Early morning, when the sun could rise at any moment. For yet another day, Shouki raced across the hills and valleys to desolate to even be named. He had only one goal. As the sacred assembly’s chosen hero, he needed experience points to elevate himself to greater heights.
The incident with the Kantou Agency had gone by, and Shouki was now far more devoted to his training. This was not ambition, it was nothing more than resentment at his own pathetic self, who couldn’t even lift a finger against the dragoon-turned Belronde. It would recklessly spur him on day after day.
Shouki’s feet finally stopped at the shadow that had finally entered his view. A mass of earth that crept to cut off his path. It took on human form, its height more than twice his own.
“The twenty fifth one… another golem!”
After running around so much, he had run into nothing but golems. Ignoring the rare encounter with the shrubbery monster Treant. With Shouki’s current strength, they were trifling small fries. One swing of the sword and the golem helplessly returned to the earth. Call it extermination and it had a nice ring to it, but this was really just bullying the weak… he had to sigh.
When Shouki turned to a presence, a number of youths raced out from the depths of the overgrowth, pounding their feet. While they were all considerably young, the airs they gave off drew a clear line with the normal world.
Those night vision goggles that seemed to be designed specifically to hide the face aside… Shouki did have some familiarity with their black uniforms.
“The Kantou Agency…?”
Raising his goggles as he muttered dumbfounded was the young man at the lead. E-1 brazened on his collar. The leader of the Kantou Agency’s combatants, and if memory served, his name was Kikuhito. Going off of his words, they had run into one another by pure coincidence. They were also tasked with hunting monsters, after all.
Kikuhito ordered the few following him to stand by as he took up his intercom with troubled gestures.
“Basecamp, this is E1. Made contact with the hero… No, that hero. Oy, your name’s Hasebe Shouki or something, right?”
Shouki ambiguously nodded.
“Verified… what? Shoot him dead? Quit screwing with me, E0! Enough, switch with the director!”
E0. Apparently, Iori Takase was on the line. He said basecamp, but was he taking command from somewhere close by? If the director could switch… that would mean Shouki’s classmate Hida Makoto was with him.
“… That’s right, Director. Should I seek his assistance? …… Understood. Yeah… you’re right. Understood. Returning to base. Over.”
Shouki natural found himself calling to stop the group that had begun pressing on as if nothing had happened at all.
“H-hey. Wait… what’s all this then? Did something happen? If it’s monster hunting, then I could…”
“It ain’t something that simple. Sorry, but just pretend you didn’t’ see us.”
Without even granting him a lifesaver to cling to, in the blink of an eye, they had disappeared into the dark just as they came.
“… Does that mean I won’t be of any use?”
He derided himself. Looking at the eastern sky that had begun to whiten, Shouki had lost all interest. He began his trek down the mountain.
An uncalled for Hero. Certainly, that may be true. The Kantou Agency had the ‘Invincible’ man… Iori Takase. A few months ago, perhaps, but as he was now, Shouki had no confidence he could defeat Takase.
He had to become stronger, much stronger.
Walking a while in thought, Shouki neglected to check his feet, causing him to stumble over something strangely soft. Softer than tree roots, then vines, perhaps than any animal… it was almost as if,
Shouki’s blank stare captured the collapsed form of a woman—long hair, a black one-piece dress and an apron—at his feet.
“… M… Ms. Meeko?
Why was the woman who was supposed to be at Iori’s mansion here? Leaving that question aside, Shouki immediately held up her torso and gave her a light shake.
“M….nn. I can’t eat anymore…”
“Aaaah!? T-that was a joke, not the dessert… anything but my mame daifuku…!”
She seemed to be seeing quite a vivid dream.
“No, now’s not the time to be impressed… Meeko! Get a grip!”
On Shoki’s call, her fleeting long lashes slowly rose.
“That’s good… have you come to?”
