Part 28: When are you going to stop acting?Kevin Graham, of the 543rd class of trainees...
In the name of the Goddess above, I hereby appoint you a squire of the Septian Church.
-Cradle Where Feelings Rest-
Kevin: I humbly accept my appointment. I pledge to offer my soul to the Goddess above, and both body and blood to Her church on earth.
Congregation for the Sacraments Cardinal: Very good. It is exceedingly rare for one at your age to be appointed to your position. I can only assume your aptitudes and training achievements warranted it. May you strive to be a worthy guardian of the Goddess' sacraments as Her loyal and devoted servant.
Ein Selnate: Well, if it isn't Kevin. I see you managed to avoid having your promotion rejected by the top brass. Splendid, splendid.
Kevin: Instructor...I really can't thank you enough for all you've done for me. I never dreamed I would have an actual Dominion supervising my training.
Ein Selnate: Heh. How sweet of you to say. Hard to believe you're the same boy who waltzed up before the Congregation of the Sacraments shouting, 'Make me a knight! Pleeease!'
Kevin: Haha... I'd appreciate it if you'd chuck that memory back into the furthest reaches of your mind, thank you.
Ein Selnate: Oh, but how could I? Had I missed your groveling, I never would have taken an interest in you in the first place. And not in a million years would I have thought you were related to Rufina. You could have asked her to take you on as her pupil before resorting to such drastic measures, you silly boy.
Kevin: W-Well...I had my reasons. Let's leave it at that.
Ein Selnate: Haha. Very well. It doesn't matter at this point, anyway. Congratulations! You're now a dog of the church just like the rest of us. It's good to have you on board.
Kevin: Thank you. I'm not sure that's the most reassuring metaphor to be using on new recruits, though. You might scare some of 'em right off.
Ein Selnate: Please. You're not trying to position yourself as some sweet, doe-eyed thing, are you? Besides, I think it's a perfectly apt description for us. We go around sniffing out sacraments wherever they may be, tearing through the throats of the heretical fools who are enamored with them all the while. Can you spot the difference?
Kevin: C'mon, Instructor. I'm used to you at this point, so I don't really care if you call me a dog. But--
Ein Selnate: But you care if I call your beloved Rufina one, don't you? Not to worry, Kevin. I can read between the lines well enough. Well? Did I guess right?
Kevin: I-I owe her a lot, but I wouldn't call her my 'beloved'... She's just like a big sister to me, that's all. You're making it sound like I...
Female Voice: Like you...what, exactly?
Kevin: R-Rufina?! I-I thought you were in Remiferia on a mission!
Rufina: Heehee. I was, but I tried to finish as quickly as possible so I could be back for your appointment ceremony. I'm so proud of you, Kevin! It's amazing just how fast you've grown... Now you're a full-fledged adult like me.
Kevin: Wow... Thanks for going out of your way to come here. I'm not sure I deserve to be called an adult yet, though. I've got a whole lot of work ahead of me if I want to be half the knight the two of you are.
Rufina: Oh, my. How modest of you. By the way, have you let Ries know about all of this yet?
Kevin: Not yet. I'm planning to write to her tonight. She's been real mad at me ever since I decided to come to Arteria, though... Hopefully this'll cheer her up a bit... There's not much else I can do to make up with her short of going home.
Rufina: Perhaps we should do that together at some point if we can find the time.
Rufina: Oh, and while I have the chance...thank you so much for looking after him all this time, Ein. You've given up so much of your time, and I really do appreciate it.
Ein Selnate: Think nothing of it. It proved quite a fun way to kill time. He has a fair amount of potential in combat arts and Thaumaturgy, too. It's a shame all his skills are on the practical side of things, however. His academic side is...less than stellar.
Rufina: *sigh* I had this feeling in the pit of my stomach that may be the case...
Kevin: Haha...haha... Oh! Right! I've gotta get going! I have to pick up my new room key and medal from the general affairs guys. Sorry! I'll talk to you later!
Ein Selnate: What's this? You look so concerned. Feeling guilty because he followed you into such a dangerous line of work?
Rufina: Not at all. That was completely up to him and him alone. I would never try to dictate his life choices. It's just that...
Ein Selnate: I think he'll make a fine knight, personally. He checks all the boxes; he's got the potential, he's got the determination... All in all, I can see why you're so proud of him. And... And call it a hunch, but... I wouldn't be surprised if he...
