“The song that stopped Raia in her tracks earlier on… What was it?”
Shouko, who had regained consciousness and finished undergoing healing, was the one who answered Diana’s question.
Shouko was throwing fleeting glares in Yasuo’s direction. Yasuo was going around the room and treating the other people from Japan who had been injured by the Shii’s gunfire, so he didn’t notice her gaze.
It was a miracle that no one had died despite the heavy gunfire and Raia’s rampage. However, quite a few people had been grazed by bullets and were injured, so Yasuo had his hands full with healing them.
Shouko looked at Yasuo as he worked and bestowed an extra-stern glare upon him before turning away.
“……The school song. From Kitahira Middle School,” she mumbled.
“Kitahira Middle School… Ah, that’s right. I had forgotten that Yasuo and you used to attend the same middle school that Nodoka goes to.”
“Yeah. That’s right, but… but it just had to be the school song, of all things. When Onii-chan asked me to sing it with him, I thought the fear had finally driven him insane.”
“……Still, it is a memory from the past that Yasuo and Shouko have in common, correct? I asked Yasuo to think of a plan that would allow Shouko to suppress Raia somehow. I think he made the optimal choice. The instant I looked at you and Yasuo, I knew you had come up with a plan of some sort, Nodoka. That’s why……”
“Yeah, but you didn’t have to shoot me, right? I only found out now, but Raia and I even share the sense of pain.”
“I’m really very sorry… But I believed in Yasuo’s skills. His abilities surpass those of even high-ranking clerics, so I believed that it would be simple for him to heal a scratch from a magic bullet without leaving a scar… Of course, that doesn’t excuse the fact that I injured you, Shouko. I am very sorry.”
“……Oh well, it’s fine. In a tense situation like that, I don’t think you would have been able to distract Raia with any half-hearted methods… More importantly.”
Diana went pale in the face and cast her gaze downwards, awaiting Shouko’s judgment.
“……About the stuff that Raia said.”
However, Nodoka suddenly interrupted their conversation at that point.
“Aaaaah! Yeah, about that! You must be joking, right!? I knew that Diana-san has been soft on Onii-chan ever since she first met him, but what happened to you, Shouko-san!? You should reconsider it!! I mean, just look at him!!”
It wasn’t clear whether Nodoka didn’t sense the heavy mood between Shouko and Diana or if she willfully chose to ignore it. Shouko looked at Nodoka who had jumped into their conversation like a runaway train and gave her a clear reply.
“I’ve already confessed to him, though.”
Nodoka released a scream full of dissent and doubt from the bottom of her lungs, causing Shouko to smile wryly.
“I guess it might be a little difficult to understand at your age, Nodoka-chan. Sure, many people would prefer to have someone who is especially cool or who is more talented than others. I get that. But there are times when you see someone working hard, or unexpectedly catch sight of a guy’s true beliefs and how he lives his life, and that can affect you too.”
“Even if you act all mature like that… By those standards, it seems even less likely that anyone would fall for that brother of mine.”
“……Anyways, it’s fine. I’ve been in love with your brother ever since I was in middle school. So… Diana-san.”
“Sit down properly on your knees. I’ll do it too.”
Shouko and Diana faced each other, formally seated on their knees, despite still being covered in dust from the battle.
“Be honest. How are things, really?”
“……This might just sound like an excuse, but… I don’t know. As you are aware, I’ve lived a life where I could never put my own choices first… So…”
Diana looked at Yasuo with moist eyes and red cheeks as he earnestly worked some distance away from them to heal the people who had been caught in the crossfire.
“I want to fight by Yasuo’s side. I do not know if this feeling is love, or if it is a sense of aspiration and duty towards one who carries the blood of the Hero Hideo.”
“……I see. Hmm.”
Shouko looked like she wasn’t entirely satisfied with Diana’s answer, but the look she sent Diana’s way was not one of hatred. If anything, it was closer to sympathy. As for Nodoka, she was left alone to grab her head and feel perplexed about the situation while looking between the two of them.
“……I can’t believe it. There are actually two young ladies who are fighting over my brother. Actually, this is not the time to be talking about this, right? The other two Magitech Knights haven’t come back yet, you know?”
Even Feigreid and Gaius would probably get angry if they heard the two of them make such an airheaded sound.
“I-I guess things got a little heated there. We need to get our priorities straight.”
