The hotel lobby.
With a cup of coffee in one hand, Ryuuta reviewed the dungeon maps he added to whenever he dived down each day. And with no real progress, he collected them together to clean up.
(Wait, the hell…?)
He really did notice by pure chance. A space where the blank areas on each floor overlapped. When he held them up to the light, he perceived a space that was unreachable floor fifty-six and onward.
He took notes whenever he was on break from fighting monsters, and mapped it out based on that when he got back. He knew his maps weren’t the most precise, but the position was far too uniform for them to randomly divided.
Perhaps it wasn’t some hidden room, but just some large pillar of stone that had to be built around, but… his intuition as an adventurer brought a grin to his face.
(… There’s something there.)
In the first place, this Sacred Demon Cup tournament was designed with much playfulness in mind. The Labyrinth was loaded with all sorts of thrilling traps all over the place. Considering the personality of whoever designed it, it would be stranger to think there was nothing at all.
There had to be some switch, some sort of warp. Maybe it was far more fundamental, and there was just a plain entrance on a lower floor he would have to climb up from.
Now then, what could be down there? A rare monster worth millions, or a priceless treasure… Whatever it was, very few participants had searched beyond the elevator’s boundary of the fiftieth floor. The only one who could have noticed it would be someone who went out of their way to map like himself.
(Now this is a kicker. Looks like I’ve got one more thing to look forward to.)
Elsia stepped off of the elevator right at that moment. As had become the norm, she had the Norka Sorka siblings in maid uniforms waiting on her. As Elsia lowered herself into the sofa across from his, one of the sisters placed her order with a hotel maid without having to be told by their master.
Their past mischievousness had blown off somewhere these past few days. This wasn’t a case of anyone looking good with the right clothing; they were good looking to start with, so the tidy maid attire was also a good fit.
“… You’ve got them whipped.”
“Hey, Elsia. On that note, how about you post one of them in my room?”
“Why don’t you try asking yourself?”
When Ryuuta raised his face, both of them had their palms filled with ample mana locked right onto him.
“Nah, on second thought.”
The hotel maid was just as diligent, immediately appearing with a tea set in hand. She tripped. The piping hot teapot spilled over Ryuuta.
“Whoah, that’s hot!?”
“Ah, I sincerely apologize dear guest! I’ll bring you a towel this instant…!”
As the maid took a deep bow and turned, he immediately grabbed her by the arm.
“Wait, hold it right there, Lily!”
“Eeeh? Who are you talking about? I don’t know that name!”
“What other maid walks around with an M16 and sunglasses, you fool!!”
“Eheheeh… so that cat’s out of the bag.”
She scratched her head some.
“Well then I’ll just be on my way.”
“I’m not done with you yet! Give me back my map!”
As he shook Lily’s slender shoulders back and forth, the sheets of map paper came tumbling down from under her apron.
“Good grief, I can never catch a break with you… why are you even here in the first place?”
“Eh? I just thought I’d do something maid-like for once♪.”
She pinched her skirt, spinning like she had mistaken this for a ball or something.
“And then I saw you all smiles, looking at that map of yours. It’s treasure, isn’t it? A whole lot of it.”
“… Elsia, how about you say something to her?”
Elsia took a sip of the black tea the real maid brought in.
“That sounds fun. Why don’t I help out?”
Did he hear that wrong?
“You’re… helping? Is that what you said? You?”
“You, the woman who went, if there’s no water, then just drink Royal Milk Tea? And if there’s no food, just eat Tiramisu? And if there’s no house to live in, then just live in a hotel? You!?”
Click, the moment Elsia snapped her fingers, Ryuuta was punched down by Norka and Sorka.
“I did not say any of that. I simply thought it.”
“Yes… sorry about that…”
He was beginning to realize that this woman most likely didn’t use physical force when she was irritated simply because it was too much of a pain.
“So you’re going on a search, right? For treasure.”
“Owow… what has that got to do with you?”
“Well doesn’t it sound interesting?”
When Lily asked, Elsia stood with a small nod.
“… Elsia. Ever since you fought those sisters, you’ve changed a bit.”
How could he put it, she wasn’t avoiding trouble as much as before. When he was quite certain she’d be a spectator at the Grand Prix, she rode in the passenger seat all the way to the end.
Behind her, Norka and Sorka both put their hands together out front.
“Lady Elsia, what about us?”
“You may act as you please. The time limit is until I return.”
It was anyone’s best guess when this capricious woman would be back. Perhaps they wouldn’t be able to go out anywhere. Half delighted, half flustered, the siblings saw their master off with dubious faces.
