The next morning. As promised, Suzuran dropped by Shouki’s house with Kakko. It was only as she passed through the living room that she would learn the meaning of Takase’s words from the night before. He quite probably knew about this.
“Mn? What’s up, Nagoyakawa?”
Suzuran gulped at Shouki’s somewhat theatrical nonchalance.
“Since when did your house start hiring maids?”
“Yeah… from yesterday, truth be told.”
Even when he was pretending to nonchalantly drink tea, Shouki’s motions were stiff and forced. He had likely gotten the message she was trying to get across.
To the side of the table, a black-haired, vivid, terribly beautiful woman smiling with a tray on her lap.
“Umm… I’m sure I’m just imagining here, but this made… looks reeeeeeaaaaaaaally similar to a maid I know.”
“I can’t say for certain they’re not the same person.”
Pff, Shouki gave a small laugh. When the early summer light hitting the veranda was still so gentle, Suzuran was petrified, shedding a waterfall of sweat.
“What are we going to do what are we going to do what are we going to do? I was at master’s house yesterday, and there were knights and helicopters and Cardinals and negative mana and quantum something or another and it was all a right mess!”
“C-calm down! Get a hold of yourself, Nagoyakawa!”
Noticing Shouki secretly pointing out Kakko, Suzuran held her tongue. Suzuran shifted her eyes diagonally down from the girl who seemed to have a question mark floating over her head.
“W… what’s going on?”
“As you… can see.”
Ripple-Rapple who was apparently there for some reason said as she bit into the bell castella put out as tea cakes.
“… That looks good.”
“Meeko… have some too.”
Oh dear, Meeko quite happily took a mouthful of castella.
Kakko put on her fake glasses as she asked Suzuran.
“Suzuran, what’s wrong? What about the study meet?”
“O-on hold! We’re putting it on hold!!”
“Nyaaah!? Then what sad reason did I have to haul my stupidly heavy textbooks all the way here, Suzuran!?”
“There are things in this world more important than studying!!”
Ooh, Kakko sounded impressed.
“Then we’re playing?”
“That’s not what I meant…”
But what to do. What did Shouki call her here for today? The man in question was unsettlingly sipping tea, at times glancing at Kakko, and Suzuran was pretty much doing the same.
An awkward silence… and the ringtone that suddenly chimed out.
“Owaah!? Oh, it’s my phone… eck.”
Iori Takase. The call screen mercilessly indicated it so.
Suzuran looked pleadingly at Shouki, but there was no way he could comprehend the situation. In the time she desperately tried to establish eye contact, the phone continued to ring.
Barely containing the pressure, or rather, pure pain to her stomach, Suzuran could only timidly press the answer button.
“Yes. This is Suzuran…”
‘Are you at the brat’s house yet?’
“Y-yes… Ah, so about that!!”
’The crazy sister is headed your way. Good luck.’
The moment a smiling Clarica, a pistol in her hand crossed her mind, Suzuran felt a chill on her spine.
“Divine retribution!! When I say divine retribution, I mean divine retribution!!”
What suddenly changed the tea room, the epitome of tranquility, to the air of a battlefield was none other than the self-proclaimed seventeen-year-old woman who went by Kura-senpai.
While it was simple enough to grab Ripple-Rapple’s small body and shove her into the closet, it didn’t go down so easily with Meeko; Clarica caught sight of her before anything could be explained.
“Whoah! Whoah! You can’t! This is normal society! The common earthly realm of the first world, Clari… Kura-senpai!”
In an attempt to stop her, Suzuran was currently flailing her arms and throwing out her legs in desperation.
“… She’s right. Please calm down, senpai. You’re making the saint beg.”
The one who lent a helping hand was a woman disguised in a sailor suit, as expected. This one was called Mariette and had introduced herself as a junior from the Inquisition Second Division.
“… In the first place, senpai, on the change we find Demon Meeko, we were ordered not to provide any excess stimulation. What’s more, the whole point this time is to capture her alive, so I highly recommend against purifying her here.”
Clarica’s right index finger shook neurotically like a drug addict’s. By the way, that finger had taken quite a dangerous position, resting on top of a trigger.
“… That aside, I curse my own carelessness to have left Grace Incarnate Model Three behind.”
“Ahem… Mariette. Did you plan to burn yourself to death or something?”
“… Can’t say you’re any better.”
A gunshot in a residential district in the middle of the day. It was a ruckus. After first asking the heavens, Clarica looked at herself and realized what she had done, stuffing her gun behind her hip for the time being. In its place, she took out a Magicalize Indicator, pointing it at Meeko, who was suspensefully watching over the scene.
