Chapter 2 − My Mother is Strong
It was the beginning of Spring, and the city was illuminated by the light of the sun that was still setting fairly early.
Yasuo sunk his chin into the collar of his coat that he was wearing over his regular clothes, and looked at his prep school. The next instant, he made a face like he had bitten into a bitter bug, and said to Diana who was standing beside him:
“Please, just go back home already.”
However, Diana replied while looking at him with eyes that were shining with determination:
“No! I can’t do that! Not after what happened yesterday. We don’t know what could happen!”
“In that case, what about Mom and Nodoka…”
“You don’t need to worry about them.”
Diana smiled while clenching her fists.
“A novice like me would only get in the way of Madoka if something were to happen. That would just put Nodoka in danger. Since the Rainbow Sage is over there, you can think of your house as being perfectly safe.”
Yasuo replied in a tired voice and lowered his shoulders.
He understood that he would not be able to convince her, no matter what he said. As if to substantiate that thought, Diana continued to speak.
“It is my duty as a Magitech Soldier of Resteria to protect Hideo’s family during his absence. That’s why it’s only natural that I accompany you as a guard while you’re not near Madoka!”
“But that’s… Umm… Fine, I understand.”
He had a lot of objections to that statement, but it was probably useless to try and talk Diana out of it since she was so determined, and it was even more improbable that he would be able to send her back home by force.
In that case, the only thing he could do was try his best to keep Diana from acting strangely in front of other people.
There was no reason why terms like ‘another world’ and ‘Ante Lande’ had to be kept secret. That’s because most people would not believe anything like that even if you told them. If anything, he wanted to keep Diana’s presence itself a secret.
Judging by her behaviour within the Kenzaki house, Diana was a well-mannered person. However, her speech and actions would definitely stand out in the current Japanese society. Just judging by her speech, people would mistake Diana for Yasuo’s personal servant.
Of course, she had borrowed a set of clothes from his mother, and she was not wearing her armor. However, there was no doubt that she was hiding that mysterious weapon of hers under his mother’s coat. Besides, the gray coat that looked like a normal piece of clothing when worn by his mother looked like an advertisement for an expensive brand when worn by Diana.
If Aoto, Igarashi, or Hino caught sight of her, he would no doubt be overwhelmed with questions about who that blonde beauty was and how they were related. Even if he managed to answer them somehow, the word would get out that Yasuo was in a close relationship with a blonde beauty, and he would not be able to deal with all those rumors.
“…Well, I’ll be going now.”
“Okay! I’ll hide somewhere close by, and come running in case of an emergency, so please relax and focus on your studies!”
After receiving a hearty cheer from Diana who looked very enthusiastic, Yasuo made to go into the building, but:
He had just looked away for a second, but Diana had vanished. Did she jump to the roof of a building or something?
That absurd thought ran across Yasuo’s mind, and he looked up at the building. He then realized that there was no point in thinking about it, so he shook his head and put it out of his mind.
He wanted to immerse himself in his duty as a student, at least while he was in prep school. Especially since he had taken the day off from school due to the incident last night.
Thinking about the reason for his absence, Yasuo understood that his daily life would be messed up from tomorrow. Moreover, he was no longer able to insist that Diana’s words were a lie and reject them outright.
The world of magic, Ante Lande, that had been saved by a Hero.
Something that couldn’t be explained by any other means had happened at the doorstep of the Kenzaki house last night.
Yasuo and Nodoka had both been shocked by the loud noise, and weren’t able to react immediately.
Diana alone had jumped downstairs, and shouted something. Yasuo left Nodoka on the second floor and hesitantly headed downstairs, and he saw the front door that had been crushed and blown away by some kind of incredible strength, and the sight of Diana confronting some black shadow creature.
The shadow soon assumed the shape of a human. It was the figure of a man who was wearing full-body armour that looked far more exaggerated than Diana’s.
It’s eyes were as red as magma from deep underground, and it gave off a hazy, flickering light and an ominous presence that struck fear into the hearts of people who looked at it.
Yasuo had been completely paralyzed by the fear of seeing something so unnatural, and Diana said:
“Yasuo! Get back! I’ll deal with it!!”
