1. Devil Survivor needs more fanfiction.
2. I'm not Japanese, so if there are any inconsistencies in the story such as names of locations, clothing and what-not, please inform me via flames/reviews/PM. Thanks.
3. Main Character will be named Shujinkou here, because that's basically the Japanese meaning of his name.
4. This is based off Naoya/Kaido's route.
Disclaimer: I do not own any of the characters or plot elements from Shin Megami Tensei: Devil Survivor. This is purely fan-made and based off the SMT plot. It is nothing religious and is not a gibe or insult.
Always remember, that there are times when running away will only leave others suffering in your wake.
- Lord Abel, King of Bel
The Sempiternal Darkness
You who seek to escape
When day falls await the breaking dawn
But should the first light cease to be
How shall thou escape?
It had been seven days since the lockdown started. Yet to Yuzu Tanikawa, it all seemed like an eternity, as if time had escaped the threshold of reality and had left her disorientated in an intangible dream. Seven days of hardship, where their endurance, versatility and teamwork had been tried and tested well over their limits. Seven days of sweat, tears and blood in their bid for survival. Seven days of pure hell.
Yet when the SDF officers announced that the lockdown had ended, when the people cheered and when the barricades were lifted, Yuzu did not smile, let alone rejoice that it was all finally over. Finally.
Instead, she felt a dark, howling weariness – as if she had entered the Yamanote Circle fully but was now leaving with two-thirds of her being missing. And it was partially true. Three of them had entered the Circle together, and now she was leaving alone.
It was strange too, how the people lacked alacrity. Around her, the people trudged out of the lockdown area, the air heavy with fatigue and despondency. Everyone was physically and mentally drained. Utterly relieved, yet utterly tired.
When she caught sight of her mother's anxious face in the crowd, she gave a wave in an attempt to draw her attention. It worked, and her mother rushed over, pushing through the masses like a mad, delirious woman.
"My girl!" She wailed, and embraced her daughter so tightly as if she would slip out from her grasp and vanish from her life. It then struck Yuzu how pale and worn her mother looked. The continuous strain of coping as the breadwinner had taken its toll, and the anxiety over the life of her only family left had further aggravated it.
"I was so scared," her mother cried. "They wouldn't tell us what was happening inside, and I heard screams and gunshots. I thought I would lose you forever."
For once, Yuzu felt as if she could understand her mother's emotions. Unbeknownst to her, the entire ordeal had left her more matured and insightful. She felt terrible for putting her mother through everything alone, and never once truly appreciating her maternal love.
"I'm sorry Mum."
The tears were contagious, and Yuzu soon found herself crying into her mother's shirt, releasing her pent up frustration and melancholy through streams of tears.
It was all finally over.
When they had cried themselves dry, her mother sniffled once more before breaking the embrace.
"I'm so glad you're alright," her mother sighed and gave her a weak smile while wiping the tear stains from her face. "Let's return home. I'll prepare dinner for you."
Yuzu returned the smile and realized just how famished she was after days of surviving on meager food rations. There had even been days when they were unable to obtain food, and had to compromise with sating their hunger with water from the park. Her smile widened when she recalled how Shujink-
She abruptly stanched her thoughts and her smile dissolved in that instant.
Her mother noticed her sudden change in demeanor and gave her a questioning look. Yuzu forced the smile back on and dismissed the unspoken question, "Nothing's wrong."
The tall woman was not convinced though and she frowned as her gaze flitted past the dispersing crowd.
"Where's Shujinkou-kun and Atsuro-kun?"
The redhead flinched, feeling the weary darkness resurface within her as the query struck home. She sighed.
"Let's go home, Mum."
Running away will never make you free
- Kenny Loggins
Life was starting to resume normality. The phone and train lines were functional once more and shops were reopening for business as people got back to their working lives. A major clean-up of the Yamanote Circle made it seem as if the lockdown never happened. But despite the government's best efforts to remove traces of the lockdown, the giant rift in the claret red sky was beyond human capabilities to alter. Reports around the world had shown that blue skies no longer existed throughout the globe. It was a haunting reminder that greater beings existed in this world.
Besides that, there remains another remnant that was left well alone. The entire area of Roppongi Hills had been cordoned off by the SDF troops. At the heart of the site, standing at an impressive 781 feet tall was the Mori Tower – the reason behind the cordon. The once majestic skyscraper was now swarmed with demons. It was strange though, that despite the presence of a myriad range of demons, none of them had caused trouble thus far.
Yuzu sighed as she flipped through television channels from the dining table, taking particular care in avoiding the channels broadcasting news. She was snapped out of her state of idle at the sharp ringing of her home's phone. Her mother had left for work, so she answered the call.
It turned out to be Atsuro's mother, much to her dismay.
"Yuzu-kun, do you know the whereabouts of my son? We've been waiting and searching for days now since they announced that the lockdown would be lifted. I thought that since the three of you are together most of the time, you should know where he is." It pained Yuzu to hear how distraught and desperate Miss Kihara sounded. She must have returned from overseas when she learned that her son was trapped in the lockdown.
"I tried contacting Shujinkou-kun's parents, but he has not returned home too," Miss Kihara continued, her voice starting to crack. Yuzu could hear sobs. "You're the only one I can rely on now. Please tell me where my son is!"
Yuzu was clueless as to how to break the news to Miss Kihara. She did not wish to lie either, so she gave the woman the only answer that came to her mind.
"He's gone," she managed to utter.
There was a gasp from the other end. "W-What? What do you mean? Yuzu-kun? What do you mean?" She could hear the panic in the woman's words, but gave no reply.
When a man lies, he murders some part of the world
These are pale deaths which men miscall their lives
All these I cannot bear to witness any longer
Cannot the kingdom of salvation take me home?
- To Live Is To Die, Metallica
From then onwards, Yuzu did not answer phone calls. When the doorbell rang, she ignored it. Her mother had the keys to the house any way. All this was done in an effort to avoid being confronted by his parents, for fear of what she would say to them. The only times that she would pick up the receiver was when she rang up Midori or Keisuke. They were her closest friends now, and she found herself hanging out with them most of the time.
Now that the Shomonkai had disbanded, the streets were filled with new cults importuning the pedestrians. Midori had wanted to wander about Akihabara since most of the shops there had reopened for business, but Yuzu quickly suggested Ikebukuro instead, not wanting to visit the favorite electronic site of a certain tech-savvy boy. Thankfully, the blue-haired cosplayer was as equally keen on visiting the Otome Road there.
As she walked along stores brandishing a gamut of anime merchandize, Yuzu caught stray strands of conversation that stood out from the rest.
"Hey, I heard that the lockdown got lifted because someone managed to gain control to all the demons?"
"Yeah that's neat! Still though, those demons look like they can do some nasty stuff. I'd rather not imagine what would happen if one of them gets loose, it's unnerving."
"Did you see that video of a Jack Frost? It was waving to the camera! Awesome!"
"We'd better shop like mad. I heard that there's going to be some epic battle. It would be the end of the world!"
"That guy in black is pretty freaky. I wish he would stop preaching about his king or something. Someone should ask him to go get a life."
"Come forth my fellow comrades! There is no doubt that we have been bestowed the duty of vanquishing the new evil that has come to taint our lands! The heavens have spoken, the angels have commanded! We must rid the world of this great evil! Let us join hands for the sake of humanity!"
Yuzu turned towards the source of the last voice. A mustachioed man in his forties was draped in white satin robes, hands raised in a gesture beckoning people to him while standing atop a makeshift podium. She noted that he had managed to rally quite a number of supporters, judging from the at least twenty-strong motley group of people clad in a variety of attire, but all conforming to the color white.
"Our preparations are complete! The angels have asserted that our arsenal will allow us to triumph over those fiends! We will strike at noon. All are welcomed to pledge thy alliance to our Almighty Lord!"
"Nothing but tosh," Keisuke scorned from beside her, narrowing his eyes at the robed man. "The angels are obviously using them to countermine their adversaries."
Yuzu saw Midori tighten her grip on Keisuke's hand, as if trying to ease the smoldering ire out of the sepia-brown haired teen.
"I hope everything will be alright…" The cosplayer said with a worried frown.
Yuzu could only nod in agreement.
It is a puzzling thing. The truth knocks on the door and you say, "Go away, I'm looking for the truth," and so it goes away. Puzzling.
- Robert M. Pirsig
The next morning, Yuzu awoke to a peculiar, yet familiar beeping sound which she had not heard for a long while.
"An email?" She picked up her communication player (COMP) which she had left by her bedside. Most of the Demon Tamers had discarded their altered COMPs after they had ceased to serve their purpose of summoning and contracting demons via the Demon Summoning Program, now that all demons only obeyed him.
Yuzu however, always had the pink device with her. Demons were still present after all. If she ever encountered a hostile one, the Harmonizer function in her COMP should raise her chances of survival. By attuning the wavelengths of demons and humans, the Harmonizer brought the battle field to a more impartial level as people could now hurt demons while demon attacks would be less effective. All these had been coded into their communication devices by none other than his cousin. Yuzu felt deep resentment stir within her as she thought of the silver-haired man.
He started all of this, she thought bitterly. If he didn't hand out those altered COMPs, there wouldn't be demons. There wouldn't be a need for the lockdown. Life would be nice and normal.