“The reading’s terribly weak.”
“… You’re right. As a demon, it’s miraculous she’s still alive.”
“That’s what makes her an outer. Outers can freely change the amount of mana they emit. It’s what lets them blend in with human society.”
Outside the focus of that conversation, for some reason, Kakko was making a mischievous smile.
“U-um, you see, Kakko. The people are…… you know?”
“Nyan… not quite right in the head?”
As Kakko whispered back, Suzuran practically broke into headbanging, shedding a flood of tears. She silently pleaded her friend not to ask anymore.
“Suzuran, looks like you’ve got it hard.”
“Yeah, you got that right. Truly. Kakko, you’re the only one who gets me… sob hic.”
Now then, the problem was Shouki who stood in their way with Meeko to his back. With a grim look, he faced the two agents of the Inquisition second division.
“I was a bit worked up there, so I didn’t really catch that but… to summarize, Mr. Shouki. You picked up this demon in the mountains?”
“Yeah… no, rather than picked up, I’d say I helped her out.”
“So why’d you keep quiet about it? I’m sure I told you to contact me yesterday.”
“Say what you want, but how could I hand her over to people I know are going to kill her?”
Shouki decisively declared, in contrast, Clarica was cold indeed.
“She’s a demon. A darkness that exists to be purified. Not only that, taking out that woman alone will make countless monsters disappear from the world, you know?”
“That doesn’t mean it’s alright for her to be a sacrifice…!”
“It’s totally fine, she’s a demon.”
Shouki grit his teeth as Clarica said that with no hesitation.
“That doesn’t mean… there should be some other way, shouldn’t there? Just take one good look at the world! Monsters are barely a threat at all! Me, the Kantou Agency, the Sacred Assembly, we’re more than capable of containing them! That’s right, there are so few I can barely raise my level!”
“I heard something similar with Ms. Suzuran’s case… but this time, I can’t quite back down. Rather, Mr. Shouki. There are already four orders of holy knights stationed in Japan. All to catch that demon.”
“And there’s four bishops, and one Cardinal. The situation’s already gone beyond what you can manage alone. As you can imagine, changing the mind of a mere sister like me ain’t gonna change a thing.”
He was finally beginning to understand the gravity of the situation, Shouki’s eyes opened wide in shock.
“… Senpai. A mere sister doesn’t swing around a Mauser over tea.”
“And they don’t have an unhealthy fixation on Grace Incarnate Model Three, Mariette.”
Regardless of the fact these two were quite special sisters.
“If you understand, stand down and hand that demon…”
“…… I won’t.”
Clarica tried walking past him, but Shouki stopped her after all. His eyes didn’t hold the drive Suzuran had seen in them before. He was making terribly pained eyes. As if he had half caught sight of resignation, he cried out with a pathetic face.
“I swore I’d protect her!”
“Ah. That so.”
In that instant, Clarica’s fist tore through the air. It must have been quite unexpected. Even his reflexive guard didn’t make it in time, and flung through the air, Shouki rolled grandly over the table.
“Then why don’t you try and do something with your own power? The reason you called Ms. Suzuran… the Sacred Priestess here was so she could act as a shield against us, am I wrong?”
Seeing Meeko draw close with sorrowful eyes, the blood suddenly rushed to Suzuran’s head.
“This is terrible! You’re going too far!!”
She rose her voice at Clarica; yet the one to stop her was none other than Shouki. He rose and wiped the blood flowing down the side of his mouth.
“… Yeah. That’s right, Clarica. I thought you’d be a little more inclined to listen to the Sacred Priestess’s words… though you stormed in before I could tell Nagoyakawa about it.”
“T… then I’ll say it too! Please stop this! Just leave Meeko be!”
“It’s fine, Nagoyakawa… it’s fine. I’m sorry for dragging you in… that’s right. To them, the prophet’s orders are absolute. Even higher than the Sacred Priestess…”
At his quiet murmur, Suzuran knew she was powerless again.
In that case, should she have joined the Kantou Agency and undergone training? Should she have entered the Sacred Assembly and awakened as the Sacred Priestess? Should she have become demon lord and…?
What could she have done to break down this situation? That thought alone spun fruitlessly in her head.
“Even if I have to use force. I won’t give you Meeko.”
“Me too! I’m against it!”
Perhaps Clarica was finally out of options, as she miserably folded her arms. And after thinking a bit, she took out her cellphone.
“We can’t do anything here of our own discretion… ah, hello, Cardinal? It’s Clarica.”
And a few minutes later.
“… Senpai, what did she say?”
“For now, we pinned down the demon’s location so we can go home, apparently. And Mr. Shouki, the Cardinal will be paying a visit tomorrow.”
