My eyes shot open, my heart fiercely beat in my chest, and I sucked in a deep breath in surprise.
If it weren’t for a pair of hands placed firmly on my head, I would’ve bolted upright. I could feel a slight sting on the left side of my face, presumably from Lady Kaguya’s fingernails, which had dug into my skin and drawn blood.
She had also been affected by my wild emotions, being connected to me. I started shifting my body to get up, but she continued to hold me down.
“Calm… yourself…,” Lady Kaguya said, her voice sounding a bit exhausted.
Forcing myself to lay still, Lady Kaguya released her grip before sliding her hands along the side of my head. The fabric from her robes tickled my face as she tilted my body up. Expecting to sit up at that point, I was surprised to find one arm firmly coiled around my chest as I fell back into two mounds.
“Wh-What? Lady Kaguya?!”
“Shh… a simple embrace. Nothing more.”
After several moments, her body released mine from its grasp, allowing me to turn and face her. My face must’ve been quite red as I could feel heat radiating from my cheeks.
“W-Why did you do that?” I stammered.
“After seeing all of that, isn’t it natural to want some comfort? Even I was a bit affected by the visions.” Lady Kaguya cracked a smile.
“So, you hugged me?!”
“You did calm down, did you not?”
After she pointed that out, I realized that it had, in fact, done just that. Though my heart rate was still a bit elevated, the delirium that I had awoken from was now an afterthought, allowing me to regain some bearing.
‘Still, those visions that I saw, that person that I saw, were they real?’
I had no recollection of them, and I had never questioned whether a gap existed in my memory before the time that I arrived in this world from my original one. ‘However, if what I just saw is real, then just who the heck am I?’
“It appears that you have much to resolve within yourself. Perhaps, that is what the Chancellor of your kingdom had detected. I know not what those memories mean, but I can tell that they had a grave impact on you. For those memories to be locked away in such a manner, something must have occurred to trigger that result.”
“You think those are real memories?” I grabbed her by the shoulders without thinking, looking for some sort of validation for the confusion that I was feeling.
Lady Kaguya shook her head. “I am not certain… However, memories viewed in such a manner are typically repressed, though I know not for what reason. That may not even be all that was hiding either. Only your will can resolve to face that unknown and determine if that defines you. But know this, the man in front of me is the only one that I know. Who do you wish to be?”
Lady Kaguya’s words echoed in my mind. Even if I suddenly knew about a hidden past, it wasn’t like I would suddenly become another person. That was what she was trying to tell me. Still, I couldn’t help but worry about the possibilities. Given the similarities in our powers, was ‘that’ what I would eventually become?
“Of course, if you ever feel the need for some comfort, then I could offer my body to you again.” Lady Kaguya placed a hand over her mouth, which hid an obvious smirk.
I sighed. “Now, you’re just teasing me.”
“That just shows you how positive my opinion of you is,” she said nonchalantly, getting up and walking past me towards the door.
I scratched my head and followed behind her, thinking that it really wasn’t so bad to share my experiences with her. At least, I managed to keep a lid on some of the more NSFW things.
‘This is not that kind of isekai story!’ My mind blared, hoping that I didn’t trigger some hidden flag. If I could still joke around in my mind like this, then I was probably okay.
The others were waiting outside when we came out. Immediately, I was bombarded with questions.
“Did you figure it out?”
“Was the Chancellor right?”
“Did you discover the darkness?”
I wasn’t sure what to say. I hadn’t even made sense of everything yet, so I hesitated to speak. After seemingly moving my lips like a goldfish for several moments, I finally spit out, “I need some time to think. A bit to sort things out,” before walking by them.
Lady Kaguya offered to have us stay the night before setting off the next day. It wouldn’t do to travel with such muddled feelings, so I took her up on her offer. One night would hopefully be enough to sort things out.
Currently, I was taking a soak in the baths that the residents of the castle used. After staying at the castle previously for an extended period, I had come to appreciate this kind of luxury, especially after a long day of training.
The warm water soothed my mind and body, offering a bit of comfort as I settled on the fact that my previous world was gone. Though my heart mourned for my parents and my friends, the lingering feeling of another persona secretly hiding inside was overshadowing that.
Looking around the area, which I had all to myself for the moment, I tried to push away those negative thoughts. Rather, I focused on the hot springs-like setting that would appear in the typical fanservice episode of an anime. The one difference was that the water was magically heated by mana sources. I chuckled to myself as I partially hoped for a lucky mistake to happen, which would possibly distract me from my wandering thoughts.
“Maybe I should have one of the craftsmen build something like this when I get back to Sistina…”
At this point, it would likely be an easy task for Katsys to invent. Much simpler than a portal gun or a force field around an entire town. I chuckled as I thought about how else she could break this world.
A door slid open, disconnecting me from my daydream. I ignored it though, since it was pretty normal for others to drop in for a dip at this time. The bathing arrangements were segregated by gender, so the most ‘excitement’ I would get was poking fun at Wen Zhi, who seemed much easier to mess with than his more mature brother.
‘Maybe, I should ask him about his taste in shrine maidens.’
Though I said that, I didn’t expect to see someone with dark blue hair stepping into the water and sitting next to me.
“Well, hello there.”
“GAHHH!!!! CORNELIUS! W-WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE?!” I nearly bounded out of the water, having been freaked out by her sudden appearance.