She stared at her pink device, unsure if she should read the email. Since it had arrived in the morning, she had a pretty good guess what the email was. Probably one that would predict the events occurring on the day itself. Nothing good can come of this, Yuzu thought. But curiosity won over, and she flipped open her COMP. Sure enough, it was a Laplace Mail from The Observer.
GoOd moRning. Here iS today's NEWS.
➀ At 13:13 in ##ERROR##, YHVH will terminate an uprising led by the King of Bel.
HaVe a nICe daY.
Yuzu felt a terrible chill within her. She did not know if it was the fact that she had just received a Laplace Mail when she should not be able to, or the fact that his name was there that frightened her more.
She knew that the demon overlord was pitching an impossible war with God, but never expected it to be so soon. It's today, dammit! He's going to die today! She felt tears threatening to fall, but she reined them in, trying to calm herself down. The message was not as scrambled as she had last seen it, and the clarity of it all terrified her. It was as if The Observer, whoever that was, was so certain that the King of Pandemonium would be dead by the end of the day, that he could declare it with such conviction.
But they had managed to thwart the predictions of the Laplace Mail time and time again. There was still that small possibility that he would not die today. She had to stop him. But that would probably mean an outright face-to-face confrontation. She couldn't do that. She just couldn't…
Truth hurts – not the searching after; the running from!
- John Eyberg
The girl in question was rudely jolted from her brooding when the bespectacled boy hollered into her ear.
"What?" She snapped, irritated. The frustration she had felt since the morning's email had left her edgy throughout the day.
"Keisuke has been calling you a few minutes now," Midori told her.
She immediately regretted speaking to Keisuke in such a tone. He was probably just concerned.
"It's okay," Keisuke sighed. He closed his eyes and pressed his fingers between them in silent contemplation before turning back to her again. "We need to talk."
Yuzu soon found herself in a decently sized Omotesando bar. The establishment was dimly lit with a simple wooden theme, giving it a homely kind of ambience. A single counter ran across the width of the room while round tables dotted the area around a circular stage at the center. Shelves housing bottles of alcohols ran along the length of the counter.
A comely man dressed in a prim grey suit with a striped-blue tie was reading the papers behind the counter. His black hair was combed in such a manner that it seemed wild, with the ends splayed out in a haphazard manner, yet tame in the sense that it was well-gelled and firm. His chin sported a pointed goatee. The man looked up as they entered the bar.
"Hey, it's you kids."
It was nine in the morning, so the bar was deserted. The group of three seated themselves in front of the counter.
"So what can I get for you guys? No alcohol please, I don't want trouble with the authorities, though I doubt that they would bother about such minor offences at this point of time. How about some fruit juice? The drinks are on me as promised."
"Thanks Gin," Midori smiled. "Why are you open so early?"
Eiji Kamiya, also known as "Gin", shook his head with a sigh as he served up the drinks. "I don't know. Maybe it's because with both Haru and Aya gone, there isn't much for me to do. So I spend most of my time here."
"Haru's gone?" Yuzu piped up at the mention of her favorite singer.
"Yeah," Gin settled back into his seat behind the counter. "She decided that it was time to stop running away from her past and has gone back to her hometown. So what brings the three of you here? I don't believe that you came here merely for free drinks."
"What Haru is doing," Keisuke deadpanned. "We're going to talk about the lockdown, specifically on what happened at the end. It's time we stop evading the truth and get it over with." Yuzu could tell that the latter part of Keisuke's sentence had been directed at her.
"I see." She flinched involuntarily when Gin shifted his gaze to her. "Where is the rest of your group? I was wondering why the other two aren't with you when you came here."
"T-T-They…" Yuzu started, but was curtailed by the bespectacled boy.
"That's precisely what we're going to talk about."
The man frowned. Even though he seemed stolid and serious most of the time, he had a big heart. "Don't tell me that they're dead and gone."
"N-No! They're fine!" Midori blurted out, startling Yuzu. She added an afterthought. "I think…"
Keisuke nodded. "In a sense, yes, they are well and alive." He shot Yuzu a glance. "Though it might be appropriate to say that they're gone."
Gin crossed his legs and folded his arms. "Care to explain?"
Keisuke gave Yuzu a questioning look, offering her the option of explaining to Gin. She shook her head.
"Do you know why the lockdown was lifted?" Keisuke asked.
"Not really. I see that the demons are still present in Roppongi, so it can't be because the demons are gone." It was a letdown to the man. He had wanted a world where demons did not exist, a world which Aya would have wanted. Gin loved Aya, that Yuzu could tell. He loved her then, and even now when she was gone, his love for her never faltered, grew stronger even.
Gin jerked his thumb towards the newspapers. "The only thing the media has told us is that the lockdown has lost its purpose. There aren't many specifics, besides that the demons are now under government control and that the people need not worry."
"Bullshit," Keisuke hissed, and Yuzu saw Midori watching him in concern. Gin raised an eyebrow at the sudden outrage.
"Sorry," the bespectacled teen sighed, visibly calming down. From past experiences, Yuzu knew that he tended to make a fetish of justice. Anything unjust riled him up.
"Anyway, Gin, do you know of the demons of Bel?"
"Bel?" The man mulled over the word. "Like the red demon that attacked Haru? The… Bel… Belial demon."
"Yes, he is one of them."
"And the others are?"
"I'm not too sure. But from what Shoji has told me, the demons of Bel all have 'bel' in their names," Keisuke pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose, drawing more information from his memory reserves. "So far the three of us have only seen Belial and Beldr. There's another one called Jezebel residing within Amane. Shoji has informed us that the Shomonkai were worshipping a demon called Belberith. There may be other 'bel' demons, but for now that's all that I know."
Yuzu tried running through the names of all the demons that Keisuke had listed, but failed miserably. How the justice-loving boy managed to remember them all, she would never comprehend.
"And you're telling me all of this because…?" Gin prompted, and Yuzu briefly wondered if any of the names got into Gin's head.
"Because in the course of the lockdown, while we were at war with the demons to survive, there was another war going on," Keisuke paused momentarily before he continued. "The war for the King of Bel."
"The King of Bel?"
"Yes. Apparently only those with 'bel' in their names are eligible for the throne. The winner would be the one who has eliminated all other contenders and will be given the title of 'King of Bel'. The King of Bel will then have the power to command all demons to abide by his will."
Gin's eyes widened as the full implications of Keisuke's words sank in. "The demons are pretty well-behaved. Don't tell me that the King of Bel is a…"
"Human," Keisuke affirmed.
"Was a human," Yuzu corrected him ruefully, feeling the dark, clawing depression well up inside her once more.
Gin watched her thoughtfully. "It's him, isn't it?"
When the girl failed to reply, the man tried again. "The blue-haired boy with you."
Yuzu bit her lips, but nodded. Every memory of him stung like pricks of hot acid. Tears were threatening to fall from her eyes once more. The room was filled with a dark, heavy silence, as each individual found themselves reliving their memories of him in their minds. Finally, Gin broke through the silence with a heavy sigh.
"Huh… I always sensed something strange about him. Some latent talent, waiting to be awakened to a great destiny. It's always people like these that leave us eventually." Gin gave her a painfully sympathetic look, and for a brief moment she caught a glimpse of how torn up the stoic man was inside, how Aya's departure had broken his soul and left him struggling to piece himself together.
Gin thought he could understand Yuzu's plight. But no, he was nothing like her. He would never understand her. Gin never ran away from Aya. He was with her all the way, sharing smiles through turmoil and little moments of happiness, always there supporting, cheering and loving the other, until the day she left. No, Gin was nothing like her, and Yuzu was glad for him.
"It's time to move on, Gin," Keisuke's stern voice broke through the sullen atmosphere. "It's time all of us stop running away from the truth. The more you run, the more painful the truth will be when it finally catches up with you."
Gin contemplated the boy's words as the others watched him expectantly. He finally relented.
"Heh… Alright. I'll start. Just… give me a few minutes…" Gin closed his eyes and took in a deep breath, steadying himself, slowly ruminating on his past actions and behavior. Yuzu could see the emotional strain the process was putting on the man.
Finally he opened his eyes and spoke. "Thinking back, all I've been doing was brooding over Aya's disappearance. Throughout the day, my thoughts were always centered on her. Even during the lockdown, Aya herself was my main drive to survive. I knew that I was becoming obsessed, desperately trying to find that silver of truth that she was alive, even though deep in my heart I knew that no such truth existed."
Gin let out a long shaky breath, the sheen of sweat visible on his forehead. Admitting to the truth was more difficult than it seemed. She could not help but feel admiration for the man who was painfully tearing down walls and walls of lies and façade that he himself had built up.
"Aya's gone." He finally uttered. "She's gone. She's gone. Aya's gone."
He sat there, unmoving in his stool, eyes fixated to the ground. After a tensed moment, tears were suddenly streaming down from his eyes, as if reality had finally caught up with him, and reality hurt. It really did.
Yuzu watched the man cry with an aching heart. It must be terrible, admitting defeat. Admitting that the person you love was gone. To stop believing. To stop fooling yourself.
Keisuke remained silent while Midori went over to give the man a comforting hug.
Finally the man collected himself and wiped the tears away with his sleeve.
