It took about two weeks to reconstruct the stadium. Two weeks holding their breath and sharpening their fangs. The grand reopening of the stadium along with the final round of the Sacred Demon Cup would be held tomorrow. A majority of those in the city would surely gather at the stadium. Nay. The Sacred Demon Lord Nagoyakawa Suzuran said she needed everyone gathered there, staff members included.
Center would be left essentially empty, with only Alhazan minimum level of concealed security measures.
It wasn’t too rare in stories. This was the night before the operation and Hideo who wasn’t able to sleep was sipping at a cup of weak coffee along in the dining hall.
There were two possible escape routes from the underground. The first was using an elevator controlled by Wilco to exit directly into Centeralle Building.
This idea was quickly discarded. There were two large reasons for this.
First, the fact it was an elevator designed solely for emergencies, and even with Verrocchia in the form of mist, it didn’t have the breadth or weight capacity for everyone to go up together. In hindsight, the way Alhazan’s rations came in numerous small shipments was probably a workaround.
The other reason: if the other side noticed while they were making a round trip, there was the risk of the elevator being suspended. While Wilco had secretly secured hold of the control system, there was little she could do if they physically blocked the shaft or pully, or severed the wire. They would be in the absolute worst predicament on the off chance that happened on the climb, when they were at a high altitude. They were far too defenseless on a narrow elevator with nothing to save them from freefall.
Therefore, they decided to escape on foot.
Based on Ryuuta and Shouki’s observations, it did seem their initial conjecture about the structure was a little off. Especially from the thirtieth floor (where one could see the sky) onwards, the ten-floor layers fell apart. It was clear the floors were entangled in a far more complex, convoluted way.
The important part was the unreachable space on Ryuuta and the Colonel’s maps that continued from the fifty-sixth floor to the limestone cavern on the sixty-first… they were all a complete bundle, apparently. The limestone cavern was stationed directly under Center, and once one descended the steps to the sixty-second floor, they were warped off some someplace else in the beehive.
Floor sixty-one was, in essence, the deepest reachable point. The floor they were on was in that unreachable space, and they were digging deeper and deeper. That made sense from how Ryuuta and Suzuran encountered Archess when they tried approaching.
While the colonel who had investigated the place even before them didn’t actually encounter them, he apparently sensed the presence of people and left his cigar as a sign. That was undoubtedly Alhazan making the preliminary arrangements before work had begun.
In which case… Hideo let the mug hang in his hand as he looked at the ceiling.
Given how many floors that space was shared on, there was presumably empty space above them as well, but just like the outside, it was impossible to investigate from here. Perhaps that was Alhazan’s base, or so Archess apparently told Suzuran over dinner.
Now the problem was how they would escape on foot. This was no longer some unknown depths of the earth. Only a few meters sealed them away from Laramie Grotto. Tomorrow morning, in the time before the finals commenced, the area where they presumed the rock was thinnest would be blown away with Akane’s bomb.
They would use something as flashy as an explosive blast for a diversion. The hostages upstairs could measure out the moment their guards were cleared away and escape as well. Of course, Hideo’s side would be running with all their might to draw all of Alhazan’s attention. And just one set of stairs down from floor sixty-one. Past the warp, floor sixty-two was in the nature district, what’s more, just under Elize Industrial’s fourth mining lot. Normally it would be impossible to excavate an entire mountain, but that giant crater had been their blessing. The bowl-shaped sintered alloy had already crumbled away. Feigning their mining operation, Elize Industrial had already fiercely dug their way right up to the stone wall of the labyrinth.
And he would be saying goodbye to a month-long life underground.
There was no problem. No problem at all…
“… Hideo?” Said Minako. “You’re still awake?”
“… I’m sorting out tomorrow’s plan. In my head.”
The plan was perfect. But if any accident happened, he would probably be the first to hold everyone back. He would never be able to look them in the eye if his failing caused everything to go to hell.
“Is that so? You really are incredible… I’m so nervous I can’t get to sleep.”
“… Yes. Well, there’s that. Too.”
It was rare to see her not carrying Okamaru.
Hideo noticed and offered a word.
“Do you want. A drink? I have some water boiling.”
“No, don’t mind me… I’ll get it myself.”
She took a tea cup and tea bag from the closet.
“Umm… if I’m not a nuisance, could I join you…?”
“Sure. I don’t mind.”
now then, up to where had he been thinking again…
“I think I’ve asked you this before… when the tournament is over… rather, when everyone escapes safe and sound and it’s all over… could I go to your house to play?”
Huh. House? His Tokyo apartment. The rent for this month and the last one…
“Ah, no, if it’ll be a bother then…!”
“No. That’s not. The problem.”
Perhaps that would be nice. He’d say goodbye to the apartment he holed himself up in. He’d rent a new one somewhere, and make a fresh start. This time, when he was out… he got the feeling he could become someone new.
“Then could I… could I come over with some food?”
“… Of course. I’d be grateful.”
But he was penniless. He didn’t have a single note of Japanese currency. How was he going to procure money to rent an apartment… if only for a little while, would he be able to live in the city here even after the tournament was over?
He thought as he tilted his mug.
“Then, then would it be alright if I introduced you to my father!?”
He performed a spit take. He choked.
When he looked at her, Minako was red to her ears.
“Ah, a-are you alright!?”
“… No. Well. Could you explain… why?”
“M-meaning… umm, my father’s just a little high up in the police force, and because of that, he’s a little stiff, a tad old fashioned. S-so h-he doesn’t want me doing something as dangerous as being a police officer, h-he wants me to hurry and get married. He’s really noisy about it…!”
Hideo understood completely. He understood well that Minako had a few too many screws loose for the job.
“Meaning, umm… i-it can just be in shape, if I introduced him to someone as wonderful as you, I thought just maybe I’d be able to keep my job or something!!”
“Hideo, do you have a girlfriend…?”
“D-don’t tell me you’re actually already married…!”
Well, if it was waifus, he had a few of them.
No, no, no, that wasn’t what this was about.
A stiff higher up in the police force… wasn’t that the worst?
Go out with the young lady what are you doing stop that at once bingbangbong who gave you permission to cross my threshold I’ll have you arrested this instant for breaking and entry god dammit I’m not giving my daughter to anyone thwackthwackthwack… And thus an infinite loop.
Honestly, he wasn’t fond of serial dramas or soap operas.
In the first place, the daughter was someone who called him a murderer and drug addict the moment they met. If he was hardheaded enough she called him stiff, then this time, not just a warrant for his arrest, he’d be marked by public safety as a member of the Ecological Terrorist Organization The Mother Earth…
“Hideo? You look pale…”
He wiped away a cold sweat.
“… We’ll have to put that meeting off. To a later date.”
“I-I know, right!? T-that was way too sudden, wasn’t it…! Hahaha…”
Quite honestly, dating and boyfriend and girlfriend… he had some interest, but it wasn’t like him. He got the feeling it wasn’t good to answer on a whim about something he had never given any good thought to before. So if only the sentiment, he would gratefully, graciously accept.
“… I really am glad you’re feeling better.”
She abruptly blurted out.
