“… Did we do it?”
Ten-odd combatants. Under the sealed-off shaft, they surrounded the wreckage that had shattered behind the sandbag.
A ridiculously massive haniwa clay doll was filled with cracks. Its stomach portion had magnificently fallen away, the fragments shattered… it didn’t so much as twitch.
“Yeah. Have a look. We shot out its guts.”
“I heard about it, but that was some incredible defensive power… three rocket launchers and then some.”
One of them looked up.
“… But it’s going to be impossible to chase the others from here.”
“In the end, did we take out the vampire or not?”
“That was a direct hit from light magic. A child of the night could never survive…”
— So both friend and foe fail to understand what it means to be a vampyre. What tiresome ignorance.
“A voice…!? From where?”
“I’m right here.”
Without a sound, he was standing directly before there eyes.
“Do you not know the word undying?”
With the gunshots and the magic, chunk by chunk, his flesh was torn, his bones were shattered, his blood scattered all over. The bits that flew off dissolved into mist, making for a black and red body dotting pure white fog, a hard to describe terrifying cobbling of gruesome speckles.
Unmoving as he was, the uncanny sight alone had them fighting against their own fear.
“… Undying…… what nonsense…! Absurd, there’s no way such a thing could really…!”
“…… Hannibal. I let them go ahead. How about you quit playing dead.”
“… Phew… so you saw through me… did you…”
The voice they heard from what was supposed to be a broken, immobile haniwa doll finally had the men take distance.
“We’re both servants of the night after all. What does that make you? A wraith?”
“… Can’t stand the western name…”
The ooze curled. He was apparently smiling.
“No… don’t really know myself…”
From the broken stomach of the shattered haniwa, taking on the form of what almost looked like guts, a pitch black something dribbled its way out.
“Was off chasing after old Izanagi… I got lost and more lost… and then I’d wandered into this world on my lonesome self… by the time I noticed it, there wasn’t no place for me…”
The pitch black substance viscously poured free to reveal a pair of red beady eyes.
“… Some day I can’t remember… I couldn’t even maintain my form without this overdone piece of clay…”
“I see, I did think it was a bit too crude for armor but… it was a container, I see. Koushirou hit the stake on the head when he said the person inside.”
“Hey… he didn’t notice, what he really meant…”
From the slowly wriggling black something, appendages that could perhaps be called hands shot out to apprehend everyone’s feet.
“Ee- eee!? Uwaaaah!?”
“This sight’s a bit harsh… for the ladies… wouldn’t want any nightmares…”
Shoot or slash, he wouldn’t die. That was simply the sort of substance he was. Crush his eyes, and new eyes would peek out from elsewhere. And struggle as they might, the substance restlessly crept up their ankles, sealing their movements entirely as if they had fallen victim to a bottomless bog.
“Are you going to eat them?”
“Give me a break.”
“… When it comes to meat, I keep it a hundred percent beef… I thought you might be starving here…”
He said in a smile only a fellow being of the night like Verrocchia could understand. A malnourished life on blood transfusion packs. Those light bullets from before. When he showed his form on the surface, the sun was so bright he nearly disintegrated.
“So you saw through me too. Then I shall gratefully feast. Some puppets would be perfect to clear away the rubble.”
“If it ain’t outta your way… I’d be thankful for some… adhesive…”
“Very well, that is a cheap purchase. Just stay where you are.”
As he unsteadily teetered his way closer, the mouth suspended in his tattered figure smiled wide in a grin that exposed his fangs.
“S-stay away! Don’t come any closer!!”
“As you can see, I’ve lost too much power to regain my form…!”
The pitiful screams echoed on and on through the dark passageways.
“Hide all you want, the Javan Sensor’s got you pinned down!”
His blaster boasted unparalleled accuracy when locked on with his suit’s sensors. The beam it emitted shot into an enemy hiding in the thicket.
“Don’t get cocky!!”
From shadow to shadow, Gabès who had killed his presence and closed in like an assassin lowered the blades of his gauntlet’s claw.
A terrible sound, his helmet was torn, blood flowed down from Koushirou’s forehead.
“Not on my watch!!”
Minako slipped in below, raising Okamaru with all her might, and shooting Gabès blades flying high before he could tear them to shreds.
But the man had claws on both hands, his free hand immediately thrust towards Minako’s torso.
“You’re up against me!!”
And this time the Javan Sword shot it back.
Akane rolled a smoke grenade improvised on the spot to steal Gabès’s vision. She slipped into the new cover with Remina, from left to right throwing them into the enemy encampment. If the raid party Gabès led didn’t know where its members were, they couldn’t so readily offer support with magic or gunfire.
“Alright, go! We’ll keep them occupied best we can!”
“Hahah! This is payback for Camdania… have at them!!”
The private army towards Alhazan, Hideo and the others racing in the opposite direction.
Hideo whispered as he slid down a steep slope.
“Wilco, just like the Sacred Demon Grand Prix. Nav me.”
“There they are!! After them!!”
Taking up the rear guard, the Colonel used the Gray on his back to erect a shield as he sprayed a barrage of bullets behind him. Their pursuers were few, thanks to Reily.
“How persistent! There’s more where that came from!!”
This time, not a smoke grenade, Akane lobbed a real bomb. It sounded out with the boom of thunder and raised a landslide in its wake. Trees and shrubs collapsed, cutting off their pursuers. For the time being, they just had to run out of sight.
‘Please go straight! You’ll meet with a brook!’
But not a few minutes from there.
They threw themselves to the ground at once on the Colonel’s call. A gunshot. A new shadow before them. This wasn’t a pursuer. They had run into the second wave that had come later. But if they stopped here, they’d just be pincered by Gabès’ unit.
Lemina stood first, she hid her body behind a thick trunk. She spoke faster than anyone could listen.
“Everyone get behind me! Cover your ears..!”
No time to argue. After a single deep breath, she resolved herself, turned, and stood right before the enemy.
“Sink to the blue of the Aegean—!!”
Those were the last distinct words from her voice.
Remina wrung out the greatest volume she could muster. Her beautiful voice climbed higher, higher. Eventually, it became smaller. It exceeded audible range and in an instant, even the sound of plugged ears had disappeared.
