OmaeGotoki: Volume 2 Interlude - Of Black And White

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At the northernmost tip of the Demon Realm lies the demon capital of Sereid.

Snow falls there all year round, and the stone buildings that line the streets are fashioned from Earth magic, giving it a very different feel from the Capital. Demons possess far more and far stronger magic than humans, so as such it is a far more crucial part of their society.

In the center of the cityscape is the Demon Lord’s Castle. Its central tower stretches far into the sky, and its eerily-carved black stone walls instill fear in all who look upon it. Its presence is massive, undeniable.

Its chief resident, however, isn’t the fiend that the castle’s appearance may suggest.

The candlesticks set up around the dining hall fill the room with a gentle light, and a crackling fireplace keeps the room comfortably warm. Sitting around the main table are three demons, knives and forks in hand.

One of them is Neigass “The Bloody Gale,” the Demon General who encountered Flum and Sara outside Enchide. Even in the frigid city of Sereid her dress shows no less skin than before.

Sitting directly across from her is Tsaion “The Flickering Inferno,” another one of the Three Demon Generals. His collar stands as straight as his spiky red hair.

Finally, sitting right beside him is a young girl who couldn’t be more than twelve years old by human standards --- Shietume, the Demon Lord. She looks almost doll-like clad in her white one-piece dress, and the chair she’s perched on is tall enough that her short low-heel-clad feet swing freely above the ground.

“Well then, Neigass, what did you find at that laboratory?”

Shietume resists the urge to force more into her mouth long enough to speak, a slightly put out expression on her face.

Today’s main dish happens to be a Big Goat saute in mushroom sauce. Though it certainly wouldn’t be out of place in a high-class restaurant, it was in fact made by one of the Three Demon Generals, Dieza “The Bottomless Quagmire.” Every bite of the tender meat sends sweet gravy bursting out to mingle with the slightly sour sauce, resulting in a flavour profile that’s simply irresistible.

Neigass had even skipped lunch in anticipation of this meal, and she isn’t disappointed in the slightest.

“There wasn’t anything from earlier than thirty years ago --- there wasn’t much of anything there, really, except the ‘thing’ that had that Core buried in it.”

The ‘thing,’ of course, is the ‘Spiral Ogre’ that Flum and Sara killed.

“As I thought, then. There isn’t anything left from before the Human War.”

The Human War --- or as the humans know it, the Demon War --- occurred thirty years ago when the humans tried to invade the Demon Realm. Of course, given how gifted the Demons are with magic and how low the morale of the invaders was, they easily repelled the humans no matter how many soldiers they sent and the war ended as quickly as it started.

“I think there’s a chance the humans might be planning on sending those ‘things’ the next time they try to invade.”

“You mean they’ll try to attack us again?”

“They were foolish enough to attack back when they clearly had no chance of winning, so I don’t see why they wouldn’t attack once they have actual power.”

“I don’t see why they’d even want to invade us in the first place, though...”

“Humans are greedy creatures by nature. If someone else has something, they’ll try to take it.”

“I just can’t understand what the Kingdom’s higher-ups are thinking.”

“Yes, especially after how bad the last War was. You think they’d learn.”

During the War the demons did their absolute best to not take any human lives, but the Kingdom used every underhanded tactic they could, even going so far as to send child soldiers to the front lines. At that point even the peaceful demons started to feel disgusted, and ignoring the children they redoubled their attention on the adults, forcing them to retreat en masse. Even back then, the kingdom was supposedly performing all manner of experimentation on its own citizens in search of ever-greater power.

“Mountains of warped corpses of humans and animals alike, spiral-faced monstrosities… The humans haven’t learned a thing over the past few decades.”

“Even though it’s clearly not something they could ever hope to control… But more importantly, I’d like to know where they got their hands on that power in the first place.”

“Maybe a certain someone’s not keeping a close enough eye on the seal, eh, Demon Lord-sama?”

Tsaion butts in, fanning the flames on their conversation. Shietume puffs out her cheeks and glares at him.

“That’s impossible! There’s been no change in the seal whatsoever since I’ve become shrine maiden! Dieza’s even been checking it with me!”

“Haha, don’t get all overheated now, Demon Lord-sama.”