And after turning to leave, Clarica looked back at Shouki only once, taking him in with reproachful eyes.
“It doesn’t really matter at this point, but I can’t believe you’d use Ms. Suzuran as a shield. You always did say not giving up is what makes a hero… but keeping at it without choosing your means is just another way of saying you’re a sore loser.”
It must have really gotten to him. With nothing to say back, Shouki bit his lip, hanging his head with bloodshot eyes.
Clarica scorned the hero and left
“Is that enough?”
Shouka was spreading food for the koi as per her grandfather’s instruction. While she couldn’t see the tea room from there, she could hear everything they said. As they passed behind her, Clarica and Mariette stopped in their tracks.
“Ms. Shouka. I appreciate your cooperation… Mr. Shouki isn’t doing too swell. I’m afraid he might’ve fallen for that demon.”
“Yeah. I see. So it really does look that way, that idiot.”
“… This time, your little brother has shown a clear change of heart. If he takes it too far, he will become a target of our activities.”
Shouka didn’t turn to Mariette’s warning either.
“When that happens, I’m counting on you.”
“That so… well ‘n.”
The two footsteps grew distant and when she could no longer hear them, Shouka finally took a peek into the tea room.
(… When Takase called her crazy, I wonder how crazy that could possibly be but… he wasn’t kidding.)
After being strangely accepting of the actions of the Inquisition Second Division she was meeting for the first time, Shouka returned to the Dojo. Cleanup was Shouki’s job. He was the one who scattered everything when he was punched.
“… When her own little brother’s life is in danger, that attitude was a bit much.”
As things stood, Mariette had given a considerably harsh threat. Intending to get her to persuade him on her part as well.
As a member of the imperial house’s Divine Spirit Division, she should know what sort of entities the Inquisition’s second division consisted of, and those were definitely not words she could close her ears to. Shouka had let them slip by, she didn’t even seem to be pretending.
“That was the ‘Onihime’ of the Imperial House.”
“… Are you sure? So she’s that famed…”
Demonic vice deputy of the Divine Spirit Division. Onihime. The way the word rolled off the tongue had her moniker spread relatively wide through the third world.
“Call her what you want but… her strength itself is just from being assistant instructor at the dojo, and I hear she’s never actually crossed blades with a monster. Just by her mentality, she’d be a good match for us, I’d say.”
The two agents carried that back and forth as they searched for a taxi back.
Not long after, the other two also left while the sun was high.
“Sorry Kakko, how should I put it… it was a mess. Surprising, right?”
“Yeaah. I was surprised, but it was fun.”
Suzuran couldn’t believe what she was saying as she looked at her friend’s fake glass- garnished face. She was making a pleasant smile having her fill of the thrill.
“They were a little scary through, right? All those ladies.”
“T-that’s right, yep… and Kakko, I know this might be an impossible request, but you’re better off forgetting everything you saw in that house today.”
“Nyaan… I can’t really forget it, but I promise I won’t tell anyone.”
She seemed to get what she wanted to say, and Suzuran stroked her chest in relief.
“Then here’s good. Suzuran, you look kinda tired, so I’ll be getting back.”
“Yeah, thanks. And sorry…”
Suzuran trudged her way around the corner. As she approached the area near her house, that familiar, noise exhaust sound leisurely approached. The window glass came down, the man with silver-rimmed glasses was looking her way.
“Master. Why are the sacred assembly people always so unaccommodating? ”
Well get in, he invited, and without the words to refuse him, she hopped into the passenger seat.
“But now you have a general grasp on the situation. What do you want to do?”
“… If it’ll save Meeko, anything works.”
“With those conditions, there’s just one thing that comes to mind.”
In an accelerating car, Suzuran’s gaze that had been tracing the scenery turned towards Takase.
“Smack Meeko awake, then you’ll become the demon lord and make her obey you.”
“… No, that’s a bit…”
She was let down just as far as she’d gotten up her hopes, Suzuran hung her head.
“But think about it. Demon lord means the summit of the world of darkness. No one could oppose you. You can do whatever you want with the world.”
“And I’m saying… I really don’t get what’s so good about that… I’m more than happy enough just getting to live with my mother.”
“Then let’s say the demon lord Suzuran orders it… let me live with my mother in peace.”
“Well, it doesn’t really matter. You can stop them from disrupting the peace of human society, or force Iori Takase to not bother you… isn’t that what it means to do whatever you want?”
“Aaah! … But that, you know… is a demon lord with no power… really a demon lord?”
“Ironically, that might make you the Sacred Priestess.”
Hmm, Suzuran rethought a few things.