The song witch who ruled over all sound had converted every last bit of it into a shockwave. The sort of shock an explosion would throw up was conveyed across his floored stomach.
Next he opened his eyes, everyone who’d interrupted their path had been knocked off their feet; while still breathing, their eyes were spinning, blood flowing from their ears and noses as they writhed in agony.
Quiet and beautiful, a terrifying attack.
“… Cough! Hack, coughcough! Kehough!”
“Are you okay!? Remina, get a grip…!”
Minako hurriedly rubbed her back as she broke into a terrible coughing fit.
It was hard to blame here. Perhaps she would have been fine under normal circumstance, but she had been singing her purification song day after day in that filthy mine air. Her already unfavorable condition had worsened into injuring her throat. That wasn’t the worst of it, she must have been shot the instant she stood before the enemy. Blood was spreading across her clothing.
“I’m, fine… cough! I’m a siren so… hac, cough! Don’t worry about me, go ahead…”
“There’s no way we can do that…!”
Koushirou tucked away his weapons and picked the song princess up in a princess cradle. The Colonel nodded.
“He’s right. If any one of us is captured, they’ll be used as a hostage to coax the rest of us… that alone must be avoided.”
The verdict was handed down immediately.
“We’ll split in two. I’ll guard Remina with the slow-legged Koushirou and pass through the first. All healthy members make for the city on the fastest route.”
“But Koushirou’s wounded too, if it’s just you two, Colonel…!?”
The old soldier sent a cynical smile to a concerned Minako.
“Fufu, who do you think I am? Fighting in these dense forests is my specialty”
In Hideo’s eyes, that hardly seemed to be the case. He probably wasn’t good at it at all. He just loved doing it.
“In that case, I’ll stick with the colonel! Gunpowder and traps go hand and hand.”
“Then may I follow suit? If your goal is speed, then my short legs will be a hindrance…”
The formation was naturally decided.
The colonel who had the firepower but not the mobility would keep the enemy busy, holding out until reinforcements form Obliterating Industries arrived. A remaining agile Hideo and Minako would head to the city full-speed.
Going off how Gabès was acting, they wouldn’t stand down until Archess surrendered. Their work had gotten far enough. So they were no longer truly needed. If there was a risk of the plan coming to light, then killing them had become a necessity.
They had Alhazan sufficiently cornered. Precisely because they were cornered, their peaceful group had taken up such excessive measures. Victory was right before their eyes. Then what was necessary to make certain of it? To end this absurd farce and make sure it was thoroughly finished? The Colonel looked at Hideo with strong eyes.
“… Go on, Hideo. As you did with us before, take in everything with a warrior’s eyes, user your powers of negotiation to reveal all, and make Archess yield. In the end, the only one in this city who managed to shatter their trickery… was you.”
Was that really true?
It had to be true. For his comrades who entrusted that future to him. So as not to betray his strong comrades who even when so injured would never forget their hopeful smiles directed at their goal.
The voices of pursuers had entered an audible range. While Remina’s attack was unmatched, with that tremor like a near-field earthquake… no doubt the other side sensed something was up.
“Everyone stay safe!”
‘May fortune favor you!’
‘Let’s go, master!’
A nod and Hideo was off.
Seeing off their backs…
The Colonel casually stuck a cigar into his mouth. It was his last one.
“…Truth of the matter, how are you all faring?”
Even if each individual enemy wasn’t as strong as a monster, they were too great in number. Just like a mere few powerful monsters, a crowd with order and coordination was a fearsome threat.
“My back control system took a hit. The blade’s not working anymore, and the Javan Suit’s pretty much just a protector.”
“I am running on fumes. The barrier will only last another minute or two.”
Said the Gray.
“Honestly, I’ve been compounding from the crack of dawn, and I’m pretty drained here… I’ll keel over if I lose focus, but I didn’t want to show darling and my rival something so pathetic.”
Akane added on.
Remina finished it off with a painful-sounding cough.
“What about you, Colonel… kehough!”
“Me? Fufu, quite honestly, I don’t feel like running anymore… it looks like I’ve been away from the battlefield too long.”
His black combat boots were too deep in the grass to notice, but, there were traces of a bullet taking out his ankle.
“Then I take it… you’ve already given up?”
It was Gabès. His men appeared one after the next through the gaps in the trees. They were already surrounded. In one corner, Reily and his men had been taken captive.
“… Are they still alive?”
“There’s no point to a dead hostage. They’re all stable. Albeit, they’ll be killed one by one each time you decline our requests.”
“Couldn’t ask for more… in that case…”
The Colonel was just about to drop his light machine gun on the spot.
“Now ain’t that sweet of you. Never thought I’d hear that from the devil commander George Redfield.”
A single gunshot. Gabès deflected it with his claw as he screamed.
“You’re Ryuuta Salinger!”
“Yo Gabès. Finally showed your true colors.”
“Silence… I’ll deal with you before the wounded!!”
Gabès leapt at him.
“After you already lost once, you never learn!!”
Ryuuta received him with his drawn sword. However, receiving an impact beyond his expectations, his wrist joint groaned out.
“Hah, how laughable to claim that as your victory! Then just try to fend off my attacks!!”
A long series of strikes from Gabès inexhaustibly swinging his arms. While it looked indiscriminate, it was a fierce assault that wouldn’t grant him the chance to breathe. Ryuuta was forced to fall back on a one-sided defensive. Lacerations raced down the limbs he failed to defend in the blink of an eye.
Clink, the claw locked. One of his claws had locked up his weapon with an unbelievable amount of physical force. Gabès lifted his remaining arm.
“And that’s all you are! Die…!!”
In the time he had gathered everyone’s attention, behind where Reily and his men were held, two shadows appeared without a sound.
Teleportation magic. The twin maids with identical appearance and voice loudly changed.
Their voice in chorus converted straight into a shockwave to brush away those holding the hostages and free them.
“Kuh… you two… the traitor sisters!?”
“What’s this I hear? We didn’t betray anyone, did we Sorka?”
“Yes. We’re simply following our proper master now, right Norka?”
The next instant, every demon turned in the same direction and trembled. From behind Ryuuta, a single elegant woman walked in indifferently with no applause. A single thick grimoire in her hand. She looked over them and blinked once.
