Continues on from Chapter 2 – Tangled-Up Thoughts and Desires
Continues on to Chapter 4 – Beyond the Endless Dream
Chapter 3 – Contenders for the Future
For the future of the two factions of the Demon Realm — a decisive battle was soon about to begin. The ancient arena that was the stage for it was filled with audience members who had come to witness this historic moment. The majority of the audience which was made up of various races were residents of Lundvall. These people from the Current Demon Lord faction all believed in and looked forward to seeing Leohart and the others obtain victory. Amidst the cheers of the crowd, there was a single person who stood upon the stage with everyone’s eyes upon him. The youth with his eyes lightly closed and standing still was the Demon Lord Leohart.
Although Leohart was bathed in the trusting eyes of the audience and their expectant cheers, his mind was in a melancholic mood. —In order to forge a truly meaningful decisive battle, Leohart originally chose the arena to be in a place that ordinary people would not see, so that he, as the Demon Lord would not leave a single trace of regret behind — more importantly, it was for the atmosphere that the battle that would decide the future of the Demon Realm should have. However, the Council which had interfered midway were not satisfied with just forcefully adding in their representative members, they also heavily modified the battle, and they basically turned it into some kind of entertainment-festival event. Of course, Leohart also understood that from a political point of view, making the decisive battle public would also promote the authority of the winner. For Leohart, who had unified the Demon Realm and now hoped to eliminate the Council, this wasn’t a bad thing. However — starting from the very instant that the audience entered the arena, the political nature of the battle decreased, and it inevitably became more like a performance. Despite this, Leohart still insisted on a serious decisive battle. This was to be the decisive battle which consisted of seven one-on-one duels — but currently, Leohart was the only one from the current Demon Lord faction present on the stage. If the representatives were gathered in front of the audience and introduced or identified one by one as they came out onto the stage, this battle would become a competition — and the war itself would become a trifling matter. Hence, the representatives of each faction were not going to be announced to the audience before the battle, and neither would their order of appearance disclosed, so that the battle between the two sides would remain tense.
Taking into account some basic respect for the audience, they couldn’t simply start without warning, so the representative leaders of each faction had arranged to meet face-to-face with each other before the battle, thus Leohart was currently standing in the arena for this purpose. Unfortunately, these thoughts and ideas of Leohart were meaningless in the eyes of the Council…for them who had lived for so long and found it boring, the battle between the Current Demon Lord faction and the Moderates faction which would decide the future of the Demon Realm was nothing more than a form of entertainment to stimulate their boredom. However — Leohart didn’t mind. Regardless of what the Council thought, or what kinds of evil intentions they planned to commit, it would not change his only mission.
…You old bastards, just wait and see.
Leohart looked across towards the special viewing area that the Council was in from the stage as he calmed his mind. After the Moderates faction, it’ll be you guys. Then—
The image of Riara appeared in Leohart’s mind, although she was currently in Lundvall Castle. Within the secret chamber in the West Tower, there was a magic device which was capable of receiving a magic broadcast, and she was most likely looking at that now. Although any attempt to enter the top floor of the West Tower would be met with resistance from a barrier, Leohart still sent Gardo to protect her so that he could fight with peace of mind. Although Gardo’s right arm still had yet to fully recover, Leohart was able to rest assured knowing that Gardo would be there to accompany her.
…Once again, you just need to wait for me to finish what I need to do.
Riara was the person that Leohart had made an important promise with. He couldn’t disgrace himself in this battle while she was watching him.
Leohart returned his gaze to the front, and then suddenly narrowed his eyes. In the depths of the passageway that led to the opposing Moderates faction’s rest area — the silhouette of a person slowly emerged. A few seconds after Leohart, the audience also noticed the same situation, and the arena suddenly became silent. It was the calm before the storm, after which the Moderates faction representative that was soon to appear would be jeered at by everyone. The tension in the air suddenly multiplied, and amidst that explosive atmosphere — the representative of the Moderates faction didn’t seem to fear any of that pressure at all, and they stepped into the arena. In that instant—
The roar that the audience had prepared to unleash was stuck in their throats — and all that could be heard was the silence of their breath. It was because it was the figure of a girl that had appeared within their sights, and her powerful presence had whisked away their voices. The person who walked into the arena was a girl whose long hair was tied on both the left and right sides by a ribbon. She was wearing a set of human clothing that the Demons did not seem familiar with, and at a glance, the impressive curves of her body could be seen — it was clear that Zolgear ignored Leohart in order to monopolise her, and it was not only for Wilbert’s power, but her own as well.
Her determined eyes met with Leohart’s, and she watched him as he stepped forward. In the span of two days between their last meeting, what exactly had happened…the girl’s cute atmosphere was still present, but she also exuded the stunning elegance of a completely different person. Upon seeing this—
“……So it’s you.”
Leohart looked back into her eyes, as he said that with a low whisper-like voice — as if somewhat surprised. This was the conversation between the representatives of both sides before the battle, so he had thought that it would be the leader of the Moderates faction, Ramsas or perhaps Toujou Basara.
“I didn’t expect that you would take up the duty of representing them on this stage…so does this mean that the Moderates faction has finally unified their opinion, and that they want you to become the next Demon Lord?”
The girl stood before Leohart’s eyes as soon as she walked up onto the stage and replied
“No…I don’t intend to reign over the Moderates faction at all.”
The girl — Naruse Mio, didn’t look away or try to hide as she looked directly at Leohart as she said
“However…even if that is the case, this is my fight. Even if I haven’t seen my father even once — the previous Demon Lord Wilbert, I don’t want to inherit his power, but this is still my fight.”
“Before we start, there is something that I have to tell you. I haven’t come to this battle as the daughter of the previous Demon Lord…I have come here to fight as Naruse Mio.”
“Just wait and see, I…we will definitely defeat you guys.”
“You can do whatever you want…either way, the result has already been decided.”
In response to the firmness in Mio’s eyes and declaration, Leohart also calmly stated that he would not give way. Just at that moment—
“—That’s enough chatter between the representatives before the battle.”
Someone butted in to their conversation from the side. Turning their heads to look, it was a member of the Council who had stepped onto the same stage that Leohart and Mio were standing on — it was Mardones.
“…Where is Belphegor?”
Leohart didn’t seem to have any complaint about the presence of the Council here, because they had already agreed that the Council would preside over the beginning and end of the entire showdown; and the one who was supposed to be in charge of this task was the leader of the Council, Belphegor.
“In regards to Belphegor-dono, he is not here yet…after all, all that he thinks of nowadays is that playground. Perhaps to him, playing with women is more meaningful than Your Majesty’s battle.”
Mardones said to the frowning Leohart
“However, Your Majesty, please rest assured…Mardones here will take over the role of hosting this battle in place of Belphegor-dono, and I can guarantee you that there will not be any problems.”
“What’s wrong, Your Majesty, what worries you…?”
There’s a slight problem in the plan…Leohart thought to himself, and he began to think of an alternative.
…And I thought that the Council would try to target me.
The direct reason why the attack on Wildart City failed was because Belphegor’s subordinate, Nebula, betrayed them halfway. The Council covered this up as Nebula’s individual betrayal, and avoided responsibility for it with the single phrase of ‘This has nothing to do with us’…but the Council’s attempted assassination of Gardo had a powerful response within the Current Demon Lord faction, and this was beginning to seriously shake the support and authority of the Council. As long as Leohart was able to obstruct the Council, and defeat the Moderates faction in battle, then the Council would easily lose its existing political power and influence, thus falling to the bottom from their previously high position. Therefore, the leader of the Council, Belphegor was likely going to be here in order to take command of the Council’s counterattack, so that they didn’t lose ground.
…No, it’s hard to say.
That Belphegor was extremely cunning, and even if it was unfavourable to Leohart, it was possible that he was wary of a sudden counterattack and deliberately chose not to come to the arena; it was the same as how Leohart didn’t invite Riara to the special viewing gallery near the spectators, but left her in the West Tower. Right now, he was probably staying in his hideout…the playground of Zolgear that he had made his own; he was watching this battle whilst being surrounded by women.
“It’s good if there are no problems. Well then, are we almost ready to begin?”
After saying that, and observing that Leohart was silent, Mardones turned his gaze towards Mio.
“Is the Moderates faction also ready to begin the battle?”
At this time, he also grinned with a ‘hmm’, as he continued
“The one who has formed a master-servant contract with you, Toujou Basara…doesn’t seem to have arrived?”
Mardones’ words caused Mio to become silent as her expression sank.
…I see, so that’s how it is…
The situation was quite simple. Mio was standing here as the representative of the Moderates faction not because of any political considerations, but because she was forced to.
—The Council wished to maintain control over the Demon Realm as if it were in the palms of their hands forever, so naturally, Leohart wasn’t the only one, the Moderates faction was also a thorn in their side. Moreover, aside from those who remained an ally of the Moderates faction in Wildart, Basara was capable of dealing with Gardo, and also prevented Nebula from detonating the high-class spirit to destroy Wildart; he was a far greater destabilising factor to the Council than Mio. Furthermore, Basara was also an emotional pillar for Mio and the other female members of the team.
