Rental Magica Volume 1: Chapter 1

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Chapter 1 - Magicians for Rent![edit]

Part 1[edit]

Well then, let us begin a story of magic.



"Uwaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagh!"

Iba Itsuki screamed, almost fainting.

Falling on his bottom in an alleyway late at night, the pain coursed through him. A plastic bucket next to him tipped over, splashing the pants of his school uniform with kitchen waste.

"Ah... ah... ah... ah..."

However, completely ignoring that, Itsuki looked up with a dazed expression, pressing the eye patch over his right eye against his face.

He was a boy who looked a little younger than his actual age.

As if to display his personality, his hair was short and wasn't dyed or gelled, and even though it was a holiday, he wore his school uniform. The one exception to his bland appearance was the eye patch covering his right eye like a pirate; though for a young boy to wear it, it came off looking quite ridiculous.

Now, this boy had a serious reason for pressing on his eye patch.

With his left eye, he didn't see anything out of the ordinary.

If someone else had looked around, they wouldn't have seen anything to be afraid of. In that dark alleyway, they wouldn't have seen the shadow of anything other than the young boy.

If they were a normal human that is.

"..."

However, Itsuki could see something with his right eye.

Through the eye patch, through the palm of his hand, he could see them clearly.

... Red eyes.

The blazing red eyes glared at Itsuki from three meters above. There were six eyes in all—two on each head.

It was a massive, fearsome three-headed dog.

It was almost twice as tall as Itsuki, and had stiff black skin and hellish red eyes—not to mention the three heads that almost spanned the whole width of the alleyway. Each of the heads had a strong demonic presence, as if even just looking at it would cause one's soul to be snatched away.

... It perfectly matched the figure in the reference documents.

"... A-Ah, um..."

"GARAAAAAAAA"

Burning hot breath emanated from the left and right heads. Just the passing wind of that breath made Itsuki's hair stand on end. Any hotter and he'd have been burned to a crisp.

Naturally that would be the case.

It was like a fusion of its ancient ancestor who guarded the gates of the underworld and the Black Dog that strode through Europe. According to the reference documents, its breath's maximum temperature was two thousand or three thousand degrees. No matter what, any human would be turned to ash in an instant. Such was the nature of magical beasts.

However, if we are talking about humans with a magical eye, perhaps they had some method of resistance...

Immediately after,

Itsuki waved his hands in front of his face with all his might.

"No... um... I-I definitely taste horrible!"

With all of the desperation of a grade schooler being extorted by a middle schooler, Itsuki vigorously shook his head.

... Correction.

He had absolutely no way of resisting at all.

"GRYYYYIII?"

"JRYYYYIII?"

"ZRYYYIIII!"

The three heads examined Itsuki from different angles.

It looked like they were arguing over which head would get to eat him. Or maybe they were just trying to decide how to cook him.

"Uh, uh, ahahaha...!" Itsuki let out a dry laugh.

As if pleased with the reaction, the three heads smacked their pure white teeth together.

They were laughing.

With a twisting sound, something cold grabbed onto Itsuki's back.

"Awaawaawwawaa!"

As he let out an incomprehensible scream, Itsuki flailed his arms and legs.

At the same time, the demon dog jumped.

It was unbelievably nimble. Even though it seemed to rub against the sides of the narrow alleyway just by walking, it had kicked off the walls two or three times and landed behind Itsuki.

"Wh-Whaaaa?"

His eyes widened to the size of a dinner plate.

However, he had no time to be astonished. Within a moment, Itsuki's field of vision was enveloped in pure red.

It was a pure red, burning, terrible-smelling...

tongue.

*Lick*

"..."

*Lick, lick, lick, lick...*

"....................eh?"

He opened his eyes.

Through the sticky saliva, he saw the demon dog panting and wagging its tail. The dog wagged its tail with all the eagerness it could muster, as if this was the happiest moment of its life.

"Wawawawawa!"

The three heads licked Itsuki's face over and over feverishly.

From behind, a jolly voice rang out.

"Oh, as expected of you, President, being the first to arrive."

"... Hey, Nekoyashiki-san."

Itsuki, covered in slobber, turned around. He saw a young man holding a folding fan.

He was a head taller than Itsuki, had bleached silver hair and long, thin eyes that stretched to the bridge of his nose. His figure seemed to personify the word "beautiful." However, his Heian-style haori[1] and folding fan easily destroyed any traces of that beauty.

Also, just as his name implied[2], from within his haori, they popped out here and there...

