What the people wagered in the arena wasn’t money. It was honor.
“Sweat, blood, even the contestants’ very lives were spilled in the Gallows Bowl.
“We Bowlers think nothing of risking our lives.
“I revved my engines to full throttle as soon as the formation was called.
“I accelerated up to 250 kph in just 0.3 seconds.
“As a jetbacker it was my job to rush down to the left.
“The field’s surface was getting churned up by the wind I left in my wake.
“I reached the 30-yard line in 0.4 seconds.
“I broke straight through the opposing team to complete a pass.
“The ball stopped right in front of me about 2 meters from the ground.
“Its relative velocity was zero.
“In other words, it was speeding along as fast as I was.
“Not bad, Bruce, hitting a ball at 250 kph with a light shot.
“”Is that a crossbow on ‘Violence’ Bruce’s shoulder!?”
“His very existence is an affront to all that is holy!”
“Nearly at the 100-yard line.
“Just one more second to the first down. Hah, easy.
“Just as I reached out for the spinning spiked ball…
“The first detonation.
“As I saw the ground loom up before me, I reflexively let go of the ball and curled up.
“I got hit by some of the shrapnel from the explosion. He started his assault with a mortar strike.
“I pushed my center of gravity to the other side without slowing down.
“Clods of dirt were being kicked up as craters started appearing in the field behind me.
“A heavy machine gun? No, perhaps just a standard machine gun.
“And they were aiming right for us. Damn it! A reckless move against a demon (of course, I’m no stranger to reckless moves myself).
“I eased up on my engines and rolled across the field.
“This was the standard way for us jetbackers to slow down. When your job is to push forward as quickly as possible there’s little use for things like reverse thrusters or air brakes.
“Gallows Bowl is a ball game. Technically.
“We Bowlers need to know where the ball is at all times.
“The rules stated that the right to attack is transferred to whoever holds the ball, so I had to be vigilant. I was the only one this deep into the enemy’s territory (with a jetpack, anyway), so I couldn’t rely on my teammates for help.
“The ovoid ball bounced erratically over the 100-yard line. I saw a defender come up from the right rushing toward the ball. He was as desperate as I was. He was the enemy.
“I immediately pushed my engines as hard as they would go.
“I dodged the sticks thrown at me, stomped on the enemy’s face to get a foothold, and made it to the ball first with just a few millimeters to spare.
“Catching a jetbacker is no easy feat.
“If you want to take one down, you’d better come at them with a hail of bullets or a whole lot of explosives.
“At this point I would normally have gone straight ahead, but I felt a chill run down my spine. I’ve learned to trust my instincts, so I changed the angle of my jets and flew straight up.
“A series of explosions went off where I had just been.
“They must have been rockets.
“It was like being chased by demons. But of course, I’m also a demon.
“I emerged from the smoke with jets burning hot as I raised the ball.
“The arena started to shake from the crowd’s loud roar.
“The race only lasted a fraction of a second, but the cheerleaders still managed to get the crowd up on their feet.
“Not bad. I live for moments like that.
“But those moments can be as fatal as they can be enjoyable.
“A surface-to-air missile burst out from the smoke, and before I had time to register what it was it had locked onto a heat source—my jets—and exploded right behind me.
“As the Red Lotus’s flames caught up with me, I fell 50 yards down to the 100-yard line.
“It was a rough landing.
“I was overcome with excruciating pain and drifted into unconsciousness.
“When I awoke, I could see the miasma-filled night sky over the Dark States.
“Then, I saw a grinning skull—the emblem for Team Diabolos that all members had somewhere on their body.
“They squirted a liquid into my mouth, and I began to choke. It was the Demon King’s Elixir.
“They could have just splashed me with water! Instead, they forced that foul drink down my throat, damn near killing me… I wanted to rip them a new one, but all that I could muster was a groan.
“I’m up, I’m up!”
“Hmph, about damn time.”
“I didn’t need rescuing. Take me back.”
“Innocent Matt, Bad Steve, Anger Richard.
“I looked around at my Diabolos teammates and said to them,
“…I can’t imagine hell looking much different to your ugly faces.”
“Heh, Lenard. Maybe next time we’ll just let the missiles get you.”
“They looked at each other and laughed. Just what were those demons laughing at?
“You kept a hold of the ball. We’d expect nothing less from a Diabolos.”
“The only one to reach out to me was the eldest of the Diabolos, Violence Bruce.
“I only noticed after he said that. Even after being knocked to the ground and passing out, I was still holding on to the ball. Dropping the ball in the Gallows Bowl would automatically give the opposing team the right to attack. I risked my life to complete this pass. I took the name of my role as receiver quite literally. His outstretched hand was a great honor to me.
“As I got up, I found that I was just beyond the 100-yard line, with the enemy defender being tended to nearby (they must also have been hit by the rockets).
“They got right back up as soon as the medics were done. They must have had a little demon in them too.
“Well, no normal human would have survived that at any rate. But we’re made of stronger stuff, we don’t fall apart so easily.
“Hey! Jetbacker Lenard! You ready for another beat down?”
“At the MC’s encouragement my replacement, another jetbacker, came out surrounded by the cheerleaders.
“Apparently, the Diabolos cheerleaders had kept going even while I was out.
“It was Violence Yell, the specialist on our team, the Spike Brothers. It looked like things were about to heat up.
“I was all suited up.
“Lenard, you really got yourself in a mess this time.”
“Heh, I’ll be back before long. I’m gonna be the hero of the night.”
“Don’t get cocky. You might want to try using your brain once in a while.”
“The three Diabolos brothers continued with their banter. One voice rose above the others.
“This wasn’t a compliment from Violence, it was a declaration.
“That one phrase was enough to give me an incredible sense of trust. Now that’s what I was talking about!
“Of course. We can’t let the Spike Brothers wash out after we’ve made it this far.”
“I tried to sound cool. It was an honor to be in the arena.
“Set! Hut! Hut!
“I started my engines.
“We headed out into the field and got into formation.
“The game was just getting started.
<<Notes about Terminology>>
The most popular ball game in the Dark States, it had a large fan base all over Planet Cray. It was similar to the Earth game of American football, but the field was about ten times larger. In addition to physical violence, all kinds of obstructions and accessories were allowed, including heavy weapons. This naturally makes the games more extreme. For the players’ and spectators’ safety, direct fire with live rounds was not allowed, but it was not uncommon for there to be “inadvertent” shots, “slips of the hand,” and “misfires.” When the country was known as the Dark Zone, the demon kings who ruled the region started the game as a pastime. There were no rules.
A group within the “Spike Brothers,” a powerful Gallows Bowl team. They were the most popular and powerful faction on the team. The nickname “Diabolos” came from the fans, but quickly became so popular it was made official before long.
The four Diabolos brothers Matt (Innocent), Steve (Bad), Richard (Anger), and Bruce (Violence), were some of the most rambunctious people on the planet.
Supervising Editor: 中村聡