The temple. Within the vast dome of stone, several hundred believers kneeled. On the flicker of countless candlesticks, the faint, faint shadows bent and swayed. A flowing lyrical verse flowed in from somewhere.
From the altar, Suzuran looked down over the scene without the slightest doubt.
Everyone’s lowering their head and kneeling to me. What a wonderful feeling. She thought.
With a solemn-faced Ferriol leading her by the hand, she sauntered to the center of the platform. At her destination, a single white-haired, white-browed, white-bearded man. The cardinal wore red vestments, his sturdy tall build giving no signs of his age, a staff in his hand, he turned to Suzuran with dignified eyes.
“Now, dear saint.”
Ferriol’s words of parting… to be more precise, at that instant, Suzuran directed eyes of ecstasy at the sharp grip on her hand. The eyes he met her’s with narrowed.
Loneliness? Annoyance? Resignation? As she had been brought to a trance stage with medicine like the priestesses of old, Suzuran had no way of telling.
Henceforth, Ferriol took his leave. It happened as his foot draped over the stairway down.
“On this auspicious day, there is something I must say to all.”
On Randale’s voice, Ferriol froze in his tracks.
“There is one who turns his eyes from the light, who doubts the true faith and turns his back to his grace among us.”
A heavy voice that let one feel the many years he had stacked up, a grand voice filled with righteous indignation resounded. The glimmer in the cardinal’s gaze that only seemed to grow with age,
“Ferriol Azhach Schlezfell”
was directed at him. The young bishop didn’t turn as the stares of the whole audience gathered on his back. The boisterous chorus was now a true cacophony. The four holy knights in special armor only a cardinal could command— his elite guard fearlessly climbed towards the altar, holding their long swords at Ferriol’s throat.
The grounds were enveloped in silence. As if all were trying to see through whether this was a joke or a lie. But as the holy knights apprehended a completely unmoving Ferriol, there was no longer any room for doubt, and the noise made its resurgence.
“To all who can hear me. By the power of our Lord who shall soon descend, such impure souls shall surely perish. You would all do well to burn the sight into your eyes.”
He had finished addressed the audience. The Cardinal turned his eyes to Suzuran.
“Now, saint. Pray.”
Just as she was told, like a puppet on the strings, Suzuran kneeled on the altar. She closed her eyes, folded her hands.
She believed, she believed, she believed.
Suzuran believed that God would descend. She imagined the scene that was sure to come.
Right, surely, it will start with…
(The sky splitting right open…)
That simple image forming in Suzuran’s mind was reflected in the realms of reality.
In an instant, the gate glimmered more dazzlingly than ever before. A tranquil light rained down through the stained glass, covering the temple interior in all sorts of hues. At that beauty that seemed to embody paradise itself, the voices of wonder began to swell up.
“The door is open! Now, it is time, the Lord…!”
It was that moment that the cardinal’s voice was cut off.
“Oh light, please guide me—Lightning Ray!!”
A pure white flash overwrote the gate’s light. The light-attribute magic only the hero and those above Bishop rank were permitted to acquire and activate smashed through the door. The flying fragments. Randale’s eyes locked onto the shadow the appeared through the shroud of dust.
“Who dares to defile a sacred ritual!?”
He who boldly walked forth to answer the question, the sword whose radiance still lingered in one hand, a boy whose eyes blazed so earnestly he seemed like the incarnation of justice itself.
“I am the hero, Shou—”
He was kicked down from behind and stepped on as the man who followed laughed out.
“An evil organization.”
“… You’re late, Takase.”
With knights restraining both his arms as if he was being crucified, Ferriol spoke
“Your dog was even less useful than I expected.”
Dragged along face-down by Ripple-Rapple, Clarica raised a hand in a “Yo,” before fainting. Seeing that, Meeko hurriedly rushed to nurse her.
“… I see. Ferriol. So you even joined hands with agents of evil. How far have you fallen?”
Receiving the cardinal’s look of indignation, Ferriol braced himself, wiping away his moment of relief.
“Surely you jest. I’ve done nothing more than use that small-time crook to obliterate a far larger evil. Cardinal Randale Shia Emnes… falling to the tricks of Zephirum’s demons, plotting the descent of a false deity… you traitor.”
Randale pointed his staff at Ferriol, emitting a shockwave. The knights restraining him and all, Ferriol was sent flying dozens of meters into the air, crashing into a temple wall. The believers who knew nothing screamed and ran.
Even so, as he leaned against the wall, a substantial stream of blood flowing from the corner of his mouth, Ferriol spoke his mind with a grim look.
