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Okay! Ianthe thought, frantic. Needed!

As the writhing, green hulk brought its limbs to bear against the party, Ianthe pulled her sword from its scabbard—and plunged it into the ground behind her. She kept an iron grip on the hilt, bracing herself with the very ground as leverage, and brought up her shield. Perhaps she’d underestimated the shoddy metal, or her own wherewithal, or the intangible yet undeniable effects of Luna’s music, but when that vegetable tendril came down upon her, it found her unyielding.

The impact shook her to the bone and took a chunk of wind from her lungs, but she weathered it. When the worst of the strike was behind her, she yanked her sword free and whirled the edge around to carve herself a path forward.

Baldur was thrown aside, the dragoon—well, Ianthe kept an eye out for her. Behind her, Artemisia had made weapons of the air itself, and behind the monster, Avaddon had begun an assault of his own, simpler in practice but no less effective in execution. A sword—at least, her sword—would be wasted if she used it trying to carve the Malboro apart for glory. She knew her place in this fight, and it wasn’t to wring the sap out of the wretched thing, it was to keep the others safe while they did.

“You fight!” she called back to Luna, but she could only spare a moment’s glance back to the anxious bard before instinct screamed at her to keep her eyes on the giant turnip that was trying to kill them all.

Ianthe weaved forward, shield ahead, trying to keep the thing’s attention narrowed. Big beast, it was, but a beast nonetheless. Vicious, dangerous, but single-minded. Easily distracted.

She hoped.

Kana found the dormitories pleasant, certainly more than she thought they would be. There wasn’t anything particularly extravagant about them, but beds and desks and closets, and above all, space and fresh air, were things she’d taken for granted before leaving Goshogawara. In Kagoshima, at least where she’d lived, everything was salt and brine, and the humidity that clung to the air carried the scent of the docks with it, which was something she’d never quite grown accustomed to.

Once they were inside, Kana was quick to close the door behind them out of habit. Reflex wanted her to lock it as well, but she figured that might have seemed strange.

Now you’re worried about being weird?

She silently thanked Wakako for carrying her bag, and shuffled it out of the way while her roommate surveyed the room for herself. Cozy, that was apt. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d thought of a place as cozy.

“Oh, no, this is wonderful.” Kana answered, pleased to hear the evenness in her own voice. Their departure from the public had done more for her nerves than she’d thought. Without the eyes and ears surrounding them, with the excess anxieties sheered away, she was quite surprised with how comfortable she felt. It wasn’t perfect, the jitter was still in her bones, and her heart was still just a bit too lively, but compared to earlier, she was practically calm.

Time to absolutely ruin it, then, while she still had the confidence.

“Thank you for…ah, humoring me. I’m sure there’s still plenty you want to go out and do, or see. I just wanted to get, uhm, grounded first, I guess. So, thanks—no, I already said that.”

She’d meandered to the window without realizing it, and nearly lost her train of thought, again, looking outside at the academy. It was still jarringly unfamiliar to her, and she worried that, just like the smell of Kagoshima’s harbor, the sight of Ishin would never quite settle with her.

“Anyway,” she said, pulling herself back. “My quirk isn’t…it makes me stronger, and…uhm, well, it sort of hurts when I use it. But I guess that’s the…point. I’m sorry, I’m explaining this really badly. I should just—”

Kana knelt down by one of the beds and got her hands underneath it. The mattresses were thin, the frames thick but manageably light. Altogether it was still too heavy for her on her own. She considered activating her quirk, but letting it build up on its own could take a minute or two, and while Wakako had proven to be an accommodating sort, Kana didn’t want to push her luck. So, instead, she braced herself, and then banged her elbow deliberately against the bedframe.

“Ow…” she muttered, but it wasn’t so bad, really. More pins than needles. Still, it was enough; she could feel it in her veins, or her muscles, or wherever the quirk made its nest within her, and for a few moments she felt decidedly bigger than her own skin. She managed to get the bed up, not very high, and more tilted against the wall than straight, but it was a good enough display, she hoped. The effects wore off quickly, and she lowered it back to a proper rest while she still had the means to do so gently, then got back to her feet.

