She slept, she dreamed, the sun climbed to the sky.
“It’s summer vacation, don’t you know.”
“Right you are, Kakko. Let’s have a blast this year.”
“It’s been a week since I heard that.”
The sky was blue, the clouds were white. The cicada chirps resembled a ringing in the ears. The season was summer. Naturally, the seas far bluer than the sky and the sand dunes whiter than the clouds… were not what unfolded before their eyes.
A blackboard darker than the deepest darkness, an exam sheet whiter than the purest snow.
“… I never thought I’d end up taking the legendary reretest. Tohoho.”
As Suzuran groaned, Kakko gave a tired shrug of her shoulders.
“Can’t we do something about that mathphobia of yours…”
“You too, Kakko!!”
Be it midterms or finals, exams were part of a student’s life. For any who failed, it was possible to take a retest. And granted to only those few hardened souls who failed even that… it truly was the legendary reretest.
Incidentally, Suzuran and Kakko were the only ones in the classroom. Open book, open reference. Free to talk. No time limit. Meaning more than an exam, it was closer to the school’s way of saying, it can be in shape alone, just pass already.
Scribblescribblescribble, the sound of pencil strokes were so… empty, devoid of all life or purpose, such to override the energetic cicada chirps.
“… I’m sure Makoto-senpai’s off playing in extravagance.”
When the granddaughter of this private school’s board chairman was brought up, Kakko’s hand jerked to a complete stop.
“The entire Kantou Agency’s out vacationing in Europe.”
“Shouldn’t have asked…”
“I’ve got it, Kakko. Once this is over, let’s get Hasebe-senpai and go to the beach, the beach!”
“That one’s a no go. Makoto-senpai’s got him on a leash, she dragged him along with.”
Did she mean literally or figuratively? It was easy to imagine either way.
“… Wait a second, Kakko. Then who’s protecting the peace of Japan right now? What if a monster comes out or something?”
“It’s totally fine. If it’s just a monster, we’ve got the JDSF and hunting club, right?”
“… Aren’t they those people that shoot bears?”
“Eh? You didn’t know, Suzuran?”
Around three months back, in the midst of golden week, this and that happened but this girl Kakko… apparently, her demon name VZ was her real name… while serving as Meeko’s exclusive maid at Takase’s house was still attending this school.
Shouki seemed to be giving his tacit consent. While a suspicious third year called Kura Rika appeared at the school from time to time, Kakko was taking the initiative to avoid her.
“And mother’s gone too…”
“Oh why’s that, why’s that?”
“She’s been in Kyoto since yesterday. Though she should be back today…”
Even now, Suzuran was still bad at being home alone. Her memories as an abandoned child… or rather, the gloomy mentality of that time would come back to her.
Whatever the case, summer break passed them by even as they spoke. The two of them entered the last spurt that should have been taken care of long before the vacation.
A few dozen minutes later.
The pair posed for victory.
“Now let’s compare our answers, Kakko!”
“You said it, Suzuran!”
“Ha ha hah! Greetings, healthy high school girls! Are you enjoying your summer!?”
The one who appeared was not the math teacher, for some reason it was the young man who served as the part-time art lecturer. Prancing into the classroom in unusually high spirits, Iori Takase was not in his usual silver-rimmed glasses, but in gilded sunglasses. A short sleeve patterned shirt, black slacks, his feet fully exposed in leather sandals… at his bare, open chest, a shiny gold necklace.
(What bad taste…!)
They didn’t know whether he was taking inspiration from a rapper or street thug but whatever the case, this was not a state one should exist in at school.
“What’s this, you’re both looking down, hmm? It’s summer, summer I say! What’s the point of summer if you younglings are so down in the dumps!? You’re making your teacher say, ha ha hah!”
“… Why are you so worked up?”
Suzuran asked, her body pulling back just a bit.
“Are you seriously asking that!? Because it’s summer of course! A summer with no need to look after Meeko! A summer where I can aimlessly wander the cliffs by the sea and rob all those sellers blind! A summer where I can crash my car straight into a biker gang chased by police cars and cause chaos on both sides… why, it’s summer!”