…In other words. As long as only Basara was not here, defeating the girls who were representatives of the Moderates faction would be much simpler. Based on the slight unease in Mio’s expression, Basara’s absence was surely unexpected. In that case, it was likely that he had been ambushed somewhere…based on Mardones’ tone, it was possible that Basara’s disappearance had something to do with the Council.
Leohart himself had wanted to defeat Basara in return for him defeating Gardo, but it seemed as though there would not be an opportunity for that. However — Leohart did not have any sympathy for him. This was war, and for them, this was enemy territory; nevertheless, Leohart still provided Basara and the others with his guarantee of safety — so long as they did not leave the guest house. If he was attacked, it would mean that he had left the guest house of his own accord. Leohart had not received any reports of this, which meant that he may have concealed himself from the maids who were monitoring them. If he had not considered how dangerous it would be to act in secret whilst in enemy territory, then it was naturally his own fault, and he did not deserve any sympathy.
“—It seems you agree. Well then, please allow me to perform the opening announcement.”
The second-in-charge of the Council revealed a deep smile at Mio’s silence, and then expanded a sound amplification magic circle and declared
[Dear audience members, the battle between the representatives of our Current Demon Lord faction and the Moderates faction is now officially starting!]
Amidst the heated cheers, Mardones began to speak about the rules of the decisive battle first. The mode was going to be one on one, with no time limit, and in order to maintain the safety of the audience, the space upon the arena would become a separate dimension from the one that the audience was in as soon as the match began; and at the same time, so would the environment and area within the dimension. It would also change into an environment that was suitable for both sides. Then—
[Once a person can no longer fight, or voluntarily surrenders, the winner will be declared immediately. Being no longer able to fight naturally also includes death; but if anyone continues to attack or kill a person that has surrendered, their victory will be retracted…under such circumstances, it will be considered a tie for both sides, and not a loss. Because this battle is a war, and not a competition, such judgements are made in order to maintain its actual nature.]
Having said that, Mardones made an elaborate wave with his hand towards Leohart, and then continued
[In addition…the Moderates faction have come to us despite being enemies, and they have also accepted the change in the original form of the battle; in order to pay tribute to their courage and to maintain fairness, His Majesty Leohart has made a special consideration. A voluntary concession — if they are able to defeat His Majesty, they will gain the equivalent of three wins…that is, three wins with one fight.]
Mardones’ statement of a handicap to the Moderates faction caused the audience to go into an uproar.
…So he actually said it like this.
Leohart couldn’t help changing what had originally been a team battle into a series of one-on-one duels because the Council forced him to allow their own subordinates to be included, and it was also three at once…although it was not more than half, the risk was too high in having so many of his enemy’s subordinates in a team battle; if a wrong step was made, it would be easy for the outcome of the decisive battle to be manipulated by the Council. And for the people who were not familiar with the situation, perhaps this rule could be regarded as Leohart’s own risk. But—
…It’s up to them what they think.
If even an adversary of this level couldn’t be overcome, how could he possibly fulfil the oath that he and Riara had made? While Leohart was secretly thinking this in the depths of his mind, Mardones narrowed his eyes and grinned as he faced the audience’s doubts; he seemed to have enjoyed using an exaggerated tone to incite their expectations.
[Please do not worry. We of the Council believe that…even with such conditions, knowing His Majesty’s brilliance, he will certainly be able to defeat the Moderates faction to become the most absolute ruler of the Demon Realm that has ever existed!]
The excited yells that slowly arose soon become a wave of cheers that flooded every corner of the arena. At that moment, the stage that would decide the future of the Demon Realm was finally complete.
[Very well, it’s time…the fateful battle that will decide the future of the Demon Realm is now officially beginning—]
(Part 1 of 18) (7/2)
After Mardones had made his announcement about the beginning of the battle.
Leohart turned around and walked back to the rest area of his side. However, Mio did not do the same as him, instead, she remained motionless upon the stage.
…So their vanguard is Naruse Mio huh.
Leohart had already gained an understanding of Mio and the others’ objective in coming to the Demon Realm based on Lars’ report. If Mio was to fight as a representative of the Moderates faction, and also use this decisive battle as an opportunity to escape from the shackles of the Demon Realm’s political conflicts, it was best for her to avoid facing Leohart at the end. If the daughter of the previous Demon Lord was to face off against the current Demon Lord, it would inevitably appear to be a battle for the Demon Lord’s throne in the eyes of the audience. If she was to win, she would be proclaimed as the new Demon Lord; but if she was to lose, she would be criticised for having ‘shamed the reputation of the great Demon Lord Wilbert’.
The Moderates faction should have known that the Current Demon Lord faction would choose Leohart as their last combatant. If Mio wanted to reduce her presence, let alone the final battle, she should have avoided the most prominent first battle as well; it would have been better for her to take the second, third, or even later positions in which the outcome of the fight would have less impact on the overall battle.
…Is it because ‘this is her fight’?
To fight in order to prevent oneself from being dragged into further conflicts — despite the contradiction in that, it felt as if Mio’s faith and determination in this decisive battle both ran deep. —But that alone was not worth admiring. It was not the case that she had unshakable faith. Which is why, when he stepped into the passageway towards his rest area, Leohart said
“…Are you shivering?”
The person who replied to Leohart was tightly clenching his fist. This was the youth who was acting as the front-runner for the Current Demon Lord faction — Luka. However, his expression and his reply were at odds with each other, for upon his childlike face was a nervousness that could not be concealed. This was natural, and Luka clearly understood the importance of the front-runner in this decisive battle. Tension and fear…these two emotions had definitely snowballed together within him. Thus Leohart gently pressed his hand on top of his shoulder as he said
“Luka…although you may be young, your knowledge on magical research can already be said to be at an expert’s level in the Demon Realm. Not only do I, but Balthier, Lars, and even Gardo all recognise your ability.”
After Leohart stated the truth with a serious expression, Luka couldn’t stop his entire body from trembling. This helped him to eliminate his unnecessary tension, but it didn’t make him let go of the sense of responsibility that was generated in his mind — for this battle. Then, Leohart once again enthused Luka as their eyes met with each other.
“Do you think that the you that we trust in…is worse than the girl who simply inherited the power of the previous Demon Lord?”
“…N-No. I certainly don’t. Leohart-sama!”
Although the first affirmation was weak…the second one was loud and clear. As Luka raised his head and looked towards the stage, a new expression was present upon his face.
“I will definitely win…!”
The Luka who said this as he walked towards the stage no longer appeared to be a mere boy. Rather, as he marched steadily onto the battlefield, he looked like a true warrior.
(Part 2 of 18) (3/3)
Naruse Mio looked towards her opponent in this decisive battle — while the current Demon Lord’s vanguard set foot onto the stage. It was a boy whose appearance seemed as tender as Maria. —Having said that, Mio wouldn’t underestimate her opponent based on appearances alone. The appearance of a demon wasn’t always aligned with their age, so youth and cute looks didn’t necessarily mean that one was weak. Yet — from this youth who stood before her, the atmosphere and stance that he exuded did not appear to give off the feeling that he was particularly strong. His hands carefully held onto a large book similar to a dictionary which seemed like his weapon; but he seemed to have difficulty even holding it, so it would be somewhat cumbersome if used as a weapon and he also had fairly large openings in his stance. After Mio subconsciously carried out such an analysis, she was reminded again that this was the front-runner that the current Demon Lord had chosen, so she cautiously asked
“…So you’re my opponent?”
The youth facing her immediately answered with a
“—However, the one you are fighting is not actually me.”
After declaring that, the youth opened the book with his right hand, and at the same time, not far away — a magic circle appeared upon the floor of the stage. The thing that slowly began to emerge from it caused a wave of exclamation to ensue from the audience. The first thing to appear was an enormous head…followed by thick, muscular shoulders, a torso, and finally, the even sturdier-looking lower body and feet. At last, Mio’s ‘opponent’ appeared before her eyes in its entirety. Mio knew exactly what it was, because she had seen similar things during the defensive battle against the Current Demon Lord faction in Wildart City a few days ago, only its appearance and size differed.
After Mio whispered that name under her breath—
“Indeed. However, this Heroic Spirit and the ones that were used to attack you the other day are different. Naturally, it is different from the high-level spirits that were used by those who were sent by the Council. It will not passively follow plain commands, it is capable of thinking of tactics to suit the situation and implementing them autonomously as a high-level warrior spirit…in the records of the era of the Demon God War, there have only been a few of these.”
The youth who stood before the great spirit continued.
“I used all of my knowledge and experience to forge a contract with it…although you might think that it is cheap of me not to take you on personally.”
Upon hearing this, Mio said to the youth with slightly closed/narrowed eyes
“I don’t care…you are also fighting with your own strength.”