"Meow"

"Meorw"

"Mrrow"

"Me~oww"

... four in total: white, spotted, black, and calico cats.

"Mm... there, there. I was a bit caught up with feeding these children, so I ended up coming late. Cats are good, they are. Treasures of humanity. Treasures of the Earth. No, no, space... space-time; no, the treasures of alaya-vijnana[3] they are! The saying that a cat is worth a thousand gold pieces is stingy, for in the opinion of myself, Nekoyashiki Ren, they are worth ten thousand... no, a million!"

"Uh... rather than discuss cats, what the heck is with this dog?!"

Itsuki complains while the demon dog's rough tongue continues to scrape against his skin.

In contrast, the man festooned with cats placed his folding fan against his mouth and tilted his head to the side.

"Hm? What about it? You heard that it likes people, right?"

"Likes... people?"

That kind of went without saying. Except that rather than liking people, Itsuki had the impression that it liked to eat people.

"Oh, President. Once again, it looks like you only skimmed the reference papers. This time it's a pet search. Got it?"

"P-Pet?" Itsuki parroted involuntarily.

"Though it's only a subspecies of the descendents of Cerberus, it still makes an ideal familiar. It ran away while being transported. Looks like we've finished our request, haven't we?"

"..."

Itsuki said nothing.

However, there was a visible change in the demon dog.

"GRYYYYYY?"

Suddenly letting go of Itsuki, the dog let out a howl, wary of the man and the cats. It heaved its body around.

"My, my, Ultros-san!"

It had incredible agility.

Ultros, the demon dog, rushed down the alleyway faster than Nekoyashiki could even shout.

"—Cleanse, purify—"

This time, a lisping but cool and clear voice echoed down the alleyway.

"Cleanse, purify. Amidst woven pattern of rock and cloud, blade of the wise great god, disperse all misfortune, the Buddha in Heaven..."

An evergreen branch adorned with white strips of paper—a tamagushi[4]—moved in the darkness. As it waved, the demon dog jumped far back, returning to where Itsuki stood. It hung its head and whimpered as if it was discovered by its master while it was making mischief.

"Huh?"

Itsuki blinked.

At the other end of the alleyway stood a young lady with pigtails. Actually, she looked to be about eight. Rather than a young lady, she could more accurately be called a little girl.

Her clothes looked a bit like Ren's. She wore a pure white chihaya with a crane design, together with a crimson hakama. That is to say, a miko's[5] outfit. She had a red schoolbag on her back and apparently had come directly from school.

"Enough, Nekoyashiki-san. Didn't you hear that this one gets timid when it senses other magical beasts' spell powers?"

Puffing out her cheeks, the little girl stood with her arms akimbo.

Her name was Katsuragi Mikan. A third year elementary school student; she was an employee-under-contract in the Shintou[6] department. That is to say, this was her part-time job.

"Ahaha. An honest mistake."

The young man called Nekoyashiki Ren let out a carefree laugh. He was the acting senior managing director and head of the Onmyoudou[7] department. He was said to be the main force behind and leading <Astral>.

"Well then, shall we leave the last part to our President?"

"Eh, me?"

Itsuki's eyes were still spinning as Nekoyashiki handed him three seals. Complicated symbols danced across the surfaces of those slips of paper. If you showed those seals to someone even slightly versed in calligraphy, their eyes might have flown wide in amazement. However, they had no effect on the current Itsuki, whose eyes were already wide open.

"So... you've gotta stick them to its heads. If I go any closer, it'll get scared and run away again."

"..."

Itsuki held his breath.

He looked several times from Nekoyashiki to the demon dog and back. He thought of asking Mikan to do it, but she was on the other side of the dog.

"U-Under...stood."

With a completely pale face, Itsuki nodded like a puppet.

"Good luck, President Onii-chan," Mikan said, smiling.

"Ah... ahahaha." A dry laugh leaked out of Itsuki as he stepped closer and closer to Ultros.

"GRYYYYYYYY?"

"I-I-I-It's alright. I won't hurt you..."

*Pat*

The first one.

With that, the left head drooped and fell comfortably asleep.

"JRYYYYYYYYYY"

"I-I-I-I-I-I-I'm not doing anything... just sticking some seals here..."

*Pat*

The second one.

"ZRYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYYY!?"

"......!!!!!"

Just as he affixed the third one, Itsuki lost consciousness. For real this time.

"O-Onii-chan, President Onii-chan?"

"My, oh my!"

"Me~eorw?"