The point was, now that Meeko was like that, he was evidently pretty happy he didn’t have to worry about her awakening or falling anymore.
“Kakko, is the next answer 1?”
“Nyaan. The one after it is negative one…?”
“I see, I see, and just when I thought I’d take you out to play… but so be it. If you want to study that badly, I’ll make a request for you. Minato-sensei the math teacher is still in the staff room.”
“Whoah! Whoah! I’m sorry, I’m sorry, but even though you made the offer, nothing decent ever happens when I go out with you, master, so I have to decline!”
She didn’t want to deal with sellers (whatever they were selling) and biker gangs, after all.
“… I see. A shame. A sea bluer than the sky and beach sands whiter than the clouds were waiting for you. It wasn’t Obliterating Industries work or anything, just a little company outing and I’d say it was even a boring one at that, but…”
All of a sudden, Suzuran stopped clinging in tears.
“The Kantou Agency went off to Europe with all the funds they hoisted up from the ministry of finance, see. But if it’s just my employees, I can provide quite some luxury with my own pocket money but…”
The scales in Suzuran’s heart were beginning to tilt. This man’s sense for money was completely off from the norm. Then what would he consider a luxury?
“And it was all you can eat seafood, but, well if you don’t want to go, then…”
With a heated gaze, Suzuran lifted Takase up by the lapels.
“The sea, the sea, the sea as wide as can be! All you can eat shrimp, crab and conch meat!”
After submitting the exam sheet to the math teacher and passing, she promptly went with Kakko to buy sunscreen and the like before returning home in a terrific mood.
With her hand on the front doorknob, she noticed it was unlocked.
“Welcome back, Suzuran.”
When it was still only noon, did she take an exceptionally early train? She was already back from Kyoto.
“Welcome back to you too. You’re here earlier than I thought.”
“I just got here. So you see, Suzuran, there’s a little something we need to talk about.”
What could it be? She thought lightly as she stepped into the house.
As per usual, she sat across from her in the living room, a table and tea between them. And from her mother’s mouth… she heard the person who would be her grandmother had passed on.
It was presented out in front of her, a bundle of white hair that must have belonged to her. No portrait, no ash. Wrapped in paper ribbon, it was placed on the table without any sense of reality.
“My mother… your grandmother was a godslayer peer to none.”
Her mother was indifferent like she was just stating a fact. There were no tears in her eyes. Just a hint of nostalgia. Suzuran as well, wasn’t able to cry for a grandmother she had never met before. No matter how unfortunate she thought it was.
And more than that, it was surprising to hear the word godslayer come from her mother’s mouth. Ever since she met her at the beginning of spring, it was almost like she was avoiding it. She would never let the words come from her side.
Takase said it was to distance her from the Nagoyakawa’s cursed blood. He said that was the reason she threw Suzuran away. That’s how she knew her mother detested the happenings of that world of darkness. She detested it enough to cast away the child she had gone through great pains to birth.
That’s why, while Suzuran had plenty of opportunities to interact with Takase and the others, they barely ever talked about those things. Her mother never asked, for starters.
“But there were many times I resented my mother. As long as I remember it, she would never let me do anything I liked, it was nothing but training, training and training… it was quite harsh, you see.”
This was the first time she was hearing it, but just from her expression, her mother’s feelings got across painfully clearly. From the trials Lich and the others gave her, Suzuran could surmise how harsh that might be.
“That’s why I decided to descend to the common world. I met him and you were born.”
Her eyes wavered in her smile.
“Suzuran… to replace me after I threw away the title of head. My mother was going to take you away. I didn’t want you to go through the same life as me, so I…”
Her mother’s eyes turned away from her.
“I… abandoned you. I didn’t have the courage to fight my mother. I’m sorry. I… ran away.”
She listened intently to her monologue. But Suzuran managed to meet her mother. And now they were able to live together. By this point, she didn’t feel it in the slightest she wanted her to apologize.
“It’s fine mom… I’m really happy right now. And I know you were thinking about me…”
“But… thanks to that, even now you’re still trapped by the world of darkness.”
They simply didn’t speak about it, she simply didn’t ask, but it seemed she noticed Takase and the others after all.
