“Blast, you missed…!?”
Picking up Elsion’s anguished voice across the transceiver, Takase punched the wall of the cabin. She did land the blow. But as long as they still had life on their breath, demons were persistent.
“Suzuran, prepare another shot at once!”
Suzuran hurriedly readied her endlessly glimmering gauntlet to strike before the shaking died down but,
“Oy, E0! I’m telling you we’ve got no fuel! We’ve got to turn back!”
Kikuhito turned and yelled from the copilot seat. The agent in the pilot seat glaring at the meters wore a thick shade of impatience.
“Wait, Kikuhito! Just one more blow and…!”
‘Ksks… ufu. Ufufufufufu…!’
An out of place laugh to muddled the tense air flowed swiftly from the wireless. Eventually, it changed to a laugh to shrill it hurt to listen. The hair all over Takase’s body stood on end.
“… A… absurd!! She really did…!!”
Presumably. And inevitably.
The trigger had been Suzuran’s strike. A Demon Lord’s power.
As Takase’s shock drained him of his willpower and energy, Kikuhito spoke loathsomely.
“… Hey, she’s got the same laugh as you.”
“… In what… way?”
“The laugh of complete and utter trash.”
Spitting it out with ample repugnance, Kikuhito turned back to the front.
“Anyways, we’ve got to turn around. Can’t deal with all of these abnormals… get going, E2!”
“Wait! Suzuran, don’t worry about that man anymore! Meeko is…!”
But with her red eyes staring into the distant, Suzuran muttered.
“It will be fine.”
As Suzuran turned to him with a smile as if she had lost sight of herself, Takase lost his words.
“That’s the feeling I’m getting. Meeko looks like she’s having a lot of fun.”
With those words as the be-all-end-all, the helicopter turned its nose and began its descent into the clouds below.
The Hasebe House residence.
“How long around you going to be up, little one? I’ve got an early morning so I’m… going… to… sleep…”
As Shouka slid open the screen door, she caught Ripple-Rapple gazing into the western sky where the storm clouds were thickest. Not in her usual girlish cute clothing, she was wearing a drab cream-colored baggy robe with a high collar, covering her arms and her legs to the tips of her toes.
A solemn bishop staff in her hand as tall as an adult.
The eyes that turned to face her were an enamoring blue. Her hair as well.
“W… what’s up with that get-up…?”
“As administrator of the Noesis Program, granting authorization. Present state, local scope has lightly breached state D. It’s an A Plus.”
“O… oh really?”
As Shouka asked with blank eyes, Ripple-Rapple nodded twice.
“An old… yes, a very old friend is back.”
And the girl gave one more large nod. Despite her words, she wasn’t smiling; she maintained the same expressionlessness as ever.
“And so… I have to go. It wasn’t long, but I’ve been in your care.”
“Oh not really, no need to worry about it. I see. Then if you ever feel like it, just drop by to play. Gramps is always around the house.”
Nod, nod. At the end of her nods, the girl kept her head down. And just like that, she had disappeared.
“You were… alive…”
Elsion muttered in a daze. With all the still eyes fixed on her, just as the demons had done before her, Meeko undid her own bindings and stepped down to the deck.
The moment her eyes met with Shouki, she walked over to him with a smile. She got down on a knee and lifted him up.
“… That I am.”
With a graceful smile, Meeko shook her head left and right.
“That was, indeed, back when I was a wee lassy… the little girl you’re thinking of is long gone.”
Without giving a shocked Shouki the time to understand what she meant, Meeko went on.
“I’m sure you saw Shouka in that younger me. You saw the ideal woman you admired.”
“That can’t… I… don’t…”
Still completely incomprehensive, Shouki shook his head half fearfully. But Meeko’s eyes peered straight into his. With a calm color to put him at ease, she held up her dear wounded hero.
“But you know… when you said you wanted her to be, she really was happy. Shouki. I’m sorry you had to be hurt. You really were, quite splendid.”
After one breath she held him tighter.
“No matter how many make an enemy of you, I alone shall recognize you as a hero. Even if all in the world become your foe, I shall be your ally. Therefore…”
And Meeko, with eyes as gentle as the Virgin Mary, gently wiped Shouki’s still-damp tears away with a finger.