Rufina: ...if a Stigma manifested in him just like it has in you?
Ein Selnate: Well, I'm impressed. I didn't think you could sense that of others if you didn't possess one yourself. Yet one more reason to feel frustrated that you aren't a Dominion.
Rufina: Haha... I know we're friends, but there's no need for all the flattery. My combat and Thaumaturgy abilities are average at best. I wouldn't be cut out for the job at all. I'm grateful enough to have been promoted from squire to knight. That's the upper limit for someone with my lack of potential.
Ein Selnate: If only you saw things the way I do. Someone with 'average at best' abilities couldn't have handled your Ouroboros case half as well as you did. Fighting off a man of that reported strength to a swift enough conclusion would be a pretty feather in anyone's cap.
Rufina: It was just my luck that we both came to an understanding. As far as Kevin goes, he wouldn't need to rely on luck. His potential for growth extends further than I'll ever be able to go. But he has one weakness holding him back.
...That poor boy is just far too kind.
So kind, in fact, that I can see him driving himself into a corner because of it one day.
-The Hermit's Garden-
That looks like...!
Don't think this is a dream, at least...
Indeed, it is not.
I would be overjoyed to share a sweet date with Schera in my dreams. One with a fine drinking companion...not so much.
Haha! Yeah, this is real, all right.
Still, doesn't Schera count as a drinking companion, too?
In a way. It's fine to be drunk with the joy of her company, but it is very much the opposite to be drunk with alcohol involved. That's one of the most important lessons I learned during my stay in Liberl.
Heh! Truer words have never been spoken.
...But all right. Enough playing around.
You guys mind filling us in on just what kind of situation we've gotten ourselves into?
We shall make with the embraces and tearful greetings afterward.
You two really are somethin' special.
You'd think you'd be a little shaken finding yourselves in somewhere as unnatural as this outta nowhere.
This isn't even close to the strangest place either of them has suddenly woken up in.
This is quite the pickle...
I appreciate that it may be hard to believe, but that is the situation we find ourselves in at this present time.
If we're to try and find a way out, we'll need you to accept that.
Oh, Mueller. My sweet, rose-kissed muse, ever pure and free of thorns. You misunderstand me.
I have long accepted our current predicament as reality.
Then why do you look so deep in thought?
I'd really expect Mueller to know better than to ask these sorts of questions.
Need you even ask?
Perhaps my life's toughest decision lies ahead of me. Before me, I find Joshua, Princess Klaudia, Tita, and Josette. Then there's Julia and even a new face: Ries.
Just whom shall I gather into my arms like a warm blanket and exchange sweet nothings in celebration first?
Heehee... Only you...
You were pulling my leg when you said this guy was an Erebonian prince, right?
Haha... Hard as it is to believe, he is.
Putting my deeply earnest dilemma aside for the time being...
...it sounds as though you've been making some headway in unraveling the mysteries behind this place. Naturally, I would be more than honored to help with that.
Buuut first, you've got a few questions you need to ask, right?
I know I sure do.
I should have known you would be thinking along the same lines.
You're exactly right.
Fine by me. What do you want to ask?
Do you think you've figured something out?
That's what I want to find out.
First, I want to ask about that ghost you've encountered in here.
If I recall correctly, the first time you met her was on the balcony in Grancel Castle, yes?
Indeed, it was. She gave us the key that allowed us to eventually find and rescue you.
That was the first time she appeared to us as a ghost, but I don't believe it was the first time she directly communicated with you, was it, Father?
Don't think so, anyway.
When Ries and I first arrived here, we heard a strange voice talking to us. We didn't have a clue who it belonged to at the time... but I think that was probably her, too.
As do I.
So at first, she existed here only as a voice, but she's gradually started showing up with a body, too? I know that's a weird way to put it, but if it's true, it backs up what that man in black said last time we saw him.
Yeah... He said the Lord of Phantasma had stolen most of her power, right?
He kept referring to her as 'the hermit' and 'master of the hollow garden,' too.
Plus the inscription on that monument behind us has 'The Hermit's Garden' written on it.
I think all of us can connect the dots just fine.
Agreed. It's reasonable to conclude that this very garden is connected to her in some way.
Makes sense to me. It also explains why this place is kinda comfy compared to the other weird, fiend-infested places in Phantasma.
Hmm... Feels like we're getting closer to the truth with every new revelation.
