Now then, there were no convenient pitfalls in the mansion itself, so unable to shake off the knights, Suzuran hightailed her way out of the lobby.
After following Iori’s orders to stuff Saho into one of the rooms along the way, she found herself going in circles, as far as she could tell. Going down corridors with similar scenery, doubling back on them, going up stairs, going down stairs.
Could it be she was to spend the next two days like this… all the running around definitely made it seem that way.
The great escape with no goal brought back memories of the hellish interval training at the track team. To eternally traverse the unchanging sights of the school grounds. At full speed when not resting.
When she turned a corner, she would take a breather. When the knights got too close, she was dashing off again. It was the same sort of purgatory.
‘You’re sounding better than ever before, Suzuran.’
She was going to kill him one of these days. Her fatigue made it too easy to sprout murderous intent.
But before she knew it, the knights’ footsteps were decreasing one by one. A little while after she climbed down from the third floor to the first, she could at most see two or three hobbling like zombies in the distance.
Suzuran stopped and collected herself.
(Ah, I see…)
They were, so to speak, the assembly’s soldiers. It could be assumed they trained to exhibit explosive power in battle. In that case, the quality of their fast muscles and slow muscles were suited for another task… she recalled a lecture from the teacher in charge of her club. Upper body muscles made to swing a sword would just become a weight on a long-distance run.
To Suzuran who had handled both long and short distances, while their equipment also surely played a part, the moment her physical parameters were brought to their level she held a definitive advantage. The fact they were able to chase her so long had to be the work of the world of darkness, or otherwise a miracle.
And just like that, as she wiped her sweat and opened the collar of her blouse to send some air to her burning body, one of the knights cried out. In the T of the hallway he had approached, the man with readied sword was knocked out with a long-shafted hammer from an angle that Suzuran couldn’t see.
No, from its slim shape, perhaps it was more properly an elegant gateball stick. Its wielder was Meeko. She airily floated, with a bit of a sorrowful expression, clang, clang, she smacked down knights at the brink of their stamina and rendered them unconscious.
“Suzuran. That should be the last of them.”
Kind as she was, it must have been suffering just to hit them. As Suzuran nodded and smile, Meeko was freed from her penance, smiling back and then sighing.
“… Rather, Meeko, who are you?”
From how she managed to knock trained knights out through their helmets, the word astounding did suffice.
“Are you… a ghost?”
“I see… so you… found me out?”
“No! Whoah! Umm! I was lying, I don’t know anything, I didn’t see anything!”
As Suzuran flailed her limbs around, Meeko grinned.
“Just kidding. Ghosts are, you know. Like the ones Saho’s always staring at…”
“… Huh? Eeeeh!?”
Even if she said it like it was the most obvious thing in the world, Suzuran couldn’t see them.
“What am I… Taki didn’t tell you?”
“Heh? No, well…”
“I see. I’m apparently a demon, truth be told.”
Now then, yet another curious word came out. Suzuran slumped down in her heart. The apparently meant her memories really were hazy after all.
Taking some handcuffs out of the bag on her back, Meeko restricted the limbs of each knight individually. That must have been why their numbers never made a resurgence.
“According to Taki, it means a human who has magic power in their body.”
That sort of made sense. Seeing as how she, a human could be the demon lord.
And because she boasted this negative magic or what not… ah, whatever. It was starting to feel idiotic.
“Meeko, are you sure master isn’t pulling a fast one on…”
She was about to say when a sharp voice struck their earlobes.
‘Suzuran, how long are you going to laze around!?’
“Heh? But the knights are already…”
‘Yeah, just get running! Curse that crazed…!’
The roaring gunshot caused Suzuran’s head to snap towards the window. No, it was the window that was nearly snapping from the ball of lead embedded from the outside.
Before Suzuran could understand what happened, the next gunshots came in rapid succession like a machine gun; the bulletproof glass creaked, distorted as cracks spread across it.
Eventually, it raised a shriek as it cracked to pieces.