Itsuki felt as though voices were calling him from far off.

Bye bye. See you later. Thank you.

Part 2[edit]

"...!!!"

Itsuki opened his eye.

For a moment, he didn't know where he was.

He looked around. It was red.

He was in the classroom at sunset.

One of his classmates was looking at him with a tired face.

"Hey, Ibaitsu?"

Yamada tried calling him from the seat next to him. Yamada was the goban-faced[8] "hope" of the physics club. Incidentally, he was called the "hope" because he had won the physics club fighting game tournament during the new student welcoming ceremony without a single loss.

"Of course, you finally wake up after sleeping straight from the beginning of first period to the end of supplementary lessons. Have you ever considered that you might be possessed or something?"

"Wow... I was out of it for that long?"

"Yeah, you were making some amusing moans all through class. No one felt like touching you." Yamada goggled his sanpaku[9] eyes at Itsuki. "You were talking about a three-headed, monster dog or something. Did you wander out at night after watching a horror film? Something like 'Terror! Flying Killer Tomato V.S. Ed Wood?'"

"I don't think there was a dog in that one."

"Forget about it. You always faint during horror films anyway."

"Isn't that natural? They are kind of scary..."

"Heh, I still remember you swooning during 'Nobita's Great Adventure into the Underworld.'[10]"

"Ack!"

Oh, the trauma.

Ever since elementary school, every time he went out he ended up in some unfavorable situation. Just half a month after he entered this school, the whole class knew he was a scaredy-cat thanks to Yamada. Even the neighboring classes knew him as "The Guy Who Fainted from Watching Doraemon."

"Keheheheh!" After laughing like a demon for a while, Yamada asked, "So, what's wrong?"

"What do you mean?"

"You know, you've looked a little funny since last week."

Yamada lowered his eyebrow and crossed his arms.

"F-Funny?"

"Yeah. You're normally out cold, but recently you've been doing it a lot more. Have you taken up some kind of weird part-time job or something?"

"Mm... sort of..."

Giving an ambiguous laugh, Itsuki rubbed his cheek.

"Well, whatever. I thought you were gonna go with your Uncle Kusakabe to America, weren't you?"

"I can't do that. I've got to hold down the house here and I don't want to cause him that much trouble..."

"Well it's too late for that now. And after you guys had been living together for several years..."

"Well, just go with what's logical, I guess."

Yamada sighed at Itsuki's words.

"Man, you're a good guy in a weird place. I don't really much care about that, but at least visit us once in a while. Aneki's[11] always saying you should show your face more."

"Yeah, thanks," Itsuki said meekly.

Yamada dropped his shoulders tiredly. However, he suddenly tilted his head.

"Oh yeah, I heard from aneki, your father's case has been wrapped up, right? A lawyer sent some kind of letter. So they found your dad after all?"

"Uh..."

Seeing that Itsuki was having trouble putting his thoughts into words, Yamada tapped the back of Itsuki's head.

"Hm, I guess that was asking too much. Well, if you really want to know, then just call your sister."

Yamada was totally shameless.

Itsuki shook his head, giving a wry smile.

"It's okay, I don't really mind. Since it's already been seven years since he went missing, I've just thought of him as dead."

"... I see. That bad, huh?"

"I really don't have any feelings about it, though. I've been living with Kusakabe since before he went missing, after all."

"Yeah, you've really got nothing to complain about there... Man, if I could live with Yuuka-chan..."

"Hush, lolicon."

"You shut up, greenhorn!"

As they were talking, Itsuki's cell phone started rumbling in his pocket.

When he saw the caller ID, Itsuki's heart lurched.

"Ack!"

"Hm? What's wrong? Take it if you need to."

"Y-Yeah..."

Gulping down a huge gob of saliva, he pressed the talk button.

The moment he did...

"Oh, President!"

"Huh?"

Yamada's ears perked up.

"Hey... Nekoyashiki-san, what is it?"

"Along with the succession procedures I told you about, we've got a new employee coming in. Can you swing by here tomorrow, President?"

"Uh, yes... I understand, but..."

"Also, I need you to sign the documents confirming the capture and return of Ultros the other day."

"Y-Yes... Understood. Well, see you later."

As he cut the call, just as he expected, Yamada was staring at him with wide eyes.

"Ibaitsu... did someone just call you... 'President'?"

"N-No... it was just a wrong number."

"And you answered it?"

"That's, uh... s-sorry. I have to go home now!"

"Wait up, Ibaitsu!"

