A/N: This is a two-part story; the second part will be posted soon. This is very emotional, at times (though I did my best to make the dialogue amusing); and it deals with pain, suffering, sacrifice and love. I'm sure some people aren't going to like some of what happens; some might hate the fact that I have a priest character in the story. But I, personally, thought this to be very beautiful. It touched my heart as I wrote it; made me cry, actually! I hope you are touched as well.
Reviews are appreciated!
The doorbell rang.
"One second!" Emi yelled, clicking the remote to silence the TV. She set her bowl of soup on the table, glancing at the clock. Nine o'clock at night.
"Who on Earth…" She muttered, as she stood up and prowled towards the door. She didn't get many visitors this late at night. In reality, she didn't get any visitors; but she could imagine that even popular girls her age didn't get surprise visits this late.
She peeped through the eyeglass in the door and gasped, taking a step back.
Standing at her front door was the Supreme Justice of the Choirs of Heaven, the Archangel Iustia.
She trembled. The Justice of Heaven took an interest only in serious and grave matters; when sins were committed against the whole of humanity, Heaven demanded a payment of equal measure.
Iustia was only sent when that payment involved death.
"Emilia. Heaven requires your aid." The Archangel's voice rang clear, as if it bypassed her ears and directly pierced her heart.
She blinked. Why am I afraid? I have not sinned against Heaven! She drew a deep breath and unlocked the door.
Archangel Iustia stood before her, shining faintly with an almost mystical glow. She had never been this close to one of the Seven Archangels who ruled Heaven in the name of God; she could feel the sacred energy radiating from his skin. She was, however, rather shocked at his choice of clothes; he was wearing a black hoodie and blue jeans. To seem casual, she supposed. It definitely didn't match him. His short, golden hair and soul-piercing blue eyes destroyed any attempt to blend in.
As was usual for him, he stared directly at her eyes. She bowed low.
"Please, come in."
She stepped to the side as he entered, closing the door behind him. She led him to the couch, where he sat, as she went to the kitchen.
"Tea?" She asked.
"I would be honored. Thank you."
She blinked. She has never heard of a polite Archangel before; they usually shined with power and, honestly, often appeared conceited or aloof.
Iustia, on the other hand, appeared polite and gentle, as he took the cup of tea she offered and nodded his thanks. But he also appeared powerful beyond measure; and, as she would see, utterly focused on his sole mission.
She sat down opposite him on the couch. He immediately spoke.
"I have come to bring judgment upon the Dark Lord Satan and deliver the just wages for his actions."
As Emi expected, he didn't beat around the bush. She fiddled with her cup.
"How did you find him?"
"I spoke to your friends: Emeralda and Albertio. They enlightened me of the situation. I came immediately." He took a slight sip from the cup. "Where is his location?"
"Oh, well, uh, you see–"
"Emilia." The authority in his voice caused her to stop stammering. "I have come to administer justice."
"But he's changed! And this world doesn't have the same idea of justice as Ente Isla."
He took another sip. "Justice is universal."
"But he's done a lot of good in this world!" Her grip tightened on her tea cup. "Surely, you won't–"
He held up a hand, silencing her. For a minute, neither of them spoke, as he silently sipped his tea. She was too nervous to drink hers.
"Do you know how Heaven knows of the sorrows that humans suffer?"
She cocked her head slightly; this was a very unexpected question.
"No, not really…"
"I see them." He closed his eyes for a moment. "When human blood is spilled, and when human hearts are broken, I see their sorrows. I hear the cries of their hearts; their blood, spilled upon the ground, cry out to Heaven for justice, and never cease to sing their song of pain until justice is given." He turned his piercing blue eyes to her; they seemed to burn with something more than passion. Something a lot like pain. She turned her eyes away. "Such great evil must be paid for in like kind."
For a few minutes more, they sat in silence. Emi's hands shook as she tried to drink her tea. After she spilled it twice, Iustia gently extended his hand, grasping the cup. She yelped in fright; but he kept the cup steady.
"I come not to judge you, Emilia the Hero. Because of your efforts, much pain has been avoided and ended. I come to judge rightly the Devil King, whose evil must be paid for. The blood of the innocents demands it."
