I instinctively tensed up as the familiar energies of the ritual enveloped me. What had happened to Lamps when a deity arrived to take over him was the last thing I wanted to recall. I felt the urge to yell out to Lady Kaguya, as I wondered how much she knew about the disaster, but I felt a tight grip upon my wrist instead.
Looking to the side, Katalina shot me a gaze that was full of confidence. While we were getting ready to travel to Sanshiro, I conveyed to her the events during my disappearance, from the Godfall ritual to the isolated space where Eryn had imprisoned me. In particular, she was quite entranced by the ritual, leaving my side briefly after the gears in her head figuratively whirred during the conversation.
“Don’t worry. I confirmed with Lady Kaguya ahead of time. This is not what you refer to as ‘Godfall’, the practice of forcibly puling a deity down to inhabit one’s body. Rather, we are seeking the deities’ council, the proper way.”
Katalina held onto my arm, further reassuring me that this ritual would be fine. Something that hadn’t been distorted and used as an exploit instead.
According to Lady Kaguya, there were different ways of contacting the Gods. Electi typically went on a journey of growth and discovery after their summon. That was the normal course of their duties. And during that time, the Gods that bestowed powers upon them would periodically show up to test and guide them.
That seemed much like the visions that I occasionally had. Whenever I struggled, another side of me seemed to come out and knock back some sense into me. Perhaps, that was just another one of those ‘tests’. Without knowing it, I was likely being guided by the god that gave me my Critical stat.
How funny that I didn’t think about how this all worked, despite being so used to isekai hero summons and whatnot. It likely didn’t cross my mind with all the other peculiarities in regard to my situation.
Looking back at the dual oracles singing their ballad, I did notice that the buildup of mana was completely different than what had happened in Purnesia. Back then, a murkiness filled the air. That was quite the contrast to the crisp, clean mana that permeated my body here. Oracles were another way of contacting the Gods, when summoned heroes felt like they had lost their way.
Finally, the singing came to a close. Lady Kaguya and Chrys looked back toward us, the room now filled with a glow that was so bright that the surroundings were washed white from it. Yet, the brightness somehow didn’t hurt my eyes but was gentle and soothing instead.
“Yes, this ritual is indeed the original form that has been passed down throughout the ages. Not the imitation that people created through convenience. When I first heard about it being used from your Queen, I couldn’t believe my ears. To have something of the light cast a shadow upon this world instead.”
Godfall, as Lady Kaguya had mentioned, was a perversion of the original ritual, using an overflowing source of mana to drag a deity down to this world. The fact that it scavenged the mana emitted from a large-scale battle was quite foolish in itself. Since this process was contrary to the way of the Gods, it caused a flood of darkness to release as a result. Energies that went against the will of this world thus became known as ‘miasma’.
With mana as the base energy of this world, it could either turn pure white or murky purple, depending on the decision to accept or reject the way of the Gods.
“That is why one must temper ourselves. Enforce our minds, steel our wills, and maintain a sense of duty. The Electi are not people given power lightly. They influence the very world. They have a responsibility to walk the correct path. And for those that are led astray, they are punished by the darkness.”
Lady Kaguya’s words made me recall various times when I felt lost. The darkness flared within me the most at those moments. The bitterness and helplessness fueled me with a wicked strength.
“But then, what of our Electi abilities? Our powers that flirt with this darkness?” I asked her.
“These abilities that you speak of are part of yourself, unlocked in a time of need and entrusted to your own self. But Claude, even if you gain such powers, who is the one controlling how they are used?”
“Me, of course.”
“So it is through your own beliefs that you choose to walk with the Gods or reject them, right? That is why I have brought you here and am performing this ritual. It is time to test you, Claude. To understand what it is that you truly want and whether that aligns with this world’s wishes.”
Putting it like that, I suddenly felt rather nervous. I didn’t like tests. I especially didn’t like being judged. Never had.
Thoughts of all the ‘mediocre’ assessments that I experienced throughout my school years were still present in my mind. But during my time in this world as an Electi, I gained an appreciation for what ‘I’ could do. Different from the blanket evaluations that everyone was subjected to, there were achievements that only I could accomplish. Ways where I was unique.
But even with that positive feedback, I could never get used to the fact of being judged by someone, especially some deity that had ambiguous standards that were never made clear to me. How often I easily drifted into the darkness was proof of that. I secretly feared that I would be the same as Eryn, cursed by the Gods because I was incompatible.
