By the time an abducted Suzuran reached the Iori House manor, the sun had completely set. Instead of making for the garage, Takase got off the car at the end of the yard and held his head.
Suzuran had woken up by then, but now that she had come so far, all she could really do was get out as well.
In the back of the vast, scenic turf, several-odd dark blue large-scale transport helicopters with angels painted on their noses. A short distance from them, a considerable number of tents with crosses on their roofs. And where all the lights were turned on and raised to the max, the heavily armored knights were moving left and right.
“Welcome back. Ah, I see Suzuran’s with you.”
A pretty girl with short hair and frameless glasses came out to greet them. The director of the Kantou Agency that was rending out this mansion as its headquarters, Hida Makoto.
“Umm… Makoto-senpai. What exactly…”
“What’s this mess?”
Contrary to Suzuran’s dumbfounded state, Takase had no hesitation to lay bare his seething emotion. Makoto replied with a nonchalant smile.
“The Sacred Assembly said they wanted to borrow our place for a bit.”
“… Now listen here and listen well, Makoto.”
“What is it, teacher?”
“This is my house,”
“It’s the Kantou Agency HQ, right?”
“I’m the master of this house,”
“And I’m the Kantou Agency Director. Which additionally makes me your superior☆”
While Makoto stood up her index finger, making that smile she was proud of, not far away, Takase took in the meaning of her words, and took in just one deep breath to calm himself down. He pushed up the glasses that had slumped when he was hanging his head.
“Get. This. In. Your. Skull. Hi. Da. Ma. Ko. To.”
“Oy, you there! Who permitted a bystander to come here!? This place is currently off-limits to those of the”
Takase knocked the holy knight yelling at him unconscious without so much a glance in his direction.
“Whoah! M-master, calm down…!”
Suzuran hurriedly contained Takase’s arm.
“Now you’ve done it… so what were you going to say, teacher?”
“I was going to tell you to get these Sacred Assembly Idiots out of sight in the next three seconds.”
“Should I pass on the message?”
“No, I’ll do it myself. Who’s in charge here?”
His glasses glistening, Takase seemed to be having the time of his life as he clenched both his fists towards the holy knights surrounding him.
Of course, Suzuran calmly and quietly released his arm.
In five seconds, he had breached the encirclement. In ten, he was at the front door. Strong or not, in Suzuran’s eyes, the beastly dash he exhibited looked like it belonged to someone else entirely.
“I… is this really master?”
“That’s right. This is E0. Lovely, don’t you think?”
Makoto happily followed behind him.
“Then… then it wasn’t just his tone of voice that changed…?”
“Oh you, Suzuran. If that were the case, I would’ve kicked teacher out by now and become the master of this mansion myself☆.”
This person said such things with a smile too dazzling to look at. She really was something as well.
When a timid Suzuran entered the building after Makoto, Takase was surrounded by knights again… this time, a twisted smile on his face as he operated his cell phone.
“Ku ku kuh… indeed, I am saying I’ll accept your conditions. Pack it as much as you want. And show them what you’re made of!”
With the call over, Makoto tilted her head.
“Teacher, who were you calling?”
“Kukuh… you’ll know soon enough. Now this is going to be fun…!”
Was the chill down her spine because of the murderous knights surrounding the lobe, or because of Takase’s smile? Suzuran soon realized it was the latter. From the stairs that connected to the basement… came the thunderous roar of countless footsteps.
“Onwards men! We must answer to the honorable spirit of our president who accepted our demands!”
“It’s a bit hard to walk but, charge!”
The Iori Obliterating Industries’ goons in full body tights, one after another, after another, after another.
“Makoto-senpai… by demands…”
“… So it seems.”
And today they were walking terribly bowlegged, like a poorly produced marionette show.
“By hard to walk…”
“… So it seems.
Suzuran did her best not to look at their lower bodies. Eventually, the holy knight order they clashed with let out voices half-way between yells and screams.
“Inconceivable! Who are these brazen whelps!?”
“The Lord’s Grace! Purification! With my pride as a… holy knight, I shan’t lose!
“No way! There’s no way we can lose to these guys!”
Perhaps this was the pandemonium of hell.
“Brazen… about what, I wonder?”
