BY INVITATION ONLY Phantasmagoria — Ewigkeit in Wiedergeburt

Villamvihar

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Thank goodness, Mina released Eirlys. Not soon enough to prevent the girl from blushing head-to-toe, but soon enough to prevent her from asking the show of affection to end, because she did not see herself as deserving of such a thing. Especially with the suffering of another in her sight. She already felt weak enough without it, and Mina's words reminded her of the foul feeling in her stomach.

She really needed to help Aurora, did she not?

Yes.

Now, what was the method again?

Take a deep breath. Close your eyes. Count to ten. Think on your feelings. Explore them. Acknowledge them. Let them know how you should act.

Eirlys took a deep breath and followed her mentor's words, taking a moment to center herself. She immersed herself in the moment, letting her feelings claim parts of her body for themselves... Then, after what felt like a long wait, she opened her eyes. She could still see the back of Mina, flying one one of the streets and she knew what her action should be.

MasterwillHelp

"Yes, she w-w-w-will... Corvina..." Speaking barely above a whisper, Eirlys swallowed, then walked after Mina. Though not quite as quick as flying, she did not feel she was capable of casting magic in her mental state. Her heart still throbbed within her throat. Her chest still felt tight. Her fingers still trembled.

But at least, her mind and her goal were clear.

She arrived at the scene, a little later than Mina, but she heard enough. Arriving behind Seia, she could make out the girl's speech about Aurora and her hands clenched. Her stomach churned. Her mind rebelled. But once again, she knew what to do: heart threatening to rend her chest, Eirlys blitzed forwards. The Witch's shoes almost cracked the pavement with the force of her movement. One could easily mistake her trying to attack Seia, however, they were too late to act.

Everyone was too late to act.

So they could only watch in horror as...

Eirlys wrapped her arms around Seia, embracing her?!

"I-I-I-I-I-I-I'm n-n-n-n-n-n-n-n-not l-l-l-letting go u-u-u-until y-y-y-y-you s-s-s-s-s-s-top b-being m-m-m-mean."
 
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Karyra

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Silence. Melora did not say anything. She looked at the paper, at Seia, and then back at the paper.

"Those were not the questions I asked. Those were not the answers nor the knowledge I sought. Frankly, if nobody will tell me what is going on with Aurora, then I'll find it myself. While it's important to me that she stays, Seia is..." Melora couldn't spit out the words. "Whether or not she stays is irrelevant at this point. We can't convince her if she doesn't want to listen."

"And I can't be that person. I've already failed, of course. However, I believe that I shall go purchase those cakes. I had hoped to eat them with Aurora... but this all happened and..."

Melora shook her head. Seemingly disaffected by all this, Melora started to walk off, passing by Seia and Eirlys. She patted the shy girl on the head, walking off. There was nothing else she could make. No moves she could do to clear the game. She'd lost, pure and simple. This was why she needed to know more. Worth was knowledge. Knowledge was worth.

As she crossed the street into an alleyway, she punched a wall. She bit her lip, took in the sharp pain, and kept herself from screaming in frustration. Truly, the worthless one was her. She hardly knew anything about what was happening, and what was that laughter? What was that blue skin? The questions weighed heavily on her own shoulders. Pulling her down so heavily, she felt as through she was back in that room with that Womb. The air was tight, and she could barely breathe.

Then she took a breath, stood up a little straighter, and seemed to have put back on that mild-mannered smile from before. Sliding it all back on like her own physical mask was easy. She could just slip behind those barriers and go back to work. Truly, if she just put in some more studying... She stopped by bookstore, carefully examining the titles for books on Manablight and stories of Questing Witches.

She was going to get to work, and she was going to eliminate those questions.

Luma Luma R-9 Pilot R-9 Pilot Ehb Ehb
 

Ehb

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Seia gave a look that pointed daggers as the unwelcome person who'd just taken a hold of her from behind. She recognized the voice - it was someone from the squad, but she couldn't put a name to it. The one thing she was certain of was that she wanted this unwelcome embrace to cease immediately.


"Who the blazes are you? And why are you hugging me without my permission!?"


The praetorian wriggled helplessly against her attacker's ironclad grip around her. It was inhuman!
Even as Melora walked by them...

But of course Seia saw that Melora had, basically relented. Unlike the urchin that was clamping down on her abdomen. Though, after Melora walked away, the strange scene where only Rune, Seia, and (As Seia just realized) Eirlys fell silent. At this point, Seia wasn't comically trying to shrug the girl who was attached to her. Rather, she was standing only composed. Sort of like she begrudgingly decided to tough out this torment for just a moment to re-evaluate the situation.



"It's over. Let me go already."


Eirlys, true to her word, remained clamped onto Seia.

And as such, Seia walked on. Disregarding Rune whom was seemingly frozen by Seia's words. Eirlys dragged behind Seia like some sort of oversized cape.


Seia went to get supplies from with Eirlys in tow.
She reported to her superiors with Eirlys. They didn't say anything but had expressions that were most bemused.
She stood to eat at the counter of an eatery. When the Staffer motioned to ask if Seia's new parasite wanted something to eat Seia waived them off.



Seia basically dragged Eirlys everywhere. All the way to the block where her Coven's living facilities were located.
It was there that Seia finally looked at her dogged cape with a tad bit of pity.

"I'm not allowed to bring you any further, you know?"


The young praetorians voice was a bit exasperated at how far this joke had gone. At this point, she was even feeling a little bad herself for letting it. Reaching into her pocket, Seia produced the paper she had taken away from Melora earlier. Seia pulled a ribbon on her beret, revealing it to be a pen.



A few flicks of her wrist and pen later, Seia pushed the paper - now with her signature - into her unwelcome hugger's forehead.

"You want her to stay that badly? Fine! Take the paper and get the signatures from the others. If they can accept the risk they're taking here then I'll look away, for now. But whatever happens as a result of is gonna be the fault of all of us if it comes to that."


She nudged the document into Eirlys like it was a some warding charm.

"You've got what you wanted. Now, don't you have something more important to do now rather than hugging me?"


Villamvihar Villamvihar
 

Accelerator

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Growing up, Celestia was already used to the condescending stares people would give her. Before she became an Enigma among the witches of Essentia Magia, Celestia was once thought of as a failure of a witch. But after going through all the trouble of passing the Rite of Initiation and just today, the E Rank Training Mission, she ended up getting the old stink eye from people once again.

You can't blame the average denizen of Phantasmagoria though as the girl was covered in a bizarre assortment of liquids, most prodimantly by blood. Bits of flesh were also hanging like gorish ornaments all over her clothing and a large tentacle was weighing down her hat as well. Yet the young witch who looked like she had clawed and fought her way through visceral hell still maintained a spring in her step and an unnerving look of serenity on her face.

Shortly after Melody's batch of newly inducted Questing Witches returned from Horizon, Celestia returned together with her squad mates... Or former squad mates for that matter.

To recount the events that had transpired was to relive the trauma and horror of what had occurred. During what was supposedly the least difficult mission designed to give fresh meat a friendly shove into the world of fighting the big bad manablight, things could not have gotten more horribly wrong.

"One girl lost an arm, another lost an eye, a third was swallowed whole by one of those Manablight creatures and she was a lost cause even after we managed to pull her out. The last one most probably lost her sanity as well. I didn't even get to know their names and now I'm supposed to be reassigned to a new squad. " Celestia recounted.

For a moment, there was a fleeting look of worry on her face and some doubts seem to creep from the deepest recesses of her mind. We're things always going to get THAT bad or was this just a simple case of bad luck? For the sake of the new squad she was gonna get transferred to, she had hoped it was the latter.

Her expression softened when she saw a bunch of witches, all of whom were apparently a few years younger than her waving excitedly with the sweetest smiles on their faces. Among them was an older looking witch that looked like she was in her late forties. Streaks of grey hair have started to show here and there from her otherwise black hair and she wore a robe and a conical witch hat that were much too large for her delicate frame.

"I take it that your mission was a success, Celestia?" the older witch addressed her in a tone much akin to a doting parent.

"Well all my limbs are where they're supposed to be, Miss Agatha. The others... weren't as fortunate." Celestia replied in a regretful voice.

"Oh my, dismemberment right away on the first mission? I'm sorry you had to see that dear but at the same time, as unfortunate as it may be, it also serves as a valuable lesson for you. The manablight is relentless. It cannot be reasoned with, it cannot be bargained with. All it seems to want is to kill, absorb, and mutate everything in its path. " Agatha replied in a remorseful tone.

