When Suzuran opened her eyes, she was in yet another different bed.
The sheets were soft. The duvet was warm and light. In place of a ceiling, she saw a canopy. The legs of the vast bed grew out high to support it. All four directs were covered by the veil-like cloth trailing down from the top.
She was wearing silk pajamas. Frauline or Mademoiselle or whatever the right term was, Suzuran didn’t know, but they had a grounded high-class design a lady who went by those titles would put on.
(T… then how about princess…?)
She shook her head as she remembered the details. It was simple. She fell unconscious in Iori’s mansion and came to it here. When she got down from the bed and looked around, it was too vast to joke about. The sole furnishing in it, a wooden closet looked like a miniature rather than furniture.
Her feet sinking into the fluffy red carpet, she took another look.
(This has got to be the temple, right?)
No windows, a space surrounded by nothing but white walls and white ceiling. How tasteless, she thought. It would be far easier for her to maintain a healthy spirit spending her days in a room at Iori’s place.
Walking up to the only scrap of color on the wall surface, a two-leaf door, she knocked.
“Umm… errr… good morning, can you hear me… it’s me, Suzuran.”
Was that really alright? But contrary to her misgivings, a voice returned shortly after.
“Did you sleep well?”
The one who appeared without a sound was a solemn sister, the polar opposite of Clarica… rather, Clarica was just too lively, and this was one of the normal sisters she saw around the station and such…
Naturally, she wasn’t carrying around anything as dangerous as a pistol. What she carried, holding tight to her body seemed to be a set of clothing.
“Please change into these. I have been tasked by Bishop Ferriol to inform you he wishes to speak.”
Along with her reply, her stomach sounded out with no honor.
“He did mention it would be over a meal.”
The sister softly smiled.
(Feh! … Ferry!? That Ferry in the flesh!?)
Seeing the young man at the round table in the room the sister led her to, Suzuran underwent an indescribable excitement and tension, her eyes opening wide.
Silver gray hair. Skin as beautiful as white porcelain. Dressed in white top and bottom with a mantle over that, his form was befitting a young noble. And the smile she had only ever seen across the screen was now definitively directed at her.
While there was no tiara, Suzuran was wearing a princessy frilled dress. The quality of the frills was completely different from the apron at a certain mansion, and the gloves that reached all the way to her elbows spurred it on.
In the greatest possible situation, she had a monopoly on Ferry.
“It is a pleasure to meet you, dear saint.”
“Hah!? No, please go with Suzuran! Suzuran’s good enough! Don’t even stick anything onto it! Umm! Yes!”
“Alright. Then Ms. Suzuran.”
He responded in a tone with no irony. Had being called by name ever felt so sweet before?
In sharp contrast to him, Suzuran was breaking into a cold sweat with every word she spoke out. Was I always such a bandwagoning poser? She was starting to wonder.
“You’d better eat before it gets cold. We can talk after that.”
“Sir! Yes! Understood!”
With a Saho-esque prompt reply, Suzuran was escorted to the table. What the sister eventually brought out consisted of nothing but dishes that surely carried long and grandiose names. Beautiful to look at, even tastier to eat.
While at first, her hand rested… humans are an adaptable species. The moment Ferriol told her, ‘go right ahead’, she went at it as if grappling with a beef steak right off a diet.
At the end, all the plates were carted off and only a teacup on a saucer remained before the two of them. After gazing a while at the steam rising off the black tea, Ferriol raised his head towards her.
“Now then… where should I start? No, I should ask where he left off.”
“He? Are you talking about ma… Iori?”
As Suzuran corrected herself, he gave a slight smile. She found herself running her mouth on whatever came to mind. By the time she realized it, she had explained every last detail since she came in contact with Iori. Anxiety, or fear, perhaps something of the sort was egging her on.
And in the end, she promptly questioned what Iori had told her.
“Mr. Ferriol, do you know? That if God descends… umm…”
That the world population will drop to three hundred million. That the only ones to survive will be the most fervent believers, and those too young to commit sin.
The young bishop’s eyes narrowed slightly in lament.
“I see… so he’s put some thought into this.”
“The experiences he has put you through, after you spend your life in the earthly realm… it must have felt like a story within a dream.”
The bullets flying. The radiant sugar candy in the polyethylene package. The encroaching cop cars, cop cars, cop cars…
“Err… probably. Yes.”
