The location VZ had brought them to was a beautiful plateau. The still-cold winds of an early summer caused the thin wisps of clouds to glide by, caught in some stream of a transparent sky. While the slightest hint of snow remained in the shadows of the trees, the fresh green foliage budded with the greatest vitality it could muster.
“My, it’s dogtooth violet…”
Spotted a small flower blooming a lovely purple, Meeko’s eyes narrowed endearingly. While Shouki couldn’t say he didn’t get how she felt, he first spoke to VZ, who was busy stretching out.
“This is Zephirum HQ? But there’s nothing here… you’re not tricking us, are you?”
“No need to hurry, what’s the rush? Just wait a bit, and our supreme leader will be here.”
“What’s the rush? We’re being chased by multiple holy knight orders! We can’t quite take our sweet time, can we?”
“If it’s the knights you’re worried about, that one worked itself out.”
Sure enough, Shouki did notice they had passed through a number of barriers on the way here. What’s more, each and every one of them, like the barrier covering Tokyo Temple, was of the highest class… something only a demon could accomplish. Even a knight order couldn’t make it this far at a moment’s notice.
“Oh, it’s a Cuckoo. ”
Meeko focused her ears on the distant bird’s voice that rode in on the wind. She seemed more peaceful than anything, and it was beginning to feel idiotic for Shouki to be the only irritated one. So he spread his back over the field and looked up at the clouds.
How long had it been since he’d taken in the grass’s scent so closely? Since he let his whole body bask in the sun’s light?
Shouki let a calming and nostalgic wave wash over him. Ever since he became a hero, he had grown desperate about becoming stronger, about defeating evil, and he’s forgotten this sort of repose for a long time.
When he opened his eyes, they met with Meeko’s looking down over him, causing him to awkwardly turn them away. Upon seeing that, Meeko giggled…
“… Don’t you think it’s a nice place?”
“Yeah. I haven’t felt like this since my elementary school field tr…”
He had let himself go so lax he had completely failed to notice. He sprung up at the sudden voice of a young man.
A man with a strong shag cut. White gloves. An elegant countenance that unironically pulled off the sort of noble clothing Belronde wore.
“But humans see it as their natural right to eat away at such places… don’t you think it’s a tragedy?”
“I apologize for the late introduction. I am the lowest of Zephirum’s top executives and I go by the name Estee. Or should I call myself VZ’s colleague? … It is a pleasure to work with you.”
With a white-gloved hand to his heart, he took a deep vow. He turned to VZ after raising his body.
“Incidentally, VZ. I do not see the demon lord candidate… is she not with you?”
As Estee showed a sharp glare for only a brief instant, VZ crestfallenly shook her head.
“If she was at home, I could have managed… but it seems Mippletelt took her along, see? And that place is occupied by holy knights.”
“So not everything is as planned… this isn’t as reassuring as I’d hoped…”
Estee made a thinking face but his attention turning to what was behind him, he quickly stood at attention. The one who appeared was an aesthetically pleasing man whose blond hair was combed flat and knotted in the back. His head was crowned with a circlet fitting of one who stood at the top, while his body was clad in a gaudy black outfit decorated with gold thread. Those looks of a ruler to dominate others exceeded those of any Shouki had encountered before.
The hero made an effort to carry himself unabashedly as he opened his mouth.
“… So you’re Zephirum’s…”
“Supreme leader Elsion. You did well to bring her here. You have my gratitude.”
Contrary to what he had mustered, Elsion gestured for a handshake with such a gentle tone Shouki felt let-down. He almost found himself just going along with it when he remembered the woman. The endearing demon who simply stared blankly at the three who had appeared from nowhere in particular.
“Is it true that you’ll grant Meeko safe haven?”
“That is no falsehood. But to be upfront, before that… we will have to borrow her power.”