" They're going to be alright, though, right? That's what regeneration magic is for!"


Celestia's hopeful expression slowly waned when she saw the uncertainty on her mentor's face.

" It's not as simple as that, dear. The chances of a successful limb restoration decreases the longer it takes before a regeneration magic is cast. From what I can see, your squad mates haven't received the treatment right away so it has become a complicated matter. Even then, healing the mind is an entirely different matter from healing the body. It may take months, or years before they can make a full recovery."

With a dejected look, Celestia cast her eyes to the ground and clenched her fists until they almost turned white, but the young witches gathered around her and gently grabbed a hold of her hands.

" Big Sis Celestia, you went to fight the manablight, right?" One of the young witches, asked excitedly.

"Yes... I did." Celestia replied in a weak voice.

"That's so cool! I bet you went blam! and boom! with those icky manablight using your magic! I bet they didn't stand a chance!" another child witch added.

"Tha... That's not true at all..." She tried to respond in protest but the kids were having none of it. In their innocent minds their "big sister" could do anything. It reminded her why she chose the life of a Questing Witch. To protect these innocent smiles and hope for a future where children like them can live out their lives without ever witnessing and experiencing the horrors of the Manablight.

"That reminds me, Celestia..." Agatha hands her a rectangular strip of paper.

"Is this a special coupon for that popular ice cream shop? " The sandy blonde exclaimed in disbelief.

"Indeed it is. The children really wanted to thank you for assisting them with their studies in the coven. So, they pitched in to give you this. Though you need to bring another person along to use this."

Gingerly, Celestia retrieved the ticket from Agatha's outstretched hand, placed it inside her satchel, and then proceeded to hug the young witches gathered around her earning a few " Eww's" and "Yuck's" from the kids who were smothered with manablight slime.

" That's very sweet of you, ya little runts. But you really don't need do anything like this for me. You should keep your hard earned flow instead and use it to develop your Historia." For a second, Celestia seemed like she was admonishing them but her expression softened and she ended up hugging them a bit more fiercely than before.

" Come along, children. Your big sis had a long day, and I think she's due for a... lengthy bath."

----------------------------------------

After a well deserved, relaxing bath, Celestia immediately got dressed and left her dorm to go into town. She was on her way to visit the ice cream parlor" The Frozen Cone" to redeem the coupon she was given earlier. She was within one block of the shop when she remembered one crucial detail.

"I need someone else to come with me!"

Without another person to share her bounty with, the priceless ticket in her hands was nothing more than a useless scrap of paper. However, she hadn't really made any friends her age yet, and her squad mates... or former squad mates for that matter, we're too traumatised that Celestia doubted ice cream would be any help to them.

With her back against the wall, she decided to just bring along the saddest looking person she saw around her. Perhaps a bit of a sweet treat could turn their day around.

After scouring the streets near the ice cream parlor for a few minutes, she finally noticed a familiar looking girl with a crestfallen expression. Upon taking a closer look, she realized why the black haired witch seemed so familiar.

"is that you, Aurora? It's me, Celestia! We were once covenmates at Essentia Magia, remember! We were even roomies at one point for that matter." Celestia greeted the short haired witch as enthusiastically as a kid experiencing a sugar rush.

"Gosh, it's been so long! I was really sad when you left the coven you know, but at the same time, I kinda understood that most witches switch covens after learning the basics. Anyways, how have you been?... You know what, hold that thought and come with me! "

Without letting Aurora utter a single word in response, Celestia was already dragging Aurora towards the ice cream parlor.

Inside, one could immediately notice the predominantly white and blue painted walls and ceiling. The only exception would be several large sections of the establishment with portraits of different scenes from a popular book series that was the primary motif behind the ice cream parlor.

She spotted a witch manning the counter. It seemed like she would rather be sleeping at home rather than working judging by the sleepy look on her face.

"Excuse me, I'll be using this coupon please!" Celestia exclaimed. The poor worker was so surprised by the sudden lively voice that she ended up jumping from her seat.

"Hiiiiii!!!!! Oh, a customer? Hmm... I see, that's a friend coupon. As long as you brought your friend with you, you two get one free ice cream." The worker replied.

"Hehe, I brought my friend with me, though. Tada!!!"

If it were a stage play, spotlights would focus on Aurora, but for now, Celestia's outstretched hands would have to suffice.

"This is my friend, Aurora. We go way back and we've just had a heartfelt reunion. So, can we get those delicious frozen treats now?" The sandy blonde responded with sugar sweet enthusiasm that would attract a thousand ants.

Not prepared to deal with Celestia's antics, the worker sighs and prepares to take their order.

"I'll be having the strawberry and vanilla swirl. And what would you like, Aurora?"
 
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Luma

Ohio go sigh moss
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Aurora let out a sigh of relief as she left her small bothroom, feeling a bit closer to publicly presentable again. She glanced around her bare apartment that had only a few pieces of furniture and some essential magia appliances in the side room.

Also: no Rune. Weird. What was that derpy golem up to?

Peeking out the window, Aurora slipped on a small, dark jacket, and promptly left the building for a short walk.

...

"Celesti—waah?!" Aurora began to exclaim before she was whisked away against her will.

The multitude of colored sweets had Aurora’s mouth watering with desire and she cringed the instant she was reminded of Rune draining half of this month’s savings to kill a living nightmare.

"Uuuuuu, I don’t have any—..." she began to admit, just before Celestia revealed her magic sugar coupon. "Wait, those are a thing...?" Aurora’s eyes swept over the flavors with a renewed interest.

"Hmm... I’ll take a lemon cone then. Thanks!" she exclaimed, more to Celestia than the worker. "Anyway, I’ve been.............. How’ve you been since I left? I see you bought a new hat. Sorry about the old one, it really was an accident. Oh, thank you," Aurora turned to receieve her sweet treated, happily licking it up at an incredible pace.

"Oh, but Canary told me a few weeks ago that you were almost ready for your ROI!" she finally paused, having half obliterated the treat in mere seconds. "How’d that go? Did you take it yet?"

Accelerator Accelerator
 

Accelerator

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Celestia noticed that there was some hesitation in Aurora's voice when she told her about getting some ice cream. Perhaps she was running on a tight budget at the moment? She did hear that she has a pretty unique Historia that tends to be confused for an actual witch. The fact that Aurora was able to create a being that can almost be regarded as another person amazed Celestia to no end.

She beamed when she saw Aurora taking a more interested glance at the wide selection of flavors of ice cream. She needed to thank the kids again when she gets back to the coven since the sandy blonde witch did not expect their gift to come in handy in such a way. Once both witches picked their respective flavors, they sat at a table with a nice overlooking view of the outside while they gorged upon their sweet treats.

Aurora was the one to break the silence between them by asking her a couple of questions. Indeed, the reason why Celestia chose to (forcibly) bring Aurora along was that she wanted to catch up with her and perhaps rekindle their friendship but she had done a poor job of doing so until now.

"Ahh, hurling a fire ball at my hat was an accident, Aurora. It's fine. I never held a grudge for that. In fact, I was so ecstatic that you were able to cast such a powerful fire ball that I didn't realize my hat had been set ablaze until Mistress Agatha summoned a mini raincloud above my head to douse it. And it was a cheap hat anyways. As you can see, this one is a lot more fashionable. And my entire attire is basically now made out of fire retardant material now. " Celestia exclaimed as she proudly touched her hat.

" As for how I've been, I've finally discovered something I'm good at. Although it may look scary and intimidating to some people. "

Celestia snaps her hands and as if on cue, a two handed Broadsword appears in front of her. It would have looked like any other sword, other than tha fact that it was pure black from its hilt to the tip of its blade. As if to add to its spookiness, it was floating while emitting trace amounts of black vapor as if to further accentuate its sinister origins. A snap later, it disintegrated into nothingness leaving no visible trace that it ever existed.

"Apparently, I am mediocre at every other form of magic aside from Dark Magic... Or more specifically, Umbramancy. I happened to find some old dusty tome about Dark Magic in the Coven's library and just like that, woosh! I suddenly realized this is the magic I'm going to start practicing. " Celestia explained." Of course, I try not to fall behind on other magic. I can do some minor healing spells and a bit of elemental magic myself... If I keep practicing so I don't forget that is. But I find it easier to cast Dark Magic than any other magic out there. Like... Maybe this is the universe trying to tell me that this is what I am meant to do! Crazy, right? "

After pausing to enjoy her ice cream, which was well already on its way to melting, she addressed Aurora's last question.