“T-That’s right. I can’t believe I lost my composure like that… Oh, that hurts….”
“Yasu-kun! Hurry up and heal Diana-san’s side too! Oh, that’s right! Yasu-kun! Nodoka-chan! We found him! All the way inside!”
“Eh? Umm… Whom did you find…?”
“Your dad! Oji-san!! We found him in the innermost part of Oodem!!”
“You really found Hideo there!? Is he okay!?”
Yasuo, Nodoka, and Diana immediately drew closer to Shouko, causing her to become flustered.
“H-Hang on. Give me a second. Yeah, he was there. It’s just… He didn’t look like he was hurt or anything, but I’m not sure if that counts as being ‘okay’ or not…… I mean, that idiot Raia……”
Shouko placed her left hand over her left eye and trembled.
“That idiot Raia… She pulled those Shii out from where your father was……”
They had expected to find a large area after hearing that it was used as an observatory and space for holding rituals, but what they found instead was a snug semi-circular space that was slightly smaller than a classroom at school.
After climbing a long and straight stairway to reach the area, there was a vertical slit-shaped window directly opposite. Most likely, the light from the sun would shine directly through that window on the day of the summer solstice. From the layout of the place, it looked like it was constructed so that light from the sun at a certain angle would fully illuminate the stairway that Yasuo and the others had just climbed, and even it would even reach the entrance.
They found Feigreid and Gaius lying unconscious in that small space, but the two of them immediately regained consciousness and sat up once Yasuo used his healing magic on them. Gaius, in particular, wasn’t able to hide his astonishment at Yasuo’s healing magic which surpassed that of an accomplished cleric.
“Oh? So you really weren’t just playing around after all.”
Compared to the amazed look on the face of the Magitech Knight whom he had only met recently, even Nodoka’s habitual abuse sounded like music to his ears.
However, they did not have the time to rejoice over their safe reunion. At the moment, Ogawa and the other people from Japan were waiting in the large room at the entrance to the ruins without anyone to guard them.
After finding out that Hideo was present inside the ruins, albeit in an abnormal state, all of the people who knew him, including Nodoka, decided to go inside the ruins. However since they did not know what sort of situation was waiting for them inside, they couldn’t just take the people from Japan along with them. Hence, they had instructed Ogawa and the other people to wait near the entrance, and to follow them into the ruins in case anything went wrong.
“After Raia suddenly took over Shouko’s body, it looked like she stuck her hand into this and forcibly pulled those Shii out.”
Even without Feigreid’s explanation, Yasuo, Diana, and Nodoka were able to tell at a glance that the strange phenomenon before them was the reason for the disturbance they had experienced earlier.
It was right in the center of the semicircular space. It was positioned in such a way that any light that entered from the slit window would be obstructed by it before it reached the stairway. It looked like a snow globe, only instead of glass, it was made from a sphere of light.
Hanging in the air in the middle of the room was a flickering vortex of light the width of an adult’s arm span, within which a white space was taking form.
Yasuo was familiar with all of these things.
The flickering vortex was the light of a Gate Tower. The white space was the World of the Dead, which he had previously witnessed through Raia’s intervention. And then…
“…..What the heck are you doing in a place like that, Dad?”
At the heart of the queer snow globe—the spot where Santa Claus would be present in an actual one—was Kenzaki Hideo. The size of the dome made his father look proportionally smaller, and he was crouched down while looking at the ground.
Yasuo was looking at that sight from a somewhat overhead view. He remembered seeing his father in that position before. It was the same position that his father had taken in the Gate Tower on their way here, crouched down after complaining about feeling unwell. Everything was exactly the same, from the clothes he was wearing to the shoes that he had on.
“Now it makes sense why he never appeared no matter how many times I tried calling the Holy Sword. He’s in a completely different world.”
Most likely, Yasuo and the others were currently looking into the World of the Dead without Raia’s help.
Yasuo had no idea why his father ended up in the World of the Dead while they were moving through a Gate Tower that linked Japan to Resteria. However, even he and Shouko had ended up in the Gaz Commonwealth, so there was little benefit in trying to guess what had caused the deviation.
The question was, how were they supposed to get his father out of there?
It had already been six days since they had entered the Gate Tower. If his father had been there the whole time since then, that meant he could not come out of his own free will. If that was the case, they needed to do something to help him.
“Yeah. That’s pretty much the only thing we can try now, right? It’s not like Raia has left my body just yet. What do you want to do? Should we all go?”