“Hideo, you don’t really show it on your face… but back when you came down here. Thinking back, you really did have a terrible expression…”
The same could be said for the Sacred Demon Grand Prix, but he got the feeling he was always showing her his bad side. Even so, this had to be some sort of fate.
“… Yes. I’m fine, now.”
“That’s reassuring. Tomorrow’s the day, let’s do our best!”
They shared a strong nod.
That was enough for Hideo.
When he returned to the room, Hideo opened the screen of the laptop Wilco apparently made herself. He waited a while. As nothing happened, he thought he would just go to sleep when Wilco’s face popped up.
‘… You’re still awake, master?’
“There was a little something. I wanted to tell you.”
To that point. Up to that very point, he had gone over everything he’d seen and heard in this underground… and there was one thing that bothered him. Digging deeper into it, even more things he couldn’t accept.
On one hand, he said a country of demons. On another, he spoke of True Demon Restoration. It was for that reason he would use the dark god to lend him military might. They armed themselves. Michelle and Zazi. That alarm…
‘Um, master… you keep speaking out bits and pieces, Wilco can’t take too many leaps of logic.’
Well, she was right. Even he didn’t fully understand what that connected to. However… if they ever really did meet an evil god who didn’t remain in record, who possessed an unknown amount of power, who no one knew how to fight.
“… At that time. Eat me.”
‘… What are you, Anpanman?’
Perhaps the dark god wasn’t too strong. Wilco was the most knowledgeable one here. It was more accurate to say she had the most knowledge stored up. And she was the only one capable of unifying that information. She could take in and process immense amounts of information to derive their means to fight.
“In that sense. If it happens. Don’t worry about my soul or lifespan.”
‘… But. We’re escaping tomorrow so that doesn’t happen, aren’t we?’
Hideo nodded in no time at all.
‘Nihaha. Well that takes a load off her mind. Then Wilco promises you. On the million-to-one chance it comes to that, Wilco will have absolutely no reservations feasting down on her master’s energy.’
That was his partner for him. It was somewhat reassuring.
‘Then let’s get some rest, master. See you tomorrow.’
“Yeah, see you tomorrow.”
The same casual greeting He found himself even thankful for that.
The power turned off on its own.
Hideo burrowed into the bed.
It had been a long yet short month since he was sent down here.
But there was no time to seriously mull over it now. Ironically, he would never have found his answer if he hadn’t cornered Alhazan to this extent. So his time hadn’t been wasted, not by any means.
The sky he would see tomorrow would be the more beautiful blue sky of his life. He would stare at a sunset he’d never forget as long as he was alive.
Yeah, that was enough. That was all.
The sun surpassed the southern sky.
One in the afternoon.
From early in the morning, the seats had been filled with the droves of people who couldn’t wait for the match to begin. For those who lived in the city, they had grown completely accustomed to the usual uniform. Usual gestures of Kirishima Lena who walked to the center of the stadium in her tuxedo and offered a cordial bow. That bow was just a little deeper, ever so slightly longer than usual.
She gently raised his face.
It was a quiet voice she started out with.
‘Among three thousand two hundred and twenty-four participants. One thousand five hundred and twelve pairs in total. Over the course of more than two months, any and all sorts of matches have unfolded.’
She took a sweeping look around.
‘And for what?’
She took a breath. She stuck up one index finger.
‘For one reason and one reason alone! To decide who will stand on the summit today!!’
The crowd gushed forth with cheers, a backlash to the silence.
‘The aspirations of victory so many of us held that day the tournament began, now which pair will truly lay hands upon it!?’
The velvet sheet over the pedestal beside her was torn away in one breath. A single crystal glass in an acrylic case. The crowd was astir again.
‘This tournament’s namesake, Regalia, the Sacred Demon Cup. Now who will be the one to fill it with the wine of victory!? Who will win the laurels of the next Sacred Demon Lord and govern the world!?’
Her exaggerated arm gestures extended to the east.
‘Unyielding, never giving in, with courage in their hearts, who wore the label of the strongest as their own: Will it be the former hero, and the Spirit of Sacred Silver granting him her blessings!? Hasebe Shouki and Elize Mithrilite…!!’
Wearing blue top and bottom, the man clad sturdy protectors over his vital points. Meanwhile, the girl wore an elegant, formal dress. The forms of a hero and a spirit that could only be seen today rose the audience’s voltage in one fell swoop.
Her brandished hand swung right to the west.
‘His competition is the current Sacred Demon Lord and head of the round table! Will she be able to hold onto her throne!? Nagoyakawa Suzuran and Meeko…!!’
Suzuran wore a tidy white outfit accented by the black gauntlet on her right hand, while Meeko appeared in a dazzling kimono inlaid with gold thread.
Both sides walked forth, confronting one another with Lena and the grail smack dab between them.
Shouki was the first to speak.
“… A beautiful grail. Is that the Sacred Demon Cup?”
“It’s apparently filled with an inexhaustible power. Everyone at the round table, everyone in heaven, all the gods who haven’t fallen yet… everyone worked together to make it. The symbol of peace.”
“It looks a little fleeting for that.”
“Oh no, it really is fleeting. It may conceal inexhaustibly power, but it’s so fragile it’ll shatter the moment it hits the ground.”
“Say what…? Is something like that really a Regalia?”
“It’s a symbol of peace, I tell you.”
“While you’re basking in them, you might forget, but the fun times and happy times… will disappear with just the slightest touch of sadness. To make sure it’s never forgotten. And for the next Sacred Demon Lord and the one after that to never forget. If a large war breaks out with people scrambling to snatch this holy grail away… it’ll break before any sadness can come from its power. So a peaceful, enjoyable world will continue forever.”
Shouki sneered bitterly back at Suzuran’s serene smile.
“So it’s all about fun, huh. How very Nagoyakawa-like.”
“Yes. I happen to love fun things.”
The Sacred Demon Lord took a breath.
“… Come to think of it, this is the first time I’ll be fighting you directly.”
“Yeah, I’ve been looking forward to it. I’ll be fighting who technically holds the title of Demon Lord. That was my one regret, what I could never accomplish in my active days.”
Suzuran’s lips curled into a mischievous grin no different than it had been so long ago. Shouki shifted his eyes right to Meeko.
“No holding back.”
“You shall be using the Black Blade?”
“Yeah. I will.”
“… Is the young god beside you ready?”
To Meeko’s gentle smile, Elize nodded with a belligerent smirk of her own.
“Why thank you, princess. I feel honored for you to call me that. And I am she who shall grant a shield and sword to the hero that desires it. I shall cut through everything and defend from all.”
A complete change, the glutton demon gazed with fearsome delight.
“… Very well. You would do well not to forget those words.”
Their conversation reached the stadium through the microphone Lena held out. The audience had already forgotten their cheers, they swallowed their spit at the unnatural spirit both sides emitted before the onset.
At the end of the end, this match alone would be decided differently from any match before it. This could become a serious deathmatch, with every other team eliminated a murderer could no longer lose by default. They would go for the kill, and everyone could only hope both sides would come out alive.
‘Well then… one last confirmation. Are you sure you want to hold this match under the basic rule?’