" I finished my Rite of Initiation 2 weeks ago. Like everyone else, I had no idea what exactly happened but I felt stronger... And more sure of myself after that. Then I actually just finished my first training mission outside of Phantasmagoria. I wish I could say that everything went off without a hitch... But it looked like everything that could go wrong did. And now, I don't even have a team any more. They didn't die or anything but they also won't be seeing any action any time soon. At best, it would take months for them to recover so the board would probably re assign me to another squad soon. "

The bitterness in her face was evident as she recounted those events, but she didn't let it show long as she instantly recovered her smile as if nothing had happened.

She was about halfway done with her dessert when she remembered something.

" You seemed like something heavy was weighing down when I saw you earlier. Is there anything troubling you? While I cannot promise I would be able to help, at the very least I can listen to your problems."
 
Last edited:

Luma

Ohio go sigh moss
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Genre You DON'T Like
Libertine and non-fiction.
Rune slowly lowered its cannon as the entire scene grew.... strange. It wasn’t really expecting an ally, but of all the help it could’ve received, a hug constriction was the least expected. One minute passed, then two, then who-knew-how-many, and the meek one was still clinging as they walked off.

The very absurdity of the situation forced Rune to rethink it all. Could that paper honestly harm Aurora when she’d confessed all of them as accidents to the coven authorities? At worst, she’d probably just be smacked with a public shaming, and mental problems were...

Not a golem’s problem.

Concluding that with satisfaction, Rune wandered off back to Aurora.



"Mhm, yep. Very fancy," Aurora affirmed, glancing at the hat as the topic meandered elsewhere.

Across the colorful interior, the familiar figure of Aurora’s golem strode into the shop. The two didn’t even give each other so much as an acknowledging glance; instead, Aurora continued to listen to Celestia, and Rune wandered up to the counter to curiously peruse the colorful foods.

"Hi there, miss! Do you know what you’d like? Maybe you’d like to try a sample?"

After pondering a moment, Rune pointed to a colorful blue ice-cream labeled ‘Mana Burst.’

"Here ya go! This is one of my favorites; let me know what you think," the girl at the counter asked, handing Rune a tiny sampling spoon of ice cream.

"Umbramancy?" Aurora questioned at the other end of the room. "Ehehe... well... we know it definitely wasn't that easy for me. I still feel a little uncomfortable whenever I’m in a really dark room," she admitted, reliving yet another accident. "I bet by now you could actually pull that spell off the right way. But you know... you should never settle with what you’re good at unless you like it. You can do anything you put your mind to, if you just try hard enough. At least that’s been my mantra all these years; but I really believe it."

Over at the counter, Rune was busy rubbing the tasty blue dessert over its tongue, then promptly scraping it off onto a napkin. Overall, it was a delightful experience, but it called into question why it even had a tongue in the first place if it couldn’t speak, nor swallow and digest food.

"Errmm... are you allergic or something? I don’t think it has any— hey, wait a minute, aren’t you...?"

For a moment, Aurora relapsed into serious mode as Celestia mentioned the unfortunate accident. She said nothing until directly asked.

"Ah, no, it’s nothing," she claimed, waving a hand casually to the side. "Today has just been a little bit... well... I have to rethink my plans is all. You know, I was hoping to become a questing witch myself, but now I see how dangerous it really is. I’m not sure it’s a place for finding yourself or practicing new skills. It’s better that I do the responsible thing and resign before someone gets hurt I think."

"Rune?! The disaster witch’s golem? Woah... so lifelike!"

It rolled its eyes. This routine had been done at least a hundred times before. Without even letting her finish gawking, Rune wandered out the door to admire the potted plants just outside.

"Well anyway, I think I know what squad you’ll be assigned to at least. I guess I’ll leave them in your capable hands. Take good care of them. Especially the timid one; I have no idea why someone like that would want to be a questing witch, but she definitely needs as many friendly faces as possible."

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Skyswimsky

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Roughly two weeks had passed since a certain group of Witches - a Squad that had to still decide on a name - had finished their very first mission. A undertaking that certainly left marks on some, if not all of them. The fleshy horrors of The Gaping Maw were certainly unique, and while all of them survived, the mortality rate for a overseen E-Rank mission was certainly not zero. There were always exceptions and unique cases.

Witches quitting or dying was sadly more common than the Administration of the tower would like to let on, and thus, reshuffling teams wasn't that unusual either.

Under normal circumstances, the members of a Squad had made enough connections with others that by the time such a situation arouse they were in no need of guidance. But sometimes, Fate had its own ways.

Two weeks, passed, as the nameless squad had made no arrangements to venture out into Horizon again. Disorganized through the silent resignment of their leader? Simply traumatized through their first experience? Or discouraged thanks to the drama around a certain snowflake?

In the end it did not matter. With the exception of the Tatoo Witch, no one else quit. Instead, their Squad was to simply grow bigger. Un/fortunate circumstances. A blessing or a curse? Who knew what the future held...

Hi Eirlys of the Metal Sea!

The Board of Education is hereby informing you about following changes to your yet to be named squad:
  • Wilhelmina Fridasomethingdottir stopped being a Questing Witch!
  • Celestia takes her place!
  • Parou is out of rehab!
Furthermore, you are hereby required to attend following meeting:
Ten in the morning on Ruby 29th inside the Mission Hub! Look out for Melody of the Serene Sea. A blonde-haired EX-Rank Witch with an over-sized hat and baggy clothes.

You can't just write that, Rika!
Your mission count is so low! Go out there and do something!

Go and kick some a**!
Signed: Manager Rika
Ruby 24th
Hello Aurora Avril!

the Board of Education is hereby informing you about following changes to lame-name yet-to-be-named squad!
  • Wilhelmina Fridasdottir quit being a Questing Witch!
  • The Witches Celes and Parou have been assigned to your Squad!
Furthermore, you are hereby required to attend following meeting:
9:50 in the morning on Ruby 29th inside the Mission Hub! Look out for Melody of the Serene Sea. A blonde-haired EX-Rank Witch with an over-sized hat and baggy clothes.

You can do it \o/!
Signed: Manager Rika
Ruby 24th
Dear Melora the Fool,

the Board of Education is hereby informing you about following changes to Squad #483:
  • Wilhelmina Fridasdottir has given her official resignment as a Questing Witch
  • Celestia Nightfallen has been assigned to your Squad
  • Parou Hitorie bas been assigned to your Squad
Furthermore, you are hereby required to attend following meeting:
10:00 on Ruby 29th — 326 AC in inside the Mission Hub. Look out for Melody of the Serene Sea. A blonde-haired EX-Rank Witch with an over-sized hat and baggy clothes.

Best of luck,
Signed: Manager Chika
Ruby 24th
Dear Seia Flavia Augustus,

the Board of Education is hereby informing you about following changes to Squad #483:
  • Wilhelmina Fridasdottir has given her official resignment as a Questing Witch
  • Celestia Nightfallen has been assigned to your Squad
  • Parou Hitorie bas been assigned to your Squad
Furthermore, you are hereby required to attend following meeting:
10:00 on Ruby 29th — 326 AC inside the Mission Hub. Look out for Melody of the Serene Sea. A blonde-haired EX-Rank Witch with an over-sized hat and baggy clothes.

Best of luck,
Signed: Manager Chika
Ruby 24th
Dear Parou Hitorie,

congratulations on successfully finishing your rehabilitation. The Board of Education is hereby informing you that you have been assigned to D-Rank Squad #483.

The Squad consists of following members: Eirlys of the Metal Sea, Aurora Avril, Melora the Fool, Seia Flavia Augustus, Parou Hitorie, and Celestia Nightfallen.

You are hereby required to attend following meeting to meet your new Squad:
10:00 on Ruby 29th — 326 AC inside the Mission Hub. Look out for Melody of the Serene Sea. A blonde-haired EX-Rank Witch with an over-sized hat and baggy clothes.

Best of luck,
Signed: Manager Chika
Ruby 24th
Dear Celestia Nightfallen,

The Board of Education is hereby informing you that you have been assigned to D-Rank Squad #483.

The Squad consists of following members: Eirlys of the Metal Sea, Aurora Avril, Melora the Fool, Seia Flavia Augustus, Parou Hitorie, and Celestia Nightfallen.

You are hereby required to attend following meeting to meet your new Squad:
10:00 on Ruby 29th — 326 AC inside the Mission Hub. Look out for Melody of the Serene Sea. A blonde-haired EX-Rank Witch with an over-sized hat and baggy clothes.

