The blue sky was spreading above.
Azure sky without a single cloud continued forever.
He didn't think it was beautiful. He couldn't think of such an empty sky as beautiful.
It was just like inside his heart... empty.
Still looking at the sky, Kusanagi Takeru shed tears.
This sky was the sky he knew well. It wasn't cracked-up nor in twilight.
It was his own world's sky, he was used to.
He has come back.
The world was still here. There were no signs of it collapsing, the blue sky spread endlessly. As he looked around there were just ruins and ash left behind by Hyakki Yakou, but he could tell at a glance that the world wasn't destroyed.
"............Really... Lapis... you alone..."
Takeru clenched his fist and put it against his chest.
The world was saved. God died and the world was protected.
Takeru's wish to save everything has come into fulfillment.
............Aside from one person, his partner called Lapis.
He couldn't honestly rejoice. There was a sense of loss inside his chest.
Fallen on the ground with his arms spread, he sank into disappointment.
Suddenly, feeling heat on his back Takeru raised his body.
When he touched it, a piece of paper covered in ash was sticking to his back.
The piece of paper broke apart from where he touched it, but there were slight traces of a magic circle on it.
There was no mistake. It was a transfer magic's instant charm.
He furrowed his eyebrows and searched his memory. Then recalled his farewell with Nagaru on the fragment of mythological world.
Certainly, back then she put her hand on his back.
Takeru brushed away the ash and put a hand on his cheek.
"...ha-haha... that person, just how amazing is she..."
While letting out dry laughter he shook his head saying "good grief".
Did that tanuki girl predicted everything this far? That he wouldn't become God and Lapis would sacrifice herself?
It was unthinkable, but the fact that he couldn't deny it was what made Hoshijiro Nagaru scary.
He remembered Nagaru. His memory which was supposed to be gone, was back. Not just that, his sense of pain too... even his blind left eye was cured completely.
There was not a single scratch on his body. It was perfectly clear as if he was just born.
Surely, Lapis has healed him. Of course, not as a Magical Heritage nor Sacred Treasure.
"She's a God, after all..."
His voice trembled, tears started flowing again. Pathetic. Beyond help. Although it was hard to say he sorted out his feelings, back then he parted with Lapis convinced it would be the best.
Mocking himself, Takeru curled up and cried.
The pain of a loss wouldn't heal so quickly.
But... he had to bear it. He had that responsibility and it was also a punishment for his sins.
——That moment, sunlight was reflected by something on his side provoking his eyes.
Squinting, Takeru noticed it.
It was an azure sword pierced into the ground.
The moment he saw it he knew that no voice would reply.
As usual, magic power was dwelling inside it. As a Magical Heritage this sword would respond to its owner's requests.
However, there was no Lapis inside it. What remained, was only Lapis' vessel.
It was a soulless sword called Mistilteinn.
Takeru stopped extending his hand towards the sword and stared at it.
He recalled Lapis' voice.
『"I will be by your side... forever... even if you don't notice me."』
He recalled Lapis' warmth.
『"I will continue to protect your happiness forever..."』
Strength has returned to Takeru's eyes which were overflowing with tears.
『"——Host. You stay in there. You have to stay in there. You have to go back."』
You have to go back.
To that place.
To your comrades.
He was requested to, by his partner.
To become happy.
If you have time to cry in a place like this, better hurry. Struggle.
Hurry and run back.
Don't forget you are Kusanagi Takeru.
"That's right................................. let's go back. To where everyone is."
Takeru extended his stopped hand and grasped the sword's handle.
There was no warmth in it, no voice came.
However, it was a proof that she existed.
She must be his side. Even at this moment.
So puff up your chest.
Go back home proudly.
Takeru stood firmly on his two legs and put the sword in the sheath.
The sound of the collar clashing onto the sheath reached his ear.
From that moment, Takeru was no longer shedding tears.
Kusanagi Takeru who was selfish and once decided something, would never yield, has returned.
He raised his face to look forward.
In order to return to his comrades.
In order to take a new step forward.
"————Oh? You're making quite a depressed expression for a world's savior... is that a hero's face?"
Takeru immediately stopped his leg.
Right from the first step, an obstacle has appeared on his new path.
He tensed his shoulders after stopping in tracks.
He was surprised only for an instant. It was unknown how many times was he astonished, made shiver and despair by this voice so far.
It could be said he finally got used to it. It was always like this. He came out with timing like this. Whenever it seemed like everything was settled, he suddenly popped out.
Takeru closed his eyes tempted to sigh and once again put his hand on the sword.
Holding the sheath with the other hand he grasped the handle and turned around towards the voice.
Wind blew and made his hair sway. On top of the rubble covered with ash and dust, that guy stood there facing Takeru. Like an exaggerated actor he let his hair blaze in the wind as he looked Takeru's way with serious look in his eyes.
"What happened? Tell your big bro everything. Can it be that you failed to save everything?"
