In the nighttime, the light from the faraway fire dully illuminates the Vice Principal’s room.
In that dim room, there is a figure moving around.
The figure pulls out several books from the bookshelves, and throws them to the ground and sets them on fire.
The small fire is fed more and more books, until it grows to the point where the room is brightly lit.
The now illuminated figure is revealed to be a thin, black-clad man.
“What are you doing in such an outfit…… Vice Principal Ruslan?”
The thin figure shivers. He thought he had been alone in the room, but without him noticing, he apparently has company in the form of a teenage boy.
The boy is sitting on the sofa, legs crossed, calmly reading a book.
He is a black-haired boy with a face that can be found anywhere. However, the boy is not sparing even a glance for the man in black nor the spreading fire, focused only on his rather thick book. The sound of him turning a page seems unnaturally loud.
“So, you noticed.”
So says the man in black. Then he takes off his mask, revealing the face of a middle-aged man. With his salt-and-pepper hair in an swept back style, he is undoubtedly Vice Principal Ruslan.
Ruslan throws his mask into the fire, then takes off his black costume and throws that in too.
The room becomes brighter by a notch.
“Just for reference’s sake, can you tell me how you figured it out, Sid Kagenou-kun?”
Ruslan sits down on the other sofa facing Sid’s.
“I could tell with a look.”
Sid gives Ruslan a glance, then returns to his book.
“A look, you say. Then perhaps it was my stride, or my posture…… well either way, you have a very sharp eye.”
Ruslan studies Sid, while Sid continues reading his book.
The shadows of the two of them generated by the fire flicker and shift.
“For reference’s sake, can I also ask you something?”
So asks Sid while still keeping his eyes on his book.
Ruslan wordlessly prompts him to proceed.
“Why are you doing this? I didn’t really peg you as having this kind of hobby.”
“‘Why,’ huh…… The story is going to have to go quite a while back.”
So murmurs Ruslan as he crosses his arms.
“Long ago, I had stood at the pinnacle. It was before you were even born.”
“I’ve heard of you taking the championship at the Festival of the God of War.”
“The Festival is a far cry from the pinnacle. The real pinnacle is a lot farther down the road. Though I don’t think you would get it even if I told you.”
Ruslan laughs. There is no scorn there, only an indistinct sense of weariness.
“Right after I reached the pinnacle, I became ill, which forced me to step back down. After all my effort clawing my way up, my glory lasted only for the briefest of moments. Then I had to focus on searching for a method to heal myself, until finally I saw the possibility for it in an artifact researcher named Luclaire.”
“Is this story going to be long?”
“A bit, yes. So, Luclaire was Sherry’s mother. She was far too smart, such that she was hated by the entire academic world at large. However, her knowledge and ability as a researcher was arguably the top in the world, so she was in a position very convenient for me. Thus I decided to support her research, and we managed to gather many artifacts.
Luclaire would research the artifacts, then I would use her results. She had no interest in wealth nor fame, so we had a good relationship. Then one day, I came upon the Eye of Avarice. It is the artifact that I had been searching for this entire time.
But Luclaire…… that silly woman, she called the Eye of Avarice ‘dangerous’ and tried to apply to the country to take custody of it. That’s why I had to kill her. I started stabbing her from her extremities, then gradually worked my way inwards
Sid closes his eyes to listen, with his book still open.
“So I managed to keep in Eye of Avarice, but the research was not yet complete. However, I quickly found another convenient researcher – Luclaire’s daughter, Sherry. She did not know anything, did not doubt anything, and merely devoted herself to me. All while remaining ignorant of the fact that I’m the one who ripped her mother from her. My sweet, sweet, foolish stepdaughter.
Thanks to the efforts of mother and child, the research on the Eye of Avarice was eventually completed. All that was left was to prepare a stage for absorbing magic and find a convenient scapegoat. And today…… is the best day of my life, the day when my dream shall finally be achieved.”
Ku ku ku, laughs Ruslan.
“So how was it, did it make for a good reference?”
Sid opens his eyes at Ruslan’s question.
“Alright, I get the general gist of it now. But…… there’s just one thing that I want to confirm.”
“Is it really true that you killed Sherry’s mother and are only using Sherry?”
Sid takes his eyes off his book and looks straight at Ruslan.
“Of course it is true. What, are you mad, Sid-kun?”
“I wonder…… Actually, I am someone who very clearly differentiates between things that are important to me, and things that are not.”
Sid casts his eyes down slightly.
“May I ask why?”
“To not be distracted, I think. I have something that I really want to achieve, and that something is extremely far away. That’s why I kept on whittling.”
