Tonight, I’ll be waiting in the woods out back.
-An old friend
It was a clear night where the stars shined in all their glory. Not much had been written on the letter in Meeko’s hand; but even so, in her usual apron dress, Meeko was exhilarated. She airily floated her way over the Iori House garden and crossed it. She disappeared into the forest’s depths.
At times, the thicket would rustle. The branches would wriggle alive. A hazy something would linger before fading away. It was an eerie forest, not that Meeko cared. And while it was considerably vast, she relied on her intuition to press forward.
Eventually, she spotted a shadow. Under the light of what would take a few more days to reach a full moon, there stood a white woman, here eyelids firmly shut.
“It’s been a while. Meeko.”
“… Are you an old friend?”
“Yes… that’s right. So old it seems you’ve already forgotten.”
The woman whose hair and dress were both white gave a smile. She was obviously not anyone who lived in the mansion. She seemed far more fleeting than anyone there. That being the case, she couldn’t be one of the residents of this forest; Meeko had caught enough glimpses on the way here to tell the difference. She was far more distinct than that.
Nostalgic. How very, very nostalgic. Yet what was that discomfort in a corner of her mind?
“… How old of a friend are you?”
“We go even further back than Ripple-Rapple.”
“My, that’s something.”
“As far back as Mara and Beelzebub.”
Those ones… she didn’t remember. Just Ripple-Rapple.
Meeko told her so. But the woman’s’ beautiful smile didn’t darken. Her tone only grew in glee.
“I see. So you’ve already gotten that bad.”
The woman walked up to her.
“Isn’t that enough, Meeko? How about you wake up?”
Was she trying to say what she was seeing right now was a dream? No. She was speaking of something completely different. Meeko didn’t know what that was, but she felt frightened by it.
“I… don’t want to.”
“You have to, Meeko. The end can’t come for us. The Outers have far fallen too few in numbers. That’s why. I won’t forgive it if a fellow myriad like you were to disappear too.”
It was at that point the white woman finally showed what laid beneath her sealed eyelids. Red eyes. Red eyes that peered right into her own.
“You made a promise at the round table… Meeko. That you would protect what had to be protected.”
Close enough to breathe on her. Meeko peered back, straight into the woman’s eyes and lost consciousness. As she collapsed down, the woman gently held her tight.
“If you steep in tepid water too long, even you’ll grow sodden I see. Meeko. But that era is already coming to an end. Let’s have you wake up before heaven marches down.”
And the woman closed her red eyes once more.
“But before that, since we’re at it, we should have a little fun. Ufufu… ah, I can’t wait. I know it’s these thoughts of mine that make you hate me but… first, let’s introduce you to him.”
Holding up Meeko with two arms, the white woman began walking off. To nowhere in particular, before vanishing.
Takase noticed Meeko’s absence four hours after that. He mobilized every combatant of the Kantou Agency to search.
The center of the continent, on a plateau that stretched out over a mountain range. It was there that the Grand Temple, the head temple for the Sacred Assembly that operated globally could be found.
When the sun was still distant, the silver-haired bishop in white slipped his way out of the room along with his resolve. Ferriol wasn’t carrying his usual scepter; holding something wrapped in cloth close to his body, he made his way between the rows of pillars, over the mirror sheen of the ultramarine floor, the same familiar grand temple as ever, yet here he walked with a different sentiment.
“Where you goin’?”
The door he had headed for was already occupied. A white vestment arranged to look like a skirt, and a mantle. Thick-rimmed glasses and loosely-braided, long hair. A smile with eyes sweetly squinted. While she had a staff in her hands, the woman in her twenties had another weapon, a long whip bundled in circles at her hip.
“Not a peep from the prophet… so where’s you goin’ with that pretty lil piece?”
“Cardinal Ritsuko. This has nothing to do with you.”
Despite this sudden development, Ferriol wouldn’t concede any information. Unbeknownst to him, his grip had strengthened on the cloth she pointed at.
“Hey, Ferry, ain’t that… from back when youse in active service?”
“… I’d like to think I’m still in active duty, I do.”
