The one to raise the first hand was the young man—Iori Takase. The boss had collapsed into the room that had become completely empty, his nose spurting blood.
“Owww…! T-the hell’s wrong with you! Wanna have a go!?”
“I’m pretty sure I just did.”
A glint in his narrow eyes, Iori twisted his lips into a vulgar laugh. With his sharply raised eyebrows and cynical smile, it was impossible to tell what he was thinking.
“Think you’re hot stuff… oy, Teru! How long you gonna sleep down there!? Get him!”
Pushing off the door, the thug pulled out a dagger-like blade from behind his hips. Let alone call the police, Suzuran didn’t even shriek.
“He… hehe. H-h-how about that! I-it’s real and you don’ wanna make me prove it! Now s-stay where you are, goddammit!”
Perhaps he’d never stabbed someone before as he was going weak at the knees. But compared to Suzuran, who was trembling to the side, he still had far more guts. As expected of a thug, thought Suzuran.
“Kukuh… that one’s never been used before. Saho. Show him how it’s done.”
Iori said to the girl with the sword.
The girl he called Saho simply dazed out without lifting a finger.
“D-don’t s crew with me! That toy ain’t gonna…!”
The thug swung his blade to intimidate them.
After scratching his head in a troubled manner, Iori let out a roar
In that instant, the girl in maid clothing blinked her eyes like a startled cat.
“You have permission to cut his weaponry.”
At Iori’s voice, the girl’s figure blurred. The complete change gave way to a vile smile on her lips. The katana blade she drew unbeknownst to anyone… unlike the thugs, was stern, heavy, dark.
By the time she said that, the dagger had been sliced through at the base. The thug’s eyes trailed the tip of his pompadour as it tumbled down… with a scream, he ran off. The boss whose mouth was held feebly open returned to his senses and made an escape off the balcony.
The silence finally returned with the words Iori spat out as Suzuran powerlessly slumped down on the spot. Her knees had given out on her.
“Y… yo… you saved me… err, thank you…”
Her eyes met with the girl, who seemed restless as she swayed the sword’s bulk too and fro.
“Can I cut?”
“Can I cut?”
(Well now, this girl’s bad news…)
Her eye. Just like the sword, it gave off a dangerous light. However,
“We’re done here, Saho.”
On Iori’s voice, the girl called Saho dejectedly slumped her shoulders. And that was quite bad news in and of itself, Suzuran thought. Iori looked to her.
“You’re Agawa Suzuran, correct?”
Suzuran’s head was full of questions.
Just who was this young man called Iori? What did he mean by evil organization? By what designation was this Saho girl a sergeant? Did a pompadour really count as a weapon—and such.
“Agawa Suzuran… your previous name was Miyama, and before that it was Kino. You’ve been passed around quite a bit.”
Iori began reading through the scrap of paper he produced from his pocket.
It was just as he said. Her last name would change whenever a new parent came out, her residence changing along with it. It changed when her first foster parents divorced as well.
Recalling that left her quite vexed once more. But now, along with that, she felt a premonition something was going to change.
“… Umm, and you are…?”
“You’re in debt, aren’t you.”
“Around two billion.”
“T-t-t-two billion!? Don’t you mean… twenty million…?”
“Have a look at this.”
Iori folded up the paper before producing another one from his pocket. A large list of small numbers had been added up to finally tap out a similar value.
“It was mostly your first parents’ failed business.”
Her foster father’s name was definitely on the list.
“Your mother from back then also fell victim to marriage fraud and borrowed quite a bit.”
Her mother as well.
“And after that…”
They just kept coming out. Presumably blood relatives of her foster parents… even names she had never heard before were on the ledger. The finishing blow was…
The finishing blow came at the very end, in the form of the orphanage director she had always believed in.
“I hear he couldn’t just abandon the orphans who went out into the world—”
Apparently, he grew desperate upon shouldering the debts of the orphans he thought of as his own children.
“… I’m also one of his kids, right? What about my troubles?”
“Not my problem. The point is, I was following the trail of all sorts of debt, and they all led me to you.”
“But, umm… there are clearly some people listed who have absolutely nothing to do with me.”
“Not my problem.”
“Not… not your problem… that’s just unreason—”
Thwap. Suzuran’s brow was flicked.
“That’s my line. Just how do you make a debt in the billions at your age? What about all the trouble I went through consolidating it? Huh?”
“T… that’s enough! It’s getting to my head now! No one’s getting anything from me anymore! I can’t trust anyone! I’m going to die!”