Came the exhausted sighs of two spectating high school girls.
For some reason, whatever material the tights were made out of, cut or stab they wouldn’t tear, so… punching, kicking and smacking, the knights forced them back into the basement. As their backs were exposed, Takase took it upon himself to beat them down altogether.
“I’d expect no less from teacher.”
“You really are dirty…”
“What are you playing around for, Suzuran! You’re going to take them along to suppress the upper floor! Makoto, you go get Saho!”
Well nothing better to do, or so Makoto walked off in some random direction.
“Uwah… don’t tell me, you want me to do it…!”
“Just go. If you’re scared of what’s to come, go.”
Takase’s glasses were glimmering, so Suzuran took some of the full body tights along with her and raced up the stairs. In no time at all, she sped back down in a mad dash.
“They were wiped out!!”
A fist with all of her own momentum collided with her brow, causing her to writhe around in such pain she couldn’t even cry out. The full body tights came tumbling down behind her, forming a heap at the stairs to the basement.
“Ah, for the love of… how useless! You’re all getting a pay cut.”
Takase howled, in the end, having to take care of practically every holy knight on his own.
Eventually, Makoto returned.
“Teacher, I got Saho.”
“Can I cut?”
The girl in a maid uniform, her right eye covered with a bandana, was lifting out the hilt of her Japanese sword as if she simply couldn’t wait.
“You can make mincemeat out of whoever’s responsible, but…”
When Takase said that, Saho used her open left eye to take a sweeping look at all the collapsed knights around.
“Everyone present is responsible, sir.”
“No, I don’t know your basis… but as per usual, you are permitted to cut only their weapons! Do not create any organic waste until you receive further orders. It’s a hassle to clean when it spills everywhere.”
“Sir yes sir!”
The two of them forcefully marched their way up the stairs.
Left to the wayside, Suzuran and Makoto exchanged a look and sighed.
“… It’s getting kinda noise… I’mma have a look.”
“Ah, leave ‘em be… for now, how about another cup of tea?”
“Oh… that so…”
As instructed, Clarica tilted the small teapot towards the dainty cup on the mahogany table. Cardinal Ritsuko slouched into the hefty leather chair, pecking at her akashiyaki , the eyes behind her thick-rimmed glasses narrowing without a care in the world.
To be completely honest, Clarica wasn’t fond of this far-too-peaceful Cardinal. A pacifist no matter the circumstance, and a natural born live and let live. Even when drafting up large-scale evil search and destroy missions, she would apparently always take a weak, contrary stance. While they had set up a temporary base, she had given an order not to inflict any harm on anyone who lived here. Even with the Kantou Agency’s folks suspiciously lurking around.
“Cardinal. If we purify the Kantou Agency, we’ll be able to station all the knight orders here no questions asked. It’s a small price to pay to exterminate evil wouldn’t you say.”
“Little lady, you can’t just go and solve every little problem by slaughtering everyone. Sure, the Kantou Agency may ‘ave conducted their share of human experimentation. They’ve gotten their act together since that Makoto kid became director. And their goal of protecting human society from monsters, why that’s the same as ours. Business rivals maybe, but enemy, I think not.”
“’s that how it works…”
A tepid response from Clarica.
“You can’t let monsters and demons run free; that’s rule number one. We’re the ones who send around the monster almanac every year, and we’re the ones who dispatch and instructor if there’s an anti-demon organization in need… we’re standing at the very top, no need to be so prickly yet.”
“Yet… which means. You acknowledge the Kantou Agency’s at least a little bit evil?”
“More than the Kantou Agency, Taki’s a bit—”
Taki… the word echoed in her head.
“Are you talking about that rotten… I mean Iori Takase?”
“There was a time he made an enemy of Ferry, and it all went to heck… but that’s old news, no sweat.”
After Shaking her head left and right, Ritsuko let the steam fog her glasses as she sipped her tea.
“Incidentally… you look good in pretty much anything.”
Did that mean she didn’t want any uncalled for probing? Clarica felt somewhat choked by the sudden change to a completely irrelevant and pointless topic.
“Eh? Oh, well thanks, it’s quite a useful skill in my line of work.”
