"Where the hell have you been!???" Ria shouted while glaring at Ashley, "I was worried sick!!"
She was standing in the spot they were before while using her cloak as a bag to hold a large number of fruits she picked up in the forest.
Ashley just appeared out of nowhere with Lilith sleeping in her bag, Marcus in his weapon form in the shape of a necklace around her neck, and Marcia resting in her arm.
"We had a little bit of trouble... Sorry..." Ashley admitted, "Marcia suddenly disappeared and I went out to search for her..."
"What!!? She did!? How could she disappear without you even noticing??" Ria asked.
"I... I wasn't paying attention... S- Sorry..."
"She is a baby, Ash!! You ALWAYS need to pay attention!! Also, why didn't you use your speed to fetch me? You didn't need to carry Lilith with you if you had just asked for my help!"
"I... I wasn't thinking properly... I didn't want to make you angry... Sorry..."
"Not thinking properly!? You're our team's strategist!! Your job is to think properly!! What the hell were- Oh..."
Ria was about to continue with her lecturing but she noticed that Ashley was looking rather exhausted with heavy bags under her eyes, sweat dripping from her face, her entire body trembling, and a bleeding nose.
"What happened to you...?" Ria asked.
Ashley finally gave Ria her daughter back and dropped on the ground after feeling the backlash of using Marcus so much during her fight.
"We encountered one of Knucker's demons... And she asked me to fight her..."
"What!!?? Knucker's demons?? They're here??" Ria gasped while starting to sweat as well.
"One is... At least..."
"And you faced her alone??"
"No... I used Marcus..." Ashley admitted while pointing at the blade she dropped on the grass, "He still can't turn back to his human form though..."
Ria began to take a deep breath, "I- I see... Sorry... I guess I got a tad too worried up... It's just..."
Ashley tried to smile at her friend, "It's okay... You were just worried about Cia, I get it... You don't have to apologize for caring about a loved one..."
"Right... Still... I'm glad you guys are fine..."
"I don't think we were ever in danger, to be honest... I think this was just some kind of test..."
"A test...?" Ria repeated with a raised eyebrow, "A test for what...?"
Auren was noticing that Evlin had gotten strangely quiet all of sudden after getting in contact with Ellie through her telepathic link.
The two were still riding on top of the griffin they acquired from the hidden city of beast mages and were on their way to reunite with their friends on the island of the temple of the north.
"Evlin...?" Auren whispered while tapping her shoulder, "Everything okay?"
"Huh? Oh! Yeah, yeah... I'm fine..." she replied, "Just thinking about what Ellie said... She seemed worried... "
"Just remember... If you need to talk, I'm here for you..."
"Thank you, doctor Auren!" Evlin replied with a smirk, "But I'm kinda sick of talking about me and my problems all the time... Instead... How about we hear a bit about you?"
"Me...? What about me...?"
"You know... Things... How did you grow up? How is your family like? What do you do for fun?"
Auren crossed his arms and began to ponder, "Let's see... There isn't much to say... I'm not really that interesting of a guy... At least not when compared to someone who traveled to another world..."
"Come on man... You are someone that can rewind time, you're married to a woman that can open portals in the middle of the air, you worked for a guy that could turn his body into a sword, and you traveled all over the world with a bunch of weirdos while fighting demons... How can that not be interesting?" Evlin commented, "Plus, you're bald! all bald people are cool!"
"If you say so..."
Auren noticed that they still had a long way to go before they reached their destination, thus he decided to give up and began to share a bit about himself.
"Well... I guess I should start with my family... You might not believe me but my mother probably looks younger than you right now..."
Evlin's face completely froze as she tried to process what she had just heard, "Excuse me...?"
"Oh... No... I'm not calling you old or anything! It's just that... My mother seems to have stopped aging due to my power... When I was a baby she would stay with me all the time, and since I couldn't control my power back then, I would often make her get younger and younger just by being held in her arms..."
"Wait..." Evlin gasped, "Wait, wait, wait, wait... You had your powers ever since you were a baby!!??"