“What do you mean by that? You’d better not tell me you’re gonna eradicate humanity or something…”
Their secret maneuvering up to that point. What Shouki could easily foresee from Estee’s words. Elsion lowered the right hand Shouki didn’t grip back.
“… It is my hopes that it will eventually come to that. But I hold that it isn’t yet the time. If I had to say, Zephirum does not have that much power yet… and truth be told, it’s doubtful that she holds it either.”
“Perhaps you are under the assumption that Zephirum is a massive organization like the Sacred Assembly encompassing all demons… but that could not be further from the truth.”
After putting such unexpected words to mouth, Elsion took a small sigh.
“Looks like it’s going to be a long story. I have nothing against this place but… how about you come inside? Estee, prepare tea. No, time-wise, would lunch be more appropriate?”
Hearing that, Estee quietly formed a smile and snapped his fingers with a courteous bow. A short distance away… had a portion of its barrier come undone… a high stairway the climbed up ten-odd meters and a single iron door appeared.
“Wait, it’s not like I trust you guys yet…”
“You mustn’t Shouki.”
Meeko gave his sleeve a strong tug. A serious look, a strong nod.
“Yeah, I know, Meeko. This could very well be a trap…”
“It’s rude to decline an invitation to a feast.”
While she was always so graceful and calm, it was only now that she was nodding intently with a stern look in her eyes. Shouki wasn’t much better; just like Meeko, he hadn’t eaten anything since the night before, and his stomach was starting to growl.
Across that stairs and through the door was Europe at its architectural height. The atmosphere of a splendid palace. If Shouki had to bring up a nearby example, it was close to the Iori House manor, but the reds and golds here were even more prominent, with all the furnishings considerably well-polished. The room Shouki and Meeko were led to, for instance, had an air as if a dinner party would be opened at any second.
She must have been considerably hungry, as Meeko silently began scarfing down the food laid out over the starchy table cloth.
No matter what happens, you can’t fight on an empty stomach… and it wasn’t as if he had the ability to discern poison. Finally giving in, Shouki lightly took a morsel as he listened to what Elsion had to say.
“If I had to describe Zephirum, it would be… right, a resistance force.”
“A resistance…? You’re an underground organization?”
“And an extremely small-scale one at that. And only a small number of those at the very heart like VZ, Estee and I are blessed with strong power. Many who sympathize with our cause, even if they may be demons, are weak entities that are slaughtered the moment a holy knight order catches wind of them. That is why Zephirum must lurk, hide, and spin its plans in the darkness.”
Elsion’s words seemed half-comprised of regret.
“If only we had power, we would have no need to seduce Cardinal Randale to our side, or deploy Belronde to use the Kantou Agency. Without any cowardice or craft, Zephirum would be able to fight on center stage… don’t you think?”
Shouki swallowed a piece of meat that tasted like it would have a long and convoluted name before nodding.
“But the reality is different. As long as you are a demon, strong or weak, the Sacred Assembly will slaughter you.”
Shouki’s eating hands stopped. The words Elsion emphasized seemed to fit Meeko to the T. In short, he was talking about super extremists like Clarica.
“Can you understand why? It is because they fear us.”
“Fear? The Sacred Assembly does…?”
“… Correct, a race that surpasses humanity should never come to be; that is their fear. For humans are the race chosen by their God. So they spread their God’s word, twist their light, and hoist up that warped sense of justice.”
“Hold on. Of course, there are those sorts among them… but a great many people in the Assembly truly wish for nothing more than peace. To be honest, I’ve seen far more of that sort that the other.”
“You’re right. But the Sacred Assembly is vast. The people you speak of who desire peace will be used to exterminate demons… then at the very least, we must attempt to remove those that are using them.”
In that case, the prophet was the first to come to mind. Whether their words were for better or worse, whatever they prophesized would be executed without fail. Looking at it the other way, with just one word, perhaps a world where demons could walk freely waving their hands could be created… though it was hard to think the prophet would dare speak of coexistence with demons.