“Is it alright? For a Demon Lord to do something like that?”
“Not my problem. But if no one could oppose you, then isn’t it fine? In short, you become the law.”
That might be… nice.
“Master… you don’t care what happens, do you? About Meeko.”
“Between you and me, whether she wakes up or not, as long as she doesn’t cause any trouble, that’s fine with me. I’ll admit in that sense, having her disappear is still the best option.”
But it’ll be pretty lonely. He didn’t say it aloud, but Suzuran thought she could see it in his eyes. Perhaps that’s why. She muttered.
“… If I can really do all that, I want to give it a try.”
Meeko knocked at his door a few times, but Shouki wouldn’t come out of the bedroom he’d holed himself up in. Without saying anything, Meeko quietly left. No, she couldn’t find in her the right words to say.
(Am I… someone who’s not supposed to exist…?)
The woman called Clarica said it.
(If I’m gone, the world will be peaceful…)
She didn’t particularly mind either way. The fact she wasn’t supposed to be alive had always been somewhere in her chest. Probably from even before she lost her memory.
To someone… I’m tired of living. She remembered saying such idiotic words. Even if she couldn’t remember who it was she said them to.
In that case. Why would Shouki go as far as to take a blow to cover for someone like her?
Meeko couldn’t understand the reason.
“Shouki… I, when tomorrow comes…”
What exactly was she going to do? She got midsentence to the sealed room and stopped. She had some vague thoughts towards death. But perhaps she had some attachment to this obscure life of hers.
Because Shouki wished for it enough to put his life on the line.
Meeko quietly left.
After changing into the black battle uniform of the Kantou Agency, Suzuran headed for Takase’s room where Ritsuko was.
“Now this is a bother.”
The one who said that in a bizarre Kansai accent, was a woman who smiled as if she wasn’t troubled in the slightest. Her lament surely had to do with Shouki. It was unthinkable for the symbols of light, the hero and holy knight order to exchange sparks. With four knight orders mobilized at once, this was apparently a large-scale operation the likes of which hadn’t been seen in the past few decades, but just because they had the numbers together, if they couldn’t fight, it was completely pointless.
A knight stationed to the side gave his opinion.
“This is presumably not the Hero’s true intentions. The demon has misled him, or perhaps…”
Florence took over from him.
“Right, if she is stationed at the hero’s house, it’s possible his family has been taken hostage!”
“That’s absolutely impossible!”
As Suzuran emphasized in a strong voice, an unexpected individual sent some support.
“Ms. Suzuran’s right on that one.”
Clarica and Mariette entered, still in their sailor suits. With what happened at Shouki’s house, Suzuran felt just a bit awkward, but they didn’t seem by any means bothered.
“From what I could see, Demon Meeko’s forgotten the fact that she’s a demon. That’s probably why Mr. Shouki’s dropped his guard.”
“In any case, as long as the hero says he won’t hand Meeko over, the Sacred Assembly can’t lift a finger. And with the Hero as their enemy, even the Kantou Agency’s E Numbers will be beaten at their own game.”
As Takase gave a recap, Ritsuko slowly nodded.
“And that’s why you need me to go, Ritsuko.”
“As a matter of fact,”
“But I refuse.”
While her eyes remained narrowed in the sweetest of smiles, the ends of Ritsuko’s eyebrows lowered troubled at Takase’s declaration.
“And why not?”
“I’m an exception. With my deep connections to her, if we run into one another, she might revive.”
“… I just thought up something nice!”
Florence took a step forward and smacked the table.
“If we declare the hero a heretic, those needless worries will go right away!”
If he was stripped of his title as hero, he would be no more than a young man dyed the colors of darkness; the holy knights could march in right through the front door.
“No way, no how.”
While she was smiling, Ritsuko’s tone was a little faster, and somewhat harsh. Florence hit the desk again and bit on.
“It’s not like he’s the only hero out there! What’s more, I heard the inquisition’s been raising such suspicions about him since that incident last month! While knowing about something as grave as the Kantou Agency’s coup d’etat, he neglected to report to the assembly. Forget that, he took the greatest of arbitrary action, prioritizing his own fame… as I recall, a Cardinal also has the discretion to determine heresy or not!!”
“Yes, but that doesn’t change the fact ‘e’s the hero. None of us have the right to label the hero a heretic. Just as a hero is chosen by the prophet’s prophesizing, there’s only one who can revoke it. I wouldn’t dare overturn that verdict.”
For a while, the two silently faced one another. Around the knights and the sisters, extraordinary tensions raced. Within the frozen silence, only Florence’s visor camera let off a few motor sounds.
“… You’re right. I spoke out of turn.”