His relief lasted an instant. Once her eyes were open and clear, Meeko left Shouki’s arms, standing and taking a look all around. She seemed to be confirming exactly where she was. When her eyes met with his, it seemed as if she was only noticing him for the first time.
“… You are?
“A… hahah. Now that’s terrible, forgetting me like that. It’s Shouki. Hasebe Shouki.”
But given a brief pause, she muttered lonesomely to herself. Looking not at Shouki but at some distant realm.
“I must go back… I have to tell them all about Fier… no, that’s already over… wrong, umm… Taki is going to be angry…”
But there, Meeko came to a sudden realization.
“But… who was… Taki again…”
As Shouki drew closer in surprise and doubt, she lowered her blank gaze.
“… Who is… Meeko?”
From its very first generation, the Hasebe House had spread its name through swordplay. While this residence had been erected after the war, it carried aspects of a samurai manor to symbolize that history. The dark wooden fence that enveloped the premise from all sides. The long veranda, the garden laid with stone pebbles, the wide gnarled curling lone pine tree that gree at the base of the pond where colored carp jumped.
It was still only seven in the morning.
From the living room on the first floor, Shouki stared out absentmindedly over the garden that was his grandfather’s hobby. As a kid, he would often feed sweets to the pond koi and get a good smacking. His grandfather was a man from an older time; those beatdowns were the real deal.
From the dojo, the tempestuous war cries of the pupils who had come for morning training. His grandfather was the instructor, and he had only grown more energetic with age. While his sister Shouka was the assistant instructor…
“Aaaaah! I’m tired!”
After the sound of a light motor vehicle stopping, he heard exactly what he was expecting. The sound of sandals (Nothing as fashionable as mules) being dishonorably thrown off. The short footsteps trudged passed the living room.
While it was always a little surprising, this was a scream he heard around once every three days. Once more, the short steps approached from the hall. The living room’s sliding screen was abruptly thrown open.
“So you are here. Hey, Shouki. Your sister’s raising a scream here, and you’re making giving the cold look.”
(According to his friends) a beauty whose slanted eyes gave as harsh an impression as her personality. The same stiff black hair as him. While it was quite long, at present, it wasn’t in order. She wore a green jumper and pants, work clothes completed by the towel hung at the belt.
She had just come off of night shift at the post office.
“So what do you need today? Beer? Snacks?”
“Something to nibble on. Go out a bit and get something.”
“Can’t you go yourself…?”
Averting his eyes, Shouki concentrated on the TV he had left on. In any case, he would have to be off to school soon.
“Your big sister is all tired out from work.”
“We’ve got some meat and potatoes left over from last night, can you make do with that…”
“Meat and potatoes? Hmmm… then that works. You’re a good cook you know. You’re going to make a great bride someday.”
His sister turned on her heels, a hum on her breath.
Did she even ever want to be on the receiving end of that line just once in her life?
“…! … What is it this time?”
“Forgot to buy the racing paper. Hey, go out and get it, why don’t you?”
“… How many times do I have to tell you, I’m a high school student.”
“An’ I’m a working adult.”
Shouka proudly shot back.
“They won’t even sell it to high schoolers! You’ve got a car, just go get it yourself!”
“The old lady at the corner store couldn’t care less! She’ll sell it! Don’t you have a bike!? Why do you think you bought that piece of junk!”
“I definitely didn’t pick up that junk to buy racing paper for you, sis!”
After exchanging a few sparks with her across the low table. Shouki waved his hand with the motion to drive off a stray cat.
“Anyways, I don’t want to. I’m all tuckered out from sword training.”
She couldn’t have known her own little brother was the hero, going out teaching gangs a lesson, let alone the fact he was involved in that Tokyo Temple explosion.
She would surely be surprised had he told her, but Shouki didn’t say a word. He left at the dead of the night to hole up in the mountain and train his sword, was the story. This wasn’t a complete lie.
“Hey, I’ll return your allowance back double. It’s the return of Haru Urara! This time for sure!”
