"...This feels a little strange."
While staring at the chaos beneath, Ootori Sougetsu felt a slight discomfort. Now that Takeru knew his identity as the God of this world, he could no longer act roundabout like he used to.
It was necessary to direct Takeru's hatred towards himself. The method was simple. Have Kiseki kill his comrades and then have her suicide. That's when Takeru will lose his sanity and become a complete God-Hunter out of his own will.
Along with the God's death, the world will be destroyed.
That was the scenario Sougetsu came up with. The greatest destruction he had desired.
Originally he was supposed to keep the fact of him being the God a secret, and have Takeru kill him while unaware of that fact.
His schedule went crazy. It was because of that traitor, the ex-captain of EXE, Mineshiro Kazuma. Although Sougetsu broke Mineshiro's fangs, they ended up falling right beside Sougetsu's heart.
Still, that did not mean things wouldn't go the way Sougetsu wanted them to. He knew the nature of the man called Kusanagi Takeru, his attachment to his comrades, his love for his little sister. If Sougetsu robbed Takeru of these, Taker would surely come to kill him.
That's why the information provided by Mineshiro Kazuma was not a problem.
If there was a problem, it would be...
"That intent to kill was normal."
The murderous intent Takeru directed towards him.
That killing intent was a problem.
Although Takeru did direct a real killing intent at him before, it always included "hesitation". In the current state, with his comrades and sister alive, he definitely wouldn't kill the God. That's why it was natural for him to hesitate in his intent to kill.
"............But that's the real thing."
He felt it when Takeru screamed his name, a chill that stung his skin. That was certainly, a manifestation of the real intent to kill.
——It felt just like the intent to kill Kusanagi Orochi had directed towards him.
"...It can't be."
Sougetsu paled in confusion.
Orochi was dead. His goal and Takeru's goal could not overlap with each other no matter what, he knew that ever since he first met Takeru. That's why he knew Takeru would come back when he was kidnapped to Magic Academy by Orochi.
He was also convinced that Orochi would not tell Takeru the truth about his identity. Orochi was not a fool. He knew that there was no need to tell Takeru the truth considering they would fight one another.
On the other hand, he could also assert that Orochi would not kill Takeru. He, who lost Kusanagi Mikoto would not bring himself to kill a relative. Moreover, because of the contract with Gungnir, Orochi's body was at its limits and he had no power or time left to oppose a God-Slayer. That's why rather than to destroy Takeru and Mistilteinn, he would rather use the remaining power he had to become a God.
Takeru learning of the world's truth should have been a miscalculation from Orochi's and Gungnir's point of view as well. The number of their opponents increased and they ended up battling against one another, resulting in their power running out and defeat. As a result, as the one with destruction as his goal, Sougetsu was able to get rid of the most vigilant enemy, which had benefited him.
However, a thought that he might have been wrong, had appeared in his head just now.
——It might have been the worst miscalculation so far.
Sougetsu's miscalculation was not being there, when Takeru killed Orochi.
There was no mistake that Orochi had died.
If they interacted afterwards and Orochi with Gungnir had given something to Takeru——
If it was something connected to Takeru's killing intent——
Sougetsu squinted, passing through his head was the last moment of Hoshijiro Nagaru.
Hoshijiro Nagaru, who was the same mythological existence as him, had given up her life to slow him down back on the fragment of the mythological world.
She gave up her life to slow him down.
He noticed, and realized that he should have hurried.
Hoshijiro Nagaru had decided that it was worth exchanging her life to retain him on the fragment of mythological world. If Hoshijiro Nagaru was in contact with Orochi, there might have been a reason for her to give up her life in there. No, even if they weren't, Hoshijiro Nagaru might have predicted what was happening and gave up her life.
There was a possibility that Orochi, Nagaru and even Gungnir have intended to do this right from the start. In case they were unable to alter the world themselves, they would entrust it to Takeru and others.
Back then for just a few hours, Sougetsu wasn't here, in this world.
He did not know what happened in here.
And while he wasn't there, the two fought, and Orochi was beaten.
Orochi died. But what about Gungnir? Did that fox perish along with Orochi? What if she was not destroyed, but cancelled the contract and survived?
And what did she give them, while he wasn't here?
What was it?
As the truth came to his mind, Sougetsu's mouth formed an arc, but he grit his teeth at the same time.
The only thing that gave right to become the God was Gungnir which had combined the performance of God-Hunting and Deification. The god-slaying Sacred Treasure Lævateinn did not have the deification function.
Mistilteinn too, was merely a reproduction of Gungnir. A faulty reproduction that had only copied the god-slaying characteristics. As a countermeasure against gods, it was made to "Absorb Magic Power" that gods had.
A degraded copy, that was a suitable name for it. The only thing the old humanity required, was the Sacred Treasure's ability of "God-Hunting". That was enough.
However, what if using 《Twilight Enchant》 Mistilteinn had absorbed God's Authority and used it without converting to its own magic power?
What if Mistilteinn was given the operative procedure for "Deification" from Gungnir?
——Would it not become possible for Kusanagi Takeru and Mistilteinn to become the God of this world?
The probability was small. A demon's soul and a real Sacred Treasure were one thing, but a demon's soul and a Sacred Treasure's replica combination didn't make it sound realistic.
However, he could not state it was impossible.
Sougetsu opened his eyes wide and covered his face with one hand.
"Ha... hahaha... What a system... It never goes as I want it to, this world....!"
He cursed this world's system.
Created as a god-slaying being he was supposed to have destroyed humans along gods. However, gods have put on futile resistance and caused the collision of worlds resulting in a chaotic world where god's and human's worlds have intermingled.
Sougetsu considered this world abominable, yet loved it at the same time. Considering the meaning of his life was to kill gods, destroying this world which was filled with magic that was a godly element, had become his reason to live.
With great joy he had been aiming for this world destruction. However, once again obstructing his destruction, was the legacy of gods.
At this rate, everything would repeat itself. And there was a possibility of defeat.
The world will continue to exist, despite being a step away from destruction.
Sougetsu relaxed his body and looked up at the dark, cloudy sky.
Destruction had become distant.
His wish had become distant.
If Takeru and Mistilteinn kill Sougetsu and become the God, the world will continue to exist.
To bring destruction upon this time, there was no choice but to draw and die simultaneously.
It wasn't realistic. He couldn't leave this world's destruction up to a draw.
Sougetsu only bet when he was playing around with human hearts.
He would never bet with his wish.
He clapped his hands and looked away from the sky.
Having his wish right in front of him just earlier, Sougetsu decided to stop reaching out to it.
Mistilteinn and Kusanagi Takeru.
The only means for him to kill himself. One and only existence in this world capable of destroying this world.
That's how important a chess piece Takeru was for Sougetsu.
A mere weapon of suicide, a pathetic, pitiful pawn that danced like Sougetsu wanted him to... was to stop his destruction and become the God?
It was too ridiculous, therefore——
"So, I just have to kill you."
——I will crush you with all I have, Sougetsu vowed.
A wind blown upwards from the ground, swaying his hair.
Spreading his both arms, he looked down on Takeru. The circumstances have become reversed. Even though he was overwhelmingly advantageous when it came to battle power, it made no difference in this case. For Sougetsu personally, he was at a disadvantage.
He experienced this for the first time. Was inferiority really such dreadful thing? It was the worst. Just because of possibility of being killed, he's turned good-for-nothing. He could no longer look at things from a high perspective. If he's killed, he loses.
He had no choice but to continue living.
Sougetsu picked a draw.
"Killing you and aiming for destruction anew doesn't sound too bad. Mmm, it might even be fun."
He chose to continue.
"The old humanity has accomplished replication of a Sacred Treasure... one day it should become possible again. I will make it possible...!"
The real goal in creating of Relic Eaters was to artificially create a Sacred Treasure. To say, Relic Eaters were failed creations of Sacred Treasure. He tried to extract power from Mistilteinn, but it turned out impossible to do without contracting with a person who had a non-human soul.
Therefore Sougetsu tried to make it come true with the remaining gods' power inside him.
But in the end, it was his own power. A Gods' logic was that they could not kill themselves. With Sougetsu's power itself, it was impossible to draw out a God-Hunter's power.
That's why instead of creating a Sacred Treasure, he made Takeru and Mistilteinn form a contract, trying to kill himself using them. Thinking of it now, it was a mistake.
That mistake followed further. Women of Kusanagi household inherited only the body of demons, not knowing they did not inherit demons' souls he first made Mistilteinn contract with Kusanagi Mikoto which resulted with Mistilteinn forming Lapis' personality. As he thought about it, there was no end to his miscalculations.
"I guess it's my fault for being lazy. This is how it ends up. It's about time I finally learn."
Joyfully, angrily, Sougetsu reflected on this result.
And with delight, he looked forward to next destruction. If they had become an existence aiming for the seat of God, just in case, he could not leave Kusanagi Takeru and Mistilteinn alive.
That's interesting. The difficulty level went up. So far there was only victory or draw, but now a possibility of defeat appeared. As a god of destruction, he felt it become worthwhile.
"Kusanagi-kun. From now on I shall face you not as my pawn, but as my enemy."
The child of demons who had cut down countless fantastical beings, God-Hunter's contractor. If you are to take off your collar and stand up to me, I, Ootori Sougetsu shall not show mercy.
Very well. I shall break those fangs.
Sougetsu had once again spoke to them the same words. Not as the chairman of the AntiMagic Academy nor the chairman of the Inquisition——but as this world's God.
"——Come at me, you worms...!"
In the swirling darkness, on the branch of the red tree, Ootori Sougetsu made a wide cat-like smile.
Losing Kiseki's control the Hyakki Yakou stopped swallowing the world. That's what Ootori Sougetsu ordered it.
No matter how much Hyakki Yakou ruins the world, no matter how much it takes away, the world will not be destroyed. The land, the air, the sky, the entire universe will continue to exist unchanged. It was no good.
Sougetsu who chose to continue living, had aimed Hyakki Yakou not at the world, but at an individual.
At a fool who was a God-Hunter yet attempted to become the God at the same time——at Kusanagi Takeru.
Hearing Lapis' voice, Takeru stopped moving towards the big tree. The earth trembled and the ground beneath Takeru cracked.
In addition, leaves on branches of the big tree have turned into liquid and white-ish eyeballs appeared on them, countless mouths bared teeth and let out ear-splitting screams as the leaves turned into deformed monsters.
Even as they killed them, there were countless more. They continued to flow in from ahead.
"Haa... haa... there's no end to them...!"
Firing aurora bullets, Usagi made way by erasing the demon army in front of them.
Every time they moved forward, Hyakki Yakou had flowed down on them.
Still, they were able to proceed. If they move closer to the tree little by little, to where Kiseki is——they will be able to reach Ootori Sougetsu.
《"Kusanagi! Hyakki Yakou is acting strange! The spread cells are converging in one point!"》
Ouka reported from the sky through the magic connection.
"What do you mean...?!"
"Don't know, but be careful... the concentrating bits are——"
She paused there, and descended from the sky towards Takeru.
The moment Ouka landed, the vibrations beneath that spread every time Hyakki Yakou wriggled had come to stop.
Silence. Silence appearing in this situation felt nothing but sinister.
About five meters in front of Takeru something was wriggling inside the crack.
It was a life-sized demon that looked like a woman.
Clad in dark red miasma thick enough to be visible with the naked eye. Her hair was long enough to reach the ground and she had four arms with long claws. She had cracked pale skin, unthinkable to be that of a human's. Her appearance wearing a blood-stained white kimono made Takeru think of an ancient princess.
She wasn't a cell with undetermined form nor incarnation and felt like a proper individual.
Her appearance was somewhat reminiscent of Kiseki, but Takeru understood at a glance that her essence was completely different.
A fear he had never felt before had penetrated him from his feet up to his brain.
This one's dangerous. Takeru's soul warned him to run away, and at the same time unconsciously called for him to destroy it. He did not know why was his soul so contradictory, but it was something caused by the fact he was born into the bloodline called "Kusanagi".
The clan of demon-hunters, Kusanagi.
And the variant that appeared in front of him——could only be described as a "demon".
It wasn't a demon like Kiseki or other Kusanagi women, where they became ones as a result of curse. The curse was kneaded and hardened and concentrated on one point, completing this variant.
She wasn't part of Kiseki's body, more like the root of Kiseki's power, the source of Hyakki Yakou. The curse put on Kusanagi had reproduced a demon that was destroyed by Kusanagi's long ago.
It was just like summoning magic.
With the long hair flowing down her back, the demon opened her mouth.
Her mouth was lined with a number of small teeth, opening it so wide it seemed like her jaw was dislocated, she turned her face towards the sky. Raising a slender hand, the demon made a vermilion magic circle appear beneath her feet.
Unlike on magic circles used by Mari and others, numerous letters that seemed like cursed symbols have invaded the ground.
《"HATEFUL KUREHA CHILD OF DEMON BLOOM'D CRIMSON CHILD OF DEMON FEAST ON A WEEPING CHILD AND BLOOM CRIMSON THE PREGNANT WOMAN, THE UNBORN CHILD WHEN WILL THE CHILD OF DEMON COMETH FORTH?"》
Hyakki Yakou started chanting using old language.
It wasn't just Takeru who trembled, unable to move. The other three members of the platoon also had their conscious blown away by fear.
Takeru clenched his teeth and lowered his hips.
That thing is dangerous.
He had to stop it before activating, otherwise the entire location would be eliminated.
When Takeru yelled, trembling Ouka had came back to herself.
"——We're stopping it!"
At the same time he kicked off the ground. Closing in the distance all at once, he charged at the demon.
He didn't know where were her weaknesses, or whether they even existed in the first place. He attacked her head at full power with the full-powered Unicorn Destructive Lance.
However——before the thrust reached Hyakki Yakou, it was blocked by a red barrier.
The stake Ouka had fired right after Takeru also was defended the same way.
《"Protective barrier... so this is the "Demon" property magic...!"》
"If it's magic——then...!"
《"Activating "Twilight Enchantment"!"》
He mitigated the recoil from having his attack blocked by standing his ground, then once again charged at the Hyakki Yakou.
The blade clad in azure-colored flames had slashed onto the barrier at once.
A moment after the impact, the flames started absorbing magic.
No magic could stand up to Mistilteinn. It's all absorbed and becomes her power.
And yet, Lapis who was absorbing magic – screamed, and the 《Twilight Enchantment》 was interrupted. Demon magic power that was being absorbed had spouted from the blade. It was as if the sword had rejected and spat it out.
Again, the attack was blocked and Takeru took a step back.
"Lapis, what happened?!"
Takeru asked. Lapis answered him even while panting in pain.
《"I-I don't know... the absorbed magic power, it... it tried to erode me..."》
Although she was in the shape of a sword, he could feel Lapis tremble slightly.