Humans are unsightly. The more I trust, the more I get betrayed. Even the director who told me there weren’t any truly evil people in the world betrayed me. It’s that lip service that continues to lead me on.
Suzuran thought as she retrieved the blade Saho had cut down and touched its end to her neck.
“I’m going to die! Each and every one of you using me, taking me for a fool! I… I… just…”
“Don’t get any closer! I’m serious! I’m really going to do it!”
“Yeah, you don’t have to scream it, I get it already.”
Iori said as he retrieved the blade from her shaking fingers.
“I’ll admit, I was an idiot to recklessly consolidate it. I never thought I’d run into a powerless little girl like you.”
The word powerless struck fearsomely into her chest. That one word expressed her entirety.
“But crying won’t get you anywhere. As you are now, I can’t imagine I’d be able to collect twenty billion… kukuh. Look me in the eye, and hear what I have to say.”
“You have only two choices. Serve me and work off two billion yen… or die here in a fiery explosion.”
Plop. The metallic sensation rested into Suzuran’s hand. The sort of hand grenade she had only ever seen in movies, the real deal, spoke of its firepower through sheer weight.
“You don’t want anyone to take anything from you anymore, right? Well that baby will let you disappear without a trace. Remove the pin, pull the lever, and you’ve got three seconds.”
“But around half the people in this apartment complex will die with you.”
“What are… you talking about?”
“Right now, you’ve got no one left in the world. No one will have to take responsibility. At the very least, it’s nothing for you to worry about when you’re disappearing from the world.”
There was a glint in his eye.
“Now what do you do? Work for me? Yes or no?”
“… And if I say… I don’t want either…?”
“Well I’ll be quite irritated, so I’ll blow this apartment sky high. Oh, of course, Saho and I will make it out.”
Crap, he’s bad news too.
His eyes were glistening.
“… That’s just unreason—”
“You’re the unreasonable one here. You’re going to force me to give up on two billion yen. At least use your life to entertain me. Makes sense?”
“And if you can’t do that, work for me. I’ll prepare the circumstances to make it possible for you to earn two billion yen.”
“I’ll work, I’ll work! Just stop hitting me!”
Suzuran cried out in desperation. Iori pushed up his glasses, a sorrowful look on his face.
“… I see. A pity. If I were in your situation, I think I’d be better off dead, but you made your choice.”
Quite the amazing car was parked outside the apartment. A Benz, perhaps? The exterior was pure white, while the windows were black. The body was so low it might scrape against the ground. Even Suzuran who didn’t really get cars could instinctually tell this was an expensive beast she didn’t want to be anywhere near.
“Kukuh, it’s built sturdy, but it’s faster than you’d think. Wanna try driving?”
“I’m a high schooler… I don’t have a license.”
“I see. Sounds interesting. You’re driving.”
It’s no good. This person’s hopeless, she thought.
Iori hopped aboard the rear seats with Saho. Suzuran had no choice but to take the driver’s seat as she was one-sidedly instructed on how to operate the machine.
She was desperate at this point. It was just a car, a few hundred thousand if it crashed… compared to two billion, that was a negligible fraction. Even if the police caught her, she didn’t have any parents to grieve or any status to lose.
“I turned the engine on…”
“Good, now step on the gas.”
Suzuran did as instructed. She hit the accelerator without any hesitation. It was her sheer ignorance that brought it all the way to the floor.
The car accelerated with enough force to throw her head, barreling them right into a police car at the intersection ahead.
“U-u-ummummumm, I-I ran into… polipoli…”
“Kuh kuh… fwahahah, polipoli. You sound like you’re having fun, Suzuran.”
In contrast to Iori’s laugh, policemen with scary looks on their face began to surround the car.
“Don’t worry. Step on it.”
There are police banging on the black glass with just as much force as the debt collectors, she tried to point out, but it wasn’t working.
“Step on it.”
She pushed down the gas. Of course, all the way to the floor. Pushing aside the smoking patrol car, she sped straight into the intersection.
“Kukuh, you really are a fun one. Try not to hit anyone.”
Gripping the first steering wheel of her life, tenser than ever before, Suzuran continued flooring the accelerator.
Even when she veered into some park,
“Step on it,”
Even when she charged straight through a biker gang meet up—
“Step on it.”
“Is that all you can say!?”
“The accelerator was made to be stepped on. What else is there to say?”
She grew irritated. She stepped on it.
With all the coppers the station dispatched right before her, she let the tired screech out, the engines roar as she rammed straight into the wall of stopped cars and made her way through them.