“As most people live on, things that they deem important grow in proportion. They make friends, find a spouse, get a job…… in that way, it grows. But I did the opposite. I kept on cutting things off as I lived on. Don’t need this, don’t need that, like that. In that way, after whittling myself down to the very core, I finally determined that which is truly important to me. Now I live only for the sake of that single, tiny thing, so I don’t really care much about everything else.”
Sid closes his book with an audible snap. He stands up, then throws the book into the fire.
“So you mean that you don’t care at all about the foolish mother and daughter pair?”
“Not exactly. I said that I don’t really care, not that I don’t care at all. Right now, I feel a little…… chafed, I suppose.”
Then Sid draws the sword on his waist.
“It’s about time we get started. I have a feeling that we will get interrupted if we take too long.”
“Good idea. Well then, I guess it’s time for us to part.”
Ruslan stands up and also draws his sword.
The two white blades glitter in the light of the fire, and the outcome is decided in an instant.
Ruslan’s sword pierces Sid’s chest, sending fresh blood flying.
Sid’s body crashes through the room’s door from the momentum of the attack, straight into the now burning hallway. The boy’s body is immediately swallowed by the crimson flames, disappearing from sight.
“Farewell, young man.”
Ruslan sheaths his sword. The fire from the hallway is beginning to invade his room, its might growing with every passing minute. But the moment Ruslan turns his heels and is about to leave……
“Where are you going?”
A voice that sounds like a reverberation from the depths of the earth reaches him. When Ruslan turns around, he sees a man in jet black standing there.
His face is covered with a magician’s mask, and the hood of his longcoat is pulled forward deeply, but that coat is now burning with red flames. However, the man shows no sign of it bothering him at all, only silently drawing his jet black blade.
Ruslan raises his own sword.
“I am Shadow, he who lurks in the shadows and hunts the shadows……”
“So you are that Shadow bastard……”
Ruslan, who is holding his white blade up, faces off against Shadow, who is carelessly dangling his jet black blade.
After staring at each other for a while, it is Ruslan who first stands down.
“I see, you are strong indeed.”
“I, too, am someone who lived by the sword. Just by facing off, I can get at least a general read on my opponent. The current me is no match against you. So I’ll have to go full strength from the start.”
Ruslan takes a red lozenge out of his chest pocket and swallows it. Then he also takes out the Eye of Avarice and its controller.
“The Eye of Avarice reveals its true worth only when the two parts are combined. Like this.”
With a click, the two are joined together.
Abruptly, the two pieces release a brilliant white light, amidst which letters of the ancient language can be seen bursting out.
A spiral of ancient letters whirls around the room. Laughing maniacally, Ruslan pushes the artifact against his own chest.
“Right here and now, I shall be reborn!!”
The artifact sinks into Ruslan’s chest.
As if it is sinking into water, the artifact phases through both his clothes and his flesh.
Ruslan furiously scratches his chest while roaring at the top of his voice.
The ancient letters converge on Ruslan, carving themselves onto his body.
The white light grows increasingly brighter, until it dyes the room pure white.
After the light subsides, there is Ruslan, on one knee.
He slowly stands up, as white smoke rises from his body. When he raises his face, it can be seen that there are tiny, shining letters branded onto his face, looking like a tattoo.
“Yes…… this is the feeling…… power, I feel the power coursing through me…… I AM HEALED……!!”
Magic blows in violent torrents emanating from Ruslan, causing the flames to bend back.
A second glance reveals that the glowing letters are not only on his face, but also on his neck and hands.
“Do you understand it, the feeling of this raging power! This magic that supersedes all humanly limits!!”
Then Ruslan begins to laugh.
“Firstly, I will now try it on you.”
The next instant, he reappears behind Shadow, his sword already in the midst of a mowing attack..
A high-pitched clang rings out, and the air surrounding the two of them is blown away.
“Hou, good job blocking that.”
Shadow is just standing there, his back still to Ruslan. Only his jet black sword is behind him, blocking Ruslan’s sword.
Ruslan pours more strength into his sword, but Shadow’s doesn’t even tremble.
“It seems that I had underestimated you a little. How about this then?”
Ruslan disappears once more.
This time, the high-pitched clanging rings out several times in quick succession.
Every time the sound is heard, it can be seen that Shadow’s sword had changed positions slightly. Just the barest of movements, the bare minimum movement required to perfectly block each incoming attack.
After the fourth clang, Ruslan reappears in front of Shadow.
“To think that you could block even those. Very well, I shall acknowledge your strength.”
Then he looks at Shadow with a smile full of confidence.
“In respect of that strength, I shall also get serious.”
Ruslan’s stance changes.