This has never happened before. The undetermined ancient property "Demon". It was an unknown power that was uncertain to even be magic power. When they were in God-Hunter form nothing happened when they absorbed it, so why now...
《"...Its nature might have mutated when... the magic was formed. It's my first time seeing something like this...!"》
Even while fixing his sword stance, Takeru grit his teeth.
Absorption with enchantment was too dangerous. It was unbeatable against magical opponents so far, but no one would have thought the absorbed magic power would fight back.
Magic the demon had concentrated in its hands has formed a big reddish-black sphere. Several eyeballs have been implanted into it and it looked like a distorted meat lump reminiscent of an egg.
If it activates, probably it'll be all over. Despite being on his way to kill the God, he had his way blocked by a demon. He did not have the time to waste here, but at this rate they would be destroyed before the world is.
"It's not working! I don't know the operative procedure, so I can't pierce it...!"
Ouka moved to Hyakki Yakou's side and tried to pierce it with a stake, but everything was blocked.
"Crush it by force!"
She had the guns disappear and made a stake-releasing mechanism appear instead.
"Wait, Ouka! That barrier is——!"
Before Takeru's voice reached her, Ouka had pierced her fang into the barrier.
The fang pushed against the barrier.
《"...Such density...! But I'll force it down——!"》
Ouka focused her gaze as she attempted to break through the barrier.
Cracks appeared on the barrier as it was near breaking, but then.
——A chill ran down Ouka's back.
Eerily, an eye appeared on the tip of the fang colliding with the barrier.
Numerous eyes emerged on the fang's surface, like bubbles.
Ouka hurriedly released magic and the fang disappeared.
That decision was correct.
《"It eroded magic...!"》
Were she to continue, the fang would have been eroded by Hyakki Yakou. With its magic power eroded, even a Relic Eater would be eroded by Hyakki Yakou. If that happened, it was unknown what it would result with.
Feeling danger, Ouka tried moving away from the demon.
Seeming to have sensed Ouka's movements, the demon acted. Spreading out another pair of arms she made a magic bullet appear and stretching her hand she pressed it against Ouka. It seemed like it was possible to pass through the barrier from the inside. The female demon's arm extended and bent like a whip as it slipped through the wall.
Ouka gasped. Arms extended up to her side started glowing with vermilion color.
Ejecting magic power he closed the distance to Ouka in an instant and cut the demon's arm from above. He wasn't able to cut it off, but the arm was pushed away.
Ahead of where it extended to, the magic bullet burst out and along with a sound of a woman's scream, something that looked like a mass of human bodies had burst in all directions.
Takeru landed, raised his face, and immediately leaped again.
There was one more arm with a magic bullet in hand.
Ahead of where it extended to, were Mari and Usagi.
Seeing Ikaruga turn into an elf and try to create a barrier, Takeru yelled.
"Don't use magic! Usagi!"
Ikaruga stopped moving, instead, Usagi raised her rifle.
Adjusting her breathing to one particular for snipers, she squeezed the trigger. She fired an anti-magic bullet at the demon arm that extended while wriggling and was near them.
Were she to be late even if just by a second, the magic bullet would directly hit them and exploded. After waiting for the moment arm's movement stopped, Takeru leaped. After moving next to Usagi, he kicked away the arm powerfully.
The arm was blown upwards and the magic bullet burst in the sky.
However, this was a mistake.
Although he was able to prevent the magic bullet's explosion, there was an abnormality on his right leg he used to kick the demon's arm.
Numerous eyes appeared on the armor he had on his right leg.
Lapis instantly released the Witch-Hunter form and scattered the armor. Losing Witch-Hunter's strengthening, Takeru landed on the ground and staggered before holding his body up by using the sword instead of a cane.
The arm that was blown away had returned to Hyakki Yakou with a slithering sound.
The crystallization of demons inside the barrier that the demon was trying to activate, was already as big as a car.
Takeru breathed roughly as he thought of what to do.
《"Witch-Hunter form is also magic... it appears its invulnerable to everything else but physical attacks."》
"So we won't get eroded if we attack physically, huh."
《"Most likely. My main body that is the sword was not eroded. However..."》
Though, just by understanding that their situation did not improve. While the demon built big magic with one pair of arms, it used the other pair flexibly.
Takeru resolved himself and raised his sword. Ouka must have guessed what was he thinking, as she released the vampire form and pulled out the handgun from her waist.
"...We have to beat her without using magic."
His hand clenching the sheath trembled.
It wasn't shivering due to fear, it were convulsions. Takeru himself, no longer had the sensation of holding a sword.
The crystallization of demon's curse. Looking down at the ancient demon created by concentrating the curse, Sougetsu peeked at Kiseki standing next to him.
Demons. Beings that terrorized old Japan's ancient era, fantastical organisms destroyed by members of Kusanagi clan. Of course, Sougetsu did see them before.
However, that was merely a single demon.
Holding the undetermined ancient magic property "Demon", she was hailed as the queen of demons.
Her power, even a little of it, did erode everything in existence and created new demons. Old Japanese took this characteristic as reincarnation and feared her.
The reason Kusanagis have inherited the demons, was because their power was sealed inside Kusanagi's bloodline in order to prevent demons' resurrection. The method used for sealing it was unknown even to Sougetsu. According to a theory, onymouji's have summoned a Japanese mythology's Sacred Treasure and using it they sealed the power inside Kusanagis, but Sougetsu didn't know the details.
Soul into men. Power into women. The distribution of this seal was a desperate measure meant for preventing demons' complete revival.
Were the child be born with both a body and a soul of a demon, it would be nothing but a demon.
That seal was handed down to their descendants but kept weakening, the demon power continued to swell inside Kusanagi women's bodies' and finally reaching Kiseki, was pretty much released.
"If a being with a demon soul and body is a demon... then how do we call a demon without a soul?"
A soulless demon. As a result of Sougetsu taking control of Kiseki's soul, the empty shell of an ancient demon was unleashed from its seal and took form of that woman.
And was holding that mass of meat.
That sight was just like that of a mother's giving birth to a child.
"Now then... I have no idea what will come out. I look forward to it."
Even now, that he put away the destruction in time, Hyakki Yakou was his strongest card.
The power of demons could not kill the God, but it was enough to kill Kusanagi Takeru.
But that would be too boring.
The path of destruction is far away. The days full of entertainment are waiting.
So to start with how about we have demons return to the world, Sougetsu thought.
"What she needs inside there is... probably you... Kusanagi-kun."
It wasn't his style to act himself and he wasn't suitable for that kind o thing. Sougetsu's power as a God was scattered during the reconstruction and he didn't have much power to fight by himself.
"How convenient. Before you reach me, you will have that soul of yours stolen by a demon."
As expected, same as always, I'll just look at everything from above.
Leaning Innocentius on his shoulder, Sougetsu looked up at the sky.
A bright red moon was peeking out from behind the clouds.
He knew from the start it would be a difficult battle.
Takeru was reminded of how much did he rely on power of magic... how much he relied on Lapis.
Now that he lost the benefit of strengthening magic from Witch-Hunter form, he was about to reach his limit. It was even worse than losing sense of pain as his forcibly-moved body has been coming close to becoming unable to move.
He couldn't do anything about his trembling limbs with his will alone. Occasionally his field of view narrowed and sounds have grown distant as if he covered his ears. Aside from the physical burden, his brain was at its limits.
Even as he protected himself from the demon's claws, his body was slightly blown away.
Although he did brace himself to kill the impact, his trembling legs could not support his body and they folded. He wasn't in pain, but his heart beat fast and he was out of breath.
The demon's arms grew and with sharp nails tried to rupture Takeru.
Unable to avoid or return attack, Takeru tried to use the claymore as a shield.
Using the nanomachines Ikaruga made a shield. Although more than a shield it was more of a simple plate, the blue crystal's antimagic performance was the real thing.
After blocking the attack, Ouka immediately returned fire with handguns. Although it seemed like anti-magic weapons were effective, they did not deal any serious damage. After moving away from the arms that attacked her, the demon has remained inside the barrier and did not try to move outside.
Unable to use Vlad, Ouka tasted the same feelings as Takeru.
"Takeru, you okay?!"
While remaining wary of the demon, Ouka turned her back towards Takeru. Feeling pitiful that he cannot say he's all right, Takeru stood up by using the sword as a support.
"Sorry... I'm holding you guys back..."
"You're the one who's exhausted the most. Don't force yourself."
"Haha... y'know what you're even saying? No choice but to force myself now."
"I guess you're all right if you can waste your breath."
Damn you, he wanted to respond, but his breathing was so rough he couldn't say a word.
While maintaining a spherical barrier that covered her entire body, the demon prepared some unknown large-scale magic and protected herself from physical attacks with the second set of arms.
The moment anyone approached within ten meters of her, she swung her arms at high speed like whips.
It would be safe to say that it was a perfect defense. Despite being a demon, she fought like a witch.
The mass of meat the demon was holding in its arms grew even larger and looked reminiscent of a fetus. They had to stop it before it activated.
Although the erosion has stopped, even as the demon was casting the big magic, the leaves falling from the giant tree continued to turn into demon incarnations and attack.
Stopping them, were Mari and Ikaruga. Ikaruga created defensive barriers and Mari wiped out the demons that passed through the imperfect barriers. Mari's magic power hasn't recovered in such a short time, so just like with Mother Goose, she inscribed 《Drain》 seal on Ikaruga's body and used magic by absorbing magic power from elf-turned Ikaruga.
While deflecting attacks with whip-like arms, the demon watched their movements.
She took a stance that was completely defensive. The arm-whips with glittering nails were adjusted in our direction and set-up like a snake.
"She's coming, prepare...!"
"Usagi, how much anti-magic bullets you have left?!"
Takeru asked, and in response Usagi, who was kneeling on one knee gave her report.
"Three weiss crystal bullets."
"Focus on one spot. Anti-magic bullets should be able to pierce...!"
Weiss Crystal had the strongest material with the highest anti-magic power. It pierced through normal defenses like they were paper.
Ouka's 《Earl's Fang》 was eroded because it was magical, but a simple physical attacks aren't absorbed and make cracks in the barrier.
If fired at with a rifle and a weiss crystal bullets, it was possible they would break through.
"After Usagi fires all shots... I'll finish her off...!"
Takeru took off his uniform's necktie and wrapped it around his hand on the sword's handle, which was still trembling. After tying it tightly with his teeth, he glared at the demon.
"I'll... hunt that demon down...!"
There was an emotion inside Takeru which told him "not to forgive" the demon. It was probably the Kusanagi blood that was flowing inside his veins. The demon curse that tormented Kiseki all this time was now right in front of him, there was no reason to withhold his anger.
The demon that took shape of that woman in order to give birth to that piece of meat.
He didn't think he could cut down the curse on Kusanagi. It wasn't like the demon inside Kiseki would disappear.
And yet, there was no choice but to defeat it here.
"It's reckless... is what I can't say. Show me what you've got, captain."
Still turned with her back to him, Ouka instigated Takeru. He furrowed his eyebrows and made a bitter smile.
How nostalgic, he thought. They were the words Ouka said to Takeru when they went out on the first mission. They did really well to survive so far.
"We can't hold out much longer! It's up to you, Takeru!"
"To think I would end up becoming a fuel tank... Kusanagi, give me a massage once we're home."
Receiving Mari's and Ikaruga's encouragement, Takeru raised the sword.
"I will not miss at this distance. Leave it to me."
Usagi put the second weiss crystal bullet in her mouth and pulled the bolt.
《"Ready any time, Host."》
Having his back pushed by Lapis, Takeru nodded.
He lowered his waist to gather power in it and took a posture twisting his bones and muscles.
Closing his eyes, he slightly loosened his concentration. He stopped controlling the brain functions just a little, releasing the double-edged power.
Sound grew distant, the world has turned slow. Smell disappeared, other sensations in his body were already gone.
When he got rid of everything that obstructed him——Takeru opened his eyes.
Immediately after, Ouka moved forward.
Rushing in while holding a shield and a handgun she attracted the demon's attacks.
Along with a sound of air being cut, an arm extended like a whip and slashed at Ouka with claws. The blue crystal shield absorbed the attack excellently, though a normal shield would be cut apart like a piece of cake and Ouka would have been blown away by the impact.
And yet, it withstood. Even if just for a short time, it gave them the moment required for victory.
While protecting herself from the demon's furious attacks Ouka cried out. Usagi squeezed the trigger, releasing weiss crystal bullet. A sound of bursting has come out and a pure white bullet point approached the barrier.
It landed on the barrier. However, it only caused the barrier to undulate like water's surface and did not break it.
There was no time to feel shaken. Usagi loaded another bullet.
While the empty case danced in the air, the demon's arm that had been aiming at Ouka had bent again and stretched for Usagi this time.
Ouka attacked the arms with handguns, but with just a handgun-level of firepower she was unable to change their trajectory.
Takeru didn't move. Retaining his stance he continued to gather strength.
——The reason he didn't move, was because he believed in his comrades.
Momentarily, a mithril wall appeared in front of Usagi. The demon's claw pierced into the mithril wall and it stopped.
It was Ikaruga. Using nanomachines she converted the ground beneath Usagi into anti-magic material and built a wall. In exchange, the barrier she has been maintaining has disappeared. Using nanomachines while maintaining the barrier was s till impossible for Ikaruga.
Mari replied and used Ikaruga's magic power in order to expand a barrier instead of her. The tsunami of Hyakki Yakou demon's incarnations that tried to break through was halted again.
At the same time, Usagi acted. Peeking out from behind the mithril wall in front of her, she fired.
Bullet landed. Of course, right on target. And yet, there was no change in the barrier.
Usagi pulled out the the last bullet from her mouth and put it inside the gun.
She believed. She believed that this one shot will connect them to victory. That's why she did not hesitate.
It's the sniper who always overturns the current battle situation. Next bullet loaded. The demon moved before the last shot was released and attacked Usagi along with bizarre scream.
Usagi didn't move. She focused on firing the bullet.
——Because she believed.
Ouka slipped in from the side to Usagi and prevented the attack with a shield. As a result of blocking it, the blue crystal shield shattered.
The enemy's claws approached Ouka's open belly.
But she did not resolve herself to die or anything.
——Because she believed.
Usagi's beloved gun, Rabbit Fang peeked out from below Ouka's armpit.
Looking only in front, Usagi squeezed the trigger.
The last bullet was fired and flew straight for the barrier.
The sound of barrier crumbling had echoed. Usagi's last bullet passed through the slight opening in the barrier which cracked away.
It passed through the barrier——and pierced into the demon's forehead.
The demon's scream reverberated inside everyone's ears. The claw which was about to slash Ouka had deviated from its trajectory and only scratched her forehead.
However——the demon was alive and the large-scale magic wasn't interrupted. The barrier was also maintained.
While breaking through the barrier, the bullet's power dropped and it wasn't sufficient.