Florence turned her face away first. She took a step back.
“Well, I’m not saying it’s a bad idea.”
Loosening up, Ritsuko sunk into her chair again. Takase listened to the knights’ restful chorus as he added on.
“Going off my experience, Meeko reacts excessively to any conflict that will sadden what she sees as so-called innocent bystanders. Now that Shouki has seemingly become an acquaintance of hers, killing him is out of the question.”
As he turned on his heels, his gaze fell on Florence like a slap to the face, causing her to fearfully look away.
“I-I never said anything about killing…”
“Taki, where you goin?”
“If you’re all going to be useless, then I won’t get anywhere here. The point is, we have to get Meeko away from Shouki. I don’t plan to move until you go and persuade him tomorrow, but,”
“You say that. But we’re no good, the Kantou Agency is no good, and you’re no good, then… do you have any leads?”
It was there that Takase turned only half his face.
“As long as Shouki’s our opponent, a little rough play is unavoidable. I’ll send my men. Who can go up against the hero no problem, and in the million to one chance Meeko awakens, they’ll be able to suppress an outer who can destroy a country overnight… I’ve got three of them in this very mansion.”
At the glint in Takase’s eyes, Florence swallowed her breath.
“There’s no way such things could exist in… don’t tell me!”
“Indeed. They’re outers as well. Even among the outers, those monsters are the closest you’ll find to Meeko.”
“What nonsense! How did you manage to unify… no, they must be purified at once! Summon them here!”
“Well, calm down.”
Turning to an indignant Florance, Ritsuko reached out a hand with a gentle smile.
“That ain’t what we gathered the holy knights here for. But you do bring up a good point… Taki, they’re really monsters on that level? Then no matter how strong you are, I doubt they’ll listen to you.”
“Oh, but I have a demon lord candidate.”
At the edge of his twisted lips, Takase flashed his canines in a sinister smile. With a push on the back, Suzuran gave a strong nod. She had changed into an unfamiliar battle uniform to muster that resolve.
Ritsuko finally changed her tone to a serious own.
“Candidate maybe. But she ain’t a demon lord. She could just as well awaken as a saint.”
“I’ll just have to get them to at least recognize her by tomorrow.”
A while of silence. Behind her circular glasses, Ritsuko closed her eyes.
“… Fine. If you can manage it, you have my consent.”
At the Cardinal’s words, and the saint’s firm reply, the knights were set astir.
In the Iori House’s basement, there were four looking upon the scene from a crystal ball.
One held a metal rod like a stretched out battledore, a man in a Kimono with the sleeves ripped off. Homura. He scratched his messy waterfall of hair into a mess.
“So the brat’s got to thinkin unnecessary thoughts…”
Another was a skeleton fully dressed in a tailcoat and silk hat: Lich. He took a puff of his cigar.
“Hm. His knowledge is around the same level as Zephirum’s, I must say he can’t help himself.”
And either a strange emperor penguin with a golden crest or an oversized rockhopper. Iwatobi.
Hearing that, the final one laughed. The man in the dirty lab coat.
“Heeheeh. The enemy is Lady Meeko after all… Takase just isn’t himself. Don’t you all feel the same? Eeheeheeheeheeh.”
The doctor’s convulsing laughter resounded through the space so vast not one of its four walls could be seen.
“But Takase, you know, he’ll take a shot at the enemy even if doesn’t know what he’s up against. Heehee… we’ll have to leave it to them.”
“… Then is that matter settled? You shall forge gauntlets befitting the ‘Demon Lord’s Unseen Hand’, Hazuki no Shizuku.”
“Heeheeh. So I can take that as one vote for yes, Lich? Very well… and how about you, Homura?”
Homura turned his back.
“… When that man called Randale showed up, I hear the underworld princess and Ripple-Rapple recognized her, but… I’m against it. We don’t need a demon lord in this day and age. Not saying I won’t help you… just not feeling up for it.”
“Then I’ll take that as a tentative yes. Ewan?”
“Hmm. Then it’s decided. We shall call that girl here. And with our own hands, we shall raise her as far as we can.”
Lich lightly tapped the end of his stick against the stone floor. Inside the crystal ball, only the form of the girl in the black uniform disappeared… before the four of them, the missing girl abruptly took shape.
Suzuran blankly widened her eyes. She took a look down, so stiff she had forgotten to breathe.
“Welcome Suzuran, oh foolish lass who desires the Demon Lord Seat. We shall guide you down the cruelest path of thorns…”
At Lich’s voice, Suzuran lost her complexion. Rather than what he was saying, she was possibly more shocked by the fact a skeleton was speaking.