Ais was feeling sleepy in her mother's warm embrace, but she did not fall for the inviting temptation. Biting on her tongue, she kept herself conscious and relished her moments with Aria.
Aria noticed Ais's behavior, which made her both happy and sad.
'She will be a mess when I leave.'
Hearing rustling, she turned to the patient lying on the bed.
Riveria stirred from her sleep, her eyes heavy with exhaustion. The room was dim and the air heavy with the scent of flowers. She blinked several times, groggily pushing herself up from the bed. She glanced around the room with a dazed expression, taking in the sight of Aria and Ais whispering to each other.
"Shizuka…?" Riveria rubbed her eyes and focused. "No, you aren't Shizuka. Who are you?"
Aria turned to face Riveria, a gentle smile tugging at her lips. "I'm Aria, Ais's mother. I have to thank you for looking after Ais all this time… it means the world to me."
Ais pinched Aria's hand. "Riveria punished me for calling her old."
"Haha, it makes me more thankful. How rude of you to call a young lady old."
Ais hopped onto the bed and pouted her cheeks, acting all sullen. It didn't take long for Aria to bring Ais back to her side with some sweet words.
Riveria watched the mother and daughter interact, feeling like she was hallucinating. She pinched the skin on her hand and felt the pain. "I have questions, Lady Aria. Like a dozen of them. I'll start with the easiest one — where were you until now?"
Aria smiled at Riveria. "I'd be open to your questions when I return next time."
She'd be held up for hours if she engaged in any conversation with the curious Riveria.
"Mama, where are you going?" Ais squeezed Aria's hand, refusing to release until Aria answered her. Her teary eyes made Aria freeze in time. "Don't leave…"
"Ais, you're making things harder," Riveria said, directing an inquisitive look at Aria. "I don't know about your circumstances, nor do I know your reason to leave Ais stranding. She will break down if you don't return. Just keep this in mind wherever you go."
Aria nodded with a troubled look. Truth be told, she had every desire in the world to spend every day with Ais. She didn't want it coming at the cost of keeping Asahi occupied in her world. He already did her a massive favor by letting her meet Ais.
Her troubles materialized as a worried frown on her face. "I'm sorry, Ais. Asahi is currently filling in for my duty. I have to go, so your Onii-san can return."
"It's got something to do with that guy. Why am I not surprised?" Riveria said with a sigh. "He makes trouble wherever he goes…"
"I didn't think you would paint him as a troublemaker. He had nothing but kind words and praises for your persistence."
"Did he? I'm skeptical…"
"He called you the nicest single mother in the world," Aria said with a smirk. "You two make a great couple."
Riveria's face went red at Aria's teasing. She cracked her knuckles, acting all angry. "I'll kill him!"
Aria giggled before she sat beside Ais and slipped an arm around her shoulder. "Don't be sad. You can ask your Onii-san to bring me here whenever you miss me."
"I want you to stay here… always by my side," Ais whispered her genuine wish with a steel gaze. "Take me with you."
"No," Aria denied her with a straightforward answer. "I can't do that…"
She chose the burden of sealing the dungeon, so she'd pay the price with an isolated life. Ais didn't commit any sin to grow up in that environment.
Before Ais could raise further arguments, a fresh breeze flowed through the room and caressed her face. Asahi appeared in his Wind Elemental form and sat on Ais's other side.
"Onii-san… Mama won't stay with me."
He ran his hand along Ais' shaking back in a slow, soothing motion. "I know just the way to stop her."
He fixed his gaze on Aria with a profound solemness that seemed to fill the room. Riveria gulped, sitting on the edge of the bed, tense. She wanted to thank him for healing her completely and inquire about the battle. As always, she couldn't find the courage to interrupt him when he showed his serious side.
'He is gonna snap at Aria for making Ais cry.'
"Aria," Asahi spoke slowly. "Introduce yourself to everyone in the Familia and have dinner with us."
He defied Riveria's expectations, again.
