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Atsuya Fubuki Pisses Off the Legions of Hell

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   “You ready, Touko?”

   “Ready.”

   The two girls leapt in each other’s direction, up at the soccer ball soaring towards them. “Butterfly Dream!” they shouted. They grabbed each other’s hands and kicked the ball back to the nearby pitch.

   “Touko!” exclaimed the pitch’s goalkeeper. “Rika! It’s been a whi– AH!” A soccer ball struck his head.

   “Sorry, sorry!” said Rika as she and Touko ran onto the pitch, beside the goalkeeper.

   “Endou, are you okay!?” asked Touko. Endou, the goalkeeper, lay on the ground, unresponsive. “I’m sorry!”

  “Mamoru-kun…” sighed a girl with long purple hair, Fuyuka, as she placed a towel over his head. Touko and Rika helped her carry him onto the bench.

   Once Endou was settled in with Fuyuka, the other members of Inazuma Japan crowded around the two girls, eager to hear about their latest escapade.

   “I haven’t seen you two in a while!” exclaimed a certain Shirou Fubuki, leaning towards them. His short gray hair was raised up ever so slightly, and the blue-green in his eyes resembled the morning sky.

   “You could have at least told us you were coming!” added a boy whose goggles were surrounded by pink hair, Tsunami.

   “It wouldn’t be a surprise if we did,” retorted Rika.

   “Rika wanted it to be a shocking entrance,” said Touko in a slightly exasperated tone.

  “Yep!” confirmed Rika. “After all, we are Inazuma Japan’s hot-blooded supporters—“ she stood up and flexed an arm—“Rika Urabe!”

   “And Touko Zaizen!” added her friend with the bowl-shaped hat. “Congratulations on making it to the finals!”

  “We’re finally here on Soccer Island!” exclaimed Rika, completely ignoring that the island was actually called Liocott. “We blasted our way here so you guys could win the championship!” The players stood in slight disbelief at Rika’s energy.

   “Huh? What’s that?” asked a girl with deep green hair, Aki, as she looked at the light blue bracelet on Rika’s wrist.

  “Oh, this?” said Rika, brandishing the bracelet. Upon closer inspection, it was mostly white, but accented with abstract designs in two shades of light blue. “We went shopping on the way here, and I got it for free! Touko’s got one, too!”

   “But I don’t have a taste for these kind of things,” said Touko, reaching into her bag. She pulled out a bracelet with designs similar to Rika’s, but in completely contrasting colors. Whereas Rika’s bracelet was white with blue accents, Touko’s was purple with gray accents. The designs on Touko’s bracelet looked a lot sharper, so to speak, than those on Rika’s.

   “I don’t think it’s my sort of thing, either,” said Aki.

  Fubuki approached Touko. He felt a brief glow in his eyes as he stared at her bracelet in awe. “But I think it’s pretty cool,” he said. She gave it to him and he put it on his left wrist without delay. It shimmered in the sunlight, and he couldn’t help but smile. “Hey, Fuyuka,” he walked towards the purple-haired girl on the bench, “Want to try it out?”

   “I…” replied Fuyuka in her usual soft voice. “I didn’t know you had an interest in these things, Shirou-kun!”

  “Well, not consistently,” said Fubuki, “but this bracelet looked nice. You want to try it out?” It was soon apparent that the thing wouldn’t budge beyond a certain point no matter how hard Fubuki tugged and pulled. It moved up and down his arm just fine until a certain point on his wrist, and then seemed to run into an iron wall that didn’t really exist. “Huh? This might take some time to get off…”

   Endou suddenly woke up from his short-term coma and asked, “Rika, what about you?”

  “This is totally weird!” said Rika, pulling at her bracelet. “I can’t take mine off, either! That old geezer… I’ll find him and give him a piece of my mind!”

   “What the heck makes these things ‘keys to the legend’!?” shouted Touko. “They’re a bunch of rejects, if anything!”

   “Wait,” said a girl with wavy orange hair, Natsumi, carrying her closed laptop by her side. “What did you just say?”

   “Huh?” said Touko. “I said they’re a bunch of rejects, if anything.”

   “No, before that. Something about keys…”

   “Keys to the legend. The two old guys we got these from mentioned something about the heavens and earth and such.”

   “Natsumi,” asked Endou, “do you know about this?”

   “This might have something to do,” pondered Natsumi, “with Liocott Island’s legend of the demon lords.”

   “Legend of the demon lords!?” gasped Japan’s national team.

  “Yes,” explained Natsumi. “Pay attention, everyone.” She waited until everyone was silent and looking her straight in the eye before beginning her lengthy explanation.

   “This is an old tale from Liocott Island. In ancient times, Liocott Island was told to be the place where the heavens and hell intersected. The people of the heavens and hell fought a long war over each other for domination, but they were unable to come to a resolution. In order to end the futile battles, they decided to use a method shared by humans in order to determine superiority. That method was through soccer, and the heaven dwellers won as a result. Thus, the end of the war was signified when the leader of hell, the Demon Lord, was sealed away.” She opened her laptop, tapped a few buttons, and on the screen displayed a picture of a particular mountain before continuing. “After the Demon Lord was sealed, it’s been said that the heaven and hell dwellers have been living at Mt. Magneto, which lies at the center of Liocott Island.”

   “I’m guessing you mean that huge mountain over there?” asked a bulky kid with a green afro, Kabeyama. “It’s kind of hard to see laptop screens in the sun.”

  “I wonder if those heaven and hell people are still here today?” inquired a muscular, older-looking guy who was nevertheless the same age as his colleagues, Hijikata.

   “It’s only a legend,” reassured Natsumi. “But it’s also been said that among the youth living at Mt. Magneto since those ancient times, there are some who can use the power of heaven and hell.”

   “Mysterious powers, huh?” asked a boy with striking red hair, Hiroto.

   “That’s intriguing,” said Hijikata. “I have a liking for that sort of stuff.”

  “So, about the keys to the legend…” continued Natsumi. She pressed one key on her laptop a few times, praying that increasing the brightness wouldn’t kill her battery. “Look here.” On her laptop’s screen, she brought up a picture of a rock engraving and zoomed in on two bracelets, one worn by an angel and the other by a devil. Rika and Fubuki looked at their bracelets and realized something.

   “They look exactly the same,” said Fubuki. He eyed Natsumi and asked, “Does this mean that the ancient tales were true?”

  “We can’t say that for sure yet,” she replied. “They could just be replicas. It’s strange that you can’t take them off, though.”

   “But those don’t look like keys of any sort,” said Endou.

  “We don’t know how they used them in the first place,” said Natsumi. “Although, it’s been said that the heaven and hell dwellers each used them for a ritual of some sort.”

   “I don’t mind it,” said Rika. “It doesn’t hurt to have it, and above all, it’s cute! Anyway, I’ll probably be able to take it off eventually.”

   “What’ll you do if you can’t take it off?” asked a boy signified by his dreadlocks, red cape, and blue goggles, Kidou.

  “If it was made by humans, then you’ve got to be able to take it off somehow,” said Rika. “That’s just common sense! Right, Fubuki?”

  “Yeah!” said Fubuki with a hopeful smile “Even if it’s not sometime today, this week, or even during the FFI, I’m sure we’ll get these things off eventually! Besides, it’s rather cool.”

   “You guys are so easygoing,” said Tsunami.

   “Not as much as you, Tsunami,” replied Rika, causing Tsunami to slump in his chair with wide eyes.

  “Well, that settles that matter,” a girl with glasses in her deep blue hair, Haruna, finally decided to stand up and add her two cents. “It’s time for practice! We don’t have long until the finals tournament.”

  “That’s right!” affirmed Rika. “Now that you’ve got two goddesses of victory with you, we won’t let you off without winning the championship!”


   Listening to the girls’ words, Inazuma Japan spent most of the day practicing. A few friends from around the world decided to join in, too. They soon decided to have a practice match between two randomly-assigned teams, and passes flew by like lightning.

   Not long into the late afternoon, dark clouds covered every inch of the sky. “What the heck?” Haruna groaned. “It was supposed to be sunny all day…”

   Thunder crashed, and lightning struck not too far from the pitch. Everyone recoiled. “What now?” asked Kazemaru, a boy whose green hair was tied up in a ponytail. “Should we keep going?”

   Endou pondered for a bit, but Fubuki and Rika screamed before he could come up with an answer.

   “Huh!?” exclaimed Rika. “My bracelet’s glowing! Why is it glowing!?”

   “What’s happening?” asked Fubuki, kneeled down a few feet from the goal. His bracelet was also shining a bright light.

   “Is this what Natsumi-san was talking about?” asked Fuyuka.

   “It can’t be…” said Natsumi. “That was just a legend!”

   Touko added, “There was definitely something strange about those old guys. There’s gotta be something behind it.”

  Lightning struck again. A light post exploded, sending an intense tunnel of wind across the pitch. When the wind died down, the team noticed a boy standing atop one of the goals. He had long red hair braided behind his back, and wore a white full-body soccer uniform and an orange band around his arm. Small wings came out of his back.

  The angel walked towards Rika. “I’ve come to retrieve you.” He placed his hand on her forehead. The light in her eyes faded, and she allowed him to carry her in his arms.

   Another bolt of lightning flashed, this time charring a nearby tree. On the opposite goal stood a boy with a lion’s mane of brown hair, a black outfit that exposed his arms and knees, and small bat wings on his back. He looked to be the angel’s equal and opposite—and the demon laughed.

   "Leave this place at once!“ shouted the angel at the demon.

   “Tch! When Demon’s Gate freezes over!” responded the demon. “This time, the Demon Lord will rise, and we of Hell Army Z will rule the new earth with an iron fist!”

  "You wicked creatures have no right to tread upon holy ground. We of the Messengers of the Sky will cast judgement upon you lot right here and right now!”

   “Messengers of the Sky…?” Hijikata piped in. “Hell Army Z…? You mean you’re actually angels and demons!?”

  “Can it, humans!” shouted the demon. “If you don’t, I’ll eat your souls!” He turned towards the angel and said, “Holy, my ass. Your insults have gotten terrible, Sein.”

   "Ugh, Desuta,” said the angel, apparently named Sein, “you never cease to irritate me. I’ll have you know that I am above pettiness such as insults.”

  Desuta smiled at Fubuki and grabbed his arm. “Hey, sacrifice, get a load of this guy:” He pointed to Sein and said, in a mockingly high voice: “'I am above insults, you barbarian!’ I’m a jerk, sure, but at least I’m not a hypocrite about it.”

   “What do you mean ‘sacrifice’!? Let go of me!” Although Fubuki’s hands were shaking, he couldn’t help but glare at Desuta. In fact, he took his free arm and punched Desuta right in the face.

   “Ack!” cried Desuta. He grabbed Fubuki’s other arm before he could try that again. Fubuki responded by kicking the demon’s side with all the might expected of a soccer player, but it only sent him to his knees. “Heh… Looks like you’ve got some fight in you. Should help pass the time.”

    “Stay away from him!” Kidou got up and began running towards Fubuki, but before he could reach him, Desuta had kicked a soccer ball into his stomach and knocked him down again.

   “Kidou-kun!” shouted Fubuki. He started towards his friend, but before he could get anywhere, Desuta grabbed him from the opposite side, tossed him to the ground, and pinned him there by his arms and legs, forcing eye contact between them.

   “You’ve been chosen by hell.” The demon’s eyes flashed purple straight into his captive’s.

  The pupils and light faded from Fubuki’s eyes. His hair drooped a bit. He didn’t even notice when Desuta swept him into his arms. It was like a trance—no, it was a trance. He felt himself slipping away. He could see his vision blurring. His thoughts grew groggier by the second. All sound muffled and faded from his ears.

   (Why…?) he thought. (I should have been able to defend myself! How could he beat me so easily!? … It must be my fault. It’s because something went wrong somewhere down the line, all my friends are in trouble. I can’t stand for this. I have to be absolutely…)

   (Ahahahahaha…)

    He heard a laugh. It sounded identical to Fubuki’s own, but harsher in tone. It was a laugh he hadn’t heard in at least three months, yet was just as familiar to him as it was before.

   (Perfect… Is that what you were going to say? You have to be absolutely perfect?) said the other Fubuki’s voice. (So then, it’s power you want, right? The power to help your friends crush this bastard that curb-stomped an entire soccer team? You may be helpless right now, but it can’t end here and you know it. Compared to immobility, anything is better.)

    (Atsuya!?) He tried to speak, but his mouth wouldn’t move. Not that anyone else needed to hear him now, anyway. (But I thought you were–…!)

   (Gone?) said the other Fubuki’s voice. (Please. Just because you accepted me doesn’t mean I’m not a part of you.)

  (But—but I really don’t understand!) shouted Shirou. (How come you… how come you came back!? I thought I merged with you! And now you’re offering me power!?)

   (Well,) pondered Atsuya, (I’m in a good mood, so I’ll tell you! That Desuta bastard over there had the bright idea to hypnotize Shirou goddamn Fubuki, and now he’s gonna pay for it! That’s all.)

   (…! So, hypnosis was all it took…?)

   (Well, maybe not all, but what do I know? What I do know is that you’re stuck here, entirely helpless, while everyone around you—your friends, your loved ones, everyone– is struggling to fight. Doesn’t that piss you off? Doesn’t that sound familiar? It should.)

   Fubuki wanted to gasp. (Are you implying…?!)

  (That guy mentioned a sacrifice, right? Just looking at him, I can tell that can’t mean anything good. Oh, and I conveniently forgot to mention that time’s running out. You can have me crush your enemies, or you can wait for them to crush everyone else. Take it or leave it.)

    Now Fubuki simply wanted to sigh. (Even if I say no, you’ll just keep fighting him and ruining everything anyway. But I suppose having you do something is better than watching everything disappear before my eyes. Let’s get this over with.)

   “OW!” Desuta cried. He soon noticed that his captive had hit him in the head with his knee, and was now grabbing onto the demon’s arms.

   “Chosen…?” muttered the boy. “As if I’d just give whatever crap you want from me.” His eyes turned gold. His hair spiked up even further. He kicked the demon again and dropped out of his grasp.

   “The hell!?” cried Desuta. “I had you hypnotized! You shouldn’t be doing anything!”

   “His eyes… Is… is that seriously…!?” muttered Kidou. “I thought he disappeared!”