“… Haven’t you done enough, Cardinal? My teacher? How long do you intend to keep up this act? How much do you plan to disappoint me? The prophet sees all. Your ulterior motives and all. What will the eternal life the demons give you ever amount to!? In exchange for it, just how many innocent lives will the evil god reap…!?”
The cardinal’s raised staff denied his desperate persuasion. Lured on by its movements, Suzuran looked to the heavens. The girl’s eyes quivered innocently as if waiting for candy to rain from the sky.
But what came down was light. It was beginning to converge around Randale himself, and around Suzuran, who was still kneeling beside him.
At Iori’s voice, Shouki, who was still at his feet after being kicked started running. He accelerated from resting to top speed in an instant. Snaking in between the frozen followers, he concealed himself, pressing on while concealing a low profile.
At the Hero’s sudden appearance, Randale turned in a hurry—but by then, Shouki had swept Suzuran up and held her to his body as he rolled out from the light.
The light stopped then and there. Rather than a temple, the dimness of a burial chamber shrouded the space.
“Get a grip! Agawa!”
With Suzuran in his arms, Shouki called out to her crimson-tinted irises. Eventually… her eyes that hadn’t been focused on anything blinked.
Thank god— he had made it in time. But Shouki didn’t say it aloud, for it wasn’t over yet.
Randale’s enrage roar was erased by gunfire. In Iori’s hands, what could be taken as a super-large-scale handgun or a rather small machine gun… it was a complete mystery where he had hidden it away, and yet… in his hands was an H&K MP-7.
The .45ACP cartridge blasted out a 1.6g small diameter round. And the speed of that fired bullet far surpassed that of a standard small firearm, at around twice the speed of sound.
The cardinal’s vestment imbued with a sturdy magic coating was still simply cloth. A bullet with enough energy to pierce a military-grade bulletproof vest at two hundred meters exhibited a force that didn’t fall short of a normal person being shot with a standard round.
Then came the second shot, the third and the fourth. He kept going on. The repeated transcendence of the speed barrier became a thunderous roar, echoing out in splendor.
His body dancing with each blow, his vestment died dark from blood, a crumbling elderly body. By that time, the form of those who believed in him were nowhere to be found. With the emptiness, among the reverberations of the gunshots that butchered him, the pitiful old man cried out.
“Curse… you… what are the holy knights doing!?”
While a great many did appear on his calling… with the mark of XI engraved on their shoulder shields, they didn’t dare set a foot into the holy halls. Only the sounds of them leading the believers outside echoed in the distance.
“It’s futile. I ordered my subordinates not to enter the temple.”
Ferriol said as if to hoist away his last ray of hope. And Iori had his gun in his grip, ready at any moment.
“The man who earned the name The Lightning of God can’t be dead yet. Just put an end to this, Cardinal. You can still make it.”
The small caliber could pierce, but it had little destructive force. Just as Iori warned, he still had a chance left. However,
“Kuh… si… silence…! Saint!”
Shouki noticed, he lowered his gaze to his arms. Suzuran’s eyes were wide open. With red, deep red eyes. A maddened smile as if she had lost herself. Shouki bent his body back at a burning sensation.
“… Opening gate fully. The Lord shall descend.”
A bloodstained dagger in her hand, Suzuran muttered to the sky. Without any sound, the light pierced through the dome of the temple all to the sound of Randale’s grand laugh.
And his chance kept him alive in the worst possible state. In the sky of the crumbled sky, the gate disappeared, leaving only a moon. In the darkness and still, only the tall figure of the cardinal, whose wounds had faded away remained clad in a faint glow.
“Now bear witness. For God has descended here.”
While Iori discharged his gun with a face of rage, his bullets were interrupted by an unseeable wall, they never reached again.
Magic barrier. Any pure kinetic energy not imbued with mana would have its force largely chipped away. By the ability of the wielder, that force could become infinitesimally small. When the practitioner was someone boasting the moniker The Lightning of God…
When a now-composed Randale turned his staff, Iori was struck by a serpent of electricity and sent flying. The man keeled over like an old rag.
Eventually, right before Suzuran’s’ eyes, the hero crumbled down.
The first thing she did upon regaining her senses was scream. The dagger she dropped, the tepid blood coiling around her wrist, and the form of Shouki, who shed it where he lay.
“Senpai! Master…! There’s no way! Why did I…!”
“It’s alright… I’m fine, Agawa… kuh…”
Shouki crawled to his feet in agony. Ferriol was leaning against the wall. Clarica out like a light near the entrance… Ripple-Rapple just standing there, and Meeko keeping close as if to cover the little girl.