Whatever happened, Suzuran did her best to drive over the arrow on the navigation system. Behind her, still holding her sword, Saho slept with a face so innocent it brought to doubt the danger she exuded before. Iori had meanwhile begun making a call on his phone.
Right in the midst of a police blockade.
(What is wrong with these people…!?)
She was getting the urge to cling to the God she had just concluded couldn’t exist.
“… Yes, hello. It’s me. Yes… yes… kukuh, you’re quick on the uptake. But I’m not the one driving.”
(Who’s he talking to…)
“… Agawa Suzuran. Sixteen. She’s a, well, passable looking girl.”
(Wow… how rude…!)
Suzuran glared at Iori’s grin through the rearview mirror, but the moment their eyes met, his smile only grew needlessly wider.
“Yes, presumably. Don’t tell me you don’t know? Say what? Kukuh… you’ve got to be kidding me. Even I don’t drive this terribly. Yes, yes. Then just leave it at that, Prime Minister.”
“Mn? What’s wrong, Suzuran?”
Iori shook his head disappointedly.
“What’s this. Do high school girls these days not even know the head of the cabinet?”
“I know! I’m well aware!”
“That’s a relief. You’ve just been put on the blacklist, by the way.”
“From now on, not only the police, even public welfare will have their eyes on you. Well I’ll be, to be treated like a terrorist at your age… you really are an unreasonable one.”
A large manor lit eerily by the partly-cloudy red sunrise. Was it the dead or the devil, or Dracula that haunted it… towering over a steep cliff upon breaking through the forest, she thought that mansion the antithesis of the temple she saw on TV as she passed the battered car in.
“U, mm… this is?”
“There’s one of them in that story starring the detective that doesn’t sell, right? It’s one of those home offices.”
“I see… is that… so.”
When she stepped down from the car, Suzuran was overwhelmed. On closer inspection, it only looked scary with the sunrise dyeing it red, and with its size and solemn bearing, had this been Europe, it might make for a fine tourist attraction.
(Home office… a detective that doesn’t sell…?)
She had somehow loitered into an extraordinary world, was the feeling she got. Even if this young man’s head was off its rockers… why did the patrol cars stop giving chase right after that phone call?
“Now let’s go.
“Huh? Err… what about the car…”
“Just leave it there.”
“I won’t need her for a while, let her sleep.”
Was that really alright? Letting this dangerous child roam free? That doubt tugging at her from behind, Suzuran walked behind Iori.
The mansion’s interior was so elegant, it wouldn’t fall short had a Hollywood star been walking down its halls. The entrance hall atrium, the red carpet, chandelier, armor ornaments, paintings, etc, etc—yet it was also the sort of old manor that could become a horror movie the moments the lights went out.
Of the numerous doors lining the corridor, Iori opened one and spoke.
“Now time for your exam. Get in.”
“I’m saying you’re going to be tested on whether you’re useful or not.”
Crossing over the threshold as instructed, Suzuran was suddenly struck by the question.
“… What happens if I fail?”
Perhaps that was the one thing he didn’t want her to ask, as Iori regretfully shook his head.
“I’ll be forced to turn you in to public welfare.”
“I’m a tried and true citizen of Japan. Isn’t it my civic duty?”
“I-I I mean, that’s…?”
“You just have to pass. When you’re at the crossroads and can only press on, start worrying after you’re on your way. That’s the clever way.”
“That’s right. Kukuh… just be clever.”
Seeing Suzuran enter the room with a furrowed brow, Iori let his glasses catch the light.
The room she entered alone was standard Japan. Only a pipe-legged desk and chair one might find in a classroom were littered desolately over the tile floor. In the front, a movable blackboard. A teacher’s desk with a button on it.
When he saw Suzuran had taken a seat, Iori left. A while passed as she waited nervously to see what sort of interviewer would appear. Wearing a commonplace gray business suit and tight necktie, Iori made his return.
“Well then, let us begin the entrance examination for Iori Obliterating Industries.”
(This person’s crazy… nothing new.)
To her question, Iori pushed the button on the desk.
A gold washbasin fell from the ceiling.
“Is there something wrong? Don’t tell me you don’t even know the name of the company you’re applying to? Hmm? Normally, this is the point you’d be rejected, you know?”
“I… I’m sorry… but Obliterating Industries?”
“Indeed. Ahem, well then. Agawa Suzuran, was it?”
While she couldn’t tell what was written, Iori scanned through a document he had on a clipboard.
“What clubs are you in at school?”
“Err… I’m in track and field.”
“I see, and what did you do there?”
“I’m decent at most events…”
Iori nodded affirmatively as he wrote something down. It made Suzuran quite anxious when she couldn’t see.
