The Next Battle
I AWOKE TO THE MELODY of a tree sparrow’s song.
I stretched and let a yawn spill out as the bones in my back cracked audibly. Beside me slept a girl with blue hair, bathed in the morning sunlight that poured through the window. Other people called her Roxy, but I called her God. Beside her was a tiny baby with similarly blue hair. As the child of a human and a god, naturally, this baby was Perseus…kidding, of course. It was our daughter, Lara.
Leo, the Sacred Beast, was curled up on the floor just beside the bed, looking for all intents and purposes like a white puffball. Ever since we got official approval to keep him from the beastfolk, he seemed even more smug than usual. Or maybe I only felt that way because Linia and Pursena were constantly acting subservient to him. I’d thought him awfully attached to Lara from the start, but I never dreamed it was because she was the savior. That was a startling revelation for sure…though on the other hand, I could probably have seen it coming. It was hard to believe our little girl was that special. As proud as that made me as her father, I would have to do my best not to let it show. Showing favoritism wasn’t good, and I didn’t want to put a sad look on Lucie’s sweet little face.
“Ngh,” Roxy groaned from beside me. “Oh, good morning, Rudy…” She scrubbed at her eyes groggily and sat up. Since she often breastfed Lara, her shirt was left hanging open, her chest completely exposed. I couldn’t allow myself to hungrily ogle them, lest such blasphemy end in me losing my eyesight completely. Ah, but I can hardly help myself. It’s like they’re begging me to look at them. Oh, God on high, have mercy on me.
“Huh? Why is Lara here…?” Roxy wondered, glancing down at her sleeping daughter with hooded eyes, as if she hadn’t quite woken up herself. “Did you bring her in here, Rudy?” She tilted her head and reached down to gently stroke her baby’s head.
“Don’t you remember bringing her in here last night yourself?” I asked.
After we had a little romp in bed and fallen asleep, Lara began crying in the middle of the night—a rather rare event for her. Roxy groggily pulled herself upright and tottered out of the room. She changed Lara’s diaper, breastfed her, then came back here and rocked her to sleep before nodding off herself. Leo had, as always, stuck by her side her the entire time. If she didn’t remember, though, it was no big deal.
“Fwah…” Roxy still looked groggy as she let out a yawn.
“I’m going to leave to do my morning training,” I said.
“All right. I’m off today, so I’ll probably sleep in with Lara for a little while more.” As soon as she finished uttering the words, she collapsed against the pillows once more.
“All right, sleep well.”
“I will,” she muttered, before immediately drifting back to sleep.
I slipped away and got changed before starting down the hallway. A thought suddenly occurred to me, and I paused at Sylphie’s door to peek in. She was still sleeping with Lucie right beside her. They both looked like they were happily enjoying Dreamland.
We had given Lucie her own bedroom, but she slept with Sylphie at night. Perhaps it might be nice occasionally to sleep together, the three of us, all sprawled out in a line. But unfortunately, I had a strong libido and being with any of my wives usually led to sex. There was no way I could do something like that in front of Lucie, especially since she was old enough to remember.
Right now, I was satisfied by seeing them happily curled up together. I left without a word, nudging the door shut. Since I’d already checked in on them, I decided to peek into Eris’s room too. She was always up in the wee hours, so I figured she’d be wide awake by now.
“Urgh… ugh…” squeaked a voice.
I spotted a silhouette on the bed. There was a girl, holding her hands over both ears as her whole body trembled. Her breasts were enormous, but she didn’t have red hair. Those ears she was holding were dog ears, and she had a tail. Her eyes were normally half-mast and sleepy-looking, but right now they were welling up with tears.
“Oh, Boss. Morning,” said Pursena.
After the incident in the Great Forest, she had returned with us to Sharia. Someone was extremely happy to see her, and surprise, surprise, it was Eris. The moment she spotted Pursena, she licked her chops and said, “That’s an incredibly cute girl you brought back with you!”
Linia shuddered when she saw Eris’s reaction, but Pursena didn’t share that sense of foreboding. Instead, she puffed out her chest and grinned proudly, “See how great I am? Boss’s wife only had to take one look at me before deciding she likes me.”
A mischievous gleam danced in Linia’s eyes as she nodded eagerly and egged Pursena on. “Yeah, it sure is incredible, mew. Only you could win the favor of the Berserker Sword King that quickly, mew. It’s too bad. I wish I could be as lucky as you, mew.”
