38 Chapter Four : Missionaries - Path Of Thorns (1)

"Urk….! What the… So strong…!" One of the people that we fought said that from the ground looking all hurt from the fight we just had. Thanks to me and my friends, we've contained the riot that was disrupting the food distribution in the park.

"Well, that's done and dusted. How are things looking over there, Kengo? Masato?" Shiro looks over the people he defeated in battle with a serious look and then looks over to me and Kengo.

"Nothing worth mentioning. They were too easy. It would've been way more fun if we'd been against some Berserkers!" I couldn't help but let out a sigh when Kengo mentioned the Berserkers. Of course, they would be harder to deal with, they just live for fighting.

"That's because their whole purpose is to battle. This place is different, that's all." At what Shiro said Kengo just grumbles to himself while holding down Transients still trying to get a hit in on him. Just then, Maria, who had separated from us to stop riots taking place elsewhere, arrives at the scene with Azazel and Ryota.

"Shiro, Kengo… I thank you for your help." Maria gave us a gentle smile that just caused my heart to skip a beat. She is so cute! But is it okay to find a nun cute… or is it something I should avoid thinking..?

"It seems like it dealt with a commotion of a larger scale. Apparently, it all started here." Ryota notices that Azazel was staring off into the distance and I try to see if there was something in the place he was looking but saw nothing. Maybe he is just thinking?

"Azazel? Is there something over there?" Ryota also looked in the place that Azazel was looking but didn't see anything as well. I have a feeling this is something that shouldn't be ignored…

"No. Please heed me no mind." Azazel gave a mysterious smile that just added to his mysterious charm. But I am still kind of concerned about what he was looking at. I hope it won't be something that will come up later.

Hidden In The Park…

"The diversion was a failure. Leave the tracking squad behind and proceed to the next mission." A ninja that only really had a purple scarf covering their face and traditional looking underwear covering their lower half spoke to other ninjas who were dressed just like him.

"Understood." With that, the ninjas vanish without a trace.

Back With The Group…

"It is nothing. More importantly, please proceed with the situation report." Azazel had a mysterious look in his eyes as he asked us how the situation was with the Transients we fought.

"Uh, situation report…? Well, as you can see, we've taken care of everyone involved in the fight." Kengo looked awkward as he tried to explain the situation. I could understand this, seeing as he is someone who rather uses action than words.

"What was the reason for the riot in the first place anyway?" I couldn't understand why the riot happened in the first place. Shouldn't everyone just be happy waiting to get food and not getting pissed off?

"So the riot started over here? Maybe we should interrogate whoever instigated it." Shiro looked over to the place where the riot started.

"First, we should listen to their side of the story. Thank you all for your help, but please allow me to handle things from here." Maria bows to me and the others and goes to talk to the restrained Transients leaving us alone.

With The Restrained Transients...

"Please remain calm, everyone," Maria spoke in a gentle voice to the Transients who were tied up and had a polite smile on her face. The transient tied up looked at Maria in a bit of confusion, not knowing who she is.

"I am the acting Aoyama Guild Master. Our guild is in charge of food distribution. Would you please explain to me what transpired here?" Maria's commanding presence encourages the Transients involved in the commotion to start speaking up, one by one.

"So it started when someone complained that people were being served different amounts of food?" Maria looked at the Transients with a look of understanding.

"Yeah… I think someone said something like that. Then someone else said something about discrimination, and…" The fire Therian trailed off as he spoke, looking upset.

"They said that the Aoyama Guild discriminates based on your past…" The blue Oni finished what the fire Therian was going to say.

"Someone said that Aoyama brands you by race, which world you came from, or your past crimes, and that Stigma remains for life…" The Nether Therian said this with a frown on his face.

Some became suspicious that based on their past deeds, more or less food would be rationed out to them. The concern then arose that those labeled as evildoers would eventually be expelled from the territory. Many grew afraid that they would be judged by crimes committed in another life before coming to this world, which further amplified doubts, leading to the riot.

"And who was the original dissenter? Is that person still here?" As Maria asked this and the restrained Transients glanced around in confusion until it became apparent that the instigator is no longer present.

"So be it." Maria nods as if this response was to be expected. She begins speaking to the rioters in a kinder tone.

"It is true that some in our guild might say such things. Based on the details of an individual's past, they may seek to set those who are good apart from those who are not." Upon hearing this, worried murmurs grow among the Transients. Yet Maria reassures them and continues.

"However, know that this is not the collective will of our guild. At least, not at the present. I assure you that we have not provided any more or fewer rations to any particular person or group. Please be at ease." At that, the crowd appears relieved… but not completely.

The group started to mumble out concerns. "At present? Then what about the next time? Will we eventually be chased out of here?" More people look concerned about what would happen later on and Maria starts to address their concerns, but…

"Lady Maria. We were informed of the situation and came as fast as we could. Please provide us with a briefing of the riot that occurred." The two angel Transient guards appear in front of Maria, expression still serious. Maria didn't look relaxed when they came and tense up slightly.

