The sports festival was something that Saitama Private Academy planned during the entire month of May. Students who took part in the planning were even exempt from tests, that was how important the sports festival was to the school.
I didn’t really get it. However, the reason for that was because this would be my first time ever going to an event like this, so maybe I would understand after experiencing it for myself. Then again, maybe not.
As we stepped through the school gates, myself, Alicia, and Yūgure made a beeline for the track field. That was where the festival was being held.
The track field was just a large, open space with grass in the middle surrounded by an oblong track. A plethora of tents had been set along one side of the track field. They were the booths where people signed up or sat while trying to avoid the sun.
There was already a large crowd. Teachers, students, their parents. I couldn’t even count how many people had shown up, which made sense. Saitama Private Academy was an elite school, but that didn’t mean it was small.
Of course, Japan was currently experiencing a recession. There were now more old people than young people, meaning that schools, even prestigious ones like Saitama Private Academy, didn’t have much more than 500 students. That was smaller than most public schools. However, 500 people was still a lot.
As if my very presence caused problems, everyone turned to us as we walked up to one of the booths, where two members of the faculty were sitting. The faculty glared at me. That was all they did, however.
We signed ourselves in. It was a requirement for students and parents to sign in, letting everyone know who they were and what reason they had to show up. As Alicia and I signed Yūgure in with us as a guest, I listened to the conversations happening around us.
“Hey… isn’t that Alicia and the Yankee?”
So my name wasn’t even worth remembering? Well, I already knew that, but it still hurt to be called “Yankee” instead of “Jacob.” I wondered if it would ever not hurt?
“It is! It is! What is he doing here?”
“I wanna know who that girl holding his hand is!”
“Isn’t she cute?”
“Fuck yeah, and that’s why I’m wondering what she’s doing with that disgusting Yank!”
“Is she wearing a maid outfit?! That’s a maid outfit, right?!”
It seemed I wasn’t the only one attracting attention that day. Yūgure was drawing plenty of eyes to herself—not that I blamed anyone. Maids weren’t necessarily rare in Japan. There were plenty in Akihabara, and I think there were some maid cafés here in Saitama as well.
However, that was just it. Maids were exceedingly popular in Japan. One could even say that maids were a glorified aspect of Japanese culture, which I found strange since the concept of maids was originally from Europe.
“Okay, I’ve signed Yūgure in,” Alicia said. “Let’s find a seat.”
I snapped out of my thoughts to focus on Alicia. “I’m right behind you.”
Alicia knew me well, and she proved that by grabbing my hand and leading me toward a shaded spot underneath a tree. She knew that I wouldn’t want to sit under the tents with the others. The spot she chose was far enough away that we weren’t near anyone, but close enough that we could watch.
Yūgure had come prepared. She pulled out a blanket from… somewhere. I didn’t know where. After laying the blanket down for us, she pulled something else out of the ether—a cooler, which she opened to reveal that it was filled with water and other beverages.
“Oh, thank you,” I said as Yūgure offered me a Ramune, green apple flavored.
Yūgure nodded and, after some reluctance, grabbed a bottle for Alicia, who also thanked her.
“Why don’t you get a bottle yourself and sit down?” suggested Alicia, patting the spot beside her.
Yūgure contemplated the redhead for a moment, nodded, and then grabbed a bottle of cherry-flavored Ramune and sat down… next to me.
Alicia glared at Yūgure. However, she didn’t say anything, instead simply scooting closer to my other side.
Tension filled the air, but I did my best to ignore it. This was a new situation for me. I didn’t know what was happening, or why it was happening. I just had this feeling that I was sitting on a bomb that would go off at the slightest provocation.
I wasn’t too keen on igniting that bomb.
As we drank our Ramune, we watched the sports festival begin. It started with the opening ceremony. It was honestly just a speech about fairplay and sportsmanship from the principal, another speech from the student council president, and one more by Saitama’s mayor. This was followed by everyone standing up to sing the national anthem.
After the opening ceremony came the stretching. While I understood the importance of stretching before any strenuous activity, I thought the poses they made the students do were dumb. Not only that, but whoever had created those poses must have been a pervy old man, a thought that crossed my mind when I noticed how the stretching showed off the girls’ cameltoe. Damn those bloomers.
