Apparently, he had blanked out for only a short while.
When he regained consciousness, he found himself completely drenched in sweat, sitting on the edge of one of the two beds in the room. When he looked around, he couldn’t see Diana or Shouko anywhere.
Yasuo relaxed for a brief second thinking that the others had changed their minds and decided to split the boys and girls into different rooms after all, but his hopes were instantly shattered.
Hearing the sounds that came from beyond a door on the far side of the bedroom, Yasuo felt like he was about to lose consciousness once more.
It was the sound of water. The sound of running water was echoing throughout the room.
Yasuo finally realized something.
At the inn they had stayed in before, all facilities with the exception of bedrooms had been a communal space and so he had completely forgotten about it.
That was a bathroom.
It was a freaking bathroom. And he could hear sounds coming from inside it. He could tell that there were people inside.
In other words…
“No way no way no way no way no way!”
That meant Diana and Shouko were in there, taking a bath without a care in the world.
“This… This isn’t right, is it? It’s different from the time when we were in Catalina-san’s house! Diana is here too, what the heck is she doing!? Why are the two of them accepting it so easily! Aren’t they supposed to reject the idea outright!?”
Feigreid certainly had his reasons for suggesting this, but Yasuo was still a third-year male high school student. He lived in a law-abiding environment with a standard level of social norms in Japan. His mind could not help but raise a top-priority alarm that his current situation was immoral.
The circumstances were different compared to their lodging until now.
Ever since they had met up with Diana, they had continued to travel in a group of four. The four of them had shared a single bedroom, with the bath and toilets being part of the communal space. Not only did they not have the luxury of changing into pajamas before they went to sleep, they even slept with their shoes on so that they would be ready to react in case of an emergency.
However, the circumstances were clearly different now.
“……Why the heck did they leave their clothes folded there, like its the most natural thing in the world!?”
Shouko’s hoodie, shirt, and trousers, and the uniform that Diana wore under her armor had been folded neatly and left on a table in a corner of the room as if it was the natural thing to do.
Of course, he didn’t see anything like their underwear lying around. In other words, the two of them were going to change into nightclothes after their bath.
If any of Yasuo’s friends from his class, such as Aoto, Igarashi, or Hino heard about this situation, they would mercilessly poke fun at him regarding boy-related matters. It was just that kind of situation. However, Yasuo had not lived the kind of life where he could see this sort of situation as good fortune and be happy about it.
One thing was for sure, Yasuo had no idea how he should conduct himself in a room that he shared with two girls. The situation was so bad that his brain was overheating even more than the time when he first found out about Ante Lande.
“I can hear some sounds coming from the bedroom. I wonder if he’s awake.”
Shouko raised her head while sitting in a bathtub that was bigger than an average public bathhouse.
Not just the bathroom, but even the dressing room that separated it from the bedroom was very spacious. The door was also quite thick, so it should have been impossible for them to hear Yasuo from the bedroom, no matter what he did. However, Shouko accurately picked up the sounds of Yasuo being noisy in the bedroom.
“He was panicking quite badly, wasn’t he? I wonder if he’s alright.”
“I feel like we shouldn’t have to worry about things like that… Seriously, why can’t he act more normal at times like this?”
“The fact that he can’t do it is what makes him Yasuo, right?”
“Hmm, you have a point.”
Sitting in the bathtub that was big enough to let them stretch their legs even though they were both using it together, the girls started a conversation about Yasuo where it was hard to tell whether they were praising him or criticizing him.
“But you know, I thought it was really amazing. After meeting that person… was he called Leonid-san? Anyway, it feels like everything went exactly as Yasu-kun predicted ever since we met him, right? I was thinking that he had become more mature, but he didn’t notice at all…. Of course, he didn’t…”
“Well, it’s been obvious since the beginning that Yasuo was at his absolute limit… If he was the kind of person who could notice something like that, I don’t think he would have panicked like he just did.”
The bathroom was decorated with white marble tiles. The flame in Shouko’s eye should have been really obvious in such a place, but it had shrunk down to the point where it was barely visible even though Yasuo wasn’t next to her.