Diana’s loud voice brought him back to his senses.
“B-But this is…”
Diana looked straight at the shadow and shouted that to Yasuo without turning around to look at him.
“Although I cannot be compared to Hideo and Madoka, I’m a full-fledged Magitech Soldier! So there’s nothing to….”
Yasuo didn’t know why she had hesitated only at that part, but the next moment, Diana ran forward at a speed high enough to crack the floor.
“There’s nothing to be worried about!!”
The girl from another country who was wearing his mother’s pyjamas swung both her fists at the shadow.
In each hand, she held something that looked like a gun without a barrel. The next instant, both her hands started to glow, and something that looked like blades of light appeared above the grips. The blades of light were the same color as Diana’s eyes, and were too long to be called knives, yet too short to be called swords.
Yasuo didn’t know much about weapons, so the terms ‘short sword’ and ‘dagger’ didn’t occur to him.
Diana’s slim body belied her prodigious strength, and she attacked the shadow with incredible speed and power, but the shadow easily blocked the shining blades of light.
But it looked like Diana had expected her strikes to be blocked. While keeping the shadow’s sword in check with her two blades, she twisted her body in mid-air, jumped upwards, and wrenched the shadow’s neck around using her knees after landing on its shoulders.
Along with Diana’s shout, “something” was shot out of the grips that had produced the light swords that Diana was holding, and the impact sent Diana and the shadow flying outside the house.
The impact of whatever was released from Diana’s two swords pulverized the coat rack near the front door. Yasuo wasn’t worried about that and instead attempted to go after Diana who was barefoot and wearing only pyjamas.
However, his legs started to shake, and he wasn’t able to move from that spot.
There was still something that looked like black embers, smouldering near the place where the shadow had been. He could hear sounds of metallic objects striking against each other, but he was rooted to the spot from fear, and he couldn’t see what was happening.
While he was in that state,
“What’s going on!?”
Madoka, who had been in the bath, rushed out without even drying herself off and had only a bath towel wrapped around her. She took in the sight of the destroyed doorway, Yasuo cowering in fear, and the flickering flames of the shadow outside the door.
After she understood the whole situation, his mother immediately took action.
“Diana-chan is outside, right? Stay where you are. Also, the TV remote is in the bathroom for some reason, put it back where it belongs later.”
After saying that, his mother rushed outside the front doorway from the corridor leading to the bathroom at a speed faster than Diana’s while scattering drops of water from her bath everywhere, and flew into the air from the road in front of the house.
Yes, she soared into the air and disappeared from his sight.
In Yasuo’s memories, his mother was someone who hated exercise, hated lifting heavy things, and ran out of breath during the 50-meter race for parents during Sports’ Day when he was in elementary school. She was definitely not someone who would use the roof of the house opposite to theirs as a foothold to jump into the sky like a ninja.
He was overcome by fear earlier, but seeing his mother pull of something even more absurd than Diana caused his curiosity to overcome the fear. Yasuo hesitantly stepped outside while avoiding the remaining flames near the doorway.
A fireball exploded right above the house, and the hot blast of air knocked him on his behind.
Once again, fear took hold of him and he was unable to stand up.
“Yasuo! Are you okay!?”
“I told you to stay indoors!”
Diana, with her pyjamas slightly burnt, and his mother wearing just a towel, appeared from the dark sky.
“…Did it run away?”
“I’m not sure. But I can’t sense its presence anymore.”
While his mother and Diana were being alert for any further danger, Yasuo thought of something very sinful.
Why couldn’t his mother and Diana have had their clothing switched?
It seems humans will think of petty stuff when they’re driven to their limits.
The sound caused by the explosion of the fireball and the accompanying heat wave left a definite impact on the neighborhood.
For example, Kawamura-san’s wife from next door was talking about how she had been scared by her glass door being shaken by a sudden impact, in a tone of 70% anxiety and 30% curiosity.
It appeared that no one had seen his mother, Diana, or the mysterious shadow, but several people had reported that they had heard the sound of the explosion, or seen the blast. Since their front door had been essentially reduced to rubble, both Yasuo and Nodoka felt that this was no time to be going to school.
