When they left the labyrinth, it was already past noon. While he hadn’t heard how the conversation went, the two parties got along favorably to a disgusting extent, and instead of standing around talking in some cave, they wanted to change the scene to a high-class Chinese restaurant in the shopping district. The shop was part of the Obliterating Industries conglomerate, they had the place booked out but… Alhazan would be paying, apparently.
“No, I really am sorry about that! Hey, Zazi, you say sorry too! And Gabès she saved you, how about some proper gratitude!?”
Those were the three on Alhazan’s side.
Obliterating Industries came with VZ, Meeko and Ripple-Rapple… with Ryuuta standing at the side.
“You heard him, Ryuuta. How about you take a seat?”
“I told you I’m fine. We’re irreconcilable. When I can’t stand breathing the same air, like hell I’ll sit around the same table.”
“Whelp, is the young lady not with you today?”
In a flashy black Kimono, Meeko turned to him rather disappointed. Ryuuta exposed a bit of a bitter smile as he spoke.
“Yeah… she’s no good with chopsticks. Said it was a pain so she was leaving.”
Or so he tried saying, but what was the truth of the matter? The despair he tasted in the labyrinth. Couldn’t it be that she was disappointed in him? Perhaps she had finally lost interest.
“Fufu, very well. That sounds like her. Still, what a waste. To not be able to partake in such delicacies.”
“Nyaaah!? Lady Meeko, that’s my sharkfin! You’re terrible, you’re terrible!”
“It’s Mapo. Super spicy, refreshing.”
They weren’t even listening to Archess. Well, from Ryuuta’s point of view, that farce served him right. Naturally, Zazi and Gabès weren’t making the best faces, with their lord treated as a side dish. No matter how Archess persuaded them, they were like kids sulking after being called back to the classroom. With how just they believed their own actions were, this was to be expected.
Gabès irritantly voiced his opinion.
“Say what you want, Lord Archess, but the one who nearly killed me was Ryuuta Salinger over there!”
“Hmm, that so. Well aren’t you glad you got only got half-killed, Gabès? Thanks to that, I didn’t have to become a murderer.”
With Ryuuta’s biting, fighting words, Gabès reached for his blade.
The next instant, all the waiters and maids each drew all manner of weapon.
Gabès froze in place at a loss for words. There was little he could do, even if he wanted to start something, he was smack dab in the midst of enemy territory. These were the troops of the Sacred Demon lord, while they were acting as waiters and maids, it would be easy for someone just as skilled as Gabès or Zazi to be mixed in among them.
“I’d rather be eating high-class Chinese food than playing guard, Ms. Suzuran…”
“Not so fast, Clarica. You have to properly work off your wages.”
A maid equipped with a dangerous large Mauser dissapointedly slumped down at Lily’s words.
“Hey, Gabès! Don’t trouble our hosts! When you really get down to it, this is your fault for violently misinterpreting my words! Have a seat, have a seat!”
Gabès finally crudely shammed down in his chair and turned away. Zazi rested his unmotivated face on his hand, looking away as well.
“I am truly sorry… making a mess of things.”
“But… about what happened underground.”
Lily cut in straight-up.
“You didn’t come up here just to discuss these things, did you? In that case, you would never have to pretend to be passing participants.”
“No, I understand why you’d think that. Lily of Obliterating Industries… no.”
Turning his head down, Archess pushed up the bridge of his glasses.
“Should I call you the Organizer of the Sacred Demon Cup and she who rules the world… Sacred Demon Lord Suzuran.”
“I’m fine with either. Everyone here already knows.”
“Is that so… no, truth be told, Suzuran.”
“Is there something down there?”
Lily… Suzuran’s sharp eyes and words had him taken aback. No, it wasn’t only him. While they were feigning composure, Zazi and Gabès both showed a brief sliver of fluster.
“Ryuuta, the man chasing you, spotted a sign his instructor left behind. Then just at the moment he was about to act upon it, you just happened to appear. In the midst of our firefight, you left it ambiguous and pulled us away under the excuse of having a discussion… now out with it. What’s down there?”
Come so far, not her friendly colors, Suzuran showed an obstinate, unshaking attitude.
“No… it’s nothing so important. Just our base. Alhazan’s base, to be more specific.”
“So deep down in the labyrinth?”
“But of course, we’re a true underground resistance…. badumtss♪”
A wind blew by so cold, it must have come from the South Pole.
“Pops… get it in yer head already, yer no good with gags…”
Zazi’s chin was still on his hand as he looked uncomfortably amazed.
“Ahaha… hahah… umm… what do you think, Gabès?”
“My apologies, Lord Archess… I must refrain from commenting…”
He could probably understand before asking his men. Just from the atmosphere.
“It’s cold. Too cold… bring out something hot and spicy.”
Ripple-Rapple’s shoulders were quivering, she draped a blanket over her shoulders. It was unknown where she got it from.