He raises his sword overhead, and begins gathering an enormous amount of magic. With blindingly white light, his sword becomes the eye of a whirlpool of magic.
“You may boast in the next life of having made me get serious.”
His attack hurtles towards Shadow with incredible strength and speed.
Even that is easily parried by the jet black blade.
Sparks jump due to the clash.
“You can handle even that?!”
“Don’t tell me…… this is all you’re capable of?”
The two of them glare at each other in close proximity.
“Guh…… No, it has only just begun!”
Ruslan’s sword accelerates.
Its afterimages paint exquisite arcs in the air as it dances furiously.
The white sword flashes out in attack after attack to the accompaniment of Ruslan’s roar, but everything is repelled by the jet black sword.
The white slashes clash with the jet black blade repeatedly, filling the air with sparks and the almost unceasing sound of metal on metal.
Like some sort of brutal and barbaric music, the sounds ring on, adding a new dimension to the burning night.
But eventually, it draws to a close.
After one last swing of the jet black blade, Ruslan is sent flying. His body crashes into his desk before rolling to the ground.
“Guh…… h-, how can this be……!”
Suppressing the pain running throughout his whole body, Ruslan slowly stands up. His wounds heal at a visible rate, but the light of the ancient letters on his skin dim in proportion.
“To think that it would be such a tough battle. Kuku, you really are something indeed. But regardless of how strong you may be, you are already finished.”
“Finished, you say?”
“Hah, I’ve already made all the necessary preparations so that this entire incident would be blamed on you and your Shadow Garden. Evidence, witnesses, I’ve got it all. It doesn’t matter how great you are at fighting, it won’t do you even a whit of good.”
Ruslan laughs. His twisted countenance closely observes Shadow to see his reaction.
However, Shadow also laughs. Emanating from behind his mask, it is a low, low laugh that pours out.
“Wh-, what are you laughing at……”
“You. To think that you would call something on that level ‘the end.’ Oh, you fool.”
“You’re just being a poor loser.”
So says Ruslan, the smile gone from his face.
Shadow shakes his head. Condescendingly, even, as if he is mocking Ruslan for his failure to understand.
“From the very start, our path has never been that of the just. But neither is it the path of the wicked. We are those who simply walk our own path.”
Then Shadow opens his arms wide, his coating making an audible snap from the gesture.
“If you can, bring to us all the sins of the world. We will bear it all! But nothing will change. We will still carry on doing what we ought to do.”
“Are you saying that you are not afraid of having the entire world as your enemy?! That is sheer hubris, Shadow!”
“Then how about you come over and try to crush my hubris?”
Ruslan rushes over with a howl.
Then his white sword is swung down from overhead, slicing straight towards Shadow.
That attack which should have split Shadow’s head goes astray at the last second.
Fresh blood dances.
Ruslan’s left wrist is pierced through by a jet black blade.
Immediately, Ruslan changes to using his right hand and backs away.
This time, it’s his right wrist that gets pierced.
Ruslan continues trying to back away, but Shadow gives chase.
Under an onslaught of stabs faster than his eyes can even follow, Ruslan cannot even react as his body becomes stained with blood.
The innumerable thrusts pierce his wrists, then his feet, then his arms, then his thighs, gradually making their way inwards.
“From the extremities, then gradually working inwards……”
Shadow’s low voice reverberates in between thrusts.
“Then finally it’s the heart, with a twist…… is that correct?”
The instant Shadow utters that sentence, his jet black sword pierces Ruslan’s chest.
Even while spitting blood from his mouth, Ruslan tries to pull out the sword in his chest, desperately resisting.
Ruslan’s eyes clash with the eyes of the boy behind the mask.
“You bastard, you ar-……!”
Right as Ruslan is about to say something, then jet black blade twists.
“Gah, agah…… aaa……!”
Then the jet black blade is jerked back, causing a great amount of blood to fountain out. The light in Ruslan’s eyes and the ancient letters on his skin both gradually fade away.
All that is left is the gaunt corpse of a middle-aged man.
At that moment.
A small scream pierces the air.
Shadow turns around in his clothes dyed with Ruslan’s blood…… and sees a pink-haired teenage girl by the door.
The pink-haired girl runs past Shadow, making a beesline for Ruslan’s corpse.
“Nooo…… stepfather….. Why…… WHY……!!”
She clings onto the thin corpse as tears stream down her face, but her stepfather will never move again.
The girl’s tears fall like rain over Ruslan’s face.
Shadow looks down at the heartbroken girl, then turns around.
“There’s no need for you to know……”
Then he disappears into the depths of the crimson flames, with the heartrending wails of the girl ringing in his ears.