(That idiot!! He just had to jump the gun…!)
Having heard the story, Takase contained his impatience as he quickly made his way down the corridor where the morning light poured in. Violently throwing open the door to his room he’d lent to Ritsuko, he found her with a tired smile, still surrounded by knights with frozen faces.
“Ritsuko! Is it true the damn brat ran away!?
“Aah, Morning Taki… It’s hopeless. Shouka, see, she left a note”
“A note…!? And where is he!?”
“Took along Demon Meeko… and ran off to Zephirum of all places. Shook of the Fourth Order Knights we had on him.”
Takase lost his words in surprise. To think that overly earnest bastard would take such an outrageous move, he had far surpassed the scope of his imagination.
It was perhaps inevitable that the knights whose faces clearly showed they couldn’t believe it had those faced turned down. The symbol of light, the hero had betrayed their hopes in the worst possible way.
The only ones who didn’t react at all were a sleepily operating Clarica, and Mariette beside her, her elbow on the table… the two heretic hunting sisters. Florence, whose visor covered her eyes, had her naked mouth curled in an ecstatic smile.
“We’ve just received notice from the cardinal conference at the grand temple! We can’t cover for him anymore, the Hero Hasebe Shouki shall be seen as a heretic… they said!”
“But that doesn’t change the fact that killing Shouki will instigate Meeko. I’m sure youse figured it out, Taki, it’s a failure even before negotiation.”
She displayed simply so much tedium Takase couldn’t help but smack the desk.
“We can’t just sit around. Zephirum alone are not getting their hands on her!”
“Yer right. Reviving demon Meeko won’t just be a possibility anymore, that’s their actual goal.”
“Do we have a grasp on their location!?”
“Tentatively. I asked Makoto… and ad her get the police and other agencies to lay the groundwork.”
“Alright, you’re on. Lend me a helicopter, Ritsuko! I’ll send Suzuran and the three I mentioned at once! Any complaints!?”
Takase hustled out of the room without hearing an answer.
“… You really are one to be feared, oh prophet. To think you could… seriously see this coming…”
“Did you say something? Ritsuko?”
Florence asked to Ritsuko’s softest murmur.
“It’s nothing. Ey now, we should at least prepare too, Florence.”
“My Second Order is always prepared for war!”
And Ritsuko once again raised her heavy hips.
A dark blue bulk only interrupted by a white cross-shape cut out. The two-motored large scale transport helicopter already had the engine running, eagerly awaiting its moment of glory.
“Is the saint not here yet?”
“Just wait. If those guys in the basement don’t recognize her as a demon lord, I doubt we’ll have any chanced on this mission. Against that damn brat and Zephirum… I doubt anything would change if she was going at it alone.”
Takase said to the knight on standby, as he vexingly scowled at the morning sun inching its way up. Was Suzuran able to get recognized in just one night?
“Choose your words carefully! The saint shifting to demon lord is something that should never come to be!”
“She’s the one who wanted it. Becoming Demon Lord and what not. But maybe, going off her personality… we might just end up with a saint that commands outers.”
Suzuran made her entrance shortly after that. She was wearing the black battle suit he’d seen her in before. An attaché case in one hand, and while she was slightly grimy here and there with bandages and such over her face, her expression bathed in the morning sun was filled with far more confidence than ever before. Behind her, she led along the three monsters haunting the Iori House.
In but a single night, this young girl looked one, two sizes burlier.
The first to follow her was the rockhopper penguin as large as an emperor, Emperor Ewan Tobinovski. The other, a fully dressed skeleton holding a cigar in his mouth, Lich. And the messy-haired man with the metal slab, Homura.
(… Now this is a surprise.)
Takase had lived in this house for many years, but this was the first time he had ever seen these three work together. Not only that, they were above ground where the sun poured down.
He thought Lich and Iwatobi would be the most she could manage, but to think she would even get Homura to follow her.
“I’m sorry to keep you waiting.”
