Part 135: The Next Head III
Video: Succession, Part 1
"Which means that... plus 20 more would make for a perfect 100, yeah?"
As Ronove jumped backwards, somersaulting in midair, he violently wiped away the blood pouring from his nose. It had become, not blood, but petals of a red rose. The blood on his face was wiped off, and in its place... was a grin filled with a delight he hadn't felt in so many centuries that he couldn't remember.
"I, Ronove, will test to see whether your resolve is worth full marks, understand...?"
"Shut up, shut up!! Come at meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!"
BGM: Death (from Stupefaction)
After being swallowed up by that, George fell out of a pitch-black hole that had opened up in the ceiling of the arbor.
The instant George, after being blown out of the arbor, thought that he'd be swallowed up by a rose bush... Another pitch-black hole opened there and swallowed George up. And this time, a pitch-black hole opened at Gaap's feet before her eyes, spitting a defenseless George out of it. At that time, Gaap had already finished the preparatory motions for the next reverse roundhouse kick.
"Ghh, what is... this...?"
"Welcome back. *giggle*!"
Right side of the head. Below the right armpit. Side of the right knee. As Gaap danced and spun like a small cyclone, she kept hitting him, left foot right foot left foot right foot, with successive roundhouse kicks. The fourth one became a sweep, cutting George's feet out from under him and making him fall down, but of course, there was no floor there, but a pitch-black hole, and George was swallowed up once again.
Gaap once again spun around like a small cyclone. George was once again spat out from the ceiling of the arbor.
The sharp strike of the queen bee pierced the heavens like a rising cyclone. It kicked through George's lower chest as he fell from the ceiling... And then, time froze. George was pinned in midair by Gaap's raised leg...
Still pinned in midair, George moaned... Then Gaap, with George still hung up on her foot, grinned.
"...I'll admit it. At least your attitude is that of an adult. But that's no good unless you have power to go with it. Did you know? They say you need three kinds of power to rule this world. The first one is influence. The second is wealth. Do you know what the last one is?"
"I read it in a book. Force, right...?"
"Correct. And that's where you're lacking."
Gaap finally released George. She kicked upwards one more time, changing into another roundhouse kick and knocking him into a pillar.
"Ghh? Ung... uhhhgh...!"
"No one will fear a monarch without influence, without wealth, or without force. Kinzo possessed all three of those. That's why he reigned as a tyrant! If you're going to call yourself Kinzo's successor, try showing me a bit of that majesty, okay?"
"...Come ooon, how long are you gonna sleep there? Stand up, okay? If you don't, you'll fall again, see?"
BGM: Mortal Stampede
Ronove dodged skillfully, jumped back, and avoided Jessica's fist, but he still didn't strike back himself. Because of his dodge that was as rapid as a fluttering flag blown by strong winds, Jessica's fist wasn't even able to touch him.
Amidst the sensation that her own blood was boiling, Jessica regained her offensive composure. Even though this room was large for a bedroom, it was a very cramped place to keep up such exaggerated dodges in for long. She calmly realized that and started using not just her fists, but her legs as well.
"...Hoh. Boxing with just your arms makes you but half a fighter. Your arms must be like the hot roar of a lion. And your legs must be like the cold snake closing in on its prey."
"Snakes don't have legs!"
"Pu ku ku, true."
Jessica began cornering Ronove towards the wall with perfect footwork. She didn't let him get around her. Ronove's magnificent dodges looked flashy, but they needed a large footing. Once cornered, he wouldn't be able to dodge anymore...!
Jessica knew the characteristics of her weapon, the brass knuckle, very well. This powerful weapon's most notable characteristic was how it didn't give the opponent a chance to defend. Even if they blocked with their arm, that arm would receive direct damage. If it hit the wrong way, it might even break the bone. So she cornered him. With this fist, she'd whittle away at this demon who'd lost any way to escape!!
"Looks like I've finally cornered you, right...? Where is everyone being held? Where's that damn geezer? You tell me everything, and I'll let you off with nothing more than plucking that mustache off, got it?"
"That would be a problem. It does take me an hour every morning to set this."
"Once you're in a cast, you won't even be able to do that, right?!"
