The fierce roar the twelve-cylinder v engine strummed resounded through the basement facility, echoing from building to building. The Diablo eventually came to a stop before Makoto’s eyes… or so was likely the intent, but unable to decelerate, it broke into a three-sixty degree spin, its nose impaling into the wall of a random building.
“Dammit, I was too liberal with the accelerator… this is why you fickle mid-ships are…”
The door flung open, a Kantou Agency uniform slowly stepping out of it. The E-0 denoted on the side of his color. The agents grew boisterous at the appearance of this man in a gas mask. Half in doubt, so it seemed.
“He was… alive? E0…”
“Is that the instructor…?”
“It’s really teacher…?”
Within that, shaking his head was the one who’d been speaking with Makoto, Kikuhito.
“This is one of your tricks, director…!”
“Then what are you shaking for, hmm?”
“Don’t screw with me…!”
This toxic lad had also seen the Iori House mansion. He couldn’t fully shake his doubts. But at the same time, Makoto… had witnessed the absurdity of Belronde’s power. The dragoon that one-sidedly beat down even the hero. Could he win?
“It’s been a while, dam n brats!! Your teacher is overjoyed to hear you’ve got enough pep to stage a coup of all things… but. Have you really got it in you? Let me have a look. Sergeant!!”
Upon seeing the one-eyed girl step down from the passenger seat, the terror of the agents—Kikuhito Included—finally became tangible. The colors of fear vividly surface as inaudible screams were let out.
“Don’t worry, you won’t wide up dead… you’ll just be left needing nursing for the rest of your life. Sergeant, cut off the limbs of anyone that moves!!”
Click. Saho’s Katana guard rattled, and with just that slight sound, the agents winced back surprised.
Is it time yet? Is it time yet? Has anyone moved? Saho delightfully bent her lips, her eyes surveying everyone present.
“What are you so afraid of? One of the four godslaying houses, the head of the dark arts Iori House has come to reclaim the familiar Kikuhito took away… that’s all there is to it. A dark arts user with no familiar. Just your ordinary human.”
In order to end this ridiculous farce, Belronde turned his back to Shouki and pranced forth with composure. Along with the might and dignity of a dragon.
“You’ve got to run, Iori…! This guy… isn’t someone you can… hurry and run!”
Shouki issued a warning, his breath in bits and pieces. Takasesneered mockingly under his mask.
“You fool. You’re simply too weak, brat.”
“Indeed… the hero is still human in the end. If you’re speaking while aware of that fact, you have my praise, Iori Takase. But I regret to inform you, you do not know a dragon’s power.”
Belronde leisurely made his way forth. To plant fear into this foolish human. His expression savoring the taste of his supremacy.
Takase met him head-on.
“Then you must know it, Belronde. A dragon’s power.”
“Indeed I do. I am a dragoon.”
With a thunderous boom, Belronde’s massive bulk was shot back by a single barehanded blow from Iori. He broke through the wall of a building a number of meters away.
Takase stared carefully at his own hand that had shot first, then he spoke to Belronde.
“You’re joking… a dragon? A dragon you say? Now isn’t it just a little too weak, Zephirum’s dragon? Are you trying to catch me off guard with this farce?”
At Takase’s voice, more than Shouki or Kikuhito, or anyone else… Belronde covered in concrete scraps looked on in astonishment.
“Don’t worry. My guard has never and will never go down. Come at me with all your might, Belronde.”
“D… damn you!!”
Belronde screamed and raced forward. Covered in scales that gleamed like glass fragments, he raised up his stone-pillar like arms.
Another rumble, smacked right in the grown by Takase as he leapt out of the way, Belronde’s body sunk into the crumbling asphalt.
After landing, and looking terribly down on his state, Takase called Saho over.
“Try cutting him.”
Takase pointed at Belronde staggering to his feet.
Sprinting off as if she’d been waiting for this moment her whole life, Saho’s speed rivaled Shouki’s. Only someone with Shouki’s reflexes would be able to see through a slash with all that momentum. Even Belronde didn’t have the chance to make a move.
With the ear-wretching sound of grating metal… o all things, Saho tore through the dragon scales even the hero couldn’t scratch.
Holding his leg that had been cut at least half-way through, Belronde screamed. Fitting of his form, it was an unsightly, beast-like scream.
