Chapter 29:

Lover's Skirmish

Dominion's Paradise: IF

For some reason, Daichi had felt an odd sense of bliss, like whatever lay ahead of him held troves of myriad, wholesome memories that just weren't able to be seen.

Then, a breeze nudged him out of the Ohdeer forest and towards a sprawling, grassland clearing. Dandelion puffs that hitched rides on winds snuck kisses onto Daichi's cheeks, while flocks of colorful birds zoomed overhead flying to who knew where. The sense of nature was impeccable, and Daichi's forest-green eyes that blended perfectly with his surroundings spotted Sanae standing by herself in the distance.

She was waiting in the clearing's exact center, requiring her friend to hike over towards her. Dense grass almost up to his knees made walking a chore, but it gave him extra moments to admire Sanae's flowing hair from behind. The lilac colors of her long strands frolicked in breezy air vying to earn her attention.

Wonder if she's been here before? Daichi occupied himself with curious theories. Probably wouldn't hurt to ask.

As he completed his journey, he let out a little cough to catch Sanae's attention. But when she still didn't turn around, Daichi strolled up beside her.

“You sure seem familiar with the area, haha” he said, trying to see her face.

It was a solemn few seconds of silence, but she finally beamed him the warm smile he loved seeing. “Mm. I came here often to spar with my friend; Outset was where we lived for a while.”

“Oh, Momoka right? Pretty weird of her to want to spar with a Cleric.”

“She was part Cleric too, and part Brawler. A lot of my self-defense techniques came from her.”

It’s probably better if I change the subject away from her friend. “Wow, interesting. I can definitely tell you’ve been around Paradise for two years.” Crud, another land mine.

Sanae’s cheery demeanor vanished. “Time passes faster than you’d think here, and I've lost a lot of time. So one day, I’ll make up for all those moments that were taken away from me.”

But as if wanting to snuff the serious mood, a sudden gust flapped Sanae’s robe upwards, exposing her slender legs. Goblin below craned for a better angle as Sanae calmed her clothes.

“G-Geez!" she stammered. "I guess this place hasn't changed much at least, haha."

"Nyaa?" Furbolt hanging over Daichi's shoulder meowed. It seemed confused at everyone's odd reaction to seeing a woman exposed. Daichi himself pretended that he didn't notice anything.

“So, uh, why the sudden urge to wanna fight?” he said. "It's just kinda random."

She materialized her staff, pointing it at him in a threatening gesture. “Because there’s still a lot for you to learn, and a lot you can’t learn yet. I need to show the difference.”

At least she'll heal me after beating me into jelly, right?  He backed away a bit from the sharp gemstone tip of her staff. "Honestly though, I doubt there's any way I can hold a candle to you in combat."

"That's why you gotta get used to fighting. The higher up north we go, the stronger other players get—players even Hiro couldn't win against."

"I'll dig my grave here in advance."

"I'm being serious, Daichi. You need to utilize every part of your kit to survive, including your scrolls."

"My scrolls?" He looked down towards the metallic holster around his waist. “There wasn't any flavor text on how to use them, so I've just been using my tome."

Sanae sighed and stuck out three fingers, as if preparing a lecture. "There's three kinds of caster classes: Mage, Invoker, and Cleric. Pure variants get locked into four weapons: wands, tomes, scrolls, and staffs. Tomes and staffs cast stronger spells but usually require chants. Scrolls and wands are faster but cost more MP to use.”

Hmmm . . . He tried recalling all of Sanae's previous skill usage, from when they first met in the Hopper forest to last night's purification. "Wait, almost all your spells are fast and chantless, but you're using a staff?"

She looked flattered. “Well, there’s extra skills that can let you cast spells chantless, weaponless, or both. Pretty helpful in a pinch."

"Sounds like something I need."

"You kind of already have them! Like, your scrolls don’t need verbal chants, so you can just think spells so your summons come out quicker.”

