Take Up the Cross – Chapter 90: Understand the Peak

A wonderful night gives way to harsh realities.

None is more harsh than the stifling air that feels of both the coldness of the Castillo’s morning mist and the heat of the ore-smelters. The reek of chemicals and burnt slag is odorous enough to bother even him, despite lacking a hangover.


(Just like the rest of Zennia’s artisan industries, they’re so prodigious. How is it Xin always seems small in comparison?)


The separation of both iron and precious metals from dross seems to take place in relatively tight areas, yet Adris’ interest is peaked by the stacks of finished pig iron, and the jealously guarded caches of gold and silver found within their makeshift processing cordon.


(Even if I know nothing about the techniques of these smelters and metallurgists, I know from my own studies that their outflow is bizarre! Also, there’s no place for coal or wood? Do their fires burn like the inexhaustible one from that old bastard’s shop?)


Where there would be rough kilns and equipment for a normal human artisan, the finest lines of masonry and shining metals plating the exquisite workings prove the stout men, who run around on short legs while grunting orders, to be beyond human ingenuity. For the guarding of stores, human-like statues wearing real armor wait with axes beside them.




From every work of these [dwarves] leaks the scent and taste of the earth that clung to Crackbrass’ shop. Just like that insane man, these wild-eyed masters guard their secrets from all eyes, going so far as to study Adris from a distance while lowering the volume of their curt tongues.


(I’m not a threat… to you guys, at least.)


The torn up earth of this muddy and slanted slide into the deep crack represents Petripolis’ descent into the unearthed Crèche. An abyss is the sole spot the great cranes may lower teams of miners and men-at-arms into, while what comes out is heaps of ores or statuaries from a distant past.

Though it’s hard for Adris to imagine an ancient city being buried within a mountain, the profit inherent disgusts him with how little those working this claim seem to benefit. Such hard-looking men with threadbare underclothing, but strong chain and gambeson, give Adris wide berth as they line up for their assignments, leaving the boy avoiding the muck holes that rains have left permanently within the landscape while he awaits his death match.


(Maybe I should consider investing. Despite the low population, aren’t they doing quite well? Could they do better if I…?)


Larger than Xin’s similar operations in technological scale, it still represents only a preliminary first step into claiming the riches purported to exist, with only monsters between men and fortunes.

The sky overhead is dark as ever, yet the light mysteriously piercing through leaves an impression that these grizzled men are a breed apart from the other citizenry. While the inner sections live in fear, these few brave all dive into a place as dangerous as the Castillo itself the deeper you dare.


(… Maybe we should stop going into the mansion and go look for things here? These people sort of set off my sense of danger, though.)


[Dharmic Minos] is the name that lingers on his tongue, an assignation for the Crèche that no one in power will allow to spread. But the people here speak freely and proudly of it, all while wearing very similar green-painted, white wrapped-body coverings over their more natural Castilian style.

The strange affection they hold for the place seems to seep into their very spirituality, for they claim it as a…


“Are you sure of no interest in claiming our foretold of home? There’s a place for you, no matter how low in our holy system.”

“No thanks. I’ve found my own beliefs and… family.”

Such a personage as the man trying to recruit him bears a passing resemblance to Anaxis, at least for his nose. The older man wearing the same flowing, full-torso wrap and a twisting turban which smells of olives strokes his beard with a tight face and sad eyes, before shrugging and offering once more.

“Mayhaps you will feel different when you descend to see the promised land? Should you wish to see what no other men have, join us! We will take you—!”

“Of course, I would never refuse such a generous invitation!”

Offering to shake the man’s hand, Adris is forced to hold his smile when the old man flinches at the gesture.

“Excellent! Then, feel free to—!”

“… However, I am currently waiting for a contest to start, so I can hardly forsake the friends I’m awaiting to show up…”

“Oh? Well…”


That claim causes the gentleman overseeing the dig team standing behind him to smile in a puzzled way, before saying his goodbyes and leaving.


(What a wonderful, cult-like vibe they have. Just like the forbidden demon cults that the Imperial Court sought to wipe away, or the resurgent fellowship of the Ziahlen Returned. Why is everyone so interested in me discovering my “place in the grand cycle”? These Minosians are such a strange group of—)


“Ah, Shitty Boss, found!”


(… Nevermind, more important matters.)




With his back to the girls who approach him, Adris solidifies his thoughts while he turns slowly to offer his greeting with as much pomp as possible.

“Good morning, Kol. Does this spot suit your purposes?”

Amidst the sometimes chaotic yells and movements of workers, this dirty wasteland represents the spot that one girl demanded he show his best at. Dropping his pack to the ground, Adris laments that he’ll soon be as filthy as the men around him.

The reason for her choice has been narrowed down, though.


(What an awful spot and crowded; but, this is because you…)


“‘Purposes’? Shitty Boss, always seems smart, but sounds sly.” An energetic girl with bright eyes sticks her halberd into the ground before dropping her carried gear. “If Shitty Boss does lying here, everyone will see.”

Wearing Crackbrass’ rusty gear in place of the demonic armor that would no doubt drive everyone wild with terror…


(“I promise not to use the black cross, so you won’t wear that armor, either.” We all make sacrifices. It’s not needed, anyway. Smart of you to pick a public place, as it limits my options. How smart are you now?)


“Right! Here, is good! In front of all people, strong men in Petripolis, everyone see when Kol whoop you!”


(Okay, any cunning she shows is probably intuitive and instinctive. But you are not.)


“I don’t see why you decided to bring your halberd, Kol, seeing as—”




This hateful scream turns every head around them, earning Kol and Adris’ bickering witnesses in excess of what even Adris would like.


“Shitty Boss! Never listen, to Kol! Halberd have hook! Poleaxe have hammer!”

“… They’re not weapons I’m accustomed to.”

“Best weapons! Kol knows all of them… but Shitty Boss never asks.”


(Who cares what their names are!? But, fine.)


Adris makes a mental note to never misspeak about this “poleaxe” that Kol lovingly strokes.


“Inelegant such a statement be, Kol. Amend properly one’s decorum, lest one be considered un-chivalrous with one’s complaints.”

