Depths of the Otherworldly Labyrinth
[Translator – Mab ]
[Proofreader – ilafy ]
Chapter 51 - The Battle Spirit Kanami Aikawa Obtained
The day before, Hein-san had ambushed me, and in response, Lastiara had left for Whoseyards.
She hinted she would be back soon, but she never showed back up, even though I waited until nighttime.
It was the day before the Holy Birthday. I could hear people’s voices coming from outside my house, even though it was still morning. It seemed that the town was getting excited for the climax of the Holy Birthday.
I get out of bed to quench my parched throat. I moved my sluggish body and headed for the living room.
I opened the door leading to the living room—and right then, I saw a girl trespassing through the window.
It was Lastiara. I was surprised, and she looked just as surprised as well before she collected herself and waved her hand at me.
“Oh. M-morning, Christ…”
She probably didn’t expect to meet me that early in the morning.
Lastiara entered the living room in a hurry and walked to the storage room in the back. I watched her, trying to calm down my heart from thumping a mile a minute. I could tell that she was scavenging for bread for breakfast.
With a piece of bread in each hand, Lastiara settled at the living room table. I joined her at the same time and called out to her just as she tucked into her bread.
“Lastiara, we need to talk…”
“M-mhm? Talk? Sure.”
“It’s about the day of the Holy Birthday.”
Lastiara nonchalantly urged me to keep on talking. Calmly, I looked at her straight-on and asked the most important question.
“Are you going to… give your body to Saintess Tiara tomorrow?”
Lastiara’s demeanor didn’t change. Her perfect, peerless, manufactured beauty didn’t contort whatsoever.
“Yup, I am.”
She affirmed it, her tone light and cheery as usual.
Hearing that, my face contorted. My emotions swirled so hard that I couldn’t even tell what I was feeling. I tried to keep my composure intact and responded.
“So you say… I heard your identity will disappear if you do.”
“Ah, I knew someone told you about it. I’d guess it was Hein… or someone else?”
“Since you didn’t deny it, I’ll take it as the truth, then…”
How I wished for Lastiara to deny it. I wanted her to laugh it off and tell me it was just a lie. Only then would I be able to continue my exploration of the Labyrinth with peace of mind, just as I had done before.
“Aw, I kept it a secret because I wanted to surprise you, though.”
“Surprise…? That’s not even the problem here…!”
“I wanted to see what kind of face you’d make when you knew Saintess Tiara was suddenly your companion.”
“See, you said… You won’t even be with us by then. You know that…”
I had to squeeze out my voice, and I could feel it trembling. Lastiara kept on smiling and speaking as if it was usual, and it annoyed me to no end.
“It’s fine, it’s fine. Saintess Tiara is me, and I’m her. Even after I become her, I will keep being your companion, Christ. Don’t worry about that.”
Lastiara thought my irritation was because her becoming Saintess Tiara would hinder our exploration, and her misguided statement only irked me even more.
“YOU’RE WRONG!! That’s not the point! I’m saying that your consciousness will vanish and you’ll disappear once you become Saintess Tiara…! Do you even understand that?!”
Unable to hold the dam back, my voice came out loud.
“So I heard. I understand that.”
And yet, she shrugged it off casually. Her face was calm as if she were a single leaf rocked by the wind.
“So you heard…?! You’re okay with that?!”
“I am… My whole reason to live is to become Saintess Tiara. I revere the Saintess. Heroes like her who saved a lot of people are wonderful, and I love their lives and their epic. If I can become that very hero, then I can’t ask for more. I won’t go against it. If anything, it’s an honor.”
When I heard her excessive faith, Hein-san’s words echoed.
He was right. Her belief in Saintess Tiara was so pure and insane that it could only be made up.
“Are you sure it isn’t because you were educated to think like that? Any normal person would at least resist a little if they were told that they were going to disappear. From what I see, it’s almost like you’ve been brainwashed.”
“…Yeah, I can’t blame you. I know that already. I know I’m skewed, but that is still me. Educated, brainwashed, it doesn’t change, it’s still me. What about you, Christ, will you deny everything of me, this sham, made-up life of me? This life is all I’ve ever known, and yet will you still deny me?”
Lastiara claimed that it didn’t matter, even if it was due to her education or brainwashing.
