The sun had already halfway set. The white Corolla Narukawa had procured was heading west on Ouma Highway. Afraid that they might be trailed, he had picked this car because it stood out the least.
"It doesn't look like they've set up any checkpoints to look for us." Trying to cheer up the dejected Narukawa, Feed spoke with an optimistic tone in his voice.
"If they've sent the CIRO special forces after us, it means they want to take us down in secret. However..."
Wearing an expression that said it was all too much for him to handle, Narukawa passed the car in front of him. "The man leading the group that attacked us was Saga, one of my subordinates. I can't believe he would be lying. What could have made the Chief Secretary give such a drastic order...?"
"A demon, most likely," Nakajima said from the back seat.
"You're saying that demons have infiltrated the government?" Narukawa couldn't help but raise his voice.
"Look at how Nakajima's mother suddenly sided with Ohara. It all makes sense if a demon was using some sort of spell to control her. Ignoring the mass disappearances, the attempt to assassinate us, Chief Cabinet Secretary Fujita's sudden change of heart--it can't be a coincidence." Feed's voice betrayed clear signs of agitation.
"I just can't believe it," Narukawa sighed. For the first time, Nakajima sensed weakness in the man.
At about the intersection between Ouma Highway and Loop 8, the fog started to thicken. The number of cars on the road seemed to thin out significantly as well.
"I sense a demonic presence in this area," Nakajima reported anxiously, rolling down the window halfway. "There was nothing here when I scouted out the area two days ago though..."
As Narukawa's eyes darted to the rear-view mirror, his hands still on the steering wheel, Nakajima stuck his head out the window and stared at the empty sidewalk, letting the wind blow his hair back.
Shortly, the Corolla turned onto Inokashira Avenue. Devoid of light, the the area was like a ghost town.
"I don't believe this," Nakajima murmured to himself. "Day before yesterday, this place was perfectly normal...."
Soon, engulfed in fog, Narukawa had no choice but to slow the car.
"Don't you think it would be faster if we got out and walked?" Feed, impatient as ever, seemed about to jump out of the car.
"Could be. Don't you think you should stay behind in the car though, Professor?"
"I'm sure what you mean to say is that I'd slow you down, but somehow I just don't see the team of a hero with a kidnapped girlfriend and a sidekick who knows nothing about demons producing any happy endings." As Narukawa stopped the car, Feed took out his S&W magazine and showed it to them. "This ammunition is full of mercuric sulfide. I'm sure it will work against demons a lot better than your handgun will."
Narukawa bared his teeth in a grin and slapped Feed's shoulder.
"Narukawa-san, if you want to back out, now's the time." Nakajima grinned.
"Right then. I'll run if the mood strikes me."
Now that I'm unofficially out of the CIRO, I really don't have any obligation to take on some unknown demon, but still...all I can say is that this seems like fate, or karma from a previous life.
To keep his twisting anxiety in check, Narukawa considered his fate, which he decided to leave intertwined with Nakajima's.
With the car left behind, the thick fog enveloped the three men. It was heavy, slimy, and felt like the surface of plants in a swamp.
Summoned from Nakajima's handheld computer, Kerberos was in the middle, and the three proceeded toward the Soga Forest. Using only the light of the street lamps as a guide, they walked for perhaps an hour. Suddenly, the fog thinned, and their surroundings clearly came into view.
But they were very strange surroundings. At the very least, they were nothing like any neighborhood in Tokyo they had known.
The lines of ginkgo trees along the roadside normally grew only slightly, but seemed far more robust than expected here; their branches were splayed out in every direction and their thick roots had broken through the concrete of the sidewalk. The facades of the deserted buildings were covered in thick tropical vines, some powerful enough to have shattered windows or broken through the very roofs.
"What is going on here...?" Surprised, Nakajima was the first to speak; he had been here just a few days ago searching for Yumiko.
"It almost looks like the ancient Mayan ruins did when they were discovered...Eh? What's wrong?" Feed looked suspiciously at Narukawa, who was pointing his Walther straight in the air.
"Look!" Narukawa’s trembling finger pointed at a whitish bird circling around them over head.
"What? It's just a nocturnal bird."
"Look at its face, Professor." Speaking in a calm and composed voice, Nakajima backed Narukawa up.
The bird, looking down at them with sparkling azure eyes, had the face of a human woman.
"It's a harpy. I've seen them several times in Siberia before. It’s quite beautiful, isn't it?"
Letting his guard down at Feed's blasé reaction, Narukawa lowered his pistol. "Isn't it dangerous?"
