Judging by how it felt, it had all happened within the span of a few seconds.
Yasuo opened his eyes and sucked in a deep breath… or at least he tried to.
He clapped his hands to his throat.
He couldn’t feel the sensation of breathing. He felt like he was drowning in a lukewarm liquid that existed between him and the outside world.
“This is… No, but still—!”
He had experienced this sensation before. It was as if he was dreaming about waking up from a dream.
It was like a dream in which he was sleeping and dreaming, while being aware that he was asleep and wanting to wake up.
And then, even though he woke up inside the dream, his senses were still stuck further behind himself who had supposedly woken up, which meant that he had not actually woken up at all, it was that kind of feeling.
“Tatewaki-san! Diana! Feig-san…!!” he shouted.
His voice was supposedly still working. Even his own ears were able to hear the sound of his words.
Still, his voice did not reach them.
The three of them were lying face down right next to him. They were easily within his reach. All he had to do was bend, and he would be able to touch them, and yet, he was not able to get any closer to the scene before his eyes.
“Shit… What’s going on… Where am I…!”
He looked around at his surroundings.
It was as if he was immersed in a sticky liquid, and couldn’t move his head the way he wanted to.
Despite that, he struggled to move his eyes as much as he could and saw were on top of what looked like a hard, white ground. Although the surface had a few bumps, the ground appeared to be essentially flat as it stretched out infinitely in all directions.
Even the sky was white. There was a greenish-gray glow at the horizon, but everything else in his sight was colored white.
He realized something when he looked up at the sky.
There was a wind that sounded like nothing he had ever heard before, and it was making his whole body tremble. It was the sound of an echoing, faraway wind that would normally be heard when covering both ears with your hands.
That sound relentlessly blew the pure-white clouds in the wide sky towards the horizon.
What was he supposed to do now?
When stuck in a dream like this, it was possible to wake up by focusing one’s senses even more strongly.
Of course, there was a chance that there might be multiple layers of dreams, but once he actually managed to wake up, all of his struggles within the dream would come to an anticlimactic end and everything would go back to the way it was supposed to be.
“This is a dream.”
Whenever he had this sort of dream, Yasuo made sure to say whatever he intended to do out loud.
Of course, there would not be any immediate change. He didn’t even know if he was actually speaking out loud. However, there was nothing else he could do while standing on this white land without being able to move a single step.
“This is a dream. I… I need to force my eyes open…”
He felt a yearning to open his eyes. Even though he was looking at that white world, he still tried to open his eyes.
If he did that, then he would be able to wake up from this dream for sure.
“I can’t wake up.”
“Of course you can’t.”
“This is a dream.”
“It’s not a dream.”
“Then what is it?”
Yasuo looked to his side.
“It is the world that I currently belong to.”
The creatures of dreams do not follow any logical reason for appearing or disappearing.
So he didn’t find it particularly surprising when a woman suddenly appeared next to him, even though only Shouko, Diana, and Feigreid had been there just a moment ago.
The biggest reason why he wasn’t surprised was because the woman had golden rings around her wrists, ankles, and waist.
“……You’re the one who is inside Tatewaki-san……”
“It seems that you people call me a Shii. I gleaned that information through her eye.”
Her hair was long, but it looked desiccated. She had vacant eyes, and a pallid complexion.
Could this being, utterly devoid of any signs of life, be the “dead person” that existed within the black flames of the Shii?
“Back when I was still alive, I was called Raia Calgani. I suppose I am something of a nuisance to Shouko Tatewaki, even though it was not my intention to become so.”
Her dispassionate voice felt a little eerie to Yasuo, but then he noticed something that made him even more uncomfortable.
The woman called Raia made no attempt to look at him.
The greenish-gray horizon that Yasuo had noticed earlier. She was staring at that continuously without blinking. That gaze, coupled with the general lifelessness about her, made her seem even more creepy than before.
“Just who are you?”
Yasuo asked that question with his mind still reeling from shock.
If he asked something complicated, he felt that it might snap him out of this dream. That was because the being that had introduced itself as Raia looked like it was on the verge of disappearing.
Perhaps he had guessed correctly, as Raia answered his question without looking at him.
“I am one of the dead.”
“Why are you inside Tatewaki-san… Inside Shouko Tatewaki?”
