Chapter 8 – Midnight
Ignoring the acute pain running through his body, Ayato held Claudia in his arms.
A black blade was stuck deeply into her chest and the overflowing blood had soaked her torn uniform.
“Fufufu…… are you safe, Ayato……?”
Even so, Claudia stretched out her hand to Ayato’s cheek while smiling gently.
“Yes, I’m fine……! More importantly, about you, Claudia……!”
As he spoke, Ayato realized that she was in quite a dangerous condition.
“Ah…… sorry, Ayato…… please, don’t make such a face…… you’ve done, nothing wrong after all…… Even if I say that, it’ll be no use, I guess…… Fufufu…… really, sorry……”
Despite the situation she was in, Claudia had an expression of satisfaction that had never been seen on her face before.
“I’m…… really, selfish…… but, Fufufu…… finally…… I’ve finally reached this time……”
“Claudia! Hang in there!”
Ayato pressed the wound trying to stop the bleeding even a little, but it was no use at all.
“That’s right…… even in the dream…… no, exactly this moment that I saw in the dream…… how long I have eagerly waited for it…… you’ll probably never understand……”
Claudia’s voice got gradually weaker and blurred.
Her pupils have already lost their focus.
Before long, a trickle of tears spilled over the corner of her eyes mixing with raindrops.
“Ah…… I’m very happy…… Ayato…… to me, such…… such a wonderful time…… surely after this……no matter how much time passes……. Such a feeling, I will never……”
The hand that was touching Ayato’s cheek weakly fell.
He shuddered for a moment, but it looked like she just lost consciousness.
Although the wound was deep, he would probably make it in time if he carried her to a hospital. Director Jan Korbel’s motto was not just for show.
“Kukuku……! This is splendid; I picked up luck in an unexpected way……!”
Ayato glared at Bujinsai who shook his shoulders as he said so while staggering.
“After all, the original target is that young lady.”
The old man, whose eyes glittered, picked up his staff that fell on the ground, his gaze showing no signs of faltering at all, and turned it towards Ayato and Claudia.
“But, as expected I won’t feel relieved until I drop them. Both your heads, that is……!”
It looked like Bujinsai still intended to continue.
Though Bujinsai seemed to be wounded quite severely, Ayato had also reached his limit.
Although he did not know to what extent he could fight back, he could not just sit back and wait to be beaten without doing anything.
(No matter what it takes, I must pull through this and carry Claudia to a hospital as soon as possible……!)
But then, a black-clothed figure suddenly appeared before such Bujinsai and whispered something into his ear.
Bujinsai’s expression distorted and he annoyingly clicked his tongue.
“Tch, no choice then……! Let’s temporarily retreat!”
As soon as he spoke, Bujinsai plunged into the rainy, dark night and disappeared with the cloaked figure.
“……I don’t quite understand, but did we pull through……?”
『──Well, I caused quite a chaos in their ranks by crushing their healing ability users after all. And incidentally, the young ladies over there seem to have rampaged quite a lot, so they would probably soon reach their limits in blockading this area.』
A space window that displayed these words suddenly appeared in front of Ayato as he was muttering to himself in utter amazement.
As the space window moved, Ayato followed it to the figure of a woman, with a strange mask, emerging from the shade of a warehouse.
Although Ayato immediately put his guard up, the woman waved at him in a panic.
『No, um, I know that telling you not to be on your guard would be unreasonable, but can you at least stay quiet there and trust me?』
The characters on the space window were replaced by new ones and the woman raised both her arms as to show that he had no intention to fight.
“Who on earth are you……?”
Upon close inspection, the woman also had injuries here and there on her body. They were quite serious injuries at that, and in reality, just standing was probably painful for her.
『I can’t reveal it, and there shouldn’t be time to leisurely explain the situation, right? There’s a pleasure boat, which I board on, nearby and a car has also been arranged on the opposite bank. I can send you two to a hospital.』
Certainly, it was difficult for Ayato in his current state to carry Claudia to the hospital from here and he did not know how much time it would take.