No——none of them would give up just because of this.
Everyone in here——believed in him.
"Well done, Usagi."
Usagi smiled proudly as she glared at the demon.
These were the words she heard many times already. This time too, she smiled as if to say "naturally".
Takeru's eyes, who has been standing still behind Usagi, have shined red in the faint darkness.
The strength he gathered has resulted in loud crackling noises, ready for release. He no longer felt pain. Even though his body was broken, his bright eyes showed that his will was not.
He let it out.
The power that defined him——his swordsmanship.
Kicking off the ground, Takeru set free the gathered energy. Taking advantage of the springs all over his body he charged at Hyakki Yakou.
Inside the slow-motion world Takeru felt his bones crack, but he had no time to bother with that.
Concentrating his power in a single point he struck the barrier. Takeru screwed in the sword inside the gap through which the bullet has passed.
With a loud sound, the crackle made by Usagi in the barrier has spread throughout the barrier.
Hyakki Yakou has wound back the arms it used to attack Usagi and Ouka, to use them to push Takeru away from the barrier. But her attack was hindered by Usagi and Ouka.
The sword and the barrier collided, struggling against each other.
It wasn't enough. He needed one more decisive step until the barrier is completely crushed.
Takeru squinted and instructed Lapis.
"Lapis, a kodachi...!"
Lapis responded to his order and had a kodachi appear in mid-air.
Takeru caught the kodachi with his left hand and——pierced the crack in the barrier with it.
Taking his hand off the small kodachi stuck in the barrier, he stepped in with his left leg.
"Double-Edged style——Monk with Iron mallet!"
And with strong momentum he thrust his left knee, hitting the handle of the pierced-in kodachi. All in order to spread out the crack and crush the barrier in front of him.
Cracks spread through the barrier. Takeru hit twice, thrice in a row with his knee.
Finally the barrier broke and there was nothing separating the demon and Takeru.
The demon bared her teeth and let out a bizarre scream.
Catching the kodachi that had been released into open air, Takeru sharply squinted.
After pulling back her arms, the demon tried to respond to Takeru who was in front of her. She was fast. Seeing how he broke through the barrier, she must have recognized him as a top priority target to kill.
The distance between them was mere five meters. It was too far for him to reach with a sword, he wasn't close enough and he had to get closer.
Two pairs of claws aimed straight for Takeru's neck. Their reach and speed were higher than his. He was unable to catch up to that speed without strengthening.
However, Kusanagi Double-Edged style was swordsmanship for hunting demons.
It was swordsmanship for countering demons who were stronger, better-built and faster.
Takeru coped with the threat like it was natural.
"——Ghost Light Firefly!"
This was the perfect technique for exchanging blows with a monster while not in Witch Hunter form. Even though Takeru's speed could catch up with the demon's speed, his body could not. That's why he predicted the attacks and received them with the minimum necessary movements.
Then by parrying and utilizing the recoil, he increased the power and speed of his own sword. The stronger the opponent was, the faster the opponent was, the stronger and faster he became.
The demon's claws were tremendously fast and powerful.
"So this is about what's a demon worth...!"
She was overwhelmingly inferior to the enemies Takeru has fought so far. Haunted, Kurogane Hayato, Kusanagi Orochi. The difference between her and those monsters was like heaven and earth.
Kusanagi utilized the demons' power in order to surpass them. Takeru inherited that blood and that way of life. Normal monsters had no longer any chance of winning against Kusanagi Takeru. Even with just his own body, he had countermeasures against them.
"Don't underestimate the Kusanagi...!"
While increasing his speed as if engraving a rhythm, Takeru howled.
His speed exceeded the demon's speed, his slashes' power surpassed that of demon's.
Takeru stopped parrying and repelled the demon's claws. Because of the rebound, her arm had been greatly blown away and her bosom was open.
She desperately tried to protect herself. Matching Takeru's attack timing she brought back her both arms and crossed them.
But contrary to the demon's expectations——Takeru's attack didn't follow.
In silence the demon maintained the large-scale magic, unmoving as it defended herself. The moment she released her defense by uncrossing her arms——
——Takeru put the sword in the sheath and lowering his hips he pulled it out all at once.
He reduced the tempo and immediately unleashed a full-body blow. By shifting the timing of the attack he chose the certain opening. Taking to the heart what Orochi had taught him, Takeru used it in practice.
Kusanagi Double-Edged style's Heavenly Demon. The second fastest and certain finisher in the Double-Edged style, right after the secret art.
Thanks to Usagi's bullet piercing through the barrier and hitting the enemy, Takeru understood how strong she was.
There was no need for excessive strength.
——The strike which didn't even let out a sound, has ended in the blink of an eye.
While grasping the pulled out sword, Takeru faced forward with his breathing paused.
The vermilion magic circle expanded beneath the demon had faded away and disappeared without a sound.
While still raising her hands up, the female demon's head has started sliding down and fell to the ground.
Behind him he could tell Ouka and Usagi exhaled.
Takeru too, restarted breathing he had stopped.
——Something touched his cheek.
He immediately raised his head and found what has touched him.
It was——the thing the female demon was trying to activate. Unable to maintain its body, it turned into a melting mass of flesh. The thing which appeared like a freshly-born fetus took Takeru's head in both hands and brought its dead-looking, huge face closer.
A failure of a demon child. The unknown product of magic that the female demon was trying to activate. It showed its last attempt to resurrect itself into this world.
Takeru couldn't move even though he wanted to.
The reason for that was because his touched cheek has already started its erosion. He could hear the voice of his comrades screaming behind him, but the screams faded away. The erosion wasn't affecting his body.
Takeru felt his consciousness leaving his body.
Before he could understand it was what was called "soul", a voice sounded in his head.
Give it back.
Was that the will of the demon whose body and soul were divided and sealed?
What the demon child desired from Takeru, was his soul.
He had no way to resist. Just like Mari's control over her soul was easily taken away by Sougetsu, he too could do nothing. The soul was absolute and at the same time, uncertain.
Takeru's soul was attracted to the demon child. It was because that was how he ought to be. The demon soul was attempting to return to demon body. That was all.
In the deepest darkness, his existence has been attracted. Throwing his narrow body he flowed into a wide space. From a dark space, into a darker space.
The cramped feeling he had sensed ever since he was a child, disappeared.
The demon soul in human body. That inconsistency was being corrected. If at this rate his soul will combine with demon body, Hyakki Yakou will be truly unleashed. The gathered curse would grow exponentially and it would resurrect with power so mighty, it would be incomparable to the time when it was destroyed several thousands years ago.
Dragged by the soul, as his consciousness as a human was about to disappear and turn back into that of a demon.
Someone caught his arm.
A soul had no arm. And yet, he felt it was grasped by a warm hand.
《"I won't give this person to you."》
A nostalgic voice.
《"As long as I'm here, I won't let you make a single scratch on his soul."》
A voice he was used to hearing.
《"Host's soul is already connected to me. It is no longer yours."》
Although there was no feelings in it, power grew in him just by listening to it.
The consciousness he was losing, was returning.
He was pulled back, back to the cramped space.
His own, comfortable body.
《"Give him back. This person is my Host. Don't touch him with your filthy hands, monster."》
Yeah... that's right.
Indeed. I won't give it to anyone, I won't let anyone take it.
I'm host yours only, and,
You are a sword, mine alone——Lapis.
At the same time Takeru opened his eyes, he held the handle tied to his hand and thrust it at the piece of meat that was covering him.
The demon let out a filthy scream and squiggled with its tentacles. Apparently while his soul was being pulled in, he was being swallowed by the piece of meat.
His eyes met with the demon child's. He glared back at the demon's red eyes devoid of will, with his own red eyes shining with will.
"As long as we're here, neither Kiseki nor I will let you bastards do as you want... Shut up and get lost...! If not, I'll cut you down...!!"
While piercing the sword deeply Takeru twisted the sword to scratch the wound. A scream roared and the demon child grew fangs in survival instinct, then tried to bite Takeru. It wanted desperately to be released from its seal. Takeru whose entire body aside from his arm was immobilized by the demon flesh had clenched his teeth to endure it.
——Takeru, protect yourself!
When he started to lose himself, he heard a voice.
His sharpened consciousness has sensed a presence.
Something was coming directly from above!
《"Host, defense! I'm activating Witch-Hunter form!"》
Ignoring the enemy's characteristic of absorbing magic power, Lapis wrapped Takeru's body with armor. As told to by Lapis with a panicked voice, Takeru pulled out the right arm from inside the demon child and guarded himself upwards.
"Kusanagi Double-Edged style——Mantis Slope!"
A tremendous impact assaulted Takeru's sword.
At the same time, the mass of meat that was covering him was blown away by the shockwave.
Takeru withstood that shockwave and fell on his knees.
Thanks to that, he was released. Takeru raised his head while confirming his body was all right.
And there was,
"...You owe me, Takeru."
There was a girl who muttered that as she confirmed Takeru was safe. He couldn't see her face since it was shadowed, but he opened his mouth and spoke her name.
In that moment. The city swallowed by red meat and the giant demon tree have suffered numerous explosions.
It looked like flame was spreading.
As tremendous heat and light caused him to squint, a roaring sound passed through the sky. He looked up to see what's going on, and saw three aircrafts pulling a tail of smoke behind them as they moved towards the giant demon tree.
While Takeru stood there in shock, Kanaria shook off the meat sticking to Lævateinn and made a sullen expression.
"Reinforcements from Inquisition's branch. Kanata persuaded them to come."
"So, they're allies...?"
"Temporarily. There's much more coming."
As Kanaria said that, a sound of rotors came from behind him.
After the fighters retreated from the big tree while avoiding attacks, about thirty combat helicopters and transport helicopters have approached Takeru and others.
Helicopters wiped out the demon incarnations from the surroundings with hydra rockets. The demon incarnations and stretching waves of tentacles have attacked them, but magic barriers have covered helicopters hindering the attacks. Most likely sorcerers and witches from the Heretic Alliance riding in the helicopters were in charge of defense.
Dragoons were released from transport helicopters and the moment they landed, they started battling with incarnations. Following them, sorcerers and witches got off and started supporting Dragoons.
It weren't just members of the Heretic Alliance. It was the Inquisition cooperating with Heretic Alliance.
It was an unbelievable sight. Witches and Inquisition temporarily cooperating.
Out of one of three helicopters that came down beside Mari and Ikaruga, showing herself from the boarding hatch was the Heretic Alliance's vice-leader, Oonogi Kanata.
The combat staff of the Heretic Alliance followed Kanata and got down while wary, after which the rescue teams ran up to Mari and Ikaruga. Sage and Yuzuho were also together with them.
"We will maintain this location, everyone cooperate and stop Hyakki Yakou's assault! Enemy will push again soon, take off immediately after collecting the rescuees! Hurry!"
Holding the intercom against her ear, Kanata gave orders to her subordinates. Accompanied by the rescue team, she walked beside Takeru.
Her grim expression quickly returned to that of a meddlesome big sister.
"Everyone's all right... is what I cannot say, but I'm glad you're alive."
"Oonogi-san... I-is this all your doing?"
"Yes. Hyakki Yakou's directly targeted Shikoku, Kyūshū and Honshū branches, and except for a few forces they were all completely destroyed. The reinforcement team heading for the capital were moving around in confusion so I called them."
Called them. Did Inquisition really cooperate with heretics just because she called them? Takeru wondered.
"Now that the chain of command has collapsed, it matters not whether we are Inquisition or Heretic Alliance. Everyone wants the same, doing something about this situation."
Certainly, it was as Kanata said. In this situation where it seemed like the world was ending, it mattered not whether they were Inquisitors or witches. Both groups had no choice but to cooperate.
A little relieved, Takeru softened his stiff expression.
"...As expected of an ex-EXE member."
"Currently EXE has the role of supervising Inquisitors, so considering the higher-ups are dead even I have the command."
When she said that while puffing up her chest with a "he-hen",
"——You have no commanding authority. You were expulsed from EXE."
A voice came from behind her back.
Kanata's boastful expression collapsed and she made a displeased one.
"...Well, that's true. In fact, if not for this person's recommendation the Inquisition's remaining forces wouldn't moooove..."
She pointed with her thumb backwards.
A man was slowly walking from behind her in Takeru's direction.
When Takeru spoke to him, Hayato frowned and confirmed the situation surrounding them before looking at Takeru. His expression seemed to relax just a little, but he ended up looking down at Takeru with his usual intimidating expression.
"You're safe. It would be troubling if you weren't."
"Kurogane-san, it's great you are okay..."
"I don't need you to worry about me, don't underestimate me."
As usual there was no courtesy, he was a person who conveyed his emotions very briefly. How he appeared when he charged in to fight with Haunted, seemed to be a dream.
"...What about him...?"
"I fulfilled my promise... Is what I would like to say, but I wasn't the one who killed him."
Hayato glanced towards the helicopter. Takeru followed his sight and saw a boy folding his arms as he leaned with his back on the helicopters boarding gate.
Takeru stared at him... at Kyouya, but Kyouya did not match his gaze. Instead, Kyouya made a gesture as if clenching the stars on his shoulder.
With just that, Takeru understood. Kyouya was able to fulfill his revenge.
Takeru felt like he was saved, just a little bit. It was because he was unable to save Yoshimizu, he felt responsible for Kyouya becoming like this.
With this, Kyouya could finally concentrate on his life. In order not to waste his revenge, Takeru had things to do.
Next, was his turn.
"...Kurogane-san. Sorry for suddenness... but will you listen to my selfish request?"
Raising his knees from the ground, Takeru stood up. Both his arms and legs were trembling furiously, but his body wasn't wasted yet. His soul wouldn't allow it to.
Takeru looked at straight at Hayato.
Hayato also returned a strong gaze.
"Depending on contents. Speak."
"I can't... give you details. Still, please listen to my request."
"No. Speak everything."
Answered immediately, he was refused unless he speaks details.
That's the person Hayato was. Even if Takeru spoke of everything honestly, Hayato wouldn't listen to his request anyway. Hayato would deny Takeru's choice.
However, as Hayato was that kind of a man, Kusanagi Takeru was also stubborn man.
"I'm sorry. I won't. But please listen to me, please."
Lowering his head he forced his wish through. As it was.
Forcing his selfish wish through. That's the kind of man Kusanagi Takeru was. Hayato knew that well, he became aware of it when the two's egos clashed. Even if Hayato continued to ask, Takeru would never ever yield. Hayato once already acknowledged strength of Takeru's ego.
He probably didn't have intention of contending any more. Not wanting to continue with the refusals, he listened to Takeru's request.
"Using the forces we have now, please send me to where Ootori Sougetsu is. If you do, I will take care of the rest."
"I will save the world. This is something only I can do."
"Leave——the world in my hands."
While aware he was saying something outrageous, Takeru seriously told Hayato his request.