In which case, was destruction the only option?
“… You’re making this pretty hard for me. I firmly disapprove of the methods you’ve used up to now… and at this rate, neither you nor Meeko are in the safest position.”
“I’m happy you understand, Shouki.”
“But to that end, specifically speaking… what do you intend to do with Meeko? I heard Estee mention Nagoyakawa back there. I want to hear your answer.”
“Nagoyakawa Suzuran… the demon lord candidate. That is correct, her and Mippletelt… Iori Takase might be easier for you. I wanted the two of them to come to Zephirum before it came to this. Takase as one of Zephirum’s few top executives. And Suzuran as a symbol to unite the demons.”
Elsion repeated what he had heard from VZ that morning. He left a breath and changed the topic.
“There is something called the AMaC furnace in the basement of the Sacred Assembly’s headquarters, the grand temple. To be more precise, it’s apparently called the Accelerated Mana Collider Furnace, but what it does is accelerate positive mana… so-called magic, and by smashing it together at high speeds, it is able to generate negative mana.”
“Yeah, but that’s…”
“We plan to use her mana to overload it and erase the grand temple entirely.”
With looks suddenly sent here way, Meeko froze with some sort of meuniere halfway to her mouth.
“Am I… eating too much?”
“No. Please do go ahead… we have some seasonal sweets prepared for dessert, yes.”
Oh my, oh my, leaking a smile to Estee keeping himself scarce close by, Meeko returned to her meal.
“She only needs to be the catalyst, so it’s not as if any real harm will befall her… and naturally we will issue an evacuation request. But I highly doubt any of the die-hard anti-demon radicals will move from the spot. There is no way the grand temple whose history goes back thousands of years will fall to a mere demon, they will sit right where they are, their pride on the line. And what will happen?”
“Only your direct enemies… will disappear…”
“Correct. And once they have lost their central headquarters, the Sacred Assembly will fall into a panic… I can’t predict what will happen after that. But if as a result, the organization called the Sacred Assembly can better it’s make-up or enact some reform… then for the time being, Zephirum will be able to stop its activity.”
“Getting back on track, in order to enact it more reliably, I wanted for Takase and Suzuran to come to our side. Takase has strength no holy knight will ever amount to. And once the Sacred Assembly was rendered powerless, I planned to install Suzuran as our bellwether.”
But at present, the two of them were enemies. Perhaps Suzuran alone didn’t see it that way, but she wouldn’t recognize the existence that was Zephirum. Takase was… who could say? At least from what he heard from his exchange with VZ at the Kantou Agency underground HQ, he at least expressed some hostility towards Zephirum.
And how did he see Meeko being practically kidnapped away? There was no way he didn’t have tabs on them, but ever since Shouki ran into Meeko, he hadn’t shown his face a single time.
“I… see. But they’re desperate too. Will you be able to reach the AMaC furnace? After you overload it, will you be able to get away?”
“Along with me, Estee over there, and VZ can freely come and go through the isolated world. But if a human wishes to do so, they will have to be a master magician on the level of Cardinal Randale… and every one of Zephirum’s top executives boasts the strength to go head to head with a cardinal.”
“… I see. So you do have… a chance.”
If they moved through the isolated world, the number of foes they’d actually have to face would be few and far between. And if they were even equipped to deal with the appearance of a cardinal class enemy…
“Now that it’s come to this… if it’s possible, Shouki, I seek your assistance.”
That was an unexpected plea. When he was a person of the Sacred Assembly only yesterday.
“That’s right. I did say I would issue an evacuation warning, but I fear they will not take the words of a demon. Yet say, if the hero were to announce the truth I have spoken, and to proclaim it was to figure out that plan that he infiltrated Zephirum. A far greater number of humans will be saved, and perhaps a more favorable conclusion will be brought about… that is what I think.”
