Later that afternoon, Cornelius, Lau, Katsys and I arrived at Yakuman Castle, where a surprised Lady Kaguya and her two guardians greeted us in the audience room. Ludmila and the younger ones wanted to come along also, but we promised that we’d return the next day. Frankly, I was still a bit worried about the speedy girl, because she had injured herself heavily in battle two weeks ago. Though her wounds had healed quickly due to some high-class potions, I was still a bit worried that she had over-extended herself.
“Oh? Back already? It’s only been a day! Missed me so soon?” Lady Kaguya smiled jokingly at our group. She had already been informed that we had returned for some questions. When her other retainers weren’t around, she behaved less formally around us ever since her rescue. I took it as a sign that we had earned her trust.
On the other hand, I felt a piercing glare from Wen Lu and Wen Zhi. ‘Chill out guys, I already have a master of my own to worry about,’ I thought as I reflexively backed away.
Her eyes darted to the unfamiliar face in our party, a blue-haired bishounen who was wearing a new set of armor that had just been purchased before coming here.
“And who might this be?” Lady Kaguya asked.
“Cornelius von Reichenstein, at your service,” the ‘guy’ promptly said with a bow.
Cornelius was back to her ‘male’ disguise, feeling rather uncomfortable going outside without it. It didn’t seem like anyone around us really noticed that she was hiding her gender, as no one seemed to have given her any strange looks. Honestly, even after knowing that Cornelius was female, her disguise simply confused me all over again. How it messed with my mind was a testament to how well the disguise did its job.
In my mind, I vigorously chanted, ‘Cornelius is a guy. Cornelius is a corny guy. A corny, rich guy,’ repeatedly so that I could prevent myself from letting her secret slip. All I had to do was to treat ‘him’ the same as I always had.
After ‘his’ greeting, Cornelius proceeded to tell Lady Kaguya what ‘he’ had revealed to us already, namely the fact that the Chancellor was indeed the demon who attacked Sanshiro long ago, and that he was now after me, who was believed to be susceptible to demonification.
“That’s… a bit surprising to hear.” Lady Kaguya glanced over to me. “Though I have only known Knight Claude for a short time, I have seen nothing that would indicate that would be the case. Typically, those that undergo demonification possess strongly negative feelings that would hasten the process. That is why our teachings tell us to exhibit control of one’s emotions and discipline of the mind, both of which seem evident by his mannerisms.”
Cornelius’s mouth hung open for a bit. “Truly, Sir Claude appears to be an easygoing fellow… but I can’t help but worry about what the Chancellor-, that demon has said.”
Lady Kaguya rose from her throne and walked over to me slowly. It seemed like she was staring right through me, trying to figure out if I had been deceiving her.
“Knight Claude, you have said that you came from a normal family. A world where the majority of people live comfortably and free from the perils of dangerous beings.”
“Well, there’s certainly no magic and monsters and such roaming around. It would be pretty safe by the standards of this world.”
“Then, do you truly not have any worries deep within? Some dark past, some unspeakable secret that would taint your soul in darkness?” Kaguya’s hand gently rubbed the side of my face.
Reflecting on my past for a moment, I searched and searched my thoughts for anything. Ever since I had arrived in this world, it seemed like everything bad that had happened to me in my previous world had been relatively minor in comparison. The missed opportunities and disappointments had been none other than a lack of will and dedication on my part. Perhaps, I had just been missing the motivation to move forward, and my arrival here had given me just that.
“None that I can think of. I’m pretty content with my life right now,” I finally said.
Lady Kaguya stared into my eyes for a moment. “You… are not lying it seems… but something… something seems to be off… The mind is clear, but the core wails…”
“My core… is wailing? How could that be?” I stepped back to break away from her gaze. Now, I was starting to get worried.
“I am lost as well, Lady Kaguya. What do you mean by that?” Katsys added. It seemed like everyone was drawn to the claims that she had just made.
Wen Lu’s voice drew our focus away from her. “Your memories. How intact are they? I believe that is what Master is alluding to. There are times that Electi are summoned without full details of their past, only to recall them later as certain experiences trigger them.”
I scratched my head. “That’s weird. I seem to remember most of my past. That’s where I get most of my ideas from to begin with.”
“We are not saying that you will lose all memory, but that ‘certain’ memories may have been locked,” Lady Kaguya added.
“That, we do not know. However, there is one thing that can be done. As this country’s Oracle, I can speak to the Gods and try to see into your past through their eyes. Would you be willing to entrust that task to me?”
I stared at Lady Kaguya dumbly. On one hand, it would give me peace of mind to know if I had forgotten anything important. On the other hand, it felt rather unsettling to let someone else peek into the strange thoughts that I had about everything. Especially, since my mind was still likely tainted by the ‘culture’ of my previous world. The last thing that I wanted to reveal was my subconscious caricatures of everyone around me.
“Ah… well…. that’s…”
“Just go ahead and do it,” the Sunny twins said, pretty much in sync.
I looked over to them, only to find that the life had slightly died from their eyes. It was almost like they had gone through the same thing and wanted someone else to feel the pain.
“Ohoho, I won’t hold anything I see against you… as long as we’re on friendly terms.” Lady Kaguya grinned innocently. However, her gaze struck me as anything but that.
