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Shin's party had ventured into the Kuwain marine area to search for the second a.s.sault Ship Celciutos, one of Rokuten's guild houses.
The group managed to find the guildhouse, but found that miasma had transformed the surrounding seas into an extremely dangerous area.
Shin's party discovered that the cause lay in the underwater dungeon "Castle of the Depths." They hurried into the dungeon and fought against the miasmcorrupted Sea King Dragon Ishkar, ultimately achieving victory…
After the battle against Ishkar, the group returned to the entrance of the dungeon. The group's adventure had experienced several unexpected events, so, as soon as they materialized their magic-powered vessel and rode in, they decided to take a rest.
Maybe adrenaline existed in the new world too: when the group left the "Castle of the Depths", their tension was replaced by fatigue.
After each member had taken a shower, they retreated to their respective quarters for some rest: they decided to leave the Kuwain matter to its own devices.
How long had he been sleeping?
Shin woke up, puzzled by the sensation of someone hugging him.
Looking at the ceiling, Shin remembered that sometimes Yuzuha would come sleep with him. She used to lie on top of him, maybe to look at his sleeping face.
He mumbled "you again?", and then tried to move Yuzuha away. He then noticed.
The presence of something terribly soft pressing on his stomach.
No, it wasn't Yuzuha. This was Shin's conclusion, in the utter silence of the room.
His senses remembered his partner's weight. Yuzuha had grown, but she should still have some childish features left. Shin's senses told him that the body now on him was different from Yuzuha's. It was wearing a tracksuit as pajamas, so it was easy to tell.
In more concrete terms, the soft, freely shapeshifting twin mounds that clearly made their presence felt against Shin's body were definitely not Yuzuha's.
Shin turned his neck, trying to raise his head as much as possible. He looked towards his lower body and could see the head of the person now lying on top of him.
The room was dark, but thanks to 【Night Vision】 he could clearly tell the hair color of his "guest".
Fluffy-looking silver hair, pointy fox ears. Shoulders poking out of fur. The first two were Yuzuha's characteristics, as Shin remembered.
——【Yuzuha level 871 Element Tail】
"Wait a second, how much power did you absorb back there…?"
Before fighting Ishkar, Yuzuha was still below level 700. Yet now, she was closer to 900.
Shin didn't know exactly how much power Yuzuha had taken from Ishkar, but it had to be a considerable amount.
"You've grown even more than last time."
Her appearance had changed from a 6th-8th grader to a high school student. Shin couldn't see her whole silhouette yet, but her current weight made him think so.
He looked at the clock: he had slept for about two hours, as it was almost 1 PM.
He didn't feel physically tired, so Shin decided that he might as well get out of bed and tried to wake Yuzuha.
"Hey, Yuzuha. Wake up."
"Hey, you heard me."
"Just five more minutes…"
Shin shook Yuzuha's body through the covers, just to hear a cla.s.sic reply.
"If you're tired, you can rest some more, but get off me first."
"Just five more minutes…let me enjoy this.."
"Enjoy what!? You're awake, aren't you!?"
Yuzuha surprised Shin with a completely unexpected line. He looked at Yuzuha rubbing her head on his chest, reflecting that her personality must have changed again.
"…you got me."
She probably realized that she couldn't continue like that. Yuzuha pulled herself up and the blanket fell off, revealing her body.
It was completely different from two hours ago. Shin covered his eyes as not to see her very feminine curves.
"Wear something, now."
"Want to enjoy?"
Still completely naked, Yuzuha asked the question to Shin while sitting near his thighs.
While she was as expressionless as before, that was due to her inability to express emotion. However, now she belonged to the completely relaxed or unimpressed category.
Shin looked at Yuzuha between his fingers and saw her there, not attempting to cover her naked body at all, tilting her head at him. She did not seem to have any sense of shame.
"Yet another weird personality…how did you become like this?"
