In a corner of the lush green park was a small built old man. His back in the refined suit was straight, his slender, sweet-looking eyes staring at the early morning sky.
“Nata, Imperial House, divine spirit division.”
A middle-aged man in a black suit introduced himself, moderate tension on his slender face as he reverently lowered his head to the old man’s back.
“Everything has ended without any major damage.”
“Good work. You must give your warmest thanks to the head of the Iori House.”
“Sir. But if I may have my say… the government is receiving numerous complaints. While they may be one of the four godslaying houses, the Iori House’s overbearing means is intolerable. Such thanks are…”
In mid-sentence, the old man turned, staring through him with cold eyes. It was the first time the man had looked at him so, with the strong gaze of a teacher scolding his student.
“Do you know the real reason GHQ cut this house off from politics after the war?”
“Then you’d best remember. It was because the four houses had ears to listen to what we had to say.”
Did he mean to say the allied forces’ greatest power in the Pacific, the US armed forces feared a measly four households?
The man stomached the urge to groan out in surprise. Just how did the old man take his behavior? His usual gentle expression returned, his following words oozing with tangible sorrow.
“This country that lost a foolish war drove them away as part of its darkness. Yet even now, we have no choice but to rely on them… so at the very least, you must give them your warm and heartfelt thanks.”
“Now then, Suzuran.”
Returning straight to the mansion just as they were, Iori stopped in front of the open gate.
In the yard where the sun had begun to rise, there were Meeko and Saho and Ripple-Rapple who must have arrived ahead of time. And what could be best described as a riff-raff, all sorts of monsters and likewise came to greet Iori. While they took on forms like the evil spirits of the mountains and streams, Suzuran strangely didn’t find them particularly scary.
“I’m sure you heard from Meeko, but it’s been three days. The gate opened… no, that was just a light show. Anyways, the matter has been resolved, and sadly my company no longer needs you.”
“So you’re fired.”
This had to be a joke. But Suzuran recalled how she always listened, and it always turned out he was serious. Iori took one step forward, crossing over the gate’s threshold. Just how distant did that one single step feel to her?
“There’s no need for you to remain in this world anymore. Stay and you’ll never be able to return. Just like all of us here, the day will come when you break.”
“No… way. But…”
Suzuran tried reaching her hands out to cling to him but couldn’t. Iori let his glasses catch the morning sun as he turned.
“Return to the rabble.”
She timidly lowered her hand with nowhere left to go. It had lost its place once again, just as she had.
“Very good. You’re a good girl, Suzuran.”
The gate shut. Everyone left. Meeko lonesomely waved her hand, while expressionless as Ripple-Rapple was, she gave a big wave of hers as well.
Had she been cast aside again? She didn’t resent it, but… it seemed her heart was being constricted.
“I wouldn’t call it a severance package, but I did find your mother.”
Suzuran turned to the footsteps.
There an elegant, beautiful adult woman stood. With a face she had seen somewhere before, the woman over thirty looked at her with a delighted, apologetic, conflicted expression.
Suzuran’s chest was filled to the brim with something incomprehensible, and that something leaked out in the form of tears. Somewhere before. In the mirror every morning.
“You’re her spitting image, aren’t you.”
“Former head of the Nagoyakawa House. She always detested the godslayer’s cursed blood, and cast you away to distance you from it, apparently.”
“Of course, whatever intentions she had, it was completely meaningless. All it ever did was torment you.”
Could the woman hear Iori’s voice too? She painfully, painfully cast down her eyes, sobbed, and even so… no, precisely because of it, she was unable to walk to embrace her child.
Aah, to think tears could be so warm—
Her eyes fixed on her mother, Suzuran didn’t wipe the trails upon trails of tears. She couldn’t let herself miss a single instant of her first sight of her.
“You would do well to remember the fate of those that run away. That’s all you’ll find in me, and in her. If you run off the path where you can only advance, that’s where evil lays. Just as on that night when you resolved to die to run away… I appeared. But press on, and the path always continues. As long as you never give up like that brat, you’ll see it someday.”
“… Master, you’re…”
“I’m evil. Evil will never win in the end. So I can keep running away. However many times it takes.”
“Go. I will rue the day an evil organization needs someone as saintly as you.”
Suzuran walked. Then she ran, then she shook off her tears and jumped. To where she could return.
By the time he could no longer see parent and child, Iori took out the phone that began shaking in his breast pocket.
‘Hello, this is Hasebe of the Imperial House Divine Spirit Division.’
What could at first have been mistaken as a bank operator or something of the like, the cordial voice of a woman—
“Oh, Shouka? Why hello, you’re quite modest today.”
‘Hey, it’s just a greeting man. Even I can at least put on an act at work.’
The moment she heard Iori’s voice, she changed to a rough wording that let him imagine up to her posture across the phone line.