Yasuo shook his head in response to Shouko’s question.
“No, just me alone. I’ve been there once before and come back, after all.”
“T-That doesn’t guarantee anything, does it? …More importantly, how do you plan on entering this…… Yasuo, do you know what this globe is?”
“I don’t know how it works, though. Last time, it was Raia who pulled us in. We are looking into the World of the Dead. The entrance is… in Tatewaki-san’s left eye.”
“Just so you know, I’m really unstable right now, okay? It feels like Raia will take control if I let my guard down even a little bit. Kekeke.”
Shouko put on a teasing face for a moment as if she was making fun of Diana, but she immediately regained a serious expression.
“You really want to go alone?”
“If it turns out that I can’t come back, I’ll need Diana, Feig-san, and Gaius-san to return to their respective countries and let them know what’s going on. Raia exists independently on the other side, so there shouldn’t be any danger to your own body on this side, Tatewaki-san. In the worst case, it will be just me and my dad stuck in there together. If that happens…”
Yasuo turned to look at Diana, who could only nod back at him.
“I will definitely find a way to save you and Hideo.”
“It’ll be fine. The odds aren’t that bad. Diana, you have the Pomona that is linked to Liutberga, and Nodoka probably has the same nature as me. I think the same thing that happened in the museum will happen once again. Everyone, step back for a bit.”
“I understand. Everyone, let’s head back down the stairs.”
“Very well. Nodoka, Captain Gaius, please come this way.”
“Just what is going on?”
“H-Hang on, Diana-san. What are Onii-chan and Shouko-san trying to do…?”
“……If we don’t make it back…”
“Huh!? What’s that supposed to mean!? What the hell are you…”
“If that happens, you will probably be the last thread of hope, Nodoka. I’ll do my best to make sure that doesn’t happen… but nobody can be sure about what will happen in the future.”
“Sorry about this Nodoka. Also, Diana—”
“If it’s more whining, I don’t want to hear it.”
Just as Yasuo was about to say something, Diana clearly started that.
“I believe in you, Yasuo. You have overcome every single challenge so far. I believe in you. Make sure you… Make sure you come back quickly… so we can fight side by side.”
“I’ve recognized you for who you are a long time ago, Yasuo. You are a warrior who can stand on his own feet, one braver than anyone else in all of Ante Lande. Shouko.”
“Please make sure to bring Yasuo back.”
Shouko looked back at Diana, held Yasuo’s left hand, and stuck her tongue out at her.
“The place beside him is mine. I’m not letting you have it.”
It took only a fraction of a second. Black flames large enough to cover the entire semicircular room appeared before Diana and the others, and the Magitech Knights put up their guard. A few seconds later…
As soon as the swirl of flames receded, they saw that Yasuo, Shouko, and the shining snow globe that projected an image of the white world had all vanished.
When he regained consciousness, his vision was filled with not black, but white. Yasuo focused on his left hand, but he couldn’t feel the sensation of holding Shouko’s hand.
As before, he felt the sluggish and sweltering feeling as if he was walking through a dream. At that moment, he realized that instead of Shouko, a different girl was standing by his side. She was staring in a single direction without looking at him. That too was just as he remembered.
“You really got me good back there.”
“That’s my line.”
Raia Calgani. The Shii that had taken up residence inside Tatewaki Shouko.
“I never imagined that Diana would shoot Shouko. Also, I did not expect that you would pull Shouko’s consciousness to the surface with such a lame song. It’s called a school song, right? I know it from Shouko’s memories, but it was by no means a good memory for her.”
“You seriously have such bad taste. You share her memories, too?”
“I saw the strong memory that bubbled up to the surface because of your crappy song, that’s all. I don’t think I have intruded into her privacy too much.”
“Oh, so the people of Ante Lande from thirty years ago had the Japanese word for ‘privacy’ in their vocabulary?”
“I learned it from Shouko. The last time you forced me back, I had to endure a ton of complaints from her.”
“Serves you right. Saying whatever the hell you want using Tatewaki-san’s body like that.”
“That’s rich, coming from a man who can’t even properly respond to her love confession.”
That was definitely something Raia had no business butting into. However, it looked like she was satisfied with making Yasuo get flustered, as she suddenly changed the topic.
“By the way, just how do you intend to rescue Hideo from this world?”