With her hands folded over the table, Suzuran asked.
“Underground organization? Fine by me. But what exactly are you resisting? Do your ideals run contrary to ours?”
Archess got his expression in order. Not to a serious one, a serene expression that even gave off a philosophic aura.
“We of Alhazan are resisting the world.”
“… The world.”
“Yes. Not too long ago… just underground, no less. You did say it. You don’t want sad things to happen.”
“Yes. What about it?”
“Well, Suzuran, around what level are you considering?”
“What level, why… it’s sad if someone dies, right? That’s as far as I’ve gotten, to be perfectly honest. I can’t quite take responsibility for hunger and poverty. I can’t be that arrogant.”
Archess returned a nod.
“That is where we raise the banner of rebellion.”
“Word on the street is that you were born and raised in Japan. One of the world’s rare affluential countries. But this world still has plenty of countries stricken not only with hunger and poverty, but with strife, violence, and war… direct ties to such tragedy. No, such countries, such people are the overwhelming majority.”
“Camdania was one of them.”
A slight sorrow in his eyes, Archess looked at Ryuuta.
“Young Ryuuta. You should know it well.”
“Of course I do! It’s the land where my family was slaughtered!!”
“But the family you speak of were pirates. Am I wrong?”
“What of it?”
“We are not in the grand age of exploration. No one seeks grand delusions, romance, and adventure from piracy anymore. To face the reality of life, they attacked merchant ships, at times taking hostages, shaking up countries and corporations…”
“Don’t you dare insult my family! Do you think yourself some sort of saint!?”
“Listen to me, Ryuuta. Not with your heart, listen with your head. Then are you going to tell me your family never partook in any of that?”
He should have been able to bark some more. But when he asked his rationality, he found himself unable to deny it. He couldn’t quite understand it when he was younger, but there were often times he and the other pirates would apprehend people with different skin colors than their own. It had been his own job to bring food to them. Once he was talked into letting one of them out of their room, and he got a good beating for that one.
“… And what if they did?”
“Then that is simply a criminal act. The country was impoverished enough for such anachronisms as piracy to be widespread. That was the land you were born and raised in, Camdania.”
“Tsk… quit putting on airs.”
“Do you know why a civil war broke out in that country?”
“Because you bastards instigated the government, goddammit.”
“That country had a means to escape its poverty. Large-scale veins of uranium among other rare metals. But precisely because it was an impoverished land, Camdania did not have within its own borders the facilities or technical expertise to harness those resources. In which case, how might they obtain them…?”
“Well what else but calling in foreign powers? But the government’s royal faction led by the king wouldn’t allow it. He had grown up with the fear of exploitation and colonization drilled into his heart.”
Archess quietly nodded.
“That’s right. Exactly… but in order for the country to survive, mining its mineral resources was indispensable. So what the royal faction at the time set their eyes on was piracy.”
“… Say… what?”
This was the first he was hearing of it. This incomprehensible story had Ryuuta somewhat dumbfounded.
“Why were the pirates at the time able to move around so freely? That is because the government pretended not to see… no. I’ll come right out and say it was no exaggeration they were making good use of their services. It was not limited to that country, the entire region was plentiful in superior mineral deposits. So naturally, the seas were rife with foreign merchant ships carrying the relevant knowledge; company freighters carrying the machinery and raw materials. If the country did it, it would just a criminal state… so offering immense payment and rewards, they gave the orders to the pirates.”
“S… so what. What about it… pirates are…”
“Indeed. When you get to the root of the problem, it was the sort of country where people had to do so to survive… the responsibility falls on the government for letting it deteriorate to that extent. I have no intention of shifting the blame. But if such acts continued on, the evil deeds of the government would be exposed to the world someday. In the current era, being isolated from the international community is the true death of a nation… and the one who feared the idea and took a stand was the man who is now the prime minister of Camdania, General Amzar.”
“That’s why… the coup d’etat happened?”
Archess nodded to Suzuran’s words.
“He was an excellent soldier. Like a flash of lightning, in just the first day, he had gained control of fifty percent of the nation’s land, including the capital, successfully establishing a military regime. Yet the king who didn’t take kindly to that borrowed the power of those loyal to him to narrowly escape his encirclement… in regards to the military regime declaring itself the new government, the Camdanian Royal Army reorganized and formed the anti-governmental forces.”
That’s right. His family joined the antigovernmental forces as a volunteer militia. They threw their bodies to the flames of war as volunteers to defend the King, their Ruler to their last stand.
“Unfortunately… as most military officials sided with the government, the royal faction could only cling to the militia and volunteer soldiers who believed in the King. And as for how they unified those disjointed civilians…”
Ryuuta muttered. Yet it was almost as if it wasn’t his own voice. His heart was reflecting on those days. In his mind, the sublime scene of his family lifting their spirits each day was fading.