By the sounds of it, she's been in Phantasma for a while now. Possibly since the beginning. But then she had her power stolen by the Lord of Phantasma and ended up without a body. Since then, she's been trying to help us to the best of her abilities and guide us forward.
If we assume all of that to be true, maybe the monuments scattered throughout are connected to her somehow, too.
They seem to exist for that same purpose: guiding us forward.
I think there's one more thing in our possession that's connected to her as well.
That cube, Kevin.
You think so?
Unfortunately, your guess is as good as mine on exactly what that cube is. That being said, I think the odds of it being connected to her somehow are as high as everything else on the list so far.
Well? What do you think?
...Honestly, I'm impressed.
You've done a remarkable job of making sense of the situation when you've only just arrived. Still, if we assume all that to be true, then there's something else we should be doing as we keep moving forward.
Helping to restore her power, I assume?
That way, we should be able to ask her what else she knows about the land we're in.
Got it in one.
I get this impression that if we don't, we won't stand a chance against those two--we'll find ourselves up against a wall at some point.
You may well be right...
Well, leaving her aside for the time being...
...I do have one final thing I'd like to ask.
Huh? What else is there to cover?
It concerns that Lord of Phantasma you kept mentioning, actually.
Put simply, you wouldn't happen to have any idea as to who they are, would you, Kevin?
It's time we discussed the L-o-Phant in the room.
Well, from my perspective, they're awfully fixated on you.
They seem to know about Ries' deceased sister as well... Then there's the fact that they're even able to summon devils from the church's texts. It all seems to be pointing to you two--and you in particular.
Hmm... I can see why you'd ask, I guess.
Unfortunately for you, though, I got nothin'. If anything, I'd say they seem to be an enemy of the Gralsritter as a whole rather than just me.
Hmm... I suppose that's possible. I wouldn't be surprised if an organization like that had more than their fair share of enemies.
No offense, of course. I have plenty of enemies, myself.
Try not to sound like it's something worth boasting about.
Anyway, even if we've connected some dots, we'll have to save the mystery behind who our enemies are for another day.
Maybe we can get more information out of them the next time we see them, but until then, we don't have enough to work with.
Right. Next time one of them shows up, we'll have to see what we can force out of them.
So, that about wrap things up for now? If so, we should probably get ready to head out again. We're on plane number four, and if the previous planes are anything to go by, it's gonna be tough.
Hmm? What's up? Did you have something else you wanted to add?
It's just that I'm not feeling very well, so I'm going to sit the next plane out.
I'm sorry for the trouble, everyone...but please look out for him on my behalf. He shouldn't cause you too much trouble, but as I'm sure you know, he can be a little careless at times.
Are you not gonna go after her?
...Sorry. I'll be back in a minute.
What's with you all of a sudden?
Oh, I know. Are you feeling left out because I'm the only one you know here and everyone else is all buddy-buddy?
Sorry, Ries. Probably wasn't fun to have to sit through the whole happy reunion deal over and over when you can't be a part of it.
I should've noticed earlier, really. I've been pretty insensitive...so I'm really sorry, okay?
It's true that I felt a little left out for a while. You've clearly gone through so much together, and it's made you that much more fond of each other in the days since.
Haha... Yeah, we had some amazing times. Hard to come out the other end of stuff we did without growing closer through it all.
Watching you all, how could I not have felt lonely? How could I not have felt...jealous? You've been avoiding me for the past five years, Kevin.
The thought that you'd grown close to say many others while going out of your way to keep me out of arms' reach did make me sad.
Y-You know I didn't mean it like that, Ries...
But at the same time, I was still happy you did.
I knew how badly what happened to Rufina had hurt you--how you were still blaming yourself for it. I knew how you were driving yourself into a corner over it, and how you were taking on nothing but dirty jobs as if you were trying to punish yourself. And I couldn't confirm it for myself to be sure, but I just knew the rumors that you were desperate to burn yourself out through them were true.
So that's the reason. That's why, as lonely as I felt when you were off making new friends without me, I was really, really happy more than anything.
Umm... Ries, you do know that...?
...Except it turns out you haven't made any new 'friends' at all.
You're pulling the exact same thing on them that you pulled with me. Every single one at arms' length--they can't get close to you. You won't get close to them. On the surface, you're a cheerful person having fun with everyone, but on the inside, you're as cold as can be. All you're doing is manipulating your own emotions so people think you're someone you're not. After watching you ever since we were reunited, that's become plain as day to me.
