Campione!:Volume 3 Chapter5
Chapter 5 - I, Have Long Sought Defeat
Ancient ruins and the beautiful ocean, these were known as the most important tourist attractions of the island of Sardinia.
All over the island were a total of over seven thousand stone edifices -- nuraghes.
The civilization that built these dated back to roughly the fifteenth century BCE. At that time, the people living on the island of Sardinia gathered around the nuraghes to build their settlements and lived there.
Then came the period of early history with the arrival of the Phoenicians.
They first made contact with the island as seafaring merchants. Finally in the year 509 BCE, the entire island of Sardinia came under the rule of the Phoenician city of Tharros.
Then the Romans came.
Under the rule of the Roman Republic and then the Empire, the Romans rebuilt the streets constructed by the Phoenicians, making it their own residence.
This was why Roman and Phoenician ruins existed side by side on the island of Sardinia.
The current location was now the province of Oristano, on the west of the island where there was an abundance of ancient ruins.
In order to open sea routes to reach the western coastline, the Phoenicians had established cities at Aristanis and Tharros.
These ruins were located on a headland protruding from the peninsula. Though half of it had sunk into the sea, it was still preserved till modern times.
It was a city built by the Phoenicians of Tyre -- the people whose divine protector was Melqart.
"Melqart and his primary identity Baal were deities intimately related to Phoenician culture and customs -- have you heard of Hannibal?"
"The name of the movie? Or you mean the general who marched into Rome?"
This was the provincial capital of Oristano on the west of the island.
Like Nuoro it was a well-developed city, but closer to the sea. The wind carried the taste of seawater. Perhaps due to that, the air felt very free and open here.
It was inside a certain pizza shop in the city.
Seated at the open air tables, Erica and Godou were eating. Now that he thought about it, this was the first time for Godou to eat pizza in Italy.
This was Roman crispy and thin-crusted style rather than the rumored Neopolitan thick-crusted style.
"Of course, Hannibal means 'beloved son of Baal' while his father's name, Hamilcar... That one is 'Melqart's servant.' Both were very typical Phoenician names."
"...So, is this why we came here?"
The next day after encountering the giant beasts at Dorgali, the two of them had set off for this little town.
First they returned to Cagliari in the south, and then travelled west taking the car hired by Erica, arriving at Oristano after about two hours.
Erica had mentioned, the ruins of Tharros was approximately twenty kilometers away from the town.
The ruins of the foundation laid by Phoenicians, later enhanced by the Romans with aqueducts and other city functions, was now just a deserted tourist attraction.
"So, about that god with the golden sword, is there any problem? And the other guy -- the fellow who claimed amnesia and disappeared, is it fine to let him be?"
"It doesn't matter anymore, I've pretty much solved the riddle."
Erica's response made Godou very anxious.
To Godou, rather than what they were doing, he wanted to learn more about the [Sword] god he saw yesterday.
The god that had defeated the giant beasts all over the island, the god that seemed closely linked to the youth. But Erica appeared to have completely lost interest in that god.
"Currently, the incarnations causing havoc all over the island belong to the sword god, right? That should be the most dangerous, which is why preparations should be made against them first."
"Even if the incarnations of the sword god appear, at most there will be one or two, and they will be defeated as soon as they show up. Which is why it is more efficient to track down the missing Melqart... Besides, I think I have a good idea of the identity of the sword god."
Erica's answer made Godou surprised, when did she investigate to such detail?
"You're amazing... Even though I didn't see you investigate, how did you find out?"
"Because I already spent a lot of effort finding out yesterday, it's probably a deity from around Persia or India... It feels more like a Persian god, because there was something like a hawk or an eagle."
Sitting in the open air, Erica spoke as she looked bored.
"But for you to say those monsters will be instantly defeated, isn't that judgment too early to make?"
"No problem. Even though the incarnations know they will be vanquished, they are still compelled to follow the principal body -- so, end of conversation. I have to contact the local association, it will take some time. Do you understand?"
"Local? ...That's right, the secret associations between magi."
Godou was puzzled by the term association, but immediately recalled.
"Correct, this is the closest town to the Tharros ruins, so the chance of getting information is highest."
"Could it be, there's a god in those ruins?"
"That shouldn't happen. [Heretic Gods] usually avoid people, it is rare for them to stay in tourist spots. However, ancient holy lands and temples do hold some attraction for them. If the gods are near, the local mage associations should have noticed."
After this conversation, Erica left the pizza shop first.
When Godou suggested to make a phone call inquiry first, Erica explained that it was very impolite to make direct requests to local magi without meeting face to face.
It looked like there were all sorts of rules in the world of magi.
After that, Godou took a stroll in town to kill time.
Thinking carefully, it's been a while since he did something like a tourist, but there was no feeling of happiness. He had been meeting gods all along, and was now chasing after them.
--When Erica returned, the sun was already setting.
Without deciding on a time and place to meet up, she suddenly appeared out of nowhere, probably using that person finding magic she mentioned the day before.
"Coming here was right."
Those were Erica's first words.
"--Though it's not clear whether it's Melqart or the sword god, a [Heretic God] definitely descended near here. The local magi sensed the divine presence and are now panicking. Since I came here as a scout, I was able to obtain a lot of information."
"A god is coming again..."
Completely unable to hide his nervous tension, Godou's reaction made Erica show an expression that was hard to describe.