"Thank you for coming, but what do you intend on doing with that information?" Maria didn't look like she wanted to tell them what had happened to lead to the riot.

"Naturally, we will follow the commandments… and punish the wicked." The Aether angel Transient spoke with a serious tone as he grips his weapon tightly.

"All of the rioters should be banished from our territory. At the very least, they no longer deserve to receive any rationed food." The Nether angel Transient eyes were cold as he said this and murmurs and sounds of disappointment circulate among the Transients involved in the riot.

"...Did someone say riot? There was nothing of the sort." Maria smiled at the two angel Transient as she lied to their faces. The distraught Transients look up at Maria's words.

"But…" The Nether angel Transient tried to speak but Maria stopped him with a smile still on her face.

"As I said, there was nothing of the sort," Maria repeats the statement with a straight face.

"...Father Azazel, what is your opinion?" The Nether angel Transient looked to Azazel to see what he should do in this situation.

"If Maria says so, then it must be so. Or perhaps you mean to imply… That you are doubting the words of our acting Guild Master?" Azazel spoke with a smile as he questioned the two angel Transient who grew silent at this.

"Lady Maria, Father Azael… This is only a hypothetical…" The Nether angel started to speak as he looked at both Maria and Azazel with suspicion in his eyes.

"But the commandments state that any who bear false witness shall receive fitting punishment." The Aether angel finished what the Nether angel was going to say with a serious look on his face.

"Of course. The commandments must always be upheld without bias. That is to be expected. If that is all, then you may leave." Maria said this in a soft but firm voice as she didn't flinch under the looks of the two angels.

"As you command. Please excuse us." After speaking with Maria and Azazel, the angels reluctantly depart. As their backs recede, Azazel finally speaks up.

"You have engaged in deceit once again, Maria…" Azazel looks at Maria as if he sees right through her.

"I have, Father Azazel." Maria didn't look concerned as he said this to her.

"Yet it appears that you do not regret it." Maria only nods in response to Azazel's all-knowing words.

"I did so not in the name of the commandments, or out of love, but merely for the sake of my own ego. If past crimes are enough to sentence one to banishment, I will surely be the first sent away." Maria bows and turns her back to Azazel. Azazel's eyes light up with ecstasy in response to her dauntless attitude.

"Yes… Hehe… Hahaha…" Azazel wraps his arms around himself as he addresses her, as if in the throes of rapture. "No, Maria. That is the only form of love allowed to man. Your path is a thorny one. You shall bleed as you bear that cross. But you must never forget. That pain… is love itself."

"No, Father Azazel. I do not want to call this love. Only once have I experienced a miracle. I must call that the only true love that exists in this world. As you know, I am no Madonna. I am only a pretender, an imposter." Maria didn't say anything else and walked over to Ryota and his group of friends.

"The Madonna… The Madonna saved us… Ah, Madonna…" She leaves behind the Transients worshipping her false name. Azazel looked at her leave with a pleased smile on his face.

Back With Masato Group…

"Whaaaat?! There's nothing left?! Choji! You said I could have the leftovers if I helped out!" Ryota had tears in his eyes once he realized there was no curry left and I could only rub at his back soothingly.

"Yeah, I did… But we barely had just enough for everyone. Don't look at me like the world is gonna end! I'll make it again just for you, okay?" Choji tried to appease a still upset Ryota who looked crushed at the lack of curry.

"You can eat it next time, Ryota!" I tried to cheer him up with that but he turned towards me with a serious look in his eyes.

"It's not the same! Today's curry is today's curry! Why eat tomorrow what you can eat today?! Choji changes up the spice mix for his curry depending on stuff like the weather! Each batch is a once-in-a-lifetime experience! You've seen how the curry is always different in the dorm, right?! Ah… My curry…" I didn't know how to react to what Ryota just said. He is so passionate about curry and I guess he is right about the curry in the dorm being different on some days…

"Thank you for waiting. Hm? Ryota, what's the matter?" Maria looked concerned at Ryota who looked like he was going to fall to the ground due to how hungry he was. I could hear his stomach growling…

"Oh. Maria. Sorry… I think I'm done for." Ryota looked like he was going to pass out and I quickly put a hand on his shoulder so that he wouldn't end up falling to the ground.

"What is going on? Did something happen outside of my knowledge?! Please forgive me, Ryota. It's all because I'm still so inept…" Maria looked upset as she looked nervously at the hungry Ryota. I feel like she was assuming something bad just happened to Ryota but he is just really hungry.

"Don't worry too much about it, Maria. This happens all the time." Shiro pushed up his glasses as he told Maria this, not looking at Ryota as he groaned to himself.

"I-I see… Is it some sort of chronic illness?" Maria slowly looked better but she was still looking at Ryota in concern as he started to lean his whole weight on me. Any other day I would happily let this happen but my body still felt a bit sore and I don't have the extra strength to hold him up.

