Feeling warmth grasp his hand, Takeru clenched his teeth.
Even inside pitch black darkness, she told him he wasn't alone.
When he opened his eyes, he was standing in darkness.
Beside him, his azure partner was holding his hand.
Takeru looked up at the darkness.
"Currently we are inside a sea of Hyakki Yakou, we are captured but are not receiving erosion. It appears Ootori Sougetsu had you receive mental contamination."
"This place is inside Host's dream, a world inside your mind. Using our contract, I have blocked all interference from the outside."
He remembered that part. Within time that seemed like eternity, Takeru tasted loneliness that seemed like hell.
It was Lapis who saved him. He was saved by her warmth.
He decided not to let go of this warmth any more and strongly squeezed her hand.
"Let's go back. Can you wake me up?"
"Yes. But before that... let's talk a little."
Lapis let go of Takeru's hand, just to entangle her fingers with his and hold it again.
When he grasped it back, Lapis looked back up at him. Her pupils were shaking slightly and she moved her lips as if trying speak up.
"...What is it?"
He asked, and her pupils shook even stronger.
Lapis answered with a trembling voice.
"Actually... there is one way... to save the world."
Takeru's expression stiffened.
This should have been good news.
The reason he didn't rejoice, was because Lapis' expression wasn't too nice. She stared at him with an expression making it seem like she could burst into tears any time.
Takeru asked with intention of accepting any answer he could receive.
"Tell me. How, are you saying we can save the world? I will do it, no matter the method—— "
It was when Takeru put a hand on his chest and spoke to persuade Lapis.
"——You and Mistilteinn will become a substitute for a God."
Another presence has appeared inside the darkness.
It was a white-haired woman wearing a white robe.
Looking semi-transparent, the woman floated in the air like a ghost.
"Do not worry. As I am now I have no power to interfere with you in any way."
It wasn't like he trust her, but recalling that he was in a world inside his mind, Takeru released his vigilance. She went missing after his battle with Orochi, but she did survive after all.
However, considering that all interference from outside has been blocked by Lapis, it must have meant that Lapis herself has invited Mother Goose to this world inside his mind.
"What's your motive? What do you mean by "substitute to God"?"
Despite trying to chew through Mother Goose's words, Takeru couldn't figure out what she meant.
"Kusanagi Takeru-san. Do you remember what goal we had in mind as we took action?"
Of course he remembered. Orochi acted in order to revive his older sister, Kusanagi Mikoto... no, in order to make it so that Mikoto's death never happened, he contracted Mother Goose and stood against the world.
Remake everything and invalidate the past.
Turn the world into a blank piece of paper and remake everything from the start.
It was because Takeru didn't accept that, that he fought against Orochi.
"...Remaking the world was your goal."
"Yes. Or to be more correct, to kill Ootori Sougetsu and through fusion of Orochi and me, acquiring the 《God's Vessel》."
Kill the God and become the God.
That was Mother Goose's and Orochi's goal.
Even Takeru, who wasn't especially smart, understood what Mother Goose tried to tell him.
"............Are you telling us to do what you were unable to?"
She said it as if it was natural.
He didn't think she was joking.
Both Gungnir and Mistilteinn were both Sacred Treasure.
"We Sacred Treasures have had our properties mutate upon the world's reconstruction. But although we have acquired personalities which were not inherent to us, or original shapes did not change. Even Mistilteinn, a replica created by the old humanity, should be able to become a vessel."
"I have taught Mistilteinn the operative procedure for 《Deification》. If you kill the God in our place and attain Godhood, you will be able to save the world."
Mother Goose spoke while coldly looking down on Takeru.
Attain Godhood. Takeru didn't know what that exactly meant.
But he knew that it wasn't a good thing.
"...You must be joking. As if we'd become a God to blank the whole world. Even God doesn't have the right to take away the past from the world."
Even if it was painful, Takeru wished for the past.
He wanted to move on into the future while shouldering the past.