“And what’s with that weird name, Niisan!?[1] Are you trying to get on my nerves!? Just call me Shietume like you always do!”

“You’re the one who made me one of those Three Demon Generals or whatever! I was just trying to play the part!”

“Wha… That’s not my fault! Everyone’s getting all worked up about the Hero invading us so I had to do something to keep the people’s hopes up!”

Even if the demons avoid conflict by nature, it’s hard to just sit by and do nothing when all their attempts to stop the Hero’s party have proven futile. The Three Demon Generals were formed to relieve some of the building stress --- even if they haven’t actually been doing much to stop the Hero and are pretty much just doing whatever they want.

“No, but do we really need to go outta our way to show off like that? ‘The Three Demon Generals’ sounds kinda tacky.”

“I don’t want to be told what’s tacky by someone who’s shirt collar is sticking straight up in the air!”

The two of them start arguing again, just as they always do. Neigass looks at the man standing behind Shietume’s chair and they exchange strained smiles.

The man is, of course, Dieza. Wearing a classy tailcoat and a monocle, he’s Shietume’s butler. He was taken in as an orphan by the Demon Lord two generations ago and started working at the castle one generation ago.

“What’d you say!? Are you calling my blazing-hot fashion sense tacky!?”

“Yes, I am! Why do you always have to turn up the collar on all your clothes!? I’m embarrassed just being seen with you! Your cool face and stuff is perfect aside from that, so why do you have to go and ruin it all!?”

“Okay, NOW I’m pissed! Let’s step outside and settle this once and for all! I’ll prove you can’t hold a candle to me!”

“Fine! If you think your pathetic little firecrackers can break through my shadows, then---”

Their argument quickly starts to heat up, glaring at each other so intensely they start to lean in at each other.

Dieza clears his throat.

All noise in the dining hall instantly dies.

“You still have not finished your meals. Please leave your arguing for later.”

“...Sorry.” “I’m sorry.”

Both of them apologize and sit back down, but sparks still fly between them as they both refuse to break eye contact.

Fearing that they’re about to start quarrelling again, Dieza gives Neigass a meaningful look. She nods, extending her hand out towards Shietume just as she’s about to steal something off Tsaion’s plate. Her small body rises into the air.

“Wah!? W-What are you doing, Neigass!?”

She struggles but can’t break free from Neigass’ spell. Neigass floats her over Tsaion and drops her straight into his lap.

Both Shietume and Tsaion turn bright red. Neigass chuckles.

“Oho, it looks like this is still enough to get you two to quiet down.”

“I am not sure whether I should be pleased or disappointed that this is more effective than me raising my voice.”

“S-Stop sounding so fed up, old man! This is half your fault!”

“Y-Yes! A-Anyone would quiet down after being put in such a humiliating position...”

Even though Tsaion and Shietume complain, she makes no move to leave his lap and he doesn’t try to move her.

“You two really haven’t changed a bit...”

Neigass watches them with a small smile.

“You haven’t changed, yourself!” Tsaion replies sulkily.

“By the way, Tsaion, I thought you were rather fond of that ‘Three Demon Generals’ name? Didn’t you shout something like ‘you’re the only one who can really turn up the heat on us Three Demon Generals’ the last time you fought the Hero?”

“Niisan… Did you really…?”

“Uh… No, I, uh, I started getting all hot-headed, and I guess I wasn’t watching my mouth… I sure didn’t mean to…”

He starts fumbling with his words, trying to hide the fact that he does in fact rather like the name.

He and Shietume are childhood friends, and it’s the worst-kept secret in the Castle that he’s actually very fond of her. Their arguments are just the result of their intimacy --- one could almost call their quarrels lover’s spats.

“Fufufu, you really haven’t changed at all.”

“S-Shut it.”

Tsaion looks away poutily, and seeing his reaction Neigass starts laughing even harder, finally continuing with a smile.

“I bet Hero’s party has no idea that the Three Demon Generals are really just a couple of childhood friends.”

“It’s not like I planned for it to turn out that way, it just so happens that we’re all strong. You’re producing results, so there’s no need to be picky about the details.”

“Results… I can’t say I’m too happy about destroying human villages…”

“If you don’t, I really won’t be able to keep our people under control anymore. You aren’t killing any humans, though, right?”

“Of course not.”

