“Aah, dammit… so a BMW rides this nicely… curse you and your money…!”
The hero who arbitrarily stole a bike from the garage, and even started complaining about its owner, Hasebe Shouki. Incidentally, this bike was a piece of work he wasn’t supposed to ride with his mid-size two-wheeler license. And he was riding doubles with no helmet.
This was the work of a delinquent.
But when her grandfather was the chairman of a prestigious private school, and her father the director of the Kantou Agency… Makoto who had lived a sheltered life found it considerably stimulating. If their destination wasn’t death, but someplace with a pretty night view, her heart would probably be dancing.
By the way, Makoto did try pushing her breasts up against his back from time to time, but he showed absolutely no reaction.
“Is this bike really that expensive.”
“That’s right, a new one would run more than two million yen.”
“Hmmm… hey, how much is your bike, anyway?”
“… I got it at a junkyard.”
His voice was loathsome and restrained.
Well, it didn’t really matter. Even if it was just a trivial back and forth, Makoto just wanted to try enjoying some conversation. But the time passed by. They were approaching a scenery she knew all too well.
That’s why Makoto gave his back a strong grip. They were on a bike at the moment. If she didn’t she would fall, and the night wind was cold.
Deep in the mountains, away from human habitation, the two stepped off the bike before a decrepit research site.
The gate was left open, all the windows of the few lab buildings pitch black, not the slightest shadow of a guard to be seen. Not even the alarm that was supposed to go off with an intruder sounded.
“Huh? Now this is strange. Where could everyone have gone?”
“Makoto…? There’s less than three hours left.”
“That’s why I’m wondering if they already headed off to Kasumigaseki or something… that sounds about right. No one will notice if they send up the signal flares here. This isn’t the place for a coup.”
As Makoto said it as if it were nothing, Shouki hung his head.
“Then why did we come all the way here…”
“Just kidding. We’re not at HQ yet.”
Shouki asked perplexed. The facility’s grounds were somewhat vast, but not so large he couldn’t look over them. And the only path connected to this point was the one they had come down.
“The ones participating in the coup are probably gathering there. The remaining confined agents have probably been transferred there so they don’t do their own thing…”
Makoto said, seeing the door to one building had been thrown open.
“And where is there?”
Shouki squinted at the strong wind and thick clouds of the darkness of the night. Makoto’s pointed finger went to her feet.
“Kantou Agency HQ, see, it’s got a straight passage to Kasumigaseki for emergency use… it’s an underground facility.”
An elevator vast enough to contain a ten-ton truck slowly slid open its doors with the tasteless blare of a buzzer. How wasteful of a ride for two.
Only the mechanical light leaking from the box of metal formed a shadow at their backs.
“The Japanese army, see, I hear they prepared a few forts in preparation for a battle on the home front. The place we’re headed is a remodeled one of them.”
“Did Japan already have that technology back then? An underground laboratory… not a bomb shelter?”
Shouki opened his eyes, somewhat impressed.
“We’re talking about the third world here… even you could fire off a few magic blasts, and carve out a moderate hold, right?”
“No, I’d rather not use that but… considering firepower, I guess you’re right.”
“The chimera that didn’t go to the front lines, not worth enough as samples were used for that sort of forced labor.”
Upon hearing that, Shouki fell into an irksome silence.
There were no police or self-defense force or US armed forces or sacred assembly here. The fact that absolutely nothing was transpiring at the moment meant those steering committee geezers really didn’t take a single countermeasure.
Albeit, that was at least beneficial in that it didn’t make the ruckus any bigger than it already was.
Right. An opponent even the sacred assembly might not be a match for…
Makoto scanned the elevator interior as she tried asking in a mutter.
“… Hey, Hasebe. Have you ever resolved for death before?”
“I’ve been doing it every day since I was chosen as the hero. I’m doing it now.”
The answer returned with no hesitation. To say that was only obvious.
How could he be so… tactlessly frank? What did she have to do to show such a straightforward expression? If he showed just the slightest bit of weakness, it wasn’t too late for Makoto to say they were retreating. But by this point, she could try to stop him, and he probably wouldn’t listen.
Perhaps she really shouldn’t have opened up to him. Makoto condemned herself. The fact she clung onto him on nothing but hypothetical odds.
“What about you, Makoto? I can go the rest of the distance alone. No, that’s probably for the best…”
Makoto shook her head.
“You can’t. The way I see it, I became director because I wanted to. I’m the only one who really has to go. I don’t have any power… but I’d hate it if that means doing nothing at all.”
Makoto’s set her foot a step into the elevator.