"What about the b—"
"Don't worry about the barrier." Asahi's face softened. "Come on. Would it kill you to eat something with Ais?"
Asahi reached out his hand and grabbed Aria's wrist, pulling her along behind him. Ais hopped and skipped, following their every move. He then turned and called out to Riveria, "Come on, let's go!"
"What are you waiting for, Mom?"
"Goddammit. I fell for it again," Riveria grumbled under her breath.
Aria scrunched her nose and cocked her head to one side, confusion clouding her bright yellow eyes. "Mom? I thought you were into her… you know, as a woman?"
Asahi inched closer to Aria, making sure that his body shielded her from Ais's view. "Lewding moms tickles my fancy."
"Ah, you are one of those guys with an unordinary fetish." Aria smirked, showing a look of understanding at his confession. "Am I in danger?"
Riveria bumped into him and walked past without glancing back.
"She's jealous," Aria said. "Get her before she makes some stupid move."
Asahi nodded and asked Klyscha to bring back the squad who were waiting for him with Stheno. Loki, Aimi, Ruby, and Rini appeared before him while the Busujima sisters called it a day and returned home.
Loki jumped in front of Aria. "Wow. Ya are a splitting image of Ais, just older."
"Thanks?" Aria didn't know how to react to Loki's compliment. "Are you perhaps Loki?"
"I am! Let's talk while we eat. I'm starvin' here."
Ruby pulled him aside and beckoned everyone to go ahead without him. She cupped his cheeks, curiosity on her face as she felt his face in her hands. "This form differs from your fire one. Let me see all of your forms later."
"Hmm. I will."
"You have something on your mind?"
Asahi nodded, gesturing to her to stay quiet. "I'll talk to you later. Klyscha, get her home."
(Um? Ah, in a second. Ddraig, stop obstructing my view!)
After Ruby left, he enjoyed dinner with everyone. Aria was the star of the show, and nobody left her alone for a second. Loki, especially, probed her for every bit of information, even though Klyscha told her everything Asahi came to know about Aria and the dungeon. Aria hid much of the information from the adventurers, using a secret job as her alibi for ditching Ais all this time. She wasn't ready to reveal the hideous revenge plot of Medusa, her sisters, and Tartarus.
The session helped Aria with her rusty communication skills and helped her get along with everyone.
After the dinner, Ais, Asahi, and Aria could be seen sitting together like a family. Aria moved to the vacant space beside Asahi and made herself comfortable by lying on his lap.
"What are you doing?"
"Hold me and take me back, like you brought me."
She was ignorant about the ways of his teleportation; he didn't need to carry someone to bring them somewhere.
A heavy sigh escaped his lips as he clasped his arms below her legs and scooped her up in a princess carry. Her legs dangled in the air, and she grabbed onto his neck with both hands for leverage. He raised an eyebrow at Ais's lonely expression.
"Trust me. I'll get her unemployed soon."
Ais nodded. "I trust you, Onii-san…"
With a crackle of energy, he and Aria were swept away through space. Moments later, the shimmering light around them faded, and they stood in the middle of the dense forest. He gently lowered her from his embrace.
Fafnir appeared in the sky, the wind from its wings waving the lush greenery. "You are back."
"Yup." He turned to Aria and pinned her down with a solemn gaze. "Come clean to Ais about everything. She isn't a child anymore. She deserves to know the truth."
Aria looked hesitant, rightfully so. She wanted to keep Ais out of the dungeon's story, knowing all too well that Ais would try to conquer the dungeon to free her. Forcing a smile, she crossed her arms. "I'll do it when the time is right."
"Your wish." Asahi sighed. "You have one month. Do it or I will do it for you."
Keeping Ais out of the loop didn't sit well with him. Ais had every reason to know about her mother's past.
Aria's eyes widened as she felt her wind barrier. It felt thicker, more resilient than she remembered. She glanced up at Asahi, a question in her eyes. "Did you enhance my barrier?"
"Not much of an upgrade. Demi Spirit's poison will still melt it." Asahi rubbed his chin. "I can't give it any Anti Poison trait."