They walked through town the three of them. While this was probably what it meant to have a flower in each hand, from Ryuuta’s point of view, both of these women had far more thorns than they were worth.
“Aaaah, only half of the fun Sacred Demon Cup to go. It’s so peaceful. You think anything interesting’s going to happen?”
Lily folded her hands behind her back as she gazed out over the peaceful townscape.
“Well those exhibition matches the other day were interesting enough. You think they’ll do more of ‘em?”
“But Ryuuta, your instructor didn’t participate, did he? He was the top contender for a year, I’m sure it would’ve been exciting if he stepped in.”
“He’s not the sort, that man. Since he lost so soon, I’m sure he’s already back in the country taking it easy.”
You have a point, Lily muttered. And as if that suddenly brought someone to mind, she gleefully mused.
“When it comes to top contenders, what do you think happened to Hideo? With that Roswell guy?”
“Who knows? Don’t you think he was dragged to a mystery circle and cattle-mutilated.”
“Hey, Elsia. No matter how long you’ve lived, you’ve never seen a Gray before, have you?”
He exchanged a look with Lily and agreed not to ask any further. There were things in the world better off left unknown.
As they walked through the shopping district, a flashy girl came parading down the opposite direction. Twin tails and false glasses, a miniskirt.
Upon noticing her, Lily waved her hand.
“Hey, Kakko, whatcha doing?”
“Yoohoo, Suzuraaan. I’m just going around window shop- wait…”
The fact they were friends was something Ryuuta had already heard from Lily. But Kakko- real name VZ- froze in place the moment she saw them.
“? What’s up, Kakko?”
“O… oh nyathing… I just remembered something important I really must get to… goodbye.”
She turned right back where she came. Her shuffling feet rapidly shot her into the distance. What could it be? As Lily and Ryuuta stopped to wonder, for some reason Elisia menacingly closed in.
As VZ turned to see if she had got away, Elsia was right before her eyes.
“I so feel like going that way today!!”
She started sprinting at an incredible speed.
For some reason Elsia began running at the same pace.
“Hey, what’s wrong, you two!?”
They ran, and ran. Demon VZ, once an executive of the demon organization Zephirum, boasted abnormal levels of physical ability. But Elsia was the demon world princess. Rather than not wanting to lose, she chased VZ rather nonchalantly.
No matter how they tried, the normal humans Ryuuta and Lily eventually lost sight of them, and around that time.
“Page Six One Six.”
Elsia suddenly exercised six hundred series magic she hadn’t even used against the twins. It was a direct hit.
The blast wave leveled an office building in its entirety. There was a crater on the road as VZ who was hurled up high by the winds cried out,
As she flopped down flat at ground zero.
“It’s been a while VZ. Is my brother well?”
“L… Lord Elsion, why he’s fit as a fiddle…♪. At the very least, better off than I am right now. Kehoh.”
It was only then that Ryuuta caught up panting heavily.
“H… heeeeeeeeeey, Elsia…”
“Ka… Kakko, you know her…?”
Elsia was something for being able to stand so calmly after firing magic with such force, but so was VZ for coming off only a little burned after eating it. Ryuuta felt like he was being plainly shown the terror of high-ranking demons.
“I see… Mr. Elsion was Elsia’s big brother, right?”
“Yeah, that’s right. But Suzuran, unlike the big brother, the little sisters a bit, you know?”
They were whispering, but Ryuuta understood very well what she wanted to say.
“So, Lady Elsia. What’s so important you need to blow away a whole building for?”
Elsia tilted her head. I already finished my business, didn’t I? She seemed to be asking.
“I just wanted to ask about my brother.”
So why did you run? Asked her face. It’s because you’re like that, Ryuuta stopped the words at his throat.
“But, you know, you know, why are you with Suzuran?”
“Ah, right. We’re all going treasure hunting in the Labyrinth. Wanna come with?”
“Hold on, Lily! Why are you treating this like some fun picnic!?”
Come so far, tsk, tsk, tsk, VZ wagged her finger.
“Ahem, now now, little boy, you can’t live on this side without knowing my strength. But you know, you know, I’ll forgive you today in Lady Elsia’s name. Now I’m pretty busy…”
As she turned, Elsia immediately grabbed her by the collar.
“I see. Then be honored, I’ll take you along.”
“Y… you’re so very super strong I’m completely super unnecessary!!”
A sharp yank.
“Did you not hear my words?”
“By all means, all means, I’ll accompany you to the depths of hell!!”
It was the same with the siblings, but it did seem to Elsia, that was all Demons were.
They arrived at Centralle Building’s front desk.
“Are you going down again?”