He suddenly stood, setting her cup on the table. He reached into his pocket and, taking out a small business card, slipped it onto the table.
"I am sure you know how the Proceedings of the Court of Justice work?"
"Very well. I will come to collect justice in three days' time." He nodded to her before raising the hood on his hoodie and exiting by her front door.
After he left, she stared at the TV mindlessly, lost in thought. A thousand things–memories, emotions, images–all flowed through her, moving her heart in every way; but two themes rang clear through it all.
Why on Earth do you want to save Maou's life?
And, if he does die: who will you have left?
She curled into a ball, resting her head against her knees. It would be a long night.
Something was buzzing.
Maou groaned, slapping at the alarm clock. The noise didn't stop.
He groaned again, longer this time, hoping that whatever was causing the annoying noise would take a hint and shut up; but it didn't.
Eventually, he managed to open his eyes and glance around the room. Ashiya and Urushihara slept peacefully on their cots; the noise didn't seem to trouble their sleep. The room looked normal otherwise; but where was that blasted–
Ah. It was his phone. It vibrated loosely against the tabletop where he left it. He frowned as he saw the time. 10:22 PM.
His frown deepened when he saw the name on the caller ID. "Emi?!" He picked up the phone and flipped it open, after slipping into a robe and stepping outside the room.
"What the hell are you doing, calling at this hour?"
"I need to speak with you. Soon."
He groaned. "You're insane. Couldn't you wait until tomorrow?!"
"Baka. Think these things through! What are you doing up this late, anyhow?"
"Ah, fantastic. Well, now I'm thinking, too. Happy?"
"Oh, good to see this is going so well." He sighed. "What time works for you tomorrow?"
"Anytime past five thirty."
"Alright. Five forty five, in the alley near the Sukawara* convenience store?"
"Ok." She hung up.
He frowned at the phone as he dragged himself back to bed. That girl was insane.
But as he laid himself back under the sheets, he couldn't shake the feeling that something was terribly wrong. As much as he liked to tease Emi, she usually made it fun with her exaggerated responses. But tonight, she seemed dead. Not at all like herself.
He pushed his troubled feelings out of his mind, and soon drifted back to sleep.
"Thank you for calling; have a nice day."
Emi smiled at her computer screen as her last call for the day ended. The clock ticked to five thirty, and suddenly she was done with her shift for the day.
As she stood up from her chair, she stretched and yawned. It had been a long day, for many reasons–most of all because her mind was swimming all day with the thought of her meeting tonight.
What am I going to say? She shook her head. Shouldn't have called him last night. What was I thinking?
As she walked to the girls locker room, she face-palmed. Don't I want this? Don't I want justice for my father?
But as she tried to rationalize her feelings, images of Maou kept popping up in her head: working happily at MgRonalds, saving the lives of civilians (multiple times), catching her when she fell (also multiple times), letting her stay at his place when she had nowhere to sleep…
But other images rose in her mind: mass graves for the thousands of civilians murdered by his army, the burning villages she passed by, the terrible sight of the body-littered battlefields, the corpse of her father at the funeral…
She blinked, clearing away any water that might have suspiciously lurked in her eyes. She wasn't near crying. Of course not. Just high humidity. Or something.
Rika greeted her energetically when she saw Emi walk into the locker room. She managed a weak smile; Rika immediately picked it up.
"Hmm? What's wrong?" She stepped over, laying a friendly hand on Emi's arm.
"Oh. I, uh…" She paused, desperately trying to calm her heart. All these memories seemed to be picking the scabs of the old wounds of her heart; she felt an urge to cry gradually rise in her.
In all her life, there was always a certain place she fled to when she felt like this: a place where she could be alone. Just her, her heart and God.
"Do you know any churches around here?" Emi asked Rika, blinking furiously.
Rika, of course, knew the signs of a fellow lady who was close to crying. She smiled and gave Emi a small hug. "Of course. What religion?"
"Uh…a nice one?"
Rika laughed. "Alright. There's a really beautiful Catholic one right down the road; the priest insists on keeping it open all night, and he tends to hang around after hours in case anyone needs to talk."
