Echo of a Lost World
Just like the day before, Touma heads to the store to pick up food. When you're poor, one doesn't simply buy a large amount of food at one time to sustain them for an extended period. Instead they return constantly only buying a few items per trip. Thus is why Kamijou Touma is again purchasing groceries after only yesterday.
Also like before, the 15cm tall Othinus joins him, less out of the pleasure of his company than to escape the paws of that predatory cat. This time she's found a more comfortable position to take rather than simply riding on his shoulder. Bundling herself in his scarf, it's a superior position where she's both comfortable and warm. Body heat generated by his exposed neck has turned her cocoon into something like a kotatsu. Though with her size if she were to actually sit under a kotatsu she'd likely pass out from heat stroke, so this is perfect for her.
"Ha ha ha," Touma laughs, "could you stop wiggling around so much? You're tickling me!"
"Just deal with it Human," the 15cm tall Othinus scolds. "This is the only place I can truly get a moment's rest. That accursed monstrosity has learned to open the bathroom door! I'm running out of places to hide!"
Touma just laughs it off, "You shouldn't worry over something like that. Sphinx is just playing with you. You should just let her have her way until she gets bored."
"You try having a carnivore three times as tall and a hundred times heavier chase after you!"
Touma still doesn't think it's a big deal.
"Hey, Human," her tone radically shifts, "up ahead."
Distracted by their playful banter, he finds what has the former Magic God so startled. He too, is shaken to the core. Of all people that could be standing before him, it's her. But the impact isn't as devastating as before. Just leave it to the boy to fail to pick up on the subtle difference between the girl they saw yesterday and now.
"Hello R-, Saten-san," Touma struggles not to call the girl by her given name. "Fancy running into you again."
Saten Ruiko stands before Kamijou Touma not saying a word. She can barely stand to hold eye contact with the boy for more than a moment before breaking away. Clearly something is troubling her, but the boy is either insensitive or actively relenting from examining too closely.
When she doesn't respond but only continues to face them, only then does Touma reveal concern, "Saten-san? Is something wrong?"
Then, without warning, she rushes over and gives him a giant hug.
This feeling, it's one Touma distinctly remembers and has desired more than anything. In this moment he loses himself, arms returning the embrace, not even acknowledging the confusion his mind has been thrown into.
"R-Ruiko? I-it couldn't be. Are you really here?"
Suddenly Saten backs away. Touma, his eyes are a red and overwhelmed with emotion. The girl, on the other hand, is drained of color and a shade of fear.
"No," Othinus realizes, "that's still the original Saten Ruiko."
Realizing this too, Touma becomes desperate and panicked, "What? Why did she hug me then? What's going on?"
Saten, completely the frightened little girl, can barely speak, "Why? Why are you acting like you know me? Why are you acting like you care about me? Why are you crying?"
Caring nothing for his own appearance, Touma steps forward to close the distance, "Saten-san, wait-"
Tough she screams at him like he's a villain, she's yet to flee from his presence. Saten's here for a purpose.
"I, I just want to know what's going on!"
Both Saten and Touma seem deadlocked, neither capable of completely comprehending the situation.
"That makes three of us then," shattering the stalemate, Othinus removes herself from the comfy position and takes a stand on Touma's shoulder. "You suddenly grab him out of nowhere and start accusing like it's his fault. From my perspective, you seem like the one with a problem."
Having the blame placed on her, Saten shrivels a degree. Indeed, the one with something wrong with her is obviously the Middle School Level 0. Finally acknowledging the blame, her blood ceases boiling and she's able to think again.
Cooling off her emotions, the girl is able to string coherent words together, "It's just, yesterday, someone came to me right after we met yesterday. She forced me to cancel my plans with my friends, and, she told me a story. The story," now able to make eye contact with Touma squarely, "was about us."
If Saten was purposefully being vague, it was to measure the reactions of Touma. Yet, not only him, but the miniature Othinus grasped the context immediately. Their wide-eyed expression made the middle school girl's heart beat warm and blood rush to her face.
"I-it can't be true, can it?"
"Who told you about us?" Touma, near accusing, swiftly approaches.
Much of the previous fear has faded, replaced by confusion. Yet this time, it is the both of them who are, somehow, the victim. Saten's able to speak clearly.
"Someone who shouldn't be here. Someone who should have been dead.
"It was Frenda."
A brightness invades, and Frenda's eyes flutter. As if waking from a long nap, she's slow to gather herself. This white light, it's overpowering. It's intense to the point of being painful. She has to shield her eyes so that she can even function.