“Because she resembled me.”
She probably wasn’t talking about a physical resemblance.
Even if you ignored the part where she was devoid of life, Yasuo did not think that Raia and Shouko looked anything alike.
“What do you mean, she resembled you?”
“I just happened to be pulled into a light, and found myself in a place that was not Ante Lande. And then, when I was trying to find my way, I discovered her.”
“The light of a burning coal.”
Yasuo realized that the conversation was slipping away from the topic of Shouko, and attempted to correct his question.
“How was Shouko Tatewaki similar to you?”
“She was in love.”
However, the answer he received was quite unexpected coming from a woman who called herself one of the dead, causing Yasuo to immediately lose his composure.
“Her heart was in turmoil because of an unexpected reunion with Yasuo Kenzaki. The love that she had once given up on was rekindled. That part of her was similar to how I was when I was still alive.”
Had Raia been sharing Shouko’s memories after being assimilated into her?
It would have been quite appalling if Raia had read Shouko’s thoughts without permission, but judging from her frank way of speaking, it looked like the two of them just happened to share the same wavelength.
That said, Yasuo still felt shaken after hearing how Shouko felt, even though he already knew about it.
As far as he knew, this Shii was supposed to have fused with Shouko before she obtained any information regarding Ante Lande. By that time, Shouko already felt such strong emotions within her that it was enough to move a dead creature like the Shii……
“No way no way no way, I’m just being too self-conscious!”
“You seem to be agitated.”
“Of course I am!”
Yasuo was scared that Raia would disappear because of his strong reaction, but she continued to stare at the horizon without even looking at Yasuo, just like before.
“Can you be separated from Shouko Tatewaki?”
“Yes, it is possible.”
“Then please separate yourself from her right now.”
A part of him thought that he was being too direct, but he still wanted to avoid any complications and hence he ended up being exceedingly blunt.
“I cannot do that of my own free will.”
“Then, what needs to be done to separate you from her?”
“I do not know.”
Getting angry at her in their current situation would achieve nothing.
She looked human for now, but the Shii were still dead creatures. She might be bound by laws that were incomprehensible to the living.
Yasuo decided to change his line of questioning.
“……What sort of place is this?”
“Is it the Land of the Dead.”
“You mean it is the world that people go to after they die?”
“That’s what I said.”
Every time he thought about the nature of the Shii, he had vaguely considered that possibility.
He hadn’t formed any concrete thoughts such as a land of dead people, but since the Shii were not merely corpses that were reanimated with magic, he had suspected that some remnant or soul of the dead must have remained somewhere.
Since that remnant had currently regained a clear human form, it stood to reason that this place was Heaven, the Netherworld, the Far Shore, Hell, or any other such place where people were said to be sent after death.
Assuming, of course, that this was not all just a part of Yasuo’s dream.
“Are we dead?”
“You are alive. Instead of looking at the horizon, you are able to look at me. There’s no better proof than that.”
“The deceased can only look towards the horizon. Their feet can also only move in that direction.”
The movement, when it came, was sudden.
Raia moved at an inhuman speed and stared at Shouko who was lying on the ground at their feet.
“But, if the ‘Latch’ were to open, things would be different.”
Yasuo’s heart jumped..
He felt an uncomfortable sensation like his heart jumped all of a sudden inside his body that he had not even been able to feel until now.
“I already walked on this white ground once. It should have been impossible for me to return. But the light of a burning coal guided me back to the Land of the Living. The place beyond the horizon is overflowing with the dead. At some point, this white land will also be brimming with the dead. Once that happens, the hordes of the dead will look for a destination, and will once again go to the land of the living. They will pass through the latch and seek new lives.”
“W-What are you…”
“The Land of the Dead has already reached its limit. On the other side of the white land, the Capital of Last Rites is already overflowing with the dead.”
“Overflowing with the dead? What are you talking about!?”
Raia bent down and tried to get closer to Shouko.
“The dead cannot be reborn unless they pass through the Capital. But the Capital is overflowing with the dead and is unable to keep up with returning them to life. And the dead, they cannot wait. They pile up. They stagnate. And so, they desired a new life on their own… To grant the dead a new life…… Kaul, Beatrice, and Jörg each used their own methods to leave the Land of the Dead.”