"More like a fictitious illness." Shiro just shakes his head at Ryota and I could feel my face getting hot as I struggled to keep Ryota from not falling to the ground.

"This happens every day at the dorm. Everyone loves to eat their fill!" Choji said this happily as he ignored how Ryota was at the moment.

"By the way, Maria… Were you able to take care of the issue?" Shiro changed the topic from Ryota and back to the riot situation we were dealing with before.

"Yes, thanks to all of your help. Now let us proceed to our next activity site." Maria smiled at us as she spoke to us.

"Are you sure? We're done distributing food, but…" Shiro looked a bit reluctant to leave the park but Maria gave a reassuring smile to him.

"Father Azazel has made the necessary arrangements. He asked me to continue guiding you and leave things here to him. Choji, you've worked hard today. Thank you. Now then…" Maria then motioned for us to follow her to the next place we were going to.

"Take care, Maria. I'll head home after cleaning here." Choji waved good-bye to Maria with a smile on his face.

"Bye! I can't wait until one day where I can have you for dessert!" I could feel my nose get a bit hot as I looked at the chubbiness of Choji. I just know he feels so soft…

"I have a big repertoire for dessert, too. I'll make you some... What? That's not what you meant?" Choji's face was confused as we left. Maybe he would understand what I was saying later. Such a cute chubby person he was.

Outside The Park….

"Man… Choji's special curry… I wish I could've eaten it…" Ryota was still mumbling this as we walked to the next destination. He was now being carried on the back of a pissed Kengo.

"Get off! Why the hell do I have to carry you?! Walk with your own two feet!!" Kengo looked like he wanted to drop Ryota who was on his back but decided against it when Shiro gave him a look.

"Sorry… I just can't right now… My heart and body hunger…" Ryota could only weakly say that from Kengo back. It sounds like Ryota was suffering at the moment.

"I'm sorry… This is just embarrassing. " Shiro's hand went to his face as he tried to avoid looking at Ryota.

"Do not apologize. I am happy to see a side of Ryota I have never seen before." Maria had an amused smile on her face as she listens to Ryota groan about being hungry.

"We see this side of him all the time… But thank you for being so considerate." Shiro still had an embarrassed look on his face as he gave Maria an awkward smile.

"Please cheer up, Ryota. I'll treat you to my pudding later as thanks for your assistance." Maria went to walk beside Kengo so she could tell a disheartened Ryota.

"Your pudding?! Really?! I'm gonna get my hopes up, y'know!" Ryota quickly perked up at hearing Maria say that to him and I could only awkwardly laugh at how quickly he recovered once he heard food.

"I am actually quite good at making desserts. I make pudding quite often with the children at the church. Father Azazel is fond of it, as well. He calls it Maria's Special Pudding." I could feel my stomach start to growl as Maria talked about her pudding. I was getting kind of hungry as well…

"Azazel eating pudding? Now that would be a sight!" Kengo laughs as he imagines Azazel eating Maria pudding. Now that I imagine it, the thought of it is pretty strange and funny.

"Mmm… Pudding… It's bouncy, sweet… and that bittersweet caramel…" As Ryota was talking about the pudding his Sacred Artifact appeared around his neck glowing softly. "One that comes in a little cup about this big… It may be tiny, but for some reason, that's what makes it so tasty!"

"It's big enough! Wait, that's not what I meant to say! You really shouldn't summon your Sacred Artifact for such a pointless demonstration." Shiro gave Ryota a disapproving smile as Ryota still had a dreamy look on his face as he thought about pudding

"Hey, hold on a sec… Did your Sacred Artifact just light up?" Kengo let Ryota off his back and everyone looked at him as his Sacred Artifact started to glow even brighter.

"Whoa! What's going on?! My tummy's glowing!" Ryota grabbed at his stomach in confusion as his Sacred Artifact kept on getting brighter. I don't know if it is good or bad that it is glowing right now.

"That's not your gut! Ryota, that's your Sacred Artifact!" When Shiro said that Ryota stopped holding his stomach and looked at his Sacred Artifact that is around his neck. Upon closer inspection, Ryota's Sacred Artifact is giving off a dull glow that illuminates his chest.

"So that is your Sacred Artifact… Speaking of which, I promised to tell you about them." Maria looked at Ryota Sacred Artifact with an understanding look on her face.

"Yeah, I wanna know too. I've been using this thing without knowing much about it." Kengo absently rubs the belt wound around his arm as he speaks.

"I don't even know how this thing wound up in my hands… All I know is, when I recite the words written in the App, I get really strong. Role of the Barbarian, Rule of Infinitude… But I have no clue how sayin' some words make me power up." As Kengo spoke, Shiro's expression got serious and he hit Kengo on the back of the head causing Kengo to look back at him with an annoyed expression.

"Hey, Kengo! If you share that kind of information here…" I could understand why Shiro was worried, we don't know who could be listening in so it would be best if we kept what our Sacred Artifact could do to ourselves.