“Yes. Pirates and bandits… by shifting himself into the harsh hierarchy of criminal organizations, he used them as a hastily constructed army. But perhaps this could be called unavoidable for the criminals.”
“They couldn’t help it? What do you mean…?”
“If the country was reborn, the rewards promised by the royal faction would die out. If the law changed, there was a possibility they could no longer carry on their enterprise in the first place… as a matter of fact, General Amzar had raised an objection to the morality of the old state of affairs, and he was known as a member of the radical faction. Saying they did it for their king has a nice ring to it… but from the criminal point of view, don’t you think it was also a way to secure their vested interests?”
“W… wrong!? Quit it with that nonsense! I don’t know about the others, but my family were all proud men of the sea! What do you know!? We pirates, you see, we ain’t living for such petty things!!”
Archess let out a gentle voice to soothe him.
“Yes. So in regards to that, I don’t intend to speak good or bad. Calm down, young Ryuuta. Certainly, not for money, there were many who fought out of loyalty, faith, and devotion as well… otherwise, there was no way they could have established even greater unity than the governmental forces. It is an ample possibility that your family was one of those.”
He reluctantly accepted, and measuring out the moment he closed his mouth, Archess continued the story.
“We got involved in Camdania right before the coup d’état was kicked off.”
“And why did you do that…?”
Lily asked, brimming with curiosity.
“We knew the country was in tatters. So we would raise a rebellion, and when it succeeded… I would have them officially acknowledge the suffrage rights of demons.”
Not only Lily, but VZ, the waiters and maids… all sorts of voices turned on their heads.
“Wa-w-wait a second, Archess… by suffrage…”
“Oh, no. That part didn’t really matter. Appearance-wise, we’re identical to humans, after all. If we just wanted to vote, we could go to the polling stations no problems, and if we wanted to run for office, we could join congress under the same logic.”
“I-I know right…? Then…”
“What’s important is the officially recognize portion. For example, if I just shouted out ‘Hey, I’m a demon’, in the middle of New York, London, or Tokyo… who would believe it?”
“That… is understandable. You look identical.”
“Right? Then what’s the difference between us?”
“That would have to be… power. The easiest to understand.”
“Yes. But if I were to show that off in the aforementioned places, I would simply be treated as the odd one out. That alone I could accept, but worst case, an anti-Demon organization would come out and ksssh.”
Archest chopped a hand against his own neck.
“Why I’d be half the man I was yesterday, who could say where I’ll beheaded, let’s just say I’ll come off with a bad hangover…”
Zazi gloomily thrust his elbow into Archess’s flank.
“Give it a rest already. You’re discussing something important.”
“Uguguh, owowowow… umm, well, the one who tried to bulldoze through the matter was Zephirum… Lord Elsion’s school of thought. Aren’t you quite familiar with them, Suzuran?”
“Oh… yes… that’s right. They were like that.”
“I’m different. I’ll use none other than human words, words of the government no less. I’ll bring it forth such that no one can ignore it and have us recognized. And if I can take an important role in the country, I’m sure I’ll be able to maintain the rights and laws regarding demons.”
“And that was why… you staged the coup d’état?”
A shadow fell over Archess’s smile.
“Yes. I chose the battlefield as the very best stage to substantiate the existence of demons. What the military regime asked for in exchange… was for Alhazan to singlehandedly exterminate the royal faction.”
Suzuran lightly held her breath.
“In order to make an appeal to foreign powers that the old monarchical rule was abolished and Camdania was reborn… it was a necessary demonstration of power to quell all debate on who the leadership lay with. Those circumstances demanded the utmost urgency. If they dawdled, the UN could intervene and the rights of leadership to their own country would be snatched away…”
“And so the war began…”
“Yes. At the time, there were around twenty of us. In three days, we had taken all the key points of infrastructure and destroyed all the anti-governmental bases, setting our aim on the old capital where the royal faction had holed itself up. By that time, we had already caused damages of over five thousand men to the anti-governmental forces.”
“With only twenty… I see. It’s plausible because they were human…”
“Yes. Sad as it may be, that is the most easily-understandable proof of a demon. Young Gabès here, and Zazi… and I. only a few of the anti-governmental army were trained soldiers, a large majority were militia without any weapons at all. If I may be indiscreet, they were absolutely no match… it was all supposed to go swimmingly.”
“What was… the problem?”
“American special forces, Angel Saber intervened.”
Ryuuta calmly muttered.
“Angel Saber did…?”
“As a matter of fact… our forces were annihilated by angel saber led by Colonel Redfield when they appeared that day. And that was the day I met you, young Ryuuta.”
“Don’t you remember? I reached my hand out to you, but…”
Yes… it was the same smile back then. With no one to rely on, corpses and flames left and right. Just a single person in that hell, he alone reached out and said.
— Do you want to come with me?
Wasn’t Gabès the same. He wasn’t showing off the poison spider tattoo out of choice. At the end of a hard-fought battle, he was too wounded to do anything about his body…?