If you have something to say, just say it directly. This wasn't like her usual expression.
"What is it? You have some kind of worry?"
"Godou, may I ask... You're not going back to Japan?"
"Ah?" To the sudden question, Godou was taken aback. Up until now, weren't you the one who insisted dragging me along, this ordinary Japanese?
"It's already come to this, like a patient in advanced stages of the disease, how can I just quit in the middle?"
He was certain he would regret it if he returned to Japan without seeing things to the end. Angry that he had lost sight of the youth again yesterday, Godou replied immediately:
"At least, without confirming the status of that guy, I do not plan to return."
"That guy -- must be the boy, right? Even if you obsess over him, I don't think it will end well."
"...Not only the god, you even know about that guy?"
Erica answered the question with the same subtle expression just now.
In other words, she knew but did not wish to reveal the answer. This pessimism was unlike her.
"I know, but it's completely different from my initial expectations. But I think I understand the gist of it. I was worried it might come as blow to you, so I haven't told you."
Seeing Erica's expression, Godou realized he made a huge error.
He always thought she was an arrogant and self-centered narcissist, but she turned out to pay more attention to details than he imagined, and also had a thoughtful side to her.
Perhaps the reason why Erica didn't want to say more, was in consideration for Godou.
Realizing that, Godou fell silent.
...Thinking back, this was perhaps the earliest instant when the distance shrank between Kusanagi Godou and Erica Blandelli.
"However, personally, I have no opinion as long as the [Secret Tome of Prometheus] is here. Whether you carry it and tag along or give it to me and return to Japan, it doesn't matter to me. So if you are afraid, please return to your homeland, I won't stop you."
Perhaps Erica also noticed herself, the sense of dissonance resulting from her concern over Godou.
Her attitude became stiff, and she spoke rapidly.
Seeing such a reaction from her, Godou felt like laughing for the first time, so he immediately answered.
"Then it's decided. I will follow you to the end. Even if you say no, I will follow you, and probably bring you lots of trouble. Is that fine?"
"--Not fine, but whatever. From now on, you will continue to be responsible for my luggage. Be prepared!"
Seeing Erica act a little embarrassed, Godou nodded.
Thinking carefully, he had already spent three days travelling with her. It was pretty much time to make peace.
"Let me make this clear, all I need is this grimoire, don't misunderstand. To be honest, it's not like I need you at all. Understood?"
"Understood, carved into my heart."
Regarding the words mentioned by the youth about the [Secret Tome of Prometheus], all of it was reported completely.
After that, Erica carefully examined the grimoire dating from the era of the gods, manipulating it in various ways, but could only give up in the end. She still couldn't figure out how to use it.
The youth who could easily solve this problem that stumped the genius witch, who on earth could he be?
The faint light of the setting sun had become true darkness.
With Erica in the lead, and Godou following behind, the two of them were advancing in a dark forest.
"Wait up, it's so dark I can't even see beneath my feet, go slightly slower!"
"How useless. Such poor night vision, you didn't train enough?"
"Ordinary people do not have that kind of training! Don't use your set of rules to view the world!"
Advancing as they talked, the only sources of light were the stars in the sky and the moonlight in the dark night.
A forest at night which could not provide any artificial lighting.
With only a flashlight in one hand, Godou walked with difficulty, while Erica moved quickly and nimbly in contrast.
Without relying on artificial lighting, advancing swiftly into the depths of the forest, she could see in the dark as well as if it were day.
Taking a taxi north from Oristano, it took roughly an hour or so.
The Nuraghe sa Bastia was situated in a vast forest nearby.
There were the remains of many poorly preserved nuraghes and settlements. Though the area also contained a number of well-preserved specimens, but from the perspective of tourists, this place was not popular.
However, in spite of that--
Before the sun had completely set, the majestic forms of the nuraghes made for excellent scenery.
Green thriving forests, and ancient towers standing tall.
Nuraghes were comparatively tall structures on this island, towering enough to look down upon the tops of the tall trees. Even from outside the forest, one could catch glimpses of the structures skillfully built with stone.
"...But aren't these nuraghes built by the civilization before the Phoenicians arrived? Whether Melqart or the sword god, why would they hide here?"
"Perhaps attracted by the spiritual presence of the sacred land."
On the way, Erica replied to the question Godou asked due to boredom.
"The presence of nuraghes indicates the remains of an ancient settlement. These settlements were even more sacred than temples or tombs. Attracted by the spiritual presence of the land, there are often cases where [Heretic Gods] intrude upon the residences of unrelated gods."
"In other words, living in another god's territory was more comfortable than their own?"
As they chatted like this, they finally entered the area around the nuraghe.
An empty field in the depths of the forest, it looked like a plaza with great visibility.
Though obscured by the spreading weeds, the remnants of all sorts of stone crafted structures could be seen.
Now that it's mentioned, nuraghes also had rooms and staircases.
This civilization peaked at around the tenth century BCE.
At the time, it is incredible to think such large scale construction could be undertaken in such sparsely populated areas. Godou felt that on some level, this represented advanced techniques beyond modern construction technology. With his only light source being the bit of light from the flashlight in his hand, the feeling of regret was especially intensified.
At that moment, Godou suddenly felt a strong sense of chill.
--What was this?
There was an unbelievable feeling coming from a corner of the plaza.
