The ruins before them looked exactly like the ruins that had shown up at the end of a famous western movie series. In the movie, the secret to immortality was supposed to be hidden within those ruins, and the location used for shooting the movie was both a World Heritage Site as well as a popular tourist attraction.
However, she had not heard anything about that site being located in Japan. Moreover, the creature that appeared in front of her today was something completely removed from anything she had experienced or learned about.
“Ogawa-san! Watch out!”
The man called Ogawa somehow managed to stumble out of the way of the flaming black stick that had been swung down towards him. While he did manage to avoid the blow, his knees buckled under the weight of the excess fat around his midsection and he shamefully fell over on his backside.
“Ogawa-san, are you okay!?”
“I… I-I’m fi, I……”
He tried to reply to the girl who called out to him, but his tongue refused to form the words.
It had all happened so suddenly. Nothing made sense.
He had attempted to start a campfire after they decided to spend the night outside the ruins, only to have something black burst out of the ground all of a sudden like the shoot of a bamboo tree. At the same instant, the girl who had been helping Ogawa with the campfire had shouted something and pushed him out of harm’s away.
Something that looked like a sword swung through the spot Ogawa had been occupying only a moment earlier. The one doing the swinging was a person wreathed in black flames.
“W-What is this… M-Monster!”
“Stand up, Ogawa-san! You need to get word to the people inside! Tell them to not come out of the ruins no matter what! Also, can you do something about the one that has a long stick!?”
“Ah… I… What…”
“Oh, geez! Pull yourself together!! Suzuki-san! Akaike-san! Someone, please help Ogawa-san! Also, make sure everyone else stays inside the ruins!” The girl shouted at two men who were older than her who had also been attempting to set up a campfire.
Although the two of them had not grasped what was going on, they seemed to be merely bewildered instead of flying into a panic. It was probably because the scene that was unfolding in front of them was just that unrealistic. While keeping their distance from the humanoid black flame, the two of them approached Ogawa who was still on the ground with the girl standing protectively in front of him and heaved his large body off the ground.
“Damn you… Don’t come any closer… I still can’t control this power very well, if it comes any closer I might get everyone else caught up… Huh!? No way!”
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw even more flames rising up out of the ground. Three human-shaped flames had appeared as if to smash the campfires that they had just been about to light into pieces.
“Everyone!! I’m sorry if you get caught up in this!!”
After shouting that, the girl put both hands together in front of her body and raised her right leg as high as it would go.
“Wheel of flame that sleeps beneath the earth, open the door to wisdom with the furrows of your passing!!”
The girl then slammed her raised leg into the ground with all the force she could muster. The next instant, the black shadow that had been moving toward Ogawa was engulfed in a pillar of red flame and stopped moving.
“Hurry up and run!!”
The girl shouted once again, standing in front of Ogawa who had been rescued by Suzuki and Akaike.
“Wheel of flame that sleeps beneath the earth, open the door to wisdom with the furrows of your passing! Alright, once more! Open!”
Every time the girl slammed her right foot into the ground like a child throwing a tantrum, flames burst out of the ground to engulf the black shadows.
“Hurry up! Everyone, get inside the ruins! Hurry up!”
The girl looked over her shoulder while urging the men to leave.
There was a limit to how long she could keep the enemy at bay with those flames. She did not have the leeway or ability to hold back and preserve her strength.
In that case, there was no choice but to keep doing what she could.
“Wheel of flame that sleeps beneath the earth!” The girl shouted once again after confirming that the men had safely made it into the ruins.
“Wheel of flame that sleeps beneath the earth! Wheel of flame that sleeps beneath the earth!!”
With every word she uttered, she could feel an uncomfortable, bloated feeling rise up within her making her feel like she was about to throw up. Despite that, she could not stop chanting.
After all, she didn’t know how to do anything else.
“Wheel of flame that sleeps beneath the earth!! Open the door to wisdom, open the door to wisdom!! Open every single door, dammit!!”
As if preparing her final move, the girl jumped high into the air and slammed both feet into the ground as she landed. The next instant…
An explosion loud enough to drown out her shout wiped out three of the shadows. She had released every last bit of fire magic that she possessed, causing an explosion large enough to even engulf the traces left by her previous attacks.
Feeling the heat from the explosion on her face and arms, the girl turned and ran into the stone ruins.
“It turned out bigger than I thought it would! Everyone, move farther in!”
She raced past the men who had been watching from just inside the ruins with uneasy expressions and headed farther into the ruins. Seeing that, the men followed after her.
A small amount of the flames made it into the ruins and singed the hem of her skirt.
“Haa… haa…. I-I wonder if that took care of them…”
“T-That was amazing… What you did earlier, was it really magic, after all?”
The girl nodded briefly in reply to the question posed by the man named Ogawa.