Ryuuta held his head. What was this memory? Why did it come to this? Why was he remembering it this way come so far…!?
“… I certainly did kill your family. I will accept it as only natural that you resent me. I just wanted you to know the context of the matter. If you brood over it more than necessary, you’ll only come out for the worse… that’s what I think.”
“D…do… don’t screw with me… you, you all… even if you try to indoctrinate me, I…!”
Gabès spoke like he was staring at a loudly barking cur.
“Then why do you think Lord Archess went out of his way to teach you? I may have failed once, but the likes of you won’t be able to scratch him. There is no meaning to conciliation with someone who is not even a threat.”
“Then, then on the contrary, let me ask! What did you plan to do, taking in some orphaned brat from the volunteer army!? I’m sure you were just gonna…!”
“Hey, you… if it were you, what’d you have done?”
This time, Zazi leaned in with an elbow to the table.
“You’d save the poor kid, wouldn’t you? That’s normal. You’d pick up a kitten with nowhere to go. If you see a kid out in a place like that, wouldn’t ya pity him?”
Zazi pointed his thumb at himself.
“Lookie here, that’s how both me and Gabès were picked up by pops.”
“No, we’re demons so we’ve got special powers and all. We can stick close to him like this… but for those who aren’t so lucky, there are times he’s delivered them to their relatives, or gotten them back into society.”
Gabès took over from there.
“If you’re suspicious, then get out of this city an do some digging. There are a number of orphanages Lord Archess has set up.”
Zazi looked at Suzuran, he snapped his fingers like he had just realized something.
“Sacred Demon Lord, as I recall, you grew up an orphan, right?”
“You been to that place with Zephirum’s… what was it again, right that Estee kid hung around? Then there you have it. That’s a place pops set up.”
It was such a shock that steam rose from Suzuran’s head as her soul left her.
“Sh… shay what…”
“It’s a surprise, a shocking fact. Even I didn’t think the world was so small.”
Perhaps all the talking had parched his throat, Archess took a sip of water.
“… Young Ryuuta.”
“W… what… there’s more…”
“The Camdanian civil war happened because it ought to happen. The radicals, the royals, the heroic militia… they all had their own expectations, and if you’re asking what pulled the trigger… it was just time. The demands of the era called modern society. Still, there is one point in that war that I hold in pride.”
“You’re proud of it…?”
“In the civil war, the entire conflict, no human killed another human. The killing was all done by we demons of Alhazan.”
“So… you’re telling me to forgive you…?”
Archess shook his head wide, like he would accept it all.
“I didn’t say that. I could never say that. But I do not think I have done anything wrong. Camdania dismantled its Military Regime immediately after the royal faction was subjugated and has set itself up as a democracy. It has the support of international investors and, while gradual, is growing in its abundance. There are no longer any people poor enough that they would risk the dangers of becoming a pirate or bandit.”
“I… know that… but…!”
“Compared to a long bog of people who share the same language and country quarreling and festering hatred for many long years, the sadness has decreased. That is what we… no at the very least, what I think. For the many souls that were sacrificed to it as well.”
The words would no longer leave Ryuuta’s mouth. His hostility was nowhere to be found. Only that something, that now directionless something he had stored up against Alhazan for over ten years. In his heart it spun, it swirled like a drill to bore a hole through it.
A little while went by, and Suzuran’s soul returned to her.
“Umm… I understand the details with Ryuuta. But what about the suffrage? What happened to their promise to recognize demons…?”
“Yes… well unfortunately, Angel Saber had us in their sights.”
Not particularly deterred by it, Archess scratched his head with a troubled smile.
“They were a special unit from the American Government. With that in mind, we ran to General Amzar seeking shelter. We negotiated, seeking to be recognized as officials of the New Camdanian government… but as was to be expected, it was hard to take in such monsters that truly did annihilate the royal faction… in the end, we were unable to stay in Camdania any longer.”
“Is that so…”
Like she had come under his influence, Suzuran sounded gravely disappointed. But next she raised her face.
“But. Umm. If the existence of demons is officially recognized, what are you going to do next…?”
“Yes. It may sound like a dream. But I want to establish a country of demons in this world.”
“Of course, not a militarized nation that relies on military might or demon combat capabilities. Making use of industry, trade, the international community, joining the united nations, a proper, upright country.”
“For example… just hypothetically you know? Let’s say this country called Alhazan is established… the currency will be the Al, of course! There will be talks every day on the falling exchange rates of dollar, yen, and Al, there will be trade friction, the commentators on TV will be wracking their brains all over the Al… and we will be spending our hectic days rejoicing and worrying over the violent fluctuations of the Al stock price average!!”
“No, violent fluctuation’s a no go, pops…”
“He… he’s amazing!”
“More than amazing, even I didn’t expect that one. Is he an idiot or a genius?”