"Just replacing the God will not turn the world blank. That choice will be left to you. It is up to God to decide what he does to the world."
"If you wish for the world to remain as is, then you just have to become the God and make it so."
Takeru couldn't feel any discontent or hesitation in Mother Goose's voice.
He furrowed his eyebrows. It was because he wasn't convinced by what Mother Goose said. Their goals were too different for her to help them out like this.
"I don't know... But are you all right with that?"
"I have already been defeated. My body will soon collapse and my soul disappear shortly after. If Ootori Sougetsu is to destroy this world, I'd rather prefer to entrust it to you two."
Mother Goose spoke flatly, without any sadness in her voice, spoke of her thoughts.
But then suddenly, she narrowed here eyes and her cold expression was tinged with humanity.
"Also... I have been entrusted this from host. He said that he would like me to leave you hope, in case that we were defeated."
"He left a message. "This means you really mastered everything this time. Accept it, you dumb disciple"."
Or so he said, she added and quietly closed her eyes.
Takeru made a dumbfounded look. That message was very like Orochi. Short, rough, and included all his usual habits.
"Until the very end, he was an incomprehensible person."
Mother Goose muttered as she recalled Orochi.
When she thought about it, there were several strange things he did. When Takeru was temporarily captured in the Magic Academy, he told Takeru to "Deepen his ties with Mistilteinn", back then he was admonished that there were too few merits in it for their own goal. The fact that Orochi silently saw off Takeru and others back to the outside world, also seemed puzzling in retrospect.
Orochi should have known that Takeru will become his enemy.
And yet he trained Takeru, showing him future. Even after losing his life he had entrusted them with hope. In the end, he assumed several things that might happen and left Takeru several things.
Takeru faced down and squeezed his lips.
...Really... he's always, always doing whatever he pleases...
An image of Orochi smiling like a mischievous kid has passed through his head.
...Even though he came at me with no mercy...
He recalled the sensation of how Orochi ruffled his hair with a rough hand.
...And yet... he always does stuff that makes me unable to hate him...
Takeru recalled the smile his master made when he was being cut down.
I can only be grateful to you now... it's too much, Master.
His squeezed fist crackled.
The second time he received qualification for mastering the style. When he learned that he hasn't been taught everything there was in the Double-Edged style, Takeru felt a little dissatisfied with Orochi. He was ashamed for calling himself an initiate despite not being taught the secret arts.
But now, he was finally acknowledged by Orochi. By surpassing the wall called "Orochi", Kusanagi Takeru was able to move on.
Now that he was acknowledged, he couldn't find any other words than those of gratitude.
There was no choice but to accept the will of his master. Rather, was there any other way to fulfill his reckless wishes other than by becoming a God?
Lapis had returned the strong grip Takeru had on her hand.
Takeru softened his grip and looked at her. Unchanged, she seemed uneasy. He also didn't think everything would go so easily even if they become a God.
"Let's say we become a God, what happens to us then?"
"Even if you use 《Deification》 you won't become a perfect God. In the end you are just a demon and a Sacred Treasure's replica, your quality is simply notwithstanding. It's also impossible for you to become a living god like Ootori Sougetsu. He only could become one because of an error resulting from the collision of worlds."
"Once your and Mistilteinn's souls fuse, you will lose your existence as an individual. No one will be able to perceive your existence and existing merely as a soul, you will watch over this world."
"In other words, you will exist as merely a concept of God in this world."
He was prepared for this to an extent. The side effect of God Hunter Form was a fusion of soul and sublimation to a non-human existence. Deification also has to have drawbacks to it as well.
Originally in Norse Mythology 《God Hunter Forms》 was means for gods to kill each other and 《Deification》 existed to take the seat of the chief god for the individual. Explained Mother Goose.
He simply accepted the facts.
If we become a God, we won't be able to be together with our little sister.
If we become a God, we won't be able to be together with our comrades.
If we become a God, no one will be able to perceive us.
Only capable of watching over the world, they would continue to exist forever.
