Around the time Hideo was being hospitalized.
Leaving a different apartment complex than before, Ryuuta turned to Elcia beside him with the best frown he could muster.
"No way. Why must I stay the night in the likes of some dingy old apartment?"
After opening ceremony, the two had spent the entire day observing the city, wandering the residential district to search out a residence that would become their base in times to come. Yet the time the pair entered the venue was right before it opened up. Residential district properties were generally free, but first come, first serve. Meaning only cheap apartments were left.
Among those who arrived here far earlier, there were apparently some with possession over multiple rooms, multiple buildings on their own. They probably just needed multiple possible points of operation, and they were free to use them however they wanted. In this tournament where there was no telling what would happen, it was overwhelmingly better for there to be more possibilities than none.
Thanks to that, the latecomers had to taste such hardships. Ryuuta scratched up his hair, trying to persuade Elcia who, for the life of her, would never set course for another apartment.
"Well what can we do about it? The houses and mansions were the first to be taken, and the last high-rise complex just got filled up."
"And I am wondering why your thoughts are stuck on that notion. If there are no mansions, then stay at a hotel."
If there is no bread, then let them eat cake? The famous misattributed phrase clearly crossed Ryuuta's mind.
"Now look here… in this place, the organizers offer normal residences for free. Why would we need to needlessly pay money to stay at a hotel?"
While it was hard to believe the participants would use them, even so, this city did have its hotels. Cheap little places like capsule hotels. And high-class ones that towered on the level of the Hilton, Westin, and Peninsula.
The former were aimed at people who had drunk too much and found it too much of a pain to return to the residential district. The latter were geared towards those who wanted a little bit of luxury from time to time, but they didn't have anywhere close to the funds for that.
"Because I am high class."
Ryuuta was dumbfounded. With her calm expression, Elcia turned to the side and began walking towards the tall high-class hotel that could be seen even from the residential district.
(Why did I have to make this woman my partner…?)
Dropping his shoulders, Ryuuta walked. The sun had long since set.
Ryuuta Salinger had no family. He had gone on a voyage with them when he was almost too young to remember, only for the ship to sink. He alone was salvaged by the neighborhood pirates, and by the time he got to thinking about the world, he was using small firearms as his playthings.
There was a time the chief said it was monsters that sunk the ship. What's that, how stupid, he had laughed it off at first; but thinking back on it now, perhaps that very event had been the trigger that brought him into this world.
When Ryuuta was twelve, a civil war broke out in the country the pirates used as a base. The pirates joined the anti-governmental forces as a volunteer army. That was the moment he would witness that mysterious power. He would later come to learn it was magic.
The one who told him… was the then-director of the special military force America had sent to intervene in the conflict with absolute secrecy. The unit was called Angel Saber, it was led by a Colonel Gorge Redfield.
Apparently, the civil war was the work of the so-called demons taken in by the government. Naturally, the basis and traces weren't divulged to the normal world. But to those who belonged to a deeper world… they understood the very fact Angel Saber went out as clear evidence.
Ryuuta came to learn. In this world, there was a deep place where the light didn't reach, and there, apart from humans, there were those called demons and monsters.
The pirates who raised him, who he thought of as family were so easily cut down like weeds by a single demon. And Ryuuta was picked up again, by the Colonel this time. In order to rebel against the evils that had taken his family from him twice. In order to obtain the power, he begged the Colonel to take him under his wing…
"You're thinking about the past again."
This woman called Elcia was terribly cold. According to her, she was born to the royal bloodline of a country in some place called the demon world, and her mother was the last Demon Lord of the obsolete Demon Lord Era, Fier. She was the youngest daughter, she had two brothers, Elsif and Elsion above her.
The oldest, Elsif, was a child from when her mother was in the demon world, and just like her mother, he tried to invade earth, only to perish by the pure forces of the heavens, their Angel Knights. Up to a few years ago, Elsion led the demon organization Zephirum; he was quite famous for frequently bringing chaos to human society before the First Sacred Demon Lord appeared.
According to Elcia, those who were currently called demons were descendants of the demon world people Demon Lord Fier brought with her to invade the earth in the distant past… the descendants of true demons.
To borrow her words, demons were mongrels all mixed up out of true demon and human blood. From time to time, demons would be looked down as mongrels for being of mixed blood, but the way Elcia saw it they were all like that. No matter how their abilities compared to their true demon ancestors.
That would make Elcia a genuine True Demon, but perhaps she found it a pain to explain it all every time. When asked, she usually just proclaimed she was a demon.
Of course, Ryuuta had no way to determine how much of that was true. All he knew was the fact she boasted such abilities he wouldn't find it odd if it was true.
"There are a lot of them."
"… Ah? Of what?"
Elcia pointed out the men in masks they passed by on the street from time to time. While they didn't seem to be participants, they didn't wear the armband to signify they were on the organizer side. Only their masks of geometric symbols gave them unity.
"Ay, come to think of it, they're a lot of them in the shopping district."
In contrast, the women were often seen in maid uniforms. Manning the registers at the shopping center and such.
"… Maybe they're like the maids, and that's the mark of some company."
"Not that I care."