“You needn’t cry any longer. I will be your sword.”
And finally, she gently kissed his lips.
Eventually, she reluctantly set down his body and rose like a wavering heat haze.
The holy mother’s face was already gone, this was a woman with a completely different look to her than the Meeko Shouki knew. Even if the beauty of her features didn’t change… she made terribly bored, sleepy eyes with an arrogant expression.
With her face turned up, she looked down over all before her.
“It has been long, Elsion. I hear you hath become a demon lord, but who did you get to recognize you?”
“… If humanity perishes by my hand, everyone will have to recognize it. Am I wrong?”
She offhandedly said as she troublesomely folded her arms.
Denied, Elsion’s eyes sharpened in displeasure, but Meeko went on.
“The only ones who can decide are those of the Noesis. Therefore, as long as we say you aren’t, even if the world falls apart, you are no Demon Lord. And if we say you are, then you can be one without killing a fly. So who recognized you?”
“… I’ll say it only once, Demon Meeko. I have no need for such antiquated systems. Now that you have revived, will you come to my side as a vassal and become my tool to erase humanity, or will you disappear here and now. That’s all there is to it. Now… quietly hand the Noesis Program to me.”
“Why would I have that?”
“What… did you say?”
Elsion doubted his ears. Meeko could only take it as a farce and scoff.
“Oh I see. You say you want it because you have no idea what exactly it is.”
After closing her eyes, Meeko let out a resigned sigh.
“But so be it. You do seem to be quite out of it. Oh pitiful demon lord shot down by one blow from Suzuran.”
“Suzuran!? The Demon Lord Candidate… you say!?”
Elsion looked shocked at his own arms nearly torn off.
“You’re saying this is her power…!?”
“You did get just one thing correct. Demon Lord Candidate is the nonsense of human tongues. Yes indeed. That is not a Demon Lord or anything of the sort. What’s more, she does not even carry the blood of some ancient Outer as you presumed.”
“Wha…! Then you’re saying an Outer such as myself was wounded by a mere human…!”
“That is also wrong. That one simply carried a ‘godslayer’s’ blood.”
“… Godslayers… they’re only strong enough to slay lowly demons and monsters, are they not? That is the limit of the potential afforded to humans. Not nearly enough to wound a high-class outer!”
How idiotic… Meeko’s expression clearly expressed.
“Those godslayers… especially the Nagoyakawa main arts holds quite a different reason for existence than the other three houses. Be it the Amashiro’s sturdy bow or the Hasebe mighty sword, all that is passed down is the technique. But the Nagoyakawa is different. The power within is passed down as it is. Once accepted, that becomes the new starting point to polish to even greater heights. You have done no more than misunderstand that which has grown over the years.”
“Such an absurd tale is…!”
Quite possible. Meeko interrupted him. She laughed at Elsion’s wounds Suzuran had apparently inflicted.
“Before such a power, the average demon is garbage. By this point, the Nagoyakawa are practically sacred treasures walking with wills of their own.”
“Wench… who do you think you’re talking to!? Are you saying I’m no more than refuse? A demon woman who was only ever a vassal, speaking to the new Demon Lord? Who do you think you are!?”
In regards to Elsion’s harsh voice, Meeko smiled.
“Why I’m a god, you fool.”
Elsion laughed as if he had forgotten the pain in his lost arm.
“A god! Now that’s quite something… sure enough, a demon on your level may have been feared as so by those foolish humans. But do you think a Demon Lord like me will cower the same?”
The giant pitch-black mouth that suddenly sprouted from the deck was cut through by Elsion’s flash as if he had seen it coming. And the second, the third, the fourth… just by lightly manipulating the fingers on his remaining arm, the Nozuchis too easily sunk away as if he was playing whack-a-mole.
One of the many turned in an unanticipated direction, sounding its sharp fangs.
Elsion turned with a scream. The next instant, blood burst out of Estee’s two arms when he had been nowhere near the spectacle. He threw down Ritsuko’s body on the spot as he writhed.