“N-no. But dear saint… I almost didn’t recognize you.”
“Oh, is it the clothes?”
“No, perish the thought. How should I put it…”
As Suzuran listened to the knight’s words, she gave a somewhat triumphant laugh. Yet again, and expression Takase was seeing for the first time. Cry and hole yourself in… perhaps those words no longer had any place being directed at this girl.
“So saint… about the… entourage behind you…”
“Ah, they’re all the lovely demons who are going to help me out. Let me introduce them: Homura-san, Mr. Lich, and Iwatobi…”
Iwatobi cried out in protest. Takase could understand his point, but Suzuran perplexedly tilted her head.
“Eh? I mean, Iwatobi’s easier to say, and you don’t feel like a mister…”
As Suzuran stroked Iwatobi’s fluffy stomach, the penguin chirped out in discontentment. It was just one surprise after another, and apparently, she could now understand his voice. Was he to be surprised about the speed of Suzuran’s progress, or the three outers who let it happen?
“So… did something happen, master?”
“Why else do you think I called you people! … don’t cry just because you’re hit around a bit! … Don’t hole yourself in!”
Well, it was to be expected. Having his full of yelling, for the time being, Takase took another look at Suzuran.
“Now listen up, Suzuran. Shouki took Meeko and ran.”
“Eh… oh, then don’t we just have to bring him back?”
Takase denied her optimism with a harsh look.
“It’s not that simple. He’s running with Zephirum’s support.”
“That’s… a good one. There’s no way Hasebe-senpai would…”
Suzuran said with half a laugh, but Takase hadn’t the leisure to put up with that.
“It’s a fact. And by that, the Sacred Assembly has concluded him a heretic. At this rate… you get it, don’t you Suzuran?”
While Suzuran’s eyes wavered, she gave a firm nod.
“Good girl. Whatever the case, we need to steal back at least Shouki from Zephirum. Ritsuko’s the moderate faction’s Cardinal, it’ll work out one way or another. We can think about Meeko after that… now go!”
With Takase pushing her back all the way, Suzuran burst through the helicopter’s boarding door. The knight barked out the order to take flight.
And Takase’s eyes went to the strange-looking three.
“… So when you boil it down, what’s the story?”
“We decided we’ll follow what Suzuran says.”
Said Homura. Takase waited a bit, but it soon became apparent there was nothing after that.
“… Is that all? Can’t you all tell whether she’s a demon lord or saint? No, if you’re following her, that must mean she’s inclining towards demon lord…”
“I’m sorry to say, Takase, that isn’t the problem. Well, it’s a matter for another day.”
Lich blew into his cigar. As the rotor blades picked up, the hastening winds swept the smoke away.
“Hurry up everyone! You’re going to get left behind!”
With Suzuran beckoning, the three outers began their walk.
— Whelp, that girl will be far stronger than you someday. It’s presumptuous for you to worry about her.
(… Yeah of course she will. Otherwise I wouldn’t be seeing her off like this.)
Takase looked up at the helicopter that had whirled to high altitude in the blink of an eye, reflecting on Iwatobi’s words.
(Wow… this is high…)
There was Suzuran riding an aircraft for the first time in her life. She caught glimpses of the pale clouds like stretched-out cotton candy through the helicopter window; though that was strictly speaking only because they were far below her.
The commanding officer of the small unit put together for this mission… the nearby knight surveying the area with a pair of binoculars stopped what he was doing and presented them to her.
“Can you see it? Saint?”
“Ah, yes… it’s that white car, correct?”
Across the blue-tinted binocular lenses, Suzuran could see the desolate road cutting through the forest. The car didn’t even seem to be going too fast.
“What about that… sturdy looking car that’s tailing at a distance?”
“That is a fourth knight order armored car giving pursuit with a barrier of invisibility. I presume they haven’t noticed it yet… unless you look through a special filter made to match the barrier’s wavelength like the one on the binocular lenses, you shouldn’t be able to see it.”