Just like how Basara used his speed, Maria used her power, and Yuki used her various techniques, Mio also used her own magic to fight; and so this youth before her was simply using his knowledge as a weapon. If that was called cheap, then it denied all battles that involved abilities. So, Mio did not mind. Then — after both sides had confirmed their opponents and were ready to begin the battle, the entire ring transformed into another dimension just like Mardones had described. The familiar scenery was part of their daily lives, it was also the starting point of where they had once fought against the Hero Tribe in the past — it was the nearest station square from the Toujou household and Hijirigasaka Academy. It was evening. Aside from Luka, who was not actually fighting, Mio, and the enormous spirit that towered above her like a building, there was no one else in this dimension, all that existed were the shadows of false motorists as they drove along the road. Rather than a copy of the station itself, it seemed to be a copy of the entire situation.
Naruse Mio quietly expressed her understanding. The stable and peaceful daily life that she enjoyed was interrupted by the Current Demon Lord faction who were after the power that she had inherited from Wilbert because they thought of her as a threat that had to be ruled out; in some ways, fighting with a spirit here was more meaningful than anywhere else. After feeling satisfied by this stage for their battle, a sound echoed throughout the station’s modern square. It was from the large gong at the side of the arena — a signal for the beginning of the battle. Then—
Mio and the enormous spirit began moving at almost the same time. In order to widen their distance, and so that she could prepare more powerful offensive magic, the first thing that Mio did was use flight magic, whereas the first step that the spirit naturally took was an attack that utilised its enormous body to the limits — it thrusted its bulky fist out. —However, the spirit did not go for a straight jab, rather, it drew out a curved hook. Thus it sacrificed the shortest possible distance and took slightly longer, but more than made up for that in its second attack.
Upon seeing it, Mio gasped whilst flying in mid-air via magic. The spirit’s hook punch had hit its target — not Mio, but the lofty building in front of her. Following the sound of the collapse of the building, a sea of shattered glass and debris was flung forwards toward Mio due to the impact, and everything around her was instantly consumed. Then, after that stunning wide-area attack — was a follow-up by the spirit’s massive right fist. Isolated outside the dimension of the battle, Luka saw it in that very instant. A stream of the dimension that the battle was occurring in was projected onto the stage, showing the scene of the debris and dust that submerged Mio, as well as the fist of the spirit that chased after her, resulting in an explosive and earth-shattering noise which caused the city of the human realm — the entire area to be razed to the ground. As the audience witnessed this scene, and also because of the impact that seemed akin to a meteor striking the earth, they became euphoric and shouted endlessly in excitement.
Despite the cheers of the crowd from all directions, only Luka’s expression remained serious. Although he did not possess any combat strength on his own, he had keen eyesight which allowed him to clearly see — something had flown out of the cloud of debris just before the spirit’s fist levelled the square in front of the station. The projection was still showing the site of the original incident, and showed the body of the spirit that had turned towards something in the distance — Naruse Mio, who flew through the purple sky at high speed. Even if she had been engulfed in the shockwave and debris, she appeared unharmed. Not only that, her clothing didn’t have the slightest trace of having been dirtied. Although it was not known how she had done it, it was clear that she had gotten away unharmed from that attack. But—
“—It’s not over yet.”
As Luka whispered, the projection returned to show the spirit. It pulled its fist out from the ground as it slowly stood up, and then turned towards the north-eastern corner.
And then it narrowed its eyes — tightly locking on to the flying enemy that remained within its sight as it curled its body forwards. It was preparing for the next pursuit. Naruse Mio continued flying away from the source of the explosion towards the horizon. She was able to escape from the shockwave of the building’s debris thanks to this flight magic. —However, she did not get out in time before the debris swallowed her. At that time — the instantaneous shockwave’s area was too vast, and it was necessary to get away from that debris as soon as possible. If she simply used flight magic to ascend, the debris and shards of glass would have certainly collided with her and she would be hurt all over, but she didn’t temporarily suspend her flight magic to create a barrier either — if she did do something like that slowly, she would have been crushed by the spirit’s fist so hard that not even any residue would remain. A shield made in that brief amount of time would not have been able to defend against that enormous spirit’s attack. So she continued to chant flight magic, and cast it — not on herself, but on the surrounding atmosphere, which successfully transformed it into a powerful gust of wind, and by wrapping herself in this wind, she was able to borrow its momentum to safely escape from the site of the impact.
“!…I’ve finally succeeded in finding cover.”
Mio let out a sigh of relief. She had chosen an area outside of the shockwave generated by the spirit’s destruction of the station — and descended into a station three stops away. Chanting powerful offensive magic whilst also casting flight magic required more time; in a situation where she had lost her concentration, she was unable to draw out that power. By stopping in a moving train, she would be able to focus on chanting offensive magic whilst moving away from the spirit at the same time. Luckily, Mio had landed on an express train. This dimension had faithfully reproduced the situation of the real world, thus the next station that it would stop at would be six stations away; it was faster than an ordinary car and would be able to increase her distance away from the spirit. She could not let go of this opportunity.
Thus, Naruse Mio immediately began chanting offensive magic. However, a large figure was still in the far corner of her vision, now bent down up in a crouching position. What did it want to do…that question was answered as soon as it was asked. Like a beast, it unleashed the power that it had stored within its body in an instant, and charged towards its prey with explosive energy. As she felt a slight tingling sensation on her skin, the premonition she had became a reality. The spirit had levelled everything that stood before it to the ground with one punch…yet its legs seemed far more powerful than its arms; so when those legs exerted their full power against the ground, that large mass instantly flew off with a frightening rocket-like speed. In the blink of an eye, that enormous body flew through the debris, parallel to the tracks over the river on the southern side. It charged in a straight line towards the city, approaching the express train that Mio was on.
Mio hastily cast her explosion magic. The magic circle unleashed a torrent of flames that burned through the atmosphere and landed a direct hit on the spirit’s head — amidst the sound of the violent explosion, the rest of the spirit’s body became engulfed in flames.
However, Mio widened her eyes in amazement. Even though her magic had struck its head directly, its speed didn’t decrease at all and it continued to charge towards the source of the inferno. Of course, that blow was only meant to delay it, but Mio hadn’t reduced her firepower, and the spirit’s head should have been damaged severely. She did not expect that—
Not only did the spirit continue to move, but the parts of the spirit’s head which had been damaged restored itself in an instant, almost as if time itself had been reversed.
It was truly an incredible recovery rate. The spirits that attacked Wildart City could be temporarily immobilised with an attack to the head, which is why Mio aimed for its head directly…being able to recovery so quickly under such circumstances basically meant that it had an immortal body. There was no time to be surprised though, the spirit was quickly charging through the horse racing track alongside the road like a hot knife through butter — as soon as it caught up to the last carriage, one sweep of its arm would knock the whole train over.
Mio jumped backwards, and at the same time, she cast wind magic. Following a sharp metallic sound, the gales of wind sheared the connection between the carriages apart — soon after that, the carriages following the fifth one that she had originally gotten on at were detached and fell off to the side with a ‘clang’. After narrowly avoiding that situation, the distance between Mio and the spirit had also been increased slightly, thus she immediately began to chant offensive magic—
But the spirit did not seem to care that the train that Mio was on was further beyond its reach, and continued with its next move. It cupped its left hand and continued to move it as if digging a hole — but before it actually began digging into the ground, it grabbed onto a particular thing. It was the train track. It was too late by the time that she realised that it was bad; the spirit pulled the tracks from the surface in an instant, catapulting Mio and the express train that she was into the air.
This forced Mio to temporarily change her offensive magic into flight magic, and by re-enacting what had happened the previous time, she cast magic onto the surrounding atmosphere to keep herself safe. The impact that the spirit created on the ground was akin to a giant tsunami as it pounced towards Mio in the air — facing the overwhelming impact, Mio chose her route of escape as upwards. Since she couldn’t attack right now, she had to retreat first. Thus Mio focused on flight magic, and flew in a straight line to pull away from the spirit, and in one fell swoop, she had reached an altitude of several thousand metres above the ground.
But the spirit below her suddenly crouched down again — and in the next instant, it carved out a crater in the asphalt road as it jumped upwards with incredible force, and was likewise able to fly up into the air without the use of magic. Like this, the enormous body thrust itself upwards from the ground and gradually approached her at a pace even faster than flight magic.
…There are still other ways…!
She absolutely could not lose — that was what Mio impatiently thought. Of course, this was a set of duels, so even if she did lose, it would still count as a victory to Mio if the others were able to win.
Basara and the others came here of their own volition. If she lost, and had to rely on their help…no matter how much she wanted to stay together with Basara and the others, she would not be able to raise her head alongside them. In the face of this desperate situation, the thought of liberating Wilbert’s power flashed across her mind. However—
…I definitely cannot do that!
Just as she had declared to Leohart, this was her own fight. As soon as she used Wilbert’s power here, it would mean that this was a battle between the Moderates faction and Current Demon Lord faction — the previous Demon Lord against the Current Demon Lord. Everyone wanted to help unshackle Mio from the fate of being the Demon Lord’s daughter, and from the political calculations of the Demon Realm; they were willing to lend their strength…they were even risking their lives to accompany her. Mio could not betray their intentions.