Best of luck,
Signed: Manager Chika
Ruby 24th

Prelude 1: An uncertain Path

Melody

9:30 on Ruby 29th | 326 AC
How could this happen to her?
Sure, Melody was a renowned, famous, and well-known member of Phantasmagoria's society. Yes, she was famous for having a kind-of slacker attitude. Sure, from time to time, she did help with the one or other E-Rank orientation mission for fledgling Witches. Sometimes. Once. So, how could this be?

Squad #483 — the administration only used such numbers if the Squad hadn't registered any kind of name yet. Something that was usually done when signing up for their very first-actually-first mission. The blonde recognized the number. She also recognized the names. A second orientation, of sorts. Just why?

Well, she couldn't deny it was a bit unusual. Losing one member, getting two new people. While Phantasmagoria made sure initial squads were pre-established, more seasoned Witches usually did their own thing. So, then again, it kinda made sense. The girls likely didn't bond too much yet over just the one mission she had overseen. Thus, getting two Witches that were practically new in one way or another made sense. The lazy Witch sighed.

At the very least, all she was doing was theoretical orientation. Two weeks had passed since Squad #483 had any activity. Quite unusual indeed. For Melody, the process of getting missions and all was as obvious to her as casting Magic Missile. Buuut maybe it wasn't for some young'uns? Maybe she went too fast over that process? Either way, it was now time to fix that.

Thus, Melody of the Serene Sea was waiting. Sitting on a chair in a corner of The Hub while nibbling on her Witch's Brew. The entire, big, table was pretty much reserved. Hub never really fitted this place, in her opinion. Sure, there was this big quest board that people could take on missions and the reception was responsible for taking requests and doing all the paperwork as well as being able to eat, drink, and meet others. BUT that was pretty much it. It lacked... certain magical stores and sizes. She nodded in self-agreement. Yes, that was exactly what was missing.




  • Finally, we continue.
  • For those that don't know the drill, Discord is pretty much like a mandatory secondary communication tool.
    • It's so mandatory in fact that I am giving out a warning to someone there but don't mention it here! Shame on me.
  • No deadline nor posting order. We did fine so far, that said, if enough people posted and some time passed I'll move things forward.
  • Remember, if something is unclear don't be afraid to COMMUNICATE with me via Discord!
  • Have fun \o
 
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ERode

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Parou headed off early, but how could she not? It had been a good three months since the accident, and finally, finally, she had adjusted to her new legs. Made of mythril-silver and powered by residual mana, they responded just as well, perhaps even better, than her old legs, and had the added benefit of not actually being able to feel anything. Newfound freedoms almost made the statuesque witch want to spontaneously break out into a dance number, really, but instead, she had settled for simply getting to the Mission Hub early, the joints of her prosthetics well-oiled and well-maintained.

It was an uncharacteristically good day, honestly. Some of her party mates were even titled. Metal Sea and The Fool? While the later was 'eh', the former sounded like someone competent. Magic specializing in liquid metal was useful for making fortifications and such, after all. Keep the barbarians away while Parou did her own thing. Then again, they were all still nobodies that Parou hadn't ever heard of, so maybe she shouldn't get her hopes up too much. And only a single mission after two or so weeks of being active...

Maybe they were just lazy. That'd be slightly more troubling.

Telorias Marxiwen hummed in the air as Parou spun it in lazy, gentle circles, humming a tune under her breath. Her hair, bound up into an updo as fabulous as any other, held a variety of small, magical reagents that bounced up and down, feathers, beads, dyes, plates swaying with each movement. Three onyx needles were slotted by her right hip, while a satchel of ritual tools rested on her left. She was as prepared as she’d ever need to be, and even if she was coming back after an injury, Parou didn’t particularly feel the need to prepare for more worst-case scenarios.

Fear sowed doubt, and doubt brought hesitation. And there was no room for that as a member of the Opera House.

Approaching Melody with footsteps that click-clacked lightly against the hard floor, Parou said with a small smile, “Guess this'll be the second time you’ll be running orientation for me, Melody.”

Yeah, she was definitely in a weirdly good mood today.
 
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Karyra

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Tap. Tap.

Melora leaned back in her seat, comfortably surrounded by piles of books. Plants seeped out between them, though well cared for, they more or less blended into the piles of books as opposed to stood out in their own contained planters. Left open and tossed aside, were some books briefly covering vague theories and thoughts into the manablight. Alternate planes... but they were all guesses and none solidified the one thing Melora was looking for; Alptraum.

Nobody really wrote about them, and those that had a good idea were probably forced to keep it all classified. Days flew by, and Melora only exited to do her regular job. She'd been so busy that she hadn't noticed the absence of Mina, and when the letter arrived, it had been carefully filed away on top of one of the book piles.

Which meant it had gotten buried. Which meant that yesterday, when she threw most of those books aside screaming, "it might as well all be fiction!" she realized that the letter was from the Board of Education. Reading it over, Melora pondered the fact that Melody was back. Did Mina ever give out the money? Deciding that she needed sleep and perhaps a bath, Melora sent off a note to her boss, noting that she would be busy that day and might not come in.

Slumping back at her desk, Melora had not done either a bath nor slept. She reached for a book, just one more, maybe I'll learn more about it. Only to jump in surprise as she saw the fleshy mass of manablight from before. A bloody hand reached out to Melora, emblazoned with her coven sigil. She rubbed her eyes, but the sight vanished. It was just a book again.

Checking the date, she'd been up over 48 hours. Of course there'd be repercussions. She put down her work, and walked away to prepare to sleep and get cleaned up for the meeting.

Melora still looked back behind her, afraid that hand would come back.



Looking at the mission board, Melora studied the missions intently. The S Ranked missions were all nearly as tedious as grabbing some leaves. However, Melora wondered if that was because the more difficult ones were actually already taken. Or if these things were more fiend-filled than they may appear.

The Gaping Maw...

Melora suppressed a reaction to seeing it among the A Ranked missions. They had really fought something so dangerous? And all survived? Maybe Melora was luckier than she thought. A creeping fear of having to deal with something like that again on an orientation trip caused her stomach to turn wildly, but she reminded herself that she had fought an A Ranked monster and survived by the skin of her teeth. Hopefully, this would be far less dangerous.

It didn't take long to find Melody, and one of the new girls too, it appeared. Melora would certainly have remembered a member with giant metal legs. Sure, Melora could go touch them and examine them, but that didn't seem as appropriate to do to this woman as opposed to Rune, who was used to Aurora. Speaking of, it didn't seem like she'd actually quit.

So Melora's speech was just as useless as she thought it was. Aurora really wasn't going to quit, and she'd wasted her energy.

Melora took out her card box, holding it close. On top was the Hermit card, watching over her actions. It's better than the Moon. That thing is creepy. Melora put it away, carefully tucking it back into her robes.

"Heya Melody. Guess that we're going through the orientation again, huh?"
Melora smiled. "Oh, and it's nice to meet you miss. I'm Melora the Fool. Though... I'd prefer to just be called Melora."

ERode ERode
 

Luma

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Aurora’s palms hit the hardwood desk with a resounding ‘whump.’

"Riiikaaa!" Aurora cried in complaint, not quite mad, but clearly indignant as she tried to stare into the thick fringe of hair covering the young manager’s eyes. "It’s not that I hate your letters or anything, but why am I still assigned to this questing witch squad? I had Rune deliver you my resignation letter almost two weeks ago! Does it really take that long to process...?!"



Rika glanced up as the mysterious golem approached, sliding a well-printed piece of paper onto the desk between them. Before she could lay a hand on it to turn it her way, she was forced back as it erupted into a blaze. There the golem stood with a self-satisfied look on its face, retracting the elemental cannon into its arm and wandering off without a word.



"Oh really......?" Aurora slowly turned a vicious gaze toward Rune, who simply pat her on the head with a silly grin. She returned her eyes to Rika. "I guess that explains the scorch mark, cause I was going to say, that’s kind of... well... sorry about that. I think I know a technique to fix it if I just apply a growth spell and do a little tweaking with th— oh, crap! Is it too late to resign in like... the next 3 minutes?"



"Hey, Rune, I just thought of a really nice new feature for you: a shock collar! It could have like a little remote with a button on it, and it could just be like ZAP, ZAP, ZAP, whenever I want. I wonder how much that’d cost...?"



