"Almost.... got it... THERE!" Myri exclaimed as she lifted the scroll triumphantly. Her lively outburst was in stark contrast to the rest of the party, who sat or lounged haphazardly throughout the boarding room of The Courtail Inn.
"Are you sure this will work, Myri?" Alanso's face peaked over Myri's shoulder to take a cursory glance at the finished scroll, causing her to blush as his breath caught her ears.
"I'm... not sure... I-I mean, yes, it will work! But, I can't say if the outcome would be... correct..." She stammered out a response, faltering a bit. She hadn't really considered the risks of reproducing the adept scroll of world shifts. Although her pedigree as a mage was absurdly high, having been taught magecraft since childhood for eighteen years, not even her master or her masters master would be certain of the outcome for something like this. Lost magic like this was rare and usually could fetch gold in the thousands.
"Sigh, it's such a shame we have such a useless dust rag on the team." Tyal mocked. Tyal had a deep distrust of anything magic, raised in the mountains where leylines were in short supply. As a result, any time Myri made a mistake, he would hound the woman mercilessly.
"Can it, Tyal." Otzantl glowered, "You cease words too, Myri. Loud voice make rest... unlikely."
"...sorry." Myri squeaked out as she shied away from the three.
Alanso shook his head. He never understood how those two refused to appreciate Myri. Placing his hand on her head, he gently messed the hair of the dazed twenty-something.
"Why don't you go find Alexia in your room, Myri?" He prodded her to the door with the scroll still firmly clutched to her chest.
"Oh... Okay." She waved goodbye to the three until the door gently shut, only then turning to make her way back to the other room. Alexia was Myri's battle slave, watching over her since birth. Master Kalisthalyth personally oversaw the ceremony of bond in place of her parents. Boiling it down, the ceremony itself converts one's flesh into mana, branding a soul into the body of a host to gain mock immortality. Once someone abandons their soul to another, the bond is formed, and a need for the host's mana emerges. The slave then uses the master's mana to maintain human form, fighting to protect the host with both lives on the line. If the host dies, the slave dies as well.
Myri passed by some guests in the hall, taking a moment to bob before continuing to her room on the second floor. She often wondered what Alexia thought about her. Did she resent her at all? After all, she did lay dormant inside the brand for the first three years of Myri's life until her mana well grew large enough to support her. After which, there were few times when Alexia wouldn't be by her side. Myri was thoroughly shocked when a familiar naked figure shot into view ahead, abandoning her mind full of questions to make room for the most important one.
"Get back inside..." Myri hissed, shoving the unclothed nudist back through the door. "What is wrong with you??"
"Hm?" Alexia nonchalantly towelled off her hair, much to the dismay of her short-circuiting master.
"We just bought you new clothes! If I weren't aware of your upbringing after many terrifying meetings with your father, I'd swear you were a warrior and not a paladin!" Myri exclaimed with a tone dripping frustration.
"Speaking of clothes," Alexia started, "When are you going to get a better robe? That one's so old, you know?"
"Alexia, not you too!" Myri cupped her head. These robes were special! Her master gave these to her when she set out two years ago, and unless something left it in tatters, she refused to look at any new robes. EVER!
"Master, what's this?" Alexia changed the topic, draping the wet towel over the mana coals before taking the scroll from her master's hands.
"Don't get it wet," Myri threw a pair of panties at Alexia, "It's a reproduction of that scroll you found earlier."
"Any idea what it does?" A faint blue tinge lapped at the parchment lettering, dancing between Alexia's fingertips while Myri scoured the room for a bra.
"No clue, sadly." Myri shook her head. "Even after dissecting it, the subject matter is just far too complex for me to gauge the outcome. World shifts are rare enough that even if an infantile mage such as myself reached several hundred years of age, I might not encounter one still."
"I thought my little-miss know-it-all would be able to tell how this thing worked, inside and out." Alexia teased, "Frankly, I'm a bit disappointed."
"Pfft," Myri laughed, "I'm only a know-it-all in the library around Master. It's the only way to get a straight answer out of him; you know that. Speaking of Master, do you think he would know about world shifts?"
"I have no clue what Kalisthalyth would or wouldn't know." She spat at the coals, making them sizzle.
"... Hey, Alexia. What am I to you?" Myri asked all of a sudden, thinking back to her train of thought from earlier.
"What do you mean?" Alexia sounded puzzled from such an abrupt and serious question.