And the walking old man.
“What are you doing, dear sound? Now offer me your power. I am not yet complete.”
“Now offer your power to God. I shall grant divine retribution to all who have tormented you.”
The moment Randale’s gaze shot through her, a black emotion swelled in the core of her chest.
It was the feeling of being abandoned by her parents. The feeling of being discriminated and neglected. The feeling of constant alienation. As if all those times and thoughts had been melted down in a pot, deep, heavy, thick, it weighed down on her as if she was being eaten into by worms.
“Open your eyes. Everyone gathered here has done nothing but use you.”
Various conversations. From Iori’s viewpoint, from Ferriol’s viewpoint, from Clarica’s viewpoint… the pieces of a plot were generated as a definitive sight within her. It wasn’t Randale showing her, it would be more accurate to say he acted as a relay to transmit their memories.
Every viewpoint, and even the most minute changes in emotion were visible to her. It was all far too realistic, as if at that very moment, she was that individual themself.
“I was… everyone? … me…”
As Randale had come right next to her, Iori tried grasping his leg, but unable to touch him, he was shot back by electricity.
“I see… you were tricking me. You too, master.”
“… That’s right. I won’t deny it.”
Turning to the young man miserably slouched on the floor, the glow in Suzuran’s grim eyes increased. Their red grew deeper.
“But I’ll say this. You’re the one who believed.”
One last insult in desperation? No, that wasn’t it.
That’s right. What had irritated her most was her unbelieving self. That detestable feeling that she could never believe something from the bottom of her heart. And so at some point, she couldn’t even trust herself anymore, and she grew fearful. That night, she was so scared, so scared she thought she was better off dead.
After she met Iori, his methods were definitely overbearing. Far too forceful, and she did go through some hell… but that was precisely how he constructed a scenario where she had no choice but to believe.
She couldn’t tell if it was intentional, but looking back on the result, she believed. In Iori, in Shouki and in Ferriol.
Both Iori and Ferriol did have their schemes, but that was because they could believe in her. In her promise to work for two billion yen, in her decision to live, they believed.
She had to answer to that.
“The lord can see all. All who have tormented you. Now sweep away such foolish souls and make a new world.”
An extended hand. Warm eyes bathed in kind affection. Like when the director at the orphanage dressed up as Santa. But Suzuran shook her head turned to Randale and looked up at him.
“Back then… I could see with you. I could see your heart.”
Leaving an ample amount of time, giving her words hidden meaning, Suzuran pulled back the curtain.
“You’ve been deceiving everyone as well. That gate of yours is just a production. A complete lie.”
The ones with their mouths wide open were Iori and Ferriol, who were supposed to have plotted everything. A bit of just desserts.
With how much she had been dragged around, Suzuran felt a bit triumphant at those expressions.
“That’s right, to you, there was never a God… or a saint to bring a God down. All you wanted was the demon lord blood that runs in my veins. So you put on a show that would let you pose as God once you had obtained power.”
“Because Zephirum told you to. With you posing as God, the demons could lead humans however they wanted, right from center stage. And using the demon lord blood within me, they would resurrect their true lord… no. By this point, you fully intend to become a demon lord yourself. Am I wrong?”
Once she had expressed precisely what she saw, perceiving it was impossible to keep up the act, or determining it was pointless to hide… or perhaps this was simply his true nature. Randale’s expression underwent a complete changed.
“… And what of it, little girl? Do you believe you can rival me as you are? Unless manipulated, forget utilizing mana, you aren’t even able to perceive it!”
“I see. So I was right.
Suzuran said as she recalled the smiles of her many fathers and mothers.
“… That’s how they all were. Each and every one of them, they would smile so kindly at first… and then they would betray me. But it’s just as master said.”
“There I was, believing it.”
Suzuran laughed. Her eyes a shade of black.
“My parents, they all abandoned me… but right now, I should be thankful to them. I mean, if even one of them weren’t here, I wouldn’t even be here right now.”
Thrown away and thrown away, she could only think of herself as unneeded; she thought to die a number of times. Even so, the she reflected back on everyone’s eyes seemed to be having so much fun.
And she was having fun.
“… I’m glad I trusted everyone. So I have to do what I can for them.”
Now to answer, to everyone who trusted me.
And Suzuran retrieved the dagger and stood.
“Hmm, so with just one dagger, a dagger I made you summon, you’ll stand against me?”
With the dagger in her hands—
“I won’t give you anything.”
and slit her own throat.