"This is stupid, crying in front of kids," he muttered half-heartedly. "But thanks. I needed that. I feel much better now, like this darkness that has been haunting me since Aya's disappearance has finally been let out."
And when he raised his head, Yuzu saw a new man. He seemed happier, a smile gracing his lips even though his eyes were slightly red from the tears.
"Aya may be gone, but I'll never forget her. She'll always be alive in my memories. I just hope that she'll find peace, wherever she is now."
Keisuke gave the man a genuine smile. "You did it."
"I'm so glad!" Midori cheered and gave the man a beaming smile which put Keisuke's to shame. Yuzu could not help but feel glad for the man too.
"Alright, that's enough of me. Who's next?"
"I'll go," Keisuke said, and Yuzu thanked him inwardly. She wanted to run. Maybe she will find some excuse and make a run for it when it was her turn.
"I've talked it over with Midori," Keisuke glanced over at the cosplayer who gave him an encouraging smile. "We've decided that we're done dealing with supernatural forces, nothing good will ever come out of it.
"This doesn't mean that we're not going to acknowledge the truth though. We already have. He's now an overlord. He's going to war with God. My best friend will be accompanying him to that impossible battlefield. They are all probably going to die," Keisuke cringed. "But enough of that. As I've said, no more supernatural stuff. We're going to do things within our human capabilities. People are going to suffer because of the war. We'll help these people. Words of comfort, humanitarian aid, whatever it is, we will try to help people regardless of whether they will appreciate our actions."
And with that, the bespectacled boy smiled at the cosplayer who returned it while nodding her head in approval. Both had been through agonizing situations whereby their acts of kindness were only requited by malice and rancor.
Gin was not satisfied with their answer though. "…People are going to suffer because of the war?"
"Did you turn on your television?"
The man shook his head. He stood up and moved towards the television set hung from the corner of the establishment. When he turned it on, they were greeted by a black screen with red words that read:
This is a warning to all humans.
Today, our great Lord Abel will wage war with God.
The safety of humans cannot be guaranteed.
He seeks your cooperation in surviving until he has dethroned God.
Peaceful times are over.
"It's been there since this morning," Keisuke said, as Gin tried switching channels to no avail. "I'm guessing Naoya's behind this, though it is possible that Atsuro did this too."
"… Lord Abel?" Another 'bel', Yuzu realized. Wasn't he their great lord now? So who was this Lord Ab- Oh. Oh.
"I've been meaning to ask you this, Yuzu," Keisuke said as he watched her expression flicker from one of confusion to disbelief. "Is that his real name? Things would make more sense if it is, since there is a 'bel' in it. He would be eligible for the throne."
Yuzu barely heard him.
This can't be true; he wouldn't lie to me about his name! There's no point in doing that! And we've known each other since we were kids! Besides, I'm sure it wasn't in his ID! Not that I've seen it, but…
"Yuzu!" Keisuke sounded exasperated.
"I… I don't know." Why? Why didn't he tell her?
Perhaps he himself was in the dark, part of her mind tried reasoning with logic. She ignored it, preferring to let herself drown deeper in her depression. It was so much easier that way, running from the truth.
Everyone was startled when she suddenly stood up from her seat.
"I... Uh, thanks for… the drink," she faltered. Her glass of juice had been left untouched. No one in the bar had taken even a sip. "I'll be leaving now."
Keisuke stopped her. "We're not done with you yet. Are you running away? Again?"
Yes, I am. And you won't stop me. "I don't want to talk about this anymore."
Yuzu gulped inwardly when the bespectacled boy tightened his grip on her arm and snarled, "Do you think I want to do this? Do you think any of us here wants to talk about this? All of us HATE it! But if we run away and try to move forward, the past will always haunt us. We'll never truly be free of its shackles. We'll always be on the run from the truth, slowly suffering, slowly tiring. Eventually we'll wear out. Is that what you want?"
There was an uncomfortable silence in the room as everyone watched her expectantly. She could see the anger in Keisuke's eyes, the concern in Midori's, and the sympathy in Gin's. What was it that she wanted? What did she want? He was going to die today. What should she do? What COULD she do?
"I don't know!" She cried, shaking off the boy's grip while shedding tears of frustration. "I don't know…"
And she ran away.
Running away from fear is fear; fighting pain is pain; trying to be brave is being scared. If the mind is in pain, the mind is pain. The thinker has no other form than his thought.
- Alan Watts
Yuzu stood under the grey awning of Gin's bar, leaning back against the wall as she watched the rain pour from the skies. She was glad that nobody had come after her; she wanted to be left alone. The inclement weather casted a kind of pallor on her, which was pretty much a reflection of her emotions – sepulchral, dark and broken. Tears dribbled from her eyes as she tried to pull herself together, but it was like trying to pull all the raindrops into a single mass. Every time she felt as if she had sufficiently calmed down to return home, she would feel the tears emerge from her eyes once more.
Maybe it's because I'm running away again, she thought bitterly. Going home isn't going to solve anything. And she reflected upon how selfish and feckless she had been in the lockdown, how she had always relied on him to make decisions, how she always wanted the easier way out, how she always lamented about her suffering even though everyone else was experiencing the same agony as her.
And he was always there with her. Always there to comfort her with his presence, offer a listening ear, light words of assurance and that ever simple smile that always melted her from within.
What had she done for him?
She could feel a caustic regret burning her heart, eating at her like bitter acid.
Yes, what had she done for him? That day, when he made that critical decision, when he needed her there. What had she done?
Away from him, and his fanatical resolve. That impossible path.
She had thought, secretly hoped, that he would come after her and perhaps rethink his decision. But he did not. Nobody came after her, besides Midori and Keisuke who both felt that his determination was wrong.
That was the last she had seen of him.
Once again he had led a team who had proven the impossible possible. She did not witness his ascension to the throne, but the fact that he never returned, and that all the demons seemed to be under proper control, were proof enough.
She smiled woefully. Who would ever guess that such an unassuming, reserved boy like him would become king of demons? They had known each other since young, had stuck together through thick and thin, had always shared their deepest secrets. He had never expressed any dark ambitions or desire for power. So why now? Why did he have to leave her? Why?
She was snapped out of her reminiscence and drawn back to painful reality by the hourly beeping of her digital watch.
2 hours and 13 minutes more.
This isn't the time for self-pity! She chided herself inwardly. If you continue to run away from it all, he'll really leave you forever. You can't keep running away.
She felt a faint flicker of resolve within her. But it was not enough.
She recalled all the times she had stood strong, how firm and resolute she had felt. How he always gave her that kind and gentle smile of assurance after averring to accomplish something so utterly impossible with a preposterously straight face.
"We won't lose."
And she believed him.
"I can do it," she said slowly, hesitantly, the words feeling strange and foreign to her tongue. "I-I can do it…"
After a few minutes of attempts to build up her flaky resolve, Yuzu gritted her teeth in frustration. This was a waste of time. It was too hard.
She wanted to do something though, anything that would stop him from waging that impossible war. But how? What could a mere human girl like herself do? What could humans do to stop a war between supreme beings anyway?
Wait. Humans… stopping... the war…
An idea formed in her head.
Man stands in his own shadow and wonders why it's dark
- Zen Proverb
"Child, are you absolutely sure that you want to do this?"
"Yes," Yuzu managed to deadpan, even though her resolve was wavering inside. A bearded man cloaked in white robes stood before her.
"The path of justice is fraught with peril. Death may claim your soul in the midst of this battle."
"Let me join you," Yuzu said for the umpteenth time.
The man scrutinized her carefully, as if searching for some fault in her resolve or intentions. Yuzu was glad that her false mien had worked, for the man in white smiled kindly at her.
"Then bless you, child, and welcome to the White Legion, slayers of the immoral and heralds of peace and justice. Your selflessness and love for Him is commended. Mankind will always be in your debt. Today we will vanquish the great evil that has descended onto our lands. Peace he seeks to wreak, peace we will uphold. The time for battle draws near, please prepare yourself, child. We will be departing soon."
Yuzu was then ushered to a room by a woman dressed in a white lace blouse. Inside, she gawked at the massive collection of deadly implements laid out on long tables placed against the four walls of the room - swords ranging from rapiers to sabers, guns, axes and spears. Apparently, these weapons were blessed and patented by the angels for effective combat against demons.
The white-garbed woman handed her a white cloak and briefly explained that all members of the White Legion had to be dressed in white or at least with white apparels covering their torsos.
"Please pick something suitable for you. Once you're ready, we'll be leaving for Roppongi. You'll be further briefed on our way there."
The woman turned to leave, but paused at the doorway.
"Do you have a COMP?" The woman asked. Yuzu nodded in response.
Satisfied, the woman left the room.
The girl sighed and wondered if she was doing the right thing. She draped the white cloak over herself and walked over to inspect the array of weapons laid out across the long table closest to her.
Each weapon was labeled, and she could not help but grimace at all the gore and violence each blade seemed to promise its wielder.
"Yanagiba… Sonic Blade… Gladius… Ugh, I can't use these! I've never used a sword before! And they're so big!" The girl groused as she slowly moved down the row of weapons. "Don't they have a staff, wand or something like that? Spells are my offensive after all..."
Keisuke's team had not cracked as many skills as his team had, so weaker skills had to suffice. Being able to cast spells was one of the many things she was grateful to the COMP for. For now, Keisuke had allocated her COMP with Zan (a weak force-based spell), Bufu (a weak ice-based spell) and Dia (a weak healing spell).
