouldn't label explosives so obviously, Atheist."

KABOOOOOM!

A rocking explosion, fifty times as hot as any of the earlier ones, propelled Tanya off of Chris, her side full of shrapnel. Tanya felt her vision blacken for what might have been a second, and she shot Pain-Reduction Reinforcement spells through her system.

Immediately, Tanya shot up, and surveyed her surroundings.

A hole had taken the place of her supplies, engulfing the surrounding four shops. Tanya cast a furious gaze around herself, and began to curse herself out as she realized that Mary was gone.

She took a deep breath, and she gathered mana in the Type 97. "HEAL!"

She didn't feel the holes in her side disappear – Pain-Reduction Reinforcement spells had removed most of the feeling there – but she had to assume they were gone. She looked around, trying to take stock of the situation.

Four dead, variably burnt bodies surrounded her. All of the relics had been engulfed in the explosion. She had nothing to show for this stupid, stupid encounter besides some wounds.

Tanya stalked towards the alley she'd seen Viktoriya disappear into. No, she knew that Darkness wasn't intrinsically against her, just wary of her motives. She could deal with that.

Tanya sat down next to the two of them, and growled as she saw the blue potion bottle which was slowly billowing a light-blue smoke. She threw up a few Oxygen Conversion spells to ward off its effects.

She knew who target number three on her list of enemies was now.

Number two was, for the time being, the Demon King, and number one was obvious. She settled down, ready to wait all day for them to wake up.

She needed to review her battles with the Bloody Valkyrie.

-OxOxO-

Tanya stared into the broken eyes. Gerrard usually looked haggard on a good day, and right now, he just looked defeated. Still, she wasn't budging.

She wasn't going to say a word. She was just… too tired. That battle had been draining, and she could feel a pain in her side, now that the Reinforcement spells were fading. The fear that she might have sealed shrapnel inside of her in her rush to fix herself had come to mind, and it wasn't leaving.

Viktoriya would need to check that, and-

Gerrard slammed on the table, jolting her out of her thoughts. "Just tell us, Tanya! Who were they? Were they trying to kill you?"

Tanya answered that question. "Yes. All of them were trying to kill me."

Then, the other occupant interjected. "Who cast that strong Heal? Was it you? Did you choose to take up the Priest or Archpriest class? Why were you fighting on the street that had been cleared by people dreaming of Eris telling them of a great calamity?"

Tanya leveled a glare at them, and tried to lean forward threateningly. The grimace of pain from moving her side ruined some of it, but the Priest she had met back during the festival, Ashley, backed down.

Of course Tanya was one of the only person that hadn't heard of that stupid dream. No doubt, that so-called Goddess was following the orders of her superior.

Gerrard opened his mouth again, but before he could say anything, a voice began to echo through the building and the rest of the town. "All adventurers, please report to the guild! Emergency Quest! Please report to the guild!"

Tanya smirked, and the two people interrogating her scowled, but he waved her out. She took off, wincing at the pain in her side and activating her Pain-Reduction Reinforcement spells again.

She soon left the building, and was soon joined by both Viktoriya and Darkness. Both looked sheepish, and after the talking to she'd given both of them, she expected as much.

Viktoriya opened her mouth, but Tanya shook her head. "Not now. Just hand me my stuff, and we'll be off."

Viktoriya handed Tanya her rifle. She tried to fire, or to even cycle through to the next bullet, but nothing worked. She shook her head; that stupid Ranger had managed to accomplish something, at least.

She was sure he would take solace in inconveniencing her, regardless of whether he was in heaven or being reincarnated again.

Before she left, she remembered something. She ran back in, and towards Gerrard, who was speaking to his forces about patrolling the town. "Release Dust and any other delinquents you have."

He groaned and grabbed at his face, but he waved one of his subordinates off. A minute later, they came back with a downtrodden looking Dust following behind.

"I don't want to go! It's way better in here than being outside with no work to do!"

Tanya grabbed him by his forearm, and marched out of the police station. All four of them headed off towards the guild. They met up with several other adventurers on the way, but changed direction at the next announcement.

"Report to the front gates! All adventurers, report to the front gates now!"

Tanya muttered angrily under her breath about conflicting orders, but she did so anyway. Dust tried to twist out of her grip, but she didn't give him an inch.

Soon enough, they got there, panting.

All of them quickly straightened themselves at the sight of what was before them. Massing outside of the gates, a massive force was gathering.

Rotting, decaying flesh, turning purple, white, or green. These were the majority of the faces Tanya could see in the crowd of Zombies. Behind and among them, however, she could see faces that stood out.

Undead Knights, armored in a familiar shining white, stood among the Zombies, blackened skin pulled taut over their skulls. She couldn't see what weapons they had, but she guessed that they had the same assortment of swords, clubs, and spears that she had seen during her last visit to Verdia.

She could spot things she didn't recognize, too; corpses that looked freshly dead, that occasionally gestured to the Zombies in their immediate vicinity.

Tanya scowled, fighting down the tired whimper that threatened to escape her throat. None of the others around her, besides the ever-faithful Viktoriya, seemed hopeful.

She sighed. It seemed she'd have to pull this off nearly on her own, if the way everyone else was too stunned to do something was anything to go by.

Chapter Text

Tanya's eye twitched, and then she began stalking forward.

She would be tempted to say that Mary had planned this, but…

She blinked. Even if she had seemed incredibly angry about the undead – which was undoubtedly due to her obsession with Being X – she hated Tanya more. Though how she could have planned this…

Tanya shook her head. Now was not the time.

She heard the muttering of the other adventurers behind her, but she paid them no mind. She looked up to the top of the wall, where she could see two sentries stood, petrified. "Hey! How do we get up there?"

Both of them looked confused, and then they looked down at her. They pointed down, towards a small door in the side of the wall near the entrance. Tanya began to stalk towards it. "Viktoriya! Begin organizing them by job."

Tanya marched up the stairs, only slightly discomforted by her side and the glaring afternoon light that floated through the small windows.

She couldn't feel anything, but she noticed that there was definitely something inside her, if her inability to bend very far was anything to go by.

She reached the top, and glared at the two sentries. "What are you doing? Close the gate!"

They looked at her like she'd said something odd. "How will the adventurers get out to fight, then?"

Tanya raised a single eyebrow as her lips twisted into an even nastier frown. They flinched, and they began to slowly back away from her, like she was some animal.

Well, the pain in her side seemed to be as good as any reason to act just a little bit angry. Tanya lifted up her rifle, and began to wave it around haphazardly. "Lower the gate. We need a defensible position for fighting that many. Why would we fight them if we don't have to? Make them spend