While at first, Saho’s smile widened as she bathed in the blood spurt… once she noticed her broken katana, she casually tossed it aside, uninterested hobbling her way to the car. She ducked into the car and fell asleep.
“Is that all, Belronde? Are scales Saho’s dull blade can cut the scales of a dragon?”
“Unforgivable… this is unforgivable, human! To dare wound this body of mi—!”
“I’m sure I told you. Give me your all.”
“Do you know the law of the world of darkness, Belronde? It’s power. It is battles to the death that rule this world!”
When he raised his face, it was immediately met with a kick. When he got back up, he was hammered down. All that was there was an unregulated, one-sided beatdown.
“But just look! Can you call this one-sided slaughter a battle to the death!? If you don’t hurry, you’ll just be murdered! So how about you get serious already! Hurry up!!”
His arms clad in a dazzling red-hot flame, he thrust them out towards his foe.
“That’s right. Now you’re getting it.”
With one lightly-raised hand, sucked in the immense volume of fire.
To be more precise, he sucked in the mana forming the shape of the flame. The glutton demon Meeko’s apostle, of all things, devoured the mana that ruled the third world.
“That was a mere percentage of your full power. Am I right?”
With his eyes narrowing, Takase was finally laughing out.
(What… what is this man…!?)
Belronde was beginning to fear this mysterious figure. The blows he took, in and of themselves, were far from fatal to a dragoon’s robust body. But… every time he was struck, bit by bit, his body felt vaguely heavier. And his numerous flames would disappear before his eyes like a parlor trick.
The tremendous power of a dragoon was being handled as easily as twisting a baby’s hand.
“What’s wrong? Dragoon who took down the hero.”
“You! What are…!?”
“Kukuh… now this is a treat. You haven’t remembered yet, Belronde?”
The man slowly peeled off his mask. Upon seeing the smile beneath it, the demon unconsciously widened his eyes, his entire body quivering.
The fear from that revived in his brain, in the depths of his chest. The night where he held the dragoon blueprints close to his body and he ran and he ran. And what he had risked his very life to steal… proved to be absolutely useless.
“Indeed. I’m the man they deemed invincible.”
That’s right…! That’s right!! There couldn’t be another man in the world with such a crazed crescent-moon smile!!
His cheeks cynically lifted, the man who bared his canines to smile slowly approached.
“D-don’t come! Don’t get any closer!”
“How selfish. If you don’t want me closer, you’ll have to get running.”
Right. I have to run, I’ll be killed…!
I can’t win. This man is on another level—
He might even be worse than Zephirum’s top executive!
There’s no way I can match this monster!!
Despair similar to a premonition of death welled up from his deepest deaths. It was the same sensation of understanding Belronde had experience on that night. His resolve to do anything to get stronger, his effort. This dragon’s body that was supposed to be the culmination of it all. Nothing but froth.
A crushing blow from a blind spot. The pain that abruptly struck him. And attacks all to steal away his sense of sight. It wasn’t that E0 was stealing his sight. With all the fear he had gone through, just looking at him only increased his dread.
“You fool! To hell with dragoons! As you said, in the end, it’s what the lowly humans came up with! Isn’t that right!? So here I am proving that human incompetence for you! And I’ll use your death to do it!”
The man clamored as he added on a staunch attack. His legs that tried to lift him were swept, he was toppled over, his head off-handedly kicked.
An upturning mad laugh. The blow was by no means lethal. It was all just like that night. Like he was trying to replay it.
I’ll be killed! I’ll be killed! I’ll be killed!
(Right… that’s right!)
E0 belonged to the Kantou Agency. In that case.
With simplistic thoughts crossing his confused head, Belronde stumbled towards the director, Makoto.
“Save me… I apologize for killing your father! So… please stop that man!”
“Kukuh… And what will you do, Makoto?”
From behind him, the man, the incarnation of fear steadily approached. Towards Makoto who was thinking just a bit, the injured Hero gave his take.
‘Oy, just put an end to this already…!”
“You’re right. I do owe you for waiting an entire day.”
Upon hearing that, the Hero’s expression slackened. Just a slight bit of hope entered Belronde’s face. Precisely, this was how humans worked. That was their biggest weakness. Their softness towards emotion is the root of their foolishness, they’re so easy to deceive.
