Part 55: And here I thought we were finally going to get an answer.-Reminiscence-
Kevin: You've reached the Emerose City church. How may I help you?
Female Voice: Oh, is that you, Kevin? I didn't think you'd be there already, so I was just going to leave a message with the priest.
Kevin: Oh. Hey, Rufina. Yeah, I got here late this morning. How about you? When do you think you'll be getting here?
Rufina's Voice: I'm going to be a little late, I'm afraid... There's been an accident or something, so the train's been delayed. I probably won't be getting there until this evening now.
Kevin: Got'cha. I'll wait here until you arrive. I think Ries and the kids would get all bent outta shape if I showed up without you.
Rufina's Voice: Oh, please. I'm sure you're just exaggerating. Although speaking of Ries, I hope you've been thinking about how you're going to cheer her up.
Kevin: Haha. I've got it all planned out. I've been stocking up on souvenirs from every mission I've been going on. Should be enough to snap her out of her funk.
Rufina's Voice: Hmm... I wouldn't be so sure if I were you... Girls her age are more complex than you think.
Kevin: Yeah? I guess she's not really a kid anymore now that she's 13, but still... Actually, that's about how old you were when we first met, right?
Rufina's Voice: Heehee. Now that you mention it, it was. How time flies!
Rufina's Voice: Sorry! It looks like the train's about ready to leave. I'm going to have to go. I'll see you later, then, all right? If you get bored of waiting, you're welcome to go on home ahead of me, of course.
Kevin: Got it. See you later.
Kevin: Man, 'how time flies' is right. Have I really not been home in two years? And I guess that makes...nine since I met Rufina. *sigh* I hope Ries isn't TOO grumpy when we finally get there.
Male Voice: K-Kevin!
Kevin: What is it, Father? Has something bad happened?
Priest: W-Well... I've just received word that someone spotted a group of men dressed all in black at the edge of town. What's worse is, they were supposedly heading for the mountain path...
Kevin: ...?! Y-You don't think...?
Priest: If they were, Aster House must be their target, I fear... Do you have any idea what could be going on?
Kevin: I wish I did... I doubt it's anything to do with the Gralsritter, at least. I think I should go and check it out just in case.
Priest: Please do. Oh... Do you know when Rufina's going to be arriving, by the way?
Kevin: This evening, by the sound of it. She said her train's been delayed. When she arrives, can you let her know what happened?
Kevin: Damn it... Jaegers? Seems like there's anywhere between five and ten of them... But what could they want with a gospel facility to begin with? ...
Kevin: The longer they're allowed to be in there, the more danger the kids are in. I'm gonna have to try and handle this alone.
It's time to put my combat skills to good use!
-The Hermit's Garden-
Celeste? W-Wasn't that the name we saw in those data crystals?
That's right. According to those, she was the de facto leader of the group of ancients who sealed away the Aureole.
She was also the founder of Liberl's current royal family.
I'm glad to see the information I left behind ended up proving useful to someone.
As I recall, those records amounted to 'Please don't allow [literally everything Weissmann did] to happen again.'
I-It really did...
So then you're really the founder of Liberl's royal family?
I'm not the real Celeste D. Auslese; think of me as something of a shadow. Or a partial copy her personality created in order to influence Phantasma from within.
How can you only be a partial copy...?
The truth behind you is apparently more complicated than we thought.
You don't appear to be a spirit of some kind, though. I see that now.
That is correct.
Before I try to explain just what I am... I should probably tell you more about what the world we are in is first.
You can do that?!
Heehee. This should be interesting.
As you are aware, the land in which you stand is called Phantasma. This is a world belonging to a higher plane of existence, created several thousands of years ago by the Aureole.
Its purpose was to act as a subsystem for the Aureole in order to incorporate and process the will of the Liber Ark's populace. One might call it a self-organized world designed to realize countless possible others as necessary.
You've lost me.
Y-Yeah... Isn't there a simpler way to explain this?
Well, while not technically correct, perhaps you could think of it this way. Phantasma is like a fictitious realm created by the Aureole in order to fulfill humanity's every wish and desire.
We're trapped in wish-fulfillment fiction. Do you finally understand what dire peril we're in?
What, exactly, qualifies Phantasma as 'fictitious'? I can't help but think it far too real to be a land of pure fantasy.