Yasuo trembled after hearing the names that came from Raia’s lips. He did not think that it was just a coincidence.
Kaul. Wasn’t that name of the Demon King who dragged the world of Ante Lande into a dreadful war thirty years ago? Did that mean that the Demon King had something to do with the Shii?
As for Beatrice, there was no doubt that it was Beatrice Heller from the Carnelian of the Coal Mine.
They left the world of the dead? What did that mean? Were both Kaul and Beatrice dead people, just like the Shii?
However, Kaul stood in the way of the Heroes as the King of Demons, and Beatrice must have appeared before Khalija not as a Shii, but in the form of a human.
But if that was the case, then what about the last name that was mentioned?
Jörg. He had never heard that name before. Could there be someone apart from Beatrice who had connections with the Shii and was working in the background?
No, in the first place, just who were Kaul, Beatrice, and Jörg?
“Are the three of them Shii!? Are they people who have already died?”
“Kaul is the Torch. Beatrice is the Queen. And Jörg is the Mask.”
“Now’s not the time for strange metaphors!”
If Raia had spoken of them in terms of her own situation, or from the perspective of other Shii, then it might have had some meaning.
Until now, her answers to his questions had been relatively direct. However, she suddenly started speaking in exaggerated metaphors, causing Yasuo to strongly retort.
“You have a problem with that?”
What’s more, she seemed dissatisfied with his comment.
“No, it’s not a problem or anything, I was just hoping for something more specific……”
“Even if I told you, there’s nothing that someone like you who is not even a wielder of a Sacred Vessel can do about it. It seems you are skilled in the ability to send off the dead, but that’s all. Yasu-kun, you don’t have Liutberga, Pomona, Marlowe, or Solanum, do you?”
As Raia kept staring at Shouko, her tone started to become somewhat strange.
“……Raia-san, are you getting your personality mixed up with Tatewaki-san? Also, can you please stop using new terms all of a sudden while talking?”
“Oh, shut up. I’ve already reached the Capital once, you know? Is that any way to talk to someone who is sharing all this info with you? ……I mean, could you refrain from talking that way?”
“Don’t tell me you’re trying to take over Tatewaki-san’s mind or something like that.”
Raia’s tone was clearly overlapping with that of Shouko’s.
Now that he thought about it, it was strange for Raia, a woman from Baskelgarde, to be speaking in Japanese.
It had slipped his mind before because Diana and Feigreid spoke fluent Japanese, but there was no way that someone from the age when Orion was being used could be this proficient in modern Japanese.
She had mentioned something about being connected to Shouko’s psyche, and it was probable that Raia’s personality and memories were having an effect on Shouko while they were merged.
“I understand now, so get away from Tatewaki-san!”
“I said it was impossible, didn’t I? I can’t do anything about this on my own.”
“Stop talking like Tatewaki-san! Also, look at me when you’re talking!”
“……The connection between Shouko Tatewaki and me is getting stronger by the second. It’s because she is unable to escape from the fear that you are going somewhere far away, Yasu-kun. Right, Shouko?”
Raia kept her back to Yasuo while she caressed Shouko’s hair and touched her left eyelid.
The next instant…
A white flame flowed out of Shouko’s left eye and whirled around Yasuo’s surroundings in a flash.
It was just like what happened the instant before he was sent to this world, only in the opposite color. Yasuo’s sight was suddenly filled with nothing but whiteness.
“Aah, I wonder what would happen if this Latch were to open in the Capital. I wonder if Elliot is also still wandering around somewhere……”
A voice different from that of both Raia and Shouko echoed from the other side of the white flames, and Yasuo’s consciousness once again receded rapidly.
“Shouko. If, by some chance, you find that person……”
That was the last thing he heard.
As his vision returned, he felt an intense discomfort in both his mind and body as though he had woken up abruptly from a dream.
Once he regained consciousness, he saw that Shouko, Diana, and Feigreid were lying on the ground, just as he remembered seeing them in the white world.
All three of them were unconscious, but it looked like they were alive.
He did not think it was just a dream. There was no way that the three of them had lost consciousness for no reason.
Whatever had happened in that white world was real, and the name of the Shii inside Shouko was undoubtedly Raia Calgani.
However, Orion was not the direct cause of what had happened.