Iori, Ferriol, Meeko, Shouki… they all watched on in shock.
No one should waste life like that—Ripple-Rapple’s words came back to her.
But this wasn’t a waste.
She wasn’t dying because she was scared, because she wanted to get away.
My death will make everyone happy, Suzuran told herself. In that case, this death is the greatest value I may have. The greatest meaning for my life.
“Everyone. Thank you… I was happy.”
What a beautiful moon.
Declaring her parting to a distorting world, Suzuran collapsed down—yet not a single soul smiled upon seeing the scene.
“Hahah! Hahahahahah!! You fool! You absolute fool! Did you think that would get in my way!?”
Far too brimming with vitality to be called an old man, he sunk his hand into Suzuran’s flesh. After a repulsive sensation, the palm of his hand let off a beautiful jade-green glimmer, his hand gripping an orb of light.
“To choose death of your own accord and surrender it? Belief? Happiness? What utter nonsense! Those with power stand on top, that’s all there is to it! Even the name of God will follow with power!”
The old man deliberately peered into the girl’s face.
“… And a new world needs no fools. Die like a dog. Fwahahahahah!”
Randale embedded the orb into his own body. After a glow, what stood there with black hair, black brow, black beard—a man like an overlord from the middle ages. Laughing so high even the moon wouldn’t reach, a howling God.
So I was completely meaningless.
(I thought I was living as best as I could…)
Her body went endlessly cold. Her heart froze. Darkness and still approached.
In a sensation of death, Suzuran wept without end.
“It’s perfect. I can see everything. I know all. How wonderful. This is a demon lord… nay, a God’s power!!”
“Lightning of judgment, let all evil perish by the guidance of the lord—Thunderer’s Rain!”
Acting in concert with Ferriol’s voice, the mana in the atmosphere changed arrangement, in an instant several hundred white points formed like falling raindrops, swirling into a maelstrom of thunder and lightning. The scarce remnants of the dome ceiling collapsed, burned, vaporized, raising heated wind.
Before such electric power, even steel had its electrons snatched away and turned to dust, this was thunder magic of the highest order. The strongest magic Ferriol was currently capable of. It was something the Lightning of God Randale had taught him, and while he was doubtful how effective it would be, he knew it wouldn’t make for a decisive blow.
Twisted by sorrow and rage, the hero howled like a fierce deity.
“Oh light, assemble under the hero’s name!!”
With blood still pouring from the hold in his chest, Shouki jumped up and thrust his sword at Randale at the very moment the tempest of electricity was to cease.
A burst of light that might make the hero lost his own footing filled the inside of the dome. To put it into physical perspective, energy greater than a full power tank shell transmitted through the sword, bursting forth at a single point. Nothing but a magic barrier could block it.
That was where Ferriol saw prospects of victory. With that Thunderer’s Rain, Randale had presumably deployed some anti-thunder-attribute magic. In which case, there was no way he could reactivate his shield by the time Shouki leapt in.
A flicker. A quake. A silence returned like a gently receding wave.
It was over… at his master’s last act, at the end of a brave girl, Ferriol was just about to be hit by all its futility.
Vomiting up blood, Shouki was sent flying like a tree leaf.
There, Randale shook the soot off his robe, surveying the temple as if nothing had happened at all. His was a prideful dignity, as if everything belonged to him, and he could do with it what he wanted. Almost as if he was trying to show off the overwhelming difference in power.
The man already feared as the Lord’s Lightning in his base state had obtained the power of a demon lord. Next, an arrow of electricity stuck into Ferriol’s chest, a sharp pain racing through him.
(…!? He’s fast…!)
Thunder arrow? It was the lowest rank thunder magic, but therefore the one with the shortest interval. Then what if it was used with complete mastery? This was the answer.
Without any incantation, it activated without even giving a chance to deploy a shield; not only that, its force easily pierced through clothing with a third-level magic coating.
Ferriol harshly reprimanded the holy knights who came knowing they would find a battlefield. It wasn’t just his own bishop-class magic, even the hero’s sword didn’t make it through. He was no longer an entity within reach. Such teasing sacrifices were simply pointless.
“All troops fall back.”
“That’s an order!!”
The first severe tone the bishop who was day and knight serene as a spring breeze had shown, the firm look in his eyes.
The holy knight brigade shrinked back, as if ordered to head off to their own deaths, they hesitantly… preciously sheltered Clarica under their wing as they turned no their heels.
But that didn’t mean the situation took a turn for the better.