Definitely not. Not happening.
————But was there any other way for them to save the world?
Takeru closed his eyes. He could tell Lapis put all her strength into her hand holding his.
Think. You have to think. I might not be smart, but I have to find a way.
Think. Think, think, think.
"...It's okay, Host. You just have to be honest with yourself, that is all."
Lapis weakened the grip on Takeru's hand.
"Let's resist without becoming a God. Even if there is no way out, Host always pulls it through. You have kept overcoming various problems so far. So this time too——"
She unwound her fingers and was about to let go.
——But Takeru has gripped her hand once again.
——Strongly, while vowing not to let go of it ever again.
He opened his eyes and made a troubled smile.
"No. We won't find another way. If that guy remains as a God, we'll end up destroyed."
Hearing Takeru's words Lapis was shocked, rendered speechless.
While holding Lapis' hand, Takeru declared to Mother Goose.
"That's why I'm going to become a God. It's fine."
Just like that, he made a declaration not even a child would do, deciding his own fate.
Mother Goose quietly opened her eyes, and Lapis,
"——There is no way it's fine!!"
Clinging to Takeru's arm, Lapis pressed her body against him.
"What happened to you?! Host isn't that kind of person! You are a more egoistic and selfish person!"
She was furious. She seriously snapped. Wrinkling her eyebrows strongly she was angry from the bottom of her heart. Takeru got scared by how overwhelming it was.
"Y-you're horrible... Well, that is true, but this can't be helped. There is no other way."
"It can't be helped...?! There's no other way...?! The person who decided not to kill Kiseki-san or kill himself because he selfishly wants to save both those lives wouldn't say such a thing! You're a person who won't do anything you don't like, aren't you?! Are you really satisfied with such a bad ending?!"
"Is it really that bad? I would be lying if I said I'm completely okay with this... but everyone will stay alive this way."
"Even if they remain alive, they won't be saved! Without you, no one in the 35th Platoon will become happy!"
All that Lapis said was correct and pierced through his heart.
Breathing roughly, she was about to hold down the collar of his shirt.
Lowering her voice, Lapis glared at Takeru.
"What about Ouka-sama? You're not going to walk by her side?"
"...Yeah. I won't be able to fulfill the promise."
"What about Mari-sama? You already know just how much does she like you, right?"
"...Yeah. I might not be able to give her an answer."
"Ikaruga-sama will continue to wait for you forever in the platoon's room."
"...Might be. She's stubborn and more sentimental than anyone else."
"Usagi-sama... if you aren't there, she will continue to cry forever."
"...I guess so. I'll be lonely as well not being able to pat her again."
"Kiseki-sama... You were the one who said you want her to stay by your side forever as your little sister...!"
"............Yeah. I want her by my side, it'll be really damn saddening."
"This is too horrible... Please stop with this self-sacrifice...! You shouldn't try becoming some stupid hero...!"
Holding his clothes so strongly they seemed about to rip, Lapis clenched her teeth and pressed her head against his chest.
He was honestly happy to see that she was thinking so much about the 35th platoon. It was one of the reasons why he felt frustrated and pathetic to make this decision.
Pained from the bottom of his heart, Takeru put a hand on Lapis' shoulder.
"It ain't self-sacrifice, nor becomin' a hero. I'll probably end up burdening everyone with something overwhelming. I know that well. Just like they are to me, I am important to them."
Although he felt embarrassed, he spoke what he thought. He did mention by himself that he is loved by everyone, no wonder he felt conceited because of that.
In fact, it was conceit. A person who wouldn't be conceited in a situation like this would be a piece of shit.
And he, making such a choice while being conceited, was even worse a piece of shit.
"But I don't think they will be unable to attain happiness if I disappear."
"...That's not true...!"
"They'll end up bearing a scar, but they should be able to move on. I mean, it's 35th platoon, right? They're strong... stupidly strong, even. As long as they have comrades they won't be unhappy, even if they act stubborn. They'll become happy enough to make me grit my teeth with frustration."