Among the information Raia had shared with him, there were a lot of things that he had heard for the first time.
The instant before they had been sent to that white world, Shouko had said that the cause was not Orion, but the portrait of Elliot. However, the information about the portrait was obviously written in not Japanese, but what looked to be the language of this country and he wasn’t able to read it.
Diana and Feigreid were still unconscious. He needed to wake up at least one of them, and they needed to move to a place where they could compose themselves.
He had gained a number of new hints.
Combined with what he already knew about until now, he had to try his best to not forget what seemed to be an additional component while they moved away from here as soon as possible.
Yasuo tried his best to remember what had happened just before he had passed out.
The room had no windows, but it should already be nighttime. He had no idea how much time had passed, but it wouldn’t be surprising if it was already past closing time.
However, because of that, maybe nobody had noticed the strange situation that had just occurred. Just as Yasuo began to hope for such an outcome…
A large number of Baskelgarde Magitech Knights came storming into the room while screaming, causing Yasuo’s body to stiffen.
Every one of them was holding what looked like a Techno Weapon, and they were talking to each other with stern expressions and serious voices.
“**Shii **! ……! **Shii!”
He thought he heard the word “Shii’ in their conversations, but seeing as he was completely unfamiliar with the language, even that might have been an error on his part.
After that, it was only natural that Yasuo, who was sitting up while being surrounded by three unconscious people, was extremely conspicuous.
Two of the Magitech Knights approached him and said something, but he had no idea what they were saying, and he couldn’t even tell what sort of emotion they were feeling from their expressions.
Their Techno Weapons were only partially raised, so they were probably worried about him. However Shouko was right behind him, and it would spell the end for them if they got a look at her face.
“I-Is there anyone here who speaks Japanese!?” Yasuo shouted all of a sudden.
His voice was a little shrill, but that was unavoidable. For now, he had his hands full making sure that Shouko would not be seen as a suspicious individual.
A flash of surprise crossed the face of one of the senior Magitech Knights who had a full beard, and the next instant…
He lowered his shoulders and shook his head.
“Wait, you can’t!?”
Not just Diana, even Feigreid had been fluent in Japanese, and so Yasuo had assumed that anyone who had a certain level of schooling would have some knowledge of Japanese. But there were nearly ten Magitech Knights here and apparently none of them could speak it.
“W-What is it!?”
Now they were saying something while pointing at Feigreid.
He thought he had heard the word “Gaz” just now, maybe that was referring to the Gaz Commonwealth.
“I’m sorry, can you speak a bit slowly!? I can’t understand what you’re saying, so even if you keep talking like that…!”
Any sudden actions when dealing with people who were speaking a language you couldn’t understand would only serve to fuel the anxiety.
Of course, it was apparent from seeing how tense the Magitech Knights were that they had not just come here to tour the museum, but seeing how they were yelling so much, Yasuo didn’t even know how they would interpret his body language and hence felt extremely shaken.
“W-What do you want me to do!?”
He could not move away from Shouko, and Diana and Feigreid showed no signs of waking up.
“……It looks like you’re in a bit of trouble. Do you need some help?”
All of a sudden, he heard a voice from behind him. It was the voice of a woman.
He instinctively turned around, thinking that Diana had woken up, but…
Shouko was openly showing her face with a bold smile.
“You told me to look at you when I was talking, so I decided to talk while looking you in the eye.”
And then, the black flame in Shouko’s eye blazed more sharply than it had ever done before.
“Eh? Wait, don’t tell me…!”
Noticing that Shouko had woken up, the Magitech Knights asked a question, and in return,
Shouko started speaking in a language that Yasuo did not understand.
“Hey wait, don’t tell me…!”
“The conversation is definitely headed in a bad direction, isn’t it!?”
Not only was Shouko looking straight at the Magitech Knights without even trying to hide the flames in her left eye, she even clearly said the word “Shii”.
The expressions and voices of the Magitech Knights grew more and more furious, and the atmosphere turned heavy as if they were about to start arguing.
The mood of the other Magitech Knights also grew visibly worse and all of them took a stance with their Techno Weapons.
“W-Wait just a second! You’re not Tatewaki-san, you’re Raia-san! What did you tell them!?”
“Oh my, you realized it sooner than I thought you would.”