“……Got it. Then please.”
As Ayato made up his mind and said so, the woman greatly nodded.
『Okay, now that it’s been decided, let’s hurry. From what I see, she seems to be in quite a dangerous state.』
She did not need to say it as he knew it.
Ayato carried Claudia and followed the woman moving ahead.
『Oh, that’s right. I saw the fight earlier, but it was quite thrilling seeing how you kicked that old man’s ass. You ain’t bad.』
『……As I thought, I want to have a bout with you one day, too.』
These words, which were displayed, disappeared immediately after a short moment along with the space window.
Thus, Ayato did not see them.
“Retreat, you say……!?”
The melee where allies and enemies were jumbled together suddenly stopped at this voice of Silas.
Julis, who was breathing heavily, looked at Saya and Kirin to see what was going on, but the two girls also had perplexed expressions, indicating that they were also clueless as to what has halted the assault.
“W-What is the meaning of this……?! I didn’t hear about it……!?”
It seemed to be the same for the enemy side though.
Surrounding Julis and company were the Shadow Star’s agents, who put on a hood, and several men in black clothes that joined in the middle of the battle. The latter was probably the Yabuki Clan.
When they were facing only the Shadow Star, Julis and company had the upper hand instead ── probably because the Shadow Star’s number one purpose was to hold them back at all costs ── but, after the Yabuki Clan joined, the situation instantly reversed and Julis and company were steadily cornered.
Even so, that they could somehow hold out was the results of their repeated special training for the . Even inside the melee, they promptly took coordination and escaped from a predicament, and at times they struggled through by entrusting their backs to each other.
However, one could not deny that they were outnumbered from the beginning.
Moreover, the enemies were not a mob of small fries, each one of them was a suitable expert on his own.
At this rate, they would be overcome before long ── or at least it should have been like that when at that time, Silas’ flustered voice of earlier resounded.
“Are you telling us to pull back despite cornering them so far? Such, such a thing, I’ll never……!”
Standing beside Silas was probably a man of the Yabuki Clan.
As he was calm in contrast with the perplexed Silas, no sooner than the man gave a signal, the Yabuki Clan disappeared as if melting from the place of the melee.
“Guuuuh! We’ll retreat as well……!”
Though Silas was bright red in frustration and anger, the containers, who were floating in the air until now, came down one after another at the same time. It was not as if they were aimed at Julis and company, it was just that he simply cancelled his ability.
Water splash and splinters of the gouged ground flew about, and Julis unintentionally protected her face.
It was just an instant, but the Shadow Star’s figures have disappeared when Julis raised her face.
Left behind were Julis and company, who looked at each other and then sank down to the ground at all once before long.
“Haa…… does this mean, that we somehow managed it……?”
With a face saying that she hadn’t quite grasped the situation yet, Kirin muttered so.
Saya rescinded her lux as well and lay down face up.
At the area where water splashed, there seemed to be a big puddle of water, but all of them were already sopping wet anyway. So it would change nothing at this late hour.
“No, our original purpose is Claudia’s rescue. Until we confirm it……”
Julis said so and was going to stand up, but she staggered as he could not fill strength in her legs.
“Um, are you all right?”
“Y-Yea, no problem.”
She held back the worried Kirin with one hand and greatly exhaled while putting the other hand on the ground-covered debris to support herself.
Because she has released large-scale techniques in succession until a while ago, she seemed to have considerably consumed prana. Thinking about tomorrow’s semifinal, she should naturally have saved it, but it was also a fact that it was not a situation where she could save spare energy.
──Then, she received a call on the portable terminal inside her pocket.
“! Is it Ayato?!”
As Julis cried out, Saya quickly got up and Kirin bent herself forward.
When she hastily opened a space window, Ayato’s serious face was projected there.
『──Julis, are you safe?』
“Well, somehow. More importantly, what happened to your side? Where are you right now? And what about Claudia……?”
To Julis, who enthusiastically questioned in rapid succession, Ayato answered.