The receptionist ladies changed out each day, but for Ryuuta who was practically diving down every day, Ratty was becoming a familiar face. They should know him well enough he didn’t have to fill out the application every day, he thought, as he accepted the paper.
“Mn? What’s up?”
Ratty pointed behind him with a wry smile.
“Is VZ with you today?”
“Yeah… is there a problem with that?”
It wasn’t as if labyrinth crawling was restricted to participants.
“No. That’s not what I meant. With Lady Elsia too… is what I was asking…”
There was a lingering pity in her cherubic smile.
“You know her too?”
“Yes, well… Lady Elsia doted on her quite a bit when she was younger, the poor child… she’s just a tad bit bad at dealing with her.”
This wasn’t just a bit. Still, it really was a small world.
“Does that mean you’re a demon too?”
“Oh, yes. That’s right. Despite how I look, I used to be an executive in Zephirum you know.”
What was this. Did she perhaps just casually let slip something terrifying?
“Though I say that, in my case I barely have any combat capabilities. I was something like an engineering consultant.”
“Really… I guess there are all sorts of roles in a demon organization. No, does that mean you already recognized Elsia at the front desk? It didn’t look that way to me…”
“There wasn’t much I could do about that. I was on the clock, and I’m sure Lady Elsia doesn’t remember the likes of a lowly underling like me.”
Though she was making an endearing smile as she said it.
“So truth of the matter, how old are you anyway?”
“Do you want to be disqualified?”
Ryuuta immediately raised both his hands for surrender. He saw an alarming glint in Ratty’s smile… or perhaps he was imagining it.
Well, both Elsia and Lily’s partner Meeko had lived for thousands of years. He didn’t think it was particularly important but… it had to do with a woman’s heart, and he told himself there was no way he’d understand.
“Nn… Ratzelica, you done yet?”
“I’m sorry VZ. This man asked me an inappropriate question, so…”
She casually threw it out. She said it without the slightest cloud on her lovely receptionist smile.
“So that’s how it is. I see, I see. Hmmm. For a minute there, I thought he had promise.”
“The worst, the worst~.”
incessant pricks from Lily and VZ…
“… Elsia, aren’t we partners? Say something…”
“The first night of the tournament, he tried forcing his way into my hotel room.”
She poured fuel on the flames.
The elevator made its slow descent towards its lowest point, the fiftieth floor… and it touched down. He didn’t know if it was geothermal heat or what not, but the lukewarm wind that blasted in the moment the door opened was the same as ever.
“By the way, are you really going to be fine with those fluttery clothes?”
When Ryuuta asked, VZ gave him a blank look.
“Suzuran’s flutters around more.”
This wasn’t a contest. Taking common sense into consideration, it was just as crazy for someone to be exploring a labyrinth in maid clothing.
“My maid uniform has anti-heat, anti-cold, anti-electricity, bulletproof, cutproof, a five-fold magic coating. Just to let you know.”
“Ho… how much did that ring you up for, oy…”
The short of the matter, this was apparently a super maid who would take one damage from most attacks. Then did he really have to be so worried for her that one time with Gabès?
“With that in mind,”
VZ suddenly struck a pose.
“At times, the host of ‘Today’s Sacred Demon Cup’! At times, everyone’s idol! But her true identity is!? Traaansfooorm!!”
She spun, and even before she had completed one turn.
VZ was in a feathered cap and mantle, a slender and long rapier at her hip, dressed all in black in an outfit that brought the masked Zorro to mind.
“Beautiful swordswoman VZ, ready for battle!!”
(Is this… the class of a Zephirum executive…?)
Ryuuta was somewhat taken aback. Even if they had fallen once, they were an organization led by Elsia’s brother. An executive. Even if her attitude was flippant, that quick change was presumably an instantaneously performed summoning technique. If she used magic for real, wouldn’t she be greater than Norka and Sorka?
“See? No worries, no worries, now off we go!”
An especially energetic VZ and Lily forcefully started off. They immediately stopped and turned.
“Come to think of it, where’s the treasure, anyway, way?”
“Some sorta blank spot, right? How do we get there?”
“N… now look here, girls…”
Ryuuta sighed as he opened up the map.
“I just thought this spot was suspicious, and I’ve got no bloody clue if anything’s there or not. In the first place, I don’t know how to get in. But just going down’s no fun, so I just thought I’d do some digging around today…”
“Eeeh? I never heard about that. How boring. How useless.”
“No good at all…”
The two shrugged their shoulders and shook their heads.
“Then search we shall.”
When Ryuuta turned to Elsia’s voice, her eyes were looking even colder than usual. It didn’t seem like she was chastising the two of them, but that was enough to silence Lily and VZ.
“Aren’t we going?”