"I know right?" Auren laughed, "My parents never bothered hiring a babysitter because my mother loved spending time with me and getting her body to rejuvenate! It took a while for her to finally stop following me around all the time..."
"Ah... Clingy mom... I know the feeling..."
"Yeah... But because of that... My brother would often get upset with me and bully me in secret... "
"Ah... Getting bullied by your siblings... I know the feeling..."
"What was worse was that my father was a famous knight so all my brothers tried to follow in his footsteps by doing a lot of muscle training... So their bullying tended to be much harsher than most... The only way I found to survive was to train as well and get even stronger, but because of that, people would often think that I was some kind of brute who enjoyed picking fights..."
"Ah... Being misinterpreted because of the life-choices you made in order to survive... I know the feeling... You sure we are not siblings as well?"
Auren just laughed at that comment and continued to share about himself. He didn't really found his own story that engaging, but Evlin seemed to be having fun so felt like continuing. She was such a fun audience that it motivated him to talk even more.
The two continued with that for a little longer until they finally reached the north island, a small piece of land surrounded by water in every direction the eye could see, making it look rather isolated from the rest of the world.
"That's where the temple of the north is located??"
"West told us that one of the north gods from ancient times hated interacting with humans... So he destroyed all the land around his church to make it near-impossible for anyone to reach him... He stated that only someone capable of surpassing this challenge was worthy of being his champion..."
"... Sounds like a fun guy..." Evlin sarcastically commented, "Let's find our friends!"
Ellie spotted the griffin getting closer to the island with two people on its back waving at her and her group and immediately rushed to get closer to it.
"Aunt Evieeeee!!!!" the girl shouted while jumping up and down with joy at the sight of her beloved aunt.
"Ellie!!! Oh, man!! I missed you so m- PUAAAGHH!!" Evlin cried as her niece pounced on her like a panther and locked the woman in a bear hug that squeezed all the air from her lungs.
"Aunt Evie!!!! I missed you so, so, SO MUCH!!!!"
"Air... Air... Ellie... Please... Air!!"
"You must be the niece I heard so much about!" Auren commented while finally getting to meet Ellie for the first time.
"Oh! Shaved head and muscle body! You must be Auren!!" Ellie replied, "Its so good to finally meet you!!"
The rest of her group soon followed up by revealing themselves from the hiding spot they had chosen to sleep on in order to avoid the possible threat of monsters.
Daren had a bandage around his head to cover up his wounded ear while carrying Lance in his arms, Eclipse was walking right behind him, Leona was with Claire and Joseph trying to get them to properly wake up, Xadi was sleeping on top of the boy's head with his back facing the sky, Dia was taking a bite out of an apple, and finally, Detra showed herself with her arms crossed looking like she upset for having to wait for so long.
"About time..." the former goddess commented.
"Hey... Nice to see you too..." Evlin replied.
Detra began to analyze Evlin's image and started to stare at the vine wrapped around her arm, "Where is your crossbow...? Did you lose your crossbow again? How many times do you need to lose that thing before you learn your lesson?"
Evlin tilted her head, "What are you? My mom? It's my bow... I can lose it if I want..."
Detra started to glare at Evlin, "A magician's staff is not something to be treated lightly... You should be more careful about it!"
"I don't wanna hear that from someone that doesn't even use a staff..." Evlin commented.
Detra acted like she had more she wanted to say but instead, the woman just sighed and began to focus on the real problem, "Whatever... You better sit down... We have much to talk about..."
"Can I at least properly say hello to everyone first...?"
"But Moooom..." Evlin cried while having her hand pulled by Detra and forced to sit.
She looked at Leona and was about to ask what happened that had made the ice mage so upset, but she quickly realized that the woman wasn't the only one.
Aside from Ellie, who was just smiling non-stop at her aunt's return, everyone appeared to be holding a serious look on their faces, as if they were on some kind of reality show and were in the middle of waiting to find out who would be eliminated next.
"Guys...? What is going on...?" Evlin asked with her voice trembling.