"...Whoaah, no answer?! Must be bull's-eye... what did you give up on? Hmmm, mm-hmm... Since you came back alone it means..."
"——Ahh, it was your partner? That azure girl, did she become God instead of you? Or did you sacrifice her yourself?"
"That's it! Bingo?! Aren't I smart!"
Talking ridiculousness he tried to provoke Takeru by making lots of clamor.
Good grief, this man was a genius when it came to annoying others. However, his eyes were serious. Glaring at Takeru he made a smile with just the tips of his lips.
Happy from the bottom of his heart. Rejoicing from the bottom of his heart. He stared at Takeru's despair, savoring it.
Takeru faced directly towards the man, confronting him.
The man glared at Takeru while his blonde hair swayed furiously on the wind.
——Kusanagi Takeru and Haunted faced each other under eerie, cloudless sky.
"...So boring provocations won't make you budge. I can tell even if you don't answer, seems lik you tasted quite the despair."
"Despair? Not really, I immediately cut down and discarded it."
Haunted snorted and raised his both hands.
"Looks like it. So it was no good... a mere God was unable to make you despair."
"Yeah, despair sucks ass and I have no intention of letting my sword rust."
"Aww, thaaat's the momentum. I don't like it, but I have to praise you. Thanks to you the world was saved. With this, despair will continue eternally... I am honestly grateful to you. Thanks, you piece of shit."
"You're welcome, you piece of shit. Don't make me laugh. Continue? It ends here."
The wind blew again.
Until the wind finished blowing, the two remained silent.
"...I come back and the first person I meet is you... you a stalker or something? Did you wait while politely pretending to die?"
"Such an awful accusation, I have no interest in men... But it's true that I was waiting. See, I believed that you will come back."
"You say that now?"
"On what basis did you believe?"
"Of course I would believed. You need no basis to believe. You are my enemy and I longed to make you despair in this situation, ceaselessly believing in it."
Wind blew for the third time.
The wind gradually grew stronger and started letting out rumbling sounds as it wound around the two.
"Y'know... until now, I fought enemies while giving myself a reason to... for myself, for my comrades, for my sister."
"I really want to retort saying it's ultimately all for your own sake, oh well. And like that, you saved almost everything, I won't deny that."
"Yeah... but there's just one, one guy whom whenever I fight, any reason I use feels like an excuse. No matter what I think of, I just end up wanting to cut the guy up."
"Ohh, what a coincidence. I have one person like that too."
"And... he humiliated me with a sword."
"Yeah, he stole despair from me."
"I won't bear it until I get my pride back."
"I will not stand it until I crush his hope to dust."
The two pulled out their swords from their sheath at the same time.
Sheaths rubbed against the blades letting out sounds similar to a bell.
Takeru pulled out the azure katana.
Haunted pulled out a jet black rapier.
As if proud of their weapons the two pulled out their swords.
"Well then... let's begin. Continuation of that time."
"I came here intending that right from the start. You don't know just how long have I waited for this moment."
Takeru bared his fangs, Haunted raised the tip of his mouth in a smile.
There was no longer any need for talk. The two were bound by fate.
Were he to look, Takeru would find plenty of reasons to fight against him. Haunted stole Mari's family from her, killed Ikaruga's sister, cornered Kiseki's heart... if he included more details there would be no end to it. And there surely was plenty of things Takeru didn't know.
But——surpassing those reasons, there was will inside him telling him he has to cut Haunted down.
Narrowing it down, he realized it's "aversion". Takeru aiming for hope and Haunted, aiming for despair. It was natural that the two who were polar opposites would feel aversion towards one another.
However, it was pointless to draw such a line between them. Polar opposites, reverse cognate aversion... there was no need for such complicated explanations.
Naming the aversion simply came very well to him.
——He pisses me off.
Wind did not blow for the fourth time.
What was in that place, were blue sky, silence and rubble.
It was the best place for cutting each other up.
There was nothing to get in their way, no one to stop them.
Slash the enemy plenty, get slashed plenty yourself——and cut him down.
The two erased their smiles and in the silence they focused their nerves onto combat.
Takeru raised his sword up and pierced the enemy with his red, demon eyes.
Haunted stretched his left behind himself and clenching the sword with his fist he held it near his chest.
Even after losing its soul, Takeru's Mistilteinn responded to its master's request.
A magic circles appeared and their bodies was covered with armor from his feet up to his head.
Takeru with an azure one. Haunted with a dark one which seemed like it was painted with night.
Once complete, their blades sparkled.
"Kusanagi Double-Edged style's initiate, Kusanagi Takeru——I'll cut you down no matter what!
——Prepare yourself, Sorcerer!!"
"Very well! I will bestow it upon you! The despair!
——I will cut you! Witch Hunterrr!!"
Like previously, the two clashed.
They kicked off the ground at the very same time. Heading straight for each other, they released their first attack. Takeru slashed vertically from above, Haunted did a twisted thrust from his heart.