“This is reminds me of the sports festival in To LOVE-RU!” Alicia said suddenly. “The only thing we’re missing is a fat and bald principal.”
I had no idea what she was talking about, but since it sounded like a TV show of some sort, I figured she was talking about an anime. That was what she usually watched.
After the students did calisthenics—some of the parents did, too—the sports festival began in earnest. As this was a two day event, the sports were divided between the two days. Half the events were being done on this day, and the other half, which contained the three-legged race that Alicia and I were doing, was on the second day.
The first event was called Kumitaiso. It was less of a sport and more an artistic form of expression like dancing. Students gathered together and created shapes out of their bodies, climbing on top of each other and, essentially, making human pyramids.
I didn’t understand the appeal of people standing on top of each other, but I guess that, once again, my lack of knowledge was making it hard for me to get it. All I could think about was how painful that must be for the people on the bottom.
“Why are they standing on top of each other?” asked Alicia as Yūgure sipped some Ramune.
“I don’t know.” I shrugged. “Shouldn’t you know?”
“I’ve never seen anything like this in anime, if that’s what you’re talking about.” Alicia looked askance at me. “Most anime never give a full detailing of what happens at a sports festival, so I only know the basics.”
“You know more than I do,” I said, finding it somewhat ironic that a girl who only started going to Japanese high school three weeks ago knew more about school than me.
Just then, I felt a strange chill run down my spine. Someone was watching me, watching us, but when I looked around, I couldn’t see anyone. There was just the students doing sports activities, the teachers monitoring the students, and the parents cheering their children on.
“Are you okay, Jacob?” asked Alicia.
“Yeah,” I said, shaking myself out of my stupor. “Yeah, I’m fine.”
Dancing was another activity that they did today. The female and male students all stood up and did a traditional dance, and then several groups of female students danced to various idol songs that I didn’t recognize. At one point, a group of guys also danced to an idol song. Given that they were wearing dresses, I assumed it was done for the sake of comedy.
There was also a tug-of-war and relay, which were done to a soundtrack and running commentary from one of the students and a teacher who I didn’t recognize. Points were added during each event. The score would be kept until tomorrow where, after the last event, all the points would be tallied and a winning class would be selected. According to the principal during his speech, the winning class would receive a nice gift.
“It looks like our class is only five points away from being in the lead,” Alicia said.
“Five points, huh?” I looked at the scoreboard and frowned. “That means we’d need to win every game tomorrow to get first place.”
Winning or losing mattered little to me. I had no real interest in the prize the principal was talking about, whatever it was. I’m sure that regardless of what the prize was, I wouldn’t get anything from it.
After the relay event was the closing ceremony, which involved more speeches about continuing to work hard and how the last five events would be held the next day. Today had lasted over six hours despite there only being five events. I blamed it on the numerous breaks taken between sport events. My guess was that the principal was trying to stretch the festival out as a means of getting more publicity.
The closing ceremony came to an end. Everyone helped clean up, teachers, students, parents. Alicia, Yūgure, and I also helped, though we spent as much time helping as we did being glared at. It seemed our help, or rather, my help, was not appreciated. We left soon after helping pick everything up.
“Since our help isn’t appreciated, we won’t do more than the bare minimum necessary,” Alicia said. Yūgure nodded with this assessment. It was the first thing I had seen them both agree on.
It wasn’t long before we were walking down the street. As we traveled, the sensation of being watched became stronger. I discreetly looked around. No one was there. Actually…
“Is it just me, or is there literally no one on the street today?” I asked. “It’s a Saturday, isn’t it? Shouldn’t there be more people?”
The street we were walking down was empty. There were no teenagers grouped together as they chatted and laughed, no couples going for walks, no young women enjoying time out with their friends. It was like we had stepped into a ghost town.
“Now that you’ve mentioned it, there should be a lot more people.” Alicia also looked around, her lips slowly forming into a frown.
Before either of us could do anything, Yūgure shoved Alicia and I away. I slammed into the ground, gasping as my bones were jarred. I rolled across the road, everything around me spinning, and I only came to a stop after doing my best impression of a ragdoll for several meters. However, once I stopped, I clambered to my feet and looked in the direction that I had been thrown.