Lena gulped before asking, only to receive a joint nod from Suzuran and Shouki.
A staff member carted away the Sacred Demon Cup pedestal. Lena also took a few steps from the confronting competitors and held her hand high.
This would be the last time.
‘Final round of the Sacred Demon Cup!! Ahouki and Elize VS Suzuran and Meeko! … Let the match commence!!’
‘The final match has begun!’
Akane immediately lit the fuse. The wind pressure from the blast wave distorted all surrounding scenery.
“… Did you do it!?”
“Just trust me! My bombs are always perfect!”
Just as Akane defiantly stated, the rock face where explosives were closely packed blew open holes in ten-odd places, crumbling the entire wall down in a tidy arch. This was thanks to the colonel, who had dealt with explosives in his active days, accurately setting them.
He barked out.
“What about the mine!?”
‘The fourth mining lot has just penetrated into the city second floor! No problem!’
“And the elevator!?”
At the Colonel’s call, Javan kept his scan aimed upwards in the left-open shaft as he answered.
“They haven’t noti… no, the power just flipped on! Here they come!”
“Alright, all green! Go, go, go!!”
The colonel spun his arms in circles as the party rounded the hole one at a time.
‘Well then master, we’ll part ways for now! Let’s meet again on the surface! Take care!’
“Yeah. You be careful. Too.”
Wilco’s voice disappeared from the rucksack on his back. Hideo and Javan exited into the limestone cavern at the back of the line, and the Colonel followed as the rear guard.
“Our goal is to draw their attention! If it comes down to it, fight them flashily as you retreat! Don’t drop your guard!”
They plunged through the labyrinth. Verrocchia and Hannibal at the front kicked aside any monster that appeared like bulldozers as they made a straight shot for the stairs. The sound of Alhazan clamoring out of the elevator came right at the moment Hideo’s foot hit the steps.
The Colonel yelled out.
“Don’t turn around yet! Don’t rest those feet! You may hear gunshots, but they won’t hit easily as long as you’re on the move! Charge straight for Reily’s rally point!!”
Why was he suddenly so merry as if he was a different person? He was usually so composed, taking a farsighted view suited to his age, yet now the colonel was racing forth so brimming with life he was unrecognizable.
“… Is this. Fun?”
Hideo asked as he ran.
“You’re not having fun, Hideo?”
A smile like the night he called himself the Blood Fields. Hideo offered two words.
His rising mustache gave way to his glimmering teeth. Each and every one of them was serious can be, yet smiles danced on their mouths. To hold a match. To win. To run to victory, to think that alone would be so enjoyable.
It started out as a small scuffle to test the waters.
Behind the stage. To Lena who had temporarily taken refuge, raced Linus, a cellphone in one hand, a ghastly look on his face.
Instead of hearing whatever he had to say in his distraught state, Lena snatched the phone away.
“Hello. What happened?”
‘Is it Lena!? Just when I thought they were being strangely obedient, they finally did it! It’s a breakout!’
Linus took half a step back as Lena’s expression flared up and then doused itself.
‘The ones below! I’m headed there now…!’
“Is the elevator alright?”
‘What are you worried about!? I’m on it…’
“If it’s alright, then they’re a diversion.”
Hah, his sudden realization made it across the phone.
‘… Say what?’
“While you’re baited in, gullibly making your way down, they’ll render the elevator inoperable. And once you can’t return, next the ones up top will escape.”
‘But how? Sure the ones up top may have felt a vibration… but I highly doubt that would be enough for them to notice an escape.’
The hostages each had their locations concealed from the other with no forms of contact precisely to keep that from happening.
“The reason doesn’t matter, just consider the worst case scenario. Even if that isn’t the case, secure the top and the bottom can’t move. That’s why we have hostages in the first place, don’t get the order wrong.”
‘… Got it. But we can’t just let the bottom ones roam free either. I doubt they’ve noticed the underground structure yet, but…’
Lena’s eyes sharpened, she bit the nail on her right hand.
“… I wonder. The mining operation in the nature district. We never stopped to consider it.”
‘Elize Industrial!? No way, are they using the fourth mining lot crater…!?’
“Instead of going underground, send your men around that way. There are no signs of excavation in the other areas, of that isn’t the case, they’ll have to make their way up one floor at a time. If I’m wrong, just set an ambush in the building.”
‘Got it, I’ll get back to you…!’
The call cut off to the sound of racing feet. Without even taking a breath, Lena returned the phone to Linus with quiet eyes. Tap. Tap. Tap. The tips of her toes were beginning to sound, just as they had back then.
“Mn? What is it, Linus. Hurry and contact Papa. Ask if there’s anything we can do. That’s what I’m thinking about right now.”
Still gazing at the match, she looked like she was sinking deep, so very deep into thought; yet there was no lag in her replies, her tone of voice was normal. Her orders were precise. Linus cowered at the woman he saw as even more menacing than Archess in a sense.
“Y-yes! Right away…!”
Archess was casually munching on popcorn in an inconspicuous seat in the stadium.
Zazi was the one who answered the phone.
“Howdy. It’s me… mn? Hmm… that so. Yeah, got it.”
His expression unchanging, he passed the baton right to Archess. He accepted the popcorn in its place.
“Yes, hello, you’ve reached Barchess. May I know who’s speaking…”
As expected, a shadow immediately fell over his face. He looked down, he suppressed the bridge of his glasses. This was something of a habit when he was thinking seriously.
“… Now that is troubling… yes… yes. No, I’m certain her judgment was correct. That’s what they’d do eight out of ten times. Please send some more people around to Gabès. The Blood Fields would never move with no hopes of victory. Give Michelle some too…”
He spoke with the ease of idle gossip, but relayed precise orders. With only two or three pieces played, he read the opponent’s intent and detailed the appropriate measures to cope.
With the call over, the popcorn had phone changed hands again.
“… You really don’t change your expression, Zazi.”
“But I’m not brazen enough to keep eating my popcorn after hearing that. Where do you want me, pops?”
“It will be harsh for Gabès on his own. You go help out. I have this many people around me, I don’t need your worry.”
He said as he indicated the ten-odd people around him playing the part of audience members. While they had been participants, and they had been defeated, they were all Alhazan members who excelled in combat. Both male and female, they were demons, they humans they other races like Michelle here and there. It was often called a demon organization, but the children he picked up were not restricted to that definition.
“… Got it. Well’n I’ll be off.”
“Take care. They’re all strong.”
“I know. They were in that crazy place covering for a shut-in the whole time, yet not a single one’a them’s been done in. I’m amazed myself.”
Archess lonesomely smiled.
“Is this really alright? You’re the only one who knows everything…”
“It’s fine. Yer right. People like sis, people like me. We really shouldn’t be here.”
With a wave of his hand behind him, Zazi took his leave.
‘Master and the others are already on their way to the exit…!’
Ratzelica shifted her eyes at Wilco’s voice from the PlayStation Portable.
“How is it…!?”
“… No good. They’re not moving.”
Old man shook his head with a peek at the stairs. But before long.
“Mm…? We did it, just as planned! They went off somewhere!”