“… Well, ‘s long as you’re up for it. I do have my guesses.”
He hadn’t found any switches or contraptions that seemed relevant on the floors he had conquered so far. In which case, his search had to be limited to the floors below that.
“We’ll start by going down to floor sixty.”
The elevator stopped here. They would have to go on foot. Lily and VZ were showing quite the reluctant faces.
But he had the map he had diligently drawn up. While the place was definitely vast, it was still a limited basement space. If you walked without hesitation from stairway to stairway, the distance wasn’t anything great. As an added bonus, today he had Elsia and VZ to instantly slaughter any monster that appeared.
He already knew Elsia was strong, but VZ wasn’t shoddy herself.
She was like a child playing swords and dragons, even if an A-Rank monster appeared. This was just a game to her. Her sword was so slender, yet she fought not with thrusts but with cuts. Yet the slashes severed targets with the sharpness of a razor.
While she may have been an executive of Zephirum, come to think of it, she was now Lily’s aide. Just like how Meeko had served the demon lord of old…
(… This is one crazy city, seriously…)
Just as he learned of her rule-breaking strength, he grew somewhat disconcerted at his own human limits.
He was using a Japanese sword renowned worldwide for cutting, and yet, he had never made as clean a cut as her rapier. Elsia’s magic as well, if a human wished for such destructive force, they would need either a thermobaric bomb or tactical nuke. Whatever the case, it wasn’t something an individual could carry.
That was the gap between human and demon.
His target, the head of Alhazan, Archess was yet another demon of such caliber. With the strength of demons presented right before his eyes, would he really be able to defeat Archess? Nothing but anxieties swelled at his core. He had done his research but as of yet, had failed to find any competitors that fit the bill. In which case, could it be he wasn’t in this city… he almost felt relief at that arbitrary speculation.
By the testimony of Gabès, Norka, Sorka, and Elize Mithrilite, there was more than enough evidence that Alhazan was shuffling behind the curtains. Then there was no way he wasn’t here.
That man was a perfectionist. Even if he rarely dirtied his own hands, he was definitely somewhere around to watch the picture he ordered painted to his specifications. Wasn’t the form of humans deluded in pain his entertainment?
The party reached the stairs to the sixtieth floor in less than an hour. Looking down at the gaping open entrance, Lily spoke.
“Ryuuta, you haven’t made it beyond this point, right?”
With Lily’s voice, he finally turned his mind forward. Mulling over it wouldn’t get him anywhere. He had to live in the moment.
“But, well… we have the beautiful swordswoman and demon world princess with us today. I’m sure we’ll be fine.”
“No, umm, you also have the mysterious beautiful maid…”
“Yeah, right, right, if we brought Norka and Sorka, we woulda been invincible.”
He lightly waved his hands as he promptly descended the steps. He did hear some angry noises behind him but decided not to care.
“Whoah there. Another change in scenery.”
What had been a labyrinth of stone blocks now opened up to gently-sloping limestone cave walls. It was open too wide here and there to call it a passage, he could even see a spring and a river.
One inconspicuous plaque to the side of the steps.
‘Sacred Demon City Commemorative Park: Laramie Grotto’
“… What sort of name is that…?”
Thinking back on that time he tried going all the way down from floor one, it did seem the theme changed every ten floors.
Where did the water come from, and where did it go? That was just like asking where the monsters came from, a waste of time and effort to think about. This was just that sort of city, and this was just that sort of labyrinth.
For example, under the high ceilings of the twentieth floor, there were humans who opened shops spewing nonsense that it was a rest area, and down further on the thirtieth floor, there was somehow a blue sky and grassy plains, with demons plowing the fields. This was a gathering of such absurd locales. The only thing he could say was that this place was far more full of change and entertainment than a normal cellar explored by the light of a torch.
Lily and VZ raced over to a nearby stream.
“Wow, the water’s lovely! Cold and nice to the touch! Hey, Kakko, its spring water, spring water I say! There’s a salamander!”
“What the nyan… the amphibian? Say what!? Suzuran, there’s cherry salmon in the stream! Oh, char too!”
… This really was an absurd place.
“Hey, Elsia, how about you get some rest too? I’m not telling you to join those people.”
She stayed standing. Her eyes fixed on one point in the distance. Come to think of it, she had been acting a little strange ever since she stepped off the elevator.
“… Something on your mind?”
“I can’t really say what. Somewhat nostalgic. It’s a power I’ve felt sometime before…”
She closed her eyes for a moment.
“Where was it?”
“… Should we be watching our backs?”
Because of all the thinking he’d done, even trivial things would set him off. But Elsia raised her face, who knows, is all she said.
So that’s why she couldn’t really say.