“By doing so, he pinned down the unrest in your heart. Clothing that bullets cannot penetrate. A being of darkness that floats… and a giant of mist. If such mysteries truly exist, then might it be possible for the Lord’s descent to bring humanity to ruin… you thought.”
Ferriol slowly formed a smile. Aah, this person really has a bountiful heart, he’s used to smiling… Suzuran got the impression.
“Rest at ease. While it’s true that matters exist which can’t be captured by the common sense of the earthly realm… it’s not as if just about anything can happen.”
“Certainly, from the point of view of someone who lurks in a world of darkness, stacking up evil deeds, I have no doubt it will become an inconvenient world to live in. However… is that inconvenience not the wish of humanity from the times of old?”
When he said that while smiling, she could only nod.
But next- was it sorrow or resolve- with such a conflicted expression, his smile had disappeared.
“Sin is the root of all evil. For several thousand years, we have fought the darkness presided over by the demon lord. The Sacred Assembly’s oracle selects a hero, and he shall be the one to slay the lord. But the demon lord simply changes to the next generation, only to reign over the world again. Armies are formed to secure land from the monsters for humans to thrive, their weapons undergoing perpetual evolution to contest with the monsters…”
His breath seemed to sound almost like a sigh. It looked as if he himself lamented over that past rule and strive.
“… There is never an end in sight, such is the battle between human and demon. The history this planet has forgotten. A reality there is no longer any way to come to know. But of human and demon, good and evil, the battle still wages on.”
Ferriol’s face clouded over at his last few words.
“Why is that? It is because the demon lord changes generation. The seat has simply been left open for over two thousand years… our battle continues with those of darkness who would have the demon lord be reborn.”
“And that’s… the world of darkness…?”
“The assembly would call it the third world. If history has a front and back… we’re so submerged, even the backside wouldn’t speak of us. But now, once again, darkness and evil are attempting to make their return to the front stage of history. More powerful than ever before. The reason we made our own existence known was to take the first move, to strengthen the unity of the human race without a moment to lose. There is no greater incentive than the Lord’s descent. If it is not done, the world will be enveloped in darkness once again, to return to an era thousands of years past.”
Her heart was shaking. Was it the weight of his words? As he spoke, it was as if he was speaking to the eternal weight of history.
“What I have just said will raise too much anxiety in the populace, and thus hasn’t been made public. And depending on you… it could very well be forgotten as a passing tale of the third world. In exchange for peace.”
After lifting up his teacup and finally taking a sip, Ferriol let out a quiet sigh.
“I beseech you. Would you cooperate with us? Evil works slowly, but it is definitely eating its way into the world. Your prayer may bring it to a full stop. The curtain will come down on a history of war. Please consider it.”
“Can I… believe?”
Ferriol refuted that with a slow shake of his head.
“This may come off as harsh, but you have to be the one believing. If you do not believe, the door will not open.”
“To be quite frank…”
The softness in his face returned. Yet his smile was a bit different, it was a little childish.
“I’m tired of that battle. Right… I’m sure he is too.”
At Suzuran’s word, he gave a bitter smile.
“Indeed. I’m sure he’s acting out the likes of an evil organization to give purpose to his own worn-out soul. Pathetically taken in by the powers of evil, by the time he realized it, he could no longer break out… he’s a kind one at heart. I’m sure, even now.”
Didn’t Meeko say the same thing?
“As evidence, the holy knight order was sent back without a scratch.”
“Mr. Ferriol, do you know ma… Iori?”
“We’re old friends. We threw ourselves into the third world around the same time, him to the organization. Me to the assembly.”
At that surprising tidbit, Suuran’s eyes rounded like plates. Possibly, at some point, Iori could have become a man of character like Ferriol. Aah, just where did he go wrong.
Couldn’t she say that about herself? In front of her, as had he in the days of lore, there were two paths laid out before her. Vice or virtue. Light or darkness.
When she raised her hung face, there was no hesitation in Suzuran’s eyes.
(What’s that, Shouki? You done? Can’t even beat a woman like me? Some hero)
He heard his big sister’s voice.
In the house dojo, a wooden sword in one hand, she laughed.
(Get yourself together. And so? You’re the hero, and what are you going to do? When you’re so weak?)