“NAH!? AH!? … Uh, Moon…?”

The hyper-active kobold turns to a small child being carried by a large tease, letting them both see her furrowed brows as Kol hisses in frustration.


(Too good to walk among us, Neesiette? I suppose you being a—)


“One’s look be unwelcome as well, Adris. Be concerned with one’s pursuit of victory over this tool’s disposition.”

“… I’d never say anything wrong about such an elegant lady.”



Adris moans inside as the girl being princess-carried by a manly, yet feminine, Still answers Adris’ look with annoyance. Though approving of his tactics, she has yet to allow even the mildest of his teasing to go unchallenged.


(So much for acting more “natural”. It seems she’s pegged me for someone who always thinks of her in a bad way? I’ve lost ground with her, too, since “tool” is now her title once again.)



… Kol… This place is… filthy. Ew…”


The true princess of the group turns out to be the snake girl who slithers up to hide behind Still, all while twitching as her tail shakes from time to time.


“Be one unable to handle simple muck, newt?”

“I don’t want to hear that from you!? You’re not even bothering to walk!

Oh… I see…!”


Bringing her dainty hand to her face, Avenalliah laughs into it while looking Neesiette up and down.


“Forget walking… wouldn’t someone as short as you just sink into the ground like a bug nesting for the cold season~?”

Offering to demonstrate such a feat, a gecko does?


When Neesiette’s hand, the one which conceals a turquoise-shooting rod within its sleeve somewhere, lifts up, Ave hisses as she ducks lower behind Still.


“Not in such filthy ground!”

“… What is so filthy about it?”


At Adris’ simple question lightly asked, Ave seems shocked at first, before turning curious.

“… Um, well, the soil is nice, but there’s… a large number of toxins in it. The dwarves and men only spoil it further with their work…”

“It’s not the muck you dislike?”

“Hmm!? No, why would wet ground bother me?” Bringing her long tail up and into his view, she brushes off the muck without leaving even a smudge on her scales. “The ground hardly bothers a noble elf who is above the grip of the earth!”

After smiling brightly at Adris, she suddenly looks away while sweating.


(Ah, we’re still “enemies” right now. And you only come clean so fast because the earth loves you! The rest of us will be cleansing our boots for an hour.)


“Unlike little dolls who profess to be [Invested with the Earth] being afraid of it! Hah!”

A whispered taunt produces a clicking sound as a sparking rod is whipped into view.


“Demonstrating the power inherent with this tool’s understanding, allow it to—”


“Unhand what belongs to…!? Still!?”


Said doll begins to flail her arms while trying to reach for her stolen rod, before being flipped over and carried underarm while Still “sighs” with the very device.

Spelling out gestures using the rod, Still asks a pertinent question.


{Are you ready for bashing your head against the brick wall, or do you need another pick-me-up~?}

“I’m in perfect condition as always…”

{Yeah, ye—}

“… but thank you.”


The renewed sneak jolts at the interruption to her lazy wave, going still as Adris gives her the slightest smile.


(What I’m truly glad for is that you’re okay now.)


No longer trashed, the Still that tiptoes through the muck somehow managed to fix the duelist’s jacket and paneled dress she favors, though Adris can’t imagine how. Always with fresh clothing, even the hideous sun called Gallus couldn’t keep his partner from returning in style the next day.


(You also repaired my clothing while I was… “sleeping”.)


Like she’s reading his mind, Still just brings makes a show of bringing Neesiette’s jeweled rod to her mask’s painted lips before pocketing it.


(If she can still tease me like this then she’s fine.)


“Huh, Shitty Boss does look good. No matter how little he sleeps after drinking, he’s fine? Kol, approves.” Giving a curt nod, Kol gives Adris the mildest of agreement. “If Shitty Boss said all that, then showed up weak, Kol would be very angry.”

“Even if you no longer hold faith in me, you should hold faith in your own experiences, Kol. When have I ever remained incapacitated?”

A knowing glance at her leaves Kol more renewed in her convictions as she marches forward to join him in the center of the mud pit they picked.


(None of you understand! I am truly scared of what’s happening with my body!)




Beginning from his awakening on Zennia within the lab of an insane, black-haired devil, Adris has done nothing but run himself ragged on a daily basis. Though possessing a constitution honed by decades of training and supernatural powers, a boy is still just a boy.

But this boy’s body has been vital at the beginning of every day, no matter what.


(Even if Still leaves me with a tonic to take after the one she forced on me, it… my body shouldn’t feel this good!)


Flexing as he begins to warm up, Adris’ proves his agility by entering into the flowing movements of an aura balancing form. While it continues dancing through the mud, the observers are fascinated by its exotic flavor while ignoring the thoughts of the one who practices it.

Only within his mind does the fear of how vital he feels become realized.


(I feel better than ever.)


As he opens and closes a hand which seems just as tanned as normal, Adris swears that he can almost see a bird’s claw for an instant.


(… Ever since that… black and white place. When feathers were there, they grew more plentiful the more I was savaged.)




Something within Adris’ body is beginning to change, and with this change the fear settles in deeper.


“Huh, if Shitty Boss fine, then set rules!”


A yell by his comrade returns him to reality.

So long as the arms he holds before him, before clenching them, remain human…


(I’m… human. And I intend to stay that way.)




Another long-term project is added to the list as Adris begins his latest deception.

Sighing loudly, he then gifts a snarky grin to his favorite kobold.


“Rules? Rules are for cowards, in this case. Are you a coward, Kol?”

“… OH? Big words… liar!”

“Kol! Hold. Before succumbing to anger, understand the threat presented.”



(Shut up, Neesiette! She’s not supposed to!)


As Kol restrains herself, the moon-made automaton grants her fullest attention to Adris with the inability to recover her rod proved.

“Present rules in full to this one, serving as impartial judge to adjudicate all matters involving this contest.”

This even demand brings a nod from Adris, before he simply starts…




“Adris? It’s not hot…”

A flustered elf’s eyes go wide when he unsnaps his cloak and unbuttons his vest, throwing them to the one dry spot found in this area.

“I’m saddened that nobody understands my challenge, yet a few would claim to have understood me.”