Along with a gas explosion and a fault in the power lines being considered as the probable cause, the police and fire department who had rushed to the scene even stated unjust suspicions that Yasuo or Nodoka had pulled some kind of malicious prank, or their mother who had a driving license had been illegally storing gasoline.
In the end, the incident was resolved after the police confirmed that nothing else was going to happen (which was pretty strange, as they didn’t yet know the cause) and Madoka calling her husband and owner of the house, Hideo, to inform him about the incident.
Diana hid herself because Yasuo’s mother had told her to hide on the roof of the house, as her presence would complicate things when the police were checking the identities of the house residents. Later, several news agencies caught scent of the story and collected around their house, so Diana was unable to come back inside for a while.
“Mom! Our house is being shown on the news! A lot of the details have been blurred out, though!”
When Nodoka said this after watching an afternoon variety programme that she didn’t usually watch, their mother could only hold her head in her hands, and Diana, who had avoided being spotted by the police and snuck back indoors after the news reporters had left, similarly held her head in her hands.
However, no matter how much both of them regretted it, it was a fact that some incident had occurred that destroyed the peaceful life in their neighborhood. Even worse, there was the fact that some unidentifiable danger was closing in on the Kenzaki family.
Once things had calmed down a bit in the evening, Yasuo said that he wanted to go to prep school, and Diana had insisted on coming along. In a way, that was perfectly natural.
It was perfectly natural, but…
“Ante Lande, huh….”
Searching for that on his Slimphone only gave him a few hundred hits for the word ‘Antenna’. Yasuo glanced at the building that he suspected Diana was hiding in as he scrolled through the results of the search.
Putting aside whether his father was really a ‘Hero’, the ‘Kenzaki residence front door explosion incident’ that occurred last night could not be explained if he didn’t accept the existence of another world, Magitech Soldiers, etc.
No matter how you look at it, a normal person couldn’t have done the things that Diana and his mother had done. The presence of that mysterious shadow that looked like it was made of black flames could not be explained by the common sense of a Japanese person.
However, admitting that would mean unconditionally believing everything Diana had said, and accepting it as fact. Once he accepted it, Yasuo’s everyday life might never go back to normal. In that case, what would happen to the Kenzaki Family?
Yasuo suddenly stopped and looked around on the path that he was very familiar with.
It was evening, and the lane running through the residential district was illuminated by streetlights. However, there were a few places the light didn’t reach, such as the areas between the houses, and those places were steeped in shadow.
Could the mysterious shadow from last night rise up again from one of those places?
The incident last night occurred so suddenly that he didn’t have time to think deeply about just what kind of creature that was, and Diana and his mother didn’t say much about it this morning either.
In some way, Yasuo was afraid to ask for more information.
After this morning, he didn’t want to accept the fact that things had progressed to the level where his father no longer had any choice but to accept Diana’s proposal. Once his father accepted it, his family’s peace would never be restored.
All of a sudden, the various movies, novels, manga, and anime he had seen flashed through Yasuo’s head. Ordinary people who found out about the secret of the ‘Protagonist’ would no longer be able to lead an ordinary life.
The protagonist would have a number of foes, and those foes would make all sorts of plans to lower the protagonist’s strength.
There would be enemies who would directly challenge him to a battle of strength, enemies who would try to trap him using some convoluted scheme, and some enemies who would use underhanded tricks.
The protagonist had already saved a world in the past. That meant his character level was on a wholly different level, and the forces of evil could not hope to defeat him easily by attacking him head on. To reduce the threat of such a powerful opponent, they could just hurt his dear family or close friends.
Yasuo’s knees began to shake pathetically, and he felt like he was going to collapse. He had seen several “Villains” in movies who came up with similar schemes. Was that shadow just an indirect method used to shake the protagonist up?
The enemy had already discovered the headquarters of the protagonist, and was waiting for an opportunity to attack his precious family members who were completely unprepared in an attempt to restrain him.