"Maybe I'll just stick to using- Eh, how about this?" She paused before a glowing yellow dagger that seemed to thrum in her hands. "Kris Naga, increases spell damage. And it isn't unwieldy too. Alright, I'll take this!"
With a suitable new weapon, she made her way towards the exit, but halted when she passed by a dressing mirror.
Startling red eyes stared back at her from the reflective surface. Eyes that were once brimming with life and vibrancy had now dulled with weariness and defeat. The white cloak draped over her shoulders hid her yellow tube-top and black pleated skirt. Her coquelicot red hair was tied up in a high ponytail.
Something was missing though.
She absently fingered the piece of fabric in her skirt's pocket. A gift from him on her thirteenth's birthday, in exchange for a set of white headphones from her. She felt a faint smile grace her lips as she remembered buying the unusual headphones to tease him for having 'cat-ears' on his head. He had always worn them throughout the day though, as she did with his gift. It was an unspoken form of camaraderie, and perhaps something deeper. She had stopped wearing it after that fateful day.
Sighing, she pulled out the pink bandanna with a terrible sense of nostalgia and stared at it. The pink cloth had her name in kanji characters stitched recurrently in a darker shade of pink.
"It looks good on you," he had said with a light smile.
Yuzu left the room, armed, cloaked in white, and with a pink bandanna tied onto her head.
Let your heart guide you. It whispers, so listen carefully.
- Littefoot's mother, Land Before Time
The White Legion braved the pouring rain and whipping gales in their slog to Mori Tower. Not a soul complained, with the exception of one wizened man who grumbled, "The Heavens must be upset with this evil atrocity who dares challenge their rule of peace." Yuzu said nothing, though she briefly wondered if it was this 'evil atrocity' that had caused the downpour himself. How much power did he possess now? Probably enough to wipe this entire legion without so much as breaking a sweat, but surely his power cannot match their Creator.
She wrapped her fingers around the wooden cross that had been hung around her neck. Every member of the White Legion wore them.
"No demon will dare touch you," the mustachioed man had said.
Yuzu was still unconvinced that it would serve as a protection against demons though. She had a hunch that this would be a futile battle, and that the people around her were all prepared for death. What were the odds that a group of no more than fifty humans could defeat hundreds, or maybe even thousands, of demons and their overlord?
But it did raise her prospects of meeting him. Not that she wanted to… but she had to try. At least.
"Halt! The area beyond here is extremely dangerous. I cannot allow the group of you to enter."
Yuzu drew her focus back to reality. In her musings, she had failed to notice that they were already at Roppongi. Their progress had been halted by one of the soldier from the SDF troops surrounding the outskirts of Roppongi Hills.
"We are here to quell this evil in the name of all things holy," the leader declared and took a step forward, as if daring the soldier to stop him.
The SDF soldier eyed their weapons cynically. "Looks like the group of you wants to clear out the demons. I would be glad if you could do that, but it seems to me here that you guys are just playing with death. Sorry, but entering this zone is out of the question."
"Death we do not fear. If you fear the darkness, then step aside and leave matters to us."
The SDF soldier seemed exasperated, waving towards the overwhelming mass of demons surrounding the tower. "Look, can't you see how stupid it would be to enter? Are you all nu-"
"What's happening over here?" The soldier's words were curtailed by a familiar face, much to said soldier's relief.
Izuna! Yuzu instantly recognized the female official with burnt orange hair and eyes of a matching color.
"Misaki Izuna, I will explain matters to you," another familiar voice was heard, a voice that spoke of sang-froid and serenity, much to Yuzu's surprise.
Amane? Why is she in the White Legion?
She watched as the ex-Shomonkai maiden weaved out of the white mass towards the SDF officer. Amane still donned her orange Shomonkai outfit, sticking out like a sore thumb amidst the sea of white. Furthermore, the huge tussock of indigo hair vaguely resembling the shape of a lotus flower on her forehead did little to blend her into the crowd. Yuzu smacked herself mentally. Why hadn't she notice her before?
"Huh. Aren't you that Shomonkai maiden… Amane, isn't it? What are you doing here?" Izuna frowned at the sight of the maiden who had been a source of migraines for her during the lockdown.
"I have personal matters to settle with the King of Bel. The people here are vying for the fall of the king. Either way, we would appreciate if you and your men grant us entry. Bloodshed here is unnecessary."
Yuzu was startled by Amane's implication of violence. The maiden she knew had always walked the path of least bloodshed, opting for peaceful solutions whenever possible. Was she slowly breaking too?
"Sorry, but orders are orders. We cannot let more civilians throw their lives away."
The bearded leader stepped forwards once more. "Raise your arms against us if you wish to, your guns nor words will hinder us from our goal. To my fellow comrades, we move onwards!"
"H-Hey! All of you, sto- Woah!"
Izuna's words went unheard as the White Legion pushed her aside and advanced forward. The SDF soldiers raised their guns, but none of them dared to open fire without orders. Yuzu watched as the female officer lifted herself off the ground, gritting her teeth as frustration played out across her tense features. She felt sorry for Izuna, who knew that it was impossible to stop the group but yet did not want their lives to be put on the line. The soldiers turned to their captain with quizzical looks, waiting for the order to stop the rebellion, but Izuna merely shook her head.
When all the members had crossed over the barricade, the leader turned to face his followers.
"The time has come! Ready yourselves, calm your hearts, and fill them with courage and love for Him! Fell those who dare oppose Him, who dare sully our blessed lands and call upon chaos to our lives! Today, we will fight in praise of His holy name!"
The people around her roared and raised their weapons to the sky. Yuzu remained silent, but tightened her grip on the pulsating dagger. She could see the maiden standing quietly beside the leader, long sleeves adjoined as she clasped her hands before her. Her eyes were hardened and impassive, and Yuzu could see a faint glaze of hatred in her eyes. Was that it? The hatred that was breaking her. But hatred for what? Yuzu was sure she knew the answer.
"Fellow comrades! We will m- Urk!"
Suddenly, the ground trembled and moaned beneath them. The leader's preaching was put on hold as he tried to regain his footing. Yuzu could sense the rising tension in the air as panicked whisperings grew in volume.
Something was approaching. Something powerful.
Yuzu clamped her hands over her ears reflexively, but even so the terrifying roar shook her entire being right to the core. She felt her legs turn to jelly. Around her, people were starting to take hesitant steps back. Some cowered to the ground.
"Fall back! Fall back!" She could faintly hear the SDF soldiers calling to them from their barricade. She felt fear screaming at her to run, but she held her ground. She had experienced this before, after all.
Mustering her courage, she raised her head to look at the source of the roar.
She saw a great white lion, with a blue flowing mane and a black serrated tail. Beside the white beast was a two-headed dog, long green mane streamed down from its head and across its golden body, horns lining the length of its purple serrated tail. Every time their clawed paws touched the earth, the ground quivered at their power as they slowly advanced towards the group.
"Cerberus and Orthrus…" She breathed. She had fought them alongside him before. They had won.
"Group B, you're deployed!" The leader commanded, seemingly unfazed by the roar. Yuzu's heart sank when she remembered that she had been placed into Group B, which comprised of eight users proficient in ice-based magic. "The rest, be prepared to support!"
Group B's captain was a tall, slender woman with a white trilby perched on her head. She gave the orders, "Group B-1 to Cerberus. Group B-2 to Orthrus!"
Immediately, the two groups moved out and encircled the demons respectively. Everyone moved carefully, spells on standby, ready to be casted any moment should the demons strike first. Yuzu found it strange that neither demon had attacked. She stared at the Orthrus before her, straight into its glowing emerald eyes. Just her luck to be the one in the circle standing right before the lion-sized beast. She could have sworn that its eyes held intelligence like never before.
Orders had been to wait for the demon to strike, then step aside and cast the spell. Rinse and repeat. This was to ensure that members would not be attacked in the midst of spell casting. Since none of the demons were making a move, the captain decided not to stall further.
Yuzu let loose the sphere of ice that she had drawn to her hands through the COMP's advanced technology while the three other members in her party joined her with streams of powerful ice blasts. Being surrounded by its elemental weakness on all four sides, Yuzu was pretty sure that the Orthrus was going down.
To everyone's surprise, the golden beast curled its lips up into a mocking grin before inhaling and spewing out biting flames while spinning a full circle, effectively consuming the icy attacks. Gasps of surprise could be heard from B-1, and Yuzu was pretty sure that Cerberus had just exhibited the same counter-attack to them.
Wasting no time, Yuzu quickly called upon magic to cast Bufu once more. The Orthrus was faster. With a massive sweep of its tail, the other three members were knocked a distance away. It then immediately started to sprint towards the horrified girl, flames dancing within its mouth.
The loud pounding of paws against the ground as the demon approached her so rapidly scared the wits out of Yuzu. In a desperate attempt to alter the course of the charging beast, she released another shot of Bufu. The Orthrus immediately engulfed the ice in its flames. Yuzu barely dodged the demon's breath of fire, feeling the scorching heat singe the surface of her cloak. Even as she escaped the inferno, she failed to notice the orange paw sweeping towards her back…
Yuzu felt the air being knocked out of her lungs as the paw slammed into her back, throwing her into the air like a ragdoll. She briefly wondered why its claws were sheathed before she crashed onto the ground. Pain muddled her vision as she struggled to cast Dia. She could vaguely make up the golden-green form advancing towards her.