Hayato continued to receive Takeru's gaze, until finally squinting.
"No matter the situation you always prioritize yourself, huh."
"I was told the same by him as well. I am aware."
"Don't think awareness is an excuse."
"...He told me this as well."
Takeru scratched his cheek with a bitter smile.
Still squinting, Hayato continued to stare at Takeru. Takeru too, continued to stare back. Were there any hesitation in his will, Hayato wouldn't agree. Even if it was a bluff, even if it was a lie that he didn't hesitate, Takeru didn't allow himself to look away.
He already decided.
"............I have never cursed my powerlessness this much as I am now."
Takeru tilted his head, as if to ask for the meaning. He thought that "powerlessness" was a word that had nothing to do with Kurogane Hayato, never ever thought he would hear that word come out of his mouth
"To think a child like you would have to carry that burden..."
Hayato turned his back to Takeru.
"It makes me feel like a worthless adult."
That back was ragged and beat-up, but as big and strong as always.
Takeru had no way of knowing what regrets was he carrying. No one was capable of understanding him.
He knew nothing of the strongest man's weakness. No matter how abnormal inhuman power he held, all alone there were things he couldn't do.
Adults knew of their powerlessness. They knew of what was impossible to do. That's why they were able to guide the reckless kids who knew not of their weakness.
Stimulating their weakness, adults convey strength to the next generation.
Kurogane Hayato cursed himself for only being able to do that. Although he considered the way he was called a Hero Vessel a nuisance, in this long battle he finally noticed his true feelings.
He wanted to be a hero.
How he wanted Takeru to pull out, was a proof that he did wish for that.
He wanted to be the one to save the world and display his strength, be the one to lead the next generation. He, an adult, should have become the sacrifice.
It was Kurogane Hayato's ultimate law.
That's why, having to cast these words made him feel pathetic.
"——I leave the world to you, Kusanagi."
Hayato understood that a sacrifice accompanied Takeru's wish. In this instant he has seen through the fact that Takeru intended to save the world at the expanded of himself.
Moreover, Hayato already cast his words.
Takeru grit these words hardly.
It was way too heavy a burden to carry.
However——he wouldn't be Kusanagi Takeru if he didn't accomplish this.
"Roger. I will save it for sure."
Gritting Hayato's wish in his teeth, he received it as an order from a superior.
Still turned with his back to Takeru, Hayato started walking.
"Oonogi, change of plans. Order the Heretic Alliance to prioritize delivering Kusanagi Takeru to his objective. I will gather Inquisitors."
After hearing everything Kanata said nothing in response. She only accepted Hayato's request. She probably saw through what Takeru intended. She knew well enough that he had strong enough will to make Hayato break.
Hayato gave orders to Inquisition, Kanata – to Heretic Alliance.
All adults in this place moved for their sake.
Strongly reassured by them, Takeru quietly said his thanks.
Thank you very much.
"...Takeru, what were you talking about with Captain Kurogane?"
Ouka who was receiving treatment from support team, had come beside him. Mari, Usagi and Ikaruga were together with her. Takeru immediately changed his thinking and to conceal his destiny, he raised his eyebrows and greet his friends.
"Rejoice, everyone. Inquisition and Heretic Alliance will help us out save Kiseki."
"Yeah... I heard the communications from Captain Kurogane. However."
Pushing past Ouka, Mari and Usagi questioned him.
"What do you intend to do about the Chairman? You aren't planning to kill him, are you? Can we trust him? Kusanagi, you heard something, haven't you?"
"I told you I will support you, Takeru, but what kind of scheme is that? I can't trust that person!"
The support witches behind them were saying "Don't move so much yet〜" in panic, but the two didn't listen. Bending backwards unconsciously he tried to calm the two.
"I-I didn't hear the details either. Kurogane-san and Oonogi-san apparently have a plan, Chairman... in case that bastard gets a hold of someone's soul the plan will be revealed, so they told me not to tell anyone..."
For a lie thought up on spot, he thought it was quite convincing, but——
"Whhhaat is that supposed to meaaan?! You agreed on such unclear plan, Kusanagi?!"
"HAA?! First he gets in our way, then suddenly comes back to help and now he's saying he can't tell us anything?! There's a limit to how fishy it can go!"
——There was no way he could've convinced them. They were only enthusiastic about doing this together, he might have been unlucky with Hayato suddenly appearing as they seemed to be pissed off about him butting in.
What a bunch of egoists, Takeru thought again.
"Nono, we just have to accomplish our goal! What we have to do is to save Kiseki, and we can leave Chairman to the adults, they said..."
""I'm not convinced!""
"O-Ouka, tell those two we can trust Captain Kurogane!"
Pressed on by the two, he sought help from Ouka.
Staring in Takeru's face with a slightly appalled expression, Ouka made a clumsy smile.
"Y-yeah... I mean, we have no plan for dealing with Ootori Sougetsu in the first place. If there's some kind of hope, we best pick it up..."
The reason she barely agreed with him was most likely because she trusted Hayato, but how she didn't look comfortable, was because she wasn't convinced either.
She noticed it was unnatural. Possibly she felt that there were lies within what Takeru said.
Ikaruga too, stared at Takeru as if seeing through what was in his heart.
She spoke to Ikaruga, who was standing behind Takeru. Kanaria turned towards Ikaruga with a displeased expression.
"You heard what was he talking about with Kurogane Hayato, right?"
"What did they talk about? What did Kusanagi say?"
Kanaria glared at Ikaruga as she asked with a serious expression.
Takeru thought the situation was bad. Kanaria heard Takeru say "save the world". If Ikaruga knows that, she will ask him about it.
How? How do you intend to save the world from Ootori Sougetsu's curse?
Kanaria shrugged and responded to Ikaruga's question.
"All he said was about Kiseki. That Hyakki Yakou going berserk isn't her fault. "So leave Kiseki to me, I'll definitely stop her". Stuff like that."
"After that Kurogane Hayato questioned Takeru and one-sidedly decided the plan."
Kanaria furrowed her eyebrows and puffed her cheek as if to say "why would I lie here?". It seemed like her acting was successful as Ikaruga relaxed herself, barely convinced.
Takeru felt relieved inside. He didn't think Kanaria would keep quiet about the contents of his conversation with Hayato. Ikaruga has moved her attention away from him, put her hands on Ouka's shoulder – who was calming down Usagi and Mari, then spoke something to her.
Instructing Lapis, Takeru spoke to Kanaria through magic connection.
《"Thanks for keeping silent."》
Kanaria exchanged glanced with Takeru for a second, and quickly averted her sight.
《"Kana is angry at her. She tried to leave Kana behind again... That's why I didn't tell her truth. Its reveenge."》
It's her and Ikaruga. He didn't know what happened between those two when he was facing Kiseki, but he could roughly imagine from what she said.
However, she wouldn't have kept silent just because she wanted to get back at Ikaruga.
《"Kana has no intention of asking what are you going to do, Takeru."》
《"...That helps a lot."》
《"But... I don't know, but... it's not a good thing. She did the same thing to Kana many times, so Kana knows."》
Although Kanaria didn't know the details, she might have felt what he was trying to do from his conversation with Hayato. She still held a grudge that Ikaruga and Takeru tried to leave her when they were going to raid the First Research Facility from the Heretic Alliance's headquarters. She also knew well the regret and sorrow of being left behind.
Takeru smiled wryly.
《"Then why did you keep quiet? About what I'm intending to do."》
He dared to ask. He wanted to know how Kanaria felt towards Ikaruga now.
《"...Kana thought if I told the truth, she... she would leave Kana behind again."》
《"Kana felt that she would have chased after Takeru..."》
Takeru gasped and closed his lips tightly.
If Ikaruga were to know that Takeru was trying to replace the God, she would have done just as Kanaria said. Rather than stop him, she would ask him to take her with him.
Kanaria didn't want that. Of course, neither did Takeru.
Kanaria lightly pulled on the hem of Takeru's clothes.
《"Takeru... will disappear?"》
《"Will you disappear like Orochi?"》
He understood that Kanaria was looking up to him.
Takeru didn't look at her. He felt like his bluff would collapse if he looked at her face. He felt he would tell them everything. That's why he ruffled her head without looking at her. Even though she hated when he did this, just this once she allowed him to. Kanaria also understood this was a parting.
He had a little sister named Kiseki. Their relationship was hard to call that of siblings, and he didn't know how should he interact with her. He didn't know what did "siblings" actually mean.
Kanaria was his sister disciple. Their relationship was very short, but he had a different bond with her than the one with his comrades. Many times he thought that possibly, the sibling relationship in this world was something like he had with Kanaria.
As the elder disciple, he pat the head of his sister disciple.
《"Get along with Ikaruga."》
It was the best farewell with Kanaria he could think of.
He let go of her head and returned to his comrades.
Kanaria chased after his back with her sight.
She engraved his back... her elder disciple's back in her mind in these last moments.
——The all-out war begins. The last battle which decided the fate of the world.
Sougetsu who was sitting on top of the giant tree's branch whistled seeing the number of forces that gathered by Takeru's side.
"So they gathered Inquisition's forces with Kurogane-kun's incitement, huh? I had Kiseki-chan destroy the branches to have the chain of command to collapse, but he's as nasty a man as ever."
Isn't he? Sougetsu asked Kiseki, wanting her to agree with him.
Kiseki only looked up at the sky with eyes devoid of light. Because her soul was shut, currently the existence called "Kusanagi Kiseki" was suspended.
The demons' revival had ended up being a failure. With enough luck, Takeru would have had his soul stolen and could have been made into Sougetsu's tool as a demon, but he ended up overcoming a hardship of that level.
The demon curse's crystallization has been destroyed, but Sougetsu wasn't too bothered by that. To Hyakki Yakou which could continue multiplying as long as there was a single cell left, there was no concept of death.
To kill it completely, there was no choice but to kill the source which was Kiseki. Hyakki Yakou multiplied even now, pushing onto Takeru.
And yet, Takeru will probably reach Sougetsu anyway.
Takeru, who was Sougetsu's method for destruction, has become a way for him to be destroyed.
To Sougetsu, the only enemy out there was Takeru. No matter what alliances they make, no one but him can kill Sougetsu.
That was this world's system.
However, even for Takeru it wasn't easy to kill Sougetsu. Even though twisted, he was the God. Despite losing majority of his power, the remaining power of a god was inside Sougetsu.
Ootori Sougetsu was everywhere in this world, and yet nowhere. As long as he remained in this world, there was no chance of having Takeru's blade reaching his throat.
"I can escape any time. But I should remove the source of anxiety right here. While I might be a failure, I shall kill you as the God... Kusanagi-kun."
Lifting Innocentius he had on his lap, Sougetsu pressed the barrel against his forehead.
Then, a thin blade had appeared out of nowhere, which he held in his hands.
It was a bayonet. Having a dull shine like that of brass, it was a rusty and old blade.
Sougetsu attached the blade the Innocentius. At the same time, the blade had started to erode the pure white Innocentius.
The decorations have grown tattered and peeling off, they rose up to the sky.
"Gungnir... Lævateinn... Mistilteinn... Mjölnir... There are only four Sacred Treasures capable of killing God, and allowing attaining of Godhood."
Holding Innocentius against his forehead, in the middle of the light, Sougetsu opened his eyes a little.
"No one said such a thing."
As the decorations peeled off, he stroked Innocentius' shabby-looking barrel.
"You have done well, Innocentius... until the very end you haven't acquired a soul and remained obedient to me. You remained as part of my power. You have my thanks."
While looking at the Innocentius being swallowed by the bayonet, Sougetsu narrowed his eyes like moons.
It was a rust-covered brass gun, and a sword at the same time. A sinister sword with a trigger, despite not having any sharpness it held an abnormal power.
After Innocentius was swallowed, a completely different weapon has revealed itself.
"Now, let's turn the rudder, Naglfar."
It was a fake Sacred Treasure holding the Ancient Property "Godless". While Mistilteinn was Gungnir's replica created by Old Humanity, this one was created by the god of destruction called Loki, who had no right to wield a Sacred Treasure——a Sacred Treasure's imitation.
《"Defense team here! We can't stop Hyakki Yakou's push any longer, hurry and give us orders!"》
A message came from the witches who had built the protection barrier securing the space Takeru and others were in.
In complete Witch-Hunter form, Takeru looked up at the helicopter waiting outside the barrier.
《"——I'll make way to start with. Kusanagi, are you ready?"》
Opening the helicopter's hatch, Hayato – also in Witch-Hunter form, had shown himself.
Takeru looked in his surroundings. There was Ouka next to him, Sage and Yuzuho in the back, as well as Kanaria. Furthermore, five Dragoons, several sorcerers, all waiting for Takeru's signal.
In the end, Takeru looked at Ouka.
She nodded strongly.
I will protect you. He felt himself hear her say, and his heart pained a little.
Shaking off his pain, Takeru pointed forward. The other side of the barrier was filled with Hyakki Yakou. The distance to the three was about ten kilometers in a straight line. Even if he reaches that, he will have to get to the upper part of the tree where Sougetsu was.
Takeru was no longer alone. There were many people lending him their power.
They had to make this suicide attack plan succeed no matter what.
Because the fate of the world lied on his shoulders——
Leaning forward, he poised the sword low.
——The instant Takeru howled, the barrier maintaining the space they were in, had disappeared.
A wave of Hyakki Yakou flowed in, and everything that pushed against them——
《"Run! Don't stop no matter what!"》
At the same time Hayato jumped down the helicopter, he started firing in the direction of Takeru and others' progression. Caligula's bullet carrying mayhem blew away Hyakki Yakou whenever they hit.
A path opened in front of them. However, that path was swallowed by Hyakki Yakou all at once.
Takeru ran at full speed. Following him, his comrades and followers ran at full speed as not to be left behind. Hayato thrust out magic power in the air as he reloaded Caligula and finally landed near Takeru and others.
He once again pointed the reloaded Caligula forward.
Takeru caught up to Hayato and passed by him.
The moment he passed by he felt himself having his back pushed, and accelerated without looking back.
Magic bullets were released from Caligula and erased all obstacles in Takeru's way.
He ran down the created path all at once.
Behind him, he could hear Hayato start to battle.
He didn't turn around, looking only forward.
The giant tree was still far. Support fire from the helicopter fell in the direction of his travel, maintaining the path Hayato made.
However, along with the demon tsunami, incarnations have attacked Takeru from both sides.
He did not stop. What he should do was not fighting, but arriving at the goal.
Clenching his teeth, he entrust everything to others. Dragoons and sorcerers took the attacks instead of him, starting a battle.
Takeru did not stop. He hurried forward.
Tsunami pushed against him, and the path slowly closed.
"From here on, I'll make way."
Sage stopped in tracks and put his hands on the earth At the same time he drew magic circle, small walls of rust emerged on both sides of the narrowing path. The wall made of rust magic maintained the open path.
