The story of Takeru's father visiting Orochi was from ten years ago.
They weren't acquainted. Moving away from the Valhalla after war, Orochi who settled himself for life of retirement in the mountains of old Japan, didn't expect that he, who was excommunicated from both Double-Edged style and True-Light style, would be visited by one of the Kusanagi.
Orochi knew that after the war, his younger brother had become the heir of Kusanagi and left very few descendants, but from the conversation he had with Takeru's father, he learned that they were destitute.
Except for his son, there was no one with blood of Kusanagi in them... Takeru's father sat in seiza in front of Orochi who was cutting firewood and spoke of the Kusanagi recent status.
I don't care, that was Orochi's conclusion.
Even if the demons are released with Kusanagi's bloodline lost, even if the world overflows with the demons, it had nothing to do with him. If it was about the curse, then Takeru's father should blame their ancestors and onmyouji who tried to seal the demons in humans, Orochi snorted.
『"Did ya come here for money? As you can see, I ain't got any. Or maybe in order not to have the demons released you want me to get a woman and make kids? You must be jokin'."』
Appalled, Orochi cut the firewood with abandon using an axe.
『"I ain't have any intention of coming back now, I couldn't care less about what happens to Kusanagi or the world."』
Orochi passed on being bound by Kusanagi house's traditions, getting involved in the war, or being used by someone ever again.
He couldn't forget what he felt when over a hundred years ago he killed Mikoto, nor the peaceful expression she had.
Mikoto was smiling. Although her soul was already devoured by the effect of the God Hunter form, she shouldn't have a sense of self any longer and yet... that moment Orochi pierced through her heart, she was smiling.
Orochi promised Mikoto.
If you can no longer suppress yourself, at that time I'll kill you.
When still-young Orochi said so, Mikoto who was still a young child laughed happily.
——Thank you for fulfilling the promise.
On the verge of death, her lips certainly whispered so. Making the same smile as when they have promised each other...
Orochi saw Mikoto's smile in his dreams every night, then woke up looking at his palm, dyed with blood. The pain, suffering, and sorrow have remained as actual feeling rather than a dream.
Even though he wasn't interested in any human beings other than himself and didn't even remember the faces of others, he thought that the only thing he wants to remember was her smile.
That smile, was now hurting Orochi. The smile he loved so much, precisely because he loved it, had tormented him.
Orochi had no choice but to kill Mikoto.
But that was the correct choice. Even now he didn't regret it. As a result, he lost everything and received wounds that wouldn't ever heal.
Back then, certainly, Orochi died together with Mikoto.
『"Go back. I have nothing to do with Kusanagis."』
When Orochi said that. Takeru's father prostrated, pressing his head against the ground.
Don't be ridiculous. When Orochi was about to say that, Takeru's father had said the real reason for his coming to meet him.
——When I can no longer suppress my daughter, I want you to kill her.
——And please, after that I want to entrust my son to you.
Orochi stood up as he heaved a sigh and turned his cloudy pupils towards Takeru's father.
『"...go back. If you don't disappear from here right now, I'll cut you down."』
And said so, warning him quietly.
He knew the reason why was Takeru's father trembling violently. Not only were he and Orochi on completely different levels when it came to swordsmanship, they were completely different beings. Having vampire cells embedded into him, and being an instructor of Double-Edged style Orochi was already beyond any human.
A normal human who witnessed Orochi's anger would be petrified and lost their mind with fear.
However, Takeru's father still didn't raise his head.
He didn't return despite that.
——I beg of you... it's my lifetime request... Kiseki... that pitiful child... I beg you...!
Orochi could hear the tears dripping down.
If he was a human of Kusanagi, it was his duty as the father to kill the girls that were born. Although it seemed cruel, the result of being killed at birth was better. The girl would continue to live suffering because of the mismatch between her soul and body, the uncontrollable body of a demon would devour others, the girl's spirit would be exhausted, her ego lost, the demons released would swallow the world. Compared to tasting living hell and being driven to destroy the world, having the girl's life taken by the father's hands was salvation.
Takeru's father must have cursed his own weakness for not being able to kill his beloved daughter. He must have grieved himself for not being able to even shoulder the responsibility.
His tears said the entirety of the story.
...what you should lament is not yourself, but the fate of Kusanagi.
Orochi was sick of it. He couldn't sympathize nor mock him. Takeru's father was born into family cursed to be burdened with such fate.
As a member of Kusanagi, what he should do should have ended when he killed Mikoto.
He had no intention of shouldering anything else.
In the end, Orochi refused the request.
Takeru's father continued to prostrate in front of the gate, but a week later in the morning, he had returned back home dejected.
——It was a few years later that Hyakki Yakou went out of control.
Orochi went down the mountain and entered a human habitat for the first time in fifty years.
Something too clear to be foreboding or uneasiness had made him. Maybe it was the demon inside of him reacting, but Mikoto appearing in his dream was dripping with blood and pointed in a certain direction.
That direction was undeniably where the Kusanagi house was.
Although he continued to repeat himself it had nothing to do with him, his body had naturally headed for the Kusanagi house.
By the time Orochi reached it, Kusanagi house and the mountain village were enveloped by flames.
Orochi went past the burning house and headed towards the cliff directly behind it. Every time he entered the grass wet with dew in this thicket, Mikoto's tragedy had passed through his head.
