‘Let the Sacred Demon Grand Prix Commence—!!’
“Page Five Nine Seven.”
With a flash of light, the entire area was converted into a sea of flames. The fire had spread all the way to the audience seats of the starting point plaza, their cries of agony making for a picture of hell.
“H… hey, Elsia…”
Ryuuta broke into a cold sweat, his hands still firmly on the wheel, as he asked his partner whose grimoire was still open to the latest page.
“If you kill anyone, we’re disqualified! You heard that the first day we got here, right!?”
“They also said they could heal anything save for instant death.”
The princess bluntly replied as she clapped her grimoire shut.
‘N-now this is awful! Absolutely terrible!! How could this be, A fiendish deed targeting all racers right off the bat! Are you even human!?’
Hiding in the shadows of the stage, Kirishima Lena’s voice was somewhat hysteric. Like an on-site reporter who had just witnessed a mass killing in a war zone.
“She’s talking to you, princess.”
“I’m a demon.”
She did bring up a good point.
“Aren’t you going to drive?”
As expected of this tournament, the race participants weren’t normal. While they were few in numbers, the cars and bikes that had avoided damage surmounted the sea of flames. Those whose rides were no good cast them aside to press ahead. Those who didn’t even need vehicles in the first place had escaped the disaster.
“I know, I know!!”
Ryuuta released the brake pedal and floored the gas.
“What just happpeeennneeed!?”
There was already some worth in putting Wilco at the wheel. With near god-like handling, she avoided the falling scraps, debris and human-shaped somethings he would rather not think about as she moved on and on. Racing at the head of the venue where explosions intermittently roared out.
Commentator and Moderator Lena’s voice blared over the radio.
‘This just in! It turns out the explosion at the start was caused by the girl who’s made a name as the Magical Princess and Lady on the Platform, Elsia’s all-encompassing magic!’
Hideo experienced the joys of being alive. The reason they were unharmed was simply due to the fact that an Obliterating Industries minivan positioned as a guard and backup had served as a shield.
But Lena’s bad news continued.
‘And that caused the explosive devices rigged in the Obliterating Industries rental cars to go off!? Causing a chain reaction with all the landmines they planted at the venue prior to the event… wait, aren’t you going off the deep end, Obliterating Industries!!?’
Lena had completely forgotten her role, she was genuinely snapping. Sure enough, even if the race was no holds barred, weren’t there some human or ethical things that should be honored as a human being?
What’s more, if he listened carefully, he could hear gunshots, explosions and harsh screams over the radio.
‘What in the!? The starting line has just devolved into an all-out war between Obliterating Industries goons and Elize Industrial’s laborers; the competitors who had the race ruined for them are joining in too… that was close! Oh god, I’m so dead! Everyone, drop what you’re doing and run!!’
Ratatatatatatata! Boomboom! Tatatata! BangBangBang! Baboom…!
Rustle, rustlerustle, rustle.
That was definitely not a real-time relay for the state of the race. He got the feeling he was picking up audio from some distant country’s civil war. This time, not from the radio but his wireless transceiver, he heard the voice of the culprit himself.
‘Ha ha ha, by the gods, it started even flashier than I’d anticipated. That demon called Elicia isn’t half bad.’
A Lamborghini Diablo drove up next to their car, carrying the powerhouses of Obliterating Industries. In the passenger seat, Lily waved her left hand, an assault rifle in her other.
‘Now, now, it’s already done, out of our hands now! Now the Doctor’s business is going to be booming!’
Hideo carved deep into his heart that this person called Lily was far more dangerous than she looked.
‘You get the idea… so chop, chop, get to it Hideo, Wilco! No need to worry, your challenger is chasing right behind me!’
Takase’s Lamborghini accelerated and left them behind. Shen Hideo looked back.
A guard car bisected straight down the middle fell apart and faded into the distance. Then another, a third one. In the blink of an eye, a small motorcycle closed the distance.
Wilco cried, peeking at the window.
The handlebar in one hand, his black sword brandished in the other, quite the noble silhouette. Rumored to be history’s strongest, the former hero, Hasebe Shouki showed himself through the gaps between cut-down metal scraps.
“Wilco, stay calm. Don’t rush.”
Hideo pulled the trigger of the submachine gun in his hands. Thanks to Clarica, he was pretty sure he had learned how to operated it and spread bullets, not that he could hit. The other side came in an open vehicle with less maneuverability than a flesh-and-blood body. Just having a gunpoint trained on it was an ample restraint.
He threw open the sunroof that had been added to the vehicle in a hurry.
“What’s important is. To finish the race.”
While it was a race, that was the major premise. It was not the end if they were overtaken. If they dropped out, they would lose the Sacred Demon Cup too.
“Placing first. Depends on the president. It can come second.”
“Alright! You’ve been sounding reliable lately, master! Wilco’s got it, we’ll go with that!”
‘Kukukuh, now you’ve said it. Putting down the pressure on me.’
‘But Hideo does have a point. If those two don’t win, we’re the ones who get taken over…!’
And Lily lowered the Lamborghini window down again, leaning her body out the car, with the M16 pointed back. Hideo stood on his seat, sticking his head out the sunroof like it was a trench, deciding the aim of his machine gun.
“When all’s said and done, those two are our enemies, right!? Takase’s in his usual upstart Diablo, that red Lancer Evo VIII has got to be Hideo!”
Shouki opened the throttle wide in hot pursuit of the two four-wheelers that had chosen to run instead of fight. The location was the Shopping District, their territory.
“A lot of them on top too~.”
Clinging onto his back, Elize waved her hand over his head. There were Obliteragind Industries masks and maids pointing guns at them from the window ow every building. What’s more, business cars streamed in from the side roads one after the net to guard Hideo and Takase.
They were in a hurricane of bullets, but those were easily fended off by the thin veil of sacred silver the spirit of mithril deployed from the palm of her hand.
“A lot of them behind~.”
She deployed her veil towards the full-size vans and armed pickup trucks chasing them from behind. No matter how heavily armed they were, they were nothing more than firearms of the transient world. By Mithril’s defensive power greater than an iron wall, they could even stave off the blast of a rocket launcher.
“Good grief, Takase’s as dirty as ever.”
“There’s no end~ don’t they know it’s useless~?”
“Argh, like hell I’m going to deal with each and every one of them! I’m shaking them off, hold on tight Elize!”
At that moment, the Obliterating Industries employees chasing the bike saw it. The rival company president’s eyes that had been practically dead to that point… were filled with a firm and dark will.
Her veil narrowed like she was folding up a parasol. What was formed as a spear of mithril. She divided it into several more. She had freely formed scores of needles that would cost downwards of tens of millions of yet to purify and produce.
And in a voice just under Shouki’s audible range.
Vwooom! Tak!! Taktaktaktaktaktaktaktaktaktaktaktak!!
With the order of their master, the needles shot off at once.
Shouki was so focused on giving chase, he didn’t have the mind to pay behind him.
Before the magic of mithril, the cars’ outer plating was nothing more than tin. Sharp magic bullets produced by a spirit of mithril were shot with a focus on their pursuer’s tires. Like kites with their strings cut, the hoard of vehicles strayed in every direction from one another, their end goal a crash in the shoulder.
“… Trash. Don’t think you can win against god, how irritating.”
She made doubly sure Shouki couldn’t hear. Forget god, Elize was making quite the impish smile.
“? It suddenly went quiet. What happened to the guys behind us?”
“They self-destructed ~♪”
By that time she had already returned to her dead do-no-evil features.
“Hahah, I see! That’s what they get for firing off all those idiotic weapons out of wartime! You reap what you sow.”
He didn’t even need to rely on Elie for the restraining fire from up front, Shouki could avoid them with the bike alone. Unlike a car, his effective surface area was small. He was able to evade bullet trajectory just by leaning the vehicle to one side. What’s more, his enemies were speeding ahead full force, they were shooting on unsteady footing. It was nearly impossible to accurately aim.
In that case, his main problem would be the large vehicles appearing to but off his route. A number of them were serving as a wall for Hideo and Takase.
“It’s been a while since I’ve done this but… you’re the ones who used bomb first, don’t hate me for it!”
Shouki thrust the tip of the sword in his left hand forward, releasing his right from the accelerator and pressing its palm to the back of the hilt. After he had naturally lost speed and opened some distance, he chanted.
“Oh light, smash through the wicked—Lightning Explosion!!”
The former hero called back up the untainted white light, inducing an explosion at the point he focused his eyes. Like the ground had burst open, the cars interrupting his path were blown into the shoulder. Shouki leaned in his upper body again, putting the accelerator at full throttle.
First he reached the back of the Lamborghini. The shotes of the maid leaning her body out had gotten far more precise than they had once been. Her hair fluttering as she swapped out the magazine, she spoke.
“I knew you still had it, Hasebe-senpai!! Don’t you think you’ve still got some days of service left in you!?”
“Yeah, if it ever gets that crazy again! I’m always ready to get back in action!”
The next turn at the next intersection would take them to a straight line to the checkpoint, and Shouki knew this was his chance to take the first bout. The Lancer Evolution up front and the large Diablo naturally sped ahead of him. Taking advantage of the small size of his ride, Shouki cut to the inner side of the traffic pole, taking a short cut down the sidewalk. In a single breath, he had earned himself some distance.
“This takes me back, Suzuran! Remember back when I was riding doubles, chasing around your Lamborghini!?”
Lily sincerely nodded.
“Of course! I remember, Hasebe-senpai! Back then, I didn’t know my left from my right but… I wonder why, I think back to it fondly! I can remember it like it was just yesterday!”
“Me too, Suzuran! Those times were fun!”
“The most fun I ever had!!”
“But I’m winning today!!”
He closed in, one stroke of the sword.
By a paper-thin margin, with the Lamborghini’s mid-engine layout Takase evaded with sharp handling unimaginable from a normal car. The speed he lost moving to the side brought them neck and neck.
“I’m not going to lose!!”
They were too close. Shouki decelerated for a moment to dodge her spray of bullets. He was back a few meters again.
“They kinda… seem to be having fun, Master.”
Hideo nodded. Rather than enemies, like good rivals. When he was at the head of the pack, he was the compete outsider. They were having so much fun he couldn’t possibly intrude. Hideo had stopped shooting and got himself into his original seat.
‘What are you doing, Suzuran!? You can rekindle whatever old friendship you want later, stupid maid!! This is why you can never grow.’
‘Howaaaaah!? Are you sane!? Why are you firing in the car!?’
‘Oh, I wonder why, Master? Must be because I was remembering the past. Even more unreasonable than it was fun, all you did to me. Fufufu.’
‘Wait, I get it, Suzuran, I’ll take it back! I won’t say you look your age, but you’ve definitely experienced, err, at least a little physical development since… gyaaaaaah!!’
For some reason, there were now bullet holes opening up from inside the Lamborghini.
“Do you think this Suzuran we keep hearing… is Lily’s real name, master?”
“… Well. Probably.”
Lily was probably something like a ring name as shadow supreme leader. Regardless of what ring that may be. Still, with the president’s car in such a state, naturally Shouki’s bike took the opportunity to slip past them.
“Blast it, he’s heeeerre! And that’s not a new model, isn’t that an RC45!?”
“… Please elaborate.”
“Spec-wise, there are plenty of machines above it but… for some strange reason, it’s still extraordinarily popular especially among crazy enthusiast, it’s a legendary street racer!!”
So in short, this Hasebe Shouki was included as one of those crazies.