“I’m reaaaally thankful to you. Thanks to this rebellion, the Kantou Agency is finally going to become mine. E0’s back in action, and come so far, I can even thank you for killing my father.”
“Thank me for… killing him…?”
Belronde felt something off about this girl… a human who was supposed to be fond of love and justice. At her terribly sinister smile as she spoke out at length.
“Why of course. For my father, you see, a boatload of orphans wasn’t nearly enough, he was genuine trash who made an experiment of my mother and killed her. So thank you, Demon of Zephirum. I could never thank you enough. May death be your reward.”
“Y… you’ve gotta be kidding… Makoto!?”
To the flustered hero, the girl showed not a smidgen of emotion.
“I’m sorry, Hasebe. Really sorry, but I’m still my father’s daughter. He would show me around the specimen room, as far back as I can remember. Splatters and death, I’ve gotta say I love them. I got along really well with Saho.”
And E0’s voice.
“So you’re sure about this, Makoto.”
“Didn’t you hear, teacher? I have a debt with this demon. I can’t bear to watch you bully him anymore. Please kill him in an instant.”
“H… human… human! Human!!”
“I’ll put up your sample next to father’s brain. Dragoon.
Belronde felt fear. Not towards Zephirum’s top executive, not even towards E0, but towards the broken smile of a powerless human girl.
A dull impact rocked the back of his head. When he collapsed face-up and opened his eyes, there stood E0.
Takase’s car seated two. So hugging Saho tight, Suzuran who had to sit under Saho, while Takase’s flashy show gathered all the attention… secretly got out of the car and slipped into a certain building,
She was surprised to find the straight underground passage from Tokyo, she was surprised by Takase’s driving as he raced down it at over three hundred kilometers an hour, and she was surprised by the huge open cavity at their destination.
To think that inside it, somewhat behind the times… a number of old buildings from the Taisho or Showa era were settled in place, Suzuran felt as if she had stumbled into some crazy dream.
among the various buildings, the one Takase crashed into making it look like an accident was the one that gave the strongest response from the Mana Counter… the place where a number of agents embedded with mana were gathered. Meaning this was where the non-participants of the armed uprising were confined.
Naturally, she was equipped with a magic coated apron dress. A rather small machine gun that was apparently classed as a submachine gun. And what Takase said to smack Meeko with if the time came… the fingerless glove with symbols set into it.
(Infiltration, and a rescue mission… a secret but huge contribution! Could it be I’m actually being really cool!?)
The next moment, the bizarre form of a maid carrying a firearm reflected back in the corridor glass…
(… What am I doing with my life?)
Or so she felt, her actions were proper and just. Without folding, Suzuran kept a low posture as she proceeded down the dim corridor. A great many lights poured in from outside the window. Those lights installed in the steel-set bedrock almost reminded her of a gym ceiling.
Suzuran turned the mana counter in her left hand up, down, left and right, checking the reaction. It was around the size of a TV remote, with a free-swinging amperemeter-like analog meter and a dial to change the mode.
According to Takase, this was the latest model. The pager-sized color LCD Sacred Assembly’s magicalize indicator… was actually quite ahead of the curve, apparently.
That aside, Suzuran had switched from the ‘Long distance, wide angle’ mode she was using in the car to the ‘Short distance, sensitive’ setting for a refined search radius.
(… Above me.)
She climbed up a flight of stairs.
(Yeah, still higher…)
She climbed to the third floor.
(Alright, it’s this floor… over here!)
“… What are you?”
Perhaps a lookout? A thoroughly amazed voice drilled into the back of Suzuran’s skull. Not, “What are you doing here?” or even, “Who are you?” an awkward pause before a, “What are you?”.
Afflicted by that profound philosophical quandary, Suzuran looked back on the life she had lived, questioning the meaning of her own existence.
Aah, if I weren’t wearing this stupid maid uniform…
“Answer the question.”
A cold sensation on her neck. Slender and sharp… a blade?
“Erm… I’m a maid. A domestic helper. I’m usually just a normal high school girl. But the truth is…”
“I’m a demon lord candidate!!”
Surprised by her loud voice, her that outrageous fact, the blade sensation disappeared. She made off at her full speed at that very same moment.
