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――At the heart of the Demon City of Chaosflame, the Crimson Lapis Castle collapsed, shadows overflowing.
That was the true nature of the thunderous roar that rocked the city, and the nightmarish spectacle witnessed through the eyes of those present.
Blending within a single stone of crimson lapis, red and blue colors danced. And the gorgeous Castle, fashioned from stacking these precious stones of whimsical beauty, crumbled as easily as a castle made of sand.
To those who knew the Demon City and to the residents of the Demon City, it was a shock, equivalent to that of the heavens falling.
What should not have come to pass had indeed happened, to the point of blurring the line between dream and reality―― and this was no exception for those less familiar with the Demon City.
The tremors also spread to a room in a traveling inn that was prepared for outside visitors to the Demon City.
Some stared bug-eyed, glaciated in place; some stiffened their whole body in utmost alertness; some shrieked, having fallen on their rear; some drew nearer to each other, as to protect themselves from the quaking.
However, despite the differing reactions, the identity of what befell them was the same “threat”.
While held captive by it, seized by instinctive fear for a moment, the irreparable situation was――,
??? & ???: [――Everyone, quiet down!]
That moment, a sharp, resonant, “overlapping” voice cut through the interval of time marked by rigidity caused by the threat.
The two voices which resonated within the room―― homogeneous ones at that, struck their eardrums, rousing even those minds that had fallen into ceased thought.
The pair to emit a sharp voice were the black-haired figures, the ones before them raising their heads in a snap.
The two men, one with a bare face and the other with his behind an oni mask, each reached out their arm towards the overwhelming scene of collapse that could be seen outside the window.
Abel: [Do not stop! If we delay in dealing with that thing, we shall all lose our lives.]
Vincent: [That which has swallowed the castle and is still devouring the sky altogether is a great glutton. If we do not do something here, the number of victims shall multiply in the blink of an eye!]
Abel & Vincent: [――Kafma Irulux!]
As if their thoughts were the same, the two men’s gazes converged on one person.
The brown-skinned man to whom those steady stares were directed―― Kafma Irulux, was thrust into the midst of confusion, unknowing of which way to turn his gaze of bewilderment.
But the confusion would not prolong for long. Because――,
Abel & Vincent: [Stop that shadow! Know that the price for your procrastination is the lives of the people of the Empire!]
The moment he was presented with the action needed to be taken and the clear purpose of what needed to be done, the hesitation in Kafma’s eyes vanished.
Kafma placed his fist on his chest, bowed, and spoke,
Kafma: [I shall leave your side. May the Divine Protection of the Yang Sword be with you!]
Vincent: [Your work shall be my Divine Protection. Exert yourself to the very last.]
Kafma: [To the utmost――!]
Giving a powerful reply, Kafma headed straight toward the window.
Using that vigor for a leap, Kafma sliced through the window with his outstretched arm and rushed out, scattering shards of glass. Immediately after, Kafma’s back bulged out, and six transparent wings spread out from behind his cloak, which he had cast off.
Fluttering wings that gave the impression of being those of a winged insect’s, Kafma’s figure flew through the sky of the Demon City as if cleaving the sky itself.
The course was straight for Crimson Lapis Castle, which was set to be destroyed by the overflowing shadows.
Abel: [How many people did you bring?]
Giving a backwards glance at Kafma’s flight, the man in the oni mask―― Abel, asked a pointed question. The question was directed at Vincent, a black-haired handsome man, who had received a bow from Kafma.
The man now occupying the throne of the Vollachian Empire narrowed his eyes slightly at Abel’s question.
Vincent: [My retinue is as you can see, Kafma Irulux and the absent Olbart Dunkelkenn. The other one would not be of much help.]
Abel: [No pawns to lay down. Perhaps travelling light has backfired.]
Vincent: [The responsibility you are accounting me for is exceeding absurdity.]
Once Vincent revealed his cards without hesitation, Abel uttered an inconsiderate comment. Vincent responded with a complaint, to which Abel did not take kindly.
Abel, his hand on his chin and his fingers tracing the bottom of the oni mask, pondered for a few seconds, then glanced at the others in the room――the ones who were unable to hide their unease at the threat.
The two girls, both young in appearance, were able to react to that gaze, even though they did not speak.
One of them was Medium O’Connell with blonde hair and blue eyes; and the other was Tanza, a deerperson in a kimono with round, quivering eyes. Neither of them would be the deciding factor in this situation.
The only one who could potentially be some sort of key actor would be――
???: [Ah, ahhh… Why, why, why, at a time like this…]
The frightened voice gave no heed whatsoever to the quiet Abel’s stare.