“What’s wrong, Ferriol. What’s wrong, Shouki? Is it over already? Now, bishop, why don’t you show me the grace of God. And you hero, what power lays hidden in the chosen one?”
The man who proclaimed himself God with the power of the demon lord declared with a wide smile.
“Indeed, this is God’s mercy! I wish to test this power to its fullest. If you prove yourself to mine eyes, I may consider using you in the new world. Now are there any challengers?”
The one who broke the silence and spoke out… who had been standing there silent, merely watching over the developments, was Ripple-Rapple.
She spoke out expressionlessly.
“As administrator of the Noesis Program, granting authorization. Present state, local scope has deviated from state D. It’s a C.”
Her motionless wide round eyes were directed straight at Iori. The opposite of Suzuran. The young girl’s eyes glistened a faint blue. But the girl didn’t say what exactly that would do. No, she couldn’t.
“Silence, insect of the dark.”
The flash struck her directly. Fwoosh… like some sort of joke, the girl was sent high and far into the air, with a thud, she fell, rolling roughly along the ground.
She sprung right back up.
“Please stop this already!”
Meeko stepped up to Randale, shouting in a mix of sorrow and anger. She was gripping a hammer with a long shaft she definitely didn’t have before.
“Why are you doing this!? We must treasure the heart to believe, the heart to give thanks, isn’t that what you said!? Why do you laugh at Suzuran once she realized that, why do you keep harming everyone!? That’s a very bad thing!”
While at first, Randale furrowed his brow as if he had heard some cryptic foreign language, he soon gave a thin smile of admiration.
“Hmm… I see it. A demon who served a demon lord of old.”
Did that mean he really could see through everything?
With such a hard-to-believe unfathomable past lain out before her, Meeko’s stiff expression didn’t change. Still with condemning eyes, she readied her elegant hammer in both hands.
“But having lived too long, you have long since lost your power, with nothing left to do but eat and sleep. I see, your whole devotion to humans is splendid proof of your senility. And what a waste. If only your power was as it had been, I’d have kept you at my side—that Myriad Mouth of yours.”
The moment she heard those words, Meeko winced back as if electricity had raced through her body.
In her convusions, she covered her face with one hand, her body keeling forward.
“No… … Hah… stop…”
“Oh? What’s this?”
Randale gleefully took in the sight. His eyes glistened like a child that had found a new toy.
“Could it be you will show me the power of Myriad Mouth?”
He asked as he snapped his fingers. The four elite guards that had been absent for some time appeared by his side. Seeing the mana they clad themselves with rising like a heat haze, Ferriol could only bite his lip.
They had to be demons of Zephirum. Otherwise, it was hard to imagine that Randale alone could keep them in the dark up to the very last moment. As the prophet had the second divisions, the guards were under the cardinal’s independent management… no doubt it was easy to find the right time and switch them out with demons.
No matter how he looked at the circumstances and worked his mind, even with Ferriol’s wisdom, he couldn’t see any possible solution.
The man who was already feared as the Lord of Lightning obtained the power of a demon lord. To top it all off, four demons… their side only had one demon, a single woman. The girl who was sent flying couldn’t be counted. The hero of hope was unconscious. This was hopeless. There was no time to wait for one of the other cardinals to arrive.
“What is so bad? What must I stop? Speak your mind.”
But with her head still hung, her face still covered, Meeko groaned. She was unable to lift herself up.
Giving up upon seeing his toy wouldn’t work to his satisfaction, and irritated as well, Randale detestfully frowned before ordering his guard.
“Get rid of her.”
He left the words before walking off to land the finishing blow on all who still drew breath. The sound of an elite drawing their sword. Four drawn swords were held high.
“Meeko, do it. By our contract, I order you as the head of the Iori House.”
On Iori’s quiet voice, Meeko’s shaking was abruptly contained. Her face still covered, through the gaps in her fingers, her eyes gleaned dangerously.
“I hate bullying the weak…”
Turning to a water-like sound, Randale widened his eyes dumbfounded.
Massive, massive, pitch black without the slightest luster. The four leeches sprouting from the floor. One of them crushed an elite to the floor armor and all, disappearing underground like a shark pulling down its catch. All that remained were the fragments of entrails and fresh blood that scattered at the impact.
The scream came from the solid stone face. The three remaining guards pressed down by leech mouths shouted, screamed and squirmed. The sound of crunching, the sound of mashing, the sound of sucking, the sound of swallowing, the sound of being carried away… the leech bodies swelled, with each vermiculation, an unpleasant sound resounding under the moon.
“Wha… that’s… h…?”