"That won't happen...!"
"This is my selfish belief... It's for the best."
"You're wrong...! If everyone is to lose you, it's better that we all fight together and have the world be destroyed!"
Raising her face from his chest, Lapis looked at Takeru's face.
And noticed that he was crying. He cried while desperately trying to smile.
"...No. That's no good... even if everyone's happy with that, we can't give in to destruction... I don't want that."
After coming this far, Takeru forced his will through. He let out the worst selfishness there was inside him.
He too, was frustrated by this. Frustrated and frustrated and frustrated and frustrated and frustrated and frustrated and frustrated and frustrated and frustrated and frustrated and frustrated and frustrated and frustrated and frustrated and frustrated and frustrated and frustrated and frustrated.
It was far from the happy end Takeru wanted, but it's not like there was no salvation in this. Now, he could only cling to this small salvation.
It was frustrating. But he was fine with it.
It was fine.
Making an expression as if her heart was crushed, Lapis asked Takeru.
"...Host... are you... really fine with that?"
"There's not even the least salvation left for you this way..."
"You will be forever alone... watching over the world... you will only continue to exist."
"You will be crushed by loneliness... you aren't strong enough to bear it... I know it the best of all——"
Suddenly, Takeru embraced Lapis.
Strongly, almost strong enough to break her.
"Yeah, I'm ain't strong. Just earlier I tasted plenty of it, I hate loneliness. It's just as you say. ...But there is a salvation for me, y'know?
——I have you. Forever and ever I will be together with your soul, right?"
Takeru whispered so gently into Lapis' ear.
She opened her eyes wide. Takeru was no longer crying, he resolved himself while hugging Lapis with love.
"It'll be hard without being together with everyone. Being without Kiseki will also helluva hard on me too. But... you alone, will stay by my side."
"I'm fine with that. I think it's all right. The salvation I have found for myself, is you. Were there no salvation for me, I wouldn't have made this choice."
In an embrace, Lapis continued to stare at him with eyes wide open.
Before long, large droplets of tears spilled from them.
"If you only give me a nod, I will rush forward towards this conclusion. If you don't, I won't aim for this conclusion."
"Lapis... will you be by my side for eternity?"
It was partially something like a confession. There were no lies in Takeru's feelings or what he said. It might have been caused by the situation, but it was no mistake that it was the truth.
Even if no one will be aware of his existence, he won't be unhappy as long as Lapis is together with him. As long as she is by his side, he will become happy.
It will be hard on him not being able to meet his little sister. He will be lonely not being able to meet his comrades. He would be so sad he would probably cry time after time again.
But if Lapis is there with him, he will bear it.
He wished for his comrades'; his sister's happiness.
Even if not everyone agrees with it, it was fine. Thought Takeru.
"That's not fair, Host."
Lapis slowly wound her arms behind his back.
"You are really terrible... I can't agree with being chosen in this manner."
"Yeah, I know. But I'm not lying, these are my real feelings."
"I know that, it makes you all the worse..."
Agreeing with her, Takeru smiled bitterly.
She squeezed him with her hands wound behind his back.
"Being asked to like this... there is no way I can refuse. No way I can be against it. After all, I——"
——I love you.
"Yeah. I love you too, partner."
As he strongly returned the hug, flames appeared in Takeru's pupils.
The path to proceed on was decided. It was accompanied with the pain like nothing so far, but they couldn't stop here. Once they decided on it, they have to force their way through. Stand up time after time again. Even covered in mud and tumbling unsightly, wailing and crying, screaming angrily and laughing, they would accomplish this.
That was Kusanagi Takeru's way of living.
The hug ended and he let go of Lapis' body.
She wasn't expressionless, but smiled towards Takeru.
And the next moment, she stared at him intently.
"But you love everyone else too."
"H-hey... I properly do love y..."
"It's fine. I know. I love you including parts of you that are like that."