“… Is this all? Then there’s no need to be here.”
“Wait, hey, hey, hey, hold on a tick, Elsia! You come here, see the situation and leave!?”
“Quite right. If this is all there is, the finals will be more interesting to watch.”
She looked at the sisters.
In this instance, the sisters were far more aware of their surroundings. Gabès screamed to egg on his own plight.
“For Lord Archess’ ambition, for our dream… now that you’ve seen this, I can’t let you leave no matter who you are!!”
He moved like a hurricane. Bounding off like a black bullet, his form disappeared. This wasn’t a visible trick, it was short-distance transport magic for close-quarters combat. He appeared overhead, at a speed impossible for any ordinary person to react to, an angle impossible to defend.
And Elsia was no ordinary person.
She grabbed the face of a falling Gabès with one hand.
“Good heat. I like you.”
And used her entire body to slam it down at her feet. To the others eyes, it looked no more difficult than was slamming down a tomato or something of the sort. After that, she simply took a slight glance. The Alhazan combatants disarmed themselves without another word.
“… You didn’t kill him, did you?”
“He didn’t die last time, he’ll be fine.”
“? Yeah, whatever… colonel, how are you holding up!?”
A stroke from his face down his beard. He took one calming sigh.
“… You’re as reckless as ever, Ryuuta. Was that supposed to be a diversion? One wrong step, and you’d have died.”
“Heh… I’m not one of your men anymore. I’ll do what I want.”
He replied as he exchanged a firm handshake.
“… Look at that, Hannibal. They’re still here, are they not?”
“Well that’s… nice…”
Verrocchia wrapped in his mantle and Hannibal, followed by Alhazan members groaning out incomprehensible sounds. Not long after, Obliterating Industries’ reinforcements raced in from a completely different direction.
“Ah, it’s already over. That’s why I told you to pick up the pace.”
“I mean, you know, you know, looky, that bad feeling I was getting was spot on the money, that’s Lady Elsia right over there! I’m going home!!”
“Hmph, who cares what they’re up to? Our objective is the mine, wouldn’t you agree?”
“Well, wait. If we don’t have just cause, I fear the consequence.”
The liveliness immediately shifted the mood.
“… Is he not around?”
Elsia alone disinterestedly muttered.
“Him? Mn? Colonel, come to think of it, where’s Hideo…?”
“! Crap, it backfired…!?”
Considering how Gabès brought up negotiations without even noting that Minako and Hideo weren’t there… one would have to believe they had already taken measures against them. There was still another unit; the two of them were in danger.
The Colonel’s premonition proved half-true.
“Yer outta luck.”
Zazi stood with an old revolver in each hand. Thankfully, he was there alone without any subordinates, but he was an executive who excelled in combat abilities. The situation was the same as when they were being chased by Elize. Centralle Building towering. The stadium beyond it. He could already see it from here.
“Please give up! It’s already your loss!”
Minako unerringly readied Okamaru. The hostages on the building’s upper floors had been freed. Their plans had been leaked to both Obliterating Industries and Elize Industrial.
“Say what you want but pops hasn’t given up yet. In that case, there’s no way we’re bailing before him.”
He showed no hint of backing down. Thanks to his lethargic expression, it was hard to determine whether he was serious or not… but his heart that admired and trusted Archess was the real deal.
“… Where’s. Archess?”
Zazi jerked his head in the general direction.
“He’s over there. In the stadium. But what are you gonna do if you get to him?”
“Put a stop to this.”
“To what? Just so you know, we don’t need your help anymore. You’ve all done enough work.”
To put it another way, Alhazan was going to execute their plan no matter what. That was enough reason that they couldn’t give up either. That was precisely why they had to put a stop to it. To whatever it was.
“I’ve gotta ask, what’s getting you so desperate? If I wanted to seal your mouths I coulda just killed you, but I ain’t gonna do that. Pops is too kind. Did you lose your mind from how dangerous an ‘evil god’ sounds? The world ain’t gonna crumble. There’s no way pops would do that. Even if the world’s gonna become a better place than before, you guys are gonna get in the way?”
“… In that case. Why is it only. You and Michelle who bring the rations.”
What Hideo let out were words with no basis. But it was only then that unrest settled on Zazi’s expressionlessness for the first time.
“Why. Are you the only one. Who sets an alarm to limit your stay. Did you… ever feel ill like she did?”
“… How much do you know…!”
So that really was where the core was.
They had secretly forced them into labor to revive an evil god. But there was a truth they were keeping hidden even greater than that.
“… Well, so be it… going off of Minako’s face, yer the only one who’s noticed… no, you don’t have any definite proof yerself. So you haven’t told anyone. I kill you and that’s it. Am I wrong?”
“But I think pops is right, I do! He’s kept it from everyone, even sis! Do you get the resolve he’s shouldered!? Raised in a world without inconvenience, what do you think you know…!”
Minako stood to interrupt his line of fire.
“… I will hold you back alone! Hideo, please go ahead!”
“For real. Hah, leave the woman behind so the guy can run away? Kawamura Hideo. You’re the worst.”
But it was such a cheap provocation. Hideo quietly nodded.
“Yeah, I am.”
He couldn’t’ do anything alone, he was the lowest of trash. He knew something like that even before he came to this city.
‘… Yes, go for it!’
He sprinted with no hesitation. In the direction of the stadium.
“Dumbass, you forced my hand!!”
Half a click of the tongue, Zazi likewise didn’t hesitate to pull the trigger at Hideo’s back. Two shots, three shots. But he didn’t get any response. The bullets bounced off. They were blocked by the glass boards that instantaneously appeared.
“…! Oy, You gotta be kidding…!? Don’t tell me Wilco’s ali…!”
That was her chance.
Minako closed the distance in an instant, her weapon above her head, she lowered a blow with as much of her body weight as she could muster into the hand that held his revolver.
Zazi clicked his tongue, swiftly turning the other hand as he pulled the trigger. The bullet merely made off with a few of her hairs. She was already at his chest. Minako grabbed the cylinder of his revolver barehanded.
It wouldn’t turn. The revolver couldn’t shoot its next bullet unless its namesake revolving cylinder could rotate. If he forced the hammer, the metal would bend, Zazi himself knew that best of all, having carried them so long. And so, the hand that had just been disarmed pulled his automatic which he cocked with his teeth.