Said Ripple Rapple.
“This isn’t praise, not at all.”
Suzuran got herself back on track.
“But, n that case, I don’t really care either way. I think your ideals are lofty, and we’re not really in conflict…”
“No, we should be very much in conflict, Suzuran. It is not only limited to Camdania, we will not hesitate to make sacrifices towards our goal.”
“… That’s. I see… you’re right. I can’t say I like that.”
“And another thing. I brought up the example of Alhazan the country… but my end goal is for demons to rule this whole world itself.”
Even the Sacred Demon Lord had to open her eyes wide at that one. She had never even imagined the notion, and she hadn’t dreamed it would be stated straight to her face.
“In the distant past, back when the heavens, hell, and this world were all one… it is said that communities were under the rule of wiser, more powerful true demons. I’ve dubbed it the comeback policy, but…”
“Y-yeah. I’ve heard of it…”
“Truth be told, I’m a true demon from hell.”
“I came from another world, Suzuran. Though that was a long, long time ago.”
“… Hmm. Are you perhaps one of Fier’s men?”
Meeko asked and he nodded.
“Very perceptive of you. The only time such a grand invasion succeeded was in Lady Fier’s era.”
“I thought so. She was quite the commander.”
With her gentle smile, Meeko continued on.
“But do you intend to succeed Fier’s will?”
“Oh no, wouldn’t dream of it. My objective is not an invasion from hell. It is for true demons… and I would happily extend that to normal demons to rule this world. A monarchical government under a benevolent ruler, or a democratic choice among rotten bureaucrats, which would be more preferable to the people? For example, let’s say someone as selfless as Lady Fier seized power over the country? And Demons are naturally obedient to more powerful demons, even more so to their forebearers, the true demons.”
She was at a loss for words.
“I’ve never met this Fier, so I can’t really…”
“She’s a fine woman. I see, I feel I understand what this man wants to say.”
Suzuran tilted her head at Meeko’s words.
“Did you get that, Ripple-Rapple?”
The small girl nodded twice.
“If monarchy isn’t striking home, try considering a dictatorship.”
“Dictatorship… wait, isn’t that the worst?”
“But this is speaking in terms of the dictator being a saint. What’s more, true demons and demons are generally good looking, and already idols. They’ll be a huge hit.”
“Yeaaah, I see…”
“But, but, with despotic governments, see? The moment that person goes bad, everyone goes bad.”
“Right. And that is the bottleneck.”
“But having made it here, I have finally found the deterrence for that.”
“Why this tournament… the Sacred Demon Cup. To be more specific, the seat of Sacred Demon Lord, and the revival of the round table that supports the position.”
Clap, those from Obliterating Industries side hit their hands together in unison. They seemed to understand.
“I see… Archess, so by becoming the Sacred Demon Lord, you want to get there in one leap without having to meddle in government anymore.”
“Correct. And as I said before… if I believe that to be the best outcome, I have no qualms with a certain level of sacrifice. For example, using conciliation with your rival company. Or perhaps…”
“Are you going to kill me?”
“Oh no. You are certainly a formidable foe, but… it looks like these two simply misunderstood my nuance. They are quite individualistic, you see. I can’t apologize enough for that.”
“Oh I see… I see, I see.”
Suzuran slouched into her chair, twice, three times, she nodded.
“Yep. I got it. I feel relieved now that I understand Alhazan. You could’ve just said it from the start, this is all because you keep sneaking around.”
“My apologies, Suzuran. But ever since Camdania, our standing is what it is.”
“But if you’re aiming for the Sacred Demon Cup, that makes you a participant, right? Who’s your partner?”
“Zazi over there.”
She stared hard at him.
“Eh…? But he’s a demon… and you’re a true demon…”
“You may be the Sacred Demon Lord, but your tournament has recognized me as a human.”
A complete turn, Suzuran broke into a fearless laugh.
“… Yep, I got it. You’re the same sort as our president and President Elize. I don’t hate your type. A worthy foe.”
“It is an honor.”
“Incidentally, what name are you participating under?”
“It’s Barchess. Barchess Mulholland. ”
Just one letter off. Suzuran made a bit of a conflicted face.
“Now, now. That’s just how the world works, Suzuran. More importantly, we’ve spoken quite a while, but let this serve as a chance to get closer to one another. Now Gabès and Zazi, pour everyone a glass!”
“… But Mr. Barchess. Are you alright with the money.”
“Yes, no problem at all. Truth be told, I’m running a store in this city. They call me the stingy president of Specialty Shop Mulholland…”
Once again, Suzuran hit her hands together.
“The one on the main intersection!”
“Oh, yes, you know of it? My, my, this is an honor.”
They shared a smile.
“Yep, yep, it sticks out quite a bit. Then are you perhaps raking in the dough?”
“Of course ♪ why I wouldn’t dare say it out loud, but thanks to you—”
“Pay the security fees, you sunnavabitch.”