"For real?" Daichi unholstered and examined his new Moody Scroll. It was an item capable of invoking random summons, ranging from the weakest to some of the strongest. "I didn't use this against Domination because it didn't really fit my strategy, but honestly, I just wasn't sure how to use it, haha."

"Have you unlocked your telekinetic ability?"

"Telekinetic?" He scrambled his brain trying to remember. "OH! Something like that unlocked when I leveled up to 15 after the Ohdeer fight. Doesn't seem useful though."

"From what I've heard, an Invoker's telekinesis only works on scrolls. You're supposed to wedge your thumb into the cylinder's hook and yank on it hard enough to send your scroll flying out in front of you, then focus your telekinesis on unfurling the scroll midair.” She cutely tried a demonstration on the whole process without a single prop. "Erm, like that!"

"Right, I'll try then!" Daichi readied his hand like he was unholstering a revolver. The holster had two steel, half-cylinders angled forward containing his scrolls. He slid his thumb into the welded eye hook and with a strong tug, launched the cylinder and its Moody Scroll out. His eyes snapped to the scroll and willed its movements suspended—freezing it midair like magic.

"Oh!" Sanae clasped her hands together while glittering eyes cheered pure excitement "Yay, good job! You did it!"

Stay . . . ! Stay . . . ! The Moody Scroll hovered in place as Daichi's thoughts steadily unfurled it. "T-This is harder than it looks!"

"Remember how it's done so you don't rely on your tome as much. Until you unlock the skill that lets you equip weapons instantly, this is the next best thing."

Geez, wish I could unlock that skill sooner! Daichi grabbed the scroll midair then shoved it back into its holster after resetting the cylinder. As he finished, a pop-up appeared in his vision. The puzzling details read:

[Duel invitation from:


Accept OR Reject?]

"D-D-Duel? What is this?"

Sanae started walking backwards down the grassland, measuring her steps and talking louder as she went. "Duels are how friendlies fight. It's so we can’t get each other’s health under 1! Also halves the pain we feel! Just accept so we can start!"

Why me? He glanced aside and looked down towards his two comrades. Furbolt was hanging from Daichi's right shoulder while a conflicted glimmer shone in the feline's eyes. Goblin below stood disillusioned with little life in its face. Both creatures likely harbored an aversion to fighting against their wholesome idol.

"Sorry guys, guess we all gotta do something we don't want." Daichi faced forward then tapped on the Menu's "Accept" prompt. His body flashed a quick purple that culminated into a feeling of strong dexterity.

“I’m not gonna go easy so you shouldn’t either!” Sanae yelled in the distance. “Get ready!”

She's not giving me any time to strategize. And there's absolutely zero cover or high ground here. No way bringing me out here was coincidental—she's dead set on finding my limits!

Goblin and Furbolt received their telepathic instructions. The feline climbed down Daichi's back and sank into tall grass like a serpent. Meanwhile, Goblin readied its wooden bludgeon for the upcoming battle. Even if it was just a sparring session, it'd no doubt be intense.

Daichi opened and readied his tome behind his two summons as cover. "Do your worst, Sanae!"

The two guildmates could barely see each other's eyes across the meadow. It was hard to read her facial expression, but then—

She blitzed forward with staff in hand, displaying speed and maneuverability. Sanae moved in zigzags making it difficult to predict her. Daichi's eyes traced her movements and spawned a second Goblin behind her, casting a chance for all three summons to attack together. Their triangular formation pinned Sanae's advances while moving in for the kill.

A dome barrier erupted into existence, causing Furbolt and the Goblins to crash headfirst into it. Within her small forcefield, Sanae looked up to witness a green ball taking shape far in the sky.

Daichi had cornered her. You either dispel the barrier and get dogpiled, or keep it up and get crushed!

Sentinel spawned above and dropped down onto the dome, stone-shield-first. White sparks shot out as Sanae's barrier repelled the heavy attack, bouncing Sentinel back. All four summons started lashing into her barrier, steadily cracking it.

