ZA – Chapter Ophiucus 35 S

Chapter 35 – O

Sophia

“A forest 60 kilometers to the south of Genobia. This must be that forest,” Viola said while looking at the forest settled a few meters in front of us.
“Okay then. We’re almost there. It’s a little tight, but please hang on a little longer,” Auria said and presses the orbs on her control panel even more firmly, commanding the mechanical scorpion to push forth even faster. I’ve seen her riding this robotic scorpion before when we were heading for Sarin’s vacation mansion on the mountains. However, back then, I was riding Regulus’s back with mom sitting behind me, so this is the first time I get to ride Antares with Auria. And well, Viola is also here too, sitting behind me. The pilot chamber can be best described as something similar to a motorcycle’s seat. Since Antares was designed only for his master to ride him, the chamber is not that big, and I have to squeeze in with Viola. Auria has been asking if we are comfortable for the whole trip, and kept on apologizing for the inconvenience.
Of course, I did not make a single complaint. She was already kind enough to voluntarily escort me to the Halls of Reverie. And for that, I should be thankful. Enduring an uncomfortable seat for about 40 minutes is not going to kill me after all.

Once we get inside the forest path, Auria dismisses the mechanical scorpion and turns him back into the fluffy plush doll, clinging on her head.
“I don’t see any big structure that is remotely close to a hall,” I spoke up, looking deep into the forest.
“Well, Frey said it’s hidden behind an illusion curtain, isn’t it? I guess from here we just have to walk and explore around the place,” Viola said, looking off to the path before us. After that, she turns around to me with a worried look. “…Hey, Sophia. You doing okay?”
“Huh…? Oh. Yeah. I’m okay,” I replied.
Perhaps she was concerned about my relationship with mom from now on. To be honest, my heart still hurts just from thinking about her.
But it’s too late to turn back now.
I have to do what has to be done.
“Hey guys,” I spoke up after clearing the thoughts in my mind, “I want to thank all of you again for doing this.”
“Aw, come now. Cut that out already,” Viola said, ruffling my hair, “Being so mopey and apologetic doesn’t fit you at all!”
“Aow!! Hey, stop messing with my hair!”
“Well, Sophia, I was the one who got you into this state in the first place. So I want to do whatever I can to help you,” Auria said with a sad smile, “… I’m really sorry.”
“H… Hey, don’t be so hard on yourself.” I give her a nudge after I stopped Viola from messing with my hair. “I’m only doing what is natural for friends to do for each other. You don’t have to blame yourself for it.”
“Yeah, but even so…”
“And you should smile a bit more often.” Viola nudges the caramel haired girl as well. “We have enough hardships already. I got my leg broken once. I faced utter defeat twice. Sophia lost her power. That’s already enough things for us to be sad about.”
Auria remains quiet for a while but finally puts on a smile.
“You’re right. I came here… I volunteered to escort Sophia here because I want to see her smile again,” Auria said, “So I’ll make sure you get your powers back! We will definitely leave this place with a smile on Sophia’s face again.”
…Auria.
You are so sweet…
“In that case, let’s do our best!” Viola suggested.
“Yeah!” Auria and I cheered at the same time.
I’m glad things are a little livelier now.

The three of us keep moving forward down the forest path. It is probably after midnight right now. The forest is dark and damp. Although the stars are sparkling brightly in the sky tonight, it is still difficult to see our surrounding. Our only source of light is the flash light in Viola’s hand, hence is why she is taking the lead right now. Auria tightly holds my hand while she moves forward, so we would not get lost from one another. As we move deeper into the forest, for some reason my heart starts to pound faster as each second passes. It’s really weird; it was like my body could feel that there is something in this forest.
“It almost feels like there is no end to this path at all,” Viola muttered, still looking forward.
“Well, we don’t know how deep that place is into the forest,” Auria said, “…… But I could almost tell that there is ‘something powerful’ in this forest.”
I was a little surprised to hear Auria said that. It seems like I was not the only one who could sense it.
“… You too, Auria?” Viola turned around briefly. “I also had this tingly feeling that something ‘big’ is near us as well…”
Hearing Viola said so, I decide to speak up as well.
“…… Hey, guys. Somehow… I could feel something too.”
Both Auria and Viola stop walking then turn to me.
“I have this tingly feeling too. The hairs on my skin are crawling, as if something is calling for me,” I explained.
“… So you could still sense something even though you don’t have your powers with you anymore?” Viola asked.
“I don’t know if that is the case,” I said, “It’s just this weird hunch tingling inside me that I just can’t seem to get it off.”
“Maybe that is a good sign,” Auria suggested, “Perhaps this means that your powers is not completely gone yet; it’s probably still inside you, remaining dormant.”
“I agree. In either case, this definitely means that we are heading to the right path,” Viola said, “Let’s keep moving forward!”