It should be impossible for the two attacks to meet. They were a "point" and a "line". With a slash and a thrust, it turned into a match as to which one would reach the opponent first.
However, those two were an exception. Whether it was a line or a point, speed, skill or technique, they would inevitably meet. They didn't aim for that, it was fated that would happen.
A sound of impact unthinkable to come from sword attacks had spread and dust swept up as if an explosion had occurred.
The two blows balanced each other. They were equal. One sword was blown away by the other's impact and they opened distance.
A cloud of dust turned their visibility zero. Wrapped in cloud of dust they glared at each other and——pushing through it they once again moved forward.
Their gazes intersected. Killing intent full of desire to cut had caused lightning to strike down.
This time the two didn't leave everything to strength. They used skill.
"Kusanagi Double-Edged style, Yamata no Orochi!"
Takeru went at full power right from the start. Eight strikes released practically at the same time. A technique impossible to use with just a human body, a technique that exceeded human bodily performance. Both vertical and horizontal attacks coming from above in 180 degrees.
There was no way to avoid it but to move backwards. Haunted who had stepped forward could not avoid it even if he leaped backwards in this moment.
Therefore he had to pull out his best of his slender body.
Haunted flexed his rapier, Dáinsleif, bending it like a snake and slid it into the gap between attacks.
He aimed at Takeru's face. Haunted wasn't resolved for honorable defeat. He could not die as many times as he did before. In battle with Kurogane Hayato he managed to make Hayato think that his stock of lives ran out and he died, but in fact his stock decreased from two to one.
If he dies this time, he would really fall into hell. However, Haunted wasn't afraid. What he feared was not being able to make Kusanagi Takeru taste despair. Bring it on, laughed the necromancer. This urgency, the smell of battle, this thrill of being a single mistake away from death.
"It's despairlicious! Can't get enough of this!"
The rapier slips past the eight strikes and approached Takeru's eyes.
——Takeru didn't pull back. The thrust wiggled like a snake and approached Takeru's right eye. In state with Soumatou activated Takeru twisted his head as much as he could. The blade brushed past his eyebrow's edge and blood spouted out.
But he did avoid it. Because of Dáinsleif's characteristics Takeru's wound was not healed, but it was perfect if the damage was reduced to this much.
He smashed the eight hits. He was confident of his victory. Against Haunted, he let out every technique while confident of his victory. Otherwise it would be impossible for him to win.
However, in that moment——Haunted did something unbelievable, he shrunk his body parts to an utmost limit.
Magic? A type of body strengthening? Who cares, he evaded it!
Just like the rapier, Haunted's body turned slim like a string and passed between the slashes.
This guy was able to freely fiddle with his body. It was something only one who knew everything about human body could do. It was easy for him to shrink his muscles and body fat, as well as soften bones.
Because of momentum caused by Takeru's missing the target, his sword pierced the ground.
After avoiding Yamata no Orochi, Haunted returned to his original size with a popping sound.
"What the hell's that...!"
"I used to work in a ciiircussss——!!"
He was smiling after accomplishing something so ridiculous. Although, he had no time to smile.
Takeru was full of openings. The rapier's cleave approached him. Although a rapier wasn't very suitable for slashing, that distinction was pointless when it came to Dáinsleif.
He concentrated all his nerves on bending his knees alone. Dáinsleif's blade passed over his head and the blade cut his hair. Takeru succeeded in evading, but he still had a huge opening.
Haunted's swordsmanship was flexible. His sword twisted like a snake and his "thrust" changed trajectories. Takeru saw the rapier change its trajectory and approach his shoulder. The thrust that was supposed to avoid his eyeball had let out squeeky sound and unnaturally approached the back of his head. From that posture it was impossible to thrust with the sword's tip at Takeru's head.
However, Haunted's arm was bent in opposite direction. His swordsmanship really was like acrobatics.
Takeru couldn't avoid. It was impossible.
So I won't avoid! I'll blow him away!
Pushing his right hand on the ground for support, raised his bent left leg and burst into Haunted's waist.
It landed so nicely even Takeru himself was surprised.
Haunted's body bent in 90 degrees in the waist and was awkwardly blown away. The rapier's tip didn't reach Takeru and rolled together with Haunted on the ground.
He killed the impact from the kick by piercing the sword into the ground.
Falling on his knees, he turned his frustration towards Takeru.
"A swordsmanship freak kicking? Aren't you embarrassed...?!"
"We're killin' each other here, there ain't place for embarrassment, you dumb bastard...!"
Takeru and Haunted pulled out their weapons from the ground and making a pointless wing in mid-air, they once again confronted each other.
There was no meaning behind that swing. It was just a show of anger.
"That style pisses me off, leaves everything to power as always!"
"That's my line! You're wriggling like a damn eel!"
"I hate Kusanagis Double-Edged style!"
"I won't acknowledge your swordsmanship!"
They say whatever's on their tongue, each of them talking as whatever they wanted made it seem like a kids' fight.