  Fubuki laughed as he stood up and stared down Desuta. “Kiss my ass, you punk kid! I don’t know what you want from me, but it’s nothing I want anything to do with, that’s for sure!”

   “I haven’t seen him this high-strung since we fought Aliea…” observed Touko.

  “… Huh!?” asked Fideo Ardena, a boy from Italy’s national team with short brown hair. “What do you mean, ‘since’? And what’s Aliea?”

  “It’s a long story,” said Touko, “I’ll tell you later. But the fact that he could break out of hypnosis should mean…” Her arm and legs caused great pain as she tried to stand up, and in the end, she couldn’t do it quite yet. “Rika! Hey, Rika!! Can you hear me!?“ With gritted teeth, she turned towards the other supposed chosen one. “Fubuki! Why aren’t you helping Rika!?”

   “Because,” Fubuki smirked, “I’ll get to her eventually. Point is, I’m free! Free to wreak as much havoc as I want!”

  Pinned to a chainlink fence, Desuta stared at Fubuki with an uncharacteristic look of dread. Nails pierced into his chest– the nubs of the boy’s soccer cleats. He tried to hypnotize Fubuki again, and his eyes faded into blue, only to be quickly pierced by gold again. He tried yet again, to the same result.

   "Yeah,” asserted Fubuki, “that won’t work on me, you little shit. I’m just too damn awesome.”

  Desuta was brushed aside, kicked up into the wind metaphorically and literally. He was kicked again, this time from the side. He felt… things—were they blades? — grilling into his arms, legs, and back. From the corner of his eye, he could’ve sworn he saw… lasers? Is that what humans were calling them these days? How did Desuta know that, having been sealed away for the past one thousand years?

   "Wolf Legend!“ Fubuki howled. Desuta couldn’t think of an answer in time. A single intense kick sent him careening past the soccer pitch and in the ground below a nearby forest.

   "Stuck with an uncooperative sacrifice, are you? Sucks to be you.” Sein teleported away with his teal-haired chosen maiden in his arms.

   "Well,“ proclaimed Fubuki, "another victory for Atsuya goddamn– ah, HEY!” Something grabbed his arm. It was a woman with short green hair, in an outfit similar to Desuta’s. “Where the hell did you come from!?”

    “From Hell, as a matter of fact,” said the diabolus ex machina. “We of Hell Army Z are extremely efficient in our backup. Look above you.”

  Not one, not two, but several demons in the same black outfit leaped out of the forest. “Take care of the others,” ordered the green-haired demon. “We leave on my cue.” The legions spread out amongst the FFI participants, blocking them from Fubuki at every turn.

    “Gravitation!” shouted the green-haired demon. This time, it didn’t even take a heavy object or person to pin Fubuki to the ground.

    (What do you think you’re doing!?) He could hear Shirou crying out in his mindscape. (Thanks for helping me break out of the hypnosis, but now I can handle this without you!)

   (No you can’t!) Atsuya hadn’t changed nearly as much as Shirou would have liked. (Look how easily you fell to Desuta’s hypnosis in the first place! There’s no indication he can’t do it again, either. Besides, the very reason you’re here is because you decided to take some junk off a friend’s hands! … Although, I must admit, it is a rather cool piece of junk. You can’t let them down any more, Shirou. I’ll make sure you don’t. I thought we made that clear.)

   "Took me long enough,“ moaned Desuta, limping out of the tunnel that was made for him. "Thanks for the cover, guys. Now to deal with this spunky bastard.”

   "Is this… all it takes… to… beat me?“ muttered Atsuya, looking up at Desuta. "Tch… as if. I don’t know what you want with me, but I’m having none of it. Is that clear?”

   "As the world’s rarest pair of glasses.“

   "What does that even–” Something hit Fubuki in the head, and his vision went black.

Chapter Text

    Lightning flashed over the entire pitch. Thunder crashed louder than before. Then the light and the sound both faded away.

    “Fubuki and Rika are gone!” exclaimed Touko, leading the rest of the team towards Natsumi.

    “No way…” said the youngest kid with the spikiest black hair, Toramaru. “So then, where were they taken!? Were those guys back then really from heaven and hell!?”

    “How would we know!?” asked Tsunami.

    Endou stepped forward. “They couldn’t have gone far. Let’s go after them!”

    “Problem is, where do we start?” inquired Hiroto. “We have absolutely no idea where they went.”

    “But we still have to start somewhere!” replied Endou. “Everyone, let’s split up and start looking!”

    Kidou looked upwards. “Fubuki was told that he was ‘chosen.’ That word caught my attention; it really sounds like something people to do with heaven and hell would say.”

    “Speaking of heaven and hell,” added Fuyuka, “Rika-san and Shirou-kun were both wearing the keys to the legend, right?”

    “If,” said Natsumi, “and this is a very big if, but if that legend is true…”

    The entire team gasped, and gazed at the tallest mountain on Liocott Island.

    “… they should be up at Mt. Magneto,” finished Kidou.

    “So your mission,” recounted Natsumi, “should you choose to accept it, is to rescue Rika and Fubuki. We will split up using the teams from the practice match.”

    She pointed to people as she said their names. “Yuuto Kidou. Jirou Sakuma. Akio Fudou. Shuuya Gouenji. Toramaru Utsunomiya. Mark Kruger. Dylan Keith. Jousuke Tsunami. Seiya Tobitaka. Teres Tolue. Yuuki Tachimukai. Your White Team will focus on rescuing Fubuki.”

    “What the--!?” said a boy with purple hair in the shape of a hawk, Tobitaka. “I didn’t notice like half of these people even though we ostensibly just had a practice match!”

    “Well, you have now, and you’ll be working with them to save your friend.” Natsumi shrugged and took attendance for a second group of people. “Mamoru Endou. Yuuya Kogure. Heigorou Kabeyama. Raiden Hijikata. Touko Zaizen. Fideo Ardena. Ichirouta Kazemaru. Edgar Valtinas. Hiroto Kiyama. Ryuugo Someoka. Your Red Team will focus on rescuing Rika.”

    “Hold on!” said Kazemaru. “Our team only has ten people!”

    “Got you covered,” said Edgar Valtinas, taking out his cell phone. He pressed some buttons and held it up to his ear. “Lance Rotten? It’s me, Edgar. Drop whatever you’re doing and head over to Mt. Magneto right now. We need you. It’s urgent.”

    “Alright,” said Endou, “let’s go, guys!”

    “Yeah!!” shouted everyone on the pitch.

    They started walking towards Mt. Magneto, but Akio Fudou couldn’t help but stare at the charred former tree. He walked over to it and muttered, “Heh. You never know…” He picked up a few pieces of ashy not-quite rock before regrouping with the team.


 

    Shirou Fubuki woke up barely able make out his surroundings: rock, rock, more rock, and demons holding up his limbs.

    “Hold on,” he asked, “what am I here for? Ack, my head…!”

    “Finally up, are you?” asked the demon with short green hair from earlier. She was threading a toe on Fubuki’s right foot through a gold-accented hole in some black tights. “Consider yourself lucky. Listen up. Every one thousand years, the Demon Lord sealed in the earth wakes up and causes a thunderstorm or two. When he eats the soul of a maiden chosen by the key to the legend—that’s you—he’ll get even stronger, the world will be engulfed in flames, and all of civilization will be destroyed.”

    “That’s if the ritual works,” said Desuta, who was holding on to Fubuki’s left leg. “Frankly, I have some doubts. The legend specified a maiden, and whats-his-face here is clearly not a maiden!”

    “I have a name, you know, and it’s Shirou Fubuki.”

    “That’s not what you said earlier,” reminded Desuta, “but I suppose it doesn’t matter. Maybe a maiden doesn’t have to be female? Doesn’t make too much sense, but we’ll just see how this goes.”

    “So,” Fubuki continued, “if you’re going to sacrifice me… do those angel guys intend to do the same to Rika?”

    “Nonsense!” snapped Desuta. “What those goody-two-shoes want is a bride! They’re trying to force her to marry the Demon Lord and seal him away for another 1000 years! We are trying to amplify his power by sacrificing you! It’s totally different!”

    “I see… You’re using the exact same means to achieve different ends.” Fubuki looked around. The demons extended those same black tights past his legs and up his arms.

    His face went pale, and his eyes turned gold again. “Wait a minute, are these… FULL-BODY TIGHTS!? With exposed shoulders, no less!? It’s bad enough that you put a guy in tights, but… but full body tights!?” He struggled and tried to break free, but the demons had an iron grip on all his limbs. He couldn’t reach his neck out far enough to bite anyone, either.

    (Atsuya,) thought Shirou, (full-body tights are not that scary! They’re stupid, true, but nothing to freak out over. Calm down.)

    (I’m sorry,) protested Atsuya angrily, (but full-body tights are the worst thing known to man! If this is what they’re starting with, that can’t mean anything good is coming up. I’m not going to take it sitting down, and neither should you!)

    (Wait a minute, you said you returned because my consciousness weakened. How come you could just suddenly take over now that I’m up!?)

    (I said maybe it was the hypnosis. I can do what I want because full-body tights are the worst thing ever. And also because I feel like it.)

    (Oh no…)

    “Now there’s the whats-his-face I hate!” Desuta smiled, immediately realized his mistake, and then frowned. “Shut up.”

    “Come to think of it,” continued Fubuki, “is there a special place in hell for people with terrible fashion taste!? Seems the dumber your outfit, the more the Demon Lord likes you! By this principle, of course it makes sense that I, the sacrifice, would get the stupidest outfit. Full-body tights are the worst thing ever!”

    “Shut up!” shouted Desuta. “Our outfits are top-of-the-line!”

    “Notice how you never said it looked good.” Fubuki smirked, allowed his eyes to turn back blue, and then frowned.

    (Just stop while you’re ahead,) Shirou thought. (If you don’t, we’ll be in even more trouble than we already are.)

    Desuta grabbed Fubuki’s head and forced eye contact. Desuta’s eyes flashed purple just as they did back at the pitch, and in response, Fubuki’s pupils faded before his own eyes flashed gold.

    “Look out below,” said Desuta.

    Fubuki looked up. “Oh,” he observed, “so it’s not enough that you put me in full-body tights, now you gotta put a slitted dress on, too!?” He continued to struggle against his captors as they guided his arms through, well, the arm holes. “Seems I was right on the money. If I’m the Demon Lord’s sacrifice, I do have to to have the stupidest outfit after all. Why would he want to eat less than the best?”

    “Can it, will ya!?” shouted Desuta. “I’m sorry your taste in fashion doesn’t line up with that of the Demon Lord! And quit tryin’ to screw destiny, yeah!?”

    “Okay, okay, sheesh.” He sighed, and allowed his eyes to turn blue again. Now it was Shirou—he noticed Desuta’s eyes flash purple yet again, and he found himself in another trance. A much shorter trance, because he could tell when his vision cleared up and his arm tried to move on its own—back to Atsuya. “Hey, can I say something?”

    “No,” said Desuta.

    “You know, you guys are angels compared to—…“ A thought crossed his mind, and he stopped. Instead, he gritted his teeth and glared at Desuta.

    “Well? Compared to what?” prodded Desuta. “We of Hell Army Z are angels compared to…?”

    Atsuya didn’t answer.

    (What’s wrong?) Shirou asked his other half. (You’re not usually hesitant with your insults.)

    (No, wait,) thought Atsuya. (Let me try something.)

    He relaxed, and his eyes turned blue. Then Desuta glowered at him with those same purple eyes.  Atsuya emerged again, only for him to make way for Shirou. Desuta gazed daggers again, and again, and again. Each and every time, he got the exact same result.

    (Ha, I knew it!) remarked Atsuya to his host. (These guys want me to react. They want me to get mad—that’s why they love me so much that they hypnotize you back into me whenever they can!)

    (But wouldn’t they try to provoke you if that were the case?)

    (Sheesh, you’re denser than a black hole. Do I have to explain everything for you? I made it clear that I wouldn’t have any of their bullshit, so they’re acting like I’m derailing their plan or something to provoke me into insulting them more! Why they would want to do this, I have no idea. They pretend like I’m being a defiant little ass, but their actions prove I’m falling in line. And I’m having none of it.)

    (So, what are you going to do now?)

    (You know, I never thought I’d say this, but… I’ll leave it up to you.)

    (… Well, this is unusual. What brought this about?)

    (Sh-shut up. It’s probably not what you think.) Despite his rough demeanor, Atsuya somehow stuttered a bit in internal dialogue. (See, I want to piss these guys off. Since they want me to insult them, it just so happens that the best way to piss them off is to not give them what they want. Moreover, since I won’t be doing anything, I figured I might as well let you have some agency. That’s all. It’s not like I could easily just force you to do nothing, but chose not to because I care about you or anything. In fact, I take back everything I said about this being for your own good, because boy oh boy, that’s not the case this time. I’m just somehow both petty and pragmatic at once. Honest.)

    “Well?” asked Desuta, making an odd gesture behind him. Another demon passed him some blue cloth. “We’re angels compared to what?”

    Shirou didn’t answer. Neither did Atsuya.

    Desuta sighed and wrapped the cloth around Fubuki’s waist, tying a large bow off to the side. “No matter. Now THERE’S a good-looking sacrifice!” he proclaimed.

    “So now we bring him out front, right?” asked another, muscular demon, helping the sacrifice stand back up. “Hey, why did you stop hypnotizing him?”

    “Keeping up the hypnosis is just not worth the effort right now,” said Desuta. “I’ll tackle that problem when the time comes. You’re right in that we bring him out front now, but don’t offer him up until the evening.”

    “Why do we have to wait until the evening?” Shirou Fubuki asked.

    “Because the legend says so,” replied Desuta. “We’ve already taken a risk in sacrificing a boy instead of a maiden—we can’t afford any more deviations from the text. Come along, now.”

    Fubuki was escorted out of the chamber by Desuta, receiving assistance from his legion. The rocky ground was surprisingly chilly for a literal hellhole. He heard clinking and clanging behind him—he could see more demons following them, holding chains and shackles. He didn’t bother to put up a fight—right now, it just wasn’t worth the trouble of one person (as much as he wanted to believe he was two) fighting against multiple demons.

    They finally stopped in front of some steep stairs. A few demons planted two iron stakes into the ground and attached the chains to them. A couple more took some shackles from the other ends of the chains and attached them to Fubuki’s wrists.