At that moment, a massive spear of light struck the ground. Yūgure had been standing there. She had been there, but I couldn’t see her anymore. The light consumed everything.
“Yūgure!!” I shouted.
“Jacob! Look out!” someone else shouted. Alicia.
I moved, running forward, away from the place where I was standing, which was probably a good thing. Barely a second later, a powerful force slammed into my back. My feet left the the ground as I was thrown forward. Once more, I slammed into the road and rolled along the ground. This time, though, I at least landed on my feet.
“I really wish you would stop moving,” a familiar voice said from above.
My eyes widened. It couldn’t be. No, this had to be a cruel joke, just a prank. There were no way she could be here.
But as I turned around and looked up, I saw the person who I had been dreading to see before me, floating in the sky with twelve white wings jutting from her back. It was Gabriel. She was looking down at me with eyes that reminded me of glaciers.
“G-Gabriel,” I murmured as I tried, and failed, to comprehend the sight before me.
“I never wanted to be in this position,” Gabriel said and, much like her eyes, her voice reminded me of ice. “I’m sorry, Jacob, but it looks like I’m going to have to kill you. Again.”
“Jacob!!” a shout reached me from far away. I turned. It was Alicia.
She wasn’t alone. Surrounding her on all sides were several people, angels with only one set of wings each. They weren’t just hemming her in, I noticed. A golden cylinder of light had been erected around her on all sides, a barrier of some kind.
Even as I looked on, Alicia placed her hands against the barrier, only to shriek as her hands sizzled, crackled, popped, and blistered. She jerked her hands back. Smoke poured from her palms. Alicia, her legs trembling, sank to her knees.
“Please do not touch the barrier,” Gabriel said to Alicia. “It is made from the holy energy of half a dozen angels woven together in a ceaseless pattern. Even a pureblood devil with the blood of a king running through her veins, such as yourself, is incapable of breaking through a barrier of this caliber. Remain where you are. We have no desire to slay a member of the Bael Clan today.”
“Like I care about that!” Alicia snapped as, despite what must have been incredible pain, she slammed her hands against the barrier.
“What are you doing?!” I shouted. “Stop it! You’re only injuring yourself!”
“I won’t!” Alicia shouted back. She slammed her fists into the barrier again. Her skin sizzled. “I refuse to let myself stay in here when you’re in danger!”
“You must be very important to that girl.” Gabriel looked at Alicia as she ineffectually slammed her fists into the barrier. Emotion crossed her face, but it quickly hardened back into a cold mask of ice as she looked at me once more. “I do regret having to do this… but you are too dangerous to let live.”
So that was it? After nearly dying by her hand, I had assumed this was the reason Gabriel had sought me out. She had been hoping to kill me quickly. Perhaps she wanted to do me in without having to resort to a regular confrontation.
“Is that how it is?” I said.
“Jacob! Jacob!!” Alicia continued to shout.
“That is how it is,” Gabriel said. “Please do me a favor and do not fight. What I do, I do only because it must be done.”
“What sort of bullshit is that?!” This was the first time I had heard Alicia swear. “Because it must be done?! Why must you kill Jacob?! What has he ever done to deserve death?!”
“Nothing,” Gabriel answered Alicia. “Jacob has done nothing to deserve death. It is not because he deserves to die that I’m doing this. It is because Jacob’s very existence disrupts the balance of our world. Nephalem are creatures born from an angel and a devil, half-holy and half-demonic blood writhes inside of them. He is a contradiction to the laws and principles that our religion is based on. Such a being isn’t just dangerous. Their very presence causes those who once believed in us to doubt, which weakens us.”
Gabriel did not take her eyes off me as she spoke, as though trying to will me into agreeing with her.
“Our powers come from the people’s faith,” Gabriel continued. “The more people who believe in us, the more faith they have in us, the stronger we become. This doesn’t just extend to angels. The reason devils and fallen angels have been able to continue existing is because humanity believes in them. The Nephalem threatens to erase that faith. He weakens our power by forcing people to question their faith in us. There may even come a time when he destroys everything, not because he did anything wrong, but simply because he is alive. That is why I must destroy you, Jacob.”