"Oh, it would definitely attack given the opportunity. But we're safe so long as Kerberos is with us."
As if it heard Feed's voice, the harpy shook its wings to fake out the demonic beast and dropped its altitude. Without any warning, a brown beast leapt out from amongst the treetops and smashed the monstrous bird's wing with its thick arm. Caught by surprise, the harpy plunged to the ground. As it did, the monkey-like monster bit into the harpy’s neck with its sharp fangs as the harpy struggled to get up.
Crying out in a shrill voice, the harpy desperately beat its wings. But its opponent had the advantage. Within moments, its thick arms had snapped the harpy's neck in a quick motion.
"Well, now we have proof that there's a food chain in the demon world," Feed rasped.
Dragging the harpy's corpse with it, the demon monkey climbed up a tree. Right before it entered a vine-covered house, it turned around and looked at Nakajima's group curiously. The single, foul eye in its heavily-wrinkled faced darted around, sizing up the three. As it made eye contact with Kerberos, it made a simian screech and bounded out of sight.
"Yare, yare. At this rate there's no telling what might attack us. Let's go into the forest now. We're sitting ducks out in the open right here," Narukawa said in a surprised voice as he returned to his senses.
"No, so long as we have Kerberos with us we've got the advantage on the ground. If we go into the forest and get attacked from above we're done for."
Nakajima had a point. Narukawa decided to go along with him, and the three men once again proceeded slowly along the broken sidewalk, taking care not to trip over the stones and boulders strewn about.
With the Soga Forest before him, Narukawa's sixth sense was buzzing. Kerberos lowered his head and crouched into a fighting pose. Nakajima also felt hundreds of eyes staring at them from amongst the trees. And those eyes were drawing ever closer.
Crying in a voice that sounded like it was coming from a strangled throat, a monster appeared from out of the darkness. It looked like a human, but its body was covered in shiny black scales. Its extruding, crimson eyes burned as it stared at them, the red tear that was its mouth distorted and ghastly.
Another. And another. As if they were creatures born of the darkness itself, the monsters emerged from the cover of the trees. Gripped by primal fear, Narukawa fired his Walther over and over again. The nine-millimeter ammunition buried itself in the stomachs of the creatures with a splat. Thick, milky white liquid oozed from the wounds, but they showed no hints of faltering and approached, their arms outstretched before them. Unable to suppress his hostility any longer, Kerberos attacked the mob without any command from Nakajima. In moments, h had downed several dozen of them.
"Narukawa-san, get back!" Realizing he had no choice but to fight, Nakajima pictured the two blue spheres in his mind. Just by concentrating, an eddy of flame formed in the air. A moment later the Sword of Hi-no-Kagutsuchi appeared in his right hand. Gripping its hilt, Nakajima slashed with a tremendous battle cry.
The chests of the monsters were cleaved in two, and like a wave being drawn back into the sea, their scales vanished, leaving only white skin behind. Just like Ohara, until recently these monsters had been living as ordinary people. Only Set could have transformed them into demonic beings.
"Damned demons..." Nakajima gripped his sword and bit his lips, his eyes filled with indescribable desolation. Looking over at Feed, Nakajima saw that he was firing his Smith & Wesson over and over again while gripping his ornate cross. The mercuric sulfide bullets instantly killed the monsters they struck, but far more of them were missing their targets than aiming true.
"Professor, the battle is just starting," Nakajima called out. "Please don't waste your ammunition!"
Indeed, it appeared that no matter how many of the monsters they defeated, their numbers only seemed to increase. There were probably almost a thousand of them. Nakajima called Kerberos and took a step back, glaring back at what appeared to be a writhing, infinitely thick wall of creatures.
I'm just going to have to force my way right through them...
Just as Nakajima had set upon a plan, the hostility vanished from the eyes of the monsters. As their arms flopped to their sides, every one of them turned around and shuffled back into the depths of the forest. Their empty stares hinted they were all in a trance.
Nakajima turned around, startled by Kerberos’ growl, and noticed that Feed and Narukawa had a strange glimmer in their eyes.
As if trying to cut through an invisible thread, Nakajima brought down the Sword of Hi-no-Kagutsuchi before their eyes. Suddenly returned to their senses, the two men looked at one another.
"That was close. We almost became enthralled by the demon as well." Shuddering, Feed flicked the safety of his pistol and put it in the pocket of his coat.