When I say a fictitious world, I don't mean to suggest that Phantasma is a complete lie.
It's more like a shadowgraph or kaleidoscope. It has its own laws and can change to reflect countless different possibilities.
Does this make the concept any easier for you to understand?
And suddenly the name Phantasma seems that much more appropriate.
As I stated previously, it was a subsystem of the Aureole rather than being the Aureole itself, and it helped to grant people's desires.
They were separate entities, but effectively like two sides of the same coin.
The relationship caught our eye as we were devising the sealing mechanism.
You mean the mechanism used to seal away the Aureole? That was also in those data crystals left behind.
At first, we thought our plan would be impossible to execute. After all, the Aureole had absolute control over space itself and was able to influence mankind's every action.
Even after coming upon the idea of temporally freezing it and imprisoning it with a gravity barrier, we had no way to implement our plans. Without that, they were simply ideas with no real meaning.
We were effectively at a total loss.
You had discovered your foe's weakness, but had no way to take advantage of it.
That must have been quite the frustrating predicament.
And yet our perseverance rewarded us with the development of something that could take advantage of that weakness: the Recluse Cube.
Is that what this is known as, then?
Yes. That is the only object in existence able to interact with Phantasma without relying on the Aureole as an intermediary. Celeste used that to create a partial copy of her personality--that is, me--inside Phantasma. And once inside, I began working to sabotage Phantasma's functionality by using this garden as my base of operations.
As a result of my efforts, the Aureole's processing ability was hindered just long enough for the plan to be executed.
He who catches his foe off guard wins the battle.
The same principle applies to martial arts, too.
It sounds like you really put a lot of thought into planning everything...
Heehee. Maybe, but I can't deny that luck played a part in the end.
Once the Aureole was sealed away, my work was done, and I fell into a deep sleep here. My reason being that if the Aureole were ever unsealed, I might be able to provide assistance to the people of that time.
I'm pleased you've been able to handle it just fine without my help, however.
Luck's played a huge part for us, too, though.
We're not even sure where the Aureole is now.
As far as we're aware, it disappeared during all that happened at the Liber Ark.
I thought as much...
I was able to confirm the Aureole's disappearance from here within Phantasma, too. When I did so, I thought my purpose for existing was finally over... and that all that was left for me and this land was to embrace a slow and peaceful destruction.
But that was not to be. Soon, the Lord of Phantasma appeared.
So that's when it happened...
Heehee. Quite a recent development, I see.
The Lord of Phantasma appeared out of nowhere, stealing all of my power before I was even aware what happened. After doing so, they began to remake Phantasma in accordance to their own designs.
Both this world's current structure and the planes that make it up... were all the Lord of Phantasma's creations.
Looks like your theory was correct, Renne.
Still, that makes it sound like...
Y-Yeah... So you don't know who that masked bastard is, either, then?
I'm afraid not.
Their every action thus far has been a mystery. Ordinarily, they should not have been able to gain access to this world in the first place.
...And I'm afraid I have no idea what they are trying to achieve by bringing all of you in here and testing you.
Well, that's a shame...
Yeah... That's the part we want to know most of all.
I only wish I could be of more help.
The only other thing I can say about them is that I suspect the Lord of Phantasma is currently in the seventh plane.
There's a seventh?
Wh-What makes you think that?
That was the first plane they created after appearing in this world. Just what kind of a place that plane is, I don't know...
...but I can sense dark, inhuman thoughts from there, and they're spreading out across the whole of Phantasma.
That doesn't sound good...
Then we'll be seeing them after the next one, won't we?
Yeah. We'd just finished the fifth when we came back here.
Presuming they're waiting for us on the seventh, the time to fight them head on may not be that far off.
Heh. I was gettin' tired of waiting.
As was I. It seems the end may finally be in sight.
Now, if only we had some sort of inkling as to what the Lord of Phantasma is trying to achieve...
Young Man's Voice: Actually, I just might.
It's good to see you again, Father.
You, too. Wasn't expecting you of all people to get an invitation here.
Or you, for that matter, little lady.
...I'm sure you weren't.
I've got something I want to ask you... but I suppose that can wait until later.
Haha. For sure.
Are... Are you sure you're feeling all right?
Right as rain! I'm feeling just great. All that sleep must've done me a lot of good.