Scorning him as if she didn’t place the smallest iota of faith in him, she mercilessly laughed. And there he was, unable to answer. Unable to say those four words: I will get stronger.
(The mighty Hasebe sword, you see Shouki. It’s an art of godslaying. It was thrown together by a guy who threw away honor and justice, and went barking mad over a single-minded devotion to become stronger. Do you get it? The Hasebe House is a lineage of evil. And you think you’re a hero?)
She laughed again.
Shouki said something back. He said it clearly. One again, even in the dream.
His sister smiled.
I’ll become strong, Shouki cried out.
Shouki awoke to his own sleeptalk.
A room that smelled of salt.
“Are you awake?”
The demon woman from the mansion smiled as his bedside. She was in the same maid clothing as ever.
“You’re… Ms. Meeko…”
“Yes. You remember me?”
Meeko smiled delightedly from the depths of her heart. By what the assembly had taught him, he couldn’t even imagine her as a demon. More so, if a goddess or angel was around, wouldn’t they smile just like her… Shouki thought.
“My name is Shouki… Hasebe Shouki. Where are we right now? As I recall, I was in his mansion when…”
“We’re on a boat. We escaped in this boat from the mansion’s basement.”
She said as she retrieved a wet towel from the horizontal Shouki’s head.
“Did you look after me?”
“Yes. You’ve been asleep for almost an entire day.”
How pathetic. Normally, a hero such as himself would have to be in her position. After biting his lip at his own inadequacies, Shouki spoke. If you weren’t there, he might have killed me by now… thank you.
“Hey now, no need to thank her, damn brat!”
With a bam, the one who kicked in the door to enter was… him. It was him. The one whose name he didn’t even want to recall.
“The one who brought you out of the mansion, ordered that woman to look after you, and didn’t kill you was me! You picking up what I’m putting down? Thanking her gets you nowhere. Now no need to be shy. Look me right in the eye, and give me your heartfelt gratitude.”
With those glimmering eyes directed at him, he wanted to say something to the complete opposite effect, but gritting his molars to the very limit, he used all his might to keep his mouth from opening.
“Hmmm? What’s wrong, kid? I can’t hear you.”
He tried to lunge at him and noticed he couldn’t.
He was restrained. Not with half-measures like rope or chain. Iron belts directly attached to the bed bound him from his limbs to his torso. He was bound so firmly, he could be called a mummy of cold steel.
“Kuh… what do you plan to do to me!?”
“Oh no, we won’t do anything. Not anymore.”
“A-anymore!? You’ve already done it!?”
With just a laugh seemingly filled with profound meaning, the worst possible way to answer, Iori pushed up his glasses.
“Answer me, Iori!”
“If I had to say… rocket punch.”
“… The doctor wanted to stick one on and, well, I held him back.”
“… You bastard!!”
At practically the same time as Shouki’s scream, rough footsteps approached from outside the room.
“H-h-he’s right, Iori! You’re gonna let me do it, right!? Heehee, I’ve been waiting, knowing you would come around!”
Was he laughing, or having trouble breathing? The gasping, gloomy man in a labcoat wailed out. In his hand was a prosthetic arm so intricately made it was uncanny… no, judging by the jet propeller at the bisection…
“You heard him, damn brat. You want it, you’ve got it.”
“I-is that true, boy!? Heehee! But you’d prefer a drill, wouldn’t you!? You’re a growing boy, after all!! Just you wait, now, now, I’ll have it on in thirty minutes!! Heeeh!!”
After saying his piece, he bounded out of the room. With such momentum, he might come right back with drill in tow.
“I… Iori. I’d like to speak with…”
“There are only two options before you. Swear you won’t resist, and receive a briefing on the situation… or make your name in the world as the drill hero Shouki. By the way, I’d recommend the latter.”
“He really will do it.”
“Eeheeh, heeheeheeh! I’ve kept you qaiting! Now let the surgery commence!!”
Holding a conical drill straight out of a manga, he suddenly brandished his scalpel.
“You’re a heartless bastard, you know that, brat? I’ve never seen the doctor in such anguish.”
“That… might be true, but…”
Should a grown man really burst out crying so pathetically? With his restraints undone, Shouki recalled the scene as he walked down the ship’s hall.