However, both of them were serious. They disliked each other so much they couldn't bear it.
The opponent's every move pissed them off to no end, made them sick and disgusted to the bone. The blood vessels on their temples cramped up furiously.
"From here on I'll be dictating the pace...!"
"As if I'd let you, from the start to end this'll be my field...!"
Haunted once again pulled back the sword in a thrust stance, confronting him Takeru took "seigan no kamae" stance.
The two gripped the sword's handle as if to gather strength and when they reached boiling point, they burst.
A storm of point attacks assaulted Takeru. Haunted's continuous strikes were so fast that Takeru was barely able to see them with Soumatou. Receiving them with a sword, he withstood it.
Takeru's stance was a very orthodox one, a very basic swordsmanship stance that allowed one to respond with both defense and attack. A stance with the sword raised up and set horizontally. A stance with a sword set low and with slashing edge pointing upwards. It was possible for him to easily change his combat styles into these stances. That was ideal for responding with an attack after defending.
A single strike after receiving a storm of thrusts. A slash from above from his basic stance, a basic "men" strike in kendo.
Takeru wasn't just probing the opponent, his technique started from this attack.
This simple slash was a trap. Just like Haunted's storm of thrust was a trap that invited Takeru's attack, Takeru's behavior was also a trap that invited his enemy to parry.
The slash approached Haunted's head. As if waiting for Takeru's attack, Haunted has interrupted his thrusts and pulled his rapier's blade as to entangle it with Takeru's attack.
The long sword's base has rubbed against the rapier's blade.
Received it. Parried it. As the blades rubbed against one another, a distinctive metallic sound echoed. The rapier Haunted swung had bent to an abnormal level turning circular, and then literally——wound around Takeru's long sword.
From among people Takeru knew, only Orochi could parry attack so violently. Along with a creaky sound, Takeru's attack was slipping behind Haunted's back.
He was waiting for this moment.
"I told you didn't I, that this is my field——! Ghost Light Firefly!"
Takeru initiated his technique. By parrying, Takeru shocked Haunted who was convinced that he took advantage of Takeru's attack.
For Takeru has parried a parry.
Using the power that was pushing the sword back, he drew an arc and flanked the rapier's blade.
Having his parry returned back at him, Haunted's body staggered greatly. What shocked him was the fact that despite intending to use Takeru's attack to swing back at him, he ended up being the one receiving a sword swing.
It wasn't his first time seeing this. Before fighting Hayato, Takeru had demonstrated this technique when the two fought. Takeru possessed techniques that Haunted could do nothing despite knowing them.
Finding a large opening, Takeru did not let it go.
Using this delicious opportunity he would bite in even harder!
True-Light style's Wolf Blade. The slash also called "reverse wind" which came from below and upwards was a technique that left a lot to pure strength. The entire body weight and body springs utilization caused Takeru's sword to approach with a momentum similar to that of a wolf leaping at prey's throat.
"Don't underestimate MEeEee!!"
Haunted screamed and fought back. Putting his rapier against Takeru's sword he slid along its blade. Bending his head to strongly he extended his arms holding the sword to the limit.
The rapier's blade clashed onto the collar and Takeru's blade stopped at the tip of Haunted's chin. Although dreaded by the unexpected way it was prevented, Takeru did not stop. By striking the back of his own sword with his shoulder, he repelled the Rapier that was pushing against his sword's collar.
It was an application of Double-Edged style's Monk with Iron Mallet. In the middle of using another technique, and not with a fist but by tackling the sword with his shoulder, he pushed the slash forward.
Repelled, Haunted was thrust backwards. Using the recoil from when he used Monk with Iron Mallet, Takeru immediately attacked Haunted again.
Ghost Light Firefly never stopped. Whether the opponent used his attack or any other "power", Takeru further accelerated using that power.
Parry, be parried, and parry the parry again. By doing so he could increase the speed and power without end. Haunted's specialty were thrusts. They didn't attack straightforwardly but had distorted trajectories and since they were released from acrobatic postures, they were hard to read.
However, not to an extent where he couldn't deal with them. Just as Takeru declared, he held the strength to dictate the battle's pace.
Before long, Takeru's slashes surpassed his opponent's speed and he started overpowering Haunted.
The memory Takeru forgot before he separated from Lapis. Although he really didn't like it, Haunted's parries reminded him of his training with Orochi. He received Orochi's guidance in the Magic Academy and the two crossed swords. They enjoyed themselves as they increased speed.
His master, Orochi said,
Read the flow, ride the flow.
However, if you ride the flow too much you will get caught by surprise. Don't miss the change in flow.
Open your eyes wide, catch a glimpse of it. While maintaining the flow, don't overlook Haunted's tiniest move.
Taking a step forward with the right leg, Haunted released a thrust in a way he showed his back to Takeru.
From above, aiming low, the flying fish jumped out of water and once again charged at Takeru while thrusting the rapier's tip at him.
