Part 34: Free will*: We go to Ginza to heal up, register, pick up a few Dekaja Rocks from Rag's just in case, save, then head for the Labyrinth and take the shortcut straight to the fifth Kalpa.
I expected tougher opposition, but I'm sure this is just a taste of things to come.
: I'm about to burst!
: She's all yours, kid.
: Very funny.
: I'm... sure you've got plenty of delightful qualities.
: You made my day! Here's a token of my appreciation!
> The demon healed you.
: Thank you, uh, sweetheart.
: Someone's gonna get his little fiend bit off!
: Are you volunteering?
: I know I've got a couple extra ones stashed in here somewhere...
: Forget I asked!
: Our master is waiting there. Don't give up now!
: This is where the women loyal to our master gather. You have done well in not disappointing him. But, if you underestimate us, you will not live to regret it!
*: Ah, so that explains the encounters around here. We're only running into humanoid female demons.
: Even if you think you've found a dead-end, make absolutely sure before you try another direction. Well, that's my advice. Choose to follow it if you wish.
*: About that... There appears to be a bit of an emulation issue with this place. There are supposed to be illusory walls around here that disappear as you get close, but they... kinda don't show up at all. So it's just a regular maze. It sure makes my life easier, but it bugs me that I can't show it off.
*: This first room has doors to the west and to the east. Let's try west first.
Lv67 Lady Kali
In modern Hinduism, Kali is often seen as a goddess of time and change, but as the consort of Shiva, the god of destruction, she's better known as the bloodthirsty, warlike goddess of death. Even today there are still rare stories of human sacrifice committed in her name, whether ritualized in some remote region, or as the act of some deranged killer acting on his own. That said, for all of her darker attributes, she usually acts for the general benefit of the universe, and when she enters the field of battle in person, it's usually to combat the evil and the abominable.
*: We're getting some intersecting hallways with one-way doors further inside, but it's not obnoxious yet.
*: Yeah, these encounters aren't messing around.
Going north then east takes us to a room with a Balm of Rising in a Chest; there are several dead-ends that I suspect are the wrong side of one-way doors, but we can only return to the central room from here. We go west then south this time.
Lv64 Megami Scathach
Scathach is a Scottish warrior woman of Irish legend (you read that right), said to have trained Cu Chulainn in martial arts and given him his mighty spear, the Gae Bolg. At some point, Cu Chulainn kills her daughter's lover in a duel, and accepts to take his place as the lass' husband-to-be. He also ends up boning both mother and daughter, which, well, okay, sure, whatever floats your boat mang.
*: We find a ladder down but I want to investigate the rest of the floor first. Zed levels up soon afterwards, mastering Vimana and having the chance to learn Hades Blast, which we've seen Mara use way back when. I honestly don't know which is stronger or more useful between Deadly Fury and Hades Blast, but online consensus seems to be that Deadly Fury has similar damage but crits more often, so I'm keeping it.
We find a Magic Mirror in the Chest to the north, and we're forced to return to the central room. I expect the eastern side will be symmetrical, so it shouldn't be much more trouble.
Hmm, another ladder. We keep exploring. Black Rider learns Megidola, and Wu Kong learns Attack All, a passive skill which causes his basic attack to hit all opponents. This can be really really good, but also kinda tricky when some of them nullify, reflect or absorb physical damage. Fortunately he still has Brutal Slash for single target damage. It's a tough choice, but I let it replace Hassohappa. It's not as strong, but it doesn't eat up a third of his HP either. Besides, it'll be great for mopping up after a Deadly Fury.
Alright, that's it for B1. Let's try the western ladder.
Two locked gates, facing each other, but separated.
Oh, I get it. It'll open the door on the other side, right?
Ah, actually, it opened the one on our side! Well then.
: Are we fallen ones to blame...? Or is it the fault of those who cast us down...? I wonder what our master thinks... I'd like to ask him one of these days.
: Oh come on, we both know what he thinks.
: Uh... sure, why not?
