Those were powers any young modern Japanese boy, who was completely unaware of things, would dream of. Powers he would desire to accomplish great deeds, if he ever came to a different world.
Those were powers craved by the boy who had just moments ago fallen into this world. Powers he would have strongly wished to have at hand when he was facing the approaching, large enemy army or when he tried to take the fortress and city filled with enemies.
But, what welled up within Souma when he was actually offered to be granted those powers wasn’t joy or relief. It was fear.
All blood drained from Souma’s face, turning it ghastly pale. His body, which was drenched with unpleasant, cold sweat, couldn’t move an inch, be it finger or tongue. In contrast to his immobile body, he couldn’t stop his breathing from becoming so fast and rough that anyone would think he was suffocating.
“What’s wrong, my Souma? Tell me the power you want, the power you desire. Come on, hurry! Come on!”
Souma was unable to answer Aura who was pressing him to make a decision.
What will happen if I obtain such a power? How will things end up if I obtain such power?
The predicted answers to those questions caused Souma to freeze up. Meanwhile, Aura tilted her head slightly to the side in front of Souma, who didn’t respond no matter how long she waited.
“Oh my, how reserved you are, my cowardly Souma.”
At that moment, Aura’s face suddenly brightened up, and she clapped her hands together.
“Ah, right! I came up with a great idea,” exclaimed Aura with her eyes sparkling like a child who was about to make an extraordinary suggestion. “I’ll grant all of them to you!”
Surprised, Souma couldn’t understand what she meant for a moment. But, when he comprehended at last, a sound like a stifled scream escaped Souma’s throat.
Ignoring him, Aura cheerfully continued, “I’ll give all of them to you! All of them! Cursing people to death, defeating 10,000 soldiers, destroying armies of millions, warding off all kinds of deaths, and charming others. I’ll give all these powers to you!”
And then she smiled sweetly at Souma who had remained completely petrified until now.
“You’re happy, right my Souma?”
But, her smile was that of a beast. The smile of a carnivore who had caught its pitiable prey, was playing around with it, and would soon devour it.
With such a smile, Aura extended a finger towards Souma’s seal like she had done when granting him his current blessing. That finger was approaching his forehead ever so slowly and gradually, as if she was teasing him.
Seeing it closing in, Souma yelled, “S-Stop!”, and slapped the finger away.
A silence so painful that it hurt the ears filled the room. That silence felt like a mute reproach to Souma, who only now started to dread what he had done. He was unable to look at Aura’s face, and thus he did no more than wait for time to pass while lowering his face.
However, what reached his ears as he started to become unable to endure the stillness was a stifled giggling.
“That’s right, isn’t it? Completely right! You do not need such powers, my Soumaaa.”
Despite him having refused her offer, not a trace of anger or disappointment could be found on her face.
“That was the correct choice, my wise Souma.”
Far from it, a delightful smile adorned Aura’s lips.
“Such powers aren’t for humans. They are powers of those who are not humans. If you had obtained such powers, you would have stopped being a human. You would have turned into something wearing a human shell. It would have changed you. Yep, away from being a human to an existence close to us. A being close to the gods!” Aura declared powerfully, just to completely change in the next moment, gently admonishing Souma, “But you see, Souma, even if we might be extolled or worshiped, we are beings distant from humans. People keep us at distance because they fear us. People revere us because they feel intimidated. Being feared, being awe-inspiring, being driven away, and being revered; that’s a god. That is us.
But, something that stays near people while possessing powers similar to gods. Something that is neither god nor human. The people have a specific term for such a being.”
After taking a breath, Aura clearly said, spelling out each vocal, “Monster.”
And then she solemnly recited, like a priestess who was passing on an oracle, “No matter how useful to people you might be, no matter how much respect people show you, now matter how much they praise you, and no matter how much adoration you might garner, you who couldn’t become a god while possessing god-like powers, would be a monster. You would end up becoming a monster.”
Aura looked down at Souma, who was still sitting on the ground, with eyes full of pity, “That’s because people are weak beings.”
Aura placed her hands on her knees, crouched down, and peered into Souma’s face, “Are there any people who wouldn’t hate a mystical power allowing its wielder to bring death upon others by just wishing it? Are there any people who don’t fear martial prowess allowing its possessor to defeat 10,000 soldiers? Are there any people who aren’t frightened of magic powers allowing its caster to destroy an army of a million with a single spell? Are there any people who wouldn’t envy a power of immortality, allowing its owner to ward off all death? Are there any people who have the courage to expose their loved ones to a power that’s capable of even charming innocent virgins?”
Seeing Souma being unable to even muster an answer, Aura revealed a sadistic smile.
“Such people definitely don’t exist, my Soumaaa.”
Souma’s body trembled with a start. Close to him, Aura spread both her arms and began to whirl around.
“People are weak, and thus they fear anything they cannot attain with their own power. People are weak, and thus they feel apprehensive towards anything they cannot comprehend. People cower, are struck with awe, and fear; turning the sources of all these into monsters. You would end up being turned into a monster. And only one fate awaits a monster.”