So came the wild sound of a great many feet. On one word from Suzuran, those with guns directed their guns, those with knives directed their knives, they had all surrounded Archess as he was pouring her a cup.
“U… umm… Suzuran……?”
“So you’re the owner. I finally found you, you bastard. I always wanted to see what idiotic face kept doing business in the best spot of our company’s turf without paying their respects.”
“N… no, umm…?”
Still unable to comprehend the sudden change, Archess looked around in confusion.
“You aim for my life, now let’s have a nice talk and get to know one another? You thought you’d get off scot-free? Now this is a riot, old man.”
So far into the tournament, Suzuran finally removed her mirrored glasses, letting her colorless eyes peek out.
“Sorry President. Our business model has one lead pellet worth a Ferrari, we’re an evil organization cruder than your run-of-the-mill Yakuza. If you won’t pay your dues, then how about we see how many hairs are growing on your heart, here and now.”
“Y-yy… you mustn’t kill, my dear lady! If you do that, you’ll be disqualified…!”
“Doesn’t matter. One of my employees will just do the deed for me.”
“Not on my—!”
Before Gabès could reach his hilt, Ripple-Rapple’s metal bat beat him down.
“Stay out, small fry.”
“Like I can keep quiet.”
The next one to move was Zazi. He leapt up all the way to the ceiling, drawing his gun at the same time. But the gunshot didn’t come from the one in his hand. One of the maid’s well-aimed Mauser accurately knocked his weapon from his hand.
“You’re surrounded ya know.”
When Zazi landed back down, there was VZ’s sword at his throat.
“I said it, didn’t I? Aiming for Suzuran’s a no go.”
Having finished beating Gabès black and blue, Ripple-Rapple trudged over.
“Eh? Oy, wai…!”
She began beating a defenseless Zazi.
“Aah, Gabès!? Zazi!? I-I-I get it, I’ll pay, I’ll pay, Suzuran…! So how much…!?”
“We’ll settle it with fifty percent of your sales.”
“Hah!? H-half!? Then I’m barely breaking even…!”
“We’ll crash a dump truck into your store every day.”
Within all of that, Meeko alone calmly kept at her food.
“Would you at least let me eat in peace……”
Distant. It was all so distant.
“Aaah, man, now that was fun! And we made it big! Hey, Ryuuta. How long are you going to daze out? Drink, drink! It’s all on Archess’s tab!”
The sun had set, and now even the maids and the waiters who were serving as bodyguards had mixed in for some merrymaking. Even that irritatingly loud hustle and bustle seemed so distant.
As Suzuran tapped him on his shoulder, he did tilt his glass to his mouth… but that was it. What he saw, what he heard, what he touched with his hands, the taste and scent of the strong ale in his mouth… it was all distant, like he wasn’t himself.
(What am… I supposed to do…?)
That’s all there was for him. Only to destroy Alhazan, only to kill Archess, that had been the sole reason he had lived. His eyes stopped on a single sheet of paper Archess had left him. A single memo. The man had written out the address of his relatives’ house in England. He had apparently got it off the register from the ship accident. If he went there, his uncle, his aunt. Perhaps he could meet his grandparents. Archess even noted the site of his parents’ graves.
Only his blurred tears imparted him any heat.
He had arbitrarily convinced himself. Arbitrarily assured himself the one who tried to save his life was his enemy.
There was nothing. He had nothing. He never had anything. The sorrow, the anger, the hatred that had moved him forward. Every last ounce of it had disappeared.
On the way back from the Chinese Restaurant where the party still raged on, Archess wiped his tears with a sleeve.
“Uu, uuu… how terrible… this is too much… half of our sales, and Gabès medical bill was twenty million, the consolation fee for Zazi and even Norka and Sorka who have nothing to do with us anymore comes to thirty million… that’s why I said it, I did! Not to lay a hand on those people…!”
Gabès walking beside him unbearably hung his head.
“M… my apologies, Lord Archess… but I had no way of knowing that maid was actually the Sacred Demon Lord…”
“I’m sorry too, pops… I never thought they’d be that terrible.”
Zazi scratched his needle-like hair.
“But what was up with that shop? A thousand tickets for a hot towel, a thousand tickets for disposable chopsticks, five thousand tickets for a beer…? This is more than a ripoff.”
Zazi looked through the long, looong list of items on the receipt before angrily crumpling it into a ball.
“Uuu… but I’m sure there’ll be more later. It’ll be crazy. They’re still partying after all… Kuuuh…!”
“Lord Archess, no need to feel down… we just have to power through it for now.”
“Hmm, that’s right. Only for as long as the tournament.”
He messily wiped away his tears before reequipping his glasses. There wasn’t a soul on the streets; only the light of the street lamps dotted the way. Through the space between dots, the three of them entered an even more desolate park.
“… So boys, if you fought seriously there… would you have won?”