The rapier's blade bent into an arc, aiming for Takeru's forehead. Takeru took a stance with the sword high and pointing downwards. Pulling his left leg back and to the side he held the sword overhead to protect it.
But the next moment, that thrust drew a different trajectory from the predicted one. Haunted twisted his wrist slightly.
——Along with a squeak, the arcing trajectory has turned into a reverse arc in an instant. It was like a moon changing from a first quarter into the second quarter.
The thrust was approaching from above, but had changed into pushing upwards.
Passing by Takeru's defense as he protected his head, the needle-like sword tip approached Takeru's throat. The change in the flow. By changing attack pattern, Haunted decided to take control of it.
Takeru read it——but he could not handle it. It was impossible for him to defend from his posture. Even Ghost Light Firefly could not make perfect defense real. Ultimately, it only parried attacks. It was meaningless unless he could receive the attack.
Therefore, he decided to rely on something other than his skill.
Taking his left hand off the handle on the sword maintaining the stance, he set it up as if he was holding something in it.
Even though it didn't respond, it should have.
Even if you don't have a soul, I believe you are my sword.
There was no answer to his call.
However——without any sound, a kodachi appeared in his left hand. Takeru grasped the handle strongly and holding it in reverse-grip he brushed away the thrust approaching his throat.
Along with a metallic sound, Haunted's attack was blocked.
Takeru used the kodachi to repel the rapier with as much strength as possible. As a result of a parry's impact, Haunted was slightly blown away.
Releasing his stance, Takeru raised the sword upwards taking exaggerated posture.
"Double-Edged style——Baboon Menace!"
Although it was a technique used as a faint against magical organisms, if it actually hit it had plenty of power. Haunted clenched his teeth and attempted to avoid the swung-down sword.
However, because he was repelled, his legs weren't touching the ground.
Twisting his body was his limit.
Takeru's blow slashed Haunted's body diagonally from the shoulder. Although it was shallow, Haunted's armor was broken and blood spurted from his torso.
Their gazes met again.
While Takeru's gaze said "serves you right", Haunted smiled joyfully while gritting his back teeth.
"That's how it has to be! You only are yourself when holding that sword!"
"I don't need you to tell me that... Lapis and I are the strongest!"
"Ha! So he says! What do you think, Nacht?"
When Haunted called that name,
《"Let's prove it, prove that we are above them."》
A flat voice sounded in their heads.
Dáinsleif. During the mock battle tournament assault, Takeru heard her voice just once. She was the personality of an S-class Magical Heritage which competed with Lapis.
Takeru did not forget her performance. Seeing Haunted kick off the ground and retreat backwards, Takeru stopped Ghost Light Firefly and braced himself.
A sound of countless number of objects piercing the air has spread. Haunted swung his sword around as he leaped backwards.
This action was not pointless and Takeru was aware of that.
The residua of slashes, and——
"Dance! ——Entertain me!"
Takeru requested an analysis filter in a hurry. Attaching a membrane made of magic power to his retina, he visualized the invisible slashes.
His vision dimmed slightly. However, when Takeru has visualized Haunted's slashes it was already too late.
He swung his sword quickly to strike them down. Out of the flying slashes there were two he failed to destroy, they grazed his shoulder and his side.
Blood spurted like a fountain. Although it wasn't a fatal injury, it was one he could not heal. Takeru forcibly covered the wounds with armor. When he first fought against Haunted and was wounded, he had a hole opened in his lung. Compared to the pain back then, this was nothing.
However, it took two seconds to block the wounds——meanwhile the space between him and Haunted was filled with a dreadful number of residual slashes.
In the middle of numerous slashes remaining in the air, Haunted spread his arms and shrugged.
"My partner is also really enthusiastic this time. However, she's a little frustrated too. Thanks to you sacrificing your partner, the best opportunity to take revenge is gone."
Hearing Haunted's words, Nacht snorted.
《"I'm not frustrated. I only see that azure girl as a sword As long as her performance as a sword remains, I can break her."》
"Nfufu♪ or so she says?"
Haunted stroked Dáinsleif's blade as if to boast of his sword. Holding a nodachi in his right hand and a kodachi in his left, Takeru snorted at Haunted's provocation.
"...Then how about we make sure of it. Let's settle who stands above...!"
Grasping the nodachi in front of himself, Takeru made the azure blade shine brilliantly.
Haunted too, held the black sword in front of himself like a knight.
Proud of their weapons, the two clashed again.
"——The main course!"
Crossing blades in both hands, Takeru charged forward.
He didn't think of avoiding. As long as he sees the residual slashes, they were not a problem.
If there are obstacles in front of you, cleave 'em all down!
Lapis whom he held in his hand shook the air and let out a bell-like sound.
Haunted opened his mouth to laugh loudly as he swung his sword.
The still-remaining residual slashes attacked Takeru all at once.
Just like guided missiles, they all assaulted him without fail.