While Kol leans forward to watch, Adris pulls his tunic off and throws it away, too.

Bared for the new day, the boy resumes stretching while letting his toned body be taken in by them.

Before curling his hand with an invitation to Kol, reaffirming his confidence with a sneer.


“… Kol, doesn’t want to challenge with mating, though?” Though her eyes flick over his body, Kol only shakes her head with a dumbfounded expression. “Don’t feel like it with liar who isn’t strong…”

“Are you only able to challenge me with those parts of your body, Kol?”





Grime flings as Adris lunges forward, planting his front foot as his hands stretch out while open to grasp onto the air.


“Rather than carnal contests, why don’t we simply solve this in a way you can more intimately understand, little girl?”

Adris’ muscles tense as if to crush an imaginary foe, but his warrior spirit is on full burn as he mentally preps to assault Kol.

“Nah!? Boss… no, Shitty Boss… wants…?”


When she sniffs the air, it’s as if to search out his true thoughts.

Wolf-like irises grow happier, while her tanned face contorts into a broad smile.



“Kol! Understand before confronting!”

“NAH!? But… Moon! Shitty Boss wants to…!”

A quickly swishing tail falls to the muck, dragging as Kol turns to shake her clawed hands at the judge.

“No, she’s right, Kol. Understand how I’ll beat you, so that you can fully appreciate your loss.”

“… Grr…! Boss… Shitty Boss, getting ‘cocky’!”


(Of course I am! I probably only have one shot at this!)




Though he stands confidently before four girls arrayed here to witness either his victory or execution, joined by a throng of curious, tired workers coming off of a shift who want to observe, Adris is only moments from meeting his fate.


(I’ve developed a plan for beating Kol in order to avoid my dick being crushed, but I’ve yet to prove it can actually work!)


Deprived of his rabbit boots left at home, his black cross which is with his clothing, and all of his assorted tools, the only thing that he wears which no one hesitates to leave with him is…


(A bracer which grants immense strength, but with a trigger I don’t fully comprehend! I have to, fast!)


Trying to this whole time, Adris has been feeling out with his aura senses.

Like when he dips into the boots, the horrifying footwear which bleeds into his mind with red eyes and a tinge of the same color coming to the world around him when activated, Adris seeks to understand the magical artifact that he took from Anaxis’ stores.

But, no matter how hard he pushes on the bracer, it remains passive to his desire to join with it. Even with his doom approaching, it won’t awake to his need.


(What is the way of activating it!? I’ve done it twice! What was I feeling when I did?)


Once was when facing this very foe. Because Kol can smell his deceit like Lycia can, even if to a lesser degree, there’s only one way to defeat her with this tool.


(This idiot is completely pulled in by “honesty”, so let’s give nothing but that to her!)




A raised fist becomes her focus as Adris yells out his challenge.

“The rules are simple: we shall face each other with only our strength! The one who succumbs is the loser! No strikes or harm from other means, only the desire to force the other to the ground or to squeeze breath from them!

A valorous knight such as you can never be called cowardly for rising to such a provocation!”

As Kol begins to visibly excite and turn prouder at the compliment, she nods her head while beginning to claw at her armor to remove it.


“Kol! Think before—!”

“Very fun~!” Neesiette’s warning is instantly ignored as a roaring girl interrupts. “Thinking about this, often, wanting to see how strong Shitty Boss really is! Kol… always wanted to do this, with Shitty Boss!

When her armor straps frustrate her unskilled fingers, Kol demands aid.




Agile fingers unlace and free the carnage trapped by rusted steel. With no care for her equipment given as it’s cast aside, the bruiser always looking for a fight lowers her stance and treads forward through the sloshing muck.

“Hmmm!” Muscles crack as she limbers up, mimicking him from earlier as she judges the effect of his movements. “Shitty Boss, not bad!? Every move is one Kol can feel! Feel very light!”


(Stop doing things that will help you!)


“Kol! Don’t hurt Adris! He’s not as crazy as you are!?”

“Huh? ‘Crazy’?” That long tail of Kol’s whips with a crack, causing Ave to shriek and fall back. “Kol, crazy now, huh? Elf, always thinks of new things to say about Kol…”

“NONONONO! Just… Adris isn’t…!”

“What are you saying? I’m far stronger than this weakling, Ave.”




That boast leaves all speechless as Adris cracks his knuckles.

Perhaps it’s the easy way he says it, but Kol stops being amused.


“… ‘Weak’, huh? Shitty Boss, says bad things, too. Maybe, Kol has been…”


A grinning wolf-girl tears into her tunic, with her pink eyes seemingly glowing as the air around her begins to distort.


“… too nice. Kol, remembers punch! Wants to return that feeling.”


Taking her own advice, the cowardly snake exits the arena as fast as she ran from the rampaging rabbits, slinking behind a group of men that yell and dodge from her before she disappears behind boxes.


(… One source of power gone. Unlike the rest of you, I intimately know how Kol functions. I don’t fear her, only you do!)


Though the belligerent lass currently ripping at her shirt produces the sound of fabric tearing while…


“Why are you ripping your tunic off!?”

“HAH! Shitty Boss… did same…?”


With only shreds left of it as she throws them away, a muscular tomboy bares her proud bosom to the viewing public.

While most are only speechless, a few of the men look thirsty as she lets her pert breasts be seen. Air as crisp as it is, those soft tips of hers are erect.


(It’s because of the chill, right!?)



“The fuck? Why is the girl goin’ topless?”


Kol’s approach brings a gathering crowd, all watching with shock as a monstrous demi-human girl gets ready to…


Kol… is gonna crack and grind. Shitty Boss… might learn his lesson after this.”


(I’ll learn my lesson never to drink again! Why did I ever let this idiocy happen!?)




Upon awakening, Adris’ first discovery was how clear-headed he found himself to be.


His next was pieced together from jumbled memories of a drunk ghoul, a pissed off kobold, and a challenge he had prompted. That victory over the slayers amounted to nothing in the face of his team breaking down.

Only Adris’ supreme concentration prevents him from shedding a tear as he readies to jump at Kol.


(Why did I think beating this idiot was so important!? I’m sure I had a good reason, but I can’t remember why!?)