Facing the spirit that was getting closer by the second, Mio recalled the youth who was more important to her than anyone else. —Late last night, Basara left the guest house on his own and did not return. She did not want to think about what the consequences would be if he was discovered to have taken individual action whilst in enemy territory. Mio and the others were worried about Basara’s safety, and had asked him to bring one of them along, but Basara insisted on acting along until the end, and remained firm on that.
[For the sake of this battle, there is one thing that I absolutely must do.]
That was all Basara had said before he asked Maria to hypnotise the guard maids while they were cooking, and ask them for information on the structure of Lundvall Castle and its guard configuration. He simply said
“I’ll do my best to come back before dawn”
He set off to take advantage of the night — but in the end, he did not return. Even though the sun had risen high — and the battle had begun, he was nowhere to be seen. According to Maria, the master-servant contract would immediately lose effect upon the master’s death, so as servants, Mio and the others would definitely notice; and so, they could confirm whether Basara was alive at the very least. As for the tracking ability, it was the same as Sheera had said; because the level of their master-servant contract had improved, they would not be able to sense Basara’s location so long as he refused. If that really was the case, it would mean that Basara’s consciousness was still normal, so there was no need to be too worried; but if Basara was inside a special barrier such as the one at Zolgear’s hideout, the effects of the master-servant contract would be nullified, and it would be hard to say whether he was safe or not. Moreover, that man on the Council called Mardones knew that Basara was not present. Basara was able to use [Banishing Shift], and that was a threat to them. If they found out that Basara had ventured out on his own, it was highly possible that they would seize the opportunity to ambush him. But—
…Basara will definitely be fine!
Naruse Mio’s trust in Toujou Basara was unshakable. Basara had also told Mio and the others what to do in case he did not return. Basara being the finisher, and Mio acting as the front-runner were all pre-arranged things. So — he wouldn’t be an exception this time either, he would definitely return. In this regard, Mio was certain. If Basara returned and what awaited him was the bad news of their team’s loss—
“If I disgrace myself here, how can I ever look him in the eye…!”
Basara had once said that when faced with life and death not to worry about the meaning of the battle, it was more important to stay alive, and even if she did have to use Wilbert’s power, she had to live on. Thus — along with Naruse Mio’s cry, she released the power that was within her. As the spirit soared through the air towards Mio with its fist prepared, Luka believed that he had obtained victory.
…She will die.
In the face of the attacking spirit that had such immense strength and dominance, Mio’s defences were paper-thin in comparison. Even if she was somehow able to escape the first hit, the spirit would simply continue to attack until a winner was decided. Sooner or later, Mio would eventually reach a junction where she would not be able to evade or defend, and even if she counterattacked, Luka’s spirit was able to regenerate its wounds instantaneously — as long as she used the power that she had inherited from Wilbert, she could use gravitational magic to crush it into a patty; on the other hand, if Mio showed any openings during her attack, the spirit instead would completely crush her.
Luke hoped that she would take the initiative to surrender before that. Leohart did indeed want to get hold of Mio’s power, but not by killing her. Although Leohart publicly declared that Wilbert’s only daughter who had inherited the power of her father was a great threat that could not be ignored, his true purpose was to obtain the so-called strongest power of the previous Demon Lord so that he could use it as a trump card against the Council. Once he succeeded in doing that, the Demon Realm would be unified by absorbing the Moderates faction. In order to achieve the latter, it was necessary for Mio to survive. Hence, Leohart immediately replaced Zolgear after he ignored his task when he tried to kill her, and chose the spy, Lars, whom the Moderates faction had sent as her new monitor and bodyguard to keep her safe. Even in doing so, it greatly increased the risk of the Moderates faction bringing Mio to the Demon Realm to endorse her as the new Demon Lord. When Leohart received the order from the Council to attack Wildart City with the spirits, he still asked Gardo to protect Mio’s life as much as possible. This was because Leohart himself — also felt a pain in his heart towards Mio who originally lived and grew up in the human realm, but lost both of her parents simply because she was the daughter of the former Demon Lord and was forced onto the path of revenge. Even so, Luka could not intentionally allow his opponent to win in front of the Council. Having come so far already, he could not allow the Council to use such faults as excuses. So — Luka did not control the spirit. And in that moment, the spirit threw out a right punch that was enough to turn Mio into dust.
In that instant, Luka let out an exclamation of surprise. Just before the spirit’s colossal right fist struck Mio — from the fist to the elbow, the entire lower arm had vanished as if it had been instantly vaporised.
In the projection that displayed the dimension that the battle was occurring in, Naruse Mio’s body glowed red, and was emanating a red aura.
“—How could it be?”
Although the spirit began to regenerate immediately, its speed couldn’t keep up at all…the spirit didn’t even have a chance to repair its flesh as it seemed to be eroded by the red aura that Mio was radiating, and it’s body continually evaporated and disappeared.
The spirit then thrust out its other fist, but that wasn’t able to touch Mio either, as it disappeared before her as if it had been vaporised. The kick from its right leg suffered a similar fate, causing the gigantic spirit to lose its balance, and it crashed down into the city with a loud sound like a clap of thunder.
“The spirit’s body and self-healing ability have both been eliminated by her…?”
While Luka stared at the projection and murmured in shock, Mio landed in front of the spirit. The choice that Mio made when put into that desperate situation was not to use Wilbert’s gravitational magic. But the power that she possessed on her own. —In the past, Mio had also used this power when she destroyed Zolgear’s right arm. Now, her master-servant relationship with Basara was far deeper than it previously was, so she was able to instantly unleash her own strengthened power. And the result of that was the spirit that lay before her, unable to get up from the ground. The red aura encased around Mio also caused the very space around her to become unstable.
“…I know that you also have certain goals for which you must win.”
Mio extended her right arm out towards the spirit before her, and said to Luka, who was presumably watching this scene unfold from the broadcast on the stage
“But it’s very unfortunate — because I need to return to see Basara with my head held up high.”
At the same time, the red aura that she released swept from the feet to head of the spirit — destroying that gargantuan body without a single trace.
(Part 3 of 18) (28/3)
In another lounge for the representatives of the Moderates faction, separate from the one that Mio and the others were using.
“—It seems like the outcome has been decided.”
After Lucia saw the change that had occurred in the battle dimension that Mio was in, she stated the results of the first duel. At that time, the projection device in the lounge showed Luka, who knelt down motionlessly on the floor of the arena, as well as Mio, who had safely exited the dimension of the battle.
And Lucia’s master, Ramsas, simply watched the projection of Mio, and didn’t say a word.
“How wonderful…that makes it a win. It is important to defeat the vanguard in a battle.”
There was someone who seemed relieved as they replied in the place of Ramsas to Lucia, whose words had almost become a soliloquy. It was the girl who had voluntarily accompanied Ramsas and Lucia to the territory of the Current Demon Lord faction — the maid Noel. Noel was the childhood friend of Lars, with whom she had grown up in the same orphanage…she was still unable to believe that Lars had joined the Current Demon Lord faction, and so she begged Lucia to bring her along. Noel was the maid of another significant elder of the Moderates faction, Klaus; since Klaus was in opposition to Ramsas in the way that they treated Mio, Lucia originally had no need to allow this from her. But, the work that Noel did under Klaus was not something that she had a say in, the feelings she had for Lars were genuine, and in addition to all that, Mio and the others had also asked Lucia to take care of her — after Lucia obtained permission from Ramsas and Klaus, she brought Noel along as an assistant. Since they were both representatives of the Moderates faction in this war, Noel shared the workload for some of the tasks that were required for assisting Ramsas. Presently, Lucia was watching the projection on the wall, while Noel poured a new cup of tea for Ramsas in the corner of her vision. The display switched to show Mio returning to the lounge through the passageway as she gradually moved further away.
“My Lord, how about taking this opportunity to speak with her for a while…?”
Despite being aware that she would most likely not receive an answer, Lucia still asked.
“…There is no need for that.”
Although Ramsas’ reply was brief, the tone conveyed by it was serious. Indeed, perhaps from his point of view, he simply needed to continue staring at her performance. Even the tea that he liked the most was left untouched.
…It really is cruel.
This was the path that ‘he’ had chosen. While Lucia was not present, Ramsas seemed to have spoken about a lot with Jin and Sheera — it was not known what kind of result this was in his eyes. Just as Lucia plunged herself into these deep thoughts, Ramsas watched the projection on the wall as he asked
“…Has that guy’s son returned yet?”
“Not yet…there has been no news so far, I’m afraid…”
Lucia had heard about Basara’s disappearance from Mio and the others rather early. When the format was changed to a seven-on-seven duel, Lucia was almost forced to compete on behalf of the Moderates faction, and under the circumstances of Basara’s disappearance, it was very probable that Ramsas himself would take to the stage.
“Is that so…of all the nice things he’s said, the result is that only his mouth is powerful.”