"It won't make a difference. Demi Spirits can use many types of magic spells."
"Want me to create an almighty barrier here? An impenetrable wall?"
Aria was tempted, knowing that an indestructible barrier will free the Surface World from all the threats. She didn't question his ability to create something so absurd. He had shown more incredulous feats than a mere barrier.
As though hearing their conversation, the ceiling rumbled as a groggy voice reached them. "Don't… interfere."
Medusa wasn't happy at the prospect of seeing an impenetrable wall blocking her path of vengeance.
Asahi rubbed the back of his head. "Well, I can't do that."
"It's fine. You've done plenty of favors for me today." Aria smiled and wrapped her arms around him. "Stay for a while…"
Hearing unexpected words, he felt his blood turn to ice. He couldn't believe what Aria had just said — was she really suggesting they have a night together? His mind raced and his heart pounded as he felt her softness against him.
'Or she just wants my company.'
He'd be starved for affection if he had to live out a thousand years with a genderless dragon. A week without sex was impossible for him. He couldn't imagine a thousand years without his lovers. And Aria did so right after losing her husband.
He couldn't be sure when a natural airhead was involved. Their actions and true intentions never matched. So, he held her bare shoulders and pushed her away from his chest. She looked lonely, undoubtedly, and the hint of desire in her eyes couldn't be hidden. She wanted him.
She shook her head, a sad smile touching her lips. "Forget about it," she sighed. "What am I thinking, trying to seduce a man who is already in love with someone else? When did I become so desperate?"
She hadn't connected Asahi's relationship with Loki, Aimi, Rini, or anyone else. Riveria was Asahi's sole love interest — Aria wholeheartedly believed in her half-baked observation. She felt disgusted at herself for potentially ruining their relationship because of her selfishness.
Asahi responded through his actions, rather than paltry words. He slipped his arms under her knees and neck, lifting her effortlessly. She felt like a child in his muscular arms as he walked effortlessly towards the bedroom.
Aria grabbed his neck and pressed her hand against his chest. "Fafnir destroyed everything there. Walk that way. There is another house."
He followed her directions through the forest while gazing at her with a soft smile. "Don't feel guilty. Riveria won't curse me for sleeping with you. You know, I already have many lovers. I just can't resist a good woman."
"Oh, that makes it easier." Being ridden of any feeling of guilt, she finally smiled. "You have a tall task ahead of you, Asahi. A single mother's thousand years of sexual frustration."
He laughed. "Don't worry. I'm confident in my skills."
A rush of heat traveled through her cheeks and she lowered her eyes, pressing her face into his chest. Her voice was a whisper. "I feel so lucky that you're the one who found me first."
"I was a little worried when I heard about you from Euryale. Ais might go crazy if Aria lost her sanity, that was my thought."
Aria peeked at him, seeing visible concern as his golden eyes gazed at the house in the distance. "I did go crazy when I lost him…"
She threw her head around, glancing over the green landscape. "This forest… It was born from the carcasses of Demi Spirits. I killed every moving life here… except for Fafnir. Her scales saved her."
He had witnessed Ais's rampage before, but Aria's rage was on a whole new level. Her fury was like a hurricane that swept every life on the 199th floor and changed its landscape for good.
"The barren land covered in blood blossomed into a serene forest," Aria whispered. "The source of my rage — I no longer remember his face… Time really changes everything."
She had forgotten nearly everything about the man. Her passionate love for Ais was her only anchor and the motivation behind each of her actions.
He transformed into his Wind Elemental form and used the waves of his telekinesis to caress her face.
"Don't change it during the… My powers might go berserk."
Her wind fluctuated with her emotions, which happened a lot during sex. It was better for Asahi to keep his authority over wind, protecting himself from any sharp wind blade.
"Making love to a wind spirit milf as a God of Wind? Sure. I'm down."
He entered the ordinary-looking house and closed the creaking door with a swing of his heel.
(It's about time my love graduated from Ais's brother to her father.)