“What do you mean? The owners of this castle are under the belief that I am ‘male’.” Cornelius smirked as she stood up from the water, finding it quite hilarious as I quickly turned away. Aside from only a few people, no one knew that Cornelius was hiding her gender under a disguise.
‘Wait a second… if she is hiding her gender… then…’
I slowly peeked over in her direction. To my surprise and relief, the body that stood naked before me looked as androgynous as a toy doll. Cornelius’s ice magic had flattened her chest and covered the important parts, giving me no reason for further alarm. With a disguise this well done, it was no wonder that hardly anyone could tell. Of course, I could only compare because I had seen her naked before… A sudden chill ran down my spine.
“Speaking of which, get out of here with that magic! You’re making the water turn cold!” Though Cornelius could likely keep her disguise from melting by constantly reforming the ice, the baths couldn’t keep up with the rate the water was cooling from it.
“Oh? So, you wouldn’t mind if I dispelled it right here and now? I thought you only had eyes for Eri?”
“Argh, dammit! I can’t handle you, no matter who you are!” I grabbed the towel that I had laid near the edge of the water and started to get out.
“Wait. I came in here to have a little chat.” Cornelius’s tone shifted to a more serious one. “If you would rather I hide behind that rock before dispelling it, then so be it.” Her eyes drifted off to one corner.
“Fine. But no more tricks. I’ve got a lot on my mind.”
“I can gather that based on what the Oracle of this country has hinted,” Cornelius said as she waded over to the rock and out of sight. Moments later, I heard a splash as if a sheet of ice had slid into the water. “Now tell me, just what did you see that has you worried? Am I right to believe that IT IS something that the Chancellor could exploit within you?”
Gradually, I told her about the last parts of my vision – about the apparent destruction of my world, my other self, and the raging emotions of negativity that I felt from him. Throughout all this, Cornelius hardly said a word.
“I’m just afraid, afraid that-“
“You will become just like that?” Cornelius finished my statement for me.
I sat there in silence nodding. Even though she couldn’t see me from the other side of the rock, the moment of silence spoke clearly of that confirmation.
“Claude, what did you think when you first saw me as a girl?”
“Um… quite frankly, I dropped you back in the water in surprise.”
“… Oh, did you now?” The air grew a bit chilly at that moment, but then it went away almost as quickly as it came. “I meant after that. I couldn’t have made it to a bed all by myself.”
“Well, yeah. I didn’t have any choice but to carry you… after grabbing a spare outfit from my Item Box.”
“And why did you do that?”
I cocked my head in confusion at that question. ‘What does she mean by that?’ Seeing that I couldn’t answer, Cornelius continued.
“I had just attacked you for the sake of bringing you back to Sistina, and then, you found out that I’ve deceived you all this time. Why care for me after all that?”
“Cause… you’re Corny?” Moments later, I felt a stinging pain on the top of my head. A palm-sized ball of ice landed on me before bouncing off and splashing into the water.
“Nicknames aside, you still bothered to treat me as a friend, rather than an enemy.” A slightly irritated tone could be heard from her.
I rubbed the sore spot on my head as I responded. “I figured that you must’ve had some reason for it. Sure, I was mad, but not like I would lose trust in you so quickly.”
Hearing that, Cornelius knew exactly how to respond. “I see. Then, I shall have faith in you.”
“I shall have faith that you will not become the demon that you are so afraid of. That you will be able to control the whims of those powers that you possess,” Cornelius repeated more clearly.
“And… you’re so sure of that, why? I mean, I don’t really have any confidence.” After all, I had just seen my previous world destroyed. The emotions that I felt were real. The sorrow and despair that I felt from the aftermath were like my own. I didn’t know if I had the strength to survive the darkness once again if the Chancellor had some way to exploit those feelings locked within me.
“Then, we’ll just have to make up for it in your stead. I, and Princess Katalina, and the people of this country who now look up to the one referred to as the ‘Star Shooter’. Eri, the magic knights, and the people of Sistina, who called you ‘Demon Cleaver’ – we’ll lift you out of the darkness with our power. We won’t give you time to dwell on the bad things. What do you think of that, Sir Claude?”
“I think that’s very like you. Corny – just like my name for you.” Though I threw a joke back at her, Cornelius’s statement had erased my doubts.
‘That’s right. I couldn’t have gotten far without everyone’s help. What am I doing worrying about everything myself? They’ve stuck with me this far, right?’
“Everything will be ‘daijoubu’…,” I muttered to myself smiling. We’ll figure out some way forward.
Suddenly, a thought hit me.
“Hey Cornelius, don’t tell me that Eryn rejected you because she knew you were a girl…”
An awkward pause happened for a bit longer than I expected.
“I… never… actually told her…”
“She doesn’t know?”
“AHAHAHAHAHA!!!” I jumped out of the baths holding a towel around me with one hand as I ran to the changing room. “Oh my God! I have dirt on Cornelius!”
“Don’t you dare!” She leapt out from behind the rock and started firing bolts of ice at me.
“You can’t catch me!” I yelled back as I sliced the ice into harmless shards with my free hand. Making it to the entrance, I slid the door open and retreated to safety, leaving a shocked Cornelius slowly freezing over the bath in annoyance.
If moments like these continued to happen, then I would be ready to face whatever came my way.