“… You’re really something you know.”
When Makoto turned to those unanticipated words, Shouki was also calmly crossing over that threshold.
“You don’t have any power, you usually can’t say that so frankly. If it were me, I’d be so irritated, so irritated I’d…”
“What, are you bragging?”
Makoto frowned, folding her arms.
“… I think it’s amazing to recognize your own weakness. That’s all it is. My personal opinion. And you’re not powerless, are you… you brought me all the way here.”
Simply brimming with confidence, Shouki pointed his thumb towards himself. He’s trying to give me confidence, she realized.
“… Then we’ll leave it at that. You’re trying ooooh so hard to console me and all. I’ll just say it upfront, but I’m not falling for you.”
“Wha… you know, if you were just a little more honest with yourself…?”
“Then what? You’d fall for me?”
At Makoto’s mischievous smile, Shouki blushed and turned away, muttering complaints to himself.
The door closed, she pushed the button down. She could hear the quiet low groans of the hydraulic motor. Instead of floor numbers, a depth display in meter increments slowly passed down each gradation.
In the end, she didn’t get E0, nor a sacred treasure, nor a demon. But Makoto’s heart was far clearer than it was when she was desperately scrambling to obtain power.
She had a friend who accepted her. Right, a friend. She definitely wasn’t serious, but should she hazard a confession? Just how would he react?
(… As if…)
Eventually, the meter quietly stopped in place. And with it came a weak change in weight.
The buzzer chimed again, the door of steel slowly spread its mouth left and right.
“You did well to come here, Director Hida Makoto. And welcome, Hero Hasebe Shouki. This is the headquarters of the Kantou Agency.”
With Belronde’s voice as the signal came the sounds of countless circuits flipping all at once. The same number of lights flickered on all at once.
While at first, Shouki had to grimace at the brightness, he was soon looking up at the space dumbfounded.
He wouldn’t call it a high rise, but even so a four, maybe five-story buildings sprouted under the bedrock with steel mesh spread across it like netting. All in all, it was more than twice the size of the research facility above ground. The main street that continued on from the elevator was paved in asphalt, even plant life had been laid out.
“An underground city…!? To think there was such a place in Japan…!”
But Shouki’s wonder only lasted a brief instant.
From the elevator entrance in a few dozen meter encirclement, the combatants of the Kantou Agency were in position with their machine guns, their leader E1, Karasu Kikuhito at the center… mixed in with them, a demon in a medieval European-dressed demon laughed.
“I did see it coming… but to think they’d go so far. They’ve got us, Makoto.”
“Well… it was inevitable. The elevator was the only thing operational.”
To invite them in, clearly. Even so, if at the very least they were already en route to Tokyo… it would be quite difficult to take all the imprisoned agents with her… by releasing those non-participants, she would have been able to form a somewhat decent position.
She was far too naïve. She knew that, but she could only cling onto the possibility. So this was it.
Makoto’s succumbed to her realization and raised her hand. Seeing that, Shouki also placed his sword at his feet…
“The demon candidate isn’t with you but… very well. I shall pay my respects to the director who really did return, and grant you a chance. It’s a simple game.”
At those unexpected words from Belronde, Makoto and Shouki filled with doubt.
“I’m not bad at Othello.”
At least make it shogi or chess.
Shouki’s spaced-out words revealed his simplicity, but no matter how much she wanted to, Makoto couldn’t hold her head.
“Even simpler than that. Defeat everyone here, that’s all there is to it.”
Belronde’s hands spread far and wide to indicate the combatants he’d deployed. With a cynical sneer, Shouki warily picked up the sword he had lowered.
“That’s fine by me… but do you have that leisure? There’s only two hours left to the midnight you proclaimed.”
“It is of little consequence. And this is a necessary game for me. A dragoon field test, you’re the only foe I know can endure it… and that is the request of Zephirum’s supreme leader. At the very least, if you can’t keep these children company… you won’t hold up against me.”
Some pulled their slender provision sabers, others readied their guns. Each took on the style they excelled in most as the agents showed their will to fight.
“And that is what I get in exchange for helping out their cause.”
It was only at that point that Makoto finally cursed her own idiocy from the depths of her heart. Against monsters with extraordinary powers, Shouki didn’t break a sweat. But he didn’t kill humans.
“He’s being pressed hard.”
As Makoto folded her arms and watched, at the other end of the gun pointing at her, Kikuhito muttered uninterestedly through his cigarette-clenching lips.
“Ooh, and which side are you referring to?”
“Director, it’s gotta be that hero you brought in.”
With a cynical smile, he jerked his chin in that general direction.