In response to Ramsas’ disdainful words, Lucia made a rare objection
“…Wouldn’t it be alright to delay your judgement of Basara-san until a bit later?”
Although Ramsas did not have a good impression of Basara, Lucia still said that for Basara.
“At the very least, that boy has protected Mio-sama until now…not only did he help her defeat Zolgear, he also repelled the spirits sent by the Current Demon Lord faction several days ago. It should be harmless to agree with him on this part.”
The reply that she received was—
“……Is that also the case for Maria?”
In response to Ramsas’ low murmur, Lucia said
“Yes…that child is also one of the people that Basara-san has saved, and I believe it is also similar for Yuki-san, Kurumi-san, and Zest. Basara-san’s movements are unknown for the time being, but they are still fighting for us as representatives of the Moderates faction without any complaints; Mio-sama has taken up the responsibility of being our front-runner, and they have successfully secured our first victory. Mio-sama only has her current fighting potential because Basara-san is partially responsible for that; I don’t think it would be too late to make your judgement of him until the battle is over.”
This time, Ramsas did not answer at all. He simply continued to watch the projected image on the wall in silence. After the defeated Luka and Mio both disappeared into the passageways of their respective rest areas — the Moderates faction’s next representative appeared. A full crowd of boos were directed towards that young succubus, but Lucia stared at the projection, and cheered for her in her heart.
—Make it a good fight, Maria.
After Maria set foot onto the stage — her opponent appeared very soon afterwards. The next representative of the Current Demon Lord faction was the youth who called himself Takigawa Yahiro in the human realm. Everyone present in the room knew who he was.
For Noel, who knew him the most, she sadly recited the name of her childhood friend as she watched the projection.
(Part 4 of 18) (2/4)
Upon the stage, the next representatives of the Moderates faction and Current Demon Lord faction faced each other.
“So my opponent is you huh…”
“That seems to be the case, please go easy on me.”
Naruse Maria looked at the flippant youth with relaxed shoulders in front of her without hesitation. —The Moderates faction could be further divided into two major factions, one of them was Ramsas’ faction which hoped that Mio would relinquish Wilbert’s power, whereas the other side was Klaus’ faction which hoped to use Mio to revive the Moderates faction as the new Demon Lord faction. Maria and her sister Lucia both belonged to Ramsas’ faction, and at first they did not know that Klaus was harbouring Takigawa — Lars. Of course, in terms of the nature of his secret task of infiltrating the Current Demon Lord faction, although Maria was Mio’s bodyguard, she was still only a front-line combatant, and naturally didn’t know about Lars’ existence; as for those who knew the truth about the situation such as the leader Ramsas and other high-ranked members like Lucia, they did not communicate this information to Maria, a sign that they didn’t think it was needed. Hence, Maria did not feel deceived, and because Lars had cooperated with Basara during the incident with Zolgear to rescue the imprisoned Sheera, she actually felt grateful towards him.
Since she was now facing him with the identity of an enemy, those things would have to be a separate matter. After Lars dealt with Zolgear’s matter and returned to the Demon Realm, it seemed as if he had cut off his ties with the Moderates faction; the next time that he reappeared was after the spirits had attacked Wildart city, to rescue Gardo, who had been captured by the Moderates faction, hence there was no room for any excuses. Yet, Maria still wanted to ask
“Did you betray our Moderates faction, and turn over to the Current Demon Lord faction because you have fulfilled your revenge against Zolgear?”
Noel, who had grown up together with Lars had once told Maria about her feelings for Lars, and that there had to be a reason for his move to the Current Demon Lord faction. After Maria asked that question in the place of Noel in order to dispel her doubts—
“Hey hey hey, what’s the point of asking such a question at this point? If I told you that ‘I have my reasons’, will you go a bit easier on me? It’d be great if you could do that, as it’d help me save a lot of energy.”
Lars shrugged his shoulders as he said this, leaving Maria speechless. It was entirely within expectations. Since the youth standing before her had elected to assist the Current Demon Lord faction in this final showdown, it was clear that he was an enemy. Although Maria was able to understand Noel’s concerns for a friend, her support for Mio was more important than that. —So, Maria clenched her right fist, and the stage began to change at the same time. The location chosen for Maria and Lars — was a forest at night time, moreover—
“…So it’s here.”
The familiar scenery caused Maria and Lars to murmur at the same time. The place that they had come to was where Basara, Mio, and Yuki had once gotten entangled in a desperate battle. This was the forest in the local public park that was close to the Toujou household. Back then, Maria and the others struggled to finally defeat Lars in a four-on-one confrontation, but they were actually deceived by Lars, because he had already escaped some time ago.
…I see, so they want us to reiterate that situation.
Thus, Maria jumped and stretched lightly as she took a deep breath, while Lars remained at ease. When the ring of the gong echoed out to signify the start of the duel — both sides began to move at the same time.
Unlike Mio who pulled away right at the beginning, Maria took on a strategy that was the complete opposite. She approached her enemy with an incredible speed. Based on both of their fighting styles, this was the natural choice. Maria was a power-based melee warrior, so being at a close distance naturally meant that she would be able to make use of her potential; compared to Lars, who was able to manipulate dark spheres of magic, the further the distance was between them, the more disadvantageous the situation would be for Maria. —What was most troublesome was the fact that Lars was able to freely control the quantity, power, size and speed of his dark spheres. Within the range of his magic, he was probably able to control the power and size of his dark spheres, possibly even splitting them. They were capable of both offense and defence, making him highly versatile. However, there was still a way to take away the advantage of Lars’ ability — and that was by shortening their distance. Simply by charging towards his chest, he would not be able to attack freely, and there would also be a danger to himself. Simply put, the method that Basara used to repel him last time was the best solution to dealing with Lars.
—Get as close as possible to him, and then hit him with surprise.
After she became certain of that idea, Naruse Maria put it into practice. Upon seeing her low stance as she rushed towards him—
“—I guess this isn’t very surprising.”
Lars manifested a countless number of dark spheres, and sent them flying towards Maria all at the same time. The barrage meant to delay Maria almost instantaneously moved closer.
Maria constantly weaved through the forest in an irregular manner, using the branches as natural cover. She continued moving towards Lars without decreasing her speed, and in the moment that she came within five meters of attacking range, she pounced towards Lars.
“Jumping at a time like this…be careful not to jump into a dead-end, okay?”
Seeing Maria in mid-air with her fist raised, Lars jumped backwards; at the same time as that, he generated a giant dark sphere between them to act as a shield, obscuring her field of view. Stuck in a leap towards that location, Maria was unable to evade; but if she attacked it with her fist, it would definitely result in a large explosion that could blow herself away, and using the swing of her fist to generate a ‘soft strike’ with its shockwave was also unsuitable. Since she was unable to stop or turn back whilst in mid-air, she had no choice but to plunge herself into the range of the explosion. Even so, Maria’s expression remained calm. Just as Lars expected Maria to actively shorten their distance, Maria also understood that Lars would use such attacks. He used a countless number of dark spheres in a volley to delay her movements — even with her premature take-off, he had set up a trap for Maria, but all of this was within expectations. So, Maria thrust out her right fist —
But she did not go all the way, she stopped roughly halfway — as if the air was her goal. In the next instant, the air that was compressed burst out in different directions with a shockwave, striking the large dark sphere that Lars was controlling, resulting in an enormous explosion that blew all of the surrounding trees away. But in actuality, the only things affected were the trees to the left and right of the sphere. The shockwaves combined to form a barrier of air, which allowed Maria to resist the impact of the explosion. —That was the technique that had previously been used by that burly demon against her. As the same kind of power-type demon, Maria had also studied it, and practised to turn it into this as a secret weapon.
“Don’t try to run—!”
Maria immediately charged towards the other side of the explosion, where she found Lars standing before her, and so she immediately stretched her leg back, and mercilessly swung her leg towards Lars with a spinning kick. Her target was the right side of his head. Her right foot impacted him with a solid blow.
“……I didn’t imagine that you would use Valga’s technique.”
But, the voice that Maria heard from him remained calm. Lars had simply raised his right arm, and generated a dark sphere on the back of his forearm to block her kick. When she fought against him in the past, Maria’s punch had once broken through his defences, but that was because Lars had been careless. Maria had already grown stronger due to the activities of Basara and the others yesterday, she had absorbed a lot of excitement and pleasure to increase her own power, yet she was still unable to break through Lars’ defences; there was only one reason for this. Lars’ true power was still greater than Maria’s.
Maria used her right leg as a fulcrum to bend down, and then swept her left heel up to strike against Lars’ jaw.
All Lars had to do was move his body slightly to evade this kick. —However, her response time in a melee battle would definitely not be any slower than his. Maria once again used her right leg to hook onto Lars’ right arm, using the strength of her lower body to forcibly pull him down and grab his shoulders, ready to thrust out with a single punch…but—
Maria had temporarily jumped towards his back from above — and at the same time, Lars’ dark spheres moved to a position that was below her original position.
…He’s actually attacking from this kind of a distance…!
