It’s been ages. I see you’ve grown, kid…
The man he had never seen before told him.
The penguin said this.
— We meet again, whelp. I almost didn’t recognize you there.
— I see, you have it hard. Can’t blame you.
The penguin almost seemed to be pitying him.
What were they trying to say… every Tom, Dick and Clancy was speaking as if they knew him. It was almost as if he really did have amnesia.
But neither one of them dared to say any more. That was the part he didn’t get.
Normally, when you know someone’s lost their memory, wouldn’t you try to help them remember? Like that impudent girl with the glasses.
Otherwise… what were they trying to do?
What was the Takase they knew trying to do—
In that dream, Takase met a single young girl.
The round eyes behind her glasses were always sparkling with curiosity. But she hated to lose, and she was little on the prideful side. At times, she would show off a cherubic smile like a newly blooming hepatica.
The girl had lost her mother at a very young age, and now, just a week ago, she had lost her father. She was crying. She had cried the whole week.
That’s why the young man painted a picture. A picture of the girl.
“Now look at this and remember how to smile. You’re at your cutest when you’re smiling.”
The girl in the painting was smiling. The girl gave a small nod through her sobs, carefully tucking it away in her arms. She fearfully raised her eyes.
“I… I lost my father and I lost my mother… am I going to lose my teacher too?”
“… It’s just a mission. You have nothing to worry about.”
She was a sharp kid. She had insight and an excellent talent for seeing through things. While the young man endeavored to keep calm, the girl shook her head, throwing her hair into a mess.
“That’s a lie! I know Saho’s going with you, and I saw people from the imperial house too! It’s a dangerous mission you can’t hope to handle on your own!”
“… I’ll come back. Until then, you should smile like you did before.”
“Listen well, Makoto. No matter what form it takes, the Kantou Agency exists to protect a peace where you and all your friends are always smiling. That why… when I come back, it will be to see your smile.”
Staring at the back of the man who had turned away. The girl strengthened her grip on the painting she held to her chest.
“You have to! That’s a promise! You’ll definitely…!!”
“Yeah. I will… I will come back.”
No, that’s wrong. That wasn’t me.
Takase told himself and denied it. But the girl was crying.
— Teacher, why won’t you come back? You promised you would…
That’s wrong. That isn’t me…!
In the depths of the operating room, the doctor’s office was Makoto. She had left Shouki and Suzuran in the dining hall. They were likely preparing dinner with Saho around now.
“Heeheeh. I see, so that’s how it is…”
Once he had finished hearing her out, the doctor laughed like he was being tickled. All while his pen raced over his desk. Even this perverted scientist… no, he was still a doctor… for argument’s sake, he at least filled out his patients’ charts.
“You really should look at people when they’re talking to you.”
Meanwhile, Iori lay on the bed, with bandages wrapped round and round his torso. For the process to be completed in a few tens of minutes felt iffy, but even so, Takase was sleeping peacefully, perhaps this doctor was actually something amazing.
Though that could only be considered ignoring the drill and ray-gun-looking rubbish littered around the room.
“… To speak from conclusions. Heeheeh. It’s just as you say.”
“I’m right? Then, as I thought… he must have lost his memory in the battle with designation one…”
“Heeheeh. That’s a bit off…”
The doctor stopped the point of his pen.
“Iori, see… this guy, see, he quite a pitiful one. With his contract with Lady Meeko…”
“Heeheeh, hee. Different from the main houses, the Iori house, see, it lets the sediment haunting the house rest at peace. But it didn’t quite go down like that with Lady Meeko… Iori entered the Kantou Agency to search for Meeko who was about to regain her past self. And on his final mission, he got a peek at the world of the sediment… d-d-do you get ittt? It’s the world of the outside.”
At some point, the doctor’s face had turned white like a corpse, a feverish pitch entering his tone.
“It’s a world you can’t even imagine! And once he had seen that, Iori… h-h-he was always a kind soul you know.”
“I already know that.”
Makoto stroked her hair in low spirits.