“Why won’t you listen to me!?”
With a voice of agony, Shouki smacked aside an agent’s head with the flat body of his sword. The sixth knock out. Even so, the numbers surrounding him showed little change.
“You’re just being deceived! You’re being tricked by that Demon Belronde!”
“You’re wrong… this is a battle to let them know our tragedy!”
One loudly cried out, his slender saber locking with Shouki’s blade. Following on from him, a girl in a uniform, the same age as Makoto spoke.
“Because it’s for peace, because it’s to protect the country… but why does that make us the only ones who have to fight!? Isn’t that right!? The government doesn’t see us as humans… we disposable pieces!”
As orphans, they were never granted any choice but to fight. And once the procedure to turn them into induit chasseurs was complete and mana was embedded in them, by the time they were aware of it, they could no longer return to the surface world.
Silly talks, boring studies, and an adolescence that simply passes by… the oh-so-natural time everyone else spent in indolence, that peace was what they had fought for. Yet not a single one of them would ever understand or know a single thing they were trying to protect.
Even Kikuhito right beside her, if he took off that suffocating uniform and put on something fashionable, then Shibuya, Ikebukuro, Shinjuku… he wouldn’t feel out of place anywhere.
And here he was, manipulating a gun with well-trained hands. He could calmly point it at people, that was the reality. The little glimpses of fashion he did hold up were for nothing more than to blend in with the rabble while on a mission, that was the reality.
That was what Kikuhito cried out.
“Do you get it, hero… just how many of our comrades do you think have died for this country’s peace!? Compare it to the country’s populations, and their lives must’ve been nothing, but that doesn’t mean all the people we protected don’t offer a single flower! All we seek is a normal happiness, what will you say is our sin!?”
Shouki’s expression warped at Kikuhito’s dry voice. Anger? Sorrow? Pity? Makoto couldn’t tell. But he was making a terribly tormented face.
Shouki was… the hero was an existence that would be envied and thanked just by going to the temple. And he was a soldier who knew not the opposite.
“That’s why we’re ending it!”
A single girl brandished her hand. The light bullet carved its trajectory towards Shouki. That was close, a hair’s breadth… did he manage to stop it with his sword? As a normal person, Makoto’s eyes couldn’t capture it. All she saw was the explosion right after the shot.
Before the flash had died out, a second shot, a third, a firth… each one sucked into the first explosion, the other agents chimed in to fire their shots.
“Yeah, maybe I can’t understand how you feel…”
What she heard from within the swirling flames was none other than Shouki’s voice.
“Even so, if you say you’ll churn up the peace, then I have to fight you!”
A silver light mowed down the blast wave. The hem of his uniform was seared, his hands and face burned, but even so, Shouki stood there. The agents opened their eyes in surprise, they stirred, their ring grew wider. It was almost as if they feared the hero’s will.
And to them, Shouki quietly spoke.
“Our powers are too strong… They’re powers that the earthly realm can’t know about. Wars break out in pursuit of that power. Just as our sacred assembly fights Zephirum for the demon lord candidate.”
Suzuran quite likely didn’t know yet. That her own peace was built off of battles below that water’s surface.
And as Shouki said, the world of mana… if the third world were to show itself on the surface, the surface world would undergo a dramatic change. Science and magic would resent and bemoan, the chaos would drag on a great deal of time.
The evil god’s descent at the Tokyo Temple. And this time’s coup… perhaps that very confusion, that chaos was what Zephirum sought.
“That’s why the Sacred Assembly and your Kantou Agency must live unbeknownst to man… even if your existences are recognized, that won’t be the end. I’m sure the Sacred Assembly won’t forgive you for revealing yourself to the world…”
The Sacred Assembly that hoisted up light and justice. But at times, their light far too strong would burn away the slightest shred of evil under the name of their Lord. They could plead for forgiveness when they were at the Lord’s side.
Incompatible with that way of thinking, ironically, their symbol of light, Shouki was quite at odds.
“Makoto you see… for that sake, today, she set off into a monster den. She grasped true power as director, to end everything just as you wanted… and to protect you all from the Sacred Assembly!”
Makoto could tell all attention had gathered on her at that moment. There was doubt, and also surprise and hesitation. It was natural. In order to not be made light of as director, Makoto had constantly carried herself arrogantly around them.
But Shouki refuted that.
“Without the power to fight like us, without the power to protect herself, a girl stared down monsters face to face! You of all people should know how much courage that takes! Are you saying you’ll waste that!?”
A clear fluster spread about the agents.