His eyes were drawn to it.
There was only a large tree with a thick trunk, as well as a massive pile of stone from something that collapsed.
Hidden on the ground by these objects, was something like a cave.
Pointing his flashlight into the darkness, Godou focused his eyesight.
This was roughly triangular, there was a hole in the ground shaped like a triangle.
"What is that? There's a very unpleasant feeling, what is going on with me?"
Hearing Godou speak, Erica seemed to be mouthing to herself some kind of chant. She was probably using some kind of magic.
"...Godou, you're quite sharp, that must be the entrance to the temple. But..."
"I am currently using a spell to sense for magic. And it looks like my hunch is correct. Magical power with a slightly unique feeling is leaking out from there, he is probably there."
He was referring to a god, of course.
Erica stared at the silent Godou, and then spoke.
"After we have encountered those supernatural phenomenon several times, your senses towards the presence of gods seems to have become very sharp, like an animal, miko, or Shinto priest... What unexpected talent. However, by itself it can't be regarded as a useful talent -- who knows what may happen, wait for me here."
Leaving those words behind, Erica went forward.
Climbing over the stones, she jumped into the triangular hole.
Godou waited for a while, looked at the hole where Erica had disappeared, thought for a while and then finally with a cry of "damn it", followed after her.
...Within the hole were stairs leading down.
An underground temple.
For people that worshiped primitive nature, to think that they would possess such intricate buildings--
The knowledge and techniques of the ancients sometimes surpassed the average modern human. This was evidence before his eyes. Godou felt very touched, but he couldn't stand there for long.
The interior of the temple was also skillfully assembled with rocks, with the gaps filled in using small stones.
Using the flashlight to illuminate the ground near his feet, Godou advanced along the underground passage as quickly as he could.
Sardinia had a Mediterranean climate, so the air was basically quite dry. However, the air flowing underground was very humid. Could there be some kind of pool?
"Godou! Why did you follow me?"
After walking for a bit, a sudden voice came from in front.
Erica was staring with eyes as sharp as a sword, so it seems like Godou caught up to her without issue.
"You forgot that, the thing called Prometheus whatever."
"By the way... Since I still don't know how to use it, I forgot all about it. Rather than this unreliable tool, I believe it's more practical to rely on my own techniques."
Godou's improvised excuse, was immediately refuted by her.
I see, so that's why Lucretia was worried about her.
"The one who said there's a god here, wasn't that you? Is it fine to just go directly?"
"Even if it's a [Heretic God], eating humans on sight -- should be very rare. Unlike those divine beasts, they don't go around causing random destruction, so the danger isn't as high. I'm just going to slip in to investigate a bit and then come back. You don't have to worry."
"That's not how it goes, worrying is human nature..."
Hearing Erica's reply, Godou suddenly felt taken aback by his sudden decision to follow and disregard his own safety.
She did not say it was completely safe, but from her judgment, danger was not that high, so willing to bear that risk, she decided to enter this dangerous place alone.
Perhaps fully confident in her talent and skills, even though a little reckless, she believes she can handle things herself. From her actions so far, when the time comes to retreat, she will calmly retreat...
"Besides, you're the unbelievable one. An ordinary boy with clearly no combat ability, daring to enter this place. It is enough for you to carry the luggage obediently. Please don't make such decisions on your own!"
"Yes, well... Perhaps it's because of that."
"...Don't look at me like that. I am a man after all. Even if you tell me not to follow because it's dangerous, I can't agree obediently. How can I hide in a safe place and let a girl do something so dangerous alone. Perhaps it's a man's principles, I believe that's why I insist."
Ever since he came to this island, Godou has been frustrated by his impotence.
Erica was the genius witch with the title of knight.
Even someone as amazing as her had enemies that were deemed impossible to overcome... heretic gods.
The handsome youth who possessed incredible power and claimed amnesia.
In the midst of these people, Godou was only a minor side character. A role whose absence or presence was irrelevant. A powerless person without any influence over the final outcome of the entire incident.
Even so, when the status of the youth familiar to him was unknown, Godou wanted to search for him.
For the people who suffered from the tyranny of the gods, Godou wanted to offer his own efforts.
Seeing a girl fight alone by herself, he cannot back down. Without forcing himself too much, he had to protect her.
Spurred by these feelings and principles, Godou had come this far.
He also realized it was unbelievable, but stopping himself was a difficult thing, or perhaps, completely impossible.
"You are an idiot. A completely hopeless idiot -- you seemed a little smart on first glance, but how can you be this stupid? I am totally speechless."
Faced with Erica's mockery, Godou did not retort but simply continued:
"Also, if the sword god appears -- perhaps that guy will also appear? So I want to come along to find out what happened to him. If I don't confirm it with my own eyes, I will not return to Japan."
"Is this also part of a man's principles? What an idiot."
Just as you say. Faced with Godou's confession, Erica could not help but sigh deeply.
"Fine, whether the child or the sword god, if I'm with you, it will be safer for me. That child has fancied you..."
"Don't mind me, I'm just talking to myself -- fine, even if I send you back right now, you're going to return? Then follow me! But please don't get in my way!"
"Sorry, I've made trouble for you."
"Really! Let me declare beforehand, no matter what happens to you, I won't be responsible!"
The exasperated Erica began to grumble.
"Really! A man's principles whatever, just like that Genaro... I hate those kinds of ideals! I forbid you to mention them a second time!"