The rolling exhaust noise of its V4 engine was finally right up beside them. If he took a slice, that would be the end. Wilco desperately spun the handle, opening distance to dodge and quickly correcting her course.
Hideo tried sticking his gun out the sunroof to support her again but…
For a moment, he felt a faint sense of vertigo.
“… No. It’s nothing…”
And the three racers forming gathered at the lead passed through the first checkpoint all tangled up with each other. They had passed through the Shopping District, the stage shifted to the residential district where the second checkpoint was located.
‘Sorry to keep you waiting everyone, this is Kirishima! We somehow managed to slip out of the plaza, and we’re currently on the way to the shopping district by helicopter!’
In the starting venue where the speakers blared, the carnage of the fighters had lifted like a dream. Only those who had escaped the calamity remained, quietly assuming the role of spectators before the large Aurora Vision LED screen.
‘Ah, it’s coming into sight! Could that be the second wave of competitors!? Floating through the sky without a care in the world is the man of the Middle East, the Al Adin-Lamp pair! But their flying carpet is really taking its sweet time! Rather than a race, this is more of a stroll through the air, unfortunately, he’s not picking up much speed! The competitors riding wyverns and pegasi are quickly gaining on him! Now let’s hand the mike over to our special guest, that well-known commentator from ‘Today’s Sacred Demon Cup’!! Ripple-Rapple!’
The appearance of an unexpected individual had the crowd go wild. As if anticipating that, the camera turned to show a little girl. The girl expressionlessly lifted a hand, either to say thank you, or settle down.
‘Then Ripple-Rapple, how would you explain this!?’
‘It might be magic, but it’s still a carpet. No windbreak, nothing to hold on to. The wind pressure is… tremendous.’
‘I see, but I heard pagasi and unicorns could reach speeds of over three hundred kilometers an hour… why are they behind?’
‘That’s only a short burst in times of emergency. No matter how fast a racehorse is, they can only run at full speeds for a short span of time.’
‘Thank you for the explanation! Still, as long as they’re in the sky, they can take the shortest distance ignoring all obstacles! It’s up to these fliers to show us just how much they can shorten the time with their short cut! And racing down below, we have the living urban legend! Nickname: Turbo Hag, real name Kaneda Tae and Headless Rider pair… wait a tick, which one is the human here!?’
‘It’s Tae. I highly doubt there are any headless people out there.’
‘Yes, I see. Turbo hag is just a nickname, a road name and… hold on, she’s ninety-one years old!? Get this, she’s our oldest human competitor, racing full speed through the race and through life! How fabulous! I’d love to cheer you on!’
A wound-ridden Minako stared despondently up at the Aurora Vision.
The idiotic dispute between Obliterating Industries and Elize Industrial took out both parties and then some. In the end, only irrelevant onlookers and race participants came out pointlessly injured.
‘What’s this? We’re getting our latest information! Way too fast, the first group has already passed through the first checkpoint!!’
Okamaru at her hip let out a dispirited voice.
“Mn… you’re right.”
Luckily, Minako was not dragged into the explosion at the start. Her car was miraculously unharmed. But she had still yet to set off.
Why was that? Because there were far too many injured. As a policewoman, her sense of duty so strong she had to curse it had her prioritize helping them over the match. Mixing in with the tournament staff, she helped transport the injured, and after that, she tried stopping the dispute between Obliterating Industries and Elize Industrial as futile as she knew it would be.
In the end she was using Okamaru to physically subjugate them… she was quite beat up by the end of it.
‘With the backing of all members of Obliterating Industries, the current first place is the Hideo-Wilco pair! They really are strong, these two are surely our top contenders to win the Sacred Demon Cup! Their strength in matches that could be called unrivaled! It’s as if Obliterating Industries took them under their wing for this very moment! Could it be the rumors of his Demon Eyes of Future Sight are true!?’
“I knew it… Hideo. You really are…”
Stifling down a quiet anger, she breathed a deep sigh.
It wasn’t as if Minako had any real interest in coming first in the race. She couldn’t care less about the prize money or wins she would get. Just fair and square. She just wanted to hold a match with him. That was the promise she made before the starting bell…
In the end, the young man called Kawamura Hideo would go so far as to make use of such a heinous organization to get the gold. Was it for the money? For the victory? For the glory that came after? No, she couldn’t know what his reasons were. She had no way to know.
If there was just one thing she could say… at the very least, he had given way to no scarcity of innocent sacrifices. Even the participants who wished to challenge the race honest and upfront had to weep at their unreasonable injuries as they left the stage and the tournament, carted off to the hospital. No matter what his reasons were, that was something Minako couldn’t forgive.
Indeed, no matter what reasons he could have… his justice was an evil that ran contrary to her own.
‘Second place by a narrow margin, defying all common sense to earn two hundred wins, it’s the Elize-Shouki pair! With their industry and pride on the line, they can’t let themselves lose to Hideo racing for a rival company! And following on, we have the Obliterating Industries President and Chairman in third!? Are they facing off with President Elize Mithrilite for the top!? Slightly behind them, we have the trigger for that starting incident, the Elsia-Ryuuta pair! So far, those four teams are the only ones who have managed to make it through the trap-ridden shopping district, Obliterating Industries home front, charging straight into the residential district…!!’
And Minako still stood at the starting point. The time difference was exactly thirty-one minutes.
‘I would not call myself knowledgeable about cars but… this looks impossible, Minako. Now that it has come to this, we must find our meaning just in taking part. For now, aim at finishing the race…’
Minako muttered to a strangely resigned Okamaru.
“That’s right. If you’re not knowledgeable, you wouldn’t get it, would you, Okamaru.”
He sounded doubtful but Minako simply produced the keys from her uniform pocket.
“No. Even if you knew, you wouldn’t get it.”
That was probably the first time Okamaru was seeing the woman called Kitaooji Minako get serious.
“Let’s go. Okamaru.”
Her smile brimming with spirit.
“Yes, we’ll finish the race, of course! But we’ll be taking the top—!!”
“Damn, how skilled can they be!? Why can’t I close this gap!?”
Ryuuta cursed. On the straight roads, he could close in by flooring the gas, but he was consistently losing distance at each corner. Was this the difference between professional sports and an open race? He had the horsepower but not the control.
Here and there, he caught glimpses of Hideo’s red car and the bike aiming for it, but…
“Quite the comfortable ride.”
“Wait, Elsia!? Don’t just sit there! Don’t you have some sort of convenient speed up magic or something in that book of yours!?”
She said it so naturally, curtly, like it was supposed to be obvious.
“Are you a fast driver?”
“Me? I used to belong to Angel Saber special forces! As long as it’s got a motor, electric assist bike to jet helicopter; with cars, I ain’t gonna lose to highway patrol or street racers!”
So the guys up front were just way too fast. He knew there were differences between machines but… they had enough skill to swing such high powered cars around these narrow town roads.
To top it off, Hasebe Shouki’s riding technique was at a level he had to call uncanny. When he was keeping his longsword in his left hand, only driving with his right, every corner was full-banked, he was shifting gears clutch-less, at times, he even showed off cornering with drifts.
(Dammit! If we keep meandering like this, we’ll be left in the dust…!)
“But you’re right.”
“I’ve grown tired of this irritating sound.”
The moody princess was finally up to it. She exercised her grimoire again. At that very moment, the magical princess’s eyes locked on the three lead cars exploding out an irksome symphony of exhaust several dozen meters ahead. They were almost in range.
‘What happened, Wilco!? You’re losing speed!’
“No, about that! Master is…!”
Wilco’s anxious voice.
“Master!? Are you drunk or something!?”
That wasn’t the case. He didn’t feel disgusting… his limbs were numb and heavy. His body was sluggish. It was like he had come down with a cold.
Right. If he had to equate it to something, like the time he first met Wilco… it was like the ague he felt when he picked up the laptop. Like that was continuously droning on.
His vision grew hazy; Hideo slid aside his sunglasses to rub his eyes. This was the first time in his life he was feeling it and he couldn’t help but panic. What’s more, he was in the midst of a huge match. When he wasn’t even injured, he couldn’t start complaining about his own poor health.
Why did it come to this? At such an important time.
“… Master, could it be…?”
Right before Wilco was about to say something.
She immediately swung the wheel at Takase’s voice. A pillar of magic light raced right beside them. A look back heralded the silhouette of Ryuuta and Elsia’s car beyond Shouki and Takase.
It was immediately followed by a second shot, then a third.
“We can’t keep this up!”
She knew it by instinct. Wilco performed a ninety-degree turn, straying off the shortest route to temporarily evacuate down a side road. Shouki and Takase imitated, following right behind. The homing magic bolts missed them by a hair’s breadth, smashing straight into walls and telephone poles of the residential district. Concrete scattered and burst.
“Recalculating route… Aah, it’s a terrible loss! Ryuuta is going to overtake us…”
Yet the man himself apparently intended to settle it here, turning right into the side road after them.
Raising a scream, Wilco turned down yet another detour. She made turn after turn through the residential district, doing whatever she could to prevent Elsia from locking on.
‘Brat, don’t get on your high horse! Blow them up, get me the detonator!’
‘We can’t, master! That car doesn’t have a self-destruct button!’
Takase groaned out at Lily’s words.
‘Wha!? But that SL is one of our rentals…!’
‘T-that’s true, but, umm…’
She hesitated to say it.
‘This and that happened last night. I ended up removing the bombs from the cars they, and this nice woman called Minako borrowed…’
By that time, Hideo’s consciousness was finally growing faint. His cloudy eyes were nearly treading the line between dream and reality.
No, he really was… hallucinating.
These couldn’t be real.
A terribly detailed image. Hundreds of millions, several billion a second, lines upon lines upon lines of numbers flowed by him at a terrifying speed. Where they all overlapped, the complex, tangled mesh of gears. Beyond that, the full map of this city. Beyond that, the rate of the fuel injector, beyond that, their estimated arrival time, beyond that…
He woke from his nightmare, he returned to his senses. Not that he had gotten over his sluggishness.
“… Wil… co…”
“President!! Redirecting route!!”
“Instead of the shortest distance, Wilco is computing the one that will get us the highest average speed!”
‘Meaning… instead of a technical course riddled with corners, you’re changing to a high-speed course with the most straight lines!’
“That’s right! If you want us to take first place, then block Ryuuta like your life’s on the line! Wilco has many more battles to fight once this tournament is over! She can’t let it end here!!”
It was the first time he had ever heard her so serious.
‘Fine, I don’t really get it, but you’re on top! I’ll leave it up to your decision!’
It was as if the president was overpowered by her intensity. No, but still, he should be well aware of just how dangerous Elsia behind them was.
And… for a moment, Wilco flipped off the switch on the wireless transceiver.
“This may be what it means to be infected by Wilco… you saw it, didn’t you!?”
Saw? Rather than seeing with his eyes, it was more like…
“Like a dream.”
“Wilco has a vague idea. Master is always expressionless, but she can generally understand how he’s feeling. To be more precise, you’re always so expressionless it’s not as if she can read anything from optical scan and analysis.”
“We won’t know for sure unless we ask the doctor but… Wilco thinks there’s something connecting her with you. That’s what lets her read your emotions no matter how expressionless you are. She can somehow tell how out-of-it you’re feeling right now… so similarly, isn’t it possible you saw Wilco at work a moment ago…?”