I didn’t know much about Nephalem, not for lack of not wanting to, but simply because no one seemed to know anything. Even Azazel admitted that he knew next to nothing of my kind. We were a mystery.
Gabriel was claiming to know what even Azazel didn’t. I remembered another person who had stated that same thing. However, the difference between Belial and Gabriel were vast. As an angel, Gabriel could not lie, which meant she truly believed what she said.
Would it really be better if I died? It was something that I always believed, that it would be better to die than to live, but that was in regards to me as a person, not me as a Naphelam. Before Alicia, I had not found anything worth living for.
What Gabriel was talking about was different—a whole other ballpark different, the kind that simply couldn’t be compared. She was talking about the world. She was saying that all of Christianity would be placed in jeopardy so long as I continued to exist.
Maybe… maybe it really would be better if I let her kill me. Perhaps I should just—
“DON’T YOU DARE GIVE UP, JACOB!!” the shout came from Alicia. “I SWEAR, IF YOU GIVE UP RIGHT NOW, I AM GOING TO DRAG YOU BACK FROM HELL AND BEAT YOU! HAVE YOU FORGOTTEN YOUR PROMISE TO ME?!”
Her words made me freeze. She was right. I had made her a promise the night before. I had promised that I wouldn’t let myself die, that I would value my life more.
Maybe Gabriel was right about me when she said I was dangerous, that my existence would cause a catastrophe sometime down the road. It was possible. I could not deny it. Even so, if I died now, Alicia would be sad.
Alicia, who had told me that I had worth, who told me that I was important to her. I couldn’t die now that someone had found worth in me.
“I’m sorry,” I told Gabriel. “But I made a promise to someone important to me that I would take better care of myself. I can’t just let you kill me.”
Another flash of emotion crossed over Gabriel’s face, a grimace as though she was experiencing an intense pain.
“I guess I should have expected this.” The look disappeared. Her eyes hardened into dagger-like points. Light coalesced within her hands, elongating and taking on the shape of two short swords. “In that case, I really don’t have a choice. I hope you’ll forgive me for what I’m about to do.”
Gabriel was serious. Even I could figure out that much. During a time such as this, confronted by a foe who might even be stronger than Belial had been, I understood that I couldn’t afford to hold back.
I released the locks on my power, allowing it to run free. Power filled me until it was overflowing. Two chaotic energies rushed through my body, clashing against each other as they raged inside of me.
Sweat sprang to my forehead as I fought against this power, fought to control it, to make it mine. It was always difficult trying to control two separate energies at once.
I didn’t have great control over my power. The most I could do right now was separate them inside of my body. The white angelic power of Heaven went to my left side, while the dark purplish-black went to my right. While I couldn’t see my wings as they extended from my back, I could hear the loud ripping of my shirt as the wings tore it apart.
I looked back up. Gabriel’s eyes had grown wide—wider than eyes probably had any right to be. Her mouth, likewise, had dropped.
“This must be what Michael meant when he said you were dangerous,” Gabriel murmured. “The powers of Heaven and Hell combined within a single being. That sort of dichotomy could easily tear our world apart. You really are dangerous.” Her grip on her blades tightened. “Prepare yourself, Jacob.”
I didn’t say anything. I didn’t have time to say anything. Gabriel shot down from the sky like a bird of prey preparing to capture a rat. She was on me in seconds.
The ground in front of me exploded as I leapt backward, avoiding her initial slash. Hot air slammed into my face as though the light swords were capable of emitting heat. Pain stung my skin as pebbles me, cutting into my flesh and causing blood to make a small trail down my face.
I had no ability to create swords. My powers were extremely limited. I could unleash energy, create some crescent blades and beams, but that was about the extent of what I could do.
What I did instead was punch the air in front of me, unleashing a massive blast of vile demonic energy. It tore across the ground. The intense sizzling as the blacktop was super heated filled the air.
Gabriel split it in half with the sword in her right hand. The two halves of energy flew in separate directions. One struck the ground and detonated like a stick of dynamite going off. The other smashed through several trees before exploding in the distance.