Just when he was about to cling to the name of the messenger from Ante Lande, whom he had been rejecting until now:
“What are you doing, just standing still in a place like this?”
After being called out to suddenly, Yasuo felt like his heart was going to leap out of his mouth, and cowered down.
Looking back, he saw that a short person wearing a plain jumper had come out from the prep school, and was looking at him.
Even before he could process who that person was, she began to speak.
“You’re pretty diligent, coming to prep school even after such a big incident took place.”
Yasuo widened his eyes and looked closely at her.
She was probably the same age as him. She had short hair, and large eyes. Her manner of speech was very friendly, but the problem was that he had never seen her before.
No matter how hard he tried to remember, he couldn’t recall anyone who matched this girl’s description. In fact, Yasuo barely had any opportunity to talk to females apart from his family and Diana. He considered that she might be in the same class as him at school, and he didn’t recognize her because she was not wearing her uniform, but for better or worse, he couldn’t think of any girls who would take the initiative to talk to him.
After staring at each other for a while, the girl seemed to understand something and opened her mouth.
“Ah, I’m sorry for talking to you all of a sudden. I guess I surprised you.”
“You’ll get in the way of other people if you keep standing there. Don’t you need to go inside for your lessons?”
Yasuo came back to his senses. The place where he had almost been overwhelmed by an inexplicable fear was right in front of the door of the prep school, and he noticed that a few students of the prep school were stepping around him to pass through the door while looking at him with an annoyed expression.
“Oh, it’s okay. I’m going home for today anyways.”
After saying that, the girl left his side and walked away. At that point, Yasuo finally realized that he hadn’t found out who that person was.
Yasuo felt frozen by the words of the girl who turned just her head to look back at him.
“Things are probably looking rough for you right now, but stay strong, okay? See you around.”
After hearing her talk like she knew what he was going through, Yasuo forgot what he was going to say and went into a daze. In that time, the girl had turned her back to him and left the prep school.
Yasuo turned around and ran out of the prep school that he had just arrived at, and searched along the path for the jumper-wearing girl he had just seen.
He found the jumper that was almost blending into the light of the dusk, and ran after it.
However, the jumper-wearing girl was walking faster than he expected, and due to being delayed by traffic lights and the crowd of people exiting Tokorozawa station, he found it difficult to catch up to her.
After finally catching up with her in the residential area, the girl responded to his voice and turned around, looking at him warily.
Yasuo managed to catch his breath and looked up at her, but realized that he hadn’t thought about what to ask her, and was momentarily lost for words.
“How did you know about it?”
So he just asked her that directly. What exactly did she know about the events taking place around him? Why did she take the initiative to talk to him?
“Know about what?”
“About me being in a rough spot right now.”
Yasuo asked her what she meant by her words without putting much thought into it, and the girl tilted her head to one side.
“I mean, they talked about it on the news.”
Yasuo made a dumbfounded expression at her unexpected words.
“There was a story about it on the news last evening, so I thought that you must be having a rough time, that’s all.”
“There was a gas explosion in front of your house or something, right?”
At this point, Yasuo finally realized that he had a made a massive misunderstanding. He also realized that he had been acting rudely, and came to know just how cornered he felt.
The troubles he had been experiencing these past three days were all caused due to Diana and were related to Ante Lande. That’s why, when an unfamiliar girl tried to offer some words of support, he unconsciously assumed that it was related to Ante Lande.
However, he wasn’t able to react normally because he was feeling mentally cornered, and also:
“You look like a pigeon that’s been shot with a peashooter.”
Another reason was because he had never seen this girl who was laughing after saying that.
It’s true that some pictures were shown on the news about the family affected by the ‘Explosion incident’, but there were no casualties, and they had not mentioned him by name either. Even so, this unfamiliar girl in front of him had connected him to the news about the explosion.
That’s why, he assumed that the girl in front of him was also connected to Ante Lande, or maybe knew something about the shadow from last night.
By the time he realized, Yasuo had pathetically fallen down on all fours on the street.
“Hey, are you okay?”
“Ah, sorry, I’m fine, I just wasn’t thinking.”