Holding his head with his right hand, terrified of the scene outside the window but tormented by the dilemma of being unable to take his eyes off it, was a dark-haired boy, his face concealed by a ragged piece of cloth that had been messily rolled-up.
Of all the people Abel had with him, this boy was, in a sense, the one who had not shown his true depths, but given this terrified look of his, which did not appear to be an act, Abel was hesitant to include him in the plan.
It was not out of consideration for the feelings of the person. ――It was purely an appraisal of uselessness.
Vincent: [If so, not many measures can be taken.]
The profile of Abel in careful deliberation was struck by Vincent’s words, the latter standing next to him.
Standing side-by-side, the two men looked out the window―― or perhaps, they ought to be called two Emperors.
Abel exhaled, dismissing the sentiment that momentarily surfaced as trivial.
Vincent was right; not many possible measures could be taken.
And in response to Vincent, who would have reached the same conclusion, he voiced scant words――,
Abel: [――Link up with Yorna Mishigure. We require her strength.]
Taritta, smelling a change in the situation, moistened her parched lips with her tongue.
The change in the air, the scent of the pursuers, the feeling on her skin of bloodlust and hostility directed at her; all of those of which appealed to her differently than they had just before, making her pause for a moment to make a decision considering these sensations.
She impetuously wondered whether they really were a good thing or a bad thing.
Taritta: [――Neither of those matter.]
If her conclusion were the same, Taritta would not be deeply concerned.
She was aware that she was not very bright to begin with. If this were Mizelda, her older sister, she would probably be able to deduce the correct answer based on her instinctive intuition, even if their minds were not so different.
But Taritta did not possess the same sense of smell as her sister. Probably, she also lacked the quick wit. She had absolutely nothing.
Spending vast quantities of time worrying about it would eventually lead to endless hesitation about which answer was the correct one.
Therefore, she decided to just, not waver. Once the outcome was clear, she could agonize endlessly about the pros and cons of it.
Therefore, Taritta did not change her approach, regardless of the change in the atmosphere of her pursuers.
???: [Gah, guh…]
Taritta: [You can’t break free. No matter how strong you are.]
Tightened around the struggling man with bloodshot eyes, Taritta’s jacket blocked his respiratory tract.
The sheepman with his right eye ablaze attempted to escape his restraints desperately, but Taritta, having taken off her jacket to use its sleeve to constrict his neck, cut a tendon in her opponent’s arm, preventing him from acting.
Frankly speaking, she was greatly tormented by the robustness of her pursuers, who kept getting back up even after she had gouged out their vital areas.
Taritta: [Even if I don’t know how to deal with it, even I managed it one way or the other.]
Eventually, the man’s panting voice became inaudible, and his body, losing its strength, went limp. Choosing that moment, Taritta removed the jacket from around the man’s neck and pulled his collapsed body to the side of the road.
Taritta sighed as she exhaled, and behind her, the bodies of her pursuers, having been strangled by her, were lying in a row along the walls of the street.
After realizing that strikes and knife attacks were ineffective and that strangulation techniques were effective, she ended up fighting them off with that single technique.
Although the pursuers had been blessed with unusual strength and stamina, they seemed to be novices in the art of efficiently applying such power.
Thanks to this, Taritta’s skills pulled through and she was able to continue to properly neutralize her pursuers.
――If she could have just let him die, this affair would have been done and over with much faster.
???: [――Do not kill anyone.] 
With that phrase flashing across her head, Taritta was forced into quite the struggle.
Abel had given her those words of instruction just before she parted to serve as a decoy, to allow everyone to get away from the inn.
Considering the circumstances into which she was put, perhaps she should have objected by calling them reckless words at the time. But would someone with eyes as discerning as Abel’s give instructions that could not be carried out?
Or perhaps he had given that instruction with the belief that Taritta was capable of following it?
If so, it would mean that Abel had perceived Taritta’s ability.
Just to what extent was Abel capable of seeing things?
Of course, one only had to look at the mysterious techniques that had struck Subaru, Medium, and Al to see that Abel was not a person able to anticipate every eventuality and move with perfect foresight.
If such a thing were possible, it would no longer be the work of a human being, but the work of an extraordinary being.
It was a realm of reasoning that should not be ventured into, something that could not be considered possible of being violated by a human being.
One could not help but think if a human being able to reach what was just beyond their reach existed, that too was a deliberation.
As one of the Shudraq, Taritta possessed the skill to take down any prey.