    (Those guys must be awfully strong, being able to plant stakes into pure rock,) Shirou thought as he was being pulled to the ground. (But if they can get those chains on…)

    “Stay there,” said the bulky demon. “What now, captain?”

    “We wait for either the evening or for the sacrifice’s friends,” said Desuta, “whichever comes first. Until then, we hide—I mean, make preparations!” Most of Hell Army Z then went into a nearby doorway, but Desuta retreated around the corner. “Seriously, we do have some preparations to make,” Desuta assured as he made his way down a hallway.

    (How convenient that everyone’s gone. These things will make noise, but it’s worth it.) Fubuki—Shirou Fubuki—tried to stand up, pulling at the chains that bound him.

    “Don’t try to escape!” called Desuta. “If you do, I’ll eat your soul!”

    “And leave none for the Demon Lord?” asked Fubuki. Desuta gave no response.

     (My, Shirou,) whispered Atsuya, (you’re sounding more like me than you did a few minutes ago.)

    (Shut up,) assured Shirou. (I’m not letting these guys have their way with me, either.)

    (Glad we finally agree on something.)

    That was all Shirou Fubuki needed to keep trying—well, “needed” was a rather strong word in this case. It didn’t take long for him to make some visible progress on the chains. Were these ceremonial chains? That, along with the strength of Hakuren’s ace striker having been known to fell bears, would explain why they were so weak, but they sure didn’t look like anything out of the ordinary. Nevertheless, Fubuki kept pulling. The chains decayed.

    Eventually, the chains snapped.

    And the boy made a break for it.

    He dashed up the stairs, only to be greeted by a wall. It stretched all the way to the ceiling of the cave, so climbing was not an option. There was a right turn here as well as one he could have taken earlier. He chose to take this current right turn, only to land at a dead end. He turned around and took the first right turn.

    From that turn, he found himself in a four-way intersection. Trying his luck, he turned left and turned the few corners that gave him, soon finding himself before two branching paths.

    “Was there really a maze here this whole time!?” he muttered to himself as he chose to turn right. There was thankfully a coherent path for a while, but it still wasn’t long before another fork in the road. This time, he could tell that turning right would land him in a dead end, so he went left. Not thinking too hard, he went straight at the next intersection. He ran and ran.

    And then thunder roared.

    Fubuki clutched his heart and recoiled. No, no, no! Not that noise! That noise brings to mind— He knew he couldn’t afford to die here. He had to get out of there, fast—and, in fact, he was already standing at a fork in the road. Giving himself hardly any time to think, he went left. The path from there was straightforward. A few turns here and there, but nothing too special… until he ran into another dead end.

    (Eep! Not now! Of all times, why now!?) he thought. Another loud crash. Yet another. Then another. Crash, crash, crash. Still struggling against the noise, Fubuki turned around and tried to find the intersection he left off at. Was it the last one? With everything looking so… almost exactly the same, it was hard to tell—not helped by flashbacks hindering his focus.

    “Got you!” said a figure in the distance. It was a demon with short gray-blue hair of a darker shade than Fubuki’s. “Gravitation!” He used the same move that felled Atsuya earlier, and now Shirou was the one crumpling to the ground, helpless as the demon approached him. “Hey, guys, I got him!”

    “Excellent, Belzeb!” called Desuta. “Now bring him back to the altar! We’ll meet you there!”

    It wasn’t long before Belzeb did just that, dragging Fubuki back the way he came. Fubuki tried to stomp on Belzeb’s foot, but injured bare feet didn’t so much as budge the legion of hell.

    Most of Hell Army Z—which, come to think of it, wasn’t so much an army as it was a tiny back-woods apocalypse cult— was waiting for them back at the altar. A few other demons were preparing more chains, all of them stronger than the ones Fubuki broke out of.

    “Like Arachnes said earlier,” remarked Belzeb, “Hell Army Z has very efficient backup.”

    He passed Fubuki on to Desuta. The sacrifice was quickly coming to his senses, but he still couldn’t kick some ripples into a swimming pool even if there was one nearby.

    “If you fight any more,” Desuta said, “this will only be harder on all of us. Save yourself the trouble, okay?”

    Fubuki looked down at the ground. “Very well.”

    His hair spiked up. “I’ll respect the Demon Lord until the day I die.”

Chapter Text

    The air was drab. The temperature was warm, but the ground much cooler. Everything looked the same—the same texture, the same temperature, the same darkness that made it difficult to tell one placement of pebbles from another. Yuuto Kidou and his White Team were slowly getting fed up, and they hadn’t even reached the end of the long, winding cavern yet.

    “Where the heck is Demon’s Gate, anyway!?” asked Teres Tolue. “We’ve been walking around this dump for like 30 minutes, and I’ve seen exactly one gate—back at the entrance!”

    “Maybe we walked right past it?” added Yuuki Tachimukai. “But you’d think that, if we did, they’d have some indication that, yes, that was Demon’s Gate.”

    “Or not,” replied Tsunami. “Because, y’know, they’re demons.”

    “So, has anyone else bothered to comment on this incessant scraping noise?” asked Seiya Tobitaka. “Fudou? What are you doing?”

    “Look behind you, idiot,” said Akio Fudou. He was in the back of the team, moving along with them while holding a small object to the ground. “I picked up some charcoal earlier.”

    Tobitaka noticed that the charcoal was leaving lines where Fudou drew. “Oh, so you’re drawing our path for the others to follow when they get here, huh? Good thinking!”

    “Pah. It’s not like they’ll be able to see it anyway, y’know, since it’s so dark.” Regardless, Fudou kept drawing.

    Suddenly, they heard a crash of thunder. Several small bolts of dark lightning struck the ground around them.

    “What the--!?” asked Toramaru Utsunomiya. “A thunderstorm in a cave!? But how!?”

    “Don’t tell me it’s a landslide!” shouted Jirou Sakuma.

    “Everyone, spread out and get down!” ordered Kidou. “Don’t forget where you went—we’ll reunite soon!” The team ran off around different parts of the intersection, ducking down against the walls of the cave.

    Kidou looked around for any more hazards. He saw a few lightning bolts along with something that appeared to be a person? It zipped by the other end of the hallway and was soon followed by another one from the opposite direction. “Hey guys,” a distant voice eventually yelled, “I got him!”

    “Excellent, Belzeb!” called another voice. “Now bring him back to the altar! We’ll meet you there!”

    “’I got him’? ‘Bring him back to the altar’?” Kidou wondered. “You mean Fubuki tried to escape!?”

    “That doesn’t sound good,” said Sakuma, turning the corner at the same time his other teammates gathered around Kidou. He noticed what was the longest gap between crashes of thunder yet. In fact, there hadn’t been a single one since the voice—presumably Belzeb—proclaimed victory. “Well, looks like the storm’s stopped for now.”

    “You’re right,” said Kidou. “We should keep moving.”

    Someone else turned the corner. It was a rather tall figure with long green hair, the top of which was shaped into two horn-like structures. “Why can’t we use Black Thunder on the way back…?” he muttered. “It’d be way faster… Oh hey! What are you guys doing here?”

    “We’re, uhh…” began Tachimukai. “We’re… uhh… can I just say you look like my old Coach Hitomiko?”

    “Eh, it doesn’t matter,” said the green-haired man. “Out of my way, please! I kind of have some obligations to fulfill!”

    “Let’s follow him,” whispered Kidou. “He’s pretty much the only lead we’ve got.” And so the White Team followed the rather tall man through the maze, with Fudou drawing the path behind them.

    “Speaking of oddities,” said Sakuma, “did anyone else see people in black outfits like this guy’s dash by them during the thunderstorm? Because I did.”

    “Me too,” said Tsunami. “I didn’t react in time to stop ‘em, though.”

    “No way, so did Mark and I!” said Dylan. “Well, Mark probably blinked and missed it, but I saw it!”

    “I saw something like that, too,” said Kidou. “I wonder just what this could mean…”


 

    “Kidou-kun! Guys!” someone exclaimed. Kidou looked up and saw that the demon had led them to the end of the labyrinth, just as he suspected—to Shirou Fubuki, chained up all the way on the opposite side of the vast chamber, kneeling between them and a pit of lava.

    “Fubuki!” said Kidou. “We’re here to rescue you!”

    Seeing no more use for it, Fudou tossed his charcoal aside.

    “Thanks, guys,” said Fubuki. “So far, aside from having a… a relapse of that, I’m actually doing pretty okay! I even broke out of the first set of chains and they had to get me new ones! What’s more, I’m making progress on those, too!”

    “So it’s as I thought,” said Kidou. “You did try to escape…”

    “How can you be so casual about this?” asked Tsunami.

    “Well,” said Fubuki. “I’m not as casual as you, Tsunami-kun.”

    “Seriously...?” Tsunami groaned.

    “Those who dare interfere with the ritual,” said a voice, “will suffer terror and ruin in the name of the Demon Lord” A stone door near the bottom of the opposite staircase opened, sending a gust of wind across the chamber. Several people who looked like demons stood in the doorway, wearing skin-tight outfits adorned with tiny wings along with black socks.

    “This is the realm of hell,” the voice continued. The demon that kidnapped Fubuki earlier, Desuta, emerged from behind the uppermost border. “The likes of you humans coming here is quite a—wait a minute, Belial, is that you!? Did you lead these humans here!? Why!?”

    “I’m sorry, captain,” said the demon with the long green hair, Belial. “I figured I might as well—“

    “Sheesh,” continued Desuta. “If we had any reserve players, I’d kick you off the team for this. Anyway, the likes of you humans coming to the realm of hell is quite a feat… even if Belial here made it remarkably easier for you.” Another demon—a female one with short hair, Arachnes—joined him on the opposite side of Fubuki.

    “What are you people?” asked Kidou.

    “I am a warrior of hell, Desuta, and we are Hell Army Z!”

    “They genuinely believe they’re people from hell…” observed Sakuma.

    “Give back Fubuki!” demanded Kidou. “Like I said, we’re here to rescue him!”

    “Not so fast, now,” said Desuta. “He’s going to be our precious sacrifice.”

    “Sacrifice!?” exclaimed everyone on Kidou’s team.

    “The Demon Lord sealed in the depths of the earth,” explained Arachnes, “eats the soul of a maiden chosen by the key to the legend. After the ritual every millennium, he awakens.”

     “When our master, the Demon Lord, is resurrected,” continued Desuta, “the world will be engulfed in flames and all of civilization will be destroyed.”

    “That’s not what you told me!” interrupted Fubuki. “You said he wakes up first, then eats me, and then gains the power to destroy the world!”

    “Shut up,” barked Desuta. “This millennium, the Demon Lord and Hell Army Z will rule the land with our evil!”

    “Wait a minute!” interjected Tsunami. “Fubuki-kun is not a maiden like the legend said you needed, so you can give him back to us, right?”

    “It’s not that simple. He was chosen for a reason,” said Arachnes, waving her hand and clearly deflecting the question. She grabbed Fubuki’s arm and told him, “You’re going to be the sacrifice to resurrect the Demon Lord. Doesn’t that make you happy?”

    “I don’t know, man,” answered Fubuki. “You tell me. Besides, you told me he was gonna revive on his—“

    “Your attitude tells me the answer is ‘yes’,” replied Arachnes.

    “I don’t care about hell or the Demon Lord,” said Kidou. “I won’t forgive anyone who tries to hurt any of my friends!”

    “I’m guessing having some fight in you is a common trait among humans?” pondered Arachnes. “Or did we just get a lucky bunch?”

    “He’s our precious sacrifice to the Demon Lord,” repeated Desuta. “Do you think we’d just hand him over to you humans?”

    “I suppose we have no choice,” concluded Kidou. “We’ll take him back by force!”

    “So, the humans will challenge the warriors of hell?” asked yet another mysterious voice. This time, it came from an old man wearing purple goggles, standing on a third staircase off to the side and between the other two.

    “Who’re you!?” asked Toramaru.

    “I oversee the rituals of hell,” replied the old man. “Those who wish to challenge the warriors of hell must uphold the ancient laws. Thus…”

    The mist in the cavern below cleared up, revealing a stone floor with some oddly familiar white lines painted on it. In fact, those lines were so familiar, the floor was an actual soccer pitch!

    “… you shall fight with soccer to determine the victor!” finished the old man. “Do you wish to rescue the sacrifice?”

    “You’re telling us,” asked Kidou, “to win the match to take him back?”

    The old man nodded.

    “Ain’t that convenient?” commented Fudou.

    “Well?” asked Desuta. “Are you willing, humans?”

    “Yeah,” said Kidou. “Hang in there, Fubuki. We’ll save you, no matter what!”

    “You can do it!” exclaimed Fubuki, taking the tense situation with a smile. “I believe in you guys!”

    “I THOUGHT you believed in the Demon Lord!” shouted Desuta, kicking Fubuki in the stomach.

    “I-I’m sorry, I’m sorry!” Fubuki stuttered. “Ha ha ha, old habits die hard, you know?”

    “What!?” Kidou gasped. “Fubuki, don’t tell me you actually…!?”

    Fubuki didn’t elaborate.

    “That’s better,” said Desuta. “You still want to rescue him now that he’s willingly pledged loyalty to us? Ah, whatever, I could use a good fight. To the pitch!”

    Gouenji looked at Fubuki, who was clearly trying and failing to act casual now that Desuta called him out. He was almost crying, even. It had been highly unlike Fubuki to be this frustrated ever since they fought The Genesis as part of Raimon.

    “Fubuki,” Gouenji whispered, “you’re not one to give up like this. If you were going to betray us, you would have done so long ago. There has to be more to this… but what?”

    Atsuya, of course, didn’t hear Gouenji’s whisper, but felt the need to murmur something anyway: (It’ll be worth it, Shirou. Just wait.)


 

    The White Team and Hell Army Z stood in position.

    "Do your best, everyone!" exclaimed Fubuki, chained up on the sidelines.

    "Don't worry too much," said Desuta. "They'll be joining you soon enough. Isn't that right, Satanathos?"

    Fubuki recoiled a bit. He couldn't stand the thought of anyone else dying with him, especially if the ritual were to fail and he were left the only survivor...