“Why are you worried, Big Brother?” Chrys stepped up to me and clasped my other hand. “You always worry, whenever things get slightly out of hand. And even when you don’t worry, you jump headlong into action for the sake of others. That sounds pretty heroic to me….”
“I believe in you, Claude. Always and forever. How can I not? You’ve given me so much with your presence. And that goes the same for the others. Especially Ludmila and Saki out there. They look up to you. Their ascendance came from being nurtured by your feelings. You simply cannot be any different based on this correlation.”
I sighed. Katalina knew how to put my worries to rest through sheer facts. That was one thing that always left me reeling, but in a good way. It was the common sense that I needed to push away years of self-doubt and perceived mediocrity.
“Thanks, Katalina. And you too, Chrys. Maybe, I can handle talking to a god for real now. That other voice that I sometimes hear is probably him anyways, isn’t it? Oh man… I probably shouldn’t have been so harsh on him, now that I realize…”
All those times that I yelled and flicked him away for suggesting random, dumb things… ‘Were they all him too?! Did a deity really want to push me into the harem route of all things?!’
Lady Kaguya’s voice tore me away from that strange question.
“You won’t be going in alone. As I mentioned before, someone you trust is allowed to bear witness to your trials. Normally, that someone is the Electi’s Master… but that’s not always the case.”
I turned to Katalina, who gave me a nod full of giddiness. She was raring to see what was in my mind. I was half regretting it already, knowing that if she saw something truly otherworldly, there would be no stopping her from inventing it.
“You know what? I feel silly confronting the Gods now. If anything, they should be afraid of Katalina’s capabilities instead. Watch her harness the Gods’ powers in an even better way than Godfall!”
She lightly whacked me on the side of the head for that comment.
“Even I respect certain boundaries, you know! It’s not like I can pull out my analysis tools on mental images even!”
“Ah, that’s true…But when has that ever stopped you?”
Lady Kaguya shook her head with impatience, reaching over and touching both of our foreheads. As soon as that happened, everything started fading to white. A silence blanketed our surroundings as I could no longer feel anything around me.
After what seemed like only moments had passed in that whiteness, the background and objects all around turned into masses of shapes. The blur of colors sharpened and turned into pictures. Words came into focus as it seemed like we had been transported somewhere completely different. Foreign even.
By foreign, I meant the very appearance of bookshelves, furniture and electronics strewn about. The aesthetic of modern society was almost unnerving now that I had spent over two years elsewhere. But it was a sight that I would never forget.
I walked right up to a line of books and pulled out one, a manga of the last series I bought before heading off to college. Skimming through the pages, they were exactly how I remembered them. My eyes darted around the room, tidy like everything had been recently put in place. The only time that happened was…
“When I left for college…”
This was my room at my parent’s house. Just like how I left it long ago. Tears came to my eyes, and instantly, I moved for the door to search elsewhere, nearly bumping into a frozen Katalina. She simply stood in awe as she tried to take in this environment of wondrous unknowns. Anime and video game trinkets were probably not the best way to ease her into my home world. But that mattered little as she literally looked like a child experiencing a brand-new toy store. It felt rude to ignore her during this culture shock, but the desire to check the rest of the house took precedent.
I flung open the door and dashed out of my room.
“Mom! Dad! Are you here?”
As I barreled through the hallway, there was no answer.
As I checked the empty living room and the kitchen, I took note that it was the middle of the day. They were likely at work, my dad being a chef and my mom being an Eastern doctor. But even knowing that they could simply be elsewhere, the surroundings felt a bit too uninhabited.
There were no dishes in the sink, nor any traces of messes upon the counters or tabletops. The chairs and furniture were perfectly lined up, and the pillows were placed in a conspicuously neat arrangement, like a model house to present to visitors.
Quite simply, there were no signs of the house being lived in recently. It felt odd, unsettling even. I felt a hand on my shoulder, knowing instantly that it was Katalina.
“Mom and Dad always pat my head when coming up from behind…”
I turned to her with a look of disappointment, to which she responded with a hug.
“This is just your mind, Claude. Mental projections to serve as a medium to meet with the Gods. Even if they were here, it would only be a figment of your imagination. Let’s do what we came here for.”
I sighed as I hugged her back. It wouldn’t do to let nostalgia sweep over me. But still, how were we supposed to find that God for the trials? It seemed like he would just show up whenever I arrived in dreamland-
“Smart and caring lady friend you have there, Claude.”