“That’s… I’m sad to say. With just me and Zazi, taking one or two down with us is probably the most we could manage…”
“Yeah, that one was impossible. To be blunt, each and every one of them was super first rate.”
Archess limply slumped his shoulders.
“As I thought… which means going at it fair and square will be impossible…”
“In the end, we’re just lives you picked up, Lord Archess. We don’t care however you use us… but they have outers in their mix. If you’ll pardon my words, even you’d be in danger there…”
“Yes, don’t worry about it Gabès. I didn’t get the slightest hint I’d be able to win either…”
He took a breath.
“How is that project going?”
“Steady. We haven’t run into any problems.”
“We have a firm hold on those two top contenders.”
A park where no one was supposed to be there. They heard the footsteps from the nearby darkness.
“… Pops, not much to do if they heard.”
“No wait, both of you.”
With no concern over the two at the ready, a single woman with an elegant face approached.
“It has been a while, ‘Barchess’.”
“… Lady Elsia. So you did notice.”
“Yes. The waves you give off with the grace of the dark god are quite unique.”
The two to his left and right gulped.
“I don’t know where you heard that, but…!”
“Sister, either speak till we’re satisfied or die, choose.”
She looked down over them.
“It’s time for the little boys to sleep.”
And in an instant. Before the two could know what was done to them, they were collapsed at the depths of the cratered earth. Archess took a step back.
“L… Lady Elsia…”
“I was listening in. The reason you left so hastily… was because that wasn’t all. That’s why when Ryuuta’s gun shouldn’t even be able to harm you,”
She looked down at Zazi, unconscious, showing the white of his eyes.
“This child got so serious.”
Archess finally lost the leisure to smile. A pale face resolved for death, oozing with a cold sweat.
“… So you have noticed. Everything.”
“What you’re trying to do is taboo.”
With Elsia’s eyes on him, Archess swallowed his breath… He regained his composure as he made his resolve.
“Yes. So I’ve heard… but I.”
Just as he was about to say it, Elsia turned on her heels.
“As long as you understand. And as long as you can grow heated about it. I simply came to ask.”
The sound of her boots faded away. Elsia left without turning back.
Archess let out a short sigh.
Leaving early, Ryuuta headed for the hotel. He stopped as soon as the entrance was in sight. His legs wouldn’t take him forward.
(How am I supposed to face Elsia…)
His hand irresolutely held the memo with his relatives’ address. What would going there now do for him? The ghost of a child who died twenty years ago, who would take him seriously?
But now that he had lost his reason to live in this world…
“What are you doing?”
When he turned, there was Elsia. He couldn’t even notice the conspicuous sound of her boots.
“Elsia… I’m… sorry. It looks like I don’t know what’s what anymore. It looks like… I misunderstood.”
He muttered, unable to properly make a smile, no matter how he tried to force it.
“I was just a brat… I knew it was an abnormal situation. But you know. That guy… Archess, it seems he tried to save me. Haha, It’s a stupid story. I’m an idiot… and yet, Archess, he… even looked into my relatives address for me.”
He breathed out a sigh that sunk to the very bottom.
“I was always chasing him… for my family, I kept up with the Colonel’s blood vomit inducing training, not once looking back. And yet… you know. What am I even doing? You said it yourself, I’ve got no hopes of defeating a true demon. So I’ve been doing some thinking, and the more I think, the more my head and my heart get all muddled up and empty… I don’t know what’s what any more… hahah. Hahahah… hah…”
“I see. Then remember.”
Eating the palm of her hand, Ryuuta spun round and round before collapsing as the sisters had before him.
“Wha… what are you doing, all of a sudden…”
But that wasn’t the end of it. While she was at it, Elsia retrieved the memo from Ryuuta, burning it in her hand, returning it to ash.
“And so. So you’re telling me you let him take you for a ride and came skulking back the loser?”
“Let me repeat the words you said this morning.”
Her ice cold eyes were narrowed in grief.
“You’re being tricked! Don’t you get it!? That’s how he tricks people, takes, them in and uses them.”
He couldn’t seal his wide-open mouth. Sure enough, those were the words he shouted at Suzuran so eagerly.
“No… no way… it was a lie? All of it…?”
“No. I presume it was all true.”
“W-what are you talking about… Then the fact he tried to save me? The fact he looked into my relatives and even found my old folks’ grave…”
“Most likely true.”
“Let me ask you something. For what reason were you chasing him?”
Ryuuta answered, hesitant as he was.
“That’s… to avenge my family…”
“Then let me summarize what he said. The war happened because it was supposed to happen. He fought for the military regime to accomplish his own goals. The pirate who raised you had no choice but to participate in the war. Alhazan held absolute superiority, but then Angel Saber appeared. And within that, you were about to be saved by him…”
“Then who was it who killed your family? What reason is there to give up on your revenge?”