Work. Work? That massive flow of calculation? She was speaking and driving… all while controlling this car so precisely…
“That’s right, Master. Wilco isn’t just imitating professional racers to drive. She was in front of the president so she said it back then, but… with absolutely no experience, Wilco can barely follow along. From the engine controls governing the ignition rate and the fuel injection rate, to the all-wheel-drive controls operating differential gears and ABS. Rewriting the original program to the optimum solution in real time, she is just barely managing to race in first place.”
She was desperate. She had no leisure to err.
“Then. What I saw. Was.”
“Wilco is using both the car’s original CPU and the laptop the president gave us but… she doesn’t have nearly enough power. Forget that, they’re already overheating and dropping in efficiency. But she’s strangely in top shape… she knew it was strange…”
Not enough. Not enough, yet Wilco was racing the car so splendidly.
Where was she supplementing what she lacked? His mind immediately jumped to his own sorry state.
“That’s… probably it. Wilco recalls what the doctor told us. Thinking back on it now, for Wilco to project her own form into reality… would be quite impossible with the specs of that older-model laptop you picked up.”
Meaning it was because he was infected. Meaning Wilco existed by siphoning some sort of energy from Kawamura Hideo, and could continue to work by increasing that intake. But that had dragged on too long this time. This wasn’t on the same level as projecting a shield for a brief instant.
“… Master. It looks like we’re in the same boat… Wilco really is a virus who can’t do anything in reality without leeching off her master… if she goes too far, you won’t just feel ill, you might even…”
Apologetically, she struggled to get out the rest.
Worst case scenario, his life was in danger. He could read that much off the direction of the conversation and Wilco’s expression. That might just be… why Wilco’s condition improved after she gained the ability to eat. She had gained a new channel to take in energy.
Hideo shook his head.
“That much is a cheap… price for a miracle.”
“You brought me. All the way here.”
He couldn’t quite express it better than that. If he hadn’t met her, he would have uneventfully perished by now in that apartment. Compared to that, just how miraculous was it that he met such a girl and was sitting here now?
If she said she needed him,
How could he possibly whine like the loser he was?
“Right… I’ll power through on willpower.”
The usual cheeriness had returned to her face.
“To tell you the truth, Wilco performs best when master is at his coolest, when he’s overflowing with willpower!!”
And she was lively once more. The car sped up as it zoomed towards the second checkpoint.
I see, thought Hideo. Come to think of it, whenever he changed his way of thought and took on serious matches, Wilco was always in high spirits. Spirits were ‘gods’ born of human thought. Then to this electronic spirit, the stronger his thoughts and his will, the purer the energy he could give her.
There was little room for him to step in this time. Then at the very least, he had to strengthen his willpower and properly back up his partner. For Wilco to be able to do her best no matter what came about…
Wilco flipped the transceiver back on.
‘… ee, can you hear me!? Hideo, Wilco!? What happened!?’
“Ah, we’re perfectly fine. The reception was just a little bad.”
‘I see, then force Shouki back on the next straight!’
Wilco operated the car just as he instructed. Forcefully running the bike that was right up next to them off the road and forcing it back. On top of that a brake. Getting the bike and Takase behind lined up in firing range.
“Kukukuh…! Time to pay the piper, brat!”
This time it wasn’t as soft as running him off the path. Takase mercilessly smashed the entire car into him. What would usually be called an act of murder against a two-wheeler in normal society was carried out with no difficulty whatsoever. The bike had no way to take the blow with the absolute difference in weight. Shouki braked even further back, growing ever more distant from Hideo and Wilco’s red lancer. And Lily’s gunpoint locked onto the motorcycle’s front tire.
“Not so fast~”
Elize took up the defense. Her thin veil of mithril easily repelled a lead bullet. The defense shifted right into offense; Lily sensed it coming and screamed.
As he took a sudden turn, needles of mithril passed by so close they took out one of the mirrors. His car was tangled up, gained on and forced to retreat. This was almost like a naval battle, he was rocking back and forth like a leaf on a tree… and a single vehicle took advantage of the gap between the two riders.
“They passed us!?”
Shouki and Takase grimaced in unison.
So the reason those persistent attacks finally stopped was to hide his approach.
“You can take it easy now, princess! Now that we’ve made it here, I’ll take the top through skill!!”
A Mercedes SL’s large engine displacement’s characteristic brazen exhaust noise sounded off as he slid into the inner lane at the next corner, taking the lead over them. The young man in a coat said this as he went by.
“You guys can play house all you want! My aim is Kawamura Hideo alone!!”
And he was gone.
The provocation worked, Shouki finally sheathed his sword. He lowered his torso into the windbreak and entered a speed match of avoiding obstacles.
“Brat! Don’t underestimate us!!”
Takase joined in; he dropped gears and accelerated.
“Wilco, can you hear me!? There’s a car headed your way! AMG 600, if you lose them on a straight, you won’t be able to catch up!! Don’t let them slip by!!”
And the group at the head finally made it through the residential district to the third stage, the nature district, a mountain range of constant gentle high-speed corners.
‘Ahem. Testing, testing. Hey, Hideo! Can you hear me!?’
On the wireless transceiver was none other than Ryuuta’s voice. Now, why would that be? As he pondered over it, he heard Takase.
‘Well, you know how it is. Depending on the situation, I thought it would be nice to be able to bribe and negotiate mid-race… the rental cars are all loaded with wireless transceivers.’
‘I see you never let up on the pettiest of things, Takase.’
Another new voice mixed in causing Lily to sound rather puzzled.
‘Huh? Why is there one on your personal bike, Hasebe-senpai?’
‘Hey, we at least have transceivers to contact one another. I finally found your frequency. Doesn’t this make it more exciting?’
Ryuuta ignored them and yelled.
‘Hey hold it, that voice! Bitch, Lily, are you on there!? Give me my money!?’
‘Ahem, the number you have dialed is una…’
‘The other two just said it was a wireless transceiver!!’
‘What, you know him?’
‘No way, master. He’s gotta be a stalker, your everyday stalker. See, I’m a beautiful maid of mystery, right?’
All the men besides Hideo retorted.
They were all speaking with passion, easy as could be, but.
“What is with all these people!?”
Wilco swung the steering from right to left all at once, crying out in a panic. They weren’t on voice chat at some internet café, they were on course. What’s more, speeding down sharp mountain corners at speeds of a hundred to a hundred sixty kilometers an hour.
When obstructions and violence were of little concern, they were fast. It also lay in the fact Wilco had chosen a path without too many sudden turns to lessen the burden on Hideo, but even as they calmly carried on that conversation, they didn’t let go of their bloodcurdling speed.
No, forget that, they were now closing in.
(… The problem is.)
Shouki had his sword. Elsia had her magic. While they were concentrating on racing for the time being, worst case scenario they would switch to attack… their side had no means of defense. Maintaining this distance was their fragile insurance, the greatest they could muster.
They had no time to waste on joking around like the people behind her. They had to concentrate on victory. When Hideo couldn’t do anything himself, at the very least, he had to believe in their victory. He had to believe in Wilco frantically trying to lead them to victory.
‘The top group has already entered the nature district, an intense car chase unfolding through the refreshing light filtering in through the trees! First place is still the Hideo-Wilco pair! But they can’t let their guard down, second and third place behind them are in a free for all, the difference is mere seconds…!?’
When he looked to the sky, he could see the helicopter Lena was probably in cutting off the sunlight.
“What is it, Master!?”
“Thy sky. Is starting. To cloud over.”
Wilco’s complexion took a turn for the worse.
“Don’t tell me it’s rain…!?”
“Can’t tell. Yet.”
It was still in the difference but… dark colored clouds were flowing their way. If it started raining while the clock was ticking…
“On a wet road surface, I’ll need even more controls than before! If that happens…!”
Hideo nodded once.
“We have to race.”
“Just like we have. To keep winning… we have to keep moving forward.”
But it happened then.
‘Oh, what’s this… who could that be!? A single white car! At a speed that could be called reckless, it’s catching up with the lead group! This is fast!’
A tension raced among all hands fighting for the top. Sure enough, an exhaust sound that didn’t belong to any of them was approaching from behind.
‘Hahah, how interesting! There was someone out there who could catch up with us!?’
Shouki grinned with a glance at his mirror.
‘Hmm, insolent fool… no one called for you!’
Takase sneered, his canines peeking out.
‘Hey now, don’t go getting in the way of our match!’
Ryuuta laughed, eagerly awaiting this foolish new challenger.
And Minako flipped on the switch for the wireless.
“You’re in the way, deadweights. Open the road.”
All smiles froze over.
Leaving them with those cold, condescending words, she flashed by like a bolt of lightning, a white gale that left all four contesting crafts in the dust.
‘There is gooooesss!! A sudden reversal!! Just now, the Hideo-Wilco pair that have been holding onto first have fallen to second!! By our intel, the white car’s identity should be the Minako-Okamaru pair!! Wha…!? Get this, they zoomed into first after a thirty-minute late start!? What car could possibly have overtaken such high-class rides as a Lamborghini and a Mercedes…!!’
Minako was intoxicated by her beloved steed she was so accustomed to riding.
The car’s name was Sprinter Trueno. The name of its motor was 4A-GE. Once upon a time on Fuji, the man who would later be called the king raced one to a legendary six consecutive victories… the ultimate high-performance machine.
“What sort of tofu store is she supposed to be running here!?”
Wilco cried out in terror.
(…… I see.)
Even Hideo was acquainted with it, that white and black silhouette known well to those in the know.
“Wilco… just calculated it out, but this means that policewoman chased after us at an average speed of a hundred and fifty kilometers an hour…!”
With Wilco’s urgent voice, the leisure disappeared from everyone’s expression. Each corner, the rear of Minako’s AE86 would jump as if it was performing a dance, opening up even more distance between them.
‘Oy, president!? Did you load a rocket booster or something on that pile of junk!?’
Siding with a wide-eyed Ryuuta, Shouki’s sense of crisis worsened.
‘Seriously! I often see them on mountain roads, but were those cars supposed to be that fast!?’
‘Don’t be stupid, damn brats! Where do you see a propulsion nozzle!? That 86 hasn’t even had the engine changed out!!’
The last thing they heard was Minako’s voice.
‘You’re right, Mr. President.’
That wasn’t her usual laudable tone as an officer… it reverberated like it was ridiculing them.
‘But high cam and high comp. The suspension’s a tad worn, but 15 inch Tanabe S tires with seventy percent of the treads left… more than enough.’
‘Didn’t you hear? I said it’s more than enough to leave you deadweights behind—!’
This was more than fast, she had exceeded common sense. Hideo watched the back of her car, and the brake lights barely ever flickered on. When they did, it was only the moment she charged into a corner. They did no more than serve as a trigger to break into a drift.
‘You’re up against the Dancing Queen of the Seaside Lane! No one can stop me with a 4AG!!’
‘Seaside, my ass! Don’t get in over your head, 1600 cc!!’
In concert with Takase’s frenzied cry, his 5.7 liter twelve cylinders roared to slip ahead of the group.
‘Tsk, what a dark horse! It’s life and death now, I’m taking you down…!!’
Aiming to reduce air resistance, Shouki stuck himself fast to the back of the large Lamborghini.
‘I’ve had some strange karma with you ever since the front desk! Fine, I’ll take up your challenge!!’
Even Ryuuta joined in. At the end of it all, Hideo and Wilco’s Lancer was forced to retreat all the way to the tail of the top group.
But Hideo shook his head.
This was probably temporary. Everyone was just being led along by Minako. With all the confidence each member had in their driving, they were growing far too heated. When their dignity was tickled, they weren’t able to maintain their own tempo. Their cars movements were more violent than before. They were crude. So.