Maria could not help but curse the oversight of her own thoughts. So long as there was a slight gap, Lars was able to put up a barrier, ensuring that he himself would not be affected by the explosion of the spheres. Maria’s continuous assault of blows had to go on, otherwise it would give Lars the opportunity to defend or counterattack. The last time, it was Maria’s surprise attack which had given Basara the chance to utilise his speed, and a flurry of slashes to repel him; but Maria had no one to rely on right now, so such ideas would be difficult to accomplish.
“Is this okay? —Why did you pull away from the shortened distance that you tried so hard to establish?”
Lars got up and dusted off his clothes as he said so, and at the same time — Maria paid the price for inadvertently letting the distance between them grow. Numerous dark spheres appeared in the air to surround Maria, and soared towards her simultaneously. Originally, if they were approaching Maria, or had already come close to Maria’s back, she would be able to evade them and Lars would be able to defend or evade if facing the correct direction. Maria was currently behind Lars, so such a problem did not exist. And even if Maria used Valga’s move to attack, such a technique could only be blocked from the front, it couldn’t be defended against from the back or the sides. However—
Maria punched with her right fist — towards where her own feet were.
Lars clearly saw Maria’s right fist strike the surface of the ground. At the same time, the area of the ground that she had struck offset large amounts of rocks and gravel. —Put simply, debris alone was unable to defend against Lars’ black spheres. However, she stopped her fist just at the very instant that it touched the ground, generating a shockwave which hit the ground and rebounded with debris flying up, causing that rock and gravel to perfectly cover Maria — finally succeeding in blocking Lars’ black spheres.
During this time, Lars’ wasn’t simply standing in a daze, he further widened the distance between them. He took into account their respective abilities, speed and fighting styles; it was a safe distance that was enough for Lars to attack Maria unilaterally whilst remaining outside of her attack range. Just as he was about to make his move whilst he had this advantage, he noticed that the debris surrounding Maria had dispersed along with a burst of pink radiance from the inside. Looking closely, there seemed to be an object resembling a key inserted into the chest of Maria who was floating in mid-air.
That key appeared to be rotating in Maria’s sweetly heaving chest, and then made a crisp ‘click’ sound as if something had been unlocked — at the same time, a rose-coloured light enshrouded Maria’s entire body. Lars knew very well what had just happened before his eyes, hence—
“Hey hey…did you seriously think I would be so foolish to allow you to finish that transformation?”
After saying that with a tone of ridicule, Lars unleashed a merciless attack. An enormous dark sphere suddenly appeared over Maria’s head, and then crashed downwards almost as suddenly as it had appeared. Facing Lars’ full-powered attack, Maria simply replied with a leisurely tone
“Of course…this is the perfect countermeasure for those with shallow thoughts.”
In the next instant, as soon as Lars’ black sphere touched the rose-coloured aura surrounding Maria, it shattered into tiny fragments, and then vanished without a trace.
Seeing this, Lars couldn’t help being startled. And now, Maria had already turned into a beautiful mature succubus.
And right after revealing a soft smile — her figure suddenly vanished. Lars reflexively erected a barrier in front of himself. There was currently sufficient distance, and time to defend—
But in the next instant, Lars was struck with an intense impact, and was immediately sent flying. It was Maria’s fist that had relentlessly bored through Lars’ barrier with no regard, and landed directly onto his body.
After Maria’s punch landed a direct hit on Lars, she immediately started pursuing. Since Lars was unable to react to such a speed, and couldn’t defend against that attack—
…This will be the final attack.
Maria sped up and continued forth as she said this to herself. After being pushed away, Lars tumbled across the ground several times, and he only stopped when his back landed against the trunk of a large tree. Maria quickly closed in on him, and leaned her body forward to prepare for a straight left punch at the closest possible distance.
But Lars moved sideways and quickly avoided it. Maria’s fist stabbed into the tree trunk behind Lars, causing the mass of wood to immediately crack, the impact from that strike sent shivers down Lars’ spine whilst in mid-air when he jumped to the side. Maria immediately pursued, with both of her fists following prepared. Despite the rapid flurry of punches, each one of them carried remarkable power. It was more powerful than Lars’ barrier, its speed was also greater than his own, and her victory was almost assured. Yet—
Aside from the first punch which had sent him flying, he had evaded all of the attacks which followed.
Maria thought that she had cornered her opponent, but she was beginning to develop serious concerns. At that time—
“—Ever since you turned into an adult, your strength has certainly increased to an incredible degree.”
Lars had completely seen through the method to avoid Maria’s punches, and calmly said
“But, you currently have no way to control that enormous power. Based on my observations, you have only used this transformation twice. The first time was in the human realm to save Naruse, the second time was after Basacchi eliminated the barrier around Zolgear’s hideout. So, this is the first time that you’ve been able to release your full power as a demon in the Demon Realm, right? Your thoughts are too naïve, despite having such little experience, you thought that you could use this power that you are not yet used to in actual combat and obtain a result from it. Moreover—”
His voice moved behind her.
“In order to obtain victory, you definitely must have absorbed a lot of energy by taking advantage of the time when Bassachi and the others were strengthening their Master-Servant contract, but that has actually backfired on you. Even if you are faster, if your reaction speed can’t keep up with your actions, evading is not particularly difficult.”
Maria immediately sent a backhand swing of her fist towards the source of his voice. But this blind assault caused her a fatal injury. Maria’s fist struck Lars’ dark sphere — the next second, an explosion of light and sound occurred before her. The object that Lars had thrown towards Maria was a dark sphere in the form of a bomb. No matter how much her physical strength was enhanced in this form, her consciousness had not grown powerful enough to respond to or avoid such attacks; coupled with vision and hearing that had become more sensitive than usual, the sudden shockwave blinded her field of vision and deafened her eardrums, overwhelming her.
“—But you know, to be able to stand up like this, you’ve certainly got enough backbone.”
Before Lars’ eyes as he said that with a wry smile—
The succubus who had been directly affected by the dark sphere and subjected to a severe shock still stood up shakily; her fighting intent hadn’t yet dissipated, and she still clenched her fists with a fierce expression. But her eyes were no longer able to see Lars, and neither could she hear him.
“You really wanted to be the second consecutive win after Naruse…I’m sorry.”
Thus, while Lars said this, he struck the back of Maria’s neck with a chop of his hand. The bigger the body, the easier it was to shake the mind. Hence—
After that single strike from Lars, Maria powerlessly fell to her knees, and then flat onto the ground where she lay motionlessly.
(Part 5 of 18) (7/4)
Gardo was currently in Lundvall Castle, watching the battle that was unfolding in the distant ancient arena. He was at the top of the west tower — in the room of Leohart’s older sister, Riara. Through the projection device that Leohart had prepared, when they witnessed the outcome of the battle—
“Mmhmm, Lars certainly did well~. he was steady unlike his opponent, right?”
With a satisfied smile on her face, Riara sought his agreement.
Gardo then nodded and continued
“That guy knows exactly how to beat his opponent, and he executed it perfectly.”
Gardo calmly commented as he watched Lars’ laidback figure exit the stage after being released from the dimension of the battle, leaving behind the fainted Maria. In terms of pure fighting prowess, although Lars could not match up to Gardo or Leohart, an important ‘headroom’ during battles could always be sensed from his body — a bottomless impression. As for Maria who had been carried off the stage by Lucia—
…Even if that succubus can master the power of adult transformation…
The majority of the outcome would not have changed, and Lars would still have used other methods to defeat her. At that time—
“Gardo…if you were to fight against Lars, could you win?”
“…I don’t know.”
If Gardo was in a complete state, he probably wouldn’t lose to Lars. However, he was unable to predict whether he would win or not. In an imaginary duel, even if he was able to corner Lars, Lars would most certainly slip away right at the critical moment…that was the result of Gardo’s speculation. When faced against a stronger opponent, escape was somewhat equivalent to victory. He simply felt that no matter where Lars was, and no matter who his enemy was, he would be able to escape with his life intact…being able to make people think in this manner was one of the things that he excelled at.
“I see…so Gardo wouldn’t be able to win so easily either~”
After Riara heard Gardo’s uncertain answer, the shape of her eyes changed, and they seemed to indicate delight.
“I once told Lars to ‘get along well with Leohart’…fufufu, is this what one would call ‘having an eye for talent’?”
This woman’s candid smile caused Gardo to naturally respond with a silent smile. In order to protect this smile, Leohart was determined to become the Demon Lord to unify the Demon Realm — despite knowing that he would be manipulated like a puppet in the hands of the Council. That’s why Gardo was currently here. —Originally, Leohart did not allow any man aside from himself into Riara’s room. But, he made an exception for Gardo to enter the room to act as ‘insurance’ in case anything was to happen.