“Kukuh, I see. And so? What’s the job?”
‘Got a little message. That I gotta give some real nice thanks. If possible, he wants to meet you directly.’
“No, just tell him I graciously accept the gratitude. I humbly decline an audience.”
‘Thought you’d say that.’
“Yes. We’re running an evil organization here, I can’t really lower my head, can I?”
‘That so, and an evil organization is playing hero? Just like that little bro at our place, you men are always so amusing to look at.’
Across the line, Iori could practically see the image of Shouki’s sister cackling aloud.
“In that case, you coulda just done it yourself. Isn’t it about right time you told that damn brat where you really work? Oh future head of the Hasebe House?”
‘You’re killing me here. I wouldn’t dare let Shouki see me put on the formal act.’
“Kukuh, even your boss was surprised at how well that damn brat turned out. In that case, should I send over some cat ears? Put ‘em on, and your brother will know you’re just screwing around. It’ll be far more effective than me spurring him on.”
It seemed she could imagine him laughing as well. Her tone dropped ever-so-slightly.
‘Yeah, yeah… more importantly, you keep that evil organization stuff in moderation, ‘kay? It’s right time the government starts giving a damn. You even went and phoned up the prime minister this time… we won’t be able to keep it down on our own anymore.’
“Hmm, let them do as they please. All they want is to make the godslayers’ power a government asset. Not over my dead body. So anyway, should I send the ears to your work or your home?”
Kchk. Boop. Boop.
“… What a gal. I was even going to throw the tail in for free.”
If she wasn’t gracious enough to decide, making a delivery to both was—
“Taki. A woman’s voice. Who?”
When he turned in surprise at a voice, there floated a sullen Meeko. Since she floated, it was almost impossible to tell when she snuck up from behind.
Iori tucked the phone away as he feigned composure.
“You… weren’t listening?”
“I only heard the last part. Who are you sending cat ears to?”
Iori ignored that doubtful statement from a miffed Meeko. As he walked towards the house, the floating Meeko followed along like a balloon pulled by a thread.
“… By the way, Taki. How long are we going to keep up this evil organization thing?”
“We’re not in a time where godslaying’s enough to put food on the table. That’s why the Amashiro house closed business, and that brat’s Hasebe House opened a sword dojo. Unless we get an imperial decree like this time, there are barely any gods left out there worth dealing with.”
“What became of the strongest of demons… do you think I was one of them?”
“You… wait, didn’t you remember?”
Iori stopped and looked at Meeko touching a finger to her temple.
“You said it yourself to that god back there, didn’t you?”
“I did…? When?”
And like that, she would forget. The sediment haunting this house generally desired peace and quiet. Like a shortening candle, to slowly, uneventfully fade out. Demons eventually become human, monsters eventually merge with nature, both quietly disappearing as they come to rest. The dark arts’ original intent was the complete opposite to the main arts’ method of firmly subduing them with force. The art of sending them off in peace as they desired—
However, in a modern era far too bright, to feed Meeko and Ripple-Rapple, and the riffraff residing in the basement and forest took a great deal of money indeed. Going at it honestly, or with a run-of-the-mill evil, the chariot of flame would quickly burn through.
“Gah! Quit it with that already, would you!? I’m more curious why that’s the only thing you never forget! Suzuran at least had it in her to be grateful!”
Just because he scolded her, that didn’t mean she listened to what he had to say.
“Just where did you learn to speak like that… Taki, you were so cute when you were little.”
“Fine, I get it, just go make some grub, food!”
As he pointed at the house with enough force to dismiss her from her position, Meeko lightly floated over with a sulk on her face.
“Meeko hasn’t… remembered. Just a little… overwhelmed.”
Before he knew it, Ripple-Rapple was beside him. In this demon’s case, she was still far too young to call sediment.
“But that was dangerous. It’s because Suzuran was a… good girl, like me.”
“… I just got a strong urge to cry out BS.”
“You must be… imagining it.”
Looking at the wooden bat the girl had summoned to her hand, Iori gave a low groan. It probably wouldn’t be long before she extorted a new metal bat from him. He would have to buy one with Saho’s sword.
“Speaking of Suzuran… I know I put her to work spur of the moment, but she was surprisingly useful.”
Ripple-Rapple stiffly nodded.
“She’s fast on her… feet.”
“Yes. She’s versatile. And she calls me master to boot. Right, being called master is nice… that’s precisely the sort of talent our company should be looking for.”
“To regrettable to… loose. Dragging her back.”
Iori abruptly lowered his gaze at the unanticipated words. The girl with round black eyes was nodding.
“It’s an evil organization. Telling lies is… par for the course.”
Iori clapped his hands in realization, the corners of his mouth rising, his glasses giving a dangerous glint.
Of Suzuran. The snowball of misfortune she thought had finally come to a halt… would keep rolling a while longer.