“I know you might not believe me, but… Yeah.”
“Oh, there’s no question about it. I haven’t seen a fire that big, even on TV……”
“Yeah… I’m a bit tired.”
“You definitely saved us, though. Don’t tell me, were you the one who chased away the beast the was attracted by the campfire last night…?”
“Oh, you noticed? There was this thing that looked like a big cat, so I gave it a bit of a scare.”
Ogawa nodded in admiration of the girl who still put on a brave expression despite her pale face.
“In this incomprehensible situation, we need to use whatever we can. At the very least, I think that you saved me just now. I doubt even those monsters could survive an explosion like that. Can you stand?”
“……I think I can manage. Sorry about the campfires, I blew them away.”
“Hahaha. Anyways, there’s a massive blaze out there now, so we have to wait for it to die down before—”
Ogawa put on a strained smile and turned towards the entrance of the ruins when he saw it.
A black flame was forcing its way through the entrance. There was only one of them this time. However, it was resolutely heading towards them.
“…..I can’t do it… As I thought… is my power… lacking something after all……”
“I-I can’t believe it survived an explosion like that… Stand up, we have to run…!”
“……I’ll try to do it once more… Ogawa-san, run away… ugh…”
After forcing herself to stand up, the girl toppled over. She couldn’t muster up any strength at all. It was as if her muscles refused to support the weight of her body.
Ogawa tried to lift her up while trembling uncontrollably, but…
The black shadow closed in on Ogawa directly from the front and blew him away with a single kick. After seeing that and hearing Ogawa’s scream, the remaining men froze in their places from fear. They were only a short distance away, but none of them were able to run to her side.
Stretched out on the ground where he had collapsed, Ogawa watched as the black monster’s blade descended towards the girl.
“I-It’s no good… Run away…”
“Run away Nodoka-chan!!”
However, Kenzaki Nodoka was already in a state where she couldn’t move an inch. She was so exhausted that she couldn’t even look up at the blade that was swinging down towards her.
Aah, I can’t believe I’m going to get killed in this weird place, in front of people I’ve only just met…
Because of her weakness, even that thought seemed like it was going far away.
At that instant…
Two streaks of light flashed out and sliced the black flame into four pieces.
A golden bullet cut through the wall of flames in front of the door and flew inside. After slicing the black flame into pieces, it stood in front of Nodoka and Ogawa as if protecting them.
“I have no idea why things ended up like this… But it looks like we made it just in time.”
Nodoka opened her eyes. After hearing that familiar voice, she was able to breathe again once more.
She could feel herself breathing. She was still alive. She felt warmth return to her consciousness, which was about to sink into darkness.
“…..! ……ka! Nodoka! Pull yourself together! Are you okay!?”
Her blurry vision cleared. She realized that the voice she was hearing now was something that she was so used to that it might as well be ingrained into her genes, and she smiled in spite of herself.
Even though she found it extremely maddening, she couldn’t help but smile.
“You’re so late… Onii-chan. What the heck were you doing, I ended up coming over here… Ugh, geez…”
She didn’t expect that he would have changed much in the few days that he had been away. Despite that, her sight blurred with tears of relief after seeing her older brother’s face.
“I… I was so scared… Thrown into this strange place all of a sudden… I… ”
“It’s okay. Everything is okay now!!”
Perhaps her brother was panicking as well. That was only natural. The sister whom he had supposedly left behind in Japan was fighting against the Shii all the way in the mountains here.
Moreover, she had stood on the front lines while freely wielding fire magic.
If that wasn’t enough to surprise him, then there wouldn’t have been any meaning to putting her life on the line.
“……Nodoka. There are plenty of things I want to say to you, but for now, I’ll just say this.”
Backlit by the wall of flames, Diana’s face was surprisingly gentle when she turned around.
“The power of your flames was incredible. I’ll leave the lecture for later.”
“Hehe… Thanks to that, even I was able to protect people.”
“Indeed. I’ll make sure to take that into consideration… Yasuo.”
“Take care of healing Nodoka first. Also, I’ll leave the sending off to you. We will deal with the Shii.”
The flames at the entrance had disappeared at some point, and two more Shii slowly plodded towards them. Nodoka felt a little despair after seeing how little damage she had done to them, but neither Diana not her brother wavered in the slightest.
Of course, that was only natural.
Two male Magitech Knights who were unknown to Nodoka grandly made their entrance as if they were chasing after the Shii.
The three Magitech Knights used their respective Techno Weapons to slice the three Shii into pieces at a speed that was too fast for the eyes to follow, and the remains were turned to soot and dispersed by the requiem that her brother sang. In the end, the only things left behind were the deep gouges in the earth caused by Nodoka’s magic, and the scorch marks on the walls of the ruins.