But still, drill hero was… a bit…
The ship seemed to be a large cruiser. The residential quarters were around as large as a standard-size house, and from the red carpet lining the corridor, the interior didn’t fall short of a high-class hotel.
“… Where are we right now?”
“Tokyo bay. Look over there.”
Going out on deck, Iori pointed in the direction the boat was headed. Under a starry sky, near the wide shoreline lulled by the night wind, a patch of blue as if only that space forgot to set… the haze lingered.
“Is that… Heaven’s Gate?”
“At present, we’re going off to destroy it. Launching a raid on the temple, to make matters short.”
Iori recalled his words from the mansion.
“You did mention that… but don’t you know, Iori? The grounds where they allow the mass media are one thing, but the temple itself is protected by a powerful barrier. Unless you’re one of the select few, even if this ship was falling from the sky, it’d be sent right back on its way… that’s just how it works.”
“Yeah, that’s why we have you, nimrod.”
Shouki was at a loss for words. He was certainly one of the chosen. But practically no one was supposed to be aware of that. It was a fundamental security problem, so there was no way an outsider to the assembly would know.
Being the hero and being selected were two completely irrelevant matters.
“Who told you…!?”
Looking fed up by the question, Iori tilted his head as if he was being forced to state the obvious.
Shouki’s eyes opened so wide they could open no further.
“No way… that’s impossible!”
“Suzuran’s better off learning what it means to trust, but you’re the opposite. How about you learn to doubt a bit? Of course… that’s precisely why things have been going so smoothly.”
“In addition to that, my mansion has a barrier of equal class to the temple.”
“That’s a lie.”
“Kukuh, you doubted me. That’s a good start.”
His refutation played right into his opponent’s hands… Shouki grit his teeth at that absurd humiliation.
“However, my company doesn’t maintain itself in the world of darkness on a hope and a dream. We do have defensive power on that level.”
“Then you purposely let us in!?”
You should consider this first… Iori gave as a preface.
“By the teachings of the assembly, aren’t we the sort that should have been on the top of their list to crush? Yet the instant Suzuran’s whereabouts became known… to be more precise, when they acted that way, they just magically knew where we were?”
“It was an act…!?”
“When I had you and Suzuran meet on the viewing platform, and when the assembly ‘discovered’ my mansion right after that… and the fact that right now, you and Suzuran have swapped placed. While there was a bit of improv mixed in, it was roughly arranged between Ferriol and I.”
“…So you’re telling me… That’s why Clarica let the knights go on ahead, and ran away with Agawa!?”
“That crazy sister’s one of Ferriol’s dogs. You ever hear about the second division of the inquisition? When there’s someone out there who can’t be brought to a trial before God, they go out and directly assassinate them. The crazy’s one of their agents. Ferriol’s the head.”
Shouki knew about inquisitors themselves. But they didn’t kill. Whether or not to excommunicate believers who turned away from the teachings, that was all they were in charge of. This second division sounded simply absurd.
“And that second division works directly under the prophet. But if this mission was done at your level, there would be no hopes of success. If it was handled head-on, the damages would be far too great. So the talks came around to me. Destroying the gate, in and of itself, was also requested by this country’s top dogs, so I took it up.”
“What is Bishop Ferriol’s end goal…”
No, that was simple. There were only two ranks a bishop couldn’t touch. And if the second division was controlled by one of them…
“… The cardinal!? But in that case, why would he…! And God’s descent is the assembly’s mission, their dearest desire!”
“But what if it were a god who didn’t match the will of the prophet. An outer god, for instance… do you know about Zephirum?”
“Zephirum… yeah. A dark organization comprised of demons, even the assembly can’t clearly pin down their whereabouts. I haven’t locked blades with them yet, but… you’re saying the cardinal is connected to them?”
Kukuh, Iori rung his throat with a nod.
“By Ferriol’s investigation, that old man Randale was taken into their ranks. In exchange for a demon’s greatest characteristic, an ageless, undying body… he’ll bring down a human eradicating evil god. Now then, it’s hard to decide whether to pity him or be honest with myself and praise him.”
Shouki did know Cardinal Randale was an old man over eighty. With his fleeting years remaining, he could imagine him losing to such temptations, but… an individual who climbed as high as cardinal?
“No, that makes no sense. You’re leading me on.”