Minako unhanded her truncheon and thrust a palm strike up into the Government with a spring from her knee. With its spontaneous discharge, her extended arm caught Okamaru again.
A flash of spirit, a blow cleared his forehead at lightning speed.
As he staggered and went weak, she snatched away his revolver as she used Okamaru to smack his automatic pistol away. That made him three guns down. She grabbed his arm as it bolted towards his last automatic, pulled it away and stepped in.
A one shoulder throw smacked his back into the hard ground.
Finally, one scathing blow from Okamaru on his face-up defenseless face. Zazi finally lost consciousness.
“… Haah, hah, hah…”
Come so far, she finally spouted a cold sweat.
She had won. Against a gun.
She had a chance to win precisely because Hideo had ran away. Precisely because Hideo swallowed his shame and sprinted without hesitation, Zazi’s attention had been taken by his unexpected conduct.
‘Wonderfully done, Minako. I loaded him with ample spiritual power, he shall not be able to move for a while.’
“Hah… when everyone’s trying so hard, I can’t be the only one doing nothing.”
She carefully removed the bullets from the magazines and chambers of his guns. She never scored too highly with shooting, so borrowing them wouldn’t expand her options too far.
‘It is a terrible shame Sir Hideo couldn’t see you shine…’
“Oh shut it!”
She wiped the sweat on her brow.
“It’s not over yet, don’t let your guard down too soon! Now let’s chase after Hideo!”
‘It looks like we passed by Obliterating Industries’ trucks when we were charging through the forest…’
“Hah, hah, no worries.”
His two legs were the epitome of health. This was nothing compared to his wild flight in Cross Flags. He raced passed the buildings of Center District. The cityscape was splendidly deserted. Was everyone watching the finals? What sort of battle was being held in that stadium he could see through the gaps in the buildings clumped like a grove of trees? If they had been able to stand there… what sort of battle would it have been?
There was no way to know now.
‘But master, you’ve gotten some stamina… When Wilco just met you, you couldn’t move just from some mountain walking.’
“Alhazan trained me.”
He had already run a few kilometers and it was definitely harsh, but nothing he couldn’t manage. Had a month of heavy labor underground increased his lung capacity as well?
‘Enter that alley! The stadium is right beyond! There’s a staff entrance!’
He turned, he ran; it stood at the ankles of towering Center, what looked like the outer wall of a chimney. This venue was far larger than he had anticipated. So large the plaza was nearly completely filled in.
And he reached.
He kept his running pace, practically kicking down the door to enter quite the dim passageway compared to the outside.
“Hah, hah… where’s Archess…”
‘Umm, give Wilco a second… he was in the audience seats a moment ago…’
He heard the footsteps. The characteristic stiff sound of leather shoes hitting concrete. A laid-back gait of a leisurely stroll. From beyond the gentle curve of the passageway, the figure appeared.
Long blond hair in glasses over a suit. His silly rhythm was the same as ever.
“Why this is… you’ve caught me at a terrible time.”
“You really surprise me. To think you would come back. What’s more, with this timing.”
His hand held a beautiful glass. Imbued with intricate patterns, a cup with nothing off about it… yet his eyes were terribly taken by its fleeting beauty.
Noticing his eye line, Archess lightly held it up.
“Oh, this…? It’s the Sacred Demon Cup, apparently. As pretty as you’d expect.”
Wasn’t that the proof of the champion? But this man was defeated in Cross Flags, just like them.
“Why… do you have…”
“It is power. The Regalia concealing the strongest power in the history of this world. Dear Suzuran wouldn’t show it until the day of the finals, but… I was tipped off to it a number of years back. I had heard that the Sacred Demon Lord had put the gods to making it.”
It glimmered, even the fluorescent lamp’s light was refracted like he was peering through a kaleidoscope.
“I put together three plans to achieve my goal. The first… to win properly and upfront, become the Sacred Demon Lord and justifiably receive this glass. Well, that one was obstructed by none other than you, but…”
Not resentful in the slightest, he carried on without a care.
“The second… for when the first failed, or the cup wasn’t the sort of thing I was looking for, I made preparations to summon the evil god underground.”
Which meant, as he thought.
“So the evil god… really is.”
“Yes, truth be told, the evil god itself is not my objective. More of a preliminary step. It was all I could think of that could exhibit the same level of power as this Sacred Demon Cup.”
“… The third?”
“Why it is the simplest method of all. So downright idiotic, I didn’t need to give it any serious thought or effort. If the Sacred Demon Cup is what I’m looking for, and there is a chance… I just have to take it.”
When he plucked his finger across the edge of the chalice, a lovely tone resounded.
“My apologies, but everything I requested of you was a wasted effort. At the end of the end, the Sacred Demon Cup showed itself… and it contained enough power for me to achieve my objective.”
“Even now, I don’t know what trick you used to establish coordination. But as Suzuran placed your rescue at her top priority… in order to conceal her own plan and to make sure we didn’t sense anything unnatural she held the final match as she normally would. The competing parties were Obliterating Industries and Elize Industrial. So it wouldn’t impede the progress of her tournament, she had no choice but to entrust this item with tournament management.”
What an oversight.
Even knowing the wretched state of his other strategies, he didn’t let his chance slip by.
“Good grief, Suzuran is quite the mean spirit. If she hadn’t been so stingy, if she had shown it at the start… I would never have needed to request life-threatening hard labor of you or your men. I wouldn’t need to take on any unnecessary risks that would invite such hostilities. It would have begun and ended without anyone the wiser.”
“… What is. Your goal?”
—Well then, let’s move on to tournament HQ’s commendation ceremony, and the crowning of a new Sacred Demon Lord!
Lena’s voice could be heard across the wall. Even beyond layer upon layer of cold concrete, her enthusiasm was amply conveyed.
— But before that.
— I have an important announcement for all of you.
Hideo felt something cold in her voice. This wasn’t the woman she showed to the public. He felt a reverberation similar to the one who struck him that night.
“… I’ve spent too long here. I must be going.”