I see, thought Suzuran. If she removed her eyes from the binoculars, she could see Shouki’s car as small as a grain of rice, but she could see neither shadow nor shape of the armored car. Incidentally, the helicopter was also covered with various barriers rendering them invisible and inaudible, apparently.
(… I get that Hasebe-senpai wants to protect Meeko, but…)
There were knights all around her with grave faces.
(Does he understand how much he’s worrying everyone…?)
While she embraced such unbearable sentiment, Suzuran raised her head to shake it away. She was the only one who could break through this situation.
“Well then… would it be possible to bring us down in front of that car?
“Eh…? Hey, no need to be hasty… he said.”
The knights seemed quite confused by the penguin’s cry, so Suzuran repeated him back word for word. From the bench he had perched his short legs on, Iwatobi clapped down onto the cargo room floor.
I see, I see, Suzuran nodded. There was no way for the knights to understand his word. In order to complete this mission, she would need to interpret.
“Umm, it would be quite troublesome if they slipped into the forest while this dull piece of scrap iron is headed their way. Let me handle this…”
“… Well I never thought I’d hear a bloody flightless bird call it scrap iron.”
It was the helicopter of the unit he led, after all… the commander spoke to Iwatobi, his grimace palpable in his words. Geh, geh, the penguin raced a laugh as he waved a wing at Suzuran.
“Bring it out… are you talking about this?”
Suzuran opened the large case she had accepted from the doctor.
“Ghigururuu… ghgyuruu, gwerugegghguh.”
“You’d better get this in your head, you feeble-minded humans… a penguin that doesn’t fly is just a penguin.”
As Suzuran’s voice repeated that somewhat familiar phrase, Iwatobi gallantly equipped the back of his stout build with the rocket booster he produced from the case. Even the knights were quite dumbfounded by that one.
A penguin was a bird that had always taken on the shape of a rocket, after all. When that had been equipped with a booster on its back, he could be seen as nothing more than a living space shuttle; this lent him far too much persuasive force in calling the likes of a helicopter scrap metal.
“But, you know, Iwatobi… if the Doctor made it, I for one don’t think… should place too much trust in it…”
“Gegyurh… giieehgu, gyururu.”
Don’t worry, Suzuran… you just don’t know the man called Hazuki no Shizuku.
“Oh? O-oh, really? Yeah… okay…”
Suzuran turned to the commander and nodded. While he still seemed in doubt, he still gave the order to open the hatch. With his v-shaped crest flapping through the wind picking up, Iqatobi slowly walked forth.
I thank you for giving me these wide open skies—
Suzuran nodded, her chest growing a little hot.
“Yeah, go get ‘em…!”
And Iwatobi dived out of the hatch without fear.
A few meters into his descent, the rocket engine lit with a dazzling flame. And Iwatobi’s body, like a penguin swimming effortlessly through the sea, began freely and lightly soaring through the open skies.
“He’s really flying!”
“Just like that, keep going!”
The knights forgot he was even a demon, sparing no effort to send his applause. Eventually, Iwatobi’s body began accelerating faster and faster towards the car Shouki was in.
Faster and faster.
Faster and faster and faster…
“No, wai, isn’t that too fast…!”
the moment after Suzuran said that, Iwatobi tore through the speed barrier in his violent acceleration, ramming right into the space behind the car. The explosion roared out.
“Aaah, so close! … I mean, Iwatobiiiiiiiii!!”
On the ground that Suzuran’s screams couldn’t reach. From the forest to the sides of the roar, the flocks of small birds set astir by the explosion… as if to pour ridicule on the poor flightless bird began taking to the skies.
“What the nyan!? What just exploded!?”
VZ in the driver seat released the accelerator, nervously shifting her eyes from the back mirror to the left and the right. From the passenger seat, Shouki placed a hand on her shoulder.
“Calm down. This might be a magic attack from the Sacred Assembly! For now, stopping is a terrible idea!”
Really? But I didn’t feel any magic…?