“Found ya, Ms. Suzuran.”
Beyond the shattering glass that glimmered beautifully in the moonlight, her Mauser pistol held like a rifle, the wind making her priestly garb and gunpowder trail, a single sister.
After changing out the magazine, she pulled the trigger as she raced towards her.
Meeko pushed Suzuran aside and away. Right where she had moved her hammer, the sharp ping of metal on metal resounded.
(No way… she deflected that…!?)
‘What are you doing, Suzuran!? Run!’
Perhaps picking it up from the shift in her feet, Clarica called out.
“Not gonna happen! Mr. Shouki!”
The hero came racing down the corner at a superhuman speed. He cleared the corridor like lightning, closing in right before Meeko’s eyes.
“This takes me back…”
Meeko narrowed her eyes and muttered, her weapon braced with both hands at the sword lowered with the man’s momentum. The sound of sparks rung out. While the shaft managed to stop the hero’s sword, Meeko was overcome by the momentum and sent flying, her back smacked into the wall.
In that space of time, Clarica cleared the window.
Iori’s voice echoed through the transceiver. From the opposite direction from where Shouki appeared, the one-eyed girl with her hand still on the katana at her waist gleefully jumped into action.
“Understood, my lord.”
She was far too fast. Perhaps faster than Shouki.
Her widespread legs completely ignoring her long skirt shot her forward in a low posture as if crawling along the ground, and as she ran passed Suzuran like the wind, she drew the sword.
The horizontal swipe was aimed at Clarica, still dancing through the air.
At the last moment, the sister put a hand to the window frame overhead, yanking herself up, avoiding the naked blade by a hairs breath, and propelling her over Saho’s head.
“Not on my watch!”
Anticipating the moment the katana’s angle changed towards the ceiling, Shouki took a step towards Saho. Only the one-eyed girl’s one eye flickered towards him as she offhandedly kicked up the armor at her feet.
With the lifted knight’s body made a shield, Shouki pulled back his blade at the last second. Hiding in the armor’s shadow, Saho, sunk down, the tip of her blade slinking along the floor raising in one breath.
Her eyes and nose pointed straight at Shouki as he just barely managed to lock blades.
An instant. Saho turned on the spot, thrusting her blade in from another angle.
“He is strong, sir.”
Her left eye was opened to its limit, outside her teeth tightly grit at the meeting of blades, the corners of her lips were grandly lifted up.
Saho was abnormal. But seeing through her and blocking again, Shouki couldn’t be normal either. Suzuran’s eyes could only pick up isolated frames of this series of events.
Even as he took and parried the strike aimed at his head, Shouki was being pushed back. He had no means to deliver a significant blow. Not that Suzuran wanted to see him cut another human being.
A gunshot. Having finally landed in the hallway, Clarica went on an offensive against Meeko. Freezing her in place with bullets, she flew. While Meeko lifted her hammer so as to get a counter in on the sister, Clarica immediately kicked the nearest wall, changing her course in midair, directing the silver wand she pulled from behind her hips at her.
A strobe light-like flash of electricity flickered from the staff, disorienting Suzurans eyes. And the next she could open her eyelids, the wand was directed at a wide-open Meeko’s chest.
With Clarica’s shout, the dull sound of compressed air. Meeko was shot back as she was hit by a moving train, her back cracking bulletproof glass as she collapsed. Thud. Her body sunk down with a heavy thud.
Absurd. The first battle Suzuran had seen between residents of the world of darkness had strikingly deviated from common sense.
The blade match straight out of a samurai drama that continued between Saho and Shouki also wrapped up with the strange sound of metal. With how much force, how many times did blades meet? The body of Saho’s katana shattered and snapped from around the center.
Shouki muttered as the pommel of his sword stuck into the young girl’s solar plexus. Saho fell limp, collapsing into Shouki’s arms.
All that remained was a dumbfounded Suzuran.