Abel would have known that Taritta had mastered the art of strangulation, which was not supposed to work on beasts, and the reason for this――,
???: [――Well well, thiiis~ is quite the spectacle.]
While ruminating over that, a voice slipped into a gap in Taritta’s consciousness, stopping her in her tracks.
Abruptly jolted back to reality by this, Taritta turned around with a dagger in her hand. Then, hoping to drive a blow to the assassin who had closed in behind her without any cue――,
???: [Wahwahwah, waitwait! Wait, will you! That’s a taaad~ premature.]
???: [――Oh, are you alright? Have you calmed down? Is it okay if I put my arms down?]
Just as she was about to disable her opponent’s limbs, Taritta stopped wielding her knife in an instant.
In front of her, holding his head and awkwardly attempting to defend himself, was an ashen-haired, effeminate man in a hooded blue robe.
He was a man with a handsome face however; the flame common to her pursuers was not burning in his eyes, and above all, the amateurishness of his demeanor made him seem harmless.
However, the fact remained that he had evaded Taritta’s vigilance and stood behind her.
Delicate Man: [Myyy~ oh my, guess I’m distrusted a whole lot. I happen to be just a regular guy passing by this place…]
Taritta: […I don’t think an ordinary person would be able to look at this and remain calm.]
The self-proclaimed “harmless” delicate man, gave one more reason as to why it was impossible for her to let down her guard towards him.
Regarding the bodies of her pursuers lined up on the wall―― unless he approached them and checked whether they were alive or dead, it would not be surprising if he believed them dead; yet he remained unfazed.
Unless his heart had gone cold, she could not come up with an answer aside from him being accustomed to them.
At Taritta’s wary look, the delicate man smiled bashfully.
For a moment, she was almost distracted by the smile of the finely-featured man, but her wariness of danger won out over her reaction to his beautiful looks. When it came to handsome men with delicate faces, Flop was plenty enough.
――Right now isn’t the time to be thinking about him.
Delicate Man: [Ohhh~ no, I’ve been seen through. I certainly wouldn’t say it’s a familiar sight back home. I told you it was quite the spectacle. ――Well, Taritta-san.]
Delicate Man: [Oh, don’t gut me, don’t gut me! I’m not the enemy, even if I seem suspicious!]
Her caution, that had begun to slacken for a moment until just before that, was instantly reinforced
The man of delicate features in front of her called out Taritta’s name with a cool demeanor, as if she were something like an old acquaintance of his. Of course, the man before Taritta’s eyes was no sort of acquaintance.
There should be no one Taritta was familiar with and would call her by name here; that information should not have been acquired by him.
The only ones that could have possibly given him that information were Abel and the others, who had separated from her, but――,
Taritta: [You, have you met my family?]
Delicate Man: [――? You’ve come with your family? Hmmm~, I’ve heard the People of Shudraq don’t come out of the forest often, was there a change in the Chieftain’s policy?]
Taritta: [How do you know that I’m…!]
Delicate Man: [Whaaat’s~ that, feels like it the more you speak. That’s all.]
With a wry smile, the attitude of the delicate man towards Taritta seemed to have deepened in familiarity, but in contrast, Taritta grew more cautious of him, her feelings of displeasure intensifying by his eeriness.
There was nothing like a sign of hostility, or anything of the sort.
However, the intensifying eeriness, little-by-little, instilled in Taritta the dangerous impression that she should, at this juncture, eliminate him.
And Taritta had an inkling of how the planted seedlings of suspicion would sprout, what buds they would develop, and what flowers they would bloom.
The reason was――,
Delicate Man: [――Disgrace of the Shudraq.]
Suddenly, Taritta’s consciousness went blank as she heard the words woven by the delicate man’s lips.
Why did this man say those words? ――No, why does he know?
Because the man who had spoken those words to Taritta before had already――,
Delicate Man: [It’s a commandment, isn’t it? For you, who became the Disgrace of the Shudraq, Taritta-san.]
Taritta: [A, commandment…?]
Delicate Man: [It’s about something which can be described as the alignment of the stars, or their guidance. It’s like, about people having their own destiniiies~? I’m in the business of gazing at them.]
Taritta was left dumbfounded, and the delicate man shook his head saying, “Ohhh~”.
Then he put his hand on his own chest, and, with his two eyes, shot straight through Taritta,
Delicate Man: [I guess you could call it a commandment for us.]
Taritta swallowed a breath, her throat making a noise, at that pronoun being spoken in the plural.
The loudness of that noise was accompanied by the illusion that the whole world was quaking. ――No, Taritta’s gulp did not make the world quake.