You're the one who brought it up. He wanted to say, but he knew nothing would come of bringing that up with this woman. Ryuuta avoided the wasted effort, firmly swallowing down his words.
A few minutes walk from there. As expected, Elcia's destination wasn't a capsule hotel, it was a dazzling, high-class building.
Having never entered such a place before, Ryuuta was lightly creeped out; but Elcia paraded in like that was where she belonged, her boots clicking with every step.
Even Elcia was at a loss for words.
"How can I help you?"
The hotelman politely lowering his head at the front desk simply had on a white tuxedo… but his face was covered in one of those geometric masks. Maids pushing trolleys came and went from the elevator.
"Hey. What exactly is that?"
Ryuuta decided to just point at his face straight up.
"Yes, if you are asking about this mask, it is our uniform."
"Then what about the maids? I see them manning shops all over the place."
"Yes. Female employees in apron dresses, male employees in masks, that is the uniform of our Obliterating Industries Group."
Get the president out here.
"Wha… what's up with that…?"
"Incidentally, at present, the Obliterating Industries group has seized control of seventy percent of the shopping district."
So that was why these masks calmly mingled with the street traffic.
"It is the case with our hotel as well. Of course, we did find it most peculiar at first… but these do actually feel exquisite to wear for some reason, and a violent customer smacked me only a moment ago but… with this on, I did not feel a thing! There are plenty of benefits."
(But are you alright with that design…?)
"And if you are evaluated as an excellent employee during annual review, get this, they'll provide you with a set of full-body tights…"
"You have open rooms, don't you?"
Elcia one-sidedly cut the conversation.
"Of course, almost every room at the moment is open for use."
So in short, it was pretty much deserted.
"Good grief, so we're really staying here… two singles."
"Understood. Then please print your names here…"
As Ryuuta was about to take up a pen towards the paper on the counter… Elcia stared blankly and said this.
"Why are you taking two rooms? What a peculiar person?"
"Why, I mean, if it's one room…"
Demons were already generally beautiful as it were. Among them, Elcia wasn't a royal blood for nothing, she had a splendor that sent shivers down the spine.
Even if Ryuuta hadn't known her for particularly long, it wasn't like they were complete strangers.
(Hm… is that what it means? She should just be more honest.)
A chuckle inside, Ryuuta stared deep into Elcia's eyes as she kept cool on the surface.
"I won't be able to sleep tonight…?"
"I see. I don't really get it."
Elcia turned towards the hotel man.
"I'm taking the royal suite."
His elbow resting on the counter sliding sideways, Ryuta's face smacked right into it.
"Hold the hell up, Elcia!! What are you thinking!? You're not going to say you're a princess so you can't do with anything less than royal, right!?"
"I mean… I can't help it?"
"Girl, why are you making it sound like I hit the nail on the head!? You're getting a single!!"
"Not in a million years."
She sullenly turned to the side. The hotelman was amicably nodding.
"At the hotel I used to work at, these sorts of couples were…"
"You stay out of this!!"
The hotelman was thrust out. But Elcia remained sharply turned away.
"Aaaah! Good grief, fine, I get it, I get it! So how much is that room going to cost…"
Turning back, Elcia matter-of-factly declared.
"Fool. These sorts of rooms aren't for customers who would worry about such a thing."
You don't even know that. Aaah, this is why the common rabble is… and so on and so forth. It wasn't as if she actually said it, but she was making the fed-up face of someone who definitely would.
Then they only dealt with clients who silently held out their card at checkout? He took a side glance at the hotelman.
"She is right, my dear sir. Don't worry about the finer details, please just kick back and relax."
With the pen and paper he held out. Elcia was already slickly writing her name.
"Aaaaahhh!? This is pissing me off! Now that it's come to this, it's all or nothing. I'm sleeping in that room too!"
"Why do I have to sleep in the same room as you? In that case, one more royal…"
"Got it! My bad! I had a little bit of malice!"
Elcia dubiously tilted her head. Ryuuta ruffled his hair into a mess.
"So…… hey, you, just between you and me."
"Yes, what is it sir?"
"Right out, how much does it go for? This place's royal suite?"
"Yes. If I were to spell it right out, it is only a mere five hundred thousand tickets a night. Nothing major for you to worry about."
"Ha ha hah! What's this? Only five hundred thousand?"
As Ryuuta raised his voice in a laugh, the hotelman amiably laughed along.
"Ha ha ha. Yes, I'm not sure I should be the one to say it but… with the class or our hotel, even if you look at it from an international perspective, it is quite a reasonable price."
"Ha ha ha… umm."
Ryuuta opened his wallet and looked at the tickets he had on hand. Forty thousand from the reception desk. Since Elcia marched into expensive places for lunch and dinner, less than twenty thousand left.
"… What are we going to do about this, eh, Elcia?"
"Why we just have to earn it."
"Hah? In this city, there's no way to earn money save for beating the monsters in the labyrinth! What's more, if the monsters do you in, it's instant disqualification… who the hell is going to go through such danger to earn five hundred thousand tickets a day!?"
Elcia silently pointed at Ryuuta.
"Bring out your highest earning monster!!"
"Ha…? Oh… are you hear to use the labyrinth…?"
The counter at Centralle Building.