"Who is that? Sounds like someone I could get along with."
"My colleague, a Great Knight of the Copper Black Cross... Probably the one currently closest to achieving the title of [Diavolo Rosso]. The reason why I came to this island, was to prevent that honor from falling in the hands of that unrefined man!"
Having spoken in hateful tones, Erica turned her sharp gaze to Godou.
"To think you would be such a troublesome boy, I am completely surprised. Whoever becomes your future lover or wife will definitely have a life of hardship, oh how I pity her."
"W-Why are you suddenly talking about that kind of thing?"
Every male in the history of the Kusanagi family, had been legendary with the uncanny ability to make women cry broken-hearted.
Godou had always prided himself on the fact that he was not that type of man. Why did this strange witch have to mock him in that particular way?
Anyway, the two of them continued towards the depths of the temple.
The passage stretched longer than imagined, and they had been walking for ten minutes or so. Along the way, there were quite a few forks in the road, but Erica used spells to sense and guide them, so they didn't get lost.
And then, the two of them finally encountered.
A true god. True might. True power personified -- a [Heretic God].
"Humans fated to die. So, how long has it been for me, since I last met existences like you, face to face?"
His extremely low voice sounded like a roar from deep underground.
Like thunder, the sound was very thick and heavy.
"This little island was once part of my territory, but has now been taken and devastated by unknown people. Though I have left the earth for a very long time, thinking about what is happening on the surface pains me so... My apologies, to speak such words to you, please regard it as an old fool grumbling to himself."
Flowing in the depths of the subterranean temple was an underground spring.
The stone passage ended abruptly, and soil could be seen everywhere.
For a nation that worshiped [Water] as a sacred existence, this spring was probably the divine body that they made sacrifices to.
He was located on the bank of the spring.
A giant man in his prime, sitting on the altar at the water's edge.
Hair that probably had never been cut, as well as a beard that covered the entire lower half of his face. These gave an extremely strong first impression. He had a very wild appearance, and his height was easily over two meters.
It was the first time for Godou to see such a solid and muscular body.
Usually, with that kind of height, a person would look rather thin, but he was different. Given those massive bulging muscles, simply looking at him felt very oppressive.
His body was so spectacular, strong, and sacred.
Clearly wearing very coarse attire -- dirty rags and a leather cuirass on his chest, as well as a tattered cape over his body, but there was a sense of awe and majesty.
Just facing him face to face made one want to bow their head and kneel.
"Letting you see my unsightly body, my apologies. You can understand from the sight, right? I am currently heavily injured, and treating my wounds, waiting for my body to be filled with power once again."
It was as he described.
Upon those solid pectoral muscles, a golden sword was deeply embedded.
However, the body of the blade was snapped, leaving no hilt behind. What remained was probably two thirds of the original length.
"So, do you know my name? Must I introduce my name and title? Or do you people find the names of ancient kings unimportant? Come, answer me."
The giant was questioning them with a voice carrying laughter.
Open and uninhibited, it was a voice full of humor. However, were he to be displeased, it would not be surprising to find it violently out of control -- the voice was like the calm before a storm.
The meaning of his words were not lost, even on an ordinary person like Godou.
Based on the characteristics he had heard previously, the figure before him matched completely.
"Please allow me to speak. Your royal name is Melqart -- if I am not mistaken."
The one who answered was Erica.
Afraid. The self-centered, unrelenting beauty was afraid!
Her trembling could be heard from her voice. The slight fear appearing on her beautiful face made Godou certain.
This could not be helped. Next to her, Godou had been shivering all along. It was too terrifying, the giant before them -- the [Heretic God] Melqart was too terrifying!
This was a real king.
King of kings, king of gods.
Ruling the sky, possessing the right to destroy the world and all humans, he was the one with absolute authority. For the first time in his life of fifteen years, Godou truly experienced what the word [King] meant.
"Yes! I am Melqart. I also like the name Baal. Baal Hadad also sounds nice. But on this island, I should be called Melqart, hahahahaha!"
The king's laughter shook the underground temple.
This was no metaphor. Like a real earthquake, the ground shook, the walls shook, and so did the ceiling.
Waves were created in the spring water, splashing about, while Godou felt a shock on his skin as if electrified.
"So, little ones who don't even know the manners for a king, let me task you with a mission. Hurry back to the surface, and toil for the revival of the ancient king. Tell the people that Melqart is furious over the insignificant rats that have infested his territory. This little island, I will smash with my very arms and cast into the sea -- you will warn the others thus!"
"Cast the island... into the bottom of the sea...?"
The sudden declaration made Godou speechless.
A divine king's decree could not be a lie. Though had had no evidence, Godou believed so.
"Correct, children who cannot escape the fate of death! When your own toys are covered in mud, surely you will do the same? Yes, wash the dirt away with water. I will use water to cleanse my land of this maggot infestation. Understood?"
I don't understand. How can I understand such twisted logic?
However, against the voice of the god declaring divine punishment, Godou was unable to object and could only tremble on the side.
Erica beside him was the same, though her expression was dark, she dared not retort against the god's outrageous decision, without even a hint of resistance in her eyes. Godou would never expect to see her with such an expression.
Godou was overcome with sadness and pity.
For this proud girl to show such an expression of despair, he did not want to see it!