『I’m in the hospital right now. And, Claudia is──』
It was about time when the date changed that Claudia woke up.
“Where is…… this place?”
To Claudia, who slowly opened her eyes, Ayato, who has been at her side all along, teasingly said.
“Unfortunately, it’s not heaven.”
Then, Claudia revealed a lonely wry smile, moved only her head and looked at Ayato.
“I know that. Either way, where I’ll go will be hell, right?”
“Since you can speak that much, it looks like you’re all right.”
For the time being, he heaved a sigh of relief.
“This is a special room of the hospital. Until a little while ago, there was a doctor that is a healing ability user……”
“……Ah, no wonder the wound in my chest is already healed.”
In fact, the power of a healing ability user that Ayato witnessed for the first time should have been something to be impressed about.
But, prana’s consumption seemed intense accordingly and he could agree that unless it was a life-threatening injury, one could not receive its blessing.
Because of that, even though Ayato should have suffered considerable injuries, he was given only normal treatment. Although, Director Jan Korbel expressly showed up and made the treatment personally, so he should be thankful.
“As expected, the healing ability users of a hospital are excellent after all…… to the point of being hateful.”
Ayato did not fail to hear these words that she added in a low voice at the end.
“──Claudia, could you explain it to me?”
When Ayato said so with a serious expression, Claudia cast down her eyes diverting her gaze and kept silent.
A long silence.
Even so, as Ayato was patiently waiting, Claudia eventually spoke.
“……What do you want to hear?”
“Just about everything.”
Ayato gave an immediate reply without hesitation.
After heaving a somewhat indifferent sigh as she gave up, Claudia slowly raised her body and looked at Ayato.
“I got it. You certainly have the right to hear it, I guess. But, you have already realized it, right? ──That dying today at that place was my true wish.”
Deep dejection blurred on Claudia’s voice.
With that alone, he was made to understand, whether he wanted it or not, that Claudia’s words were serious.
As Claudia said, Ayato had vaguely realized it; but as expected, it was a shocking thing to hear her say it to him.
“……Why would you do such a thing?”
But, he asked as he managed to squeeze only these words.
“Fufufu, well. You will definitely not understand why even if I explain. No, it’s not only you. I think that anyone on this earth other than me will never understand.”
Claudia, who lonelily laughed, slowly closed her eyes as she said so.
“I obtained when I was child and while I was tormented by nightmares of death every night, I gradually lost the value of living. People die no matter how they struggle. No matter how much happiness one experienced while they were alive, there’s no change to the fact that it would eventually come to naught. I actually experienced it not with words or thoughts, but with my body, and when it repeated ── I came to think that rather than how to live, how to die was much more important.”
Though there was something he wanted to say, Ayato remained silent instead.
At least, the root of that way of thinking was something that only the one, who experienced ’s nightmares, could understand.
“And then at one time, I…… I met you, Ayato. Inside a dream that showed me.”
It looked like Laetitia’s guess was right on the mark.
When Claudia opened her eyes then, she sadly continued while being bashful.
“My hero, who rushed to my danger, fought in order to protect me and who saved me…… Fufufu, well in the end, I ended up dying even in that dream though.”
Claudia stared at Ayato with moist eyes.
“Since the time when I had that dream, I have longed for you the whole time ── and fell in love with you.”
Ayato did not know how to reply to her confession.
Instead, he urged her to go on as he continued questioning her.
“……That place today was it?”
“Yes, that’s right. While it rains incessantly, in the harbor of Seidoukan Academy, I am struck by a blade when protecting you and then die in your arms ── this is the conclusion of the dream I saw then. At that time, my wish, the dream that should come true and the scene that I should arrive at were decided.”
Ayato just listened to Claudia’s words silently.
“Thereafter, I have also experienced death more than a thousand times, but there was nothing that exceeded that dream until this day. No, rather the more I experienced new deaths, the stronger and deeper that thought became. So to be frank, I have already understood it, too.”
As Claudia said up to there, she laughed self-derisively.