How are we going to defeat an army of demons if two already outclassed us?
She managed to heal herself and stood up shakily. Group B-1 had already been wiped out, the four members' prone forms lying about the Cerberus. She could see the white trilby lying crumpled beside the demon's black tail and wondered if its owner was still alive.
Why are they so strong anyway? It wasn't this hard defeating them when I was with him…
The single cry triggered a rapid chain of events. Firstly, Yuzu came to realize that the Orthrus was within breathing distance from her face. She then quickly dropped to the ground as commanded, and from behind her a group of spell casters sent a whirlwind of force energy towards the golden beast. The potent flux of force energy never reached the Orthrus though, as three pentagram demons hovered in to nullify the blast with a wave of equally potent force energy.
She could hear frantic murmuring from behind her now prostrated form. Mentally preparing herself, she raised her head to be greeted with the sight of a trio of Decarabias, star-shaped demons with a sole eye at their center. The fronts of the demons were tangerine while their backs were steel blue.
More demons already! She thought in despair. This is definitely suicide.
It then dawned upon her the reason for their downfall. Waiting for their opponents to make a move before deciding on a counterattack, demons attacking based on their elemental prowess, incapacitating surrounding enemies before focusing on a target… These demons were strategizing!
During the course of the lockdown, majority of the demons they had encountered planned no further than deciding which target would prove to be the easiest meal. Why the sudden change in tactics? And why aren't the demons shredding humans to death by now?
The answer came to her in a familiar brash voice - one that belonged to an annoying egoistic bastard.
"Heh. Moral losers like you guys are pathetic!" A teen with reddish-purple hair slicked backwards crowed. An awry grin was plastered across his face as he swaggered over, hands tucked into the frontal pockets of his black windbreaker. "Too bad he says not to kill any of you; otherwise we'll be havin' a one-sided bloodbath here."
"Kaido…" She hissed at the sight of the leader of the Shibuya Daemons, whom she considered either to be a megalomaniac, or an egoist way over his head.
"Well, but it looks like our plan worked," A feminine voice broke through. "See Kaido? You can't always rely on strength alone."
A svelte woman with midnight blue hair walked up to Kaido, her white cloak and ponytail trailing behind her.
"Mari? Ugh, I told you not to come here! You should've stayed inside!" The Daemon admonished. "Anyway, this ain't our plan, it was yours. You do the thinkin' while I do the pummelin'."
Kaido then turned to face the white mass who had been watching them from afar.
"So, who's the head of you ragtag lot?"
The leader of the White Legion stepped forward. "And who are you, may I inquire?"
"Kaido, overlord's subordinate in-charge of kickin' holy ass." The teen gave the mustachioed man an imperious grin. Yuzu could feel the strength and power emanating from him. He's so strong now… Yuzu realized. Probably strong enough to crush a demon with his bare hands.
The leader's features visibly darkened. "So you're a direct associate to the great evil? I see… Group C and D, you're em-"
"Hey chill it old man," Kaido silenced the leader with a frown. "I ain't here for a fight. I'm sure you can tell that there's no way you're gonna win this battle. These demons here are just teasers. But…" A feral grin found itself on Kaido's face once more. "If you wanna fight, I'll give you one. I'll just be careful not to kill any of you…"
"Kaido!" Mari slapped him on the back, leaving a spluttering Daemon sending an incredulous glare her way. The nurse turned back to the legion's leader. "I'm sorry, Kaido tends to speak on impulse. We have been sent here to escort you to Lord Abel. He hopes to clear this misunderstanding with humans before the war commences."
The leader raised an eyebrow and stroked his beard thoughtfully. It was difficult to not trust the two emissaries. After all, none of their men had been slain by a demon thus far, and the woman had the decency to apologize.
"Interesting. A misunderstanding? Very well, I will see to what the demon has to say." He turned back to the group of white. "Fellow comrades, we will call a truce for now. Please await my return here. Should I give the signal, or never return from the demon's lair, the truce will be over."
Kaido chuckled. "Demon, he says."
"Allow me to come too," the Shomonkai maiden stepped forward.
Mari eyed her warily, but gave a nod. "I don't know what your intentions are, but fine."
As Yuzu watched the tetrad head towards the tower, it then struck her that this was exactly what she had been waiting for. Swallowing the last of her fears, she called out as she ran after the foursome.
"Wait for me!"
Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.
- Henry David Thoreau
She felt curious stares on her as she caught up with the group, slightly out of breath.
"L-Let me come too…!" She panted, grumbling inwardly. They sure are in a hurry!
"Heh. Crawling back to us after running away?" She heard Kaido's mocking voice and turned to glare at him, though it was effective in making her feel shame once more. She hated it when he was right.
Mari gave her a gentle smile after considering her sudden appearance. "Of course, he would be glad to see you."
Amane and the legion's leader said nothing, though the maiden's eyes watched Yuzu with obscure interest.
The rest of the journey was made in silence, each individual engrossed in their own thoughts. Yuzu noted that Kaido and Mari made the journey with their hands intertwined, though Kaido seemed somewhat awkward.
As they approached the dark tower, Yuzu could not help but feel antsy at the prospect of walking through a mass of demons. She could feel numerous hellish, hungry eyes watching their progress, and that was enough to unnerve her.
The demonic noise was all but chaotic. Cacophonous screeching, howling and roaring made her eardrums throb in pain and her heart throb with fear. All around her, the diverse assemblage of thousands of demons was overwhelming yet breathtaking at the same time. Winged demons soared in the claret skies while ferine demons stalked the battered ground. There was the occasional rumbling of the earth as behemoths galumphed about the area. Lesser demons could be seen cavorting between greater demons that were sharpening their implements or watching their surroundings in vigilance.
All in all, despite the chaotic scene before them, Yuzu could sense revelry in the air. Were the demons rejoicing? That clamor of demonic noise, were they cries of exultation, of a promising new age and purpose? The coalition of demons before the towering building, from tyrants to wilders, the strong and the weak, all gathered before one unifying force. She could sense the excitement and fervor. The time for freedom! The time for revenge! The time for battle and glory! All hail the great Lord Abel!
They circumvented detritus littering the tower's surroundings before reaching the entrance.
Inside the tower, it was quieter, but was swarmed with a plethora of demons nonetheless. Culebres, Gagysons, Badb Cathas and other avians were perched upon banisters of stairs that seemed endless as they spiraled their way to the top. Thankfully, electricity has been restored to the area and the lift was fully functional. Two Garms, red hellhounds with spiked collars, perked up as the party approached the elevator. Yuzu watched as Mari fondly patted the driveling demons before entering the lift. Kaido snorted.
Upon exiting the elevator, she was immediately greeted with the sight of her favorite computer geek leaning against a golden jamb of the black double doors he was stationed to.
Atsuro had changed. The battles he had experienced without her had hardened and strengthened him. His muscles were more well-defined and his face was battle-worn. On his head was his trademark white oversized beanie. He still donned his starched blue shirt and straight-cut jeans, his orange satchel slung across his body.
His face lit up when he saw her.
She gave him a weak smile, feeling the proverbial butterflies in her stomach calm down at the familiar nickname. In this time of darkness where the thresholds between reality and fiction had ceased to be, anything that brought her back to familiar grounds was something she appreciated in earnest.
"Stupid Otakuro," she laughed and ran forward. They embraced each other fondly.
"Not interrupting anything, are we?" Kaido sniggered from behind. Yuzu broke the embraced and turned around. The others had exited the elevator and the Daemon teen was giving them a sly grin.
"W-What are you talking about," Atsuro spluttered, his cheeks flushed. Kaido laughed and dismissed his previous comment.
"Anyway, we'll let the holy dude enter first. You ladies will have to wait."
Which suited Yuzu just fine. She had no idea what she was going to say, let alone do, once she entered through the black double doors.
"Fine," the bearded leader gave Kaido a suspicious glance before pushing open the double doors. Yuzu could see a red glow emerging from the gap between the doors, and gasped when she felt a frightening spike in energy, before the doors closed once more and everything returned back to normal. She knew without a doubt that it was him behind those dark doors, and her heart dreaded the moment she had to enter.
"Are you alright?" Yuzu turned to see Atsuro's concerned eyes watching her. "You're sweating…"
It was true. Yuzu could feel cold sweat trailing down the sides of her head and down her neck. Atsuro, Kaido and Mari on the other hand, seemed completely unruffled. Even Amane seemed slightly fazed from the sudden energy spike.
"I-I'm fine," she lied. Atsuro seemed skeptical, but decided to let her be.
"How have you been?" The tech-savvy boy asked. "We were all so worried about you."
"Everything's fine," she lied once more, but quickly followed up with light chiding. "But your parents are worried sick about you! They left their jobs just to return back to Tokyo. At least have the decency to tell them you're fine!"
"Hey, I would if I could okay?" Atsuro looked hurt. "But I have no idea what to say to them. What, 'Hey Mum, hey Dad, I'm sorry but I won't be home for a while cos' I'll be fighting angels for a demon overlord.' Yeah, that'll make them feel better. I bet I'll be locked up at home while everyone else is at war." Atsuro laughed, and Yuzu smiled at his crude attempt at humour.