There wasn’t a shred of doubt in her voice. She had a clear will of her own. I could see it—her supple ego that had a strong core.
I was at a loss for words. I couldn’t tell where the line was. I had no idea where the made-up Lastiara ended and the real Lastiara started.
That was why I knew I couldn’t deny anything that she said without determining where the line was. If I tried to deny the made-up aspect of Lastiara but ended up denying the real Lastiara, then I wouldn’t be any better.
The only thing I could do was respond with a few strained words.
“A-are you sure? Are you really sure you’re okay with that?”
Shamelessly, I only repeated my own words. Lastiara took it firmly, looked me straight in the eye, and gave me her answer.
“Of course. I was born and raised as the vessel of Saintess Tiara. There is no doubt that my only reason to live is… to become… Saintess Tiara. That is…”
—And yet she only repeated her own words, and her face darkened as she spoke.
“That is… what…”
Lastiara looked anxious.
Suddenly, she wasn’t accepting what she was saying and was anxious.
I had seen her like that before—when we had become companions at the tavern, she had changed her mind as we talked.
Right before my eyes, Lastiara was losing confidence in what she was saying and was drowning in self-doubts. Like an unstable, stagnant sky repeatedly clearing up and clouding up in a matter of minutes—that was the kind of person Lastiara Whoseyards was…
Her ego, which was so supple and firm before, was shaken and looked nothing like it previously did.
“That is what I’m supposed to do…”
Lastiara mumbled those words and retreated into silence, her eyes swimming.
When I looked at her, the reason for her instability dawned on me. The made-up Lastiara, and the real Lastiara, both aspects of her were encroaching on each other, throwing her into a sea of confusion.
“Supposed to…?! You’re not even sure about it yourself. You’re wavering, confused, and you don’t know what is right, or am I wrong?”
Thinking that it was an opportunity to make Lastiara reconsider, I threw words at her one after another.
But the next instant, I saw Lastiara showing a cheerful face.
“—Fufufu. That’s not true. I’ll become Sainteess Tiara, you know. I’m going to have that exciting adventure, defeat strong enemies, meet and part with a lot of people, and become the hero everyone dreams of! I will, me! It will be so wonderful!”
Leaning to one side, Lastiara grinned with her eyes glinting with insanity. Flabbergasted, I flinched. Even though I knew it, I was still at a loss for words when I saw her sudden change as if she was possessed.
“It must be… so wonderful…”
And sure enough, Lastiara was feeble again.
“S-see! You’re not confident about it. You’re afraid of being sacrificed!”
“I’m not afraid. I don’t fear death. You know how I fight in the Labyrinth, don’t you, Christ? I’m not so fragile as to cower from that.”
Next, she became cocksure out of the blue.
I sensed certain conditions. Any attempts I made to deny the ritual would fish out the made-up Lastiara.
Nevertheless, it was going in circles. No matter how much I repeated myself, I would never be able to persuade Lastiara, as everything would lead to the ritual.
—Lastiara was conditioned to become like that.
Witnessing what Palinchron meant by being ‘tailored’ right in front of my eyes, I weakly repeated my question.
“…Are you really okay with this?”
“It’s not just my problem. It’s for everyone in the cathedral and everyone in Whoseyards! They are waiting for the real Saintess Tiara! Peoples’ thoughts are filling this body!”
Lastiara shouted with a smile, gave her answer, and then quietly expressed her will.
“That’s why I will undergo the ritual.”
“…I still think you should refuse.”
I offered her the opposite. I knew it to be useless, but I couldn’t not say it.
However, Lastiara would never bend her will no, matter how much we glared at each other. I knew since I had been with her long enough to know her. Once she made that expression, Lastiara would never back down. She would carry out whatever she had in that fractured, mad mind. Even if I didn’t want to, I already knew that I couldn’t persuade Lastiara.
Then, after a lifetime of silence, I was about to give up on the discussion when Lastiara broke the silence.
Her determined look changed to one of desperately clutching at me. I thought it was just another emotional swing. However, it looked different.
“…Then are you going to save me, Christ? Are you going to follow what Hein-said and take me to some place far, far away, just the two of us?”
Lastiara looked at me with a sweet, upward gaze like a begging puppy. That was the first time ever I saw that Lastiara act out like a girl her age. My eyes widened in surprise.