“──That all of this was orchestrated by .”
“Do you remember when I told you before that this child has a bad personality? This child, by showing me a vivid and ideal death…… by making me fall in love with you, it enjoyed itself by playing with my life.”
Ayato could not help being at a loss for words.
“Shall I cite you one example? Inside my dreams, I have been killed many times by many people, and by close people to me at that. My mother and father go without saying, but there were also Laetitia, Julis, Sasamiya-san, Toudou-san and Yabuki-kun…… But Ayato, I have never been killed by only you even once. Don’t you think that it’s quite unnatural?”
“But if you understood it, then why……”
“Fufufu…… Isn’t that obvious? The thing called love ── just because you are aware of it, is not something that can be stopped, you know?”
When Claudia said so and smiled, tears spilled over her eyes.
“My wish was to make the dream I saw that day become reality; nothing more. I put all my effort into that. The fact that that I enrolled in Seidoukan Academy, the fact that I became the student council president, the fact that I invited you as a special transfer student, the fact that I participated in the , the fact that I stirred up the Integrated Enterprise Foundation and induced them to send assassins to me, everything…… all of this was done just for the purpose to cause what happened today.”
“……But, that wish didn’t come true.”
Ayato said so and took out something, which he wrapped in a handkerchief, from his breast pocket.
The silver charm that was split in two ── the one that Ayato was entrusted with by Laetitia and gave to Claudia.
“According to Korbel-sensei, it seemed that it’d have been dangerous if the wound was only a few centimeters deeper. Perhaps, this charm might have protected you.”
“Fufufu, that’s again…… a very cheap drama-like miracle, eh.”
After Claudia laughed as she sneered at it, she took a very deep breath.
“Actually…… I somehow had a bad feeling. Because in the dream I had, there was no scene where you gave me that charm.”
I see. That was probably why Claudia made a perplexed face at that time.
“……That’s all. Go on, Ayato. You may scold me to your heart’s content. I am ready for that.”
“I mean, you know? I…… For such a worthless, foolish, selfish and hopeless dream, I have deceived and used you and everybody. I must receive a retribution for that.”
Claudia’s voice seemed to tremble slightly as she spoke.
Ayato stood up silently, went to the window and opened the curtain.
Before they noticed, the rain has stopped completely and the moon brightly illuminated the townscape.
“Let’s see…… Certainly, there’s some part where I can’t suppress my anger. No matter how dear a wish it was for you, Claudia, as expected I want you to live after all.”
While looking up at the moon, Ayato continued.
“Not just me, I’m sure that the others also think the same. Especially Julis, she’ll definitely be bright red in anger.”
There, Ayato turned his face and fixedly stared at Claudia.
“But ── more importantly, there’s something I want to ask you before all that.”
“Something you want to ask me?”
“Yeah, what is it that you want to do after this?”
“Eh……? A-After, is it?”
Seeming as if it was a completely unexpected question, Claudia’s eyes wavered as she was flustered. Because this was the first time that he had seen Claudia like that, he loosened his lips as he found it somewhat funny.
“That’s right. Fortunately…… wait, I’ll say this just in case, but it’s after considering that your dream this time has been splendidly broken.”
“……You show no mercy, I see.”
“Well, even I’m angry after all. But let’s set that aside for the time being; I want you to tell me what you wish for or what you want to do after this, something along those lines.”
“Even if you asked that…… why are you asking me that?”
Claudia looked like she could not hide how perplexed she was.
“Of course, it’s because I want to know more about you so that you don’t ever again do such a thing from now on.”
When he said so, Claudia opened her mouth with a dumbfounded face.
“Don’t tell me…… are you forgiving me, Ayato?”
Claudia muttered with a face saying that he could not believe it.
“No, I haven’t forgiven you yet. As expected, I want to complain properly. But, that and this are two different things. First ── I want to have a talk with you from here on.”
“From here on……”
Claudia repeated these words in blank amazement.
And then, she smiled wryly with a face seeming like she would burst into tears at any moment.