Following the creatures, the three continued into the Soga Forest, now an extension of the Atziluth World. Occasionally, a harpy flew overhead, beating its wings as if to mock them. Soon the fog cleared, and waiting for them was a bizarre scene far beyond any of their imaginations.
"That's...!" The three cried out simultaneously in surprise.
Next to the shimmering red-and-green striped surface of the swamp, an enormous fleshy tower jutted dozens of meters into the sky. One by one, the pack of creatures was climbing it. Those that ran out of energy on the way up were slurped into the protoplasm and absorbed by the tower of flesh. The surface of the tower was covered with the half-broken bodies of the creatures and countless writhing tentacles; the latter gave it the appearance of an enormous one-celled organism.
Feed and Narukawa forgot themselves and were entranced by the repulsive sight. Nakajima quickly brought them back to their senses, and noticed a silver-haired man appear from behind the shadow of the fleshy pillar and approach them. Nakajima got the sense that he recognized this man from somewhere, and soon Feed's cry made clear why.
"You really were behind all of this, Isma!"
So this man is Isma...Professor Feed's brother.
"Nakajima, there's no need to hold back," cried Feed. "So long as he lives, the world will never be safe!"
Isma grinned coldly. The black robe that enveloped him whipped in the wind.
"Get him, Kerberos!"
At Nakajima's order, Kerberos charged Isma, but he suddenly bounced away like he had hit an invisible wall in the air.
"Ha ha ha!"
Isma's body appeared to float in the air as he laughed, and two unusual lights appeared by his feet. Covered in jet-black scales, the great black serpent Typhon stared at Nakajima with its golden eyes, Isma riding on its back, as it slowly rose into the air, towering like an enormous tree. With its head nearly extended to the full height of the tower of flesh, the huge serpent shuddered and assaulted Nakajima. The lower half of Isma's body had been fused into Typhon's; perhaps it was another sort of fusion the demon could do in addition to its innate ability to absorb the earth and the air into its own body.
The sword of Hi-no-Kagutsuchi could do nothing against Typhon's rigid scales. Nakajima had no choice but to flee, pursued by Isma's loud laughter.
"You must have been quite lucky to have been able to defeat Loki like that! Stop struggling and become the next sacrifice!"
Feed, realizing the gravity of the situation, whispered something to Narukawa as he handed over his pistol.
"Whatever you're planning, it won't work, Charles!" Isma cried from atop the serpent's head. "I'll eat you right after Nakajima!"
Kerberos jumped in to attack from the side, but Typhon's whip-like tail knocked him away like a rubber ball.
Holding the Smith & Wesson with both hands in a firing stance and aiming it at Typhon's gaping red maw as it attacked, Narukawa pulled the trigger.
For an instant, the great serpent stopped, discomforted. Taking advantage of the opportunity, Nakajima leapt up and plunged the sword of Hi-no-Kagutsuchi into one of its golden eyes.
Crying out, Typhon whipped and spasmed. Sword and all, Nakajima was thrown aside, but Kerberos leaped into the air and caught him. Right then, Nakajima got the sense that he heard Yumiko's voice from far away. Looking around in confusion, the image of Yumiko, bound to a cross and writhing in agony, appeared in his mind. Most likely, Set had sent him the picture of her current state as the core of his enormous protoplasmic temporary body. Nakjima noticed that one of the eyes in her lovely, terrified face was dripping blood.
"Hah, hah, hah! Brave young man, do not forget that Yumiko is Set's prisoner!"
Don't listen to him! The demons need my body! They would never kill me! Yumiko's voice cried out in Nakajima's mind, encouraging him.
Isma's laughing voice penetrated Nakajima's ears. "Indeed. The girl is needed to fuse this world and the demon world together. However, even if we cannot kill her, we can still torture her with unimaginable pain."
It was hard for Nakajima to withstand the awful sense of guilt and self-reproach he felt seeing Yumiko frantically try to withstand the agony. Yumiko's remaining eye started to fill with tears of blood.
"Stop it!" Unable to stand it any longer, Nakajima cast aside the sword of Hi-no-Kagutsuchi and dropped to his knees.
"Nakajima, wake up! You can't listen to them! If you give in, what will happen to this country? What will happen to the world?"
Narukawa listened as Feed yelled his lungs out. Overwhelmed, Narukawa punched the ground.
This sort of thing has happened before!
Try as he might, Narukawa could not shake off an overwhelming sense of déjà vu.
I must have some sort of power. Some sort of power to save that boy! Someone--kami or buddha, I don't care--please awaken my power! That power will surely reveal my connection to the boy as well...!