Behind the Stage

 

‘Dear Taki,

I’m going out for a while.
Your snacks are on the shelf.

Meeko
PS: Please don’t look for me.’

The notice was left on the kitchen— rather, appropriate of this mansion, the space had all its facilities in order it was more accurately a galley—table. Along with a motherly affection, it was a peculiar passage that carried with it the fatigue of a woman.
“So she’s not coming even if you call her…”
Forming a conflicted face, the PS portion moved her heart to calmly emphasize that fact. On the other hand, Takase was stuck glaring at the Taki portion, his forehead twitching.
“Then how about we call that other, Saho girl… oh, found some ohagi.”
Makoto immediately stuck the sweet she took off the shelf into her mouth. The red bean paste was conservative in sweetness, the pushback of the rice grains as they were crushed exquisite. It was indeed a fine ohagi.
“Want some?”
“Oh I’d love to… but Makoto-senpai, as I mentioned, Saho’s a bit out there… you’re better off calling quits. Nom.”
Suzuran unreservedly stuffed her cheeks with ohagi.
“Yes, and how about you?”
“I’ll take… one.”
Ripple-Rapple stiffly nodded, picking up an ohagi and biting down.
“Delicious.”
“An honest child, very good… okay, Taki, say aaaaah☆”
“That’s the last thing I need!! Alright, little girl, first start by getting rid of that half-smile as if you’re going to burst into laughter this instant! Then never, ever, speak the name of that curse ever again! Not to the day the earth turns to… gmph!”
With the handcuffs preventing him from doing anything, Takase had an ohagi crammed into his mouth.
“Hasebeee. Tea.”
“So I get nothing!?”
Unfortunately, there were only four. The plate was empty.
“But that was a little lacking to call a meal… Suzuran, you worked as a maid, did you? Be a dear and whip something up. Something quick.”
“Uh-huh. Well then, let’s see… umm.”
Suzuran opened the large, silver, industrial refrigerator.
“Ah. There’s some… Mame daifuku in here. Also, some sakura mochi, some youkan, and…”
“What’s up with your house?”
“Hac, you should be asking Meeko! There’s no way I, the master, would have any concern with the fridge situation.”
It was too much a pain to make something, so Shoki ate the mame daifuku and the search began.

 

 

“So… how big is this place.”
“Well, the property itself is half the size of Disneyland, and the building is as you can see… I myself don’t have a very good grasp on what’s where.”
At Suzuran’s explanation, Makoto could see a dark road ahead, beyond the red carpet. Left and right and back and front, it all looked the same. Nothing but rows upon rows of doors.
When it came to Disneyland, that was a place where it was impossible to visit all attractions in a day. Not to mention she had only ten hours left…
“There’s no time! We’re narrowing it down! Know any suspicious places, Suzuran!?”
“… Ah! There is one, Makoto-senpai! It’s gotta be the basement! This mansion has a basement! It’s kinda like a labyrinth or maybe a dungeon! Anyways, it’s the sorta place you might find some treasure!”
She didn’t particularly want treasure but… there might be a sacred treasure. There was no guarantee they wouldn’t find something from back when Iori Takase was E0.
Bobbing her head along with Suzuran was Ripple-Rapple.
“Meeko is definitely… down there. But you should be prepared… for considerable danger.”
“Huh? It’s that dangerous…?”
Suzuran suddenly lost her momentum and went pale. Takase tried buttering her up.
“Fret not, Suzuran. Just about the only real danger on the first floor I sent you to would have to be Ripple-Rapple’s trash bin. The problem’s far below that. A large number of monsters call the place home. When it comes to the basement itself, even I don’t have a grasp of how far down it goes…”
Whether that was true or not, she’d figure out if she just went and checked… Makoto, along with Shouki and Suzuran swallowed their breath as Takase went on.
“Sure enough, the reason Meeko said not to look for her must be because she has some business down there. It’s far too dangerous for humans to enter.”
“What sort of business could that Meeko chick have in such a dangerous place?”
“Who knows? Maybe she was hungry? You never know with that glutton demon.”
Makoto couldn’t care less if he wanted to dodge the question. To snatch the treasure, you must enter the dragon’s den. She got the feeling something was concealed there that was far more important than whatever she might find above ground. But that was no guarantee that Takase would regain his memory.
“… So what do we do, Makoto? If there are monsters, that’s some experience points to be had. I’ll gladly tag along.”
Shouki reached for the sword at his waist, speaking with a modicum of motivation. Seeing him, Suzuran made a dubious face. The time raced by, second after second.
(Right…)
By this point, it wasn’t wise to keep too fixated on E0. Rather than Takase’s… E0’s memories that may or may not return, obtaining the demon Meeko who was supposedly there would be more reliable. If they found a sacred treasure, they could equip it on Shouki. That alone would be a welcome boost in power.
“Meeko… did say master disappeared for a while. Perhaps she might know something.”
Takase bared his canines at Suzuran’s words.
“I wouldn’t count on it, Suzuran. Meeko’s memory is the last thing you should rely on.”
“And what about you, Iori Takase? You sure you don’t have amnesia? Can you declare with certainty you’ve been living here this whole time?”
Makoto peered into Takase’s black eyes from up close.
“I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again. You’ve got the wrong guy. I don’t know any E0. I was born here, I was raised here. All my memories are…”
His words cut off for a moment.
“No… I have them all. I am Iori Takase. Nothing more and nothing less.”
“Hmm. Well fine. We should get going to meet that Meeko or whatever.”
“Then make your resolve.”
Takase grinned.
“The monsters haunting our place aren’t any half-baked slouches… by the time you come back, the damn brat’s level will be a real sight to behold.”
“What are you acting cool for? You’re coming too.”
“What!? Wait, in that case, at least take off the handcuffs, give me a gun or something… hey!”