“Ahaha… but, but you know, mom. All the people I’ve met there have been really great people. Like Hasebe-senpai, Makoto-senpai, and Kakko.”
She quite intentionally withheld Takase’s name there.
“I did have my share of trouble, but on the contrary, I get the feeling they were valuable experiences…”
“… But for the rest of your life, these sorts of things will keep coiling around your body, they’ll never go away.”
“Yes, but there’s nothing much we can do about that at this point. If possible, I’d rather not be involved, but…”
Suzuran gave a bitter smile.
After her mother had wiped her tears and raised her face, her expression was gentle.
“Suzuran… you’ve grown far more splendid than I’d have thought. That’s good.”
“With that spirit, I’m sure you’ll be a fine head of the Nagoyakawa House. Do your best, Suzuran.”
“No… mother. Head’s a bit…”
She tried replying half as a joke. But by the time she noticed it, her mother’s eyes were serious. Following on from that, Suzuran heard her mother’s thoughts on why she had to succeed as head.
The strength of the Nagoyakawa blood. To simplify it, their brand was the greatest deterrent to all those after them. Once you become head, there were far fewer who would dare readily use her. But at the same time, of course, it couldn’t be in name alone.
When you got down to the nitty-gritty, it was the same reasoning Hida Makoto used to try getting her into the Kantou Agency… but she was dealing with her mother here, and Suzuran didn’t resent her for it.
“… Alright. Then if you say so… do I have to train?”
“That’s right, Suzuran. And for that reason, there’s someone I want to introduce you to. I’m sure you’ll be surprised.”
And her mother left the living room. After two, three words in the guest room beyond it, when she next appeared, her mother was leading along a single girl.
Her clothing was far too different to be looking in a mirror. If she had to say, it was like she herself was standing there dressed up like a shrine maiden. On closer inspection, her hairstyle was also different. Her long grown-out hair was bound in a red ribbon.
The two stared absentmindedly at one another a while before her mother- who was sitting on the sofa again- broke the silence.
“That girl is Suiren… Your little sister.”
“Heh? … Little what?”
With her half-open mouth, Suzuran blinked her eyes.
“I’m sorry for keeping quiet about her… I always intended to bring it up someday.”
Her mother turned to the shrine maiden girl.
“Suiren, this is Suzuran. She’s your big sister.”
Her mother’s apologetic, yet somewhat happy face. Upon receiving those words, Suiren gave a small bow with no wasted movement. She didn’t lower her guard in the slightest.
“It is a pleasure to meet you. Older sister individual.”
The world sure worked in mysterious ways, and just when she thought she was dreaming about her big brother, the little sister came around. Suzuran somehow managed to calm down. At the moment, she was sitting at the table with her mother and Suiren.
As a proper successor to the Nagoyakawa House, Suiren was apparently raised from a young age under the strict tutelage of her grandmother. As her mother hesitated over whether or not to abandon her second daughter again, in the end, she was snatched away. But even if she brought that up, it would be even crueler if they never got to meet. Perhaps that’s why her mother never mentioned the matter.
“That’s right… but we’ll be together from now on, right?”
The little sister in the shrine maiden getup, Suiren, plainly denied it.
Perhaps it was because she didn’t move her head and simply turned her eyes. The gaze she sent Suzuran who had asked the question was as cold as a machine’s.
“If I mingle with the common world for too long, this body shall be tainted. Once I have imparted you with all the techniques, I intend to return to the shrine in Kyoto.”
I see. Suzuran somewhat understood it. Having received quite the strict training regiment, presumably… this girl and her thought processes were sunk up to the neck in the world of darkness.
And for that reason, her mother gave another troubled smile.
“Let’s take our time healing it.”
“… Healing what?”
“The Nagoyakawa cursed blood.”
Those words. The color o her mom’s eyes as she suddenly brought it up. Suiren fell silent once like she’d been stabbed through the chest.
“You help out too, Suzuran.”
“Eh? Y-yeah! Of course I will. If there’s anything you don’t get, just ask you big sis!”
When she was at the orphanage, she had lots and lots of brothers and sister. Aided by that nostalgic feeling, despite this and that, Suzuran was feeling rather swell.