Godou clenched his teeth, the will to resist showing on his face.
"So -- I am currently in the middle of a battle against a troublesome foe. If you little children were able to sneak into this hole, that's not a very good sign."
Melqart laughed lightly.
To call the normal Godou and the witch Erica "little children," he was clearly looking down on them.
Perhaps it was all the same to him, just like compared to the brilliant sun in the sky, a first class star shining in the night was no different from a sixth class star.
"In order to prepare for the duel, I must sleep to recover my wounds. I have also cast a spell to prevent sneak attacks during my slumber, so you two better leave. Understood?"
Melqart laid himself down on a rock.
The action was crude and without thought. Whether this was a cave or out in the wilderness, or on silken bedding, this uninhibited sleeping posture like a savage was probably what he used on all occasions. His fortitude could be seen from this act.
--Scratch, scratch, scratch, scratch, scratch.
As soon as Melqart fell asleep, Godou and Erica heard strange noises.
Looking downwards at the source of the noise -- the two were speechless.
Before they knew it, swarms of locusts had appeared on the stony ground beneath their feet. These tiny pests arrived in great numbers. Probably hundreds, thousands, tens of thousands, no, much more than that. An uncountable number of locusts were restless and ready to move.
Disgust and fear instinctively filled Godou's heart.
This was a completely different kind of terror compared to Melqart's tyranny.
The locusts were approaching, jumping all around, and some were even spreading their wings to fly in the air.
Godou and Erica looked at each other simultaneously.
Exchanging glances, nothing needed to be said. Their minds thought alike, let's get out of here quickly from the way we came.
Paying attention to their surroundings, they dashed towards the exit as fast as they could.
In order not to be caught by the army of locusts pursuing them, the two ran at full speed without letting down their guard for a single moment, escaping hand in hand.
Finally escaped from the underground temple, the two were panting heavily.
Looking back at the triangular entrance, several dozens of locusts were crawling and jumping about, or just lying there.
"W-What was that? S-So disgusting..."
"L-Locusts are the servants of Melqart. He is the god of storms, and also the god of the sea, god of the sun, and the god ruling over harvests and extinguished life... C-Consuming crops and causing widespread devastation to the land, locusts are also a symbol of his authority."
"S-Something like that, i-isn't that more like a demon's messenger!"
"M-Most demons used ancient gods like Baal or Melqart as their prototypes. R-Religions that developed later, demoted them to demons and passed along those stories, producing the current result... Y-You know? The demon, Lord of the Flies is based on Baal's other name, Beelzebub..."
Though they were still panting, Godou and Erica continued to converse.
For a great period of time, both of them did not even have the strength to stand, and simply let time pass.
The Nuraghe sa Bastia.
The forest surrounding these ruins.
The constellations of Italian spring twinkled quietly in the night sky.
During this time, the escaped genius witch and the former baseball youth met with setback, the two of them were leaning back to back, without seeing each other's face, tightly together.
Their heavy breathing had returned to normal, but even so, due to the sweat, the night breeze felt chilly and the two of them did not stand up.
"...That was amazing, I think I definitely cannot resist that god."
"...Same here, seeing those divine beasts have made me lower my guard. The [Heretic Gods] who stand at the true summit, I never expected such presence."
Through their backs pressed together, Godou could feel Erica's warmth.
Most likely she could also feel Godou's warmth the same way.
...In the end, the two of them were too naive. A true [Heretic God], the dominating power of the highest ranked gods, neither of them understood until now!
The presence and oppressiveness which utterly shattered a man's principles and a genius witch's pride.
Simply facing him caused all resistance to be blown away. Afterwards Godou thought, to have faced him without bursting into tears was already very brave.
"...So, what are you planning next, are you still going to investigate?"
"...What are you joking! Facing that kind of thing is impossible! If Melqart was in a bad mood, we surely would not have survived!"
Finally breathing smoothly, Godou turned his body around towards Erica.
But she replied to Godou anxiously, then remained silent as if displeased.
After that, the two of them sat on the ground for another ten minutes or so, simply staring at nothing.
The two were silent, and tried to avoid eye contact.
Particularly Erica, she hid her face behind her knees, clearly trying to ignore Godou.
This was the result of two people taking an optimistic attitude based on their capability and principles. Unworthy humans who underestimated a god, there were no grounds for complaint about the result.
All in all, it was very shocking.
Godou thought back to the embarrassment just now, and felt troubled.
Even though he prided in his competitive personality, he simply ran away just now. Clearly he dared to face the divine beasts at Dorgali despite his lack of power, but this time it didn't work.
What Erica had called divine beasts, as well as a true [Heretic God].
The two were on completely different levels. Absolute failure, complete and utter defeat.
Humiliation, impotence, and anger at himself.
Many intense feelings surfaced in his heart.
Even so -- Godou renewed his thoughts as he watched the girl before him.
The impact she suffered, in terms of quality and quantity, must be on an entirely different level.
No matter what, Kusanagi Godou was just an ordinary person. No matter how he forced himself, he cannot defeat a god, it was just a setback, that's it.
But Erica was the one called the genius witch.
Even someone as talented as her, when faced with a god, ended up in the same state of terror as a commoner like Godou and ran for her life in panic. The shock she received could not be compared to his.
Godou gazed upon Erica as she wallowed in despair, refusing to look up.
