“This isn’t the first time they’ve acted stupid. The problem is, those idiots seem to believe you’re the holy priestess.”
Iori said in the same old classroom, wearing the same old suit. Today, Suzuran was the only one in attendance.
“But, as the Magicalize Indicator indicated, it looks like it’s true you hold the possibility of becoming a saint.”
“Master, did you know I was that priestess thing?”
“… You never saw it on TV?”
I saw it, but my name’s not Nagoyakawa. But the name Suzuran’s not too common either. Or so, as she cycled through affirmation and denial in her head, she recalled something far more fundamental.
“Ah, but when we first met, you said you pinned me down when you were consolidating debt.”
“That was a lie.”
Suzuran’s chair shook.
“Well, I’ll use this chance to tell you. To be more precise, I carried out that process by personally shouldering their debt.”
“I-isn’t that impossible, legally speaking…”
“Well, what do you think? When you didn’t cosign anything, let alone the fact you’re still a minor, how did debt even transfer to you? By the way, I’m the one who set up the two gentlemen knocking at your door.”
Smacking the desk, Suzuran kicked her chair back.
“Then aren’t I free!?”
Bing. The chalk Iori tossed struck her right in the forehead.
“Listen here. The world you’re in now isn’t a place where the stipulated law exhibits any given effect. However, in order to obtain you, I, in essence, bought the rights from your legal parents and benefactors. The sum I threw out of two billion is a tried and true fact. And…”
Iori praised his word for a moment.
“A majority of them happily accepted the money knowing full well who you were.”
“From time to time, our firm takes up rather large jobs… the request we took this time was to make sure what the assembly calls God doesn’t descend. That’s why we took the initiative and obtained you- someone with the possibility- before the assembly could. But if I explained all that right off the bat, would you have believed me?”
Suzuran shook her head. There’s no way she would have believed. She was still plenty doubtful even now.
“… I don’t know if it’s the chalk, but crying won’t get you anywhere. Have a seat.”
“… …. Urgh…”
“So in the form of work, I thought I’d gradually get you accustomed to this world. Once you became self-aware of your power, I intended to explain your exact standing. If that unforeseen incident hadn’t happened this morning, that is.”
The unforeseen incident had to be that Sister Shouki brought along. Clarica, was it?
While Iori himself seemed acquainted with Shouki, Clarica was a first. Taking the flor of the conversation into account, she came around for God’s descent.
“My hidden power…? My… standing?”
“You’re in quite a precarious position. Though if you awaken, you might be the holy priestess.”
— You haven’t awoken yet. But even if the baptism awakens you, if you don’t become the holy priestess, you’ll…
Suzuran reflected on Shouki’s words.
“Or what, I’ll become the Demon Lord?”
“That’s right. You’re also a demon lord candidate.”
“Since we’re here, I’ll just say it. They’re trying to have God descend. In order to prevent that, I’ll have you be the Demon Lord.”
“Umm… no, but Demon Lord’s a bit…”
“Don’t worry. I just said you have the makings. You’re still a normal human. ”
Worry or not, what concerned her the most was Iori’s sanity when he said that with a straight face. Whether it was Shouki or Iori, they calmly came out with the most outrageous nonsense.
“If I become Demon Lord… what happens?”
“You’ll see when you get there. But don’t misunderstand. Right now, you’re just a human, and a bottom level grunt in my company.”
She was having trouble accepting that one. If the sacred assembly worshiped their God, it would be perfectly fine for an evil organization to worship a Damon Lord candidate.
“Now on with the lesson. You boast negative magic, an exceedingly rare and powerful ability. Unconsciously, that is. I have no idea which way you’ll roll when your powers do awaken. That must be why the damn brat refused the sister’s proposal.”
Because he didn’t want to fight with me? That’s why he so firmly—?
“Anyways, while you might just be something like a trigger, you do hold enough power to get God down here. I said it before, but I have only one goal. To make sure he stays the hell away. This is the plan I’ve thought up: I’ll have you become the Demon Lord, and rip heavens’ gate to shreds.”
She imagined herself firing off some incomprehensible beam into the sky.
“… Looks like you’re even less aware of it than I thought. After witnessing the realities of the world of darkness first hand, is ‘That so’ the only thing you can say?”
Iori sighed, somewhat troubled.
“I’ll have to explain this from scratch.”
Picking up a piece of chalk, he began drawing on the blackboard. While it was the same layer system as before, there was something different this time. Trees standing at a lakeside, and a fish swimming in the water, it wasn’t actually that bad… a diagram of a lake, evidently.