Leohart wanted to use this decisive battle to eradicate the Council that had killed his foster parents and scourged the Demon Realm; on the other hand, the Council also wished to silence Leohart, who was becoming increasingly difficult to control. Therefore, either during or after this decisive battle, a great change more significant than the battle between the two factions would definitely take place. In Leohart’s past, the Council had murdered his foster parents while he was away on the battlefield. Worried that they would make a move on Riara at such a time again, he asked Gardo to accompany Riara until the end of the decisive battle; Gardo promptly agreed to the request so that Leohart could concentrate on fighting. Although Gardo had lost an arm and was still in the midst of recovery, if something really did happen, he still had the power to escort Riara to someplace safe.
“—Ah, it looks like the next one is starting.”
Riara’s words caused Gardo to direct his eyes back towards the projected image of the arena. The third representatives from both sides were currently on stage. The representative of the Moderates factopm appeared to be a girl who was still yet to reach maturity. A spirit magic user of the Hero Tribe — Nonaka Kurumi.
“Hmm, is that one of the members sent by the Council…do you recognise him, Gardo?”
Riara asked about the youth facing Kurumi while she looked at him with a neutral expression.
“…Yeah, I know him.”
Also looking at the same broadcast, Gardo nodded as he replied. In the middle of the stage, the person with a slight grin on his face as he sought a handshake with Kurumi was—
“He is Admirath…a subordinate of the seat of [Greed] on the Council, that which belongs to Mardones.”
(Part 6 of 18) (14/4)
Upon the stage, Nonaka Kurumi and the high-class Demon whom she would be duelling against confronted each other.
“My name is Admirath…a pleasure to meet you.”
The handsome young man smiled as he extended his hand, gesturing towards Kurumi for a handshake.
“…Trying to get along with an enemy before fighting, is there something wrong with you?”
But Kurumi felt that it was a boring joke, and so she turned around and walked away to distance herself from him.
“—Ah, you dropped something.”
“What are you saying…—!?”
Kurumi turned around to the voice that was behind her, but was instantly startled. Because as soon as she turned around, Admirath was right in front of her, and he had grabbed her hand as if it were his prey.
“Jin Toujou’s son still hasn’t returned yet after so long, it must be worrying and troubling for you.”
Taking advantage of their forceful handshake, Admirath stuffed a certain hard object into Kurumi’s hand.
When Kurumi looked down to see what the object was, she could not help but gasp. The object that Admirath had given her was a button from the uniform of Hijirigasaka Academy that belonged to Basara.
“You should understand what we want, right? Please make it seem as natural as you can, so as not to let anyone find out that you’re faking it…his fate depends entirely on your performance.”
After Admirath said that to the stunned Kurumi, he calmly turned around and returned to his starting position.
On the other hand, Kurumi was shaken and her face had gone pale.
…What can I do…!
It was likely that a threat at such a time was nothing more than a lie, but it was also a fact that Basara had yet to return. For Kurumi, this meant that she could not deny the possibility that he had fallen into the hands of the Council. If what Admirath said was the truth—
…If I don’t handle this well, then Basara will…!
Basara had told them to disregard him if he was captured. The decisive battle was most important, and Kurumi and the others had agreed. Therefore, the correct choice for her right now was to overcome the opponent in front of her with everything that she could muster. Kurumi clearly understood this…so much so that it pained her heart. But—
Kurumi instantly materialised her gauntlet for communicating with the spirits, and through the dark element, she asked the spirits of the Demon Realm to verify whether or not Basara was safe. Though in the end, the spirits’ response was that they could not complete her request.
Upon seeing that Basara had not returned even after dawn, Kurumi had tried several times, while Mio and the others who had a master-servant contract with him were not able to sense him either. Regardless of whether Basara refused to disclose his location or had been captured, the hope that the spirits would bring good news was nothing more than wishful thinking.
…But, please, I’m begging you…!
Nonaka Kurumi still asked the spirits to search for Basara until the end of battle. For the sake of Basara, as well as Mio, whose future life would be greatly affected by this battle, this was the most that Kurumi could do. —In any case, she could not afford to lose this battle. But even if they won the decisive battle but lost Basara, it would be similarly meaningless. It was because the youth called Toujou Basara was that much of an irreplaceable existence in their hearts. Yet no matter how many times Kurumi asked, the spirits were unable to find Basara.
The relentless sound of a gong to declare the start of the battle rang out, and the space that Kurumi and Admirath were to fight in gradually appeared.
(Part 7 of 18) (21/4)
In the lounge, Leohart watched the broadcast of what was happening on the stage.
“Galaliel Canyon huh…”
After seeing the spectacular landscape that had been constructed in the battle space, he uttered its name. Those dangerous cliffs and majestic, rocky canyons were chosen as a battlefield many times in the long history of the Demon Realm.
“There is hardly any shelter there, so attacking range and manoeuvrability are extremely important. If Luka was there, he should be able to tell us what kinds of characteristics those formations have.”
When Balthier said that—
“—What is it? Do you want me to head over to the infirmary to ask him?”
Having just finished his battle and returned, Lars was the one to ask. After Luka’s own high-level spirit was defeated, he was rather depressed, and so Leohart ordered him to rest for a while in the infirmary. Having lost this one duel, it meant that the Current Demon Lord faction had to take back at least one victory, otherwise they would have no chance of winning overall. Although Leohart had originally considered the possibility that one of his subordinates would lose, he still felt that it was unexpected. Luka had fought as a replacement for the injured Gardo, so it was hard to blame him for the shock.
“There’s no such need, now is not the time for a history or geography lesson.”
Leohart watched the broadcast intently as he said
“Also, this battlefield is not particularly beneficial to either of them.”
“Indeed. I’ve heard that that girl is a magic-type spirit user, but if you consider Admirath’s fighting style, it wouldn’t result in a handicap.”
As a testament to what Balthier said, it also occurred in the broadcast. Kurumi called forth wind magic as soon as the fight began, and she flew into the air. Admirath swept his right arm horizontally — in the middle of the magic circle that he had created on the ground, a tall Pegasus with two wings and a head of strange bones appeared. Admirath jumped onto the Pegasus’ back, and then called forth his own weapon. The luminous particles released from his left hand gradually formed into a long-handled slashing weapon, one which was able to reap any life — a giant scythe symbolising death.
Leohart looked at the young demon who smiled leisurely while mounted on the back of the Pegasus, analysing the representative that had been forcibly sent by the Council. According to the rules, it was not necessary for the Current Demon Lord faction or the Moderates faction to publish their list of representatives in advance, and within the Current Demon Lord faction, neither Leohart nor the Council had shared information on their representatives — in simple terms, this was not possible. It was because the Council refused to reveal their candidates to Leohart, and even their lounges were separate.
…The first one is Admirath huh.
Having said that, because Leohart’s trust only extended to those among his subordinates, it meant that the Council knew very well which candidates were on his side, while Leohart remained unaware of the Council’s candidates. All they knew in advance was the order in which they would fight. Admirath was once named as a candidate to become the Demon Lord, so as a high-class Demon able to compete against Leohart, it was only natural that he would be strong — that was why the Council chose him. Admirath was the third warrior, while the remaining two candidates selected by the Council were ordered as the fourth and the fifth; one of them was probably already waiting in the passageway, whilst the other one was likely watching the situation from their lounge area.
…The other two shouldn’t be too different from him.
Leohart was convinced that in this decisive battle, the only person that couldn’t lose was himself. Without a doubt, the Council that was in a tough position had also gambled their future on the outcome of this decisive battle.
(Part 8 of 18) (21/4)
The spirit magic user Kurumi and the Pegasus rider Admirath.
As soon as the two sides began to fight, the form that the battle took was inevitable — aerial combat. Kurumi flew with magic parallel to the ground at high speed while using her right thumb and index finger in the shape of a gun to control the spirits with her gauntlet—
She continuously fired highly compressed bullets of air from her fingertip towards the front. Within Kurumi’s vision and upon the Pegasus that galloped in mid-air, Admirath smiled as he faced the storm of air bullets — at the same time, a magic circle that appeared underneath the hooves of the Pegasus caused it to instantly accelerate, and the air bullets that Kurumi launched sprayed onto the rocks below, noisily kicking up clouds of dust. Followed by the flapping of the Pegasus’ fierce wings, it rapidly turned around and soared at a speed greater than that of Kurumi’s flight magic.
Admirath’s assault caused Kurumi to stop firing, and instead focus on evasion. Simply moving to the left and the right would most likely not be enough to escape from the giant scythe, whilst flying upwards would only result in the Pegasus catching up to her. Hence Kurumi chose to make a quick descent, while Admirath’s giant scythe sliced at the air over Kurumi’s head with just the slightest margin. In the midst of her sudden descent, Kurumi twisted her body around and extended her left arm out to release explosive fire magic as interference which left a trail of sparks in the path that Admirath followed. The fast-moving Pegasus was unable to dodge in time, and charged into the sparks carrying Admirath — subsequently, countless chain explosions occurred which turned the surrounding atmosphere into a raging inferno. But—
“—Is that all you’re capable of?”
Admirath calmly said that, and then continued to chase her after charging through the inferno. In front of the Pegasus, a hemispherical magic circle formed.
“A magic barrier…are you a magic type?”