Yasuo replied with a smile that looked like a grimace, and the girl looked at him with a bitter smile.
“I guess so. It certainly looks that way.”
She offered her hand to help Yasuo stand up.
“Can you stand, Yasu-kun?”
And she called him by a nickname.
That voice and nickname stimulated Yasuo’s memory. He remembered that voice, calling him by that nickname. He also realized that this was from a very precious memory.
Yasuo stretched out his hand, and was about to hold the hand that she had extended towards him, when:
“Ah, too bad.”
The girl immediately retracted her hand, and gave a slightly mischievous laugh.
“You were just trying your best to remember who I am, right?”
“Eh!? N-No, I wasn’t!”
Not only did she accurately say what he had been thinking, but she also retracted her hand just as Yasuo was about to hold it, so he almost lost his balance. While keeping himself from falling over, Yasuo once again took a close look at the girl’s face.
Were they from the same high school? Or perhaps, they were classmates in elementary school, middle school, or at some extracurricular lessons? Did they perhaps talk to each other at the special lesson that was conducted when he first joined the prep school?
However, no matter how much he thought about it, he wasn’t able to remember this girl in front of him.
So, Yasuo chose to honestly apologize.
“Don’t apologize in such a dark tone. I’m sorry as well, for trying to test you…. Well, I do realize that my appearance has changed a lot.”
After saying that, the girl stepped forwards and took hold of Yasuo’s hand with her own.
“I can’t believe you came chasing after me, even though you didn’t know who I was.”
Now that she mentioned it, he realized she was right.
“About that… I’m really sorry.”
Yasuo had no choice but to surrender completely. Rather than try to defend himself with some weak excuse, he decided it would be better to give up and find out who she was. Judging by her behaviour, she didn’t look particularly angry that Yasuo had forgotten about her.
“I’m not angry, but that doesn’t mean I don’t feel a little disappointed.”
However, the girl spoke as though she could read Yasuo’s mind.
And then, contrary to her words, the girl revealed an expression that indicated she was having fun looking at Yasuo, who was trying his best to recall who she was.
“Well, I didn’t expect to meet you again at the prep school either, so I guess it can’t be helped. I’m sure you’re friends with a lot of girls, right, Yasu-kun? It can’t be helped if you don’t remember someone like me.”
The girl said that in a clearly sarcastic tone, and didn’t allow Yasuo to object.
“Eh? No, I’m not really…”
Since she was talking like this, she must have been a classmate from elementary or middle school. He gave up on trying to remember and looked straight at her, and found that she had an unexpectedly gentle and cute expression on her face.
Although she was a completely different type from Diana, it wouldn’t be wrong to call her a beauty. Not only was such a lively and cute girl speaking to him in a friendly manner, she also called him by a nickname, so there was nothing to feel sad about.
Yasuo started to feel conscious of the fact that they were of different genders, but he still couldn’t think of any girls from middle school who called him by a nickname, except for that one…
A miraculous image began to rise up in Yasuo’s head.
However, it was very different from the girl in front of him.
“Yasu-kun, you don’t think it’s strange?”
There were no points in common at all….
“Grown-up… I’m not really sure what that means, but I won’t say something like that anymore.”
“Of course not.”
“Thank you, Yasu-kun.”
Yasuo felt like he had pulled on a slender vine, and a whole bunch of potatoes were attached to it.
Each time he made that sound, it felt like the cobwebs in his memories were gradually being wiped away, and the corners of the girl’s mouth rose bit by bit.
“You’ve got to be kidding me!?”
“Of course not!”
Although she retorted with a wide smile on her face, Yasuo was not trying to make a joke, he was completely serious. That’s why, he asked again:
“No, you’ve got to be lying!?”
“Of course I’m not! Don’t tell me, have you not really remembered who I am!?”
Yasuo broke out in a cold sweat for an entirely different reason from earlier, compared the girl in front of him to his memories several times, and finally shouted out her name.
“Tatewaki-san, were you always like this!?”
“You need to add the word ‘Delicacy’ to your dictionary!”
“I mean, you said it yourself before, that your appearance had changed. But isn’t this a little too much!?”