Running straight, Takeru struck down the slashes. The dark red slashes clashed onto Takeru's sword and broke like glass.
They were brittle. Compared to the sword Haunted was actually swinging, they seemed to be made of candy.
"As if something like this will stop me and Lapis!!"
Ten, twenty, thirty. Takeru rushed madly ahead as he crushed the slashes.
Smashing with his everything.
In order to prove that he and his partner are the strongest!
"Your way of living is like that of a locomotive. I'm unimpressed by how you only look ahead of you——!!"
*thump*! Haunted suddenly stomped his right leg.
Beneath Takeru who had been rushing in a single pattern, appeared a wriggling black magic circle.
While dealing with slashes he looked beneath his feet and shivered.
A huge whale-like monster who looked like it just came out of sea, had jumper out from beneath Takeru's feet. Pushed away by the whale monster, Takeru was blown into the sky.
Haunted put his head over his forehead and whistled as he watched Takeru turn small in the sky.
"It's a pet I've been keeping since I was a kid, I let it out first time in a while and here it is, even bigger than before!"
He didn't think summoning magical organisms during his sword fight was unrefined or anything. Takeru was probably the same, he too probably would use any means to win. There were no rules in this battle. If there was one, it would be a rule where you die the moment you hold back.
Cowardice, blasphemy, heresy. Both of them welcomed it all.
《"There is no time for pointless chatter. He's coming."》
Surprised by Nacht's voice, Haunted stared at the whale monster swimming in the sky. The moment he heard a cry that sounded like a blowing horn, something ran on top of the whale monster. Seeing Takeru run on in a spiral with the sword pierced in, Haunted happily swung his sword sideways.
Immediately after the whale monster has turned into magic particles as a result of Takeru's counter-attack, Haunted made several magic circles appear and summoned an army of variants from inside, sending the army into the sky. 《Belladona Forest》. By opening a gate to another world, Haunted continued summoning an army of low-level magical organisms as long as his magic power lasted.
An abnormal army approached Takeru as he fell from the sky.
Takeru demonstrated that when facing Kusanagi Double-Edged style, using variants was the height of foolishness. Using various Double-Edged style's techniques, he slashed up the army of monsters.
Avoiding what he could not handle by ejecting magic power, Takeru descended right above Haunted.
Haunted grasped Nacht's blade and instructed her to harden the blade. When the strength and hardness of the blade raised to the limit he affixed the blade in slightly curved shape, then returned it to the sheath. Since the sheath was not a Magical Heritage, it was bent and distorted by the blade.
The slender, straight sword such as rapier could not be used for quick draw techniques. Although it was possible by slightly bending the blade, it didn't have much meaning.
However, it was a fact that this stance made it easy to match the incoming attack. It was perfect for dealing with a fast-moving opponent. Of course, he also did it out of pure interest as well, wanting to try it at least once.
"—————Come...!! I'll smack you down like a fly...!"
He had no intention of avoiding. Even if he tried to avoid, Takeru would correct his aim by ejecting magic power and come crashing from above. That's what Haunted felt.
That's why a direct confrontation. Haunted decide to play with him.
——Takeru started to rotate vertically in the sky. Since his left arm was injured in the whale monster's attack he could not use the kodachi. He transformed the sword into a huge zweihander.
He approached the surface Haunted was standing on, having a perfect grasp on their distance. It was a technique he used countless times, his body knew the perfect timing to smash the attack in.
"Kusanagi Double-Edged style——"
Rotating to the limit and on the verge of clashing onto the ground, Takeru released his technique towards Haunted's head.
At the same time, Haunted pulled out the warped rapier from the sheath and bending his upper body he released the quick draw.
Although the enormous zweihander was overwhelmingly more powerful than the rapier, the strength of the rapier could block any impact.
The blades have approached one another.
The moment Takeru's sword hit the rapier, the zweihander changed into a tanto.
Haunted turned speechless in shock. The rapier which was pushing against the zweihander's huge blade had cut the air as the zweihander disappeared, and Takeru slipped by to slash Haunted's left arm with the tanto.
At the same time as Takeru landed, the earth caved in and swelled up at the same time. Having his left arm cut off with the tanto, Haunted cramped his face with frustration. Takeru looked up at him from his landing posture and returning the sword shape to a nodachi, he clenched it with his right hand.
Dáinsleif held by Haunted let out a creaky sound.
Holding the sword in shape of a nodachi, Takeru glared with flame in his red demon eyes.
And——the two's sword fight was resumed.
Both of them used one arm. Their exhaustion wasn't as light as to allow them to focus completely on parrying.
They were completely reckless. Using all the strength they had they slashed at the bastard in front of them.
The blades met with a high-pitched sound. Takeru's response with techniques also eventually turned into very basic movements with his sword. Haunted's peculiar Western swordsmanship had also warped and started losing its shape, as he turned into a beast swinging around its fang.
Blood splattered, meat was torn, everything around them was dyed red. It was unknown whose were these wounds or whose was the blood.