When he was challenging a power far greater than he, as he spoke of it, Elsion’s eyes were serene. Right, it was clear he believed that to be justice. Not the slightest shadow of a doubt. And Shouki failed to spot any mistake in his words.
“And after that, I’ll need your help persuading the demon lord candidate. I heard from VZ that you have earned an immense trust from her.”
“Are humans going to die?”
While Shouki mulled over it, Meeko placed down her knife and her fork, looking at Elsion with nonchalant eyes. She declared it quite plainly.
“To fight and injure one another, for people to die, if it Is something so sad… I am against it.”
“The matter is being handled with the utmost care. There is nothing better than subduing without death… but I fear the only one who can make such a miracle come to be…”
Elsion’s eyes went from Meeko to Shouki. Then Meeko’s eyes, once more.
“… I’ll do it.”
Shouki gave the two a strong nod. With the ambitious eyes of a hero he was on the verge of forgetting.
“Meeko. Unless I do it, I won’t be able to protect you. And without you, it won’t succeed… in that case, I can only give it my utmost so no one has to be hurt. I want you to believe and follow me.”
Just once. Meeko’s eyes wavered in hesitation. But it really was once; her dim pupils firmly grasped the look Shouki gave her.
“…… Understood. I will believe in you.”
At Meeko’s resolve, Elsion gave a small sigh. While it didn’t show on his expression, he was surely relieved and observing his reaction, Estee made a smile.
“Now what, commander?”
“We’re setting course. For the Grand Temple.”
“As you wish.”
With a deep bow of his head, Estee left the room.
“Then let me show you around Zephirum’s headquarters.”
Shouki hopped aboard that invitation, standing from his seat with Meeko. The followed Elsion a while, tracing a straight line down the corridor and going down the stairs at the landing. The stairs directly connected to a single vast room. Surrounded by windows in three hundred and sixty degrees, it was a room that brought a viewing platform to mind. Around ten-odd demons in black faced consoles with headsets on their heads.
And the steering wheel that explained all of it.
“Don’t tell me… this is…”
Before Shouki could temper his surprise, the sound of the engine heavily resounded. He turned to the sound, looking around the suspended glass cylinder he seemed to be in and catching sight of the propeller just as it began to turn. Meeko gazed out perplexedly at the tree leaves she could see around eye level.
“Correct… how can our organization continue evading the pursuit of the Sacred Assembly that operates on a global scale? This is the answer, Shouki.”
“An airship…!! And one this large…!?”
Hindenburg, Zeppelin. Shouki knew at least the names. Just from what he could see across the few centimeters’ thick bulletproof glass… this airship boasted at least the same size. So large that the husk of its streamlined body could only be seen as a wall.
Meaning, the number of barriers that passed to reach this place were in place to conceal this two-hundred-meter-long hull.
“But… it seems far too large for that… I get the feeling I walked quite a long way down the corridor.”
“Yes, the specs on this one vary quite a bit from airships before the Hindenburg. This one uses phlogiston gas.”
Indeed, Estee appeared to take charge of the explanation.
“Its buoyancy is beyond comparison to hydrogen. For the off-chance we must camouflage ourselves, it’s shaped like a blimp, but… in essence, the lift is all coming from the top half of its almond structure. Yes.”
“It’s like a large-scale car ferry is flying on a balloon, please think of it like that.”
Delighted at Shouki’s surprise, Estee smile spread from ear to ear.
“While I hear that Sacred Assembly has been making use of helicopters lately… they’re nothing more than crane flies compared to this one. Once we take off and submerge ourselves in the isolated world, they have no means to lift a finger against us. When all’s said and done, you may call this a sky submarine.”
I see. No wonder they continued to escape the Sacred Assembly’s eyes.
And as it was pretty much a balloon, it didn’t need any fuel to float in place. The Holy Knight order helicopters were purely for transport, not made with air battles in mind, so they had no means to attack. Even if they were spotted, they had any number of means to reliably slip away.