However, as a matter-of-fact, the world was quaking.
Delicate Man: [Hoooly~ crap.]
The delicate man let out a carefree sigh which conferred on him the impression of a happy-go-lucky person.
However, what happened was an event so extreme that his attitude could not express it completely.
――In the distance, the beautiful Crimson Lapis Castle, which stood at the heart of the Demon City, far away from Taritta and the delicate man, crumbled with terrific force, its red and blue light being covered by black darkness.
It was no figurative expression, for a truly black darkness covered the Crimson Lapis Castle.
Something beautiful, something radiant, was being painted over by something foul, something accursed.
Delicate Man: [Myyy~ oh my, how should I put it… This might be, a small bit I didn’t gaze.]
The delicate man gazed at the collapsing castle and the flood of darkness, using his hands as a visor.
She suspected that this man, who seemed so unconcerned, could possibly be the cause of that abnormal event. But as if sensing Taritta’s doubt, he shrugged his shoulders and said,
Delicate Man: [Feels awkward to mention this immediately after I talked about a commandment, but that and I got nothing to do with each other. In the first place, that’s the Kingdom of Lugunica’s problem, isn’t it? That’s outside my responsibility.]
Taritta: [Outside your responsibility, the Kingdom of Lugunica…?]
Delicate Man: [Maybe she doesn’t know she’s a Stargazer? If that’s the case, His Excellency’s made quite the daring gamble… Maybe he had no choice in the hand he was dealt?]
Taritta: [I don’t understand…! If you know something!]
Intending to intimidate him into answering, Taritta stepped in and grabbed the delicate man by the neck. She pressed the man’s slender frame against the wall, and placed the blade in her hand against his white neck.
If Taritta were to flick her wrist, a great deal of blood would gush immediately from the man’s neck.
The feel of the cold blade should have given the delicate man a sufficient foresight of his future.
Delicate Man: [Mayhaps my life or death’s got little to do with what’s going on…]
Delicate Man: [I don’t think your side should be spending a lotta time here. I’m not gaziiing~ the stars, so it’s just a hunch on my part.]
And yet, the delicate man nonchalantly continued to stare into Taritta’s eyes, ignoring the feel of the blade.
The most discomfort she had ever felt towards this man was felt at this moment. Without any clear rationale that could be put into words, the urge to just cut off the man’s head flashed through her.
However, just before she surrendered herself to that violent impulse――,
Delicate Man: [――Killing me won’t make things better. It was the same last time around, no?]
――Those few words were enough to stop Taritta from actually ending it all with the knife she held in her hand.
Delicate Man: [Whoopsie!]
Taritta: [Please, get out of my sight! Right now…!]
Gritting her teeth, Taritta, still grabbing the delicate man by his nape, threw him onto the street.
The man managed to somehow roll using his long legs and break the fall, stroking his roughly handled neck with his hand, looking at Taritta’s face with a “You sure it’s fine?”.
Delicate Man: [You may be slitting your own throat here, literally… You may never have the opportunity to run into me like this again.]
Taritta: [Then, that’s the best. Looking at your face, it’s like…]
Delicate Man: [――――]
Taritta: [It’s like, are you in the mood to make me face a nightmare I’ve had many times…!]
With a feeling like that of a curse, Taritta gave a swing of her hand as if to dismiss the delicate man.
The gesture caused the man to sigh, looking toward the collapsing castle in the distance,
Delicate Man: [Apparently, unlike me, you’ve got a task to do. Thaaat~ may be the trump card to suppress that shadow.]
Taritta: [Me…? I have such power…]
Delicate Man: [――A commandment’s already been handed down. You know that, right, Disgrace of the Shudraq.]
Delicate Man: [You’re free to fulfill it or not. As someone who hasn’t received one, I don’t envy you for being able to follow the path, though.]
After saying so, the delicate man pulled the hood over his head and turned his back to Taritta, and started running.
Fast, but not fast enough. Although she could catch up with him if she wanted to, Taritta had no desire to chase him.
The fact that, deep down inside, she did not want to be involved with him anymore was true as well.
But the biggest reason of all were the words he had left behind at the end――,
Taritta: [――A commandment, has been handed down.]
She wished she had no idea of what he was talking about. But she did have an idea.
And that idea had been endlessly, endlessly plaguing Taritta over the past few days.
She did not want to worry before taking action.
She did not want to dwell on unfruitful anguish.
Taritta: [――Hk, Medium?]
As Taritta was holding her shoulders tightly, casting her eyes downwards, a familiar voice called out to her.