Wandering up to the three gathered at the mission hub table, Aurora casually took a seat by Parou, giving the metal legs a longer-than-comfortable glance.

"This is kind of awkward... my official resignation got lost in transit, so the letter said I had to show up, and ya know... here I am! To be clear though: I’ve definitely quit, so I probably shouldn’t be here. What’s this meeting about, anyway? Meeting the newbies?"

Skyswimsky Skyswimsky
ERode ERode
Karyra Karyra [/hr][/hr][/hr][/hr]
 

Skyswimsky

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Melody

Parou Hitorie. The first to arrive. A face Melody hadn't seen in some time and if not for her... peculiar personality would have already forgotten. The girl certainly wasn't a villain, in which case she wouldn't even had made it past the rite, but Melody recalled some rather not so pleasant memories. Was the blonde supposed to feel sorry for the rest of the squad? No. Surely, they could get along, and if anything Parou was the key-member to put an end to the lethargic pace they displayed so far.

"Hey there! Kinda frightening to see you already all combat ready again! Hard to imagine that a Witch with the title 'Deadbeat' made something amazing like that, huh?" It was meant as a compliment. Nonetheless, as Melora arrived and pretty much asked the same question, the Witch of the Serene Sea made pretty clear that she wouldn't babysit them all day again.

"Hey Melora. The only orientation you'll be getting today will be theoretical. Maaaayyybbbeeee I wasn't quite clear enough on the procedure of picking and accepting missions yourself the first time." Clearing her throat with a symbolic cough for a second, Melody continued. "And since there's also such a big change with your team and all, it simply looked like it made sense to kinda get you all together again!" Now, Melody simply tried to smile brightly. "It'll be wonderful!... I hope."

Lastly, for now, Aurora arrived. And Melody's face darkened for a moment as she recalled something rather annoying. If this was so important why didn't that damn woman do it herself? Well, whatever. That's exactly what the Witch of the Serene Sea got for refusing pretty much most responsibilities.

"Ahem..." Stopping her deep train of thought and shaking her head, Melody now looked Aurora directly into her eyes. How was she supposed to go about this? It was a bit ironic that Aurora herself wasn't that different to Melody — to a degree. So, surely taking the young Witch to the side and making a short pep-talk conversation happen was the wisest decision? No. That would take time. Time they theoretically had, but also not.

What would the others even think?

Shaking her head once again to stop thinking about things that could have been, the blonde simply focused on what would be. "Aurora!" She simply started to call the girl's name like some drill sergeant. "You're going to meet the new Witches today AND will go on a mission again!" She simply answered the girl's question.

And then she smiled, just a bit devious.

"I know of no official resignation whatsoever, so you're kinda required to tag along!" Yes Melody. Good job. Just delay solving the actual problem. With a lie, even. But maybe, just maybe, it would solve itself.
 

ERode

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As the first of her new party arrived, Parou’s violet eyes quickly swept over her form, appraising her appearance as well as her equipment. A member of Stella Gambit, but one that cared well for her clothing. The lime green hair was a nice touch. Warranted a nod, at least. “It’ll be your performance that decides which name better suits you,” Parou replied offhandedly, “But you seem competent at a glance. Parou Hitorie.”

The second arrival was less pleasant than Melora though. Matching Aurora’s leg-ogling with a cool glance of her own, Parou raised an eyebrow at Melody as the young witch spoke of how she had already quit. An unwilling participant was going to be bothersome, to be sure. No point in having them around, after all, and it didn’t look like this particular witchling was anything noteworthy. Soft pass. Her attention was better directed towards the Serene Sea.

“Ruu’s simply misfortunate,” Parou replied pointedly, “She’s talented, but her specialty isn’t something that many people prefer. Not when others can give your old ones back. As it stands, she just doesn't have anything to do.”

The witch flexed her joints again, watching the gears silently turn.

“Can’t imagine why such preferences exist though, not when this is so much more striking.”
 

Luma

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Aurora Avril​
Disaster Witch​
"..."

"Pffffff..."

"Ahahahahahaha...!" Aurora finally exploded into an uncontrollable laughter at Melody’s strange persistence. After a barrage of chortles, and some mild snorting, she finally calmed down. "Hehe.... heh... Mel, that’s like the worst lie you’ve ever told! I mean, even on day one, weren’t you all like, ‘Oh, someone’s missing; no big deal.’"

A moment of pause ensued as Aurora wiped the tears out of her eyes. "Ahh, whew.... poor Mio though. I hope she’s doing okay; maybe I should go visit...? And hey, waaait a minute, why are you trying to convince me to stay anyway? You’re like the last person I’d expect to do that... no offense."

Aurora returned a curious glance back at Melody, trying to suck every last secret out of her via connected gaze.

"Go on, tell me, I’m super curious now! Did someone offer you a coupon to Kiki’s spa? Was it Luvi? Rika? Oo, was it Mipha!? Hm..."

Skyswimsky Skyswimsky (mostly)
 
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Ehb

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At some point, Seia was able to free herself from the iron grip and get back into her Coven's Quarters.

Unbeknownst to her, a whole two weeks would go by before being summoned with her Squad once more. In that time of waiting, Seia went about her normal training and duties as assigned by the Praetorians. Though, this time around, she was finding her fellow sisters in the coven wanting nothing more from her in conversation than the knowledge of how her first mission went.

Seia was honest in relaying her experience. She was caught off guard at the beginning and left behind. She managed to catch up and she didn't really do much in directly defeating the target, but held her own in combat at the least.

Though she did receive a scratch on her cheek. That scratch was no longer there - a healer in the coven took care of it soon after, ensuring it wouldn't blemish her appearance. The others, particularly those whom had yet to take the test and go on a mission themselves, were astounded at the tale.

No surprise coming from Sister Flavia!~
They'd comment, beaming with pride at her performance. But Seia herself didn't feel that way. She felt like she didn't do enough. Being granted a fancy uniform like this so quickly. Being called 'cream of the crop' in entrants. The actual results of this mission - in terms of her performance, was nothing noteworthy. In fact, getting wounded - even by just a scratch, was like a loss on it's own.



When she confided to her supervising Praetorian sister, she was told that no one would ever expect her to do something as amazing as soloing a mission on her own. Or being the best every time. Such wishful thinking was not befitting of the order's doctrines or reality. Against the Manablight, everyone had to do their part.

"Work for everyone. Not just yourself."

Seia recognized that phrase. That was a teaching of Seraph Augustus, a really common teaching at that.

"But what about the witches who are doing this for themselves?"
Seia asked. In her mind, she thought of Melora, and Aurora. But this could be applied to everyone really.

To this, Seia's superior Praetorian answered as such:


"Either they reach their dreams, or they become consumed by their dreams, I guess."
They said, sticking their tongue out playfully. "That was the same answer my supervisor told me when I started out. But, to be honest, Seia, I still don't fully understand they meant when they gave me that answer. But, after all this time I still think that it is correct somehow."

"For me: Don't let your dreams consume you, but don't lose them either."
"That was the interpretation I came up with."


They flashed a victory sign.


"But isn't the order's shared goal to fight and eradicate the Manablight?"


Seia's supervisor answered this by sticking out her tongue again.

"There is truth in the words of Seraph Augustus, but it is up to you to find out what they truly mean to you. Her words are a wisdom that is universal."


"You're clearly just interpreting them in a way that's convenient to you."
Seia pouted. Her expression did not deny any of her dissatisfaction at the answer.




Everyone was summoned once more, two weeks later.

That felt like quite a long time, but maybe it was reasonable given that people would sometimes need to to recover and such. Seia was very surprised to see that the one person whom dropped our of the squad was NOT Aurora. In fact, two others had been added in since then. The letter was kind enough to give the names of these new members, allowing Seia to ask around about them among her coven.

Parou Hitorie. She came from a coven that that was capable of casting magic at the Macro Scale according the Praetorian Measure with a single caster. Next up was Celestia Nightfallen. Someone from Essentia Magica that was proficient in Dark Magic.


Not bad
was all that Seia thought of it. But of course, it would only be in working with them that she'd really understand how she'd feel about working alongside them.




Like last time, Seia had managed to hear most of the conversation from the start.

Though this time around it wasn't due to her hiding in the shadows - rather, taking a leisurely pace to approach the group. She made her final approach towards the group to Aurora bellowing in laughter. Coming here, she already knew that Aurora did not leave. But, what she didn't know until just now - was that the letter, the signatures... All of that had been meaningless. Her time had been wasted on this girl.