I want to take a shower, was all she said before Elcia holed herself in the royal suite. When he tried to force the door open, So you want to die, she threw each syllable with the intent to kill.
His motivation was at an all-time high. In a different sense. With all his stress, it didn't matter who, all that filled Ryuuta right now was the simple desire to beat the ever-loving crap out of something. Now that it had come to this, he'd rake in one million all at once and throw it in the face of that cold-blooded woman.
While he had never actually gone down before, he had dropped by midday so he knew how it worked. You just had to input the time you'd be down and your target floor on the form and submit the application.
"The elevator goes down to floor fifty, right?"
"Ah… yes, but monster strength is generally proportional to depth so…"
He ignored the warning from the receptionist lady. Floor fifty. From dusk to dawn. He practically pilfered the pamphlet that listed out each monster's worth. Ryuuta parted from the counter and swiftly made his way to the very center of Centralle Building, the entrance to the labyrinth.
Before the tournament started, day or night, the elevator was so lively a long line would form, but that had completely cleared up after opening night. The risk of losing to monsters meaning disqualification was too great.
(… To think the demerits of entering the venue late would be this great.)
Ryuuta pressed the elevator button and clicked his tongue. Right beside it was a door that led to the stairs, but he had no business with shallow-level weaklings.
As Ryuuta watched the elevator's floor number slowly decrease, another person arrived behind him.
"Good evening. Are you going down too?"
When he turned, with an M16 assault rifle hung from her shoulder, a single dangerous-looking maid.
"Wait. You… with those clothes, are you an employee of that something something enterprise?"
"Me? Nfufu. Something like that."
She was a little over twenty. Her eyes hidden behind one-way-glass, her mouth gave an amused smile.
"Well 'n you must have it hard. To be a part-time monster hunter on top of company work."
"The elevator is here."
Ping, the pleasant chime of its arrival. The girl got on behind Ryuuta, the door shut.
"… I'm a participant too."
At her voice. Ryuuta's hand reached for the holster at his hip as he swiftly turned towards her.
He was imagining things. She was simply holding out her two hands as I to say, I'm not going to do anything, a mischievous smirk plastered over her face. He undid his stance. She lowered her hands.
"Come to think of it, are you alone too?"
"Yeah. You remember how the opening ceremony ran late yesterday? Well I fell asleep and woke up around evening you see. I thought I should kill some time. What floor are you going to?"
The elevator wasn't moving yet.
"Yeah… let's see. I'll start at fifty."
"Oh, well that's a coincidence."
The maid pressed the fifth one of the buttons that went down in increments of ten. The sealed box immediately began its descent.
"Hey now… are you for real? That's the lowest level this elevator goes to. I don't mean to be presumptuous, but you don't look like the sort who could…"
The woman turned only half towards him.
"Ryuuta Salinger. At sixteen, you were the youngest to ever enlist in the only anti-demon agency with direct ties to heaven, Angel Saber. You were mainly support for the Angel Knight Cloutier… Scott Christina Richmond. Honorably discharged two years ago at the rank of second lieutenant. After that, you flew all over the world as a hunter specializing in monsters."
Even if he conceded the existence of Angel Saber and his own history while he was apart of it. It was abnormal for her to know of the existence of its main force, its angel knights. The confidentiality of that matter was extraordinary. Even in his own country of America, the only official with that knowledge was the president. On top of that, if she knew about the existence of heaven itself, then…
"What's… your name?"
"Eeh? Are you hitting on me? Eheheh…"
She was quite the cheerful one.
"Wrong! I just wanted to know."
"Oh really… then Maid S! Let's go with that, fu fu fu."
The maid folded her arms with a fearless laugh. He didn't know what sort of stage name that was supposed to be, but was she really registered under that…
"You're an S."
"Yes. I'm S."
"A maid, yet an S?"
"Why yes, I'm a maid."
"I-I see… I guess there can be Ses among maids."
"What are you trying to say, eh? Spit it out."
"Gohah…! N-no, I'm saying… it's nothing. That was my bad, I had a little malice. I'm begging you, quit clenching that fist."
This made had quite a nice punch. What's more, a straight with no hesitation at someone she was meeting for the first time. Taking that into consideration… in a sense, perhaps S fit perfectly.
"Erk… it looks like that name is a jinx."
But her mood took another turn. Jinx or not, she probably wasn't the only one who thought so.
"That's right. Then from now, you can call me Lily! Yep, that's cute!"
"And… how did you come up with that?"
"Eh? Well, Lily of the Valley…♪"
Lily of the valley? Flowers had nothing to do with her occupation or personality.
"When you say Lili, only Marleen comes to mind, but…"
While Ryuuta was taken aback, the elevator arrived.
"But to think they have an elevator down in a place crawling with monsters. What if they destroy it?"
"No need to worry about that. I hear it's made of Orichalcum something something, so even if a tank shoots it, it'll only dent."
"This this is orichalcum? For real…"
All that aside, the fiftieth basement floor. When the door slid open, the thick air flooded in to put pressure on him. A depth liable to send him far further to hell.
"I see. I think I've got the gist of it."
An endlessly crawling white hallway. Metal doors with switches. Falling ceilings, pitfalls. Cutting down the monsters that appeared from time to time, Ryuuta pressed on somewhat enjoying himself. When he'd gone some distance, he would stop to rest his feet and map the place out. The maid Lily followed behind.