 

 

The group descended to the second basement floor. Seeing how the first floor was so bright without any torches or lamps, I see, it’s not just an ordinary basement, Makoto understood. Perhaps it wasn’t carved out by human hands, in which case, that would make it a considerably ancient ruin.
“… Over there. Considering what’s to come, there’s no harm in more manpower.”
What Takase pointed out was a wooden door framed in black iron. The plate identified it as the ‘goon station’.
“Did we… have any goons? I don’t recall …”
Suzuran muttered as she knocked against the riveted iron.
“Excuse me…”
Her voice echoed through the stone passage. A while later, the door swung open.
From the tips of his toes to the nails on his finger, a man in complete black tights poked his head out of the slight opening in the door.
“I… it’s a goon…”
Suzuran whispered. Shouki was taken aback. Makoto felt extremely fed up, to the point she joined Ripple-Rapple in giving absolutely no reaction.
While they were combatants all the same, this was worlds apart from the agents of the Kantou Agency. More so, she got the urge to ask if they were even taking this seriously.
“Need… something?”
It seems he didn’t speak need to speak in a funny voice. As if he had been holed up so long, he had forgotten how to interact with people… he gave off a rather gloomy tone.
From the gap in the door, Makoto could make out many more of those black-dressed men in the room, but she decided not to see it. It was as if she had gotten a peek backstage where she wasn’t supposed to see… that was the feeling she was getting.
“… Well?”
In terribly low spirits, the goon nervously scrutinized them. When he noticed Takase was there, his eyes stopped.
“Oh, if it isn’t the president.”
“Kuku… kukukuh.”
Something had set him off, and while he at first tried to contain it, Takase soon exploded into laughter.
“Fwahahahah! I thought you’d suspect something when I pointed you towards the goon station, but you’re all far too naïve… oh how the tables have turned.”
His silver-rimmed glasses gleamed.
“You tricked me!”
It was her folly… the fact they were in this mansion meant it went without saying everyone was subordinate to Takase. Makoto clicked her tongue at her own foolishness to have failed to notice as she hurriedly distanced herself from the door with Suzuran. Shouki drew his sword towards the goon.
“Now, my good men! The time has come to demonstrate the power of the Obliterating Industries’ goons…!”
“… Do you have some business here, president? We’re still on strike.”
“You’re power… no need to hold back!”
“… So you considered the betterment of your working conditions?”
In contrast to Takase’s high tensions, that goon was thoroughly cool. Not in the level-headed sense, he was as cold as ice.
“Do you have knotholes for eyes!? I, your employer, am standing here in a time of crisis!”
“… Yeah. Now that you mention it, you’re being waited on by pretty girls. As per usual. With handcuffs this time… is this some new game of yours, president?”
“Don’t say anything that could cause a misunderstanding!”
“… Oh, that so.”
It was like looking at the last years of a company that had started to go down. While the goon wore a mask over his face, his body and soul gave off an unmotivated aura.
“Why don’t you get it!? What you’re demanding isn’t something the proprietor of any enterprise could concede!”
“… What’s this. So you live in such a luxurious mansion and you’re cheaping out on their wages?”
In regards to Makoto’s retort, the answer came from the goon.
“… You’ve got it wrong, little lady. Just wanna have something done about this get-up. That’s all it is…”
From inside the room, a chorus of sighs so heavy they had to slink along the dirt.
“Oh, I understand completely. I’m sorry if I misunderstood.”
“But why!? When you think of evil organization goons, you think of black tights!”
“So you see, president. We don’t have any complaints about that, no we don’t. It’s just, you know, this sorta… you get it, right? Can’t you bulge this part out some…”
“I’ll never acquiesce to such an indecent request!”
Thud. His dignity wounded, the goon slammed the door shut. It was spring after all. Their somewhat-late spring discourse closed up shop with a breakdown of negotiation.
Takase’s point was just, Makoto thought.
“You… have no luck with personnel, do you.”
“… This is my lot in life. I’ve learned to accept it”
With nowhere to direct his anger, Takase squeezed out his voice.
“Umm… master. When Hasebe-senpai and the holy knights stormed in, those people weren’t there…”
“They were already on strike by then. That’s why I said it. Why do none of our hires ever listen to what I’ve got to say…”
“The small wish of a man that can be satiated with just a little stuffing… should be granted.”
By the time the others turned stiffly in unison, Ripple-Rapple was already plodding off.