“Such a thing…… I don’t know…… there’s no way that I would know, is there……?! I mean, I have lived all along for the sake of this day, only for that……! Asking me at this late hour what I’ll do after that is……!”
“Then, you should just find it from now, right?”
Ayato frankly said so.
“I-Is it that simple to……”
“You don’t really have to find it right now, Claudia. The thing known as a dream or a wish, you see, is something on the extension of everyday you are living like this. That’s why, as long as you don’t stop walking, you’ll find it someday ── at least, I think so.”
“I have to keep walking, is it……?”
“Yes, but if it’s a wish like this time again, I’ll absolutely stop you.”
When Ayato jokingly, yet half-seriously said so, Claudia burst into laughter a little as she could no longer hold it.
“Fufufu……! You’re saying something quite selfish.”
“……I think we’re alike in this regard though.”
Though Claudia’s shoulders shook for a while (as she was laughing), she wiped the tears around her eyes with her flexible fingers before long and raised her face.
“I got it. In that case, I, too ── I shall begin to walk once again.”
Claudia said with a somewhat refreshed face.
Hearing that answer, Ayato felt like he was finally able to lower the curtains for this matter.
“……Thank you, Claudia.”
Saying so, he grasped Claudia’s hand.
“Fufufu, why are you the one saying thanks? Like that, it’s as if our roles are reversed……”
However, as Claudia said up to there, she suddenly stiffened.
Her gaze was focused on her hand held by Ayato.
“N-No, Um, it’s nothing……!”
When Claudia pulled out her hand in a panic state, she turned away and fell onto the bed.
“Errr…… I-I’m sorry.”
While being surprised at her reaction, although he tried apologizing for the time being, the usual Claudia should have started a skin ship that could not be compared to this every time.
However, Claudia, while being red until the ears, turned only her gaze towards Ayato bashfully.
At such a figure of Claudia that he has never seen so far, Ayato’s heart skipped heavily.
“Eh? W-What is it……?”
“Earlier I think that I…… kind of c-confessed to you, but……”
Now that she mentioned it, that was right.
“P-Please forget about such a confusion I uttered mixed in the confusion.”
“Someday…… next time, I would like to convey my feelings properly…… after all.”
As Claudia said so, she buried her face in the pillow.
“……I-I got it.”
Ayato could not give any reply other than that.
Both of them sank into silence as is, and as they both lost track of time ── a knocking sound suddenly resounded in the hospital room.
『──Ayato, Claudia, we’ll come in.』
At the same time as a space window opened, Julis’s face was projected.
Saya and Kirin also seemed to be there behind her.
“Now then, you’ll also have to explain to them. And when it’s over…… you’d better be ready; we’ll scold you together.”
“Yes, I know. But……”
Ayato smiled at Claudia, who still made a slightly uneasy face.
“It’ll be alright. I think that they’ll probably say the same thing as me. I can bet on it.”
When Ayato said so, Claudia finally nodded with her usual smile ── yet slightly different from the one so far.
Claudia, alone in the hospital room where the moonlight came in, sighed.
In the end, she received a severe scolding from Julis and company for one whole hour.
Saya indifferently and coolly, and Kirin surprisingly with tender care while having tears on her eyes, blamed Claudia’s selfishness and betrayal; and they were also happy that she survived. Above all, although in a strong tone, consideration for Claudia could be felt in some points from the scolding of Julis who got angry like raging fire as soon as she heard the circumstances.
“……This is the first time in my life that I have been scolded so much by someone.”
Even so, all of them naturally accepted Claudia, so she was thankful for that.
“From now on, huh……”
She refuted the words that Ayato said.
A frighteningly huge blank future spread now before Claudia’s eyes.
How ironic even though she was the wielder of that had the ability of future foresight.
“Well at any rate, I have to settle things with those guys first.”
As Claudia muttered so, she operated the portable terminal put at her bedside. How many years had it been since she herself took the initiative to call this person?
A little while after the call, her mother’s ── Isabella’s face was projected on the space window.