“If you obliged me to bring up a fault, out flight speed is just a little bit slow but… well, a trip through the sky should be enjoyed in elegance. Now then, the preparations are just about complete.”
Estee heard the signal from the navigation officer and turned to Elsion. Elsion nodded as he gave a single snap of his fingers.
“Our destination is the grand temple. The place where our wishes will come true!”
The order had been given. The crew wrung out their voices of agreement.
In the blink of an eye, the airship quietly left the ground, being drawn into the wide skies where it belonged.
The fourth knight order on Shouki’s tail had completely lost their objective. They had managed to narrow down the location to a certain mansion, but the carriers and isolated world must have thrown them off. While the Sacred Assembly used their share of barriers, when it came to the isolated world, that was Zephirum’s specialty. It wasn’t a realm the human hand could reach into at a moment’s notice.
“Now’s not the time to kick back and sip your tea!”
Takase restlessly closed in on Ritsuko, but she seemed to be earnestly waiting for something.
Behind her, Clarica and Marriete were boredly having a friendly chat in maid clothing, while in a corner of the room, Florence stared off towards a better day, hammering something into her keyboard. The keyboard cord seemed to be connected to her helmet, but taken out of context…
“That’s quite the pantomime, crazy bishop.”
“My oh my… it’s pathetic for a boy to grow so irritated! If you can’t do anything yourself, that’s when you stay put!”
Chided with complete confidence, Takase decided it wasn’t worth it to refute. He did realize he grew too emotional when Meeko was involved. But even if he knew that, he still couldn’t stand still. With the state of affairs suddenly taking a dubious turn, it did nothing but spur on his mentality.
“Lend me the chopper again, Ritsuko! This time I’ll…!”
It happened right before he could say it. Florence’s lips drew an arc.
“We got them.”
Clack, she forcefully slapped the keyboard, causing something to print out of it.
“Now that’s sweet. So how is it?”
Plucking the cord out of her helmet, Florence hung the keyboard at her hip an s if it were a sword. She slammed what had just been printed down on the desk.
“You’re really something, Ritsuko! Having PR and Hida Makoto hold down that airspace was the jackpot!”
Peering over Ritsuko’s shoulder at the photo, Clarica and Mariette were at a loss for words.
“T… the heck is this…!?”
“… An airship, I’d reckon…”
“A drone… no a satellite photo!? But at this scale, that thing is…!”
What was projected was undoubtedly the shape of a blimp. But its span had to surpass two hundred meters. Yet there it was right on camera, a semi-transparent aircraft at a size impossible for the current day.
“They just barely made it in time. The decisive moment right before it dived into the isolated world! Zephirum’s stronghold that appears and vanishes across the globe… who’d have guessed its identity was such an absurd piece of art!”
“But how do we counter that!? A dive into the isolated world!? Then how do we spot them from our side!? And even if we do locate them, if it’s their headquarters, it’s not strange if they’re fully equipped with magic barriers, is it not!? Against that giant, the Sacred Assembly’s transport helicopters can’t do a thing!”
As Takase laid out the hopelessness of the situation, Clarica shook her head with a difficult face.
“He’s right about that… if we could’a just caught them before they took off… but if they’re already in the air, all we can aim for is the moment they land. If they put up a barrier after they land, it’ll be trouble on top of trouble.”
“But Senpai. They’ve already submerged in the isolated world, right? It will be a herculean task to discern that moment.”
Hearing the three converse, an intrepid smile filled Florence’s lips.
“The stage has been set for the Second Order to show off its specialty.”
“You heard her Taki. We’re going off to take down this balloon monster so… we’ll have to catch up another time.”
“Wha… wait! Take down!? What about Meeko…!”
Ritsuko sorrowfully lowered the corners of her eyebrows, standing from the seat. Takase’s mouth opened slowly at the off sensation he picked up from her words.
“What do you… mean?”