She was able to see it. Estee’s extended, invisible hands.
“It takes more than that to touch me. You’ve passed your time a bit, but I’ll let you go as a promising man… and you too.”
Reaching right hand into empty space without looking in that direction, when her fingers grasped down,
Of all things, she dragged out VZ, who had been hiding in the isolated world. Her left hand went unarmed to block the slender blade she thrust out at point blank range. With a light flip of her wrist, the sword’s body broke.
“A… au… ah…”
VZ’s face was now ghastly pale.
The far too strong woman, after doing so much, pierced her with a far-too quiet gaze inducing uncontrollable shivers through her body. Tears softly surfaced in both her eyes as she shook her head no.
“You look tasty.”
VZ gave a small scream at the beautiful smile born on her mouth.
“… To be violated then eaten or perpetually violated, which would you prefer?”
“Eh!? Ah…!? Urgh…!?”
“You hesitate. How innocent… I shall let you live for being Suzuran’s friend. But don’t you dare run.”
Meeko’s slender arm brushed VZ’s body to the side. No different from a bullet, with speeds close to the speed of sound, VZ collided with the armored plating of the bridge, not even given the time to scream.
“A… an outer was…”
“Almost like… twisting a baby’s hand…”
The knights who had learned their strength firsthand found amazement in the midst of their shudders. And seeing the several massive mouths rise, they stepped back in fear, or ran to the edge of the ship.
Meeko looked at Elsion once more.
Basking in the rays that emitted from all five fingers of his one hand. Even if they came together as one, merging into a crimson pillar of light called from the depths of hell.
Neither her body nor her brow so much as twitch.
“Hmm… I see. You’re not completely useless.”
Even with those who served him taken out and his own attack inept, Elsion’s manner of speech showed no hint of change. Meeko furrowed her brow just a bit at his arrogant tone.
“You speak like you still have a trick up your sleeve.”
To answer Meeko’s words, he held out his hand.
Answering that, what graced his hand was a single pitch-black sword. Not a single ornament, no pattern save for the reflection of the moon on its blade, a two-handed long sword. Its height- if stood up- would reach Elsion’s shoulder.
Meeko irksomely narrowed her eyes.
“A sacred treasure…”
“So you recognize it. That’s right, Meeko. Demon Meeko. You may be of the myriad clan hailed as the strongest… but you are no absolute. And haven’t you noticed.”
To illustrate his point, all gunports on Angel Storage began to groan out. Countless bolds of light raced into the night sky like a meteor shower in reverse.
By now, the raining flock of monsters had gotten close enough to discern their forms with the naked eye.
Before Meeko finished her words, Elsion disappeared. In less than an instant, he was right in front of her.
A stiff spark flew between the two of them.
A slender elegant hammer like a gate ball stick had been summoned to Meeko’s hand. As Elsion slashed at her with all his weight, Meeko manipulated her weapon’s length with one hand, catching the blow with one hand.
Shouki found himself crying out. While he had only been left with one hand, Elsion’s swordsmanship was far too beautiful, to fast. But that ended as an unnecessary fear. After crossing blades once, twice, thrice, the one who took distance was Elsion.
“Curses… then with my greatest technique…!”
“Simpleton. There is an even greater problem at hand. You think I haven’t noticed, you ninny?”
Meeko’s voice rung of tired disappointment.
“What… what are you trying to say!?”
“You have a sacred treasure. The Black Blade that stands on par with Kongetsu Konnya no less, so why canst you sever something of that level!?”
With her spelling it out, he finally noticed her meaning.
Elsion’s face began showing the vivid colors of unease. Meeko mockingly gave her guess.
“Your sacred treasure never chose you.”
The giant beasts landed, shaking the deck like an earthquake. The individuals that slipped through Angel Storage’s rain of fire had quickly reached.
Gryphon, Cockatrice, Iron Golem, Cyclops… for now as if they were still waking from a deep slumber, they simply stared at the flustered knights and demons. But the monsters who narrowly missed the deck continued right on their way down.