Paying no mind to the glare locked on him, Iori lowered himself into one of the parasol-equipped chairs on deck and folded his legs.
“Then ask away, Hasebe Shouki. I’ll answer to your hearts content.”
“Kk… why did Bishop Ferriol call out to Agawa on TV.”
“That was just to make Suzuran aware of her own existence. That being the case, it seems the assembly was only able to pin down her birth parents. When you learned who she was, it was too late. I investigated with my own, far simpler route. By following the trail of debt.”
“Why did she go to you first. Why didn’t you hand her over to the assembly.”
“At first, I planned on drawing out a portion of her power as a demon lord on my side. Otherwise, I’d never entrust her with the sorta damn brat who would storm my house… but, she’s far too skeptical, see. So anyway, I tried shoving her onto a battlefield but… the sort of playtime with no casualties didn’t do a thing. I agreed to sent Ferriol’s men back unharmed. Then what next? I’ll shove her into real carnage. A war of the world of darkness… what the assembly calls the third world. Making that is what we’re off to do.”
Should he doubt it? Wouldn’t it be far more likely that this man was the one who joined hands with Zephirum? Shouki focused his eyes. But at that moment, Iori’s eyes he gazed into were completely different from the Iori he knew. While his posture was fitting of a cruiser, as if he were relaxing in some southern sea, he was painfully tranquil, staring straight in the direction of Tokyo.
Among the thieves and gangs he had fought to that point, Shouki had seen eyes of desperation. But Iori’s eyes had surpassed them. They conveyed a sense of duty that transcended death. Thinking not of whether to live or die, but of simply how to die. Should he doubt? What his swaying heart brought forth, in the end, was just another question.
“… So what will happen to Agawa?”
“If God descends, she’s an offering. She’ll either be dead, or at best, not Suzuran anymore.”
“And if he doesn’t descend… then she’ll become a demon lord.”
“You know how she is. She’ll be making a lot of enemies.”
“Now what do you do? You have to options. Whichever you take, the world will… I won’t say it’ll be destroyed but, well, there’ll be a ruckus.”
At the bow, the gentle sound of breaking waves. Even if the near-spring sea was cold, Shouki’s heart was soothingly warm. The hero declared without a shred of doubt.
“… A hero doesn’t give up. I’ll defeat the evil god. And I’ll save Agawa! That’s the path I’ll take!”
Iori lifted the corners of his mouth.
“Now you’ve said it, godslayer.”
The moment Iori’s blissful smile caused his chest to jump.
“… Why do you kno…!”
A sharp searchlight interrupted his words. From the starboard side, a high-speed boat came parting the waves.
“The coast guard…!?”
Iori leisurely lifted himself up and climbed into his ship.
“This is the bridge.”
Iori invited him into the room.
Was it that field trip he went on in elementary school? He had forgotten what sort of boat it was, but the scene was similar enough. Glass faces to the left and right of the side facing the bow, and various meters below that.
In the reservedly lit bridge, sitting on some sort of wooden crate, a small girl was gripping onto the steering.
“Are we going to be alright, Iori!?”
“Well, calm… down. I may look young, but I’ve… at least seen… The Titanic.”
The girl tried to soothe him as she brought up the ship of tragedy that sunk in the Atlantic.
“No… are we going to be… alright? Iori?”
He made sure the question went to the man beside him this time. While he didn’t have any aftereffects from her bat, he was probably bad at dealing with this girl.
“Don’t worry about it. We’re just driving straight.”
Apart from her, there was Meeko, nervously pleading with the wireless. There was the amazing master swordswoman girl he had seen at the mansion. As if last night had been a lie, she was absentmindedly gazing at the ocean.
“Hand it over, Meeko. This is why I said you’re useless.”
Not even listening to her sorrowful apology, Iori snatched away the receiver.
“Can you hear me? Yeah, I’m the captain of this ship. You’ve already heard, haven’t you… that’s right, it’s Iori.”
Once Iori set down the receiver, it wasn’t long before the patrol boat turned and passed by the bow… no, of all things, it took a position diagonally behind them and began matching their speed as if acting as a guard.
For an evil organization to hold such influence, it was almost as if he was seeing a nightmare.
“Just who are you, Iori!?”
He found himself crying out, but Iori seemed genuinely surprised.