A fierce blast of hot air struck Gabriel’s back and my front, though we both held firm. I dug my feet into the ground to keep from flying backwards. Meanwhile, Gabriel, her hair whipping fiercely about her, making her look like a goddess of war, used the blast of air to increase her speed as she flew forward.
Her first attack nearly sliced through my neck. I leaned back, avoiding it by the narrowest of margins. I could practically feel it shaving off a few layers of skin.
I came back up and struck at her with my right fist, shooting another massive blast of energy. It was practically point-blank. There should have been no way for her to avoid it.
She dodged anyway.
I almost blinked when the Gabriel in front of me disappeared entirely, but I somehow kept from freaking out. That was what ultimately saved my life. As I was looking for Gabriel, my danger senses, along with Alicia, screamed at me to move. I flapped my wings and shot forward. Something powerful struck the ground behind me and exploded.
Air pushed at me from behind, sending me spiraling out of control, and though I tried to regain my orientation, the most I managed was to flip myself around so that my feet hit the ground instead of my face. Even so, I ended up skidding backwards for several meters. The scent of burning rubber hit my nose before the knowledge that my shoes were essentially useless did.
I looked down.
The soles had been melted through.
Sneakers were not made for combat, it seemed.
I looked around. Gabriel was nowhere to be seen. Loud flapping made my ears twitch, causing me to look up, where I finally found Gabriel. My eyes widened. She was coming right toward me!
Moving faster than I ever had before, I leapt backward, wincing as a searing pain speared my foot. The soles of my shoes were gone. The rough feeling of my feet being torn apart by the road made me wince. Despite this, I kept moving. It was better than getting eviscerated.
Gabriel struck the ground. As she bent her knees to absorb the shock of impact, her feet created deep craters in the road before, like a rocket, she shot forward, her arms already swinging.
I tried my best to dodge her attacks, but while I had more than enough power to spare, I wasn’t exactly used to using it. What’s more, I didn’t have much combat experience. My movements were sluggish.
Hers were quick and precise. She was like the wind, constantly moving, swinging her swords, which bit into my skin and left trails of blood in their wake. Each cut stung like having salt rubbed into a wound. It wasn’t long before dozens of little cuts had opened all along my skin.
In desperation, I channeled energy into my arm and attempted to block her next sword swing. I probably shouldn’t have. In hindsight, it was a stupid idea.
I had used my right arm. When Gabriel’s sword met my arm, coated in demonic energy, the space in front of us exploded. I screamed as my arm was consumed by dark miasma and light. My stomach soared into my throat as my feet left the ground, carrying me backward at a speed that made the entire world look like a blur before my eyes.
This time, I had no chance to reorient myself. My back smashed against the ground, stealing the breath from me as my shirt and flesh were torn. I continued to tumble backward, my bones jarring with each impact, my vision going white as pain overrode my ability to see.
I must have blacked out for a second, maybe longer, because when I came to, Gabriel was already in the sky and descending toward me again.
Adrenaline surged through my veins. I didn’t bother scrambling to my feet. That would have taken time. I rolled backwards across the ground instead.
Gabriel had fallen blade first this time. Her sword sank into the road as though it was warm butter. Since it was made of light, she had no trouble pulling it free, and once she had freed it, she charged at me.
The battle once more became one of close combat.
And I was on the losing side.
Gabriel was a whirlwind, swinging her two swords at me in a constant, never ending stream. Her blades hummed with divine energy. It was like they were splitting air molecules. Every attack came in so quickly her arms were nothing but a blur. If it weren’t for the arcs of light created by the golden swords, I’d have never been able to dodge.
Left. Left. Back. Right. Spin.
I did my best to move out of the way. I danced across the ground, shuffling my feet and swaying from side to side. It kept me alive, if not whole. My arms stung as my flesh was sliced open, blood pouring out, leaving trails in their wake.
As we danced the dance of death across the street, I stared into Gabriel’s eyes. Her eyes were cold. They were like chips of ice. It was as if all of the emotions she felt, all of the feelings she had, had disappeared. But if that was the case and her emotions really were gone…
… then just why was she crying?