The sword princess of the Hasebe House, sung of as a butterfly, a flower in her teens. Just where did she go wrong? For what it was worth, she was still a competent assistant instructor, second only to his grandfather. Did the Hasebe Style of swordplay not teach mental discipline?
“You’d better give up on that name without a hint of fighting spirit… more importantly, give me back the ten thousand I lent you last time.”
“If you’re gonna go that far, I guess I’ll buy it myself…”
Only now recalling, Shouka headed off to the front door.
Shouki obliquely gazed at the TV as he waited for the footsteps to grow distant, he took a covert peek at the front door to see his sister had left.
Finally breaking into a sweat, he gave a sigh. The closet slid open with no input from him.
The one who peeked half her face out was the woman he had picked up last night in the mountain. The one who was supposed to be at Takase’s mansion, the Demon Meeko.
“Ahahahah… hah. You can come out now, it’s fine.”
“… Shouki, was it?”
“Yeah. But you really don’t remember?”
“Yes… until you told me, I did not know my name was Meeko.”
Meaning she had amnesia.
But Shouki had absolutely no intention of returning this kind woman with gentle, sleepy eyes… even if she was a demon… to that incarnation of evil who would kick and abuse her, Iori Takase. E0 or not, he was still a scoundrel who pushed around anyone weaker than himself.
While Shouki didn’t know what he was supposed to do, she was definitely better off here than staying at his side. That’s why he still hadn’t told Meeko about Takase yet.
“I hear you’re good with meat and potatoes?”
Meeko delightedly crawled her way out of the closet.
“I would love to have a taste…”
“Eh? Yeah… well…”
Judging by how she hadn’t eaten or drunken anything since she had collapsed In the mountains, that was far enough. It was still breakfast time regardless.
“Then before my sis gets back…”
Clack. The front door was artlessly opened.
“Good grief, how could I’ve forgotten the money…”
And with it came the sound of his sister’s voice.
“Meeko! Hide! Hurry!”
“Eh? Umm, the meat is…”
“Later! You’ll get it later…!”
“But, you never told me why I have to hide in the…”
“Just do it! It’s dangerous, trust me!”
After some squirming and rustling.
“Hey Shouki, could you keep it down with all the bangin… g…”
Shouka’s jaw dropped as she crossed the living room threshold. Shouki froze in place, still pushing Meeko down.
“No, this is, umm…”
“Ah… Shouki. You shouldn’t be violent…”
Meeko chirped in an ever-so languishing voice. Her long skirt rolled up so the white of her thighs was practically glistening, the shoulder threads of her apron on the verge of coming undone.
Shouki’s sister who was usually always noisy about this and that had fallen into complete silence.
“W… wait, sis! There’s a reason to all this! Hear me out…!”
Shouki rose and desperately put up a defense, but despite his best efforts, Shouka left without a word, her socks sounding off muted steps as she walked down the hallway deeper into the house. She went further and further, she must have reached the furthest, his grandfather’s room by now.
And the soft steps returned.
Now then, only one thing had changed about her.
“He…y? … Sis…?”
Shouki doubted his own eyes. What Shouka had in hand wasn’t a wallet or anything of the sort. A wooden sword, he could understand, but of all things, this was the genuine blade that hung as a decoration in his grandfather’s room.
“Shouki! You catch a woman even older than your sister, go all out dressing her up and…!”
“Wait! You’re misunderstanding…! It’s not what it—”
Where Shouki had been up to a moment ago. Going across the length of the folding screen to the veranda, a single slash mark remained. She wasn’t assistant instructor for nothing, it was a refreshingly vivid, clean cut.
“Stu… are you seriously trying to kill me!?”
“Don’t move you shameless welp!!”
“I’m telling you it’s a misunderstanding!! Like hell I’m getting killed!”
“So be it! You’re a hundred years too young to cross my blade!!”
The banging was even louder than before…
Thirty minutes later.