Neigass and Tsaion destroy a human town for every demon town the Hero’s Party destroys. Shietume never wanted to drag things out like this and would’ve preferred to stay out of the Human Realm entirely, but she couldn’t let things stand as Demons continue to lose their lives and homes.

After mulling over how to respond for a long time, with Dieza’s help she finally came to a conclusion and ordered the Demon Generals to start destroying towns under the strict condition that no humans be harmed. To that end they make sure to notify the townspeople ahead of time to allow them to evacuate, and even if there are stragglers they make sure to save them personally.

Their methods are awkward and heavy-handed at best, but they don’t have any better plans at the moment and they can’t afford to do nothing. Fortunately, the citizens of the Demon Realm seem to be plenty content with the current situation.

“Well, the Hero’s party has been making less and less progress as of late... I hope they’ve finally realized we don’t mean them any harm.”

The Hero’s party has indeed been moving more slowly and their numbers have been shrinking, but Neigass knows full well the real reason for the change.

Thinking back to her encounter with Flum, she remembers something else important --- the broken Core that she received in that cave.


◇◇◇


The Demons finish dinner and polish off the cake that Dieza baked for dessert. After cleaning up, Neigass pulls out the broken core and shows it to Shietume.

“This is…!”

“I received this from that Flum girl --- you know, the one who used to travel with the Hero.”

“It appears to be completely broken.”

Dieza nears his face to the little black crystal and inspects it curiously. Even Tsaion crosses his arms and furrows his brow in confusion.

“No matter how hard we tried to burn through one of those things we failed, but then a human pulls it off… Flum was the status-zero one who never did anything, right?”

“Exactly. The girl who was there without rhyme or reason. But you remember her Attribute, don’t you?”

“‘Reversal,’ huh.”

Since her Magic was zero back then they never saw her cast anything, but this is clear evidence that’s no longer the case.

“So she forced the flow of Origin’s spiral to ‘reverse,’ resulting in its destruction…” Dieza mutters.

“I think so, yes. That’s why she was able to destroy it while we’re all but helpless.”

When Flum was fighting the Spiral Ogre, she threw everything she had at it --- brute force, prana, and even though it wasn’t organized into any sort of spell, mana from ‘Reversal.’

“So do you think that Flum was chosen to be there because of ‘Reversal’?”

“I certainly don’t know. She was just a farm girl, so if they’d just left her be she probably would never have realized her own power.”

“‘Keep your friends close and your enemies closer,’ huh… I think they’ve got to have had some burning reason for calling her out, though. Dammit, I never can tell what that thing --- er, they’re thinking.”

Tsaion lets out a deep sigh.

The room falls into silence.

Eventually, Shietume speaks up again.

“At any rate, we can’t let Flum or the Hero’s Party anywhere near the seal --- both for our sake and for the world’s.”

Resolve fills her every syllable.

“No matter what, we can’t let that wicked ‘god’ Origin do as it pleases.”


◇◇◇


Once again they fail to make it as far as they’d hoped. Face twisted with irritation, Jean casts Return and brings them back to the Capital, then storms out on them without a word. He’s not the only one upset, though. Now that their merry band of seven has been reduced to five, they’re rapidly approaching the breaking point.

Linus scratches his head as he leaves the Teleportation Room, doing his best to come up with some way to prevent the last of them from falling apart but coming up short. Maria follows after him, a worried expression on her face.

Moments later only Gadio and Cyrill are left. Cyrill is about to leave, shoulders slumped, when Gadio calls out to her to stop.

“What is it, Gadio?”

She stops and turns to face him. He’s a man of few words at the best of times, so being called out by him is a very rare occurrence. His words turn out to be dreadfully simple and straightforward.

“I want to make the next trip my last. I’m leaving the Party.”

“...I see. So you’re leaving me, too.”

She had the feeling he’d say that. He was rather attached to Flum and very close to Eterna, so now that they’re both gone and their journey is starting to look hopeless there’s no point in him staying. He has no interest in any of the fame or riches they were promised, either.

“I’m sorry to do this to you, but I don’t see any point to continuing this journey any further.”

“You mean you want to just let the Demon Lord run free?”

“We’ve been treating the Demon Lord as some sort of villain, but if you stop and think about it, they’re just the person who lords over the demons, nothing else.”