As though being unable to bear the sadness, Aura made her voice quiver while hugging her own shoulders.
“You’ll be defeated by the people, coloring the tale’s end with your own life.”
Souma couldn’t deny Aura’s words. It was the same in the manga and novels he had read back in modern Japan. What caused the protagonists, who had obtained huge, inhuman powers, to suffer the most weren’t their enemies, but the humans who ought to be their allies. The humans they ought to protect. The humans they should have saved. Their rejection broke the protagonist’s heart the most. Their betrayals threw the protagonist into the most perilous dilemmas.
So, who could say that the same wouldn’t happen to him? Who could promise that he wouldn’t meet the same fate?
“But, look, my cute Souma. If you truly wish to save everyone, you should become a monster. You should turn into a monster that would be feared, kept at distance, and eventually killed by others, despite having saved many people with your actions.” At that point, Aura shook her head lightly, “No, you’re already a monster. You’re a monster with the name of deadly poison that derails the principles of this world and drives people towards their own death. And because of that you desire to be one of those weak humans, don’t you? You desire to be one of the many tiny people, right? So as to not be feared by everyone, so as to not be hated by everyone, and so as to not become a loner. Just like a lonely wolf would deceive others by wearing the pelt of a cute sheep.”
Aura pulled a sheep pelt, which she had retrieved from who-knows-where, over her own body, and started to bleat just like a sheep.
“Meeh, meeh, I’m not scary. Meeh, meeh. I’m not dangerous. I mean――” Aura placed a hand on the sheep’s head, and tore it off in one swoop.
What appeared underneath wasn’t the girly form of Aura, but the face of a boy with a seal on his forehead.
That boy formed a smile, looking as if his lips had torn open up all the way to his ears, and said, “――I can’t hurt anyone with my hands. I can’t break anything with my own hands, after all.”
Souma screamed at that. He retreated, sliding his butt across the floor, in an attempt to get away from the boy in front of him as far as possible. But then his back hit something soft.
“However, you, who pretends to be such a weak and tiny human, are the most terrifying of them all.”
Faster than Souma could look back, a slender, white arm enveloped Souma’s neck from behind alongside that voice.
It was Aura. But, who was the one in front of him then?
Once Souma looked back in front, he found a mirror instead of Aura standing there. It reflected Aura smirking while hugging Souma from behind as if cradling his head.
“Hey, my dear Souma. You asked her whether she would follow you, didn’t you? But, you should be aware of it yourself. You ought to know that she alone will always follow you, even if no one else does. In reality, you wanted to ask her something else, didn’t you?”
Thereupon, the mouth of the mirror’s Souma started to move without the real Souma having anything to do with it.
“Is everyone going to follow and trust me?”
Souma felt a shock as if his chest had been stabbed by a dagger due to the words of his mirror self.
Aura brought her mouth close to Souma’s ear, “You’re anxious, aren’t you? You’re worrying, right my cowardly Souma? The enemy you’re going to fight from now on will be stronger than you. And since you’re going to take on such a mighty foe, you’re asking yourself whether everyone will truly follow, obey, and believe you. Just like on that day five years ago, during that time five years ago, you’re worrying and worrying to no end. But, you have already noticed, haven’t you? You have already considered it, haven’t you? In that case, you just need to toss away all hesitation and go ahead. Just like on that day five years ago. Just like during that time five years ago.”
Listening to Aura, Souma’s face went beyond pale, becoming ashen like that of a dead person.
“No matter how much a hero exhibits his bravery, no matter how many enemies a brave consigned to oblivion, the weak, small people won’t be able to believe them from the bottom of their hearts. After all, heroes and braves are chosen and special, making them different from everyone else.
But, that doesn’t apply to you. Your voice can reach them. Your voice can resonate within them. It’s possible because it’s you. That’s because you’re a weak, tiny existence like everyone else.”
Aura chuckled and separated from Souma.
“That’s how it is, my Souma. Possessing no special powers whatsoever, you won’t be able to turn into a fearsome monster by yourself. But, if it’s you who possesses no special powers at all, you can become the will of a gigantic, mighty monster with millions of people behind you.”
Aura spread her arms widely like a large bird that was about to take off after spreading its wings.
“Aahh, how terrifying, my Souma. You’ll let everyone else work for you. Killing those opposing you, defeating thousands of soldiers, destroying armies of millions, carving your name into history for eternity, and even charming people. You won’t use your own power for any of it, but have those believing in you do all of these for you. You’ll have those, whom you made believe in you, do your dirty work.
And then, as you stand on top of a mountain of corpses formed by everyone within the sea of blood spilled by everyone, you alone will remain untouched and unhurt as you sing your praises of lofty ideals and as you lay down life’s burden by yourself!
What a dreadful, repulsive, and yet beautiful scene it’ll be!”
“You’re wrong! I won’t do anything like that!”
At once, Souma raised his voice in denial.
“No. I’m sure you will break everything. I’m sure you’ll violate even the commandments you imposed on yourself. And I’m sure you’ll destroy the world!”