How would Seia confront this fact?
All she had to look to was the words of Seraph Augustus, and Her Mentor.

Work for everyone. Not just yourself.



"If you want to quit that badly, then why are you even here in the first place?"


As soon as Aurora felt the squeeze on her shoulder, she felt herself being shoved forward. That shove wasn't as forceful as Seia could make it. But it most certainly caused Aurora to lose her balance and stumble forward.

With a brutally stern expression, Seia continued.

"If quitting means that much to you, Aurora. Then why come here in the first place? You said you didn't want to be a questing witch anymore, but here you are laughing at your own circumstances and spitting in the face of everyone on the squad! Disgusting! And...!"


Seia relented for a moment. If she want on like this, it would just devolve into her yelling out everything she disliked about Aurora. But, that wasn't the problem to address here.

"Hey, everyone. Considering what happened last time..."
She looked at the members of the team, most notably the ones whom were actually here at the time. "Do you honestly feel safe with Aurora going with us again? Would you be willing to risk your life again to save someone who doesn't even want to have anything to do with us anymore? Just like that time with the hand in the fleshy cave - going forward the risks will be more than that. You might even have to put your life on the line just to save one of us. When that time comes, would you do that for someone who just wants to quit and leave the squad?"


The way Seia said all of that evoked a particular scenario in most of their imaginations.

I don't want to die! Would Aurora say as she's engulfed in a terrible predicament. A predicament that would pose a deadly risk to whomever would try to rescue them. At that moment, when they truly have to weigh in the possibility that they'd die if they try to take action... The images of I want to quit. My resignation didn't go through. Would pass through their minds.


"Superior Melody." Seia said.
"I know that I don't have any authority over your decisions. But, in the event that Aurora is in danger, and I have to make a choice as to whether or not to risk my life to save them. My answer: I'll prioritize my own safety, no matter the level of risk."

In essence,
Seia basically said in a polite manner, that she'd leave Aurora to die if it came to it.

"Superior Melody. If Aurora goes on this mission, she should know that even if she does not wish to go on this mission, yet still consciously chooses to do so still - then I'm under no obligation to save her if I have to risk my well being in doing so. Will that be a problem?"


Technically speaking. No, there shouldn't be a problem. Anything that involves risk to oneself in order to save another is something that the former has to judge on their own. But ultimately, it is up to them to make the call. Can you catch a falling bolder falling on someone? Can you stop a guillotine falling on someone's head by catching it with your hand? It's all something that has to be decided at that critical moment.

In saying this, Seia was merely stating the obvious.
But she was being very cold to Aurora by putting it out there in such a way. In saying this, she had also asked the rest of the party an important question:

Did they feel confident in having Aurora with them on this mission the way that she is now?


Skyswimsky Skyswimsky Luma Luma Karyra Karyra Villamvihar Villamvihar Accelerator Accelerator ERode ERode
 

Luma

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"Oof~"

Aurora turned to Seia with a curious look before returning a strange look to Melody. She let the stern-faced Praetorean continue on through her tirade with an occassional eye-roll. A few minutes later, she finally spoke up.

"Maybe talk with me instead of walking in halfway through my conversations and assuming a buncha stuff? You might have more friends that way," she recommended offhandedly, turning to face Seia again.

"Anyone who doesn't want to be part of a tightly-knit squad of questing witches is crazy. Having each other's back, fighting off that awful manablight, practicing your magic together... that's like the Phantasmagorical dream. But... well... the risks are serious, and I'm pretty risky, so I'm doing the responsible thing. I'm sure that's something you can appreciate."

Rising from her seat, Aurora turned to leave the meeting.

Ehb Ehb (mostly)
 
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Villamvihar

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It was a confusing and busy couple of weeks for Eirlys.

First of all, she had to fight off the embarrassment that came with hugging Seia until she relinquished whatever she was holding. Truth to be told, Eirlys did not know what the object was, only that her group of Questing Witches fought over it and it seemed to be related to Aurora quitting. That, and Seia seemed to be her usual, harsh self. So she remained silent the whole time as she was dragged along. Blushing head-to-to at all times, she felt lucky she could hide from the gaze of her fellows. Otherwise, she would have spontaneously combusted.

Second of all, she learned of Aurora's accidents from the piece of paper, which was... staggering and quite improbable. She knew some of these incidents, along with their scale. But for all of them to have the same individual as their source? Highly unlikely.

And what did a Feather do when something was highly unlikely?

Let's just say the Witches of Liber Arcadia were quite busy for a long time.



It turned out, not even calling on the help of her fellow Witches was able to turn up anything. Every Feather thought the case equally confusing, but they also shared her opinion: this was unusual. Naturally, one always made mistakes, but for them to spiral out of control so many times and create relatively wide-reaching incidents? It indicated there was something wrong. Especially given that Aurora passed the Rite of Initiation. Some of Eirlys' fellows theorised there was something greater working behind the scenes, however, all agreed on the necessity of further investigation.

Unfortuantely, her consulting the Coven meant she had little time to track others down - she succeeded with Mina and even got her signature, but Melora, she could not find - not to mention even less time to improve upon herself. Thus, when the letter came, she felt inadequately prepared. Taking a few extra minutes to prepare, Eirlys steeled her spirit before she set out.

She arrived to see quite a scene.

And her hands balled up into fists as she heard Seia speak.

"Y-y-y-y-y-y-you are c-c-correct," she spoke, probably surprising everyone. "I-i-i-i-n t-t-t-that y-y-you're telling the truth." She swallowed. Closed her eyes. Breathed in deep.

She did not like speaking in front of many people and even though this was a small group, it did not help her anxiety.

"B-b-b-but t-t-t-there's t-t-t-telling the truth and t-t-telling it in a way t-t-t-that h-h-hurts people. A-and you're hurting A-a-a-a-a-aurora with the truth. I... umm. I-i-i-if s-s-s-she w-w-wants to quit, I c-c-can't stop her. B-b-but I'll also say... I-I-I don't feel i-i-i-in d-d-d-danger beside her. S-s-s-s-s-she passed... passed her Rite of Initiation. R-r-r-right? S-s-s-s-so s-s-she c-c-c-c-can't be a d-d-d-disaster." Another breath. Another swallowing of saliva.

Eirlys felt the strain of every word as she struggled to get her message right. Her lips were parched and she swore she felt herself trembling, but that was probably her imagination.

"I... I... I...!" Again, words failed Eirlys and she looked down at the pavement, struggling for the right expression to use. And yet, as always, her words failed her again. The method of communication her Coven considered so important crashed, burning up like a failed experiment. So instead, she brought forth her sketchbook, then flipped to a page.

It was a drawing of Melora, Eirlys, Mina and Seia holding Aurora above themselves, displaying great care in how they handled the girl.
 

Accelerator

Deus Lo Vult
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Celestia nodded in agreement at her friend's advice.

"Yeah, I can't let myself get rusty on the basics while I continuously improve on my specialisation. It would be unbecoming of someone from a coven that's all about that, right?" Celestia replied.

Indeed she was still dutifully practising other basic forms of magic like elemental and healing spells. She was afraid of being too overly reliant on her specialisation that she won't have any other alternatives.

The atmosphere around them suddenly turned gloomy when Aurora revealed her realizations about being a questing witch. From what Celestia could discern from the little tidbits of information Aurora provided, it seems that something went wrong in her first mission that ended up majorly affecting her confidence and resolve.

Instead of convincing her to stay in the business, Celestia opted to remain silent. She felt that she wasn't that close to Aurora yet as to give her any piece of advice on the matter, specially if this was a decision that she came up with herself. The trade wasn't for everyone, specially with the risks involved.

"It's a shame though. I would have liked to be in the same squad as her." She thought as she finished the last traces of her ice cream.

"Well if that is what you really want, Aurora, then go for it. I understand that this business isn't for everyone. The important thing is you found out for yourself what it's really like, right?" Celestia said sincerely before giving her friend a tight hug.

" I'm afraid I have to cut this short, Aurora. I still have a lot of things to do back in the coven, even if I want to just lie in bed after such a tedious mission. " She grumbled.

"Perhaps we can meet again sometime?" The sandy blonde witch left the question hanging for Aurora before making her way back to the coven.

---------------------------------------

When the letter arrived, Celestia couldn't say that she was surprised. It was a matter of time before the Board would reassign her to another Squad but what's unusual was seeing Aurora in the list of party members. The last time they spoke, she seemed so sure about quitting so why was her name still in the list? Did she have a change of heart? In any case, the blonde would just ask Aurora herself later. Besides, aside from her old friend, the other members of the squad were unfamiliar to her so she was glad that Aurora didn't quit.