"I…" She hesitated, lowering her gaze to the ground. "Life is just not complete without you… both."
When Atsuro did not reply, she raised her eyes to meet his once more, and saw the sadness within.
"Why did y- Uh, never mind that…" Atsuro looked away, his voice strained.
Yuzu felt her heart sink at the desolated sight of her friend. Was this because of her too?
"So…" She started rather reluctantly. "How is… he?"
Before Atsuro could reply, another voice took over.
"As compassionate and altruistic as always, much to a fault. Denying himself the pleasures of tyranny, attempting to draw in all the pain, suffering and injustice brought upon the world by those evil angels to himself – all for the sake of you humans."
That… That voice…! Yuzu felt growing rage and hatred flare within her.
"It doesn't matter to me what he wishes to gain from his actions," the humorless voice continued. "But it would be a problem if he suppresses his power to protect humanity."
The reins holding her anger back finally snapped at the sight of the silver-haired man. In four quick strides, she stood before the man, fists clenched and trembling in her paroxysm of rage.
"Naoya…! What have you done to him?" She snarled, eyes boring holes into the man before her. He wore a black cloak embellished with a flood of glowing green digits, his height further elevated by the wooden getas on his feet. She wanted to spit at him, curse him for altering the COMPs and distributing them, for dragging them into the lockdown, for dragging him into this insane mess, and perhaps wipe that condescending smirk off his unblemished face.
But the programming genius was once again able to read her mind, predict her words, and triumphed over her by stumping her with his penetrative words.
"Hm, we seem to be at a misunderstanding here," he turned his ever gimlet eyes onto her. "Perhaps you should consider rephrasing that to 'What has he done to himself?'. I did not coerce him into this, merely assisted him in his quest for the throne. It was done on his own volition for the sake of humanity, and especially so for a friend whom I believe had betrayed and forsaken him?"
Yuzu felt immense guilt claw at her heart as the remark struck home.
"It's not like it mattered to him whether I was in his party," she defended herself as painful memories of the night she ran away from her childhood friend resurfaced in her mind. Hours after she had ran away, she would constantly remind herself that her actions were due to her aversion to the blood-washed path he had chosen. Yet as she ran, she knew deep in her heart that she was truly afraid. Afraid of what he would become. Afraid of the impossible path he had chosen. She had anticipated someone to come after her, expected him to run after her and shout her name, to declare her fears unfounded.
He did not.
The last thing she had heard as she fled from the damned place, face awash with salty tears, was Atsuro's surprised cry of her name.
"That's not true," Atsuro differed. "We were ALL worried sick about you, but Shuji- I mean, he knew that the upcoming battles were going to be dangerous, and did not want to place your life in jeopardy. So he let go of you, even though he didn't want to. And…" The boy paused, brows furrowing as he touched fragile grounds once more. "I was so worried. I couldn't concentrate on the task at hand. I felt utterly discouraged, as if my purpose had left along with you. The three of us had always been through everything together. And yet… you left us so quickly. I was broken, and confused.
"But he… He remained strong. He was so strong, Yuzu," Atsuro clenched his fists. "He suppressed all his emotions about you, and remained so very strong. He knew that it wouldn't do us any good to be distracted during the vital battles ahead, so all that pain, anguish, sorrow… everything he pent up inside. He showed me how to be strong, and I did. And here we all are.
"I can't believe it… and you probably won't too. But right after the moment you left us, I knew, could see it in his eyes, that your departure broke him inside the most."
Yuzu did not know how to reply. She could feel thumbtacks choked within her throat. She knew that her actions were selfish, but never expected them to affect her best friends to this extent… Only one word came to her mind, and she voiced it.
"Sorry." And as the word left her mouth, she immediately felt tears being drawn to her eyes. Oh, damn it!
"It's alright," Atsuro gave her a weak smile, one which told her that he had forgiven her long ago.
"T-Thank you." She returned the smile in equal intensity. The tech-savvy boy had always been one quick to apologize and forgive. It then occurred to her that Atsuro's lengthy speech held an unusual element…
"Hey, why can't you say his name?"
Atsuro regarded her question for a moment before he sighed and shifted his gaze to the enigmatic genius who had been listening in to their conversation with mild amusement in his eyes… or was that scorn? "Naoya here insisted on it."
Naoya again! "What do you mean?" She narrowed her eyes at the shrewd programmer.
"It's called respect," Naoya returned her look with a superior smirk. "And I'll expect it from you too. From now on, you are to refer to him as 'Lord Abel'. It wouldn't do for the King of Bel to be associated with an impertinent human name."
"Lord Abel my ass," she spat at the man. "I'll call him whatever I want."
Naoya chuckled. "You could, but I doubt that you would be able to do so before him. The power he now harnesses would command immediate respect from mere mortals."
"… Ugh, whatever." Yuzu gave up trying to remain furious with the silver-haired man. Even though she was still greatly annoyed by how unrepentant the man was despite his major role in the lockdown, it was pointless blowing her top over someone as blasé as Naoya, which probably was one of the traits he shared with his blue-haired cousin.
"So… are you really going to wage war with God?" It was crazy, impossible, and one-hundred percent suicide. She would never understand why a genius like Naoya would even suggest it.
The condescending smirk returned. "You doubt his power, don't you? You doubt the denouement of our actions."
Yuzu glared at him, but fought back the urge to lash out at the man. "Yeah, I mean even if all the demons are now under him, God is an almighty being. He created us. All your demons will be wiped out like little pests, even an overlord would fall."
This time, Naoya did little to hide the scorn in his eyes. "The extent of his power is too great for you to comprehend. Right now, he is trying his best to mitigate his power, but such ineffable power can never be entirely suppressed. I'm surprised that you cannot sense it, people probably feel it all across the world."
It then dawned upon her that yes, she could sense it. Always had. His power was omnipresent, why hadn't she realized that until now? Right before the COMPs lost their control over demons, a chilling new sensation had penetrated the air. It was a grim, eerily unfamiliar presence. Somehow it felt as if the air around her had tightened, like she was wrapped under a thick blanket and its heavy material was pressing down at her, but it was cold. She had been feeling this up till present time, but had always shrugged it off as a sensation caused by the increased presence of demons.
Now she knew.
This newfound knowledge left her nonplussed. It was terribly difficult acknowledging the fact that your best friend who had been a normal teenager less than a week ago now wielded such terrifying power, one that could rival a god.
"Sorry to interrupt your little powwow here, but the holy dude is comin' back out," Kaido said from the side, where he stood waiting with Mari and Amane.
Oh no, it's going to be my turn next, Yuzu thought sullenly as she braced herself for the inevitable energy flare.
Her experience was slightly better now that she was prepared, but it left her breathless with cold sweat nevertheless. She watched with a sense of foreboding and alarm, as the mustachioed leader hobbled out of the black double doors with weak unsteady steps, as if inebriated. His entire being glistened with sweat, his head angled upwards as if someone had snapped his neck and locked it in place. His face was what startled Yuzu the most. His eyes were bloodshot and glazed over, staring off at some nonexistent object. A wide lunatic smile was plastered onto his face.
"Sheesh. The king didn't kill him," Kaido muttered.
Yuzu ignored the Daemon. "What happened?" Seeing the legion's leader in such a crazed state only fueled her growing fear.
The man's eyes remained locked to a distance, but he had heard her question and was more than willing to answer.
"Oh! Woe is me whose mind had been deceived! Now he has raised the shutters averting my eyes from the truth! How could I ever have doubted such a magnificent benevolent king? Oh, praise the great king! The people I shall lead to salvation in his name! All hail Lord Abel! All hail Lord Abel! All hail..."
Yuzu stared in muted shock as the leader of the rebellion stumbled into the lift, singing praises of Lord Abel. Mari hurried over to aid him to his way out, with a slight knowing smile on her face.
Oh, no way am I going in there now! She continued to stare at the elevator doors in horror even after the leader had left. No way am I going to go in and come out a blabbering mess! I'm going home!
She was startled out of her daze when Atsuro placed his hand on her shoulder.
"Yuzu, Amane's going in now. But I think you should go with her," Atsuro said, his face slightly stern yet concerned. "I think it would be better if the both of you went in together."
Yuzu wanted to run. So badly. But Atsuro's grip on her shoulder denied her that option. She wanted to say no, to push his hand aside and run. But she could see the pleading look the black-haired boy was giving her.
"He needs to see you, Yuzu," he said, voice barely a whisper. "Please."
Somehow that managed to quell the fear in her a little.
"You'll be fine," Atsuro assured. "He won't break you."
She finally relented. "A-Alright…" The boy gave her a genuine smile.
The Shomonkai maiden was already before the black double doors, watching her silently. The simmering anger was still present in her eyes, Yuzu noted. Her face now held hints of disgust, a slight frown evident. Naoya must have spoken to her, she surmised as she watched the programming genius walk away from the maiden.
"Yuzu Tanikawa, we shall enter together," Amane spoke in an icy tone.
What's her problem? The girl thought as she walked up beside the maiden. Her attention was instantly diverted to the imposing doors before her, feeling a strong sense of apprehension about what she was going to do. She mentally thanked the tech-savvy boy for pairing her up with Amane. She would never have dared to enter alone.