From the uniform of Suzuran’s high school, Clarica had changed into a maid uniform she found in the mansion. On the Cardinal’s incomprehensible insistence of, ‘when in Rome’. It was absurd for a sister like Clarica to oppose her.
“How old ‘re you?”
“Err, well, sev…”
She got a glare right as she was about to say it.
“You mustn’t… lie.”
“Erk, you’re sharp… I mean, I’m twenty-one…”
Ritsuko took a soft sip.
“Ah, how nice… to be young.”
(Urgh… just send me back to Bishop Ferriol already. Some more of that, villain screams and blood spraying out like a geyser, that sorta mission… that’s what I need!)
The laid-back aura emitted from every fiber of this woman’s being scratched away at Clarica’s parched soul.
“Get the hell out of my chair, person in charge!!”
The door was smashed in with amazing force. Clarica had drawn her beloved Mauser by the time the burst hinges hit the floor.
“Hah. You’re here, rotten heretic!”
“Hmm… crazy sister, to think I’d run into you here. What’s more, I definitely say knights from the eleventh order… which means, naturally, the commander here is…”
The rotten heretic took a brief glance in that direction.
Even before he had properly captured Ritsuko in his sights, he had already kicked the floor and bounded into the hallway.
“Where are you goin?”
The rather long whip in Ritsuko’s hand immediately sprouted out and entangled his leg.
“U-unhand me Ritsuko! Why are you here!? Wasn’t the person in charge supposed to be a Cardinal!? Where did that blasted Ferriol run off to!?”
“Made my way up last year. Old Ferry’s still a bishop.”
There was not an iota of change in Ritsuko’s deep-set smile as she reeled in her pray; Clarica felt just a smidgen of respect.
“S-Saho! Sergeant! Slice through this whip! Forget that, you’re permitted to shred that woman to smithereens!!”
Saho radiantly burst in as she was called to the stage.
“Ah, it’s the sergeant. Been a while.”
And burst off at a speed too fast for the eye to follow.
“Wha!? Don’t tell me you’re abandoning me!? Sergeant!”
(J… just who is… Cardinal Ritsuko…)
By the time Suzuran and Makoto arrived at the room, Clarica’s cold sweat was dribbling onto the floor.
“I expected no less from you, Taki. You made it here on your own.”
Suzuran was surprised to find in the chair Takase or Makoto were supposed to sit, a cheerful woman called Ritsuko. While she looked to be around Takase’s age, she was apparently a Cardinal of the Sacred Assembly.
“You gave a majority of them a good smacking… and knocked them out, right? If this was enough to get you down, I planned to leave you behind, but… looks like you’ve got use in you yet.”
“Can it, Ritsuko. To check something so trifling, you didn’t even tell your men about the master of the mansion they’re staying at.”
Her bodyguard knights upon receiving his disdainful eyes sharpened the looks in the depths of their visors.
“What’s more, trying to use me? That’s a tall order.”
“But you see, your director said it was fine.”
“Yeah sure, go ahead.”
Not wanting to lose to Ritsuko, Makoto was also smiling.
“This is our chance to get a large favor with the Sacred Assembly. How about you break a leg, teacher.”
“Don’t screw with me. Not only did you occupy my mansion, you want to capture Meeko and do God knows what… well do what you want. I’ll be doing things my way. We’re going, Suzuran.”
“Taki, Taki, Taki. What does it matter what happens to Meeko. Isn’t having her disappear what youse always wanted?”
Ritsuko’s tone held no tension, tet Takase’s hand that was reaching to grab Suzuran suddenly stopped.
“… And what of it?”
“If she’s going to disappear. Then how about letting us use her at the end?”
Seeing Takase furrow her brow, Phone, phone, Ritsuko muttered as she groped around through her vestment and pulled out a cellphone.
“Bip, bap, boop… ah, yes, it’s me. Could you come over?”
That was the entire call.
“Now wait right there. Ah, right, Suzuran, it’s a pleasure. The name’s Ritsuko. Here’s to hoping we can be friends.”
“Ah, yes, a pleasure. I’m Suzuran…”
Suzuran gave a quick bow before asking what had been on her mind.
“Err, Ritsuko, are you acquainted with the master?”
Suzuran’s question was one that drew Clarica’s interest as well. Upon receiving their eyes, Takase bitterly opened his mouth.