“Sorry… I completely used you as a shield, Diana-san.”
“We can’t have Yasuo getting all shy at this point and causing problems down the road because of it, after all.”
Shouko covered her face with both hands, whereas Diana was submerged up to her chin with her hair tied up in a towel and a weary expression on her face.
“No, I get that. This is Yasu-kun we’re talking about, after all… But you know, that means he meant everything he said, right?”
“After saying and doing things like that with a straight face, I can’t believe he can still act that shy just because he’s hyperaware of us. Can he even really call himself a man after behaving like that?”
Diana had only been able to give such a vague reply since some time back. Truth to tell, there was nothing else that she could do.
“And then, you know, if you look at it another way…!”
“Since he can say things like that with a straight face, doesn’t that mean he doesn’t care about me at all!?”
“……I don’t think that’s true blub blub blub……”
It wasn’t like Diana didn’t understand what Shouko was trying to say.
This was something only Diana knew about, but the truth was that Shouko had actually seen everything that had happened since Raia knocked out the Holstro Battalion in the museum, and she remembered every detail.
While they had been temporarily hiding in the dilapidated house in the slum, Shouko had told only Diana about that.
Shouko had heard what Yasuo said to Raia after he lost his patience with her, and she remembered it word for word.
“I mean, Yasuo did say that he didn’t want anyone but you to call him by his nickname, Shouko…”
“But wasn’t that just because he was pissed off at that ass Raia!? I think there must be plenty of people around who call him ‘Yasu-kun’ just because his name is Yasuo. I have no idea what kind of friends Yasu-kun socializes with at his high school.”
“As far as I know, all of Yasuo’s close friends at school are male.”
“So basically, I feel like he thinks of me in the same way as his other friends! If I go and tell him that I actually remember everything that happened while Raia was in control, I think Yasu-kun will get embarrassed. But you know what, that’s not right, is it?”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean… Basically… blub blub blub…”
This time, it was Shouko’s turn to sink her face into the water.
“You know what I think… If he thought I was, well, somebody special… then there wouldn’t be any need to get embarrassed, right? I mean, I already told him how I feel.”
“I can tell that Yasu-kun thinks of me as someone important to him. It’s just… how do I put this, it doesn’t feel like I’m someone special, but rather just a friend of the opposite gender. I just can’t help but feel that that way very strongly. I mean, sure, I felt a little something when we slept together at Catalina-san’s house, but it feels like even that was just an extension of the same thing……”
“Did something happen while you were staying with Catalina-sama?”
“……Huh? Wait, we didn’t already talk about this?”
“……I don’t think I’ve heard about this before…”
“Eh… Argh, it’s all because Feig-san said something like that… I completely walked into that one……blub blub blub…”
Shouko once again submerged her face underwater.
“……Why don’t you just take the opportunity to ask him how he feels?”
“If I could do that, I wouldn’t be this bothered. I mean, it’s already obvious after looking at how he behaves around me……”
Shouko spoke while blushing a deep red in color.
“I… I’m not Yasu-kun’s special person.”
“I do think that’s he’s hyperaware of me. I mean, if he didn’t at least feel that way after I confessed my feelings to him, I would seriously get depressed. It’s just that… I can tell. Yasu-kun treats me like I’m very important to him. He really does, but……”
Shouko’s sigh disturbed the rising steam.
“Yasu-kun doesn’t love me the way that I love him.”
“It might be rude to ask this… But what part of Yasuo did you find attractive, Shouko?”
“Hmm… Let’s see.”
Shouko started summarizing the events for Diana.
About how she looked and acted completely differently during her middle school years compared to her current self.
About how, during middle school, she had only ever had a handful of conversations with Yasuo.
About how he had become a memory inside her until they finally met again at prep school in their third year of high school.
About how that meeting caused the few memories she had of him to burst forth once more.
“I guess… it’s something like the cicadas.”
“Cicadas? By cicadas, do you mean the bugs that people associate with summer?”
“Yeah. They spend years and years living as nymphs underground, but once they come out they make so much noise that nobody can ignore them…. And then, this thing appeared at the same time.”