Holding everyone back with her palm, the sole demon among them, Ratzelica calmly walked out into the corridor. She had no combat capabilities, but the fact she was a demon made her more resistant to damage than the others. She checked right, she checked left. Not a soul on the stairs or in front of the elevator. No sense of anyone hidden.
She immediately beckoned towards the room.
“Now, run to the elevator!”
They started up at once. They reached. With all their momentum, they pressed against the elevator call button with their fists.
There were two large reasons this group chose to use the elevator rather than go on foot. First was the fact that this was the seventy-eighth floor, and it would take far too long to get down by the stairs. On the off-chance they ran into combatants, it would be difficult for their side lacking in combat abilities to oppose them. The other reason, their advantage that the underground prisoners were already free. Worse comes to worst, even if they were captured, in order to preserve their fundamental value as hostages, the possibility of them being fatally wounded was far lower.
As she hacked into the entrance hall’s surveillance cameras, Wilco cried out.
‘Please wait! Michelle’s ready for us in the lobby..!’
Ratzelica grit her teeth. In which case, they hadn’t fallen for the diversion. They had presumably seen through it, and that was precisely why they were playing pretend as they waited to ambush.
In a hallway like the one they were in, as long as they could form a bottleneck, it didn’t matter how many fighters Alhazan had, it would be possible to take them down one by one. But in an open encampment like a hall, they were at an overwhelming disadvantage. The moment they got down, they’d all be held up together. It would be a literal U-turn before they even got off the elevator.
They would be trapped rats if Wilco weren’t here, but they couldn’t just stand and dawdle like this. If they didn’t gain their freedom here, they would end up as the shackles for those below.
While that was going on, the empty elevator arrived. Ratzelica turned to the rest with a resolved look on her face.
“Is everyone here confident in their physical abilities?”
In the atrium hall, their members were fanned out in front of the elevators on the first and second floor. Gazing at the number display steadily crawling down on the panel above door, Michelle grinned a cat’s grin.
“They sure invent some convenient devices. Fill it with shyock rounds the moment the door opens.”
Michelle stood in the center of the lobby, where she could see both floors. Her voice had everyone in black suits pull the levers to load their gun.
The elevator passed through the tenth floor. Over ten silenced submachine guns locked on.
The light for the fifth floor lit up.
The floor it stopped on was…
“The second floor, fire!”
The characteristical harmony sounds of silenced guns rang out in chorus, only to be overtaken by the explosive sounds of shock rounds bursting in the hall. The pale-blue fiery bursts lit through the dimly lit hall. Everyone was at the stadium, they were surely engrossed in the final round. A minor rampage could be covered up.
And it didn’t take long at all for those on the second-floor corridor to empty a magazine.
“!? T-there not here! It’s empty!”
Perhaps it wouldn’t have been the case if they were using shock BB pellets, but with so many shock bullets fired at once, the light had become too blinding to see.
“The maintenance hatch is opening!? Where does that lead…”
On Ratzelica’s command, the door to the emergency stairwell was kicked in as Johnny and Rocky sprung out.
When there were no signs of the elevator stopping on any other floor, this hadn’t been a fake out, they really did come down. They were flanked, the black suits had just run out of bullets and were sufficiently flustered.
That was Ratzelica’s plan. While the elevator was dropping, she would have everyone get on top from the maintenance hatch. When they approached the ground floor, Wilco forcefully opened the door to a higher floor where they humped off in turn and raced down the stairs at full force.
With the military dog biting on as fierce as a tiger, one of them fell into a panic. Johnny used his momentum to land a jump kick into him.
“Heh, I ain’t gonna lose in a fist fight!!”
With light movements accustomed to battle, he had struck down two, three men desperately changing out their magazines in the blink of an eye.
“Don’t get cocky!”
Said one as he cast aside his machine gun and pulled a sword.
“Now that’s dangerous!”
Ash in his armor overtook him and put his body on the line to cover Johnny’s back. The dark gray dull steel easily repelled the blade.
“Have at you!!”
Old man sprayed the fire extinguisher he had picked up along the emergency stairs as a smoke screen.
“Hehehe, we have arrived…!”
And this time Sandelmain, with the speed and leg strength of a phantom jumped in. With the tip of his cane, he wildly struck their vitals at lightning speed, sending them collapsing left and right. By that time, the reinforcements were already arriving from the floor below.
A single Kobayashi boldly blocked them at the stairs. He slowly lifted up the cardboard box at his feet.
The pursuer’s feet stopped at the unknown lifeform that appeared from within.
“Blast! And wait, Kobayashi, what have you done with my camouflage…!”
Kobayashi flashed a small fearless smile.
“This building has already been infiltrated by the Martians!!”
“I c@n fly TaokaP Attack!!”
With unexpectedly elegant movements, Taoka dived at them from atop the railing. Overpowered by Smoke’s form and Kobayashi’s reckless intensity, the black suits on the stairs were all toppled over like dominos.
“Good job, Taoka! You jump like the reincarnation of a skyfish…!!”
“But of course. If you wish to raise an idol, you must step and jump on their level. Though I’m no match for someone who can overpower enemies with words alone. Kobayashi.”
The two lifted their glasses and, Clack! They exchanged a firm handshake.
Finally, the old man knocked one’s head with the fire extinguisher and took a breath.
“Hm, that was some splendid coordination for no prior discussion.”
“Heehee. I may look like this, but back in the day, I made quite the name for myself in fencing… though if the young master were here, he’d say I’m old water under the bridge.”
Ash shook his helmet to a humbling Sandelmain.
“Perish the thought, that was a splendid show. I could only prove useful thanks to the armor the master made. I feel a chill when I consider where I’d be with normal armor.”
Johnny chimed in.
“But moving like that wearing that heavy old thing, you really are a guard… thanks for that, Ash. I did a bit of boxing so I got in over my head.”
(T… they’re strong…)
Alhazan as well, but Ratzelica who didn’t even have time to lift a finger was the most surprised at all. She had nowhere to swing down the mop she had raised overhead.
Wilco quietly whispered to her.
‘… Ratty, do you actually have some hidden setting of being a master of some martial art?’
“I don’t… I’m just a weak little operator. What do you think the mop is for?”
And they finally reached the first floor.
Only a few people left before the Centralle Building door, the final door that symbolized freedom. The momentum of this party freed from a long depression was overpowering. Ratzelica spoke out to Michelle who stood at the lead.
“Now let us through!”
“Lyord Archess really is amazing. You fell fyor it hook, line, and sinker.”
Ratzelica’s question was answered by the clap of her hands. From the receptionist waiting room. From the emergency stairs doors they had just passed through. From the entrance to the labyrinth.
Several times the number they had taken down in front of the elevator now surrounded them. Above the atrium, from the second-floor stairs, several dozen readied their guns in a cluster.
“Ah… the diversion failed…!?”
“Unfortunately, you’ve got it all wryong. Even greater numbers are headed off to the mine those underground folks are running to.”
This was a miscalculation. The sole tidbit of information they had no way to calculate. The number of personnel Alhazan possessed was far greater than anticipated…
“Before you do anything funny, these ones are lyoaded with real bullets. You’ll die if they hit.”