And I see you guys made a whole lot of progress while I was out cold, too.
Hey. I'm Kevin Graham.
Or maybe I don't need to introduce myself since you seem to know a thing or two about everyone who's come in here so far.
True. I was able to tell what was happening at the Liber Ark from the garden.
And out of all the people here, you are the one closest to the truth of what is happening here... Am I wrong?
No, I don't think you are.
I can't pretend to be much of an expert on what Phantasma itself is... but I've got a pretty good idea as to who's responsible for all of this. I can only think of one person twisted enough to put us through all we've been through.
Wait! Is it someone you know?!
Haha... You could say that, yeah.
The short version is: they're a real piece of work. A cunning, arrogant, coldhearted son of a bitch who doesn't even see people as people.
That about sums up who we're dealing with.
S-Sounds like a real awful guy...
Hmm... And who, may I ask, is it that you're talking about?
Well, about that... Would you be willing to wait just a bit longer for the answer to that one?
I'm pretty sure I'm right, but I'm still missing one last thing that'll let me be completely certain. And I think we'll find out just what that is in the sixth plane.
Haha... And here I thought we were finally going to get an answer.
Is there a reason you can't share your theory as is?
It's a wild guess, and Kevin doesn't want to look dumb if he's way off.
Yeah... I realize I'm asking a lot after we've come so far.
But I promise that as soon as I know for sure, I'll talk. I swear on the Goddess' name and on the church's emblem.
Well, I don't see any reason to say no.
Likewise. He's clearly got his reasons.
It's not often you ask us for favors, so I can let it slide.
No problem here.
Ahaha... If he says wait, I'll wait.
I feel as though we can trust your judgment, Kevin, so I have no objections, either.
I don't really care as long as I get to have my fun.
Heehee. I believe we're all in agreement, then?
Yep. Consider this one settled.
Anyway, now that I'm up, I'm also down to take lead again. And I'd appreciate it if you backed me up.
It seems like you're all ready to move on.
While you're advancing through the sixth plane, I'll do all that I can on my end to find out more about the seventh. Of course, if you need my support, I'll be happy to provide it through the cube and the monuments as I always have.
Now that you mention it, we haven't really thanked you for all the help you've given us since we got here, have we?
Thanks, Celeste. We couldn't have done this without you.
We truly are in your debt.
Please, think nothing of it.
I am but a shadow, placed here with a duty to fulfill. I believe helping you to be part of that duty. If I may, allow me to help you however I can.
Sorry for worrying you, too, Ries.
But I'm just fine now. So please, just leave everything to me. I'm begging you.
Only if you promise me one thing.
Wh-What is it?
I won't make you promise not to put yourself in danger, or to overdo it...
...but don't do anything that would make Rufina sad.
Aaagh... You really know how to hit a guy where it hurts, don't you?
...So? Will you promise?
Yeah. I promise.
I swear on her name, I won't.
-The Hermit's Garden-
Kevin's finally back.
Don't tell anyone, but he came around back before Richard was rescued. He just felt like sleeping in.
While we're at it, I definitely recommend setting Kevin's S-Break back to Grail Sphere and keeping it there. Don't get me wrong, Spear of Loa is one of the strongest attacks anybody's got right now, but instant Max Guard makes a much more useful panic button. The same probably applies to Kloe's Lichtkreis super-heal.
As such, I'm afraid I'm limited in what I can do.
But I'll be sure to do all I can to support you in your efforts.
If there's anything I can do to assist you, please let me know.
It looks like you're organizing a dimensional jailbreak. Would you like help?
How are you feeling now?
Sorry about worrying you guys so much.
Oh, don't be.
I wasn't there to see you collapse, so I was simply curious how you were doing.
If not even Celeste knows how the Lord of Phantasma managed to get in here... I'm not sure any amount of speculation is going to let us reach the answer.
At least now we understand how we came to be drawn in here...to a degree.
It seems like the one directly responsible for that happening was the Lord of Phantasma, too.
Hmph. I can't wait to make them pay for what they've done.
Haha. Still, I can hardly imagine a more reassuring revelation.
It's far too soon to be getting optimistic about our odds of success... but with Celeste's help, we may be able to compete against the Lord of Phantasma after all.