Shouko lightly tapped her left eye with a wet hand.
“All of a sudden, there was this incredible secret that the two of us shared…… To be honest, I think you and the others would be disgusted if you realized just how absurdly elated I was, Diana-san. You, Khalija-san, and Yasu-kun’s mom and dad… all of you told me how sorry you were that this happened, but I was really happy. That’s the truth. I mean, I felt like I had this special relationship where I was the only person in the world who shared this secret with him… but you know what?”
Shouko shifted her posture and lifted her shoulders above the water as if she was feeling too hot from the bath.
“The amount of time Yasu-kun and I spent together is probably less than the time he spent together with you, Diana-san. Of course, love doesn’t necessarily depend on how much time you spend with someone, but I feel like the fact that I went to a different high school was the final straw. Back in middle school, there were more chances for me to stare at him from afar, but he didn’t notice me at all……So that’s why—”
Shouko leaned against the edge of the bathtub and spoke concisely.
“—I don’t care if he’s called a Saint or a Hero……I just can’t bear to see him go far away from me once again.”
“I tried thinking about what Yasu-kun would do if everything went well and we somehow managed to get Raia out of my body. Can you imagine what he would do, Diana-san?”
Diana had certainly not thought that far ahead. However, based on what she knew about Yasuo’s personality and seeing what he had done so far, she was easily able to arrive at the answer.
“He’d probably move to Ante Lande, right? I don’t know if will be after he passes the college entrance exams, after he graduates from college, or if he would skip college entirely and do it right after he finishes high school…… But I probably won’t be able to go with him. Yasu-kun would definitely be against it. Because… he doesn’t want to put me in danger.”
Diana didn’t have any way to refute Shouko’s prediction.
“What do you think I should do to be able to stand beside Yasu-kun… or to get him to stand by my side instead?”
Shouko remembered the videos she had seen in the archives of the museum, and the images of the Great Magician Madoka Sugiura flickered through her mind.
Every child in Ante Lande had grown up dreaming about being the Hero Hideo or the Great Magician Madoka.
However, what Shouko wanted was not a mere dream, but to make that a reality.
Shouko did not dream of being Madoka.
Yasuo Kenzaki feared the mysterious forces that were eating away at the world called Ante Lande and he wanted to challenge those forces despite lamenting his own lack of strength, and she wanted to stand beside him as Tatewaki Shouko.
After realizing that fact, Diana’s face and the depths of her chest felt hot as if she had just downed a shot of strong alcohol.
Before she realized it, she was already saying it aloud.
“I will stand there.”
“……Eh? Stand where?”
After realizing that she had said that aloud, Diana panicked and hurriedly stood up from the bathtub.
“I-I’m a little lightheaded from the bath! I’ll be getting out first!”
“Ah, I see. I’ll stay in for a little while longer.”
Shouko sighed and stretched her legs out in the bath that felt even wider after Diana left in a hurry.
“……It’s not like Diana-san would know the answer anyway. She’s probably tired after everything that happened, and I went and got her tangled up in my mess. Haah….”
She stretched her entire body and submerged herself completely beneath the water.
“Considering Diana-san’s position, she can’t make any careless statements after all.”
“Wh-What was I trying to…”
Pressing her hand against her chest, Diana considered the words she had let slip a few seconds ago. No matter how much she thought about it, she couldn’t understand why she had said those words.
She understood Shouko’s problem very well.
Although their conversation had been at the level of a casual chat, she understood that Shouko’s question had been in earnest.
In the past, even if Diana didn’t know the answer to Shouko’s question, she would have definitely been willing to hear her out. That was the least she could do, considering that she had gotten Shouko mixed up in her troubles, and also because she saw Shouko as a friend. Even now, at this instant, Diana only wanted to be earnest and sincere with Shouko.
However, for just one second back then, a dark, ugly emotion she had never experienced before had surged through Diana’s heart.
Shouko had been speaking about how she wanted to stand beside Yasuo and that she wanted to be with him, and in return…
Diana had felt jealous.