“Hey, Lily! VZ! Don’t stray too far…”
“Uwawawawah!? Save me, Suzu…!”
“Hey, Kakko, if you pull me… Kyaaah!?”
A splash, a large pillar of water.
The two were washed past by the current.
Ryuuta exhaustedly slumped d own and held his head.
“What is with these people…”
“Page one six.”
A warm wind blew, drying off the sopping wet Lily and VZ.
“Thanks, Elsia… achoo!”
“Auuu, a little more page one six, please, Lady Elsia…”
It must have been considerably cold, and even after they were dry, they trembled a while longer. As he waited for that to subside, Ryuuta wrote out the farcical route he had to talk to catch up to them on a new sheet of graph paper.
Elsia peeked in from the side.
“… Did you figure anything out?”
“Hardly… well, the only thing I can tell right now is that the empty space should be over there, but…”
Ryuuta pointed out the direction with his pencil. Where a large wall blocked the way.
“… I’ll have to try circling it from a different side.”
Elzia stared long and hard.
“You think there’s something there?”
“Right. What could it be?”
He couldn’t get a read on her. But there was something weighing on her mind. when Elsia had been so indifferent to all sorts of things. Even if she wouldn’t call it a misgiving… at this point, he couldn’t just casually write it off.
“Let’s pull out for now…”
Ryuuta was about to announce.
“Huh? Hey, Kakko, there’s something here.”
“Treasure, treasure!? … Wait, it’s just a cigar butt?”
A cigar butt? Ryuuta looked over. By that point, VZ had her blade drawn for some reason.
“This is why I hate drinkers and smoker! The-labyrinth-belongs-to-everyone-please-respect-common-decency-and-keep-it-clean slash!!”
Ryuuta’s sudden cry had the two of them wince back.
“W-w-what!? What’s wrong!?”
“Is it a trap? A tobacco bomb?”
Ryuuta walked over to the discarded butt. The reason being, it was a familiar brand. The cigars his instructor Colonel Redfield habitually smoked.
Having reached close to the seventieth floor, that man was the current record holder. Then off course, he would have passed through this floor.
“… This is a sign from the Colonel.”
He had never had to put it to actual use. He had simply heard the stories.
Leaving behind a cigarette butt was a signal he used in Vietnam and South America: a harsh bet when he had nothing else to use. It could be easily overlooked, it was inevitable the enemy suspected it.
If it was left in its original state, it was a warning to signal out an enemy stronghold or large-scale trap field. If the filter was cut up, a good sign that indicated an ally base or helicopter point. The thing to be careful of was that it pointed not with the tip, but with the part that you suck on.
Apparently, peeling off the paper or removing the filter could give way to a number of different meanings. But this time wasn’t a paper cigarette, it was a cigar…
Chimed Lily and VZ.
This hadn’t just been dropped on a whim, evidenced by the fact they hadn’t found anything of the sort on any previous floors. Before that, he was a heavy smoker, and he wouldn’t do anything so discourteous. He wouldn’t just take what looked like one puff before discarding it. In the first place, he enjoyed letting it burn all the way to the base.
“Hmmm… but in that case, isn’t it possible it just happened to fall when he was kicked by a monster?”
Lily was to the point.
“… Perhaps. There’s no telling when it was discarded, and the possibility exists.”
The floor was a naked rock surface. It would easily roll with a little wind.
“But, but, Suzuran, for now, the fact it’s on this floor, see? Doesn’t that mean there’s something on this floor? Like treasure?”
“Oh, I see. He did throw it on this floor and no other.”
It was just a cigar, discarded as is. Unlike a cigarette, it had no filter. It would be hard to cut up, but it didn’t seem there was even an attempt to slice it with a knife.
“If it’s a sign, it’s a warning.”
The problem was what exactly this ill sign was pointing to. He couldn’t help but feel it was the same as whatever was weighing on Elsia’s mind. Someone both she and the colonel would be wary of.
It was at that moment he heard the footsteps.
Strangely enough, from the direction the cigar’s unburnt end was pointing, two men.
“Oh my, looks like someone got here before us.”
The one who spoke was a delicate man in his early thirties, a gentle smile on his face. His long-ish blond hair was swept back, he wore intellectual frameless glasses. A first-class suit and high-quality leather shoes. When he was so far down beneath the surface, he walked emptyhanded.
The one following him was, on closer inspection, a boy around high school age. Still needle-like black hair, black denim on both top and bottom. Revolvers on both the left and right of his hips, automatics on both sides of his chest as well, making for four guns in total. His hip gun belt was for bare bullets, while the one slung across his chest was lined with magazines. But His expression had none of the vitality appropriate for his age, his slouching, unmotivated eyes looked towards the man in the suit.