 

 

The third basement floor. An unchanging labyrinth of white stone blocks continued on. Thanks to Ripple-Rapple who for some reason know the path taking the lead, they didn’t get lost.
“This is a bit of a let-down. Not a single monster so far…”
Shouki stuck out his lips in boredom.
“You sure you’re not taking us for a ride, Iori?”
“Brat, if you can still say that at floor ten, even I’ll have to praise you.”
With two nods, Ripple-Rapple who was about to turn left corrected herself into taking the right path.
“What? What’s wrong?”
“Took the… wrong road…”
Ripple-Rapple answered as she trudged forward. Was it just Makoto’s imagination that she looked as if she was having fun? Eventually, they ran smack dab into a single door.
“Then the hero… will do his best… fitting of the first opponent, you’re up against slimes.”
“Hey now… don’t look down on me. I’m the sacred assembly’s designated hero. I can take down as many slimes as…”
With a mocking sneer, Shouki threw the door open. There, the slimes—jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle jiggle 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The entire room was buried up in slimes. A room around the size of a gymnasium.
“Whoah, wait a…”
Shouki held his head as if he was having a nightmare.
“There are as many… as you want.”
“Ain’t that a bit much!?”
Retort as he may, that did little to change the reality before his eyes. Around the size a child could carry in two arms, round like jelly or raindrop cake jiggled and jostled all across the floor.
“It must be hard, being hero.”
“Kuh… fine, I get it! I just have to go, right!? Just you watch!!”
Raising a warcry half in desperation, Shouki plunged into the sea of slimes. He cut, he cut, he cut, he cut… if this were a game, just how high of a hit combo would he be able to achieve? As she gazed over the spectacle, Makoto tried asking Ripple-Rapple.
“By the way… if we went left there, what would happen?”
“Arrive at the fourth floor… no trouble.”
Ripple-Rapple answered, similarly watching Shouki get covered in slime.
Meaning the hero was being exhausted for nothing. Slimes likely didn’t even yield much experience to begin with.
“But they sure are nice, slimes. Nice and cute.”
“It has to be… the ‘jiggle’.”
“You’re right. A ‘flop’ is no good.”
“Sob grass running… remarkably low.”
“I hear the bamboo basket maker doesn’t have a successor.”
As Suzuran perplexedly listened in to that peculiar conversation, Ripple-Rapple gently stuck out her hand.
“Slime friends.”
Makoto firmly grabbed that small hand.
“But it’s a little sad to watch.”
Perhaps because there were simply so many of them, so many of them were being recklessly cut down. Suzuran sent a look of pity to such slimes.
“That’s just what the hero… is.”
Nod, nod,
“And how he… has to be…”
Makoto silently listened to the small girl’s voice. Eventually—
“Whoah, how lame. Hasebe’s run out of power against slimes. You’re up next, Suzuran.”
“Why me!?”
“Suzuran missile, fire☆”
“Uwaaaaaaaaaah!? Noooooooooooo!?”
as Makoto thrust Suzuran in without the slightest hesitation, Iori’s voice turned rough.
“Now listen you! Little Girl! The Suzuran Missile is my company’s registered trademark! Despite how I look, I’m not soft enough to keep quiet when you’re getting in the way of busi—”
“Taki missile, fire☆”
“Nwaaaaaaah!?”
By the jostling of jiggling slimes, the three unfortunate souls floating on the surface of them demonstrated the irregular movement of Brownian motion.
“There’s no end to it. Let’s just give up on going through this room.”
Nod, nod.
“That is… wise.”
“Hey!!”