Hideo tried stepping in when a vehement shock assailed him. There was preparation required. A slight raise of Archess’ hand converted right into magic. That impact that exceeded even Wilco’s reaction speed caused him to see an illusion of the earth and the heavens swapped out.
“If you’re a shut-in, then like a shut-in, you should have just kept quiet in your house. If you hadn’t come to this city, my plan would have never been thrown awry. Lena wouldn’t have to be hurt. And you should have gotten off without any hardships… am I wrong?”
His voice grew distant. His footsteps grew distant. Where Hideo reached his hand, Archess’ back, the scenery, it was all swaying. He disappeared to the beyond like a mirage.
Had he lost again? So anticlimactically?
Without accomplishing a single thing everyone had risked their lives to entrust to him?
In that case… he really shouldn’t have come. It was all a futile struggle. All a wasted effort. If he had just hung his head in his Tokyo Apartment, would everyone have been happier?
‘… ster…! Master!’
A dream? No, he had been forced into a dreamy state of mind. He had dazed out, a few minutes perhaps.
‘Master!? Are you alright master!? Get a grip…!’
‘He’s in the center of the stadium… but master, are you feeling okay…!?’
Wilco’s voice was a distant ring in his ears. He could barely move his fingers as a pain raced down his body making him wonder if every bone had been broken. His legs that had been so light a moment ago now felt like they weren’t his own.
Even so, Hideo pressed forward with an unsightly crawl.
Her voice lacked her energy.
‘Master, would you have been better off if you didn’t meet Wilco…?’
‘In the end, Wilco always fails to protect you when it really counts… during the Sacred Demon Grand Prix, and Cross Flags, and just now…’
What was she saying?
‘Maybe Archess is right… if you hadn’t met Wilco back then, you would never have been dragged into this… you wouldn’t have to lose… you wouldn’t have been shut up in that place… you wouldn’t have to go through this pain.’
Hideo relied on the wall to stand.
It would all amount to nothing if he folded here. Right, he wasn’t alone. If he stopped now, the very fact he met Wilco would be left without meaning. The miracle of meeting here really would become meaningless, would it not?
Of course, it wasn’t like he could do anything. As Archess said, he was just a shut-in. But if he quit moving forward, surely everything he’d done would become a lie.
“I had… nothing… and you gave me the power to move forward… you’ve given me more than I deserve…”
He had to move forward to prove it.
He heard the sound of racing footsteps from behind.
‘Minako! Over there!’
‘Master, it’s the officer…!’
And the sound of cars. The sounds of many hurried feet. In the place of Hideo who found it painful to turn, Wilco spoke.
‘Ah… everyone… they’re all okay!!’
“What about Hideo!? What happened!?”
That was the Colonel’s voice.
Hideo thought he would break down laughing. Truth be told, he was sure that should have been his line. Everyone was injured but still standing. Verrocchia and Hannibal he thought had dropped out first were still right as rain. And their partners too.
‘We ran into Archess and… he used some magic to…!’
Good grief, against such a foe, he thought he’d manage it alone.
The next instant his body suddenly felt lighter.
When he looked to the side, Minako was lending him a shoulder. No one there would tell him to rest. They had seen him trying to press forward. They were all men and woman heading for the same goal.
What a needless worry. He had comrades.
That’s right. This was nothing to take on alone. He would notice time again. Remember as many times it would take. He wasn’t in this alone. He had comrades in arms who would move forward with him.
“Now let’s go! Hideo!”
Minako nodded with a strong smile.
Hideo returned a strong nod so as not to lose.
“Wilco. Because I met you… we met everyone.”
From their destination, Suzuran’s conversation with Archess came over the speakers.
“… What are you trying to pull?”
Suzuran asked. She stood on the stage in the center of the stadium prepared for the award ceremony. Before the two pairs who had fought a hard battle were… Lena. And Archess with the Sacred Demon Cup in his hands. The clamor of the crowd at this unrest didn’t seem like it would quell.
“… What a shame. I thought you were smarter than that.”
“You’re right. I do feel sorry to have to snatch away the prize like this.”
While Archess’s expression was that of a gentleman, Suzuran shook her head.
“Even if you do that, no one will recognize you as the Sacred Demon Lord. After you’ve done this, you won’t even be recognized as the King of the meager country you dream of.”
“Why yes. That was a joke, of course.”
Eh? Lena muttered, but he carried on regardless.
“I am here to atone for my sins, dear Suzuran.”
“During the Demon World’s first invasion. The one who proposed something so exorbitant as expanding our territory to another world… was none other than me.”
“But this world was already endowed with a race of high intelligence lifeforms called humans. It already had gods who watched over and protected them.”
“And those humans will continue foiling your plans time and time again.”
Shouki said, and he quietly affirmed it.
“Precisely. But… the worst of all was that you humans were… identical to us. Close enough for us to leave descendants.”
“… What do you mean?”
On Suzuran’s question, Archess looked around at the lines of faces.
“Not only human against human, now human against demon, there was now a new spark for new conflict. After Lady Fier stepped down from the seat of Demon Lord, I found new purpose in life, I devoted myself to removing those sparks. I continue to do so.”
The next thing that escaped his mouth was a sigh.
“… But there was no way it could be prevented entirely. By that time, our descendants had been scattered far too wide. The times pass by, and in the present day where such splendid concepts as peace and human rights are permeated, respected and guaranteed… I took after Judea and attempted to make a country for Demons as my newest endeavor.”
“And that was the Camdanian Civil War.”
“Yes… but I don’t know how many attempts came before that. Every time I move, I lose the lives of many children who look up to me. Even so, I keep fighting thinking surely my efforts will be rewarded someday… but in the end, it’s hopeless. Humans can only unconditionally see demons who boast greater abilities than themselves as monsters. They are taken solely as a threat and never as an individual. They may be used for military purposes, but never accepted as a neighbor.”
He faintheartedly laughed.
“And… the battle in Camdania took its toll. To be perfectly honest, you see. I’m tired of it. All the children who’ve followed me from the old days are dead… right now Gabès is the oldest one you know? By this point I’ve come to realize my very efforts have become the spark for worthless conflict.”
“That’s… but there are still other ways…!”
“You really are kind, Suzuran. Yes. So I searched for other means. And I found one. A means to wipe away my sin from the root.”