They were both full of wounds.
And yet, anger didn't allow them to stop their bodies.
They couldn't allow the person in front of them to exist. That's what the two felt right from the start.
I hate how he acts. I hate how he thinks. I feel sick hearing his goals. His voice gives me a headache, it's uncomfortable to the point of barfing. If I could stomp on his face I'd surely greet a happy morning next day.
I can't physiologically accept this guy's existence.
They both understood to a painful extent that they both felt the aversion. This guy is strong. There are things about he's far better at than me, they thought. If they were proper humans they would have become worthy rivals for one another.
However——I will never acknowledge him. I'll pass on the mutual acknowledgement.
He's my enemy. A hateful existence I need to kill.
The two hated each other to no end. Got annoyed by the other to the limit.
I won't allow him to live——!
I won't stop until I cut him with my own hand——!
I won't feel good until cut him down——!
Both of them shouted as they cut each other with their selfish pride.
The despair. The hope. Those things disappeared somewhere.
Takeru, the child of swordsmanship was gone.
Haunted, the child of despair was also nowhere to be found.
What remained were two hideous beasts.
It was unknown how long has the exchange of attack and defense... no, exchange of attacks, alone has continued. The sun floating above the blue sky was right above them. Sun burned their beat-up bodies. Although they were in the middle of winter, their bodies were so hot they couldn't bear it. Their field of vision was hazy due.
Exchanging several hundred, several thousands of slashes the two approached their limit. Blood has dried on top of their bodies and it felt like blood flowing inside their bodies turned into sand. With their bodies heavy, they couldn't move well. But they did not stop. They wouldn't stop until they cut down the other.
Takeru raised Lapis up and swung her down on Haunted's face.
His speed was high, but because his posture and step-in were poor it was easy to avoid.
Haunted was able to pull back half of his body. Unable to completely avoid it, it had cut his shoulder. Suppressing the blood that was coming out, he staggered backwards.
Pissed off by himself retreating, Haunted let out a thrust.
Takeru tried to avoid it, but stumbling over the rubble his posture broke and his neck was gouged.
And he fell on his knees.
The distance between them was one meter. In front of him, there was a man struggling for his breath with a pathetic look on his face.
Realizing that they were in the same state, annoyed the two.
They stood up with force of stubbornness.
Staggering, they stood face to face.
Exhaling like beasts, baring their teeth they glared at each other. And the next moment——twisting their necks they head-butted each other at the very same time.
Because of the impact they dealt on one another, they staggered backwards and stopped five meters away from each other.
They both exhaled. They exhaled in order to fight. With a hand on the forehead they both shook their heads in pain and glared through fingers at the opponent.
Investigating the opponent's will to fight and damage received.
It was the same. This exhaustion, will to fight, they were equal.
Convinced, they squinted.
——Convinced that next would be last.
The next attack would most likely deprive one of them of their life.
That was what this distance, this interval meant.
They calmed their breath and stretched their backs.
The aversion and beastly impulses disappeared, the two returned back to being humans.
"Make sure... to give it your all into this strike, not to leave regrets... Kusanagi Takeru."
"...Let's settle this... Haunted."
They faced off.
The time to smash their anger against one another was over.
At the end, they swung their swords for the sake of things they believed in.
Haunted, for despair.
So that he can purely chase after despair.
"Killing you here is the best despair for me. That won't change. The despair of your death will not touch just you, but also extend to various other people. Like a seed sprouting, it would cause flowers to bloom everywhere."
"I will kill you in order to see that. Tasting the despair of all of you is my current way of living."
Haunted set up his sword in front like a knight and clad himself in magic power.
Black, similar to the night magic power built a magic circle beneath his feet and darkness wrapped around Dáinsleif's blade.
《Berserk Enchantment》. While simultaneously forcing bodily and mental madness, it granted probably the greatest destructive power among all Magical Heritages existing in this world.
The last strike.
Haunted intended to put in all of his own and his partner's power into this strike.
Takeru looked at the sword he was clenching in his right hand, at Mistilteinn.
Until now he exchanged sword strikes with this guy for his own sake. Although this time too, it was for his own sake, but this time it was for the sake of his own stubbornness and pride.
However... this strike wasn't the same.
Staring at Mistilteinn... staring at Lapis, he opened his mouth.
He recalled the wonderful smile Lapis showed him in the end.
And that place.
He recalled that place, everyone was waiting in.
That place, where he was always greeted.
"I will put everything into this strike so that I can go back."
"In order to come back to where I belong——I will cut you down."
That was Kusanagi Takeru's wish.
That was Kusanagi Takeru's hope.
For comrades' sake.
For little sister's sake.
For his own sake.
And——for the one that's watching over him from somewhere, his partner's sake.
"I see. That hope of yours is very much like you... I look forward to crushing it."
Takeru returned the sword into the sheath and lowered his hips.
"............Let's end this."
"............I'll do that."