"There have always been several personality patterns within me…the personality you all know is the total sum of the characters housed inside me. Even as I am now, I am still one side of the being known as Yuzuha. Ultimately, I will become like the complete form you already know."
Yuzuha said all of this with a lazy tone, then fell again on top of Shin.
Shin stopped her fall as well as he could, and Yuzuha's budding b.r.e.a.s.t.s ended up right in front of his eyes. Despite his will, he ended up in an embrace with Yuzuha.
"Why did you fall on top of me again…"
"I get tired if I talk a lot."
That was probably the truth. Her tone of voice clearly showed how tired she was.
"That's one amazing reason…anyway, putting that aside, get off me. And wear something already."
The situation could be easily misunderstood by anyone, so Shin prodded her more strongly.
He couldn't tell how she would react, as her personality had changed, but if she persisted he would have to move her by force.
"…that's not nice."
Yuzuha probably guessed what Shin was thinking, because she finally got off him.
While he was raising his body, Yuzuha went to a corner of the room and turned on the light device.
"Wear something first."
Shin covered his eyes again and scolded Yuzuha. Even with the room fully lit, she made no attempt to conceal her body. Every part was completely visible.
"If it's Shin, I don't mind."
Yuzuha stood proudly, puffing her chest out without restraint. Shin could swear he heard a bounce-like noise.
"What are you acting smug for!"
Shin, always making sure not to look at her, picked up an item card near the bed.
"Here, your usual clothes."
"That's fine, but something s.e.xier would be nice too, no?"
Yuzuha replied, the priestess clothing Shin gave her in hand.
"Stop being silly."
Shin, making sure only to look at Yuzuha's face, gave her a light chop on the head and left the room.
There were priestess clothes with more skin exposure, as Yuzuha hinted, but Shin had no intention of having her wear anything like that.
In terms of stats, there were plenty superior options. But with Yuzuha's stats, while she couldn't take a Ishkar-cla.s.s enemy on her own, she generally wouldn't have any trouble as she was now.
The situation was different from Tiera, who had to wear certain outfits to boost her stats.
If he had Yuzuha wear a skimpy priestess outfit, Shin knew that Schnee and the others would look at him in a way he couldn't bear for long.
Shin's train of thought reached this point and he sighed again.
"Sorry for the wait."
"Good, you wore it."
Shin voiced his surprise, as he didn't expect Yuzuha to really wear the outfit properly, which prompted a question from Yuzuha.
"…should I wear it more loosely?"
Yuzuha's hand headed towards her chest area, all too naturally, but Shin grabbed it midway. It was easy enough to guess what she was going to do.
"Not at all…more than that, you remember what happened before now, right? The others must be up too, let's go to the kitchen. If you still feel tired, you can just go back to sleep."
"My body will get used to it soon enough."
Her strength had returned, but apparently her body hadn't adjusted to it yet. Her fatigue, however, was mostly gone. For an instant, Shin thought about asking her why she said she was tired just moments ago.
"Anyway, don't act like that when Schnee and the others are around."
"Don't worry. My services are for Shin and Shin only."
"….what did I do to deserve this…"
Shin sighed yet again because of Yuzuha's radical change.
He could tell from their presences that Schnee and the others already started moving inside the vessel. Shin warned Yuzuha again, then started walking.
"Oh, Shin you're awa….who is that?"
Shin and Yuzuha entered the room and Filma greeted them, although she stopped when she saw Yuzuha.
"It's Yuzuha, she gained power from Ishkar and grew up."
"Hey there. I felt Yuzuha's presence all right, but she sure changed a lot. I was surprised."
Yuzuha had changed quite a lot, so Shin understood well what Filma meant.
"Shin, you're up. Hm? Oh, it's Yuzuha. You sure got bigger."
Shibaid, who was helping in setting the table, came closer. He could tell it was Yuzuha right away and acted very much like an uncle.
"You caught on quick."