“But those demons have killed so many people… They even started the Demon War!”

Gadio sternly shakes his head.

“We started that war.”

“Eh? I learned in school that they invaded us…”

“The Kingdom rewrote the history books. From what I’ve heard, they started badmouthing the Demons about fifty years ago, and just twenty short years later they’d warped the public opinion to the point that they could justify a war.”

“T-There must’ve been a reason for it, though. The demons must’ve done something to deserve it.”

“Wrong. Before then the demons were only neighbours, even if they liked to keep to themselves as much as possible. They’ve never once started a fight with us.”

“So you’re trying to tell me that we’re the invaders? Then what are we even trying to defeat the Demon Lord for?”

“Supposedly, the Church of Origin decided the demons are evil, and to them it’s the truth, I’m sure. You can believe what you want, but…”

She might be better off not hearing any of this. As the Hero, the hopes of everyone in the Human Realm is resting on her shoulders; she’s the only one of them who can’t just walk out. Even if it’s just a burden on her mind, it’s precisely because everything lies with her that Gadio feels the need to tell her everything he can.

“...where there’s light, there’s bound to be shadow. Unless you watch for it and tread carefully it’ll swallow you whole someday.”

“...That’s too difficult for someone like me.”

“Don’t worry. Not even I can tell what’s right and wrong all the time. That’s why I keep my eyes and ears open no matter what people tell me. If nothing else, I can rely on what I see for myself.”

“What you see… for yourself…?”

She’s come as far as she has precisely because she’s focused only on blindly moving forwards. Maybe her party members leaving and her inability to fight effectively makes this the perfect chance to reconsider her position.

“There’s one last thing I need to tell you.”

He checks the entrance to the Teleportation Room to make sure they’re completely alone before continuing.

“Be careful around Maria.”

Before now Cyrill has never heard Gadio say a single bad thing about anyone.

“Why? What’s so bad about Maria?”

“She’s hiding something, and it can’t hurt to keep an eye on her since she’s got deep ties with the Church. I know I just told you to believe in only what you see and hear yourself, but keep it in mind.”

He turns and leaves the room.

Cyrill, remembering something important a moment later, calls out to him.

“Ah, wait a moment, Gadio!”

“What is it?”

“Um… Flum--- err, I-I was just wondering how her hometown was doing, I mean…”

A rare smile appears on Gadio’s face.

“I’m curious about how she’s doing, too. If I even end up heading there on a quest I’ll make sure to look in on her.”

“T-Thank you.”

“Don’t thank me. I was planning on doing that much anyhow.”

With a light wave, he starts walking once again.

She knows that she has no right to be worrying about Flum now, but she couldn’t help herself.

Since receiving Origin’s prophecy, since everyone started seeing the Hero instead of Cyrill Sweechka, Flum was the only friend she had.


◇◇◇


Linus and Maria leave the Royal Palace and walk through the streets of the Capital.

He technically has a room in the Palace, and thanks to all the servants there the maintenance on his weapons and even his meals would all be conveniently arranged without him so much as lifting a finger, but the pampered life only makes him feel cramped. He instead spends his nights at a hotel in the East Quarter.

“Maria-chan, are you sure you don’t have to check in at the Grand Cathedral?”

“Is it so wrong for me to be worried about you, Linus-san?”

“No… Actually, I’m kinda happy. Did I really look that bad?”

“I could feel the weight of your worries just watching you. As a saint I couldn’t just leave you alone.”

“...Sorry for troubling you like that.”

“It can’t be helped, given how the journey has been going recently.”

Ever since Flum and Eterna left they’ve made no real progress; Jean is irritable to say the least, Cyrill’s still in a slump, and Gadio’s probably considering leaving, too. There are more than enough reasons for Linus to worry.

“Hey, Maria-chan.”

“What is it?”

She cutely cocks her head to the side. Linus stops walking, his face clouding over.

“If… If I asked you to leave the Hero’s party and come live with me… what would you tell me?”

Maria’s eyes grow wide at Linus’ confession. She can hear her heart pounding in her ears.

Surprisingly, it’s not a bad feeling.

“...The Church would chase after me with everything at their disposal.”

“I’m good at running.”

“Where would you take me?”