Listening in to their exchange, Meeko absentmindedly gazed back.
“Umm… were penguins always able to fly?”
“Eh? No, they never could.”
“She’s right, they don’t fly. Why do you ask?”
“No… it’s nothing particular.”
Was it my imagination, Meeko tilted her head as she turned back to the front.
“… Dear saint, the armored car below managed to recover the penguin as it passed by. While his plumage has been considerably singed, his life isn’t in any particular danger.”
At that report from the transceiver, there were those among the knights making relieved faces, along with those who looked like they couldn’t believe it.
Suzuran promptly tore up the ‘Instakill! Suzuran Missile Users Manual’ she found included in the case.
“… How should I say this… I’m sorry for all the trouble.”
She found herself scrunching up her shoulders and lowering her head.
“Hm. By Jove, that Hazuki no Shizuku needs to learn when to stop playing around… of course, Ewan’s also at fault for taking him seriously.”
The skeletal gentleman who had done nothing but smoke his cigar to that point began speaking at length. The clattering shake of his lower mandible as he held in a laugh cause even the veteran knights to retreat.
“Wha… the skeleton just talked…”
“S-saint, who exactly is this…!?”
“Umm, it’s Mr. Lick. He may look like this but… within that mansion, I’d say he’s one of the few good people or maybe…”
Right, a gentleman whose only flaw was that he wasn’t a person at all.
“How about I go next…”
“Don’t tell me you’re going to jump? If you need a parachute, we can provide one.”
The commander looked suspiciously over Lich’s body, but the undead king clattered out another laugh.
“Absurd. Gentlemen, just who do you think I am?”
Lich tilted his top hat and twirled his cane before having it come to a sudden stop just short of the ground. Or so it looked when in the next instant, he was using its point to draw a magic circle at speeds too fast for the eye to follow. An outrageous speed that caused one to see countless afterimages, yet with the precision of a machine. An elegant step. The ancient letters and geometric patterns of light he had drawn now surrounded him.
“Now just you watch. The power of one called the grand magician of curiosities. The next time you blink… I will have disappeared from here, and I’ll be standing right before that boorish automobile… one, two, three.”
Luck snapped his finger. The skeletal gentleman and his glowing magic circle vanished without a trace.
“Whoah, he really disappeared!?”
“That’s amazing; was that teleportation!?”
Among the surprised knights, one pointed down out the window. And just as he proclaimed, he had appeared in front of the automobile.
And was promptly run over.
“Wha! What is it this time!? Did I just run over someone!?”
VZ enthusiastically checked the mirror, but the scene of the crime was already out of sight. Meeko lightly joined in on the conversation.
“Did you… really? I get the feeling I saw a cranium suddenly appear right in front.”
“We’re pretty deep into the woods. Maybe a skeleton wandered out.”
As Shouki cautiously scanned the forest on both sides, VZ made a curious face.
“Eeh? But the sun rose ages ago.”
Monsters rarely did show themselves while the sun was high, and those of the spirit category had the strongest such inclinations. Unavoidable, as the sun burned them and turned their bodies to ash.
“Whatever it was, with that light bump sound, you can’t have done too much damage. Let’s hurry on.”
The car pressed forward in perfect condition.
“… Saint. The armored car below managed to recover the scattered bones as it passed by. While it seems he was in quite a few pieces, his life… err, well… he’s still brea… umm…”
“I really am sorry for all the trouble.”
As the one in charge of the radio struggled to find the right words, Suzuran deeply lowered his head.
“Looks like that old Lich is a gone-case. Maybe the rot’s finally made it into his skull.”
“You got it, Suzuran. It’s finally our turn.”
“Could it be you guys aren’t actually all that strong at… what? Our?”
The man with messy hair stood with his metal rod in one hand, and with the other, he lightly lifted Suzuran’s body under his arm, smashing through the sturdy steel plating of the hatch with just one leg.
As a tempestuous gale blew into the cargo hold, Homura-san’s hair violently flared out like a lion’s mane, or perhaps like squirming serpents.