"For me, Human and Beast children, just like Yuzuha here, grow up really fast. So my eyes got pretty good at that. Well, I'm just used to it."
"You got a nifty new ability while I was sleeping."
Shibaid said it like it was nothing, provoking a wide-eyed reaction from Filma, who then turned again towards Yuzuha.
"Your atmosphere sure changed a lot too, huh?"
"Relaxing type, I guess? I'll go back to small fox mode later though."
"So Shin won't scold me even if I stick to him."
"Well, honest aren't we?"
Filma smiled at Yuzuha's clear and concise words. A smile that surely concealed nasty plotting.
"So only Tiera is still asleep."
"Indeed, we do not know how taxing miasma purification can be. We only prepared the food. Instead, shouldn't you stop them?"
Shin tried to pretend not to hear what Filma and Yuzuha were talking about, but Shibaid pointed it out.
"Even if they're plotting something, they won't stop even if I say anything…"
"Yuzuha seems to have changed a lot, but she's always liked you, Shin."
"I won't deny that, but I don't think what she feels is what we call love or a crush…"
Thanks to Marino's existence, Shin felt the difference in what Yuzuha expressed towards him.
When she looked like a child, it was fine just saying that she was attached to him, but that didn't work anymore. Even so, it was different from the affection that Marino or Schnee had shown towards him.
"How can I explain, it's like a mix of affection towards a parent and a friend. That's how I see it at least."
"Hmm, if so, there's non-romantic affection within. The Element Tails I saw in the past tested, trained, and treated humans with affection."
"Yeah, you're right."
Shin remembered the Element Tails in the game era and nodded.
Personality changes with growth. He had to decide how to handle her.
"Well, guess I'll wait and see for now."
As Shin said so, Tiera and Kagerou entered the room.
"Oh, I'm the last one?"
"Oh, you're up. We just finished preparing the meal."
The timing was just right, so the party started eating.
"By the way, Shin. What are you going to do about Celciutos, since now the merfolk are using it as their home?"
After the meal, Schnee mentioned a doubt that resurfaced in her mind.
That magic-powered vessel was not Shin's guildhouse, but at present the only Rokuten member in the new world was Shin. Schnee's expression indicated that he should be the one to own the ship.
"We can't leave it like that…personally, I'd entrust it to Zazie and the others."
Celciutos was their master, Cook's guildhouse, so Shin would like them to manage it.
"It wouldn't be difficult to set a teleportation point from Shigureya to Celciutos. For the merfolk, we could set up a barrier and a subst.i.tute housing."
"Would they accept it?"
"They'll have to. It won't be easy for them to agree, since they've lived there for a long time, but it's too dangerous to just leave it there as a safe place to live. We'll give a quick look if there aren't any immediate problems, but then I plan to have Raster come."
Celciutos had already been used for more than 500 years, without any maintenance. The residents only used the undamaged sections, but if they somehow accessed the armory or stockroom, there could be trouble.
Celciutos, like Reed's third Moving Base Miraltrea and Cashmere's sixth Sky Castle Rashugum, was a guildhouse designed for combat. If it malfunctioned, it could bring about unimaginable damage.
That was one more reason why Shin didn't want to leave things as they were.
"Is that so dangerous?"
"Fantasy weapons are sometimes even more lethal than real ones…more than that, I'm having a hard time piloting, so would you mind getting off my lap?"
Shin moved the small fox-mode Yuzuha to his shoulder and returned to looking into the distance.
Real life battleships couldn't shoot explosive ammo from rapid-fire weapons like gatling guns, nor did they have any barriers equipped. They couldn't neutralize torpedoes by themselves either.
Thanks to the technology provided by the supernatural power called magic, they could only be called supernatural weapons.
"The ship we're boarding now too could be pretty dangerous with the right equipment. Come on, Yuzuha, here. Or Schnee's thunder's going to strike soon."
"Filma? What do you think I am?"