    "The captain is right!" replied Satanathos, a large, muscular demon with tiny goggles, a huge toothy mouth, and purple headgear resembling horns. "The stronger the souls, and the more we collect, the stronger the Demon Lord will be when he revives!"

    "We'll take all of their souls," said Desuta, "as sacrifices to the Demon Lord!"

    The tipping of a large stone hourglass, and the sound of the old man blowing a whistle, signified the start of the match.

    Satanathos and Desuta immediately brought the soccer ball forward.

    "Steal the ball first!" Gouenji ordered Toramaru. They, along with Dylan, ran up to Satanathos and Desuta, who decided to simply stop and stand there mockingly.

    Desuta placed one foot on the ball and smirked. "They're going for us already."

    "They seem to have souls that don't fear us," added Satanathos.

    "Hissatsu Tactics: Black Thunder!" ordered Desuta. He was engulfed in a bolt of black lightning, and the White Team's forwards found themselves slowing down drastically in comparison to their opponents. Desuta zipped right on past them, defense and all, with many small strikes of dark lightning following him. The White Team only regained their movement capabilities once Desuta was already in front of their goal, right behind Tachimukai the goalkeeper.

    Tachimukai could do nothing except what the rest of the team did: stand there, mouth agape, while Desuta weakly moved the ball into the goal.

    "What!?" exclaimed Kidou. "No way... Is that the thing they were using earlier!?

    Fubuki winced. "Dark lightning, fast movement... that noise... what else could it be?"

    "But how, exactly, does it work?" Toramaru asked Gouenji as he prepared the ball for their kickoff. "How could they move so fast, and how come we could hardly move at all? Are they really people from hell!?"

    "Unnecessary thoughts will only interfere with your plays," replied Gouenji. "Just focus on the ball and you'll stop worrying."

    At the sound of the next whistle, Toramaru passed the ball to Gouenji.

    "Gouenji, pass the ball!" called Kidou. "It's too risky when we don't know what kind of strategies they'll use! We'll start by passing the ball around to see what kind of soccer they play!"

    "Heh, get a load of these guys," said Desuta. "They want to see what kind of soccer we play! How boring."

    "Oh, give me a fuckin' break!" Atsuya shouted towards the pitch. "They score in the first two minutes and you fuckheads wanna screw around? These guys want you to do it-- that's enough of a reason not to!"

    "Dumbasses!" said Fudou as he took the ball from Kidou. "'See what kind of soccer they play'!? What's the point!? I'll admit, Fubuki's right for the wrong reasons! Guys like these, well, you just gotta show 'em what for!" Fudou dodged sliding tackle after steal attempt as he passed the enemy players. "I don't care if you're the Hell Army or whatever! You piss me off!"

    "Yeah! This guy gets it!" screamed Atsuya. "... Wait, what do you mean, 'right for the wrong reasons'?"

    "Now you've done it, human!" a demon with silver hair and blue lipstick snapped at Fudou. He tried to steal the ball from Fudou, when--

    "Fudou! Over here!" cried Tobitaka. Fudou passed the ball to him. Tobitaka took it in an overlap and continued to dribble. "You want our dear friend to become a sacrifice!? I'll never forgive you!"

    "I'm coming, too!" shouted Tsunami as he caught up with Fudou and Tobitaka. "Let's hurry up and beat these guys so we can come back!" They all smiled at each other.

    "Looks like there are some naughty ones among the humans," commented Arachnes. "How adorable."

    Tobitaka passed the ball back to Fudou, who proceeded to kick it towards the goal.

    Hell Army Z's goalkeeper wore an outfit similar to his teammates, but with a red shirt, blue shorts, and obligatory red gloves. "The End," he said rather than shouted. He held his arm in his other hand and stopped the ball in midair, distorting it in a black-purple aura, eventually clenching a fist and making it explode.

    The entire White Team stood there once more, mouths agape.

    The ball soon re-materialized in the demon goalie's hands, and he smirked at his opponents. "Was that all?"

    Arachnes shrugged and held one of her arms."I shouldn't have expected much. They're only human, after all."

    "Should we eat their souls?" asked Satanathos.

    "Yeah," said Desuta.

    "Well, then, get on with it already!" shouted Atsuya. "If you're gonna make the same threat a kazillion times, you gotta put my goddamn soul into your goddamn mouth, dammit! Or are you scared? Of what, exactly?"

    "It's a metaphor, idiot," replied the silver-haired demon with the blue lipstick. "You're dumb enough that I won't tell you what it's a metaphor for."

    “Sheesh, talk about one of those Catch-22 type things,” said Atsuya. “‘You gotta be this smart to be in our elite club of knowing what it means to eat souls. How, exactly, do you get this smart? By being in our elite club, of course!’”

    “Is what they’re doing really a Catch-22 dilemma?” Shirou mentioned. “Then again, I don’t know what else it might be…”

    "Hey!" said Desuta, looking at Fubuki. "If you, our loyal sacrifice, have nothing nice to say about us, then you can shut the fuck up!"

    "Ha! As if!" replied Atsuya.

    "I actually think his commentary is pretty amusing," said Satanathos. "He's one of those 'naughty' humans-- the type who thinks he can rile us up and kick us down. I think we should let him have this one last match to comment on before we sacrifice him. What do you think?"

    "Okay, fine, I guess," said Desuta. "Think of it as your last meal."

    "I was going to keep talking whether you allowed it or not," said Atsuya, "but whatever, I guess." (Hey, dimwit!) he thought, hoping Shirou would hear. (Now you can cheer on Kidou and friends without getting pummeled!)

    (I would appreciate it if you didn't call me a dimwit, but...) Fubuki relaxed a bit and his eyes turned blue. "Thank you so much!" said Shirou. "Don't give up, Kidou-kun! That's the Raimon modus operandi, remember?"

    "That aside," exclaimed Desuta, "playtime's over! Hell Army Z, in the name of the Demon Lord, annihilate them!"

    "Yeah!" shouted the demonic team in unison. The goalkeeper shot the ball to the opposite side of the field.

    "You just think you're hot shit, huh!?" asked Fudou as he caught the ball and dribbled it up the field. "Well, I'll kick it in as many time as it takes!"

    "It's useless!" cried the silver-haired demon with the blue lipstick. He tackled Fudou, who crashed onto the ground as Tsunami grabbed the loose ball, feeling concerned.

    "You seriously think you have time to worry about other people!?" asked Arachnes as she dashed up the field. Tsunami received a sliding tackle from her and gasped.

    From there, the ball went to Tobitaka. "Fudou! Tsunami!" he exclaimed.

    Satanathos closed up in front of Tobitaka. "Go To Hell!" he shouted. Tobitaka's ball was surrounded by a blue ring, which closed in on it and formed numerous cracks in the ground. A bolt of black thunder crashed on Tobitaka, sending him flying like a dead hawk and allowing Satanathos to pass the ball to Desuta.

    "Take this!" Desuta kicked the ball diagonally, sending it flying directly above him. The area around him darkened, and the ball turned jet black with white accents as it spun at the speed of sound. Desuta jumped in the air and kicked it from below. "Dark Matter!" The ball left a comet-like trail as it soared to the goal.

    "Maou The Hand!" shouted Tachimukai. Purple energy spiraled above him and took the form of a demon king, grabbing the ball alongside Tachimukai. The ball pushed him towards the goal, but he stood steadfast, his feet scraping the ground. Regardless, he managed to save the ball, falling alongside it.

    "What is with these guys!?" asked Teres. “That took him, like, forever to save!”

    Desuta smirked and reared his head back. "This is the power of evil! Just stay there and watch the resurrection of the Demon Lord! We’ll have you pathetically crawling on your toes in no time! Ahahahaha!!”

    "No!" said Shirou. "Kidou-kun! Everyone! You can't give up! I've seen you guys turn games around all the time. It's what we're best at! As long as there's time left, we still have a chance! I'm not giving up, and neither should you!"

    (Wait a minute,) muttered Atsuya. (Does this mean that the soul-eating was a metaphor for…!?) “Hey, guys!” He called out-loud this time. “I’m sorry about what I said earlier! If eating souls means beating you at soccer, then don’t let them do it! In fact, you should be the ones eating their souls! Go kick some demon ass! I believe in you!”

    “So, by his logic,” whispered Belial, “he thinks he’s in our ‘elite club.’”

    “Hey, I’m curious,” piped Shirou. “What happened to Hell Armies A through Y?”

    “Does it really matter?” answered the silver-haired demon with the blue lipstick.

    “I suppose not. I just thought I’d ask.”

    “… Seriously,” commented Tsunami, “even I’m not this calm about this. How can you be so nonchalant!?”

    “Because I’m not worried,” replied Fubuki. “I know how this is going to end. You guys will win. No matter how much time is left, you’ll find a way to score two goals, and you’ll win, so I’m not worried! It’s that simple.”

    “Begin the second half!” declared the old man with the purple goggles. He blew his whistle again, and the large stone hourglass tipped.

    “Everyone, strengthen the defense line!” ordered Kidou.

    “Yes!” The rest of the team moved back towards their goal.

    “It’s almost time,” said Desuta, tackling Fudou. “Our Demon Lord will be resurrected soon.”

    “Transcending time…” continued Satanathos, tackling Tobitaka.

    “Huhuhu, I can’t wait,” finished Arachnes as she tackled Tsunami.

    Sakuma glanced at the stone hourglass. “Kidou!” he shouted. “We’re running out of time!”

    “I know,” replied Kidou. “I know, but…” He darted his eyes around the field, seeing all his teammates in various states of fatigue or injury. “All we can do at this point is defend.”

    “Iron Wall!” shouted Teres, stealing the ball with, well, an iron wall that rose up behind him.

    “I guess Teres is right…? Anyway, you’re not running out of time,” said Fubuki with a smile. “Well, I mean, time is ticking, yes, but you’ve got plenty left! The second half’s just started! Go team, go!” He half-heartedly raised his arm. He sincerely meant it, of course, yet he couldn’t help but tap his foot on the rock. (Hey… They said this is the realm of hell, right? Do you think he might—)

    (Nonsense,) assured Atsuya. (I’m right here, Shirou. Quit worrying so much.)

    (You may be right, but…) Shirou looked at the rocky ceiling above him. (I still can’t help but wonder… You think he’s talking with Rika right now?)

    (I get where you’re coming from, but I’m proof that he—or rather, I am not. Still, I have to wonder if they are…)

    Shirou gave a tiny smile that laced his despair-ridden eyes. (… I should ask Rika when this is all over, assuming I don’t find out on my own.) He looked back down onto the pitch.

    Teres was still in possession of the ball. Not one, not two, but four legions of Hell Army Z surrounded him. Ball between his feet, he danced around a small spot on the ground, not seeing a hole in the demons’ formation but not letting them get the ball either. When he guided the ball to one side, he started for the other before anyone could use an accurate sliding tackle. He guided the demons forward and back, and then forward and back, and then went forward and back, then put one foot forward as he saw Mark and Dylan rush on by. Finally spotting his chance, he kicked the ball straight through his opponents, and it landed neatly in Mark’s feet.

    “Well, Dylan?” confirmed Mark. “Heaven or Hell?”

    “I say it’s duel 1,” replied Dylan. “Let’s rock!” He and Mark weaved the ball through Hell Army Z’s remaining defenses, instinctively passing the ball between each other without saying a word. The ball was in Dylan’s possession by the time he reached the goal, and he reared his foot back. “This is my ultimate special move!”

    “I’ll stop it!” proclaimed the goalkeeper. He dove to the right, ready to catch whatever came his way…

    … except, that is, for Dylan’s normal shoot.

    “What the--!?” Hell Army Z’s goalkeeper gasped at what he had previously thought to be inconceivable. Without even using a special move, Dylan Keith scored the White Team their first point.

    “No matter how it’s done,” affirmed Teres to Gouenji and Toramaru as everyone got back into position, “he gets it in. That’s the role of a forward, after all.”

    “Defender, midfielder, and forward…” commented Sakuma. “By working together, they actually scored a goal with only three people. That’s the individual strength of the world’s top level…”

    “What do you know?” laughed Fubuki. “I might actually make it out of here after all! I knew I would, of course. Keep it up!”

    Everyone was back in position and the whistle blew again, starting the next round.

    “Heh,” Desuta chuckled as he ran up along with Satanathos. “Get a load of these humans—they actually think they have something over us!”

    “Worthless beings!” shouted Satanathos, bringing the ball forward. “Begone!”

    “Shinkuuma!” exclaimed Tobitaka. By enveloping the ball in a dark aura, he stole it from Satanathos, and from there passed it to Tsunami. “Teres’ plays have lit a fire inside me! Metaphorically, of course.”

    Tsunami brought the ball a bit forward before meeting Arachnes.

    “If you think we’re giving up because we lost a point,” she announced, “you may as well leave right now!”

    “Well, we’re not backing down either!” retorted Tsunami. He darted past Arachnes and passed the ball to, “Kidou! We will live to win the finals!”

    “Fudou! Sakuma!” called Kidou. His familiar allies backed him up as they brought the ball through Hell Army Z’s defenses.

    “Look at these guys,” commented Fudou. “You give a little speech on working together and they all go down like chumps!”

    Kidou whistled. Five light purple penguins burst out of the ground and started to follow the ball. The three boys jumped in the air and, as they landed, kicked the ball from above, sending it towards the goal. “Emperor Penguin No.3!”

    “The End!” Hell Army Z’s goalkeeper shouted louder than usual. He telekinetically grabbed the ball, which had the side effect of suffocating the penguins. The penguins, however, burned with the need to fulfill their life’s purpose, burst out of captivity in a shining light, and guided the ball into the goal net before vanishing with a sense of satisfaction.

Chapter Text

    The sand in the stone hourglass finished falling for the second time, and the scoreboard read 2-1 in the White Team’s favor. Three long whistles signaled the end of the match and secured Fubuki’s life and independence from the Demon Lord.

    “They did it…” he said, looking behind him as Belzeb undid his shackles. The moment he was free, he ran down the stairs. “Kidou-kun! Everyone!”

    “Fubuki!” said Kidou. “I’m so glad you’re— uh…“ He looked behind as Fubuki ignored him entirely…

    … only to run up and punch Fudou in the face.

    “OW!!” cried Fudou. He took a few steps back and rubbed his right cheek. “What the fuck, man!? We just saved your life!”