As if to confirm that fact, she spoke that word aloud. Not in Japanese, but in the language of Resteria.
After she identified that emotion, the darkness within her heart grew even denser.
Diana thought that she didn’t have a single reason to be jealous of Shouko. However, thinking she had no reason to be jealous amounted to arrogance. She was aware of that.
To refute that arrogance, she had no choice but to accept her jealousy towards Shouko.
There was only one thing about Shouko that she could have felt jealous of.
Shouko had something that Diana did not. Or rather, it was something that nobody from Ante Lande possessed.
All the people of Ante Lande were afflicted by a certain disease.
It was a wretched condition that caused them to wait for salvation from somewhere else instead of trying to become one of the braves on their own.
Diana thought that she had understood just how selfish that way of thinking was during the time she had spent with Yasuo. When Yasuo had asked Feigreid to be a candidate for the new generation of braves, she thought she had reaffirmed that feeling.
However, that still wasn’t enough.
Yasuo had accepted being called a ‘Saint” and then easily gone back to acting like his usual self. Diana felt that she needed to be like him as well. Instead of making it her mission to protect a symbolic existence like a Hero or a Saint, her job should have been to stand against the disaster that was eating away at the world.
Shouko had wished to be that way.
Shouko did not wish to dissuade Yasuo from his path. Nor did she wish to urge him to follow his dream of becoming one of the new braves of Ante Lande.
If Yasuo wished to stay in Japan, that was fine. If he wished to move to Ante Lande, she wanted to move there with him, stand beside him, and face the same problems that he did.
Diana realized that even after coming so far, somewhere in her heart she had still wanted to entrust someone else with the task of saving the world from disaster. The realization shamed her.
That shame had driven her to feel jealous of Shouko, who had the same qualities that Madoka Sugiura possessed.
That was why Diana had gone and run her mouth like that.
She said that she wanted to stand beside Yasuo as his equal and work towards the same goal with him.
After saying that, Diana had immediately realized that Shouko might misunderstand her words to mean that she too had special feelings for Yasuo. Driven by that thought and her jealousy, she had broken off the conversation midway and run away while making up a poor excuse.
“Just what… am I doing, at a time like this…”
Yasuo had made up his mind long ago. He wished to save Ante Lande of his volition, for Diana’s sake and for the sake of his family. Shouko understood that Yasuo wanted to save Ante Lande, and she wanted to help him do that. As for Feigreid, he had always been fighting for the sake of his family members from the House of the Fireflies, and it was obvious that he would continue to do so in the future.
“For what purpose… am I……”
She had already lost her father.
As the sole member of the braves left in Ante Lande, Diana’s mother eclipsed her daughter’s power both metaphorically as well as literally.
“Eh, no way.”
When she tried to think about whose sake she was fighting for, she realized that she couldn’t think of a single person that was important to her apart from her parents.
She had many friends in the Knights Division.
There were many leaders, like Khalija, that she respected.
However, she couldn’t think of a single person for whom she would be willing to do anything and sacrifice herself unconditionally. The realization shook her.
Wanting to protect an irreplaceable friend. Wanting to protect one’s family. Wanting to protect the citizens of Resteria.
Having such feelings was only natural for any Knight or Magitech Knight of Resteria. However…
“What about me?”
“What do you think I should do to be able to stand beside Yasu-kun… or to get him to stand by my side instead?”
There was nobody with whom she wanted to stand on the same level. Nobody she wanted to stay with even if that meant putting her heart and her life at risk.
“What do you want to do, Diana? Just you, personally.”
Back then, Yasuo had asked her that question while talking about what path to take in the future. However, Diana now asked herself the same question, as a single human being.
What was she fighting for?
For whose sake had she been so desperate?
Just who was the person called Dianaze Krone?
“I… was… desperately……”
Diana realized something after somehow managing to suppress the emotions that arose from her fit of passion.
Perhaps that answer was nothing different from the answer that any Knight or Magitech Knight would give if asked the same question. However, having come to this conclusion after facing her feelings of jealousy towards Shouko, Diana couldn’t help but smile slightly.
This method might be a little careless, considering they had to stay alert against Raia.
