Part 23: How have I managed to survive being twisted around your fingers for so long?...I'm so sorry, Kevin...
...I failed as your mother...
...but I'm so tired...I'm so, so tired...
...At least this way...
...At least this way, the two of us can...
-Cradle Where Feelings Rest-
Kevin: *pant*...*pant*... ... That dream again? Ugh... How long is it going to take before it goes away? It had to happen on Rufina's big day, too... I was hoping I'd be able to stop worrying her when I got older, but at this rate...
Ries: I'm sure she's plenty used to you worrying her already.
Kevin: O-Oh, it's you, Ries... Don't scare me like that! How long have you been in here?
Ries: For a while. We're supposed to be cleaning the chapel today, but you weren't getting up, so I came to check on you. You seemed to be having a nightmare, though, so I thought I'd wake you.
Kevin: O-Oh. Okay... Haha. Sorry, Ries. I was being a pain for you again, wasn't I?
Ries: No more than usual. You've been a loser since the day I met you. I don't expect that to change any time soon.
Kevin: Ouch... Kick a guy while he's down, why don'cha? Well, whatever. We don't want to be late for breakfast on Rufina's big day. So let's go and get this done.
Ries: ...All right.
Rufina: Good morning, you two. I wasn't expecting to see you here this early. Are you on cleaning duty today?
Ries: Yes, but...
Kevin: Wh-What are you doing up so early?! You've got a long journey ahead of you! You need plenty of sleep or you're gonna be exhausted before you even get there! I mean, isn't Arteria ages away from here?
Rufina: Well, yes. Buuut I won't be able to offer my prayers to Aidios here again for quite some time. So I decided to get up early and pray for all the days I'm going to be missing, too.
Kevin: ...Seriously? That's why?
Ries: Heehee. That's very you. Are you really going to be that busy, though? I thought you might be able to come home from time to time, at least...
Rufina: I wish I could say otherwise, but I probably will. I've only just become a squire, so there'll be plenty of work in store for me. I'll be lucky to find time to sleep, never mind come home. I might be able to squeeze some time into my schedule once I've gotten the hang of the workload, but until then...
Kevin: And that's why you've gotta sleep now while you still can! Come on! You've done enough praying for one day, so go back to bed until breakfast or something.
Rufina: *sniffle* You're so cold to me...
Kevin: ...Uhh, what? How?
Rufina: I thought you'd want to make the most of the time you've got left with me, but it's like you don't even want me here... *sniffle* Did I do a bad job at raising you?
Kevin: I-I never said I didn't want you here! And you might've done a lot for me, but 'raising me' is a stretch!
Ries: ...It's okay. He's just embarrassed. He's actually more than happy to talk to you--he's just terrible at showing it.
Kevin: Oh, get over yourself!
Rufina: Is that so, now? I should've known! You're such a typical boy, Kevin. They all act indifferent to avoid letting their loved ones know just how much they care.
Ries: And don't forget: he's at that rebellious age, too.
Kevin: ...How have I managed to survive being twisted around your fingers for so long? Is trying to toy with the hearts of innocent young boys a family thing, or what?
Rufina: Heehee... Oh, I'd hardly say 'young.' It's been about five years by now, you know. Ah! Speaking of which, I think I'm starting to get a craving for some chocolate. Maybe I should pick some up on the way to the station. Quincy Bell, of course. For obvious reasons.
Ries: Oh! Their new mint chocolate's my current favorite. The fresh aftertaste mixes in with the chocolate's flavor really well.
Rufina: I'll admit that does sound tempting, but I think I'm more in the mood for the classic milk this time. That flavor will always be a fond little trip down Memory Lane for me.
Kevin: Because of how we met...?
Ries: ... Kevin, you're disgusting.
Rufina: Heehee. I think we all get that warm and fuzzy feeling when we look back on it. After all, the day you came to live with us, Kevin, was the start of many, many new and wonderful memories. I treasure every single one I've made during these five years. They're all priceless to me.
Kevin: Then... ...
Kevin: Then why did you decide to become a squire and leave us? It just doesn't seem like the right job for you... Even if you wanted to be in the church, couldn't you have become a sister at the chapel in town or something?