Turning around in a jiffy, Taritta saw a little girl running toward her, waving her hand in her direction―― Medium, who had shrunk in stature, was coming toward her.
Medium: [I’m so glaaad~! We found Taritta-san safe and sound right away!]
Taritta: [Glad you’re safe and sound as well… are Abel and Subaru and the others safe? Moreover, what in the world…]
With Medium rushing toward her, Taritta cast a flurry of questions at her.
She had not expected her to be alone and looking for Taritta. Of course, it would be odd if she and Olbart were still playing hide-and-seek during the collapse of the Crimson Lapis Castle, but it was not as if they had a break to discuss that.
At Taritta’s question, Medium gasped slightly,
Medium: [Abel-chin and Al-chin are safe! Subaru-chin and Louis-chan are missing! Also, we need to do something about the shadow that came out of that castle, so Taritta-chan, come as well!]
Taritta: [Subaru and Louis? And where do I…]
Medium: [From this moment on, we’re gonna stop that shadow with Yorna-chan! Taritta-chan’s power is also needed, that’s what Abel-chin said!]
Wide-eyed, Taritta could not help, but be amazed at what she was told.
At the edge of her field of vision, she saw a black shadow about to cause such an insane amount of damage that even Taritta, shaken by her interaction with the delicate man, was forced to recognize the reality of the situation.
Neither stopping that thing nor challenging it were conceivable in Taritta’s mind.
And on top of that, she had been told that Abel was calling for her now――,
Medium: [Taritta-chan, you’re not injured, right!? Can you still come? I’ll do my best, so can you do your best with me!?]
Taritta’s confusion was quickly dispelled by Medium’s unhesitating words.
Even if her stature had been reduced, the straightforward disposition she possessed suffered no reduction nor did it bend. As if guided by this, Taritta quietly nodded her head and said,
Taritta: [I, understand. ――We’ll head there right away.]
Medium: [Mhm! Thank you!]
Taritta felt a pang deep in her chest due to the Medium’s relief and her big nod.
Anguish had been tormenting Taritta for a long, limitless amount of time. Forgotten by the immersion in battle, this anguish asserted its existence in anticipation of the great battle, the time for a resolution approaching.
Taritta also mumbled the words offered by the vanished delicate man, but only to herself.
Anguish seemed to bounce around in her chest, as if it relished being called by name.
――Time returned to the moment when the Crimson Lapis Castle was destroyed in a great flood of darkness.
In the nick of time, she pulled back the girl named Louis who tried to leap forward without hesitation.
Just like that, following the appeal of every nerve in her body towards that instinctive threat, unaware that the roof tiles of the castle tower would burst, she performed a mighty leap backwards.
Trampled by the heel of thick-soled shoes, the impact received by the tiles propagated to the surrounding tiles, spreading destruction.
However, the fact that the roof tiles were being shattered in this way was far too trivial in the face of the events that immediately followed.
With a crash, the overflowing shadows, darkness, and deep blackness engulfed the keep, and the exploding roof tiles vanished.
――No, it was not only the keep that was swallowed.
Yorna’s eyes caught the sight of the Crimson Lapis Castle’s tower, plus its upper and middle levels, all being devoured by the deluge of darkness similar to a mud flow, disappearing from the world without a trace.
That was, a truly dark darkness which one must not be engulfed by.
A real darkness that could not be brightly illuminated, that allowed nothing to be saved once taken in, that obscured all hope by coating everything over and over with despair.
It could be judged instinctively. ――That, was something that should not be.
Restraining the struggling girl in her embrace, Yorna’s eyes darted to the keep that was stained black.
The black-haired boy at the center of it and Olbart, who was touching the boy with his hand at the moment that the black shadow overflowed, were nowhere to be seen.
In that instant, she witnessed the arm Olbart had pulled back cease to exist.
That thing was so overwhelming that even Olbart, with his greed for life and keen sense for danger, could not avoid sacrificing his own arm.
Shortly after, she had given priority to leaping with Louis in her arms; because of that, whether Olbart was alive or not was unknown.
On one hand, she had believed that the monstrous old man would never die, while on the other hand, there was a cold voice within her mind, asking her if she could really have optimistic thoughts, looking at that jet-black thing.
Also, there was something aside from Olbart’s life or death that gave birth to a distortion in Yorna’s thoughts――,
That would be the boy who seemed to be at the heart of the sable shadow that had swallowed Olbart’s arm, and his safety.
In Yorna’s opinion, the boy had no abilities particularly out of the ordinary. His situational awareness was excellent, he made no mistakes as to when he should play his cards.