“And that’s it, really. The more pain the more…that. I haven’t really done a lot of, uhm, conditioning. I’m not very good with pain. I guess that’s something I need to work on. But, sorry, I’m talking a lot. I do want to know more about you—your quirk, I mean. N-not that I don’t want to know more about you, too, of course.” She bowed her head. That too had become a fierce habit. “Sorry if that was rude. I didn’t talk to many people in Kagoshima, and I guess I’m a bit nervous, and I’m…still talking a lot. I’m sorry.”


Kana had figured she’d recognize Wakako’s mother when it finally came up, and she was right. Tanegashima Sanae was indeed who she’d been thinking of, and though she’d never seen the Warship Hero personally, the stories were plenty. She wasn’t just some local talent, she was the real deal, someone people admired from Tomakomai all the way down to Kagoshima.

Suddenly the resemblances were uncanny, albeit Kana didn’t have much to go on but a few pictures she’d only seen years ago. Still, now when she thought about the child of the famous Tanegashima, it seemed so obvious. Then, to snuff out even the finest traces of doubt, Wakako presented irrefutable proof: the cannon. Kana had seen plenty of quirks before, and it was hard to define, or at least adhere, to any idea of what a “normal” body was in a world where so many people—revered people—were decidedly abnormal. She wondered then whether it was rude of her to stare at the giant, metal artillery cannon extended out of her roommate’s stomach, but she was excited by the idea of getting to see it in action. Not now of course. Wakako was right, a demonstration here would have been…problematic, in the kindest word.

Still, she had questions. Did it hurt? Was it heavy? Did she just…carry cannonballs around with her? It would have made sense, given all the muscle. She tried to think to what she knew about Sanae, but the details were fuzzy, and perhaps Wakako had her own methods anyway. Just because she was Sanae’s daughter didn’t mean she had to do everything the same way.

Or maybe you just can’t understand why someone would want to be like their mom.

"So yeah, about you?"

“Oh…uhm…” Kana could feel the blood in her cheeks. She’d been paying perfect attention that time, she was just…slow. “I’m from G-goshogawara, in Aomori. It's not...super far from here. I mean, I was born there, but I lived i-in Kagoshima. That's farther, and there's lots of…boats. My, uh…uhm…”

Kana’s jaw twitched, she bit her lip to keep it shut. Her tongue didn’t seem to know how to make the right words, and her throat was being stingy with the air. It was like her body was protesting the idea that she might…what, be honest with someone? No. She was right to be careful.

You’re not being careful, you’re being a coward. And worse, you’re being very, very rude to Wakako.

“I’m sorry…” she said, finally managing to force her mouth open. “Could w-we go inside first? It’s very…ah…people-y, out here.”


And there went the monk.

Ianthe heard the concern in Edgar’s words, she felt the same. Though Avaddon had been a rather loud and seemingly excitable man, she doubted he meant to face a nesting of miniboros all by his lonesome. Still, intentions often held little weight to what could actually happen, and if he wasn’t careful—or perhaps even if he was—he may find himself in a dire situation without aid. She hoped not, not just for his sake, but for the group’s as well.

Balder seemed to be holding together well, which was a relief. She’d seen plenty of leaderly-types among the bandit troupes, and plenty of them were quick to crack when faced with a real threat. Of course, she didn’t want to compare the Hunters Guild to them, but in the back of her mind, the part that denied the existence of true altruism, she couldn’t help it. She felt like a mercenary.

The dragoon pulled her back, and it was nice to hear another voice of reason among the group. Ianthe shifted to the right flank, casting quick, occasional glances back at Luna, Artemisia and Blaike. She kept her focus mainly upon the fog, but pushed from her mind its more mystical qualities. Balder was right, forward was the only way. Everything had an end, and this forest—this fog—was no exception.