The days leading to the fated assembly went by uneventfully. Unfortunately, that couldn't be said for the day itself. Her anxiety about meeting her new teammates ended up disrupting her normal sleep schedule. She overslept as a result and by the time she woke up, there was only 15 minutes left before the meeting time.

In a mad rush to avoid being late, Celestia took the quickest shower of her life, got dressed, and took of from the coven with a piece of toast dangling from her mouth. At that moment, she looked like the spitting image of those klutzy manga characters dashing off towards school, panicking at the thought of being late.

She was about halfway towards the designated rendezvous point when she looked at her timepiece. Her eyes widened when she saw that there was only a minute left before the assigned meeting time.

"Desperate times call for magical measures." Celestia said aloud.

Making a beeline for a dark alley she spotted, Celestia cast her dark magic to make a portal leading to another alley that is close by the rendezvous point. It was a stroke of luck that Celestia knew the area very well, otherwise her portal would not be an option.

The sandy blonde witch made it just in time to hear most of the group's conversation but she made no effort to announce her presence until she could find an opportunity to interject. The opportunity came when Melody and Aurora started having a slightly heated one on one discussion that looked more like a mother reassuring her daughter that everything was gonna be alright. With the two busy in their discourse, Celestia finally approached the group and regarded Seia, specially about her earlier remarks.

"They say experience is the best teacher, and quite frankly, I do not think any of us were prepared to face the manablight until we got some hands on experience." Celestia responded. "Some adapt to this at a much slower rate than others. But nonetheless, the mere fact that all of you are still alive means you adapted well enough, including Aurora. I'm sure that she is more prepared to face it now than she did before so could you put a little more faith in your teammates? “ She added.

"Oh where are my manners? My name's Celestia Nightfallen. I'll be in your care from now on."
 
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Karyra

Punch Squad
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Listening to Melody, Melora nodded. That seems about right. Then again, how hadn't she noticed that they hadn't taken a single job in several weeks? Wait... she'd spent her free time studying and barely slept. When she did that, time tended to get weird. So maybe that was a factor of why she'd completely forgotten to check in with the group.

"Long as we don't do an A-Rank mission again, I'm up for it,"
Melora said.

Mhen Aurora arrived, Melora couldn't even meet Aurora's eyes. This conversation was starting to get uncomfortable. Like she was being slowly suffocated by it. What could she even say in the face of such a glaring failure such as her own? Every second felt more suffocating than the last. Melora considered just leaving the conversation... but leaving would draw attention. Right now, she just wanted to blend right into the background. Maybe sink right into the ground and melt.

And Seia's appearance and verbal bullying to Aurora was just another nail in the coffin. It was all happening again, and... Seia had a point. Aurora as she was... would only get in the way. She didn't know much, ran into situations, and just... Yes, truly there was no point in fighting back. Why had she even bothered the first time? Surely, it was to be selfish and keep her group intact. Yes, but with the loss of their leader Mina, that reason dissolved.

Melora bit her lip when she heard the chair scrape against the floor, clearly Aurora's.

Melora closed her eyes, as if somehow that'd block out the reality that she was powerless against Seia's logic. What could she say? It was... completely true. Manablight was dangerous. So completely so that most books on it usually listed that the author had died doing field research. Granted, they went to places like the Gaping Maw... but that was where the most concentrated Manablight was.

Melora couldn't blame Aurora for running away from something clearly so dangerous and deadly. Honestly, Melora should run too.

That was when Eirlys spoke up.

Well, as much as the girl could muster speaking up, anyway. The drawing hit the last sense of pride Melora had left.

"And you're such an expert on what we're going to expect going into the Manablight, Seia? Besides that... I'm pretty sure Aurora would try to save us. Whether or not she feels the same way..."
Melora stopped and considered something. "Well, I suppose that its better to let Aurora speak up for herself."

Turning quietly to Eirlys, Melora mouthed the words, 'thank you' at her. Melora wouldn't even have considered speaking up without that drawing. If Eirlys considered Melora so highly...

Ehb Ehb Luma Luma Villamvihar Villamvihar
 

Skyswimsky

Nien Scheiße!
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”Eiry...” Aurora sighed in the same way a parent might after their child made a mess trying to do something nice. ”I appreciate what you’re doing, but you don’t have to feel like something’s dangerous for it to be dangerous. That’s just kinda common sense.”

Melody listened. She listened to Parou’s antics - it was nice that at least one person enjoyed Ruu’s crazy inventions - and she listened to Aurora seeing right through her charade. Damn. Right. Aurora simply lacked confidence, but that didn’t make her stupid. Exactly, what was Melody even thinking? Not enough.

Before the senior Witch could reply, however, Seia herself spoke up. The girl had quite a lot to say, yet the Witch of the Serene Sea decided to stay silent. For now. While the Praetorian made Melody’s job just that much harder, it would be great if they could settle their differences themselves.

Ultimately, however, she sighed. Even as the stuttering Eirlys came to help change the Disaster Witch’s mind, it did not seem to do any good.

“Alright.” The Witch said, her voice having a magical kind of boom to her, as if enhanced. Taking one last sip from her Witch’s brew before standing up from her comfortable chair, the blonde Witch walked over towards the leaving Aurora.

“You whole lot still got a lot to learn.” She said in a more generic fashion, although also directly addressing Seia as she played the Praetorian off a short head-pat. Even kind of awkward looking, considering they were roughly the same height.

Passing the others, Melody stopped next to Aurora before casually bowing down to the smaller one’s height. Guess the little girl would gobble up most of the group’s attention, for now.
  • “Listen, Aurora.” Melody started, before asking. “What do you know about me?”

    Aurora leaned back a bit as Melody popped her personal bubble in an odd way, as if to say, ‘why so close?’ ”Hm...” she pondered the question. ”You really like cats, your favorite meal is the Dazzleburger, you have an invisible Historia that’s super mysterious, are rumored to know time manipulation magic-- which I’d love for you to teach me someday by the way, that’s super neat --umm...” Aurora paused for a brief moment to regain much needed oxygen.

    ”You like swimming, and especially in relaxing places like a hot spring, you’re known for wanderlust, even to Horizon sometimes, your favorite color’s blue, you had a reputation in the past for blowing things up, and you’re secretly like 500 years old or something. And a few other things... but those’re the big ones I heard.” Aurora smiled as if she’d passed a difficult test.

    Melody was speechless, as she stared blankly at Aurora. Just where had she heard all of this? What the actual-? No. It didn't matter. "Yeah..." The blonde responded with a light smile. "You did your homework, huh? But I’m not THAT old!" What was important, was this. "Do you know why I had this reputation, of blowing things up?" More more-or-less rhetorical questions!

    ”Um…….. Not really,” Aurora admitted. ”Most of the people I talk to weren’t around then, so…”

    "Because I was terrible at using magic!" Melody paused for a second. "Well, more terrible than my peers."

    ”Okay, but… you’re not now, Aurora consoled, not entirely sure where this was going.

    "Yes! Exactly." So, she wasn't that smart after all. Or maybe Melody was just terrible at this whole thing. "So, the point is. In my past, I was much like you, I drifted from Coven to Coven, my magic was always going haywire, heh, even my Historia isn't that much different from yours... But! Look, where I am now! You got potential. A lot. You shouldn't dismiss what Eirlys said, either. Passing the Rite of Initiation has nothing to do with luck. At all. Don't let your dreams be dreams. You have people that believe in you, but all you really need to do is believe in yourself!" Was it working!?

    ”So that’s why you’re so insistent...” Aurora concluded to herself, but plenty loud enough for the others to hear. A wonder-filled look crossed her face as she looked up at Melody. ”Do you maybe have... Mother Syndrome with me? Wow… I don’t know, I never thought of you that way, but maybe...” she paused to think about it.

    ". . ." The older Witch was at a loss for words. Just what exactly was going on inside the little head of hers!? Nonetheless, the reason why Melody was doing this in the first place was because of her superior. Eleanor Gloria. The headmistress of Phantasmagoria that clearly, Melody would now need to murder at a later point.

    "Where did you even learn such a term?" Melody asked as she kept smiling. "Rather, I see a lot of my younger self in you, and I don't want you to make a decision you'll regret later!" Exactly!