“This is a societal model called a Maty-Gaty Matrix.”
“Err… huh? Maty…?”
When Iori pressed the button, the washbasin came down.
“The structure of society proposed by the late nineteenth century American Sociologists Marty Jefferson and Galthira Garland. King, royalty, knights, peasants… the central idea is that it is possible to represent the class structure of the middle ages using the closed system of a lake.”
Iori poured some water from a pitcher into a cup and took a swig.
“I’m going to borrow its structure to demonstrate how the world is set up. Alright.”
First, Iori traced the chalk along the water’s surface.
“This is the surface layer. Meaning, the world you were in before you met me. A little wind can raise a wave, but generally speaking, it’s a peaceful world bathed in sunlight. The church calls it the earthly realm, the first world. I’d rather call it this world, the common rabble, the surface world.”
Was this the relationship of vice and virtue? It looks like names could change.
The chalk mover lower.
“This is the current. I told you before, but it’s the underworld where assassins, spies, and gangs operate. It’s quiet, but the differences in temperatures create a flow, and it’s possible for the outer layer to be sucked in, or for something to fall in by the natural order of things. That is what the world calls misfortune. It’s dark, but it’s not like the surface world can’t peek at it.”
Spy movies and documentaries were a dime a dozen, and civilians did get dragged into terrorism and robberies… that made sense. Suzuran nodded and urged him on.
The chalk tapped against a portion close to the bottom.
“The depths. The world of darkness we live in. The light can’t reach anymore. The surface world can’t see or feel it. Those in the current can feel there’s something deep down, but they have no means to ascertain what’s in the darkness. The pressure’s too high for them to risk going down…”
Finally, Iori smacked his chalk against the bottom of the lake.
“And the sediment.”
“The dust and trash that’s built up over time from the three layers above it. Quiet as can be, the deposits no one knows exist or not. Some chance might have it float up, but it’ll never reach the surface world.”
Tack, tack, Iori boredly tapped against it. Thought based on how one looked at it, he might also seem troubled.
“Well… this is how the world is set up. The balance. The assembly’s trying to crumble it. And you’re the trigger they’ll pull to do it.”
Leaving that questioning syllable to its own devices, Iori chalked in the shape of a person and had it stand in the lake.
“A giant jumps into the lake. All the layers are suddenly all mixed up and, first off, the surface layer won’t be peaceful anymore. It’s gone. With the giant in its way, the current disappears too. It’s gone. The giant’s legs will churn up all the sediment that’s finally settled on the bottom, force it to rise, and when all settles, the lake will be reduced to a still pool.”
“Don’t tell me… the God I’m supposed to somehow bring down to Tokyo is…”
“The giant. As a result, the world’s balance will change, and you’ll probably summon whatever that sacred devil they were talking about was too.”
While Suzuran didn’t fully comprehend, Iori’s eyes were strangely stern.
“… When God descends, it won’t be peaceful anymore?”
“When the light gets stronger, what happens to the shadows?”
“Umm… they get darker?”
“Correct. The sediment. Roughly speaking, monsters will make a resurgence. I don’t know the specific reason, but looking at the balance, it’s a valid concern. They either don’t know or refuse to believe. But on the off chance that happens, try thinking about it. Our exclusive powers that let us stand superior will flow right back to the common rabble. When bad monsters that are even scarier than the evil organization start strutting around, how can we conduct business?”
Iori breathed a serious sigh.
“… It’s a complicated world we live in. Whether God comes and makes it too peaceful, or monsters worse than an evil organization appear, our business model is doomed.”
I see, I see. Just how selfish could this man be?
“If there was any guarantee our livelihoods would be preserved after God descended, then I’d strip you naked, tie you in ribbons, and ship you to the assembly this very instant. No wrapping or shipment fees.”
“Wha!? Why do I have to be naked!?”
Imagining her own naked body cutely wrapped in ribbons, Suzuran blushed. Even so, his listless expression didn’t waver in the slightest.
“Right, if cat ears is their thing, it would be the least I could throw in as a freebie…”
“Waaah! Never! Definitely not!!”
Tock. The chalk Iori haphazardly tossed aside like a piece of crash collided with Suzuran’s forehead as she went into a half-crazed state out of shame.
“But nudity and their motives aside.”
“In the case that you head to the assembly, God will descend. The world population will probably drop to around three hundred million.”