“… This woman’s full name is Kai Ritsuko and she’s,”
“I’m Taki’s childhood friend.”
“No, umm… using that name right in front of him… wait, come to think of it, you’re not saying anything? Usually…”
Takase who was supposed to fly into a rage simply loathsomely clenched his mouth shut.
“I was the first one to call him Taki.”
“And thanks to that, Meeko caught on. Happy you got that matter cleared up, Suzuran?”
Well not particularly… she thought, but it did occur to her she’d be in for some pain if she pressed further, so she shut up.
“On that note, calling Ferriol Ferry… well, I started that one too.”
“Eeeh!? Is that true!? Ritsuko, you’re amazing!”
As Suzuran widened her eyes, Ritsuko stuck out her chest.
“Pretty much. Just leave it to me.”
She was a good person. Up to that point, including her friend Kakko, everyone with glasses seemed to have their fill dragging her around, but this woman was possibly a good person.
“Ah, also, I passed by Saho a moment ago. She was running off at an incredible pace, but did something happen?”
“Once upon a time, as an anti-demon battle instructor… the Sacred Assembly dispatched her to the Kantou Agency, this woman.”
“I see. And?”
“The training was so harsh that during that time, the agency was forced to cease all operation.”
Cardinal Ritsuko, perhaps it was ill-advised to leave her to her own devices.
“In a sense, she caused more harm to the agency than Belronde ever did. I’m sure even Saho was traumatized by that special course…”
Around the time Takase’s impressed voice came to a close, in place of the kicked-in door, the wall received a knock.
“I have come, Ritsuko.”
The cloned woman who appeared at the entrance was dressed differently than any Sacred Assembly officials Suzuran had met before. On top of a bulky white one-piece, faulds, gauntlets, a breastplate… she looked almost like a Valkyrie out of Norse Mythology. But there was something that set her apart.
It was what she had on her head, a helmet full of cyberpunk flair. Antennas sprouted from the points touching her ears, while a dense visor covered her eyes. There was a small lens to the side of it, and perhaps that’s what she was actually seeing through. Hung at her waist was neither a sword nor a gun but for some reason a keyboard.
“Yeah, you had me waiting. Now come over here and explain it to everyone.”
“Is that all you called me for? Good grief, you’re a cardinal now, and you still won’t stop bothering me…”
She high-handedly declared as she entered the room. In a long stride that made her mantle flair out, and the long skirt of her one piece rustle wildly.
Takase prodded Clarica beside him.
“What’s up, Rotten?”
“Deputy Director of the Grand Temple’s magicology department, leader of the Second Holy Knight Order, Bishop Florence Frith Ladis. The Sacred Assembly’s magic engineering golden goose.”
“Hmmm, then does that mean she’s the one who developed the Magicalize Indicator?”
To Makoto’s voice, “I’m surprised you knew about that,” Clarica answered.
“I see… so she’s pretty much our Doctor.”
Takase seemed to accept it, but Suzuran thought she was completely different.
“So you mean… in short… umm…”
In the midst of a somewhat heavy atmosphere, Suzuran stuck her mouth in from her wholehearted effort to refuse to believe.
Meeko lost her memory and disappeared from this mansion. The Sacred Assembly saw this as an opportunity… Florence smacked her hand against the several pages denoting the mission outline as she turned straight towards her.
“The Demon Meeko will quite likely… no, almost certainly face annihilation!”
“T-there’s no way that’s alright!!”
As Suzuran unintentionally raised her voice, Florance was taken aback.
“D… dear saint, I understand you boast a kind heart to show compassion even to the darkness… but this chance may never come again! Her roots trace all the way back to when the demon lord invaded this world, the highest order of demons, an outer, and she has been rendered completely powerless…!”
As Florence continued slamming against the desk to emphasize the point, Suzuran punched it in opposition.
“That’s, you know, that’s not the problem, I’m saying Meeko is just keeping quiet! You say something, master!”
But Takase opened his mouth on a different tangent than she had intended.
“Extracting coordinates from the memory of mana, and connecting space, an interesting theory… but do you have any leads?”
There, Florence triumphantly stuck out her chest, brushing away the blond hair that draped over her shoulders.