Just a little more! Come on! Dachi rushed around the action to get a better view. Ravines of cracks infested the crumbling forcefield but Sanae inside seemed calm. For a brief moment she made eye contact with Daichi, showcasing a humored grin.

Then her dome shattered and unleashed a blinding, white light that enveloped the scene—the same light that'd pushed the Hopper army back before. Daichi's spare arm shot up to protect his eyes.

Find her! Don't let her get away!

He heard a flurry of footsteps approaching. There was no time to think, only react. His tome blocked a blow from Sanae's staff as the force knocked it out of his hands. Daichi's eyes recovered enough to see her fist rocketing towards him.


Sanae's knuckles plunged into his face, sending him flying back. He utilized momentum to roll as far away as possible, increasing distance between her before leaping back to his feet. Furbolt and the others were already closing in on Sanae from behind.

Daichi opened his Menu to re-equip his tome but the swift Cleric burst towards him. His arms blocked a strike from her staff while his abdomen ate a kneecap. The two Goblins moved in, but right as their bludgeons swung, Sanae pounced high into the air.

An energy barrier formed around Daichi, trapping him. He knew what was coming and only one way to stop it. He reached towards his waist and snapped out a cylinder, slinging a scroll in front of him; telekinesis unfurled it.

Sentinel: Activate!

Without delay another hulking stone warrior materialized. The width of its wide shield overtook the tiny dome and shattered it. Sanae's heel collided against a rock shield, spreading both pain and surprise on her face. Sentinel hurled her away for the other summons to give chase across the meadow.

After her failed assault, Sanae's footing was sluggish as she dodged attack after attack. Daichi used the chance to call his tome back and watched as the distant spectacle unfolded.

Don't let her heal! Knock her out before it's too late! He reached into his robe and plucked Makoto's Wombat into his mouth. He didn't like the taste but needed its minor heals.

In the distance Sanae was gaining the upper hand. She kicked, slashed, and beat her enemies back, knocking both Goblins away with fatal wounds. Furbolt latched onto her shoulder and sunk his fangs into her, delivering an electric shock. Sanae winced as she reached to pry him off but realized too late it was Sentinel’s cue to move in. She conjured her forcefield to block a shield bash but the dome barrier shattered on impact.

This is it! Daichi thought, but at the detriment of underestimating his opponent.

Sanae's ankle twisted at an extreme angle to dodge Sentinel's attack, and she utilized the moment to grab its stone shield. Furbolt's electricity coursed through Sanae and straight into Sentinel as it recoiled from the shock. The feline detached its fangs but Sanae's hand immediately nabbed him, mercilessly crushing him into particles.

Seizing the chance, Sentinel lunged for another bash but received a roundhouse kick that cracked its shield and sent him falling back. Sanae winced from apparent pain in her ankle, forcing her to hobble on one foot. As Sentinel tried to stand, Sanae flipped her staff down and plunged its pointed tip straight into Sentinel's head, shattering the stone warrior into pieces.

Green particles flew in all directions as a gust blew away the remains of four of five defeated summons. Daichi was helpless as he watched Sanae heal herself back up to full. She swung her long hair back over her shoulder and smirked in his direction.

Last resort time I guess. He hovered his hand over his scroll holster, waiting.

From across the meadow, Sanae started walking towards him like she was attempting a truce. "You've done really good, Diachi! We can call it a day if you want."

"No offense, but I wanna see this through to the end. Stubbornness runs in my family." He spit out his Wombat and ordered his last Sentinel in front to stand ready.

"Gosh," Sanae said, readying her staff like a rapier. "I'm just a stubborn people magnet I guess."

A calm consumed the air. Not a single blade of grass moved as the two spellcasters stared each other down. Any even microscopic movement would trigger their final confrontation.

Sanae's knuckle twitched and Daichi didn't hesitate. He launched a cylinder out from his holster.

"Moody Scroll: Activate!"