I started backing away but Lau gripped my shoulder firmly. “Now, now, we simply must find out why the demon is interested in you…. Isn’t that right, Princess?”
I turned to Katsys in panic, but a look of curiosity was plastered on her expression. “Yes! There are no drawbacks to possessing more knowledge!”
It looked like I had no true allies for the preservation of my own secrets.
Not long afterwards, I was dragged- err, escorted to a large tower near the top of the castle. It stood high above the rest of the castle structure, seemingly touching the heavens.
“Please wait here, everyone. Communing with the Gods is a sacred ritual. Only those involved can pass through here. However, the actual process shouldn’t take too long, so we’ll return within the hour.”
Lady Kaguya grabbed my hand and pulled me through the door. Inside was an empty circular platform that was surrounded by a ring of water. The door closed behind me, and apparently, the Sunny twins positioned themselves in front of it on the other side. Though there was no need to guard the door among friends, it was for the sake of formality.
Lady Kaguya and I walked on a stone bridge leading to the central platform, where the sunlight beamed down from the open ceiling. The ambiance made it really seem like we were about to talk to the Gods. However, how would the Oracle go about doing that in the first place? I was intrigued.
Lady Kaguya simply walked over to the middle and sat down in a ‘seiza’ position. She neatly stretched out the fabric of her robe across her thighs before looking up and motioning for me to join her.
“Lay down in front of me. With your head here.” She pointed to her legs.
Unsure of what exactly she meant by that, I decided to play it safe and lay down on my back… with my head in front of her knees.
“No, silly. Head in lap.” Kaguya grinned at my slow, drawn out movements that revealed my unnecessary caution.
Before I could get up, she lifted my head with her hands and scooted forward. I felt a softness envelop the back of my head as it fit into the groove between her thighs. For the sake of keeping calm, I started envisioning shiitake and grapefruit dancing in my head to counteract the allure of the thigh gap.
‘Get ahold of yourself, Claude. This is just part of the ritual…’
Just as my heart started beating slower, a soft voice sounded above me and echoed around the room.
“Divine Gods, I call upon you in search of your guidance. I, Oracle of the Mitsubishi clan, make a humble request as your follower. Grant me the divine sight to peer into your servant’s inner self. Give us your blessing so that we may seek the truth that lies hidden within him. For he may be the key to the safety and prosperity of this world. Oh, heavenly beings, I ask you again. Please lend me your power.”
After speaking those words, a beautiful chant followed as Lady Kaguya placed her hands over my eyes. I couldn’t make out any of the words as they seemed like a foreign language. However, the voice behind it was beautiful. So drawn into the melody of mysterious words, that I didn’t notice that I was quickly becoming drowsy. Wrapped in Lady Kaguya’s lovely singing, my body slowly felt like it was melting into her.
Gradually, her presence seemed to overlap with mine. I could no longer feel her body against my head. At some point, her voice started sounding like it reverberated from inside me.
I was her, and she was me. The line that separated the both of us had been blurred.
With that, the ritual preparations were complete.
Our collective consciousness stared out into the open space, where we floated in a white haze. There was endless white that obscured everything around us.
“Who are you?” A voice, likely Lady Kaguya’s, called out from within me.
As if responding automatically to that question, the white scenery started to shift. Immediately, brief scenes of my time in this world appeared. Starting from when I was summoned, Lady Kaguya and I watched as my mind played the important moments in this world before me.
“So… that is your master?” Lady Kaguya noted as several fond memories of Eryn popped up.
A wave of nostalgia swept over me as I realized how much I missed seeing her. I had hoped for her safety while I was away, but I knew that she could take care of herself. But now, Cornelius claimed that the Chancellor had set his sights on me. I wanted to head back before Eryn was dragged into his schemes once again.
“From the way you feel, you have a strong connection with her, similar to mine with Wen Lu and Wen Zhi.”
Lady Kaguya could feel the various emotions coming from me as we were connected. As the images played out, she understood better how I had ended up in Sanshiro. However, that wasn’t what she was looking for.
“No… this doesn’t fall outside my expectations. There must be something else… Who are you truly?… Before all of this… Your core beliefs are rooted in your upbringing. That may be where your secret lies.”
As if my mind started to change gears, the current images abruptly stopped. After a few moments of blurry white space, a distinct stretch of buildings that were unlike anything in this world came into focus. Structures of metal and glass stood tall and proud in the distance. Large vehicles moved by themselves along the ground, as if propelled by magic. The bustle and clamors of many people littered the area all around us.
We took a moment to soak in the distinctly foreign scenery, unlike anything that existed in the world we came from. At least, it was foreign considering where I had been stuck at for nearly two years. But once I could distinguish the surroundings, a bittersweet feeling struck me. I felt imaginary tears start brimming in my eyes as I wanted to look away.
My body gently floated down until my toes touched the ground. The feeling of pavement was both nostalgic and unfamiliar at the same time.
I was home. The home of my previous world, before I had been summoned here. The sights and sounds of things that I once took for granted were vividly in front of me. Though I realized that this was all in my mind, it didn’t matter.
“Please… just give me a moment to let it all sink in… just a moment.”
I felt Lady Kaguya wordlessly nod.