All he can remember is a feeling of peace and an eternal hunger, because the rest of the night is a blur except for important details he knows he hashed out.

Something lodged in his belly demands more, no matter how he wants to walk back this confrontation, because he feels like he’ll cease to be himself without it.


(“I want her”? But why!? Ugh, maybe I do deserve to die, if I force myself into misbegotten situations like these!)


“I’m not going to hold anything back, Kol.” More to convince himself than her, he earns a nod.

“UMU! DO, NOT SAY! Show Kol.”

The girl’s tail goes high as she licks her lips. Within range to leap upon him, he has only a moment to convince his bracer and its dull-gold oval stones to wake up.


(What do you want!? The rabbit boots seemingly love carnage, but what is it you’re craving!?)


His newest treasure is also his least understood, while also being the most.


(I picked the thing I gave you from the cross. You are… [darkness]! A darkness that represents Kol’s awakening to her true form of power! What is your desire, though!?)


When used against Lycia, he remembers knowing that he only had one shot to win over her. A fierce kick delivered the chance for Neesiette to almost obliterate her.


(That was… finality! That’s a key! Listen up! If we… if I don’t beat her, this is all over!)



Muscles which clench beneath the bracer don’t feel any stronger.




Backing away from Kol when no strength comes to him, he earns jeers from around him.


“Hey! Lad! The lass’ tits are that way, if you’re aware of that kinda thing!”

“You fighting her or are you being bullied? Need a hand?”




“RIGHT! COME TO KOL! Words don’t hurt, but they do piss Kol off…

Those furred hands of Kol’s claw invitingly as she grins, revealing teeth which won’t be at his throat only because she swore not to.

In a moment no words will reach this crazed berserker waiting to be unleashed as she huffs and puffs at the sight of fresh meat before her. When she excites, the heat haze forming around her becomes a whirling storm.

Though much diminished without a source of dread, plenty of spectators grow concerned by what they witness.


(AH! … Wait, I used this with Kol, too, like she said! I…)


Adris delivered a punch to Kol that sent her into a wall.

This impenetrable wall had met her kin, bleeding from her lips while getting turned on by the strike.


(What was I thinking…!?

Oh, that’s easy.)


Suddenly feeling confident, Adris stops retreating.

The need to win becomes defined by two things that match together.


(Right. I simply… knew I was going to die if I didn’t stop her. I decided: her or me.)


Even that realization isn’t enough, though.

But the two things, [life] and [finality], merge with another trait he knows haunts him.


(… Competition…)


“If you want to survive, Kol, be prepared to meet me head on.”


The muck flies when he adjusts his stance again.

With one leg forward, he locks his back leg.


Even in the unstable ground, he can withstand her if it’s with this.


(This idiot wants to overwhelm me, not just win…)




But only one is allowed to win.

As Adris realizes the nature of the bracer, he learns something more when he dips his aura senses into it.


When he sends “finality” and “life” together with the thought of “overcoming all others”…!





Atop the mountain, there is no comfort or leisure.


The plateau carved out by the ancients allows no solace from the wind or cold.

To live upon it is to embrace sun and moon at all times.


When sun is high, the body cooks like the meat from his youth.

When the moon is bright, the body chills to the bone as a child abandoned by a mother.


All that is found atop as treasure is what was once brought.


The man with tattooed skin, so weather-beaten that these markings have begun to fade, spares only a moment from his day to inspect what is stored here in honor of the gods.


All of these honors are their honors, brought from those who climb as proof of their reverence and drive.

Those honors are his honors, because he stands atop the mountain and communes with the gods as their sole champion.


Old food,

Useless trinkets,

Broken weapons,

And long-dead lamentations which linger with all of them.


These are what the old man on top of the mountain sups on every day.


That, and loneliness.




A pebble falls, bringing the tall man’s rise from his squat.

It has seemed like an eternity, but now his latest trial ends as the man’s heart beats anew.


The hand at the edge, that dire place that overlooks the world outside of the mountain that means nothing to the old man, is bleeding and shaking as it holds on.

But, even as frost nips at the pale skin, the hand draws its owner up.


Over the edge, the blazing eyes of…





Fight for the honor of the gods, for there can be only one to guard their paradise.”




Words as timeless as the old man announce the champion’s awakening.

Muscles as thick as cord wood and a frame as thin as a young tree give him both a youthful and aged look that addles the mind.


A melodic whistle, subtly gaining in shrillness as it plays out its notes, is the old man’s idea of music while his challenger readies to attack, unbundling his leather clothing and finally drawing his sword from its loop.


The moment the sword clears, the sky darkens.


A leap that clears the distance between the carved dais and the newest offering makes it impossible to call the answerer to this provocation frail as he finishes his whistling song.




Die for my glory.”




The struggle is on in a moment when he whispers these words.

And ends in that same moment.




The newest challenger’s sword is ripped free by vice-like hands before plunging into the stone, where it meets the judgment of the old man’s swinging fist.

Thick hair cannot hide his disappointment with how easily it snaps.


But a fast knife that aims for a vein, one that shines with fluid upon it, earns a grunt and a shooting hand.


The man’s gripped skull stays still, as the rest of his body is twisted around like a top when the mountaintop king jerks him into the air.

Only a gurgle announces the man’s death as his eyes roll back.




Cheeky, but I honor you all the same, brother.”




The challenger’s spirit is gone, but the old man still validates him.

Swiftly stripped of his possessions, the holy corpse is carried lovingly by the mountaintop godling to the top’s edge.




Looking out upon the useless world, with its green valleys and rough steppes, and knowing that he owns it, the old man whistles a melodic tune while looking down.

A dozen men, all with different weapons and temperaments and elevations along the mountainside, stare up into his eyes from where they’re stuck in their climb.


Excellent. I will need not sleep for many moons.”




Their lord of sinewy form and singular purpose grunts his approval, before delivering another sacred body in sacrifice to sky above them.

Watching it plummet, the man stretches his arm out. Though wearing only a loincloth elsewhere, this one affectation has always been allowed to be worn.


A metallic bracer covers his forearm, gifted by the gods and made of leather covered by gray, studded metal, a gift called…





“Shitty Boss?”