“Keep going. Like this.”
Still, it would be troubling if he fell too far behind. He had to search for some means of catching up.
“Wilco. That car is?”
“As the president said, it’s a 1.6 Liter… it shouldn’t be that fast even if you mod it, but…”
But now that he could see them grappling from behind, he could tell. Everyone apart from Minako was properly stepping on the breaks to make curves. Minako alone barely flickered.
She was barely losing any speed at all.
“Wilco thinks it’s the car’s weight… the difference in inertia! The officer’s 86 is the lightest one here! Wilco has too many electric safety features, the president and Ryuuta have large and heavy engines!”
So even at high speeds, Minako’s car could take corners. If they didn’t properly drop their velocity, the inertia would smash them straight into the guard rails.
Once they were off the corners, their engine accelerations could overtake, but in the end, she would only gain more distance… and rather than their average violently fluctuating speed, Minako’s average when she barely ever dropped speed was higher.
“… Then shouldn’t the bike. Be doing better?”
“It only has two tires, so it can’t brace itself for turns as well as a car—!”
Oh, I see, thought Hideo. Crawling on four legs was surely more stable than two.
“But. If we’re. Higher power, then.”
“That’s right, if there were more straight lines… if it was a high-speed battle of two hundred kilometers per hour and over, that 86 would have no hopes of winning, but…!”
They were currently in the mountains of the nature district. The checkpoint was close to the summit. There were barely any straight tracks. For now, they could only meander left and right as they climbed the mountain path.
In which case… the match came down to the last stage, the industrial district. Unlike the shopping and residential district, it had to maintain large properties like factories and warehouses, so its paths were far more systematic. There were inevitably large stretches of straight roads.
“For now, it looks like rerouting us has proved effective! Originally, we would have been going down the shortest route, a wild zigzag to the top!”
And by taking this route, they had ended up leading Minako down a path where they could muster at least a little speed.
Her miraculous recovery from a thirty-minute late start was likely thanks to the loss from all the muddled combat that had complicated the urban fields. Then from here on, she wouldn’t gain an idiotic lead anymore but…
Wilco picked up on something.
With Minako at the lead, the group reached the top of the mountain.
‘It looks like she’s solidified her lead, with Minako in first place, the lead group has passed through the third checkpoint! The nature district now shifts to getting back down, we’re going right into a downhill battle!!’
And at the very first corner once they switched to downhill.
Wilco screamed. Her car took a wide turn around the outmost lane, taking them up against the shoulder of the bend. She had just barely avoided a crash.
‘What happened, Wilco!? Wait…!?’
Takase sounded taken aback as well. Following on with Ryuuta.
‘What’s this!? My brakes are…!?’
The only one laughing among them was Minako.
‘You fell for it! It’s because you’ve all been banging on your brakes like monkeys!’
Minako gracefully made her way down, now she was properly using her brake to decelerate. She showed no restraint to gain speed where she could, opening distance in spades.
“What is. This?”
“Wilco overused the brakes! If you have a license, didn’t you learn at driving school!?”
A car’s brakes mainly made use of friction. If you used them too frequently, take for say on a downhill, the brakes would gradually heat up with no time to cool off. If they grew too hot, for some reason, it would become harder for the brakes to work at all… and, if he was recalling correctly, if you continued using them after that, you’d keep shooting forward no matter how you slammed on the pedal; they’d stop working at all.
“Wilco hasn’t been braking as hard as the president, but she’s been constantly manipulating the ABS to control the car’s positioning…!”
‘So this is brake fade! Goddammit!’
Ryuuta said as his car lost momentum. Similarily, Takase was beginning to moderate his speed.
‘On top of that, her light car’s unchallenged on a downhill… so she was aiming for this from the start when she provoked us!?’
Their cars were too heavy. A downhill. To stop a heavy car, they would need even heavier breaks… Minako had popped the cap and exhausted them while they were still on the climb.
‘Now you’re getting it. In short, what I’m trying to say is…’
Minako took a breath.
‘Please slow down and drive safe.’
“Can it, finance department!”
‘Hey! I joined hoping to be a traffic cop and wear the blue suit—!!’
Minako had climbed while preserving her brakes. Her engine may be weak but it was all downhill from here. With gravity on her side, she was far beyond anyone’s reach. Her car grew further and further out of sight.
‘Wilco, whatever happens, you have to avoid getting vapor locked! You’ll be beyond recovery!’
“Wilco knows, president! But…!”
‘You put up a good fight Takase, Hideo! And the Benz over there!’
The light auto bike didn’t require as much braking as the rest. Shouki alone chased after Minako at the same pace as before. At his distancing back, Elize mischievously stuck out her tongue.
‘Now I’m going to enjoy hunting your four-wheeler, officer!’
‘Hmph, don’t you know riding no helmet warrants the death penalty!?’
And… the two were completely out of sight.
‘Good grief…! Wilco, can’t your car handle forest roads!?’
“Ah, erk, it’s no good, president! Wilco searched it up but from here it’s all long detours! And…!”
Hideo suddenly recalled. The heat of the match woke up his thoughts.
“Wilco. As I recall. Doesn’t this car have.”
“Yes, it’s mainly for rally racing! It doesn’t matter if the road’s a bit poor…”
“Get the map.”
“There’s a road map of the city open on the PC in the back seat!”
“A topographical map.”
Wilco’s face glistened as she inferred his meaning.
When traveling on foot through a mountain with no roads, an explorer would read the contours and choose a path with the lowest height differential… meaning the one that would take the least effort. Hideo vaguely recalled.
This mountain road was definitely easy to drive down, but due to the restrictions when building it, it was curling all over, going up and down all over the place. Now that they had reached the checkpoint, there was no need to follow the mountain, all they had to do was descend into the industrial district.
(Then the path…)
Could just be ignored. Even the paths they couldn’t ignore unless they had caterpillar treads going up, they could potentially go down. If they could read the sprawling cliffs and obstructing inclines from the map and find the true shortest route that avoided them..!
“F… found one!! This route will work out… master!”
Of course, it came with a great risk. With a road surface that didn’t even have gravel lain out, worst case, there was a fear of a punctured tire. It was impossible to foresee the trees and rocks… not only might they not finish the race, they might run into an obstacle that threatened their very survival.
”Wilco will believe in your decision!”
What else could he do but believe in Wilco?
He nodded only once. That was all.
“Here we go!!”
At the next corner, as Takase and Ryuuta decelerated, Wilco overshot with the gas at full throttle.
‘Wha!? Reel it in, Wilco, you’re too fast!!’
Towards the white guard rail encroaching on her vision, Wilco let go of the wheel. She rammed straight in with all her speed.
“Just this once…! Electronic Armament Number one, Aegis! Release!”
A strong fatigue pounded down on Hideo. What he saw at the end of his misty eyes… the shield he saw back then. An extra large shield big enough to cover the entire front of the car.
It crashed into the guard rail and pierced through it, their car dancing out into freefall.
‘Our top contender… suddenly went off course!? The Hideo-Wilco pair have been sucked up by the depths of the forest!!’
Well, perhaps it looked that way to the helicopter.
“Are you okay, master!?”
He felt he’d bite his tongue if he spoke, so Hideo held the head he’s hit on the landing as he quietly nodded. They had cleared the deep marsh right under the guard rails… they had around two meters of clearance. A close call.
Whatever the case, the car pressed on through the forest. Luckily, there wasn’t much undergrowth, and they had a good outlook on the trees they had to avoid. But the dirt surface made it easy to slip; Wilco had to use power on the drive controls. On top of the expenditure of that large shield, Hideo’s exhaustion was growing thicker by the minute.
“Hold tight, master! We’ll be out of here soon! From there, it’s almost all straight lines, once we clear the forest, we should be ahead of the policewoman!!”
“… Do your. Best.”
While he said it to Wilco, he was also trying to convince himself. He knew he would fall unconscious the moment he dropped his guard, but for now, Wilco needed the energy far more than he did.
‘Hideo!? Wilco!? Are you alright!? Hey!?’
Lily called over the wireless but got no voices in return. While Ryuuta also let it weigh on his mind, his hands didn’t go loose.
“Yo, president! Wouldn’t you usually stop to check how they’re doing!?”
‘They have insurance, no problem!’
What sort of insurance?
‘How about you? Your rival just disappeared, isn’t it about time you slowed down!?’
“I promised I’d meet him at the finals, I don’t think he’ll just disappear like that!!”
Ryuuta’s AMG and Takase’s Diablo were in a dead heat, constantly switching out between third and fourth place. Until.
A drop of water hit the windshield. When Ryuuta looked to the sky, it had grown dark without him noticing, and…
“It’s starting to pour…!”
In the blink of an eye, the road’s surface started to dampen.
“What was that, Elsia!?”
“I don’t like getting wet.”
“Sorry, but we don’t have the time to stop and put up the roof!”
“… I see.”
Elsia silently slung her own mantle over her head.
It was surprisingly cute.
The ground was wet, it was easier for tires to slide. They would now have to grow nervous over the car’s position controls. Naturally, they would need to drop speed considerably.
It wasn’t as if Ryuuta was the only one gritting his teeth at the change in weather.
“Why does it have to be now…! Whoah!”
Despite the fact she was more than comfortable with her speed, she teetered off lane, causing a shudder to race down her spine. For the time being, she corrected her posture.
‘Are you holding up? Minako…’
“This is bad…! Looks like I pushed it too hard in the first half…!”
This was what she got for not holding back in the slightest to recover from this thirty-minute gap. She drifted to her heart’s content, swinging the car around like crazy… and by this point, she could safely presume barely any of the tire treads remained. Regular rain could take her out. Even if it wasn’t raining, if she met up with some puddles from past rain, she had no way of knowing where she would hydroplane off to.
‘You showed them enough already.’
“Mn… well, that’s true, but…”
According to the radio, Hideo had fallen into an accident. In that case… she could say she had won against the foe she wanted to defeat most.
But it didn’t quite sit right with her.
What could it be? She didn’t feel like anything was resolved…
‘Hey! Can you hear me, officer!?’
The motorbike behind her, Shouki’s voice woke her up from her thoughts.
‘Your car’s in trouble! I can already see the rims of your left rear tire! Slow down some!!’
She shook her head.
“I-I’m not falling for that one!! You’re just trying to overtake me!”
A little longer and she’d be out of the nature district into the industrial district. A place of mainly straight lines; when she didn’t have the horsepower, they’d be gaining on her fast. She had to make a lead while she could. There was no way she could let him…
It was there Minako realized. The words of the one behind him… belonged not to Obliterating Industries, but to Hasebe Shouki of Elize Industrial, who she had herself proclaimed to be just. There was no deception, it was a warning from the heart.
The car was beginning to slide in directions it shouldn’t. And at a time like that.
Wilco’s voice suddenly sounded over the wireless.
All of a sudden, from the thicket right before her eyes, a red lancer covered in scrapes and dents butted out onto the road. With her control crumbling, Minako had no way of avoiding it.
“Wait, when did it start raining!?”
When they were racing through such a thick forest, they had no way of knowing the change in road conditions. What’s more, as they had continued turning their wheels over dirt, their tires were slathered with no scarcity of mud. As it was, there was a layer of water over the asphalt.
No matter what sort of technology she exercised, the tires were the sole item connecting them to the road surface.