“We’ve achieved success on the level of monsters. But the magical energy that constitutes a monster’s body was only able to open a hole at a subatomic level. It lasted mere moments in quantum time, but if it were the negative magic an outer possesses…”
“If it’s negative mana you want, doesn’t that AMaC furnace in the grand temple’s basement make enough of it? That’s what you lot use to jump all over the place.”
“Going off of the energy load, certainly. But were you listening to my direct explanation, head of the Iori House? I regret to inform you that mana does not boast any memory!”
Now this is the main point! Florence slammed the table as if to say. Hard enough to make the documents jump.
“The mana generated by the AMaC furnace only knows the AMaC furnace. But the mana of an outer who manifested from the other world in olden days should draw its origin back to that world… so it will be possible to extract coordinates!”
Takase silently, slowly nodded twice.
“… And Meeko will really disappear, can you assure that?”
“I did hear that was why you were keeping her at this house, Iori Head. The miracle of a completely powerless outer… you could say it’s all thanks to you!”
For argument’s sake, she didn’t say it with irony or cynicism. Her arrogant tone was an innate disposition.
“Taki, do we have your cooperation?”
“I’ll offer this advice, nothing else. That demon organization you all hate, Zephirum, has already sniffed out the commotion. You’d do your best to outpace them, Sacred Assembly.”
Takase said bluntly and left the room. Suzuran rushed off to follow.
“Master! Are you sure about leaving them like that!?”
“Given the research they’ve done, I can’t call it an empty or abstract theory… and if Meeko can be useful to people, don’t you think that checks out?”
Takase said, far too coldly.
“Well, now that it’s come to this, I doubt anything will happen today or tomorrow. I’ll send you home.”
Suzuran went out to the yard with him. The path was met with silence. Takase opened the door of the car that was right where he had abandoned it.
But Suzuran’s feet didn’t move. She stared at him fixedly.
“What’s wrong? Doesn’t golden week start tomorrow? If you want to spend it here, be my guest, but…”
“Master, aren’t you feeling lost? That’s how it’s looked to me all this time. You don’t want Meeko to be killed, do you?”
Takase’s joking expression hardened up.
“Well aren’t you sharp, Suzuran. But you have no idea. Just what sort of thing that woman is.”
“That right, I haven’t the slightest idea! That’s why I can’t accept it!”
“You’re right. I get it… but let’s start by getting in the car. Your mother will worry if you don’t get back.”
The car for two inched forward slowly as if it were being swallowed by mud.
“You’re right, Suzuran. Perhaps I’m lost. No… to be quite honest, at this point, I get the feeling it’ll work out no matter which way it goes.”
“The master I know… wasn’t someone who sounded so weak-willed.”
Takase narrowed his eyes. Perhaps he was looking for the him back from when he met Suzuran.
“… I see. That may be true. But almost every breath I’ve taken in my life has been for that woman. This may sound like a bad joke, but that glutton demon’s eaten my life away. That pain was even more unbearable after I regained my memory.”
“The way I see it, it’s just the times, gotta be. No matter how you struggle, the time’s just come where it has to happen… that’s the feeling I get.”
At the end of those words spoken to convince himself, the two kept their silence until they arrived at Suzuran’s house. And once they had arrived, Suzuran got off without any thanks, let alone words of parting.
“What are you going to do tomorrow?”
“… I’m having a study meet at Hasebe-senpai’s house. You can try to obstruct and abduct me, but don’t think it’ll work out.”
As she firmly stuck up a finger, Takase made the face of a pigeon struck by a peashooter.
“What is it? You look like you have something to say.”
“Is Kagi Yoshiki going with you?”
“That’s right. By the way, the girl’s name is Takagi Yoshiko, and Kagi Kakko is her nickname.”
“No… I see. In that case, just take it easy.”
Despite his strangely tactful words, Suzuran kept her sullen face as her glare trailed his tail lights into the distance.
Around that time, the Hasebe House’s dining table had grown more lively than usual. Normally, there would be grandpa at the head of the table, and at most Shouki to the left and Shouka to the right, but that night, Meeko and Ripple-Rapple were added on.
“This is the life. To think you’d bring home such a beauty, I never thought you had it in you, Shouki.”