“… What do we do, pops?”
“A ha hah. Why, there’s little to do, young Zazi. We are participants, and these fine ladies and gentleman are participants all the same… we’ve all come so far, so how about we all get along?”
Towards the man presenting out his hand with a smile, Ryuuta drew the gun at his hip.
“I found you… you’re Archess.”
“Oh… so you found out.”
The man… Archess accepted it surprisingly easily. Of all things, his smile widened like he was welcoming in an old friend.
“Yes, it has been a long time, Young Ryuuta. When I almost didn’t recognize you there, I’m glad you still remember me…”
“Don’t fuck with me! Night after night after night, I see your laughing face stained in blood!! I couldn’t forget you even if I wanted to!”
That voice, those eyes. It came back even more vividly. On that day, this man had smiled just like this. With blood covering him from his head to his toes, he showed not a hint of aversion, not a hint of going mad, he simply smiled kindly, smiled welcomingly just like this.
How uncanny could it be to his infantile heart?
This man had not the coldness or cruelty of the tops of most organizations. While he was highly calculating, he never let the look of a saint crumble away from his face. A butcher wearing the warmest of masks.
“No, even if you make such a request… this is just my natural face and my natural voice, you see.”
This time he scratched his head with a troubled smile.
“See what I told you, pops.”
The boy called Zazi had drawn his gun at the same time as Ryuuta. A splendid revolver with engravings and inlay pointed unhesitantly at Ryuuta’s forehead.
“… Lower your gun. You wanna challenge me with that bulking desert eagle?”
Not a twitch from Ryuuta either, only his piercing glare was tossed Zazi’s way.
“Quit playing gunman, brat.”
“You’re the brat here. Can’tcha tell I’m a demon? I’ve been slinging this one since the first world war.”
Zazi’s weapon was a Smith & Wesson Schofield. Developed even earlier than the first world war, an obsolete break-action antique.
“You’re on, let’s just see who’s faster…!”
“… If ya want, but that one’s not enough to kill pops. Your brain will be splattered. Pops will have a nice lil bump on his head. You get that, don’t you? This pops ain’t just your run of the mill demon…”
Zazi’s tired, worn out voice. Archess had raised both his hands, the troubled smile still on his face. That was precisely what irritated. Pissed him off. Made him want to throw up… but precisely because of the emptiness in Zazi’s eyes, he had a hard-to-express intensity. Just like Hideo, those were the eyes of one who would kill just as easily as breathing if it came down to it.
“… No, you won’t even get a bump. Shaking like that, you won’t hit what yer aiming at point blank.”
He noticed for the first time. His heart had been so loud he wasn’t given the time to notice. With the prey he had chased so long right before him, he was so excited he… no
“… Yer scared, aren’t you.”
“Camdania became a hell far worse than pops was anticipating. Yer a human, ain’t you? If you were there at yer age, musta been quite the trauma…”
The gunshot roared.
It was familiar to his ears, the sound of his own gun. A mere two meters. And yet, all he did was shoot off a few of Archess’s hairs.
That’s right. He was terrified. Terrified of Archess’s smile as if he could do no harm. The deep red of the whirling flames, the deep red of blood spray, the scent of gunpowder, and the black smoke of burnt human corpses mixing in, the smile he saw at their midst.
For Ryuuta now, not dropping his gun took every ounce of his being. He had no space to aim.
“… Yer in luck, kid. Pops gave his word, I won’t fire back for a miss.”
Chance. This was his chance. The change to avenge his family. The prey he’d been chasing for over ten years was right before his eyes. And yet, why, why wouldn’t his body listen to him…!?
“Hymmm… it’s getting all troublesome. What do we do, Suzuran?”
A fed-up voice from VZ. Lily walked forth and spoke in a completely calm voice.
“Ryuuta, how about you put down that gun?”
“Wha… what’s with you!? Whose side are you on!?”
Lily hadn’t even brushed her hand against her own weapon. She kept the posture of a spectator.
“Weren’t you chasing after Alhazan too!?”
“Oh Ryuuta, aren’t you misunderstanding something?”
Lily spoke with her arms folded.
“The fundamental starting point of our thoughts are different, you and me. I, you see, I simply don’t want anything sad to happen in this tournament. It would be sad if you died, and it would be sad if anyone from Alahan died.”
“Think you can play the good girl after you watched Gabès die…!”
“That’s why I went down and saved him right after that.”
Somewhere in his head frozen stiff in anger and fear, something short-circuited.
He turned and pointed the gunpoint at Lily. But.
“Aiming at Suzuran is no good, no good.”