Somehow, as she stood before the towering black doors, it felt similar to standing before the entrance to a Haunted House ride at an amusement park. She would feel a cold dread building up in the pit of her stomach, and her mind would beg her to give the ride a miss. She would cling onto his arm, feeling considerably much more courageous as she pressed herself against his warm body. And he would look down at her with that simple smile, not saying a word. Somehow she felt safe being with him. But now it was different. He was not beside her, and was instead the reason for her fears.
"Hey Yoohoo," she turned to see Atsuro approaching her once more. "Promise me one thing will you?"
That immediately set her alarm bells ringing.
"What?" She asked warily.
Atsuro leveled her gaze firmly. "Promise me that just this once, you won't run away. That you'll stand your ground and see this meeting through to the end."
Say no, no, no, no…
"I… promise," she assented, though rather reluctantly. She mentally chided herself.
She was so going to regret this…
All men should strive
to learn before they die
what they are running from, and to, and why.
- James Thurber
Upon entering, she was immediately overwhelmed by the relentless onslaught of power. The image of a red room tangled up in a mass of thick black wires barely registered in her mind before her senses were drowned out. She stumbled after the blurry outline of the maiden in front of her, heart palpitating wildly as power rushed and thrived all about her. "You'll be fine." She repeatedly played out Atsuro's words in her petrified mind, trying to ease some of the fear out of her.
Then she saw him.
And immediately regretted ever coming to this place.
He was standing before them, and had been sitting on some sort of chair; she could barely make it out from her bleary vision. Strangely though, his appearance was sharply distinct before her.
He looked so different. Same, yet utterly different. His lean figure, straight blue hair, black and cerise attire, and the queer white headphones perched on his head had not changed. Now, an austere black cloak draped over his shoulders added to his dark regalia. His eyes. Oh god his eyes...! What once were deep warm sapphire pools were now sharp hooded eyes, stunningly cold and devoid of emotions. His previously impassive mien was now warped into one of sheer intimidation. His lips were a taut, straight line, with a slight ghost of a frown at the edges.
Run. She had to run away, Atsuro's promise long forgotten beneath the layers of terror. She did not want to see him like this. To see him in this state. This was not the same boy she had known before.
This was a demon king.
As he drew closer, the magisterial aura grew stronger. She felt her legs give way and fell to her knees, her senses lost in a medley of terror and respect.
Yet before she could act, the maiden beside her ran forward and did something completely unexpected.
Yuzu stared in utmost horror, mouth agape. Amane's hand hovered a few inches away from the overlord's still immaculate face.
"Look at what you have done!" The maiden cried out. "You've… You've ruined everything! Everything we worked so hard to achieve! Why? WHY?"
She then broke down and cried, face buried at the crook of the demon king's neck.
Yuzu remained completely stunned from Amane's bodacious behavior and her sudden breakdown. Who the hell would dare hit a demon overlord, and then cry on his shoulder! She's dead. She's dead. She's dead…
But nothing happened as she watched on in trepidation. No power flares, no incredulous outbursts, no blood and gore. The King of Pandemonium simply stood there and let the Shomonkai priestess shed her tears of agony and frustration.
"Why…?" Amane whispered, her voice cracking.
"Why what?" The overlord finally spoke. Yuzu felt chills running down the length of her spine at his icy and acerbic tone, and the inevitable respect it commanded.
"You ruined everything my father had sacrificed his life for. Everything we did, you ruined. The founding of the Shomonkai, the summoning of Jezebel, the fight against a Deva, the research into the Demon Summoning Program, all the lives of members lost during the lockdown... So many things we did, poured years of sweat and blood into accomplishing them, and you had to ruin it all."
"You're not making any sense." Was the overlord's terse reply.
"If you have just chosen the path of a Messiah, none of these would have happened!" The maiden hissed. "Now everything's going wrong! Everythi-"
"Firstly, I'm fulfilling your father's desire – to save humanity from God's ordeal."
Amane fell silent at that.
"I will save humanity," The King of Bel continued in monotone. "I will crush the arbitrary order of God and create it anew, one where humans will decide their fate through their own actions.
"Secondly, blaming everything that you have lost onto me will not solve anything."
Amane glared at the overlord. "I hate you." Her uncharacteristic expression of hatred dissolved as a fresh wave of tears claimed her.
Yuzu watched with morbid fascination at the scene being played out before her. This was... crazy! Amane soon cried herself to unconsciousness, and Yuzu could not help but begrudge the maiden in jealousy as the overlord lifted her up bridal style in his arms.
She was least to say surprised when the demon Hecate walked forward to retrieve the torpid body. She had not noticed the demon's presence in the room up till now. The King of Bel passed the unconscious maiden over, along with a few instructions to the three-headed goddess. Hecate nodded in silent acquiescent and left.
Ack, was her only thought as the demon overlord turned to face her once more. Witnessing the way he handled the broken priestess did little to ease her.
"Yuzu," he intoned.
She could not fathom why, but as her name left the lips of the king, her entire being froze as electricity-like pinpricks swept across her body relentlessly. She felt a sharp, piercing sensation in her head, his power overriding her logic, forcing her mind into submission. Somehow she knew that her life was his to take. Her will his to command.
She was his.
"Y-Yes, Lord Abel," she managed through chattering teeth, heart hammering away against her chest. She could have sworn that she saw a frown form on his emotionless face.
N-No! What was she doing? What was she thinking?
She was now downright terrified at her unexplained thoughts of submission and worship.
I have to get away from here! But her legs would not move, too weak and numb with fear to comply.
Her fear peaked when the King of Pandemonium took a step towards her, causing her deranged mind to send outraged jolts of impulses to her limbs and back. Bow down! Her mind screamed. Bow down to your great lord!
"Stay away!" Yuzu cried, and fell onto her back. The demon overlord watched her thoughtfully before taking another step forward.
BOW DOWN! BOW DOWN TO THE GREAT LORD ABEL!
"STAY AWAY!" She screamed, and lashed out the wooden cross at the dark lord before her.
Shujinkou watched as his childhood friend screamed and stared at him with such fearful eyes, like a cornered prey. He knew that he should feel saddened by her reactions to him, but could not. The power of Bel had stripped him of his humanity. His heart could not feel now. Only memories of his human emotions remained to guide him, to constantly remind himself of who he was, and why he had wanted such power in the first place.
Yet he was not an emotionless husk, there still remained one raging emotion in his otherwise unfeeling heart. That was hatred. Burning, spiteful hatred for God, and all of His creations. A raving power-crazed emotion that drove the original Bel from the beginning. And he hated it. Hated himself for feeling such hatred.
And now this human girl before him was waving a wooden cross before his face. Was he supposed to feel insulted? Insolent mortal…!
Ugh. Wrong. That was wrong! This was his best friend since young. This IS his best friend since young. And perhaps something deeper. Yuzu. This is Yuzu! What was he thinking?
He foraged through his human memories once more. Yuzu. He had liked this girl. She ran from him. He had vowed to end the lockdown for her sake. He wanted her safe.
He watched the trembling girl before him, hands still raised with the cross before her. She was so afraid, seeking protection from that wooden accessory. He would give her that, that false sense of security.
But how would he gain her trust? He needed her away from here, or so his human memories had informed him. He needed her to be safe.
Shujinkou could only hope that she would understand, and that he would not lose himself before her. Suppressing both his superabundant power and his spurious feelings of hatred for the sake of the girl before him was proving to be extremely challenging…
"STAY AWAY!" Yuzu screamed, voice almost hoarse from her frightened cries. The King of Pandemonium had kept his distance after she had brandished the cross.
"… What happened to you?" The overlord deadpanned.
Run away! BOW DOWN NOW! Answer your lord- No RUN!
"I-I'll leave n-now, L-Lord Abel," she stammered, her mind in a crazed stupor. Her legs still paralyzed with fear, she started crawling to the exit.
"I'll help you to the exit," she heard him say from behind. Her heart pounded in fear-stricken madness as she felt strong, yet thin arms wrap around her and hefted her off the ground.
He was so strong, Yuzu… remained so very- All hail Lor- NO! Scream, RUN! HELP ME!
"Lord Abel!" She screamed and thrashed in his grip, incoherent thoughts clouding her mind. The fear was excruciatingly painful. She wanted an exit, to escape the fear. "Lord Abel! Lord Abel!"
"What's wrong with you?" His voice now held the faintest edge of annoyance. And she met his eyes. Those fearsome hooded eyes. She screamed. Look away! Praise him- Run… Kris Naga! Exit… out! Let's. Survive!
She did not know what she had done, until she felt a painful burning sensation in her throat.
Something strong was clamped around her throat, crushing her windpipes. It was a powerful grip, but she could tell that there was much more power being held back behind it.
Oxygen deprived, her brain was on fire, fear overridden by the need to survive. Her mind cleared from the terror-stricken daze, but her vision was blurring out of focus, black spots lining the edges of her vision as she struggled to draw breath to no avail.
She was going to die.
Inconsistent memories flickered in and out of her darkening vision. Her mother engaged in a heated wrangle with her father. It was her thirteenth birthday, and Shujinkou passed her a small nicely wrapped box. "It looks good on you." Atsuro laughing when their English teacher called her 'Yoohoo'. The three of them stood before a giant snow demon, resembling that of an abominable snowman. "We won't lose." Shujinkou gave her a light, comforting smile as she told him how scared she was. "Don't worry. We'll find a way out." And the night in Aoyama Cemetery.