“The last thing I remember is the bus that we were riding on getting into an accident at the intersection near the outlet mall. The bus was crowded, so there was a bit of a distance between Mom and me. I luckily happened to find a seat during the ride, and it was the seat next to the emergency escape. Can you believe the irony?”
“I was sitting in the seat in front of Nodoka-chan’s. I let my guard down because the mall has been there for quite a while now, but that is definitely not a bus you want to catch when you are carrying bulky luggage.”
At the entrance to the ruins of Oodem.
The group had re-built the campfire inside the massive atrium while Feigreid and Gaius stood guard. There were twelve other Japanese citizens taking shelter inside the ruins including Nodoka and Ogawa, a surprisingly large number.
All of them had been riding on the same bus as Nodoka, and they all told the same story, that they found themselves in the mountains near Oodem before they knew what was going on.
“It was obvious that the vegetation wasn’t something from the Kanto region, you see. It gave me quite a shock. But before long, I started to think that we weren’t even in Japan at all. Whether it was the flowers, the trees, or the insects, they were all things that I had never seen before.”
Ogawa was a middle-aged man around fifty years old.
While he was around the same age as Hideo, his attire consisted of a fishing vest, full-length trousers made from thick fabric, a wide-brimmed hat, and polarized sunglasses. He looked like a typical angler, no matter how you looked at him.
“You got on the bus dressed like that?”
“I was on my way to visit a friend, you see. We had plans to take his car to go camping in Okuchichibu early the next morning. Of course, I had no idea that my trip would end up like this……”
“We would have been in a lot of trouble if Ogawa-san hadn’t been here. On our first day here, we were stuck somewhere in the mountains and couldn’t even find a road.”
It went without saying that Ogawa’s camping equipment played a major part in helping to keep them all alive. After all, as long as the weather wasn’t too extreme, just being able to light a campfire in short order can help to drastically increase the chances of survival.
They got through the first day by catching fish in the mountain streams, and it was evening the next day when they had made it to that mountain road. Although finding a well-maintained road was a stroke of good fortune, they considered that it would be dangerous to go walking around an unknown mountain road without knowing where they were, so they decided to bivouac there once more.
After the sun rose, they initially planned to go down the mountain, but…
“There were a bunch of crocodile-like things. They weren’t very big individually, but they were blocking the road.”
“She’s probably talking about the Three-tailed Lizard. They are poisonous creatures that have thee tails and travel in groups. They are rarely seen during this time of the year. I’m surprised you managed to escape unscathed.”
Gaius provided an explanation from his post a short distance away.
“It feels a little strange to see people speaking fluent Japanese while dressed like that.”
Ogawa honestly gave voice to his thoughts.
“If you run across a bear while camping or mountaineering, the level of danger is completely different depending on whether the bear is uphill or downhill in relation to you. If he’s downhill, that basically means your route of escape is cut off, after all. We don’t know anything about this mountain. In the end, we had no choice but to go uphill in order to avoid aggravating the crocodile, but……”
Ogawa went on to explain that one of the relatively larger crocodiles in the group had spotted Nodoka and the others and proceeded to crawl up the gravel path at an unbelievable speed. He had single-mindedly attempted to fend off the creature using his fishing pole, but it wasn’t an opponent that would falter because of a lightweight fishing pole used for camping.
When Ogawa was close to running out of options, a pillar of fire had suddenly burst out right in front of him.
“In the beginning, I was panicking for two reasons because I had no idea what was going on. The other people were completely taken aback as well. And to think……”
Ogawa glanced at the young girl who was sitting next to him.
“I initially thought she used hairspray or something to create an impromptu flamethrower. Now that I think back, that must have also been Nodoka-chan’s ‘magic’, right? That’s amazing.”
“I-It wasn’t all that great. In the end, I was only able to drive it off, I didn’t beat it.”
“Just being able to do that is amazing.”
Ogawa praised Nodoka who was trying to be modest.
“In the end, we were forced to climb even further up the mountain because we were wary of the crocodiles. We came across these ruins a short while after that. By that point, I felt like I was barely alive. Normally, you would expect to see a management office or something near such places, right? I thought we would finally be able to make contact with other people, but no matter how much we looked, we found only ruins here. I was crestfallen.”
“But this place is great for hiding or running away, so we decided to spend the night here anyway.”
“Still, if all of you hadn’t shown up, I don’t think we would have lived past tomorrow. We have no food, and there’s only a little water left……”
Despite looking haggard, Nodoka and Ogawa had the strength to lead their little group of people. However, it was apparent to even Yasuo that the other people from Japan, who had no option besides obeying Nodoka and Ogawa for their survival, were even more emancipated.
“……In any case, I understand the circumstances. I’ll go down to the checkpoint at the base of the mountain first thing in the morning and get them to send aid. We will stand guard tonight, so both Nodoka and Ogawa-san should get some rest. Although it’s not much, we have some food and supplies with us. Even with such a large group, I think we should be fine until tomorrow.”