Yet Makoto’s mutter was interrupted by one person’s applause. Behind the line of agents, Belronde’s unamused, light clapping resounded through the basement facilities.
“Hero, that is a splendid outlook. But far too green for me to bear. The law of the third world is not words. It is power. This is a world where matters are only resolved by killing one another…”
“Now bear witness, hero. And you all should remember it well. My true form… my true power.”
Muttering to an indignant Shouki and to the agents, Belronde commenced his transformation.
His fingers stretched becoming thick, sharp, iron stake-like claws. His blond hair stood on end, hard like metal wire, and from the depths of that mane of his, two sharp horns sprouted. His physique swelled to over double its size, rupturing his outfit to show the red scales that covered his body.
Belronde lifted the palm of his gnarly hand. A massive torrent of fire… just how much force did it boast? It bore straight through the body of a nearby building, the crumbled concrete burning, melting, popping from the heat expansion, even the rebar oozed like syrup.
And Belronde showed no sign of that being his full might, he looked down at a frightened hero from his stature, raising a beastlike laugh.
(This is… a dragon…)
Makoto also watched, half in a daze. With that much power, modern weapons wouldn’t do a thing. A main battle tank would explode; while it was equipped with resistance to penetration, such overwhelming heat was never a design concern. Even the famed holy knights would just be burned away in their armor.
Makoto trembled out.
Even more than the power Belronde had displayed, she trembled at her father’s attempts to mass-produce such monsters.
“Now hero, come at me.”
“You don’t have to tell me twice!”
The hero didn’t shy back. His speed. His fighting spirit made it clear just how much he had held back against the agents.
As the agents closely watched him take off like a hurricane, Shouki took a swipe.
The dull chime came from Shouki’s sword. As if he had seen something unbelievable, Shouki fixed his eyes onto the red giant. The dragoon without a single scratch.
With him frozen for that instant, Belronde scythed down his claw. Despite Shouki’s attempt to dodge, it was already too late. From his shoulder to his chest, a few shallow claw marks remained. His fresh blood flew.
Shouki’s painted chirp came as if his throat was blocked off. He grimaced. And before that voice was over, Belronde lowered a fist.
That was the first time Makoto heard Shouki scream. A direct attack from a fist coated in adamant scales was blocked by the bulk of Shouki’s blade, but that didn’t go as far as to buffer the impact. Sent flying a few meters, he rolled along the ground with such momentum it was as if he had fallen from a cliff.
“Pff. Fwahahah! Hero!? This is the Sacred Assembly’s hero!? How weak! Far too weak! Is this all a human can amount to…”
sneering with a low voice like grating stone, Belronde began moving his heavy leg to land the finishing blow on this hero.
“Hah… hah… Oh light, gather under the name of—!”
In order for a human to gain control over mana, they would usually need to recite a spell. But for a demon with mana stored in their bodies, just like moving a limb, their magic… their power could activate with no preparation.
The magic Shouki changed was cut off by a whirlwind of flames. Even so, Shouki’s God-given reflexes deployed a magic barrier. While bathed in the flames, without serious burns, he was pushed far back by a muddy stream of scorching heat.
His back smashing into a ledge, Shouki spat up blood. His breath was already feeble as he slowly crumbled down, gasping with unfocusing eyes.
Towards a man who tried to stand even still, Makoto unconsciously found her legs shifting.
She remembered her position when Kikuhito shoved his gun up against her.
“Guh… I’m sorry, Makoto… this might be… a little hairy…”
“Have you said your parting words? Then this is the—”
Belronde’s directed his hand brimming with magic towards a wound-ridden Shouki, and it was then.
A sonorous roar resounded.
“… I’m not one to believe in miracles.”
Makoto’s spine quivered at that idiotic premonition.
The roar grew, it approached. Eventually, the time came when it could be identified as the sound of an engine. Both Shouki and Belronde sensed the change, stopped moving, and pricked up their ears.
Kikuhito pressed the gun against her even more strongly.
“… What is the meaning of this, director?”
“I’m also in disbelief here. It’s all too well-put-together… but I’m sure it’s true.”
The next instant, a portion of the basement facility’s outer wall was blown away. No, it was the camouflaged portion of the cliff, the hatch of the basement passage that led straight to Tokyo was rammed through.
She had seen it in Takase’s garage, that car with a silhouette like a cockroach crawling along the earth… a Lamborghini Diablo’s shrill exhaust yelled out as it sped into the facility.
Having come so far, Makoto finally gazed at Kikuhito’s face straight on. His eyes were sincere, and yet his mouth was filled to the brim with a sinister smile.
“Code E0’s come out to play—!”