Hung up upside down from the pine tree, Shouki groaned. Shouka gazed at that from the veranda as she pecked on meat and potatoes with Meeko.
(Now what to do about this…)
She understood the circumstances. Thanks to her special post in the imperial household’s divine spirit division, she was familiar with Meeko’s face, and she had heard from Takase about Meeko’s disappearance the night before. The fact that the Kantou Agency went mountain climbing for it as well.
The problem was that, of all things, the little kid of this house had brought her back with him. And the reason he was hung up was because, in what could only be some flight of madness, he had pushed her down.
(So… this is that glutton demon…)
Beer in one hand, she took a sidelong glance at Meeko and, well, she did indeed eat a lot.
The three gou of rice in the rice cooker had all disappeared into her stomach. Despite that, as I that had been nothing, she was now going at some Japanese sake and meat and potato stew. It was a mystery whether she could even get drunk or not, and her cup (not one of those dainty sake cups) emptied like she was glugging water.
[TL: 3 Gou is approximately 2.3 cups]
Incidentally, it was only eight in the morning.
“Hah… this is delicious, this sake. Koshino Kanbai…?”
“Mn… that’s expensive, you better savor it. Grandpa’s been saving it up.”
She filled her cup. Her face didn’t turn red, nor did it turn blue.
“Urgh… s… sis… help… me. I’ll be late… for school…”
“Ah? What was that, Shouki? When you’re talking to someone, you’ve gotta look ‘em in the face.”
“Can’t… when I’m hung up like a bagworm… how am I supposed… to…”
Takase was a terrible guy so he wanted to shelter Meeko. That was his take on the matter. Ever since he was a brat, he was a pure and straightforward idiot who looked up to heroes of justice, so he probably wasn’t lying. She could even understand where he was coming from. She could understand, but…
“Oh, Ms. Shouka, where are you going?”
“Phone. You can kick and smack that idiot all you like, do whatever you want.”
Replying without any hesitation, Meeko was giving a warm and comfortable smile.
Shouka didn’t really understand demons. Returning to her room to get her cellphone, Shouka undid the fingerprint lock and called Takase’s pone.
“… Yeah, it’s me.”
The arrogant voice she heard. It really did give a different impression to what her ears had become accustomed to until recently.
Shouka sullenly replied.
“So whatcha gonna do?”
‘Oh, Shouka. What’s this, all of a sudden?’
“Meeko’s at our place.”
‘Bff!? Hec, hac…!’
Was he drinking tea or something? It sounded like he did a spit take. As she waited for him to calm down, Shouka made herself comfortable on the pipe bed.
All the noise on the other end… he had probably gone to Shouki’s school to play again or something. Observing the Demon Lord Candidate and Sacred Priestess, Nagoyakawa Suzuran.
‘Gefhoh… I see. No wonder we couldn’t find her. But to think Shouki would take her back with him…’
“He said he doesn’t wanna give her back to you, that pervert hero.”
‘Pervert…? Did something happen?’
“Pushed her down. I put in a good five or six blows. More importantly, I’ll ask you again, but whatcha gonna do?”
‘Yeah… well if I go there, I’m sure your house will be up in arms. Kikuhito isn’t strong enough to beat Shouki…… in that case, how about you bring her here?’
“You’ve gotta be kidding me. I’m just a modest little postoffice clerk.”
Shouka gave a slight shrug as she took a mouthful of the canned beer in her hand.
‘Well color me shocked… you still haven’t told Shouki? Ms. Depute Head of the Imperial Household Divine Spirit Division?’
“Oh shut it.”
‘Did you report this to Nata?’
“I’m telling you first, for what it’s worth.”
She was trying to be tactful. She knew the complicated feelings Takase had for Meeko.
‘Shouka… only if it’s possible, but,’
“What now? You’d better not tell me you’re giving her to Shouki or something.”
‘So it’s no good?’
“Stupid! After all the hard work you’ve put in, come so far, you’re just going to throw her out?”