“……That would be great. Thank you so much.”
Ogawa sighed in relief after hearing what Diana had to say and covered his eyes with his hand. Nodoka had to struggle to keep her emotions in check after seeing him like that.
“Ogawa-san has been steeling himself all this time. All of us started relying on him because he seemed to know a lot about stuff like camping and mountains, but he’s not a pro or anything, he just does this as a hobby. He confided in me last evening just a little about how worried he was that something bad would happen.”
Later that night, Yasuo, Shouko, Diana, and Nodoka were sitting around the campfire and exchanging information.
“The only people in the group who were able to deal with the situation somewhat were me and Ogawa-san, and then Suzuki-san and Akaike-san. Suzuki-san is apparently in the mountaineering club in his college. He didn’t have any equipment or anything with him like Ogawa-san did, but he understood the things that Ogawa-san was trying to say and then explained it to the rest of us in terms we could understand. I think that’s what really brought us together as a group. Akaike-san teaches P.E in high school, so he took care of most of the manual labor. But all the others are all either students or housewives… Until today, they only spoke to everyone else when they needed to and just barely managed to get this far. I suppose the only silver lining is that we had no babies or young children with us.”
“……I see. I’m just glad you’re fine.”
“I’m not fine. I didn’t go home to change out of my school uniform after the parent-teacher conference, so I was still in my short-sleeved school uniform when I got sent here. I got a ton of scratches from tree branches in the forest, and it was so freaking cold at night.”
Despite being weakened, her stubbornness in refuting whatever her brother said was actually quite reassuring in this instance.
“Sounds like you’ve had an even harder time than we did after landing in the forest near Catalina-san’s house. Yasu-kun and I were at least prepared mentally to a certain extent that we were going to another world, so we were able to get back on our feet somehow, but that’s not the case for you and the others, right, Nodoka-chan?”
Nodoka nodded vigorously in response to what Shouko said.
“Even I wasn’t fully convinced that we were in another world. I don’t understand vegetation and stuff like Ogawa-san does, and to be honest, I didn’t think that we were in Ante Lande until I saw those crocodiles. But…”
Nodoka held her index finger up in front of her nose, and a small flame appeared on the tip.
“I was able to use magic quite easily here, so I thought there was a chance. I was always using this power secretly to light half the campfires.”
“Nodoka-chan, that’s amazing. You can use magic so easily.”
“Unlike my brother, I have talent.”
Sitting beside Yasuo who had decided to let Nodoka’s arrogant statements slide for just this day, Diana could only show a complicated smile.
“I honestly didn’t she would be able to do so much. I remember using the Flame Wheel magic only once in front of you in the past, did you remember it from that time?”
“Pretty much. In any case, it was lucky for me that Ogawa-san, who became our leader, and all the others didn’t really understand the situation. Also, they are all gentle people. In movies or manga where people are forced into extreme situations like this, you usually get a few characters who do stuff like being rough with the women or people who don’t listen to what the obviously knowledgeable people say, make a fuss, and put everyone in danger. Or someone who is secretly a wanted criminal. Well, we didn’t get anyone like that, so I’d say we were actually quite lucky in that regard.”
“Yeah, totally! You also get the people who are like, ‘I have no intention of getting chummy with you’ even though it’s a dangerous situation and it’s not like they’ve got some a secret ace up their sleeve or anything. I always wonder what kind of mentality those guys must have!”
After seeing Nodoka and Shouko agreeing upon some mysterious opinion, Yasuo turned to talk to Diana.
“How is this going to work? There are a whole twelve people here.”
“Once they are rescued, I can’t say what will happen next until we get back to the city…… I’m also worried about why only Nodoka is here and not Madoka. Also…”
The two of them looked back at the traces left by Nodoka’s magic and their expressions turned gloomy.
“Even though there was such a flashy fight here, Dad is nowhere to be found. I wonder if the abnormality detected by Resteria and Baskelgarde might have been because of Nodoka and the others arriving here. Well, it helped us save Nodoka in the end so it wasn’t a bad thing, but…”
“No, it doesn’t add up. At the very least, the disturbance detected by Resteria occurred not less than two days before Nodoka arrived here.”
“……In that case, Dad must be around here after all.”
“There’s something else going on. That is the obvious inference.”
Even though he was inside ruins that had practically been assimilated by the mountains, Yasuo did not feel particularly ill at ease.
Surrounded by the cold rock and slightly dusty atmosphere, what Yasuo felt was reverence and awe for the ancient people who had once lived here and built these structures without the help of any machinery.
“I wonder what it is about this place…”
Both the era and the world were completely different. Even so, it was still something that had been built by people.
“……The people who built this place… I wonder what happened to them.”