"You're pretty experienced."
"This is my job, for what it's worth."
Ryuuta said as he measured out his present position relative to the elevator, carefully writing out the traps and the where monsters had the highest appearance rate in his notepad.
It was the same with his hunts, he could only work when he had a hunting ground. With monsters, these labyrinths were the most efficient hunting grounds. Then to see through the labyrinth's structure and nature, if it was a manmade construct, the tendencies of its designer, getting a grip of it as if it were your own back yard was the most important work.
"And you're strong."
"Up to B Rank, it'll be an easy win with my current equipment. A will be a bit harder… but, even so, it's nothing I can't handle."
Monster taxonomy broadly categorized them into D, C, B and A, starting at the weakest. The organizers’ rewards were also based on that. One D Rank was a few hundred tickets, while A could range from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands. Naturally, monsters that were more difficult to defeat, and those with lower appearance rates had higher rewards. This time, for Elcia's lodging fees and his pride as a hunter, his aim was Rank A.
Closing his notepad, Ryuuta gave a warning to Lily who was incessantly following him. They were just coincidentally on the same elevator, it wasn't like they were a team or anything.
"I'll just be upfront about it, I don't plan on splitting any profits with you. If you want to earn something, go earn it yourself."
"Yeah. Well right now, you see… money is secondary."
Ryuuta began pressing forward. Lily followed behind.
"… I was trying to kindly tell you to go away."
"No, about that…? I kinda forgot how to get back. Ehehee…"
He was amazed.
"It's because you keep going in circles."
"I'm not going in circles, to get a grip on this labyrinth's construction… ah, whatever. Then let me teach you something nice. Doesn't matter left or right. Try keeping one hand on the wall and get walking. You'll be out eventually."
"Ah, you're taking me for a fool, aren't you?"
Rubbed the wrong way, Lily put a hand to her hip to emphasize her anger.
"How else am I supposed to put it?"
"Now it's getting to me!"
"Ah, fine, fine… I'll take you back, just don't do anything that'll slow me down."
And in the end, there were two sets of footsteps after all. The monsters that appeared were mainly B Rank. A few thousand to ten thousand tickets in earning. Normally, he wouldn't have to deal with each and everyone one, but if he ran now, there was a possibility he'd leave Lily behind.
So in the end, Ryuuta meticulously defeated every small fry as he moved on.
When a maid was equipped with an assault rifle, it was definitely surreal, but it didn't look particularly strong. She said it was a coincidence, so maybe she intended to come down to this floor herself, but… she showed no signs of raising a hand in battle. Did that mean, in exchange for him leading her out, she was conceding all the spoils?
(… They do say even dust can pile into a mountain.)
The tenth B Rank. Aiming at the front legs of the King Lizard that clung to the ceiling breathing fire like a flamethrower, he unloaded his trusty desert eagle. The 44 Magnum bullets burst forth.
The king of lizards was defenseless as it came unstuck and fell. Closing the distance in an instant, Ryuuta stuck his katana into its white, scale-less underside. A vital. In place of the gunshot's echoes, its death cries reverberated.
"Wow, you really are strong… you're not just bulldozing with power, you're properly finding their weak points and saving energy. Hey, what sort of person is your partner?"
"That's… I don't want to talk about it."
If he opened his mouth now, nothing but resentment would come out. She was probably gazing out over the city nightscape, wine glass in one hand around now.
He kicked the king lizard corpse to take out some anger.
"Hah… even so, this place sure is vast. This is the fiftieth floor? You sure we didn't wander into Daedalus' place on Crete…"
"You don't know? It apparently goes down a lot deeper. It's just the elevator that stops on the fiftieth floor. Colonel Redfield said he spotted an A Rank on the sixtieth floor. An iron golem this big."
Rily stretcher herself out, amply swinging her arms. Whatever the case, it was easy to imagine an iron golem being big enough to block off one of these passages.
"… I see. Then at least I won't be bored."
Scratching the back of his head, he was back on path.
Along the way were door switches made like puzzles and hidden passageways that needed two people to open. I see, he thought, he perceived a number of contraptions that took into consideration that participants were supposed to be working in pairs. Would it be uncouth to forcefully break down the walls and doors?
"We're making steady progress. Don't you think we make quite the nice team?"
"… Come to think of it, are you a demon or something?"
"No. I'm human."
"Then no can do. I'm human too."
It was the same with the True Demon Elcia, appearance-wise, there was barely any difference between human and demon. The only thing he could note was that, taking the average, Demons seemed to have finer looks.
Of course, their unbelievable toughness and special abilities completely surpassed humanity… but if he wasn't going to take his chances testing that, it was quickest just to ask.
Not that he had any way of knowing who Lily's partner was.
"Hey, why are you participating in this tournament?"
"Right. If you win and have the world in your hands, what do you plan on doing?"
The grand prize was the right to change the world. I see, thought Ryuuta, perhaps saying the world was in your hands wasn't completely wrong.
"I've got no interest in the world. Now that I've entered, I've got to set my sights on the top… but I'll be handing that prize over to my partner."
"… I'm chasing a certain man."