Unfortunately, neither were any of them.

Kana shuffled after Wakako, adopting a fairly brisk pace to keep up with her. This girl was certainly…different, compared to most adults Kana had met, let alone people her own age. It wasn’t off-putting, but she did feel a bit guilty using her new roommate as what was, essentially, a social blast-shield. The way people’s eyes were naturally drawn to Wakako made Kana wonder if she hated it too—the attention, the spectacle. Did children shy away from her? Did men and women who were too old for petty derisiveness, still gawk and grimace at the sight of her? Did friendship come rarely, and unnaturally, and never for long?

Maybe she was overthinking it. Wasn’t attention part of the deal? People were supposed to look at heroes, and heroes were supposed to like being looked at. Kana had always viewed fame as an unavoidable drawback to heroism, something that had to be endured, but she also hated the sound of her own name, so really, what did she know? Maybe it was a good thing to be famous, even if the idea twisted her stomach into knots.

“…I can lift things real easy, you know.”

Stop. Spacing. Out.

It took her a painfully quiet moment to piece together what Wakako had said—or rather, asked. Kana looked down at her bag, which she hadn’t stopped holding in her arms like an animal since they’d left the auditorium, despite that it had straps. There wasn’t much in it, because there hadn’t been much to take, so it wasn’t as though carrying it was a strain. Did she look like she was struggling?

It’s called being polite, you moron. It’s something good people do. Take notes.

What was she meant to say? Was it polite to accept Wakako’s friendly offer, or would it be demeaning to make a hero’s daughter carry her things like some pack mule? She hadn’t known Wakako very long, but she was nice, and Kana was suddenly very sure that she didn’t want to offend her.

“Oh, ah…I’m sure you can. Y-you seem very strong.” She offered the duffel out, more than a bit sheepishly, and tried to put on a smile that was at least familial to gratitude. “It isn’t really heavy, but i-if you want to, then…thank you very much.”


Well, that couldn’t be good.

In her admittedly numbered years, Ianthe had seen men turn tail and flee when faced with greater numbers or a lost cause. Wild animals, too, shared a similar instinct for self-preservation. Fiends, however…fiends didn’t care if they died, they hardly cared that they were alive in the first place. Fiends didn’t run.

Luna hissed beside her, flinching as if she’d been struck. Ianthe whirled, shield raised, putting Luna between herself and the other front-liners. Artemisia, while some steps away, was at least still standing and apparently unharmed. Ianthe kept her in her peripherals as she scanned the backend for whatever might have struck their nervous archer. Her hand, gripping the hilt of the blade at her side, still hesitated to draw it.

Not yet, she thought. Split hands, split mind. Wait. Wait ‘til it’s needed.

But nothing came. The fog grew heavier, sinking to the earth and pooling at their feet, but there was no sign of their assailant. She made a quick, sharp hiss to Artemisia, nodding for her to come closer to the group. Something told her the mysterious woman had more than a few tricks of up those viridian sleeves, and they’d need the arms still attached to make use of them.

Blaike, who she saw with the steadiest flick of her eyes was within comfortable reach of Mitra, put forth the idea that they split up, and Ianthe nearly broke form to gawk at him. She supposed under normal circumstances, that might have carried some merit. Splitting up against human foes was, well, suicidal at best—and, really, at worst—but fiends had no mind for strategy, or lack thereof, and could perhaps have been…surprised? But these were clearly not normal fiends, which only made the need for closeness even more pressing.

Whatever science he had studied in Alexandria, it had not been the science of war.

Luna winced again, and Ianthe adjusted, cursing herself for missing yet another strike. Only, no, there had been no attack. Luna wasn’t injured, she was…oh, dear.

“Easy, easy,” Ianthe offered, quiet and gentle-like, as she’d spoken to a few of Argo’s more nervous defenders in the past. “We’ve got you. String up that harp.”