“… Yes. Older sister individual.”
Suiren’s response was somewhat short and cold.
“That’s right! Mom, I’m going on a two night three day trip to the beach tomorrow! It’s alright if I take Suiren, right!?”
“You are? That sounds nice. Suiren, you go with her. It’s important that Suzuran becomes the head, but you also need to grow accustomed to modern society. Training is important, but this is just as important.”
“The beach… I have never seen it myself, but if my older sister individual is going out of her way to make the trip, that means something vile must be lurking.”
In a sense, perhaps she was as ill-natured as Takase and Clarica.
“Erk. That’s not… entirely true.”
“Then for what reason?”
A serious ailment. It may just be the case she didn’t understand the very concept of play. At a glance, her mother was in half a cold sweat, unable to conceal the bitter smile on her face.
“So Suzuran, who are you going with? It is Kakko again?”
“Yeah and ma… no I mean Takase said he’d take us.”
“That man again…”
Her mother looked even more tired now. All of a sudden, Suiren’s eyes that had been so tranquil slanted sharply.
“Older sister individual. Are you possibly referring to the head of the Iori House?”
“Eh? Well yes… that’s right…”
“Is that so. Then I shall accompany you. While he may be a lowly dark arts user, if he proclaims himself a first-rate godslayer, I mustn’t neglect to offer my greetings.”
That… wasn’t the gentle tone of someone who just wanted to say hello. If she had to describe it, it was the sort of belligerence that came with ‘meet me out back’.
Suzuran timidly looked at her mother.
“… The main arts Nagoyakawa house, you see, they despise those who split into the other houses like heinous traitors…”
While the mother and big sister did the after-dinner cleanup, Suiren went to a room on the second floor. The one next to her older sister’s. While the room was usually unused, it now had the wicker hamper she had brought from Kyoto, with a futon lain across the floor.
What could she call what she was honestly feeling at the moment? As she watched the sun set over the inorganic townscape, Suiren searched for the word.
That was probably it. She was disappointed. No, still disappointed. She heard her sister was more worthy of being head than she was, so she was expecting a more dignified, cold existence with no chance to exploit her demeanor.
Ehehe… is that so? A little sister, huh? So I had one… that’s nice.
The one scattering around that slovenly smile about any and everything was her big sister. Dressed in disgraceful attire that even exposed above her knees. What’s more, she said that was a school uniform. If it was a uniform, that meant a large majority of teenage female students dressed as such. The common world was far more tainted that she had anticipated. It was a complete disgrace.
Suiren tried scanning outside the window again. There was practically no green in this place called a town. There was grass and potted plants in the yard. But that wasn’t what she meant. It was far too different from the mountains where Suiren was raised. Where the great trees towered, with moss growing at their twisting roots, lovely flowers modestly waving in the places the sun just barely touched.
That was the scenery Suiren knew.
Yet in the height of summer’s abundance, what she saw from the window couldn’t be further from that. The night wind didn’t even carry the summer scent. Could it be there were no seasons here at all? They had all been plastered over by human hands.
Every breath was suffering. To think this was the world of man the Nagoyakawa House was meant to protect. To think her sister who lived calmly through such filth was the new Nagoyakawa House head.
Then what could I possibly be lacking? She had to wonder.
When she had finished cleaning up, Suiren triumphantly marched right into Suiren’s room only to find her staring out the window in total darkness.
“Uwah. What’s wrong, not turning on the light…”
When Suzuran flipped the switch by the entrance, the fluorescent lights flickered on. At first like they were blinding, and then a curious marvel, Suiren looked up at them.
(… Does she not know how to turn the lights on either… this is serious…)
Even so, she really was identical. If she had to bring up the difference, it would have to be her clear, white skin like she didn’t get into the sun often. Her docile, well-featured doll-like expression. Her cold eyes prone to be cast down. The long hair bound in red ribbon… and the shrine maiden clothes.
… She was actually quite different yet they were identical. Like her own face she saw in the mirror every morning was upgraded in the elegance department and dressed up like a shrine maiden. Surely her mother had been like this when she was young.
“They’re called florescent lights.”