If she were forced to say something about it, those had been the primary factors in netting him the win in the confrontation with Olbart. However, the praise went to his decisiveness, not to his superior ability.
So she had to say that there was no possibility that the boy could have escaped at that moment.
Albeit, that would only apply if the boy were a victim.
Yorna: [If this is the deed of that child…]
Would this perhaps mean that the boy was lurking somewhere in that vast blackness?
Yorna realized then, that she did not want to believe that this had been something done intentionally by the boy. Acknowledging this, there was a decision that had to be made.
That was the duty that she must perform as Lord of the Demon City, the position that she must bear, the object of love that she must choose――,
Just as she thought this, a change was produced in the darkness, before Yorna’s eyes.
The shadow that had swallowed half of the Crimson Lapis Castle and was about to engulf the lower levels and walls of the castle in darkness, the portion of the shadow in control of the tower wriggled, extending “hands” towards Yorna and Louis in midair.
Stretching out were literally “hands”, which could not be compared to anything else.
Black hands stretched out towards Yorna and Louis, whom she was holding in her arms. The stunning aspect was that they numbered not one nor two, but ten or twenty or even more were extended at once.
The reason why the shadows stretching out did not have the idyllic calmness of silhouettes stretching longer and longer in the sunlight was that the arms, which should be devoid of expression, were overflowing with emotion.
The vast amount of shadows and black arms appealed to her with a single emotion, “hunger”.
It was not simply “hunger” in the sense of being hungry.
It was an unfathomable “hunger”, one that desired taking in just anything and everything possible.
Yorna: [Child, we’re going to swing about. Be careful not to bite your tongue!]
Louis: [Uh, au―― Hk.]
With the purpose of avoiding the growing shadow, Yorna made extraordinary maneuvers in midair.
She was unknowing of the nature of the shadows, and now that she had seen it doing damage to Olbart, she consciously established that touching it would be fatal, and so, she had no choice but to avoid it altogether.
Therefore, Yorna opened her eyes and, by pulling in the tiles that had burst out of their place due to her earlier leap and using them as her footholds, she created an escape route through the sky of the Demon City.
With a fluttering sound, Yorna’s figure soared high in the air, utilizing flying tiles as footing.
She attempted shooting a piece of tile into the shadow’s arm as to keep it in check, but, unable to pierce the shadow, it was engulfed into the part it was aimed at, disappearing into the void.
In accordance with the speculation that it should not be touched, Yorna followed the footholds to a higher altitude.
It would be best if the extending arms of the shadow were incapable of keeping up with the continuous ascent of Yorna’s tiles. Perhaps if the shadow’s range could be determined, it could be countered from there.
Yorna: [It’s awfully aggravating constantly being on the defensive.]
She was not being chased around.
While it was also humiliating of course, it went without saying that the Crimson Lapis Castle would take the most damage.
Crimson lapis was a beautiful and, above all, rare precious stone.
The mere thought of building a castle with it was the very essence of absurdity. It was not because of Yorna’s wealth or power that the castle was built.
In the first place, it was not Yorna who had conceived the idea of building the Crimson Lapis Castle.
The ones to construct the castle of whirling red and blue, the Crimson Lapis Castle, had been the residents of the Demon City.
They decided that the castle of the ruler of the Demon City, Yorna, should not look shabby, so they each gathered precious stones and built that beautiful castle.
It was a rare, precious stone. It was difficult to handle, and one could not even imagine the amount of hardships that would go into building the castle. Same went for Yorna; she had never imagined such hardship.
Needless to say, Yorna watched the castle being built in its entirety.
Yorna: [You have swallowed my love, you ruffian――!!]
Yorna extended her long, slender fingers toward the shadow that engulfed the castle.
Nothing emanated from them, nor was it a necessary action. She just wished to confront the shadow, to remind it that this was a manifestation of her anger.
――A moment later, a ferocious strike came out from within the huge shadow engulfing the Crimson Lapis Castle.
There was no way for Yorna to know whether the shadow had substance, much less intent.
However, Yorna was convinced that this had been a solid blow.
The shadow had swallowed the Crimson Lapis Castle―― everything that composed it, down to each stone that formed its walls, the product of the residents’ love for Yorna.
Why should she regard it as just a castle?
Why should she not love it?
The shock wave of the castle exploding from within the sable darkness drastically dampened its momentum.
As proof of this, every black arm hot on Yorna’s tails dissipated, and so, with nothing able to catch up to her, she fled into the air.
Even Louis, who was writhing in her arms, widened her eyes in shock at the violent explosion of Yorna’s love.