Even more than his parents who died on that ship, he thought of the pirates who raised him as family. And they… there was the demon who tormented them, had the time of his life slaughtering every last one of them
"Do you know the name Archess? The head of the organization Alhazan."
"Alhazan… A revolutionary military power mainly consisting of demons. Their leader is Archess Alluente. In contrast to how Zephirum wanted to establish rule with demons alone, Alzahan's goal is to manipulate humans from the backstage, shaping the world in their image… they're famous for apparently being behind the Camdania Kingdom's civil war from ten years back."
So she knew after all, this woman. Even if it was famous, that was among people who lived in a certain depth… across the one-way glass, she seemed to be making the innocent face of a young girl.
"I am a survivor from a certain… militia Archess slaughtered during the civil war."
"…… I see."
Lily walking behind him let out the first cheerless voice he'd heard from her.
"And you're saying Archess is participating in this tournament?"
"So I've heard. Under a false name of course, and I'm sure he's changed his face… but I haven't forgotten. He should have the mark of Alzahan on his left arm."
Alzahan's emblem was a venomous spider. One that had made a nest in the home of human society where no one was looking. Set a trap. Caught high officials in its web, kept them alive as it sucked out the nutrients, using all of their power until eventually they perished… it truly was the emblem that signified their MO.
"What will you do… if you find him?"
"I'll kill him."
When Ryuuta turned, Lily shrunk back at his bloodthirsty eyes.
"If you kill him… you'll be disqualified."
"… I know. Good grief, they sure put up some pain-in-the-ass rules. But you know, he killed my family. Yet the law can't tie him down. Not even the heavens or God are out to punish him. Then what do I do? I just have to deliver judgment myself, right!?"
By the time he noticed it, Lily was sorrowfully hanging her head. Ryuuta finally came to his senses.
"… Don't blame me. It's your fault for asking your strange questions. I don't even know why I'm telling you about all this…"
He derided himself and walked again. The air was getting heavy. Ryuuta changed the topic.
"So why are you participating?"
"Heh? What do you think that door is?"
Lily raced off towards a gate clearly higher-class than any of the ones they had come across before.
(So you're ignoring me…)
Good grief, he followed along. A medieval Europe design that almost seemed to scream treasure. A border of gold inlay. An air that there was definitely something in the room.
"Umm, looks like it's not locked. Alright, how about we open it right up."
"Hold up you bloody amateur."
Ryuuta grabbed Lily's shoulder and yanked her back.
"W-what? I don't think there are any traps…?"
"In places like these, the monster encounter rate shoots sky high. This is one of those 'moments the screen changes'."
"Eh? The screen…?"
"I don't know why, but those who are really deep call it the 'Grand Lighthouse Effect' for some reason."
Was the hunter jargon a little too hard for Lily? Whatever the case.
"I don't feel any presences… but there is a high probability a monster will manifest and come at us the moment it opens. Keep on guard."
"Y-yeah. Got it."
As Ryuuta stood before the room, Lily retreated somewhat, the assault rifle at the ready.
"Here we go…!"
He kicked the door in.
The moment he stepped into the vast room, Pyoon! The sound of the wind being sliced.
Ryuuta rolled to the side at a moment's notice, but still a sharp pain ran down his cheek. Lukewarm blood followed shortly after. But the enemy wasn't a monster.
A lean man. On his two arms, gauntlets each with three long metal claws. The second attack came just as he confirmed that. From his squatting state, Ryuuta took a back somersault; using his momentum, he immediately sent power into his arms as if to do a handstand and shot himself back.
"Kukuku… to dodge my attack, I see you reached this point with considerable skill."
The gunfire came from Lily. She was trying to put a check on the man, but he parried the bullets like they were nothing at all as he grinned.
"What are you trying to do!? Are you a participant!?"
"Indeed I am. Otherwise… do you think I'd be here using surprise attacks to have participants disqualified with unfortunate accidents?"
A loss in the dungeon was a loss. The judges had no say in that rule.
"No… what's this? Now that I've got a good look at you, you're Ryuuta Salinger, aren't you? To think you'd be the first pray to stick to my nest, I'm in luck."
"……!? Why do you know my name?"
"Of course I'd know it. You're the monster hunter persistently after our organization."
What? Which meant…
"My name is Gabès. Or should I say… one of Alzahan's executives."
The man opened his collar to his burly, tight chest to show off the insignia carved into it. Sinister, the emblem of a spider settings its nest.
His mind flashed back. An old memory. Blood and gunpowder smoke. A memory from the hellfire that rose from the smell of burning flesh.
He was there.
Back then, this man was to the side of the one who introduced himself as Archess. And back then as well, he so proudly showed off his emblem.
"There's one thing I'll get from your mouth… Alzahan! Is Archess participating in this competition!?"
"And what if he is? Are you going to go apologize for all the discourtesy you've paid to our organization? It's too late for that. Archess has already placed a hit on your life. The contestants will go down, and you will die… that is two birds with one stone. I won't let you get away."
Clink, clink. The man rubbed the claws of his gauntlet together as if honing them.
"This is the end, Ryuuta Salinger."
"You're on! I'll get all I need from your mouth and kill you!!"