It was practically a speed impossible to perceive. He knew he felt something cold on his neck, but he only realized it was the point of VZ’s sword once her voice reached his ear.
“Y… you all…!”
Even Elsia spoke in an ice-cold voice.
“Who is your prey?”
At the very least, it wasn’t Lily. When he removed the gun, the delicate man pat his chest in relief. What had just happened? Why did VZ have to go for his throat?
(What… did I do… did I run…?)
Spurred on by his fury, he aimed at Lily as an excuse to run away from Archess. Ryuuta finally lowered his readied arm and hung his head. Upon seeing that, VZ returned her sword to its sheath and returned to Lily.
And Zazi breathed a slight sigh.
“… Good grief, no more pointless interruptions. My target is supposed to be that one.”
Without the slightest bit of motivation, Zazi pulled his gun once more.
It sounded like barely more than a single shot. But what he had actually fired, using tremendous quick shooting with the single action were two bullets with unparalleled accuracy. If VZ hadn’t grabbed Lily and leapt out of the way, she would definitely have had her head and heart shot through.
“Ain’t it fine, pops? She’s an eyesore to the organization.”
“No, but so suddenly…!”
To where the two of them fell, another quick shot. The single action cylinder was emptied in less than half a second.
Lily and VZ rolled left and right, concealing themselves behind the nearest stalagmites.
“Each and every one of you spouting such high and noble things, but looks what happens in the end.”
Ryuuta tried using the desert eagle in his hand to get Zazi while he reloaded. But pulling bullets from his gun belt, Zazi broke into irregular steps left and right as he took distance.
“W-wait, Zazi!? Don’t just leave me behind!”
“Kuh!? Wait!! Hold it right there!!”
Late on the uptake, Ryuuta aimed at Archess’s late-to-run timid back, relentlessly pulling his trigger. Yet as if they were being obstructed by some invisible wall, the bullets scattered sparks as they were repelled the moment before they collided with him.
(A barrier…!? No!?)
He doubted his eyes. Zazi’s Colt Government was flashing at the exact same time he pulled the trigger.
“What… he’s ricocheting bullets against bullets!?”
In that timeframe, Archess had leapt behind the stalagmite where Zazi was with the movements of a cockroach.
Ryuuta retreated, when his magazine was empty, he slipped behind the rocks where Lily was hiding. A second behind him, Zazi finished reloading and bathed the area with a fearsome rapid fire.
“Goddammit Lily, have a look at that!! It’s because you were spouting nonsense…!!”
“Now, now, don’t be like that. It’s finally getting interesting!”
Her posture low, her assault rifle ready, Lily gleefully peppered the opposite rockface.
“God, not my problem what happens to you! You’re all crazy…!”
Ryuuta dropped his magazine and slammed a new one into his gun. When Lily was out of bullets, he swapped out and put up a barrage.
“Wait, heeeeeey!? Elsia, why are you still standing out there!? Hurry and get over here!!”
“… But you know, you know, I don’t think a gun will be able to do anything to Lady Elsia.”
“Now, now, Kakko, don’t say that. Elsia, c’mon over! It’s more fun over here!”
Like she was tricked by Lily’s smile, Elsia calmly walked over through the rain of crossing bullets. Without imitating any of them, she lightly took a seat on a rag. VZ borrowed Suzuran’s sidearm, a Beretta M92FS, shouting out give it up, and heres to you, as she held the gun straight in front of her and shot out at random.
“Do you guys have no sense of tension!?”
“Ehehe, you’re finally back to your normal tempo.”
Lily’s delighted smile caught him off guard.
“You went and got down and depressed all on your own. It’s fine to play at being the tragic hero, but what’s that got to do with us!?”
Suzuran said as she produced a hand grenade from her apron pocket.
“Kakko, throw this!”
“Roger roger! Here we go, dammit!!”
An iron ball even a military man could throw thirty meters at most, this girl lobbed in a straight line at the enemy rock defenses without even drawing a parabola.
Jumping out and rolling to avoid fire, Zazi shot it up, and sent flying like a bean bag, the hand grenade exploded at the center point between the two cams. While these girls were amazing, the young man over there was no slouch at using a gun.
“Hey now, Elsia, it’s magic time, time to sweep with your magic!”
“She’s right, we have Lady Elsia on our side! A rock or two is no problem!”
As a matter of fact. When he looked at these cheerful laughing women, he felt like an idiot for all his troubles and suffering.
“Aah, dammit! Now that it’s come to this, all or nothing, no holding back, Elsia!”
Standing straight up, Elsia pointed her palm without opening her grimoire.
“No holding back.”
Everyone forced that hand now.