She realized she had no hopes of victory. She could try running, but the speed of these two was incomparable to the knights.
“Haah… what even was this girl…”
His face still in disbelief, Shouki lay Saho down on the floor. Clarica was pointing her Magicalize Indicator at her before he even asked.
“This unnatural waveform… she’s probably an induit chasseur.”
“They have mana forcefully embedded in their body, specialized solely for combat… how should I put it? Right, right, they’re pretty much man-made-demons. Though it sounds funny.”
Then did Iori? Suzuran could feel something in her chest chill at their conversation. What if it was Iori who made Saho like that.
Clarica asked, sensing something amiss… but Suzuran didn’t quite know herself. She simply lowered her eyes to her feet.
Shouki retrieved Saho’s transceiver.
“Iori. Can you hear me?”
‘Is that you, damn brat? The reception’s fine. You’ve got three bars.’
The voice that came back wasn’t over the transceiver, it was a building-wide broadcast.
“Playtime’s over. If you’re hiding, then stay that way. Right now… I really will kill you.”
Shouki strangled his hilt.
You’re always just screwing around. You’re so detestable it’s unfathomable. Even so… I thought you were someone I couldn’t bring myself to hate. But Iori. You crossed the line you shouldn’t have… The proof is right before my eyes.”
‘Are you talking about Saho?’
“You destroyed the life and future of a young girl.”
“And it’s not just her! Like hell I’ll let you do the same to Agawa!!”
His wrath was so palpable even his ally Clarica had to wince.
‘Yeah, got it, got it… by the way, and I’d just like to ask. Damn brat, you catch Suzuran and then what?’
Shouki stopped mid-sentence. He had already noticed.
He was bitter. Iori laughed as he pointed out the reason.
‘You take her out of here, and there’re only two paths for you. Hand her over to the temple so they can lift her up as the saint she doesn’t want to be. Or make an escape with the holy knight order as your enemy.’
‘No… that’s right, there was another. The baptism fails, and you cut down the demon lord with your own sword…’
‘Kukuh… good grief, if only Suzuran had a will as strong as yours, my life would be so much easier.’
“What do you mean by that?”
‘Very well. Take Suzuran with you.’
They all raised their face at that unexpected reply.
‘To borrow the brat’s word, playtime’s over. Suzuran. Don’t worry, I won’t say I’ll blow up such and such anymore. That suicide bomb implanted in your…’
‘Er, rather, I won’t tell you to disappear with a hand grenade anymore. Suzuran. Even being granted magic and being shoved into a battlefield, you showed no glimpses of a demon lord. Honestly, I’m at a loss.’
“No, umm, right now, did you just say something about a suicide bo…”
‘I now realize I lack the means. So go to the assembly, get your baptism. I’ll screw it up with the perfect timing to force out the demon lord in you.’
“D-d-d-did you do something to my body!? You did, didn’t you!? You did, goddamnit!! That’s why you’re pulling back so easily! You stupid glasses! Taki, you stupid glasses!!”
Neither Shouki nor Clarica could approach her in her hysteria, but…
An eighteen-liter drum filled to the brim came falling down from the ceiling directly colliding with the crown of Suzuran’s head. Enough force to smash her transceiver knocked her out cold.
‘You heard me, sister. I’m entrusting her to you temporarily.’
“I see your game,”
Clarica slung Suzuran over her shoulder in half a cold sweat.
“But it won’t be temporary, it’ll be no interest no limitations. Don’t think you’ll be getting her back.”
‘I see… kukuh, you do have a point. Once she becomes demon lord, not even I can control her. Do your best to handle her with carelessness. Until then.’
A stillness. After which, Clarica loudly exclaimed.
“Mission complete!! Congratulations!! Clapclapclap, hooray…!!… Now, Mr. Shouki, let’s get going.”
Shouki sheathed his sword and cast his head down.
“You heard him…”
“He won’t be able to screw it up. Not only is Bishop Ferriol at the temple, even the cardinal’s there.”