Already dressed up to sleep like the old man he was, Shouki’s grandfather downed his sake in high spirits.
“Oh, grandfather, you’re not half bad.”
Not completely unsatisfied, Meeko downed her sake.
“You don’t’ need to put up with that pervy old man, Meeko.”
Shamelessly standing up one knee, Shouki’s sister downed her sake.
“They’re just soy broiled but… delicious.”
As if nothing was going on at all, Ripple-Rapple nibbled on a chunk of broiled taro.
“Shouka’s got a nice rump. Meeko’s got a nice bust. How about the two of you become my brides? Little one, how about another ten years?”
“My my, you really can hold your drink grandfather. Here, have another.”
“Don’t lust after your own granddaughter, you pervy old man! And Meeko, you don’t have to get him any drunker than that!”
It was harsh to be the only sober face among three drunks. Even if it wasn’t as bad as new years, where all the sword pupils gathered… Shouki was worn thin.
“What’s up, Shouki, you’re looking grim. You sure you can enjoy life like that?”
“… Hmph. I was just wondering if someone here could up and become a bride already. Go and find someone nice while you still can.”
“Now hey there, Shouki, that’s quite the accusation. You almost make it sound like it’s too late for me.”
“Well that’s what I mea… oww!”
The sake glass Shouka chucked struck Shouki square on the forehead.
“If yer so insistent, how about you find me one? Someone tall and handsome and stronger than me who won’t complain about me going to the horse tracks every day, and makes a billion yen a year.”
“There’s no way such a convenient man exists.”
As Shouki mashed up a mouthful of rice at such a worthless pipe dream, Shouka’s hands shot together under her drunk-moistened eyes
“Wait, there’s Takase!”
His half-swallowed rice clogged his trachea. A side glance at him, Shouka played the dreaming maiden unbecoming of her age.
“He is handsome, give or take. And he’s rich. Yeah, yeah, when you think about it, isn’t he wonderful?”
“G… give it a rest…!!”
Right, while he didn’t know how, Shouka knew about Takase. It was apparently something like the connections between godslaying houses, but whatever the case, that was the least of Shouki’s worries.
“Oh my, tears of blood. Shouki, are you feeling alright?”
“Don’t worry about him, Meeko. He’s just a siscon. When it comes down to it, he doesn’t want his big sis going off to be married…”
“In your dreams! Sis, just listen to me! That guy… anyone but that guy!!”
Shouki’s hand was stretched out an s if to cling to something distant, but Shouka smoothly dodged it.
“Now then, it’s about time for a bath. Meeko, little one, wanna join me?”
“Very well, I shall accompany you… ah. But we haven’t cleaned up yet.”
“It’s fine, Shouki’ll do it. Now let’s get going, little one.”
“I’ll do it… later.”
And the two women left.
“What’s this, we’re already done? Then I should sleep…”
Grandpa promptly left. And before Shouki’s eyes as he calmed himself down, Ripple-Rapple and a mountain of flatware.
“… Why does no one here know how to clean up…”
“And no one in this house… will call me by name. Very concerning.”
“… I think that’s more about having a hard-to-say name like Ripple-Rapple.”
Making a show towards the demon of darkness, Shouki piled up plates.
“Take back… that statement.”
The metal bat that had appeared in the girl’s hand from nowhere in particular swung precariously. And at the intensity of its might, Shouki came to know first-hand.
“H-hey, hey… calm down. What’s that for…”
“It’s just a… sports supply.”
When she put it like that, well, it was hard to deny.
“Yeah… you’re right. I apologize about your name. That was my bad. So… getting right to business, I’d be happy if you could help me out, Ripple-Rapple.”
Nod, nod. Ripple-Rapple expressionlessly nodded twice, and contrary to his expectations began stacking plates rather obediently.
When he saw her like this, perhaps she was just bad at expressing herself, and was actually a relatively good kid. Shouki was beginning to see the demon girl who had even begun helping him wash dishes in a new light.
Shouki scrubbed plates at the kitchen sink, while standing on a chair, Ripple-Rapple prepared the next item, staring intently at him all the way.
“Mn? Is there rive on my face or something?
“Like brother like sister.”