The moment she was out on the road, Wilco momentarily lost control of the car. She was sent into a spin, and just when she’d turned around a hundred and eighty degrees…
Hideo saw a terrifying sight. Right before his eyes, Minako in her car, her expression frozen on her face, crashing into them as she slid sideways. Before he had time to close his eyes, the strong impact jolted the car body.
They were shot off. Taken in by the sum total of their momentum, they swung off the path stuck fast to one another, falling down an incline nearly as steep as a cliff.
Shouki let his bike fall sidewise, turning the steering until it couldn’t go further for a sudden brake. He peered down from the guard rail the two cars had broken through.
“They went and did it! Christ, that’s quite a long way down…!”
He tried inspecting the forest at the base of the slope. From here, he had no means of investigating what state the two vehicles were in. He could hear the sounds of Takase and Ryuuta’s cars approaching from higher up on the mountain.
“… I’ll do it~.”
He turned to Elize’s voice.
“I’ll see how they’re doing~. Mr. Shouki~ you hurry ahead~.”
Elize said and stepped down from the bike.
“Rules say it’s fine~ unless I drop out~…”
“Mn? Ah, I do remember hearing that…”
When participating in pairs, the Sacred Demon Grand Prix applied the placement of only the first one to reach the goal. This was a sort of consideration for those who weren’t using vehicles, and for example, if a pair purposely split up to take say first and third place for the wins and money that came with it, it was a sort of measure to prevent any single pair from monopolizing the earnings.
As long as the later of the two didn’t go overtime or drop out due to combat, the placement of the first individual to reach the goal was used as the placement for any pair participating in the tournament.
If Shouki reached the goal in first place, Elize just had to reach the goal within the time limit for the ‘Elize-Shouki pair’ to get both the grand prize and the win point total.
For that very reason, there were participants who left their partners behind from the get-go to challenge the Grand Prix alone, and there was no problem with that at all. Take, for instance, the self-proclaimed something-something maid hitching a ride with Takase. It was up to the participants whether they saw being alone as an advantage or disadvantage.
“It’s perfectly fine~ We’re close to the company!”
Elize reached out her finger. The tops of the trees let bits and pieces of the flock of tall smokestacks slip into sight. They were near the boundary between the nature and industrial districts. If the president Elize said the word, loads of workers would rush in far faster than it would be to wait for help from tournament HQ.
“You’re right… got it, I’ll leave it to you, Elize!”
“Leave~ it~ to~ me~♪”
And Elize flippantly waved her hand until Shouki was out of sight.
“… Or not.”
Came the smile of the devil. She lightly floated into the air, gently making her way down the slope.
“Uhah… Master, are you okay?”
They were back in the depths of a forest. It was lucky the car didn’t roll over. The engine was still properly seated. But when Hideo calmed down and looked to the side.
“… Minako. Is.”
The nose of her car was crushed flat. Unlike them, she had taken quite a tumble; the roof was caved in and there were cracks across the windshield… within it, he could see Minako bleeding and limp.
Hideo stepped down from the car.
“Going. To see.”
“Are you okay?”
But Minako was unconscious so Okamaru answered in his place.
‘Hideo, from one warrior to another… I beseech you, please lend her your aid…’
By his tone he seemed to understand. Their side was in the midst of a competition they couldn’t pull out of by any means. Perhaps the ones up top were worried… it was only now that he could hear Shouki’s bike take off.
“… Wilco. You go. Ahead.”
“The rules… allow it. I think. As long as you reach the goal first.”
But Wilco stayed just where she was in the driver seat, shaking her head.
“T… that’s true, but…! Aren’t you being just a little naïve!? That police officer is always badmouthing us and getting in our way!! She got what she deserved!!”
While that was true… her injuries were all out of sight. When he wasn’t a doctor, he had no way of telling what sort of state Minako was in. If her injuries were a race against time, there was no way he could just abandon her.
“Master! Keep your eyes on victory!”
“… We’ll have ended up. Killing her.”
“Erk!? Urgh… instant disqualification, is it…”
Obstructing was permitted in the race, they were definitely prepared for car crashes, of course… but the tournament couldn’t just turn a blind eye to life and death. Regardless of who was at fault, the accident happened with two cars.
At that moment, Minako finally opened her eyes.
“Kill me off, like that…”
‘You’re alright!? Minako!?’
“I-I’m fin… oww!”
Her face distorted in agony.
‘Mister Hideo… please.’
“Cut it out, Okamaru… you’re embarrassing yourself! Who would accept a villain’s charity… Ku- uh…!”
“Maasstteeer!! You heard the lady! You’re just a bother right now!! Sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong!!”
Now what to do when she spelled it out so plainly…
Hideo put a hand on Minako’s dented door and yanked at it with all his might.
Wilco revved the accelerator urging him to hop on. The short of the matter, their own car was perfectly fine. And despite this and that, Wilco was waiting for him.
(…… I see.)
They could reach the goal.
They would end up losing the bet with Elize Industrial but… as long as they didn’t drop out, the Sacred Demon Cup itself still went on. He had no way of knowing how Takase and Lily would punish him, he didn’t know the troubles he’d have henceforth, but…
Wilco’s miserable, resigned voice. She accepted he was going to do it anyway, and he was grateful for that.
A final breath. With a clank and a clink, the door finally opened with no sounds a door should ever make. The force sent Hideo toppling back where he rolled and got covered in the mud of the rain. Personally, he didn’t know what to think about getting out of breath opening a single door.
“… Take my shoulder.”
“Don’t touch me…! Just go…”
But her legs were a little stuck. When she tried to get out, she stumbled over, losing her balance and pushing Hideo aside as she fell flat onto the ground.
“Are you. Okay…?”
“I told you not to touch me!”
She smacked his hand aside.
“What’s with you!? What are you trying to pull…!”
She huddled up on the ground. Her head hung, her shoulders shaking.
“Pretending to be a villain, then suddenly playing the good guy…! What’s so fun about that…!”
“… I just.”
“Yes, I’m sure you’re having the time of your life! A strong person like you who can just make everything go his way… having the strength to justify every good and bad thing you do as your justice! While I can’t even…!”
Okamaru cut her off.
‘Minako… should you not start by giving your thanks?’
“Hey!! Whose side are you on!?”
‘… I’m not one to side with someone so ungrateful—’
His terribly quiet voice sent a shiver down Hideo’s spine. For a moment, he thought he saw a warrior standing tall, a drawn sword in hand. A dread like he would be lain to waste under that blade the instant he said one wrong word.
And Minako was dejectedly pressured to silence.
“Umm… Master Okamaru.”
‘As you can see, she is still young, her mind is a little in distress. She would never dare speak such foolish nonsense to you again, so for now, please…’
“No. I don’t. Really mind.”
But as long as she was safe, they were in the middle of a race and he was keeping Wilco waiting. He wanted to transfer her to his own car already so he could be on his way, or rather… he didn’t feel obligated to watch over their infighting.
Or so he wanted to say, but he was getting cold feet with how much of a more pleasant person he thought Okamaru to be. He was so scared of Minako’s wrath he had absolutely no idea what to do… and wait, now that she had rejected him that thoroughly he highly doubted she would listen to anything he had to say; in the end, no matter how much a lowly shut in tried to help someone, looking at the result, he was just making people angry or perhaps…
“Master!! Your dark aura!!”
Hideo snapped back to reality. Thanks to the fact he was bestowing all his energy unto Wilco, it did seem he was getting more prone to daydreaming.
“If she can complain that much, she’s healthy enough!! You got her out, now let’s go!! The president and Ryuuta have already passed by up top!!”
Right. The race continued.
“Ah, what are you…”
Hideo forced Minako’s arm around his shoulder and forced her to her feet.
“Owowow!? Hideo, I think I twisted my ankle…!”
So what? She already hated him to begin with. It didn’t matter how much more she despised him. He was human refuse his parents had abandoned, what did it matter who hated him beyond that? Yeah, that’s right. He would promptly shove her in the back seat and call it a day.
“Waaah… masteeer, if you let Minako ride, you’ll throw off the weight distribution…”
“H-how rude… I’m… not that fat…”
For now, she seemed willing to ride.
“Unfortunately, our store cannot meet your demands~♪”
Everyone turned to the voice. The first person to open their mouth was Wilco.
“Why is Elize here!? Didn’t you go off with Shouki!?”
“Watch your tongue, fresh meat. It’s Elize-senpai, right?”
She was somewhat… different from before. There was a firm will in her eyes, quite lucid at that.
“I came to help you since you fell down the cliff. Though you were putting on some youth drama, so I stood back and watched. Are you finished yet? If you’re done, can I go ahead?”
Elize brandished the palm of her hand. A silver light gathered around it, forming the shape of a single spear.
Wilco instantaneously lurched the car forward, turning its body on the spot. How much force could it have? When the spear missed the mark, it pierced straight into the car’s back seat. Had she not dodged, the engine or perhaps Wilco herself would have been impaled.
“Wha… what was that!? Didn’t you come to help us!?”
“I came to help you. As I thought, you were still clinging to life, so I’ll help send you off beyond…!”
A malevolent smile on her face, Elize spread her arms wide to produce several more of those spears.
“Ms. Elize… what are you doing…!? Does the hero… Shouki know about this!?”
To a pale Minako, Elize scoffed.
“Like hell he does. Good kids like him and you are just around to be used. That’s all your justice amounted to. Capeesh?”
“But you lot just had to enter the race and get in my way at every turn… Shouki should’ve just cut you all down where you stood, but he’s ecstatic playing tag at his age.”
She showed no reservation.
“You just have to win.”
Ketata, Elize rung her throat in a laugh.
“I’ve gotta give my thanks for making a mess of our company the other day after all. For now, you lot will disappear, and Obliterating Industries… this city will belong to me.”
“What… are you going so far to accomplish!?”
She regarded Minako’s words as yet another foolish, wasted question.
“Isn’t it obvious? It’s all to become a God.”
A hard-to-believe word.
“For a young spirit like myself born in the age of science, becoming a god… requires immense amounts of human faith. So for starters, I’ll get this city under my thumb, set myself up as a god, and establish this place as one large theocracy devoted to me.”
He was stumbling upon them now and again in this city, and lately, Hideo was coming to envy these people who could be so goddamn optimistic.
“Are the radio waves getting to your head!? Wilco loves waves, but even she thinks you need a tinfoil hat!!”
“Hmph, I’m sure you lot don’t know, but… there’s this group called ‘Alhazan’ working behind the scenes in this tournament. In order for them to move for real, Obliterating Industries needs to be out of the picture. Speaking of which, it’d have been wonderful if it wasn’t you guys but Nagoyakawa Suzuran who fell down here~.”
(Alhazan… Nagoyakawa Suzuran…)
Suzuran meant… she was talking about Lily? But the other, Alhazan… he had heard it somewhere before. Where was it?
“Ah, this rain is getting on my nerves. That’s enough talking.”
Brushing aside her damp hair, Elize turned her spread arms towards them. Hideo took a glance at his partner.
He couldn’t say much.
“First place. Drive like you want to kill me.”
Shouki would win. That would make it Elize Industrial’s victory. No, the victory of this broken spirit before his eyes, Elize Mithrilite.
“I’ll. Make it.”
His will was strong. That got across to her far more than his words.
“Your youth drama ends here… die.”
Minako unsheathed Okamaru and smacked down the spear flying at Hideo. The remaining ones all targeted Wilco’s car, but by that time, her four wheels were already violently kicking up mud as she took off.
Elize clicked her tongue at this blunder. She shot a few more spears after that, but Wilco cleverly used the trees to shield herself, making off for the final checkpoint.