“No? I just happen to dislike magic so I’m only at this level.”
Kurumi asked out of surprise, only to find out that her opponent was a technique-type, and Admirath answered as if it was a natural response — like this, both of them increased the speed of their descent.
Nonaka Kurumi glimpsed at her approaching opponent from the corner of her eye, and couldn’t help but clench her teeth. He actually dared to say that he ‘only at this level’. Under the circumstances where it was impossible to know whether or not they had really captured Basara as a hostage, how could she possibly bring out her full strength?
Kurumi hadn’t yet given up on the possibility of victory. —After being threatened by Admirath, Kurumi chose to stall for time. Regardless of whether Basara had been imprisoned or deliberately concealed his whereabouts, at the very least, he was currently in the outside world, in some place where there was a barrier against magic and abilities. Kurumi was able to control spirits, so before Basara rushed over here — she would immediately detect his presence as soon as he left that place, and she would know that he was safe. In other words—
…Even if he has been captured.
Basara would definitely try to escape. Therefore, Kurumi in turn used Admirath’s threat to ‘fake it naturally’; she believed that Basara would definitely come back as soon as possible, and the situation would change once the opponent knew that Basara was safe. After all, Admirath would also avoid any decisive moves, so as to avoid suspicion in case the victor was decided too easily. He was just going along with the current state of things, and since it was possible that Basara was actually imprisoned, he couldn’t casually make his move until Basara’s safety was confirmed.
However, her strength wasn’t able to match up to Admirath’s — although the original situation was unfavourable, it was deteriorating the more she was pressured, but Kurumi did not give up hope, and continued to courageously step forward. Even if she eventually lost, the powerful Zest was next; if she couldn’t confirm Basara’s safety for her beforehand, she would probably be coerced into the same predicament due to her loyalty for Basara. Perhaps — Kurumi was already doomed to defeat when she was threatened, but even so…she wanted Zest to be able to fight with peace of mind.
Kurumi tightly clenched her fist. She couldn’t lose in vain, she had to fight until the very last moment. That was her currently her own — Nonaka Kurumi’s fight.
(Part 9 of 18) (23/4)
Nonaka Yuki was currently watching her younger sister’s fight from the lounge of the Moderates faction. Mio had gone to the Moderates faction’s infirmary to visit the fainted Maria, while the fourth warrior, Zest, had gone to the passageway to prepare, leaving Yuki alone in the lounge. —Kurumi and Admirath’s duel had turned into an intense aerial fight. In terms of distance, Kurumi had the advantage as a magic user, but her opponent held the advantage in speed. Because Admirath was able to create robust barriers, the use of powerful magic capable of penetrating that kind of barrier would take a considerable amount of time, giving the opponent a chance to get close.
Thus, the basic structure of this battle revolved around Kurumi making use of her time to chant powerful magic, while Admirath closed their distance during those gaps to attack; the outcome of either side was hanging on that theory — by reason, that should have been the case, but—
The current battle situation caused Yuki to furrow her brows in confusion. —Kurumi’s evasion timing always seemed overly early. At the beginning, she thought that it was to maintain a lengthier distance just in case, but that wasn’t what was happening. If her evasion timing was a lower priority than her accumulation of power, at the very least, she should have increased the number of attacks, or done something else differently, but she wasn’t doing that. The possibility that she didn’t want to imagine subconsciously slipped out of her lips.
“She…isn’t using her full power?”
(Part 10 of 18) (23/4)
“…There’s something strange going on.”
At this time, Leohart also noticed that something was not quite right with the battle. Aside from Admirath’s overly rapid avoidance of Kurumi’s magic attacks, he occasionally used his giant scythe to slash, while pursuing with his mount at the same time. Yet each time he only missed by a slight margin, allowing Kurumi to narrowly escape. It was as if—
…Is he deliberately allowing his opponent to escape that narrowly?
If he and his mount were to seriously assault, his speed and power would not be as simple as it was now.
Kurumi’s performance was even stranger. Based on Admirath’s fighting style, she should have first tried a strategy to reduce his mobility, but her only target was on Admirath himself; moreover, all of the magic she used was flashy, but quite monotonous. An ordinary audience would not be able to see through such contradictions, it was something that only people with a certain level of power would notice. Generally speaking, Kurumi was a member of the Hero Tribe who had come to the Demon Realm to help Mio, so she shouldn’t bear such a negative attitude. If this was justified—
“—Most likely, Admirath has made up a story about Toujou Basara’s absence to scare her.”
Lars presented a possibility.
“Something like that could be possible…Leohart-sama, do you need someone to deal with it?”
Balthier hinted to Leohart that he could take the opportunity to suspend the duel, and hold the Council responsible for it. That was a possible move to make. This decisive battle was nominally managed by the Council, so if it was revealed that their side had threatened and coerced the other side into holding a false battle, the public’s trust in the Council would surely collapse. When Leohart considered this and compared it to his original plan, the one which was easier for him to achieve his objective was—
“There’s no need — it’ll be better to watch and see how this plays out.”
Lars chuckled and then said
“We don’t have any evidence of the Council’s foul play. Even if that really is the case, this isn’t a sports game; this is a fight where each side bets on their future and justice. The desire to have an honest showdown is something that I can understand, but a psychological battle is also part of the fight. No matter what she and her opponent have said, and no matter what plans the Council and Admirath have made, if she’s been affected by something like this, then it simply means that that is her weakness. We don’t have to have too much sympathy for our enemy’s weakness, do we?”
“That guy is a dog of the Council, so the psychological battle that they’ve arranged may actually be there to lure us in. If we act rashly, we may fall into their trap.”
“Indeed…but, I want to know what kinds of plans the Council has first.”
“I understand — I’ll go and scout the situation.”
After hearing what Leohart had to say, Balthier nodded and said
“After all, judging by the current situation, it will still be some time before I head on stage.”
When he stepped out of the room — a change occurred in the battle between Admirath and Kurumi. Both of them were originally exchanging blows in the air, but they had now dived into cracks that existed throughout the vast and rocky canyon.
(Part 11 of 18) (23/4)
Travelling between these rock formations was like navigating a labyrinth of narrow corridors. Because of the complex terrain, any delay in judgement could result in a deadly collision. But Nonaka Kurumi was under the guidance of the sprits as she flew at high speed throughout the canyon. —However, she was still unable to shake off Admirath who chased behind her. In order to get rid of her opponent, Kurumi flew in front and from time to time, she moved from wide open spaces into narrow slits that only she was barely able to pass through. Unfortunately, none of her feints worked on Admirath, he always remained in hot pursuit by taking the shortest path that he and his Pegasus could pass through. It was possible that the Pegasus could feel changes in the airflow, and was able to detect the terrain of the canyon in advance.
…If it was Zest…!
At such times — Zest could fly with her own wings, and use her earth magic to control the surrounding terrain to create a variety of traps or obstructions. A high-level magic user like Mio could also use wind and earth magic simultaneously — but Kurumi was unable to do that. Kurumi’s magic was activated by borrowing the power of the spirits. Earth magic and the wind magic that enabled her to fly clashed with each other. Using magic that clashed at the same time made it very easy for their abilities to cancel out, and even her flight speed would drop…she could even lose all speed and fall. She could only use the same type of wind magic, or fire or water — but this canyon was vastly dry, so it was difficult to use enough water for an effective attack, and explosive fire magic like before would not be enough to delay him.
Kurumi released a large wind blade towards the front, waited for a moment, and then released numerous small wind blades in the same direction. Then — a slate of rock tens of metres wide protruding out from the rocky wall fractured, and began to fall. The myriad of small wind blades that came after it from a variety of directions sliced it apart into a countless number of one metre wide rocks that flooded down like a waterfall. It was not meant to block anything. Kurumi flew past the downpour of falling rocks that almost hit her, and then immediately twisted her body back—
She extended both arms out in front of herself, and unleashed a powerful gale of wind towards the large number of falling rocks from both hands. The rocks that were blasted away by the powerful air currents all flew towards Admirath at the speed of a cannon shell.
Upon seeing the array of rocks that whistled as they pierced through the air, Admirath smiled wryly as he swiped his giant scythe; the resulting shock wave blew the rocks away, while the shield around him and his Pegasus blocked all of the remaining debris that fell from above. The blasted rocks hit the left and right side of the canyon walls, and set off a billow of smoke so as to impede his advance, but Admirath didn’t care. His Pegasus had already sensed the terrain and space ahead, so he did not hesitate to charge forward—
When he passed through the dust, there was something that surprised him. He thought that Kurumi was originally flying in front of him, but she was now almost directly below him…on the floor of the canyon. Kurumi’s right hand was on top of the gauntlet on her left hand that she used to control spirit magic, and a five-layered magic circle was prepared in front of her.
The instant that Admirath realised Kurumi’s intentions and let out an utter of admiration — the sharp clap of a thunder strike resounded throughout the air and lightning surged towards him from below.
(Part 12 of 18) (23/4)
 Aneue: Respectful manner of addressing an elder sister.