Suiren’s small lips repeated.
“I heard from mom, but you’ve been living in the mountains your whole life?”
“Then I’m sure there’s a lot of things you don’t know, so your big sis will teach you everything.”
Suzuran proudly tapped against her chest.
“Then older sister individual.”
“Ah… just sis is fine. You don’t need to be formal. Why individual, anyway?”
Suiren thought a little.
“… Then… big sister.”
“Mnn, it’s still a little stiff but… what is it?”
“Why does the country endorse such attire?”
“I am referring to that vulgar clothing.”
Suiren directed her face straight at her, turning only her eyes down. Suzuran tried flapping the skirt she pointed at a bit.
“Because… it’s cute?”
What? How? Suiren’s brow furrowed as if to ask.
“… That is enough. Then another thing. Up to what level of techniques have you acquired?”
“Techniques…? Eh? Are you talking about drop kicks and that something magnum?”
“… That’s enough.”
From there Suiren shut her mouth tight, at a loss for words. Suzuran was well aware the conversation wouldn’t mesh, but not to this level.
“By the way… hey, Suiren, what do you have in there?”
Suzuran pointed at the wicker hampers Suiren had brought in. One about as large as a clothes case, the other long and thin.
“That is my change of clothing and my weapon.”
To think she’d be hearing that from someone who wasn’t Takase. Her little sister no less.
“A bow and short sword.”
“Wow… hey, can I see them?”
“You may not.”
As Suzuran approached, Suiren slid her socks along the ground to interrupt her. Her little sister’s eyes cold as a doll could, given the right light, be taken to be glaring at her.
“They are the weapons of godslayers. You will have to master them eventually, but at the moment you are just a commoner. They are not the sort of thing one may touch or see without reason.”
“Oh… i-is that so?”
“It is the fact you do not understand so that makes you a commoner.”
Even Suzuran was growing irritated. If it was just her country bumpkin side, it could be cute, but it was a different story with this misunderstanding.
“Fu fu fu. That one got to me a bit.”
Time to show you how amazing your big sister is, Suzuran went right only for her to go right. Left only or her to go left. If she tried a faint, Suiren was a step ahead to block her way. Honestly, Suzuran was quite peeved she couldn’t get through.
“Come on… just a little bit!”
“Big sister. I am saying it is dangerous. Do you not have ears?”
The fighting words unintentionally came out. Not noticing the twitch in Suiren’s brow, Suzuran went right on.
“Now listen here, Suiren. If you can’t use a knife and fork, don’t know how to turn on lights, and keep wearing that shrine maiden outfit, you can’t even walk the streets in this day and age. How about being a little aware you’re from the country…”
“It is far better than imitating the lowly commoners like you.”
It was really getting to her. Courteous yet rude. Her idiotically polite tone only emphasized her cynicism. By the time there was a twitching around Suzuran’s temple, Suiren’s graceful down-cast eyes were irritantatedly half-closed.
“Suiren… I kept quiet and let you speak, but it’s been nothing but laymans and lowly commoners, aren’t you acting just a liiiiittttle high and mighty with your big sis?”
“I am one whose life has been committed to the Nagoyakawa. It is simply the natural course that I am special, and I am simply stating a fact.”
There should be a limit to impertinence. Such a remark to the big sister she was only meeting today!
“Now you said it!”
“Yes. I have indeed expressed it.”
“Oh, I see! I get it now! I’m never going to call you Suiren again!! Not for the life of me! Why, you’re… umm, just a… little sister!!”
In regards to Suzuran’s greatest might,
“Yes, what is it, big sister?”
(She… she’s not cute at all!)
And only a few hours from their meeting, a sister grappling match had already broken out.
A while later.
“Give it a rest already! What’s wrong with you two!!”
“Mom, this girl isn’t a little sister!!”
Her hair ruffled up, half in tears, Suzuran pointed.
“Big sister does not know how to listen.”
Said Suiren, her hair also a mess, but with the prickly composed face of a Persian cat. From Suzuran’s point of view, that couldn’t be any less endearing.
“Ah, for God’s sake… the bath is warmed up, get in, both of you.”
Fed up to no end, their mother held her head and said.