“Yeah, I get the general idea! Why are the Magitech Knights acting like that!?”
“Oh, it’s nothing really.”
With the flame burning brightly in her eye, Raia smiled wickedly using Shouko’s face.
“I just told them that we Shii would destroy this pathetic country.”
Standing behind Shouko=Raia who continued to smile, the senior Magitech Knight powered up a one-handed sword type Techno Weapon that resembled Castor.
They had been taking the utmost care to avoid attracting the attention of law enforcement ever since entering Baskelgarde, but she had gone and ruined all that effort in an instant. Moreover, Diana and Feigreid still showed no signs of waking up.
While he had some defenses against the Shii, Yasuo had no chance of winning against people even if they hadn’t been Magitech Knights.
It was a checkmate.
Just as Yasuo was about to give up…
“Just look at who they are whining instead of attacking the enemy. It looks like the Holstro Battalion has fallen so low.”
A black ring of flame appeared around Shouko=Raia’s right hand, and she lightly grazed the chin of the senior Magitech Knight with it.
Just that was enough to cause the Magitech Knight’s eyes to roll up in his head and bring him to his knees, before he collapsed on the ground.
As Yasuo opened his eyes wide in amazement, new black rings appeared around both of Shouko’s legs and she darted down the narrow corridor of the museum like a shadow while bringing down the Magitech Knights one after the other.
Yasuo stared blankly at the scene of Shouko knocking out the Magitech Knights, unable to believe that it was really happening.
“The Techno Weapons might have improved, but the people are still just the same, I see.”
As Shouko=Raia slammed her left knee into the stomach of the last young man to attack her, the room grew so silent that Yasuo was able to hear her mutter that to herself.
After that, Shouko=Raia looked at Yasuo with a cold gaze.
“I knew you couldn’t fight, but seeing you lose your composure to that extent against such weak opponents… I guess you really can’t do anything, huh, ‘Yasu-kun’?”
“Don’t say something so absurd right after finally looking me in the face! If you knew about that, then you should also know why I can’t fight!”
“I also know that you’re overreaching yourself in spite of that. No wonder Shouko’s so worried about you.”
“Shouko…. T-That’s right! What happened to Tatewaki-san!?”
“She’s alive. It’s just that I’m in control right now. You know how Shouko’s been drawing on my power without permission until now to fight? So it’s like quid pro quo.”
“……Seeing something like this happen for real right in front of me, I can’t help but be seriously worried about Tatewaki-san’s condition.”
Two personalities sharing the same body.
Stories of such happenings were common since time immemorial, but anyone would be extremely uneasy about such a thing if it happened to a person close to them.
It was not a case of the so-called multiple personality disorder, but instead she was possessed by an external spirit or influence of some sort. In such a situation, Yasuo, as a student preparing for exams, couldn’t help but wonder about it from the perspective of physics or biochemistry. Just what sort of effect would this have on Shouko’s neurotransmitters and the electrical impulses in her brain?
Moreover, she had just demonstrated a level of physical ability that Shouko clearly did not possess, and he had no idea what sort of stress that placed on her body.
“Shouko is actually in fairly good shape, and considering her abilities, I didn’t really push her too hard. If anything, Shouko was the one who got ahead of herself and put a burden on her body while she was drawing on my strength.”
“Is that how it is……?”
“You’re free to doubt me, but is this really the time to be talking so leisurely?”
“These guys are from the Holstro Battalion. They are elite troops who make up the backbone of Baskelgarde’s Magitech Knights. Since they’ve been crushed this badly, I’m sure we’ll be on wanted posters throughout the capital in the blink of an eye.”
Yasuo had only been able to make such pathetic sounds since some time ago.
“Ugh… What just happened……”
“Geh… I thought I saw some black flames……”
At this time, Diana and Feigreid finally began to stir and sat up with dazed expressions.
And then after noticing the state of their surroundings, the two of them turned pale as ghosts.
“Yasuo… Just what happened here…”
“I feel like the situation is exceedingly bad…”
Both Diana and Feigreid seemed to be frozen in that position of having just sat up.
“Oh my, it looks like the esteemed Magitech Knights of this generation are really carefree. I see, at this rate it makes sense that they would fall behind us.”
Seeing the two of them like that, Shouko=Raia smiled as if she was taunting them.