However, Yorna could not be pleased by the girl’s reaction, which could be alternatively described as admiration.
Yorna: [After all, a castle’s only a castle, and you may say it can be rebuilt. But…]
Yorna: [No matter if I try to build a new castle, the castle I loved day after day was only this castle… Am I to think accursedly of my crumbling love, because my feelings weren’t enough?]
Looking down at the Crimson Lapis Castle, more than half of it swallowed by the shadow, no longer remaining in its original form, Yorna’s heart was struck with anguish.
But Yorna had no time to indulge herself in sentimentality.
Albeit the shadowy arms that pursued them may have disappeared, the great source of darkness was not gone.
To say nothing of――,
Yorna: [My fair skin tells me that the threat isn’t gone.]
The impact of the explosion of the Crimson Lapis Castle was so powerful that it could have demolished the entire castle by itself. Nevertheless, even though the momentum had been lessened by the impact, the oppressive feeling given off from the black darkness did not waver in the slightest.
If the shadow was alive and well, then, of course, so was the threat.
In other words, she had to construct or find a way to dispel that jet-black thing at any cost, while the condition that it couldn’t be touched remained the same.
As Yorna’s nerves sharpened, a voice coming, from afar, from the ground, struck her eardrums.
Taking a glance at it, Yorna saw that the ones who had called her were the residents of the Demon City, attempting to gather at the collapsed Castle. They had been caught up in the collapse of the Castle, attempting to assist the rescuing of the Castle’s soldiers, crawling out of the rubble.
From the perspective of the black shadow, they must have looked too much like coveted prey.
Yorna: [Everyone, run away――!]
Prompted by the signal of impending danger, Yorna called on the residents below to evacuate.
But she was far too high up in the sky to rush down towards them. The distance was too great, they were too far out of reach. And it was impossible to ask all of them to have the same sense of peril that Yorna had.
――As a result, Yorna could not do anything but powerlessly watch the shadows overflowing towards the residents who had gathered at the Castle out of concern for her, the Lord of the Demon City.
???: [――Do not think I will make it effortless for you!!]
The residents stood stock still as a black shadowy arm reached out to each one of them, and just before they were swallowed up into the eternal void, their bodies were snatched from the side.
Dark green thorned vines, from afar they reached the residents to do so.
The vines, which Yorna had also witnessed before, stretched with furious energy, faster than the shadows. They caught the inhabitants’ bodies with their prickles, allowing them to escape.
Even in the Demon City, in which beings possessing exotic physiology had assembled, Yorna could only think of one person able to pull that off.
???: [Kafma Irulux, by decree of His Excellency the Emperor, I am at your service――!]
A man from whose outstretched arms thorned vines grew, flapping transparent wings from his back―― Kafma Irulux, materialized at the center of the situation, causing Yorna to widen her eyes in surprise.
Not only was his peculiar appearance surprising, but it was also surprising that he had protected Yorna’s residents.
In the past, with the pretext of suppressing Yorna’s rebellion, Emperor Vincent had sent troops to gain full control of Chaosflame.
Kafma had been among those troops, and was one of those who had run rampant in Chaosflame.
So, for him to act to protect Yorna’s citizens was――,
Kafma: [No matter who you serve, you are equally a subject of the Empire.]
Kafma: [General First-Class Yorna! I know you and I have different ideas, but we must not let this stand! I will cooperate with you!]
Responding thus to Yorna’s watchful eyes, the flapping Kafma soared furiously through the air.
Dancing freely in the air, drawing the attention of the shadows capturing Crimson Lapis Castle to himself, Kafma seemed intent on making full use of his mobility and control to buy time.
The question was, however; what to do with the time he had bought?
Louis: [Uh! Aauu!]
Yorna pondered her choice of action immediately afterwards, and Louis, still held in her arms, went berserk again. But the way she raged was not as impulsive and violent as before.
The girl spun herself around in Yorna’s arms, pointing towards a spot on the ground while groaning.
Yorna looked at where Louis was pointing and guessed what she was trying to say.
Yorna: [General Second-Class Kafma, I’ll leave this place to you for a while.]
Kafma: [If that is what you need, understood!]
Kafma: [What is it?!]
Kafma, who wished to avoid the growing shadows by circling about, and concentrate on confronting the strong enemy, raised his voice slightly at Yorna’s words.
Yorna thought that it would be a mistake to fail to communicate this, even though she did not intend to hinder him,
Yorna: [For protecting my children earlier, I thank you.]
Kafma: [――. As a General, I did what I had to do!]
He was slightly puzzled by Yorna’s gratitude, however, Kafma replied with that.