The bushes opened up, the cliff appeared.
And there, a boy on his knees was watching over the burning village.
This kid must be Kusanagi Takeru. Since the Inquisition's helicopter was leaving, without a doubt he must have seen the capture of his little sister.
Orochi walked up near the boy.
And, standing next to him, he looked at the burning village.
The village was in terrible state. The Inquisition had suffered a lot of sacrifices in order to exhaust Hyakki Yakou by killing it, and these flames were a result of using various methods to do so.
『"You're Takeru, right?"』
Even as Orochi called out to him, Takeru faced downwards and didn't reply.
Seeing him face down and tremble, Orochi furrowed his eyebrows.
It was obvious what happened.
This boy didn't choose anything.
No, he couldn't choose.
He was unable to kill his little sister, unable to to try killing her and unable to protect her.
Orochi could tell at a glance. That's what the boy's back said.
Therefore, pity nor sympathy wouldn't help this boy in any way.
He grasped Takeru's hair and raised him up, forcing him to burn the hell in front of them into his eyes.
『"——Remember this, Takeru. Burn the result of your decision not to choose anything. Don't you run away."』
Even though he was unable to see anything, the boy's figure was clear to him through the reverberation of the sound.
His tears dried out, his eyes lost their light. Not even the flames rising from the village were reflected in his sight.
Orochi let go of the boy and pulled out the sword from his waist to swing it down in front of Takeru.
A bundle of the boy's bangs had fallen to the ground.
『"There's no way to get rid of Hyakki Yakou curse. If Kusanagi bloodline dies out here, the worst disaster's gonna befall the world. But, I couldn't care less about it. That's why I'll give ya the right to choose."』
『"Whether it ends here, or continues. Don't run and make yer choice, brat."』
The blade turned around in front of the boy.
The red flames were reflected by the blade and have shone on the boy who continued to look downwards.
While still being an empty husk, the boy grasped the blade with both hands.
Blood trickled down the blade, then stained the ground.
『"............I want... to live."』
That answer, was contrary to Orochi's expectations.
Orochi didn't think the boy would choose to live. Just what meaning was there to live in despair?
He got a little curious.
With his eyes still closed, Orochi crouched on the ground in front of the boy.
『"Then I'll let you live. But, I'm not going to teach you anything. Don't forget that."』
Orochi grasped the boy's collar with one hand and just like that, put him on his shoulder to carry.
『"——Why do ya want to learn Double-Edged style?"』
Takeru had requested Orochi to teach him swordsmanship a month after Orochi started to take care of him.
While gulping down sake from a cup, hiccuping, Orochi asked Takeru. Although Takeru had continued to prostrate for seven days for naught, once Orochi was slightly intoxicated he asked out of curiosity.
Takeru who continued to bow, raised his head.
『"Because I want to become strong."』
『"Why do you want to be strong? Do ya know what kind of swordsmanship is Double-Edged style?"』
『"It's swordsmanship for cutting down monsters."』
"Wrong. It's a sword for killing demons. And by demons, I mean——Kusanagis."
As Orochi poured liquor from a bottle, he looked at Takeru.
Staring straight at Orochi, Takeru clenched his lips.
The meaning of Orochi's words was probably relayed to him. In other words, "Double-Edged style is swordsmanship for the sake of killing your little sister".
Are you going to learn Double-Edged style to kill your little sister? Is what he was asking.
Takeru clenched his fists on top of his knees and squinted.
『"I... I want to learn Double-Edged style in order to protect Kiseki!"』
Orochi made astonished expression for an instant, then started laughing loudly.
『"WAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA! Protect?! Double-Edged style protecting something?! Don't be stupid, Takeru."』
『"Why?! Kusanagi Double-Edged style used to be the strongest swordsmanship right?! If I can kill monsters then I protecting my little sister isn't...!"』
『"The strongest swordsmanship was the True-Light style used for fighting humans. Double-Edged style was never used in public."』
『"But... you're strong, right?! Double-Edged style is strong, right?!"』
Seeing Takeru beg desperately, Orochi smiled bitterly.
『"You said you're going to protect your little sister, just what will you protect her from?"』
『"What's hurtin' your little sister is her body itself. Using Double-Edged style to protect your little sister, would mean directing your blade towards her. It's a contradiction."』
It's a masterpiece, he said and laughed, gulping down alcohol.
Double-Edged style wasn't sword for protecting nor for killing. It was inhuman sword for cutting down the inhuman. It wasn't something that can protect humans.
『"Or maybe you'll try to protect your little sister from Inquisition? I'll tell you this, there's no way you can compete with Inquisition just by mastering Double-Edged style. It's true that swordsmanship is outdated. It was a splendid thing as a martial art, but it's too weak when it comes to fighting with lives on the line."』
『"To Inquisition who are armed with guns, sword is no better than scrap metal. Tryin' to take your sister back or protecting her is but a pipe dream. Give up."』
When Orochi snorted with his jaw on the armrest, Takeru expression changed.
As Takeru oozed with anger, wrinkled appeared all over his face.
Orochi continued to ridicule him.
『"You angry? Don't get angry over anything but sword, don't show your emotions... just like family rules say. You tryin' to be an adult and shoulderin' Kusanagi's name?"』
『"If ya consider Kusanagis temperament, from the world's point of view they'd all have bankrupt personality or were psychopathic criminals from the moment of birth dammit. Try havin' more awareness of that, screw learning swordsmanship, just live secretly and die secretly somewhere in the damn mountains. That'd be best for the world and for you."』
Fueling the fire, Orochi yawned.