“Hahaha! You couldn’t pull it off,” Pursena shot back at Linia, getting a little ahead of herself. She wagged her tail as she approached Eris, who promptly scratched the back of her ears and complimented her tail. The amount of touching Eris did was a bit intense for a first encounter, but perhaps because Pursena was a dog-type beastwoman, she simply wagged her tail and said, “I really am wicked. My charms are so overwhelming, I’ve even captivated the Boss’s woman.” She shot me a sidelong glance.
I forced a smile back at her. Normally, I would have found her attitude annoying, but since I already knew where this was going, it was hard to do anything but gaze at her sympathetically.
Seeing how willing Pursena was, Eris sensed her opportunity to pounce. “You must be lonely sleeping by yourself now that you’re back here. I’d be happy to sleep with you occasionally!” she offered.
Pursena nodded eagerly. “At this rate, it’ll only be a matter of time before I’ve climbed back to the top.” She didn’t notice Linia snickering at her, but that sealed the deal: she would periodically spend her nights with Eris.
Pursena soon discovered for herself the bone-breaking power of Eris’s embrace, which was precisely why she’d ended up in her current state.
“Urgh,” she groaned. “My…my chest hurts so much…”
Since she was suffering, I used my magic to heal her. Her breasts were as voluptuous as I remembered. I’d already spent a passionate night with Roxy, so I was more than sated for the moment.
“Thank you,” she muttered.
I left her and proceeded downstairs, heading for the entrance. A wooden sword leaned against the wall, which I grabbed before heading out. Eris stood just outside, arms crossed and her stance wide. Her stomach was noticeably swollen thanks to her pregnancy, but she still looked like a most intimidating guard.
“Eris, good morning.”
She was in good spirits today. I could tell by the look on her face. Apparently she’d deeply enjoyed cuddling Pursena through the night.
Pursena and Linia currently lived close to our mercenary headquarters. They shared an apartment much like the one Cliff lived in, and the fact that they could cohabit like that was proof of their good relationship. They took turns coming over every night to check on Leo. They were caretakers in name only, but I was pleased to not have them living here, lest it cause the same friction with my family. Eris would alternate between the two, periodically summoning someone to her room to act as her sleeping pillow. Linia tried her best to escape, but Eris wasn’t about to let her go. Not until her debt was paid. Whenever one of them was dragged off to her room, they’d shoot pleading looks at me, praying for intervention, but I was actually pretty jealous of them. It would be nice if Eris would occasionally call me to her room. I was part of her harem too, after all. It’d be great if she’d show me some love. Perhaps she’d be more open with her affections once she’d given birth.
Wait, aren’t things usually the other way around? That’s odd. I thought I was supposed to be the backbone of the family… Oh well.
“So,” I said, “what’re you up to?”
“I was thinking about our baby’s name. I say he needs a valiant one.”
Was that something people normally thought about while standing outside at the crack of dawn? I really thought she was trying to be a guard dog or something. “A valiant name?” I stroked my chin. “I guess that might be a good idea if we’re having a boy.”
“I was thinking Ars, Aldebaran, or Kalman.”
“I think those are a little too valiant.”
She’d literally named a bunch of famous heroes from the past. They were all good names, of course. Still, I feared giving our child such an old-fashioned name might lead to them getting bullied.
“What are you thinking, Rudeus?”
“I’ve been thinking of girls’ names. Like Alice, Fran… I think a beautiful, refined one might fit best.”
“You’re going to give our son a girl’s name?” Eris tilted her head, genuinely puzzled.
“I just think that if you do end up having a girl, it’d be pretty sad for her to be given a male name because we haven’t thought up any alternatives,” I explained.
“It’s definitely going to be a boy!” Eris sniffed at me and turned away.
Just to appease her and stay on the safe side, it might be good to come up with neutral names that could work in any case, like Maki or Kaoru. Uh, wait, those wouldn’t work. Those aren’t recognized names here.
“Well, I’m going to get some running in, so I’ll catch you later.” I could give the matter more thought while I jogged.
“All right. See you later,” Eris said.
She had recently stopped practicing with her sword, at least. She was probably around six months pregnant by now. I wasn’t sure whether she was finally conscious of the baby in her belly or if it was pure instinct that stopped her from pushing herself so hard. Eris still didn’t seem like a mother at all, but she was going to have this child anyway.
With all sorts of thoughts racing through my head, I started my morning jog.