‘… Rather than me, she could live a proper life by the brat’s side. As a human. A demon can either die as a demon, or forget everything, become a human and die. Meeko chose to be human. And she forgot. About that mansion, and about me… With Shouki’s skill, he’ll be able to fend off most threats. Come to think of it, this is the ideal solution.’
Despite this and that, this man recognized Shouki. No, he wouldn’t even give him the time of day if he didn’t recognize him.
“But you know Meeko’s disappearance has reached the ears of the assembly. And on the million to one chance even Zephirum makes a move… are you saying you’ll still sit quiet?”
‘I’ll think about it when it comes. Anyways. It’s better off if she’s not around me.’
As Takase’s voice grew exaggeratedly stronger, Shouka spoke strongly, her irritation mixed in.
“Are you really okay with that?”
‘I… remember the face she made when she said she was tired of living. She wished for it. That’s how it should be.’
A depressed cadence. That’s right. This was the sort of man Iori Takase was. If he wasn’t brandishing evil, he was a pessimist, to a painful extent. That’s why Shouka liked him better when he had forgotten. A mix of recklessness and idiocy, she liked him better when he was out bullying ruffians and thugs.
Jibber-jabber. Babble-yap. The rowdy afterschool classroom was more animated than usual.
Suzuran needed to say it out loud, to convince herself she was just an ordinary high school girl. That could be taken in any number of ways, but as long as she was attending school, there was nary a more joyous occasion to be had.
“You’re hyped up, Suzuran. Now what’s making you so happy, let me take a guess.”
Twin tails tied up in pink ribbon, pink-framed fake glasses, her best friend Takagi Yoshiko closed in with the eyes of a mischievous cat.
“Hmmm… is it because you’re going to hold up in your house to prepare for midterms?”
“Silence, Kakko. That’s dangerous water you’re swimming in.”
Their spirits instantly dampened, the two hung their heads.
The world would surely be a hundred times more enjoyable if only math didn’t exist. Suzuran honestly considered it.
“If you’re really in danger there, then is it because you’re going to live in the moment and play every day away?”
“Fu fu fu. You’re pretty close.
Suzuran clenched her fist with a daring smile. Upon seeing that, Kakko suddenly snapped to her senses and grasped her lapels.
“Don’t tell me you’re going out somewhere with Iorin!!?”
“Don’t you dare say something so thoughtless!!”
Suzuran grasped Kakko’s lapels back.
‘Ahem. Class 2-A Nagoyakawa, come to the art prep room. Urgent business.’
Speak of the devil.
Suzuran covered her ears to the voice over the speaker system that belonged the young art teacher, Takase Iori. The pain from Kakko’s doubtful eyes lasted only an instant.
‘Class 2-A Ms. Nagoyakawa, Ms. Nagoyakawa. We need to discuss your scholarship. It’s not scary at all, so please hurry to the chairman’s room.’
This time, Hida Makoto’s carefree voice.
(Rather, even if you all call for me at once…)
Nothing good ever came of getting involved with the world of darkness. So she wouldn’t. Not again. Never again. She ignored both of the summons.
“… Come to think of it, you’ve been Makoto-senpai’s favorite these days.”
“Eh? No, not really…”
Ever since the incident with the Kantou Agency, well, they spoke a few times.
“Makoto-senpai’s smart. And Hasebe-senpai who seems to get along with her also gets good grades.”
“What. What are you trying to say, Kakko.”
“… Don’t tell me with Makoto-senpai’s authority, you can get her to fudge the numbers a bit?”
The chairman’s daughter Makoto had made a number of serious offers to do so. But Suzuran was far too scared of what might follow, so she plainly denied them all.
“Of course not.”
“Then, then… how about you get Hasebe-senpai to help you study?”
“Yeah… not likely. He’s pretty busy.”
Whether she was even listening or not. Kakko began acting flirtatious out of nowhere.
“Senpai… I don’t get this part. Ahn, no, below that… is that your game!!?”