    “That was for that time you did a sliding tackle deliberately and specifically to injure Someoka!” proclaimed Atsuya. “Now that there’s no game I can be removed from, I can finally get you back for that!”

    “Fair enough,” argued Kidou, “but can you at least wait a bit? He has been making an effort to improve himself since then, and he did just help us save your life.” Atsuya glanced around the room, but couldn’t think of anything to say and instead pouted in response.

    “HEEEEEY! GUYS!!” called a voice from the entrance staircase. It was Endou, followed by his Red Team, Rika, and an old man almost identical to the purple-goggled one but with yellow goggles and a more graceful hairstyle. “So you guys won, too!” He and his group ran down to meet their friends.

    “Yeah,” said Kidou.

    “I’m so glad Fubuki-san is safe!” added Kabeyama. He noticed the hellish golden look in Fubuki’s eyes, stepped back, and rubbed his hand against the back of his neck. “Well, for a given value of ‘safe’, anyway…”

    “I didn’t think they could defeat the warriors of hell,” said the old man with the purple goggles.

    “Not that it matters too much,” said Desuta, “because even if you ‘saved’ our sacrifice, you must remember that he willingly pledged loyalty to us. Isn’t that true…?”

    Everyone in the room gasped except for Atsuya.

    “Fubuki…!” exclaimed Endou. “You wouldn’t betray us like that, right!? The guy’s a liar, right!? Please tell me this isn’t happening!”

    Atsuya sighed. “… It’s true.”

    “No…” muttered Endou.

    “It’s true that some people call me Atsuya Fubuki.”

    “Atsuya… Fubuki…?” asked Toramaru.

    “It’s also true that I said I would respect the Demon Lord until the day I die. And it’s also true…”

    (Oh no…!) thought Shirou. He wanted to scream, but his mouth wouldn’t move with him. (Atsuya, this is a really bad idea!!)

    “… that the real Atsuya Fubuki died several years ago!”

    Everyone gasped again. Atsuya put his hands on his hips and smirked from ear to ear. He waited a few seconds for people to get it. Nobody could peel their wide eyes away from him now—and that was how Atsuya liked it.

    “I’m sorry, what!?” added Teres. “What do you mean, ‘the real Atsuya died several years ago’!?”

    “Exactly what I said. I’ll keep this brief.” Atsuya suddenly stopped smiling, and his upright position drooped. Everyone looked up, stunned at the quiet Atsuya that seemed to come out of nowhere. His voice took on an uncharacteristic solemn tone as he explained: “… Shirou Fubuki, the one you know, had a younger twin brother named Atsuya. He was quite a spunky little sprout who played forward, while the more reserved Shirou played defense. They were truly the perfect combination. But one day, when their parents were driving them home from a soccer tournament…” His lips quivered, he hesitated, and he sobbed. “…let’s just say little Shirou was left all alone.”

    “That’s awful…” Mark lamented. “I’m so sorry…”

    “I can’t even imagine…” added Dylan.

    “But the past is the past,” Atsuya affirmed with his former confident smile, wiping his eyes. He turned to Desuta and Hell Army Z. “Now, you might be wondering: ‘what the fuck does that make this gold-eyed freak?’ Well, there’s two possibilities. One!” He held a finger in the air as he continued. “I am actually the ghost of Shirou’s twin brother. That would mean I died several years ago, and thus, by my own words, I hold no obligation to the Demon Lord.”

    “So… what’s the other option?” asked Satanathos.

    “Two!” Atsuya held up another finger. “I’m just a figment of Shirou’s wild and crazy imagination. The boy was quite lonely, you know. He might have thought he could get Atsuya back, but by choice or not, that possibility was all in his head. Being an imaginary friend would mean I never had a life to begin with, and thus, by my own words, I hold no obligation to the Demon Lord.”

    “So, what you’re saying is…!?” realized Desuta.

    “That’s right!” Atsuya proclaimed. “I was insulting you, pulling your leg all along—and you totally fell for it!” He took the blue cloth off his waist and tied it around his neck, leaving an azure trail down his side. “I owe nothing to the Demon Lord, and he, along with you guys, can go suck it and fuck off!! Ahahahaha!!!” He stuck out his tongue, extended both of his middle fingers, and laughed all the way into the depths of Demon’s Gate. All anyone else could do was stare with wide eyes.

    “… Goodness gracious,” Touko finally lamented, “do you have NO shame?”

    “Shame?” replied Sakuma. “I don’t even know if he has basic human decency at this point. I mean, couldn’t you have picked something else—anything else—to tell these guys off with?”

    Someoka crossed his arms. “Even I gotta admit, that’s a little far.”

    “Wow,” said Desuta. “Using the death of a child to insult us. That’s low. You know, I had some doubts before, but now I understand why the key to the legend chose you. A strong soul—unafraid, unrelenting, unyielding… You’re the perfect sacrifice for the Demon Lord!”

    “The what now?” Atsuya suddenly stopped laughing, raised his eyebrows, and relaxed his arms. A spotlight shined directly above him, and he took a step back. “Huh!?”

    “You get first dibs on witnessing the power of the Demon Lord as he tears the world asunder!” exclaimed Desuta. “Come, Hell Army Z—the Demon Lord has awoken!” The earth rumbled as Desuta proceeded up one of the staircases, followed by his team.

    “What the crap is this shit!?” cried Atsuya. He ran after Desuta, but the spotlight followed him, and he struggled as Endou and Tsunami held him back. “I get first dibs!? What does that mean!? The Demon Lord has awoken!? Where is he, and why didn’t he listen when I told him to fuck off!? Where are you going!? Get back here!!”

    In the midst of Atsuya’s kicking and screaming, the old man with the yellow goggles quietly said, “So it begins…”

    “Yes,” replied his companion with the purple goggles. “The millennial curtain shall rise...”

    (Atsuya,) thought Shirou, (if Midorikawa-kun were here, he’d say: play stupid games, win stupid prizes. You knew they wanted reactions out of you, and yet you kept going anyway. I’m not gonna lie to make you feel good: I find it hard to feel sorry for you. Especially since you used Atsuya’s death to do it.)

    (Yeah, yeah, can it, will ya?) replied Atsuya. (I’m still not sorry.)

    The entire area was suddenly engulfed in shadow, save for the spotlight on Atsuya. The earth rumbled. Lightning crashed immediately outside Mt. Magneto, which combined with the dark cloud coverage resembled the end of the world.

    “What’s happening?” asked Kidou.

    Sakuma trembled. “I have a bad feeling about this…”


    Hell Army Z entered a tiny crevice. Before them was a slab lit from underneath by pulsating purple light. Another army, this one clothed in white, ascended from the staircase on the opposite side.

    “So it’s come to this,” lamented Sein, staring Desuta straight in the eye.

    “Indeed,” replied Desuta. “I take it you’re not so hot, either, since you also lost. At least we got a good fight out of it. How about you?”

    “The bride and the sacrifice, the two beacons of good and evil, have been snatched away, yet still, the Demon Lord doesn’t slumber. That leaves us no other choice.” Sein extended his hand. “Fly forth, Messengers of the Sky! Cast heaven’s judgement upon these heathens, and finish off the warriors of hell once and for all!”

    Desuta chuckled and extended his hand in turn. “Bare your fangs, Hell Army Z! Usher in a new era ruled by evil, and finish off warriors of heaven once and for all!”

    A whistle blew.

    Save for the goalkeeper, the entirety of Hell Army Z made a break for the other side. They ran so fast that no one had time to react, although something right beside a foot caught Sein’s eye. “Don’t tell me…!”

    He heard a thunk, followed by another whistle. Sein looked behind him and saw something had hit the wall. Not just any something—a soccer ball. “This was a…!?” He snapped towards Desuta. “How dare you! Soccer isn’t just a method to determine a winner, it’s the clashing of souls against souls!”

    Desuta smiled. “That’s a roundabout way of saying it’s a method to crush your enemies.”

    Sein scoffed. The purple light under the slab grew even brighter.

    The two armies clashed with each other at their commanders’ orders. Punching. Biting. Kicking a soccer ball. Kicking each other. A whole lot of screaming. Nobody backed down, nobody got fouls, and nobody gave in. From an overhead perspective, black overcame white, and white overcame black in rapid succession, creating an odd sort of balance.

    All the while, the slab’s purple glow grew brighter, more consistent. The stone broke away to reveal a black-tipped crystal underneath.

    “What the--!?” Sein looked at the crystal just long enough for the soccer ball to hit him from the side.

    “You still don’t get it?” mocked Desuta, holding the ball under his foot. “While you were busy keeping up a holier-than-thou attitude, we were driven by our desire to crush all, and consumed the fighting spirit of our sacrifices to grow even stronger! Look around!”

    Sein looked around. His teammates were locked in conflict with their enemies that was just shy of bloody. The angels were deflecting and dodging the other side’s blows less efficiently as time went on, but the demons remained as strong as ever.

    “I don’t care what I have to do,” cried an angel, “we will defeat you here and now!”

    “You’re wrong,” said the demon he was grappling with. “We will defeat you!”

    The crystal grew, its tips partitioning into spikes.

    “Look where lying to yourself got you!” Desuta’s eyes glowed that same purple as he gave Sein an uppercut.

    He looked again. One angel fell, and then another. One by one, they fell like dominos. The demons, meanwhile, didn’t break a sweat. Before long, nearly every single Messenger of the Sky was crumpled on the ground. Sein was the only one still standing, and even he struggled on unstable knees. “My friends…” he mourned. “Is there… nothing I…?”

    Desuta kicked the soccer ball aside, threw Sein to the ground, and stomped on his head. “Heh, you’re finally getting it. Evil will rule this millennium. You still have a chance to survive, however, as do your teammates. Just admit where you went wrong, and we can get the power to crush anything in our way. What do you say?”

    “Power…?” murmured Sein. “… Would that… really…? … Yes…” He looked at the soccer ball, and then the crystal. “I will… crush you, Desuta…” The crystal grew further, shattering its stone foundation. A purple glow flowed from it into Sein’s eyes. It felt warm. Comforting. Just as empowering as Desuta had advertised. A light in the dark, a fire in the cold. It was the exact type of warmth he needed to destroy Hell Army Z.

    It also seared Sein to his very core. By the time he realized this, he couldn’t even so much as wince. All he could do was stand up and smile against his will.


 

    “The millennial seal has been unleashed,” said one of the old men.

    “The era of destruction has begun,” said another voice, this one familiar to Endou.

    “That voice…” uttered Endou. “It can’t be…!”

    “By consuming souls,” affirmed Desuta, “the Demon Lord has been resurrected!”

    The staircase Hell Army Z was just on lit up, revealing seven familiar silhouettes and six unfamiliar ones. Desuta stood at the top, his minions below him. They were all wearing a different uniform than before, with loose shorts as opposed to skin-tight ones and crescent wings instead of bat-like ones. Also among them was Hell Army Z’s goalkeeper, wearing a navy blue shirt with white accents, gray shorts, and white gloves.

    “We,” said the voice familiar to Endou, “are Dark Angel.”

    “Sein…!?” Endou realized. “Sein, is that you!?”

    Sein gasped and bent down slightly, clutching his hand on his forehead. “En…dou…” he groaned.

    “Sein!” shouted Endou. “What happened!?”

    “Silence.” Sein stood up and flashed an evil smile down upon Inazuma Japan and friends.

    “Hell has swallowed up the heavens,” replied one of the old men. He was standing right next to his companion in front of the stone hourglass.

    “Just who are you people!?” asked Kidou.

    “We oversee the rituals of both heaven and hell,” replied both of the old men in unison.

    “What have you done to Sein!?” demanded Endou.

    (‘What have you…’? ‘Done to’…?) pondered Atsuya.

    “When the bride and sacrifice were stolen from them,” answered one of the old men, “it was determined that the only way to seal the other side away was through pure ability. As decreed since ancient times, hell detested heaven and heaven detested hell, and that hatred accumulated deep in the underground caverns of Demon’s Gate. Now satiated through long years of dormancy, that mutual hatred has given birth to a new evil.”

    “So, what you’re saying is…” said Kidou.

    “The balance between the two has tipped,” confirmed the old man, “and now evil has swallowed up the heavens to wreak despair upon the world. Dark Angel is the embodiment of those fallen, evil spirits!”

    “At last…” said Desuta. “At long last, the Demon Lord has been revived!”

    “Really?” asked Kabeyama. “Then, where is he?”

    “He’s right here in front of you.”

    “No way…” uttered Endou.

    “Yes…” Desuta stood tall and extended his arms. “We are the Demon Lord!”

    “You mean,” asked Kidou, “Dark Angel is the Demon Lord!?”

    A faint purple glow pulsated in Sein’s eyes. His evil smile turned into a slacked jaw. “What a travesty…” he uttered, taking a few steps back, “that my will be… controlled… by the likes of a demon…” He gasped and stretched out one of his hands, struggling to hold it up. “Stop us! Please! Before we… before we sully our hands with… these treacherous… deeds…!” His hand dropped to his side.

    “Sein! Sein!!” shouted Endou.

    “Ahahaha…” Sein kicked a soccer ball into his hand. “Ahahaha!” He lifted his head up from the ground and flashed an evil smile at Inazuma Japan and company standing below them. He then threw the ball into the air and kicked it straight at Endou, knocking him to the ground. “Give us your souls,” he demanded.

    Even Atsuya gasped slightly. (Why does he look so… familiar?)

    “Sein!” shouted Endou as he stood up. “That’s not what soccer is supposed to be used for! Didn’t you learn from playing with us how much fun soccer is!?”

    Sein gave an answer as blunt as a cast iron club: “No.”

    “We are Dark Angel,” continued Desuta, “a being with power even greater than that of hell and heaven itself! We are far, far more than the sum of our parts! Far beyond human comprehension! We are the Demon Lord!”

    “Ah, dammit,” muttered Atsuya. “This is all my fault, isn’t it!? If I’d just stayed back, this wouldn’t be happening!”

    “It’s not all your fault,” assured Desuta. Ten spotlights similar to the one shining upon Atsuya circled the cavern and the team. “Through battling you, we realized that many of you have strong, amazing souls.”

    “So we’re finally gonna find out what Fubuki got ‘dibs’ on?” asked Touko.