"Are we dead yet?" instinctively comes out of her mouth.
"It's complicated," responds another.
Hearing such a nostalgic voice, even the fact that it's nostalgic, causes Frenda to panic. Undoubtedly it's Saten, but it couldn't be! Why couldn't it be? Because...Frenda didn't immediately have an answer to that. It just feels like it's been a very long time since the two of them met each other. Why is that? Haven't they been practically joined at the hips for several months now? In fact, what was she doing until most recently?
And then she remembers.
When Frenda's eyes finally adjust and she can remove her hand, she acknowledges, "I should be dead."
"Should be," comes the cheerful voice of Saten. "But not anymore."
As if Frenda is supposed to know what that meant. Sitting up from her position on the ground, she faces her well-known friend. Immediately she notices,
"You have that on the wrong eye."
Saten smiles, "Well, a lot kinda happened. I ended up losing my left eye."
That green and blue ribbon that Frenda herself picked up for Saten has been reversed.
After looking passed Saten, Frenda is finally able to get a grasp on her surroundings. She's in an endless expanse of white, but this isn't anywhere near the same as the ruthless Russian winter. No, this is something impossible, ethereal.
"What do you know," the blond mercenary sarcastically realizes, "in the end, I ended up going to Heaven."
Still in very pleasant humor, "Exactly. This is Heaven."
Sighing, Frenda leans back and returns to a laying position.
"So you ended up dying too. I wouldn't exactly call it 'Heaven' to be stuck here for eternity with you, but it's definitely better than Hell."
With a gleeful stride, Saten takes a seat next to her friend, "I'll take that as a compliment. But, I have a bit of bad news for you. You're not going to be stuck with me for eternity. Just until I finish telling you a story."
Frenda was never very religious, her own thoughts on the afterlife are something that frightens her terribly. With zero percent certainty could she anticipate what truly exists on the other side. However, this is not it, she feels. This moment right now, with Saten, is not the afterlife.
"What," sitting up again, "what exactly is going on."
"Well," rocking back and forth, "I guess you can say I won. Not only did I conquer the world, but I managed to find a way back. I only needed to gain the power of God."
For a moment she's doubtful, but Frenda has far gone beyond the point of underestimating this girl any longer.
"Are you serious?"
Nodding gleefully, "Dead serious. As it turns out, the power necessary to travel between alternate realities is also enough to revive a dead person. So, here you are."
Easily this was a bit much for Frenda to take all at once. Then was this a "happy ending?" The mercenary could hardly believe it.
Standing, "In the end, what are we waiting for? Let's go back to the world we belong!"
But this same jubilation isn't shared by the true victor, "Hold your horses." Joining her friend upright. "First, you need this."
In a move completely unpredictable, Saten leans in close and kisses Frenda on the lips. Being blindsided, a sudden euphoric rush floods the blonde's body. Electricity almost seems to be running through the smaller girl's body. And it's no small peck, but a completely locked sloppy wet one.
At last when they part, Frenda fumbles. Except perhaps for not the reason one might suspect.
"That was," she mumbles.
"My memories. Most of it you already know, but I thought it would be best to give you everything from my perspective, especially everything before we met and after you died."
Let alone question how it was possible to transmit memories through kissing in the first place, the reason behind it was all the more alarming.
"Why did you-"
"Isn't it obvious?"
That degree of finality makes Frenda's conscious thought completely cease.
"I think I knew from the very beginning," Saten muses to herself, "I was never going to see Touma-kun again. It wasn't just the sheer impossibility of the task, but the me who destroyed an entire world to return, would Touma still find the same girl he fell in love with?"
Looking towards her own hand, "I've done far, far too many horrible things to hold him again. So you-"
"No!" stopping her friend. "Don't give me that crap! Basically, all you're saying is that you're too scared to face him! Don't let guilt-"
But Frenda wholehearted plea is put a stop to when Saten puts a finger over her lips.
"Believe me. Even if I was scared he wouldn't love me anymore, I would still go to him. I've suffered through those anxieties far before we got hurled into a different world. No. I'm afraid, the reason is far the simpler. Basically, God hates me."
As little of this made sense before, this is even worse.
"I didn't give you all of my memories. I didn't give you what happened after I devoured the Lost World. What I faced in Heaven, I can't share what happened. But to summarize, returning to the original world is impossible for me. Saten Ruiko already exists in the original world, so if I forced my way over there I would end up taking her place. Let's just say bad things would happen, and I would be destroyed. Basically, my entire goal was impossible from the very beginning."