"Knucker sent us an invitation..." Daren whispered.
"What...? When?? How??"
"A couple of months ago..." Detra answered.
Evlin's eyes enlarged for a moment but Detra soon proceeded to explain everything. How her friends were stuck in the portal created by Ria for nearly six months, how during that time Knucker took over all the kingdoms, how he began to spread the news that he wanted to challenge her for one final fight across every city he now ruled, and how the kids had been training while hiding from him.
Once everything was said and done, Evlin just took a deep breath and looked at the sky.
"Oh, man... It really never ends..."
"Excuse me...?" Detra asked.
"Sorry... It's just... Taking the world as hostage...? I can't believe this guy would go to such lengths just to get what he wants... Sometimes it feels like no matter how much I try to defeat my enemies... There is always some new kind of evil rising from the shadows to ruin my day... I just wonder when it will end..."
Detra took these words into consideration and began to think about her last talk with her old champion, Marceus.
"It will never end..." she stated.
"What was that...?" Evlin whispered as she and the whole group was now looking at the ice mage.
"Evil will never cease to exist... As long as it is good there will be evil as well... That's just how life is... The only way to truly get rid of all evil would be to get rid of all good as well..."
Evlin began to scratch the back of her hair, "So even if we beat Knucker..."
"Someone or something will probably just appear later... Yes.. That's just how the world works... It might be a lesser evil or a greater evil... But evil will never be truly erased, no matter how much you try..."
"Then..." Evlin said with a heavy tone, "Are you saying my fight will never end? Will I never be able to go back to my peaceful life...?"
Detra began to hold her chin, "I suppose you could just ignore the problem... But that would mean that someone else would need to fight in your place... Would you be able to live with that..."
Evlin took this into consideration and gave her reply, "Not this problem... Whether I like it or not... Knucker is my enemy... He caused a lot of damage to my life..."
"So what...?" Detra bluntly replied.
"I caused a lot of damage to Marceus' life, but in the end, I was a problem that YOU solved, not him... Mia caused a lot of problems in your life, but in the end, the young miss dealt with her, not you..."
"The fact that you two share some history doesn't mean anything as long as he is dealt with in the end... So... I'm going to ask you... Do you WANT to face Knucker?" Detra questioned while standing up.
"I'm not asking if you NEED, or MUST, face him... I wanna hear you say what you want to do..."
Evlin looked at her with her mouth open, "Why... Are you asking me this right now?"
"Because... This is the one fight we can't afford to lose... And I need to know if you have any doubts in your heart..."
Evlin began to look deep into the situation. Part of her wished she could just go home and forget about all this. Even Knucker himself offered her a ticket to her old planet. She wasn't in the best shape to fight right now with her magic locked by Termina, Knucker had a team of demon dragons on his side, all her friends would be placed in grave danger, and even if she did get her powers back, she could end up being burned to death by her terminal fire.
There were a lot of reasons to say 'no'.
But at the same time, she thought about what Hana said, how she didn't want to defeat Knucker for some noble reason or anything like that, she just wanted revenge for what he did to her.
Evlin could feel her pain, and she knew if she backed away now, this pain would fall on someone else.
"I wanna stop Knucker!" Evlin finally declared, "Not because I have to... But because I want to... "
"Are you sure...?" Detra asked.
"This world caused me a lot of pain... So, so much pain... But I still don't wanna see it fall on that maniac's hands... I don't want to see anyone else suffer like I did... "
Evlin stood up as well and glanced at Ellie.
"I'm not going to abandon this world... I'm going to defeat Knucker myself!"
Detra then came closer and karate-chopped Evlin's head.
"Ouch!!! What the hell??"
"You're not by yourself, dumbass..." Detra commented, "Now say it again!"
Evlin rubbed her head and gazed at her surroundings. Her niece, her students, her friends, her former enemies, all of them were on her side and ready to fight for her.
"I'm not going to abandon this world... And with you guys by my side... WE are going to defeat Knucker!!" she claimed while raising her fist.