Filma and Yuzuha backed away from Shin, as to escape from Schnee's look. They had suddenly become very friendly, for unknown reasons.
Schnee whispered a question to Shin.
"Well, she's just learned to show affection, I think."
"That's pretty different from what Filma and Shibaid said."
Schnee seemed to understand how Yuzuha felt.
"We're alike, that's all. All I can tell is what concerns you though."
Shin stuttered in response of Schnee's confident reply. He still wasn't fully decided about many things, so he was almost envious of Schnee's confidence.
As they were talking, the surroundings of the ship grew gradually brighter: they were closer to the sea surface. As they proceeded upwards, merfolk and fishpeople gathered around the ship. Among them there was also the adventurers' guild receptionist, the mermaid Arno.
Shin's group waved at her with a smile and she waved back, relieved.
"I'm glad to see you've returned safely!"
"Thanks. I'd like to tell you what happened, so could you call Lierno and the others in the room we talked in before?"
"Understood, I will make preparations right away."
The group got down from the ship and headed towards Celciutos, surrounded by many merpeople and fishpeople, who had probably been waiting for the group to return. Zazie and the others quickly joined them.
The group arrived in the room at the same time as Lierno and the other people involved in decision-making for the merpeople and fishpeople.
"Well, let us report the results of our exploration of the Seafloor Sanctuary…which actually was the Castle of the Depths."
Shin heard the sound of someone swallowing their breath. Some looked expectant, others doubtful, others again looked uneasy: all sorts of expressions decorated the faces of the people present.
"Ishkar had been corrupted by miasma. We have purified it however, and now it should be nearly restored to normal. We have also been a.s.sured that the Three Sea Beasts should calm down too. I believe that the monsters will quiet down as well."
"Oh, Is that the truth?"
"Yes, Ishkar told us itself, so there should not be any mistakes."
"Oh my…you have spoken with Ishkar directly?"
Most members looked terribly surprised that Shin managed to exchange words with a divine beast. For this world's inhabitants, divine beasts were truly special beings.
"We shall never forget the grat.i.tude we owe you. If you are ever in need of our a.s.sistance, please say so anytime."
"Well…about that, we do have a request now, something we'd like you to do, actually."
When Lierno and the others raised their heads, Shin explained about moving out of Celciutos, setting up another barrier and moving to a new settlement.
Lierno and the others seemed confused and apprehensive at first, but as Shin continued talking, they became surprised by the fact that he would go so far for them.
"I'm asking you to get out after all, so the least I can do is to provide you with a new place to live."
"No, we have been borrowing this place after all…as long as the seas are safe, we can live even without Celciutos. It will be more than enough if you could just set up a barrier."
Originally, fishpeople and merpeople did not build houses, but lived in caves, a lifestyle suited for underwater creatures.
The sea inhabitants here, however, had lived on Celciutos since they were born: they were probably very attached to it.
Shin was thinking that since he was asking them to leave such a place, he should give all the support he could.
Lierno looked extremely apologetic while listening to Shin's proposal. After some moments of silence, he nodded.
"…understood. If you say you will do so much for us, we cannot reject your kindness. As you say, for me and everyone born here, Celciutos is a place of guaranteed safety, our hearts' pillar."
In this world, living alongside monsters brought with it an always present danger. Even in cities or villages, one never knew when there was going to be a monster attack, and underwater settlements were no exception. That was the reason why Celciutos, equipped with a barrier that even high-level monsters couldn't break through, was treasured by all who lived on it.
"I was concerned about what could happen while we moved to Barbatos, but thanks to you there's nothing to worry about, sir Shin."
"You will move, then?"
"Yes. Our numbers have decreased, you see. If we start moving in small numbers, I do not think there will be any risk of needless friction arising."
While the decision did not appear to be final, the other members did not express any objections.
There was also the proposal of erecting a memorial monument in the spot where Shin would create the barrier. Lierno added that they would deal with all the details after Jesta's funeral ceremony was over.