The whole family gathered for breakfast. Lilia and Aisha served everyone, while Zenith sat with a vacant expression, with Norn beside her. Thanks to a stroke of fortuitous timing, my days off coincided with Norn’s visits home. Lucie was right next to her, legs dangling adorably from her chair. Sylphie sat on Lucie’s other side and nagged at her to sit properly.
Roxy was across from them, eyes still heavy with sleep as she nursed Lara. The baby shared her drowsy expression as she suckled away. Eris looked dignified as she sat neatly in her chair, happily stroking Pursena’s head, which rested on her lap. Pursena looked utterly exhausted and put up no protest, but the moment she saw food being carried over she sat up, tail wagging. She was a simple one, no doubt about it.
My spot was right next to Eris, at the very end of the table—the head of the table, one might say. Not that such a thing existed in our house. Our table was enormous, yet it felt awfully tiny with so many people around it. We had run out of rooms for everyone, and it wouldn’t be long before Lara started getting bigger.
I guess Norn might already be moving out by the time that happens. I wondered what she planned to do once she graduated. Aisha seemed likely to stay here even after she reached adulthood.
“Norn?” I said.
“Yes, what is it, Big Brother?”
“What do you plan to do after you graduate?”
Norn stared blankly. “I…haven’t really thought about it?”
Well, she was still a minor and only a fifth-year at the university. Plus, she was busy being student council president. Maybe it was only natural that she hadn’t given it much thought yet.
“Um, Big Brother?”
“If—that is, hypothetically speaking…”
“I were to say I wanted to become an adventurer…would you oppose it?”
An adventurer, huh? Norn becoming an adventurer… Well, she was decent enough with a blade, and after five years of training, her magical abilities had grown. She’d probably make a fine adventurer. I could only guess she’d come to idolize them, having heard from Paul about his adventures.
That didn’t mean I wasn’t worried, though. This was Norn, after all. She might do something utterly clumsy at some point and die on the spot. Of course, given how utterly adorable she was, I was sure boys would swarm her if she did become an adventurer. I couldn’t keep myself from imagining the worst, since my work involved aiding adventurers caught in sticky situations.
“I wouldn’t oppose it, but I would worry,” I said. “Do you really want to become an adventurer?”
She shook her head. “No, not particularly. The thought just popped into my mind.”
I wondered if she was downplaying the truth. Once she graduated, she could surely find steady work that paid better than adventuring did. Perhaps she was looking for something besides money. Still, I wanted to respect any decision she made as much as I could.
Once she finished clearing her plate, Norn grabbed her things and started for the door. “Thank you for the food. I’m off to school.” Even though Roxy and the other professors had the day off, Norn still had duties with the student council to attend to. It had to be rough.
“All right, have a good day.”
After we all bid her farewell, Norn left for the university.
It wasn’t until she was gone that Aisha suddenly blurted out, “Personally, I’d be opposed to it. I don’t see any way she could hack it as an adventurer.”
“I think you should let her do whatever she wants to do,” said Sylphie. “It’s a big thing to come up with a dream for yourself.”
Lilia shook her head. “I also oppose it. Miss Norn is Master and Mistress’s precious daughter. She should marry into an appropriately respectable family and live a secure, peaceful life.”
Eris shrugged. “I say let her do it. Her swordsmanship is still lacking, but being an adventurer is fun.”
Everyone started weighing in with their own opinions the minute Norn left. Of course, this wasn’t a matter we could decide via family meeting. It was just idle discussion.
“You can become an adventurer anywhere in the world. Even if we all opposed it, she could run off and become one without saying a word to us if she wanted to,” Roxy said. Her words had real weight, since they were spoken from experience.
And that was that for breakfast.
After that, I accompanied Aisha and Pursena to our mercenary HQ. Pursena’s work mostly consisted of assisting Linia, which made her more of a secretary than anything else, but she took the title of “assistant vice chief” for herself. She sat in her office wearing all black and sporting sunglasses. Even though she didn’t smoke cigarettes as she did it, she still seemed to be enjoying herself. Maybe I should buy special hats for the leadership…
“Okay, you guys work hard,” I said.
Pursena nodded “You got it, Boss.”
“Today we’re going to rake in the dough again!” Aisha declared.
“Just be sure you don’t do anything too wicked,” I warned.
Aisha handed me a list of all our syndicate’s—err, I mean, uh, mercenary band’s members. There were about fifty names in total. She’d marked out which ones were particularly good at handling paperwork. I planned to show the list to Orsted so we could select whoever had the lowest chance of being one of the Man-God’s apostles. I’d then interview that candidate, and if they seemed serious enough, I’d appoint them to help out with office administration and document filing.