Emi raised an eyebrow. "Is he that desperate for company?"
Rika giggled and slapped Emi's arm. "Of course not, silly! He's very good at listening; honestly, most people who talk to him aren't even religious." She smiled. "Sometimes, he doesn't say a word until the very end. It's surprisingly peaceful."
Emi suddenly understood, and nodded. Rika probably talked to him before about whatever happened in the earthquake.
Her phone buzzed, reminding her of an appointment soon. With Maou.
"Oh! Sorry, Rika, gotta go! Meeting someone soon!"
As Emi rushed through her locker, changing clothes and packing her bag, Rika squealed with delight.
"Is it who I think it is?"
Emi groaned. "Ah, drop it already! We're not a thing!"
Rika giggled anyway. "We'll seeeee!" She waved as Emi dashed out of the room. "Tell me the juicy details tomorrow!"
She dashed down the stairs and out the front door. The convenience store they were meeting at was only a few minutes away, so she probably wouldn't be late.
But as she rounded the corner, she slowed down to a stop. Her heart began to beat faster.
In two more days, the Archangel of Justice was going to come and collect the payment of blood that was due.
She would only have two more days with him. As infuriating as he was–as much evil as he did on Ente Isla…was this really the best ending?
She shook her head. Taking a deep breath, she primed herself and walked around the corner.
He was lounging against the wall of the convenience store, his trusty steed Dallahan sitting at the bike rack.
She walked up to him. When he spotted her, he smirked.
"Ah, the Hero arrives. Late, as usual."
He frowned when she didn't retort. She still wasn't her usual self.
"Look, Maou…" She started, looking at the ground, breathing deeply. He cocked his head.
There was silence for a minute. Emi's mind was still filled with memories, emotion, conflict–what was she looking for? Maou, however, was getting impatient.
"You were the one to call me out here. What is it?"
She furrowed her brow, and glanced up at him.
"Would you join me for dinner?"
His jaw dropped. "What?"
He might have mistaken this for a date. But the look on her face was…strange. It was exceptionally serious. There was no way this was a date.
But he was going to milk this for all it was worth.
"Oh, you mean like a date?" He smirked.
She stepped back, stammering. "W-what? Of course not! You foul demon! How could you even suggest that? You and–"
As she continued on, Maou grinned. There we go.
He unhooked his bike from the rack as they began walking out of the alley. He slapped the back of the bike.
"Sure you don't want to take the bike? We can probably fit two people on here…if we squeeze pretty tight…"
"Augh! Stop being suggestive!" She hit him on the back of the head with her palm. He laughed and rubbed his head.
When he glanced at her, she wore that same annoyed expression that she usually did around him. He smiled. Good! Got her out of that funk. Back to the same old Emi.
After walking a block, they saw a restaurant that looked good. Neither of them were very familiar with sit-down places around town, having small budgets; but this looked good enough. They slid in after locking Maou's bike to a nearby rack.
"So." Maou asked, as they sat down. The waitress handed them the menus and skittered away. "What's up?"
Emi shrugged. "I feel like…"
Well. She couldn't exactly tell him how she actually felt; breaking down into a confused, tear-ridden mess would not exactly improve the atmosphere. She had to think of another excuse…
"…well, I don't exactly have anyone from Ente Isla around. You have Ashiya and Urushihara, but…"
Maou nodded. When she arrived, she came alone. As much as she hates them, she at least has a semblance of familiarity around them.
"I understand." He smirked. "Even the Hero needs friends, eh?"
"Hey! I am not friends with you!" She glared at him. "Enemies!"
He nodded sagely. "Of course. That's why we're eating dinner together. Usual enemy activities and all."
"Augh!" She ground her teeth. "You're insufferable."
"Hey! I take offense at that." He pouted. "Seeing you is a terrible suffering."
As they continued their banter, Emi felt her heart both lighten and tighten. She liked this. She honestly, truly enjoyed trading insults with him. Contrary to what their facial expressions showed, their pseudo-argument gave an atmosphere of…well…friendship. Comfortableness around each other.
After a while, they managed to order and get their food. Emi decided it was time.