    “Therefore,” continued Desuta, “in order to make ourselves even more perfect as the Demon Lord…” Atsuya twitched at that statement. Desuta snapped his fingers. Ten additional spotlights appeared over ten more people: Mamoru Endou, Shuuya Gouenji, Yuuto Kidou, Heigorou Kabeyama, Seiya Tobitaka, Toramaru Utsunomiya, Teres Tolue, Hiroto Kiyama, Fideo Ardena, and Akio Fudou. “… those of you the lights are shining upon will be our first eleven chosen sacrifices.”

    “Chosen?” asked Endou.

    “You will hold the ritual with those eleven only,” clarified Desuta. “No switching allowed.”

    (I don’t need your help for this,) thought Shirou. (If the past taught you anything, now’s the time to prove it.)

    (… You know what? You’re right.) Atsuya exhaled through his nose and closed his eyes. (You’ve done well these past few months—far better than I ever could have imagined. You can win this one. I won’t interfere this time.)

    His own hair drooped down, making way for Shirou to open his blue eyes—

    —and the moment he did, he felt a fierce SLAP across the face. “I said no switching allowed!!” Desuta grabbed the boy’s shoulders and locked him into a gaze. His eyes flashed a brighter purple than before, followed by Fubuki’s eyes similarly glowing purple, then his pupils fading, and finally his eyes turning gold and his hair spiking up “If you try that again,” threatened Desuta, releasing his grip on Fubuki, “you’ll be removed from the ritual. With no replacement.”

    “Wait,” said Atsuya. “Care to explain what you mean by, ‘even more perfect’? How will eating our souls, whatever that means, make you ‘even more perfect as the Demon Lord’?”

    “It’s simple,” replied Desuta. “With our newfound power, we are already invincible. We can’t be injured, and we’re already capable of rending this mountain in four. By eating your souls, we can go on to destroy the world! That’s what I mean by ‘even more perfect’—gaining the power to crush stronger and stronger foes!”

    “You motherfucker…” Atsuya bared his teeth and clenched his fists.


     Several years prior, two little boys sat in the back seat of a car. The blizzard outside was just as frightful as what was about to happen—it was almost too fitting to be a coincidence.

    The boy with pink hair and a white scarf pouted. “Soccer should be played however you want. That’s what I think, anyway. Who cares about all this forward-defense stuff?”

    “I do,” said the boy with blue hair, “and so does everyone else. After all, no matter how many points you get, you can’t win if your defense is so weak that the opponent gets more.”

    “But scoring goals is, like, the coolest thing ever!” retorted the pink-haired boy.

    “Well, then,” added their father, who was driving the car, “if you two played together, you’d be perfect.”

    “Perfect?” repeated the blue-haired boy.

    “I see!” said the pink-haired boy with a smile. “With the two of us playing together…”

    “… we’ll get stronger!” finished the blue-haired boy. “We’ll get stronger and stronger and be perfect!”

    “All right!” said the pink-haired boy. “Let’s become the best in the world, bro-bro!”

    “Here’s to it!” agreed the blue-haired boy. He shook hands with the pink-haired boy and they smiled at each other, vowing to achieve perfection—and the world championship—together.

    They never did.


    Not together, anyway.

    It took him several years and more numerous, more severe missteps than he would care to admit, but the blue-haired boy eventually realized what his father meant.

    “Rely on your friends as they would rely on you. Pick up their slack, and in turn let them pick up yours. That mutual cycle of receiving and giving… That is perfection.”

    It changed his life. It’s not a stretch to say it even saved his life. For the first time in several years, he felt true, genuine happiness. For the first time in several years, he was grateful to be alive.

    And these demons have the gall to use that word in that way. To desecrate his father’s last words.

    Sure, it’s not like they could’ve known how important it was to him, but that didn’t change a thing.


    In the depths of Demon’s Gate, the abstract presence called Atsuya continued to growl. “You know, I think I finally understand why you piss me off so much. You remind me of who I used to be.”

    Desuta looked back at him. “One of your eyes is blue. Cut that shit out.”

    “It’s not just about power, dammit!” snapped Fubuki, pointing at Desuta. Shirou and Atsuya seemed to be speaking in unison—their voice was always the same, but the tone now leaned to neither one nor the other. “It’s about friendship! It’s about making up for your friends’ flaws, and in turn letting them make up for yours!”

    “Oho?” said Sein, leaning forward. “Keep talking. I’m rather interested in your wrong opinion.”

    “It’s not wrong,” continued Fubuki. “If anything, you—the ones who think perfection is crushing everything in your way, never making a single mistake—are the ones who are wrong!” He took a deep breath, but his eyes—one blue, one gold—didn’t change. “Just before he died, my father told me this: ‘if you two played together, you’d be perfect.’ I’ve been living my life by those words ever since.”

    “Oh my,” observed Sein. “If I remember correctly, you just used a child’s death as insult fodder. I didn’t think you had morals.”

    Fubuki hesitated a bit before continuing. “For the longest time, I thought being perfect meant I had to become someone else. I thought it meant that, if I made a single mistake, everyone would leave me—except for this one imaginary friend in someone else’s image. It wrecked me. Just ask anyone in an Inazuma Japan shirt. But as it turns out, by ‘together’, he didn’t necessarily mean that ‘someone else’—he meant with my friends! To rely on them, as they would rely on you! To account for their flaws, as they would account for yours! That is perfection! Not the raw power to crush whatever’s in your way, but to work with your friends to achieve that together!”

    “… You didn’t address my criticism,” said Sein. “On an unrelated note, do you think the chosen ten can win against the perfect Demon Lord?”

    “What’s wrong?” said Fubuki. “You’re disappointed that I don’t fit your idea of a ‘perfect’ sacrifice?” His hair lifted up ever so slightly, and his other eye turned from gold to blue. “Well, gee, that’s just too fucking bad! You’ll just have to destroy the world with a lingering sense of disappointment.”

    Desuta sighed. He snapped his fingers, and the spotlight faded from above Fubuki. “It’s settled. Unless you decide to play when you have two gold eyes, the ritual will be held against the chosen ten.” He walked back up the stairs.

    (They really won’t listen…) whispered Shirou. (Then again, neither would I listen to them. Sein actually makes a pretty good point here. Goodness gracious, ‘it must be that you don’t like me’? What was I thinking!? Hmm… What do I do? Do I make them play with only ten people, or risk Atsuya running wild so he might realize…?)

    To him, the choice was clear. He’d been there before—sat on the sidelines, watching helplessly while those around him fell. It was painful back then, and even now, it would be just as painful as taking the risk. “Desuta,” Shirou Fubuki declared. “Hypnotize me again, please.”

    Desuta simply turned around and shrugged. “That’s better.” His eyes once more flashed a purple glow which reflected in Fubuki’s eyes. Fubuki’s hair drooped again, and his pupils faded from his eyes.

    (Sorry, Shirou,) piped Atsuya’s all-too-familiar voice. (Looks like I’ll have to stick around a while longer. One thing’s for sure: those bastards are going down.)

    (Glad we finally agree on something.)

    His hair spiked up, and his eyes turned gold again. “Let me just say this: perfection is about friendship, not power, and I’m gonna prove it to you.”

    “Now that’s the look I like to see!” said Desuta. The spotlight once again appeared over Fubuki, now in full Atsuya mode.

    “Now,” announced Sein, “ascend to your deaths using the soccer you love!”

    “’Ascend to my death?’” Atsuya responded, his trademark smirk having returned. He tightly clasped one hand over the other. “Ha, as if!”

Chapter Text

    The pitch of Demon’s Gate lit up once again in preparation for the big game. Every player from Inazuma Japan was busy warming up, but Dark Angel didn’t feel the need to do so thanks to their individual egos being bigger than Mt. Magneto. Instead, they conversed amongst themselves about how awesome they are and how they’ll crush their enemies and take over the world.

    That was what Atsuya Fubuki made of their huddle, anyway. He was stretching his leg on the solid ground when it dawned on him: "I just sentenced myself to playing soccer without shoes in this ridiculous outfit. I mean, I’ll do it, but… don’t expect to play in the finals after this one, Shirou.”

    “I hear you, man,” said someone behind him.

    Fubuki looked over his shoulder and saw, “Someoka?”

    Someoka was holding a pair of shoes with socks inside them. “So, uhh, I heard you also got around to punching Fudou in the face for injuring me a while back.”

    “Yeah. What about it?”

    “Sure, the others say it was a bit of a dick move on both your part and his, but still, that’s no reason you should have to play soccer without shoes. Here—borrow mine.”

    “Why?”

    “Why not?” answered Someoka, pushing the shoes and socks in Fubuki’s direction. “All I’m doing this round is standing on cold, hard rock. You’ll be running around on that same rock, kicking a ball—you probably won’t be able to play in the finals if you go in almost barefoot. Sorry they’re rather dirty—I used them earlier today—but they should help you get through this. Besides, I gotta admit he kinda deserved it.”

    Atsuya Fubuki smiled, took the shoes, and started putting on the socks without even saying thank you. He tried to continue smiling, but he crinkled his nose as the socks reeked of sweat. He could’ve sworn some of Someoka’s sweat even leaked onto Fubuki's own full-body tights, making those tights even more dreadful than they already were. Moving on to the shoes, they smelled ever so slightly better, but not by much. “You aren’t kidding…”

    “If you don’t want them,” said Someoka, “that’s fine. I’ll take them back if you—“

    “No, no, no,” exclaimed Atsuya, flapping a hand and giving a nervous smile, “they’ll do just fine! Well, anyway, ain’t this convenient? Thank you, Someoka!” He tied his, or rather Someoka’s shoes, stood up, and stretched his arms.

    “Alright,” assured Someoka, putting his hands on his hips, “knock ‘em dead, Fubs.”

    Atsuya grinned back. (Fubs…?)

    (Wow, Atsuya!) thought Shirou. (I think that’s the first time you’ve ever said, ‘thank you’. I’d better at this to my non-existent scrapbook: Atsuya’s First Thank-You!)

    (Shut up.)

 


 

    Before long, both teams were in their starting formations. Thunder roared, and lightning periodically cracked the sky outside the cave. Atsuya clenched his heart, but knew he couldn’t lose here.

    “We will now commence the ritual!” announced the old man in the purple goggles. He blew his whistle and the large stone hourglass tipped over.

    The soccer game to decide the fate of the world began.

    Atsuya Fubuki gritted his teeth. As if everything else wasn’t enough, he was in the back of the pitch, playing on defense! Who in their right mind would think that Gouenji, Toramaru, and Hiroto were better forwards than him!?

    “The power of Dark Angel…” began Desuta, kicking the ball towards Inazuma Japan and friends.

    “… will overwhelm you,” continued Sein, running beside Desuta. The duo zipped right past Gouenji, Toramaru, and Hiroto as if they weren’t even there at all.

    “They’ve gotten faster!” exclaimed Toramaru.

    “They’ve powered up so much in so little time!” added Hiroto.

    Sein and Desuta continued to act as if Inazuma Japan’s players weren’t even there, casually dashing past Kidou, Fudou, and even Kabeyama.

    “I’ll stop—“ Before Atsuya could even finish his sentence, let alone do anything else, Sein and Desuta had already passed him, too.

    That just left Sein and Desuta against Endou and the goal.

    “Fear us!” shouted Desuta.

    “And let that fear transform your souls!” continued Sein. Endou braced himself for whatever was to come.

    Desuta leaped up in the air and began Dark Matter, but instead of kicking the ball, passed it ball to Sein and said, “Shadow…” From there, Sein enveloped the ball in light, backflipped, and kicked it towards the goal. “… Ray!”

    “Ijigen the Hand Remastered!” Endou punched the ground, producing a golden dome-like barrier around him. The ball pierced the barrier as if it was never there at all, and Dark Angel scored their first goal less than two minutes into the game.

    “Wh-what’s with these guys?” gasped Rika from the audience.

    “Their speed, and their destructive energy…” observed Kidou, with wide eyes underneath his goggles. “This is the power of Dark Angel!?”

    Desuta laughed. “These are the faces I like to see! The more fear a soul absorbs, the tastier it gets! Fear us! Fear us more!”

    Everyone on Inazuma Japan was some variant of slack-jawed, wide eyes optional—yes, even Atsuya Fubuki, as much as he didn’t want to admit it. They all froze in place and trembled as they struggled to think of their next move.

    Everyone, that is, except for Akio Fudou.

    He stomped his foot on the ground and clenched his jaw at both parties. “Don’t just stand there with your mouths on the floor like that! If they score one point, we score back—that’s soccer!”

    “He’s right, everyone!” exclaimed Endou. “Let’s strike them back!”

    “It’s like we just went over!” added Teres. “Never forget the importance of attacking, even in a tight situation!”

    “Yeah!” everyone else shouted.

    At the start of the next round, Kidou and Fudou moved the ball forward. They leapt in the air and towards each other. “Killer Fields!” They kicked the ball in opposite directions, surrounding it in a dark energy as it soared towards the goal.

    “Goddammit!” whined Atsuya. “These guys are the ones scoring goals and I’m just back here doing nothing! Is there seriously no one else more qualified to be on defense!?”

    “Go To Hell!” shouted Satanathos. A dark blue energy surrounded the ball, producing cracks in the ground. From those cracks erupted a different sort of dark energy that knocked Kidou and Fudou to the ground. He took the ball and passed it to a Messenger of the Sky with blonde hair patterned in wavy spikes.

    “Finally!” Atsuya jumped at the chance to do something and ran up to steal the ball. “Snow Angel!” He kicked the air a few times, expecting ice and snow to trail him… except it didn’t.

    (You’re supposed to start Snow Angel with your right foot, not your left!) thought Shirou. (You were all willing to hand this match over to me, so you’d better be willing to listen to what I have to say.)

    “The Mountain!” shouted Kabeyama, raising a paradoxically tiny mountain behind him in a successful last-ditch effort to steal the ball. “Fubuki-san!” He passed it to Atsuya.

    (Shut up,) replied Atsuya. (It’ll work out.) He moved the ball forward, Gouenji joined him at the side, and they ran past Dark Angel’s defenses.

    Gouenji nodded and leaned forward, engulfing himself in flames that were harmless to him. He dashed towards Fubuki, expecting him to return the favor… only for his flames to fizzle out when he saw Fubuki in the air.