“If that’s what you need, wouldn’t it be better to just employ me instead?” Aisha offered.
I couldn’t take her up on that. I was confident she would do phenomenal work, of course—the problem was the risk of her glimpsing Orsted directly or otherwise falling under his curse, which might turn her hostile toward him. If she vehemently opposed me working for him, it would make it really hard to continue what I was doing. Aisha normally spent her days idly, but she could produce results almost instantly if she put her mind to it. By the time I caught on to what was happening, she’d already have Orsted drowning at the bottom of the ocean. That’s how it played out in my mind, anyway. I realized it was probably exaggerated concern.
“I want you to look after the mercenary band,” I said, as an excuse.
After I left the office, I went straight to Orsted and reported on all that had transpired this past month—such as how I’d appointed Linia and Pursena heads of my mercenary band, along with Aisha who acted as their assistant. He expressed no opposition to my choices.
“Such a thing never existed in my past loops. Go ahead and continue doing what you’re doing,” he said. Far from being displeased by it, Orsted seemed amused by the goings-on. He also gave me permission to hire people to work at this office, and selected acceptable candidates from my list. Perhaps he was actually excited about it all.
“Are you sure Linia and Pursena are fine the way they are, though?” I asked. “It’s not going to have too much of an impact on the way things play out in the future, is it?”
“As long as one of them becomes the matriarch in the end, it will have no big impact on the future.”
Well, Pursena had managed to cling to her position as a potential candidate by the skin of her teeth at least. And although the others had thoroughly bashed Linia, she could probably fill the matriarch role in Pursena’s place if she was of the mind to do it. I could throw in my support and help her out if needed.
“Most of the people who become involved with you have their destinies dramatically changed in the process. Therefore, I am unable to say anything with any certainty,” said Orsted.
Urgh. Well, pardon me. I’m just trying to live a normal life, you know.
“Anyway,” I said, trying to change the topic. “I never dreamed my daughter would be some kind of savior. Did you already know about that, sir?”
“No. A different man has always been the Sacred Beast’s partner in the past.”
That was only natural; Lara didn’t exist in the other loops, after all.
“But,” Orsted continued, “judging by what you told me, it seems clear the Man-God made a concerted effort to keep you and Roxy apart. So I suspected she had a strong destiny.”
I guess that means our little girl knocked someone else from their rightful place and took the seat herself, huh?
I cleared my throat and asked, “By the way, about the guy who was originally supposed to be the savior…what was he set to accomplish?”
“He was the man who would eventually go on to defeat Demon God Laplace.”
“Oh, okay… Are you sure everything is alright since he’s not going to be the savior, though?”
He shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. Laplace is someone I will have to kill anyway. It’s true that I owed the Sacred Beast and his partner for what they did for me, but they aren’t truly necessary pieces on the board.”
My understanding was that he’d fought Laplace numerous times through his multiple loops, and the so-called savior had been a staunch ally each time. However, Laplace wasn’t so formidable that he needed that ally to win.
“I suppose that means Lara is also destined to fight Laplace eventually?”
Orsted shrugged. “Difficult to say, but there’s no doubt that she’ll be a big hindrance to the Man-God.”
We could only guess that she’d play a big role in defeating the Man-God in the future, but nothing was set in stone. Most of the things happening in this loop were completely new to Orsted, after all.
“I suppose that means he may continue trying to target her in the future?” I mumbled. That was my true worry right now. Of course I was concerned, knowing someone might be after my adorable little daughter.
Orsted shook his head. “That’s precisely why you summoned the Sacred Beast. He has a strong destiny himself, so the Man-God will struggle to interfere with either of them.”
“…Okay then,” I said reluctantly.
“Besides, if anything were to happen, I have no intention of leaving your family to die. There’s no need for you to worry.”
He was doing his best to reassure me, so I should feel at ease for the time being. I’ll just have to focus on doing what I can do. Yes, all I had to do was continue preparing for the next big battle as I had been. I still had some lingering anxiety about Lara, but simply worrying wouldn’t solve anything.
“All right,” I agreed finally.
After that I left our office and headed to the school, wondering if Zanoba and Cliff’s research was proceeding apace. I hoped we could lower my Magic Armor’s mana consumption a little more. The way it was right now, I was the only one who could use it.