She looked like a child, I thought. At the same time, I hoped that it was the real Lastiara speaking and not the made-up one.
But of course, only then did she give me a question I couldn’t answer. I had to reach the deepest depth of the Labyrinth so I could return home. Us going on a journey far away from there wouldn’t allow that.
Seeing me stammering, Lastiara pressed on with more questions.
“Can you turn against all the knights of the Allied Nations? Can you make an enemy of the country of Whoseyards? Can you destroy the ritual tomorrow on your own? Will you even risk everything to help me?”
All those questions… they sounded less like questions and more like pleas. And then I heard hallucinations.
“—Will you become the protagonist of my story?”
I saw her, a little kid, crying.
There was no doubt about it. It wasn’t anyone else’s, it was Lastiara’s voice.
If I could answer her, I could bring out the real Lastiara. If I did, I could talk with the real Lastiara, and I should even be able to persuade her. I firmly believed that.
That was the one chance for me to talk her out of it. That was the only time.
It was the only time, and yet—
I couldn’t give her my answer. I couldn’t even answer a single one of her questions.
Just as Lastiara had a purpose and meaning in life, so did I. Return to home—protecting my one and only family, that was my raison d’etre, and her pleas were the direct opposite of it.
Remorse, morality, obligation, selfishness—all kinds of thoughts pulled me into all sorts of directions, tearing me apart, locking my body in place. Seeing that I didn’t even flinch in my seat, Lastiara’s face clouded over.
It was only for an instant, a fraction of a second that was only enough time for a shooting to star to flash.
—And when that instant ended, I knew my words could no longer reach her.
Lastiara went back to her usual jovial expression. Then, as usual, she laughed it off.
“Ha, ha ha, just kidding… You don’t have to do any of that. I know you can’t afford to do that, Christ… You already have too much on your plate, after all.”
I couldn’t answer it.
I can’t reach her. Even after Hein-san’s warning, I can’t say anything to her.
“You’re a Candidate, Christ, so I won’t ask you to do anything you can’t handle. You have no obligation or responsibility to do so.”
* * *
Translator - Mab
Proofreader - ilafy
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* * *
She returned to her usual routine and threw the remaining bread into her mouth.
It was the usual unstable, restless, unfocused, and quick-to-change standing Lastiara.
“W-wait, Lastiara. We’re not finish—”
“Heck, it might turn out to be okay in the end. I might end up crushing Saintess Tiara’s consciousness instead, who knows? I’m pretty strong, after all.”
She was hopeful and optimistic as she talked about what might happen with a smile on her lips. She wouldn’t lend an ear to me anymore.
Then, after finishing up her breakfast, Lastiara stood up.
“Thanks for the meal. I have to prepare for tomorrow, so I’m going to go now. I probably won’t be able to help you explore the Labyrinth for today, so go and play with Maria. Also, give her my best wishes.”
“We need to talk some—”
We needed to talk some more, but before I could even finish my words, Lastiara had already turned her back to me as if she was done hearing what I had to say, and as she did, she bade me farewell.
“I think, by tomorrow night, I will come back here, so wait until then… Bye-bye…”
Leaving those words behind, Lastiara left the house.
Should I stop her even if I had to fight her for it? I didn’t know. Lastiara quickly left while I was still thinking, leaving me behind, all alone.
When I thought that those words would be the last Lastiara would say to me, a feeling of helplessness almost crushed me to smithereens.
Right then, I heard a door opening behind me. On the other side of it stood maria. She looked at me with her expression as grim and serious as mine.
I realized that she had heard our conversation.
“Did you hear that…?”
She didn’t try to hide it. Perhaps she’d seen us talking with a heavy mood in the air and thus found it difficult to enter the living room, so she’d just stayed behind the door and listened in.
“She’s gone. You heard it.”
I weakly pointed to where Lastiara had gone.
“Is this all right, Master…?”
“I don’t care. This is bigger than me…”
I spoke honestly and said that it was beyond anything I could do. That was all it was, in a nutshell.
“So when Tiara-san comes, we’ll treat her as Lastiara-san, and everything will be the same…?”
“…That’s not Lastiara, that’s someone else. There’s no way it will be the same.”