Standing up in a panic, Itsuki grabbed his school bag and ran away.

When he left the classroom, it was already evening.

People who have disappeared are dealt with as deceased after seven years, according to the law.

Iba Itsuki knew this because of a particular letter he had received.

"Oh... it's about dad."

Printed on a pretty, white envelope that seemed like it would be a waste to throw out was, "Regarding the Inheritance of Iba Tsukasa's Assets".

Though it was kind of cold of him, Itsuki hadn't even thought about his father until receiving the letter. Since his father had gone missing a long time ago, when Itsuki was still too small to remember, he had been given to his uncle and his uncle's wife to be taken care of. Since they had treated him just like family, Itsuki pretty much considered them to be such.

Itsuki's uncle had raised him perfectly well.

He gave both Itsuki and his real daughter, Yuuka, the same amount of affection, and even though he knew that Itsuki could see things like ghosts and monsters, he didn't fear Itsuki or give him any flack for it even once. Rather, saying it was for self-defense, he gathered lots of reference and information books for Itsuki. To Itsuki, who was often chased by monsters because of his weak appearance, the reason he was able to live for so long was thanks to his uncle.

— As a result, aside from occasional bouts of fear and bullying, Iba Itsuki led a decidedly peaceful and average life.

But now...

For the first time, Itsuki resented his father and uncle a little bit.

That's not to say that such resentment was undeserved. After all, there must have been a reason why he was given to his uncle. When the letter came, he refrained from speaking about it to his uncle (who was now in America) out of concern over the issue.

However, it was still totally unexpected.

... Man, Uncle, you're no fair! Itsuki lamented in his heart. To think that Dad was president of some magician company, and Uncle didn't even say anything about it! Not once!

Not to mention that he would have to succeed his father as president once he died!

After eating ramen for dinner on the way home, Itsuki stopped in the nearby park and made a phone call.

"[Good morning][12]... oh, Itsuki nii-san[13]? What's wrong?"

It was Yuuka. Thanks to the time difference, her voice was sleepy. It couldn't be helped. Nine in the evening in Japan was still early morning in New York.

"Um... hey, is Uncle there?"

"He's on a business trip. He flew off somewhere to the Great Lakes. He hasn't been calling regularly either, so Mom's pretty mad."

"I see..."

"Hey, hey, when are you coming to visit, Onii-san?"

He heard the sound of rubbing against a blanket on the other end of the line. It seemed like Yuuka had just gotten out of bed.

"It's no use until summer break. High school is too much, right now."

"I wish you could come to school here..."

"Don't be ridiculous. I'm not so good with English, unlike you."

"You'll get used to it in a month!" she assured him cheerfully. There was a difference in their mental abilities that Itsuki wished she would consider.

"... Yeah, yeah... Say, Yuuka, have you ever heard anything about some company called <Astral>?" he tried asking suddenly.

"Huh? What?"

A puzzled voice came back to him. But then Yuuka's tone turned serious.

"Onii-san... did you see something again?"

Ack!

Bull's-eye.

"N-No, it's not anything like that...!"

"Re~ally?"

"Yeah. Well, I'm going to go. International calls are expensive!"

"Talk to you soon, then!"

Cutting the connection, Itsuki took a deep breath. Yuuka was pretty perceptive. If he talked to her any further, he'd definitely be found out.

"... Of course I can't tell her I've been made a company president..."

Itsuki had a far-off look on his face.

He sat on the swings, kicking back and forth against the ground weakly.

Ruminating over the conversation at the mansion the week before, Itsuki heaved a sigh.

--The mansion.

That was the office of the magician dispatch company <Astral>.

It was a very small mansion, hidden among several other buildings, and you wouldn't notice it unless you already knew about it. After receiving the letter about his inheritance, Nekoyashiki gave him a big nod and handed him several documents.

There was a Transfer of Management Contract, an Inheritance Rights Contract, and several other papers with difficult-looking contents; but that wasn't the problem. He was uncertain about his father's appearance and past, which he was just beginning to learn about.

However, when he was handed the business card, the world turned upside-down.

On a card embossed with a crystal watermark, the title, "Nekoyashiki Ren - Onmyoudou Department Head" was printed along with the following in sepia-colored letters:

<Magician Dispatch Company ・ Astral

— We rent magicians to meet your needs>

"..."

Itsuki simply sat speechless for several seconds.

"... Um, what exactly is this?"

"Can you read? We support customers with magicians from all around the world, versed in magic arts from kokkuri-san[14] to voodoo, to fulfill their requests. Though, we're a bit shorthanded right now."