Ryuuta drew his sword and cut in. His opponent was a demon. A member of Alzahan. With how he lay a trap here, he was a competent fighter.
While he exceeded him in reach and destructive power, the other side was lighter, with two weapons at that. The moment they met, he was overwhelmed and forced to retreat. While he avoided a fatal blow, he came out with cuts on his arms and thighs.
In a complete close-quarter match, Lily couldn't provide support.
"Were you thinking of challenging Archess at your measly level!? What a laughingstock!"
"What is your goal!? What do you intend to do in this tournament!?"
"That's simple… Archess will win and obtain the world. Although…"
Momentarily cutting his words short, the man took distance on his own, his shoulders shaking in excitement.
"… There is no point teaching such noble ideals to one set for death. This time, I'll give the question. Why do you pursue us so persistently?"
"Because you bastards killed them. My family!"
Ryuuta rolled up his sleeves. The tattoo that proved the pirates recognized him as their family as well. A crest like a terribly simple good luck charm. But that was a bond that would never disappear.
"In the Camdania Civil War, you murdered every last one of them!"
"Oh? Now isn't that strange… ordinarily, when we choose to kill, we make sure to leave no survivors."
And there he smiled as if he had just remembered.
"Aah… I see, you! From back then! That brat from that dirt poor volunteer army!? The one crying the loudest among all those filthy wild dogs…!!"
The binding snapped on his heartstrings.
He swung down with all his might, not the slightest thought given to defense. A portion of the claws Gabès crossed overhead chipped, while his own blade let off sparks as the blade cracked as well.
He had lost every shard of his rationality. These men had killed his family like they were disassembling a pack of dolls. They killed them as if they enjoyed watching them squirm.
"Kuh, a cur, all bark and no bite…!"
When he was the one who managed to close in, Ryuuta was shot back. A discharge of mana. A demon's usual means. Even if you restrained their arms, there was little a human could do against this shapeless ability.
When distance was created between them again, Lily yelled.
"Wait a second! You two keep going on about killing and killing, but if you do that, you'll be disqualified!"
Gabès gaze swept to the side like he was glaring at a noisy fly.
"Who will confirm that?"
"Now that you've heard, you're dead too. The monsters will eat up every last trace of evidence… of course, I don't' give a damn even if I am disqualified. Until the moment Archess comes out on top, I'll simply lay my nest in this labyrinth, waiting for my foolish prey."
Meaning, now that he was permitted into the venue, he didn't even need his partner.
(… Calm down. Don't lose your head.)
Lily's voice and Gabès' words let him regain it.
(How many times has the Colonel whooped me for that? Dammit, this is where you have to be cool…)
"I've let this go on too long. Ryuuta Salinger… I shall let you follow the same path as that family of yours. Be grateful."
His claws still crossed, over his head. He jumped. A movement impossible for humans. His entire body went into an incredible spin as he advanced towards then like a drill.
Enough force to turn the wall of the labyrinth to sand and burrow into it. His upper arm was gouged out in the process. Dodging was the most he could manage. But if he met that head on, he could already see the result.
"Eeh!? We're running!?"
In the moment when Gabès was digging through the walls, Ryuuta grabbed Lily's arm and sprinted off. Naturally, he didn't truly intend to run. But he had to at least let Lily escape when he had dragged her into the mix. This already transcended the tournament, this was his own battle.
"I told you, you're not getting away!"
"!? Get down!"
He relied on the sound to throw his body down. Right above them, the man who appeared by piercing through the wall came flying. And just like that, he sunk into the wall again.
The walls that made up the labyrinth had just about as much breadth as the passages. The fact he could freely move within them meant he had no need to distinguish between wall and passage. Simply, to conceal himself, staying in the wall gave him an overwhelming advantage!
"I-it's kinda getting crazy in here…"
Ryuuta turned to Lily, sticking up his index finger to urge her to silence. They couldn't' see him. Then their enemy couldn't see them either. He was currently relying on sound to predict his appearance. Then was the enemy the same?
How would he move? How could he proceed without being noticed?
(No… if I want to pin down his location…)
A slight tremor at his feet.
He was too focused on the walls. If he could move through walls, then the ceiling and floor connected to them were his territory as well. For now, he grabbed Lily's arm and tossed her aside.
A clean hit, the claws that pierced from the floor to the ceiling took out his calf.
"Screw this! Thinking isn't getting me anywhere, we're going to run for it!!"
"What's with that!? And you're terribly injured…!"
"Better than dying! Just follow me!"
He ran, he ran. At times rolling along the floor, at times sticking to the ceiling, he made for the closest exit… the elevator.
"If we get up there, we can lodge a complaint! I'm sure the organizers will put up some countermeasures!"
"Y-yeah! You're right…!? … Eh?"
He didn't know if it would get through or not but… Ryuuta pointed at the weapon hanging at his waist, and silently sent her some hand signs.
The transmission of sound depends on the density of the medium. Better through liquid than gas. Better in solids than liquid. As he lurked in the wall, Gabès could hear every last detail of their conversation. To a noisy extent.
(Kukuku… that's the spirit.)