“So be it. If her partner drops out, the newbie loses… this match goes to me.”
With a deep breath. Elize’s cold eyes turned back towards them.
“Alright, Wilco’s out!!”
Barreling out of the forest, Wilco broke straight into the Industrial district. She wouldn’t make the same mistake twice. Until the mud dropped from her tires, she exercised the utmost caution as she pressed on. In that time span, she calculated the shortest route to the fourth checkpoint.
The rain was starting to come down in full force, no doubt Shouki would have to shift to quite a low gear on his two-wheeler. She computed the route he would probably take from that point. And from his riding patterns she had seen to that point, she estimated his current location and compared it with her own.
“I won’t make it…!”
Calculating route, please change search criteria, no match, no match, no match…!
Error Error Error!
How could she, an electronic god, be repeating such trivial errors.
If Hideo were here. No doubt he would offer some sort of plan. But he was gone. He told her to race. To race like she wanted to kill him. He would definitely make it to the goal. That was because he believed she could overtake Shouki and get first place!
“Data! More data…!”
She spread out her electronic net. Necessary or not, she snatched away anything she could.
She got a hit!
“Here it is!!”
It was not a map or anything of a sort. It was a blueprint. The blueprint to a structure. Then another. Then another. The factories and warehouses in the Industrial district and their land, the plans to their buildings; she snatched them all, swallowed, digested, overlay them with her route map, and worked out the real shortest possible route!
By her prediction, she would reach the fourth checkpoint only a fraction of a second behind Hasebe Shouki.
“Will.CO21 operating at Full Output!!”
She reached out her hand to encompass every electronic system governing this vehicle.
“Releasing Rev Limiter, Releasing Boost Limiter, Overwriting Ignition Timing, Overwriting Fuel Injection Map, Incorporating Misfiring System, Immediately switching over…!”
The engine let off smoke for an instant. After which.
To equate it to tuning a CPU, it was the ultimate program presumably no maker, tuner or worker could ever reach, the true work of none other than an electronic god. A single highest summit in the evolution of car technology, the Mitsubishi 4G63 unit began roaring out like a fierce god of war.
She had no more mercy to spare for the corners. The brakes were amply cooled by the rain. ABS, AYC, ACD, she was putting her all into every control.
Papan!! Papan…!! Papapapapaan!!
The moment she released the accelerator, a burst of blue and red spouted from the muffler. She had shaken free from the boost gauge, it wasn’t coming back. When she was out of the corner, the instant she floored the gas, a full boost had all tires bite into the ground. She contained the meandering repetition of her wheels that wanted to keep turning despite the four-wheel drive, and got Takase and Ryuuta in her sights.
‘Wilco, you’re alright!?’
‘Oy, where’s Hideo…!?’
“Out of the waaaaaaaaaay!!”
She shot past them.
She could now understand well how Minako felt back there. As if anyone could stop her! Another corner. From the outside sidewalk, she entered the opposite lane; as the inner wall sent her door mirror flying off, she ran aground on the outside sidewalk again. This was Minako’s racing technique that had been shoved in her face so much she had come to detest it. Now she had a street wide enough to use it on, she would abuse the hell out of it. She wouldn’t let her strongest weapon called speed be killed in the slightest.
‘Fast…! What happened to her? It’s like she’s a completely different person… crap, I can’t keep up!!’
‘Don’t push it, Ryuuta! Catching up with a 4WD in this rain is impossible! I wouldn’t want to be dragged in when you crash and burn!’
‘Heh! If I heeded those sortsa warnings, I’d have never gone out in this crazy race!’
‘… Kukukuh, I see! You have a point!!’
The two said as they picked up the pace. They were desperately clinging on.
‘Ah, for God’s sake, you got Master all fired up again… why are boys so incessant about who’s strongest or fastest… don’t you think so? Elsia?’
‘Right. But I don’t hate it. This heat.’
Their jabber was annoying. But it was even more irksome to remove her hands and flip off the transceiver’s switch.
A long straight, after that was the largest loss point. A T-road right in front of Elize Industrial’s main building. No matter left or right, she would have to take a large detour to make it around their massive premises. On top of that.
‘!? Not good, Wilco stop!!’
‘What’s with you businessmen, your place and Elize Industrial, are you really all that different!?’
The armed lines stationed to block off that T intersection, a party in berets. Elize Industrial’s personal army was waiting for them.
So what. Wilco didn’t let the gas pedal rise from the very bottom. She had exceeded a hundred and eighty kilometers an hour and was still going strong. From there, she raised the gear even higher and pressed down even harder.
“Wilco will run you doooooowwwnnn!!”
Her scream had everyone who heard it at a loss for words.
Exactly, get in my way and die, thought Wilco. I mean, at this very moment, Hideo was about to be killed by Elize’s hands. In such a life-threatening situation, he nonchalantly told her to kill him. She was continuing to use so much power as if she was to kill him.
Even so, she had to obtain first place!
Even so, he was going to return!
The only person she had ever trusted since she was born in this world was about to be killed! Then what problem was it no matter how many thousands, ten thousands she killed to save him!!
Without any turns or horns, she charged straight in. A hole opened in the bonnet, a number of shots broke the windshield and grazed Wilco’s face.
But that was all. A 1.5-ton hunk of metal accelerated to two hundred twenty kilometers an hours, what could some measly lead pellets do to it? Sensing the abnormality, the personal army threw their guns down and jumped out of the way in fear of their lives.
‘She’s going for it!? What a gal!’
‘Kukukuh, a short cut! How interesting!! Ryuuta, if you want to turn back, this is your last chance!’
Wilco rammed down the gate as Clarica had done before her. Ryuuta and Takase followed close behind. Even now, her speed didn’t drop. With the minimum amount of trajectory changes, she infiltrated the factory. She changed the route map to the factory blueprints treating the placement of machinery as obstacles as she discerned her own path. Compared to the forest where she had no leads to go off of, it was like she had a commanding view of a bright line guiding her all the way.
She was through, no brakes. With all her momentum, she bashed into the warehouse. It was largely a straight line, but the turbulence of materials and goods in her way had the car shaking wildly. She shot through like a comet.
She was through, she didn’t give the guard enough time to gather. She had gotten through the property of Elize industrial right onto the grounds of the next factory. Then through their warehouse. The scenery far too close for comfort passed by like an illusion. She raced, sped and spanned the true shortest distance she would never know by looking at a map.
She was out of the factories. She sped out onto a public road, at the next T intersection, her path crossed with Hasebe Shouki coming from the opposite directions, their paths crossing as they turned. They passed through the fourth checkpoint. It was Hasebe Shouki at the lead. Wilco in second.
The time difference was zero point four seconds!
‘You caught up!? From that situation…!?’
“Wilco won’t lose…!”
‘What happened to Hideo!? Wasn’t he with you!?’
“Wilco can’t lose…!!”
Her circuits were flaring strong enough to burn her. She could see the goal. Down a long straight back street, she entered the center district from industrial, coming out onto the main road to the central plaza.
Lay down under the windbreak, Shouki’s accelerator was at full throttle. From behind, Ryuuta’s SL700 with four hundred horsepower. Behind that, over five hundred, a monster machine worthy of the devil’s name.
Wilco rewrote the fuel injector and ignition again, setting the maximum output rotation well into the red zone, making the engine cry out in pain as it continued on.
If only by a little, she was gaining on him.
Unable to gain any downforce, the motorbike lacked the absolute horsepower; with a side glance to her, Shouki groaned as he crossed two hundred sixty kilometers. Takase and Ryuuta accelerated even further beyond that. Little by little, they lined up, finally in a straight line side by side…!
Lena’s voice loudly spanned the opening plaza. The checkered flags were raised. It brought the racers to their senses and had them hit the breaks.
The turbines of Wilco’s Lancer she had continued forcing on blew out right after she had stopped. An intense white smoke wavered from the exhaust pipe.
‘This… this is amazing!! How could this be!? All four top racers arrived at the finish at practically the same time!! The victory will have to be decided by reviewing the footage!! Now, who will it be…!’
Listening to Lena excitedly wrap it up,
“Uhah… we had a good run…”
In the burnt smell of the car, Wilco slumped exhausted into her seat.
She finished the race. She used everything she had to finish the race. Even in the million-to-one chance she lost, that introverted, gentle, weak-willed shut-in Hideo… would surely forgive her.
Now there was nothing left for her to do.
Wilco cut off every last circuit from her trusted steed who had come this far with her.
Run. Run. Run.
Elize slowly floated along like a ghost, the terrain couldn’t stop her.
Flew the needles. Their side didn’t have any weapons that could handle those sharp projectiles, it was almost like a horror game.
While grabbing Hideo’s shoulder, Minako batted down what she could. That was the most she could do.
“Fufufu, how long are you going to run around? You sure you shouldn’t start heading towards the goal?”
She was playing with them. There was no need for her to kill them. It was enough just to injure them badly enough they couldn’t make it in time.
Minako desperately struck down the needles flying their way, but as she played her games, Elize was gradually increasing the number of shots with each wave.
‘At this rate, she’s just going to wear us out… Minako, give me to Mister Hideo! We must take the offensive!’
“Got it, Okamaru! Hideo, please…!”
But he shook his head.
“That would leave you. Defenseless.”
Elize looked like the type who would calmly target the injured member the moment they split. It was over the moment she took her hostage.
“But… at this rate, you’ll be dragged down with me!”
“I’m telling you, I’m sick and tired of this youth drama. It’s about time you seriously die.”
Several dozen needles.
A sharp pain shot through Hideo. The needles Okamaru couldn’t clear away on his own, one took Hideo’s arm, the other his leg. He had been impaled.
Luckily, Minako was uninjured, it seemed like Hideo would be able to manage with the pain and mental shock.
Ah, thought he, if I were the sort of hero from some story. Wouldn’t I say ‘This is nothing’? Unfortunately I’m just a shut-in with no redeeming features.
But be that as it may, he was a shut-in through and through. No matter what pain he was going through, he couldn’t bring himself to raise a pathetic noise. He barely talked to begin with. He was deathly embarrassed to even monologue when no one was there… that was the sort of human Hideo was. Raising a scream from the likes of pain was too embarrassing.
Because it was embarrassing. Because people would look at him with those pitying eyes. That was more unbearable than anything. He could put up a tough front from the perfection of his negative mindset.
There was no way he could calmly analyze the situation. The pain overrode any feeling in his wounds. He had no space to consider how his bones, nerves, and blood vessels were holding up.
It was just painful, his movements dull as he led Minako along.
“Tsk, I played too long. I had my fun, Humans.”
For some reason, Elize clicked her tongue and froze in place. He followed her eye line to find… the industrial district just beyond the trees.
This spirit was concealing her true colors to the public. Once they were out of the nature district, she had to contain her atrocious nature from the city areas where there was no telling who might see. She would eventually become a god, she needed to gather faith. Outside of her trusted associates and confidants like the ones who instigated Minako, she needed to cover up such a scandal.
Elize defiantly scoffed like a sore loser.
“Well so be it. When he had so much of a head start, there’s no way Shouki lost. Rather, by the look of you, you’ll never make it in time. Have fun, fufufu.”
After giving her say, Elize disappeared.
‘She was more of an evil apparition than a spirit but… for now, we got through the dangerous waters.’
“Yes, you’re right… but… the race is,”
Confirming it on her wristwatch, Minako hesitated to say the rest.
