With the barrier guarded for the moment and the rest of the demon army occupied, Katalina and I made our way to the castle. The city buzzed with activity as people made last-minute adjustments before diving straight into battle. A good number of clans made their home in Yakuman, but it still required time to round them up and deploy their forces.
Lines of clan members clinked in their armor with weapons held high as they filled the streets. They were ready to demonstrate the pride of their training, clans formed for the very sake of repelling demonized entities.
Among them, I noticed a batch of people running about who were obviously not warriors. Rather, they shuffled between the various clans pushing around metal carts. Like a busy restaurant serving ‘dim sum’, they made their rounds while passing out small dishes of food to the combatants.
I smirked as I acknowledged them with a wave. Seeing me, they cheered while yelling out the name, ‘Star Shooter’.
These people were members of a different type of clan. Rather than combat, they focused on buffs that were generated through mana-infused cooking. Apparently, my influences had taken a solid foothold here, giving humans more of a fighting chance against the beefed-up stats of demonkind.
“That is the kind of impact you have on the world, Claude. Don’t you forget it. That is why I believe that you are the key to getting us through everything. If Miss Eryn could only see the good that is in this world, that not everything is dictated by power, then…”
“I get it, Katalina. Thanks, but I’m just not sure that it’s really her in there anymore. That Demon may have her memories and act like her, but in the end, maybe I just have to face the fact that Eryn is really gone.”
We continued forward, finally reaching the front of the castle. There, a large squad was about to move out, and at the head of it, Wen Lu had his hand over his chin like he was forming a strategy. A lady wearing a sun and moon robe stood a few paces behind him, looking left and right with a hint of worry on her brow. Her hands were clasped together, almost in prayer.
But then, she spotted the two of us and immediately called out.
“Sir Claude! Queen of Sistina! I’ve been waiting for you!”
“Expecting us? What for?” I replied.
“I had a feeling that you would. Especially with all that has happened. My dreams have been ever so clear as of late. Do you not recall the prophecy that I gave some time ago?”
That felt like such a distant past, but in actuality, it had only been a little more than half a year since I left Sanshiro and returned back to Sistina. So many things have happened since then…
I recalled that Lady Kaguya had spoken of a prophecy that hung around my shoulders. It spoke of a demon causing catastrophe, which we had thankfully averted. I had pretty much forgotten most of it since the events were solved, but maybe… it really hadn’t…
Lady Kaguya poked me in the chest, feeling that I needed a refresher.
“Well, there are still parts of it that echo in my mind, Sir Claude. Particularly, this part.
Let not your companions be consumed, lest the inner flame drive you to oblivion. Lost ones – seek the goddess and open thine eyes to truth.
Putting the rest aside… does that not feel much like your current situation?”
Certainly, that seemed to be the case. In the chaos of war, I had lost Eryn and Cornelius. A madness seemed to spew from me, and only with help from the others did my senses return.
But I could hardly say that I was fully cured. The miasma persisted within me. I had to physically carve my way through the holy barrier that kept demons out. So in the eyes of Lady Kaguya, I was still one of the ‘Lost Ones’.
“That is exactly why we have come to seek your counsel.” Katalina spoke up. “Miss Saki and Miss Ludmila have undergone a change. Perhaps, what they experienced, what they saw, was that ‘truth’ in the prophecy. I cannot think that it is a mere coincidence.”
“Still, what ‘truth’ am I supposed to face? I have no clue. I don’t have a tragic past. Not like Ludmila. Not like Saki. The regrets that I have seem superficial. The struggles that I’ve faced only started when I came to this world. What then do I need to open my eyes to? What do I need to change about myself?!”
Knowing the past of the two that I saw ‘ascend’, it made me wonder what about myself had been so unique in the first place. I was just a normal college student with a knack for cooking and an overly-imaginative mind. Surely, the Gods didn’t pick me for that reason…
“Everyone has struggles hidden deep within. And merits as well. Sometimes, it may not be apparent to us. But we learn and change all the same.”
We turned toward the new voice. I immediately saw a young girl with long, elven ears, also wearing a fancy priestess robe. But upon the two sides of the front, fancy calligraphy of the kanji for fortune and luck were sewn.
“Chrys… you’re looking well,” I replied.
“Yes, the training here has given me quite much to reflect upon.” Chrys bowed once before shooting us a hearty smile. “As I possess similar powers as the Oracle, my ability to connect with the Gods is quite valuable.”
As she spoke, a white glow exuded from her, very much like it had from Ludmila and Saki. Katalina and I gasped in surprise as it came from her core as well.
“Y-You too?” we both asked.
“Yes. And the Sun brothers as well. The three of us have accepted ourselves fully, and that appears to be the secret to connecting to the Gods as Electi, who are their servants.”
After Lady Kaguya nodded toward Wen Lu, who had finished the preparations to sortie, he focused for a moment until a white glow also came from his core. It seemed like the number of ‘Ascended Electi’ were on the rise.