: Imagine you are in the mountains...
: ...and you see a human about to be attacked by a wild animal. The animal begins to maul the defenseless human! As a fellow human, your heart would compel you to chase away the beast and rescue the victim. Ah...! But, now you're a demon! Suppose you kill the animal with your newfound strength... You crush it barehanded!
: I can see that happening.
: The human would then fear you, since you had proven yourself more powerful than a wild animal!
: So is any rando with a gun.
: With your demonic strength, you can no longer be human. You are more dangerous than a wild animal...
: Whatever, dude.
*: There are some pretty wimpy encounters in here, somehow. We find Dr. Dark in the southern portion of the area, and he would charge 20000 Macca. Pass!
Another ladder down. I have half a mind to climb back up and try the eastern ladder on the ladies' floor, but let's see where this goes first.
: They test various attributes and may even kill a demon if they are inclined to do so. Some will ask for specific demons. If you want to go on ahead, be sure to bring a variety of demons with you.
*: The door goes through our demons just like Shige did. Lilith has a Magic of 30, so I let her try.
: Your comrade's magic is admirable indeed... You may pass.
*: It reveals a corridor with a regular door and another golden door. I assume the regular door is a way back in case you can't pass the golden one.
*: Horus passes the test with 26 Agility.
Lv60 Avatar Barong
In Balinese folklore, Barong is a powerful magical spirit, embodying all that is good and kind. It is said to protect humanity against calamities, and is locked in eternal struggle against the demon queen Rangda. It's usually depicted as a stylized lion, though different regions of Bali see it as different animals.
Lv75 Wilder Hresvelgr
Hresvelgr is a giant of Norse mythology, taking the form of an eagle. He sits at one end of the world, and the flapping of his wings causes wind all over the land.
: I'm really-
*: GOD DAMMIT.
: I closed it! I swear!
: I CAN FEEL GREAT POWER FROM THIS DOOR, WHICH LEADS BELOW... SOMETHING EVEN STRONGER THAN BEELZEBUB...
: That's weird, I'm not underneath this floor.
: IF YOU CHOOSE TO PROCEED, BE CAREFUL.
*: There is indeed a ladder nearby, but I know I want to keep checking out those doors.
*: I'm pretty sure only Beelzebub can open this door.
*: Albion's 25 Vitality passes.
*: Black Frost's 28 Luck is enough.
: Hee ho!
: Sakahagi seems to be the obvious choice.
: Fuck you.
: You cannot deny that your soul is black!
: HEE HO!
: I'm not denyin' it, it's black as hell. I just felt like cussing at you.
: But is it the blackest?
: Pick me! Pick me! I'm the hee ho blackest!
: What about Famine here?
: Hmmmmmmnnnnaaaaahhh, too obvious.
: I can't believe one of the Labyrinth's riddles would require the Demi-fiend to have turned one of his greatest opponents into an ally.
: I can believe it! Pick me! PICKMEPICKMEPICKMEHEEPICKMEHOPICK-
: Maybe I could get the Minister to summon me up a Will o' Wisp or something, it can't be that expensive. They're all soul and all black, right?
: Weren't they kind of purplish though?
: STEP ASIDE, HEE HO PEASANTS! MAKE WAY FOR THE EMPEROR!
: Hey! What are you-
: You have with you a comrade as black as night... You may pass.
: You have got to be shittin' me.
: Hee ho! Behold the Emperor of Darkness!
: Welp, I know better than to argue with a door in the bowels of hell. All hail the Emperor!
*: That one in fact is for Black Frost alone to open. It reveals two Chests; one has five Beads of Life, the other has five Great Chakras. All hail the Emperor!
: Oh wow, I think I've finally discovered the fabled Evernope! Thank you so much!
: ...so does that mean...?
: That's right! Nope! Forever!
*: I know who can open this door, but we haven't met him yet.
*: Albion comes through for us again, with his 25 Strength.
: Ah, now that's an easy one.
: You know it!
: You have with you a mighty comrade... You may pass.