"What's the problem, Shiro? It's a fair trade, don't you think? Our info for their info. It's not fair for us to hide what we know. Stop being so stingy about things." Kengo wave off Shiro worries causing Shiro's expression to grow pissed off and I had to put a hand on his shoulder so he wouldn't do anything too rash in public.

"No. Shiro is correct, Kengo," Maria spoke in agreement with Shiro, her expression serious as she looked at Kengo.

"What do you mean? I'm just putting us on equal ground." Kengo looked at Maria with a confused expression, not understanding what she was saying.

"The power of your Sacred Artifact should be kept secret. As long as we're sharing information with you, let this be a warning. If word gets out, who knows what sort of ill will may befall you? You must refrain from revealing such information whenever possible." Maria was serious as she spoke to us about telling other people about our Sacred Artifact.

"All the more reason! You're warning us out of good faith, after all. Not that I trust your guild, but at least, for now… You've got my respect." Kengo awkwardly scratched at his cheek as he told Maria this.

Seeing as we were just telling Maria what our Sacred Artifacts are, I decided to summon my sword and hold it in front of me so Maria could see it. It would be nice if someone could tell me more about my sword since I am still not that knowledgeable with it yet.

"I don't mind telling you, Maria. My Rule is Rending." Since Kengo already told her his Rule I just told her mind as well. I mean I wasn't hiding it but just letting it out in the open to Maria.

"H-Hey, Masato!" Shiro looked at me in shock at what I was doing but I only smiled at him back.

"That's not a problem, right Ryota?" I looked over to Ryota whose Sacred Artifact was still glowing on his chest.

"Yeah, Maria is cool with me, Masato!" Ryota gave me a smile in agreement and Shiro could only let out a sigh as he told Maria his Rule as well.

"Resurrection, Infinitude, and Rending… I see. I would like to respond to your trust in kind. I will tell you all I can from my current position. I admit that I do not know all there is to know about this matter. This is merely conjecture stemming from a hypothesis." Maria told us this with a serious look on her face.

"Of course I am thankful for your willingness to share, but are you sure? Isn't such information extremely important to a guild?" Shiro's expression clouds over as he remembers something. I have it feeling it may involve that smiling male and his quiet younger brother.

"It's all right. I think you should know more about the Sacred Artifacts… It's important to be aware of the dangers they pose, rather than having only a vague understanding. " Maria got rid of Shiro's concern regarding her sharing information with us.

"Of course… We would appreciate it." Shiro still looked a bit reluctant but he still agreed with Maria sharing the information with us.

"Let's begin with what Sacred Artifacts actually are. Simply put, they are vessels of supernatural power sourced from their Rules." Maria shared with us the information that we heard before. Well, what Shiro told us.

"I've heard that much already. The true nature of the vessel is what it holds inside. In other words, its Rule." Shiro confirms what Maria just shared with us with the information he got from the smiling male.

"That is correct. Rules have the power to overwrite the laws of nature. This means the power a Rule contains can supersede even the laws inherent to all living creatures." I felt myself get a bit confused once Maria mentioned laws. What type of laws was she talking about? There are a bunch of laws for different things.

"Laws? You mean, like the universal gravitation?" Ryota looked confused about the laws as well.

"Yes. Let's use the law of universal gravitation as an example." Maria said that with a smile on her face and Ryota happily agreed with her suggestion. "Okay, Teach!"

"Now, Ryota… Please take this seriously. If I may continue… The law of universal gravitation refers to how every particle in the universe attracts all other particles. Say you were granted an unique right… for example, a Rule that exempts you from gravity… You could overwrite that law. However, Rules are neither inherently good nor bad, having no particular inclination either way. It is the wielder who determines what results a Rule will manifest in the world. Even the same Sacred Artifact would not yield the same results under the power of a different Rule. One who wields a sword with the power to cut through anything could be a hero or a villain, could they not? I hope it is not difficult to imagine how gravely different each situation would be." I didn't know how to feel about Maria using a sword as an example for this situation…

"For example, from one perspective, that sword might become the legendary sword that defeats a villain. From another, it may be an ill-fated sword that brings ruin. So, you're saying… the wielder defines the Role?" At what Shiro said I felt better about my sword. So it is not technically an evil sword since I am not an evil person…. Probably…

"Correct. Then, the Role decides the alignments of a Rule. It is derived from the identity at the root of one's soul. Kengo, your Role of the Barbarian indicates that you desire to become stronger. You wish to knock down any walls that stand in the way of your perpetual search for limitless strength." Maria told Kengo what his Role meant to him and his soul.

"That's right. I wanna become stronger. Always have!" Kengo looked proud at that as he happily agreed with what Maria said.

"Indeed. The Sacred Artifact responds to your identity and materializes the Rule housed within. This formidable power can literally alter the laws of nature. Unfortunately, there are those who would wish to use such power for their own ends. They might resort to blackmail, kidnapping, or… other methods I dare not even speak of." At what Maria said Kengo's expressions no longer looked happy and grew kind of solemn.