It hadn’t changed. Nothing had changed. The one who killed his family was Archess. Looking back on everything he had heard from Archess today, that fact alone hadn’t changed. In fact, he had admitted it outright.
“He fears Angel Saber more than anything. Enough for him to abandon his objective when it’s right before his eyes. Even if you are powerless, he fears the title of former-Angel Saber. He fears that you will keep on his tail. That’s why he sought conciliation.”
Let’s say that was conciliation. Even if he was using his words to avert Ryuuta’s hostilities, if that was all true… then he. Archess is…
“Yes, he is a good man. My mother teased that he would make the perfect clergyman. If it is for his ideal world, he will never bend his conviction and I’m sure he would happily pick up and raise children with no living relatives.”
Her cold eyes wouldn’t take no for an answer.
“Now that you know he’s a good man, you accept that your family was evil? Just because he was a good man, it was perfectly reasonable your family was slaughtered?”
“Will those bloodstained pirates who died never appear in your dreams again?”
“Now that you know the people who raised you were just lowly dirty pirates, you can’t play the tragic hero? Your family was a vulgar, criminal organization whose only recourse was to get slaughtered? They’re not even worth getting revenge for?”
By the time he noticed it, his clenched fist had struck Elsia’s cheek.
“Hah, hah…! Don’t you dare say another word against my family! Even you won’t…!”
She returned a slap a thousand times fold.
“… But you know. These aren’t my words. This is what your eyes are saying.”
“I can’t accept it. Right now, I only have interest in your revenge.”
An inhumane voice.
“So stand. Stand and chase after your prey. If you don’t want that, then die. Be killed here and now.”
Elsia directed her palm at him. High pressure, high capacity magic. A human would be evaporated down to the bone, this hand had such power.
“Now make your choice.”
Ryuuta… rubbed the cheek she had struck as he stood to his feet. Unsteady as it was, he found a firm footing.
“Right. That’s right. That’s got nothing to do with it… Nothing changed about how he killed my family. Yeah… looks like I opened my eyes. I was just running away…”
Ever since he heard form Elsia he was a true demon, his heart had been shaken. Against an opponent he couldn’t defeat, he could already see himself getting killed in the processes. So he ended up giving up. In an attempt to quell the sway of his heart, he accepted Archess’s character and tried to convince himself to give up.
Yet on the other hand, there was the part of him that knew he had to do it. That was what had made him so confused.
Elsia tucked away her magic and lowered her hand.
“I don’t mind if you face him when you’re not a match, kick, scream and die like a dog. But as your partner, let me teach you something. Remember this well.”
A midwinter hill in her eyes, Elsia spat out the words.
“A human who’s lost all their heat is garbage undeserving of life.”
“Yes. So chase. Keep chasing. As long as you do that, I’ll remain your partner.”
(Yeah, that’s right… she’s got it down.)
Find heat. Let your body boil in the heat of revenge, yet keep your heart cold as ice. An anachronistic quest for vengeance? Playing tragic hero? If they wanted to talk about him behind his back, so be it. This was the only way he knew how to live.
So calm down. Don’t be led astray by the background noise or your prey’s cajolery. He had gained a chance. He had found it. He had searched and search yet could never find the man he was supposed to kill. And here he was today. Then it was only natural to bite down on his windpipe. For now he would wait. No matter how his heart danced at the scent of the blood that would spout, he had to wait for the chance when he could tear him up with the greatest force…
Right. He hadn’t the means to kill a true demon.
“What could it be?”
“Mn? Nah, just thought he wasn’t going down so easily… and in the end, I’m probably going to die like a dog. Just like you said down there. A human like me can’t kill a true demon no matter what he does.”
She would tell him to die and nod so simply without any encouragement. What a terrible partner. But thanks to her, he had regained his cool head. Right, it didn’t matter if he died. The war happened because it had to, this revenge was simply the extension of an inevitable war. In which case, this difference in fate between human and demon was surely inevitable.
He wasn’t a kid anymore, he didn’t believe in miracles. He had seen his family die without the chance to pray. Then at the very least, he would get in the stroke of the sword. To die as his family had. This was no longer about winning. It was about whether he could hold his head high when he met them beyond.
Elsia said as she gazed towards Centralle Building where the labyrinth lay.
“The day may come where you can win.”
“S… say what…? Are you serious?”
She neither affirmed or denied it.
“As long as you don’t give up, and keep holding that heat. You won’t let the chance slip by.”
“… I don’t really get it… but you’re not going to say any more, are you?”
“Still, I’m thankful. Whether it comes or not, there’s still a possibility…!”
Ryuuta smacked his fist into his palm.
“… Are you better now?”
“Yeah… I’m sorry I worried you. But I’m all better now. If my partner says so, I’ll watch over what happens for now. Whether it’s tomorrow, or at the finals, or in a hundred years… until the time the chance comes.”
And Elsia, truly peacefully and elegantly, curled her lips into a smile.