She gulped nervously. "Maou…"
He raised an inquisitive eyebrow at her.
"…what are your plans for the future?" Specifically whether you're going to be evil or not, she thought.
He bit his lip, thinking. "Well…I don't know." He shrugged. "Life's good right now. I'm not sure what I want to do."
He glanced at her. She was frowning at her plate, biting her lip. She looked deep in thought. On what, I wonder…
"Hmm?" She looked up. "Uh, I'm not sure, either." One of her hands began idly playing with a strand of her vibrant hair. "I don't really know my place in this world…"
He raised an eyebrow. "You're the Hero! What do you mean, you don't know your place?"
Her eyes narrowed as she looked at him. "I mean that my purpose in life was to hunt you down and kill you. Ever since my father died."
He blinked. She sighed. What a way to kill the conversation, Emi. She thought regretfully.
She stood up, fishing out her wallet. "Look, I better–"
"Wait, Emi. Hold on a sec!"
She ignored him, tossing cash for the meal onto the table and quickly leaving the restaurant. Maou half-stood, reaching out after her, his face creased with worry. When he saw that she was gone, he sank back in the chair, letting out an exhausted sigh.
How can I respond to that…? He wondered. What am I supposed to say? Sorry?
He mentally berated himself again for what he said last time. Talk about careless; saying "I guess" to a grieving enemy is hardly going to comfort them. He buried his head in his hands.
He was very good at avoiding discussions about the past. His mind generally kept that life locked away; he didn't want to remember who he was. What he did. After living life as a human, and experiencing how good, how beautiful the people were…
He shook his head, stood up and left. Another evening gone to waste because of the Hero.
Emi ran down the sidewalk, eyes brimming over with tears.
She glanced down at her phone again. Rika had texted her the address of the church. Just in time, really, she thought; after she left the restaurant, her heart had gradually begun to break down. It was only a matter of minutes before she would collapse and weep.
After turning the corner, she spotted the entrance to the church; there were only a few lights still lit, as it was probably close to eight or nine o'clock by now.
She pushed open one of the large, solid oak doors; it glided open with nary a squeak. The inside of the church, as Rika said, was beautiful; the church was built of stone, which gave a solemn feel to the inside. The gentle candlelight, combined with the darkness of night, gave the church a surprisingly homely feel; if there were ever a place where Emi felt comfortable pouring out her heart to God, it was here.
She rushed forward and collapsed in a pew near a dark corner of the church. She was thankful that it appeared the church was empty. She wanted to be alone for a while.
At first, she just sat there, breathing in the cool air deeply before slowly exhaling. Letting her heart rate calm down.
Soon, the memories began to arise in her mind once more. The battlefield. The blood. Burnt corpses. Burning buildings. The faces of her dead soldiers. The faces of her dead friends.
The sorrow, which had been building in her for far longer than just today, suddenly broke loose. She cried. Her shoulders shook, as she tucked her face into her arms and wept.
She had lost so much. So many friends had died. All of her family. So much loss…
And then she had come to an unknown land, where she experienced the utter betrayal of one of her only remaining friends, Olba. Otherwise, she lived alone. Often dined alone. Relaxed alone.
She was, in a terrible sense of the word, alone.
After a minute of crying, however, she felt a presence walking towards her. She turned, her fight-or-flight response kicking in, only to see that it was a somewhat young priest. He stood at the end of the pew with a small smile.
She stared at him. He smiled at her. Finally, she asked:
"What do you want?"
He glanced at the roof, as if in thought. He tapped his chin for a moment before answering.
"I want what a priest wants."
"That's not much of an answer."
The priest chuckled. "I don't know how much you know about priests–"
"Too much." She said darkly. The image of Olba, her favorite and closest priest, who raised her as a father, only to betray her and attempt to kill her, rose to her mind.
"–but Catholic priests choose to be celibate. We never marry." He turned his eyes to her. "Do you know why that is?"
She blinked. "No, actually. It was a symbol of status where i'm from, but here…"
"It definitely isn't much of a sign of status here; most priests don't get paid much." He chuckled again. "We don't enter this kind of life for the sake of money."