“H-h-h-his heart couldn’t bear it! Heeheeeh! But he’s got to remember something. He’s always saying it, see. That I ran away. I’m evil! That’s why, and this is my personal opinion.”
The doctor was writing in his chart again. He lowered his voice as if urging her to just forget about it.
“You should just leave him be… he’s a pitiful one…”
“… Is that demon called Meeko really that dangerous? The Myriad Series and whatnot?”
“You should return before you can’t return anymore. Iori can no longer return, after all… heeheeheeh.”
It seemed he didn’t intend to respond anymore.
Makoto dragged her gloomy sentiment behind her as she moved her legs. Was it despair? Disappointment? She cross-examined herself, but what was in her chest wasn’t such a selfish heart. It was because she had seen what was on the ninth floor. A demon who could rid so many monsters with a single word, and he had to stand against her. Right, because he was the Head of the Iori House.
In the end, he lost his memory from the sheer fear… then exactly what could she condemn, and how? Her own self that could only rely on others.
And now, Makoto had lost the existence she had to depend on the most. What could she do now? The opponent had even obtained that Meeko. Against a power so massive, when she couldn’t swing a sword, couldn’t use magic, had never even fired a gun, what could her powerless self do?
There was only one thing Makoto knew.
She could cry and cry, but her father, her mother, E0 weren’t going to come back. No matter how she denied it, that wouldn’t overturn the present scenario.
“No matter how I run and run, I won’t get away…”
Makoto muttered, her heart gazing at where she knew she had to go.
When she left the doctor’s office, Suzuran and Shouki were in the operating room. Suzuran was looking at her, hastily moving her hands.
“A-aah, um, you know, we just came to tell you dinner was ready…!”
“Did you hear?”
Misunderstanding something, Suzuran timidly retreated back. Disregarding her, Shouki took a confident step forward
“Hey, Makoto. You’ve got a hero and a demon lord candidate, the strongest possible tag team. Are you saying we’re not enough?”
Not at all. But as he was trying to cheer her up, she tucked those words away.
“I see. So the two of you will help me out?”
“Yes! Of course! I’ll go get Saho!”
“It’s fine… Suzuran, you’re fine.”
Heh? Suzuran staggered forward and exclaimed.
“Be aware of your own position. You’re a demon lord candidate… and yet, you haven’t awakened to your own power in the slightest, have you.”
“… That may be right. Makoto does have a point. It’s dangerous.”
“T-then the same goes for you, Makoto-senpai!”
“If I get caught, worst case I’ll be killed. But in your case, you’ll be used. Do you get the difference?”
Remembering the incident a month before, Suzuran sullenly shut her mouth. How truly troublesome. For a bomb with no means of self-defense to be walking around alone.
“And I am the director after all. But I appreciate the sentiment, Suzuran.”
And to add onto that. She didn’t really feel like taking Saho, who had obtained a quiet life with no battles alongside Takase anymore.
Makoto lightly pat Suzuran’s slender shoulders.
“So do you know if this mansion has any motorcycles?”
Some time after Makoto had left.
Takase faintly opened his eyes, slowly raising his torso.
“Heeeeh!? Y-you’re already up, Iori!”
“… I’m fine, just stop.”
Holding his hazy head, Takase brushed aside his bangs and sighed. A true breath of lament.
“Heeheeh, Now what would you like, Iori? The treatment has only just begun! Heeheeheeh!”
“It’s fine, Hazuki. I remembered.. everything.”
The Doctor’s shrill laugh stopped just like that. And his stiff expression gradually changed to a melancholic one.
“… I see. So they came back.”
“Yeah. You don’t have to deceive me anymore.”
Takase stared at the bed with gloomy eyes.
“It’s idiotic, really. When I kept going on about Meeko’s memory, I myself was a sediment on the way to forgetting. What’s more, for it to happen when I’m barely twenty…”
“There was nothing you could have done. You made a contract with Lady Meeko to be the apostle that granted her peace. That’s why you had to be granted a power too strong for human hands to make sure you didn’t die.”
The doctor removed his glasses, narrowing his sorrowful eyes.