Agreeing so, the three of us keep moving forward at a faster pace in high hopes. In fact, we were on borderline running forward, but we also had to control ourselves not to move any faster than we do right now, otherwise we could lose each other. However, the three of us have to stop on track immediately when we hit a dead end – a cliff overlooking an expansive sea.
“A… dead end?” Auria muttered.
“It can’t be… We haven’t run into any big structures at all throughout our time here,” Viola muttered, turning off her flash light, since the light from the moon is bright enough for us to see our way around this area. “Do you all still get that tingly feeling?”
“Y… Yeah. I still could feel an immense power from around here,” Auria replied.
“Then it has to be around here somewhere. Let’s split up and look around this cliff,” Viola suggested.
With that settled, Auria and Viola move away to different direction, looking around the area. I could still feel the tingling feeling on my skin; in fact, it’s even stronger than before. We are definitely close to it right now.

As I look out towards the expanse of the open sea, for a spilt moment, I felt like I saw a silhouette of something settled far outwards from the cliff.
“Huh?”
I squeeze my eyes and glare towards where I saw the silhouette. After every few seconds, a shadowy silhouette would flash then disappeared.
“This is it,” I whispered in glee, “The Hall of Reverie must be here.”

“It’s normally hidden by a curtain of illusion, but when a Zodiac Angel touches its outer walls, the hall will reveal itself.”

“Touch?”
Thinking about Miss Frey’s words, I stretch my hand forth towards the silhouette only to be surprised when I touch an invisible object before me.
“Wha!?”
A ripple wave forms on the fabrication of space in front of me like when something touches the surface of water.
“What’s the matter, Sophia!?” Viola quickly approaches me upon hearing my cry. Her eyes then widen in surprise when she saw the ripple wave in front of me. The ripple resonates out in a wider area, and a few moments later, the ‘curtain of illusion’ that used to be here completely dissipates, revealing a long batch of land that extends out of the cliff like a bridge. At the other side of the bridge, a huge structure with sharp spiky roof can be seen hovering above the sea below.
“So this… is the Hall of Reverie?” Auria whispered.
“Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s get inside!” Viola suggested and took the lead.

Without wasting any more time, we quickly cross the bridge to the other side. As we got closer to the structure, we could only ponder how this place was created. It’s definitely not made by modern technologies, seeing as how the outer appearance of the structure is so twisted and distorted.
Was this created by the original Zodiac Angels?
Miss Frey said that it was a circulator of the Zodiac Angels’ souls that awaits reincarnation, so it only makes sense that the angels made this around the time they knew that they have to sacrifice their immortal bodies.
Whatever it is, it seems like we probably won’t get any answers to that. Right now, I probably should focus on trying to get my powers back.