“Like hell! Stupid glasses!! Pink glasses!!”
And after some yells and jeers.
She was panting. Quite heavily.
“… How unproductive. I’m in high school, what am I doing. I saw it in some movie, but we should set up a plan. A plan.”
Getting her collar in order and sitting in her own seat, Suzuran took out a notebook and spelled out the main points in some blank space.
“I don’t have much money. But I want to make it worthwhile. Somewhere where Mr. Takase can’t reach.”
And she put a star net to the Mr. Takase entry. That was the matter of the greatest importance.
“Now what do we do, Kakko?”
“Be a good kid and study?”
I don’t want to study, she wrote, and added three stars next to it.
“… What do we do?”
“Those’re the wants of a hopeless person. Especially the last one.”
“Erk… don’t you think I’m just being frank and honest, dear friend of mine?”
“Your mother will cry if she sees that.”
She really pricked it where it hurt.
In the end, overcome by Kakko, she decided to have Shouki help her study or something of the like. Going off grades, Makoto was the best option, but in her case, it wouldn’t be strange if she demanded something in return.
(In that regard, Hasebe-senpai won’t ask for anything crazy…)
And so Suzuran hopped aboard Kakko’s proposal and put it to action. Yet that very Shouki was nowhere to be found.
The westering sun was radiant as the forms of students left in groups of five or three. She wondered if Shouki had already gone home, but a little investigation heralded the fact that he came late in such a sorry, beaten state that every single one of his classmates recommended that he go to the infirmary.
“Should we try the infirmary, Kakko.”
And so the two of them carried a random back and forth as they walked along the side of the hall.
“Ah, Ms. Suzuran, it’s been a while.”
“Oh yes, long time no…”
As she passed by a student who gave a smile like a blooming sunflower, Suzuran crashed into the infirmary door. It was a good thing she was just meandering forward; if she had a little more speed, she’d likely have broken the glass.
“Suzuran, you alright?”
“What’s up? You feeling aight, Ms. Suzuran?”
With an ordinary person called Kakko nearby, Suzuran lowered her voice.
“What are you doing, Clarica…”
Outward-curling hair and wide eyes gave her a vigorous impression. A sister of the Sacred Assembly, yet for some reason, she stood in the rouge sailor uniform of this school. Her ribbon was the blue that indicated a third year.
“Oh you. Why I’m a student of this school. Just transferred today.”
Look, she said, and Suzuran lowered her eyes to the student ID she proudly took out.
“… Ms. Suzuran, you’re really something, trippin’ when you’re not even walking.”
“U… umm… don’t you think you should’ve done just a little more with that name?”
“Watchu talkin’ about?”
As Suzuran peeled herself off the door with unbearable sentiment and rose, Clarica asked back with a vibrant smile.
“Ms. Suzuran, you’re a second year I see. Then you should be callin’ me Kura-senpai. Kurarika? Callin’ people by their full name is rude.”
(You’re not even Japanese… and couldn’t you have at least…)
Despite all those inner retorts, she actually fit the uniform decently. Hold on, when she wore the Sacred Assembly’s sister garb, didn’t she look around twenty?
“Clari… Kura-senpai, how old are you?”
“I’m totes a third year, so that’d make me… umm, eigh… Seventeen.”
Why did she correct herself?
“No, um really…”
“Thou shall not doubt.”
Coinciding with her words, the cold feeling of metal on her throat. Paired with a smile with a strange intensity, a large handgun had been thrust into it. Ingeniously where it would be in Kakko’s blind spot.
“Umm… this is a school…”
“Though shall not doubt.”
“No, I’m saying…
“Heaven is calling.”
“I’ll believe you, I believe you!”
Without a sound, the pistol was tucked behind Clarica’s hip. Luckily, there were no students around to see that exchange, and Kakko at most blinked a few times behind her fake glasses.
“You know her, Suzuran?”