“All this, see. It’s been right by the prophet’s calculations.”
“No way!? This was calculated!?”
“We knew full well Zephirum wanted the Demon Meeko. We knew Zephirum would come to take her. So the plan was to let her swim as bait, discern Zephirum’s hideout… and annihilate them.”
“You… if you do something like that in front of Meeko!”
Another repetition of the words he had conveyed countless times. Ritsuko slowly shook her head.
“Sure, Meeko may have been an amazing Demon back in the day… but that time’s come and gone. With the Sacred Assembly’s current forces, it would be easy enough to seal her, the Prophet said. Perhaps letting her revive and get her power back would be more convenient to open the gate to the other world.”
“Then there’s no way I could let you go! You haven’t forgotten, have you… that I’m the apostle of the Glutton Demon Meeko!”
At that moment, an explosive sound like a gunshot and the impact that came with it rocked Takase’s body. Hos clothing was scattered into a thousand pieces, the wall his back was hammered into cracked. The force and the pain caused him to lose focus in his eyes.
The last thing his vision could capture was the singly long whip dangling down from Ritsuko’s hand. The Sacred Treasure that had let her sire to Cardinal, the serpent whose poison could kill a god.
“… Midgardsormr……! I didn’t think you could activate it point blank…!”
“And youse forgotten something too. That I’ve got a sacred treasure…”
Her footsteps slowly approached.
Takase curled his numb fingers, feebly grasping Ritsuko’s lapels. But knowing he couldn’t do any more than that, she refrained from brushing his hand away as she apologetically lowered her eyebrows.
“Sorry Taki. I can’t go against the prophet. If you’d just brought Meeko back… I wouldn’t have ad to do this… and the slaughter that’s to come wouldn’t have to happen… that’s why I had my hopes on you, Taki…”
He had finally lost his sight entirely, the buzzing in his ears growing to something fierce as his hand came unstuck from Ritsuko. He fell to the floor sinking into the darkness and lost consciousness.
“… You two.”
“Y-yyyyyyyyyyyes!! Lord Cardinal Ritsuko her highness!”
Clarica and Mariette’s voices overlapped as they stood at attention.
After the coup at the Kantou Agency, they had both been informed about Iori Takase… Code E0 by the mouth of Bishop Ferriol. Monsters and demons were but a trifle, he was easily at the level of a Sacred Assembly Bishop… and not just any bishop, he was evenly matched against Bishop Ferriol, his data was so ridiculous it had to be some joke.
But in the blink of an eye, this Cardinal had brushed him aside. Due to her usual tranquility, Clarica had been half-looking down on her, making the spectacle all the more shocking.
“What’s all this… you suddenly picked up some manners?”
“Y-y-yes! I’ll totally stop impersonating public relations to unfairly reap the free food! I’ll repent!”
“I-I-I’ll give up on Grace Incarnate Model Three! I swear to share my love among the other grace incarnates equally!”
For a little while, Ritsuko stared at them incomprehensively.
“… Well, you do that. More importantly, you two hurry and change and call Makoto and Saho. We’re taking them along.”
“That so… so where are we going?”
“What a stupid question! Of course we’re going to take down that airship!”
Florence smacked her hand a few times against the satellite photo on the table.
“And how do you figure…?”
“… And I heard that girl called Saho has nothing but battle in her brain but… what are you going to use her for?”
Mariette’s question was answered by Ritsuko.
“What… why we’re going to have her battle. If Demon Meeko was recovered, that was it for the plan. Then what do you think we gathered so many knight orders here for?”
In a smile no different from when she was sipping tea, Ritsuko added on.
“It’s a massacre.”
Even if she was a moderate, a cardinal was a cardinal. With her words, Clarica felt like she was learning that for the first time.
Even after the sun had sunken below the thick sea of clouds, Meeko remained fixed on the round cabin window as if to immerse herself in the memory of that beautiful sight.