Meaning, the pieces that were just taken down were the other side’s diversion. By getting their side carried away and negligent, they had the main force surround them on the first floor.
“Heh, now that we’ve come this far, it’s all or nothing! Let’s give it to them, sister!”
“Hm, it is a risky bet, but the exit is right there…!”
Johnny and the Old Man showed their fervor, but…
“Dyo what you want.”
Surprisingly enough, Michelle was all smiles as she nodded the affirmative.
“We wyon’t stop those who want to die. If you all want to give it a gyo, we can just tell those belyow we have you all captured. It’s not like they have the means to check.”
Michelle’s eyes turned to the merciless ones of a predator aiming for its prey.
“What’s syo hyoribble, it’s just a matter of going back! Or do you want to die!? If we rip an arm off one of your cyorpses and show them, they’ll start listening to what we’ve got to say… a welcome gift, to be honest.”
Her voice and her eyes were serious. With her dread as if she had awakened to a werecat, a cat’s cruelty and brutality, it was now her turn to put pressure on them.
(We’ve come this far…!)
They would have been far better off if the exit wasn’t right before them. It made them grow lax. Ah, what a stupid blunder. Ratzelica’s negligence made her want to bite her bellybutton.
‘… They’re coming!’
‘Everyone get down on three…!’
Wilco whispered so her comrades could just barely hear it.
“What are you whispering about? If you dyon’t turn right around in three seconds…”
‘One, two… three!’
Not knowing what was going on, everyone threw their bodies onto the floor.
A number of pick up trucks with guns loaded on the back plunged into the entrance hall in a horizontal line.
“Wyaa… what are…!?”
From the loading tray, Takase wiped away the glass fragments raining down on him; with a vicious smile baring his canines, he drew his pistol.
“We’re an evil organization!!”
Just like Takase, Clarica swung around her MG 42 with a fine crazed smile on her face.
“To all you bad, baaad demons! It’s what you’ve been waiting for, it’s hunting time!!”
“Oh god, it’s Sister Clarica!”
“The Inquisition second division!!”
There were those who cowered just by the sight of her, the sound of her voice, all the while, all the arms racks began the bombardment of their shock-grenade guns. It didn’t matter whether they hit or not. These grenades would knock one off their feet as long as they were within a ten-meter radius, and they were scattered at everything in sight.
Further behind them, a single young girl raced in brandishing her metal bat like a sword.
“My Mizuno is actually always thirsting floor blood. Now, the time has come to open the caldera of hell.”
The Obliterating Industries employees surged in with Ripple-Rapple at the lead. The masks and maids pushed, pushed and pushed like the footsoldiers they were until they had begun gaining control of the hall.
“Nyo way!? Dyon’t tell Obliterating Industries got tipped…!”
With the flexibility of a cat and the movements of a ninja, Michelle leaped to the atrium’s upper floor.
“Nyan. You got that right.”
When she turned, a girl dressed in black, a feathered cap on her head.
“Nyah, you’re demon VZ! None of us cat folk forgive you for stealing our nya!”
“That’s your problem?”
VZ played dumb. Michelle’s tail swelled up like a tube-cleaning brush as she took a swipe with the five claws of her right hand. What could simply sever a normal iron plate, yet VZ somehow caught it with such a long, slender sword.
“No good. No good at all. Too, too soft. You do it like this, see? … One becomes…!”
She held up her sword.
“Sixty four should do it!”
Michelle jumped back and dodged with less than a hair’s breadth to spare. Once she had wiped her sweat and turned, one of the main pillars supporting a building of this time had been torn to shreds, crumbling apart. By that time, everyone surrounding Ratzelica’s group had been done in and the masks on foot were off chasing after the staff who had fled further in.
VZ’s sword was pressed against her nape without a sound.
“… Wanna die?”
“I-I’d rather nyot… I surrender…”
Her ears and tail were drooping, so VZ turned her wrist to deliver a single strike of the hilt to her forehead. She knocked Michelle out. And letting her mantle flutter, she lightly landed in the lobby.
Two close friends, embracing each other, confirming the other was alright.
“I wanted to see you~. I’m not letting you go tonight~.”
“You’re causing misunderstandings, leave it there VZ.”
“Hey, is this everyone? Is everyone okay?”
Clarica walked over as she hammered shock rounds into the head of a black suit who twitched. Ratzelica looked over everyone clearing off the dust.
“Rocky, Old Man, Johnny, Ash, Sandelmain, Kobayashi, Taoka, Arida Mikan box…”
She counted on her fingers. Seven plus box. And herself.
“We’re all here.”
“What’s that supposta mean? A box?”
Putting all that aside. The Obliterating Industries’ employees roped up the unconscious black suits and carted them away. It was a mystery what hospital they would be taken to.
“All that’s left… is for Hideo and the others to reach ground safelty.”
Ratzelica gripped her fist in front of her chest with a prayer.
“Kuh kuh kuh, that was a bit of fun!”
Takase swung his pistol as he laughed energetically from the loading tray.
“Alright, let’s pick up the pace! We’re raiding Elize Industrial’s fourth mining lot… ahem! I mean, we’re going to save the underground escapees!”
Ripple-Rapple nodded twice.
“It’s perfectly normal for a mine or two to collapse from a flashy firefight. Now, the party has only just begun.”
Ratzelica sighed with her hand still to her chest. A prayer was a prayer, but she was getting the urge to pray for something else.
They raced through the Labyrinth.
“This way, hurry!!”
He could see it. At the passage’s dead end, a light streaming into the dark. Under a single streak of sunlight, the beret-toting captain of Elize’s private army, Reily was waving his hands. He jumped over the simple barricade of stacked sandbags.
“Looks like our situations are reversed from Camdania, Colonel Redfield.”
Reily thrust an assault rifle into the hands of the colonel as he jumped behind the sandbags. He accepted it and loaded the first round with well-practiced hands.
“Then we’re even!”
Gray, Akane, Remina, the lightest members climbed the rope first. An unstable rope ladder would sway irregularly with too many people climbing, slowing down those who weren’t accustomed. It was irritating they could only climb one at a time.
A member of the private army was poised with a mithril shield, repelling the gunfire aimed at those escaping, one of them scattered shock bullet support fire from the light machine gun resting on the sandbags. If they wanted to kill, real bullets would be best, but to push someone back, these items that caused small explosions were second to none.
“Next person, come on!!”
Minako cried once she’d cleared it.
Reily said, and the colonel answered as he returned fire from the barricade.
“You go, Hideo!”
He reached his hand for it with no hesitation.
Return alive. He would enact what he’d decided.
Towards the bright exit, he crawled up, seeing himself in this endeavor. Not impatiently, but quickly.
He never thought he could return.
No, he never thought there was any place left to him.
He was supposed to have given up on living at all.
But here he was.
He was delighted.
He would never forget.
To embark on a goal at the reach it.
Like he would ever forget this feeling twice.
As Minako and the soldiers pulled him the last inch, he rolled onto the ground. He exhaled a deep breath, finally free from all the running.
Warm. This wasn’t cold bedrock.