Prey squirming in the nest was a spider's finest entertainment. He already knew the two of them would make for the elevator. More so, Gabès was purposely driving them in that direction. He had failed on the first surprise attack. From the feeling he got when they crossed blades, Ryuuta was more skilled than anticipated.
In that case, his greatest fear would be having one of them run while he took on the other… luckily, his pray had run the two of them together. Not knowing they were racing straight towards the greatest trap.
The moment they entered the elevator was the end, there was no place left to run. In that narrow space with no exit, the two of them would be slaughtered. No witnesses. All he had to do was ride the elevator up himself… and report that the two of them were killed by monsters.
(What a soft tournament… but an interesting one at that.)
Just to surprise them, from time to time, Gabès would appear in front of them and disappear. As they neared the elevator, he could hear their breathes, their footsteps gain hope. The two of them were gradually learning to dodge his attacks… was likely what they were thinking. And they were under the misconception they could get away… not knowing he was purposely missing his attacks. There were even times he made it look like he missed to defeat the monsters blocking their path.
Eventually, they neared it. Voices of delight. The two footsteps stopped. The sound of a button pressed. The electric chime, the door sliding open, Gabès could hear everything.
We're saved, those voices of relief. That rest… would now be changed to despair!
In that instant, Gabès pierced through the wall with all his might, showing his form before the still-open elevator.
"Go right ahead."
Ryuuta laughed. Anticipating this, the two of them jumped out of the elevator.
Hurtling in with no way of stopping his momentum, Gabès collided with the orichalcum alloy elevator wall. His blades couldn't pierce through as they had the walls before, unable to bear his high speed rotation, they rose sparks as they snapped off.
"You're way too simple. There's nowhere left to hide."
The tips of his claws tapped against a round metal lump. A hand grenade…!
The tremendous contained explosion resounded through the labyrinth.
"Oww… my ears are still tingling!!"
"Huh!? What was that!?"
"I'm telling you! My ears are!!"
The two were left in such a state. Now then, what sort of ghastly state was the inside of the elevator left in… as expected of a demon, what's more, an Alzahan executive. Not only his shape, he even maintained consciousness.
Ryuuta grabbed him by the hair, dragged him out, grabbed his lapels and slammed him into the labyrinth wall.
"Where is Archess!?"
"Fu… fufu… you think I'd… tell you…?"
"… Thought not."
"More importantly… fufu, fu… what's wrong? If you don't kill me here, now… you're going to have trouble down the line…?"
Heehee, Gabès laughed in the back of his throat. Killing a participant was a self-destructive act that meant for instant disqualification.
Ryuuta silently scorned Gabès' vulgar smile, gritting his teeth.
"Soft… always too soft… you humans. If you want to survive, you should kill me without hesitation… yet you cling to such nonexistent illusions of justice and hope…"
I've had enough of you, Ryuuta threw him down as if to say. Gabès had suffered too much damage to stand, he dragged his body until he was sitting against the wall.
"Remember this… Ryuuta Salinger… it won't end like this, next time… now enjoy life… while you still have the chance…"
"Ah? What's that? Who said you had a next time?"
Bang!! Bang!! Bang!! Bang!!
"Gaf.. gah… aga…!"
"You demons sure are amazing. So much magnum to the stomach and you're still not dead. But you can't move now, can you?"
"!? Y-you… son of a…!?"
"Until next time, Gabès. There are a lot of monsters here. You'd better take care not to get eaten."
The trail of Ryuuta's blood that led right to this spot. And the scent of fresh blood Gabès was shedding now. A tremendous explosion. With menacing growls, the presences were beginning to gather.
"Wwait… wait for me…! Even I, in this state… wai…!"
Ryuuta hopped onto the elevator where Lily was waiting, offhandedly slapping the button for the ground floor. He grimaced at the pain in his wounds as he fell into a squat.
"You really… left him behind."
"If I stuck around him any longer, I'd be the one murdering him… well, I've got no complaints with that… but say what you will."
He performed first aid on his gashes as he spat up a strong front. Disinfectant. Hemostatic. Adhesive. Taping.
"No, I won't say it. Truth be told, I heard there was such a boring competitor around and came to teach them a lesson."
When Ryuuta looked up, of all things, Lily was giving an amused laugh.
"I despise those sorts."
"… Who are you, anyways?"
Fufufu. Lily laughed.
"Once upon a time… thought it wasn't that long ago, there was an unfortunate girl who had to shoulder an immense debt from all over the place and… umm… skipping forward."
"The girl who obtained the world decided to change how it worked just a little. And a very fun world it became. But it seemed everyone else didn't really see it that way. Because you're a demon, because you're human, because you're not human… with all those petty reasons, sad and boring, trifling things were still happening left and right."
"So the girl decided she'd do her best to obtain the world again. This time she would gather the valiant warriors of all races from all over the world, and where everyone was watching… see?"
Lily of the Valley. Wasn't there someone with a name like that…
"……! You're…! No, don't tell me, you're…!?"
In regards to a terrified Ryuuta, Lily stuck up one finger in front of her lips.
A few years ago, he heard of how a single girl had obtained the world, leading an army of the gods of old. Not a soul in this world didn't know of her, a living legend.
Her title was the Sacred Demon Lord. This tournament was the Sacred Demon Cup. In which case, did that mean the very person who opened this competition was standing right here? As a competitor, no less…?