With her standing, she was changed out of her maid clothing, and now she wore a black dress Zephirum had presented to her. The point was that in their eyes she was some grand demon. It was outrageous for her to clad in the attire of a servant.
“It was a wonderful sunset…”
Shouki replied as he tried to grasp the state of the ground. Around where was the airship flying, he wondered? But all he could see below him were the thick clouds illuminated by a hazy moon. And the shadow of the ship the moon projected. If he looked up, there were a few stars around, but Shouki didn’t possess the knowledge to derive a direction from that.
(Come to think of it, I left without a word, didn’t I…)
He did leave a memo. But what he scribbled down included notes on the Sacred Assembly and Meeko, so just maybe his sister and grandpa were in a bit of a panic.
(Well, come so far, it’s out of my hands… and that’s not enough to make gramps and sis panic.)
Parting from the window, Shouki gave a sigh of pure boredom as he lowered his hips on the leather sofa. A fluffy carpet had been spread over the floor, and a look at the shelf yielded bottles and glass pieces of all sorts of shapes. Across a single door was a king size bed and full bathroom.
This as evidence of just how much of a VIP Elsion and the others saw Meeko as. Incidentally, Shouki was assigned a third-class room two floors down with no windows. To add another incidentally to that, the only change of clothing they offered him was a single pair of trunks.
“Isn’t it about time… for you to get hungry?”
Her eyes that had only just grown bleary with the sight of the sunset had quickly changed to a look of longing.
“You’re hungry, aren’t you? You’re a growing boy, after all.”
“No… I- I mean yeah. Then I’ll go put in a request…”
“Oh no, I could never trouble you, that wasn’t my intent…”
“It’s fine, I was just getting bored.”
The trip through the sky had him expecting some magnificent panorama, but in the end, all he could see was clouds. This was nothing but a blessing for Shouki so bored he could die, and he could now leave the room to explore.
They were currently in the residential district. It consisted of the back half of the lower half of the almond shape, apparently. According to Estee, along with all the equipment to navigate and maintain the ship, the front half was crammed with offices to function as Zephirum’s headquarters.
(If you think about it logically, the kitchen should be in the residential district…)
Though at the very least, he wanted to get a look at the engine room, was how he was really feeling. Still, it felt bad to keep a hungry demon waiting.
“I guess I’ll go to the bridge…”
Bringing it up with Elsion would probably be his fastest bet, he thought as he proceeded down the hall, meeting guard demons equipped with swords. It would be terrible if his rash actions warranted suspicious, but no one could complain if he had Elsion’s permission. He could ask for the meal while he was at it.
And he descended the sort of zigzagging stairs he saw at school to the lowest level. He made for the bow. While as expected, there were demons guarding the stairs to the bridge, with just two or three words, they let him by surprisingly easily.
“Nyaaan!? Hold up! Who do you think you are, entering the bridge without the captain’s permission!!”
“… Wait, you’re the captain?”
The high seat Elsion was sitting in last time he was here now had a girl in a feathered cap reclined back with her legs crossed.
A heartless sigh came from the crew members facing the machinery.
“… Or not. Where’s Elsion?”
“If you want Commander Elsion, he’s in the meeting room holding a strategy meeting with Estee and the others. I’m keeping house here.”
It was just a hunch, but Shouki had a pretty good idea why she wasn’t participating in the meeting.
“So what do you need?”
“Just wondering if it’s time for dinner yet. I thought I’d have a good look at the ship while I was at it.”
Hmhmm, VZ nodded before lifting up the transceiver installed into the chair’s armrest and pressing the button. What followed was a conversation at her usual pace, and she put the device down before long.
“They’re manufacturing it at supersonic speed.”
“Manufacturing… well whatever.”
It was then that Elsion and Estee dropped by the bridge. The king as his loyal attendant. The expression fit them perfectly.
“Shouki. Did something happen?”