If everything that I heard was true, then Tiara would be a different person in Lastiara’s body. I had zero intention of treating a stranger whom I couldn’t care less about as if she was Lastiara. If anything, she would be an enemy.
“At the very least, she will never be my companion…”
When she heard it, Maria’s reaction was pronounced.
“Thank goodness… Really…”
No hint of sadness or anger in her words. Maria was, from the bottom of her heart, relieved.
When I saw her smiling like that, I felt a chill freeze in my heart.
The reason for her relief was lost on me.
I thought she would be more sad about parting with Lastiara, but it was quite the opposite. Was I mistaken in thinking that the two had seemed to get along well?
When I questioned why she was relieved, her answer came pretty quickly.
“I thought you loved her, Master.”
That was her answer; her thinking that I loved Lastiara.
I didn’t know what she meant by that, so I couldn’t say anything back right away. Nevertheless, Maria continued.
“Well, Lastiara-san has her quirks, sure—”
Maria said that I loved Lastiara. I understand those words, but I didn’t understand what they meant. Her answer was so abrupt that it disturbed me.
Speaking of love, wasn’t Maria supposed to be in love with me? Why are we talking about who I love all of a sudden?
“But she’s such a beauty—”
Yeah, Lastiara is a beauty. She embodies such inhuman beauty that even the word beautiful can’t encompass her. She’s so gorgeous that not a single celebrity in my previous world could hope to compete with her.
“She’s so strong and cheerful—”
She is physically stronger than anyone, that is for sure. Her own existence breaks the rule. She has a wealth of Skills and an eye that’s similar to mine. She is cheerful when she wants to be cheerful. Barring her instability and insanity, she is such a positive and bright girl. She is a mood maker who can pull people around her with her cheerfulness, making them smile.
“She can be mean, but she’s friendly at heart—”
She is dangerous like that. She is addicted to thrills and drama, and yet that doesn’t make her put others in danger for no reason. If anything, she has been the thoughtful voice for both Maria and me. She will play the devil’s advocate for our sake.
“She is a dreamer, and yet also the ideal explorer…”
Her yearning for dreams was probably due to her environment. Lastiara was induced to prefer stories about heroes because she would be a hero. Dreamy, heroic tales occupy most of Lastiara’s short life. That is why she has more enthusiasm for adventure than anyone else, making her an excellent Labyrinth explorer.
“She’s so similar to you, and the two of you hit it off well—”
I hit it off well with Lastiara. The only reason I was being so cautious with everything was because this was a different world and I had a reason I couldn’t die. If it were not for that, I would be just as dreamy and game-oriented as Lastiara. Even though I kept going against what she said, deep down, I clicked with her.
“Because she’s such a wonderful person, I had thought that you loved her, Master, but you don’t, do you? Do you?”
Do I? Do I love her, Lastiara, romantically?
If I truly prioritize my exploration, it was only obvious for me to cut Lastiara out of my life. However, I was still trying to get a grip on her and even talk her out of it. Why is that…?
To begin with, it’s strange that, as a man, I felt nothing towards such a perfected beauty. Was I unable to admit the fact I was attracted to her just because of her first impression and circumstances?
But then, why else am I so panicked when I know Lastiara is about to disappear? Why am I churning my head, trying to find a way out?.
Am I actually—
【The «???» Skill Has Gone Berserk】
Your mind has been stabilized in exchange for some of your emotions
Confusion is adjusted by +1.00
The «???» Skill was activated, and the heat in my heart cooled down as if I had been doused with cold water. My heartbeat slowed down, and the information swirling in my head was neatly organized.
At the same time, I realized that I had lost something that had my heart racing. Something important that the «???» Skill had selfishly taken away from me.
With a cold heart, I analyzed.
I knew what that something was. Supposing that the Skill had infringed into my thoughts, that something should be love, affection, or something similar. That, I knew with my mind. But my heart was so cold that I had a hard time believing it.
A dry chuckle escaped me.
From what I knew, there were only two conditions to trigger that Skill. One was when my emotions ran wild. At first, I had assumed it was the trigger that time, but it clearly stood apart from the previous cases. I wasn’t so confused that I lost control of my mind. Rather, I was trying to reach an answer by logically organizing my thoughts. Which meant it had to be the other condition—What, did I have to restructure my thought pattern since I was about to die?