"Pardon me, I've digressed from teaching Ryota how to use his Sacred Artifact. Now, Ryota, I want you to listen to your inner voice. When the Sacred Artifact began glowing, what were you wishing for? What lies deep in your heart? Reveal your identity to the Sacred Artifact." As Maria spoke to Ryota and Ryota started to do what she said to him, his Sacred Artifact shines a little brighter.

"I…" Ryota's expression was serious as he thought deeply about what he wanted and it seemed like his Sacred Artifact was increasing in the shine.

"That's right! Hold that thought deep in your heart!" Maria encourages Ryota to keep on thinking about what he desires the most.

"What I want most…" A flash of light illuminates the area, and then…

"What happened?! Did Ryota's Sacred Artifact activate?!" Shiro looked confused once the light slowly disappeared.

"I...I think so! I feel like I could sense the Sacred Artifact being activated!" Kengo looked at Ryota Sacred Artifact with a curious expression. We all got a bit closer to him to see if something was different.

Something glimmers with a golden glint from inside Ryota's Sacred Artifact. "That scent… and that shimmer! It can only mean…" Ryota scoops the contents of his Sacred Artifact up with his finger and licks it.

"Whoa!!" Ryota's eyes grew wide as he tasted the thing from his Sacred Artifact. I didn't know if something bad was happening. Why did he taste it?!

"Ryota?" Shiro looked at Ryota in concern after he shouted.

"You idiot! Don't put strange substances in your mouth!" Kengo scolded Ryota as he looked at him in concern.

"Mmmmm…. Delicious! I knew it! This is pudding!" Ryota ate more of the pudding from his Sacred Artifact and me, Shiro, and Kengo looked at Ryota in complete shock. Is his Sacred Artifact pudding?!

"Congratulations, Ryota. You have managed to activate your Sacred Artifact." Maria didn't look at all shocked at what just happen and just gave Ryota a pleased smile.

"Yeah! It's all thanks to you, Maria!" Ryota smiles at Maria happily as he continues to eat more of the pudding.

"You're messin' with us, right?! What the hell is going on, Ryota?!" Kengo explodes at a happy Ryota as he continues to eat from his Sacred Artifact.

"What? I was just thinking about how hungry I was… and how this cup would be the perfect size for pudding. Hey! Look at this!" Ryota held out his Sacred Artifact to us with a surprised look on his face.

"Is there, uh…. Something special about it?!" Shiro didn't seem to understand what he should be seeing as Ryota held his Sacred Artifact to us.

"Look! No matter how much I eat, if I concentrate, it just fills back up again! This is awesome! Now I'll never feel the sadness of finishing a cup of pudding again!!" Ryota rubs his Sacred Artifact against his cheek with a happy expression.

"I can't believe I'm gonna say this, but… Is producing infinite amounts of pudding your Sacred Artifact's power?!" I am happy Kengo also thought that is how Ryota Sacred Artifact works. How would pudding help in a fight?!

"No, that's not it. I think I've got the hang of it now. One sec… Abracadabra!" Ryota lifted his Sacred Artifact as he said this and light started to shine once again.

"Wow! Now it's full of hot egg custard! This is amazing! It doesn't just produce an infinite amount of food! It's also insulated. It'd be perfect for when you need one more dish to complete your dinner!" I don't know how to tell Ryota that since his Sacred Artifact is from the App once the App is closed won't the effect of eating disappear as well?

"That is wonderful, Ryota. I can feel this is the will of our Lord." Maria looked happy at Ryota's happiness. Ryota whips out his personal spoon and starts munching away at the custard.

"...Can I have some?" Even though I knew that it wouldn't be a permanent fix to my hunger I still couldn't get over how good the food smell.

"Lemme feed you! Say ahhhhh, Masato! It's really good, right? Or would you prefer the pudding?" I felt satisfied that I was eating something and the fact that Ryota was feeding me. I was just having such a good time right now.

"Mmm. That was delicious! Sweets really are the way to a man's heart… and his stomach!" Ryota finally unsummoned his Sacred Artifact as he pats his stomach looking better now that he ate something.

"Haha. You seem very happy, Ryota. I feel you are well suited to this wonderful Sacred Artifact." Maria looked rather pleased with Ryota finding his Sacred Artifact.

"By the way, what kind of Sacred Artifact do you have, Maria? Knowing you, I'm sure it's the perfect mix of refined and cute!" Ryota looked at Maria with excited eyes as he asked her what her Sacred Artifact was.

"My Sacred Artifact…" Maria is interrupted by a phone call. "One moment, please… Hello? This is Maria speaking. Yes, hello doctor. It's been a while. Um, right now? I understand. Yes… Yes… I will attend to it at once." Maria hung up her phone with a small frown on her face.