“Ummm. Yeaaah… maybe I do.”
“You friends with her, Ms. Suzuran?”
“Yes, this is Takagi Yoshiko… though I call her Kakko.”
Kakko and Clarica shook hands, and that was one matter settled. While she was concerned that Clarica was posing as a student… Kakko was here and all. Suzuran wanted to avoid prying for now.
“Ah, right. Clari… Kura-senpai, do you know where Hasebe-senpai is?”
“If you want Mr. Shouki…”
Clack. The infirmary door slid open with perfect timing, Shouki peeking his head out, as haggard as a worn rag.
“Oy, quiet down Clarica. Don’t do anything to stand out here…”
“W… what happened to you, Hasebe-senpai? Are you injured?”
“Y… Yeah, Nagoyakawa, huh. A monst…”
He was about to say when he noticed Kakko and picked out his words.
“No, I fell down the stairs…”
Shouki seemed genuinely tired. While she did bring up the studying, rather than not up to it, it seemed more so that his mind was so occupied by something else that he barely heard her.
The way back. Dropping by the shopping district crepe store on the way back. Nothing but the shrill voices of female students filtered out of the glass-front store interior.
“Come to think of it, Suzuran. You think that Kura-senpai person’s Hasebe-senpai’s girlfriend or something? They seemed too close for her to be a new transfer student.”
Well, who could say. That official student story aside, the lone wolf hero, and the agent who supported him. That might be quite a good situation, but in Clarica’s case, she wouldn’t dare say what, but something was out of place.
“Huh? Sorry, Kakko, my phone’s ringing… Hasebe-senpai?”
Her eyes widening at that rare caller ID, Suzuran placed her favorite choco-banana crepe on the plate and pressed the answer button.
“Hello, this is Suzuran. Huh? Is this about the studying? Ah, yes, that’s fine… at your house? Yes, yes… well, see you there.”
“What’s up, Suzuran?”
“Yes. It worked out. Hasebe-senpai said he wanted to have a study meet at his house. Are you good with that?”
“Why of course I am… if I didn’t go, what sorta study meet would it be with you and Hasebe-senpai alone together!!?”
Suzuran accidentally crushed the crepe she was about to bite in her hand, and right at that moment, she felt a chill at the overly-loud sound of a car stopping outside the school. One look outside heralded an aesthetically pleasing (outwardly) pleasant man in silver-rimmed glasses—Iori Takase.
“W-w… we have to run, Kakko!”
“Wyaan. What, why?”
“Don’t worry about it, just hurry!”
Suzuran slammed down some paltry small change from her wallet on the table and took out for the exit. Takase was already waiting beyond the automatic door.
“Hey there, Nagoyakawa. I’m sure I called you over the school broadcast system.”
“Err, well, I was covering my ears, so I didn’t really hear.”
The automatic door opened again behind her.
Seeing that, for some reason, Takase’s forehead went stiff.
“Yaaay, it’s Iorin!”
“Guh. Hey, crazy de… Kagi Kakko.”
It didn’t seem to be her imagination that a strange sense of tension was born before a teasingly merry Kakko, and Takase with his stiff smile.
“No, umm, Mr. Takase… her real name is Takagi Yoshiko…”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s right. Well, what does it matter. Suzuran, it’s getting late, how about I escort you home.”
“Hooray, I’d love a drive with Iorin!”
As Kakko playfully lunged forward, Takase firmly grabbed her head.
“Ahem, Takagi Kakko, unfortunately, your teacher’s car seats two.”
And as Takase carefully peeled the girl away, Suzuran spoke.
“Err, but Mr. Takase, I, you see, I’m not a child, so I can get home on my own… wait, um, what are you doing with that hand? Please let go of me. If you don’t let go, I’ll scream…!”
The moment she thought she felt a pain on her neck, Suzuran fell unconscious. Before she gathered any eyes, Takase skillfully stuffed her body into the car’s passenger’s seat.