『"What's with you...?! Scrap metal you said?!"』
Takeru clenched his fist strongly enough to make his hand bleed, took the sword that was lying on the floor and stood up.
『"Don't... look down on swordsmanship...!!"』
He pulled the sword from its sheath and pointed it at Orochi.
Completely unfazed, Orochi enjoyed the alcohol and grinned.
『"That's more like it. Fine, if ye'll make me drop a sweat, I'll teach ya Double-Edged style."』
『"Bring it on... damn old man."』
『"But if ya don't come at me with intent to kill, you'll die. Prepare yourself. There's no moderation to Double-Edged style."』
Seeing Takeru intend to do so even without being told that, Orochi laughed merrily.
Ten minutes later.
Takeru lied down on the ground barely able to breathe.
With his body lying in the moist plants, he looked up at the starry sky.
As he chased the fireflies with his gaze, Orochi's figure appeared, looking down on him.
『"You're so weak, Takeru."』
He couldn't say anything back. Taught True-Light style from his father, Takeru had confidence since young. He wouldn't lose to any other swordsmanship school, even against adults. As the eldest son of the family of strongest swordsmen, Kusanagi, he put enough effort to puke blood.
...Takeru didn't think he could win. Just by looking, he knew Orochi was powerful. Were Takeru an ant, Orochi would be a dragon. That's how much their abilities differed.
But he thought he would be able to fight back, just a little.
The truth was that he couldn't even see his opponent's blade.
『"Both arms and both legs broken. Ribs almost pulverized. Your spine's hurt. Left alone, you'll die. That's how serious your injuries are."』
『"This is Double-Edged style. Those numerous wounds is what it means to learn Double-Edged style. There's a high probability you'll die before you master it. What you get in exchange is not worth it."』
『"This is for your own good. If you want to live, give it up."』
Orochi sheathed his sword and tried to take care of Takeru's wounds.
But seeing Takeru's hand try to hold the broken sword, Orochi stopped his stretched-out hand.
Takeru shouldn't have been able to move. Beaten by Orochi his both arms and both legs were broken, his hands lost their strength, he shouldn't have been able to stand up.
But seemingly not knowing he's unable to hold the sword any more, Takeru extended his neck and gripped the broken sword with his teeth.
Crawling like a caterpillar he arrived at Orochi's feet and tried to swing the sword by moving his neck.
Orochi no longer smiled.
He could see tears well up in Takeru's eyes.
Still biting on the sword, Takeru spat out words with difficulty
『"I broke, my promise...with her...so...this time...I need to carry it through."』
『"I'm her...Onii-chan so...I promised...I'll definitely...save her..."』
Letting out the sword from his mouth, Takeru pressed his crumpled face on the ground and shed tears.
『"I... I can't bear bear living like this, doing nothing... nhh, if I can't do anything for her... there's no reason for me to live...!!"』
『"Becoming strong is...the only thing I can do...!!"』
While looking down at Takeru who clung to him, Orochi quietly closed his eyes.
Becoming strong is the only thing I can do.
Orochi was the same. That was all he could do. Seeking strength alone he left Mikoto and rushed out to the war, seeking strength he even embedded vampire cells in his body.
It wasn't for a clear goal. He just convinced himself he wants to become strong. He thought that any reason other than pure desire to become strong is unnecessary, a reason wouldn't make him any stronger.
But now he knew. Back then the underlying reason in the back of his head which made him desire strength,
——Was always Mikoto's smile.
Orochi had first noticed that he was trying to become stronger in order to protect that smile when he lost it.
Looking down on Takeru with his cloudy white eyes, Orochi resolved himself.
This kid will become strong. His aptitude for swordsmanship, strong body and abnormal tenacity were all satisfactory.
As well as the endless desire to become strong.
『"...I'm not the type to take disciples, but..."』
Orochi scratched his head and heaved a sigh.
He took the sword off from his waist and along with the sheath, held it out.
Then glared at Takeru.
『"Very well. If yer' going that far——I'll have ya stop bein' human, brat...!"』
That's what led to Kusanagi Takeru being taught Double-Edged style by Orochi.
There's no need to even speak of how aberrant the hell was that training.
Takeru had left Orochi shortly after he learned Soumatou, the forbidden skill of the Double-Edged style.
Once he had mastered Soumatou, he had become Double-Edged style's initiate, and with that as the starting point he brought up something with Orochi.
『"I'm going to become an Inquisitor."』
Orochi who was taking a nap on a hammock hanging between trees using a book to get some shade on his face, had glared at Takeru.
Takeru loudly swallowed saliva. When Orochi opened his eyes, he was usually boiling with anger.
『"And what's yer motive for that?"』
『"I've been thinking. About what should I do to save my little sister."』
『"If you're going to try to slip into enemy base and bring her back, you'll just die."』
Facing down, Takeru clenched his fist.
『"I'm not that stupid. At the very least, I know that's impossible."』
『"Then why on earth yer wantin' to become a damn Inquisitor?"』
To Orochi, Inquisition was enemy. They tortured Mikoto endlessly and used her as a tool for war, finally driving her to death.