“Ha, haha, hahahaha…”
So what, the «???» Skill determined that love and romance were a life-threatening thing? Would I die if I fell in love with Lastiara or something?
I admit it. Yeah, I might die, sure… But that doesn’t mean you can rob that feeling from me! It’s mine…!
The flame of anger was burning. The calmness the «???» Skill granted me went up aflame, fueling the intense rage from the bottom of my heart.
Don’t fuck with me.
This is past the limit.
My heart is not a toy.
It’s not something for you to play around with.
I could feel my emotions spiking. A rage far surpassing anything I had ever experienced burning was ablaze in my heart. And yet, the «???» Skill showed no sign of activating.
I should be nowhere near as calm as I was before, and yet the Skill still wasn’t triggered. Which meant I was dictated to never innocently think of love, and yet feeling enough anger to take human lives was well within the okay boundaries. And that only fueled my rage further.
“What’s the matter…? Master…?”
I bursted out laughing for one second, then my face scrunched up for the next, warranting dismay on Maria’s part.
But she was not inside my mind. I thought back about the «???» Skill. I recalled that, when I had first met Lastiara, the Skill had activated both before and after I met her. I also remembered it was also triggered before and after our second encounter.
No wonder I was unable to recognize my own feelings. No wonder my feelings for her couldn’t properly develop. The seed of it had already been cut short from before it could ever spurt.
My encounter with Lastiara couldn’t be any worse. The sheer anger forced me to laugh.
“Haha… No, it’s a bit of a crazy thing, you see… You’re right, Maria. I don’t love Lastiara. You guessed correctly.”
“E-eh? I see…”
Maria was surprised at my answer. Apparently, she didn’t expect me to say that. She even looked deeper into my face to confirm the truth, but it was futile. She wouldn’t find any shred of love left—it had been rid of.
“More importantly, you said something interesting. You said Lastiara and I are similar… I’m surprised you knew.”
Maria’s «Insight» Skill sure was a convenient thing. It enabled her to know things even the people themselves were aware of.
“More importantly? …I-I can’t really put it in words, but it feels like you two have similar roots? From how I see, both of you are so perfect without any sign of defect as if you two were made up.”
I let out a big dry laugh at Maria’s apt point. It was funny because it was true.
If Lastiara was a made-up thing created by her environment, then I was a made-up thing arranged beautifully by the «???» Skill. Maria seemed to understand it intuitively.
“I see… Our roots are similar, huh.”
Maria backed away from me, who wouldn’t stop laughing. Even her «Insight» couldn’t seem to see through my abrupt change and thoughts.
It was a testament to how much of an oddity the «???» Skill was.
Ah, it was nothing, really. I was just as unstable and insane as Lastiara, is all. I understood a little better how Lastiara felt.
It was the feeling of knowing that something was afoot, and yet your heart couldn’t put a finger on it. Perhaps Lastiara knew that it was wrong to undergo the ritual, but her heart couldn’t agree with her. That was why she couldn’t be confident with her actions. She was lost and confused and the only thing that kept her grounded was her trust in her duty as she walked down every step of it. The only thing that kept Lastiara on her toes was undergoing the ritual.
—But what about me?
I, too, learned that I had feelings for Lastiara, feelings that I wasn’t supposed to bear. Would I do the same as her, do nothing about it, and walk down every floor of the Labyrinth out of obligation?
I mustn’t. I couldn’t keep a blind eye to my own shortcomings, not after I criticized Lastiara so much as though I was above her. My anger against such injustice wouldn’t allow me.
“Maria. I’m going out for a bit. I’ll be back at noon.”
“What, eh…? Where are—Master?!”
I left Maria behind and headed outside. Time was of the essence. Much like Lastiara, I exited through the window.
—What am I going to do about it, then?
I kept my rage ablaze at the bottom of my heart while my head cooled so as not to trigger the «???» Skill.
Frankly, I knew what needed to be done, but I wasn’t confident in that decision. Having someone else to reaffirm it was vital.
Maria wouldn’t be appropriate—she was too emotionally involved.
—So I looked for someone else.
Not someone with an unstable mind like mine, but rather, someone who had a strong grip on their own identity, a certain friend of mine—
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