She shot a questioning look his way.
"For what reason, then?"
He leaned back in the pew and closed his eyes. Instead of answering her, he asked a question. "What's the best way to show someone you love them?"
She raised an eyebrow. What a strange question. "Tell them?"
"Nope. They won't believe you just on your word. Try again."
"You spend a lot of time with them?"
"Nope. That might build trust, but the step to love is far more than that."
"Uh…" She was running out of ideas quick. "You are always there to help them?"
"Good! But still, not enough."
She frowned. "What, then?"
He smiled. "To suffer for them."
It seemed like a light suddenly turned on in Emi's mind.
"To love them by suffering…"
"Mmm," the priest nodded. "That's the true heart of a hero, you know; to offer your entire life to suffering, so that others might have life." He turned his eyes upon her and gave her a gentle smile.
She sniffed. "I've suffered all my life, Father. I've tried being the Hero, but…"
Part of her heart broke open, and all her emotions came spilling out.
"But every night, when I go to bed, I'm alone. Every day, I live alone. I eat alone." She turned her teary gaze to the priest, who continued to smile at her. "Why do I feel like I'm alone in my suffering?"
In response, the priest enveloped her in a hug before whispering, "Because no one's suffered for you."
Her shoulders began to shake, but she held herself together, stiff, in the priest's arms. She couldn't trust a complete stranger!
"Child, let go of your fear. I'm not here to ask anything of you. I'm not here to require you to do anything, or be anything, or say anything. All I want you to do is let yourself be loved."
"Relax, open your heart, and listen." He said soothingly. She forced herself to relax, letting the tension out of her shoulders. Immediately, she felt her heart swell, preparing to burst.
"I chose to be a priest for one reason." He spoke softly. "I remember how it happened clearly: I was kneeling in prayer when I suddenly felt overcome! Overcome with something I had never experienced in such intensity!" He paused before speaking even more quietly.
At that single word, Emi's heart burst open. She began to sob into this stranger's chest; but, as embarrassed as she felt, the priest simply held her close and continued speaking.
"I felt so consumed by love that I longed, with all my being, to go and give everything I could–every ounce of myself that I had–to others. I wanted every single soul in the world to experience the truth that they are loved. I wanted to suffer great pains and sorrows for others, so that no one could possibly doubt the truth: the love I felt in my soul was for them. It was, truly, the love of God." As he spoke, his eyes, tear-filled as they were, rested on the crucifix that hung over the altar.
As he spoke, Emi felt her heart both expanding and emptying; it was like she had packed too much air into a can until it finally exploded.
"You are loved, child. You are so loved!" He spoke passionately.
She opened her heart and all the pain came rushing out; she wailed and wept and shook and cried, and through it all, he held her close and prayed. He wept with her. He prayed for her.
And she felt a warmth in her heart. I am loved. Her crying increased. I am loved, even in the midst of my suffering.
How I have longed for this love!
It had taken close to twelve years; but she finally felt something that had been gone since the death of her father: someone truly loved her, because they were willing to suffer for her.
It was some time later that she finally left, returning home; and, though she would never see that priest again (she didn't even know his name), she still felt that joy and peace in her soul.
She was loved.
For the first time in a long time, she fell asleep in her bed with a smile.
The next morning, Maou awoke to a text message.
Convenience store alley. 8 PM. –Emi
He sighed, scratching his head. He texted back quickly.
In a few minutes, he got a response.
I have a very important question to ask you in person. That's all.
He exhaled. He texted back quickly.
To be frank, he was a bit frustrated at her. She would one day be perfectly normal Emi, and then she'll avoid him, and then she'll be an inch away from challenging him to a duel to the death; and then she'll be normal again.
It was like she couldn't decide who she wanted to be.
Or, perhaps, she can't decide who she wants you to be. The thought popped up suddenly in his mind. He frowned; that seemed far too philosophical for him. He must be going stir crazy.
She's always thought of you as evil incarnate. Are you truly surprised that she's deeply conflicted about being friends?
He sighed. He hated this entire situation; it was like he had a stigma above his head that could never be removed. A darkness that would always be associated with his name. Could he ever have true friendships? True happiness?
