Prologue of fourth arc.
The event happened sometime later.
Three weeks had passed since the time Kouki’s party had received shock from the reunion and the complex feelings because of to the separation in «Post Town, Hol-ad».
Currently, there was one thing Kouki’s party must immediately deal with: to kill people. They wouldn’t be able to fight anymore as long as it was not dealt with, so they returned to the Imperial Capital. It was necessary for them to experience “murder” if they wanted to participate in the war against the Demon race. They would only be liabilities in the war if they could not overcome it.
To begin with, they wouldn’t be able to think about it properly since not much time remained. The event that occurred in Ul had already reached their ears. It was obvious the Demon race’s movement had became more active since they themselves had also been attacked, and everyone could guess the war was drawing near. Therefore, as quickly as possible, Kouki’s party wanted to overcome this problem by all means.
Currently, Kouki’s party were doing battle practice against the Knights commanded by Meld. Ryuutarou, Kondou’s party, and Hiyama’s gang; those who were already prepared for it actually repeatedly asked themselves if they could really do it after seeing Hajime shoot the Demon race woman’s head. There wasn’t much time left, but they would be broken if they were forced to murder, so Meld and the Knights were also looking for a solution.
Towards the gloomy them, a small, good news had arrived.
It was the return of Aiko’s party. Normally, Kouki’s charisma would be able to pull the classmates together. However, the hero was depressed, which made everyone depressed, too. The reason for them not to be broken from the severe defeat and the current problem was thanks to Suzu’s mood making which followed by the prudent people such as Shizuku and Nagayama. Even so, their minds swallowed by uneasiness forced themselves to look more than welcoming to the adult they were familiar with and trusted. Everyone truly wanted to meet the teacher who always did her best for her students.
Hearing Aiko had returned, Shizuku made the first move. Shizuku wanted to consult AIko about various things, so she rounded up her training. She also wanted to hear the impression of the classmates who met Hajime much earlier than her, and she wanted to exchange information objectively with Aiko who neither assume nor prejudices.
Wearing the jet-black sheath she received from Hajime and belt for another jet-black, double-edged sword, Shizuku walked through the passage in royal palace. Her appearance somehow made more noble ladies and maids blush comparable to other men. It was a problem that haunted Shizuku even in this different world. She really wanted to be spared from being called “Onee-sama” by the women who were older than her.
Having heard the things Hajime did in Ul, Shizuku wanted to directly asked Aiko as to what she thought of Hajime. Depending on Aiko’s impression of Hajime, Kouki’s currently balanced mind would possibly leaned towards undesirable point. It was Shizuku’s nature that burdened her with hardship wherever she goes.
“Surely, there was also a mess when they were in Ul… but he also gave me this katana-like sword… Seriously, what’s with “sturdy and able to cut anything nicely.” Isn’t it an artifact at a level of a national treasure.”
Talking to herself, Shizuku silently moved her hand onto the Katana hanging on her waist. Walking towards Aiko’s room, Shizuku recalled the time she visited the Kingdom’s smithy for the sake of her katana’s maintenance.
Shizuku called her katana simply as a black katana and shown it to the Kingdom’s best blacksmith. At first, the blacksmith were formal before her as one of “God’s Apostles.” However, his attitude completely changed as soon as he examined the black katana with appraisal magic, and he asked Shizuku while grabbing her shoulders. Thus, as if his previous attitude was just a lie, he barraged her with questions, no he interrogated her with words, such as where did she obtained it and who was the creator.
Although she was dumbfounded, Shizuku somehow managed to regain her calm and asked what happened. The blacksmith said that even within the Kingdom’s treasury, this sword should be more or less at the same as Holy Sword. Although its output and capacity for receiving magic power didn’t reach Holy Sword, it’s functionality and minute details as a weapon were above Holy Sword.
Next, detailed examination found that if it was supplied with magic power, the blade would be extended by 60 centimeters in form of wind blade. Furthermore, two more blades would form beside the extended part, and they could be fired.
Then, the sheath was examined. It was understood that the sheath would be cladded in thunder if it was supplied with magic power and there was a switch-like part on the sheath’s mouth that would shoot needles with tremendous force.
The blade part was made of azanthium so it wouldn’t be chipped and there was almost no need to undergo maintenance. The maintenance was only to replenish the needle if it was used.
However, there was a problem, it didn’t have magic array to supply it with magic power. It was a natural thing. Hajime was capable of directly manipulating magic power and he was originally never thought of giving it to anyone. So, it wasn’t a mistake when he said “sturdy and able to cut things nicely” if it was used by Shizuku.