“Mn… oh, I see. Shouka never told you anything?”
“My sister… why is my sister’s name coming out!?”
“Because the Ioris are also a godslaying lineage, you know.”
“Wha… it’s not just the Hasebe House!?”
“Of course not. There’s the mighty blade of the Hasebe, sturdy bow of the Amashiro, main arts of the Nagoyakawa…”
That was Suzuran’s name Ferriol used on TV. According to what Iori said, that would make them her birth family.
“And the dark arts of the Iori.”
Iori pushed up his glasses as if pointing at himself, the lenses letting off a gleam.
“Those are the only lines left in these lands, those cursed as the four godslaying houses.”
“— From the start, we just kinda had abnormal power. Since we have power, we can be chosen as heroes, and become Saints and Demon Lords, you name it… no, perhaps some blood from the distant past was revived in the form of godslayers.”
Did he mean to say they were descended from demon lords…? While the thought crossed his mind, he immediately discarded. It felt almost as if it would shake the basis of his sense as a hero within him.
“If we ignore the Amashiros who pretty much closed up shop after the war, it may be inevitable that the rest of us were all dragged into this affair.”
Dismounting the docked cruiser, Shouki listened to his words as he walked. He unknowingly monologued.
“I was taught when I was small. That the Hasebe house was a godslaying, an evil house… it kinda made me irritated down to the core. So when I was chosen as a hero, I swore it. I’ll definitely become strong, stronger than anyone, and I’ll rinse away our bad name…”
“I see. That’s irony for you.”
“Yeah… you’re right. But do you think our ancestors were like we are now? Working together to take down a god?”
“No, I heard the four houses were on catastrophically bad terms.”
Is that why he never heard about the other houses?
Behind the conversing two, the girl… her name was Ripple-Rapple, apparently… plodded along. Even further back, Meeko gracefully walked, her mouth still shut. The doctor and Saho were to remain on ship.
“… Meeko is one thing, but are you taking the kid too? Wouldn’t that Induit something something… that Saho girl be a stronger addition?”
It wasn’t as if Shouki had forgiven Iori in regards to her. But for now, saving Suzuran was the priority, and Saho’s swordsmanship clearly surpassed even holy knight captain class.
She was promising when taken into consideration as sheer fighting potential, and yet Iori denied it.
“How do you expect me to do that? You’re the one who broke Saho’s sword. And Ripple-Rapple’s a tried and true demon. I’m just taking her along as insurance, depends on the circumstances really, but… this kid can properly use magic.”
“T… this small child can!?”
To use magic, one had to bend the force of mana to their own will so, naturally, it required a strong and firm force of will. Even if one never failed to temper their spirit from a young age, the established theory held that it was only after one’s own sense of self definitively manifested around the early teens that one could actually acquire the skill.
For Shouki, who was recognized as the hero, it only took shape at the end of his blood vomit-inducing training around the time he entered high school. Even at that age, those of the assembly charged with coaching him were highly impressed.
This girl… at an age where she could still be unironically called a little girl could pull it off. If he were to swallow Iori’s words whole, Shouki couldn’t help but have vague fears at the existence called demons, holding in him just a hint of envy.
“That statement… terribly displeasing. Demanding immediate retraction and heartfelt apology.”
With her words of protest, Ripple-Rapple raised a small fist.
“Y… yeah. Sorry…”
“Judging people and things by… appearance, no good. Be careful.”
That lack of expression, and peculiar speech pattern. More than anything, her endearing appearance… made it surprisingly difficult to pin down whether she was actually angry or not.
“By the way… mighty sword, sturdy bow… main arts, those ones I can understand. But what do you mean by dark arts?”
“You won’t believe me if I explain it, and you get nothing from seeing it. The one both me and Ferriol are counting on is you. Shouki.”
He was being counted on? Absurd. It must have been a slip of the tongue.
His sword had already been returned, it was now strapped on his back, but… it wasn’t as if he fully trusted Iori. He just wanted to save Suzuran. If Suzuran was safe, then depending on the circumstances, he might have to defeat this man.
He couldn’t trust in him yet…
A while down the desolate warehouse district and Iori stopped in front of a certain storage. With the click of the remote he took out, the shutter quietly opened.