“Just as a demon starts its fall to the sediment when it denies its own purpose… you began to forget when you caught a glimpse of the ‘world of the outside’. There was nothing you could do about it, Mippletelt.”
“… Iori Takase is fine. I am a child of man. That is the name my parents gave me. Mippletelt is no different from the mana in Saho… nothing more than the power that was embedded later. It isn’t me.”
Takase slowly raised his face, hoisting up his heavy head. He roped in his memory. Today’s memories, up to when he lost consciousness. He included the latest information from Makoto.
“… How’s the situation? Makoto said something about a coup d’etat, but what else?”
“Lady Meeko was taken off. Ripple-Rapple went with her.”
“… I see. That’s bad.”
Just as after meeting Makoto, just one blow from that man called Kikuhito was enough to raise his memory. A strong-enough shock could too easily wake Meeko up after she’d finally fallen so far.
For the time being, Ripple-Rapple was keeping watch to make sure that didn’t happen… or so he hoped. In the worst-case scenario, she might keep the casualties down like she did at the Toyko temple, but that kid didn’t do any more than that. To protect Meeko and drop her to the depths was his job as the head of the Iori House.
Even if he had to use her own power, he would protect the repose of her heart. That’s why she could never use her power by her own will. He had to order it; as head of the Iori House. That was the contract. It was all a contract for her to fall and fade…
On the doctor’s desk, Takase’s phone began chiming out in a gaudy ringtone.
“H-heeeh!? Miko Miko Nurse!? Ioriii! What the hell sort of ringtone are you using!?”
“Silence! I don’t want to hear that from someone who uses the Transformers: Mystery of Convoy theme! … And wait, you’re back in character…”
“Heeheeh, I might be addicted. It’s surprisingly nice, talking like this…”
Takase accepted his phone from the doctor, who had a tendency to revert when he was surprised or laughing. The screen displayed a withheld number.
“Yeah, its me.”
‘Thank god, Takase! Are you free right now!? Super urgent…!’
She must have been in quite a hurry, as Shouki’s sister went right into it without even identifying herself. She was definitely Hasebe Shouka of the imperial house’s divine spirit division, but…
‘… Wait, ‘it’s me’? Are you… really Takase?’
“Yeah. Head of the Iori House speaking.”
‘… Hmmm, Heh.’
‘Nothing really… just thought you’re back to how you were.’
He could hear Shouka’s lonesome breath across the phone. The ones who knew about his change were the Doctor, Shouka, Ferriol and… well, that Bishop wasn’t one to feel lonely.
‘… I quite liked the way you were going.’
“Kukuh, then there’s nothing to worry about. I haven’t changed at all. As proof, how about I send you those cat ears you ado—”
Boop. Boop. Boop…
“… What’s her problem? She sounded like she was in a hurry, but…”
As he tilted his head to gaze at the phone that was back to the default screen, it immediately changed to a withheld number call again.
“Yeah, it’s me…”
‘You idiot!! Stupid!! What do you think you’re doing when we’re so damn busy… Irrrrk!!’
“Wha!? You’re the one who went and hung up…”
‘I’m so not here to talk about that! Imperial decree! The Kantou Agency’s going to raise an armed uprising today at midnight…!’
“Yeah, I know…”
He casually said as he lightly scrutinized Shouka’s words. His eyes opened wide at the clock on the wall.
“… Midnight, you say!? There’s only three hours to go!”
‘Not my fault! I only just got the message a moment ago! The ringleader’s Demon Belronde of Zephirum… and around fifty to sixty agents are taking part… and D-type induit chasseurs… dragoons, was it? It’s gonna be hairy!’
Shouka’s voice kept cutting off as if she was speaking while looking at a report or something. He could hear the sound of pages flipping left and right.
“Now that’s an irresponsibly report… what do you mean it’s gonna be hairy?”
‘I’m telling you, I don’t know!’
“… But wait. They’re raising a coup d’etat with only fifty members?”
‘I don’t know what I don’t know! How about you go and ask them yourself!? That’s all for the decree! Any questions!?’