Right, his mind was so taken by the pain he had forgotten. Why was he so relieved just because Elize had vanished? They were still in the midst of the Sacred Demon Grand Prix.
They had lost considerable time running around the forest. He took a peek at Minako’s watch. If they started now… they might just barely make it if his legs were in working order.
… If they were in working order? What did that mean? How long was he going to carry on that loser thought process? They were working well enough. Of course they were. Just think about it. The items that pierced them were thin needles. His muscle fibers just got ripped a bit. It wasn’t like his leg was gone, it just hurt. If it just hurt, then he just had to get used to it.
He wasn’t like Minako who had crushed and sprained the joint, he could move!
“H-Hideo…!? Where are you going…!”
Wilco had surely reached the goal long ago. The washed-out feeling that been so horrible he thought he’d faint had completely faded. Wilco was definitely at the goal. She was at the goal, so she no longer had the need. Of course she was, of course she stole the top spot and was laughing hohahaha being bathed in Champaign.
Then she had done it. Because he told her to race like she wanted to kill him. Because he told her he would definitely make it.
So he had to go.
“To the goal.”
Pulling along Minako’s arm slung around his neck, he walked forward.
“But… it’s already too…! And with those injuries…!”
When they were out of the forest, the outside was covered in thick black clouds, the sun was setting, the townscape was growing dark. A strong rain continued hammering down.
“.. And. You… told me.”
“Before the race. Someday… at the finals…”
Minako pulled her sprained leg behind her as she followed along.
Through the dark and quiet lines of factories, Hideo simply pressed forward.
Wilco sat, dazed out in the reclined driver’s seat. Outside the car, the members who had competed for the top, suspicious over Hideo’s absence, had gathered.
After hearing Wilco’s summary, the one most taken aback was Elize’s partner Shouki.
“Is that for real? Elize did—that can’t be…!”
And Takase undauntedly laughed.
“I see. So those are her true colors.”
“But to think Alhazan was involved, now this is getting spicy…”
With a dangerous look in his eyes, Ryuuta turned to Lily.
“Oy, looks like they’re after you.”
“Sounds about right. But for now…”
Lily looked at the goal. The one who appeared there by her lonesome self…
‘President Elize Mithrilite Reaches the Goal!! Now the placement of the Elize-Shouki pair has been set in stone! The only person left missing from the top group is Hideo, but he’s still nowhere to be seen…!’
Noticing what they were doing, Elize quit it with the dead look in her eyes and closed in with a mischievous laugh.
“Oh my, looks like you’re all together.”
“Elize, I heard what you did! What happened to Hideo!?”
Elize crudely brushed away Shouki’s hand that had grabbed her.
“What happened? Who knows? Don’t you think he’s given up and started sulking in a corner by now?”
“Then you… haven’t killed him, correct?”
Lily’s quiet voice.
“Pretty much. But if he pushes himself, he might die in a ditch.”
“I see. Then it checks out.”
When Lily turned away without pursuing the matter any further, Ryuuta stopped her.
“The rules said obstructions were fair game.”
Takase fully endorsed those words.
“She’s right. If he doesn’t reach the goal, that’s all there is to Kawamura Hideo.”
“Hmm… well aren’t you laid back, Iori Takase. When your company is now mine.”
But the one who answered her was her partner Shouki.
“We don’t know that yet. I lost to Wilco. The rest is up to Hideo.”
Elize looked at Shouki in terror, but there was no regret or embarrassment on his face. He simply looked at her with a harsh expression.
“B-but…! But, that’s right, there’s no time left! Just look, there’s only a minute left in the race! They’ll never make it in time! And, and…!”
“Thanks to the mess Takase caused at the starting line, Tournament HQ intervened. To help out the participants who almost had to drop out, the time limit was extended by three hours. It’s still possible.”
The leisure in her face completely disappeared as Elize grit her teeth. Ryuuta disparagingly chimed in.
“President Elize… Did you jump on board knowing full well how Alazahan works? Otherwise, you’re undoubtedly being taken for a fool. Anyone who hasn’t sworn absolute loyalty to the organization only exists to be used.”
Her face when ghastly pale upon hearing that; Shouki placed a hand on her small quivering shoulder.
“… You said you wanted to win the Sacred Demon Grand Prix and become a God. Because you were the spirit of sacred silver who smites the wicked… I believed in you, so I agreed to be your partner… but you were tricking me the whole time? I’ll never believe in that sort of god.”
“Uu… uu, uu…!”
Elize’s lip quivered, in the next instant she had smacked off Shouki’s hand.
“Shut up, that’s enough you useless wretch! Who would want to use the likes of you anymore!? Do you think I can be a god with such an embarrassment sticking around me!? That’s enough, if you want it that badly, I’ll be an evil spirit for you! Heh, it’s already too late! I’ve already harmed a child of man with these hands! In that case, I’ll see Kawamura Hideo to the end, I’ll become an evil god!!”
Before Shouki had the time to stop her, Elize cried and wailed as she disappeared off somewhere.
“Wha… she snapped!? Spirit my ass, even brat’s too good for her!”
“Ryuuta, was it!? Sorry, but could you help me search!? You too, Takase!”
At Shouki’s words Ryuuta nodded and Takase clicked his tongue.
“Oh for god’s sake, you’re nothing but trouble…! Hey, Wilco, how long are you going to sleep!? Do you know where Hideo is right now…!”
She was quite indifferent on the matter.
So much so that the men who had surmounted many a battle had to look blankly. Wilco stayed lying down, she didn’t need to deal with their hurried haste.
“Master said he would make it. Wilco won like she promised so… master will definitely come back…”
At a snail’s pace, Hideo had gotten around midway through the Industrial district. How much longer could he walk? A dozen minutes? An hour?
For a moment he lost his sense of balance. He felt it more in his mind than his body. He could feel himself breaking.
It was nothing like that, this was simple fatigue. He had shared so much with Wilco today, and up to this very moment, he had squeezed out his willpower; this was on top of the pain and blood loss from the needles. He had his limits as a living being.
The town he walked through was deserted. Not a soul to be seen. No one going ahead. No one trying to pass him. Had everyone already reached the goal by now?
“Hideo…! Look, over there! It’s the last checkpo…!!”
Minako’s voice was cut off part-way.
Her glimmering expression froze over.
The private soldiers of Elize Industrial, with Elize Mithrilite herself at the lead… stood in their path.
“But why!? I mean, the race is already… over, isn’t it!?”
On those words, Hideo finally noticed. Minako had kept it from him, showed her consideration this whole time. A side glance at her watch and… the time limit had gone by long ago.
Elize raised her voice.
“They extended the time limit, for Christ’s sake. Thanks to those Obliterating Industries idiots overdoing it at the start, Tournament HQ stepped in. The time was extended three hours as a handicap!”
Minako’s face brightened with this unimaginable turn of fortune. They could still make it in time. From here, there was more than enough time to reach the goal.
But, that was…
“… Are you stupid? Don’t you get it? I’m here to make sure that doesn’t happen.”
A gruesome smile of stifled rage. Right, that was only true had Elize not been blocking their path. Minako took Okamaru in hand once more.
“I challenge you to a match… Elize Mithrilite!”
“A match? Hah? Are you crazy? You’ll be shot dead here and now, end of story. Can’t you see my men?”
But surprisingly, her subordinates came off the most surprised. The one who seemed to be the leader among them raised his face from his gun sights.
“Wha… President…? You want us to kill them…!?”
“Hah? What is that thing in your hand? It’s a tool to kill people!?”
“If he was launching an attack on us like last time, we wouldn’t hold back but… no matter how you look at them, those two are heavily wounded. Is there really any need to go so far…?”
As if her unenthused men had cut the thread, Elize screamed out. Not a fragment of composure, a completely different person from when he had met her an hour ago.
“Kill them, shove them in our blast furnace and that’ll be the end! It will be my win! Obliterating Industries will be mine!”
“I’ll be a God…!”
They had to be her closest confidants.
“Why are you talking like that, President…! You’ve been acting strange ever since we came to this city! No, ever since you met those Alhazan men, it’s almost like you’ve been possessed!”
“Sh… shut up! Shut up shut up shut up! Then how am I supposed to become a god!?”
She was a little painful to watch. Like a child just as young as she looked was simply throwing a temper tantrum.
“You’re all the same! Everyone’s the same! You humans keep going on about science, science, science!! Who the hell would believe in a spirit, in a god in this day and age!? Then what am I supposed to do!?”
“President, calm down…!”
Her hysteric voice had her troops frozen in their tracks.
“Isn’t that right…? Then killing’s all I got left…!”
And shaking off her tears, Elize spread out her hand as she had done before. Ten-odd projectiles. But they weren’t needles. Each one of them was a spear. The mithril spears that had easily pierced through even a car.
“Okamaru… she’s coming! Are you ready!?”
‘Of course…! I won’t let a single one of those spears touch Mister Hideo!’
With a sudden tug from Hideo, Minako almost tumbled forward.
“… I’ve had. Enough…”
Another step. Hideo started walking.
“Ka… Kawamura Hideo! Can’t you see my spears!!?”
With the rain and his sweat. They must have slipped off. The sunglasses Hideo wore slapped onto the ground.
“W… what’s with those eyes! Are you trying to threaten… me…?”
She stumbled over her words, like she had just realized something. Following her surprised eyes, Minako looked at Hideo right beside her… and she noticed as well.
“Wha… what’s with you…? You really can’t see…?”
She stepped out in front of him, she waved her hand left and right. But there was no response. His eyes were hollow. His eyelids were open and blinking but his eyes had no focus.
And Hideo himself only realized for the first time that Elize’s voice was especially close. The reason it was so dark… wasn’t because of the thick stormy evening sky or his sunglasses. His eyes had stopped functioning on him.
If he had to take a guess… the blood wasn’t reaching them anymore.
He was learning for the first time. To fight, wound, and shed blood was so painful, sad, and terrifying.
Was it the same for everyone? Were the other participants all flaunting cool words and going through such pains in their battles? He had enough of that.
A loser couldn’t know. What was so fun about it? If at the very least he was the hero… if he was the hero, would he be able to convince himself he was here fighting for justice?
But… perhaps that was true. This little girl’s crazed pretense, and the reason why she had to say words as terrible as kill or die… perhaps it was inevitable if she wanted to oppose an evil as great as Takase.
It was simply from the point of view of one targeted by her… that she looked evil to him. In which case, this was all far too sorrowful.
But if so much was necessary. If the seat of god was needed to maintain the order of this city. For she was also a model for a god… a spirit.
It wasn’t as if he had the means to fight. Nor did he have the willpower. He simply had to move forward… just as she had to kill for her own sake.
“… Eli… ze…”
“T… that’s right! You can see me! You can believe in me! I’m right here! I’m going to kill you! If you take one more step forward, I’ll kill you…!!”
But Hideo took another step forward.
“I know… even so… I have to go…”
Elize retreated a step.
“So… if you’re going to do it… make it quick…”
“Eh…? Eh… what are you talking about!?”
Minako was probably sending him a doubtful look. But it was fine, that was fine. Come to think of it… that would fulfill his original goal in joining this competition. But.
“In exchange. Promise me…”
“Tell Wilco… I’m sorry she ended up with me… and…”
Hideo unknowingly passed by the side of a blank-staring Elize.
“Put an end to this foolishness… with me…”
“A kid like you, killing people is… far too sad… the hero and… Minako and… everyone who believes in justice… they adore you… you don’t have to do this… I’m sure a lot of good people will help you, so… so…”
“…! But… I betrayed them! I’m sure not Shouki nor Minako, no one will ever believe in me anymore! I mean, I’ve already…!”