Rufina: ...I'm sorry, Kevin. Apparently I've just got the aptitude for it, or so I've been told. I feel like the best thing I can do is make use of that and try to help people in the best way I can. Of course, there's always the chance I won't be cut out for it at all and will have to come home anyway.
Kevin: Hmph... There's no way a girl as naive as you is gonna be any good with the kind of crazy-tough stuff you'd have to do. You better come straight back home once you've had enough!
Rufina: Pffft. Really? Well, if it DOES come to that, I'll be expecting a nice, warm welcome from the two of you! And with that, I believe this conversation has done a lovely job with helping you procrastinate cleaning for long enough. Shall I lend a hand? If we're going to do the job, we might as well do it perfectly and have the whole chapel sparkling!
-The Hermit's Garden-
Hmm... I wonder if the other one could be...
Wh-What just happened...?
...Julia? Did you not leave for a training exercise on board the Arseille?
I'm so relieved to see you safe, Your Highness...
Haha. I see Sieg is with you, too.
He is, but...umm...I'm not quite sure what's going on...
Haha... Long time no see.
I... Uhh... I sure wasn't expecting to run into you here.
Wh-What are you all doing here...?
It's good to see you again, Kloe.
And Sieg, too, of course. You two look well.
Aha... I'm not sure what to say...
I feel like I should be waking up any moment now, but I'm not sure I even want to...
We've found ourselves in quite the predicament, haven't we? I'm relieved to hear that the empty Grancel you found wasn't the real city, but still...
Unfortunately, that doesn't necessarily rule out the real capital being in danger.
We're dealing with something that has such great power, it can create a flawless replica of a vast city. There's no telling how far its influence could extend.
Ries...surely there is no need to worry her so?
We have nothing to gain from shying away from the truth. If anything, she's helping me better understand the gravity of the situation we're in.
I'd like to help with the investigation if I can. I'm not sure I could do much more than what you're already doing, but I won't drag you down.
But, Your Highness...
I'm sorry, Julia, but I'm afraid nothing you can say will change my mind.
I may not fully understand the situation we're in, but I do know that it threatens the safety of our capital--perhaps the whole nation. I'd be a disgrace as a crown princess if I were to just stand by and do nothing while the people I will one day rule over are threatened.
Wow... You're amazing, Kloe.
...As you wish, Your Highness.
Well, welcome to the team.
Great! I'll do what I can.
So, is our next destination that teleportation circle at the end of the sealed area?
Yeah. That should let us travel to the next area.
Or, by the sounds of it, to the next plane.
That appears to be the technical name for the various areas that make up the land we're in.
It's a concept used in the Septian Church, too. Our world is made up of a number of planes or realms situated on top of one another. At the top is the sky where the Goddess dwells, below that is the earth where we live, and at the bottom lies Gehenna--where sinners are judged.
Those are the main three, but in between them, there are countless other planes or realms, too.
Hmm... So, in other words...
...the farther down we descend, the less the blessings of the Goddess will be able to reach us?
H-Hey! Can you not SAY stuff like that?
With all the creepy monsters roaming around, it's freaky enough around here as it is!
Heh. You sound like a child who's afraid to walk around the house when the lights are off.
...Although I suppose that makes sense, given that you truly are a child.
I am SO not a child!!
If that fake Grancel was the second plane, the next one's the third, right? I mean, it sounds obvious, but I'm not sure it's all going in one clear direction or if we might run into a fork at some point.
I think straightforward is a safe enough assumption for now.
And while we might not know what that Lord of Phantasma wants with us, we know it's nothing good.
So even if it's not like that, that doesn't change how ugly this could get, so let's get ready for just about anything. Who knows what's waiting for us up ahead?
Hmm? Something wrong, Ries? If you think you've figured something out, the rest of the class would love to hear about it.
And is that bread you're eating? I do hope you brought enough for everyone.
No, it's nothing important.
You're right. We should start getting ready to leave. It may be worth our while to investigate some of the doors we've encountered thus far, too.
Yeah. I don't know what's up with those things, but there sure are a lot of them.
At the very least, they don't seem to have been placed by any of our foes.
I'm all in favor of investigating them, too.