“Sorry, I was wrong. Hold back enough so the labyrinth doesn’t collapse on us…”
And. At that moment.
Elsia stared at her hand and blinked once. She closed her eyes as if she had just come to understand something.
But in the midst of a firefight, neither Ryuuta nor Lily had the leisure to notice her minute gestures and mutters.
That back and forth went on a while.
At the depths of the earth, there were no means to replenish ammo, and in the first place, he had never anticipated such a firefight. Eventually, the labyrinth began to return to its original silence.
“Umm, pardon me…?”
Came Archess’s voice, riding the flow of a clear stream.
“I’m terribly sorry to interrupt, but my little Zazi over here is unfortunately out of bullets… how are things on your side.”
“Yeaah, we’re pretty much out here too… ”
“Oh, I see. That’s good, wonderful… then that being the case, I’ll give Zazi a good talking to for his discourtesy… so might I interest you in a discussion instead?”
“Yeah, why not?”
Lily easily accepted. It would be no joke if that actually resolved the matter.
“Hey, Lily! No matter how you look at it, you’re up against people who’re after your life! You can’t just…!”
“But I’m not dead yet.”
This was clearly far too optimistic. Why could she laugh?
“And I’m meeting him for the first time, but he doesn’t seem thaaaat bad.”
Why could she make a smile so easily!?
“You’re being tricked! Don’t you get it!? That’s how he tricks people, takes, them in, uses them, and by the time you notice it…!!”
By the time you notice it, you’re too far to return.
“Then when the time comes, Ryuuta.”
“At that time, they’re the ones who will see hell.”
Lily laughed. It wasn’t what she had shown, what Ryuuta had seen, not that pure smile with lingering innocence.
“Me aside, my comrades, you see. They’re not nice enough to keep quiet if he crosses the line. If they think he’s trying to bring us hell, they’ll bring an even greater hell. I mean, that’s just how much power we have. That’s what it means to be the Sacred Demon Lord, Ryuuta.”
That dark, dark smile sent a quiver down his spine. He had no way of knowing what this girl his own age had seen. But she had surely seen what he couldn’t even imagine. And precisely because she knew it. And… precisely because she made use of it…
“Then there’s no real need to hurry. It’s not too late after all hell breaks loose. Then I’ll see how far he can take the jump. That way is far more interesting. Far more fun. Don’t you think?”
He was mistaken to think this woman was ordinary. She was no decent person. There was no way she was. As a lowly human, she led those outside the realm of common sense, and duked it out with common sense’s outsiders.
Ryuuta felt he had finally caught a glimpse of it. As he swallowed his breath, Suzuran stood and walked forward. VZ following behind sent him a peace sign. A triumphant smile with a wink.
“No problem ♪.”
(… What… the…)
She didn’t simply have magnanimity. She had something she believed in, and the power worthy of it. She was well aware of how to use that power. So there was no way she would fear or falter. No matter the trouble, the obstacle, she only thought of it as little more than an accent to color her life.
Archess led Zazi along to where they had been before. Ryuuta hammered his fist into the stone as he gazed upon the scene. It didn’t break. All that was hurt was his own hand. How feeble.
“If I… just had power…”
He could have killed him the moment their eyes met. He could have erased every one of Lily’s words as background noise, and slaughtered him before she could step in.
“… I’ve already forgotten the name.”
Elsia looked over and muttered.
“But I know him. The man you all call Archess.”
“Yes. That’s why I thought it nostalgic.”
Like she had lost every last trace of interest, she returned her eyes.
“He was my mother’s close aide.”
“A demon… lord’s…? Then he’s part of the round table…!?”
But Elsia shook her head.
“Eh…? He’s not…? Then.”
“He was a vassal from when my mother first marched her men into this world.”
“Your mother… meaning he tagged along at the time… he’s a pure blooded true demon?”
“Norka and Sorka did say it. Alhazan aims for the restoration of true demons.”
Right. It was obvious, but restoration didn’t’ mean he wanted to gain new authority. He wanted to get it back. Meaning, only those who originally held that power in the first place would use the word.
“… It does make sense if you think about it…”
But if that was true, at the same time.
Elsia flat out stated the words on his mind.
“He wasn’t someone you could beat.”
Like he could accept that. Like he could let that be.
“Don’t s crew with me! Then the weak are just supposed to cry themselves to sleep!?”
“That’s right. Where do you think you are? Neither the police nor the law could reach him, so you did you not come to stand on the same playing field?”
“That’s… but! But still!”
“And you have proven yourself you can’t win.”
He had lost the willpower to argue. He could only grit his teeth, clench his fist, hang his head.
Her words were so right, he had no way to resist.