He didn't really resent Inquisition, but as Takeru's master he couldn't let him go with just "oh is that so".
Takeru raised his head and stared straight at Orochi.
『"...I'm going to change the world in order to let my little sister live normally."』
After a strange silence, Orochi's expression broke as if to say "haa?".
『"...all you can do is swordsmanship, right?"』
『"You have no other talent, or rather, you're not just incompetent but also have a bankrupt personality, right?"』
『"And yet you'll change the world with swordsmanship?"』
『"Aren't you an idiot?"』
Orochi seriously made a fool out of him.
『"You ain't gonna change the world with a mere sword."』
『"Don't say 'mere sword'. I'll use this power to become the Inquisition's top. Then I'll make it so my little sister can live a normal life."』
『"Aren't you an idiot?"』
The conversation was going in circles. As expected, Orochi was shocked, but Takeru didn't pull out.
『"Even if I'm an idiot... if I become an Inquisitor... I can be beside Kiseki."』
His helpless feelings bled out, he made a chagrined expression.
For him, it was the best thing he could think of. Since Kiseki was captured by Inquisition, he could only involve himself with them. He had no idea what was happening to Kiseki, but as a civilian he won't be allowed to visit her.
It was no lie to say right from the start that it was a mere pipe dream, but to this stupidly-honest boy, the choice of becoming an Inquisitor to be together with Kiseki wasn't completely wrong.
This kid will struggle as much as he can. Did Orochi, who had abandoned front-line when his role had ended and continued to waste time, have any right to stop him?
Despite the hopeless circumstances, wasn't this kid's actions much better as he tried to move on even if just a little, as compared to Orochi who continued to hide in the mountains in despair?
While soaking in the sunshine filtered through the tree leaves, Orochi heaved a sigh.
『"I get where yer' coming from... there's nothing left for me to teach ya."』
『"Go wherever you like. In exchange, don't come back ever again."』
*shoo shoo*, Orochi waved his hand, then covering his head with the book he started snoring again.
Takeru stood in place for a moment, but eventually stood straight and bowed.
『"...thank you for taking care of me until now, Master."』
I told you I'm not the type for this kinda thing, Orochi thought.
As he listened to the footsteps of Takeru as he left, strangely it's not a bad feeling, Orochi thought.
He moved away the book and looked at the sun peeking out from between the leaves.
As Takeru's master, Orochi should have stopped him. If Takeru goes to AntiMagic Academy, he'll definitely catch Ootori Sougetsu's attention. With a girl of Kusanagi who has the body of Hyakki Yakou and with a boy of Kusanagi who has the soul of a demon... there's no way that man won't make his move.
Orochi was easily able to imagine what kind of fate awaited Takeru.
However, men from Kusanagi family wouldn't back down no matter what. Takeru was no exception, Orochi understood well over the last two years of training just how stubborn he was.
He would dash forward no matter what was said to him.
Reminded of his old self, Orochi raised his hand towards the sun.
Even though he lost his sight, the intensity of the sunlight was relayed to him through the intensity of the heat. Just like this glaring sun, in the past he also continued rush while scorching everything around him.
But now he only continued to waste time.
——Isn't it about time?
As if to grasp the sun, Orochi clenched his fist.
『"...it begins once again..."』
He could feel something frozen-up in the back of his chest start burn up once again.
It wasn't too bad to run once again, just like his past self.
Orochi thought so while distorting his lips joyfully.
He thought of what to do in order to dispel the chagrin.
Revenge, retribution, they weren't bad. Making the Inquisition his enemies in order to kill Ootori Sougetsu wasn't a bad idea either. Whether he succeeds or dies, he'll definitely feel refreshed. For motivation, revenge was enough. Justification can go eat shit.
If he's to continue living in vain, he might as well go out with a bang.
Orochi imagined that with a grin.
However——Orochi knew an even more wicked method which would let him regain everything.
『"...it has been a while, Kusanagi Orochi-san."』
When he raised his head, he felt a nostalgic scent.
It was a scent reminiscent of white flowers like jasmine.
Even after a hundred and fifty years, there was no way he could forget this scent that was mixed in together with the smell of blood.
He got down from the hammock and faced her.
Confronting Mother Goose.
『"As usual, you sure appear with amazin' timing."』
『"Yes, I felt I was called by you."』
Told so with the usual lack of expressions, Orochi smiled bitterly. Right after the war she consulted with him on the topic of contract, but back then he refused.
But, if it was now.
『"150 years ago we spoke about contractin' with me. Is that still valid?"』
With a wicked smile, Orochi turned his pupils which regained their sparkle towards Mother.
Takeru woke up along with a headache.
The memories about Orochi had appeared in his dreams, but as he immersed himself in the lingering dream, the moment he woke up the surroundings have slowed down.
Using an image of closing a lid, he somehow suppressed his brain.
Even though he was sleeping, he didn't seem to have rest at all as his brain screamed even louder than before.
When he looked at the clock, he saw than an hour has elapsed.
"...so you woke up. We're in middle of treatment, you seemed to have quite a nightmare."
Next to the bed, Sage leaned with his back against the wall and a familiar woman from the Gods' Embers had bowed and moved away from Takeru.
This was a room in the Border's Grey Hotel.
After escaping from the Critical Point, Takeru and others along with Sage and his members have hidden for the time being. Currently their battered-up bodies were being treated by the members of Gods' Embers.