Those were the only functions installed, and the mysterious black sword (or so the blacksmiths had seen it as) could only be used by manipulating magic power directly, made the Kingdom’s blacksmiths burn with fighting spirit.
‘Even though we can’t make a weapon with such minute details and functionality, we will make this sword usable!’ was what they thought. In short, they would somehow make the user’s magic power supply into the sword by any means. Resultantly, after three days and nights, the blacksmiths, with the best one as the core, set aside all of their other works and somehow succeeded in creating the magic array.
As such, Shizuku would be able to pull the black katana’s abilities without using a chant. Afterwards, the blacksmiths whose magic power was dried up were slept for several days with truly happy expressions.
Shizuku was looking in the distance as she recalled the terrific craftsmanship spirit, then she arrived at her destination, Aiko’s room. She knocked, but there was no response. She heard Aiko was going to report to the King and the other officials, so Shizuku thought she must have not return. Leaning against the wall, Shizuku decided to wait for Aiko’s return.
Thirty minutes had passed until Aiko returned. Her footsteps could be heard from the inner corridor which somehow sounded depressed. Aiko was walking without looking ahead, and her serious expression made Shizuku understandd Aiko was desperately thinking about something in her head.
Thus, Aiko didn’t even notice her room with Shizuku right beside its door and passed them. While wondering what had happened, Shizuku called Aiko to stop.
Raising a silly voice, her body twitched in surprise. Aiko looked around and finally noticed Shizuku. Afterwards, Aiko sighed in relief seeing Shizuku’s healthy look, then she smiled in joy.
“Yaegashi-san! Long time no see. Have you been healthy? Are you unhurt? Are the others safe?”
Even though she had been depressed up until now, the things she said were only her worries about her students. Towards the unchanging Ai-chan sensei, joy also entered Shizuku’s gaze as she smiled, and sense of security filled her mind. For a while, the two were happy for each other’s safety and their reunion, then they entered Aiko’s room for consultation and exchanging information.
* * *
“So that’s what happened… Shimizu-kun was…”
Shizuku and Aiko were alone in the room, and they mutually exchanged information as they drank the tea inside the tea cups with cute, cat-like legs. Hearing the things happened in Ul, those words were Shizuku’s response.
Inside the room, an awkward mood hung in the air. Aiko dejectedly drooped her shoulders; she was obviously depressed about Shimizu. Thinking about Aiko’s personality and sense of responsibility, Shizuku could not help worry no matter what the circumstance was, but she could not find the words needed to be said.
However, although Shizuku was reluctant to let Aiko continue being depress, so as cheerful as possible, she rejoiced about Aiko’s safety.
“I feel bad about Shimizu-kun… however, I truly am glad that Sensei is alive. I really want to thank Nagumo-kun.”
Towards the smiling Shizuku, Aiko was reflecting because she once again made her student worry about her, then she returned a smile.
“I see. At our reunion, he didn’t have any interest in us and this world… but he came to save Yaegashi-san and the others. Furthermore, he even protected a small child… Fufu, it is possible that some part of the past him had come back. Or should I say he is growing up as he change… he has become reliable.”
Saying so as she looked at the far distance, somehow Aiko’s cheeks were… slightly dyed in red. Shizuku was confused while thinking, Isn’t that a strange reaction for just remembering one of her student? She watched as she Aiko sometimes laughed while reminiscing, “Fufu.”
Noticing Shizuku’s gaze, Cough!, Aiko cleared her throat. However, she was unable to smooth things over, her cheeks convulsed, and she gained a bad premonition. Shizuku decided to press on. While half persuading herself that it couldn’t be possible, Shizuku said,
“… Sensei? From our talk, Sensei said he saved you from a dangerous situation, can you tell me the details?”
“Well, it was said Sensei might have died, so I want to hear how did you recovered from that…”
Shizuku recalled the special medicine that quickly healed the near-dead Meld, she thought it must be that, so she played the fool and asked Aiko. Aiko’s cheeks began to turn redder than before. Aiko’s gaze was swam around and hesitatingly, she muttered her words… it was indeed suspicious.
Like a swordsman she was, Shizuku cut to the case.
“… Sensei. Did something happened between you and… Nagumo-kun?”
” !? Th-There’s no way anything happened, you know? J-Just what are you trying to say? It was just the usual me as a teacher and him as a student!”
“Sensei. Please calm down. Your expression had turned strange.”