“But hey, we can’t be having that.”
Ritsuko removed her right hand from her staff, letting it touch her whip. Or so he thought when in the next moment, as if it had a will of its own, the whip carefully yet swiftly undid the wrapping right in his hands. What appeared from the cloth was a single sword.
“You goin’ to take down Mippletelt?”
“That’s right. Don’t stop me.”
Ferriol finally discarded the cloth wrapper on the spot. The hilt and the sheath, each hand founts its hold.
“Thou shall not fight, says I.”
Ritsuko continued on, her smile unchanging.
“Though shalt not kill. Though shalt not steal. Tough shalt not bear false witness… we’re a shalt not faith of shalt nots.”
That was the go-to line when the assembly was ridiculed. Shalt not, shalt not, the stream of sacred words concealed heavy contradiction. At the very end, one wouldn’t be able to do anything at all.
But the woman’s laid-back smile seemed to embody that very notion. Ritsuko went on using words from her terribly strange accent.
“Leave ‘m be, and ‘e won’t do nuffin. You goin out ‘n causin a mess: Ain’t thems the real problem?”
“Under the name of light and justice, we are to eradicate evil… that is the main premise of our doctrine. Please move.”
Her eyes still smiling, Ritsuko lowered her brow.
“Butcha see. We’re fulla contradictin’. Gotta kill monsters. Gotta fight villains. Shalt not, shalt not, but if you keep shalt notting, the world ain’t gonner change.”
“What we’re doing is not murder or senseless conflict. It is purification by the grace of the Lord.”
Seeing Ferriol try his very best, Ritsuko gave a slight smile.
“Youse an activist, I remember.”
If the ultra-extremist wing of the sacred assembly’s rapidly growing activist ‘doctrine’ faction was the Inquisition Second Division led by Ferriol, then that would make Ritsuko the head of the sacred word’ faction that followed the word with a childish purity.
“… But hey, go ahead.”
“? With what?”
“I’m tellin yas, you won listen ‘f I tryan stop you, so go. In exchange.”
Turning away from Ferriol, Ritsuko put a hand on the door. A super-long-distance transport circle that used the AMaC furnace in the grand temple’s basement to activate lay just beyond it.
“This one’s fer me.”
At those unexpected words, Ferriol blinked.
“And where might a Cardinal… be going?”
“The Iori House. Gotta go get this demon called Meeko.”
Ferriol recalled that demon’s might from the Tokyo temple. The princess of darkness who, despite being a demon devoured her fellow demons, even crunching through space itself.
“I’s a decree from the prophet. Alon’ wit me, there’s the second through fourth, and seventh knight orders goin.”
“That large scale…!? And they’re even sending out the second order!?”
“Addin onta that, they knew you were gonna jump the gun, Ferry… ‘n told me ta stop ya. I gave it my best effort, right? Don’t you agree?”
“… So I’ve been seen through.”
Driven by this newfound understanding, Ferriol could only drop his shoulders. There was no possible way he could outwit the prophet who could see everything in existence. In his righteous indignation, he had forgotten such a simple fact.
“You’re the head of the Inquisition Second Division… the prophet’ll be in a tizzy if you just disappear.”
“… Yes. I am honored to be seen so highly… but Cardinal Ritsuko, with such forces amassed, is there really a need for you to go?”
While cardinals would lead the assembly by the prophet’s words, they were also the strongest soldiers to protect that prophet. Now that Ferriol’s master Cardinal Randale had been lost, there were only three Cardinal class warriors remaining… with that absence still in place, it was unthinkable for yet another to leave the grand temple.
“That’s the thing, only a Cardinal can establish order, is what ‘e said. Normally, Cardinal Randale would go out at a time like this, but…”
Looking down for only an instant, Ritsuko’s smile clouded over ever so slightly.
“Haven’t been on a business trip in forever. I’ll pray for you too, Ferry.”
Even after becoming a Cardinal, she didn’t carry herself any differently than ever before. Despite what she said, Ritsuko seemed rather indifferent as she disappeared beyond the door.