Realizing that Saten now fully believes that her entire journey was futile from the offset, emotions begin to well with the mercenary with bloodstained hands.
"However, returning to Touma's side was only one of my goals. It was my one selfish desire. I possess two others. One was the promise I made, returning you to the original world as well. That I can easily do. Both the original Frenda and you are near identical, except for the fact the original died and you were saved. Returning the original's body to life with your memories is actually of no consequence. Literally, there isn't a single catch or drawback. I shall fulfill my promise to you."
Frenda doesn't completely get it, but the thing she does for certain is that Saten can't go back while the mercenary herself can. What the hell kind of twisted rule is that? Frenda was a horrible person who did very bad things. Why does this mercenary with bloodstained hands get a second chance while this simple girl who dared to love does not? What the hell kind of messed up world is this?
"Saten," Frenda's voice breaks as tears stream down her cheeks.
Watching her friend lower her guard, perhaps for the very first time, before her, Saten can't help but smile. Gently she wipes away the tears.
"My third wish, it's really nothing special. It's just the wish any girl has when they're in love. More than myself, I want Touma to be happy. I worry, if I'm not there, he may never find another love."
Drawing in close, "So I want you, Frenda, to tell my tale. I want you to tell the only other person who could love Touma as deeply as I do. Tell the original me exactly what I have done, the strength of my emotions, and what we're capable of.
"If I know myself, I won't be able to keep me from seeking Touma-kun out and exploring the love that caused me to take on an entire world. Once they meet, well, nature can take over from there."
Gently Saten pushes on Frenda's shoulder, and the mercenary begins to drift away as if she were on a boat.
"Ruiko!" Frenda reaches, but the distance only grows.
"Take care of yourself as well, you hear. Next time you make it to Heaven, I want you to be an old woman with dozens of years worth of stories to tell."
Struggling with her emotions, still reaching for her friend, Frenda shouts before they lose each other completely,
"Ruiko! Thank you!"
"F-Frenda?" Touma, and Othinus as well for that matter, can't believe what they've heard.
Carefully Saten measures the pair's response, "So it really was true. She really did-"
"What happened to her?" Touma interrupts. "Where is she?"
The girl can only shake her head, "I don't know. We talked until late last night, and when I woke up this morning she was gone. I thought- I thought it was all a dream at first. But, she told me where I would find you. Frenda told me to not say a word, to approach you, and to ki- um, to get close to you. She said your reaction would be, emotional."
Touma, tears finally under control, could hardly be called a normal boy who just had a stranger hug him out of the blue.
"So it really was all true," Saten comes to the conclusion.
The pair who actually remember the alternate world understand what that means, but they're still very confused.
"Saten-san," Touma, unsure of his words, feels he must say something now, "I don't know what Frenda-san might have said, but it was likely all true. Except, I only know what happened before Othinus took me back to this world. From what I understand, the previous world continued to exist after I was gone?"
When told the entire story yesterday, Saten hung on every word. There was no way she could forget something so otherworldly.
"Yes. Up to the point you vanished was only half the story."
Touma looks to the perpetrator of the incident in the first place, but Othinus can only shrug. Even when she was still a Magic God, the possibility of the altered world continuing to exist was thought an impossibility.
"Then again," Othinus postulates, "it is possible that when I surrendered my powers as a Magic God, that magic didn't actually disappear."
Touma waits for Othinus to continue explaining.
"The power of a Magic God isn't something that can simply disappear. It burns itself into existence and leaves an imprint. It's not unlike looking at the sun, turning away, but still seeing spots in your vision. My power still continued to exist even when I was no longer a Magic God, and somehow found the alternate Saten as it's host, fortifying her existence and supporting an entire world at the same time. But such a world wouldn't fall under Heaven, so it's impossible that..." and continues mumbling to herself.
So there they had it. Once upon a time, in a different world, Saten Ruiko and Kamijou Touma were together. It's nearly identical to being told they were lovers in a past life. What baring does it have on the two of them now?
"So, um," Saten doesn't know what to say next.
Except it wasn't past lives. This is the Saten Ruiko and Kamijou Touma of right now. Both are people who managed to fall in love with each other, who hold the possibility to fall in love with each other. Even if the event unfolds differently than before, the two, at their core, are still exactly the same.
"I know I may sound a little like a creeper," Kamijou Touma steps up, "but I think we should start seeing each other."
This initially causes the girl to draw back, but she finds in his eyes a certainty, determination, hope, and not least of all, love. For Saten, who's only known this boy a little over a day, she feels something in his stare. It's familiar, comfortable, and desirable. The girl knows it isn't logical to feel this way, that ten times out of ten she should turn down this seemingly random person who asked her out out of the blue, but there's another that knows if his hand is taken, her whole world will change.