“… Ah…”


The kobold before him shakes in his sight, for the vision that jumped into his skull was far too potent.


Unlike with the rabbit boots, this bracer shared much more than angry eyes.

More than just a vision, he understands it as if they have been together since his birth.


(This old man… lived in an age before Vigor?)


Looking back to Kol, he finds uncertainty in her gaze.

A kindness that harmed his soul, one that asked him to declare his infirmity and stay subdued, wakes back up.




As Adris’ body goes calm, a power he’s never felt floods through him.

It demands action. But not from himself.


(The old man of the mountain existed to meet the challenger! That’s the trigger!)




Despite Kol’s hesitancy, Adris needs her to act in order to gain its full effect.


“KOL! Are you a knight!?”

A very un-boylike cry causes those watching to flinch and step back, as Adris’ hands extend to meet the threat.

“… AH? … HOH!


Roaring back at him, Kol’s spirit flares again.



[Kindness between warriors is a sin. Sins are blasphemy to the sky. Honor the gods, the moon and sun, always.]

“AH!? … That…?”


His quiet words are heard only by Kol, causing her confusion as she tries to understand while tilting her head.


“… A knight conveys dishonor by treating her enemy as a cripple. A knight that gives dishonor… is not honorable.”

“Kol! Kol… is not… doesn’t… not trying to…!”

Confusion rushes through the half-naked girl, leaving her falling into a deep fugue.


“… That be the trick! Kol! Be war—!”




A bell-like voice is vanquished before its sentence completes.


Looking past Kol, the boy with quivering muscles discovers a struggling doll being held tightly by a possessive skulker.

The paper charm over Neesiette’s mouth seems quite potent, an effect aided by the vicious smile on an intact porcelain mask and the way Still cockily shifts her hips.


Turned helpful, but also a little teasing, a grin conveys her thoughts as she rubs Neesiette’s face against her own.


{Don’t lose, partner~.}




(… [A god can never lose.])


When she questions his victory, Adris’ ire turns to her briefly, before he shakes it off.


(No, that’s dangerous! But… the thought is enough.)


So long as he holds onto this feeling, he can win.

The repercussions for winning are at the back of his mind, but he refuses to consider them.


“Kol: test yourself against me!





Muck explodes from the ground as the kobold leaps like a tiger.


(I won’t allow it!)


He meets her extended claws in the air, grasping tight as he pulls to drag her to the ground.

Righting herself as she lands, Kol’s muscular legs dig in as she gleefully tries to push through him.


How strong is Boss? Kol… always wants…


Furry fingers entwine with his hands as he returns the favor.

Absent any attempt to throw her off or shift her balance, Adris starts concentrating on breathing as he’s forced back.


(NOW OR NEVER, BRACER! Show me the power of [The Mountain King]!)




His heart beats like a hummingbird when he thinks of its name.

With it spoken in his mind, his once-silent muscles burn to be used.




As she leans over while panting, Kol begins to cackle when Adris’ head dips.


“KAKAKA! Over, so fast!? Kol… ‘disappointed’!”

When she squeezes harder, a boy’s knuckles and wrists crackle.

“… Fine… give in to Kol.”


Forced down, Adris tries not to succumb to the grave of the muck below him.


“… Die for my glory.


A calm request is his battlecry before the struggle truly begins.





A flow of music and fury comes over him, as Adris’ tongue begins to whistle a tune that is unknown to his ears.

When it begins, his body halts its surrender.

“AH!? Strength… where!?”

Kol’s hands shake when Adris clenches back just as hard as she, and her legs start to twitch when he presses in.


Honor the moon and sun…


“… Time to lose, Kol!





The inexhaustible energy flowing through him causes the sweat on his body to evaporate and steam, before muscles which were only toned…


… swell.




(… Ah… ah, fuck… WHAT!?)


Just like before, muscle becomes striated and bundled like cordwood.

The mountain-top’s pinnacle overtakes him.






As his own power grows, her human-sized muscles discover a potential which should not be possible for a living creature her size to possess.

Growling the whole time, she resists his push with more fervor.


(Don’t… get more… AHHH!?)









A shadow falls over part of the kobold girl pressing against the tree-like youth before her, for when he screams this day becomes frightening for all around him.

“Nah… that… is…”

Grunting as he changes further, Adris’ rumbling and creaking earns the widest eyes Kol has ever given, bright pink, and full of both disbelief and exuberance.


Adris’ shadow elongates as the creaking continues.


Arms and legs swell, with tone turning into impossibly defined musculature.

A chest that is boyish becomes a herculean man’s, midget-sized but still mighty.

Veins which flow over his body show prominently as his flesh fills with the power necessary to answer the challenge given to him.






“… Boss…

… is so…




The salivating girl in front of him blushes as she dribbles onto the muck. As dreamily as Ave during her wildest delusions, Kol sighs as her tail whips to-and-fro in excitement.


(Handsome…? I’m… I’m… what am I?)





“I knew there was something wrong with that kid! I could feel it!”

“Is he a monster!?”


A chattering crowd yells and cries as a titanic short kid completely shifts the dynamics of the contest.


(I… don’t want to stay like this!? Everything feels weird!)


Even his view has changed when Adris clamps down on Kol’s hands even firmer…







… and the two start screaming again as they push against the other.




The very environment seems to shake and froth as their struggle intensifies.

Dirt is flung away as invisible currents of energy distort the world around their locked fists and tensed muscles.



“Save your apologies for after! LOSE, NOW!


(Before I explode!)


His bracer shakes with the power flowing through the roots stemming from it into his body, unwilling to cease giving as he can’t refuse to accept.





Sparking currents jump from their fists and strike the ground, with the clash causing Adris’ skin to feel like it’s burning as the air grows hotter from her own burning aura mingling with his force.


“… GHGHGHGHG…! No, Kol… never surrender!

“Then… be made to!


With all of his power,

Adris flings off her grip, sending her arms flying away as his do the same when their struggle stops.

“GAH!? Oh!?”




Ducking low, Adris throws his hands out as he tries to dive in while she’s shaken.


(I was trained to fight with my body, you stupid girl! I know enough… to beat you with this strength!)