He tried to act as though it was no big deal, but it must have hurt a lot. Jessica grinned. Ronove smiled the same way, but twitched slightly.
"...I see. This certainly does hurt."
"Here's my last bit of advice. Cry and apologize."
"That, I cannot do. It would ruin my image."
"Then just crumple. Rapid fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiire!!!"
Jessica's fists were buried into Ronove. But there was a resistance that seemed too hard... and the sound of breaking glass, which startled Jessica. At a glance, it looked like Ronove had caught Jessica's fist with his palm... That wasn't quite true.
When Ronove opened his hand, a faint, purple, glowing barrier like a glass shield appeared, stopping the attack by a hair's breadth. Pulling herself together, Jessica let her fists fly again, but with a truly magnificent gesture, Ronove caught all of them...
"...Wh-What are you trying to pull...?!"
"Is this the end? Are you simply going to attack all the time, while neglecting your defense?"
Ronove's palm shot to within a hair's breadth of Jessica's stomach. Jessica was knocked away by the purple shield, rolled backwards, and smashed her head on the bed.
"My shield cannot be broken by a mere Human. Don't think that you'll ever be able to touch my body again."
"...In that case, I'll just burst through that shield...!!"
"Persistent, I see. Yes, a truly fitting spirit for the Successor. Perhaps I'll be your opponent for just a while longer. This is also part of an examiner's role. Pukkukukukukuku!"
George was on a path in the rose garden, lying face-down in a puddle. The merciless rain beat down on him, so that it looked as though even the heavens were mocking him...
"...Ahhahahahahahaha. Stand up, okay? You'll fall again, right?"
George stood up shakily. It seemed his spirit hadn't given in, but the damage done to his body was fairly significant.
"Beg for your life. What you're doing now is the same as the fourth option of choosing nothing. You chose the third option, right? If you get down on your hands and knees and apologize, I'll forgive your rudeness towards me. Then, I'll guide you down to the dungeon. There, for your beloved Shannon and your own powerless life, you will kill the other hostages one by one."
"...You can do it, right? You did boast about having that resolve. *giggle*giggle*giggle*."
George didn't answer... But his gaze was still obstinately resisting surrender.
"...If you are too obstinate, then this time you really will fall to the deepest depths of the Abyss, okay...? *cackle*cackle*cackle*."
Gaap's strength was evident. That was probably clear, even more than it was to George himself, to Shannon's group watching through the three-sided mirror...
BGM: Thanks for Being Born
"...If you didn't like me, you wouldn't have to fight with anyone, right, George-sama...? Then please, abandon me... Please forget me..."
There was no way that voice could have reached George. But, even so, George answered.
"...Oh? Why not...?"
"...Because that's... my resolve. I'll fight everything for Shannon's sake. And I'll make everything accept us... and bless us."
"Hey, could you tell me something? Why are you willing to go so far for that furniture called Shannon? She's just a washout, isn't she? Rubbish furniture that couldn't even make a satisfactory waitress."
"...I won't permit any more insults against the woman I love."
"So what are you going to do about it? How could a weak kid like you resist me...?"
"Loving someone is strength. Because I learned that, I was able to become strong. 'Shannon, I love you'. With just those words, I can stand back up, over and over again."
"Shannon's in the dungeon, right? Professing your love to me won't-"
"No. She heard. That's because it's love. Shannon can hear my words right now. The reason I can believe that... is because of love."
"...I'm jealous. He's surpassed my husband in smooth talking."
"...Th-That's youth for you."
"Does that weakness mean your love is also that weak? *giggle*giggle*! Even your love for your fiancée is weak. The way your parents died so quickly was weak. Everything about your life is weak."
"...Shannon taught me about love and strength. If you're trying to measure my love towards Shannon by my strength alone... let me teach you about my love."
"*giggle* So you say. I get it now. You're saying that the way you can still stand up after being kicked down so many times is the strength you received from Shannon. In that case, what did you receive from your parents, who got killed way too easily? ...?"
"...N-No. Th-This is..."
The thing blocking Gaap's vision... was the bottom... of George's... shoe...
BGM: Victima Procipiatoria
It had stopped right in front of the tip of Gaap's nose.
"The thing I got from Mom was this kick."