And Haunted nodded.
""——I'll sever it here!""
Touching the handle with his fingertips, Takeru quietly instructed.
"Lapis... 《Twilight Enchantment》."
The blade was lit with flames inside the sheath.
Up until now he never felt heat from that flame. He thought it was just magic and a power to hunt the heretics.
He felt it to be very warm now. Similar to Lapis' hand touching his cheek, soft and warm...
Takeru closed his eyes and recalled.
Demon's Heart did not bestow madness. It removed useless thoughts, leaving only the will to fight.
The will to fight. The reason for fighting.
A goal and action.
In order to return to where he belonged——he would slash.
The sound disappeared, his body's sensations disappeared.
When he opened his eyes, he saw the delayed world.
The world has slowed down and was left behind.
He saw the particles of light. Everything and all has stopped moving.
In the middle of it, Takeru took a step forward.
Together with his partner he aimed forward.
He wasn't chasing after the light. His goal wasn't light.
The particles of light resumed its movement and started to flow again.
Holding the sword behind Haunted, Takeru looked at the platoon's room.
I'll return to that place.
That was his wish.
"Let's go back, together."
Takeru who had pulled out the sword from the sheath, had saw the door open beyond light.
After Hyakki Yakou's invasion had stopped, the ocean of demons filling the entire capital had turned into ash and the giant tree had died then fell onto the ground. Because the Hyakki Yakou which filled the ground had become ash, they confirmed land subsidence in various places. There was not even a remnant left of the capital.
An entire night has passed since Hyakki Yakou's invasion. Ever since Ootori Sougetsu disappeared along with Kusanagi Takeru, the 35th platoon made survival their highest priority.
Ouka collected Kiseki who had lost her consciousness and leaped on the helicopter Usagi and Ikaruga were on, retreating from the collapsing tree.
Afterwards, Heretic Alliance had gathered at the school site's location, then gave Ouka and others treatment. The one who received most serious injuries was Mari. While exhausted from her battle with Mother Goose, she had the control of her soul deprived and battled against Ouka. Furthermore, she exhausted her magic power the second time by giving it to Takeru. It wouldn't be strange if a normal witch died because of that.
Although Ouka and others weren't that worried, when the Seelie in charge and a healing sorcerer said that "A long-term medical treatment is necessary, but her life isn't in danger.", they were all relieved.
Ouka, Usagi and Ikaruga have remained in the first-aid tent until the morning broke out, comforting each other.
None of them said anything. Each of them was thinking of what to do from now on. Not knowing anything about what happened to the world's destruction at Sougetsu's hands, they were left behind by Takeru.
What should we tell Kiseki? What will happen to Kiseki from now on?
We... the world... they knew nothing of what's ahead.
The three comforted each other. If they are together, it would somehow work out. Same as always, they would combine their strength and open the path. To think so, they needed time.
At the very least, until the morning...
——Hoshijiro Nagaru has returned just thirty minutes earlier.
"That explosion just now... can it be...?"
Riding a four-wheeler they borrowed from beside the first-aid tent, with Ouka and Usagi riding with her, Ikaruga suddenly stepped on her brakes as they were assaulted by a sudden shaking and a flash of light.
Ignoring Usagi who tried to restrain her, Ouka jumped off from the passenger's seat and started running. She ran in the direction of that explosion. Ikaruga and Usagi too, chased her from behind.
Nagaru said this.
『"I can't guarantee anything, but go check this location... If he still remains human, then maybe..."』
She said that there is faint hope. Ouka and others had no choice but to cling onto that hope.
Jumping over the rubble, despite having her legs sinking in the ash she desperately proceeded forward.
Calling his name, she aimed for the explosion's hypocenter.
Ahead of where she arrived, there was an enormous crater.
Stopping at the edge of the crater she looked around.
It was an empty scenery. With everything destroyed in there, it turned into an endless world of ash.
In the center of the crater... Ouka found a certain object.
At the bottom of the crater where a mountain of ash was piling up.
Pierced in on top of that mountain there were two swords.
A black and slender one, and an azure katana.
The two swords were crossed as they were stuck in ash.
Ouka fell on her knees and squinted. Grasping ash she formed a fist with her hand.
Frustration and sorrow overwhelmed her. Her tears fell to ash and black points spread on the ground.
He must have came back. He did what he had to do and came back to this world.
That truth was her only salvation.
The place he belonged to, was here.
Even if his body was gone, his soul must have returned back here.
That's why, stop crying. Ouka told herself.
Something wriggled inside the mountain of ash and it collapsed.
Ouka raised her face in surprise.
The ash fell from the mountain, it was raising up from the inside.
Ouka pulled out a gun from her belt.
Aiming at the mountain of ash she breathed in.
Which is it?
Which sword will he hold?
A man completely painted over with ash appeared from inside the mountain. Getting on one knee he shook his head covered in white ash and extended the palm of his right hand.
And the man——had grasped his beloved sword with that hand.