"And the others?"
"Everyone's taking a break in a different room. They all had minor injuries."
"I see... that's great."
Although he smiled with relief, the tiredness remained on his face.
Sage looked towards Takeru as if investigating him.
"It's not. Your injuries are not just serious. If not for the Magical Heritage's support you would definitely be dead. It's strange that you're still alive."
"...sturdiness is my only merit."
"What I'm talking about is not just the damage to your body, but the damage to your brain."
Then Sage squinted sharply.
"...your brain is in abnormal state. Normally humans utilize 10% of their brain, but you're using more than 40%... even with strengthening magic it's impossible to raise your brain operation rate so much, what kind of skill are you using?"
"Swordsmanship... but even if I say that, it's not convincing huh. Well, it's fine as long as I don't use it continuously. Right now... I've abused it a little."
"At this rate you're going to die. You can't fool my eyes."
Being told that with a strong manner of speaking, Takeru got a little flabbergasted.
"You're worried about me? That's surprisingly kind."
"Wrong. I am aware that you're an important factor to ending this war. I'd be troubled if you died now."
"We have succeeded with our missions, but if the world continues as is everything will go to waste. Our fight isn't over yet."
Sage moved away from the wall and with his arms folded, looked at Takeru's bed.
"We should have made a promise that we'll help each other with all our strength as long as our goals overlap, even if we are to become enemies. I won't let you say you forgot that oath."
There was no kindness nor emotions in Sage's eyes. He relayed that he had helped them only because it was necessary.
Takeru squinted a little bit, then dropped his line of sight towards his palm. He should have controlled the Soumatou, but he saw his palm double.
Just like Sage said, if it continues this state will be life-threatening.
"I'm not dyin'... as if I would."
In order to live, this power was necessary.
"I want to live... I won't die no matter what."
He can't let his life be extinguish so easily after he broke his promise with Kiseki.
"Even if it's being stubborn, I'll do whatever possible, no matter what."
While recalling his declaration of war to Kiseki, he raised his face and focused himself.
"I will survive, and I'll save anything and everything."
What dwelled inside him, was without a doubt a soul of a demon.
Men of Kusanagi household were born with rough temper and stubbornness. It was said the reason for that was the fact they were born with demon souls rather than those of human's. It was a demon's nature to single-mindedly crave for just one thing, it was appropriate to call it madness.
Takeru didn't think of denying his own soul.
Right now he wanted to be proud of it, rely on it.
The demon soul that will never break.
"...I've heard of it before, but you really are a horribly stubborn guy."
"I'm told that often."
As Takeru replied lightly, Sage put on a faint smile.
There's nothing else I have to say, it implied.
"We scheduled a discussion in an hour. Rest your body until then."
In order to leave, Sage put his hand on the doorknob.
"...most likely even fiercer battles than before are waiting for us. Prepare yourself."
Leaving just that, Sage left the room.
Left behind, Takeru recalled the sight of the city from when they escaped the Critical Point.
The war had finally began. His past, everyday life was gone. The world war heading towards certain ruin.
He has to stop it. No matter the method used.
Takeru closed his eyes in order to prepare for battle.
Right now, he needs to preserve his strength as much as possible. Like Sage said, Takeru's brain wasn't in a state that would allow him to act optimistic.
He closed his eyes in order to reduce the burden on his eyes as much as possible.
But, he was no longer able to sleep.
If he sleeps, his control over Soumatou will be released.
It was impossible to stop the brain from going berserk as he sleeps.
Although he didn't tell Sage, but after just during one hour of sleep Takeru felt as if he continued to sleep for years. Because of that his tiredness didn't go away in the least. Rather than his body, it was his brain that was tired.
He will have to think of a method to deal with this problem after the fight is over.
Kurogane Hayato told him. The ones you are trying to oppose are existences mighty beyond your imagination.
His current state will probably shorten his lifespan... but in order to fight that monster-like strength, the power of Soumatou in out-of-control state was necessary.
While Takeru received treatment in another room, Ouka and the others were resting.
As Ouka sat down in the chair by the table, her gaze passed through Mineshiro Kazuma's documents she received from Kurogane Hayato.
"How is it? Can you read it?"
Usagi who carried a tray with tea had put the cups on the table as she peeked at the documents.
Ouka thanked Usagi and picked up a cup.
Sitting down in front of frowning Ouka, Ikaruga held her chin in her hand and continued to play around with mint candy in her fingertips.
"Encryption, huh... well, I guess that much is a given."
"But, that Kurogane person was able to read it, right? Is it different from the one used by EXE's?"
Lying face-down on the bed, Mari asked as she flailed her legs.
Glaring at the document with a difficult expression, Ouka heaved a sigh and took a sip of the tea.
"It's close to the encryption used internally among EXE's but... it was arranged quite differently. It must be what the captain and vice-captain used. A normal member like me probably can't decipher it all."
"If you can't read it, it's definitely complex and difficult to understand. Like this, probably Oonogi-san won't be able to either〜. And we've got no clue what's President doing..."
Since they were the members of Heretic Alliance, the first one to read it should be their boss, but it was unknown what happened to Nagaru.
It seemed like all the members of the Heretic Alliance have evacuated, but naturally, their transfer's destination was away from the Inquisition's headquarters. Not only it would take time for them to rejoin each other, it would be very difficult now that the war had began.