The footsteps gave chase. Was that clanging metallic sound a gun? Then she had one too.
Sliding around a corner, Suzuran’s hand went to the machine gun dangling from her neck. Takase did say the Kantou Agency uniform was bulletproof to a certain degree. And the agents themselves boasted sturdy bodies, so don’t hesitate to shoot them, he said.
If you want to kill, aim for the head, he added on, but she decided not to remember that one. A short distance from the turn, she braced her shoulder, aiming at the point where her foe would surely leap out.
Matching her timing with the approaching footsteps, Suzuran pulled the trigger.
The lookout who appeared in a horizontal leap, his gun at the ready, noticed the danger and slid along the floor. Colorful BB pellets scattered all over him…
“It’s a toy!?”
As she cried out, Suzuran tried to throw it away, but the strap caught on her neck, bringing nothing but pain.
“… You’ve got some serious guts, marching in here with an airsoft gun. Seriously, what are you?”
(I’m just… an idiot!!)
In regards to the agent who rose, his gun pointed the whole time, Suzuran fell to her knees heartbroken.
To hell with ‘The doctor’s tricked it out’! Taki, you stupid idiot…
While Suzuran was timidly muttering to herself, the man on lookout suddenly turned back to the direction he came, his eyes flung open wide.
A woman’s voice? The moment Suzuran thought that, the man was kicked airborne by a girl around the same age as she was. He promptly fainted on collision with the wall.
The girl who let out a thick breath and brushed her hair aside was also wearing a Kantou Agency uniform. The girl called E2 turned to her.
“… Thank you, it’s because you kept his attention…”
“… What are you?”
(I’m just an idiot…!)
She was starting to cry.
It now occurred to her that this apron might exist to wipe away her tears.
Among the Eliminate Numbers, the Kantou Agency’s strongest unit, it seemed Code E2 was the only one who didn’t endorse the coup d’etat.
And so, freeing herself the moment she saw an opportunity, before freeing everyone else, she was taking out each guard individually with guerrilla tactics when she met Suzuran. That lookout was the last one, so it was no wonder why no reinforcements came when he cried ‘intruder’.
After hearing the other side’s story, Suzuran explained her own circumstance in the large room where many agents were confined.
“A-aa… are we going to be killed?”
It was apparent he wasn’t too popular.
“U-umm… but you know, mas… E0 came here to stop the coup, and it’s not like he’s your enemy…”
“You just don’t get it! Why weren’t you able to prevent something on this level, you incompetents; serves you right, cowering in some dark corner, I’ll have to retrain you from the ground up… he’ll use it as an excuse to do another…!”
On the younger side of the ones confined, a boy in his early teens spoke with ample ethos as he cowered. Apart from that, there were people in their twenties and thirties as well.
According to E2, agents were separated in generations around ten years apart, and the one lamenting was part of the sixth generation of agents, which she was also a part of. This was the generation E0 had instructed.
The more years that piled on, the more the mana embedded in them would fade… and once that had completely gone away, they would receive some compensation and be kicked out of the agency.
With the harsh training they received, there was apparently little difficulty to put food on the table once they went out into normal society, but in order to reclaim the adolescence they had lost… perhaps forty was a little too late.
Whatever the case.
“He used to be… like that? E0?”
Suzuran asked E2 beside her.
“… He would call every boy he met a damn brat. And saying that only the women should be strictly obligated to equip maid uniforms and cat ears, he wrote up a specification document this thick, and seriously argued his case to the previous director and steering committee.”
(… Then did anything really change…?)
Suzuran broke into a cold sweat at E2’s cool, uninterrupted words.
“… Ah, incidentally, have you seen a pretty woman dressed like me? There’s also a little girl around this tall…”
Suzuran tried illustrating Ripple-Rapple’s height to E2, but,
“… Not that I recall. Has anyone seen her?”
No hopeful words came back.
When Suzuran left the building with the freed hostages, quite the peculiar scene unfolded before them. For some reason, that delicate-looking Takase just kicked that hardy monster, and was about to get him another time.
No matter, Suzuran had completed her mission, so she happily jogged over to him.
“I did it, master, Mission Complete!”
“Why is Suzuran here?”
She likely had something to say about the maid uniform… Makoto had quite the perplexed look behind her glasses as she asked.