It really was a harp, wasn’t it? Ianthe hadn’t been sure whether the extra strings served any practical function or if they were purely decoration. Instead, it seemed to be a combination of the two. She still wasn’t sure why the bow had a harp fashioned into it, but she also would have been lying if she said it wasn’t damn pretty.

Perhaps it was a magical thing, the girl had slotted aldite into it, after all. That was good. Old-fashioned archery would likely match the miniboros just fine, but if the mission grew a little more severe…well, the more Ianthe considered that possibility, the more grateful she was to have prospective mages on her side, like Luna, and the foppish Blaike, and…the other one. The winded one with the good sense of danger.

“Guess you’ll be writing all the ballads, then, about our mighty triumphs over the…ah…rioting cabbages,” She said, and offered Luna a smile in return. “Ianthe. Uh—I mean—my name is Ianthe.”

Forests, were unfamiliar territory for Ianthe. Aside from the crops, Argo had been a fairly desolate place insofar as flora were concerned. And fauna. And people. Desolate of just about everything but bandits and fiends, really. But the unfamiliar beasts hanging in the guild hall hadn’t dissuaded her, and a few trees certainly weren’t going to, either.

She hadn’t fussed over the supplies too much. Potions and the like were standard, as Balder had mentioned, and while the aldite was a slight divergence from that, the stones were—practically speaking—entirely useless to her. Ianthe had seen magic only a few times, and most often it was wielded by whatever eleventh-rate mage the bandits could get their hands on, or by a traveling magician visiting the market towns. Neither had particularly impressed her, but then, being inept with the arcane herself, she wasn’t exactly a good litmus for what was and was not “good” magic. Regardless of all that, the closest thing she had to slots in her arms and armor were the countless chips and dents riddling them. So the tiny gemstones stayed in their bag. Maybe they’d fetch a few extra coin when this was all over.

She kept her sword sheathed as they walked, though her hand rested upon the hilt, and the shield strapped to her offhand was more important if they were going to be ambushed. There was something wrong to her about traveling with a naked blade, something almost feral, like an invitation to violence. Weapons put people on edge, that was half their job, in her mind, and it seemed like most of their group was wound up tightly enough as it was.

She’d watched the tinker boy cobble together a few grenades, and that was entertaining, if completely beyond her. The spear-wielding girl joined her and Avaddon at the front with Balder, and that was pleasant. She was confident, like the rest, but less…abrasively. And that weapon, Ianthe guessed, had seen its share of uses.

Behind them, among the parts of the party she and the others at Balder’s side were meant to protect, Ianthe couldn’t help but notice Luna looked…off. Nervous was the word, like the boy Edgar had seemed back at the hall. Now that they’d left the warmth of the city though, and the tinker no longer seemed as worked up, Luna was still the same, if not worse. Ianthe had made a point not to judge those who looked out of place, but it would have been beyond bad form to leave that sort of nervousness unaddressed.

It was too bad she had absolutely no idea how to go about addressing it.

Confident that the trio of Balder, Avaddon and Mitra could handle the front for the moment, Ianthe dropped back a few paces, beside Luna. She gave the girl a gentle nudge with her elbow, hoping not to spook her, and offered a reassuring thumbs-up. Or maybe it was more of an inquisitive thumbs-up. Or maybe it just seemed patronizing, and made her look like an asshole. Maybe it was an asshole thumbs-up.

Words, Ianthe. You’re a big girl. Use your words.

“Hey,” she offered. “Uhm…cool bow.”

Cool bow. Cool Bow. Cool Bow. Cool Bow. Cool Bow. Cool Bow. Cool Bow.

Kana blinked, and suddenly the assignments were through. People were starting to disperse, and as the crowd began to thin, so too did the invisible weight constricting her begin to lighten. Briefly, she allowed herself to believe that the hardest part was over, at least for the day.

"—Penny for your thoughts?"