He brandished his right hand over the Sacred Demon Cup in his left
Listening in on that conversation, Hideo and the others finally made their appearance. The audience watching over them seemed flustered by the wounds and unnatural aura surrounding those they were certain had long since left the city.
Noticing Archess first thing, Ryuuta raced up to the stage and pointed his Desert Eagle.
“… Archess, look behind me. That’s the end of the line. Admit your loss.”
The Colonel followed, dragging one bandaged leg behind him.
“It’s not only us… your men are all alive. You can still turn back.”
Archess seemed to receive a shock to his senses.
“… They’re safe…? All of them…? You held back that much… and still made it here…?”
“If you can get delighted over that.”
“Then stop what you’re thinking. I told you it was a taboo. I recognized you because you said you didn’t want to give up. But… was that just a strong front?”
Her refreshing eyes turned cold.
“If you’re merely acting out of desperation, I won’t accept it.”
“… Unfortunately, Lady Elsia. I am not acting out of desperation. I deeply appreciate everyone’s strength and their consideration to do their utmost not to harm, however…”
He raised his head straight forward.
“To save them now… and to stop all future human and demon conflicts that would surely continue an eternity, those two cannot be placed on the same scales.”
A shining liquid welled up in the chalice Archess had held his hand over. Suzuran swallowed her breath.
“That can’t be… I mean, a Regalia doesn’t work if you aren’t chosen…!”
“I was chosen, Suzuran.”
“I am not too knowledgeable in fighting, but I do dabble in these technologies. Perhaps because this was a tournament anyone could win, your security measures were naïve.”
Shouki and Ryuuta moved in tandem.
“Not on my watch!”
And at the same time as well, Archess removed his hand from atop the cup and snapped its fingers. That was not a charm for the cup, it was a signal. The figures stood at the highest rung of the stadium. The Alhazan combatants who had slipped in with the crowd. They were all armed with guns to take an unspecified number of audience members hostage.
In that instant, everyone was forced to spectate whatever would happen on stage.
“No need to worry. I…”
Archess downed the drops of light gushing forth from the grail in one gulp.
Eventually… the chalice itself that had accomplished its role, as if melting away into the air, disappeared entirely.
“… I am simply going to return the world to the way it should be.”
He opened and closed his hand, perhaps testing its new limits. And he tried something out.
“…Looks like it really will work out.”
The more reassurance floated over his expression, the more anxiety came to those who couldn’t weigh his true intention. The Colonel spoke with ample danger in his voice.
“What are you going to do…”
“He’s going to call up the dark god.”
They all turned to Elsia’s composed voice. Meeko blankly spoke out.
“The dark god… is that what you said, young mistress. Not just any evil god?”
“Yes. Though it may sound the same to the humans. Isn’t that right, Dark Priest Barchess?”
“… As you presume, Lady Elsia.”
Elsia held her hand up at a smiling Archess. She didn’t open her book. Without holding back, she let the crimson light take flight as its power ordained it.
It hit against Archess’s palm with a clink. The light that had annihilated a single mountain collided and nothing more. It fizzled out without destroying anything at all.
Ryuuta muttered in terror.
“W-was that one… serious?”
The true demon princess let a cold sweat flow, she faintly swallowed her breath.
“Yes… that’s right. I’m honestly impressed. It’s amazing… so this is the Sacred Demon Cup.”
Meaning he had… attained such power that couldn’t be defied through physical means. More power than anyone present.
“U-ufu, ufufufuh… we did it, we did it we did it! Now it’s papa’s win! Papa, you won, right!? We did it we did it!”
Once she was certain of victory, Lena abruptly began frolicking like a small child.
“Now the world belongs to papa! It will be the world Papa longs for! A world where all of us can live in happiness! A happy country where no one has to be bullied! A happy…!”
“No, Lena. There’s no longer any need for that.”
The smile froze on Lena’s face.
“I am going to erase all demons from this world.”
Those unforeseen words. At the shock… for a brief while, no one could work their mouths.
“W… what are you talking about papa…? I mean we’re all demons, me and Linus and Gabès and Zazi… all of us!”
The sky grew dark. The weather was suddenly beginning to turn dubious. No, there were far too many clouds gathering for that… those who looked at the sky gulped dumbfounded.
High in the sky where Centeralle Building pointed, the darkness was beginning to spread. Eating its way in bit by bit, eroding the space, the azure sky was being hidden away by a deep and dark veil.
“To be more precise, I will erase all mana scattered about in the world. Those who were demon will become human. Magic will be lost… and the proper world of science. Of humans… what it should have been had I not spoken up on that day, it will return to its original form.”
He looked at Lena with solemn eyes.
“But there will be much death. If you’re lucky, you might be able to live as a human after this, but… a majority of the demons who rapidly lose the mana in their bodies will perish, unable to endure the shock.”
What sort of joke is this? Lena’s incomprehensive face shook left and right.
“Papa…? But why…? We all worked very hard… we all did our bests… everyone one of us did our very best to be happy… so why…!!”
“You should know well, Lena. I won’t hesitate to pay sacrifice for my objective.”
With her pitiful expression, the expression of a cowering little girl, Lena retreated, retreated. She fell onto her bottom.
“… Are you being serious? Archess”
Suzuran asked with a trapped look on her face. He replied with a gaze that didn’t lose to hers in its severity.
“I’m serious. And as a result… the pitiful demon children I’ve continued picking up won’t be born again. Those pitiful children picked up only to be used in war and then cast aside will cease to be. Those children who find nothing but despair in their lives and seek retribution against the humans will be gone. All those quarrels from a difference in species will be severed.”
“But… that doesn’t mean you have to…!”
“Then why! In the five years you’ve been Sacred Demon Lord, why haven’t you reached a hand out to them!?”
Suzuran shrunk back at the first sight of fury from the gentle man.
“With so many comrades, such massive power! You’ve failed to even grope for the root of what you call sadness, with nothing but remedial measures taken half for the fun of it!”
Suzuran’s words shrunk to a whisper with nothing to say back. Archess looked d own.
“… No. I’ve said a bit much… even if I say that. I understand this may sound like an outrageous tall tale to you. But… that’s why I will do it. I’m the only one who can. Don’t you think the source of it all… is worthy of shouldering the grand sin of their eradication?”