"I'll protect you."
"Shujinkou…" She managed to whisper. It was the last word that came to her mind as death wrapped its ghastly fingers around her soul.
And suddenly she could breathe.
Yuzu lay on the ground, choking violently as she gulped down mouthfuls of air. Oh god… What happened? Breathing never felt so good. The haze in her head eventually dispersed as she settled her oxygen debt. Slowly, the black spots in her vision cleared and she regained her vision. Her throat still felt inflamed though, and she felt utterly drained of energy.
She turned towards the shrill sound of impacting metal, and saw her glowing dagger on the ground. Kris Naga? Raising her head, her gaze was met with a pair of hostile sapphire eyes.
No… Did I just…?
She stared at her dagger in horror. Oh no…
"Leave," he said icily.
Of course she wanted to. She would most gladly oblige. But the fear, though still present, had ebbed away to a more superficial level. It had become more like a subconscious alarm that the man before her was dangerous.
Promise me that just this once, you won't run away.
She wondered if the dismissal of her fears was because she could finally see through his unnerving façade, and that she could somewhat understand him better now. Her close encounter with death had reminded her of the true image of the boy before her. Those hostile blue eyes held so much turmoil, like he was waging an inner battle with himself. And she knew that right now he was struggling to the best of his abilities, to keep her safe from the Bel within him.
This was her childhood friend. Not Lord Abel.
She drew in a deep breath to calm down her jittery nerves.
"Shujinkou? Why do you want me to leave?"
She saw a fleeting emotion flash in his eyes, but it was gone so quickly that she could not be sure.
"Don't get involved," the blue-haired adolescent said.
It took her a moment for the words to sink in, startled by the familiar brevity of his words, and the amount of concern it expressed despite the complete lack of it in his tone.
He knew that the upcoming battles were going to be dangerous… So he let go of you, even though he didn't want to.
"You…" She hesitated. "You're still Shujinkou, right?"
The boy regarded her question for a moment before replying in monotone. "No. I'm sorry, even if I'm not."
"What do you mean?" She was not as proficient as Atsuro was in deciphering Shujinkou's laconic answers.
"I can't feel sorry."
"You can't feel sorry? How can you be sorry if you can't feel sorry?" She almost yelled in exasperation.
"What I said," Shujinkou replied, and Yuzu gave up.
"So, you can't feel any emotion at all?" She surmised. Her childhood friend had visibly calmed down, hooded eyes returning to their cool, indifferent state.
Yuzu flinched at that. "I-I'm sorry…"
"It was my decision."
Silence followed the boy's terse words. He… He really isn't human any more… Yuzu thought to herself dourly.
At the sound of his voice, she turned to face Shujinkou once more and saw that he had averted his gaze from her.
"I still remember how I used to feel about you."
That made her heart skip a beat. She could feel poignant ardor stirring within her, awaking from their deep slumber as she heard those words. Words that filled her tattered soul with hope. "You do?"
"Yes, but they are all mere memories."
Yuzu watched with renewed interest as Shujinkou turned to face her once more. She took in his handsome chiseled features, and her heart melted. He was probably the only Bel untainted by bilious looks…
He was probably that only Bel whom she had ever fallen for.
But Yuzu beat him to it. She could not care less about what he was about to say, but she clearly knew what she had suppressed within her all these while. Today, he was going to die at 13:13. She might never again have the chance to express the words of her heart. It was now or never.
"I love you," she said.
He may now exude the very essence of evil and look down upon her with such cold malevolent eyes that promised nothing less than torment and oppression, but she knew that deep within this heartless being was the soft-spoken and benign boy she always knew.
He had thrown away everything he had worked so hard for in the past seventeen years, embracing the gift of immense power in order to free humanity from God's judgment.
Unlike her, he had refused to take the routes of least peril and uncertainty, ones where humanity could be saved but never be freed from the threat of the ever-ticking time bomb of God's wrath. He wanted humans to never be confronted with such unnecessary torture, pain, and darkness again, so that generations after generations could live freely through their own ideals, decide their fate through their own actions, and be judged by their own kind.
And Yuzu realized that she herself was perhaps, a fundamental factor that led him to such a dark decision. Each time she pulled him aside so that she could pour out her distress and fears brought about by the lockdown, he would listen silently with the occasional comments that mostly gave her the comfort she sought from him. Even though he tried to conceal his emotions behind his impassive countenance, Yuzu could tell that he was frustrated at being powerless to free the people from lockdown. That he hated to see her suffering in such a state.
How ironic it was, that the boy who once tried to suppress his emotions, was now devoid of them.
Shujinkou stared at her, his gaze unwavering even after she confessed her true feelings to him. She briefly wondered how the teen would react if he was still human.
"I can't reciprocate that. Sorry."
His words stung, but only a little.
"I don't care," Yuzu told him. "It doesn't matter if this is one-sided, if this is implausible or forbidden. My emotions may have been erratic ever since the lockdown, but my feelings for you have, and will never change – before the lockdown, during and after.
"Because I know that no matter what or who people think you are now, you'll always be the same Shujinkou I've known since elementary school. You might have changed outwards and even inwards, but deep down there, may it be in your memories or your soul, that you're still you.
"Even if all you feel for me now is deep resentment, I don't care. Because those feelings weren't meant for you to bear."
It felt good, to finally acknowledge the truth. And strangely enough, the truth barely stung. Sure it did hurt, knowing that the man you love can never return it, that you've been selfish and that had hurt so many people around you, but she could amend that. She'll make things right, somehow. She smiled inwardly at finally being able to stop lying to herself, to stop running from the truth. I did it, Atsuro, Keisuke, Midori, everyone!
Yuzu watched as the blue-haired boy stared at her with nary an emotion on his inscrutable visage before taking a step forward. This time, when he traversed the distance between them, she did not flinch. She trusted him, and had resigned herself to fate. This was the man she loved, and will always be.
Standing her ground rewarded her in its most unexpected manner. She stood there, astounded, as Shujinkou slowly and stiffly wrapped his thin arms around her in an embrace. She leaned into the crook of his neck, feeling his soft hair brush against her forehead as she did so. He felt so cold, but the familiarity and intimacy of it all made the embrace a warm one. And there they stood, black against white as their cloaks slided against the other.
"Shujinkou…" She whispered his name tenderly. A few moments ago she had barely dared to say his name, in fear of the pain it would elicit in her heart. Once again, she marveled at how things could change so drastically in such a short period of time. It had begun together with him. It would end together with him. She would never leave him again. Never run away from him ever again.
And she broke down, crying without restrain while ensconced in his arms. This time, the tears she shed were not merely of sorrow. They were tears of joy and relief, coalesced with a generous portion of sorrow and regret.
When she stopped crying, for the first time since the lockdown, she truly felt relieved. So much darkness and sorrow she had retained and carried with her in her attempt to escape reality. Now they were gone, and she felt so much lighter. Being in his arms, she felt happiness – something which she had been denied of ever since the lockdown.
Leaning back to look at the boy she loved, Yuzu was once again startled by the sight before her. His eyes were wet; tear marks visible on his pale cheeks.
And she wondered the reason behind his tears, if all he could feel was hatred.
"It's time," he said and removed himself from the embrace. Yuzu let go off him rather reluctantly and watched as he readjusted his cloak and removed any evidence of tears.
"Leave," Shujinkou said once more, but added, "Take care of the people. And our parents."
She stole a glance to her watch. 12:23. Fifty more minutes.
She couldn't let him do this. Walking to his death.
"You don't have to do this," she pleaded. "Please, just get rid of all the demons and come back to us."
He leveled her with a gaze that clearly said no.
"Don't run away, Yuzu. Be strong," Shujinkou, King of Bel said to her as he moved towards the exit. "Always remember, that there are times when running away will only leave others suffering in your wake."
She watched in awe as he flung open the double doors, and the room was immediately filled with the roaring and cheering of demons acknowledging their great lord. Naoya and Atsuro came to join him.
It was a grand sight to behold. There he stood, a teenager with straight blue hair, white headphones perched upon his head and his black cloak billowing out behind him, his cousin and loyal friend flanking him at the sides. Behind him, demons soared and came to him in numbers from the emergency stairway, crying out his name in praise.
"All hail the unholy king! All hail our great Lord Abel!"
The war had begun.
Unfortunately, it also implied that the pathway to death had been paved before him. And it was right after she had finally confessed her feelings for him, when she had finally come to terms with the truth and had accepted it with renewed resolve. When she never wanted to leave him ever again.
It was unfair. So very unfair.
"But this… this is crazy!" She cried, tears trickling from her eyes once more as she ran after his retreating figure. "No one can beat God! You'll die!"
Yuzu Tanikawa felt something warm ignite within her as the King of Bel turned to give her an utterly wicked smile – one that spoke nothing but of unparalleled evil. Yet to her newly awakened perspective, it was a kind and gentle smile of assurance. The one he always gave her after averring to accomplish something so utterly impossible with a preposterously straight face.
"We won't lose."
And she believed him.
Always remember, that there are times when running away will only leave others suffering in your wake.
- Shujinkou, King of Bel