There is not much to talk about inside the hall. It’s just a simple dark and long hallway, leading further inside the structure. The three of us keeps moving forward with Viola taking the lead like before. Soon we find ourselves standing in the middle of a cylindrical hall with the ceiling located high above where our eyes can see.
Lining along the walls of this cylindrical hall are various familiar looking glyphs – 12 of them to be exact with the 13th engraved on the floor in the middle of the room.
“These glyphs,” Auria whispered and instinctively places her right hand above her left chest.
“These are Zodiac Marks,” Viola said, examining the glyphs one by one, “… Hey guys, look.”
The purple haired girl stops in front of the glyph located around the northwest wall.
“This is Sophia’s mark… And it’s the only one glowing,” Auria muttered.
Like what she said, all the other glyphs in the room are simply empty carvings of our Zodiac Marks. However, the glyph of my Zodiac Mark is the only one radiating a pale light. Out of instinct, I move closer to that glyph and try placing my hand on it. That moment, the glyph suddenly glows brighter and a portion of the wall in front of me disappears, revealing a secret passage hidden behind it.
“Perhaps the other glyphs aren’t glowing because the rest of the Zodiac Angels are still active?” Auria suggested.
“Whatever the case, let’s just go inside,” I said and move on ahead of everyone.
We march through the passage until we reach a dome-shaped room at the end. There is a dais settled on a raised platform to the opposite side of the entrance we took. Above the dais, a cluster of glowing particles can be seen looming in the air. Due to how poorly lit this room is, these sparkling particles almost look like star dusts.
“It’s so beautiful,” Auria whispered, looking at the dusts in awe.
I step closer to the dais and gaze upon the looming star dusts. That moment, a nostalgic sensation suddenly embraces my body – the longing sensation that calls out for something that used to be a part of me.
“I can feel it,” I muttered, “Those star dusts… Those are the remnants of my Zodiac Power.”
“So Frey’s theory was true,” Viola said, crossing her arms in relief.
“Now, we just have to find a way to assimilate it back into you,” Auria added.
“Why don’t you try touching it, Sophia?” Viola suggested, “Perhaps it will directly assimilate into your skin just by touching.”
That seems like a good start despite how overly simple it sounds.
Nodding in agreement with Viola, I walk closer to the dais and reach my hand forward. However, as soon as I step onto the raised platform, an invisible force sparkles and my whole body is thrown back onto the ground away from the dais.
“Sophia!” Auria and Viola cried and quickly help me get up from the ground.
“Aoww… What the heck was that?” I muttered.
“H… Hey, look!” Auria spoke up, pointing at the dais. The cluster of sparkling star dusts then starts to shift its shape and materializes a lion-shaped silhouette, surrounding the dais.
“R… Regulus?” I called out to the lion’s name. “I… It’s me, Regulus! Don’t you remember me!?”
However, the lion silhouette remains stationed at the dais, glaring at us without saying a word.
“… He couldn’t hear me?”
After all we’ve been through, it’s just so sad to see him again only to have him reply back with silence.
“Hey, listen! Your master is right here! She needs your help!” Viola tried calling out to Regulus as well, but like before, he did not give her any response.
“Huh…? What is it Anty?”
That moment, Auria spoke up and looked down at the plush doll that she is hugging. She remains quiet for a while before making a bitter face.
“Anty told me that Zodiac Beasts are destined to protect their master’s spirit, regardless of circumstances,” she explained then turns her head towards the dais, “In this case, he no longer recognizes Sophia as his master. That’s why he pushed Sophia, who tried to approach his master’s soul, away.”
“No way,” I whimpered and turned back to the lion silhouette, “Regulus, please, listen to me!!”
“Wait, Sophia!!!” Viola tries to stop me, but I’ve already dashed towards the dais. As I got close to the dais, the lion silhouette releases a ferocious roar and knocks me several meters back. The purple haired girl tries to catch me, but ends up turning into my cushion instead.
“V… Viola!?” I cried.
“I’m fine. That’s nothing,” she replied and helped me stand up.
“… Regulus,” I whispered his name under my breath. However, the lion silhouette simply glares back at me with an unwelcoming look. “Is this really it? After all we’ve been through, did he think that I am no longer worthy of being a Zodiac Angel?”