However, for better or worse, it appeared that worrying about her relationship with Yasuo was actually good for Shouko’s mental state. After initiating that conversation with Diana, the flame in Shouko’s left eye had reduced by a lot.
It should be fine for just a little bit.
Diana toweled herself off to get rid of the water droplets that still clung to her body and used magic that could be activated with just her hands to quickly dry her hair. She then put on the night clothes that had been prepared beforehand, steeled herself, and left the dressing room.
“What’s with the ‘Hyaa!’… Seriously, Yasuo.”
Upon exiting the dressing room, Diana saw that Yasuo was still frozen in the same spot where they had left him before entering the bath. He had his back to her, and when he turned around, she could immediately tell that he was drenched in a cold sweat.
“Ah, y-you’re done.”
“Yes, I’m done. But it looks like Shouko will stay in a little longer.”
“I-I see. Phew!”
“Yes. Yasuo, are you okay?”
“D-Do I look okay to you?”
“Not in the slightest.”
He had the face of a man who was firmly in the throes of a panic attack.
“T-To tell you the truth, I’m so nervous I’m starting to get a stomach ache…”
“It’s that bad? The restroom is through that door over there.”
“Y-Yeah. I see. Thank goodness, I was wondering what I should do if it was in the bathroom. I-I’ll be back in a sec.”
Yasuo walked unsteadily towards the indicated door like a robot with rusted joints, and for some reason, he once again let out a scream after going inside. A short while after Diana blinked in surprise, Yasuo returned with his face even paler than it had been just earlier.
“It was the color of gold… Was it really okay to use it for that?”
“……It’s fine. Yasuo. I can understand why you’re nervous, but it’s not like Shouko and I are going to eat you up or anything, so please relax a little.”
She didn’t ask what he was talking about, but Diana knew that it was not merely gold in color, but actually made of solid gold. However, telling Yasuo that at this time would only make him perspire even more, so she silently hid that fact in the depths of her mind.
“Y-yeah, uh, sorry. I guess, talking to girls about toilets right before going to sleep was a bad idea, huh? Haha… Hahahaha…”
“Yasuo… Why have you been avoiding my gaze since earlier?”
“…It’s just… I’ve never seen girls in their nightwear from up close.”
“You saw me plenty of times back in Tokorozawa.”
Diana had often roamed around the house wearing sweats or a tracksuit while staying with the Kenzaki family, and Yasuo had seen her plenty of times back then.
“Seeing you blushing about that after all this time… It makes me a little embarrassed as well.”
“O-Oh! I’m sorry!”
Diana wasn’t trying to tease him or anything. But from Yasuo’s perspective, he couldn’t equate their current situation with casually seeing her around the house in a tracksuit while the rest of his family were home.
Close, but no cigar. That was the most accurate way to sum up that comparison.
Comparing the combination of the Kenzaki family living room and a tracksuit with the combination of a luxurious suite room and high-class sleepwear was the same as comparing crab sticks to horsehair crab.
“……The way you are right now, can you really hug Shouko tightly if it looks like Raia is about to take control?”
“You already did it once back then, didn’t you?”
“Well, yeah, but…!!”
Diana sighed after seeing Yasuo panicking to the point where he couldn’t even understand simple logic.
“Yasuo… Let’s step out for a bit and get some air. Right now, Shouko’s flames are small and stable, so it should be okay. At this rate, Shouko and I will be the ones who can’t sleep in peace.”
“……Y-yeah, okay. Sorry.”
Yasuo looked a little depressed after he was chided by Diana. However…
He tensed right back up again after Diana held his hand like it was nothing. Diana felt his nervousness transmitted to her through his palm.
“Let’s talk for a little while, just the two of us.”
Looking just the slightest bit happy, Diana pulled Yasuo by the hand to the windows of the room. She pulled back the curtains that had been shut all this time and opened the latch, leading him out to the balcony.
The two of them were exposed to the night wind which was a bit too cold for someone who had just come out of the bath. Also…
Before them lay the nightscape of Holstro lit up by streetlamps, spread out as far as the eye could see.