Several moments after, Gaap jumped back. Of course, that was too late. If George hadn't stopped, he would probably have caused the damage he'd announced.
"And what I got from Dad... is fortitude."
Anger with a low boiling point isn't something to be truly feared. True anger is disciplined by fortitude.
"...I recognize your violent method of declaring your intentions. I also see that you've slandered my fiancée and my parents' honor. And you have no intention of taking back what you said, yes...?"
"I now understand your attacks more than enough, so maybe it's about time. Time to start fighting back."
"Q-Quit prattling, foolish boy...!!"
A pitch-black hole opened its mouth at George's feet. But George rapidly opened his legs, straddling the hole. The same move won't work again...! It was an extremely smooth dodge, and the upper part of his body didn't even quiver.
"Fortitude means calmly analyzing how your opponent will act, instead of losing your cool. Why? Isn't it obvious? Can't you guess?"
"N-N-No, I can't..."
George dashed. Pitfalls opened one after another, but George didn't step in them again. And, because he was persistent, he was able to reach Gaap a second time...
"...Reverse roundhouse. Jaw fractured."
Of course, while it centered directly on Gaap's face, it stopped a hair's breadth away. Perhaps she couldn't rely on pitfalls at this close range. Gaap kicked at George's shins as a diversion, and in the instant of weakness when he tried to deal with that, she aimed a kick at his stomach. It was a bee-like stab by her stiletto heel... But it sliced through the air where George no longer was.
"...High axe kick. Collarbone fractured."
By Gaap's side, George calmly announced that, his foot still raised. If that monarch's heel had swung down, a collarbone fracture would probably have been the least of her worries.
"This guy's... stronger than me... at close range...?! I need distance...!"
She jumped backwards to open a large gap between them. She jumped and jumped and leapt and even flipped in midair, increasing that distance. It should have been magnificent, but for some reason, it was very similar to the movements of a small, scared animal. If she opened the distance between them, she'd be able to fight at the range that was her specialty, using a mixture of pitfalls and kicking techniques...!
"You fool, you'll regret the pride that made you let three chances of defeating me slide... as you fall into the depths of the Abyss!! ...Huh?"
It happened twice. This time, it didn't just stop a hair's breadth away, but scattered her bangs with its air pressure...
"...Armada com martelo. The fundus of the eye fractured with the first strike. Cerebral contusion with the second strike."
Gaap was too shocked to speak. George had closed in over all that distance in an instant, letting off a fearsomely nimble midair double-kick. Furthermore, with the accuracy and edge of a razor, it had cut nothing more than several of her bangs.
"I learned the power of kicks from karate, speed from tae kwon do, and freedom of range from capoeira."
"...Mom was pretty fickle. But I've learned from studying various merits."
"...Wh-Why don't you hit me...? You aren't going to say it's because I'm a woman, right?!!"
"...You spoke of force as a monarch's third power. It looks like you still misunderstand the meaning of that force. In this situation, force doesn't mean hastily wielded violence. It refers to a deterrent, knowledge that if someone opposes the monarch, that person won't get away unharmed."
"A deterrent, you say...?"
These bare misses, which were more difficult than hitting directly, had all been performed so splendidly. Also, if George had wished it, any one of those would probably have crushed Gaap. He had, daringly, not done that.
"You said it yourself, right? Force is the power to control. If you crush your opponent with force, you won't be able control them, right? A monarch's force is something that is only shown. He does not crush. He makes others surrender and adds them to his own fortune. If you start blowing bubbles, I won't be able to make you guide me to where the hostages are."
Gaap had to admit it. She had to admit that George understood force in its truest sense...!
"You'll take me to where everyone is. I would advise against resisting. I won't stop short next time."
"...Ack!! Sorry, Lia. Lemme borrow your troops. This guy's too much for me alone to handle!!"
"...Reinforcements? Should I take this to mean that you take back all that about me being weak?"
"...I-I admit it. I made light of your... Human power..."
"That's wrong. This is the strength of a man who's experienced love."
"H-How can you say stuff like that with a straight face?!! Come, goats! Crush this man and turn him into meatballs! *giggle* These goats are stupid, but it looks like they at least have power. I'll turn you into a corpse that even your fiancée won't be able to recognize!"