It sure seems like you've got quite a lot on your mind. I can appreciate that someone in your line of work will have plenty of things they can't speak of freely...
...but given that we've all been caught up in this, I think it's fair to expect some kind of explanation eventually.
I guess that shoe's on the other foot now, isn't it.
You'll get one. I promise.
Hope you don't mind waiting a little bit longer.
Now as I recall, our kitchen tree said something about new stuff 'when its master's power returns.' I don't see anything different about it. Maybe that just happens later?
We're gonna have to sit and talk about them later, then! I need to find out just HOW MUCH.
Heehee. We'll have to talk again later. I still want to finish our conversation from earlier.
I'd be delighted.
...this world is on a high-level plane, repeating a process of self-organization and creation in order to realize the desires of humanity, operating on... ... ... ...
A-Anelace! Hang in there!
I think her head just exploded.
So what's a girl gotta do to get plushies to pop up out of nowhere? Hmm...
I really want that one, too! You're so lucky...
(I think she's probably the one least bothered about what's going on here out of all of us...)
I was all set on going to get that one when it came out...
...but then this major job came in all of a sudden and I couldn't go out and buy it.
I've got looots of plushies. My room's full of them!
I wish I could show you them all.
So then I decided to give him a name...
I raised a cat once before, too, you know.
The professor called him a Steel Cougar, if I recall...
Th-That doesn't sound like the kind of cat I'm thinking of!
As if any jaeger catbeast could hold a candle to Antoine.
They don't seem to be arranged in any specific order, though.
I want to think that there's more to this bookcase than meets the eye...
This world really does make no sense. I mean, I'm pretty sure what Celeste is saying is the truth, but it all just seems so...weird.
Well, whatever. Guess there's no point in me worrying about it. I'll just try and help the princess here.
*sigh* This place seriously makes no sense to me...
When are we gonna be able to go home...?
...but that doesn't really explain why there are all these books here.
Especially so many of them. Something's not clicking with me.
Oh, look at this weird one!
Wh-What's it called?
'From Fat to Fit!!'---By Gilbert Stein.
Th-These bookcases really are weird... The more time I spend here, the more it feels like this couldn't be a collection someone had put together manually.
This guy's...uh...dedicated. Yeah, let's go with that.
Be thankful we never had to collect this series.
He says this place is perfect for martial arts training. And I'm always up for a chance to get my training on.
Heh. I might not be into the same combat style as him, but I'm not gonna say not to a chance to get stronger. Better take advantage of it while we're still here! Say, you wanna join me for some sparring later, Zin?
Haha. Sure thing.
I'm just mulling over all Celeste told us about Phantasma earlier. It's strange to think we've suddenly ended up in a world that's part of a higher plane of the universe.
Thinking about it, this place is probably perfect for martial arts training. It's like being at the top of a tall mountain, isolated from the world.
So how are things going between you and the others? Getting along?
...Yeah, we are. We had the chance to get to know one another better while you were asleep.
Ahaha... That's good, I guess...?
I fully expect you to keep your promise with me, however.
If you dare break it...you're going without food for a week.
Ouch... I'd rather you spared me THAT one.
Are you feeling okay now? We don't want you going and collapsing again after you've only just recovered.
Heh! C'mon, Estelle. I'm indestructible.
Pretty swell timing on my part before, huh? I didn't even get to say hi before I fell unconscious, now, did I?
...Indeed. Everyone was shaking their heads with disappointment when you collapsed.
You're supposed to be a Dominion, but you wouldn't believe it from that shameful show of weakness.
A-Ahaha... (I'm pretty sure everyone was just panicking... ESPECIALLY you, Ries.)
Just try not to overdo it again, okay, Kevin?
I mean, I still don't know a whole lot about what happened, exactly...
...but we were all really worried about you.
I have a feeling we were given Celeste's sealing stone to unlock in order to understand the makeup of this world. Which means that they wanted us to know--and may use our memories and feelings against us in new ways as a result.
...Perhaps the trials ahead are the whole reason they started trying to recreate parts of Liberl in here to begin with.
By the sounds of it, you've probably encountered him more times than I have, but...
...Yeah. I know.
I'm going to have to make sure I'm prepared.
I think it would be best that we make sure everyone here is on guard for what the Lord of Phantasma may try to do.
Perhaps I should be the one to do so.