The proud and headstrong girl was now burying her peerlessly magnificent face in her knees.
Godou knew from his experience in the past, battling alongside or against those with genius talent.
Currently, the root of Erica's 'magnificence' -- her absolute confidence in her talent, capability and achievements was lost. Encountering such an event, a genius was still just an ordinary human.
If possible, Godou did not wish to see her like now.
Actually these were words that Godou would never speak out... even if his mouth would be ripped apart. Even though he had quarreled with her all this time, his heart had already been completely taken by the beauty of Erica Blandelli.
Godou took a deep breath.
If even himself, the less affected one, continued to despair, then all they could do was wait for their deaths.
It was now a situation where the seventh inning had ended and the first half of the eighth was beginning.
As long as a homerun is hit with the bases all loaded, there was still a chance, and the former catcher and fourth hitter was not going to stay quiet like that.
"I... was playing baseball all along up until half a year ago."
Godou tried to speak in a cheerful manner.
"Though I am not very talented, I did practice with great effort, and gradually became one of the starters in a fairly high-ranked team. I was also picked in things like the Tokyo selection, etc... But gave up due to a shoulder injury."
"Your past is unexpected... Although I wouldn't think you were just a regular person from your stamina."
Her head still down, Erica's expression could not be seen.
But at least she responded, though her voice lacked strength, it was not a bad start.
"There were also many practice matches. Once, we were facing against a very strong high school baseball club in a match. We were only a middle school team. In other words, our opponents were restructuring their team and wanted to have a match with a weaker team."
"...In the world of sports, that's common, right?"
"True, but during middle school, ours was one of the top teams in Tokyo, so we went all out for the sake of our dignity... Though in the end we lost nine to two."
"...Completely expected from the two team's abilities."
"No, that's what it looks like, but the two points were scored all at once in the final inning, redeeming ourselves. It was a great match where we put in all our effort."
The batter who hit a double in the final inning, and scored two points was Godou, but he didn't mention it.
"So... What are you trying to say?"
"Ah yes, that's to say, even if we're losing we have to take back two points. That's the rough idea. So yeah, let's try harassing them for a little while..."
"...Godou, you're really terrible at speaking, time to shut up!"
Erica finally lifted her face.
Showing a deep frown that suited her good and proper beauty, this angry expression had great presence.
"...You can't be comparing an encounter with the king of gods, to a middle school student's extracurricular activities, right? If that's the case, you are so ridiculous I don't even know what to say!"
"Yes, is that so? But then, the determination required should be the same --"
"How can it be the same?!"
Unlike the time facing Melqart, this was now the beautiful face of anger.
Godou breathed in relief, compared to her disheartened look, anger suited her much better. As long as she didn't act like this all the time, treating him as an idiot.
"Really! And to think you would say something nice, so I listened quietly! Too disappointing. No talent, cannot speak, there's not even any value to rate!"
Uh, I didn't expect to be criticized that much.
"Umm, yes I really don't have a way with words, but do you really have to describe me that way?"
"So annoying, if your job is to carry the luggage, then act like it. Just shut up and follow me!"
Erica picked up Godou's backpack from the ground.
And then she violently threw it at Godou.
Skillfully catching his own backpack, Godou smiled.
"Yes, fine, as long as you pull yourself together, telling you those things was worth it."
"You're saying pull myself together? I always thought you were an idiot, but I never knew you were an idiot, first class. Could you be saying that I was feeling down?"
Though Erica's words were full of anger, Godou did not change his tone of voice.
"There's nothing to hide, right? It was a god, the opponent was too strong. Besides, weren't you bowing down your head, looking very depressed just now?"
"That kind of judgment is unforgivable stupidity... That was -- fine, I was simply watching the ground, no other special meaning. Please do not rudely speculate."
This reason was too contrived.
Though her ability to deny was still skillful, but this explanation was way too forced. Even someone as strong as Erica could not find any good explanation for the way she acted just now.
Shrugging his shoulders, Godou smiled wryly, feeling that she was very cute.
Probably realizing her reason was very contrived, Erica's face went red.
"And that's that, about my actions being affected by you, please do not have any weird misunderstandings... However, for those very incompetent words of comfort, I will reward you one day. Though you have no gift with words, given that you have made the effort, you will be compensated with equal value. I, Erica Blandelli, will absolutely not be stingy in this regard."
"I know I know. So, I will look forward to your reward."
Faced with the smooth and relaxed Godou, Erica could not continue to argue.
Nodding lightly, her face was still slightly red. Those unsightly behaviors that did not suit her, made her shyly shift her gaze away from Godou.
--But in the next instant, Erica suddenly stared towards the depths of the forest.
After less than ten seconds, she suddenly held out her hand.
"Godou, give me water. Quick."
"Why do you suddenly want water? Here you go."
Godou took out the plastic bottle of mineral water from his backpack and handed it to her.
Pouring the water on ground, Erica then pointed an index finger towards the pool of water, chanting lightly.
Watching the pool of water stir, Godou was very surprised.
Revealed was a stallion with white fur.
Compared to the familiar race horses in horseracing, its body was much strongly built, the four legs much thicker. Rather than a race horse, a war horse would be a better description.
"I say... This is not an ordinary horse, right?"
"Right, just now I felt strong magic gathering outside the forest. So I tried a far sight spell--"
Erica quietly replied to Godou's seeking confirmation.