“Hmm, our mutual love for our Master has shown us the way. Just like how us siblings are inseparable as twins, our mutual acceptance of Lady Kaguya is the best for all parties.”
Wen Lu held up his left fist, where a simple ring was on his finger. Our eyes shot back at Lady Kaguya, who was now fidgeting nervously with lightly-flushed cheeks. The two hands gripping the front of her robe each had a simple ring upon the ring fingers.
Katalina and I gawked in surprise. To imagine that the Oracle would settle down and marry both of the Sunny boys… that was outside of our expectations. Regardless, that was a big change for them. Perhaps, that acceptance could have led to their newfound abilities.
Wen Zhi’s physical invulnerability with ‘Total Rebound’.
Wen Lu’s magical invulnerability with ‘Absolute Reflection’.
Even against demons, the two of them now possessed divine skills that helped them overcome. Even in a battle such as this, they wouldn’t go down easily. And it seemed like Lady Kaguya had confidence in them as well. I couldn’t help but wonder if things would have been different for Eryn and me if I had only accepted her earlier.
But for now, all we could do was smile and wish the bashful girl a wonderful future.
“Well… I needed to marry to truly claim the throne of Sanshiro. This country has been without a real head for some time, so…”
Seeing Lady Kaguya so flustered was a rare occasion in and of itself. Perhaps realizing that, she hastily tried to divert our attention.
“Umm, you can congratulate me later!” she yelled. As she saw her Electi moving out, she called out to him. “Wen Lu, please take care of yourself out there!”
“Of course, my Master! Nothing will penetrate our defenses! You should know by now how unbreakable we both are.” With a smile, he dashed off to join in the fighting. There was probably nothing to worry about, as he was the less headstrong and more cautious of the two.
Wen Zhi had apparently dashed off at the first sign of trouble to protect the barrier with sheer might, instead of waiting for the proper defensive measures to be put in place. Well, at least he didn’t charge ahead like Lau apparently did…
“While it seems like there is much to catch up on, that is a matter for another time. Please, come forward. We must hurry and fulfill what is needed of the prophecy!”
Lady Kaguya and Chrys beckoned the two of us to follow them inside.
A while later, we were all standing inside the large tower that was at the top of the castle. This familiar location was where Lady Kaguya delved inside of my mind. I scratched my head in wonder as to why we were all allowed to enter. It had been mentioned previously that only the ones involved should attend.
I looked over at Katalina who also gave off a similar tilt of the head in puzzlement. As if picking up on our silent inquiry, Lady Kaguya spoke up.
“As you may remember, traveling through your mind took a rather… toll on me. I dare to say that it was a rather intimate moment.” The Oracle giggled while covering her mouth with one hand as Katalina shot me a sharp glare. “Rather than someone promised to another, I think it would be better to have one close to you, to serve as your guiding light during the ritual. A loved one that wouldn’t mind comforting you afterward.”
I immediately recalled how Lady Kaguya acted right after the last time. Her gentle embrace made me a bit flustered. Katalina and I looked at each other for a moment before turning away bashfully. At this point, she was, no doubt, the one I was closest to. If anyone was going to see all my faults, then Katalina would be the most trustworthy of them all.
I felt my hand being clasped. Looking back, I could see Katalina’s green eyes shining brightly. The look of curiosity that came from her undying thirst for knowledge was absent for once. In place of it, a soft gaze of worry penetrated my body. I knew that she would do anything for me. No secret past that I knew not of would shake the resolve she had in me.
“Guess there’s no way around it. I did promise that you could take a peek at my mind whenever you asked… just don’t go overboard in recreating what you happen to see, okay?”
Katalina nodded. “I would never craft anything too outrageous… unless I receive your permission.” She ended that last point with a mischievous smile.
“The world is so doomed with the both of us,” I joked.
Hand-in-hand, the two of us walked up to the center, where the sunlight fell from the open ceiling. The sounds of battle outside of the city were inaudible within these walls. With that, Lady Kaguya and Chrys moved into place on either side of us.
“Huh? Chrys is helping with the ritual too?”
Lady Kaguya nodded.
“This is not the same ritual as what was used previously when I simply delved into your mind with the aid of the Gods. Since we require assistance from them directly to aid in your transformation, there is no choice but to use both of our powers to call one down.”
My body froze at that moment.
“C-Call one down?” I asked nervously. I didn’t like the sound of that.
“Why yes, to judge whether you are deserving of the divine gift, like the others, the assistance of a deity is necessary. But since your actions have not brought one to you, we have no choice but to reach out to them instead.”
Lady Kaguya and Chrys began to sing, filling the room with a bright, white energy. I looked around, seeing that the inner walls of the tower started to glow as well. The ambiance in the room felt so familiar, so much so that it reminded me of another case that I had experienced not long ago.
But this time, the focus of the energy was funneled upon Katalina and me. I could feel the warmth of the glow permeating into my core.
Subconsciously, my grip on Katalina’s hands tightened as I expected what was coming.
The two priestesses of Sanshiro were invoking ‘Godfall’.