    ”Yeah: Mother Syndrome,” Aurora confirmed, nodding her head. ”I can’t believe you’ve never heard that before, I thought everyone knew about it. Maybe it’s just a Rubian thing.” She shrugged. [color=#9933f]”Then let me ask, did you ever hurt or lose someone from one of your mistakes? Someone from your squad maybe?”[/color]

    What was this? Suddenly, Aurora was asking the question!? No. That wasn't how this was supposed to go. Melody flipped Aurora's forehead. "We are talking about you! Not me. So, you really really wanna be a Questing Witch, no?"

    Aurora’s eyes narrowed in suspicion. ”Of course I do, but if you’re that much like me, than tell me: is it safe for them? She pointed to the others.

    Melody sighed. This girl asked a way more difficult question than she realized. "I've seen my dear comrades... die." She started. "But not at a point in time where I haven't been able to properly control my powers." She reassured Aurora, telling her what she wanted to hear!

    Aurora grew pensive for a moment as she considered what it must’ve felt like. Finally, she nodded her understanding, suddenly dashing forward to hug Melody. ”I'm sorry, that must’ve been hard,” she finally answered, letting go after several seconds. ”Are you sure about this? Even knowing the risks, you’d still encourage me to stay?”

    "H-Huh?" Melody was surprised at the sudden hug. Too much closeness, too soon. But it certainly would have been unwise to just push the girl away. Instead, the older witch returned the hug, until they finished.

    "I'm sure about this!" Melody encouraged her further, deep down fully aware the potential 'horrible thing' she was doing to Aurora. Alas... "And if you ever need some private coaching, I'm here for you!" Giving her a thumbs up. Wait what?

    The mistake was manifest almost instantly as a sparkle of wonder filled Aurora’s eyes. ”Wow, really…!? Woah…” she stared off into the distance a moment before returning to Melody again. ”How about tomorrow? Or even today, I could do this evening. I’ll be sure to visit and see if you’re around. Thanks so much!”
  • Parou didn’t give a shit.

    She watched the brat go on for a while, then watched Seia go off as well, then watched another newcomer try to make sure the brat felt all welcome and crap like that, and finally, the witch stood up, disregarding the latest arrival. A waste of time. She didn’t care what caused Melody to obsess over a single witch. She didn’t care who here thought the brat was a liability or an asset. She didn’t care for all this garbage that flowed so freely out of their mouths.

    A waste of time, a waste of breath. Her violet eyes flashed over the two conversing, and then, with a clipped pace, strode off.

    It took a mere three seconds for her to peruse the mission board for something that’d fit this dysfunctional party. A simple extermination job was enough, and slaying the undead was undoubtedly something that’d make the hymn-singer happy. Parou snatched it off the board and strode up towards the reception desk, where Manager Chika&Rika stood. The statuesque witch was no longer smiling, but there was no particular aggressiveness in her tone either as she placed the piece of paper down before the receptionist.

    “Squad #483,” Parou said, tilting her head in the direction of the other Questing Witches before facing the twin managers again, “Details, if you may.”

    With Manager Rika (thankfully) sleeping, it was Chika who stood there, all uninterested in the entire pseudo-drama that was going down.

    Instead, as Parou laid the piece of paper in front of her, putting her hand on what appeared to be a magical crystal ball that promptly started glowing as she worked her magic. "Squad #483." She repeated after Parou. "Registered members: Eirlys of the Metal Sea, Melora the Fool, Aurora Avril, Seia Flavia Augustus, Parou Hitorie, Celestia Nightfallen."

    After that, silence. For a good few seconds. Before Chika confirmed in her monotone voice. "Is that correct?"

    “Aurora’s tentative,” Parou replied. “But yes.”

    Following this, Chika slightly moved her head as if directly staring at the group of relevant Witches behind her thick layer of hair. A few more seconds passed as her lips were curling up maybe a millimeter at most. "Squad #483 is now registered for D-Rank mission Extermination at the Singing Rocks. Please standby." With these words, the girl turned around, disappearing into a backroom. Leaving Parou alone with the drooling Rika.

    As she waited, Parou pushed her index finger against the sleeping manager’s cheek. Surprisingly soft. Almost like a baby’s bottom. Didn’t look like she was sleeping just out of fatigue though.

    "Nuuuu, five more minutes..." Manager Rika whispered in a half-daze.

    “Manager Joel’s here,” Parou said nonchalantly, retracting her finger.

    "I'm sorry Jojo..." Rika continued whispering. "I stayed up all night playing The Witching 3. Please don't fire me~~" There wasn't any way to wake her up! At least none Parou was aware of.

    It didn't take Chika long before she returned again, handing Parou 7 sheets of paper and two crystals. "Good Luck." One sheet was a simple written-out confirmation that it was indeed Squad #483 that had the go-ahead for the mission, including a magical signature from the Board of Education. The other 6 were some simple information about the the undead menace and a repeat of the general mission-briefing. One of the crystals was simply the same information just in magical form. While, lastly, the other crystal was a recording device to ensure the Squad would do their mission properly.

    “Don’t need it,” was Parou’s own reply as she took all that was given to her. Scanning over the documents quickly, she rolled them up together while pocketing the two crystals. One for information, one for surveillance.

    Well, it’d be expecting too much to have the procedure change within the span of only a few months. She nodded once at the two Managers, before turning heel and marching back to the rest of the group. By the looks of it, the brat decided to stay after all.

With a giant smile plastered on her face, Aurora returned to the table with a newfound confidence. ”Okay, maybe I was being a little bit hasty. I’m sticking with you girls,” she proclaimed with a thumbs-up. ”Anyway, why haven’t you picked a new mission? That’s kinda what squads are for ya know.”There was an almost imperceptible shrug before Parou placed the briefing documents down on the table, spreading them out for all to take. Looking Aurora in the eye, she said, “As a matter of fact, I have. Let’s get going. You can all read up on it on our way to the Gateway.”

Another sigh escaped Melody. Part of this orientation was pretty much to make the necessary steps abundantly clear to do what Parou had just done herself. Truly, it didn't take a genius to take on a mission, but after the group had spend two weeks doing nothing, and being new, it became Melody's responsibility to make sure that as a new squad they wouldn't feel THAT lost.

If anything, the Witch of the Serene Sea should have been grateful, no? Parou taking charge and all that. "Alright alright, with all this cleared up and now everyone around, we can finally move on."

"So, as you can see, getting a mission really isn't that hard and usually there aren't any disputes inside a Squad about which mission to take." Melody sighed, before glancing over to the information/reception desk of the Hub. Chika, of course, such a tiny deviant.

"Since Parou is more than capable of doing that I am sure she won't mind showing you how it is done the next time, right Parou?" But Melody didn't even let her answer before continuing on. "It's really just as simple as taking something from the Quest Board and showing it to the reception. Some Squads think they'll get assigned something by the Board of Education, but that only really holds true in special cases." Pausing for a second, the Witch now took a step back.

"Now, with all that taken care of, I'd say you're more than prepared to venture forth, no? I'll be rooting for you! Oh, and don't forget some kind of map!" After all, Horizon was known for its MOVING flying islands and all. And while there were a lot of ways Witches orientated themselves, the most popular one was with a Magical Map from the Cartographer's Coven. Placing a sort of 'Magical Trace' on various landmarks that the Map was then showing... once outside anyway.

"Any more questions? It's now or never."

The pamphlet itself was simply a dump of information. Mentioning the Singing Rocks, a treacherous, rocky, terrain with ravines that split the singular island into multiple smaller ones that, thanks to strong turbulence's, made the place have some sort of constant whistling.

There were also information about Lemuria, however. Mainly listing the different type of monstrosities it could throw your way. A broad variety of zombies, skeletons, and ghosts. Ranging from the slow-walking flesh-consuming mob to monstrosities that easily rivaled the Flesh Golem they had fought before. And while there were also separate mentions of far more powerful and advanced variations such as a Lich or Undead Sky Terrors, it was certainly not something they would face on a D-Rank mission.

Overall, the group should expect to face a swarm of cheap and weak undead that likely wouldn't even be a threat if they stood air-borne, although there was potential of some so-called 'Cultists' mixed in — higher priority targets capable of casting magic themselves. What was important, for the extermination mission, however, was the search and destruction of so called Black Obelisks. Onyx-colored pillars that the undead menace was purposefully constructing and had the effect to empower them further.

Certainly not the most appetizing description for a mission after they went through the Gaping Maw, but it certainly couldn't be THAT horrible again, or could it?