“It wouldn’t be anywhere in particular, really, we’d just go wherever our feet carried us. It might be fun to show you some of my favourite sights.”

“That.. that sounds like it’d be wonderful.”

She closes her eyes and imagines it.

It sounds like fun, certainly far better than the journey they’re currently on.

Her expression darkens.

“Is there anything wrong with it? M-My plan, I mean.”

“I really don’t mind the idea of going on a journey with you, Linus. I’m glad you asked, and I think I’d be really happy living together with you, but…”

“...As long as the demons are still running around free you can’t think of your own happiness. I was afraid of that.”

“...So you know.”

Maria’s grudge follows her like a curse. So long as there’s even a single demon still alive it will never leave her. Falling in love with someone, living in peace together with someone --- even if she tries to find happiness that curse will always interfere.

“I, uh, did a little digging on your past a while ago. I’m sorry for invading your privacy like that.”

“If it’s you, Linus-san, I don’t mind. It just goes to show how much you care about me.”

“You really are a saint.”

“Oh, no, I wouldn’t be this lenient to just anyone. If it was anyone else I would never forgive them. But… if you looked into my past, I suppose that means you know about my home.”

“Yeah… Eight years ago, the demons…”

“They attacked without warning and leveled the entire town overnight… I was the sole survivor.”

There’s a faraway look in her eyes as she remembers that day, fresh in her mind as if it was only yesterday.

“Even now, I still remember how those monsters used their horrible magic to skewer, butcher, crush, and burn everyone and everything I ever loved.”

“...”

“That demon lied when it said that they don’t kill humans. They’re the kind of horrible creatures that laugh as they burn and defile, the kind of scum that doesn’t belong on this earth.”

She clutches her hands as she talks, her loathing audibly growing with every word.

There’s no way she’s lying --- and yet Linus sensed no sign of deception from the demon they ran into, either.

“Ah… I’m sorry for talking about such horrible things when we finally have the chance to be alone…”

“Nah, don’t worry about it. I was the one who brought it up.”

Linus’ love for Maria is so great that even now he still wants to support her, even including her great hate.

“But… In the end, I… I wonder if I should really let that take control of my life…”

She whispers so quietly Linus can’t hear a word she says.

In the end, the only person who can decide her path is Maria herself.

She faces the ground, a sorrowful expression on her face, and a gloomy mood forces itself between them.

“I know!” Linus says, putting his fist in his palm and clearing the air. “You know what this kind of mood calls for? Ice cream. C’mon, I know a great place near here.”

“Oh, yes, I love sweets! They never let me eat junk food at the Cathedral.”

The smile returns to her face.

A smile really suits her best after all... I swear I’ll support her until the day she can get the better of her hatred.

Linus silently, solemnly swears that to himself.


◇◇◇


Time passes, and dusk descends on the Capital.

The Royal Palace is enveloped in silence, save for the voice of one very angry man.

“What do you mean, S-Rank adventurer!? What do you mean, ‘Starcrushing Strongarm’!? You’re nothing more than a coward, dammit!!”

--- It’s Jean, of course.

He rages alone in his room, kicking his desk and punching the walls until his feet hurt and his knuckles glisten with blood. Books and papers are scattered across the floor, and the bookshelf looks ready to fall over.

There is, of course, a reason for his tantrum. Just a moment ago Gadio came by to announce that he'd be leaving the Party.

They were barely making any progress with him, so it might as well be impossible without Gadio there. Worse, Cyrill will only grow more depressed, making Jean’s chances of successfully wooing her even slimmer.

“Is he really not content with all that’s been promised to him!? If we can finally finish this damned Journey we’ll all have enough money to last the rest of our lives! We’d garner respect from every corner of the whole blasted Kingdom!! We’d each of us become influential enough to change the course of the country forever with a snap of our gold-dusted fingers!!! Aren’t adventurers supposed to be chomping at the bit for such a magnificent opportunity!? You should at least consider it the greatest of honours to be travelling with a genius like me, damn youuuu!!!”

After finally screaming out all his complaints he stands there in the middle of his ruined room, nails biting into his palms as his shoulders heave with every rage-fueled breath.

It’s still not enough to relieve his anger.

This shouldn’t be happening. The journey’s success should have been decided the instant he joined.