He generally was able to shove away guilt when it came to him at night; but that image of Emi crying kept coming back up in his mind.
You killed my father!
That phrase pierced his heart. For the first time, he felt regret because of the War. For the first time, we wondered whether he was wrong.
Since then, it certainly hasn't been the only time his mind pondered the question.
The alarm beeped. It was time to get going. He slunk out of bed.
"Sire, I've laid out your clothes for the day." Ashiya nodded to the clothes laying on the floor near the door, neatly folded.
"Thanks." He slid into them quickly. "I'll be back for dinner, but I'll need to head out quickly after that."
"Ah, Emi wanted to ask me a question. Made it seem important."
Ashiya frowned. "That woman has it out for you, Sire."
He waved him off. "Don't be foolish. She would have killed us a long time ago if she were going to."
"Not in that way."
Maou was heading out the door, but stopped. "What other way is there?"
"She wants you to fall again."
"What?" He looked at him incredulously. "She's been keeping an eye on me so that I don't do anything bad! Why would she want me to do evil?"
Ashiya shook his head. "I'm surprised you don't see it, my lord. She feels conflicted about you; you are her eternal enemy, but you also are becoming like a friend to her."
"Well, that conflict is pretty obvious; it's kind of written into everything she does."
"But that's the problem, Sire." Ashiya frowned at Maou. "She wants you to sin, so that she can go back to how things were before. Then you're evil, so she can strike you down and not feel bad about it, and thus feel like her mission is complete."
Maou shook his head doubtfully. "I think you're seeing too much of a demon in her and not much of a Hero."
Ashya sighed. "I've never believed in Heroes; the so-called heroes i've known have always ended up more demonic than holy."
Maou snorted. "That's because you've only known demons." He waved. "Enjoy the day."
Ashiya looked around the room and sighed. "I'll try, Sire."
The day passed quickly.
Work was fine, as usual. He actually really enjoyed his job; it was simple. He had a job to do. If he did it well, the result was good. He didn't have to worry about anything else; just smiling, greeting, managing, cooking, cleaning…
It was simple, honest work.
Five o'clock rolled around. He flitted his way back home, where he greeted Ashiya and Urushihara.
"Mmm." The latter demon waved at him from the computer.
"Do you actually do anything?" Maou asked him.
"No. He just watches anime." Ashiya answered.
"What?" Urushihara scowled.
"He thinks I don't see when I'm washing pans, but I keep our super-reflective one hung on the cabinet so I can watch him."
"Don't we only have one pan?"
Ashiya sighed. "I scavenged some sheet metal from the dumpster to use as makeshift pans. I only use them for Urushihara's food, of course."
At that moment, Urushihara stood up and went to the bathroom. Maou and Ashiya pretended not to hear what followed after.
The rest of the evening proceeded as planned. However, much too soon for Maou's liking, seven o'clock rolled around, and he prepared himself to head out.
The ride there was strangely unsettling. He felt nervous.
What is this? The Demon King feeling nervous because he's meeting a Hero? Hah! I've faced worse! He mentally prepped himself, willing the nervous butterflies out of his stomach. I've battled her plenty of times; this one won't even be to the death! I'll be fine.
But he found that it wasn't himself that he was worried about.
As he pulled up to the alley, he saw her waiting for him. She stood tall, with a totally serious look on her face. There would be no jesting this time.
He parked his bike a little ways down the alley and walked towards her. She nodded to him. He nodded back.
"I apologize for bringing you out here this late, Maou."
He blinked, surprised at her polite attitude. "No problem. What's your question?"
She took a deep breath. "I need you to answer this entirely, completely and totally honestly."
He nodded slowly. What was she getting at?
"Do you repent of killing all those innocent people on Ente Isla?"
He drew in a deep breath. She was asking the Question. He knew this contained a lot more than simply being sorry for what happened. Would he re-do it all, if he could? Would he truly want to be forgiven?
Would he refrain from ever killing innocents again?
He closed his eyes. I will be honest. Totally, fully honest. This is my chance.
He opened his eyes.
"I do repent."
Emi sucked in a breath, her eyes widening. She realized that she was shaking.