 

 

The wind picked up, the trees whispered, the clouds began to cut off the sun.
(… How far is she going to go…)
Sitting on the car bonnet with tobacco in his mouth, Kikuhito looked down at the small navigator in his hands. The choker and earing-set miniature communication device Makoto had on were originally products for agents of the Kantou Agency to use, furnished with transmitters to tell where each agent was at a given time. The navigator gave Kikuhito an updated record of her coordinates every ten seconds.
(I should start chasing soon.)
At certain intervals, the z-axis value would drop lower into the negatives. Tallying each drop, she had to be around four floors down by now. While the distance itself wasn’t far,  the shielding was thick. Any more and he feared he wouldn’t get a signal.
Upon opening the trunk and peeling off the interior fabric, Kikuhito hung the provision machine gun over his shoulder and took the saber in hand. He spat out the paper wad of tobacco, now far too short to be practical, and rubbed it into the dirt with his foot.
“I wouldn’t do that if I were you, my boy.”
“!?”
When did someone take his back!? At the voice that called from behind, Kikuhito swiftly turned, his gun at the ready. The one there was a skeleton. A resident of the graveyard, a monster of skull and bones. Kikuhito had fought against them a number of times.
However.
“That’s no good. Littering tobacco is simply bad manners. A gentleman must hold himself to a higher standard.”
The skeletons he knew didn’t talk like this one. Such a preposterous concept wasn’t even in the monster almanac the sacred assembly distributed to every anti-demon association annually.
Perhaps that was the least of his worries. This skeleton was clad in a crisp, starchy tuxedo, holding a cane, wearing a tight butterfly bowtie with a cigar in its mouth. Like an English gentleman from the good old days.
“W… who are you…”
“I’m Lich.”
As he said that, he gave a small raise of his high-class silk hat.
“People call me Mister Lich.”
His ten barren finger bones were covered up with a number of gold rings.
(Lich… now that’s rich… hahah. Some upstart… or don’t tell me he’s that lord of the dead.)
“Why indeed, I am.”
(He read my mind…!?)
“No need to be scared. I merely came to give you a slight warning.”
Lich took a deep puff of his cigar. Kikuhito struggled to understand how a skull’s hole-ridden structure was able to suck anything in. However, one he parted the cigar from his hole-ridden teeth, it wasn’t long before tobacco smoke rose from his eyes, his ears and his nose holes.
Kikuhito felt a chill run down his spine
After enough battles with monsters, he had grown a sense for it. Perhaps he had developed an eye to see an opponent’s concealed mana. Despite the absurd shape it took on, this monster’s rank… was far too high.
“Well, I’m sure you’d hesitate to retrieve what you’ve already thrown away.”
The tip of Lick’s cane tapped against the cigarette butt he had discarded. The next moment, in a goopy mess, it returned to the earth as if rotting away.
“Ash goes in the ashtray. Rubbish in the rubbish bin. And… corpses in the graveyard. Do you get it, my boy?”
“Y… yeah.”
Lich gave a satisfied, generous nod.
“As long as you understand. We all become corpses someday, but do take care you don’t become trash… as a gentleman, of course.”
The clouds flowed, the sunlight pouring down through the gaps. After just a blink, no matter which way he looked, the skeleton that called itself Lich was nowhere to be found.
(… This is no joke.)
Lich. After long repeated death and resurrection, in the end, it was said he brought even himself back up from the grave. It was the name of a legendary dark sorcerer. Right, strangely enough.
Kikuhito convinced himself it was a coincidence as he entered the mansion.

 

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2 Responses to Behind the Stage

  1. Yoraikun says:

    By the way, this is what the actual page looked like

    I’d also like to note this, but Meeko’s title of Glutton Demon has nothing to do with the cardinal sin of Gluttony. She is definitely a glutton, but I’m just clarifying that demon titles don’t always have to do with sins.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Neko MK2 says:

    Lich in tuxedo….
    Isnt that Loa or something that from voodo or american 1800 era myth or something like that ?

    Like

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