There was only a single car inside. Nothing strange about it in the slightest, the sort of Century a member of the diet might use for official business. Beside it, two individuals were waiting. Middle-aged, slender faces, black suits, sunglasses.
“Your underlings? Iori?”
On Shouki’s question, Iori gave a shrug of his shoulders.
“If I had to say, clients.”
The request came from the country’s top dogs… meaning they were some bigshots. Shouki was a tad surprised that Japan hired such blacksuit officials as well. But as Iori was involved, they might not be the best of men.
“The head of the Iori House, and might that be the hero?”
One of the men asked in an inorganic tone.
“Indeed. Now listen and be surprised. This brat’s a Hasebe.”
“…!? I see. So the Hasebe House’s… if he has the disposition to be called a hero, the Hasebe House is in good hands…”
“Hold it. Forget who I am, who are you people?”
On Shouki’s question, the shocked man immediately feigned composure and returned a mechanical lack of reaction. It seemed he had no mind to answer. And Iori didn’t plan to say it either.
“Don’t worry about it, brat. Just get in already.”
Iori sat in the driver’s seat and turned on the engine. With Meeko and Ripple-Rapple in the back, Shouki reluctantly sat in the passenger’s seat. The car quickly glided away, leaving the black suits behind.
The closer to city center, the greater the waves of people. The crowds of onlookers that had gathered from across Japan, no across the world. Would a miracle really burst forth from the gate the science couldn’t unravel or explain… news copters incessantly crossed overhead, like a flock of gnats around the gate. The car en route to the temple was naturally and anticlimactically absorbed into traffic, no longer able to proceed with ease.
“This is trouble.”
“Wouldn’t we be better off leaving the car and running…”
To Iori who leaned his body out the window to gaze at the roads, Meeko proposed an exceedingly respectable suggestion.
Sure enough, at this distance, they’d likely make it in time even on foot. But that was also only under normal circumstance. Right now, the crowds were too great. The car radio left on informed them there were two hours left to God’s descent. Current time twenty-two thirty. The peoples’ hopes only rising, an unease swelling in Shouki.
“Dammit. If Suzuran were here, she’d be flooring the breaks and smashing her way through…”
Would she really? It was quite hard to imagine, and it made Shouki tilt his head. His head tilted even further, as he saw someone in an assembly sister outfit shoving down everyone in her way as she ran towards them. Eventually, someone finally started fighting back, and after punching and kicking them down, she trampled all over them and started running again—once she spotted the car, she stuck her face to it. Bangbangbangbangbang, all while tapping against the window.
“Hey, whatcha think you’re doing!?”
“That should be my line, Clarica!”
Lowering his window and shouting back, Shouki pointed at the passerby now crawling on the road.
“Who cares about a rotten earthly worldly commoner who’s got no blessings from the Lord!? The ritual’s already starting, I tell ya!!”
“What do you mean, crazy?”
Iori asked. Forcing her way into the car from the window, Clarica grasped Iori’s lapels, holding her head high and proud.
“Listen here, and listen well, criminal scum!! Ms. Suzuran was drugged out! The cardinal is moving forward ahead of schedule. Get moving!”
Peeling off the saliva spewing sister’s face, Iori clicked his tongue. Upon hearing that, Shouki confirmed that it really did seem the assembly was conspiring with an evil organization.
Even so, weren’t they getting along a bit too poorly?
“… Crazy, can you use that magic that sent Meeko flying to get us going?”
“You mean repulse?”
At the words Iori leaked as he thought, Clarica gave a blank look.
Repulse—just as the name implied, it pushed things away. A rather modern magic that didn’t fall under the five-element system of light, fire, water, thunder and earth the assembly devised long ago. With a high enough output, it was possible to send things flying with explosive force as she had done in the mansion.
“If I squeeze it out, it’ll totally work!”
Realizing his intent, Clarica hopped onto the car’s bonnet brimming with confidence. Looking at her as she readied her small silver wand, Shouki finally understood too.
“Hey!? Iori!? Clarica!?”
“So it hinges on how long the crazy’s magic can hold out.”
“Well, that depends on your rotten heretic driving technique and guts.”
Fu fu fu.
Their two uncanny smiles were one and the same.
As far as Shouki could tell, they weren’t taking whatever might happen to the cars pushed aside into the slightest consideration.
The car roared at Clarica’s yell, the tires screeching out.