It was complete absurdity, yet it was enough to set her heart racing. Perhaps it was due to the sharp glint in his eyes piercing through her.
“Nowadays, only the assembly has enough power to take down the great monsters slain in the times of old. If they take power, all that’ll remain are those unhealthily faithful like that sister, and the newborns with no means to commit sin. Any and all with meanness and savagery in their hearts that might cause conflict will consequently die out. You go and make one prayer at the temple and that’s the world we’ll be living in. In exchange for obtaining a God.”
“Aim to be a Demon Lord under me. God won’t come down. Those folks at the assembly will be called liars, they’ll forfeit their authority. The evil organizations will be on the up and up. From those in the business, those it may concern, tens of billions will roll right into our firm. Your two-billion-yen debt will be a bad dream, and you can return to the surface world… no,”
Iori gave a self-deriding smile and shook his head.
“What you do after you’re the Demon Lord is all up to you. Even I’m no match for a Demon Lord, after all.”
Hanging her head, Suzuran powerlessly laughed.
“What’s so funny?”
“… Just thinking, if I really do have that sorta power… it’s hilarious.”
It just had to be an unfortunate girl like me.
“I get thrown away and thrown away… in the end, I even have the power to destroy the world… and still, nobody wants me…”
“Hey, don’t worry about it.”
“Don’t say it so easily! When you don’t know a thing! Don’t talk like you know me!!”
Throwing her hair into a mess, Suzuran cried out.
The irritation, the sadness, the anger of betrayal.
To be betrayed meant to shoulder every negative emotion. Just how many tears were needed to shove it away in a corner of the heart… like hell she would let herself be understood so easily.
“But as things stand, all employees at my company are pretty much like that. Ripple-Rapple and Saho…”
“Don’t glare at me. Crying and closing up gets you nowhere. Then how about you go make a trip to the assembly? Shouldn’t all the traitorous villains be cut down?”
His carefree smile rubbed her the wrong way. By the time she noticed it, she was speaking in a voice even she didn’t recognize.
“… Shut up or I really will destroy the world…”
“Yeah, yeah. Before you do that, I’ll blow up all the students at your school.”
Just how much of a, how much of a…!
“Several billion are gonna bite the dust. Who cares if a few hundred die before that? Though I don’t know how many students are at your school.”
How much of a…
Realizing she was no match for him no matter how she struggled, the power drained from her expression. This was idiotic.
“You’re right. It’s whatever you say…”
“What are you sulking for?”
Bong, by the time the metal washbasin had fallen, Suzuran had already stood from her seat. Kwan, kwan, Ignoring the basin’s futile rotation before it settled, the girl left the room with the steps of a sickly patient.
Her intentions, and the emotions she voiced were probably real. And so Iori didn’t call to stop her. Lowering himself down into the pipe chair behind the teacher’s desk, he pushed up his glasses with his shaking fingertips.
A while passed before swapping out with Suzuran, Meeko entered the room. Dressed like an assembly, she floated loftily in the air as she drifted over to Iori.
“… Weren’t you a tad hasty?”
Her words came with a bitter smile. In contrast, Iori’s exhausted face let out a long sigh.
Recalling the sinister red tint to Suzuran’s eyes as she stood,
“… Of course I was. No matter which way it goes, the stick that’ll tear the world apart is balancing right over her throat.”
“Oh, is that so…?”
Landing beside the desk, it was as if Meeko had just heard a child tell a tall tale. She smiled softly as she lightly tilted her head.
“You’re the only one who can see it like that. Do you really get it?”
“Yes. She was giving off a nostalgic scent. Though I can’t recall it anymore…”
Meeko looked just a little lonely. Reminiscing over something, yet unsure of exactly what… that was surely only someone from the ‘sediment’ like her could understand.
“So how was the investigation?”
On that question, Meeko dug through her pocket and pulled out a memo pad.
“Yes… well first off, they have a grasp of our location. The sacred assembly’s Bishop Ferriol… umm…”
“To think you incessantly wrote it all down. Do you even realize what it means to be a spy?”
“I mean… if I forgot, Taki, you’d be even angrier at me, right?”
Whatever, waving his hand half-given up, Iori urged her on. Seriously, he needed some capable employees that were just a little more versatile. At the very least, ones who didn’t call him Taki.
“Umm, yes. The eleventh order of holy knights has been given the order to sortie. It seems they’re still taking time finding a means of transport… but it’s certain they’ll arrive at this mansion.”
Meeko’s voice next turned to a gloomy one.