--- Up until now, Jean had never known failure in all of his twenty-eight years of life. Lesser intellects would frequently grow jealous of him and throw impossible problems at him just to watch him fail, but he showed them up every time with a cool, composed expression. Without relying on his inferiors even once, he has single-handedly proven theory after theory in the wake of the failures of entire research teams.

His self-confidence is by no means unfounded.

He’s simply hopelessly incompatible with the obstacle in front of him now.

“Hahh… Hahh…”

Managing to calm himself slightly, he sits down at his desk, quill in hand. He dips the tip in ink and starts to write on a piece of paper that happens to be lying on his desk, scrawling words that form a theory on magic, face pressed so close to the desk his cheek almost grazes the page, hand trembling with force as he tries to write calmly---

“DAMMIT!!!”

He explodes once again, crumpling the paper and chucking it across the room.

“Why doesn’t everyone just listen to me!? Why can’t I even make any decent progress with my research!!? I’m the only man alive who is capable of controlling four different elements, I’m the only one who can perfect this theorem!! I don’t need filth like Flum or trash like Eterna and Gadio, all I need is my own brilliant genius, so why can’t I do anything!!!?”

He scratches at his head like a man possessed.

At this point there’s probably no way for him to have a change of heart and admit he’s wrong.

Just then, as he lets out another strained cry of frustration --- someone knocks on his door.

“Leave me alone! I don’t care who you are, get out at once!!”

An open, even voice greets him from beyond the door.

“Jean-san, it’s me, Maria.”

Having finished her date with Linus, she should’ve returned to the Grand Cathedral by now.

Not even he can just turn away a saint so easily. Clicking his tongue with irritation, he stands up, slouches over to the door, and opens it to glare at Maria.

“What do you want?”

“It’s the job of the clergy to guide lost sheep.”

“...Hmph. There’s no way the likes of you could possibly know what I’m going through.”

“But you are lost and troubled, yes?”

Without even trying to hide his irritation, Jean clicks his tongue again.

“I think you’re the one who’s lost.”

“Whatever could you mean?”

“I can see right through you. I’ve always found that abhorrent fake smile of yours to be absolutely gut-wrenching, but you seem different now.”

He leans close into her face, studying her every feature. An ill-spirited smirk spreads across his face.

“Your hesitation is almost making you seem human, you black-hearted bitch.”

His cold gaze causes her wavering heart to start trembling even more strongly.

“Ahh, I see now. So just what did Linus do to you, hmm?”

“You leave Linus-san out of this!!”

“Ha, you’re even acting like a human now. What was that, an attempt at emotion? How unlike you.”

“Kh…”

“So just the name of the man you’re so fond of is enough to put you in the rut, is it? And you call yourself a woman of the cloth… or on second thought, maybe it isn’t so surprising after all. Bedsheets are cloth, too, after all! Kuhahahaha!!”

Maria was foolish enough to try to reason with him when he’s looking for targets to take his stress out on. He's enough of a genius to know how to hit Maria just where it’ll hurt most.

“Jean-san, you---!!”

She raises her hand.

She slaps him across the face, sending him reeling --- or at least, that’s how it would normally go.

Her arm trembles as she grits her teeth, determined to quell her own growing anger.

“Very admirable, but you can drop the saint act now.”

She doesn’t respond. She instead takes a deep breath in, then out, then lowers her hand.

“It’s the job of the clergy to guide lost sheep.”

“Stop repeating yourself, you sound idiotic. Hahh… well, you may as well hurry up tell me why you’re here. I’m a very busy man, you see.”

Finally, they’re both calm enough to carry out a proper conversation.

As Jean continues to loom over her, she reaches into her robes and pulls out a certain something.

A saintly smile spreading across her face, she holds a small black crystal out to him. Deep within the crystal an enormous energy spins and swirls.

“You seemed to be desiring strength, so I brought you a tool well-suited for your needs.”

“...Well, now, what do we have here?”

Jean stares deeply into the Core’s depths, completely entranced by its spiraling dance.


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  1. ‘Niisan,’ while literally meaning ‘big brother,’ can also be used to refer to an older guy to whom one is not familially related. Similarly, see also: Sara calling Flum and Milkit ‘Oneesan’, Sara calling Maria ‘Oneesama’.