Aiko was truly shaken. Frantically, Aiko muttered, “I am a teacher, I am a teacher…” Aiko must have thought she was muttering in her mind, but she wasn’t. Thus, Shizuku was convinced. Although Shizuku didn’t understand in what stage it was, Aiko began to hold a special feeling towards Hajime different from the other students!
“Nagumo-kun! As a person! What did you do to Ai-chan!?”
Already, anyone could see Shizuku’s cheek was convulsing while she was thinking so. Hajime had already became a flag raiser whose level couldn’t even be compared to Kouki. Though unlike Kouki, Hajime wasn’t dense towards affections from others and he had answered to it clearly… and he must had told that to Aiko, too.
Her best friend’s rival appearing in an unexpected place made Shizuku looked at the ceiling with her hand covering her convulsing cheek. Regardless of gender, Shizuku had come to hate that side of Hajime, and a dangerous idea of seriously spreading a painful nickname had crossed her mind… which she managed to give up.
Aiko and Shizuku tried to smooth things over by repeatedly clearing their throats, then they continued their previous conversation as if nothing had happened.
“Then, Sensei. Did something happen when you reported to the king? After all, it seemed to have been a serious talk.”
Shizuku’s question made Aiko recall something and she made a bitter expression where anger and distrust mixed.
“… Officially, Nagumo-kun is branded as a heretic.”
“!? That’s—!… What do you mean? No, I somehow can guess it… but isn’t that decision a hasty one?”
Hajime was powerful. With only several people, he repulsed more than 60,000 demonic beasts while using mysterious artifacts. Hajime’s comrades also possessed unbelievable power. However, his stance was he would not cooperate with Church of the Saints and would even oppose them depending on the situation. It was true Hajime was a truly dangerous existence for the Kingdom and the Church of the Saints.
However, it was truly too hasty to brand him as a heretic so quickly. The brand of a heretic was given to those who disobeyed the teaching from Church of the Saints and became the God’s enemy, and such branding would make it legal for anyone to subjugate Hajime any time, any where. And according to the situation, even the Temple Knights and Kingdom’s army might move out.
Following that, by attacking Hajime because he was a heretic, they would receive the treatment of an enemy from Hajime, his merciless and severe attack. There was no way the King and Church people didn’t know the danger. However, Aiko said they decided it right away. There was no way Shizuku would not be surprised by that.
Shizuku had guessed up until that point, which made Aiko nod in admiration towards the unchanging fast-learner.
“It is completely as Yaegashi-san said. Moreover, no matter if he has tremendous power and not following the church, he ended up saving Ul, but they ignored my protests. Nagumo-kun had expected this situation, so he bolstered by title “Goddess of Bountiful Harvest.” Also, I heard from the bodyguards that the name “Goddess of Bountiful Harvest” and “Goddess Sword” had spread further into the other towns. So, by branding him as heretic, it is also means the church is denying “Goddess of Bountiful Harvest” who saved the people. Thus, they shouldn’t be able to easily ignore my protest, or so it should be. But those people forced the decision. They were obviously being odd… also, I recalled that other than Ishtal and church’s people, the king and other royalties’ appearances were strange…”
“… That’s troubling. Just what are they thinking… But the thing they couldn’t help and think of now is “who” they should send to the powerful Nagumo-kun, right? And that’s the point here.”
“… It is so. Perhaps…”
“Eeh. There’s only us… but I will absolutely refuse that, you know? I don’t want to die. If I become Nagumo-kun’s enemy… I don’t even want to imagine it.”
Shizuku shivered, and Aiko made a wry smile understanding what Shizuku felt.
Thus, before the Kingdom and Church told Kouki and the others to fight Hajime, Aiko decided to tell them about the things Hajime told her. About the Mad Gods and his purpose during his travels. She held no proof, so she didn’t know whether Kouki and the others would believe it. Furthermore, up until now they did their best because they believed the God would return them to their original world as long as they won the war against Demon race.
In truth, the God takes delight in people’s reaction to His doing, and the possibility of returning is extremely low. So let’s look for the dwelling of those who rebelled against the gods in the old times and look for a way to return ourselves! No one would believe it if those words were said all of a sudden. After Kouki and the others heard what she told them, whether they would see it as nonsense and continued to fight like before, or believed her and looked for another way… That was not something Aiko could predict. However, she must nail it to them not to blindly believing the Church. Aiko convinced herself to do that now.
“Yaegashi-san. Nagumo-kun knows his information is an unbelievable one and will be antagonized by Amanokawa and the others, so he said this only to me.”
“Information… is it?”