Yorna changed her assessment of the man who returned to his role and bought the necessary time.
Although it did not change her impression that he was a hard-headed and inflexible person, if he carried through with those intentions of his, he truly was a virtuous person. If circumstances and conditions permitted, he would be one of the people she could love.
Although, Yorna’s number one position would not be overturned forever――.
Yorna: [We’re going to descend. Hold on tightly.]
Taking the tighter grip from Louis clinging onto her as a reply, Yorna travelled towards her destination utilizing the wreckage of the building, the overturned ground, and even masses of dirt, all floating in midair, as footholds.
Along the way, she instructed the residents, who appeared to wish further information, to, at any rate, distance themselves from the Crimson Lapis Castle―― or rather, from the former site of where the Castle once stood, while she herself was heading for the rooftops of a house away from the Castle.
There, waiting leisurely for Yorna’s arrival, was――,
Yorna: [Surely, I thought that His Excellency the Emperor would have come.]
Standing there majestically with arms folded was a dark-haired man, his face covered by an oni mask.
Once Yorna landed before the man’s eyes, Louis left her arms and ran up to him, as if she had been waiting for him.
Then, Louis grabbed the man’s arm and pointed towards the Castle, her long blond hair bouncing about,
Abel: [I understand it without you needing to tell everyone. After all, we had a disagreement regarding your treatment. You have quite some nerve, to show your face before me.]
Louis: [Uu! Uh!]
Abel: [Do you intend to obey me? If so, I shall add you to our numbers.]
The man responded to Louis’s complaint in a nonchalant manner as she tugged on his arm. Louis looked annoyed at his answer, but eventually released his arm as if there was no other way.
Even so, the reason why had not just rushed out was probably because she had pondered it over just like a little girl would.
――She had to recover the boy who had been swallowed by that black shadow at any cost.
Abel: [Yorna Mishigure, you understand the state of affairs. This Great Disaster cannot not be left unattended.]
Yorna: [I agree. As the ruler of the Demon City, there was no choice but to abandon that jet-black darkness that turns all to nothing with just a touch. To say nothing of the fact that it consumed my castle. ――Were you aware that something like that would happen?]
Abel: [I thought there was something going on. But what it was specifically, was outside of my estimation.]
Squinting, Yorna attempted to gauge the sincerity of the man in front of her.
But the man’s heart was hidden behind the oni mask, and she could not see through it even if she wanted to. Even if the mask had not been there however, it would have been impossible to peer into his heart.
A solitary existence that did not allow anyone to know his thoughts, heart, or intentions―― that was the way of the Seventy-Seventh Emperor of the Sacred Vollachian Empire.
Yorna: [――Your Excellency.]
Abel: [Do not call me that carelessly. Unless you desire me to tear up your hopes within the missive.]
Yorna: [Pardon my discourtesy… How in the world did you find out what I desired?]
Abel: [There was no certainty. Not until you returned my messengers safely.]
Hearing his answer, Yorna was both impressed and dismayed by the thinking of the man in front of her.
He was going to determine whether his thoughts were correct or not by utilizing her meeting with his messengers the previous day, checking whether his messengers returned safely from there or not.
In this respect, Yorna felt bitter that she had been dancing on the palm of his hand.
But more than that――,
Yorna: [Those child messengers should scold Your Excellency at least once.]
Abel: [That comes after all the matters are settled. Yorna Mishigure, follow my directives.]
Yorna: [――. If that’s what’s best for you, I have no choice but to comply.]
The man’s oppressive way of speech, however, caused a moment of hesitation and resistance.
Yorna had something to protect. The Demon City of Chaosflame and its inhabitants. All that was needed to protect it, was someone with the ability to handle this affair correctly.
Not in the meaning of ability to wage battle, but of ability to manage it.
Yorna also had her own pride in this power. But it would be wrong to use him as an object of comparison.
Who could compete in a bout of ability with a man who controlled and ruled the great Empire, the nation with the largest landmass?
Yorna: [So what are you going to do?]
Yorna asked, ready to take any measure to protect the Demon City.
Louis, who had lined up next to her before she knew it was also looking on in agreement with Yorna’s intentions.
Meeting the gaze of the two, of Yorna and Louis, the man―― Nay, the ruler of the Empire, nodded in assent.
Abel: [――Abandon the city and beat a retreat. The Demon City has no choice but to permit that shadow to swallow it.]
 The exact sequence of words here, “あまり殺すな”, has not been spoken previously. It might either be a case of Tappei doing a whoopsie or an actual plot point.