"I am terribly sorry, but it appears there is an emergency. I have received a call informing me that my Sacred Artifact is required." Maria bows her head in apology toward us with a frown on her face.

"Oh? Not you, but… your Sacred Artifact?" Shiro looked at Maria curiously after she said that.

"Great timing! You can show us how it works! I'm really interested to see it." Ryota looked eager to know what Maria Sacred Artifact was and I was kind of curious as well but didn't want to seem pushy about learning what it is.

"That won't do. We shouldn't inconvenience Maria. Allow us to excuse ourselves for now. We'll come again another time." Shiro excused us from Maria and started to turn to leave.

"Please, wait. If it is not too much trouble… would you come with me?" Maria stopped us from leaving and asked us this with a serious look.

"Oh, we mustn't. We're already imposed on you long enough. There's no need for you to go out of your way to accommodate us further." Shiro shook his head at Maria's offer, not wanting to impose on her any longer.

"On the contrary. You have all put your trust in me and opened yourselves to risk by revealing your Rules. That is why I feel I must reciprocate, although it may not be pretty… In fact, it could be rather unsightly." Maria's face grew dark for a second as she spoke.

"Unsightly?" Ryota looked concerned as Maria told us this.

"If you are still interested, let us make haste… Time is short." Maria turned around and started to lead us to the place she needed to be at the moment.

In A Hospital In Hiroo…

We travel across Shibuya Ward and arrive in the neighborhood of Hiroo. Maria leads us to a medical facility.

"Is this a general hospital? It looks more like a large medical center." Shiro looks around the hospital we are in. I was also looking around, feeling shocked at how huge it is. Are they all like this?

"It's one of the larger hospitals in Shibuya Ward. The one who called me is right this way." Maria motioned to a direction in this huge hospital. I was really worried I would get lost in this hospital if I lost track of Maria and the others.

"Maria, you look like you really know your way around! Do you come here often?" Ryota looked impressed that Maria knew where she had to go in this hospital.

"My guild comes here regularly to visit the patients in this hospital as part of our volunteer activities," Maria told Ryota that with her usual smile.

"Oh, I see… But what kind of Sacred Artifact do you have that can be of use here?" Shiro was trying to figure out how Maria Sacred Artifact could help out in this hospital. I was thinking it had to be something healing related.

"Hey, Maria. Thanks for coming." A doctor with black hair that was style casual and two different colored eyes, one red and one blue, greeted Maria with a smile.

"Hello, Dr. Mineaki. It's been a while." Maria greeted the doctor with a smile and a bow.

"I apologize for calling so suddenly… Oh? And who might these folks be?" The doctor finally noticed us when he looked over Maria's shoulder.

"Nice to meet you." I gave him a smile and bow as I greeted him. I couldn't tell if he was someone I would be that attracted to. He kind of looked average to me but that could be interesting.

"Ah, what a nice, proper greeting. Hello and nice to meet you." The doctor looked at me with serious eyes as he gave me a smile that caused my heart to skip a beat.

"Ah, allow me to introduce you. This is Dr. Mineaki. He's a physician here." Maria introduced Mineaki to us.

"I don't work for this hospital exclusively. Actually, I go around to many different hospitals. Just think of me as being on call." Mineaki told us that with a carefree smile. I was kind of surprised that a doctor could do that but I guess if you are skilled then you shouldn't be tied down to one place.

"Dr. Mineaki is a great physician. He's irreplaceable to many patients who suffer from various illnesses. He has what we call the Divine Eye. He can see the exact cause of illness in a person." I could feel my eye widen at what Maria said. He had such a cool ability!

"It's nothing special. My main occupation is as a sports physician at a local school. If you ever get injured, please come see me. I'll give you a sound diagnosis." Mineaki wink at me when he said that and I could feel my face grow hot at that. Ahh… He is so cool!

"Now, let us begin…" Maria cleared her throat to get Mineaki attention again.

"Right. There's no time to waste. Are they coming too?" Mineaki looked at us curiously as he asked Maria this.

"Yes. I apologize for making the decision without consulting you." Maria apologizes to Mineaki for doing this without telling him first.

"It's fine. This case is rather exceptional, anyway. I've already gotten permission from the higher-ups. Besides, it's not often you ask me for anything. Consider this a little repayment for all of your help." Mineaki didn't look bothered at what Maria did and gave her a carefree smile.

"Thank you very much. Well then, right this way everyone. Please keep your voices down." Mineaki motioned for us to follow him and started to walk in a direction in the hospital.

He took us to a room and entered to see a Transient patient groaning in pain. He's tied down to the bed to keep him from lashing out. I didn't know how to feel as I looked at how much pain he was in.

"Um… Can't you anesthetize him or something?" I feel like that would at least make him not be awake for the pain he was experiencing.