The wall spread open the way Hayato made, growing endlessly forward.
"Go Kusanagi! Save everything!"
Takeru's back was pushed by Sage's voice. Since the battle at the First Research Facility, Sage helped him many times. Back then, Takeru was not saved. He didn't want to bear any more of such sorrow. He didn't want the salvation he was about to reach, to spill from his hands again.
That's why Takeru didn't stop. He didn't pause in his tracks.
Even if his legs break, even if he has to crawl he will get at that man's throat!
Ahead, the tsunami pushed in from the front between the walls.
Bloodshot demons' eyes stared at Takeru alone, vast numbers of mouths screamed as they approached him.
Passing by Takeru, Yuzuho leaped forward.
"Guards' Spearsmanship technique——Secret Art – Eternal Godspear!"
Maintaining the leap's momentum she thrust using centrifugal force. The thrust clad in magic power has grew huge right before release giving it a reach unthinkable of what the spear was originally capable. Momentarily breaking through the demon tsunami, it opened the path again.
As soon as Yuzuho finished her thrust, she looked up the walls on both sides.
Incarnations were crossing over the wall of rust. Yuzuho leaped again and landed on the wall to commence battle with them.
While exchanging attacks with the demon incarnations using her spear, not looking at him, Yuzuho cast her words towards Takeru.
"Kusanagi-san... may fortunes of war be with you!"
No matter how rough his breathing was, he wasn't allowed to stop. Yuzuho and Sage lend him a hand as part of Heretic Alliance. The united front that began because of coinciding interests, has continued. The two had already saved those they wanted to save, yet still lent him their power like this. He could only have thanks towards the two, who were in similar circumstances as him.
He had no intention of wasting their help.
Takeru finally approached near the goal. As he approached, he understood how enormous it was. Sucking in the planet itself and stretching its trunks it seemed like the mythological World Tree itself.
The branches covering the sky wriggled and making crackling sounds, they descended towards Takeru like arms.
《"We aren't at a distance where we can reach him with booster. Let's get closer!"》
Responding to Lapis' request he further accelerated. Following him were Ouka, Kanaria and three helicopters. However, that's when the wall of rust built by Sage has collapsed.
They either left the effective range, or...
——Don't think! Look forward!
"Ouka, take care of above!"
Ouka spread her wings and ascended. Branches of the giant demon tree approached cutting the air to crush Takeru. Ouka arrived in mid-way and making 《Earl's Fang》 emerge he shot them down. One branch was pulverized, after which Ouka pulverized another one using a fang on the left arm.
Branches continued to come down continuously. There were countless of them, enough to cover the sky. All of it aimed for Takeru.
Making fangs disappear, Ouka held gun-form Vlad in both hands.
Crossing them in front of her chest, Ouka closed her eyes.
"Vlad...! Let's go!"
"——《Tepes Rain》 !"
At the same time she opened her eyes, magic was activated. Huge stakes poured down from the sky, crimson stakes pierced the ground like a mountain of needles. Stakes which fell over a wide area smashed up branches of the giant tree and demon incarnations.
Maintaining 《Tepes Rain》 Ouka continued to attack the incoming huge branches. Leaving the attacks from above to Ouka, Takeru clenched the sword he had been poising low.
Kanaria too, has pulled out Lævateinn from her back, allowing it to clad itself in flames.
In front there was an incoming wave of Hyakki Yakou and incarnations.
The two of Double-Edged style activated Soumatou at the same time.
"You match Kana, Takeru!"
Kanaria moved ahead and swung the two-handed Lævateinn.
"Double-Edged style——Single Wheel."
Using the sword's weight the let out a slash from a big rotation. Continuing to rotate like a tornado, she stopped the tsunami. The red flame blowing from the blade massacred the demons. Despite losing majority of its performance, the half-destroyed Sacred Treasure flames' power was more than enough to wipe out demon cells.
Blue hair and red flames danced on the battlefield.
The sword's rotation stopped. Kanaria restrained Lævateinn's momentum with her muscles and stopped sliding on the ground.
Hyakki Yakou started flowing back into the opened space.
Kanaria took a posture using the sword like a shield. That kind of defense hadn't much point against the muddy Hyakki Yakou. The moment the incoming Hyakki Yakou was about to swallow her, an azure shadow leaped to where Kanaria was.
Transforming Lapis into wide-bladed greatsword, using the multiplied super heavy weight, Takeru smashed the muddy stream that tried to swallow Kanaria.
"Double-Edged style——Mantis Slope!"
As if causing an explosion, Takeru's strike crushed Hyakki Yakou along with the earth itself. Kanaria was taking a defensive posture in order to block the aftermath from Takeru's attack.
After Kanaria blocked Mantis Slope's impact, she clenched Lævateinn's handle and started running inside smoke. Takeru also started running the moment he landed.
The two's collaboration had began. Moving forward in alternation they used Double-Edged style's technique without stopping.
Double-Edged style's Heavenly Demon, Mantis Slope, Single Wheel, Yamata no Orochi.
True-Light style's Wolf's Blade, Shark's Blade, Bee's Blade.
Enemies were both shapeless and humanoid, True-Light style was used against humanoid and Double-Edge style was used to strike down the shapeless. The two embodied the original two styles.
As the two alternated, their sword techniques burst out. Having the same master and losing the same master, the two used everything they learned from him.
Abnormal, heretical, power-brutal savage swordsmanship. Despised by martial art schools and made fun of those using guns. It was all the truth. It was indeed barbarous, suicidal and desperate.
However, now——as the two's swords danced in the air, their sparkling appearance which looked like two meteors——could be called beautiful.
Kusanagi's will taught to them by the instructor has been succeeded by the two.
"Takeru, I'll send you."
Kanaria poised her sword low and once again made a big swing with the great sword by using centrifugal force. However, the blade wasn't set up horizontally but with the flat of the sword.
Takeru instantly understood what was Kanaria trying to do and adjusted his timing.
Once rotation, two rotation. Then matching the acceleration rotation, Takeru jumped in the rotation course.
Then with the third rotation Takeru landed on Kanaria's Lævateinn's flat side.
Just like that, Takeru was swung along with Kanaria's sword for entire rotation. Meanwhile, Takeru gathered his strength in his body's springs and twisting his entire body.
Kanaria roared. Releasing the strength in her pivot leg, she swung the sword with everything she had.
At the same time she let out the fourth rotation, Takeru on top of Lævateinn had released all the springs in his body and leaped.
Using Single Wheel's acceleration and power——
"Unicorn's Destructive Lance!"
——Clad in Lævateinn flames Takeru poised Mistilteinn towards the obstacles. His flaming body swept away the muddy flow of demons as he moved forward.
While charging at speed of a bullet, Takeru released a technique.
Just the shockwave was enough to blow away the shapeless waves. He slashed a huge demon diagonally, cut down five more demons with a cleave, then maintaining cleave's momentum he returned the sword to the form of a nodachi and put it inside the sheath to use Heavenly Demon to eliminate a wave of demons.
Once the momentum of Kanaria's throw has decreased, Takeru bent his body forward to the limit and started running again.
It was used by both True-Light and Double-Edge styles unique fighting method, 《Battle Driving》.
More like crushing enemies with the momentum than slashing them, Takeru continued running.
Turning the handle around he changed reverse hold for the sword. After changing Lapis into a straight sword he repeated using Wolf's Blade, Rhino's Blade, Shark's Blade and Bee's Blade. Taking down enemy one by one he moved without decreasing his running speed.
There was no chance of him toppling over as he used Battle Driving. As long as he used Soumatou even falling over was an action that felt way too slow. If his leg breaks and he loses his balance, he would just continue running along while maintaining cold judgment, then after reacting to the impact of falling he would restart running. He was leaning forward so that he didn't by any chance end up falling forward. As long as he collapses forward, he can handle that in multiple ways by using Soumatou.
Enemy came from the sky. Ten of them. Feathered lumps of meat Ouka was unable to shot down opened their mouths inside which they gathered red light. While maintaining flight speed equal to Takeru's speed, they started attacking him.
It was difficult avoid while using Battle Driving. The red flashes hit by his feet several times and whenever they landed, ground turned into Hyakki Yakou.
"Sword in my right, Kusarigama in left!"
Lapis responded to his request and changed the sword into one with a small sickle on a chain.
While still running, Takeru rotated the chain with his left hand.
The sickle danced in the air soundly as it cut through the air.
There was no need to aim. People of Kusanagi never managed to hit with distance attacks. Using the chain as an extension of the sword he just swung it around.
A meat block was caught in the swing path of the chain and sickle, exploding like a fruit as a result. Takeru slashed the demon army approaching from the front with the sword in his left hand as he cut down the enemy in the sky with the Kusarigama.
Eventually demon army's momentum had decreased and his red-filled field of vision had cleared up.
Did he arrive? ——No, not yet.
An enormous jaw approached from the front while tearing earth apart with its teeth.
Hyakki Yakou simulated even a dragon, the irregular dragon approached Takeru while crawling on the ground.
But Takeru did not stop.
He continued to move forward.
There was a technique for dealing with dragons in Double-Edged style.
The huge mouth howled and attempted to swallow Takeru.
Leaning the sword against his shoulder Takeru charged towards the demon dragon.
The moment the dragon's jaw tried to bite Takeru, he kicked off the ground and jumped. Avoiding just before the jaws closed he jumped over the dragon's head and landed on the back.
Rotating forward, fixing his position while rolling he pierced the sword's tip into the dragon's back.
It was soft. A dragon without scales wasn't worth calling the strongest fantastical organism. Takeru ran while having the blade pierced in and had the sword change shape into that of an enormous zweihander.
"Kusanagi Double-Edged style——Rain Dragon's Charge!"
The sword pierced into the dragon's back had pierced its throat and matching Takeru's charge, it was sliced into two like a cooked fish.
After running down the dragon, Takeru rolled on the ground before getting on this legs.
He had no time think about this or take a proper breath. Rather than spend time on feeling the aftertaste after striking down a big foe, he concentrated on running.
And, when he was about to start running again,
《"Host... from here we can...!"》
Hearing Lapis' voice, Takeru finally stopped his legs.
The giant demon tree was already in front of him. It was so big that it couldn't fit in his field of vision. Red organic trunks had eyes, noses and various other objects growing on them, reminiscent of human body parts.
Arriving at the trunk of the tree by its root and glared at the branch above the clouds.
He could see a white shadow behind the red cloud.
Takeru came here to kill him.
After running all this time without breathing properly, Takeru finally took a deep breath. Although it wasn't so cold, his breath was white. He could see steam coming out of his body. There was no part of his human body which didn't reach the limit of its operation.
However, he could still move. Unable to feel pain, he arrived here without having his mental energy weakening.
Using Soumatou, he focused all his strength into his legs. The muscles in his legs swelled to the point of near-rupture. Bending his knees he took a leaping posture.
《"FM Booster——full throttle!"》
Magic power has gathered on the leg and back parts of Takeru's armor and started blowing out like a jet engine from ejection mechanisms on his heel.
As he leaped, Takeru rapidly rose to the sky. Crushing the air with his mass, Takeru ascended towards where Sougetsu was.
《"The giant tree has responded, return attack!"》
At the same time Lapis warned him, Takeru held the sword in mid-air ascension.
Branches and leaves blocked the path of his travel like tentacles and attacked him. Lapis adjusted the booster avoiding the tentacle attacks.
Not good. There was too many of them. Leaves and branches overlapped against one another like a net, seeming to completely block his path.
There was no choice but to cut them down. Takeru changed the sword's shape and held a two-handed sword.
In order to not let his brain exceed the operation limit he released concentration and tried to activate Soumatou.
That's when——Takeru's brain went out of control against his will.
Everything but one goal have been erased from his consciousness.
Not at a time...like...this——!
Regardless of his will 《Demon's Heart》 activated. Because of Soumatou's abuse, the lid he used to close it has opened completely.
No...I can't lose myself...now...
Just like a TV turned off, snap, Takeru's self-consciousness disappeared.
Despite being just wind pressure, the attack has pulverized the giant tree's branches and leaves into dust.
The slash was completely unrefined and yet because of Demon's Heart, the subsonic speed the strike had smashed everything.
Lapis' voice didn't reach him either. Takeru single-mindedly swung the sword slashing all obstacles as he aimed for the top.
Beast-turned Takeru rotated his sword in mid-air as magic power was ejected from his armor and like a lawnmower he cut down the tentacles trying to entangle him. The demon tree continued to attack Takeru without stopping.
In the way. It's in the way. In the way in the way in the way in the way in the way.
Takeru's thoughts narrowed down to a single point, have flowed into Lapis.
Not good. At this rate Takeru's body and brain would break before he confronts Sougetsu.
《"Please calm down! Listen to my voice!"》
No matter how much she called, her voice didn't reach him. In state with Demon's Heart activated Takeru couldn't release it just like that. She could guess several reasons for that. The overuse of brain during repeated battles. Side effects of God-Hunter form.
At this rate he would become unable to come back. Lapis had no choice but to interrupt magic power ejection. She focused all her consciousness on retrieving Takeru's consciousness. Bringing her soul closer to his, she awakened his consciousness.
Although they weren't fused, their souls were connected. She was the only one who could bring him back. Even if there was a chance now, it would be all for naught if Takeru lost himself.
Lapis literally put her soul into her words.
《"Get a hold of yourself! You aren't allowed to lose yourself yet!"》
《"Aren't you going to save everyone,...?! Together with me...!"》
《"You're supposed to fulfill your selfishness, you can't lose yourself in here!"》
《"If you are to swing me, swing me out of your own will!"》
These words made light return to Takeru's eyes.
——Light has returned to only one of his eyes. Suddenly the scenery appeared in front of him.
What Takeru saw after coming back, was the huge tree filling the sky.
He understood that he was in the middle of free fall.
Roots of the giant tree waited for Takeru to crash down.
His memory disappeared. He couldn't recall where was he or what was he doing. Takeru felt he lost quite a bit of his past memories. Felt like he lost a lot of important things.
Moreover, he couldn't see anything with his left eye from a moment earlier. It was pitch black.
Abuse of Demon's Heart was the cause. Soumatou and Demon's Heart... while it was true that he wouldn't survive unless he used it, he was told to avoid abusing it, but...
Inside the slow-motion world Takeru saw tears falling from his eys and ascending to the sky. He immediately realized why was he crying.
——Because he forgot.
——He forgot who has taught him this technique.
He knew the name and effect of the technique, but he didn't know where has he learned it or who told him its name. He no longer knew. Takeru lost memory of a person important to him. Despite understanding that, he didn't remember who was it. Like a puzzle piece removed from the whole, there was a hole, an important memory was missing.
Did lose a bodily function and forget important memories upon using it?