When Kol leans in to counter him, Adris drills a hand through her cheek to throw off her balance.



But she slaps it away and leaps for him, catching him first.




Wrapping her arms around his tree-trunk waist, she drags him to his side and lands on top of him. Unwilling to let her mount him, Adris grabs around her right leg, dragging it with him, but ends up feeling her left in his back.


(Ah, she’s going to get me!)


A girl who has no knowledge of strategy has amazing battle sense as she tries to go for a pin on him while they roll in the grime, because her arm wraps around his own leg as she tries to lock him.




Twisted up with her, Adris struggles with his herculean strength just to keep her from submitting him.


(Untwist! UNTWIST!)


Powering through, he switches his arm holds on her leg, which she adjusts by getting back to her feet and dragging him up under her.



Her legs lose balance as he grabs onto her ankles and pulls her forward with the leg she grips, dropping her face into the muck. While she struggles to breath, Adris tries to lock her leg again as she tries to lock his.


(GAH. It’s a stalemate!?)


Lingering in the muck, neither can gain the advantage.


“Guh!? Give up!”

“You will give up!”




(I’ll tire long before she does! A GOD DOES NOT LOSE!)


His thoughts fire up as he looks for a way to grasp victory.

But it’s the strong roots winding through his body, whistling melodically the whole time, that find it.


([“The impossible becomes possible?” Interesting. Look to the past to honor the future, childling.])

(What? GAAH!?)




Just like it submitted its thoughts to him, the bracer demands compensation.

A history of fighting, one known only to Adris and built from scratch with each victory and theft of knowledge from others, is incorporated into this bracer’s style of unarmed combat as the roots suck at his prowess.


(What are you doing!?)

([A movement which was impossible shall now be realized, gifted from the depths of your grief.])




Something shatters, followed by a horrid scream in his heart.

A sealed place is unsealed by the bracer’s flaring aura of darkness.






The terrible worm cries out as it tastes freedom. Even if it’s only a dissolving corpse, it hungers for more as a bit of life returns to it.

Though its power has been stolen, it quickly feasts upon a tormented Inner Expanse with sharp teeth.




Until it’s squashed by the giant foot which descends from the unseen sky.



([Impossible Pivot.])








Muscles which have reached their maximum twist in inhuman ways as she makes a strange grunting sound.

Joints move without regard for limitations, allowing the unreal to make sense in the aftermath.


(How can you mimic a technique!?)


The leg she holds is suddenly upright, while she faces the ground, despite being on top of him a moment before.


“… Wha—






Grabbing her leg with one hand and tail with the other, Adris yanks without mercy as if to pluck the silver-scaled appendage from its base.

She lets go by mistake while trying to escape, with Adris finally discovering a weakpoint on a monstrous girl that has never once screamed in pain like this.



([Be honored by falling into the sky!)]


Letting go of her tail and leg, Adris reaches down to grab her by her waist.

With the kobold distracted, he leaps into the air as she grabs onto him.






As gravity asserts itself, the energies surrounding them both grow.

His great jump must return, leaving him angling to let her head meet first as her legs flail.







Her head is between his legs as she plummets while facing toward him, while her body is rigid in his arms.

When that cackling head of hers strikes the ground with wind rushing away,




The entire ring splashes up into the sky after the explosion roars out.




“Stupid boy!?”

“This is insane!”


Mud drenches all the spectators as a bursting of the muck on impact begins to fall.


The impromptu spot of their struggle is left clearer than the rest of the mining encampment for the moment, revealing harder dirt underneath that the two fighters are buried into.




When Adris lifts himself up, the girl he planted collapses into an ungainly pile.

Her body falls toward him, plucking the head from the dirt.


PFAH! KAKAKAKA! … Bosh… Bosh… dhat washe…!” A dirty mouth keeps spitting out liquid dirt, while she struggles to both breathe and cackle. “Thash… that was…!?”


(I don’t even know what that was…)


An old man had demanded the movements he resisted, taking over his body by force.




([“Sky-Burial Piledriver”. Remember its name, inheritor, and honor the moon and sun…])




The strangest old man speaks with a reverential tone, but also firmly, just before the voice fades away.

Adris suddenly feels that personality fracture, as if it passed along what was keeping it together.


Darkness, thick like ink and weightless like spider webs, falls away from the bracer and dissolves into the light of the day.

Leaving it perfectly normal.




“… Okay… Kol, understands.”


Though bleeding black Vigor from her head, the kobold below him manages to turn over.

Still covered in muck, her hands reach down to the top of her pants.


“Boss, was hiding all along… true power.

Real Boss: realest man. Biggest muscles.


Moaning as she says these words, the stained girl flashes a needy look at him as she lowers her pants, withdrawing her abused tail with a loud pop from the hole sewn into the back.


“If like this, Kol has it all! Because… Boss, already had… biggest dick for body.”


When she lifts her ass up for him, Adris gulps at how wet this crazy fighter is.

Taken by the thrill of her own defeat, she’s soaked as claws spread her cheeks wide for him, letting him see into the warm hole waiting for a pummeling that the loser demands.


“Kol… wants… Boss…!”


Gone is any sense of rationality from Kol. In the pinnacle of his victory, her hunger for violence seamlessly becomes an all-consuming need for mating.




(… I want you, too. But…)


As Adris tears his sight away while desperately trying to keep his pants from bursting any further, the others around him reveal many different thoughts.


Violet eyes stare at him with the most fascinated glow.

Revealing no other emotion but interest, the silenced Neesiette hangs loosely in Still’s arms as she examines his body down to the very square centimeter.

Only a nod graciously given to him shows that the amber-haired intellectual still remembers he’s a human deserving of recognition.


(I’m a freakshow for study.)


The girl that holds Neesiette holds another impression entirely as her own head tilts further to the left.

Almost as if her head might break off, she can’t seem to stop it from drooping as she loses all energy in her sagging body.


A mask displays a slight smile, one which looks so intentionally faked that Adris might cry if she signs even a single word to taunt him with.


(… Sorry.)




With the men assembled either pale white, gasping in disbelief, or nodding with pursed lips at his victory, a distraught maiden is collapsing like Still in her own way.