The ship had used more than half of its ammunition in that brief instant. All large firepower weapons such as missiles had already run out, and now their CIWS turrets were shooting monsters down, but before a flock with an absolute numerical superiority, such nets of gunfire were all too easily slipped through as the falling snowflakes continued their leisurely fall to the earth.
The fearless smile revived on Elsion’s face.
“Fufu… hahahahah! Now what do you do… What will you do before this overwhelming legion of monsters, Demon Meeko!? The path is already open.”
Meeko had but one answer. She casually swung down her hammer.
High and high, the atmosphere clanged out. And Shouki saw it. The sea of clouds below, in a several dozen kilometer radius, disappeared like a ripple bore through to its end. The city lights in the dark spread out like a starry sky on earth. The several hundred monsters on deck and in that circumference dispersed into particles of light.
Not a trace remained.
“That is how you use a sacred treasure. Use yours right and you could sever a dragon.”
“Silence… and what… what of it! Then are you going to continue sounding out that hammer forever? Just look at the sky! The monsters fall without end! For the man who opened the path! To serve their master!!”
Elsion cut down the nozuchi that appeared behind him on presence alone. Without moving from that spot, the second, third and fourth. Just as easily as Meeko could brush aside his sword, he could clear them away.
“That’s right, it is the outers who are worthy to rule this world…”
In just one flash. Even the larger nozuchi that crawled out was quickly laid to waste.
“… I’ll cut down as many of these good-for-nothing worms as I have to. Now bear witness to the threat before your eyes, to reality… the age of humans has ended!!”
His breath rough, Elsion renewed his grip on his long sword’s hilt. Meeko quietly looked at him. In the depths of her eyes dwelled a sheer cold light.
“… We are not the ones to proclaim the human end. We are those who oppose such declarations of the heavens. Don’t get in over your head, youngling. No one of the outside would think of this as a threat. But if you insist on calling yourself such…”
Blooming madly under the full moonlit sky, a sinister smile like a mountain cherry tree.
“Now let it commence! Your grand welcome party to the outside world! A party of nothing but destruction and death! Entertain me until there’s nothing left! And do endeavor not to die!!”
Elsion swallowed his breath at this spirit of unknown origin. Looking up to the sky, his eyes shot all the way open, he blankly opened his mouth, the sword dropped from his hand.
The air, the atmosphere, the presence changed. A sudden turn, perhaps for the worse. Hit by the waves of a far-too massive power, knight and demon alike collapsed.
“W… what is this…”
Elsion stepped back, he stepped back, he stumbled and fell onto his backside. Trembling in fear, he cried out to the skies he had held such confidence in.
“What is this—!”
Come so far, his mind hazy from the thick magic, Shouki came to realize as well. The identity of what had caused Elsion to cower.
Focus your eyes on the night sky and there was a mouth. A nozuchi mouth. In the west, in the east, the north and the south. What he thought was the night sky was all pitch-black mouths. The entirety of the starry sky had been replaced by a myriad of mouths. The mouths squirmed as they jostled against one another, scrambling to crush, to tear apart, to devour every last bit of the magic beasts, divine beasts, phantasmal spirits raining down.
The blood rain of those monsters came down over the deck like a waterfall, staining its dark blue in red.
The carpet of leeches spread out waving ilia not to let a single one leak through. To the horizon, as far as the eye could see.
“Those that let out juices when you crush them are children of men. Everything else is an outer. Otherwise, it would never be a fun contest, would it?”
Meeko walked towards Elsion. Along with a single Nozuchi.
“Now which one are you?”
In his despair, Elsion by now had forgotten how to put up resistance as the Nozuchi devoured him. In just the first bite, he was smashed to bits, scattering a great volume of blood.
Before the watery chewing slashes had died down, Meeko looked at the sky. For her face to be bathed in the rain of blood.
“Good work everyone. You may rest for now.”
By the time those words were over, as a legion of hornworms makes short work of a blade of crass, even the path had been eaten in the blink of an eye.
(Meeko… just what are you…)
“Shouki. This is all I can do for you. You will have to manage the rest on your own… and I believe you will.”
With Meeko’s smile as the last thing he saw, Shouki lost consciousness.