"Like, am I family to you? Just a friend? More than a friend?" Myri finally found the bra she was looking for, tossing it at Alexia only to watch as it sailed into the coals and burned to a crisp.
"When did I lose you?" Myri groaned.
"Probably the beginning," admitted Alexia as she walked over to Myri, pressing her two lumps against the young lady's head from behind, "By the way, are these meant to glow like this?"
"WHAT!?" Myri spun around and yanked the scroll out of Alexia's hands, nearly tearing it in a panic. "Why didn't you say anything?!"
"I thought it was normal," Alexia said defensively, "How would I know what blue lettering means!"
"It means you're activating it! How can you go twenty years bonded to a mage and not realize this!!" Myri watched in despair as thousands of gold coins melted in front of her eyes and replaced themselves with the consequences of using unknown magic among civilians. At best, she would pay a fine for damages; at worst, her mana well would be crippled, and she'd be sentenced to lifetime labour!
"Oookay, it's alright, Myri. Breathe normally. Calm thoughts..." Myri said to herself as she slowly opened the door.
"Uh.. you're speaking out loud, you know?" Alexia called out from behind, following her master into the empty hallway. It was time to see what the damages were.
"Master, the bugs are still here!" Alexia exclaimed as her barefoot bore down on a fleeing figure, sliding across the smooth wooden floors and adding a second long smear mere centimetres from the first.
"How was that meant to be helpful again?" Myri asked. Her complexion looked a bit better after having some time to get over the anxiety falling onto her shoulders.
"I don't know," Alexia shrugged, "I just figured a teleportation spell would've swept all the alive things away, right?"
"You're not wrong." Myri nodded. "After sitting in during Masters lectures, I'm glad to see at least something made its way into that thick head of yours."
"Please, don't remind me." Alexia's face warped in disgust, thinking back to all the time she spent close next to that thing. "So, what do you think it did?"
"I still don't know; I'm at a loss," Myri said as she checked the residual mana left in the air for a second time. If Myri were blind, she would be none the wiser and continue to assume the room was full of people, yet because she wasn't, she knew all too well that the only living things around them were the bugs Alexia found and themselves. The fact that there were so many bugs made her skin crawl. She definitely wasn't going to sleep alone tonight, and tomorrow she'd voice her concerns about staying in such an unhygienic inn to the party.
"So, what now then?" Alexia asked as her panty-clad form plopped down hard on a nearby seat, unknowingly obliterating another bug.
"We..." Myri paused and took in a deep breath before forcing herself to continue, "We could contact Master... I think both of us, you especially, are way out of our depth regarding this matter."
"Why do you always poke fun at my intelligence?" Alexia asked as she took a swig of a nearby ale mug.
"... no reason." Myri looked away to hide her sick expression. The table Alexia was at had a big pile of food on it, enough for about six adventurers at least. Usually, that wouldn't be an issue, except that the plates she was digging into had quite a few bugs swarming it. When she looked back again, she saw a spoonful of mashed potatoes disappear past Alexia's lips, which after looking at her, formed a frown.
"No, seriously. What is it?" Alexia pressured Myri for an answer this time.
"How.. can you eat that?" Myri cracked, finally pointing at the plate of food covered in moving black dots.
"Oh..." it finally clicked for Alexia why Myri was acting so strange, "As far as I can tell, these things are just mana-bugs." Alexia started to explain. "Mana-bugs are just mana, same as me."
"So you just ignore the 'bug' part?" Myri cringed as she watched another spoonful disappear.
"Pretty much." Alexia wiped her lips with the nearby handkerchief, "This food is heaven compared to what I was served in the military under my dad, though."
"I can't believe I never thought to ask this, but how old are you?" Myri asked Alexia, blushing with light shame.
"Before or after?" Alexia narrowed her eyes.
"B-Befor-" "-Twenty-nine," Alexia interrupted Myri's nervous response and broke into a big taunting grin.
"...I hate you." Myri's blush reached the shade of a simple fireball spell. She felt so stupid falling for Alexia's antics again.
"Enough to not want to sleep together tonight?" Alexia asked teasingly. Myri violently shook her head side to side as she gazed fearfully at the group of nearby mana-bugs grouping on the floor. She wasn't going to ask why Alexia knew that, but any amount of teasing would be worth avoiding a bed full of insects.
"Welp," Alexia suddenly stood up, intentionally stepping on that same group of insects, snuffing them all out in an instant. "Ready for bed? I'm guessing tomorrow is going to be a long day." She asked Myri.
"Yeah..." Myri's face grew solemn, "Let's go rest."