"An incarnation split from the sword god?"
"Of course... I've already decided, what are you planning to do?"
Go over, or escape.
Even unspoken, he understood what Erica wanted to express.
"Though I understand well that my stubbornness cannot change anything, I am not someone who changes his mind so easily."
Godou exhaled as he spoke. And then Erica laughed as if mocking a fool.
"Fine, then follow behind me. This is not to protect you, but to let you witness me in action at close range, not bad right?"
"Hey... calling others idiot repeatedly, you're not that smart either."
"Please call this unrelenting fighting spirit. Listen carefully, the protagonist fails once but still stands up again and takes the final glory. Isn't that the required cliché?"
Bantering thus, Godou and Erica walked together.
With Erica in the lead, and Godou following, they set off towards the outside of the forest.
Forcing himself to advance through a forest at night with nothing but a flashlight and the moon, it was an ordeal for an ordinary person like Godou. After an hour or so, they finally left the forest.
It was near the outskirts of the forest.
More precisely, there seemed to be the approaching sound of a massive object crushing trees as it advanced.
The divine beast seen just now through the far sight spell, finally began to rampage.
Godou and Erica exchanged glances and nodded simultaneously. The next part was not going to be that simple, and they confirmed each other's determination.
And then out of the lush forest, he appeared at that instant.
"Greetings, boy and the witch. Strolling in such a place."
Black hair reaching the shoulders, the handsome youth with the narrow face.
His eyes looked as if they could see the future, and he showed a classic and elegant smile like a Buddha statue of Maitreya Bodhisattva.
The youth Godou had met twice, at Cagliari and Dorgali.
"I must warn thee, thou art only mortal, dost not interfere in the war amongst our kind. To that witch there as well. Thou hast learnt the basics of magic, but thy power is vastly dwarfed by ours. The path of humans and gods can never cross."
No, Godou felt something wasn't right.
Compared to the youth he saw before, there was a decisive difference.
Slender and not very tall, yet somehow there was a powerful presence.
A delicate face like Maitreya Bodhisattva. However this made one feel that he was an inhuman existence impossible to understand.
This was not a human face, only made in the image of man, so it was a work of art more beautiful than any human.
--Right, why did I not notice until now?
The force felt from that delicate body, and the divine presence inhabiting that handsome face.
Though their appearances were completely different, he and Melqart had the same atmosphere.
Godou cursed his own stupidity, for how could someone so out of the ordinary be a normal person?
Having encountered Melqart, Godou suddenly understood.
He was a god.
The other [Heretic God], was now standing before his eyes.
"Will you grace the unworthy with your name, undefeated god of the east?"
Suddenly Erica knelt down, bowing her head in respect.
Looking down at her, the youth -- correction, the youth god showed what was clearly a wry smile.
"Unnecessary. Thou hast discerned my true identity so quickly, clever girl!"
Then he narrowed his eyes and happily cast his gaze towards the depths of the forest.
"King Melqart, hideth in such a place... Casting a barrier, he seemeth very wary of me. Hohoho, excellent, that fellow must be injured, but I too, am injured. Let us both rest our bodies, and the one who recovereth fastest will have the advantage."
"As expected, it was you who injured the god Melqart --"
Erica asked respectfully.
Her expression was still stiff, but compared to when she met Melqart just now, much more calm.
This was the second encounter with a true god, and she was showing clear growth from her last experience.
"Correct, and the result was mutual defeat. I was heavily injured and lost over half my divine power. See, all the beasts rampaging over the island, divine power scattered from my body obtained life, and became divine beasts. All save one, hath been vanquished and returned to my body. Hoho, the time I met thee, was when I had recovered half, and feeling tired, I wanted to play around for a while."
On the other hand, Kusanagi Godou --
Was troubled. The appearance was clearly identical to the youth. However, it was definitely not him.
"...Who are you? I already know you are a god, but how should I put it, that -- you are definitely not the guy who I was with?"
"Yes, thou art a boy with excellent instincts. True, I am no longer the same as that past self."
A very aloof attitude, and a smile like a god looking down upon life on earth from above. Godou became increasingly certain.
Though very proud, that guy would never look down at Godou in this way.
"So, the game on this island is about to end. Letting King Melqart awaken was worth it, to fight that king, let us determine a victor this time."
"--Letting him awaken?"
Godou frowned at those words he couldn't ignore.
"Yes, I am the [Heretic God] whose essence is the battle for victory. As long as I desire an opponent, wanting an enemy to battle against me, an appropriate adversary will appear. I came to this island because of the intertwined fates of this land and my strongest opponent yet."
I, have long sought defeat.
The youth god smiled as he muttered to himself.
"Like so, whenever I come to an island where a powerful enemy lieth sleeping, I would chant -- pray grant me defeat, grant me a strong enemy, grant me a true battle! Thus, there is no choice but to fight King Melqart, rather, I should say it is wonderful."
This youth was the culprit behind the entire incident.
Knowing this, Godou held his breath, this was the fact that Erica found difficult to reveal.
"Pardon my honesty. You belong to the faction of the light, a protector god of justice and the people. I believe this act of violence is inappropriate. Please return to the path of righteousness."
Erica's pleas were like those of a high ranking official advising a king.
But the youth remained smiling like the rosy clouds of dawn, and shook his head.