He wasn't underestimating it, he was prepared for it. However, once it has become a reality he felt something squeeze his heart. I hate this, his soul cried. I have so many memories I don't want to lose. Tears flowed without stopping, strength left his body. At this rate he would leave everything and let the urge to escape take over.
Suddenly, warmth had wrapped his back.
《"...I'm here. I will become your eyes, become your legs, and become your memory."》
《"Even if you forget everything, even if you become God, even if you become an existence no one can reach."》
《"I will... be by your side."》
Takeru's tears mixed together with tears Lapis' illusion embracing him had shed and ascended to the sky.
Lapis touched Takeru's cheek.
《"That's why please, hold me in your hand once again...!"》
Strength returned to his hand. The trembling of his body which continued, had ceased. Power has returned to his soul.
Ahead of where his tears ascended, he saw a tiny white shadow.
That's right. Remember. You haven't lost everything yet. You remember your comrades and did not forget about your little sister.
Takeru felt furious at himself. He raged knowing that there was no time to rest.
Who was it that made us, made the world this way!
Why are you here!
Your reason to fight!
——You're here to smash that bastard's head in, dammit!
Magic power started ejecting again. The moment the falling momentum had stopped, he kicked off the giant tree's root and leaped.
Ahead of where he ascended awaited hand-shaped branches and leaves. Takeru prepared his sword to break through the net blocking his path.
The branches and leaves that were about to attack Takeru were pierced by stakes.
Ouka caught up to Takeru with her ragged-out wings. She must have received quite the damage before she could reach him. It was thanks to Ouka that he could run without being attacked from the sky.
Both of them were full of wounds. Ouka used up a considerable amount of magic power during repeated battles, Lapis too had few magic power remaining. It was because half of Lapis' magic power capacity she had was filled with Gungnir's magic power. But they couldn't afford to use Gungnir's "God's Authority".
Ouka flapped her wings and moved next to Takeru, raising the same way as him. They nodded to each other and attacked the tree's branches. Raising up while making a spiral, they thrust forward the fang and sword.
The red and azure meteors rose towards the sky without stopping.
Nothing could stop them. The fang and sword crossed as they aimed for the top.
《"Takeru... What are you trying to do...?"》
While they fought, he heard Ouka's voice in his head as she flew beside him.
Takeru didn't respond and only looked upwards.
《"Suginami told me... I also felt it... are you trying to carry something we cannot bear...?"》
Takeru didn't respond. Gritting his teeth, he only looked upwards.
He could easily imagine what kind of expression Ouka was making now.
Without a doubt, filled with anxiety and somewhat reminiscent of one a lost child makes.
《"Takeru...? Why won't you say anything...? Is it something you can't tell me?"》
Takeru accelerated as if to leave Ouka behind, moving ahead.
His gums started bleeding and the taste of iron filled his mouth. Look above. Don't hesitate. Don't mind. If you look in Ouka's face now, you will stop running forward like you have been.
Although it was a cruel thing, it had to be done.
《"Tell me you aren't going anywhere... please... make me feel at ease."》
《"Be by my side... foreve——"》
Ouka stopped flapping her wings. Takeru felt that happening behind him. Vlad's magic power had ran out and it was impossible for her to maintain flight.
Don't turn around. Ouka will be all right. Enemy is aiming for him. Prioritize your objective now——
Takeru paused magic power ejection and caught Ouka's hand as she was about to fall.
Ouka looked just as he imagined her, she looked at Takeru with tears in her eyes.
There was no mistake that he was making a similar expression. Holding Ouka's hand Takeru started ejecting magic power again. Because he was pulling Ouka with him, the speed of his ascension decreased while magic power consumption increased.
However, he didn't let go of her hand.
Takeru didn't say anything. Being unable to say anything was his weakness. Feeling pain from this situation where he wanted to accept Ouka's feelings but being unable to, feeling sorrow caused by his own will he aimed for the top.
He also wanted to be together with her. If possible, he didn't want to go. He wanted to properly fulfill their promise. His clenching of her hand strongly was the only response to Ouka's feelings. Putting in the desire of wanting to continue walking by her side and the thought of having to go, he held her hand.
His feelings were relayed to Ouka. She knew just how much feelings he put in his hand. That's why she held Takeru's hand in return.
Strongly, very strongly.
They approached the goal. Just a few dozens of meters more. If only he reaches his hand out, he'll arrive.
But that's when the magic power jet pushing them upwards had ceased to work.
《"No way, just a little further...!"》
Lapis' puzzled voice echoed. She was out of magic power. Their rising speed decreased, Takeru and Ouka stopped in mid-air.
Feeling afloat in despair, Takeru extended his hand towards the top.
Like always, he sought slight hope.
He stretched his fingertips as much as possible, wishing.
Contrary to his feelings, he started falling. Gravity stuck to him, dragging him down.
But, not yet!
I'll reach it even if I have to burn my body down!
He tried to instruct Lapis to turn Witch-Hunter form's armor parts into magic power for ejection, but then——
《"Take it——my magic power!!"》
A strong voice sounded in his head.
Takeru looked downwards in surprise.
A helicopter was rising from below where the two were.
He could see a striped cloth swaying in the boarding hatch.
Her muffler fluttering, Mari accumulated aurora-colored magic power in her fingertips, returning hope to Takeru once again.
"Lapis! 《Twilight Enchantment》!"
Takeru yelled and Lapis used the armor's magic power for using intrinsic magic. Even by releasing the Witch-Hunter form, he could use 《Twilight Enchantment》 only for an instant.
An instant was enough. He has experienced this exchange twice already.
Their cooperation's timing matched no matter the situation.
《" "Aurora Canon"!"》
A rainbow shell approached Takeru. At the same time, Lapis activated 《Twilight Enchantment》. Holding Lapis' blade in his right hand, Takeru slashed the shell.
For just an instant the blade was covered in azure flames and the rainbow-colored shell was sucked into the blade.
After recharging magic power, Lapis quickly re-activated Witch-Hunter form.
While ascending again, Takeru looked just once towards Mari in the helicopter.
Mari closed her eyes, held down her hat and shouted towards Takeru.
Not through magical communication, but with her own voice. Even despite the rotor sound's exposure and the wind, her voice firmly reached Takeru.
Takeru opened his eyes wide, he saw her appearance, heard her voice clearly.
"No matter what are you trying to do, I will push your back! No matter what result awaits, I'm with you!"
"That's why, go on! Finish this...!"
She put her hands on her chest and distorting her face painfully, heartrendingly, she exposed all her feelings to Takeru.
They were simplest and most straightforward feelings possible. There was no way Mari hasn't noticed how Takeru looked like. She must have realized first and foremost that he was thinking of doing something outrageous. She was more delicate and strong than anyone in the platoon, seen through others best, and thought of Takeru more straightforwardly than others.
Mari shed tears, staggering she fell on her knees on the boarding gate. Running out of magic power again, her body was at its limits.
Her face reddened, she spun words while desperately trying to maintain consciousness.
The propeller drowned out sounds with the wind and he could not hear her voice.
——I like you... I love you.
However, Takeru didn't miss her lips' movement.
It was an endlessly straightforward, Mari's confession.
As she lost her consciousness and had her body supported by Heretic Alliance's comrades, Takeru clenched his teeth.
In order to reach her, he filled his lungs with air completely, and shouted.
"——ME TOO!!!! OF COURSE I DO TOO!!!!!"
Then he looked upwards. His hair was ruffled with will to fight and his body was agitated. Having received the magic power and will power to fight, Takeru rose rapidly along with a roar.
Stretching his hand towards the branch Sougetsu was waiting for him on, he ascended to the sky together with Ouka.
And finally——finally——he reached.
Takeru jumped onto the branch energetically and found Sougetsu in his sights.
Sougetsu grinned in silence as he raised one hand to greet Takeru.
"——Hello, you're finally here, Kusanagi-kun."
He was standing there, making the usual smile that made it seem like he has seen through everything. Calm and composed, as if convinced Takeru would have reached this place.
As if they were about to hold a tea party now.
"Well, how about calming down and having a chat?"
Naturally, shamelessly, he tried to start a conversation.
However, Takeru's intention of talking with Sougetsu——
Takeru let go of Ouka's hand and ejecting magic power he landed on the branch. Then maintaining his momentum he jumped straight at Sougetsu.
He didn't miss this one-in-thousand chance, intending to kill him even if a second earlier.
To reap God's life.
Stepping in, timing, an opening, everything was perfect.
Takeru didn't have to instruct Lapis, she activated "God-Hunting form" by herself.
Armor covered his face, flames dwelled in his blade.
There was no need for unnecessary moves. Just quickly cut down.
He didn't mind if his body and brain break. It was all for this moment.
His self disappeared as he sought speed for just one goal.
He only thought of killing the God.
Kusanagi Double-Edged style's Secret Art, Kusanagi Sword. He didn't use the other secret art because it would also reach his comrades.
Killing Sougetsu with this technique has become his existence's goal.
The world has slowed down. Ceased moving.
When leaving everything behind he tried to pierce Sougetsu's heart, in that moment.
Suddenly——Kiseki appeared in front of him. She didn't move, she appeared as if she had been there right from the start.
In thrusting stance, Takeru was astonished and immediately stopped moving.
On the verge of piercing Kiseki's heart he put on brakes with his entire existence.
When the blade touched her chest, his movement stopped completely.
Kiseki's black hair danced in the air... and behind her,
Sougetsu's violet-colored hair drew an arc.
"You don't want to? Then——die."
He pulled out a rust-covered sword and using Kiseki as a shield he slashed with the sword.
As if completely seeing through Takeru, Sougetsu used the worst methods.
Currently, Kiseki had her control over Hyakki Yakou taken away. If Sougetsu was in control of her soul, Kiseki would end up actually being killed. Hyakki Yakou won't revive her unless her soul rejects death.
It was the worst situation.
Confident of his victory, Sougetsu swung the sword with a smile.
——Takeru continued to glare straight at him.
There was no resignation or thoughts of defeat in Takeru. He was able to make a shadow appear on Sougetsu's face. Takeru's lack of hesitation or lack of agitation might have been the reason for that.
Of course he didn't understand. This man had no one he could call a comrade, thus he didn't know what it meant to believe.
But Takeru believed.
——He believed that she would stop it.
He already felt her approaching.
Just as Sougetsu thrust his blade, that moment——
The propeller's rotation blew wind onto the branch as a huge bird of iron appeared beside Takeru and Sougetsu.
Sougetsu opened his eyes, looking at the sudden visitors.
On one knee in the helicopter's hatch, with both eyes open as she looked through the scope——Usagi's figure.
It was an irregularity for a God who ought to see everything. Not seeing Usagi as a threat has backfired on him. It wasn't a king-slaying Einherjar or a seasoned warrior who has snuck in, but an existence he considered a worm that wouldn't dare baring its fangs at the God.
A miraculous bullet was released along with a cloud of smoke.
First one, angrily towards the irregular sword Sougetsu was holding.
The blade was repelled and because of impact, left Sougetsu's hand.
This was the first time Sougetsu's face had distorted. Putting her will into the next bullet which was the last one, Usagi reloaded. Putting everything into every move, she reloaded faster than ever and pulled the bolt.
Then the second shot——was accompanied by tears.
"Kusanagi, I believe in you."
Usagi needed no needless words. She was unable to express her feelings well with them.
She always put everything into this one bullet.
That's why in the end——she entrusted everything to it. Her wish for him not to lose. The wish for him to be by her side. And the wish not to lose him.
And her feeling of love. Everything.
The released bullet went straight for the forehead. The sound of neck breaking, a high pitched sound echoing in the skull. Sougetsu's body bent backwards and he took a step back.
Takeru accepted Usagi's feelings.
The unmoving world started moving again. The world slowed down again. His leg was still in the middle of stepping-in and he did not stop progressing.
Avoiding Kiseki's body he thrust beneath her armpits.
At staggering Sougetsu's heart.
To pierce with the god-slaying power!
He spat blood with his eyes wide open. Red liquid flowing from his chest mixed in together with the red of the tree branch beneath.
Clenching his teeth, he looked up to the sky.
The blade that was supposed to pierce the God's heart, had cut the empty air without spilling a single drop of blood.
What was pierced instead, was Takeru's chest on the right side. Catching the rusty blade protruding from his chest, Takeru glared at the culprit who stood behind him.
At Ootori Sougetsu, who pierced him from behind.
"What you call a God, was originally not supposed to be perceivable by humans... I have that quality remaining in me. As long as I'm in this world, I am everywhere yet nowhere."
"Still, as expected of you, Kusanagi-kun. I didn't think you would unconsciously avert your body the moment I moved my existence behind you and avoided having a vital point struck. I am disappointed in my own lack of talent in swordsmanship."
"What a shame. It was quite impressive. The struggle of you all was so impressive my tears wouldn't stop."
"But it's about to finish this. I'm a bit tired of playing with you."
Sougetsu pushed his blade further in. The moment the blade touched Takeru's body God-Hunter form was forcibly cancelled.
Erasing all magic. The moment magic, gods' factor touched this bayonet, it completely disappeared. Even the power to kill God was not an exception.
This was the characteristic of the Sacred Treasure "Naglfar" that Sougetsu held.
Sougetsu moved his lips to Takeru's ear and whispered.
"Ohh, right, I forgot to mention this. I decided not to be killed by you. If you are you become the God, I no longer have any need for you."
Why does he know? Takeru felt Lapis agitation inside him.
Sougetsu smiled more evily, joyfully, like a cat, then ever.
"Why do I know? ——I know because I'm this world's God."
It was a sarcastic, even masochistic smile filled with insanity.
No one in that location had moved. It could be said that they lost the will to fight. Their confidence in victory was betrayed, suddenly replaced by defeat.
It was a type of destruction. Sougetsu was delighted, he was delighted seeing destruction of those standing on his way.
"Rejoice, Kusanagi-kun. This world will continue y'know? You might die, but it's fine since your wish is fulfilled, right? Weell, rather than becoming a God and living forever, this might be a better end for you as a person."
"One day I will destroy it, but that will surely take several hundreds, thousands of years. Your comrades will be long dead. It will happen in an era that has nothing to do with you so you have nothing to worry about."
"That's why I wanted to talk. You refused to make peace with me out of your own will. If you only listened to what I have to say, you would have saved people precious to you without becoming a God... what a waste, really."
Takeru's hand holding the blade fell powerlessly. Lapis was desperately trying to heal him, but the healing effect on Takeru's body was being cancelled by Naglfar.
Unable to hold Lapis any longer, he let her out of his fingertips.
Lapis' voice had grown distant.
He couldn't win. He couldn't draw.
That fact has pierced his chest.
He could only apologize to his comrades. Unable to fulfill his selfishness, he bit the dust here.
All he had left was regret. Please forgive me. Forgive me not saving the world despite all this selfishness.
He begged for them to forgive everything.