The elevator climbed. It slowed down, it reached the ground level. Lily smiled as she turned and got off.
"Today was fun."
A moment later, the anger welled up in Ryuuta's chest.
That was none of his business. This woman didn't know a thing. If he gave up on his mission here, would his dead family come back? She treated getting revenge for those pirates like a boring trifle!
"Well sorry! But no matter what you say, I'll keep going after Archess! Until the day I kill him with these hands! If you want to stop me, just try it! Here, and now!!"
She didn't turn back. With her back to Ryuuta, she gave a large wave of her hand.
"I hope you enjoy the Sacred Demon Cup!!"
She was the one most at ease. The maid with the assault rifle faded into the distance.
By the time he noticed it, the night was already opening to morning outside. Ryuuta trudged towards the Centralle Building receptions with cloudy sentiment.
"Welcome back. I see you're injured, but should I call a doctor?"
"No need. Give me my money."
"Yes. For what?"
There, he noticed for the first time.
"… Well about that. What exactly… can you exchange for money?"
"Eh? Why, monster gangs or scales, or corpses… in short, any proof you took out a monster."
He didn't hear about any such system. Because he entered the labyrinth in a fit of rage, he didn't hear any explanations. He didn't bring anything back.
"T-that's right! Did a maid just come through!? She was down there with me!"
"Yes? Oh, if you're asking about that person, she did properly turn them in."
She collected the proof where he wasn't looking. He was saved…!
"T-that's it! Those were all monsters I defeated so…!"
"Eh? Is that true? But that woman cashed them all and left. She told me not to worry about whoever came after her…"
He opened his mouth.
He blinked his eyes.
After saying such high and mighty things, she secretly made off with his catch.
"Madame. Good morning. How did you sleep?"
As Elcia raised her body with half-asleep eyes, the hotelmen in masks entered the room in droves.
"As it turns out, dear guest. Your companion at the front desk just reported he was not able to prepare the lodging fee…"
With a dazed out face, Elcia nodded off.
"The royal suite is five hundred thousand tickets, the wine you ordered through room service last night was three hundred thousand tickets, using the shower was two hundred thousand tickets, using the bed was two hundred thousand tickets, on top of this and that and this and that, anyway, if you put it all together… your total comes to two million."
She stared in a stupor.
"You cannot pay? Don't tell me you cannot pay? In that case, we may have a problem on our hands."
Fu fu fu, the hotel employees began to raise uncanny laughs.
"In that case, on top of offering you a gentle special low rate loan of fifth percent annual interest, you'll have to work as the Obliterating Industry Group's pack mule… of, of course, if you do decline…"
Throwing off their suits, the masked hotel men now in full body tights began to gather. Like well-trained combatants, they surrounded Elcia's bed.
"Sorry, but these are the methods of the Obliterating Industries group, the evil organization that rules the shopping district… don't think poorly of us. Fu fu fu."
"… I didn't order room service."
Rubbing her sleepy eyes, Elcia picked up the thick book by her pillow.
"Looks like this hotel is lacking in proper discipline."
"Dear guest. Are you listen—"
"Are you participants?
"Then it doesn't matter if you die… Page Two Seven Three."
Elcia gently shut the book. From the outside, it must have looked like the top floor of the hotel building exploded. One corner of it had completely collapsed the ceiling now a blue sky. Below them the cityscape. The hotel employees sent flying were stuck fast to the floor and walls, twitching like frogs on the brink of death, just barely staying alive.
"Ee… e-eeeeee!? T-t-t-the full body tights that were supposed to be invincible…!!"
A hotelman still conscious quivered as his legs gave out on him and he fell back. Finally lowering her feet from the bed, Elcia offered a word.
"Get me a new room."
"Can't you tell by looking? This place is a mess. Get me a new room."
"Ye… yeyes!! Right away!!"
Shortly after the explosion.
Elcia came down to the lobby, where Ryuuta was waiting for her.
"… Hey, hey, hey, hey. What did you do this time? If they demand repair money from us…"
"I don't really get it,"
"But they said I could stay here for free."
"… Say what?"
Another look, and the hotelman following her like a servant had his head bowed strangely reverently.
"When I just cautioned them a bit for improper discipline."
"… Don't tell me that explosion from before…?"
"If you want to properly caution someone, you need Page Three Zero Six."
Prick! The hotelman froze.
"But he learned his lesson before that."
(You sure you didn't just threaten him…?)
"This is a good hotel. I've taken a liking to it, so I've decided to live here."
When he looked at the man behind her, he was violently shaking his head. He had clearly never heard anything about this. But the moment Elcia turned,
"Hahaaa! Thank you for your patronage! Well then, good luck, I'll be waiting for your return from the bottom of my heart, Lady Elcia!!"
Hearing that, the coldblooded woman gave a rare satisfied smile.
"See? I really do think this is a nice hotel."
(… Did I just hear him crying, or was that my imagination?)
Thanks to the mask, he couldn't see any tears. Well, it all worked out. Her partner Ryuuta, while he only got a single, was allowed to live at the hotel for free.
And the tournament met its second day.
With whatever conviction each contestant held, the Sacred Demon Cup was finally gaining speed!