Stifling the nausea that came with the ghastly sight, Ferriol couldn’t keep himself out of the loop. If he had to equate them to monsters, they were close in shape to deathworms, but just the shame. In the first place, it was impossible for any monster to smash an elite’s orichalcum grade plate armor while simultaneously exterminating the demon inside.
“They’re called Nozuchi.”
Perhaps hearing his mutter, Iori answered quite meekly. Ferriol repeated his exact words back.
“I don’t expect you to know the name of Japanese youkai but… I hear there’s nothing those things can’t eat. That’s how it works.”
“But four demons in one breath… is it?”
“To use a god to kill a god—that’s the dark arts for you. She’s not going to stop until she’s satisfied. You’d better prepare yourself, I’m not safe either.”
(… No way.)
Ferriol tiredly denied Iori’s words. From time to time, place to place, he had scoffed at the rumors that sprung out within the assembly. He couldn’t help it.
After the demon lord fell, what happened to the legions of demons so vast that could make up an entire country? One theory stated that the demons who lost their lord fled to a paradise of darkness.
That a great many ran and ran until they reached a small island at the ends of the continent. As time went by, it was none other than humans that began to call it the land of gods. The country where it was said eight million spirits and monsters dwelled—and that the gods of legends scattered all over the world were what had become of the strongest demons of a bygone era—
Those idiotic thoughts were interrupted by intermittent screams.
“My leeeeeeeg!! My leeg! Leegg!!”
“Noooooo! Pleeassseee!! Someone!!”
Even after the leeches had swallowed them, the screams echoed cloudily from within. Gradually, bit by bit they grew distant and lost their power.
Slurp. Meeko licked her lips. From a strong self-reproach, her face compromised of just a slight satisfaction was even strangely captivating.
“Why do you churn up the sediment? Churning the sediment is a sad thing to do?”
Each Nozuchi finished with its meal lifted its neck, lurching towards Randale. Clots of dripping blood stuck fast to their round mouths, the countless fangs that sprouted all the way to the depths of their throat loosely dangled fragments of sorts, alongside scraps like the odd ends of vinyl bags.
“You’re a lowly monster behind the times, nothing more than a senile beast!”
Randale swung his staff before taking one horizontal swipe as if to cut through his stole. The flash of lightning that flew on the tracks he drew swung like a whip, tearing through the four nozuchi. As their heads fell, they touched the floor without a sound, and sank into the earth, melting into it.
“Don’t think me the same as those low-end demons.”
“Even so… all you pulled out of Suzuran was a small fragment.”
Absurd. The current Randale was perfect, was he not? She would say even this completion was a fragment… the one who thought that was Iori, and Ferriol as well. While they couldn’t determine the authenticity, for the two who had thoroughly submerged themselves in the world of darkness, they could do nothing more than swallow her words with surprise.
“That’s why it will only be bullying the weak. Don’t you get why gentle Taki goes running around calling himself an evil organization, desperately working his head? It’s because he knows the sediment just wants to sleep… to be at peace. Because he doesn’t want us to bully the weak.”
Forget provocations, Meeko’s attitude was as if she was teaching common sense to an unruly child.
“What blasphemy… May you learn the depths of your hubris first-hand! The wrath of God!!”
An explosion broke out at her feet and her body floated into the air. Only when her delicate silhouette overlapped with the moon did Randale lower his staff, striking her down with a monstrous serpent of lightning.
All while that happened, a sublime level of light had amassed around his body. A sash of light raced through the temple, crumbling all its walls piercing all the way into the summits of nearby buildings, crumbling everything it touched without a sound.
The numerous high-level magics he emitted without a word of incantation evidently demonstrated the height of his power. He truly was manipulating the forces of mana at his beck and call.
“Ha… fwahahah! It’s over, demon of gluttony.”
“Oh, this takes me back. But what exactly is over?”
At the sluggish voice he heard from the dense rising smoke, Randale’s smile froze over.
At the end of his eyes, Meeko stood calmly with her arms folded. Her headdress had flown off, her lavender-colored ribbon torn up, her vivid black hair spread over her back, but apart from that, there was nothing different about her
“Is it your farce that has ended? Or your silly playtime? No, that simply can’t be.”
There was a smile on her face as she declared it so. Yet what Ferriol had seen here before, that kindness in her had disappeared without a trace. On a different tangent from the manipulated Suzuran, her imminent smile fastened his eyes to her beautiful looks.
“I mean, you surpassed the bounds of mankind, have you not? The outside world… the fourth world’s joyous games have only just begun.”