: Um, are you alright?
: Considering you're a god, that's kinda scary.
: You're... you! Wow! It's... nice to have you back.
: I've been right here by your side from the very beginning.
: I definitely haven't forgotten.
: Well, if you don't want to...
: I'm Pixie of the Fairy clan. Please take care of me...
: You know I will, as good as you've taken care of me.
: I think I'm gonna puke.
: IT'S TIME FOR SILENCE! OR IS IT TIME FOR VIOLENCE? BA-BOOOOOOM!
: Ow! Alright, alright! Forget I said anything!
*: This is why we kept her lineage all this time: so we could get her back. But there's more to our dear stalwart Pixie than meets the eye!
Horus was falling behind in levels again, but I didn't worry too much about it because, well. Yeah. That's a 30 in all stats, which is enough to open any door down here of course. I'll probably get a Nigi Mitama to give her Elec Boost, and then at least one other Mitama to fill up these skill slots. That'll have to wait for another free ally slot, though.
Apart from the mystery ally door and the Beelzebub door, that seems to be all for this level, though I suspect more of it is accessible from that other ladder on B1. Let's try going down for now, though.
Lv43 Holy Baihu
Baihu is the Chinese name of Byakko, the mythical white tiger who guards the cardinal directions along with Seiryu, Genbu, and the phoenix Suzaku. He watches over the west, autumn and metal (or wind, in Japanese tradition).
*: Sakahagi levels up and learns Void Force, which I let replace Dark Might since he's pretty fragile. In the same battle, Lilith learns Allure, which attempts to Charm the entire enemy group. We find the ladder again and descend.
: I gotta hand it to you, you take rejection well. But not well enough!
*: Hmm. We turn back. We've done a bunch of exploring, I absolutely want to drop a save, and we still have a branch of the place to investigate. We turn back and climb back up, all the way to the Terminal. In fact we go heal up in Ginza before going back down.
Youch, Surt is a random enemy now. A bit later on, Zed passes on learning Avenge from Gaea.
Aaaaand we're back. Now for that eastern B1 ladder. Soon on B2, we run into another golden door.
: If you are a true demon, then you may see what lies beyond this door.
: Well, that's the moment of truth, I guess.
*: The door opens. Huh.
Oh wow, a random Aciel.
Hmm. It's just a bunch of empty corridors. Maybe the door opens for anyone, but only a true demon sees whatever there is to see? We turn back.
Dante learns Bullet-Time, his group-hitting physical move that can inflict Panic. I let it replace Intimidate.
Ah, I was hoping we'd find this.
Does it only lead to a Burial Chamber?
Yyyyup. One for Mithra, and one for a foe yet to be vainquished. It looks like that's it for this branch, so we climb up, then back down again.
Whew. Alright. Zed ingests Sophia for immunity to Expel, and we summon Odin, Titania, and Wu Kong.
Cutscene + Boss battle: The envoy
: So. That just happened.
: You know, when someone comes to me with angel problems, I usually give them Bayonetta's number, I can't be bothered. But that, that was a rad fight.
: Damn, did you see that? He was all like, "oooh oooh I'm basically god, lick my butthole", and then I yelled at him and he was all "oh shit I'm actually losing"! What a puss, hahaha!
: I would not put it in these exact words, but...
: It certainly was a masterfully executed strategy.
: We whupped him, you mean.
: Yes, we... whupped him.
: Still, that's another one I couldn't have beat without you all. Well fought, as always.
The details of Metatron's origin, identity and exact role differ from source to source, but it's generally said that he is first among the angelic hierarchy, and that he's effectively the second most powerful being in existence, next to YHVH of course. He seems to be a bit of a divine understudy, who can basically speak and act in the name of God on occasions where being exposed to God's glorious presence would be harmful to mortals. Which is... all occasions I guess?
I'm not entirely sure why he's a giant mech with eye beams here, but, well, Japan, giant mechs, eye beams. You know how it is.