"As, as long it doesn't have to be anything serious. We could just, talk, I guess."
Frenda can finally exhale. She's been spying on Saten for quite a while now. Not even sure if the girl would even see the spiky-haired boy today, the stalker's glad it happened rather swiftly. They really are tied by a kind of fate. The conversation even unfolded pretty much how her Saten claimed it would.
So this is where the blonde mercenary's part in their story comes to an end. Turning, Frenda will let "nature take it's course" from here, perfectly confident the pair will eventually find happiness with each other. Sad as it may be, the former partner should make her exit. In the end, the mercenary was probably a terrible influence on the girl. It's better if this Saten doesn't burn the world down for the sake of love. Than again, this Saten shouldn't need to. This Saten, after all, is just an ordinary Level 0 Middle School Girl.
"So, what should I do now?" Frenda muses to herself, walking down the streets of Academy City. "Basically, it's not every day someone comes back from the grave. I should probably check up on my little sister. If anything, I definitely want to stay as far away from Mugino as possible."
So here it is, the end of the road. Writing this conclusion was the most difficult thing I've ever put to paper (figuratively speaking). Several times I thought, "this is way over the top, I should stop this." But even if I tried to figure out a different way to end it, I always came back to this conclusion. The theme of the first story Never was "How could love prevail when it was never meant to be," and for Echo, "How far would someone go to reunite with their love." Both end tragically with love losing, but even a predetermined outcome can have an impact and change the future; that there truly is no futile act.
Or maybe I'm just spinning my wheels and really went off the deep end. I think that's a decision better left to the readers.
So about that ending...
I decided that a sequel could only end this way as I finished the first story Never. Othinus' pretty much spoils it by saying two Satens can't exist at the same time. The theory I have in my head is that God allows everything in the world, and denies everything that's outside of the world. To break God's rule is essentially to infect reality with a foreign bacteria, which will spread like a cancer and eventually kill it. Saten is a normal middle school Level 0, so if a Saten who isn't that is introduced into the one true world, very bad things will happen.
So what about Frenda? Well, essentially Frenda is exactly the same as the one who dies in the cannon Toaru story. Frenda could be reconstituted, or resurrected if you will, into reality with pretty much the only difference being the memories of having survived. It's still the same Frenda with minute tweaks that was still in line with the original. Saten had strayed far too much, touching on the realm of the gods themselves. It would be impossible for the two to be merged in the same manner of the dead and surviving Frendas, so the imprint Saten would make on reality would eventually destroy everything. Metaphysics is fun.
How about those Multiple Satens...
When the existence of a parallel world was temporary allowed in the Toaru universe (as they canonically do not), why stop at just one? I thought the idea of multiple Saten that took different path all fighting a massive enemy *coughGODcough* was just too cool. We've witnessed one path Saten took to reach the end, so what if the event happened a little bit different, how greatly could Saten have changed? But to be honest, most of them were just ideas I scrapped for being too outlandish. Originally the Saten who turned Misaka into the weapon Mjolnir (in the form of a baseball bat) was the Saten I wanted to use as the main plot, but I figured the story would be too dark and decided against it. In Lost I put my foot down and forced myself to use a completely powerless Saten. In Echo I couldn't get away with a powerless Saten, so I stuck with making her as weak as possible, while still strong enough to take on the entire world. Even though, at the end, she's OP as all heck, compared to the alternate versions of Saten that appear in Heaven, the one we followed throughout is clearly the weakest one.
That Kirihara Ruiko though...
Well, I think it's time I finally put this series to rest. I have other projects I want to move onto, and I couldn't let it hang over my head, or leave you guys hanging (especially since I finished it awhile ago). Besides all the BS IRL stuff I deal with, I also agonized if the ending was just utter crap. In the end I decided to put it out there and move on. Success of failure, learn from this experience and use this lesson to improve on my future work.
And what of my future...
I'd taken a break through the summer (Las Vegas has long summers), but I couldn't keep myself away from a keyboard for too long. Except when I was forced of course, which did happen multiple times. I have a few ideas I'm working on, one including a Fate Stay Night fanfic with Emiya summoning Rider (Medusa) as his servant instead of Saber (Arturia), and an original isekai with my own spin on things. I don't know what or how I'll post it, but I'll keep working behind the scenes. For those who are fans of mine, keep an eye out as I may post on other platforms.
Until next time then, just enjoy yourselves out there.