"You refuse to surrender and intend to continue fighting. Understood. Know that from now on, you will receive real harm proportional to your own attacks."
"If you still plan on attacking me, prepare to sustain a great deal of damage."
When George proclaimed that, a faint, red magic circle rose up around him. It seemed that George couldn't see it. However, Gaap, being a demon, could.
From a demon's perspective, that may have been magic. But in George's eyes, it was... determination. It was a determination filled with certainty, which would be merciless to anyone who wished to fight anymore... and which would force them to prepare for a significant counterattack.
Determination with certainty... becomes magic.
Even though he was certainly catching them on the shield, he felt his arm get jarred, and it hurt. It should have prevented all physical damage. However, the damage from her fists was gradually being transmitted to his arm, piling up.
Ronove tried to act like he was composed, so that this wouldn't be noticed...
"...No matter how much you attack, it is useless. Why can't you understand that you cannot break my shield?"
"I'm not gonna stop hitting you just because it won't break. No matter how hard someone's heart is, if you keep on talking to them little by little, it'll eventually start to crack...! I believe it!! I believe that useless effort doesn't exist in this world!!"
"That's why I can live... to the fullest!! If words will eventually make it through, then the same goes for fists...!! 'Give up' isn't written anywhere in my dictionary!!"
She believed that they would surely reach his heart, that the day would come when he would stop calling himself furniture and disparaging himself, and that he'd step out into a new life. So Jessica didn't give up. She didn't lose heart...!
"It's stupid, right? I'll bet a guy couldn't understand, right? A girl in love doesn't even think about giving up just because it's useless!!"
At that time, Ronove certainly saw. He saw the reddish glow of light that encircled Jessica's fists.
Inside her unrelenting fists and determination... dwelled the power to succeed no matter what. From a demon's perspective, that was magic.
Determination with certainty... becomes magic.
"See? Nothing useless about it. Looks like my fists are making it through. Guard your arm, old guy."
"...It seems I will have to get a little more serious. It appears it is as you said. In this world, nothing is useless."
"That's right...! If you give up because something's useless, that's when your life ends...! You'll get through. You can be sure of that...!!"
I'm an idiot, so this is the only way I can live, but even so, I'm sure I'll be able to teach Kanon-kun... about a new world someday!! So I'm not gonna lose heart in a place like this...!! I'll definitely defeat you... and save everyone!!
Krauss was repeating his useless effort to somehow open a hole between the metal bars. Useless... Nothing is useless. There's nothing...
The lookout goats had been swallowed up by those black pitfalls and disappeared. Now was their once-in-a-lifetime chance. This was their only chance to break the bars...
"S-Stop it, it's impossible, Krauss-san! There's nothing we can do with our bare hands! Let's look for a tool, don't waste time on the impossible...!"
"If you give up because it's useless, then it's all over. That's what my daughter said. Even if my body won't fit, as long as a small person like Shannon or Kanon can make it through...!!"
"...Now that we've reached this point, action is more important than racking our brains. Let's work together, I'll do it too...! Kanon-kun, you're a boy, aren't you? Lend a hand...! Kanon-kun?!"
BGM: F Style
"What? What are you planning...?"
"...Okay, Nee-san? Just one more time, let's try struggling."
"...Yes. I too... will struggle one more time. No, not just one more time... Over and over again."
Jessica's voice had reached Kanon. It certainly had permeated into his cold, rock-like heart. And George's voice had reached Shannon. If the love he had shown was embodied by strength, she would have to respond in the same way.
An incredible metal sound rang out. In the first flash, several metal bars were severed horizontally, and in the next flash, they were severed horizontally again, causing many metal bars to clatter to the ground like bamboo shoots cut by a sword. Krauss, Kyrie, and Nanjo didn't even have a clue what had just happened...
"...Doctor Nanjo, which way down the corridor goes to the mansion...?"
"...O-Oh, of course! In and to the left, in and to the left...!"
"Let's go, Krauss-sama. Virgilia-sama will notice us at any moment now."
"What in the world... are you guys...?"
When Kanon hung his head a little and faltered, Shannon slapped his shoulder, smiled, and spoke.