“Wouldn’t running be…”
“I don’t have that sorta confidence.”
A holy knight order—their abnormal combat prowess was something Iori understood, as a resident of the same world. If it aligned with justice, a mere terrorist would be annihilated in an instant.
“Until Suzuran awakens, we’ll have to buy time here, at home-ground.”
While he heard a heavy breath from Meeko, Iori went on regardless.
“Suzuran trusts you. Just in case, you go tell her the current situation and persuade her to stay. Can you estimate when the knights will arrive?”
“… But by tomorrow night, I’ll be…”
“Got it. You got to sleep. Got that? If you don’t wanna see any more blood, then obey me.”
“You really don’t want to make a Demon Lord of her, do you…?”
Her tone was one as if she was trying to confirm it.
Iori kept his silence.
A while later, a sad voice,
“… Why do we have to go to war? Cardinal Randale of the assembly is an upstanding man. The believers are all kind people… even Taki, don’t you—”
“Shut up. Sleep.”
One-sidedly cutting the conversation, Iori left the room in ill humor. Left behind, Meeko breathed a deep sigh.
“Hey-lo, hel-lo! May ya go forth with god’s grace!”
With the night so thick, the energetic sister threw open the door to the bishop’s office with as much force as if she were saluting the Fuhrer of the Third Reich.
“Sister Clarica. How about you knock before entering someone’s room?”
As the bishop scolded her with a wry smile, Shouki followed not far behind with no scarcity of a cold sweat. The room fixtures brought medieval Europe to mind, in that space that emphasized the color white. He turned to Ferriol who had stood from his seat, correcting his posture as,
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Bishop Ferriol. My name is Hasebe Shouki.”
“Likewise, Mr. Shouki. I’ve heard of your many exploits as the hero.”
A smile. Shouki often saw his soft smile on TV, but upon meeting him in person, that warmth was one he could feel right on his skin.
“So… you said you wanted to talk to me?”
“Yes. Did Clarica tell you about how the holy knight order is being dispatched to reclaim the Saint?”
That I did! Clarica said as she stuck up her thumb. Shouki ignored her and nodded.
“About its command structure… Well, Shouki. I’m going to have you take command.”
As a hero, he had at most served as a leader of a small party, and if he had to say, he was at his best fighting alone. It was precisely because he challenged dangerous tasks no one else could accomplish that isolation was his constant companion. In essence, until Clarica came around, he had been working on his own.
Shouki couldn’t conceal his dismay at such an erratic request: to bring together the great numbers that comprised a knight order under a strategy. The bishop’s smile deepened as if to wipe away such delusions.
“You have no need to worry. I’m not asking for you to lead a delicate plan with specialized forces. If I had to say, right… I need you to be the banner.”
“The banner… is it? Me?”
“We’re well aware ya can’t expect a high schooler to lead a war! Hey, it means you’re just along for the ride!!”
Shouki did think that would be the case… but when someone said it to his face with a cackle… oddly enough, Shouki and Ferriol sighed in unison.
“Huh? What’s up with you two?”
“Clarica. Be silent for a while.”
Clearly not learning her lesson, she gave a drawn out, mocking reply.
“So what say you, Shouki. The holy knights aren’t your normal monks, they’re very well drilled. Realistically speaking, if you make do with the two orders of advance, retreat, they should be able to handle the rest on their own.”
“But in that case, is there any need for me to go…”
He did want to save Suzuran from their hands. But just as Clarica said, when he hadn’t even learned the ‘s’ of strategy, wouldn’t he just be a hindrance?
“No, I had no intent to call you a tag-along. There may be opponents the holy knights won’t be able to handle on their own.”
“Even the holy knights…?”
“I’m saying our opponents this time aren’t thugs of the second world… but demons of the third.”
Shouki accepted the request and left. While there were still some anxieties to be had with the hero, it would be fine for now—or so Ferriol breathed a quiet breath.
“Ya sure that was aight? Mr. Shouki’s too earnest fer his own good.”
“That’s been included in my calculations from the start… more so, Clarica. This time hinges on your conduct.”
Mistaking Ferriol’s misgivings as expectations, the sister’s eyes glimmered like stars, her expression radiating like the sun
“Then ya couldn’t be in better hands, bishop! I, sister Clarica I’ve got so many ‘a the Lord’s blessings pouring down on me it’s like I’ve been left out in a hailstorm!”
“One can hope…”
He didn’t doubt her ability.
It was only to her needless energy that Ferriol had to give a bitter smile.