*: Metatron is a bit of a mirror image to Beelzebub, especially in how he resists everything except Ice damage (on top of boss immunities). He goes easy on you at the start of the fight, mostly sticking to Holy Wrath, Mahamaon and basic attacks, and meticulously stripping away buffs and debuffs as you apply them. It goes without saying that Expel immunity is very valuable here.
For his second phase, his typical turn is either Makakaja followed by Megidolaon, or Tarukaja followed by a basic attack; he'll also throw in the occasional Debilitate. He does seem much more intent on killing you at this point, and he'll almost certainly succeed if you let him max out his stats, but he also puts much less priority on using Dekaja and Dekunda, making it more than worth it to start stacking your own buffs and debuffs.
For his final phase, he gains his signature move, Fire of Sinaï. It's a randomly-hitting Almighty spell (similar to Glacial Blast or Berserk), which can ravage you if the buffs aren't in your favor, but is more or less insignificant if they are.
I've been here before, long ago.
Not a place like this one. This exact place.
I had no idea. None whatsoever.
Do I have a clue today?
*: The encounter gauge is blue. The path is clear. No one will stop us.
: Yours is an existence unbound by this world, and for that reason, you have infinite potential. Will the battle with god occur as our master wishes...? Or, will we forever remain in waiting, while history repeats itself?
: You may ask.
: Very well. It is true that all living things must perish... Bound by the invisible threads of fate, humans die tragic deaths... Does that seem fair to you? If you lost a loved one in a horrible accident, would you curse god?
: ..................... There's no need to answer. But, if you feel that fate has cheated you... then go and see our master. Yes... Though long frozen, time shall flow again... towards the final battle.
This is it. This is the edge of the precipice.
There is no more information to gather. No more wait-and-see. Noah, Baal Avatar, Ahriman and their followers are climbing the tower even as I stand down here. All of them competing to see whose Reason is the most wretched.
They will fail, of course. That's beyond question at this point. They'll fail because I'll kill them. I've killed gods before. I know how.
It's deceptively simple.
But who will I be when I kill them? Will I kill them as a human, or will I kill them as a demon?
I could turn back right now. I could turn back and climb my way out of this pit and into the sky. I could annihilate these gods, and stand before Kagutsuchi, and force it to create a world without a Reason. I know I could, rules be damned. It would be a world made from a whole human, not just from the worst parts of one. Not just from the parts that run away into the darkness when pain comes knocking. Not just from the parts that lash out in hatred when they feel wounded. Not just from the parts that pretend their desires don't exist when they look within and are terrified by what they find there.
This would all happen again, wouldn't it?
Sooner or later, someone would find the accursed Scripture of Miroku again. There would be another Maiden.
There would be another Conception. Another Vortex World.
There would be another Demi-fiend.
I could descend right now. I could plunge into this abyss, and emerge with the power to put an end to this abominable cycle. I've already proved I'm a capable leader of demons, in any case. Of course I'd be playing into the old man's hands, this old man who took my Reason from me before it was even born. But if our goals align, what does it matter, in the end?
How many rebirths has this world gone through? How many trillions of lives, extinguished in the blink of an eye? How many more will die if this keeps going on? And for what? What kind of cruel being would put so many through so much horror, without even telling them why?
Could there ever be a good enough reason for all this death in the first place?
The old man wants to find out. I wouldn't mind having the answer either. It's just a question of paying the price. My humanity, and the next world. How much do those weigh in the face of the infinite churning genocide engine of the Amala Universe?
But if this one world doesn't matter, why would any other world matter more? Why would my world have to be the one to end, to truly end? Is it my place to decide whether to pay this price? Even now, am I human enough to have the right to make this sacrifice in everyone else's name?
I don't know. It would be crazy to pretend to know.
But I know I can't stand here forever.
I can turn back, hold on to what humanity I've got left, fight this odious Conception on my own terms, and choose the Path of Creation.
I can descend, claim the demonic strength to bring war to whoever is orchestrating this madness, and choose the Path of Destruction.
Lucifer is watching.