“Boo, boo. Too forceful. I feel sorry for Suzuran.”
“Shut up, you bloody stupid demon!”
“I wanted to ride that Ferrari.”
“Too bad, it’s you guys’ fault my trusty Diablo was ruined.”
“You just crashed it yourself…”
A backward look at Kakko’s pouting lips, Takase closed the passenger door and hopped into the driver seat. Kakko peered over it with a provocative smile.
“I hear Ms. Meeko disappeared.”
“… Now listen here, don’t you think anything strange. No matter how special you outers are, that woman’s on another dimension. You got that? I’ll hear you out once everything’s over.”
After giving his say, Takase raced off his car.
Her hands folded behind her back, Kakko, VZ, one of Zephirum’s top executives looked up at the evening sky.
“I’m not thinking anything strange… but I did just get a good idea.”
With light feet, two steps, then three. Just as it looked like she was skipping, the young girl with twin tails vanished right at the street corner. Unnoticed by anyone.
Turning back time a bit.
“… Yeah, that’s right. Is tomorrow okay? Got it, then could you come to my house… I don’t mind. Our place is big enough for pupils to stay over… then.”
“You done with the call?”
Clarika turned to the residential district growing heavy with the sunset, narrowing her eyes longingly.
“A study meet, eh? ‘ad a lot of those back when I was at the convent.”
“When my cheating was found out…”
She made outrageously distant eyes.
“… Really takes me back.”
Was that slight glimmering substance at the corner of her eyes his imagination.
“Ummm, N… Nagoyakawa’s apparently bad at math. Teaching her’s my natural duty as an upperclassman, don’t you think?”
“Right you are. That’s the spirit. Well ‘n, I’ve got my mission so… do your best on your side. Contact me if you find her. The rest is our job.”
Clarica, who was cosplaying as a high school student to operate covertly in this town, disappeared down the road. Shouki passed through the gate of his house.
The Sacred Assembly had decided to apprehend the Demon Meeko who they recognized as an Outer. By taking a sample of an outer, they were trying to discern a means of entry into the demon world, meaning the source of demons. The root of the problem. Using the memory of mana an outer possessed, they would open the gate and attack. Eradicating evil. The demon Meeko whose mana would be stolen for that purpose… would become an empty shell and perish.
Or so Clarica explained.
No one in the Assembly would think for a minute that the hero was housing her. But if it came to light, it would be serious treason. As a sister of the inquisition, Clarica would immediately become an enemy.
(Shat should I do…)
Contact Iori Takase? Seek Hida Makoto’s cooperation? But the Kantou Agency was no match for the Sacred Assembly. Even Takase wouldn’t come out unscathed against a cardinal. He could already see them all dying from a collision with the assembly.
(… Don’t give up. Give up and it’s over.)
He wanted to protect the woman called Meeko. Shouki couldn’t see a single reason why she had to disappear. A justice that required a sacrifice was no justice of his. So there was no reason for him to give up as a hero.
Shouki looked straight forward and climbed the steps to his house. I’ll make something nice for Meeko. Today’s sis’ turn to kook, but I’ll make something. He started thinking from there.
He said as per usual, walked down the hallway, and approached the living room.
“Welcome home, Mr. Shouki.”
“Pardon the… intrusion.”
Shouki held the forehead he had smacked into the corner of a pillar as he lifted his body off of the hall.
There were three women. His sister, lying on her side watching TV, Meeko sitting neatly on her knees, and another… a small one with bluish-black hair who was definitely not there this morning.
Shouki’s shaking finger pointed out the small girl of five, maybe six; Ripple-Rapple stiffly shook her small head.
“I’m taking it… easy, feeling right at home. No need to be… concerned.”
“She’s one well-mannered little missy, seriously. If only our little brother could take a lesson.”
“Shouki, let me introduce her. This girl is apparently my friend.”
“No… umm… I see…”
His head hurting in places apart from where he had hit, Shouki passed right by the living room.