    “Eternal Blizzard V2!” Rather than taking Gouenji up on his offer, Fubuki surrounded the ball in ice and kicked it towards the goal on his own.

    “The End V2!” said Hell Army Z’s goalkeeper. He telekinetically caught the ball in mid-air and crushed it without even touching it. The ball re-appeared in his hand, and he giggled.

    “Grr… One more time!” shouted Atsuya. “I’ll get it this--…”

    (What the hell are you doing!?) interjected Shirou. He wanted to sigh, but his body didn't agree. (We'll go over this at halftime. For now, think of it this way: if you want to piss these guys off, you should do the exact opposite of whatever it is they love you for.)

    (So that means I should rely on my friends as they would rely on me!) answered Atsuya.

    Instead, the goalkeeper threw the ball to Desuta. He, along with Sein, dribbled it up the field, with the occasional uses of Go To Hell and Sein’s counterpart Go To Heaven to pass whichever Inazuma Japan members got in their way. Eventually, they stood at the defense, and used Shadow Ray again.

    This time, Kabeyama jumped in the air. “The Mountain!” he shouted again. When he landed, a tiny mountain erupted from the ground behind him. Unfortunately, the shining ball tore right through it.

    “Shinkuuma!” Tobitaka shouted. He kicked the air and produced a void, draining some of the energy out of the ball but failing to stop it this time.

    Endou leapt up in the air as well, and reeled his fist back to punch the ground. “Ijigen the—“

    “Snow Angel!” Before Endou could make the barrier, he noticed a trail of snow and ice following Atsuya’s three kicks in the air—he had made sure to start on his right foot this time. Much to everyone’s surprise, he encased both Sein and Desuta in ice long enough to steal the ball.

    Regardless, Endou continued to smile. “Nice save, Kabeyama, Tobitaka, Fubuki!”

    “Can’t argue with that,” said Desuta, the ice covering his upper body having already melted. “But how long will it last, I wonder…?” He laughed.

    “Too long for you, I bet,” argued Atsuya. “Toramaru!” He kicked the ball towards Fudou, who then passed it to Toramaru.

    Toramaru, Gouenji, and Hiroto ran up the field, passing the ball as necessary to dodge Dark Angel’s defense. While Hiroto had possession of the ball, he was cornered by two Dark Angel defenders, but found just enough room to pass it back to Toramaru, who took it all the way to the goal. “Tiger…” He stomped his right foot and kicked the ball upward, summoning an image of a tiger that sent it into…

    … Gouenji’s flaming kick, backed by his own fiery avatar. “… Storm!” He kicked the ball down to the goal, almost in a straight line.

    “The End V2!” The goalkeeper telekinetically grabbed the ball, but it soon broke out of the dark aura and flew right past him. It was the goal net that stopped the ball from rolling off the pitch.

 



    At half time, the score was 1-1.

    Desuta stomped on a rock. “Goddammit! Goddamn it all to hell! We should have invincible power now! How could we lose a point!?”

    “You don’t win because each individual is strong,” answered Endou. “You win because the feelings and strengths of the entire team are united! That’s what makes soccer fun!”

    “Fun?” jeered Sein. “Our soccer doesn’t need anything as ridiculous as ‘fun’. Soccer is a ritual. A weapon. A means to destroy the enemies you hate, and nothing more!” An intense purple flared in the crystal as it did in his eyes. “I swear upon my very being, upon the power of the Demon Lord… that we will crush you until not even your souls remain.”

    The Demon Lord's favorite sacrifice was seated off to the side away from his teammates, facing the wall of the cave and not appearing to do anything of note. An angel with a white hat and bangs covering one of his eyes glanced aside at him and wondered, "What is going on with him, just staring into space like that? Weirdo."

    (Alright, Atsuya,) lectured Shirou, (that thing I said earlier? About how you should believe in your friends as it’s opposite of what they’re expecting? That was just to get you to listen.)

    (Oh yeah?) replied Atsuya. (Well, I can at least tell you it’s working. Those guys are idiots and you know me well.)

    (But it’s wrong!) insisted Shirou. (You rag on them, but you’re basically doing the same thing by prioritizing beating them over actually taking from and giving to your friends. Aren’t you just as bad as them!?)

    (Well, yeah, maybe I am, and maybe I wouldn’t have listened to you otherwise, but aren’t you the one who suggested that idea in the first place?)

    Shirou put his hand on the floor. His lips quivered somewhat.

    (Still,) Atsuya added in an uncharacteristically solemn tone, (you’re right. I have been getting that all wrong. It’s about giving and taking—well, receiving, not just one or the other. I…) In a sight never thought possible, he blank back a couple of tears forming in his eyes. (I never thought I’d ever say this, but… Shirou... and, Father... I’m sorry.)

    (You’d better be.) Shirou pressed his fingers harder into the ground. (Bringing out the crocodile tears, are you? Tell you what: if you can win this match without being a hypocrite about it, I’ll forgive you.)

    (I’m breaking out the crocodile tears?) Atsuya chuckled. (You really are acting like me, but I can’t say you have no reason to think that.) He gave a somber smile, completely unlike his usual psychotic smirk. (Alright, it’s a deal. I’ve let you and the others down too many times…) He gritted his teeth and blushed. (Yeesh, I’m acting like you, too. What is this, Opposite Day!?)

    “Hey, Fubuki.” Endou, accompanied by Someoka, walked up and tapped him on the shoulder. “Are you okay? You’re sitting away from everyone else.”

    “Oh, err,” Shirou confided, wiping his eyes, “for the most part, yes. Thank you, Someoka-kun, Endou-kun, for the shoes and for your concern.”

    “Sorry things had to turn out like this,” said Endou. “Thank you for hanging in there!”

    “Trust me,” assured Someoka. “When we get out of here, we’re gonna be like the wind again in the finals. That’s why I let you borrow my shoes, so you don’t break your feet and we can make that happen. Got it?”

    “Oh, right! The finals!” A shock with the strength of a roller coaster seat ran down Shirou’s spine. “That thing I’m supposed to make it out of here alive for! Oh, and you do remember the promise! All these things happening at once… But I suppose Gouenji-kun had the right idea earlier. Focus on the ball and you’ll stop worrying!”

    “Now we’re talking!” said Someoka, pumping his fist into the air.

    “Please don’t push yourself, Someoka-kun,” Shirou exclaimed, noting Someoka’s bare feet. “You’ll get blisters, and then you won’t be able to play in the finals!”

    “Sheesh…” Someoka rubbed the back of his head. “I didn’t use my feet that time, but I suppose you’re right. Fubuki, Captain, make sure I don’t do anything stupid, okay? I got a promise to keep!”

    “You sure do!” Endou patted his pink-haired friend on the back, and Someoka gave him a mild, affectionate noogie in response. They laughed at each other, and Shirou Fubuki couldn’t help but giggle along with them.

    Belzeb approached him and said, "Hey. Quit acting like your definition of perfection is the only right one."

    Fubuki glanced back at the ground. He then perked his head up, rose to his feet, and said, "You know what? … You're right. Different things may work for different people--" he switched to Atsuya mid-sentence-- "but the power of friendship is known for its extraordinarily high success rate, so that's what I'll be using to piss you off—I mean, save the world." (Sheesh, why am I giving the friendship speeches? This is crazy...)

    "Very well," said Belzeb. "I suppose we'll just have to see who can better convey their words in action. By the way, we let it slide because it’s halftime, but if you drop that look at any point in the match, you’re out."

    “Dark Angel!" exclaimed Desuta. He gathered his teammates in a huddle and whispered. “Alright, listen up, everyone, here’s the battle plan…”

 


 

     After the teams got into formation, the hourglass tipped again, signaling the start of the second half.

    Sein and Desuta bolted forward with the ball, backed by Satanathos, a cyan-green-haired female angel, the silver-haired demon with the blue lipstick, and the golden flame-haired angel.

    “Winel!” Desuta passed the ball to the golden flame-haired angel, who kicked it towards the goal with a normal shot. It was far enough in the front that Kidou blocked it with his chest, only for Satanathos to steal it immediately afterwards and take another shot for the goal.

    “Iron Wall!” shouted Teres as, well, an iron wall appeared in front of him and blocked the ball. He passed it to, “Fudou!”, who himself didn’t get very far down the field before the cyan-haired angel stole it from him and shot at the goal again.

    “These guys are relentless!” shouted Tobitaka as he jumped in the air. “Shinkuuma!” Using that move, he successfully took the ball and passed it to Fudou before he, too, found the ball stolen from him.

    “Heh, we don’t even need to use any special moves to dodge you!” bragged Sein. “That’s how strong we are!” He shot the ball towards the goal.

    “Snow Angel!” cried Atsuya as he kicked up an icicle under Sein. “But you sure need them to get past—“ Before he could finish saying that, Sein broke out of the icicle, possession of the ball intact. He ran after Sein to try and stop the ball, but was unable to reach the not-a-snow angel before he took another shot.

    This time, Endou was the one who punched the ball away from the goal net. The ball ended up back with Winel, who once again shot it at Endou, who blocked it again.

    “I’ve gotta hand it to you,” said Desuta, “you’re doing an okay job protecting the goal, but you can’t exactly have a good offense without a good defense. Whatever happened to remembering to attack in a tight situation?”

    “Oh well,” shrugged Sein. “That’s what you get for defying us. All that’s left is to break your defense and finish you.”

    “No…” said Endou, struggling to climb to his feet. “This isn’t… real soccer!”

    “You’re right…” Atsuya got back on his feet. “This is pathetic, you guys! I don’t know why Endou’s the only one who’ll act on his feelings, but… I was made to be a forward. I’ll bring this ball up myself if I have to!” He caught Desuta off-guard and stole the ball from him with a tackle.

    “Oh my,” remarked Sein. “You know it’s hopeless, but you just don’t know when to quit.”

    “I do know when to quit, and that’s never!” He ran up the field, reaching the halfway line before Satanathos stole the ball from him. “Even if we do lose here…” Failed sliding tackle, followed by a pass to Desuta. “Even if the world does end…” On the receiving end of a Gravitation from Desuta. “Even if the ball is beyond the goal line… Even if I fall down again and again… I’m never going down without action, and neither should you!”

    “He’s right…” Endou panted. “I won’t give up… either! Everyone! Get… get it together…!”

    “Let’s finish this already!” exclaimed Desuta. “Sein!” Desuta shrouded the ball in dark matter and Sein kicked it in a heavenly drive. They shouted in unison, “Shadow Ray!”

Chapter Text

    “True Ijigen The Hand!” Endou jumped in the air. A small rainbow trailed his fist as he slammed it into the ground, creating a barrier that deflected the opponent’s Shadow Ray. The ball bounced off the post and Endou caught it in mid-air.

    “Living up to your friends’ feelings…” announced Endou. “That’s soccer, too!” He kicked the ball in Kabeyama’s direction, giving him a slight wink.

    “He’s right!” exclaimed Tobitaka. “Why are we always so close to giving up when we know it’ll work out if we rely on each other!?”

    “You tell me,” replied Kabeyama. “We fall for this every time! Kidou-san!”

    “Killer Fields!” shouted Kidou and Fudou in unison. They wrapped the ball in a dark aura, bringing it up to the halfway line before Fudou passed it behind him, straight to, “Fideo!”

    “A back pass!?” exclaimed the cyan-haired angel. Much to her chagrin, Fideo weaved in with the forwards and reeled his foot back for a move of his own.

    “Rely on others as they would rely on you!” shouted Atsuya, dashing up the field. “That’s perfection! That’s soccer! That’s what makes this game worth living, and that’s what makes life worth living!”

    “There’s not much time left in the game!” called Rika.

    By the time he caught the ball, Fideo was weaving his way through Dark Angel like a needle in seams, except he couldn’t tell if their formation was tightening in response. After two more players from Dark Angel failed to stop him, he reared one foot back. His other foot, on the ground, was surrounded by shining runes. “Odin Sword!” He kicked the ball as hard as he could, and it left a trail of light resembling a thrown blade in its wake.

    This did little to phase Hell Army Z’s goalkeeper, however, as he held one arm in the other and telekinetically grasped the ball. “The End V3!” The ball writhed in a dark aura, then ended up in the goalkeeper’s hands. He shook with laughter ever so slightly as he threw the ball back with nearly the same amount of force it had coming towards him.

    “Toying with us, are you?” asked Gouenji. “That’ll be your biggest mistake! Toramaru! Hiroto!”

    The other two instantly knew what he meant and flanked him from both sides. The ball glowed, and when they all kicked it at the same time, it exploded into swirling, darting flames. “Grand Fire!” they all shouted. The fireball once more soared towards the goal, leaving behind it charred ground.

    This caught Hell Army Z’s goalkeeper off guard. His eyes widened, but before the fireball made it into the goal, Desuta had jumped in the air and caught it in his dark aura. The energy in the ball retreated inwards, causing the ball to glow pure white and radiate with searing heat as opposed to the checkerboard it had before. Regardless, Desuta began: “Shadow…”

    He passed the ball to Sein, who aggrandized the ball’s light and kicked it the other way. “… Ray!”

    Without skipping a beat, Endou dashed past his teammates and summoned a giant yellow fist above his head. “Megaton Head G3!” The fist punched the darkness-laced comet, and his feet dragged the ground as he sent the ball the other way.

    “The aura surrounding the ball is fading!” observed Kazemaru. “Endou sent it back, but the opposing forces balanced out so that it might not make it in!”

    “You’re not getting away!” That slight fade in its trail was enough for Atsuya Fubuki to pitch in, too. Having already been halfway up the pitch, he quickly caught up to the blistering core and clawed it with his foot in mid-air. He disappeared, and numerous red lasers continued to claw at the ball. “Wolf Legend G2!” He reappeared and howled into the stormy sky. The ball split into three red… balls, then rejoined, turning yellow, bright yellow, and then white, all in rapid succession.

    Sein had the misfortune of taking a tiny sun right to the chest. Presumably, the power of the Demon Lord kept him standing long enough to wax philosophical. “What is this ferocity?” he muttered. The energy in the ball grew—hotter, brighter, opaquer, crawled its way up his chest, towards his neck. He reared back to avoid it, but it always caught up to him. “All this ferocity and energy, packed into one tiny ball… Endou, is this what you meant by— AAGH!“ Sein couldn’t take it any longer. The ball rocketed past him, and Inazuma Japan scored their second, final, and winning goal.