“What books have you read lately?”
“… Well, I read Yamamoto Isoroku’s biography,”
“The navy admiral?”
“Yes, the navy admiral.”
I see, I see.
“A-also Erwin Rommel’s biography.”
“… The Desert Fox?”
“Yes, the Desert Fox.”
“You’ve got a strange taste in books.”
“No, I just like biographies…”
By surmounting such things as misfortune and hardships to polish their humanity to carry out their exploits, these were her forebearers. Suzuran liked to read their tales and bask in the dream, “Then even I, someday…”. She had finished the famous ones like Helen Keller and Noguchi Hideo a long time ago, so lately, she had merely carried on the trend with military men.
“How tall are you?”
“One hundred and fifty five centimeters.”
“Weight… meh, I’ll give you a pass. You’re a growing girl. Umm…”
And following on after a few incongruent, yet interview-esque questions—
“Do you seriously believe you’ll be able to earn two billion yen?”
“Err…? … I don’t know. But… if it’s possible, I would very much like to.”
“Why didn’t you choose death back then?”
“… I don’t know. But I’m sure… I’m scared of death. And… it felt irresponsible…”
“Now onto the last question.”
Iori pushed up his glasses, his eyes glinting with a thin smile.
“Do you believe in God?”
Suzuran grew suspicious. The last question brought up God. His tone had changed as well. Did he have some connection to that sacred assembly?
But those misgivings only lasted a moment. By the time she noticed, she was running her mouth. She was droning as if to throw out all her anxieties, fears, irritations to that point.
“If he exists, then why must I be so unfortunate? If the sort of world that scam bishop was talking about, true equality, eternal peace, a world where no one fights is coming… then just what the hell is all this misfortune I have to go through before he bloody well gets down here!?”
“Kukuh, don’t snap at me. Not much I can do about it…”
He was about to go on when he turned to a knock at the door. When the door clicked open, the one to enter was a small young girl, around five or six, her hair black with some faint blue accent.
“What’s wrong, Ripple-Rapple. Right now, I’m…”
Trudging over to Iori’s side, the girl lifted the metal bat she dragged behind her.
Bam! A strike straight to his head.
“Wha… w-what are you doing!?”
“The car, all banged up.”
“That one wasn’t me! This chick…!”
Lightly, she shook her small head side to side. Her lovely black eyes flickered in surprise as she caught a peep at Iori’s documents and, I see, I see, she nodded twice as if to say. Turning to a dazed Suzuran, she spoke out a syllable at a time.
“Hey, do your best.”
She left those words before trudging off.
Posed with her hand still clenched from her impassioned spiel, Suzuran was in a daze.
“Damn… that’s Ripple-Rapple. If I had to say…”
When he was about to introduce her, the next visitor came in the form of a pretty woman, her long black hair that grew to her hips bound in a ribbon. She wore the same maid clothes as Saho. She airily floated through space, approaching Iori as he unsteadily tottered to his feet…
Her eyes met with Suzuran’s.
To her mouth wide open in surprise, the woman was surprised as well… as if a man had suddenly barged in as she was changing… was the face she made. She softly set her feet down on the ground.
With just that murmur, the woman swiftly shuffled backward as she retreated from the room. Quite awkwardly.
“Wait, Meeko! This kid’s an applicant for my company and… blast, each and every one of them.”
“Wh… wwwwwwwhy was that person back there floating!?”
“Kukuh… well, calm down. You won’t hold up if that’s enough to surprise you.”
“Bbbb-b-but, but, but she was floating!”
“That’s just how it works.”
“Now listen here, Suzuran. To learn of the existence of those sorts… meaning, that is the situation that will allow you to earn two billion yen.”
And Iori walked over to her. With two fingers, he lifted her chin, drawing his face close enough she could feel his breath. The blood was rising to her face.
“Welcome, Suzuran. I welcome you to my company.”
“Ah, uuuuum, um, er, Mr. … Iori…”
“You will either call me High Chancellor Iori out of respect or master out of resignation.”
“… B-but… that’s…”
“Mn? What’s wrong, Suzuran?”
A whisper, red to her ears, her head hazy, Suzuran—gave a slight nod with bleary eyes.
“Kukuh. You’re a good girl, Suzuran.”
After one pat on the young girl’s glossy hair, Iori parted from her. In that instant, as if some vile magic had been dispelled, Suzuran returned to her senses.
“Wha- wha, whawhawhawhawhat the hell is this company!?”
“Did I forget to mention it?”
Iori let his pushed up glasses catch the light.
“We’re an evil organization.”