This was ground that had sucked in its fill of the sunlight. Where the scorched scent didn’t find its way, air seeped in the clear fragrance of the forest’s breath. As he looked up, his eyes blotted in tears at the radiant sunlight streaming in through the gaps in the clouds.
He had returned.
Victory meant returning with everyone.
Hideo immediately stood and turned. The colonel climbed up. Javan climbed up. Victory was right upon them.
“Good grief, not too many of them, but this is a real bother… it’s just like Cross Flags.”
Reily muttered. There was a fine balance to offense and defense. The more that cleared to the surface, the fewer hands there were to attack and hold them back.
“Go up… first…”
“My body’s… like this. And…”
Hannibal was already using his large frame to repel bullets in place of a shield. In his case, even at the end of the end, he would be able to climb completely ignoring enemy attacks. This wasn’t a drama or a movie. A professional simple made a decision based on the circumstance and issued the orders.
“Alright, Joey, Arnold, get going! His two supporting subordinates nimbly climbed their way up in the blink of an eye. Reily turned to a remaining Verrocchia.
“What about you?”
“Oh, yes, I’m fine. I’m a vampyre you see.”
“Va… well, if you say so. You mean you’ll shrug off anything short of a silver bullet?”
Obviously, his sneer seemed to indicate.
“Such a weak bullet won’t pierce Hannibal’s armor.”
“You heard… him…”
“Got it, then I’ll take you up on that offer.”
Right after Reily was up the rope like a trained sprinter, keeping up his restraint fire all the way.
“… What could… that be…?”
Hannibal asked. A new addition to the enemy lineup stood straight before them without so much as a gun. They began muttering something in the gap the bullets had left as the palms of their brandished hands filled with light. The air lifted as the flow of mana began to swirl.
Verrocchia sensed and jumped in front of Hannibal for the first time. The bolt of light the opponent shot hit him directly and dispersed.
Reily was shot up, spat out by the burst of wind from below. While his men raced towards him, Hideo’s group gathered around the hole.
The colonel shouted to no reply.
Their two forms were out of sight from the hole. Was the rush-job to blame, or had the blast been too strong? The pit collapsed, sealing off their path.
“Answer me!! Can you hear!?”
Thoughts of despair crossed his mind, which Hideo strongly shook his head to clear.
There was no way that was it. Their voices just weren’t reaching. Neither their voices, nor the ones on the other side. It wasn’t that they could hear but were incapable of responding.
“No way… come so far…!”
Taken in by Minako’s scream-tinted voice, Akane was moved to tears.
Hideo said in a strong voice.
“We’ll meet again. Soon. We’ll meet. On the surface. There’s no reason to cry. You can’t just tell yourself… they’re dead.”
Hideo expressed the very words he was using to convinced himself. He was irritated. Irritated at himself for feeling relief for even an instant that he had made it to the surface.
“… Hideo’s right.”
Koushirou said. While the expression under his helmet was unclear, his voice was mixed in with contained anger and sorrow.
“They’re the strongest among us. They’re not going to die to something so trifling…!”
Hideo and Koushirou, their two words had the rest nod…
“Don’t kill us off, you simpletons.”
They turned to Verrocchia’s sudden voice. He was covering his head with his mantle, shielding it from the sun. His lower body was still a mist seeping out of the cracks in the rock.
“Do you know what it means to be undying? Neither Hannibal nor I will die to something of their level.”
But the noble’s white porcelain skin was almost like earthen clay. His eyes had lost their usual haughty air. He was feigning composure…
“More to point, such strong sunlight is irksome. Hannibal and I shall block the pursuers from below. Press on with ease.”
Reily held his injured shoulder as he spoke.
“We have a car prepared. Go. If you loiter and let the enemy get here, you’re trapped rats.”
“… Hmph, looks like that human knows his place. Heed his word, don’t turn around.”
“Got it, they’re all yours!”
The colonel nodded.
“Alright, everyone hop in!”
The open-air mine had completely changed from the last time he saw it; a path had been carved for heavy machinery to pass up and down. They hopped aboard a canopied truck one of Reily’s men had already started up, the soldiers riding separately. They raced up the spiral of the mine.
The gunshots came just as the end slope leveled out. The driver immediately turned.
“Damn, they were waiting for us!”
He made the right choice, not bringing them to a sudden stop. But by showing their flanks, the tires were unluckily shot through.
“Don’t freeze up! Spread out!”
A voice called just as they had jumped out from the car’s body.
“Cease this pointless resistance. Give up and turn yourselves in.”
Heavy machinery on the right side, a prefab office and living quarters to the left. Smack dab down the center, Alzahan’s members blocked their path to the forest. Gabès stood at the lead of those taking their positions with their guns, swords and magic at the ready. As they had been moving so as not to set off any alarms, Elize Industrial had only left ten-odd men on this position. The other side had roughly fifty.
“Or perhaps… you won’t understand unless we kill your comrades who botched their attempted escape?”
A fluster raced through the group.
All excluding Hideo, who played it off with silence. From this point, the camp, the office, there had to be reception somewhere.
“… Wilco, can you hear me?”
He asked the laptop on his back.
‘Yes, master. He’s bluffing. Everyone’s partners have safely escaped… an Obliterating Industries unit is headed this way!’
It was too early for anyone to rejoice.
But with that fact as a large backing, they could find the resolve to fight.
“… So there’s no longer any need to show restraint.”
The colonel carried out the light machine gun that had been loaded on the truck and loaded a sash of shells. Koushirou drew his sword in his right hand, his blaster in his right.
“It won’t be cool if Verrocchia and Hannibal come out… to see us done in.”
“That is correct. Leave the defense to me.”
As the Gray set his terminal to shield mode, Akane and Remina nodded.
“Right, right, it’s just the usual…!”
“Yes. No different from what we’ve done every day. It just so happens…”
Today, they just happened to be up against foes far weaker than the monsters…!!
Gabès grit his teeth as he saw his opponents close down negotiations to promptly ready themselves for a do-or-die resistance, an unwavering glint in their eyes.
“Then have it your way… if you shall not obey, the order was to shoot you dead!! Have at them!!”
At his order, a mixed rain of lead and magic came down upon them. As they hid behind the Gray’s shield and various pieces of machinery and materials, they happily returned fire. The shoot out had begun.
The final round.
Both sides had gained heat from their initial small exchanges.
The stadium that was supposed to be surging had fallen to silence.
Suzuran’s beloved M16 was just about out of bullets.
A pitch-black longsword pounded down from above.
Unable to get away in time, Suzuran caught it with her gauntlet and parried it to the side. The hero was closed in from the side to be struck by Meeko’s slender hammer, ‘That Which Tolls the Bell of Destruction’.
A single large shield where Elize swung her hand. While it was pulverized without a trace remaining, the hero it was meant to protect got off without a scratch. A moment later, a dagger extended from Suzuran’s gauntlet sewed its way through his armor with the speed of a quick punch, ripping through his flesh. In the same breath with which he used to avoid a fatal blow, Shouki breached her guard and kicked her back with an even heavier blow, sending her flying.
He didn’t leave any time before his follow-up attack.
Suzuran spun back with her momentum, a ray of pure white scorching lightly into her back, she parried Shouki’s sword again as she rose to her feet.
