Chapter 30:

Beauty and The Omicron King

Dominion's Paradise

A limitless barrage of colors blinded Daichi as his Moody Scroll became a living kaleidoscope. Even Sanae in the grassy distance shielded her eyes from overwhelming, radiant light.

The hovering scroll developed a mind of its own, breaking free from Daichi's telekinesis. It flew high overhead where it started a wicked transformation.

Rainbow auroras morphed into black lightning that blared thunderous, tortured screams all across the meadow. Spreading everywhere like banshees were caustic winds carrying stenches of decay. Barely any sunlight persisted through the miasma that'd turned day into night, while a black ball of energy was gathering strength above. Soon, the bubbling darkness began taking shape. 

What's going on? This is too much! It was the first time he'd used his Moody Scroll but Daichi knew something wasn't right. All he could do was watch evil incarnate be born.

In the sky, a gargantuan, demonic skull formed. It pulsated cursed energy that dwindled even the grimmest of nightmares. Void-like eye sockets oozing black puss glared down on Sanae as genuine fear streaked across her face.

A spine jettisoned out from beneath the skull, anchoring it to the ground. Before Daichi could move, colossal ribs formed and trapped him within a prison of bones. The grotesque clamors of vertebrae and phalanges clanking against each other continued until half a giant skeleton was formed.

"BARAAAAAAAAAH!" The demon’s wails pierced ears like daggers. Its long, skeletal arms extended out further than buses, and slowly, dilapidated plates of knight armor boiled onto the surface of its bones. A corrupted crown atop its head completed their birth.

I gotta get out of here! Daichi thought, but he'd been enclosed inside a humongous rib cage that'd punctured the ground around him. He looked up and saw coursing, black energy traveling down a spine, like signals commanding movement. On cue, the demon’s arm grabbed Sentinel outside and chucked the stone warrior into a gaping jaw—chewing Sentinel to pieces. Chunks of rock fell around Daichi that he sidestepped to doge.

The teen was at a complete loss for words; all he could do was bring up his foe’s info to start drafting counter options:

[Name: Omicron King

Grade: S

Lore: The lord of the underworld. It is said every damned soul passes through its cursed body, transforming them into abominations of their former selves. Should the King ever fully regenerate, no light will remain uncorrupted.]

Daichi could tell it was still staring down straight at Sanae, likely attracted to the light within her. Omicron King's long arm rose and stretched to reach her.

“Run, Sanae! I can’t control it!”

But with a confident face, she held her ground and aimed her staff forward. An intricate magician’s circle formed beneath her feet as blue particles radiated upwards—forming a ball of concentrated light on her staff’s tip. Bony fingers soon closed in around her.

“SPELL BREAK!” Sanae screamed.

A surge of white energy erupted forth. It obliterated Omicron King's hand and decapitated the demon with enough force to punch a hole in distant clouds. The skeleton started breaking apart as bright light infected it like a virus. Daichi ran outside before everything collapsed.

Soon, there was nothing but white particles floating about. Every demonic bone had disintegrated away until not a trace of darkness remained. The whole meadow was resetting to its beautiful self, while the one-time-use Moody Scroll rolling on the ground caught fire then withered away.

Even after everything, Sanae stood strong with her staff still pointed ahead. One slow breeze pushed against her, but it was enough to topple the exhausted Cleric over.

“Sanae!” Daichi tossed his tome aside and sprinted across the meadow towards her. He kneeled over to try shaking her awake. “Hey! Are you ok? Say something!”

Her face steadily regained hints of life. “G-G-Guess you beat me, huh?”

“I don’t care about any of that! Heal yourself or whatever!”

"I'm fine," she smiled. “Spell Break just takes a big toll on me."

Oh thank goodness. “I'm not sure what even happened. My Moody Scroll went haywire—summoned something crazy. I don't wanna imagine what’d happen if you didn’t stop it.”

“That’s one of the things Spell Break is good for." Sanae's hand rested on her forehead as she gazed upwards. "It can ‘break’ almost any spell, but it eats most of my MP and stamina, so it’s a last resort. Cleric heals are too important to compromise for anything else.”

“It’s not the heals; it's the person that matters,” Daichi said. A fervent, sincere gleam in his eyes sparkled like diamonds.

"Hehe, that's a little corny," she replied.

"W-Well, it's a corny moment!"

Sanae’s arm reached up to pat his head. “Thanks for caring about your healer though. I’ll be okay."

Why am I a head pat magnet . . . But he let his hair be ruffled even as he blushed like a girl.

"Mm." She nodded towards the ground beside her. “Do you wanna lie down with me?”

“Oh, uh, sure?"

In that expansive meadow, he laid himself next to her, facing up. Nervous tension inside him spiked when he realized he was almost shoulder to shoulder with her. But the feeling subsided as they both admired the mesmerizing, twilight sky above as it almost welcomed the night.

“Me and Momoka—we’d relax out here like this after training all day,” she said. “It feels nice to take a break from everything and pretend you’re in your own little world, right?"

But within that wholesome moment, in that place in time, his world had never felt more complete. Just two days of adventures with this girl beside him already granted lifetimes of jubilance. It didn't matter how small his world was or how large he perceived it—as long as Sanae resided in it, that was all he needed.

"Maybe a break is what I've been missing this whole time, haha." His response was heartfelt, desiring within him respite from conspiracies that'd been shadowing him like specters. He still had ambitions, but perhaps a blind pursuit of them wasn't always necessary.

"Mhmm," she replied. "Momoka always made me take breaks even if I didn't need them. I really miss her, but I know we'll meet again someday.”

“Sorry you gotta settle for me here instead.”

Sanae’s head turned towards him. A starry glimmer in her eyes spoke almost as much as her words. “I don’t mind you. I like you.”