"Noope, no forgiveness for you. I shall judge you myself. You have rebelled against God, y'know."
"Yes. Along with those words I made I shall send you off. Now——farewell, Kusanagi-kun."
Sougetsu grasped the handle and tried to twist the blade.
Dazed Ouka returned to herself and tried to rush in while screaming. Usagi hyperventilated and while screaming Takeru's name, she tried to squeeze the trigger.
But they didn't make in time. Even if they did, there was no stopping God.
Confident of his victory, Sougetsu chanted the words of judgment towards Takeru.
Desiring with supreme ardor——that is.
"Licking your lips in front of your prey〜? I guess that makes you a textbook villain〜."
——What interrupted Sougetsu's words was a relaxed voice, completely unsuitable for this place.
Someone pulled the clothes of Sougetsu, who tried to twist the blade.
In that moment——for the first time ever since being born, Sougetsu felt what they called fear. It was an existence that wasn't supposed to be there. He opened his eyes wide seeing the small hand pulling his clothes.
Blazing red hair. Small body. A smile free of all care.
Impossible. She was supposed to have lost her life to slow him down, why——
——Why was Hoshijiro Nagaru here...?!
Furious, regretful, Sougetsu spoke the answer.
"So there was one more fragment of mythological world...!"
"What a fast answer. Indeedly〜♪, what a shame〜 Sougetsu-kun. Completely fooled ya〜."
Sougetsu's judgment was quick. Taking escape as top priority he pulled out the sword out of Takeru and tried to move his existence elsewhere.
——But he couldn't. Nagaru held his hand.
"Even Gods can't erase his existence and impossible to perceive when they are touched like this."
"Isn't that "why does she know" written on your face? Well, I'm somewhat similar so of course I knooow〜."
Nagaru laughed happily and a magic circle appeared beneath her feet.
Having the blade pulled out, Takeru fell on his knees and looked at the magic circle as he spit blood.
It was transfer magic. Nagaru was trying to move them somewhere else, along with Sougetsu.
——To the fragment of mythological world.
If it's in that world, Sougetsu won't be able to move freely. Sougetsu also noticed that, and made an expression saying "she got me". He tried to erase the transfer magic in hurry by using Naglfar, but the hand holding the sword was grasped by Nagaru and wouldn't move one bit.
Contrary to her appearance, her strength overwhelmingly exceeded Sougetsu's.
Unable to shake her off, Sougetsu grit his teeth in frustration.
Nagaru stared at his face without any expression.
"Don't run, God."
I will put my entire existence on the line not to allow you to escape, was the will dwelling in Nagaru's pupils. As he faced that will, a drop of sweat flowed down Sougetsu's forehead. He laughed as he wiped his forehead with a hand.
"Haha-hahahahaha, you really are something...! You got me completely."
"It's my win, Sougetsu-kun. In that world you can go on and settle this man to man with Kusanagi-kun."
Nagaru erased her smile and stared at Sougetsu seriously.
No, she glared at him. Although she was supposed not to hold negative emotions, she glared at Sougetsu.
"But prepare yourself. I assure you, he's strong...! You deeeefinitely won't win!"
Hearing Nagaru's declaration of victory Sougetsu made a wry smile, then shrugged.
And made the usual, familiar smile.
"I wonder... we won't know unless we try. It's not my thing, but I will struggle until the very end. For the sake of destruction."
Ignoring Sougetsu's smile, Nagaru looked at Takeru's back.
The hole in his back was closed by Lapis' healing. It wasn't healed completely. She just blocked the wound and stopped his bleeding.
But it was enough. Even if he hadn't much longer to live, this was enough.
Takeru slowly stretched his bent knees and stood up.
Nagaru spoke to his back.
"Are you ready? ——Let's go, Kusanagi-kun."
Takeru clenched his sword,
"...Yeah, ready any time."
Turning around with his ragged body, he nodded with a manly expression.
The magic circle started shining more strongly, Takeru's, Nagaru's and Sougetsu's bodies started shining.
Ouka ran towards them. When Takeru looked towards Nagaru, she made a bitter smile and pulled out an instant charm to activate magic.
As Ouka stretched her hand towards Takeru, a thin light blue barrier stood in her way.
She hit the barrier with her fist multiple times, realizing it was pointless, she stared at Takeru.
He slowly turned around to look at her, as she stared at him ready to collapse any time.
Approaching the barrier, he just quietly stared back at her.
With tears flowing, at a complete loss, she stared at him with heartrending expression.
"What... should I do...? I still haven't repaid you anything... I haven't shouldered anything..."
"Tell me... how should I live from now on...? Without you by my side..."
She lost her family, lost Vlad, and again she was about to lose.
Ouka appealed to Takeru, to say that she can no longer bear this sadness. Despite knowing he won't accept it, she clung to Takeru. She revealed what was inside her chest to the one she loved.
Her tears were overflowing without stop. She threw away her shame and appearances, single-mindedly putting her right hand on the barrier to touch Takeru. With her left hand grasping her chest as if to grasp her heart, Ouka——
"Where do I direct those feelings inside my chest...?"
"Tell me... Takeru."
Seeing Ouka's crying appearance, Takeru closed his narrowed eyes.
Over the temperature-less barrier the two adjusted their hands as if to tangle their fingers together.
"...Live on, Ouka. I'm no longer the only one to walk by your side."
"You are not alone. Everyone's with you. Even if I'm not there, you will live on."
It was Takeru's earnest wish. However, to Ouka it was nearly equal to a refusal.
It was a refusal. A refusal towards Ouka's wish of wanting to be together.
Takeru knew that, it was because he knew that he said it.
Ouka slowly collapsed, her hand overlapping his slid on the barrier and fell down.
Hearing Takeru's trembling voice, Ouka raised her head.
Just like Ouka did, Takeru put his fist on his chest and declared while shedding tears.
"I will take those feelings of yours together with me...!"
He didn't mind if she told him he was selfish. Even if he was told it was a convenient answer, he would just agree. If he was told he's a horrible man, he would just confirm that with all he had.
Takeru loved Ouka.
No matter what he was to be told by anyone, he would not give up these feelings. He will save everything and anything. Acquire everything and all he wants. That's who Kusanagi Takeru was.
No matter what was his destination, he would bring these feelings with him. Ouka narrowed her eyes, as if a little relieved.
A voice from outside barrier reached him.
Takeru turned his face in voice's direction.
He could see Ikaruga bending out of the helicopter's hatch and reaching out.
As if to shake off Ikaruga's feelings trying to stop him, Takeru faced downwards.
Her body, ready to jump out any time had been firmly pressed down by Usagi. Ikaruga's expression as she desperately tried to get down to Takeru, was more heartbroken than he had ever seen.
Usagi too, was shedding tears as she stopped Ikaruga.
Usagi has already resolved herself. That's why she stopped Ikaruga, who hadn't.
Takeru stretched his left hand to Ikaruga.
And clenched his fist, as if to grasp her feelings.
Holding down her hair swaying on the wind, making a tearful expression, Ikaruga made bitter smile.
"...No... I won't acknowledge this..."
Even though her voice didn't reach him, Takeru knew what she said.
He thought that answer was very much like her.
Takeru raised his head and smiled towards the two on the helicopter.
"Everyone... be well."
——He thought himself to be pathetic for only being able to leave them such ordinary words. Even though it was the end, he looked miserable, his face was crumpled with tears and uncool. Thinking it was just like him, he entrusted his body to transfer magic.
His shining body started turning into particles and apart.
At the same time, the barrier maintained by instant charm has lost its effect and shattered.
Fragments of barrier sparkled like stardust, and when Takeru's body was about to disappear.
Ouka leaned her body forward.
Hugging Takeru who was on the verge of disappearing, she turned her arms behind his neck.
Taken by surprise, Takeru tried to support Ouka's body.
As they hugged each other, their faces approached each other and——
——Ouka's lips faintly touched Takeru's lips.
His body turned into particles and disappeared from this world.
Ouka passed through the air where Takeru's body was, then took one, two steps on the branch.
Immediately after Sougetsu disappeared, his grasp on the soul was released and Kiseki in the back had soundly collapsed.
The giant demon tree screamed and started turning into stone from its roots. Not stopping at becoming stone, cracks appeared on the tree and it turned into ash.
On top of the crumbling tree's branch, Ouka clenched her fist.
Then towards the sky she shouted his name, who has disappeared from this world.
When he opened his eyes, Takeru was standing in an unknown world.
He felt the atmosphere was similar to a world he had been in before.
Heretic Alliance's headquarters on the fragment of Norse mythology's world... the world that seemed to stop the moment it has been destroyed, fantastical and beautiful.
This world was also the same. A cracked sky. An azure field of flax spreading beyond the horizon. Petals blown away by the impact of worlds' collision stopped in mid-air, improving his fantastical scenery.
And the cracked sky——was in twilight.
The light of sun covered the darkness, mixing with the blue sky.
Covered by the color of the end, Takeru stood at the end of the world.
While looking at the horizon, he slowly overlooked his surroundings and found a man with long white hair swaying in the wind.
Ootori Sougetsu. A god of destruction's remnant who had the role of a God forced upon him.
The God looked at this world while squinting and snorted.
"...What a nostalgic scenery. I'm honestly surprised a place like this still remained."
Rather than nostalgic, he was more like a veteran soldier returning to old battlefield.
A half-god, living god created artificially by the Old Humanity. The only one remaining who knew the details about his birth was him alone. Current humanity couldn't even imagine just how much power old worlds' humanity and gods had. After the countless massacres and endless solitude, he was the only one remaining.
What was it that his nostalgic eyes held? Was it sadness? Or maybe joy?
——Personally, Kusanagi Takeru couldn't care less.
Origins of the world. God's origins. Good and evil. Whatever.
He didn't care. Kusanagi Takeru was here to save. Kusanagi Takeru was here to kill. He was here to accomplish killing the God.
"Hmm. Well, it's a good place to die... right? You two."
Looking for consent, Sougetsu looked at the two.
Takeru stared at him without expression, the red-haired girl Hoshijiro Nagaru turned in opposite direction from Takeru turned her back to Sougetsu. Even though they lined up together, they faced in opposite directions.
"Kusanagi-kun. He still doesn't know this world's coordinates. That's why he can't escape from here so easily. It's not as wide as it looks to be, so it's perfect for fighting with a sword. It's a good place to kill him."
Takeru and Nagaru stood in the flower flower field without looking at each other.
"President... did you know it would turn out like this from the start?"
When Takeru asked, Nagaru smiled a little and looked towards the sky.
"Not from the start. I didn't have any confirmation that Sougetsu-kun is the God and the two from Valhalla didn't tell me."
"...You've done too well for that to be true."
"I could only bet. Bet that Orochi-kun and Mother Goose will lose and entrust something to you."
Orochi and Mother Goose. Even though they disappeared from their memory, his chest throbbed hearing their names. They were probably the people who taught him the method to kill the God and become a God.
"But it wasn't a poor bet. I knew how those two think, I knew they were that kind of people, too. I guess what I was most uneasy about was whether you will win against them or not."
"...Haha, even if you ask me, I don't know."
"I guess. I kept lots of things secret from you, deceived you a lot, too. Sorry."
Nagaru apologized, but Takeru just shook his head.
"In that case... thank you for deceiving me."
"I know that this situation was created thanks to you, President. I understand that there was a lot I shouldn't have known. That's why, thank you very much."
Hearing Takeru's words of gratitude, Nagaru shook her hair and relaxed her shoulders a little.
"...I'm sorry, Kusanagi-kun. I can't take your place. The truth is, that I should have taken your role. I was born in order to do what you are about to do. It's not like I was told that by someone, but that's what I feel."
Nagaru, who was not supposed to hold negative emotions, spoke words of chagrin despite her bright tone of voice.
Previously, she said that she didn't hold emotions such as regret or sadness but knew how disappointment feels. Nagaru surely must have felt disappointed that Takeru must accomplish this role.
Takeru leaned the sword on his shoulder and responded seriously.
"That's wrong. Right from the start, it was something only I could do. I won't give this role to anyone. It's mine alone."
"President, there's a lot of cleaning up left in our world. You are necessary in that world. Rebuilding everything is your job, right?"
He could tell Nagaru turned around behind his back.
Takeru didn't turn around. Looking at his enemy, he only exchanged words with her.
"You're really strong〜. If possible, I wanted you to be happy, too."
"...I'm not unhappy, at the very least."
"And yet, I wanted to see a complete happy end. But——"
Even though his sensation was dead, he could tell Nagaru's hand touched his back.
Her forehead bumped onto his back.
"——I won't let the hope you gave us, go to waste."
She moved her hand away then took one step, then another, moving away.
Takeru moved the sword away from his shoulder and held it in both hands.
"I leave my comrades to you."
"Yup. I leave the world in your hands."
Saying so, Nagaru activated transfer magic again. The magic circle let out like waves and Nagaru's body started disappearing.
"...Bye bye, Kusanagi-kun. Thank you."
"Farewell, Student Council President Hoshijiro."
After saying their goodbyes, the two turned their backs to each other in order to progress on their paths.
The presence behind him faded and the remnants of the particles danced in the sky, disappearing far in the twilight.
Silence has spread. In the center of unmoving world, Takeru thought of his own world. About the days where he laughed together with his comrades. Memories he remembered, memories he lost, held tightly in his chest——Takeru poised his sword.
"Finished talking? Fighting like this isn't my style, but... let's begin."
Sougetsu too, had a sword appear in his hand. It was a brass-like rusty blade holding a dull shine. The shape looked like it was between sword and a gun. It was a single-edged blade with a handle and a large trigger. It was probably a Sacred Treasure, or its imitation. What Takeru understood, was that this sword could forcibly release God-Hunter form.
Any other details were unknown.
"...Any words to leave behind?"
When Takeru asked, Sougetsu burst into laughter.
"What's that, mercy towards a prisoner on a death row? Now? How silly."
Certainly, it was silly. It wasn't something to ask the person he was about to kill.
Takeru just wanted to confirm. When he was stabbed in the heart, Sougetsu said the world "peace". Takeru wanted to know whether he was serious or not.
So if he dares to say the word "peace" again, he would cut his head off in that instant.
What are you talking about after all this, don't screw around.
Sougetsu stroked the sword, its blunt shine reflected itself in his eyes.
"I have nothing to leave behind. That's how I lived my life."
It wasn't acting gallant nor bluffing because he gave up, it was Ootori Sougetsu's truth.
He was saying he had no regrets. He did his best as the god of destruction, doing as he pleases with all he had, he enjoyed himself to the fullest. Even if he is defeated, he would lose his life proudly. That was his pride as god of destruction——no, as Ootori Sougetsu.
He was nasty right from the start. Despite everything, Takeru has been at this man's mercy for a long time, used as a pawn he was forced to suffer. That's why he could understand him to a certain extent.