Although it was fine to hide in the hotel, on site there were only the Sixth Guard Troop, Seventh Student Squad and the 35th Platoon. They had no choice but to communicate with the other members of the alliance to consult the course of action.
Suddenly, Ouka stood up from the chair.
"Could you leave the document with me for a little while? I'll try deciphering it."
"I do not mind... but please make sure not to lose it, all right?"
"I'm not a pro when it comes to encryption. Well, try what you can."
Ouka turned around on her heel and headed outside of the room.
Just one person, Mari had poured her suspicious gaze towards Ouka.
Pretending to be calm, Ouka walked down the hotel's corridor.
With a hand, she wiped the sweat on her forehead and at the same time she went past corner, she called Vlad.
"Vlad... do you know how's Takeru now?"
《"Thou can just go to his room and confirm it."》
"I'm asking because I can't do that."
《"...after receiving treatment from a member of Gods' Embers, he seems to be resting obediently. Right now he's alone."》
Ouka put a hand on her chin and pondered.
《"From here on we'll talk using magical power communication. Put on a filter on it."》
《"Already appli'd one."》
《"...what do you think we should do?"》
It was unusual for Ouka to seek Vlad's opinion outside combat. It meant the situation was that serious.
That was because she had already decrypted the content of the document. While it was the truth that the arrangement of EXE's encryption, it was her forte and her hobby to solve one-time encryptions like that.
There was no way for her not to be surprised by the content.
Ootori Sougetsu is this world's God?
Her adoptive father was?
It was something hard to believe this suddenly. She certainly thought that he wasn't human, but at most she considered he was something like a sorcerer or a vampire.
But it must have been the truth. The world collision theory and the "Fragment of Mythological World" were real, and the evidence above all other is that Sougetsu moved behind the scenes as not to let them get this document.
After recognizing the contents as the truth, Ouka had no idea what should she do with this information.
《"Thou belike shouldn't betoken thy comrades yet. Not only it will cause confusion but also decrease morale."》
《"...however, don't we have to tell them as soon as possible to make sure Ootori Sougetsu isn't killed? If that man dies, the world will perish."》
《"Not everyone can kill a god. A god is a magical organism... in other words, an existence that can't be kill'd by this world's substances. Thou don't hast to fret regarding to that."》
Just like Vlad said, normally, magical organisms can't be killed with human hands.
The organisms holding magical power who live in this world are called fantastical organisms, the magical organisms summoned from another world using magical power in exchange had a fundamentally different nature.
Since they were outside of this world's principles, they were only temporarily summoned and impossible to kill. Once the magical power ran out they automatically returned to the world they have come from.
The existence called god was also a magical organism.
The problem was, that Ootori Sougetsu who was a god, had a body and lived in this world.
This world's God. Is what was written in the document.
《"Considering he gave Mistilteinn to Kusanagi Takeru and tri'd to reshape him into a God Hunter, he's belike an existence that cannot commit suicide."》
《"Master, thou wot who shouldst thou betoken this to with highest priority, do thou?"》
In response to Vlad's question, Ouka fell silent with a difficult expression.
But soon enough she raised her head and resolved herself. There was no time to hesitate.
"——I thought it would be something like that."
Hearing a voice from behind, Ouka let out a short scream and turned around.
Mari stood there, staring intently.
"N-Nikaido... w-w-what are you talking about?"
Seeing Ouka's attitude that suggested she clearly hid something, Mari heaved a sigh.
"Don't go doing things that don't suit you. Also, your magical communication is leaking all over y'know?"
"N-no way, Vlad is properly encrypting i——"
"Who do you think I am?"
Mari put a hand on her hip and raised her chin as if to look down on Ouka.
It wasn't that Ouka forgot, and it couldn't be said that she was careless.
Despite all that happened, Mari was a quite renowned witch and was said to be a specialist when it came to attack magic.
Even as she was overpowered by her gaze, Ouka directed the brunt of her anger towards Vlad.
《"...I hast told thou many times that doing this is unprofessional."》
Vlad said with a tone of voice as if he was in a bad mood.
《"Don't give me that! This is a top level secret!"》
"I said, you're leaking it all over."
Having an index finger thrust at her nose, Ouka bent backwards.
As she tried to find an excuse after all the time that passed, Mari's expression softened.
She stopped staring and made an amazed expression.
"I don't really blame you. After hearing you earlier, it's not like I don't understand your not wanting to confuse everyone."
"But, no shouldering it alone! You're absolutely telling everyone!"
Ouka intended to say she was going to do that anyway, but kept silent.
I would be acting like Takeru, she thought.
"Let's talk with Takeru first. I'll go with you."
Standing proud, Mari wouldn't back down no matter what.
Ouka relaxed her shoulders and reluctantly agreed on going with Mari.
Ouka and Mari came to Takeru's room and told him about the document.
Told that Ootori Sougetsu whom the Heretic Alliance should overthrow was the God of this world, and in front of the truth that this world will perish if he's killed, Takeru——
"Is that so."
" "............" "
"............a god, huh. I see."
Put his hand on his chin, convinced, took a sip of bottled water that was put on the bedside and closed the cap.
" "............" "
Astonished, Ouka and Mari looked at Takeru's reaction and,
" "That's all?!" "
They leaned over, retorting.
Takeru sitting in the bed had bent backwards in surprise.