With an ulp, a flock of nozuchi gushed forth from the floor. Over a dozen. Surrounding, as a mating sunflower hangs its head, the glimmering teeth in their oral cavities pointed down.
Sever them with lightning, burn them with light as he may, the nozuchis kept sprouting, and sprouting some more… giving form to the myriad.
At the uncanniness, the man who called himself God finally felt his hairs raising, his body begun to shake. A fear in regards to absolute power. Its incarnation, the woman only seemed giddier and giddier, her arms spread wide as if to welcome a good friend.
“Now let it commence! Your grand welcome party to the outside world! The strife of the fourth world! A party of nothing but destruction and death! Come Mara, come Anubis, come Qitan Dasheng, come Tlazolteotl, come Beelzebub… oh, everyone, it’s all been so long! Now let’s all crush one another more!!”
Chanting the names of mythical gods, Meeko romped like a small child. The nozuchis danced. Their eyes seemed to see not Randale, but some faraway land.
Perceiving his chance as Meeko flew completely off the rails, Randale brushed one Nozuchi away with his lightning flash.
“Then I need only wait until I’ve obtained the power completely! No, even if I cannot…”
He started off, hoisting up the still-collapsed Shouki and Suzuran in his two arms.
“If I take these two back, Zephirum will have no choice but to accept me…!”
Ferriol cried and tried to stand, but a sharp pain wouldn’t let him. Hemorrhaging lungs brought him to his knees. Despite his struggles, Randale’s body had begun melting into the air.
“Tsk, he’s getting away…!”
Iori watched him and readied his gun, but he was injured as well. While he didn’t have any internal bleeding, at the very least, his ribs were shattered. Unable to get any power into his hazing eyes, he couldn’t set his aim.
Randale gave a light smile.
“I’ll say it once more. What does belief get you? I entrusted this body to the assembly, and in the end, what has the God I believed in wholeheartedly for over seventy years ever brought me? But they are different… Ferriol. And Iori, was it? You were able to corner me to the last second, I’ll put in a report to Zephirum’s top brass. If you’re ever in the mood—”
Finally, his leisurely smile disappeared into empty space, only the reverberations of his voice echoing back. Ferriol lamented as he held his hurting chest.
“… He completely… pulled one over us.”
“Damn… it just had to be the isolated world! If only we had Saho we could chase him…”
Where those commonly referred to as ghosts resided, he had jumped into an endlessly layered parallel world. Whatever events occurred in that world imparted absolutely no influence to reality. But if he changed coordinates and then made it back… as the outside couldn’t interfere either, it could be used for escape as Randale had done. Owing to its endless layers, even if one entered the isolated world themselves to give chase, it was a hard gamble to arrive at the exact same depth.
“… I’ll return to the grand temple, I’ll look to the other cardinals for direction.”
“… I see. Then I’ll…”
When Iori and Ferriol were about to give up.
“Where are you going with such a lovely demon lord?”
Their ears were struck by the voice of a woman in a trance. A nozuchi more than two times larger than any before it sailed past the empty space where Randale had been… and latched onto nothing.
No, it bit into it.
With a local earthquake to crumble the knees, the space fractured. Nay, cracks formed as two spaces were forcefully linked together, and it was reality itself that shook.
It grated as if it was strangled in a vice, the elliptical of the nozuchis jaw widened even further as it came down.
“Wha…!? Meeko! That’s enough!”
Even Iori’s uneasy voice didn’t reach.
“I hate bullying the weak.”
Meeko lited the corners of her lips in a belligerent smile. As I coupled with that motion, the nozuchi madly twisted its body, its fangs sinking in even deeper.
The cracks in space spread into a spider’s web, with the dreadful din of the air in the stratosphere wrenched apart, everything rumbled. It shook as everything left of the temple walls collapsed in.
“Impossible, irrational, irresponsible… I love it!”
The only one laughing was Meeko, but she suddenly opened her eyes wide.
Could this really be contained to the temple? At least Tokyo would be wiped out… Ferriol had been ready to risk his own life and the fate of the world but—nothing happened.
When he timidly opened his eyes, Meeko, and the space the nozuchi had been were covered in a thin black curtain.
Standing despondently still in front of it was Ripple-Rapple. The girl who had done little more than fixedly watch over the developments since she was sent flying now held a solemn staff unbefitting her appearance or stature in hand, her hair and eyes shimmering a vivid blue.
Iori had brought her. Surely this girl was no ordinary demon.
“Well done, Ripple-Rapple.”