I was quickly reminded of when I fought Miss Frey. Fallen into despair, Algethi deemed her unworthy of being his master. For that, he becomes determined to free his master’s soul, residing within her…
To have your most trusted companion goes against you…
I have never understood Miss Frey’s fear and pain until now…

“Don’t give up yet!” Auria cried, holding my hand tightly, “Try to remember, Sophia! The Halls of Reverie opened up because you touched the curtains of illusion, right?
“Y… Yeah. What about it?”
“Remember what Miss Frey said?” Auria asked again, “Only when a Zodiac Angel touches its outer walls would the hall reveal itself.”
“Y… Yeah… But then that doesn’t make any sense. I’m no longer an angel.”
“That’s exactly Auria’s point, Sophia,” Viola spoke up, “You’re supposed to be a normal girl right now. Yet you are still able to disperse the curtains.”
“Then that means…?”
“You have not lost your compatibility with your powers yet,” Viola said.
My eyes slightly widen in hope when I heard her words.
“Then… What should I do? What should I do to make him listen to me?”
“Pray to the stars, Sophia,” Auria said, “Pray to the stars with all your heart that you want to become a Zodiac Angel again, then it’ll surely happen.”
“Praying, huh? Would that really work?” I muttered.
“No, Sophia!” Auria said, holding my hand even tighter, “Remember what you taught me? You can’t doubt the stars. Believe in them… Only then would a wish come true…”

… Auria…
… Viola…
Thank you.
Thank you, you two so much…
Without the two of you, I might have lost the sense of myself…

“…You’re right… You two are absolutely right.” I nod and stand up once more. “I became a Zodiac Angel once because I prayed with all my heart and soul to the stars.”
I clench my left hand into a fist.
“This time, I’m going to do the same! I am going to make the stars grant my wish again!!!”
“Yeah. I believe in you, Sophia. So this time, you’ll have to believe in yourself as well,” Viola added.
Auria looks at me and simply gives me a nod.

I can do it.
I’ll make the stars listen to me!!

After a deep breath, I dash straight towards the light one more time, forcing my way through the immense pressure. It manages to bounce me back once, but while being thrown away in mid-air, I suddenly felt some kind of force taking control over my body. I made a flip in mid-air and landed on the ground safely unlike earlier.
“That kind of movement!? That’s an angel instinct reaction!” Viola cried. “We were right! Sophia’s compatibility has not been completely erased yet!”
“Come on, Sophia! You can do it!!” Auria cried.
Hearing so, I plunge forward one more time. The lion silhouette releases a roaring echo, trying to force me back. But even then, my legs keep charging forward against the force.
I’ve made a Zodiac Beast reconsider his verdict once, so I am going to do it again!
After some struggle against the unseen force, the lion silhouette suddenly shatters, leaving the altar visually unprotected.
“She… got inside!!!” Auria cried.
I finally make my first step onto the raised platform and run towards the dais. However, the glittering star dusts hovering over the dais still exert some force, trying to push me back. At this point where I could not make another step, I lift both of my hands forward, reaching out to the star dusts little by little. Through the dense force covering the altar, I could evidently feel my hands progressing further, slowly but surely. Electrical sparks seep into both of my hands, numbing every single nerve cell on my palm. Thankfully, it seems like I can still move my fingers even though I could barely feel my hands any more.

This should be close enough…

“The stars… The Angel of Leo… Can you hear me? Please, listen to me!”
I cried to the force pulsing from within the altar.
“I love this world! I want to protect it! And at the same time, I also want to set Ophiucus… I want to free Reisa from her torment!”
The force on the dais responds to my cry by exerting even more force to drive me back. Since this is the power of the Angel of Leo who opposes Reisa’s decision to destroy the world, it’s no surprise that it reacts to my wish to save Reisa that way.
However, I don’t plan on flattering the angel into giving me back my powers. I have to express my true feeling – my desire to save everyone!
“I know that right now I am powerless… utterly and hopelessly powerless,” I continued, “But even so, I still want to protect this world!! I want to end the cycle of sadness!”

The 12 Zodiac Angels…
Ophiucus…
The two sides have fought against each other for different ideals for a long time.
I want to end that conflict.
I want to end Reisa’s sadness.
I want a happy ending to this tale!

“So please… Grant me your powers again!! Let me back into this fight with everyone!!”
As soon as I finished my sentence, I could feel an object vibrating near my chest and bright light emerges from the same spot.
After that, for a brief moment, the force that tries to drive me away somehow suddenly disappeared, allowing my fingers to ‘grab’ onto something invisible in the middle of the cluster of star dusts. The moment I did, the star dusts burst into a bright light, covering everything in white.

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