"Truly?" Her voice trembled.
He was certain. "Yes. Entirely, totally and forever."
She took a step back, as tears began to pool in her eyes. For the first time, he saw a wide grin spread across her face.
"That's all I needed to know." She whispered.
"Emi–" He took a step towards her, reaching out a hand.
She turned away, wiping her eyes on her sleeve. "Ah! Don't look at me right now!"
"Oh!" He turned his gaze away. "Why?"
"What? You look fine to me."
"No, baka! It's not polite to look at a girl when she's crying!"
"But you don't sound like you're crying…"
"That's not convincing!"
She laughed. "Well, I would be crying more if you weren't so rude. Staring at me and all."
"But don't you not want to cry?"
"Isn't that a double negative?" She shot back, still wiping her eyes dry on her arm.
He stepped closer to her. She didn't shy away.
"So what? I do what I want."
"Not if I have anything to say!" She adopted a mock fighting stance and playfully socked him in the gut. He coughed.
"Hey! Not so rough!"
She laughed. "You big panzy. You're just a softy deep inside."
He chuckled. But when he looked at her, he noticed she was still crying.
Suddenly, he had the biggest surprise of his life: Emi rushed towards him, embracing him in a full hug.
For a minute, the world stopped.
Maou closed his eyes, returning the embrace. He took a deep breath, smelling the sweet fragrance of her hair, feeling the warmth of her face beside him; she, in turn, grasped him with all her strength. She never wanted to let go.
But she had a duty to do. A suffering to endure, for the sake of love.
So the perfect moment ended. She let go of him; as they withdrew, she hid her face and fled, yelling a quick "Goodbye!" as she ran.
Maou was too stunned to say anything; he stood, as if in a daze, watching her leave. Even after she was gone, he stood there with a goofy smile on his face for a few minutes more.
Finally turning away to go home, he lifted a hand and placed it against him, where the lingering heat from her body remained, and smiled.
That was something he would never forget.
It was early dawn.
Emi's doorbell rang. She took a deep breath, calming her suddenly rising heart rate.
It's OK. You've prepared yourself for this moment. You don't need to be nervous around him.
Just be yourself.
Be the Hero.
She answered the door and bowed.
"Come in, Archangel Iustia."
The Archangel nodded and entered, gazing at her with his piercing blue eyes.
"This is the final day before Judgment. Do you–"
"Yes." She interrupted. "I invoke the Clause."
"Very well." The Archangel, for the first time, smiled. "Before we do this, you should know something about Heaven."
She raised an eyebrow.
"We do not see God."
She gaped. "What?"
"We do not see God. To be frank, the Heaven we Archangels reside in is not the true Heaven; human souls do not ascend there after death." He shrugged. "It's just a higher plane of Ente Isla."
"Why are you telling me this?"
He smiled gently. "Because I'm sure the true Heaven is greater than even an Archangel can imagine."
Her breath caught, as she realized what he was saying. "Oh." She smiled, and bowed once more. "Thank you, Iustia."
He nodded back.
"One question more: why?"
He smiled. It warmed her soul. "Yes, Emi: I think you will find the true Heaven to your liking."
He closed the blinds of the windows and turned to face her.
"Let us begin."
Maou was working the chicken fryer when he got a call on his cell phone. It was from the local police station.
"This is he."
"This is Sergeant Yuna with the police department. I'm afraid we have bad news…"
As he listened, his eyes grew wider than saucers.
He listened for a moment more, than hung up. He turned to an employee beside him.
"I'm leaving. Take over."
Ignoring the man's protests, he ran back, grabbed his bag, and sprinted out of the restaurant, almost bowling over one of the customers. He leapt onto the Dallahan and fled, racing down the street at an irresponsible and illegal speed. He didn't care.
Within minutes, he arrived at Emi's apartment complex. Ditching the Dallahan, he sprinted up the staircase, fighting something which was clawing at his heart.
He burst through the door of the apartment, knocking aside the police officers that were stationed there. And then he saw her.
Pinned to the wall was Emi. Her body was mangled; she appeared to have been tortured extensively. Blood covered the room.