Did this arbitrary trouble-despiser have any awareness she was protecting the country? Perhaps he should call it a miracle this sister ended up with that little brother.
“Ahh. Well, I don’t have any questions, but…”
‘I’m busy here, I am! Say anything stupid and…!’
“Meeko was taken.”
Shouka’s voice stopped. He could somehow hear the blood retract from her face… or at least that was the feeling he was getting.
“So I know the Kantou Agency is related, but this is what I’m thinking… one wrong step and it really will be dangerous. If I had to say, the Kantou Agency might just wind up as a side mission. Send some people around to help out on that one too.”
‘Yeah… I see. Got it. I’ll bring it up for what it’s worth but… man. When it rains, it pours, cut me some slack. Anything else? Just say it.’
Boop. Boop. Boop…
“… What’s her problem, that girl…”
Feeling rather unsatisfied, Takase folded the phone closed. He finally lowered his legs from the bed.
“Are you going, Iori?”
“Yeah. I am. But before that, I’d better get suited up.”
The doctor opened his desk drawer and pressed a button. A portion of the wall opened, revealing a black uniform on a hanger. On the chest, his rank insignia. On the collar, E-0.
“Good grief… you kept it for me?”
“It was in a terrible state when you were brought here. I thought this day might come so… I properly repaired it and recast the magic coating.”
Bathed in lonesome eyes, Takase changed and at the end, he put on the same mask as he did back then. He remembered.
Back then, he would always wear this black mask before other people. Covering everything below his eyes, a simple gas mask of reinforced plastic. He would put on polarized goggles, let down his bangs.
He had his status as the head of a godslayer house to keep. Even as he worked in the Kantou Agency, no one save for the director at the time, Makoto’s father, professor Hida could have known his lineage.
And so, in the end, he never showed the young Makoto his true face. Even the agency’s best and brightest, that Kikuhito brat didn’t notice.
Then why did those kids come to see Iori Takase today? Even if it was just a few years, was Makoto really… waiting for him? No… there was another. Another apart from Bishop Ferriol, who wouldn’t miss a Takase that had regained his memories.
(… So they haven’t given up yet.)
Placing a mask over an effeminate face, by the time he put on his usual glasses in place of the goggles, the doctor had a single gun case prepared.
“Heeheeh, take it with you… though it’s not as good as a sacred treasure.”
He opened it to find a single gun in mint condition. A what looked to be a submachine gun was carefully tucked in. When he picked it up, the grip fit perfectly in his hands, the entire body was spectacularly light…
“… Wait. You sure this isn’t just an airsoft gun.”
“Heeheeh, don’t be stupid! This is none other than my newest work, the transmission gun!”
On the whiteboard hung on the wall behind the desk, the doctor scribbled it out with penmanship akin to surging earthworms. Did that mean it transmitted mana or something?
“No… I get the meaning. But it says Tokyo Marui right here…!”
“W-w-well what did you expect!? Designing a gun is beyond me you know! Heeheeh, so I used it as a base…!”
Oh, I see… so its shaped like a toy, but the inner mechanisms had some sort of secret. Despite this and that, he was a genius, after all. Takase thought.
“I’ll ask just in case, but the bullets…”
The doctor produced a clear plastic container from his desk. Inside it, colorful orbs six millimeters in diameter, commonly referred to as BBs rattled…
“You quack!! It really is an airsoft!!”
“Heeeeh! I’m telling you, it’s a transmission gun! If you don’t want it, I have a drill you can take!”
Those words brought Iori back to reality. He had seeped in emotions there, but now he remembered there was something far more important.
“Hazuki. When I was out, did you do anything strange to me…”
Breaking into a mad laugh, the doctor danced a merry little jig.
“W-what did you do!? What did you put in my body!?”
Time was of the essence. In the end, Takase gave up on interrogating the Doctor and dropped by the dining hall.
In a corner of the long table, a brooding Suzuran, with Saho staring at her blankly. The extravagant Italian-made chandelier wasn’t enough to brighten the air around the girl.
“What’s wrong, Suzuran. You’re looking down.”