The two were unable to understand why was this man more surprised by a retort than the truth that "Ootori Sougetsu is a god".
"G-got nothing else to say?! He's a god, a GOD! Is it too crazy for you to comprehend or something?!"
"If we kill that man the world will perish! The Heretic Alliance's goal is to stop the war, but the operation of getting rid of the highest priority target won't end with just 'a few' casualties you know?!"
As the two drew closer to him, Takeru smiled wryly and scratched his cheek soundly.
Their expressions turned into those of disbelief more and more.
"W-well, I'm still surprised but... honestly, with things like Mythologic World, collision of worlds, Sacred Treasures, we've been involved with too many surreal and you get used it... I guess?"
" "As if!" "
He ended up apologizing reflexively, Takeru was always being himself.
Meanwhile, Lapis emerged beside Ouka and Mari.
"As expected of my Host. That imperturbable dignity even in face of the world's truth. I am proud to be your sword."
*clap* *clap* *clap*, while applauding Lapis said so expressionlessly.
"You, stop flirting at weird times!! Can it be that you knew about it?!
"I didn't know. I wasn't interested why did Ootori Sougetsu want the power for killing gods... I was fine as long as I could fuse with my Host. But, thinking well about it, it all makes sense if his goal is suicide."
"So what if it does make sense, what are we gonna do?! We can't kill him you know?!"
When Ouka asked Lapis that, Takeru who was in bed made a meek look.
"Our goal isn't killing Chairman. What we were talking about, was that we might have to kill him in order to save Kiseki and to stop the war."
"Y...you're right, but it doesn't change the fact that our options to resolve it have narrowed."
"I guess. But on the other hand, knowing his goal, we can focus on not killing him no matter what."
What he said was simple, but can they do anything about that man without killing him? They didn't know too well why was he this world's God in the first place.
In the document, it was written about the Fragment of Mythological World they have reached and was real, but there were no reasons or circumstances in which Sougetsu had become the God.
Just the facts were written briefly in the document.
Ootori Sougetsu is a God.
That was all.
"Even if he's a God, it's not like he can do anything he wants. Otherwise he wouldn't go so roundabout when it comes to destroying the world. Stopping the war without killing him and saving Kiseki should be possible."
"Well, as for the approach it's not something I can think of alone, we need to think of it all together. That's what Heretic Alliance is for after all."
Neither Ouka nor Mari knew Takeru could act this positively.
He only looked ahead. It was mysterious just how reassuring that was.
In particular Ouka had received the biggest shock upon learning the fact killing Sougetsu would make the world perish.
She clenched her fist and faced downwards in frustration.
"...Takeru, are you satisfied with that?"
"Can you allow that man to live endlessly without paying him back?"
Takeru faced down just for a moment in response to Ouka's words, but soon after he made a smile.
"——I'll pay him back by not killing him. Living endlessly is hell for that bastard isn't it. So, let's have him live forever."
Hearing that, Ouka recalled that killing Sougetsu wouldn't be paying him back.
Above all, Takeru's goal wasn't revenge. He was different from Ouka who had no one to save.
It wasn't that he was broad-minded or tolerant.
This man is just straightforward.
"Whatever Chairman is, what we have to do doesn't change."
Who cares about the truth of the world.
Who cares about the origins of the world.
Who cares about what is a god.
The truth that Mineshiro Kazuma desperately tried to obtain, the truth that Kurogane Hayato desperately tried to hide, the truth that Ootori Sougetsu was the foundation of the world.
This man——couldn't care less about it.
The three teams from the Heretic Alliance have gathered in the lobby in order to make advance arrangements on what they should do in the future.
First of all, the explanation of the content written in Mineshiro Kazuma's document was necessary.
Takeru was the one explaining.
The exclusion of Ootori Sougetsu from the targets for assassination. What should be done in order to stop the war was defeating the commanders of the invasion, Mother Goose and Kusanagi Orochi. He also explained that Kusanagi Kiseki, who is the Inquisition's ultimate weapon should be stopped.
That was all he explained.
Everyone stood astonished.
Takeru had recognized the fact that Ootori Sougetsu was a God as "There's a need to change the strategy".
Of course, 35th Platoon aside, it wasn't like the members of Pureblood Party or the Gods' Embers accepted it with "Oh, is that so".
At first it was "you must be joking, right?", then it continued with "What do we do...".
"If the opponent is a god, how do we deal with him...?"
"I don't really know myself, but isn't it fine to continue as we were?"
Takeru said that seriously to the speechless members of Pureblood Party.
"No way, is he even someone we can stand against...? If he's a god, he can blow someone like us away with a mere swing of a hand..."
"Hmm, if he could do that, wouldn't he do so right from the start? Or rather, I guess he has no need to do so. I mean, his goal is suicide."
" " " " "............" " " " "
All the Pureblood Party members stood astounded at once.
What's with this guy acting carefree... does he have a screw lose in his head?
And even more so than the Pureblood Party, the problem were Gods' Embers.
From the point of look of their religious beliefs, the words "Ootori Sougetsu is this world's God." were a blasphemy above all else. To them who believed in a God who wasn't a magical organism, this high-level existence that couldn't be recognized as a human was enough to despair.
Quiet Sixth Miko's Guard Troops held their hands together to pray. Some were sorrowful, some looked stunned as they stared into the air, there were various reactions.