A figure swayed. When the turned to see, Meeko’s feet had touched the ground, her knees buckled, she collapsed where she was.
Suzuran held her up. Her expression was twisted in pain as she looked up at the sky swallowed by darkness.
“I see… kuh… what do you mean dark god… that there… is Ahriman……”
“… Right. That’s what they call it here…”
Even as she said it, this time Elsia staggered and Ryuuta supported her up.
“Oy, get a grip Elsia! Even you… quit joking around!”
“Have a look at it, Ryuuta… most feared in the demon world… the oldest and strongest, worst god of all… the god of all misfortune, all darkness, the forbearer of all evil gods… That Which Continues to Sleep.”
Elize spat out the words. A streak of light raced out directly from her. Right after which, the complexion of the Sacred Silver Spirit took a turn for the worst.
“… I felt… nothing! It’s just a shadow…!? But I definitely feel power…”
“What do you mean, Elize…!?”
As Shouki asked, she shook her head.
“It’s probably not that it has a separate body elsewhere, it’s not a trick… its real body is ‘shadow’ itself! A normal shadow that forms when you interrupt light! And yet it has powers…!”
His lips in a tight knot, Shouki raced over to Elsia.
“How do we defeat that!? Anything, any trivial hint! If you know something…!”
In contrast, Elsia simply weekly raised the edge of her lips.
“Defeat it, take it down… how stupid. That’s not the sort of thing it is… it’s over the moment it is called… it’s over the moment it wakes up… that’s why it’s taboo.”
“Just as the strong draw one another… it seems to be more effective the stronger you are… the legends were right… but amazing… now that I can actually see it… this is…”
A peculiar sight. Like a single night-shaded curtain had been spread out over the sky. While a blue sky peeked out beyond it, close to the horizon, everything above a certain altitude was filled to the brim with darkness.
This was it. This sinister air was what he felt when he was shoved underground for the first time. The more they dug, the more they closed in on another world, the more the presence, the power of the one who resided there seeped through.
That was why Michelle who wasn’t a demon and didn’t have any mana was effected the least, making her the main deliverer for rations. Stealing magic would steal away abilities, so the others were constantly told to carry guns. When Michelle was busy, it was Zazi well versed in the gun who came down. And unlike the other weaker demons, Zazi alone restricted his time so he wouldn’t be poisoned…
Hideo hadn’t anticipated he would drag in the children who saw him as a father of all things. That was why his thoughts would always get stuck.
That no longer mattered.
Maintain your mind. Get a grip.
Hideo lightly shook his head. Right before he could suspect that the shock from Archess remained.
Minako groaned at his side.
“Are you. Okay…”
“Y-yes… a little dizzy, but…”
This was bad. Hideo grew impatient. It wasn’t that the shock remained. The miasma was too strong. When he looked around, including those pointing guns at the audience, people were starting to collapse all over the place. He could hear the groans.
As the darkness spread, even the humans were receiving its influence. Okamaru’s voice was also touched with agony.
‘Mi… Minako, you must… get a hold of yourself…!’
“Yes… but what can we… do about that?”
She wheezed as she looked to the heavens. The sky was far too dark to deserve the name. Was Elsia’s statement that it worked most on the strong not limited to magic? Perhaps they were fatigued from the finals, but the colors of weariness were spreading across Elize, Shouki and Suzuran as well.
‘Master, what about you…?’
Ironically, he was the weakest, after all. Or perhaps, the most recent to come into contact with anything pertaining to magic at all. Aah, dammit, it was nothing but unknowns.
“Don’t worry… more importantly…”
‘Wilco knows…! She’s analyzing… researching… but Elize was right! All optical data recognized it as just a shadow! How are we supposed to…!’
It was no good. If his own body was in this state, Wilco couldn’t take what little energy he had to offer. But his head was heavy… strength-wise, Wilco would surely be near the top of the list, but he felt like he would be the first to have everything sucked away by the darkness…
The actual strongest, Meeko and Elsia could no longer move. Reputed demons like Ripple-Rapple and VZ were the same. Elize whose attack didn’t work glared at the sky, irritantly gritting her teeth… she had quit floating by now, her feet bound by gravity, and her hands following shortly after.
Even everyone who had overcome the harsh battles of the day and escaped were beginning to crumble down.
Elsia’s fine voice spoke out at the menace.
“… It will flow out from the city eventually… then that will be the beginning of the end… the darkness will devour everything…”
Her shoulders were given a strong shake by a pained-looking Ryuuta.
“Don’t give me that crap, Elsia! Where did your princess act take off to!? I ain’t gonna accept this, you’ve gotta have something!? Isn’t there at least one way!!?”
“How stupid… and where would you find it…? A light that strong…”
Light. He didn’t let that one slide.
A light strong enough to sweep away this darkness?
‘That’s crazy talk…! It’s even interrupted the sun, master! Where do we find a light stronger than…!’
“… Find it.”
“That is your role. We made a promise… last night…”
To search even if she had to eat him. If she couldn’t find it, to concentrate all her wisdom to create it herself.
The only calm soul, Archess spoke.
“… I won’t let it go that far, Lady Elsia. It will be fine, now that I’ve obtained the power of the Sacred Demon Cup. This is a summons carried out by my power. Its limits are…”
A laugh mismatched with the situation resounded before he could finish.
“Ahahah… I see. So that’s how it is. In the end, Papa didn’t need me either… hah haa… then it doesn’t matter. It’s not like anyone needs me anyway.”
It was Archess’ voice. But it no longer reached. She had fawned over him so much it was labeled morbid dependency, but now she couldn’t hear his words.
She was presumably not dependent anymore. The support of her target Archess had already disappeared in her heart. Whatever shape it took, it was lost with the worst possible proclamation of death. And the shape of her heart was crumbling now that it had lost its supports.
With a smile of one who had lost herself, Lena produced something from her chest pocket.
Archess’ face immediately changed and Lena’s smile grew deep. She stood straight up as if the miasma was all a joke, showing it off with her cute announcer smile.
“Now then, my dear listeners! Does anyone know what this is!? That’s right! My adorable cellphone I introduced you all to two months ago at the opening ceremony.”
It was hopeless. She had completely snapped.