The crimson ball of flames emitted from Suzuran’s palm nailed Shouki with the momentum of a fastball. The heat and the impact, it was now his turn to fly. Her turn to pursue. She rushed forth, with a swing, a magnificent blade extended from her gauntlet and was lowered. Shouki found his ground and held it back with his blade.
“How was it, Hasebe-senpai? A little surprise. I actually learned some magic.”
While Suzuran scoffed, Suzuran’s voice was so straightforward it could be called tactless.
“And do you understand why your little surprise failed? Nagoyakawa?”
“Hmm… I would love to hear the opinion of a former hero.”
Their swords unlocked, they crossed a second time, then a third.
“What you’re doing there is just play pretend. It’s magic you can only use as a surprise attack, a second-hand parlor trick. When you were living with Obliterating Industries and the outers around you… I can’t really blame you.”
“That’s right. I have the greatest comrades! In order to build a strong organization, and for the sake of my strong friends, I’ve become strong!!”
He teeth sparkled in her smile.
She cried out as she stepped back.
She lowered her two hands from the heaven to the earth, and as a straight extension of that motion, this time blue flames burst from the earth.
Shouki opened his eyes in surprise, instinctively determining he had no time to dodge, he deployed a magic shield. Elize’s shield also immediately materialized.
But what Suzuran used was no ordinary magic. It was a technique passed down through what was called a Godslayer House. It easily eroded the simple barrier he put up at a moment’s notice, and even mithril away. The outputs offset each other. But with just the excess waves it gave off, the armor Shoukis war, his arms he held out for the shield, half his upper body was burned through.
“Ww… I’m fine, Elize. No problem.”
“No problem? You’re… that…”
His wounds were so heavy, a normal person could understandably die of shock. Some parts had even carbonized.
“Hasebe-senpai. Will you call that a game too? Am I wrong? If we continue, it really won’t be a game anymore…!”
Both sides were already breathing heavily.
The gaze of the hero challenging her didn’t decline.
There was no clouding of the Sacred Demon Lord’s ghastly smile.
“Don’t get in over your head, Nagoyakawa. Elize and I haven’t given up yet.”
He opened and closed his scorched fingers, confirmed he could still grip his hilt, and took his stance again as if nothing had happened at all.
“Don’t think everything will go your way. Just because you’re the Sacred Demon Lord. Just because you’ve got the round table, don’t let it get to your head. You’re standing here as Nagoyakawa Suzuran, a single human.”
Suzuran completely changed on those words.
Expressionless to an uncanny extent, she pulled her Barretta from her bosom.
She set her aim straight.
“… I never did like it.”
A dry gunshot. A cut down Shouki’s cheek. His hair was scattered, his ear torn.
Everyone watching swallowed their breath. That wasn’t a shock bullet. It had to be real.
Suzuran had pulled the trigger knowing that. And even upon learning that, Shouki didn’t falter.
“… Everyone in Obliterating Industries, the Outers, the Heavens! When they all recognize me as the Sacred Demon Lord, you alone are always just Hasebe-senpai! Always, always acting like you’re above me!! Acting so self-righteous!! Denying me!! Getting in my way!!”
She unloaded the pistol successively.
A number of shots ricocheted off of his protectors, but just as many ate right into his flesh.
“It was to prove to everyone here that I was the Sacred Demon Lord. It was to concede my throne had there been any more worthy than I. I gathered each and every race in a place they had no choice but to recognize me…”
She dropped her magazine on the spot and slammed a new one in.
“… But now that I’ve made it this far, it doesn’t matter anymore! You’re the only one left! Now that we’re fighting, I think I finally understand! By having you recognize me! By having you obey me! Only then will I really be the Sacred Demon Lord!! Before the world, before anyone from any race… I’ll get you on your knees!!’
“Just you try it. You got strong for your comrades. You strengthened the organization called the Sacred Demon Lord party. Then isn’t that enough?”
At that moment, Shouki smiled for the first time A taunting smile of ridicule. Under the shadow of his forehead protector, he opened his eyes so wide they could be seen as sinister.
He brandished his hand.
He hadn’t Suzuran’s spirit. He fired it with the simple ease of raising his hand, and yet what he emitted was several times larger, at a much higher speed.
Suzuran deployed a magic shield, but the orb exploded on contact. The same magic, on a completely different level. The sheer winds sent her body barreling into the air like a stray leaf.
“Your strength is your organization. Your round table. You sit in the center as the unifying force, and that is your greatest power as the lord. But that’s why you will lose. You lost the moment you made a stage to fight me one-on-one! No matter how seriously you thought to tie everyone together, if you’re surrounded by such bigshots, you’d never seriously think to get strong yourself!”
He looked up at his black blade and readied his stance.
“I tried to be strong for none other than myself!!”
As her eyes were spinning and standing was the most we could do, Shouki charged straight at her with a slash.
“Then she shall win with the power of those comrades.”
Meeko appeared to catch the black blade with the shaft of her hammer.
“You’ve changed when I was not looking, Shouki. Suzuran has done her best. She has put in effort, that foolish word you love so much, yet you won’t see her as an enemy? Led on by your selfish justice, have you drowned in your power?”
In their locking of weapons, the Outer pushed him back with an absolute difference in power. The ground opened up at his feet where he stepped. Nozuchis sprung from the earth to swallow him whole. While he swung his sword, that wouldn’t be enough to stop this amount, this momentum.
“Now who’s being selfish here.”
The next instant, sacred silver spears rained down from overhead. The nozuchis writhed out like bugs pinned down for display.
“Is it selfish for someone with power to want to help someone weaker? Is it wrong to seek power for that? I don’t think so. At the very least, I don’t want to hear it from someone who does whatever they want just because it’s ‘fun’.”
Elize lorded over them from the air, brushing a lock of hair from her shoulder.
“In the end, you wouldn’t be able to do a thing if you didn’t get together, you sure you’re not just playing friends?”
Suzuran’s eyes were wide open, like she had taken a blow to the heart; she screamed as she stood. A wall of fire rose perpendicularly with her.
It advanced like a tsunami, sloping forward and falling. Shouki chanted to mow it down.
A white burst before his eyes met with the blue raging flames. They were different in nature. But magics that shared the same time competed. Without any side coming out the victor, the magics synergized, multiplied, and exploded out with greater force than either would have on its own. The hero had enough time to defend himself this time.
Suzuran gulped in disbelief. That was the change, The needles Elize emitted weaved through the stitching of Suzuran’s sacred garment and penetrated into her limbs.
The white fabric dotted with blood. The Sacred Demon Lord was finally on her knees.
“Do you know what this ‘not giving up’ he keeps blurting is all about? Do you know what it really means to have to be strong? He thinks he can lean up all the evil in the world on his own. Isn’t he an idiot? A huge idiot. There’s no telling how many crimes are happening worldwide every second. But he doesn’t give up. Because he’s a massive idiot! He seriously believes it’ll work out as long as he’s strong enough! That’s why he doesn’t give up!! That’s what it means not to give up!!”