But the captain, Mikado Yuzuho was different. With her usual resolute attitude she struck the floor with the spear's handle.
"I see. So Ootori Sougetsu is a magical organism."
With these words, the girls of the Sixth Guard Troop raised their heads.
Despite receiving the truth that Ootori Sougetsu was a God, Yuzuho wasn't upset.
"And that magical organism holds the life of this world itself... is that all the information you received?"
Takeru nodded in response to Yuzuho's words.
"Then it's natural to exclude him from the targets to eliminate. Let's concentrate the operation on stopping the Valhalla's leaders and Hyakki Yakou. With that, the war will mostly end."
When Takeru responded with a smile, Yuzuho nodded satisfied.
Yuzuho spoke to surprised members of the personal guard.
"The almighty God we believe in is not a magical organism like Ootori Sougetsu. He encompasses many different worlds and resides in higher dimension outside the reach of human knowledge, we believe in the God that watches over our fate."
" " " "............" " " "
"If you are true believers, you shouldn't despair because of the existence of a magical organism that devours the life of this world."
Then she re-sat on the sofa once again and said to Takeru, "Allow me say this, though".
"Please stop calling Ootori Sougetsu a 'god'. It's unpleasant. That thing should be recognized as a mere magical organism. In the first place, a God is——"
"Ookaay, I get it!"
Since it seemed like she would go on for a while, Takeru interrupted it early.
Putting both his hands on the table, Takeru stood up.
"War has already began. We've no time, not enough forces. But we've already decided what to do."
It was questionable whether they should nod in approval in response to Takeru's words.
Rushing in without having anything resolved was foolish. It was just a suicide attack. Their defeat was clear.
But as Takeru said, there was no time. If the war continues, at this rate the world will definitely be destroyed. Whether they kill Sougetsu or not, the result will be the same.
First, stopping the war is top priority.
"Thinking about it now is a waste of time. Let's do what we can."
That's what Takeru learned from the battles until now, and from his comrades.
This alliance's team was a hybrid troop. They need to fight in their own fields of specialization.
Takeru understood that well.
There was still no contact from the Heretic Alliance's members who have evacuated from the headquarters. What Takeru and others knew, was that they were in a very distant place.
The intelligence gathering troops that were dispatched to the city before the war began couldn't be contacted either and the alliance members on the scene didn't know anything.
In other words, the only ones among the Heretic Alliance who could cooperate were the three teams in here.
They could only look from the distance at what was happening in the city, but it was clear that it had turned into hell.
Most likely, the ones who had the advantage were Valhalla with their surprise attack.
At this rate, if the Inquisition is cornered...
Inevitably, they will have Hyakki Yakou enter the battle.
If that happens, Takeru will witness the nightmare for the third time.
He didn't want to see that kind of thing ever again.
Takeru dressed himself, and tried to leave the room in order to head to the battlefield with his comrades.
The moment he opened the door, his vision shook.
When he staggered from dizziness strong enough to make him fall over, someone supported him from the side.
"Be quiet. I should be able to ease it a little."
As she lent him a shoulder, Mari put her hand on Takeru's forehead.
Her hand on his head was tinged with heat and glowed faintly.
"Among the types of charm magic, there's one that acts as a sedative... it'll suppress your brain's activity a little."
"...you, noticed huh."
Takeru said that with a tired expression.
Even as he tried to stand, he couldn't find any strength in his legs. It seemed like he's going to put all his weight on Mari's small body.
Mari furrowed her eyebrows and while firmly supporting him, she continued using magic.
"For your information, everyone at least noticed that your state is strange long ago. I came because I'm the only one who can ease you, Takeru."
"Everyone knows already that you're a guy who won't listen despite the state you're in. That's why everyone does what they can. They're preparing for battle."
The hand on his forehead had slid down to his cheek.
Mari's pupils moved closer.
"See, I too... actually want to stop fighting and hide somewhere in the mountains together until the world perishes. Right now, even if just by a second, I want cherish the time with everyone... with you."
"...I think so too."
"But, you're going to fight, right? There's no stopping you, right?"
He didn't apologize.
"In that case, we won't let you die... we'll protect you...! That's what we can do...!"
We won't stop you, she meant.
Everyone must have wanted to stop him. Usagi, Ikaruga, Mari, Ouka...
They didn't want Takeru to fight. The opponents were the most powerful leaders of Valhalla, Hyakki Yakou that devours the world and a God on top of it.
There was no perspective of winning.
Despite what he said, Takeru was aware of that.
Bravado, unfeeling, accustoming, neither of those applied to him.
However, there was no choice but to do it. Unless he does it, he won't get what he wants.
Who would stop the man who thinks like that. Who would reject such selfish wish.
What his comrades could do, was only lending him a hand.
Takeru too after all this time wouldn't tell them not to come. Right now, he fully relied on his comrades. He even relied on them too much.
That's why, even in this state, he thought of himself as a person happy from the bottom of his heart.
Since he sought even greater happiness than this, there was no wonder he was ridiculed as an idiot by Mari and other comrades.
"Let's go together... everyone, together..."
Mari embraced Takeru as he smiled powerlessly.
He didn't start acting reckless today.
Despite being aware that he only troubled his comrades, he felt guilty for not being able to back down.
The battle was beginning.
Most likely, it was a fierce battle like nothing he had experienced until now——