She wasn't breathing. Frankly, from her appearance, it was quite clear: she was dead.
Maou felt something break within his heart; the monster that was clawing him suddenly broke through his defenses.
Ah, yes, he remembered. Grief. That's what this feels like.
The officers were going to forcibly remove him; but seeing his face, they knew. He was more than a friend.
He collapsed onto his knees. There must be something! Some magic, perhaps; maybe I can heal her. Bring her back to life. This can't be the end! It can't!
But his heart told a different story than his mind. He felt the grief wash over him; it was too much to hold in.
For the first time in many, many years, the Dark King broke down in tears; and for the first time in his life, it was over a human.
Maou sat in the police station lobby, silent. Ashiya, Urushihara, Chiho, Rika, Suzuno–everyone was there. But no one spoke to him. He appreciated that.
He stared at the floor, willing the pain away. This wasn't the time. He was stronger than this.
But whenever he thought of strength and power and how things were, his heart would tear open.
How did this happen?
Finally, the officer rounded the corner and presented Maou with a hand-marked envelope.
"Mr. Maou, this was in her will. To be delivered directly to you."
He blinked. They had called him to the station after escorting him away from the crime scene; he wasn't sure what to expect. Turns out she left them things in her will.
Each of the others there also received a special hand-marked envelope. They were all surprised. It's almost like she knew this was going to happen.
Maou's heart sank. She did know. That was the reason for last night: the sudden question; the crying; the very unexpected hug…
He ripped open the envelope. Inside he found a hand-written letter. The contents, as he read them:
I apologize for the state of this letter; I tried not to cry as I wrote this, but even the Hero can fail, it seems.
[The letter had splotches over it that increased as the letter went on.]
I've always been conflicted about you, Maou; I must admit that I would have killed you that first evening if you had shown even the least bit of violence towards me. Towards anyone, really.
But you ended up being good. As much as you joked about taking over the world, one managerial position at a time, and as much as I suspected: you ended up loving being human. You learned how to love. I couldn't be prouder.
Of course, as you know, this was not easy for me to accept. I had imagined you to be evil my whole life; I blamed almost every evil in the world on you. To think that, suddenly, you were good…
It deprived me of my revenge. Honestly, it deprived me of my life, my purpose–the reason I woke up in the morning.
For the first few months here, I had no purpose. So I convinced myself that I would find out whatever evil plot you had, expose it, find my purpose anew, and finish the job.
But, turn after turn, you chose good instead.
So when I woke up every morning, I felt nothing. Nothing except alone.
Soon, I began to find other reasons to wake up: my few friends; life here in Tokyo; and, eventually, you.
As embarrassing as it is to admit, Maou, I began to like you. I began to enjoy spending time near you, which frightened me.
But it wasn't until three days ago that I had to make a choice.
An Archangel visited. He was sent to pronounce judgment upon you. I knew we couldn't fight him; on the contrary, I knew, in the depths of my heart, that justice needed to be served. But it seemed so unfair! You had changed. You were good now.
I wasn't sure what I was thinking when I asked you out to dinner; I guess I just wanted to spend some time with you. Maybe figure this out somehow.
Well, we both know how that ended.
I ended up running away until I met a stranger who helped me do something I never thought I could.
I chose to forgive you.
I chose to confront you and, if you repented of all that you did, let go of all the anger and pain in my heart towards you.
I also chose something else. You see, there's a clause in the Proceedings of Justice that allow for punishment due to one to be given to another willing subject in their stead, so long as two conditions are fulfilled: they truly repent of evil; and the sacrifice truly loves the one for whom they suffer.
I invoked the clause. I am to be tortured and killed in your stead in three hours hence, from the penning of this letter. I know you might wonder why I chose this path; well, the answer is simple.
The best way to show someone you love them is to suffer for them. My heart is a Hero's heart, Maou; I have always been destined to die to save someone else. That someone is you.
I am sorry for the pain I've caused you, Maou. I'm sorry for the pain that this will cause you. I'm sorry for so much…but I'm thankful for so much more.
I love you, Maou. So don't let your good heart die with me. Remember how good it is to be the Hero.
You can be one too.