“I’m not expecting any help from you.”
“Are you sure you want to talk to me like that? Shouko is one of the living, so her power is meaningless in this world. One might even say that the management of the Latch has been left up to me. Even if you and Shouko manage to get back, you can’t do anything for Hideo using Shouko’s Latch.”
“I said that I have no intention of getting help from you, didn’t I?”
Yasuo brushed aside Raia’s taunts and looked around at his surroundings.
“As long as I stay here, that guy will come eventually. I’ll negotiate with him.”
“Oh, look. He’s coming from the same direction that you’re staring in.”
Raia and Yasuo were standing beside each other, looking in the same direction. It was the direction in which Raia said that the Capital of the Dead lay waiting, far off in the distance.
It was the color of a bloodstain that had dripped on to the otherwise pure white world. It was a dirty black in color with a heart of crimson, looking as if it was trying to suck all the light out of the world.
Raia’s voice was filled with fear. She tried to turn around and run away, even though it was impossible.
However, she failed. Because she was one of the dead.
“What are you so afraid of, Raia Calgani?”
A carefree voice and an arrogant manner of speech. That person was about a head and a half taller than Yasuo.
A once-white shirt, now dirty, with the sleeves rolled up. Loose, khaki-colored trousers held up with suspenders. Leather boots. A sturdy physique.
Last of all, a lantern held in the left hand that overpowered the white world with a black and red glow.
“It has been a while, Yasuo Kenzaki.”
“I didn’t think you’d come for me so soon, William Bareig.”
William smiled as if he was truly happy, while his left eye glowed an ominous red.
“You finally came over of your own free will, Yasuo. It would be discourteous to not come out to meet you.”
“I didn’t come here to play around. I intend to go back right away. You understand that, right?”
“Even so. The time spent with a dear friend is precious, no matter how short the meeting. You have done well in gaining such mental fortitude in such a short time. It feels like it was only yesterday that you were trembling in fear after seeing this eye of mine.”
“It wasn’t really that long ago, after all. My senses aren’t really working properly in this place, but I’m still scared of you.”
“Be more confident. Truth to tell, I am amazed by your growth. If I wait just a little longer, I am sure you will turn into such an outstanding person that it will make our first meeting feel like a lie. Of course, the same goes for your little sister as well. She appears to be worried about her future path, but she has the talent required to serve as Madoka Sugiura’s successor. That is why I gave up on aiming for your ‘lives’ for the moment. Of course, I would give you a warm welcome if the two of you wanted to join me right this instant.”
“……I have several questions for you.”
“Come on now, no need to be in such a hurry.”
William made a show of dropping his shoulders after seeing Yasuo’s unfriendly attitude. That small movement was enough to cause the red light from his lantern to flicker, making Raia flinch and tremble in fear.
“Still, your growth does warrant some reward. I will answer whatever I can.”
“……You… You’re not from Ante Lande, after all.”
William smiled happily at Yasuo who stated that as if it was a fact.
“What makes you think that?”
“Diana’s attacks didn’t work against the Shii that were summoned by Raia. Just like in her fight against you. Judging from the way they were dressed, the Shii that Raia summoned came from some point in the history of Earth.”
“You were hit by the piece of junk that I threw at you. Nodoka’s magic was able to hit the Shii that were summoned by Raia. That’s why I thought, the dead people from a particular world can only be attacked by living people from the same world.”
“Do you not have any doubts about why the dead from both Earth and Ante Lande appear from the same place?”
“That’s hardly surprising, considering that even living people can travel between the worlds. There’s no point wondering about the reason, so it can wait. It’s more important to acquire proof that the World of the Dead, Ante Lande, and Earth are all interconnected. Otherwise, there would be no way to explain how Nodoka, Ogawa-san, and the others made it here.”
“I see. Well then, assuming that the worlds are interconnected as you say, what does that have to do with anything?”
“……You said it back then, didn’t you? You told us the reason why you wanted me and Nodoka… ‘To save the world,’ you said.”
“I am impressed that you remembered that.”
Yasuo took a breath. As if he was resolving himself for what was to come next.
“……When are the Shii going to start appearing on Earth?”
Was sound still transmitted through the air, even in the World of the Dead? Was it really air that Yasuo breathed in just now?
William Bareig grinned widely at the young man who had been born only some ten-odd years ago and who excelled at healing other people.
“It might very well depend upon the two of you.”