"That's a good question. As you can see, we have not. To be honest, there's no anesthetic we know of that will work on this patient. Transients come from many different worlds, their body compositions are just varied. Unfortunately, the medical community in Tokyo has not caught up to those in other worlds. Thus, we can't find an anesthetic that works on this patient. If only he'd calm down, there'd be other ways to treat it, but… As you can see, he's in so much pain that we can't really move forward…" I could only frown as I processed what Mineaki just told me.

"I suppose this is where I come in. I am ready." Maria's expression was serious as she took a step forward towards the groaning Transient who was tied down.

"If you would." Mineaki gave a nod to Maria, telling her she could start at any time.

"So this is where Maria's Sacred Artifact comes in? I know! Maria's so kind, it's gotta be a healing artifact!" Ryota looked over to Maria eagerly as he waited for her to start using her Sacred Artifact.

Maria got even closer to the groaning patient and placed her hand over the patient. "Almost there… Almost there… I will release you from your pain soon…" After offering some reassurance, Maria closes her eyes and starts to pray. She concentrates her wish into the Sacred Artifact in her hand.

"O Heavens, rain the burden of this man's pain down upon me. Thorns of Golgotha!" An ominous mist emits from the patient and enters Maria.

"Ngh… Ahhh! Ahhhhhhh!" Maria starts to let out pained screams when her Sacred Artifact activates and I grew concerned quickly.

"Maria?! What happened?! Are you hurt?!" Ryota's expression grew concerned as well and went to Maria's side to make sure she was okay.

"It's all right… Please do not worry, Ryota…" Maria smiled at Ryota even though her body was shaking due to how much pain she was in at the moment.

"Maria! But I can see… you're in so much pain!" Ryota didn't look convinced at what Maria said and tears started to appear in his eyes.

"Dr. Mineaki! Please! Now's your chance! Ahhh!" The smile that was on Maria's face disappeared as she struggled against the pain she was experiencing. The patient glances around in surprise as if his pain suddenly disappeared.

"Well then, my good fellow. How do you feel? That's right. This woman is shouldering your pain right now. Please be considerate of her and cooperate with our treatment. That's a good boy… Now, let's get to the bottom of it… No, there's no need for you to say anything. Yes… That's right… Very good… It won't work unless you open your heart to me. Just relax and open your heart. Don't worry. I'm on your side. Look into my eyes. Deep into my eyes… That will tell me all I need to know…" Mineaki looked the Transient patient in the eyes and I could see a light shine for a second and Mineaki nodded his head in understanding.

Later On…

"That's it for today. Good work. You did well, Maria." Mineaki told Maria this after he was done with the last patient. After the first patient, Maria continued to use her Sacred Artifact on other suffering Transients.

She endured pain time and time again. When Dr. Mineaki informs her that it is all over, she replies in a voice rife with exhaustion. "Dr. Mineaki? How… are the Transients?"

"We found the anesthetic that works best on each of them. They're all sleeping soundly now, thanks to you." Mineaki told Maria this with a gentle smile on his face.

"Thank goodness… Thank you, doctor. Thank you." I was surprised that Maria was still standing as her body was still shaking a bit.

"Maria…" Ryota was at her side with an upset expression on his face and tears in his eyes.

"I'm sorry you had to see that, but this is the truth of my Sacred Artifact." Maria gave Ryota a tired smile as she said this.

"Your Sacred Artifact…" I was kind of hesitant to say it, still feeling a bit bad about the suffering she had to go through with each of the patients.

"It bears the pain of others?" Shiro asked Maria this with a serious expression.

"Yes… I believe that is a simple way of putting it." Maria let out a small chuckle at what Shiro said.

"Maria! Maria, are you okay?! Are you really okay?!" Ryota looked like he wanted to grab at Maria but was worried he may end up hurting her more.

"I'm fine, Ryota. Once the App is closed, any effects wrought by a Sacred Artifact will return to normal. I simply… retain some memory of the pain. That is all. I'll feel better once I rest." Maria gave a tired smile to Ryota, trying to cheer him up.

"You're prepared to take on that pain. I guess it might've been necessary, but… You really shouldn't do that to yourself." I don't think I had a right to say this seeing as we aren't that close together but it just didn't seem right how she had to go through that by herself.

"Masato…" Maria seems troubled by my words and that just made me feel guilty for saying anything but it would have been bothering me if I didn't say anything either…

"It's a bit late, but we should get some lunch. My treat." Mineaki cleared the tense air with his voice.

"Um… Can I stay with Maria?" Ryota asked Mineaki this as he looked over to a tired-looking Maria.

"I would advise against it. While physically she may be fine, her mental fatigue is quite severe. You should let her get some rest, for her own good." Mineaki words made Ryota frown and he went to protest against them.

"Don't mine me. Go ahead. Please don't look at me like that, Ryota. I am tougher than I look. Show me your usual jolly self. I love seeing you smile on a full belly." Maria gave Ryota a gentle smile as she urged him to leave to have lunch. Ryota still had a reluctant look on his face as he looks at the tired Maria.

"The food here at the hospital is delicious. I'm sure you will want to eat your fill." Maria said this and I knew this was something that Ryota wouldn't say no to.