“But that’s just a joke… this is actually the detonation switch to a nuclear bomb.”
“Stop it, Lena! We don’t need that anymore!”
Archess’s serious expression spoke volumes. But Lena didn’t stop. No one knew how to call out to her sudden change.
“But worry not, dear listeners! Back then… I said it was under us, but it’s actually really, really far down! So the people here won’t be blown away, I assure you! Please rest at ease in that regard!”
Archess called out again and again, but she was completely in character. Her gestures, posture, use of words, she perfectly carried out the role she had been fulfilling up to this day.
“Why, you ask? Why that’s because the blast wave will all escape downwards! We prepared it as a very last resort to wrench open the door to another world! But take for instance…”
Her mouth was still smiling, she dangerously narrowed her eyes.
“Let’s say I pushed the switch here and now… out of this crowd. No, let me rephrase that. Not limited to this city, just how many life forms in the world will survive, I wonder. It is presumably impossible for the humans. For the non-humans, won’t it be quite pushing it without quite the rare nature? I mean, according to the Lady on the Platform, the dark god will devour it all.”
Lena’s smile as she looked around was cold.
“… Incidentally. Even if I leave it be, the demons will all die out. Right, papa? If you provide any unnecessary stimulation, you’ll piss off the dark god, and there will be no turning back. That’s why you excavated it so carefully by hand, right papa?”
“That’s right… so please take your hand off of…”
“And if instead of a shock you smash an entire atomic bomb into it, it will be incredibly angry, won’t it!? It will be so angry that forget lifeforms, the world itself will be obliterated, won’t it!?”
Archess lifted his hand. Just as he had done with Hideo. But this wasn’t the half-hearted act he had performed back then. His hand carried a definite intent to kill.
“… Put that away, Lena. Otherwise I will terminate you.”
“… You should’ve just told me you were going to murder me, papa. The bad girls who don’t listen all get murdered!”
Her finger on the button, she swayed back and forth, purposefully showing off how hazardous that was.
Hideo said with a strong shake of the head.
Was he stupid? There’s no way such a voice would reach.
He had to tell her. Archess was no longer just a gentle father. He was serious.
“I told you. If you’re lucky you might survive. Even so, are you going to demand a more certain death from me?”
“The unwanted children get beaten and tortured and murdered. I’m an unwanted child. I’m an unneeded child. In the end, there was no place for me anywhere in the world, was there.”
That was definitely wrong. Anyone who thought so had surely just convinced themselves. If she had no place then where had she been born. If she was unneeded then why had she been born?
He had to tell her.
If no one would say anything, he had to tell her.
There was still a possibility. She could still get back. That darkness could surely be swept away. Right, there was still so much more. No one had died yet. He couldn’t let her be the only one two death took away.
The tournament had been so fun. Everyone was wishing for a happy ending. Everyone had caught sight of that happy end with their eyes. Yet even if they could see it, something was lacking.
Did they need a trigger?
Remember. You’re not alone anymore. Then there’s no need to cut in and save the world alone. But if he moved here… if he could interrupt Lena’s death, there could be a chance to turn it back beyond it.
“Why don’t you just kill me. Papa. You saved me, you raised me, you praised me, you doted on me… and at the end of the end, you’re going to murder me. This is the best. I love you papa. Now hurry and murder me.”
“… Is that… so…”
Her smile that was finally falling apart had Archess’ voice chance from admonishment to resignation. The narrowly remaining intent to negotiate change to murderous intent in the truest sense.
What had he come here for? He had gone in circles trying to get a redo at life, but unrewarded, scorned by the public, he was shoed to the depths of the earth only for Archess to tease him on his escape. And now here he stood.
Did everyone encourage, support and save him just for him to spectate!? That had to be wrong! It didn’t matter what happened before! It’d be a lie if he didn’t win here!
I just have to win where it counts!!
Hideo breathed in deeply, deeply to burst his own lungs.
“Bye-bye, papa. And die, all you trash. The world who didn’t need me! A world of trash should just—”
Time stopped for a moment. Everyone turned towards where they heard the voice.
But… no one could tell. Who was the owner of such a voice?
Not Minako nor the Colonel nor Ryuuta… not even Wilco right beside him. No, precisely because they knew him, they couldn’t believe.
The young man known as Kawamura Hideo put everything he had holed up, everything he had held down at his core to scream his mind with such force he would ruin his lungs.
And silence. No rustle. No groans. Hideo’s voice had taken it all in and only the reverberations remained. A moment of complete silence.
Gasping and wheezing, Hideo noticed.
(… I see.)
It was so simple. No one could be reborn. They all changed little by little over the course of a lifetime. To be reborn was an empty ideal. It could only come after death.
But to return was different, wasn’t it?
The childhood days anyone had. When he could scream like an idiot like no one was looking and run around wildly without restraint. Back when everything seemed so fun… he could at least recall and return.
And Hideo remembered.
By screaming like an idiot not caring who was watching. He recalled a bit of what he had screamed back then.
I gotta believe!!
“What is it, Hideo?”
When her smile had been so joyfully broken, Lena took a complete turn to glare at Hideo with a terrifyingly straight face. She could listen to her beloved Archess’ words, she could answer them, but her eyes had failed to see a thing… and now they were turned on Hideo.
“Suddenly crying out like that. For a shut-in, you know. This isn’t where you should be. This isn’t your time to take the stage.”
There was nothing to be embarrassed about. Yeah, he was just a shut-in after all, nothing more than a loser. He could only howl and cheat and be backbitten for false demon eyes.
But, that was precisely why… as the underdog, he could bark better than anyone.
Hideo put all his logic to work. The fragmentary thoughts surfacing in his head formed a single rail to the moment he could look upon his victory. A route that went by the name of screenplay.
Now the curtains had risen! All that was left was to act!
The play’s name, The Demon Eyes of Future Sight!!
“… You’re sure taking it slow, Kirishima. You still don’t get it?”
Hideo raised his face straight at her. His arrogant voice. His fearless smile. What the young man called Kawamura Hideo was showing for the first time, what no one in this city had any way of knowing, his true form.
A self lost by time. Who he wished he could be.
So Hideo whispered softly in his chest.
It’s been a while world! I’ve returned!!