“… Adris… is okay… he’s… okay…”


She keeps repeating the same phrases while nodding, clutching her breasts like her heart might explode out of her chest if she lets go.


“… he’s… not… a monster… he’s… a boy… who… k-k-k-k-kissed…

my… lips…”


(Ave! Don’t… please don’t…!)




When he steps toward Ave, pulling his lumbering, meaty body with him and lifts an arm which bulges with muscle to point at her, she flinches.

Then brings her dainty hand to her fake, smiling mouth, while her cheeks turn as green as her emerald scales.





And turns and vomits into the muck, causing the men around her to curse as they watch a snake elf lose her mind while retching.




“BOSS… waiting…!?”


A nearly devastated Adris turns back to Kol, who looks at him with more love than she’s shown to anything she’s ever claimed to care about.

Not even the armor she wants to be buried in counts as much in her heart as the misshapen, ugly creature that Adris has become.




Her tail whips maniacally as she screams out at him, before something in his body shifts.




A cracking sound comes with a burst of pain, before ripping and straining joins in.

The temple that is Adris’ body crumbles all at once.












Kol cries out before jumping around, leaping to his defense as his eyes go white and he restrains from screaming, only able to shake.


“Get help!”

A man screams as Adris’ musculature slowly reverts to normal, and with it his size, leaving the boy recalling what his mind was suppressing about the cost of the bracer’s use.








Unable to speak, it takes the meshed hands pilfering through his belongings some time to discover where he hid the alchemical regenerators, leaving Adris held by a formerly lovestruck Kol as she wails at her loss.










Name: Adris fehl Dain, “Boss”, “Starr”
Titles: Lycia’s Little Brother, True False God, Slayer
Race: Xin’El, Emperor’s Child (Human)
Sex: Male
Age: ?? – Young


Occupation: Crossbearer; “Star of Ruin, Cast Down from the Sky Upon a Dying World”, Slayer of Petripolis
Discipline: [Rule in Dark]



[Tool Savant] – “Adris is a tool-collecting-and-utilizing fanatic. Most men would consider him disgusting for loving tools more than his own partner. Has so many tools that it can be said to be his true power. What does he do when he has no tools left? He seeks to acquire more, obviously!”


[Rule in Dark – Wave of Darkness] – “Making victory possible? No, no, no. That thing isn’t that kind! There’s more than that!”


[Brainfry] – “You’re still with me, right buddy? Yeah, you’re still there.”


[Refuse to Kneel] – “Ah, even the Alchemaster can’t make me submit! This is the one that’s saved me all those times!?”


[Tongue of Air and Darkness] – “What’s the difference between this and the old one? Why ‘air’?”


[Conceptual Refusal] – “How the fuck does dominating people’s minds turn into a weird statement like this!?”


[Obscuring Sonjil] – “Man, this thing has gotten pretty strong on Zennia. At first only creating an area of fog, it can now cover a direction? Is something wrong…?”


[Marital Arts – Self-taught] – “Hoh, even if it’s dangerous to use, it feels good to prove to myself that the body is still as willing as the mind! Even if I can’t call it aura, something is inside me now!”


[Verisimilitude] – “Stop giving weird names to what I do! But if my imaginative truths are more believable now, I’m not gonna complain.”


[A WONDERFUL CURSE] – “If that old corpse wasn’t already dead, I’d definitely kill him!”




[“Rabbit Boots”] – “Providing increased agility while moving as a passive boon, they also allow actively to bound great distances with surprising grace. What do they cost though, I wonder?”


[The Mountain King] – “[Honor the gods, inheritor, and ever seek victory for their sake.]


Disposition: Resilient / Adaptable / Sinner
Alignment: Chaotic

Eyes: Black
Hair: Black, with strands of White
Skin: Tanned



Rantil Value – “Even after all of that, Master is still an idiot!”


Attributes by Grade:

Strength – E

Vitality – E

Dexterity – D

Agility – C

Intelligence – D

Mentality – C

Luck – F

Charisma – D


“If you want more, stop being mean to Rantil!”



Cethran Value – “Much the same as before, but isn’t the way you look at others a bit more dashing, now? Forced to open yourself to the world, perhaps the gentleman may grow? That is likely impossible, isn’t it, Adris?”

“Despite believing that you were speaking candidly, didn’t you hide everything you truly wanted to say? Do you feel your ‘sorry’ was sufficient to explain the depths of your shame?”

“With yourself finally resolved to begin answering the question, shall we look forward to assistance?”


“For a second, you might have been someone who was handsome, if only to one girl, yes?”



“A boy who is a bit out of place as far as features, he descended from the top of the Castillo to the bottom by pluck, luck, and outrageous lying. Reborn into the world of Zennia, what can be said other than ‘he’s still exactly the same, but different’?”

“A lot more playful while drunk, his tongue is also a lot more boastful.”

“Only when intoxicated does his brain finally slow down enough to work properly.”


“Learns that with great power comes great suffering.”



“Change back, please.”



Name: “Kol” fehl Dain, “Pink”
Titles: Idiot, “Tyrant Knight”
Race: Kobold, ???
Sex: Female
Age: ???


Occupation: Delver, Frontliner, ???
Discipline: Tyrant Squire




[Invisible Edge] – “Axe goes through everything?”


[Full Contact] – “Wanna go!? Kol, let fists talk!”


[“Ride on Dread“] – “THE WORLD, BELONG KOL! KAKAKA!




[ ?DARKNESS? ] – “▒▒▒▒▒▒▒▒……!!!”




[“Dreadful Armor”] – “This is where Kol will live and die. When Kol roars, armor roars, too!”


[Halberd of the Whirlwind] – “GET OVER HERE!”


Disposition: Straightforward / Confrontational / Respectful
Alignment: Neutral

Eyes: Pink
Hair: White
Skin: Tanned



Rantil Value –

Attributes by Grade:

Strength – C-?!?

Vitality – C-?!?

Dexterity – E

Agility – F

Intelligence – F

Mentality – C




Cethran Value – “Are you attracted to rampaging metal? Though in your case, you appreciate the voice, don’t you? Do you long to see more? If she reminds you of a certain someone, then…?”