"Gotcha! I'll go have lunch, then! Actually, I'm starving… Promise you'll join us later, okay?" Ryota's smile appeared on his face again but it was a rather forced one as he looked at Maria.

"Yes, I will do just that. Please leave some for me." Maria agreed to Ryota's request with a soft smile on her face.

"You'd better hurry if you don't want me to eat it all! C'ya!" Ryota gave a smile to Maria as he waved good-bye and left the room. I looked at Maria for a second, giving her a concerned look, and left with Ryota.

Once we've left the room, Ryota's stomach let out a loud growl.

"You weren't lyin' about being hungry! But didn't you just eat all that pudding and egg custard?!" Kengo looked surprised at how loud Ryota's stomach growl was.

"Once we exited the App, I started to get hungry again!" Ryota patted his stomach and I realized I was hungry again as well. I knew this would happen but I kind of hope it wouldn't go away once the App closed.

"Ah, of course… All effects from Sacred Artifacts will disappear once the App is closed." Shiro nodded his head in understanding at Ryota's sudden hunger reappearance.

"Then let's eat! I recommend… Huh?" Mineaki was going to say something but stop for a while and his eyes grew serious for a brief second.

"What's the matter, Dr. Mineaki?" Ryota looked at Mineaki in concern, wondering why he stopped talking all of a sudden.

"Oh, may I ask you a small favor, Masato? It seems I've forgotten my wallet in the room where Maria is resting. I'm sorry, can you go get it?" Mineaki asked me this with a smile and I nodded my head slowly at this sudden request.

"You're surprisingly careless, Dr. Mineaki…" I told him this as I turned around and headed back to the room Maria was in. Mineaki thanked me as I left to get his wallet back.

But I am pretty sure he didn't take out his wallet…?

In Maria Hospital Room…

"...Who is there? Do you have business with me?" Maria was sitting on the hospital bed as she called out to what seemed like an empty room.

"Sorry, but you're coming with us." A man dressed in a ninja garb presses a knife to Maria's throat. However, Maria remains perfectly calm as she addresses the intruders.

"Will you not identify yourselves?" Maria didn't show any fear with a knife pressed to her throat as she continued to speak to the half-dressed ninjas' intruders.

"We're the ones asking the questions. You will simply answer us, and nothing more. Make no mistake of that, little girl." The knife pierces Maria's skin, causing a streak of red to trickle down her neck.

"If you value your life, you will neither move nor speak," Maria said nothing as the ninja continued to threaten her. As this was happening the door to Maria's room opened all of a sudden.

With Masato…

"Engrave mine name unto thee! Come forth, Boundless Tail!" I quickly attacked the first person I saw in the room that was surrounding Maria. My sword makes contact with them causing them to let out a scream of pain.

"Maria, are you okay?!" I quickly move to Maria as the other ninjas in the room jump away from me and check on her. I notice blood on her neck and I wipe it away with my uniform sleeve.

"Masato! Yes, I am fine." Maria's face looked surprised to see I was here but quickly reassured me she was alright.

"Don't move! Move an inch and… you know what happens next!" The ninja grabs Maria by her hair, jerks up her chin, and shoves his blade towards her throat.

"You… You coward! Don't you know no bad deed goes unpunished?!" I wanted to rush toward the ninja grabbing Maria's hair but I didn't want to cause her to get seriously injured because of me.

"By all means, try… If you can move your hand, that is." Maria's face was twisted in pain as she spoke but didn't look nervous about the blade near her neck.

"You wench! I told you to shut your mouth… What?!" A vine-covered in thorns is completely wrapped around the ninja's knife and hand. The thorny vine grows rapidly until the room is filled to the brim with briars.

"Is this… your Sacred Artifact?!" I was surprised at the thorns that were filling the room. I thought she could only take the pain of people, not make thorns!

"That's right. I have poured all of the pain I've absorbed into cultivating these thorns. My Sacred Artifact can be used in this manner, as well. For this is the identity I hold in my own heart." A streak of sweat runs down Maria's face, as though she is in pain, perhaps because the vines grow from her body itself. However, she continues to stare at the intruders, expression unchanging.

"There is always someone after me. Plenty of people wish to force their own pain onto another. This is what it means for your Sacred Artifact to be known to others. Remember this, Masato. There are those who will try to take advantage of your abilities. They will pursue you relentlessly. This is not just a game. Not at all." Maria looked at me seriously as she told me this and I couldn't help but just look at her. Maria is something…

The ninjas block the door, preventing me and Maria from leaving the room. "If you have no intention of retreating, then you leave me no choice but to enlighten you… That my position as the acting leader of the Aoyama Missionaries, the largest guild of all 23 wards, is not simply for show! I, and no one else, will decide my path in life! Stand aside!" As Maria spoke the thorns in the room started to move and went to attack the intruders. I was standing with Maria to make sure no one went to attack her as she did this.

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