It certainly did seem impossible to obstruct. No, that’s precisely why it weighed on him. Was Iori the sort to declare things without any prospects? But what weighed on him even more was actually Clarica’s conduct. She managed to fend off the sort of high-ranking evil that not only took on human form but could even float… even if that was fine in and of itself, then why didn’t she use that power back at the viewing platform?
And she was also the one who had him wait a while after the holy knights rushed in. As if she was waiting for those knights to be rendered powerless…
“Now let’s nab the lot of them! That small child, that demon, and that induit chasseur, we gotta catch ‘em all!! Mr. Shouki, you take those two, I’ll get the helicopter!”
Still carrying Suzuran hopped out of the window frame she came from.
“H-hey…! Now… what…”
The voice put him on guard. The female demon got up with a haggard look on her face. But there was no hostility in her lonesome expression. Forget that,
“Please use this… to free the holy knights.”
She held out a key to him.
“A… aren’t you supposed to be a demon…”
Good or bad, that made the sacred assembly her enemy. Naturally, Shouki who belonged to it was an enemy as well. But at present, she wasn’t making that sort of face. Nothing more than a melancholic countenance. A demon with great powers she may be… but as long as there was no brutality or aggression, he was starting to think she wasn’t much different from human.
“My name is Meeko. Ever since I was brought to this mansion, I’ve been forced to work every day by Lord Iori…”
Shouki sympathized with the woman gracefully closing her eyes.
“I see. He’s terrible…”
“Yes. I can only pray a brave man like you will someday come to save even a demon like me.”
She held him in a warm embrace.
With the soft touch of an adult woman coupled with the scent of flowers, a male high school student without any notable resistance… had no way of noticing the man with the smile of the devil who appeared from the door opening silently behind him.
“Hurry! Don’t dawdle!!”
Finally drafting up a strategy of cutting and collapsing the walls of the trap to make a stairway, the captain did finally make his return to the surface, but what he came upon there was a menacing flock of monster.
From the forest in the depths of the yard, abstract energy bodies called whisps. Giant spiders with legs as thick as telephone poles. Skeletons armed with swords and spears… both their variety and numbers were beyond count.
Through the window, he could see the giant striding through the mansion halls. A stone golem? With no time to remove their handcuffs, the knights who had just smashed whatever chain they could were confusedly on the run.
“What is the meaning of this…!”
It wasn’t as if the eleventh order of holy knights had no experience combating monsters. But the swarm that welled up was far too vast.
The monsters that appeared from practically every blade of grass in the hills and valleys swaggered like they owned the place, as if to boast that this was their underworld.
This was unprecedented. What were supposed to be veteran knights were driven by the unease of new recruits as they held back a surge of monsters from the forest.
“Captain! All two hundred and four members are accounted for!”
By the time he got out, the captain couldn’t catch sight of that little girl. Did the monsters get her? No, if she wasn’t here now, there was no way she could be saved. He had other priorities.
“Fourth platoon take the rearguard! The rest of you, hurry out the gate!”
Speaking of who wasn’t around, where was the hero at such a pivotal moment? That sister was also…
“Yo, cap? You seen Shouki around!?”
The sister giving a girl in maid clothes a piggyback rushed around the corner of the house.
“By the Lord! Wasn’t he supposed to be with you!?”
“Well I went and got Ms. Suzuran outa there. I leave you alone for one minute and… what is going on here!?”
“No clue! Whatever the case, we can’t manage with our current forces. But if the saint is in our hands, we may go forth with His grace! Retreat!”
“Erk… there are no resets in real life, Mr. Shouki…”
Just when he thought she’d made a bit of a sad face, the sister raced out the gate at a breakneck pace.
“Well she’s a real piece of work…”
“Captain! Captain, you need to hurry too!”
“I know! Next time we come, we’ll bury the lot of them, these irksome impure beasts!”
With that loud proclamation to the swarm of monsters, the captain took his leave.