“I brought her. To show her blood… this is a good opportunity, Suzuran. Watch closely.”
Suzuran’s did not let out a stupid sound because of Takase’s words. All of a sudden, Meeko materialized behind him.
“You’re out of luck, Belronde.”
And unnoticed, behind the man as he tried to put on airs… Meeko swung her croquet stick with ample windup.
Takase held his head, screaming as he turned.
“Don’t bully the weak.”
It was a cold, quiet voice like a slap to the face, but it contained a firm and strong will. Makoto looked at the woman’s profile, and even when those words weren’t directed at her, she found herself shying back. Seeing his change, Belronde heaved his body to take some distance.
But more importantly. Suzuran acted as representative of all agents present as she asked a frank question.
“Umm… Meeko. Where did you just come from?”
“Best regards from the isolated world!!”
The energetic voice that responded was strangely high-pitched, like rubbing metal, as if it had passed through a voice change. In the voice’s direction, on the voice of a building a distance away, before anyone had realized it, stood an individual in black. With the bedrock lights as a backlight, it was hard to make out her face, but it was clear she was a girl in a hat and a mini-skirt. That outfit was quite hazardous for such a high point, and as a member of the same sex, Suzuran found herself on edge.
She had the sort of speaker a tour guide wore hung from her neck, and she was speaking into a microphone, but was that the voice changer?
Gaaaaaagaaaaaah, the speaker sounded.
“Yes, now here’s the question! Who could I be? One, a demon of…!”
She abruptly bit her tongue. With her right index finger still raised to the heavens, urgh— she rung her throat (and pathetically, that also carried across the speaker) before mournfully lowering her head.
The one who looked at her quite fed up was Takase.
“Don’t force yourself. Rather, I’ve already heard this one. The answer is one of Zephirum’s top executives, VS… it really is you.”
“Been a while, Mippletelt! I’m glad we got to meet again!”
The girl called VZ’s strange voice chimed through the speaker with that terrible gaaaaging noise.
And Belronde looked up at her, unable to comprehend their exchange.
“VZ… do you know this individual? No, more importantly, didn’t you go to Tokyo to open the pat…”
“Super soz, that was a total lie!”
It was hard to believe she was apologetic, and saying she was a Zephirum executive didn’t r eally hit home with her devil-may-care tone.
“Kukuh, you were being used, Belronde… that VZ over there came into contact with me and Meeko once before, trying to bring us over to Zephirum’s side. This incident was set up for that very same purpose… am I wrong?”
“Dingdingding! That’s why I had our boy collide with that director over there, who had the strongest ties to you when you were E0. That’s all it is. He made it extremely convoluted, but that’s really it!”
His voice was reaching. They could probably hear her if she just spoke a little softer, but she continued sending her voice through that piece-of-junk speaker.
“I’ve been watching you the whole time. The place you belong isn’t over there. You’ll feel a lot more at home over with us!”
And VZ lovingly tilted her hat’s silhouette towards Takase as she reached out her hands, gesturing to invite him in.
“Hey, come over here. With Ms. Meeko… it’ll be a blast.”
“The one you guys want is Meeko. And to make her do what you say, you just need someone, anyone who’s made a contract with her.”
“That’s not true at all! I want you, I need you! Aaah, just hold me you fool!”
Sexuality was the furthest thing to what she had. But for some reason, Takase didn’t look completely uninterested. Meeko seemed quite sullen upon seeing that.
“Give it up. I’m one thing, but as long as Meeko belongs on that side… more than you do, I won’t be able to go with you.”
Takase said it softly, profoundly. His eyes of pity turned to Meeko at his side.
“What was that!? I can’t hear you!”
“You’re just far too loud, you twat!!”
Takase snapped. Ah, a sound of realization leaked out of the speaker. VZ started fiddling with the sound control dial.
“Sorry, sorry. So what did you say?”
“Don’t screw with me! I’m done with you! If that’s all you wanted to say, go home, you bloody stupid demon!!”
“Terr!? You’re terrible, terrible! Boo, boo! Hmph! Fine! Belronde, get them!”
As VZ raised her fist, Belronde’s huge body wined a bit.
“B… but VZ. If you were watching, I…!”
“Yeah, yeah. I’ve been watching. You’ve got no standing left. We’re not generous enough to keep someone who’ll cling to a human in tears and beg. Now, how about you go poof?”