Lapis' smile when she said that could only be called wonderful. He really was surprised by her. She was so cute that he suddenly felt like dying from embarrassment.
As he slowly started blushing,
"——Flirting is okay, but isn't it about time you wake up?"
Astonished, Mother Goose spoke to the two. No wonder she felt like interrupting the two, as they have shown her a love scene like this despite the overall dangerous situation they were in.
In any case, Takeru resolved himself.
He will no longer choose to hesitate.
Together with Lapis, the two faced Mother Goose again.
"...Are you certain? I cannot guarantee success."
"So what? That's pretty normal for us."
Certainly, Mother Goose said and looked downwards.
Takeru didn't know much about her. What he knew was that she didn't hesitate to use any means to fulfill her goal, and was a cool-headed person just like Orochi.
But when she accepted Takeru and Mari to Magic Academy, she was at least kind to them.
As she entrusted hope to them, she seemed similar to how she was back then.
"Thank you. Thanks to you, the road has opened. We absolutely won't let this hope go to waste."
Mother Goose was surprised by his thanks.
And facing downwards a little, she made a small smile.
"...You are... very similar to Orochi, my Host. That person also was someone who kept giving his thanks to people, whether they were his enemies or allies."
"Well, can't deny we are alike. When Master turned younger he looked so much like me I was pretty disgusted by it."
Takeru scratched his head, having mixed feelings. Mother Goose looked at Lapis in the end.
"...You have chosen a good contractor, Lapis."
Mother Goose used Lapis' nickname for the first time. Lapis originally had no memory of the old world. She could only suspect that to Gungnir, she was a detestable enemy. If Mistilteinn was a replica of a Sacred Treasure, then it would mean that Lapis' mother would be——
"I need not be told that. Host, is the best Host of all."
"Fufu... I should have told mine the same while he was still alive. Although, my relationship with him wasn't like yours... nevertheless, I wanted to tell him that I have no regrets."
"If Kusanagi Orochi is similar to my Host, he should have understood that even if you didn't say it."
"...I guess you are right."
Smiling wryly, Mother Goose set her both hands as if to prayer.
"There is no time left. Go forth——I entrust you with the future of this world."
While she retained a posture for praying, her transparent body began to shine.
"I shall convert my soul to magic power and bestow it to you with 《Magic Power Transfer》. The "Twilight" property doesn't allow for Deification, but if you absorb my "God's Authority" magic power you should be able to use it as is."
"...Is really okay? If your soul disappears, you——"
"Oh, concerned about me? As expected of playboy, is what I'd like to say, but I have no intention of finding another Host."
"...Joking around at a time like this?"
"And I am your enemy, too. There is no guarantee I won't take you over. You never know if I won't reappear when you are about to become a God, and devour Kusanagi Takeru's soul."
Mother Goose said that and chuckled. Takeru made a strange expression seeing her joke in response to his concern.
He thought so back in the Magic Academy as well, but she might have been surprisingly mischievous.
"It's a joke. Just like you, I'm fine with this. Please use my soul for the sake of this world."
A white magic circle appeared and Mother Goose's body started to convert into particles of magic power.
Until the very end, Mother Goose prayed to the two.
"——I wish the two of you best of luck. If possible, I wish for your salvation in the end."
It was the last spell of the mother of witches, the White Witch of the East. Turned into particles, she wrapped around Takeru's and Lapis' bodies. It was a warm and gentle hug.
Although they were inside mental world, they could feel warm power well up from inside of them.
Holding Lapis' hand, Takeru clenched his fist.
The time to wake up has come. The time to fight has come.
The time for the last battle——
Anticipating the future, the two held hands to confirm each other's presence as they shook off the darkness.
Lapis' body disappeared. Azure-colored particles danced in the air like butterflies.
Takeru chanted the words of power for the last time.
Signaling the start of the battle.
Putting his heart, his soul in it,
""Desiring with supreme ardor——""
""——Hammer of Gods!""
To kill the God, and reach Godhood.
The two set forth together.