“Discovering pride? Isn’t that like asking for her to leave you?”


“How do you feel to know what she’s looking for in a man?”



“Brash and forthright, a warrior wielding an axe with two hands forsakes protection to deliver only harm. Contrary to this impression, she also seems interested in a straight up fight. If her words are any indication, she offers little thought to her actions.”

“With pride comes self-worth that one can understand and convey to others.”


“Despite losing, she also wins.”



“Her hidden fancy is for a special sort of man. Why not the stereotypical bancho guy?”



Name: Avenalliah Aurmaris
Titles: Lustful Lizard, Elf
Race: Elf
Sex: Female
Age: Young

Occupation: Delver, Scared Girl
Discipline: ???



[“Sylvan Calling”] – “The spirits play when they want to! … They really do! Why are you looking at me like that!?”


[Preternatural Strikes] – “Um, I’ve always been pretty good with a whip? Elves use a lot of weapons! I just like… my whip…?”


[Monstrous Strength] – “EH!? Why is it monstrous!? Elves aren’t monsters!”


[“Unknown Angel”] – “Ave doesn’t feel especially blessed…”


[Elvish Venom?] – “Hm? Well, Ave doesn’t really know, but if you have fangs, shouldn’t you have venom?”


Disposition: Joyful / Impressionable / Cowardly
Alignment: Neutral

Eyes: Crystal Green
Hair: Moss Green
Skin: White



Rantil Value –

Strength – C

Vitality – D

Dexterity – C

Intelligence – C

Mentality – F

Luck – A

Charisma – C




Cethran Value – “While not possessing your newly favorite curves, isn’t a girl with a naive charm also fine? Because she covers so little, you are also left without having to imagine what you could possess, yes?”

“Is this not fun? When discovering herself, she has also discovered how to be useful, yes?”

“Though she might be growing as a person, do we always grow for the better?”

“Isn’t it nice to have someone who will always enable you?”


“Yet, to lose her, would you understand the loss? If she’s quite beautiful, then wouldn’t she need a man who is also about the same?”



“As cheerful as she is skittish, Avenalliah fits an unknown position within the four delvers’ group. Though she carries a large sack, that would hardly count as a position… right?”

“Though she calls for an elvish god to hear her supplications, who represents the deep earth?”

“Is that smugness how she would be if she were more confident, or something thrown back at only a special girl?”

“But the fear is ever reviving.”


“Suffered another horrible mental trauma.”



“Is comic relief for a bit.”



Name: Still, “Cyrene Stillwater”
Titles: Puddle
Race: Undead?
Sex: Female
Age: Young Lady?


Occupation: Delver, Trickster/Outfighter
Discipline: Accursed Avenger




[“Reprisal Strike”] – {You had it coming, deciding you could oppose me and walk away from it.}


[“Surprising Agility”] – {Is it honestly surprising by now? Walls are just another surface~!}


[Nectar] – {How does my suffering taste, spawn ofcursed blood”!?}


[Delusional Movement] – {How did you forget that shadows are also a doorway, Adris?}


[Undead Fortitude?] – {Do you think that what has no life cares about your pathetic strikes?}


Disposition: Playful / Sadistic / Skulking
Alignment: Chaotic

Eyes: ???
Hair: ???
Skin: ???



Rantil Value –

Attributes by Grade:

Strength – E

Vitality – E

Dexterity – C

Agility – C

Intelligence – C

Mentality – D

Charisma – E




Cethran Value – “Do you really think it’s not obvious? What she possesses is what you’ve missed all your life, yes? Breasts and curves… are these not a new fruit for you to taste?”

“If you’d hit the ground, would she have made a joking gesture and said ‘whoops’?”

“Shouldn’t you be careful of love, Adris?”


“To be found disgusting even by your partner, how terrible it must be?”



“A mute girl who says much with gestures, she also has more going on than she seems to. Though not outwardly aggressive, there’s an atmosphere of danger about her. Opposite of Kol, hers is subtle… Yet, she also can protect others. Given to acrobatics, it matches with her dark, but flamboyant, colors.”

“Soft-spoken at times, perhaps the unifying factor to her being quiet is when she’s not sure what she should think.”

“The one who is most dangerous of all to anyone in her way, she has found something she considers…?”


“While coveting Neesiette, she also seems to treat her quite flippantly.”



“Even this fun-loving girl has limits.”



Name: Neesiette vera Luna
Titles: “Moon”
Race: Lunamata
Sex: Female
Age: ???

Occupation: Delver, Mystic
Discipline: ???



[Rod of Force] – “In what way would it be changed? As designed, so shall it function, correct?”


[Rod of Respelling] – “A lady be every ready to instruct regarding what be in error.”


[“Brings An End” – Ponderous] – “[Ponderous was the end, for the unfair passage of time finally brought even earth to its conclusion]…”


Disposition: Impassive / Calculating / Curious
Alignment: Ordered

Eyes: Pale Violet
Hair: Amber
Skin: Pale White



Rantil Value –

Strength – F

Vitality – F

Dexterity – D

Agility – E

Intelligence – B

Mentality – C

Luck – F

Charisma – C




Cethran Value – “First imps, and now short girls? This is certainly becoming a pattern, isn’t it? Though you might not fare badly with a girl as beautiful as this, yes? Though she’s a little perfect, doesn’t she seem oddly demure?”

“Taking charge is a threat to you, isn’t it?”

“But deferring to you… isn’t this how she’ll earn your love?”

“Isn’t she more glowing now?”


“Aren’t you glad that she wasn’t revolved?”



“An otherworldly existence, she wears clothing that doesn’t fit with the Castillo. With mannerisms quite distinct from all others, even the girls she travels with seem incomparable to her uniqueness. Yet, she definitely seems to be in charge…?”

“When others fail, she arrives on the scene to unwillingly take control.”

“Though she often takes exception to people not listening to her, it seems Adris has carved out a special spot in her thinking.”

“What did she learn within the darkness between worlds?”


“Ever the scholar, to the bitter end.”



“Neesiette time soon.”






Chapter 89         Table of Contents          Chapter 91