Haha. Man, I'm happy you're worried about me, but you've totally got the wrong idea with this one.
Sorry--I'm good at a lot of things, but pretending to be someone I'm not isn't one of them. When I'm happy, you'll know about it, and when I'm mad...well, I think you know I'm not so good at hiding that, either.
I'm the same transparent guy I always was.
Oh, I didn't say you weren't easy to read. For me, at least.
After all, I know how genuinely shaken you were by the Lord of Phantasma's message.
Their words--and the words of the Schwarzritter--always come across as cryptic, but not to you. Deep down, you know what they're talking about. You just constantly keep it from the rest of us and try to keep us in the dark.
...No. Maybe you've even managed to pull the wool over your own eyes, too.
Haha... Come on, now. You can't seriously...
'Devour the new offering presented to you, and display your seal once more.'
You know exactly what that means, don't you? Go on.
You know what? Maybe you should sit things out for a bit. You're clearly really tired.
I get that you're as angry as you are upset with me...but I think it's starting to make you jump to some really out-there conclusions. And being tired out's only going to make it worse. Can't you see how negative your line of thinking is? You can't seriously believe all this is actually true.
You utter dunce.
I'm not saying I don't deserve all the anger. I totally do. I genuinely was busy, but at the same time, I wasn't sure how to face you if we did end up meeting, either...
Still, we're gonna be working together from now on, so--
Everything you're saying is just...meaningless. Maybe the others don't realize that, but how dare you think I, of all people, would fall for it?
I realize I'm turning my back on my duties as a squire by doing this, but I can't bear to be near you any longer. I can't stand to see the Kevin I thought I knew so...empty.
You're in the godhouse now, buddy.
Haha. I'm sorry you had to see that.
'But also, screw you for eavesdropping.'
Don't worry about it.
...I wanna know something, Joshua.
You've looked into me a fair bit since I first stepped onto the scene, right?
I know that you're called the Heretic Hunter. I know that you're one of the twelve Dominions that lead the Gralsritter. And I know you undertake the execution of sinners the church deems most unforgivable almost single-handedly.
Heh. I figured you'd know your stuff. Wouldn't want any guys whose backgrounds you hadn't thoroughly vetted being close to your girlfriend for long, huh?
I can't deny it.
Still, the only people you harm are those sinners. Never anyone else.
So I decided that--for the time being, at least--you weren't a threat to her or anyone else.
Haha. I see.
Weissmann was your work, too, wasn't it?
My job was to get rid of him. That's it. Everything I did with you guys leading up to that point was to get myself into a position to get it done without him catching on.
That includes helping all of you out, naturally.
...Yeah. I know.
You must have been aware of the possibility that Estelle would be taken on board the Glorious, too.
You thought allowing it to happen would help you in the long run, so you kept quiet about it.
Wow. Now that one I'm surprised you pieced together.
But yep. You're absolutely right. I figured there was a chance she might get abducted, but I did exactly nothing to stop it. All I cared about was finding out what Weissmann and you were up to...and where you were, for that matter. Couldn't use better bait for that than her.
I thought so.
And yet all of that doesn't change how I'm more grateful than words can express.
Because if you hadn't helped me back then, I would still be Weissmann's puppet. I would've broken with my own hands what I value most in the whole world.
That's a debt I'll never be able to fully repay.
Oh, sweet Aidios. Now you're just being cute.
I know you're smart enough to realize that's not at ALL why I threw you a bone, right? I just wanted him off his guard enough to create the opening I needed.
Helping you was the perfect way to do that. That was all there was to it.
And again: that doesn't change how grateful I am to you.
Knowing why you did what you did doesn't erase the gratitude I feel. Not in the slightest.
It really is just as well you ended up quitting Ouroboros. You'd suck to high heaven if you were an Enforcer now.
Haha... Honestly? You're totally right.
If Ries is sitting on the sidelines for now, let me help you in her place. I might not be as capable of helping you as she is, but I should be able to back you up.
It's the logical choice. Joshua has the most second-banana experience out of everyone present.
You don't need to feel indebted to me, you know...
...Well, I'll take what I can get. No doubt you're worried sick about Estelle, too, so there's your gold star reason for helping out besides me. So, thanks. I'm glad you've got my back.
Right back at you.