“… Well now. Come to think of it, how do I get back?”
Without heading anywhere in particular, Meeko muttered of the airship floating in place. A small girl in baggy clothes appeared before her.
“Oh, it has been so long, Ripple Rapple.”
“A while… it has been.”
Ripple-Rapple nodded as she calmly surveyed her surroundings. Next she shook her head as if to say good grief and pricked her staff against the floor. With that, the spray of sticky blood clots were cleanly wiped away.
“… State A is… a bother.”
“I’m sure right around now, they’re laughing behind the scenes… it was that one who spread such nonsense of a path to another world or the source of all evil. I had no part in it.”
Meeko breathed a disconcerted sigh as she lorded over the collapsed Sacred Assembly elites.
“But I pity them for being deceived. No matter where it may be, if heaven is opened, all the falls is despair for mankind.”
“Angel storage, about to fall to the monster storage… that is a laugh.”
For what she said, the girl wasn’t any less expressionless. But Meeko took those words with a chuckle.
“Indeed. And Elsion made such a big deal of the ‘path to hell’. If that was what he wanted, he needn’t change any coordinates, all he had to do was sit and wait.”
For a while she looked up at the sky.
“… Now then, I’m hungry. I’ve got to get a few good words into Takase, could you take me there?”
Good grief, Ripple-Rapple shook her head again, but still pricked her staff. Just as she came, but this time she brought Meeko along. The two suddenly vanished from the spot.
One shadow sprung up having been waiting for that moment.
Awakening from his fake sleep, Estee looked around. He was still the only one up.
“Oh how heartbreaking… I worked so hard instigating our supreme commander for being the Demon Lord’s son, and this is as far as I go.”
But there was one thing he found out. In the end, nothing would start unless they had the Noesis Program… it was presumably the power to govern that inexhaustible supply of monsters. Meaning the power to put them to work in the world. If he didn’t have them, the world wouldn’t change. Meaning it was the greatest foothold to return humanity to nill, and the greatest hindrance if he weren’t able to obtain it.
But if the oldest of them all, Meeko didn’t have it…
“No, that bit of info alone makes this worthwhile. Even so.”
Estee shifted his gaze to the distant sky where the truly fearsome blow had come from.
“… If she hit the right place, even the supreme leader would have been down in one blow. Demon Lord Candidate… oh no, perhaps I should call her Demon Lord Suzuran by this point. Despite what Meeko said, at the very least, more than our leader…”
“It completely slipped my mind.”
As he was on the verge of standing up, Estee sensed Meeko returning and fell down with the force of a flying body press. Meeko turned just once at the sound.
“Oh dear…… well it matters not. I was about to forget the most important part.”
Estee stifled all the mana in his body as he quietly took a peek to see Meeko hoisting VZ up by the scruff of her neck, relentlessly dragging her over to that small girl.
“That’s Suzuran’s… friend.”
“I shall make her my maid. She’s quite innocent you know?”
The girl stared at Meeko’s satisfied, nodding face, looking like she had something to say.
“Look at me all you want, but you can’t have her. She’s mine.”
“Don’t need her.”
With that pitifully curt declaration, Ripple-Rapple swung her staff again. This time they disappeared for good, and all sorts of factors had Estee break into a cold sweat.
(… She said it was the most important part, but it wasn’t the hero or the cardinal, it was just VZ? What’s more, she completely ignored the Black Blade. In every sense, she must live outside the bounds of common sense.)
But still, he gave a relieved sigh. Estee confirmed it was safe and stood up.
“Then we should also be heading back. Supreme leader, I’ll be taking the Black Blade back… for it to someday find a worthy soul.”
By the time Estee had finished his words, the sacred treasure that had lost its master was already floating to him. Not only that, the bodies of the many collapsed demons one after the next. More than three hundred members all at once.
“… Would my hand be able to seal all of Lady Meeko’s jabbering mouths? Oh no, oh no, such a scary thought is beyond me.”
He monologued with a small, snake-like laugh. And with the two hands growing from his own shoulders stuck firmly into his pockets, Estee began walking towards the blimp.