Aura bent her white throat back, guffawing loudly.
“Aahh, Souma, Souma, Souma! You’ll destroy, break the commandments, and tear the world! 1 You’re most certainly my beloved, divine son! My Divine Son of Destruction!” Aura announced in the shrill voice of a girl and the growling of an old beast.
Souma couldn’t do much more than desperately cover his ears to weather through it.
At that point, Souma suddenly woke up. He felt dumbstruck as he couldn’t understand his own situation for a while, but before long he noticed that he was lying on his bed. While bearing the unpleasant, cold sweat covering his body, he let only his eyes wander, scanning his pitch-black bedroom.
But, not a single trace of the ill-natured goddess remained. As if everything up until moments ago was nothing more than a terrible nightmare. Yet, the reverberations of Aura’s sinister laughter were stuck deep in Souma’s ear, unwilling to fade.
Souma clenched his right fist and hammered it against his own bed sheet. The soft, stifled thuds resounded throughout the deadly silent room.
“…I’ll do it once more, huh? I guess I have no choice but to do it.”
It’s always like that. Every damn time, it’s the same. That nasty goddess merely urges me to choose. She shoves things I want to ignore, realities I want to deny, and futures I don’t want to consider right into my face. But, she never orders me to do anything. She only tells me to choose.
And yet Souma put even more strength into his fist while hitting the sheet due to this situation compelling him to make that choice.
“Watch me, Aura. Even if it’s impossible right now, at the end――only at the very end, I’ll show you that I won’t dance to your flute!”
The next morning, thousands of people had been assembled on the city square of Bolnis. They were Souma’s soldiers with the zoan warriors forming the main force. As they would fight against Holmea from now on, they had been gathered in this place for the sake of holding a departure ceremony. Moreover, trying to watch the ceremony, the city’s residents gazed at the whole procedure from a distance.
Among the zoan stood the black-furred Fagul Garguss Garam, a brave warrior extolled as the strongest of the plains, the Great Clan Chief of all clans in the Solbiant Plains, and clan chief of the Fang Clan. He was pulling a sullen face while folding his arms.
But, there existed a reason for Garam to pout like that.
In reality, going by Souma’s initial explanation, they should have attacked the bridgepoint before Holmea could put up its guard and taken total control of that place. He had heard that they would keep the departure ceremony very moderate and wrap it up quickly so as to not make Holmea suspect anything.
But when it became morning, Souma had proclaimed that he’d hold a departure ceremony in front of the soldiers that had been just gathered. Many people were puzzled by that sudden notification, but it wasn’t unusual for Souma to suddenly come up with ideas they didn’t see coming. That was something Garam was plenty aware of as well, but in the end he couldn’t understand the meaning behind holding such a grand ceremony right before they’d try to assault the enemy.
And because of these feelings of dissatisfaction, Garam had remained silent for a good while now.
“Hey, Garam! Have you heard anything about this?”
The one calling out to him at that moment was the red-furred Kraga Bigana Zurgu, clan chief of the <Claw Clan> and a warrior said to be equal in might to Garam.
“We have Pipi and her harpyians watch out for any suspicious people, but I can’t believe that holding such an exaggerated ceremony is a good idea either way,” Zurgu looked up to the sky while scratching his cheek with a finger.
Several huge shadows similar to birds drew arcs up there.
“…No idea. ――《Noble Fang》 also said that Soma must have some idea for this.”
Garam repeated the words his sister had told him when he had asked after she finished informing him of the ceremony. And then Garam’s eyebrows furrowed even deeper as he remembered the events back then.
While she might be my sister, I’m starting to worry whether she hasn’t become too blindly devoted to Soma. Even if he might be her 「Navel Master」, she should try to assess his words and actions objectively. And when I warned her about that, she had the gall to tell me that my fur would fall out if I worried too much. Damn it, when it comes to my sister…
Just as Garam was pondering like that, Zurgu nudged his side with his elbow.
“Hey, Sir Soma has shown up.”
Once Garam lifted his face in response, he could see Souma walking with Shyemul following right behind. Crossing in front of the soldiers, who had become noisy upon their appearance, Souma walked up to a podest which they had urgently prepared for this ceremony. After stopping Shyemul, he climbed onto the podest by himself.
Standing up there, Souma looked down upon the ranks of the soldiers, but he didn’t do anything other than that. He didn’t appeal the just cause behind their war against Holmea, nor did he attempt to order the sortie. He merely peered down at the noisy soldiers with his arms folded.
Due to that, sporadic voices telling their peers to quiet down could be heard among the ranks. Those were the people who had been present during the 「Proclamation of Iron」 five years ago. The voices of those recalling the 「Proclamation of Iron」 also chimed in, resulting in the noise dying down much faster than back in the past. The square soon was wrapped up in a silence as you’d never expect from a place with several thousand people.
And then, after confirming that everyone was listening, Souma slowly unfolded his arms, and finally spoke up.
“I hate battle.”