The two of us jumped as another voice, same as my own, called out from the sofa in the living room. We both looked over to find a ‘Claude’ in the casual clothing of my home world sitting there, looking quite relaxed.
“You’ve figured it all out it seems. That little voice in your head. That was me. Pushing you on, giving you tips on how to stay on good graces with me, I was like a little guide on how to handle being isekaied.”
‘Claude’ rose from the seat and walked over to us.
“I guess it’s time to drop the act and simply tell you this. Yes, it was I that sent you to the other world. And now, you’ve come all this way to ask for my help again. Looking straight for the answers when you come up short. Haven’t changed one bit on that point, my summoned Electi of Critical.”
I moved away from Katalina and approached him.
“There are plenty of questions I have for you, but only one of them matters at this point. Am I able to overcome my darkness and ascend?”
‘Claude’ smirked at me, like it was an obvious question.
“Of course. I picked you, right? Being picked in itself already suggests that you have the ability to do so. But… whether you have the will for it to actually happen, that is another matter entirely.”
“What do I need to do then? Hasn’t enough crap happened to me that I overcame? I know this seems like I’m embellishing myself, but what more do I need to gain your favor?”
My experiences so far flashed in my mind. I had learned to accept myself and gained the trust of many. Together with them, we saved a nation, defeated a Demon once, and prevailed in a ridiculous war. If all that I had gained wasn’t enough to become an ‘ascended’, then what else was left?
‘Claude’ crinkled his nose at me. “Accomplishments are just that. Things that one does. Results of actions based on one’s feelings. Tell me. For what reason do you need this power? Who do you wield it for?”
That seemed obvious. I didn’t hesitate to respond.
“For Eryn, of course! I can’t stand to see her body taken over by the Demon and turned into something that hurts the very image I have of her. If only the Demon weren’t around, we would have been happy together! It’s all its fault that things have become so messed up that I don’t have a choice but to walk a different path to bring an end to it! To kill the Demon inhabiting her!”
For some reason, that made ‘Claude’ chuckle. “Happy, you say? You’ve always been one to fear conflict. But let me ask you this, ‘What was your life before all of this conflict?’ I’m sure you remember clearly as you gaze around this room.”
My words were caught in my throat as I realized his counterpoint. Before being an Electi, my conflicts were very minor. But still, I ignored them and swept them under a rug, hoping that they would just leave me alone if I didn’t try.
Each and every time, I went for the easy way out. The path of least resistance. I relied on what could get me from point A to point B with the least amount of effort. Using whatever I was good at to make do, unless I was specifically forced into doing otherwise. In the absence of turmoil, I had chosen to squander my talents, and any opportunities that came from them.
“See… you realize that you’re doing it again. Putting the blame on something that’s easy to pin. And Eryn knew that best about you. After all, she was connected to you, right up to her death and demonification. Those strong emotions that you have rubbed off on her. Just like how her bravery has made its way into your own actions. Those times where you felt emboldened to act… her strong feelings gave you that push.”
I couldn’t deny that. It had always felt a little strange why I didn’t simply retreat into mediocrity like usual. To think that being connected to Eryn influenced me to such a capacity.
“Now, tell me, Claude. Do you want the easy way out this time too? Or is there something else that you really want? Even if it’s next to impossible to achieve.”
I clenched my fist, knowing exactly what he meant. I knew it all along, but my heart kept wanting to give up on it. To make excuses that were ‘reasonable’. Somehow, I thought that things would still be okay since I had the others with me. But that was betraying what I really wanted.
“I… I want to save Eryn. I want to bring her back somehow. I want her to be happy, even if that somehow changes the world we live in. If I could grant it somehow without sacrificing those around us, then I just want her back!”
‘Claude’ pointed at me dramatically in a pose. “That! That is what I want to hear!” With a clap of his hands, he moved toward the window and beckoned for us to come over. “Well, how about we take a look at the ‘real you’. Come here and watch it with me. The god who summoned you will reveal all.”
“Seeing as you claim to be a god, I’m a bit skeptical since I was supposed to meet with a ‘goddess’ according to some prophecy. Watch what?”
“Pfft, as if genders really mean much to us anyways. But forget that, you will see what it means to be an Electi. To be a you that knows no limits.”
Suddenly, the house shook from the impact of something exploding far away. From where we looked out the window, a white dome of light rapidly grew, engulfing everything in its path. In mere moments, that explosion overtook where we stood, taking us all to a new place. Another world of possibility.