Elize spread her two hands. In the air, beautifully glimmering mithril swords, swords, swords, over a hundred swords spread out behind her like she was unfurling her wings.
“When I looked into it, his rejections were all a sham. When they made him offers, he kicked them down, letting himself fall into joblessness knowing how bad that would make him look. He’d train every free second he got, satisfied with the paltry wages I gave him.”
She directed her finger. The countless blades locked in on the Sacred Demon lord and her close vassal.
“Isn’t it wonderful? Do you have any men in your ranks who could lower themselves so for what they believe to be justice, Nagoyakawa Suzuran? Have him kneel? It’s pointless. If it was that easy, Shouki would have cleaned away all the world’s evil by now.”
“… How absurd. He simply does what he wants for self-satisfaction. He is no different from us. It’s not as if there is any good and evil among us. Either you don’t care… or you feel displeased. That is all there is to it.”
Her eyes narrowed. The Nozuchi appeared. A number that couldn’t be contained in the tens or twenties sprung up at once. Only to be cut up and kicked aside starting at the edge.
The hero cried. The edge of the Black Blade that received the single-minded devotion of its user, in accordance with his will carved out sharp uninterrupted lines, slicing through the surging nozuchi. One swipe took down two, three of the giant jaws. Even when struck by their fangs wounded, his flesh shaved away, if ten appeared, ten would be slain, if twenty came, twenty would be mowed down, once a hundred came forth, his guardian spirit lent him a hundred swords and blades to block and pierce them through. He weaved through the gaps of the black giants crumbling away like sand.
“This is why you’ve fallen, god of old.”
One carefully aimed blade pierced through the chest of Meeko, the main body.
“Just have a look at yourself. Calling yourself an outer just to put on a show. You’re no different from a brat who thinks being evil is cool.”
The demon swayed. Her body swayed; in the eyes of the Myriad Series who stood calm and unshaken no matter the day, a dull and cold flame swayed. Her beautiful jet-black hair jumped up in her wrath.
“… That is enough. Playtime is over. Repent with your death.”
“Meeko, you can’t…!?”
A pale Suzuran cried. An immense amount of power concentrated on the hammer in her hands.
A flash. A slash with no sound. With the splendor a master calligrapher could only describe with a true single stroke of the brush, Shouki had swung the Black Blade. There was nothing flashy about it. He hadn’t even let off any excess energy in the form of sound. Every fiber of his being was concentrated into the art of cutting: the slash of the chosen.
That was the true value of the Regalia, the Black Blade.
The mallet was severed, and then another slash. Meeko’s arms that were to lower it slipped down onto the ground from their place overhead. Along with the beautiful sleeves of her Kimono.
The Myriad Series that boasted the title of unmatched.
What could he have done? In the space of one blink?
More swords fell. At the speed of lightning, five, six, seven. They pierced through and stabbed deep into the earth.
“… Does it hurt, god of old? The time where the fallen can speak so highly is over.”
“What… do you… know…”
Even so, she didn’t die. There was no way she could die.
She boiled her resentment.
“You were once a spirit called a god, weren’t you!!?”
Just like Meeko, Elize had snapped.
Several thousand Nozuchi from the ground, tens of thousands towards the sky. Their forms were no longer just pipe worm, they were beasts, they were humans, the forms of the pitch-black shadows the glutton demon had spent her lifetime devouring, grotesque beings not of this world covered the field like the cilia of one’s intestinal tract. Yet the Spirit of Sacred Silver’s swords did pierce them the moment they appeared. She ripped them apart. Crumbled them to pieces. Purified them. The Myriad’s vassals couldn’t be quelled. She threw about her severed limbs, for an innumerable number of pitch-black mouths to grow from their cross section, to eat and eat and leave nothing left in the world.
“Fall!! Fall!! Fall little girl!! Why don’t you fall and suck on the darkness!! Fall into my stomach to be tortured an eternity…!!”
“Quit barking lowlife!!”
A blade pierced at light-like speed. It pulverized the old god’s windpipe.
“There is good!! There is evil!! You all have just thrown it away!! You’ve given up! Is that all you are!! Is that all you can do!!? You trash!! Don’t breath!! Don’t bark!! Don’t speak you sell-out!!”
So many lines upon lines upon lines, the blades descended like an unending meteor shower, scattering their sparkling sheen.
“The humans didn’t throw away their faith!! You tossed them aside so humans stopped believing in you!! Because you all gave up!! That’s why they won’t believe in us anymore!! Isn’t that right!? Answer me!! Answer me, god of old!! Pitiful god who turned her eyes from those she was supposed to lead!! Oh fallen god, answer me!!”
Her cries of lament like an impassioned scream, the voice of a young spirit. The inexhaustible black welling from the ground was beginning to become overpowered by the countless silver flying from the sky.
And eventually… their chaotic dark forms were gone without a trace.
All that remained was a carpet of mithril. Suck into every last inch of ground millions of mithril blades.
“To… to hell with gods… if this is what a god is… I’m fine… as a spirit granting blessings to just a single hero…!”
“… It’s fine, Elize. You’ve done enough.”
Elize had used her full strength, she was out of breath, about to fall to the ground at any second. Shouki lent her his shoulders. The blades that extended as far as the eye could see eventually began to disperse.
And there was Meeko, whose kimono alone was in tatters. Her arms that were supposed to be severed now back to normal. Yet her expression was so fleeting, so lonely.
“… It’s my loss…… I’m sorry… forgive… me……”
She muttered, slowly prostrating her body over the ground.
Suzuran held down her own wounds as she rushed over, embraced her body…
“…… Fufu. I flew into a rage, Suzuran… I was terribly angry… for the first in so long… I’m sorry… I am unable to matcher… I have not the power… nor the words to return……”
Meeko feebly smiled, but Suzuran’s expression turned to relief. She slowly shook her head.
“… No. It’s fine.”
The Sacred Demon Lord turned with a face like she had become unbound from some curse.
“My greatest power… the comrade I believe in has said so… it’s our loss.”
And without a care in the world, a full-face smile she spoke.
“Hasebe-senpai. Elize. Congratulations.”
The Demon Lord and Hero. God and God. The scene that unfolded had every soul forget how to breathe, and even Lena who shouldered such a vital part she couldn’t dare shut her eyes had forgotten her announcer role as she stood stock-still in a daze.
Eventually came the applause.
The first to clap his hands was Archess. The number spread, in no time at all the grand cheers picked up like a whirlwind.
‘T… the victor…! The grand champion of this tournament is the Hasebe Shouki Elize Mithrilite Pair!!’
Lena sent her voice once she’s remembered herself, the congratulatory words burst out around. Vibrant confetti and ribbons danced in the breeze.
To break one’s spirit. To make them recognize you.
A King cannot be a King unrecognized.
Therefore, death could never settle a match, one must win with the opponent alive, continuously making their opponents recognize them. To stand at the very summit at the end was the one and only condition to obtain the seat of Sacred Demon Lord.
The Sacred Demon Cup that had taken over two weeks had now selected a new Sacred Demon Lord. The brakes were finally placed on what had been a long battle.
— And in a place unknown to that vibrant center stage… there were those who were still fighting for their lives.