“Ah, mas… wait, you’re already up!?”
Suzuran’s eyes widened, she kicked back her seat as she stood. After which.
“Eh? … Umm, you’re Mr. Takase… right?”
Did he really look so different?
No, perhaps he did. At the moment he was deliberately wearing a mask, alongside the sweltering uniform of the Kantou Agency.
“Yeah. I’m Iori Takase.”
“Y… you are? Really?”
“Kukuh… why of course. So call me master as per usual.”
He didn’t know how he looked in her eyes, but it seems she accepted it. Takase tossed a bag containing the same uniform towards the nearby Saho.
“Sergeant, we’re going. Get changed.”
Saho hurriedly rushed out of the dining room.
“Eh? Umm, going… where exactly?”
“Kantou Agency HQ. Where are the brat and Makoto?”
“The two of them… said they were going there a while ago. They’ve left. Umm, Hasebe-senpai ‘borrowed’ the bike in the garage…”
“Say what? Just the two of them?”
“Umm, it seems around half of the people aren’t participating in the coup, so as long as they manage to free them, it’ll work out… apparently.”
“… And what are you doing here?”
Suzuran was making an expression like the one she had the first time Takase met her. Fitting of her age, no femininity whatsoever, her eyes bleary, her head turned down.
“I won’t be of any use… ah, it’s not like they said it to my face, but…”
She forced a painful smile.
“But I really am a deadweight. Is what I’m thinking.”
She cast her eyes down again.
“I’ve already told you, Suzuran. Nothing starts by crying and holing yourself in.”
“I know… but this time has nothing to do with me…”
That attitude was precisely what he meant by holding in. But it was true she was irrelevant. This wasn’t where she had to force herself to stick her head in.
“Do you hate this, Suzuran?”
“But you know, Makoto is a clever kid. I’m sure she wanted to leave you in the world you longed for. Instead of dragging you in, in the world you want to return to.”
“… That’s true. That’s true, but don’t you think it’s terrible? I was dragged around the whole day, I was surrounded by monsters, I went through such terrible, terrible things, I was so worried that you might have died, master… and yet, everyone just leaves me behind and goes off on their way.”
He didn’t yell. His tone was more so quite contained, and that was precisely why Suzuran’s body twitched in surprise. There, Takase tossed a glove at her. At a glance, just an ordinary fingerless glove. Right-handed. There was a crest carved into the knuckles.
A spell booster. Based on the initial flow of a spell, it would by the venturi effect forcefully draw out the required mana to complete it. This was a tool for demons. If the initial flow was too great, the spell too powerful, the glove would carry right on siphoning out mana, and the practitioner would perish.
In various senses, this was far too much for Suzuran who boasted absolutely no knowledge on the subject. But seeing how she was a demon lord candidate, who could say?
There was no time to explain. Takase just cut it short.
“Put them on. Worst case scenario, use that to give Meeko a smackdown.”
“Heh? But Meeko’s…”
Suzuran raised her face. She was giving quite a perplexed look.
“I said we’re going. Suzuran.”
“At the point the Sacred Assembly named you as the demon lord candidate, there was no longer any return. You saw how Makoto had her eyes on you, and just like this, here you are in the world of darkness again. You’re right here with someone like me. I was an idiot for trying to turn you away back then. And so was Makoto for leaving you behind, and you for not even trying to run…”
“… Mas… ter?”
Suzuran spoke as if to measure his intent.
The kitchen door opened. Having changed into her uniform, Saho hurried to Takase in a jog and stood at attention.
“Preparations complete, sir.”
“Now, Suzuran. You’re pathetic, but I’ll take you with me. You’ll be dragged in as long as you’re a demon lord candidate. If you don’t like that, cause a big enough ruckus on your own that you have to drag everyone else into the mix. But for now, I’ll let you see a little blood. I’ll let you see what you’re in for. That is the greatest kindness I can show you.”
“Master? Are you…?”
To the girl now half-cowering, Takase showed a malicious narrowing of his eyes.
“I already told you. I’m evil. Too bad for you, Suzuran.”