“Wh—?” Kana nearly leapt at Wakako’s question, and her face flushed immediately. It shouldn’t have startled her, it wasn’t as though she’d forgotten the giant of a girl, nor that she’d said anything even remotely harsh. Perhaps she’d just expected that, though. People didn’t often call upon her with friendly intent, and she was usually right to be skittish whenever the name “Mutsuki” was mentioned.

“My…” She mumbled, fingers fidgeting over her bag.

You think it’d be an absolute disgrace for this poor girl, the daughter of an actual hero, to be stuck rooming with someone like you. If—no, when—something terrible happens, what do you think that’ll do to her future reputation? Or her mom’s reputation? If you had even the tiniest shred of decency you’d offer to transfer to another room. Maybe you’d get lucky, like Shun, and get cordoned off alone.

So much for the hard part being over.

“I…think it’s very nice to meet you, and…I…think I already said that. I did. I’m sorry.”

Before she could rail on herself for that one, a sudden commotion pulled her attention away, as their upperclassman guide took a rather unceremonious fall. Shun, thankfully—and with notably impressive speed—was at her side offering help.

Kana took the opportunity to push onward, and returned her attentions to Wakako. No, she was not jumping ship just yet. She would swallow that awful thought and stick by this. For now.

“Maybe…uhm…would you like to get our rooms settled, first? It’d be a little quieter, and we could talk. If—sorry—if you want.”


Names, those were nice. She’d missed the opportunity to offer hers, but she was happy enough to learn the others. Mitra, Avaddon, Blaike, and some Alexandrians too, by their names, Edgar and Luna. The other woman hadn’t introduced herself though, so at least she didn’t feel singled out.

She was apprehensive to hear that Blaike worked with Cid’dan Falreath. She had no idea who Cid’dan Falreath was until that moment, but the words “Royal Scientist” sat uncomfortably with her. What was a man who worked in the lap of luxury doing here, trudging amongst the common folk?

It didn’t seem like she was about to get any answers. Avaddon, loud as he was, had moved forward with the comraderies, and while at first she’d found his boisterous nature somewhat endearing, what he said settled as unpleasantly with her as Blaike’s profession. It wasn’t as though he’d said anything wrong, but it stirred within her a familiar distaste for the lifestyle he lauded. The adventurer’s life.

“Wandering,” he called it. It was an appropriate word. An aimless journey, fueled by hope and the lust for excitement, something which had sparked the imaginations of plenty of Argo’s youths. There was nothing wrong with adventuring, of course, it was as skillful and respectable a life as any, but so often she’d heard—as she was hearing now—how easy it was to conflate adventuring with heroism. Ianthe was confident that the warmth Avaddon spoke of was real, but she was not convinced that it came from the joy of helping others. Rather, she’d always believed it was the glory that warmed them, the challenge of a worthy foe and the thrill of conquering it, the fame and recognition, and of course, the coin.

She respected the Hunters Guild, but the Hunters Guild had never come to Argo. There was no profit in it, no glory.

Of course, she was one to talk. She’d never stepped foot outside of her hometown before coming here, never thought about the problems facing the world beyond her own borders. Even now, it would have been a bold-faced lie to say she was more concerned with Ferris Wood than being paid for defending it.

No, Ianthe had decided long ago that heroes weren’t real. Ideas could be heroic, intentions could be heroic, but in this world, people could only be close—the Hunters Guild, fantastical and genuine as it might have been, was the perfect example.

Proctor Grescott handed out the risk sheets, and she wondered for a moment if any of them were actually going to back down. Who would possibly come this far just to turn tail now? The boy, Edgar, who was quite unassuming compared to the Alexandrian scientist and the man from Fabul, was the first to turn in his sheet. Brave, that one. She hoped he held onto that.

Finally rising from her seat, bones a bit stiff and nowhere near as rested as she liked, Ianthe scribbled her name in a barely-legible scrawl of someone who had never made a serious commitment to literacy, and handed it back to Grescott. Then she collected her things and made her way to the door alongside Edgar.
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