The colors of despair were plastered to the dragoon’s expression.
“Aa… UAaa…! GAAAAAAAAAH!!”
A half-crazed Belronde spread his arms wide, a brilliant blazing orb of fire manifesting between them. Before anyone could react to it, it had swelled so large it loomed over Belronde himself. It was a heat density that singed the skin even with this much distance.
Sensing extraordinary danger, Suzuran clung onto Takase.
“Wai… w-wait! Master!?”
“It’s fine. Just stay behind me.”
Hearing his sincere voice, Suzuran did just as instructed. Takase quietly directed his open palms towards it.
Without erecting and barrier or shield of any sort.
“…!? Are you an idiot!? Are you an idiot!? Are you an idiot!?”
Barehanded. Having missed out on seeing Takase’s combat, his abilities, Suzuran fell into an inevitable panic as her mouth ran on. And hearing her call him an idiot, Takase inevitable,
“Who are you calling an idiot, you foolish knave!”
The orb was fired the moment Takase turned his back. Those who had placed their expectations on E0, Shouki, Makoto, the agents who had sensed how dangerous it was began scattering in all directions.
But it was then that she made an appearance—!
“Right… in the nick of… time.”
She appeared just as suddenly as Meeko, yet far more gallantly. Suzuran cried out the name of this newcomer with hope. Against the massive approaching fireball, the small girl calmly took her stance.
With a metal bat.
In the timeframe that Suzuran, Shouki, Makoto… and probably several of the agents’ voices overlapped, the ball flew in a straight line. Ripple-Rapple raised a smoke cloud as she took a step in. The smooth shifted of her center of gravity, an upper full swing clearly aiming at a home run.
“… It’s a tip.”
“Now that’s bad!”
Spoke the chorus. Of all things, Ripple-Rapple launched the ball straight up into the air, colliding it right with the bedrock ceiling.
The bedrock vaporized to concede the way to Belronde’s fireball, but… right around the point it reached aboveground, it burst into a massive explosion, digging up a large hole.
Thanks to the steel reinforcements laid out like a net, the basement facility’s ceiling luckily didn’t cave in. But that mesh was raising screams as if it would snap as they spoke. Within such a stillness overflowing with tension.
“… Why are you always doing such absurdity!? Or at least trying!?”
“There won’t be one!!”
On the verge of snapping, as she spoke so unashamedly, Takase grasped Ripple-Rapple’s collar and tossed her aside. While it was a mystery how the metal bat had hit that, and how a ball of fire could even be moved by physical means…
His shoulders rising and falling with each breath, Belronde snarled with his fangs bared.
“… Why won’t it get through.”
“You still don’t get it, Belronde?”
VZ spoke as sand and rocks piled up over her hat.
“You call it a dragon’s power, but what you’ve got is a sham. Dragons are dragons. Dragoons are dragoons. What’s more, yours was made by humans. That’s why… there’s no way you could ever match up to a real dragoon produced by an outer. Right? Black dragon Mippletelt?”
“Kukuh… you speak almost as if you know dragons, VZ.”
She gave an exaggerated nod.
“Zephirum’s keeping a real dragon, you know.”
“You mustn’t tell a lie.”
Contrary to her words, Meeko smiled quite delightfully. Next, she made some slightly dangerous eyes as she looked up at VZ.
“Keeping a dragon? And what color is it?”
“Color… well it’s kinda reddish? I think…”
Sending a coquettish smile towards VZ as she stumbled over her words, Meeko spoke.
“Ripple-Rapple, show her.”
Ripple-Rapple gave her a blank look. I wouldn’t dream of it, she shook her head to say.
“Terribly… dangerous. The situation has stabilized at D. There is no… need.”
“Just a little.”
Meeko used her index finger and thumb to indicate that little amount.
“Well… just a little.”
Giving in, the little girl gave a slight and stiff nod. From nowhere in particular, she produced a hunting horn… or rather, what looked more like a filthy charamela.
“By the vote of two administrators of the Noesis Program, the present state has been elevated to B. To ensure safety… making use isolated world, fifth layer.”
Ripple-Rapple’s hair, her eyes glimmered a vivid blue. And the small demon took a big breath towards the hunting horn.