Oh, what a laugh. Come to think of it, this was now his good fortune.
“Even if. I die… no one, not even my parents will mourn for me… it’s fine… I was just a thug… at the beck and call of an evil organization… A goon to be done in… just because someone like that dies… no one will…”
“Wha… wha…! Then what about Wilco!? What about Wilco who took first place for you!?”
“… That’s why… that’s the one thing I have to. Apologize… for… but… I see… she really did… take first…”
She really did. Really did accomplish it. Thank god.
… Hahah. But then what about him? What did he do? Why did someone like him end up as the partner of that girl? A loser was still a loser no matter how hard they tried. Unable to fight, just showing his back like this as he ran… suited him perfectly.
“… Honestly. I wish I was… a hero of justice… granted a sword… by a goddess like y…”
Hideo slowly, slowly hobbled away, his voice growing feeble and distant. What could she think of it? As she stood petrified, Elize put down her hand. In a daze… she watched the two backs slowly, slowly going away.
The chief of her private army stood next to her.
“… President. He’s right. There’s no need for you to soil your own hands.”
“But… you say that, but you’re all…”
“How about you start by believing in yourself? Such decisions made in self-abandonment will just confuse us. As long as you give the order, believing it is just… each and every one of us would gladly kill. Our goddess’s hand need not be stained in blood.”
Elize turned, half in surprise.
“God…dess…? I am…?”
“Your far-fetched plans in the surface world were inevitable measures to contest Obliterating Industries… that’s what we believed… when we chose to follow the spirit of sacred silver. And… he was right.”
The captain narrowed his eyes at Hideo’s distant back.
“If we could be granted a sword by the sacred goddess of mithril… even washed out mercenaries like us hoped the day would come to see the light…”
At his words. The members all nodded.
“We don’t know the difference between spirits and gods and whatnot… but to us, you’re already a goddess. In the hell of the Camdanian civil war, president, your shield granted us the miracle of life when we were cut off from our regiment. Aren’t miracles… supposed to be the work of a god?”
A drop down Elize’s cheek.
“Y… you’re all…”
“Not from anyone else. Start by believing in yourself. All you need to do is grant a sword and a shield to the hero you believe in. Then I’m sure just like us, he’ll revere you as a god, and gladly fight for you.”
“Uu… uuu… uuuuuu~~!!”
Elize wept. She wept hard enough not to lose to the downpour, large droplets streaming down her face.
“Hideo, it doesn’t look like President Elize is chasing us…!”
After looking back, Minako turned back forward in relief.
“Thank the heavens… I didn’t know what would happen for a moment there…”
In the end, she wouldn’t kill him. Thinking back… was that just another instance of a loser relying on the kindness of others?
“… Hideo, you’re… strong. Truly strong…”
Minako’s intermittent words were spun out in an extremely gentle voice.
“I wonder how I could become… as strong as you…”
With those words, for a moment. Just a brief instant, Hideo thought he would burst into laughter.
“… I’m not. Strong.”
Why did he feel like laughing? It wasn’t because she didn’t understand the true Kawamura Hideo. He simply wanted to laugh at his own sheer foolishness. But he didn’t have the energy left to even smile.
“Not at. All…”
The various bluffs and strong fronts he had used to convince himself could no longer help him. His vision was dark. His wounds hurt. The rain was cold. His body was cold. But… no matter how he wanted to curse him, he knew he was the one who had brought about this situation.
He participated in the Sacred Demon Cup of his own will. He helped Minako of his own will. He was the one who tried to act cool telling Wilco he would make it.
So. His thoughts turned honest.
He was better off just being killed by Elize.
He never should have said he would make it. As Wilco said, he should have just abandoned Minako. He should never have joined this race. He should never have joined this tournament in the first place.
His body was cold. His leg hurt. He didn’t want to take another step. He wanted to just throw it all down.
So now, his thoughts turned truly honest. He didn’t care about winning.
“… I want to. Go home…”
It would have been much easier just to die in that apartment!
“… But. Still… I…”
Even so, he went and said it! He would make it… that’s what he told her!!
He promised his only partner in the world, who believed in a man abandoned by even his parents.
The rain hammered hard on him. Thanks to the raindrops running down his face… Hideo couldn’t notice he was crying. No, he didn’t have the leisure to notice. The rain cast on his eyes was simply irritating, he wiped it away with his sopping wet sleeve. That arm was numb too. The sound of the strong wind was distant and quiet like a small stream. Every sensation in his body was distant, even the pain and the cold were no longer bothering him.
Minako’s voice came like he was submerged deep in water, just vaguely entering his ear.
“… Hideo, I can see it! It’s the Goal! Hey, can you hear me!? They’re cheering, they’re all cheering for…!”
Even if he could see, how could he know it wasn’t an illusion? If he heard, wasn’t it an auditory hallucination?
But that voice alone.
And the girl eagerly waving her hand with the finest smile on her face. And the moment he noticed that… ah, I’m glad I came here.
No matter how he cursed, groaned and lamented… reaching this point was the right thing to do.
‘Minako… this is what I think. It is men like Hideo who are called Masurawo…’
“Yes… yes. If I… ever get married, I’d want this sort of…”
In the grand applause overflowing the plaza like an angry roar, there was no way their conversation entered Hideo’s ears.
‘Kawamura Hideo reaches the Goal!! Now we finally have the order for all our top rankers!! Third place, Elize and Shouki! Second place Ryuuta and Elsia! And shining boldly at the top, it’s our top contender team, Hideo and Wilco!! Congratulations on winning the Sacred Demon Grand Prix—!!’
Just as Hideo crossed the finish line, he collapsed on the spot. The noisy applause, the cheers… even if he was to die here and now, in his fading consciousness, there was no place in the world he would rather be.
He opened his eyes.
It was getting rather hard to call this certain room in a certain hospital an unfamiliar sight.
“Heehee… you’ve become quite the regular customer…”
Said the doctor. It was already bright outside, there were Takase and Lily in the sickroom along with… the smile he wanted to see so badly in the midst of the rain.
“Master! Do you remember!? First place! We won the Sacred Demon Grand Prix!!”
It was him they were talking about. He was sure… it would be a dream ending.
“One hundred million tickets! Hooray!!”
An open duralumin suitcase on the bedside table tightly packed with paper bills. Wilco smacked against it with the palm of her hand. She was terribly delighted.
“… What about. Minako…?”
“If you’re looking for the officer, she properly went to an official hospital in Center so she’s fine. She dropped by to see you last night… rather, she said she was there so Wilco could leave!”
Wilco pointed at the basket of fruits that looked like it was meant for a sick patient.
“… I see. That’s good.”
“Eeheehee, looks like you’re making a smooth recovery. Your stab wounds have closed up, and I replenished your blood so you can be discharged whenever you like.”
Amazingly, the pain in his arm and leg were really gone. They could heal pretty much anything short of instant death… looks like it was true. Replenishment aside. His head wasn’t spinning so he was probably fine.
“Then I’m busy, so I’ll be taking my leave… heehee.”
With the race over, business was booming. The doctor hastily left the sickroom without any of the usual unreasonable requests. And.
“Well done, Kawamura Hideo.”
Takase said in expected delight.
While the mirrored glass covered her eyes, Lily had a fine smile on her lips. It seemed he really did make it to the goal.
“I heard that Elize did you good.”
“… Come to think. Of it. What about Elize?”
“Hmph, just goes to show she’s got it in her to match wits with me.”
Takase turned aside, unable to stomach something.
“The oral promise to come under our leadership was scrapped. A God must never serve under a human, she argued her way out of it. Tsk.”
“She was looking far more reliable than when I saw her at the finish line…”
“But c’mon now, master, if Hideo didn’t make it, weren’t you going to use the same logic?”
“Of course. Who do you take me for?”
Well… well, putting that aside.
Pushing up his silver-rimmed glasses, Takase flared his canines in a grin.
“But… what will you do? If you’re out for revenge, I’ll lend you some of my men. That’s how much fame and status you have in my company…”
He remembered. That was right.
He had already had enough.
“What is it, Hideo?”
Hideo shoved the entire side table where Wilco was playing towards Takase.
“… I’m cutting ties.”
He didn’t intend it as a joke. With his sharp teeth peeking out, Takase laughed.
“I see… and why is that?”
“There is no. Further merit. To working under you.”
Backpedaling a bit, that was the greatest reason he took part in the Sacred Demon Grand Prix. Paying off all his debts, on top of enough tickets to brush away any further troubles. That was what it meant to have a hundred million tickets.
And surprisingly… he didn’t seem threatened by it. With a kuh and a kuh, Takase rung his throat in a laugh. Lily smile with a hand on her hip.
“Well, I thought you might say it someday… but that was surprisingly fast.”
“And you made more than I ever thought I’d get from you. What a splendid return. Did those rumored demon eyes of future sight tell you that you were better off like this?”
Where Wilco was mulling around, Takase picked up the case.
“Well so be it, you showed your resolve. I can’t really be stingy, now can I? Do what you want.”
“Ufufu, if Hideo’s our opponent, he’s scared of what will happen if he makes you real angry… that’s part of it.”
While Lily said some strange things, Takase took a few wads from the mountain and tossed them onto Hideo’s lap.
“Well, take some for yourself. Otherwise, you might come into debt with us again.”
“Also, this is thanks for the info on Alhazan. You can keep everything we’ve provided you. We’ll deliver the car you used in the race after it’s been repaired.”
Alhazan? Oh, what Elize was talking about. He definitely heard it before… right, from Ryuuta.
“… What is. Alhazan.”
“Nah, that’s a boring little story that’s got nothing to do with you. Don’t worry about it, just keep enjoying the Sacred Demon Cup! Also, feel free to drop by to play! If it’s you two, we’ll welcome you part-time.”
As they left, Lily cheerfully waved her hand. Takase lightly smiled.
“Farewell, Hideo, Wilco. You worked for our company so don’t lose too easily. You’ll tarnish our name.”
And the two of them left the hospital. He couldn’t say all was well, but he got the feeling… they were well-spirited people.
They had left behind,
“Nooo… our hundred million tickets…”
Wilco, who hadn’t given up on it. And five bundles on his lap. He treated it like it was nothing, but on closer inspection, it was five million tickets. Perhaps it really wasn’t much at the president’s level.
“And wait, before that, you’re way too generous, master!!”
“… Well. But with this.”
“We’re finally… back to the second day.”
They weren’t being kept by Obliterating Industries. They weren’t pretending to be kept, reluctantly committing unnecessary atrocities. Without wearing that as a hat, they could wage matches as their true selves.
Normally, that was how it was supposed to be. The great majority of contestants had it so. They weren’t beating along with someone else’s drum.
So this was a new start.
“Urgh, Wilco found the president’s unhingedness pretty reliable but… even so…”
Her eyes greedily flitted towards the five million tickets.
“… Then. A server.”
“Within budget. We’ll get one of those servers you wanted. For the apartment.”
“We can do it! Of course, we can easily afford it! Truth be told, there’s this nice little shop on the shopping district’s electric street…!!”
Just like that, the Sacred Demon Cup reached a short pause. The number of pairs defeated in the largest mini-tournament, the Sacred Demon Grand Prix numbered three hundred, leaving just short of seven hundred pairs. With the majority of competitors now eliminated, the tournament was thrust into its second half.