『To think that I’d receive a call from, strange things do happen after all.』
A perfect smile and a gentle tone as usual.
『I shall listen to what you have to say.』
“Before that, I would like to express my thanks.”
Isabella tilted her head to the side as she was baffled.
“It looks like I too will be able to change a little thanks to this incident.”
Perhaps because she took it as sarcasm, Isabella’s eyes softly narrowed.
『……It looks like you skillfully came through this time, but there’ll be no next time.』
“Yes, I know. That’s why…… I surrender already.”
To Isabella’s quizzical voice, Claudia’s shoulders shook as she was chuckling.
“It is neither a trap nor a stratagem. I am saying that it is my loss.”
『What are you up to at this late hour? You are not possibly valuing your life this late in the game, are you?』
“No, you are right…… I value my life. Even I am surprised about it.”
Over the space window, she keenly felt Isabella’s gaze sounding her out.
Well, it was no wonder. The other party, who was so obstinate, had easily raised a white flag; so it would be natural to be suspicious. Moreover, strategically aside, tactically it was an opponent whom she might say to have more or less won against.
『Assuming that I believe it, do you think that Galaxy will sheathe its sword. Since the situation has deteriorated to this extent, we will not stop so easily. And you are the one who created that situation, you know?』
“Yes, I understand that as well. The negotiations are from here on.”
While saying so, Claudia operated her portable terminal.
『There is no longer room for negotiations……』
The mouth of Isabella, who started to say that, suddenly stopped.
“I sent you some data a moment ago. Please, check them.”
Isabella opened her eyes wide as she was surprised.
“Do you think that the knowledge that I got as a byproduct of ’s price was only regarding ? That is some confidential information about Queen Veil and Le Wolfe. Well, please think of it as a present.”
『……This is, a present, huh.』
Isabella’s eyes shone in a calculating way.
Well, of course. There was no way that a top executive of an Integrated Enterprise Foundation could ignore circumstances that would bring a clear profit to their own camp.
“From now on, I will offer information like this to Galaxy. How about it, do you think that there is enough value in reaching a common ground?”
『……I understand. I will first thoroughly investigate this information. Until then, you will keep your life for the time being.』
After pondering for a while, Isabella said cautiously.
“Thank you. Also…… Mother”
『……What is it?』
“Sorry for the abrupt question, but why did you enter Galaxy?”
Because Claudia’s father, Nicholas, was originally a person of the Enfield House that became the foothold of the actual place in the power struggle at the time of the Europe revival, she understood why he was in Galaxy. However, Isabella was an ordinary person you would find anywhere and should have nothing to do with them.
『What will you do after hearing it?』
Isabella seemed taken aback at Claudia’s abrupt question.
“No, I just thought that it might be interesting if I were to one day enter Galaxy and then…… someday, stab you in the back.”
Claudia said so and grinned.
That was just an idea she hit upon. Since Claudia was a , she could not become a top executive like Isabella, and to begin with, Claudia did not think even as a joke of undergoing a mind adjustment program.
However ── leaving such minor details aside, she thought that it would be interesting if there was such a choice.
『……Fufufu, fufufufu! What on earth happened to you, Claudia? You said something quite interesting again.』
Then, Isabella answered with a really happy face that Claudia has never seen so far.
『I understand. If by chance you were able to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with me…… I would tell you about it then.』
After Isabella said so, the space window turned black.
When Claudia collapsed on the bed after a short while, she broadly grinned.
“I see; it is quite pleasant that she thinks that there is a possibility……”
She muttered so to herself and then closed her eyes contentedly for a while.
This feeling of elation was not bad.
After a short time, Claudia opened her eyes, raised her body and operated her portable terminal again.
This was because there was another person whom she had to thank and complain to no matter what.
“──How do you do, Laetitia? Can I have a little of your time?”
Translator and references notes
 thought that there was no dream surpassing the above-mentioned one
 well, I guess here he means that he didn’t want her to say something like ‘ideal death’ again