“If you have any requests, bring them up with me, yes.”
“Aah, no… I already finished up. By the way…”
By Elsion’s hand, VZ was dragged out of the captain seat, and with a flip of his mantle, Elsion took his place as if nothing had happened at all
“… Where are we flying at the moment?”
“We are heading south along the archipelago. We will soon be entering the Kinki region.”
Estee brushed aside the strong shag hanging over his face as he melodiously answered. With one order to a crew member, a half-transparent screen popped up at the front of the bridge. Was that some form of magicology? Looking at the spectacle alone, it was almost sci-fi.
The screen displayed a map of Japan. A trail of dots marked the path from where they had started, and they were now looming somewhere around Osaka. He thought they had left Japan ages ago, but it was clear they were flying considerably slowly.
“We estimate around a week’s trip to the grand temple.”
“I see… then I’ll be patient.”
Honestly, he was already fed up of sitting still, being a hero with a side stint as a student… he had always been too busy. With that on his mind, Shouki turned to leave the bridge.
“Manned craft detected, approaching from three o’ clock.”
He heard the voice of a young woman. The screen showing their flight route immediately changed to show a radar reading centered around the airship.
Estee touched his white-gloved fingers to his chin.
“That’s strange… it’s hard to imagine a civilian craft flying in these parts.”
“Which would make it the JDSF or the stationed US armed forces.”
Elsion said, but the operator woman seemed to be hard-pressed for words.
“About that… we are unable to confirm its identification.”
“What shall we do, commander?”
Even as Estee sought orders, the radar indicated the object’s approach. Its velocity approximately a hundred and seventy knots. A speed of around three hundred kilometers per hour… if it wasn’t a jet, that was not particularly slow or fast. Altitude-wise, it was still flying through clouds. Impossible to confirm by eye.
“Submerge to the isolated world second level depth. Carry on as usual. There is nothing to fear.”
The crew repeated his orders. The quiet song of the engine let out one loud roar and Shouki saw the scenery around him blur for a moment.
“Dive to second depth completed.”
“Condition all green. No abnormality to report.”
The slightly strained sense of tension was about to loosen with that report, when
a high pitched tone echoed through the ship as if to strike the rigid air. It sounded twice, then thrice… at regular intervals, yet gradually the sound was growing louder.
“This… it can’t be!”
The crew member who said it focused his ears on his transceiver and turned.
“Our ship has been detected!!”
“The craft… is picking up speed! It’s coming even closer! Clearly on a collision course!”
The noise raced violently at an unpleasant high frequency to throw the brain out of order. A number of crew members threw down their headsets, grimacing and holding their ears.
Elsion’s eyes began to wear a considerable seriousness.
“… They detected us through the isolated world…?”
“I imagine only America’s Angel Saber and the Sacred Assembly possess that sort of technology… have you confirmed the craft’s identity yet!? Hurry!”
On Estee’s voice, the woman serving as operator lightly raced her fingers of the console. She began comparing the data.
“America… Russia, Japan… England, Sweden, France, Israel…… it’s no good, I can’t find any corresponding rea… di…”
“N-no… it can’t be…”
The operator continued staring at her monitor, shaking her head in disbelief. It was as if she was caught up in some terrible nightmare.
“… Impossible… for something, something like this to really exist…!”
Estee in contrast angrily swung his arm.
“So what is it!? Report already, Ratzelika!”
“Y-yes… upon comparing the reading off the unknown craft…! I have found one matching ship… I’ll put it on the main screen.”
Estee, Elsion, everyone present swallowed their breath at the data that came on screen. With a span of two hundred and seventeen meters, a warship of steel. As if choosing that very moment, the craft broke through the clouds, calmly revealing its form from the sea of clouds.
The search sounds came to an end. The operator’s bitter voice resounded across the bridge.
“USS Essex Class Aircraft Carrier… it’s the Sacred Assembly’s Angel Storage!!”