“Yes. It is about the God worshipped by the church and the objective of Nagumo and the girls’ travel. He didn’t give any proof about it… but it is a truly important information, so tonight… no, this evening, I want to tell this to everyone.”
“That’s… no, I understand. Then, should I call everyone now?”
“No, it is an information I don’t want to be known by the church’s side, so I want to tell it at a time when everyone has gathered naturally; at dinner. And we should be able to talk among ourselves if I said I want to spend time with the students I haven’t seen for a long time without any outsiders.”
“Indeed… I understood. Then, at dinner it is.”
Afterwards, a good amount of time had passed while Shizuku and Aiko chatted. However, they couldn’t have known that the promise for the dinner could not come to pass…
* * *
The time was evening.
While the sun was setting, it gave a parting gift of vivid orange color, and Aiko was walking along the empty corridor. The evening sunlight entered the corridor from the windows and drew an obvious contrast on the wall and floor at the other sides.
Aiko went towards the dining room while her gaze was captivated by the evening sun, but she immediately stopped after she felt someone’s presence. When she looked forward, she saw a woman-like figure inside the shadow. The woman walked in the middle of the corridor, and gracefully stopped her feet with a straight stature. Her clothing was the nun’s habit of Church of the Saints.
The woman was beautiful, however she spoke to Aiko with a somewhat mechanical and cold voice.
“Nice to meet you, Hatayama Aiko. I’ve come for you.”
Aiko felt a chill ran down her spine when she heard her voice, but she feigned her calmness as to not become impolite to someone she met for the first time.
“Umm, nice to meet you, too. Coming for me… you mean the dinner with the students?”
“No, your destination is the main church.”
The sentence which didn’t give her a chance to answer, made Aiko inadvertently ask her again. At that time, the woman moved out from the shadow into a place lighted by the evening sun. Seeing the woman, Aiko held her breath. Even Aiko, who was the same gender as her, was instinctively charmed by the woman’s beauty.
Her silver hair was sparkling while it was being reflected by the evening sunlight. With big, long and narrow blue eyes, and her mysterious and wonderful features that seemed to be both of an adult woman and a young girl; all of her parts were perfectly positioned. Her height was tall for a woman, around 170 centimeters, which forced Aiko to look up at her. Her white skin was as smooth as a white porcelain, her hands and feets were slender. Her breasts neither big nor small, it was a truly exquisite size if one was thinking about the balance of her entirety.
However, she was regrettably had no expression. Rather than expressionless, it was as if she wore a Noh mask. No one would doubt if it was said she was a statue — the best masterpiece by a famous sculptor. The woman possessed an inhumanely artistic beauty.
Towards Aiko, who held her breath, the woman smiled and indifferently continued her words.
“We feel the thing you are going to tell them will inconvenient us. After all, what your students will be doing now looks “interesting” to us. That’s why, until the time come, you will temporarily leave the stage.”
“Wh-What are you…”
The beautiful nun slowly approached Aiko without even making a footstep, and Aiko instinctively backed. Then, Aiko saw the nun’s blue eyes shone. Aiko felt her mind grow hazy. Immediately, she concentrated as though she was going to invoke magic, and her haziness dispersed in a snap.
“… I see. As expected, I can only disregard that you are calling yourself a “God.” For you are capable of resisting my “charm”. There’s no other way. I will just take you by force.”
“D-Don’t come! Wh-What I want—… ugh!?”
The pressure from the woman’s true character made Aiko immediately tried to activate her magic. However, faster than her finishing the chant, the nun momentarily shortened their distance and drove her fist into Aiko’s stomach. Aiko collapsed, and at the time she felt her consciousness about to be swallowed by darkness, she heard the nun’s mutter.
“Don’t worry. I won’t kill you. You are an excellent piece, and you might be useful against that irregular.”
The white-haired, eye-patched boy floated inside Aiko’s mind. Following that, while knowing it wouldn’t reach him, she shouted his name in her mind right before her consciousness completely disappeared.
* * *
The nun easily shouldered Aiko as though she was weightless, then she looked around the corridor as if she had sensed someone. For a while, the nun silently searched for something. Then, she slowly opened the guest room’s door along the corridor.
Following that, she entered the room, looked around, approached the closet without any sound of a footstep, and she forcefully opened the door. However, there was nothing inside, so the nun tilted her head and looked around once again, looking here and there. Before long, after not finding anything, she shouldered Aiko again and went outside of the room.
With silence returning into the room, a trembling murmur could be heard.
“… I must tell this… someone—”
No one was inside the room. However, retreating footsteps could be heard, and before long, the room completely regained its silence.