“Wai! Hold up, buss! I don’t have a parachute or anything yet!!”
“Nothing to be scared about. You duked it out with me and survived. A fall ain’t gonna do nothing.”
“I’ll die! I’ll die, I tell you! We’re hundreds of meters up, so if we fall, I die!! At least a para—”
“Here we go!”
Homura forcefully kicked the floor, sending his body hurling into the void.
In his arms, Suzuran’s screams and tears formed a trail behind her as she fell through the sky.
“Noooooo! I’m dying! I’m falling! Mommy!”
“Hey, heey, calm down, calm down by God. Ow, owow, if you squirm like that, Suzuran, hey… oh snap.”
Thanks to Suzuran’s vehement rampage, Homura lost his balance. And by the whims of gravity, the two of them disappeared completely off course into the forest.
“Captain. The armored car below managed to spot the two of them. That demon called Homura aside, the saint is extremely distressed… they deemed it impossible to continue the mission.”
He squeezed a voice through his grit teeth.
“B-but captain. If we return now, what did we come all the way here for?”
“We came here to watch a penguin blow itself up, a skeleton fall apart, and a demon man try to help the saint get to the other side! If you have any better way to put it, I’m all ears.”
No one dared raise a hand.
“And that’s why you skulked all the way back””
Having heard the story, Takase held his head in the operating room. Raising herself off of the bed, Suzuran cried out.
“I-I mean, the wind was all like whoooosh!! The ground was going goooooo!! And Homura-san was going oh snap!!”
Next, Homura sitting cross-legged in a corner of the room.
“It was a mistake for me to leave the cellar.”
And in a state like the bones left after a cremation, Lich was lined up on another bed.
“It was a mistake for me to expose myself under the sun.”
Finally, Iwatobi, wrapped round and round in bandages so only his crest and his beak peaked out.
“It was a mistake for a penguin to fly through the sky… he said.”
He didn’t even have to listen to Suzuran’s interpretation. Suzuran gave a deep sigh at the plethora of excuses.
What was he getting so worked up about as he sent them off… with such indignation and exhaustion mingling together, Takase marched towards the Doctor’s office in the back of the operating room.
“Doctor. Hey. Hazuki.”
“What is it, Takaseee…”
Instead of his usual black-rimmed glasses, he was wearing protective goggles for welding, working on some dubious project as he let out his voice.
“… In the end, what’s with them? I can only think they failed on purpose.”
“Then isn’t that how it is…? When you get to the meat of it, we’re all scared of Lady Meeko. Suzuran had the others beat an understanding of Mana into her, but that alone isn’t nearly enough to rely on… and isn’t that why I’m making this?”
With the item in his hand, what looked like a pencil plugged into a cord, the doctor scattered sparks here and there from his workpiece.
“Despite that, Takase, you suddenly dragged everyone away, so I didn’t make it in time. We’re not courageous enough to go up against a myriad series with no safety net. Not like we’re the hero…”
“Oh? And so? What is this piece you’re so confident in? Sorry, but I’ve long passed the point where I can play around.”
With those irritated words hammered in, the Doctor triumphantly stopped his hands and lifted his face. He turned and took off his shaded glasses.
“It’s a sacred treasure, Takase.”
“To borrow Ripple-Rapple’s words, Sacred Treasure: Tachyon. Rather than Midgardsormr, the Bell of Destruction or the Angel’s Horn… I’d say it’s closer to Kongetsu Konya, an overconcentration type.”
And he picked up what he had completed. Decorated with a vivid crimson fringe, a jet-black gauntlet.
“Now take it with you, Takase. If you still have to courage to face Lade Meeko. And the cruelty to call Suzuran to this side.”
“… Why won’t any of you move? I shouldn’t have to tell you! You all know how dangerous Meeko is!”
“We won’t. Not in this circumstance. Those are the rules… now what will you do, Takase.”
Takase snatched that gauntlet away.