“We’re alike? Me and sis? I’m not that crude and sloppy.”
He said as he took a plate from her hands.
“Well… she didn’t used to be like that.”
Hmmhmm, Ripple-Rapple nodded.
“All the neighborhood delinquents would go tame the moment they saw her. Back in elementary school, she would always save me when I was being bullied.”
I want to be strong. It was around then that he thought so for the first time.
I want to overcome, I want to wash away the Hasebe House’s bad name… he hadn’t gotten that far back then. He just wanted to be strong like his sister. It was a pure and honest admiration.
“So she was sukeban.”
“No, sis herself wasn’t a delinquent… you know some old words, don’t you.”
“Anyways, she had a strong sense of justice, and she despised everything crooked. My sis was always my goal and my pride… but some way down the road.”
It was there that Shouki noticed his own dishwashing hands had been stopped for a while.
“Why am I telling you all this?”
Ripple-Rapple held out a plate as she tilted her head. Shouki took it, his face turning a little red as he mused over how he’d seriously divulged what he’d never told anyone about to this little girl of tender years.
“… You’ve gotta keep that a secret from sis. It’s not like that anymore.”
“I’m sure… she hasn’t changed at all.”
“… Hahah, no way. She’s got nothing but horse racing and payday in her head.
“You’re like two matching urchins.”
Shouki blinked, sensing something a little off with her words.
“I’m pretty sure you meant curtains.”
Nod, n… she was about to nod before she frantically shook her head.
“… Well aren’t you a stubborn one.”
“I haven’t… said anything wrong.”
Putting down a plate, Ripple-Rapple opened her hands, and summoned a bundle of enumerable spikes into each palm.
“These are two urchins. You can’t tell them apart.”
“No I… wait, aren’t those bur skins?”
Ripple-Rapple opened her eyes wide.
It was unknown where she managed to find burred chestnuts off-season, but as far as Shouki could see, those thorn bundles were vegetation.
But after leaving a bit of time, no, no… the stubborn girl shook her head.
“No, I’m saying… those are bur skins. Probably chestnuts.”
With that pointed out, Ripple-Rapple looked down, tilted her head and closely observed them.
Having reached her conclusion, the girl raised her face and looked at Shouki again.
“No, I’m saying urchins are more…”
Thorny and prickly.
“…… No, I’m saying…”
The topic at hand had already taken a great leap from matching curtains, reaching orbital velocity to make its rounds endlessly in vain.
“A-anyways, those are bur skins!”
“Bur skins I’m saying!”
While Shouki was panting heavily, the girl was calm to the end, her honest round eyes seeing through her own path to its end.
“Aaalright!! Listen here, chestnuts are, you know, chestnut! Sea urchins are these thorny things that skulk around the sea bed, and they’re purple!”
He cut in as she was about to say something.
“There are no buts about it! There’s no way a sea urchin could be this brown.”
When he pointed at the two burred chestnuts and yelled, Ripple-Rapple looked at them downtrodden and broken.
Perhaps he had come on too strongly, but now she finally had to accept it. As she silently stood like a kudzu plant, Ripple-Rapple’s form was strangely endearing, and Shouki couldn’t help but give a smile.
“Accepting your own mistakes might be a hard thing to do… but by overcoming that, we humans can—”
With the chestnuts lobbed full force into his face, Shouki rolled along the ground in agony. His death throes resounded. Before he could have his say, Ripple-Rapple jumped d own from the chair and made a run for it.
“I… I’ll remember this!!”
He was at the limit of his patience. No matter how endearing they looked, in the end, demons were demons! Pulling the chestnuts out off his face, Shouki stood and bounded into the hallway. And,
“Urchinurchinurchinurchin, can you be any louder!?”
His head ran straight into Shouka in her pajamas, her kick bursting through his face again.
“Kghah…!? Y-you’ve got it wrong, sis… I say they’re bur skins! The one saying urchin is…!”
“If you’re a man, don’t give excuses!!”
With a slap and a kick added to his assault, Shouki tumbled into the hall. Behind him, Shouka popped open an after-bath beer from the fridge. Ripple-Rapple waddled her way back over.
“… How cruel.”
“You don’t… get to say… that…”
Muttering like that was Shouki’s limit for the day.