On the other hand, if we made the mana consumption rate too economical and the Man-God’s cronies stole it for themselves, we’d be in some real trouble.
I sighed. Anyway, who should I visit first?
I suspected Cliff was hard at work trying to make a second child with Elinalise. For whatever reason, those two always went at it hard in the morning. They probably had sex in the morning, then spent the day recharging before doing it again at night, day after day. Or so I suspected, anyway.
The way they’re going, I’ll be shocked if Cliff doesn’t turn into an emaciated shell.
That left me with one option: to go see Zanoba first, as I usually did. That way I could check in on his research progress with the Magic Armor and test it out. After that, I could tell him about the mercenary band I’d created and consult him about my plan to recruit some members as store clerks. After that, I could grab lunch and go to see Cliff. If he’d completed another one of his prototypes, we could take it to Orsted and give it a trial run.
Yep, that sounded like a good plan. With that in mind, I headed for the research building.
“Moron!” boomed a voice out of nowhere.
Okay, I won’t deny being a fool, but it’s awfully rude to badmouth someone like that all of a sudden. I’m not that stupid.
“You should understand, shouldn’t you?!”
Yes, yes, I know. I was just messing around. I know whoever’s saying all this isn’t directing it at me.
I searched for the source of the shouting and found it rather quickly: a group of five men and women stood on the stair landing, arguing with one another. Shockingly, I knew every single one of them.
“You’re basically going to your own death!”
The person who’d been shouting the entire time was Cliff. He’d grabbed Zanoba by the collar of his shirt and was angrily tearing into him. Elinalise was standing directly behind him, cradling their baby with a troubled look.
Zanoba stared at Cliff with a cold look in his eyes, not budging an inch. Ginger hovered behind him, sending Cliff a weak, pleading look. Julie was at her feet, staring at Zanoba with watery eyes, as if she might break into tears at any moment. Even for an argument, it was odd to find them like this.
I wonder what could have happened. I can only hope it’s not another crazy misunderstanding like the one that happened yesterday.
“Zanoba, Cliff!” I called up.
They flinched and turned my way. Cliff’s look was entreating, while Zanoba remained unreadable. No, it went beyond that… It was the first time he’d ever looked at me like I was an insignificant insect. But I had seen that look before in the past. When was it again?
“Master, your timing is most fortuitous. I was about to go visit you.”
“It’s good you came, Rudeus. Help me convince Zanoba!”
Both Zanoba and Cliff spoke at the same time. Zanoba pulled a face and somewhat violently pushed Cliff away. He didn’t seem to actually make use of his strength, but as a Blessed Child with monstrous power, he still managed to knock Cliff off his feet and onto his ass. His expression turned apologetic for a split second, but he didn’t bother to verbalize it, instead making his way over to me.
Zanoba stood slightly taller than I did, and his gaze seemed to pierce right through me.
“…What happened?” I asked.
“I was hoping to entrust Julie to your care. We may have bought her using my money, but she was always your slave to begin with,” he said dispassionately.
Julie looked like she was about to cry—no, she was already crying. His words were the last straw that sent her over the edge. She clenched at the hem of her clothes and lowered her gaze. The tears rolled down her cheeks continuously, splattering on the ground below. Her shoulders trembled as shuddering sobs escaped past her lips. I caught her whispering something as well. “You promised…you would listen to my request…”
Zanoba, if this is the start of a whole new weird misunderstanding, I’m not gonna be very happy with you. Understand me? I won’t be making any more figurines for you.
“So you plan to leave Julie and go where, exactly?” I asked.
“Home. I have received a royal command to return.”
A royal command, huh? In other words, orders from the king? But why would Cliff be so opposed to it, if that was all it was? He was hardly the type to dissuade Zanoba simply because the guy’s graduation was six months away.
“My younger brother, Pax, has successfully wrested power, killing my father and older brother and taking the crown for himself.”
I gaped at him. “Huh?”
Pax? The seventh prince that took Lilia captive? Or wait, was he the sixth prince? And he managed to throw a coup d’état and ascend to the throne? Wait, that means he’s king now, right?
“The insurrection left his forces exhausted, and now a foreign power has moved in to attack. I was summoned back to help fortify our defenses. Thus, I will be taking my leave for a little while.”
He spoke as casually as if he were suggesting running to the convenience store to grab a quick snack, but I knew, based on what he had told me, what he really meant. That next battle I kept trying to prepare myself for was already upon us, and far quicker than I had anticipated.