On Iori’s voice, the girl tapped the staff against the floor. The shield dispersed. The girl’s hair and eyes reverted to their previous color as there, an injured Shouki down for the count, and a Suzuran draped over him as if to protect him were enveloped in a faint light.
Eventually, it popped. The power drained from Suzuran’s expression and the lights faded out.
“Suzuran… protected the brat from that special fracture. Good grief, she’s like a bloody saint.”
“Yes… so it seems.”
And with her eyes fixed on the overlapping two was a woman like the holy mother. Her eyes hung somewhat drowsily, the sinister leeches around her had disappeared without a trace.
To the side there was another. An old man collapsed, the hero’s sword stuck deeply into his chest.
“Hmph… and in the end, the one who decided it was the damn brat. What does he think he is? A hero?”
Ferril broke into a wry smile at Iori’s cynicism.
“Well, you get how it is, Suzuran.”
“No… I seriously don’t get anything…”
It was true she fell unconscious in an attempt at suicide… she didn’t remember anything of what came after. Not even why she was stacked on top of Shouki when she opened her eyes. The cut she put on her own neck was long gone. According to Iori, that level of recovery could be explained away with a demon lord’s regenerative power.
(But didn’t the cardinal snatch that…)
She got the feeling he did.
And Meeko who apparently did something in this temple, like she was reclining on an invisible sofa, was asleep in the air. Shouki was meanwhile being treated by someone associated with the temple.
Before Iori, who had begun his unsteady hobble to the exit, a Ferriol who had finished his treatment appeared. His smile unchanged from before. Perhaps just a smidgen of relief was mixed in.
“Good work out there, Takase. You had us play the role of the incompetent buffoon.”
“Hmph. I did my part. Now you’ll honor our promise.”
“Of course. Though I say that…”
Ferriol smiled as he looked over the temple. In the wreckage as if a missile had hit, the knights who he’d explained the situation to were busy at work cleaning up.
Putting aside the fact that Ripple-Rapple was ordering them around for some reason.
“It’s in quite a sorry state, but from the start, this was a temple Randale erected just for today, and it’s no big loss. We’ll withdraw from Tokyo.”
Iori started off again. As he passed by, Ferriol’s eyes let off a cold gleam.
“Someday, I’ll take the empty cardinal seat. Don’t think you can stay in the darkness forever. I’m not holding back.”
Iori looked down, pushing up his glasses.
“You can still say that after what you just saw?”
“To shy back from something on that level, you really are too kind. You don’t know the true light.”
The two continued speaking to the other’s back.
“I only let you go today… to give you time to regret how you’ve spat in the face of the heavens. Next time we meet, you’re dead.”
“I see. Then until then, you’d better think long and heard. About just who it is you’re dealing with.”
And with peaceful faces, they went their separate ways.
Neither of them were the people that Suzuran knew.
“Suzuran, you did well. I’m truly grateful.”
Ferriol’s eyes had relaxed. As if his exchange with Iori had never happened. The hand he gripped her’s with was as warm as his smile.
“Yeah… well, I kinda get the feeling I was just flopping around, then dazing out, and then killing myself, but…”
“Our powers were far too insufficient, and we reluctantly had no choice but to use the darkness… but thanks to that, the world was saved. To think your sincere feelings were enough to move the heart of that demon.”
“Was that… also part of your calculations?”
“No way. Human feelings are limitless. Just as you found your gratitude at that moment.”
Ferriol’s smile widened.
Suzuran got the feeling he was avoiding the question, but as everything had worked out, she would let him off. In the first place, the people of these words were too good at lining up incomprehensible jargon, it was hard to tell if anything they said was truth or lie. As a matter of fact, that’s what tricked her.
“The Tokyo temple is gone, but if you’re ever in trouble… well let’s see, just put in a message through Shouki. I’ll prioritize you over everything else. Well then.”
Ferriol left with a vibrant face.
Meaning the sacred assembly’s… if he made true on his word, their future cardinal was her ally. Of course, the fact this temple was gone meant that the assembly would likely once again dive into the third world—the world of darkness, but even if that was the case, it was kinda reassuring.
No, even I was of some use… and he recognized that. Perhaps she felt satisfied by the thought.
(Eheheh… am I hitting it off?)
“What are you laughing about, Suzuran? We’re going home. Take Meeko.”
“Hmm? But she’s sleeping.”
“She slides when she’s floating. Hurry up.”
“Ah, got it.”
Suzuran ran off with a light reply.
“Good grief, when the world is starting to turn… the folks at my place are…”
Iori sighed as he pushed up his glasses, walking while dragging his tired feet.