The two peered deep into each other's longing gazes, their faces only centimeters apart. Her long eyelashes seemed like the flags waving him over, and Daichi could feel his heart pounding as an invisible, electric force tried willing his lips forward—but he held himself back. Instead, a lame chuckle escaped his mouth while he tried looking at anything except her eyes.

"Teehee." Sanae giggled and turned back up towards the vibrant sky. “Well, do you want your report card?”

“Huh? Report card?" Please tell me it's not about my masculinity.

“Yeah, about how you did in our duel. It got canceled when I knocked out."

Phew. “O-Oh, yeah! Didn’t know I was being graded, haha.”

“Any guesses though?" She gave him another cute, sly glimpse.

"Hmmm . . ." Daichi performed a mental recreation of their entire duel: how he started off with a premeditated attack, then forced into close-quarters confrontations, and finally had to watch as most of his summons were viciously killed off. The Omicron King incident aside, his duel did not feel like a victory. “I think I could've done better, especially towards the end.”

Slowly, Sanae attempted to sit up but failed, plopping her back back to the ground. She let out cute pants of pure exhaustion. “A-All things considered, I think I’d give you a ‘C’ grade."

“C? Even though I technically won?”

“Dummy." Her face pouted as she glanced towards him. “I was holding back a bit, ya' know? And you made some rookie mistakes too."

"Like what?"

"Well, when we started, you messed up by setting all your summons on me at once and not leaving any behind for defense. Big mistake."

"I mean it was working at first." Daichi was currently transfixed by Sanae's hand and finger gestures she was using to explain her points. Her apparent immobility from the waist down meant she couldn't do much else.

"For pure Invokers like you," she continued, "they should always leave a summon by their side for defense. It's like Makoto said: you're a 'free kill' if you're alone."

"But I needed everyone for that triangle formation, or I wouldn't have been able to corner you." I think.

"Yeah, that's the next thing! You tried using the same trick you used on Domination! I told you to be less predictable. The first Sentinel couldn't break my barrier because I made it stronger on the off chance you lacked creativity."

"Didn't my plan still work though?"

"It would've if I didn't already know you so well." She stared with the look of a disappointed teacher. "I rushed you right after because there was no one protecting you. That's when you made another goof: letting go of your primary weapon."

"I'd say 'knocked out of my hand' is a bit more accurate, haha."

"Doesn't matter. Once you disarm someone who needs to manually equip their weapon again, it's over. Players up north fight dirty—they wouldn't just let you access your Menu in the midst of combat, so I didn't either."

Oh. So that's why she was relentless.

"One more thing." Sanae raised her index finger. "When possible, you should hide your true strength and speed. Once an enemy thinks they have a profile on you, you can gain the upper hand by giving them a big surprise!”

“You learned that from Momoka?”

“Buu-buu! It’s a tip I learned from Hiro.”

Daichi chuckled. "Guess we both had some good people to learn from."

"Hehe, yup.”

A few calm minutes passed. They enjoyed some more small chat while dusk in the distance began. Daichi sat up and looked down at Sanae blissfully enjoying the breeze, eyes closed. Even after all the suffering she'd endured yesterday and with the Omicron King fight earlier, she'd still managed to brush it all away like water off a duck's back. It was only natural the favor be returned.

Without making much noise, he stood to his feet then crouched down to offer her his back.

"Come on, let's go," he said with a wholesome smile.

"H-Huh?" She woke up. "What are you doing?"

"You can't move much, right? I'll carry you home today."

Daichi could see her cutely blushing. She tried in vain to stand up again but landed on her butt. "I-I don't wanna accidentally tear your clothes after I patched them this morning! I just need more time to recover!"

"I could just leave you out here . . ."

"Rude! Hope this isn't how you treat your real life friends."

"No, but it's how my sister treated me sometimes, haha."

"Ah. Tough love, huh?" Sanae relented and crawled onto Daichi's back. "I can get behind that, teehee."

Wow, she's pretty light. I'm probably stronger than in reality now. He hoisted her legs higher then stood up. Gentle arms swaddled around his shoulders as Sanae pressed herself into him. The sensation of her two, soft lumps on her chest beamed fluttered emotions up his spine. Luckily, she couldn't see his flustered face.

"You could have princess carried me too," Sanae giggled as they started their walk through the meadow. "Might’ve been easier."

"I-I think people will get the wrong idea either way."

"Let them think what they want." She rested her head closer to his cheek.

He wanted to convey a sign, any sign, about his interest in her. But how would that affect their journey together? Would it derail their plans, especially if she rejects him? Even with all the little hints she was sending him, was she really more interested in Daichi than Hiro now?

But for now at least, he'd embrace her warm company and see where fate leads him.

"Of all people though, I'd worry about Hiro getting the wrong idea . . ." He cringed at the idea of upsetting him.

"Hiro is Hiro, and Daichi is Daichi. They're both super different, but both have good hearts I admire lots."

He could hear her voice tiring. "I'll let you know when we’re back, 'k?”

"Mmm. Let's come back here someday though," she mumbled. "Just you and me—and see how much we've changed."

"As long as I don't gotta carry you again," Daichi protested. "I'm really getting vibes from that one anime with the explosion girl that knocks herself out."

"Friggin' otaku . . ." Sanae said as sleep overtook her. Daichi hoisted her higher onto him to make her more comfortable. The sound of her tender breaths was all the motivation he needed to trek onwards through the darkening forest.

Gigantic trees around them were eerie, but Sanae was the metaphorical light that helped highlight their path forward. All that mattered in Daichi's new life was currently resting on his back; and he'd try his best to keep her happy while enjoying their journey across Paradise.

I'll find Kyouko no matter what, but she wouldn't want me becoming obsessed over it. Conspiracies already controlled my life in realitymaybe I can turn a new leaf here.