"A pity, but I cannot do that. Didst thou forget? I am now in the midst of rebelling. True, I was once a protector of light and justice -- but in my current state, I am the rebelling god of conflict. Hohoho, boy, the time we played together, it was really interesting."
The youth narrowed his eyes, staring straight at Godou.
"Not long before, my divine characteristics had all but vanished, so the [Heretic God]'s presence was very weak, a different existence compared to my original self. However, now that the majority of divine power hath been retrieved, it is completely different, I have recovered my original self. I am now the heretic god of war!"
Definitely different from before.
Grander than before, stronger than before, more sacred than before, inhuman -- a completely different person. And to have done so many unreasonable things, especially with full awareness.
This was a [Heretic God], a god that resisted the myths created by mankind.
Godou finally understood the meaning it held.
"Hoho, I seem to have spoken too much. That [White Stallion], hath become impatient."
The gigantic beast wrecking the green forest was approaching.
The intruder advancing like a bulldozer, was of course, the [White Stallion].
Its furry hide bathed under the moonlight, gave off a white glow. Thanks to the [White Stallion], Godou could clearly see the surroundings despite his poor night vision.
"Haha, good boy! Coming to offer power for my return!"
The youth's figure vanished.
The handsome body like a delicately crafted statue of a deity had disappeared, turning into a gust of wind.
--A tornado! Godou immediately realized, the sacred wind that he saw twice, that blew the divine beasts into the air. This was one of the youth's divine powers.
Very soon, the gust of wind formed a vortex and became a tornado.
He had to stop him quickly, that youth -- though their time together was short, but Godou felt he was obliged to stop the god whom he considered his friend. But what could he do, Kusanagi Godou was just a powerless fifteen-year-old mortal. What should be done!?
Erica cried out at this time.
"Godou! Kusanagi Godou! The [Secret Tome of Prometheus] is gathering powerful magic!"
The first time she called out his full name.
However, rather than noticing that, Godou even more quickly reached his hand into his backpack, and took out the stone tablet.
Thinking carefully, this was nothing worth worrying about. Kusanagi Godou's power, technique, knowledge, none of them could ever surpass a god.
Even if there was something that could, it was what the youth called the stone tablet to "steal god's power."
But something that the genius witch Erica could not use, could Godou use it after all?
Not just a figure of speech, but when his hand grabbed the stone tablet, Godou felt scorching heat, as if he had put his hand into a fire.
Enduring the high temperature, he maintained his grip and the stone tablet suddenly gave off light.
Taking the carving of the man on the stone tablet -- most likely a depiction of Prometheus, and aiming towards the tornado and [White Stallion]. These actions were done subconsciously.
In that instant, the grimoire from the age of the gods spewed out blue flames.
"Eh -- I... I used it successfully... right?"
Even Godou himself was doubtful, and motionlessly stared at the flames.
The tornado transformed from the youth immediately evaded the flames.
But the flames surrounded the strong and vigorous body of the [White Stallion], successfully devouring it. After burning for ten-odd seconds, it disappeared immediately.
Along with the flames, the tall and massive body of the [White Stallion] also vanished without trace.
The result was, over a process of roughly thirty seconds, the blue flames and the [White Stallion] disappeared from the ground.
At the same time, the weight of the [Secret Tome of Prometheus] had increased. The heat Godou had been enduring also stabilized, becoming a gentle warmth.
Suddenly, the image of the sun's brilliance and white flames entered Godou's mind.
Could this be the divine power possessed by the [White Stallion], why would a white horse be related to the sun?
"...Hmm, thou hast figured out how to use this piece of stone? A little troublesome."
The wind swirled back, forming the figure of the youth god in its center.
"Fine, losing just one incarnation will hardly affect me -- my divine power hath mostly been retrieved... Boy, thou shouldst be punished for opposing a god, but for the sake of our brief friendship, I shall forgive thee once."
The youth showed a smile.
Not the ancient and elegant smile, but the joyful and resolute grin of seeing a new interloper.
"Let me remind thee, there is no second time. If thou usest this stone to obstruct me, I shall reward thee accordingly next time. Thou mayst be excused!"
Having said this, it meant that he would not give Godou or Erica any further warnings.
Looking straight into the depths of the forest, he advanced with a powerful pace.
However, at that instant --
The tree trunks suddenly swayed, and the trees in the forest fell down one by one, blocking the path of the youth god's advance.
With originally no road leading to the depths of the forest, it was now even harder to get there.
From the palm of the youth god, lightning was suddenly released.
Under normal conditions, his single attack should have burned a tree to ash.
But the tree was completely unharmed. The tree barrier that blocked entry into the forest, did not show a single trace of being burnt, and continued to bar the way.
"King Melqart's barrier, looketh like he is very wary of me. Without any preparation, impossible to barge right in."
The youth god smiled wryly and began to yell at the depths of the forest.
"Fine, ancient king! I shall wait for thee until dawn! Once I store enough power to slice through thy city walls, I shall return!"
Finishing the strong declaration of war, his form dissipated.
Transforming into strong wind in the air.
The last Godou heard was the youth's loud laughter of "hahahahaha!"
Translator's Notes and References
- inning: an inning in baseball consists of six outs, three for each team. A regulation game consists of nine innings.
- Maitreya: a bodhisattva prophesied to appear on Earth, achieve complete enlightenment, and teach the pure dharma, according to Buddhist tradition.
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