    The sand in the hourglass emptied. The scoreboard rotated into a “2” on Inazuma Japan’s side. Three whistles blew, the final one being the longest.

    Despite all odds, the immovable object had won this round against the unstoppable force.

    “Alright!” Endou screamed, raising his fist in the air. Every single one of his teammates crowded around him and cheered, as they always did.

    “No…” muttered Desuta. “Dark Angel… The Demon Lord… lost? But how?”

    “He trusted his friends…” observed Sein. “… and he left his post to run up to the other goal. Sure enough, his friends followed through when it seemed he would fail…”

    “The ritual has ended in failure,” concluded one of the old men. “The Demon Lord will be sealed away for another 1000 years.”

    In the crevice, the purple light from the crystal faded away.

    Back on the pitch, Sein relaxed a bit and looked at his arms. “I feel so… free. The demonic power that consumed me… is vanishing.” The other Messengers of the Sky felt similar emotions washing over them, but dared not to say what their captain already had.

    “You’re all back to normal!” added Endou, breaking free of his teammates’ grasps and approaching Sein. His teammates followed, filling a triangle behind him “Your outfits haven’t changed, though.”

    “That won’t be an issue,” Sein addressed. He looked behind him, watching the remaining Messengers of the Sky and legions of Hell Army Z pour out of the cavern the Demon Lord had supposedly been inhabiting. They rejoined their respective teammates, their old white and black outfits contrasting horribly with the orange outfits of what was formerly Dark Angel.

    “Clearly, they didn’t make the cut,” observed Kazemaru. “So they were trapped behind there this whole time…?”

    “I thank you, Endou,” said Sein, completely ignoring Kazemaru and what he said. Instead, he confronted Hell Army Z. “Desuta! In accordance with our mission, we will now imprison you.”

    “Hold it!” exclaimed Endou. “You don’t just play soccer because it’s your ‘mission’ or whatever. It’s more of a ‘fun’ sort of reason! That’s how I see it, anyway.”

    “What are you saying…?” asked Sein.

    Stone doors rumbled. Endou and Sein looked in its direction to find Hell Army Z gathering inside a flame-backed elevator, the same one they had entered in.

    “You may have won this time,” said Desuta, “but the people of hell will conquer the heavens in the next millennium!” He laughed into the depths of Demon's Gate.

    “Wait!” cried Sein.

    “Hold it right there!” shouted Atsuya. He chased after the demons, but Endou and Sakuma held him back. “I’m not done with you yet! I haven’t beaten you up enough! I haven’t shown you what for! Get back here!!”

    The doors closed on Desuta.

    That was all Atsuya could do—scream and thrash. And he continued to do so, despite knowing it was a lost cause.

    “How dare you!” cried Sein, turning on Endou struggling to keep his teammate in line. “If you hadn’t stopped me, we could have done away with them once and for all!” He suddenly quieted down. His eyes widened. “Wait a minute…”

    “Huh-what now?” The enemy of his enemy stopping motivated Atsuya to do the same. It took a few seconds for Endou and Sakuma to feel slightly comfortable letting him go, but they released their grips on him.

    “So that was it…” continued Sein.

    “Sein?” asked a female angel with wavy cyan-green hair.

    “I understand now,” Sein explained. “This heart of mine filled with hatred… The demon took advantage of my hatred and gained control over me. If a team fused with people from both heaven and hell is the Demon Lord, then the Demon Lord is the repulsive heart within us that only cries out for war.”

    “Whatever could you mean?” prodded the female angel.

    “The Demon Lord of legend doesn’t exist,” confirmed Sein. “Because the demon… is within all of us.”

    “The repulsive heart within ourselves that only cries out for war, huh?” Atsuya acknowledged, crossing his arms. “That’s the Demon Lord? Well, that’s disappointing. I was hoping I would get to fight someth— oh.”

    He stopped. He uncrossed his arms. His irises shrunk. He remembered all those times he waged war on Shirou in the name of getting his way. How often had he tried to take over and show off, anyway? Certainly enough times for him to remember his other half’s cries in pain.

    The first time he uttered the forbidden name in full view of the Raimon Eleven was but a few months prior, yet it felt like it was two days ago. ‘No…! Stop this, Atsuya! We have to focus on defense!’ And then the ball was stolen from him anyway. Sure, he did manage to score a goal that time, but he couldn’t get another and lead Raimon to victory, and he now realized it was the start of a great personal cost for Shirou. Did the end justify the means?

    It was almost as if he was producing those screams right here and now. Was he? Who was staring in the mirror all those times, anyway? Was he merely going crazy? Who was going crazy? Was his other half? Could he reach out of the glass had he tried? Way to distract himself from the point.

    ‘Alright, this time, for sure…!’ ‘Stop! I’m telling you, stop!!’ A growl. ‘No! I’m on forward, and I’m going to make the shoots! Eternal Blizzard! AAUUGHH!!!’ And the keeper from back then had caught the ball anyway. ‘They’re not placing their hopes in you, idiot! They’re doing it for me! Sure, they say, ‘pass it to Fubuki,’ but here’s what they really mean…’

    “Uhh, hello?” asked Sein. “Are you okay?”

    “Oh… oh gosh…” The golden-eyed Fubuki shrunk back. He was shaking much faster than before—visibly so. His raised eyebrows contrasted his tiny smile. “Oh gosh... I’m not really Atsuya Fubuki at all, am I!?” He grasped Endou’s shoulder, and his eyes darted as he kept rambling. “Atsuya was never this awful! He couldn’t have been! But since I am, it must mean… It must mean… I’m bloodlust. Yes, that’s it.” He breathed faster and harder. He shouted, right to the team. “That’s what I am! I’m the repulsive heart within Shirou that only cries out for war! His bloodlust personified! I’m the Demon Lord!!!” He screamed.

    Then he lost control of his limbs. He collapsed to the ground, right behind Endou. His vision blurred, but he could make out Sein rushing towards him, too. Everyone’s voices muddled, blurred, and grew softer. Could he make out cries of, “Fubuki!” …?

    Then, his vision faded to black.

 


 

    Shirou Fubuki found himself in a void.

    It was dark and empty. It looked like his consciousness faded, but it didn’t feel like it. Even in the darkness, he was still awake. He looked down, and saw his arms and legs.

    And in front of him, he saw his other half, curled up in a ball.

    He reached his hand towards him. “Atsuya…”

    “Don’t call me that!”

    Shirou recoiled.

    “Oh, sure!” The other Shirou slammed his arms into the void and stood up, staring down the original Shirou with bared teeth. “Don’t take responsibility for your emotional outbursts and worst traits! Blame them all on your dead brother! I’m sure he’ll appreciate being used as a scapegoat, and I’m sure that mentality will get you places!!” He curled back into a ball.

    Shirou paused. “… You’re right. Consciously or otherwise, I’ve been doing that all along, haven’t I?”

    Rather uncharacteristically, Atsuya, or rather the other Shirou, said nothing.

    “Well, you’re right about this, if nothing else. I suppose we should start from the very beginning…” Shirou sat down next to him, but stared into the void before them. “After… well, after my family died… I couldn’t stand the pain. I was so alone I felt I could go crazy. I needed Atsuya with me—you needed him with me—but I knew that was never going to happen again… so going crazy is exactly what I did.”

    “That’s why you created me,” the other Shirou added.

    “… I suppose so,” admitted Shirou, “but… I don’t think it was all my fault. I also knew it was a ridiculous idea and an impossible standard, but somehow, I’m not sure if I was fully able to shake off the thought. Do you think the subconscious was at work…?”

    “Maybe?”

    “Well, if I didn’t get over it back then, I certainly think I did for a few months. I wonder what brought this thought back? I’m guessing it’s helplessness? Or maybe it wasn’t even my fault, but rather the demons’ hypnosis?”

    “What makes you think I know? I’m the Demon Lord. Deep thought isn’t my specialty—fighting is, apparently.”

    “Somehow, I don’t think that’s all there is to you. I mean, you’re sitting there thinking about this and possibly even listening to me rather than punching out your problems. Do you think pure, unfiltered bloodlust would ever stop and think? Neither do I.”

    “Hey, Shirou? You know that game we used to play, the one where I call myself a horrible person and then expect you to butter me up? I’m sick of that, too.”

    “So am I, which is why I’m not lying to you. In a show of improvement, you were all willing to hand the match with Dark Angel over to me until it was clear you had no choice in the matter. If you were bloodlust, wouldn’t you have wanted to take them down yourself?”

    “I did. Oh, and cut the ‘you’ crap and take some responsibility, dammit.”

    “I’m getting there, I’m getting there,” assured Shirou, smiling. “From the way you were willing to make compromises to win rather than just charging in blindly, there was definitely more to it. You won’t admit it, but one thing is clear: you did all this… to help me. Thank you.”

    “No I didn’t,” he insisted, blushing and retreating further into himself. “They were just being… exceptionally dumb. Yes, that’s it.”

    “That’s part of it, definitely, but not all, which means you’re not the Demon Lord. If you’re not Atsuya and you’re not the Demon Lord, then that can only mean one thing…”

    The golden-eyed Shirou inched his head up.

    “You’re me,” confessed the original Shirou Fubuki. “You’re me, and I’m you. As for what part of me you are, I’m not entirely sure. You could very well be my bloodlust, and you could just as well be a little bit more. At any rate, I can’t deny it any longer. I’m sorry it took me so long to realize it, and even longer to admit it. The perfectionism, the desire for vengeance and, yes, to fight, the evidently incorrect belief that Atsuya is the one with all the value as a person… that’s a part of me, just as it’s a part of you.”

    “… So it goes. I’m you, and you’re me.” The golden-eyed Shirou smiled and stood up. “I underestimated you, Shirou. Here I thought you needed my help again after a few months, but turns out you really didn’t.”

    “You tried to help?” Shirou giggled. “It’s as I thought—you do care!”

    “Sh-shut up!!” The golden-eyed Shirou blushed. He covered his face with one hand and extended his other arm. “No I don’t! I’m the Demon Lord! Bloodlust—YOUR bloodlust-- incarnate! The part of you that only cries out for war! I-I don’t care about anyone or anything!”

    “I just told you that can’t possibly be the case,” Shirou continued to chuckle despite his more serious phrasing, “but okay.”

    “I-it’s not quite as impossible as you think,” repeated the other Shirou, crossing his arms, “but I’ve had enough for now.” He calmed down a bit and returned his arms to his side. “I’ll leave you to it, but who knows? Maybe a little Demon Lord isn’t so bad once in a while.”

    “I keep telling you, you’re not the—"

    “Remember this,” the other Shirou interrupted. “The moment your consciousness weakens… I’ll be waiting.” He turned around and walked away, fading into the empty darkness. “See you whenever.”

    “… Thank you… And yet…”

 


 

    Shirou Fubuki opened his eyes to find a clear orange evening sky. His feet felt lighter—a glance to the right clarified that Someoka had already taken his shoes back. To his left was an Inazuma Japan uniform, and he was being carried in muscular arms—the arms of... “Hijikata-kun…?”

    “Ah, you’re finally up!” said Hijikata.

    “Fubuki!” shouted Endou, running up towards them. “Will you be okay playing in the finals?”

    “Yeah,” smiled Fubuki. “I think so. You can put me down, Hijikata-kun.”

    “Umm,” Hijikata asked, “can we wait until we’re off the dangerously high mountain pass…?”

    Sure enough, behind them was Tsunami, screaming and clinging onto Tachimukai. “Take me back to the ocean!!” he cried.

    “Hush, hush,” said Tachimukai, comforting the surfer. “We’ll be off this pass soon enough…”

    “Yeesh, what a day!” exclaimed Teres. “I can’t wait to see how you all do in the finals!”

    “Umm…” muttered Fubuki.

    “Hmm?” quizzed Endou, noting Fubuki’s nervous smile. “Is there still something wrong, Fubuki? Please don’t bottle up your emotions. If you need to say something, do it sooner rather than later.”

    Fubuki hesitated. “Captain. Everyone. I’m sorry. I gave in to myself, and went back to the way I was before: being unpredictable, getting in the way, and blaming it all on someone else. My actions today were unacceptable and unforgivable, but I’m truly sorry.”

    “Unforgivable!?” Endou smiled. “Nonsense! It wasn’t your fault, and even if it was, acknowledging that is the first step to moving forward. So long as you strive to improve, that’s worth forgiveness in my book!”

    “Captain…” Fubuki smiled warmly at Endou. “Thank you.”

    “You’re right about one thing, though,” said Kidou. “Words mean nothing without action. Your behavior today was unacceptable. It may not be your fault, but it is your responsibility, and if it goes on for much longer, we’ll have yet another huge problem. So, I ask you: Fubuki, what will you do should you feel this start to happen again?”

    “Again…?” Fubuki drooped slightly, remembering his other self’s threat. ‘The moment your consciousness weakens… I’ll be waiting.’ What did it feel like when Desuta hypnotized him? How could he replicate that feeling again? Is practice really what he needs?

    “You don’t need to answer right now,” added Kidou, smiling. “The road may be long, but you don’t need to walk it alone. We’ll help you come up with a plan, even if there’s a few missteps along the way.”

    “That’s right!” said Hiroto. “But you’re right, too: you were being something of a jerk today. Fubuki, listen to me: over the next few days, we’re going to train extra hard. Maybe we’ll even come up with a new move or two. Once we win the finals, then I’ll forgive you. Sound like a deal?”

    “Yeah,” said Fubuki. “That’s what I’ve been doing before—relying on you as you would rely on me-- and I think it’s been working so far.”

    “Oh, right!” exclaimed Endou. “While you were out, Sein said something else! He said, ‘our ancestors chose soccer to teach us the importance of clashing souls against souls, as well as to gain control of their own ugly hearts.’”

    “I see…” said Fubuki. “That just reassures me that I’m doing the right thing.” He felt Hijikata put him down on the ground, his mostly bare feet touching the soil of the forest. “Everyone! I’m sorry I don’t have much else to say, but let’s do our best and win the Football Frontier International!”

    “Yeah!”

    The world’s best middle school soccer players walked back to their base camps. They, or rather a specific ace defender, left one thing behind: a blue waistwrap, previously repurposed as a scarf, resting in the forest near Mt. Magneto.