“Oh, really!? Yasu-kun, you used to be a shy boy who would fidget a lot because you weren’t used to talking to girls, and now you suddenly accuse me of being a liar, who do you think you are!?”
“Stop that. You weren’t the kind of person who would talk like this either!”
“Yasu-kun, back then, you would have asked me not to talk like that more politely.”
“Huh!? Seriously!? Huh!?”
It wasn’t strange for Yasuo to act so hysterical. His classmate from the second-year of middle school, Tatewaki Shouko, was definitely not someone who would talk in such a manner.
In a generation when even middle-schoolers naturally carried Slimphones, she was a girl with braided hair and silver-rimmed spectacles, and made you wonder if she was from the Showa Era.
He remembered that her appearance while wearing the sailor-style uniform of their middle school would make people think that she was perfect for a leading part in a drama about the wartime.
Her voice was quiet enough to be compared to the sound of a mosquito, and it was almost impossible to have a conversation with her if the surroundings were a little noisy.
He found it impossible to relate that image of her to this short-haired, big-eyed, sporty-looking girl in front of him.
“I could say the same about you! After I went to the trouble of worrying about you, first you don’t remember who I am, and then you ask if I was always like this! You’re tearing my identity as a woman to shreds!”
“Umm, but that’s because…”
“Ah, and any girl who talks about her identity as a woman doesn’t really have any such thing.”
“What the hell is that supposed to mean!? And seriously, are you really Tatewaki-san?”
“You’re still asking that?”
“Of course. You’re completely different, after all… did something happen to you in high school?”
The phrase ‘High school debut’ flew through his mind. Since they were in different classes in their final year at middle school, Yasuo didn’t know what high school she had enrolled in, but maybe she was inspired to change by a change in her environment.
“You sound like you’re asking me if I made friends with the wrong sort of people in high school.”
Shouko spoke to him while pouting and pointed a finger at him.
“There’s a proverb that says ‘Take a good look at a man if you haven’t seen him for three days’! People will change over time, you know!”
“But you’re a girl.”
“That because that proverb is from a long time ago! Stop nitpicking and just accept the idea behind it! Besides, what do you want anyway? Yasu-kun, what did you want to do after chasing down a girl you didn’t even consider worthy of remembering?”
“Ah, no, I was…”
He thought an unfamiliar person was related to Ante Lande and chased after her, only to unexpectedly find that she was an old acquaintance.
Basically, he had no business with her to begin with.
“Umm, there was some stuff I was mistaken about, and stuff I remembered wrongly, so… umm…”
“Oh? Do you have amnesia?”
“I’m sorry, okay?”
Yasuo genuinely apologized, and said the words that he should have said to begin with.
“Long time no see. You’ve changed so much, I was really surprised.”
“Yes, it has really been a while. Yasu-kun, I can’t really tell whether you’ve changed or not, but I guess you’re not the same as before.”
Shouko finally gave him a genuine smile, which then changed into a look of concern.
“Didn’t you have to go to prep school? Is that okay?”
“Ah, yeah, it’ll be okay. Anyways, it was nice talking to you.”
Yasuo hated himself for trying to end the conversation with such vague words, but he wasn’t experienced enough to say anything meaningful in such a situation.
“I see. Well, I’m glad you remembered me after all.”
It seemed like Shouko had gotten over her anger.
“I have to go home for today, so let’s save the long chat for tomorrow onwards, okay?”
That’s right, this was the way it should be.
Although the way in which it had happened was pretty shameful, changes to your daily life should be things like this, such as meeting someone you haven’t seen for a long time. Definitely not things like messengers arriving from another world, or monsters kicking down your front door.
“Yasu-kun, do you have an account on ROPE? If not, can you give me your email address…”
What’s more, it came with the bonus of exchanging contact information.
Just when Yasuo started to be relieved after three days of mysterious changes…
“Get away from Yasuo!”
That voice sounded like the messenger of death, come to take him to hell.
The situation going to get complicated.
No matter what he did, it would get complicated.
It was definitely going to get complicated.
Yasuo confirmed that the everyday life he wanted was going far away.