That's the kind of man he was. He knew Takeru's hatred, anger, but still acted like it had nothing to do with him. As if to show off how important he was, he looked at everything from above.
——As if I'd acknowledge it. A god or the top or whatever, I'm at limits of my patience.
——I've got to teach you bastard a lesson, and not just one but lots of them.
——Furious, full of resentment and looking uncool, I'll rattle on however I like.
Takeru formed a fist with his trembling hand, putting in his entire body and soul worth of anger.
For now, just smash everything at him.
Kusanagi Takeru's threw all his feelings at Sougetsu.
"I'll have you shoulder everything."
"My comrades' chagrin, sorrow... Kiseki's suffering, sins, countless deaths...! Lament of all those you have been playing with! Regrets of those who died! My endless anger and hatred...!"
"——I'll drop you down to hell with all that on your back, Ootori Sougetsu!"
Twilight flame flowed from the blade and started burning the flax field in a flash.
Clad in armor of god-hunter, clad in god-slaying flame.
He put his sword in the sheath and slid the sheath low.
"AntiMagic Academy 35th Test Platoon's captain, Kusanagi Takeru——I will... kill you!"
"I have no name to tell you. Let's quickly finish this, worm."
Sougetsu spoke while shrugging like usual, as if making fun of him.
Ruffling his hair, Takeru released his brain to the limit.
He had no intention of prolonging the battle. If in addition to God-Hunter form he activated Demon's Heart, Takeru would no longer remain himself. There was no need to worry since ultimately, that would happen anyway. There was no need to think about what happens once he kills God and becomes God.
But when he kills this man——kills this shitty bastard, he has to be himself otherwise he won't be satisfied.
That's why he will end this as fast as possible.
He will finish him with one blow. Using Double-Edge style's fastest, so fast a blow that even a God would not be able to see it to finish it all. Just as Sougetsu himself said, he wasn't good at fighting. Takeru understood that from how he held the sword. There was no doubt it had exercised a Sacred Treasure's performance and he had a God's own power... Nagaru said that this instant movement could be sealed by touching him.
The Sacred Treasure's shape was something between a sword and a gun.
If Sougetsu comes at him, it was easy to predict what the first attack will be.
First step was firing from range.
Just as Takeru predicted, Sougetsu slowly raised the gun and pointed the tip towards him.
The Godless Assassin Bullet.
A sound of the trigger being squeezed had echoed. Takeru squeezed the sword's sheath and opened his eyes wide, without pulling the sword out.
He looked for an opening before he activates Demon's Heart. Look closely. Sharpen your every nerve. Concentrate your brain power on your sight alone.
An instant is enough, he has to find the best moment.
Takeru's dynamic vision exceeded the range of human understanding. Sound disappeared, all objects have ceased to move.
Sougetsu's fingertips squeezed the trigger. It was the first time Takeru seeing it. He had no choice but to think of a way to cope with magic after it was cast. During the time that moved slow and felt like eternity, Takeru forestalled the opponent's movements to see through them.
However, Sougetsu didn't move at all. That's how it was supposed to be, Takeru's superhuman eyesight was supposed to catch his movements, yet Sougetsu just completely disappeared out of his sight.
The remaining power of God. Disappearance and re-emergence. It has exceeded the concepts of speed and time. He wasn't moving instantaneously at high speed, that man has essentially disappeared.
His disappearance and re-appearance was instantaneous.
He stood beside Takeru who was standing facing forward. The muzzle was sticking to Takeru's temple as if it had been there right from the start.
So it went this far. Instant transfer was at a very simple power, yet it surpassed common sense this much, huh.
Swordsmanship could do nothing about it. Speed could do nothing about it. Coping with this power was,
It could be. What foolish things you're thinking about.
Takeru noticed a contradiction and smiled.
——If he couldn't cope with it, then what was the time he was in now?
He had time to think about this. In other words, even though he couldn't cope with the movement itself, it was possible to deal with it after moving. He captured Sougetsu's in his sights as he "attacked".
——Takeru instantly lowered his upper body.
Magic was released from Naglfar's muzzle. It was just a magic bullet. It passed over his head. If it hit it might have done something to Takeru, but since it was avoided there was no point in thinking about it. He understood how to deal with it. If there was time to think, there was time to act.
It was time to respond with attack.
Sougetsu——was gone. He moved to another position, already preparing an attack from outside his field of vision, even in this moment.
Takeru's sense of touch died. He was unable to perceive the air's movement. What he needed was hearing. Switch brain control, enhance your hearing instead of sight.
Sound of shooting——avoid! He twisted his body and with desperate movements focused on escaping from the place he was in. A magic bullet passed between his head and shoulder before landing in the flower flower field.
He looked at the place it was fired from and saw Sougetsu.
Hammer's sound came from behind.
Takeru turned around and swung his sword.
But there was nothing. Petals danced in the air. There were traces of him behind there, but he wasn't.
Sound. Attack. Avoidance. Disappearance.
Sound. Attack. Avoidance. Disappearance.
Sound. Avoidance then attack. Gone.
Sound. Predicting ahead and taking imitative. Cutting the air.
——Before he noticed, he was alone on the flower field.
His breathing was the only sound in this delayed world.
Sougetsu was everywhere, yet nowhere. Not recognized by anyone his existence itself being uncertain, he was a void itself.
He said that was what it meant to be a God.
Did he mean this?
No attack came. There was no sound. His figure was nowhere. His existence disappeared.
Sougetsu was already gone from here.
It was a possibility. He might have identified the mythological world fragments' coordinates and moved back to the original world.
It was reasonable to think so. He was a man who did those kinds of things with ease.
《"——No, Host. He is here."》
《"Cut. Use your power to cut everything."》
Lapis' calm voice echoed inside his head.
To slash the God who transcended both speed and time, he had to cut everything.
"——Yeah, you're right."
If he was still here, that would solve all problems. Takeru returned the sword to the sheath.
There was no need to aim. Takeru only had to cut everything.
Takeru instructed Lapis and she extended the blade in form of a nodachi. He didn't know how big was this world, but if it was like Heretic Alliance's headquarters, there was an end to it.
Nagaru said it wasn't as wide as it looked to be. That it was perfect for fighting with a sword.
Then let's make this entire world within the range of my sword.
Takeru activated 《Demon's Heart》.
His thinking concentrated on one thing. He turned into a demon who thinks of only one goal.
The thought he limit himself to——was cutting everything.
Believing that the extended blade reached the end of this world, Takeru slashed literally everything.
Flowers, sky, earth, air. His sword cut everything without exceptions.
He filled the space itself with his slashes.
If he was unable to identify where enemy would appear, if enemy attacked from outside recognition, he just had to make it so that there was no place for his enemy to exist.
Cut, cut, cut. Faster than sound, fast enough to catch up to light.
He filled this world with the sword, clad in twilight flames.
In an instant, all of it.
This world——cut it all!
There was resistance. Even though he didn't see, he could tell he cut. A blast caused by sub-light speed slash has attacked enemy's body, but this impact could not kill the God. He had to use the god-slaying blade to pierce his heart or head and deal a fatal wound.
When the impact had come, Takeru's thinking returned. The extreme condition awakened Takeru's consciousness.
The earth shattered and decomposed, even in the middle of the broken world breaking again, Takeru found Sougetsu's location.
Before his consciousness reacted, he swung the sword towards that place.
However, the blow had cut the empty air.
Missed——fine, then one more time!
Takeru slashed everything again. His right eardrum burst and he lost his hearing. Several blood vessels in his right eye ruptured and blood stained his vision red. Blood spouted of his pores.
But this was the last one. He gave his life to this last blow.
A sound. He could still hear. Enemy's location.
Thinking necessary. His tenacity pulled back his consciousness. Back from Demon's Heart into Soumatou. Takeru held the sword in backhand grip and passing the blade by his flank he thrust behind himself.
His left ear caught a dull sound of piercing through meat.
Takeru returned the grip on the handle and pushing his right shoulder backwards he turned his body around.
Deeply, very deeply piercing in the blade. Even as blood spouted on his face, Takeru didn't close his eyes. Twisting the blade he pushed it without mercy.
He looked at the face of the one he pierced with the blade. He looked at the face of the man he killed.
Vomiting blood, miserably distorted, God's face.
Decaying as it was burned down by the god-slaying flame, God's true face.
"Ghh————I've been waiting... for this moment...!"
The God laughed. Miserably vomiting blood, his organs scattering around, he rejoiced passionately at an opportunity.
Takeru understood that Sougetsu was waiting for this moment. Being killed by Takeru and leading the world to destruction was this man's final goal. Now that Takeru has gained the power to become the God, that wish has clearly disappeared.
However, there was a method to accomplish it.
It was a draw.
The brass-like blade Sougetsu held let out a dull, golden flame.
With a blade piercing his belly, he swung down Naglfar's blade.
Sougetsu had lived for this moment. Driven into a corner, fallen into disadvantage, he found hope for destruction at the very last moment.
It was an unrealistic method. However, it wasn't impossible.
Mutual killing. God dies and loses his life along with God-Hunter.
If he did that, destruction would be fulfilled. The world would meet its end.
Sougetsu was correct. This was the only method to achieve destruction.
But he was also wrong. He committed the worst mistake.
In the very, very end——he challenged Takeru with a sword.
Sougetsu's resolve to draw was certain. His desperate strike was incredibly keen. It would be impossible for most people to evade, they would be cut down just like that.
However, his opponent was Kusanagi Takeru.
A manifestation of Kusanagi Double-Edge style's and the God-Hunter's contractor.
This man——could not lose against a sword.
Especially against a slash of a mere amateur who knew nothing of swordsmanship, there was no way it could reach.
Takeru calmly let go of the sword with his right hand he materialized warabite-to in it, he——in an instant, finely cut Sougetsu's arm holding Naglfar.
Thrown away, Naglfar fell behind Sougetsu.
Astonished, he spread his eyes wide open. Seeing the arm that was supposed to deliver deadly blow had turned into blood mist, he clicked his tongue and smiled.
"Hah——so it was no good after all... seems I'm not fit for this, really."
Squinting, Sougetsu declared himself to give up.
Using his left hand, Takeru pushed in the nodachi and toppled Sougetsu's body.
On the crumbling rock floating in space, Sougetsu collapsed with his limbs spread out.
Takeru looked down on him from above and raised the warabite-to he held in reverse grip.
Sougetsu did not move. Not looking away, he smiled like usual as he stared at Takeru.
The swung-down blade pierced into Sougetsu's forehead.
As Sougetsu opened his eyes nearly wide enough for his eyeballs to pop out, twilight flames burned down the God's body.
Glaring at Takeru until the very end, he who always acted aloof and composed, let out ear-deafening screams.
Listening to his screams, Takeru watched as the God's body decayed.
Armor in his head crumbled, his hair was eroded by azure color and Takeru's face covered by cracks was exposed from beneath.
In order to see with his own eyes, Takeru took off the mask.
In order to show his sworn enemy, who has killed him...
To take revenge on this man for all the grief...
"...Ku-hahaha...! I acknowledge it...it's my loss... Kusanagi Takeru."
While still screaming, enveloped by flames, he extended head towards Takeru.
The wreckage of a God has laughed.
"Satisfied? Because I am... it was fun...! It was a good life...! I'm glad I could play such a great game...!"
"Next is your turn to lead a game...become a God and get bored in loneliness...just like I have...hah...!"
While staring at the appearance of disappearing Sougetsu, Takeru erased his demonic appearance and narrowed his eyes.
With a human face, he overlooked Sougetsu's death.
Rather than painting his expression with anger, he confronted Sougetsu with his true feelings.
"I'm different from you... even if I become God... I have someone who will be together with me."
Clenching the handle pierced into Sougetsu's forehead, he felt Lapis nod.
"I guess you can't understand it. Wishing only for destruction, you accepted solitude."
"Like that, you are going to die as you laugh in loneliness. This is what you wanted, right?"
"I'll give you destruction, just as you wanted. But I won't give you my world. I won't give you my comrades or my little sister."
Burned by the flames and turning into ashes, in the very end, Sougetsu's expression was slightly distorted with pain.
Tasting defeat for the first time since he was born, he grit his teeth in frustration.
As Sougetsu was unable to hide the humiliation with a smile, Takeru declared.
"Play destruction by yourself."
He just quietly watched over it. The destruction of Ootori Sougetsu, the culprit behind everything.
Sougetsu's ashes along with his death throes turned into flames and were sucked in by Lapis' blade.
What was his physical body, what was his power... and what was his soul, was all sucked into the blade and inside Takeru. On top of the unmoving rock, Takeru felt something alien dwell inside his body.
《"Host... I have recovered the "God's Vessel"."》
Looking at the palm of his hand faintly shining palm, Takeru touched his face.
Flowing out of his cracking face was not blood, but memories.
He could tell the vessel dwelling inside him was trembling.
It was about to destroy the world.
Just by collecting the God's vessel, he didn't become God.
Pouring a soul inside that vessel was what qualified him to become a God.
For that sake existed 《Deification》.
He knew his life was about to run out. Takeru's body and soul was turning into something else from original, fusing with Lapis to become something different.
It wasn't just his face, cracks spread all over his body. The fingertips he touched his face with had broke and turned into sand.
Takeru couldn't see on his left eye. He didn't feel pain in his body. Sound and smell disappeared.
His heart too... has stopped crying.
"Ahh... There's no pain, nor fear left."
He was forgetting. Everything. Things unnecessary for him to become a God had poured outside through the cracks.
Memories appeared in his head and disappeared. Comrades' faces, little sister's face... faces of people he had been indebted to, they all crumbled and disappeared like pieces of candy.
The midsummer days when they were separated by a box... the days he exchanged hearts with Kiseki.
The fun and bitter times, the longest time he spent... his memories with Ikaruga.
The scent of black tea spreading inside his mouth, bringing him a smile... casual everyday life with Usagi.
Making his heart pound... Mari's smile.
Looking forward and walking with a confident expression... Ouka's face seen from the side.
They floated in his mind like fireflies before fading away.
It were very gentle memories. Even as they disappeared faintly, Takeru was glad to see his happy memories again. He was pleased to meet everyone again, in the end.
Forgetting everything, only happiness remained.
There was no despair. Only happiness.
His empty head had the warmth of the important memories remaining in it.
If it's like this... it's not so bad.
Not too bad.
"..................Let's go, Lapis."
His wrist broke and crumbled to dust.
Unable to stand he knelt down as pieces of him danced in the air.
He could hear Lapis' voice chant far away, a magic circle spread.
It wasn't azure-colored, but pure white like sunlight as it enveloped Takeru.
Looking up at the sky, he fell on his back.
He could see a single piece of azure petal ascend to the sky and escape from this unmoving world.
While chasing the petal's travel path with one eye and looking up at the twilight sky... before long, Kusanagi Takeru closed his eyelids in silence.