Smiling, Nekoyashiki fluttered his folding fan.

"So, I want you to succeed to the position of president of this company."

"President-san, President-san~!"

Itsuki's eye shrank to a dot.

"—Hey, wait a second! I'm a high school student! I don't remember anything about my father at all, and what exactly does 'magician dispatch' entail?!"

"It's not a problem. So long as there's a guardian, even a high school student can manage a company."

Holding a teacup in his hand, Nekoyashiki gave a flawless business smile and nodded. If he weren't covered from head to toe in cats, he could pass as an exemplary model of a businessman.

"But why do I have to inherit anything?! Why don't you become president, Nekoyashiki-san? I'll sign whatever contracts or anything I need to in order to pass it on to you."

"The fetters of industry don't really appeal to me."

Nekoyashiki put on a cheap smile.

"We got an order from the <Organization>; a strong recommendation that the head of the association—that is, the position of president—be a blood relative. If we ignore what they say, we can't do business, and tomorrow we'll all be wandering the streets."

"Bankruptcy? Restructuring? Bad debt?" Mikan said in a worried voice, looking up at Itsuki.

Then, the cats began to exert wordless pressure. Itsuki couldn't find the words to go against their adorableness.

"Uh, um..."

No words.

The floor under his feet began to rumble with a strange moan. If he refused rashly, the floor would surely break open and unleash some kind of horrible monster.

"I... I can't use magic or anything..."

"Don't worry about it. It will be enough for now if you simply sign and stamp here."

Nekoyashiki smiled and nodded.

Itsuki's avenues of escape were vanishing one by one.

Suddenly, Mikan grabbed the armrest of the sofa. Latching onto it with her small hands, her mouth formed a へ shape.

"..."

Wordlessness.

"..."

Silence.

"..."

Stillness.

Itsuki finally cracked.

"Al-Alright..."

"Al-Alright..."

He gave the slightest nod.

"That's wonderful, President!"

"Onii-chan's a president~!"

"Meowowow! Meeeow!"

Cheers came from all sides of the office.

Washed away by the sound of the cheers, Itsuki was crushed by despair.

"... A~ah..."

Heaving a huge sigh, Itsuki unsteadily hit his forehead against the swing's chain. Lowering his head, he looked like an old man on the verge of death.

This is bad! This is really bad!

No matter how he looked at it, it was bad. By some mistake, the class fool had become the president of a magician company. Even more of a mystery was his employees.

"Along with Mikan and me, our board director, Hazel, is off touring Europe, and we've got a new employee coming in soon. We've also got three or so freelancers helping us part-time," Nekoyashiki had said.

Since then, ten days had passed. Furthermore, in the days leading up to today he had gotten involved in a monster capture. Going home with heavy steps, it was natural for him to stop in the park.

It was a small park.

It was near his house and he would flee here often ever since kindergarten. It was in a dead zone formed by the school district, so almost no one came through. Occasionally, he would hide in the earthen pipe tucked away in the shadow of a tree and finally be able to sleep soundly.

"Even if I hide, nothing will change..."

He looked irresolutely at the earthen pipe. He struggled over whether he should really hide in it. Even if he went to America like Yuuka said, it wasn't likely that Nekoyashiki would give up on him.

— But, at a time like this, the earthen pipe was a place where he could ball up his misfortune.

After heaving his fifty-sixth sigh, Itsuki got up from the swing.

Ping!

Suddenly, it felt as though a hot, iron spike had pierced his right eye.

"--gh!"

It was just a hallucination, right?

Right?

Actually, it was a sensation like approaching death. Heck, it felt like death itself. Something had turned the park into a veritable hell in just a moment.

... He couldn't turn around.

No matter what happened, he couldn't turn around.

But he did. And there...

"You are the president of <Astral>, yes?"

"Uwa~ah!"

Itsuki jumped upon hearing the voice from behind him.

There shouldn't have been anyone else in the park. There were only two entrances and he hadn't seen anything pass through either of them.

Nonetheless, a girl stood before him.

I am called Adilisia • lenn • Mathers.

Like destiny, like a nightmare, she was chuckling.

"...ah."

Itsuki couldn't speak. Stuck on his butt, he simply flapped his mouth open and closed.

"My my..."

At his appearance, the girl smiled from ear to ear.

"Excuse me, but I did not want to intrude on your home, so I invoked a reading to link me directly to your location. First, at least look me in the eyes. I am called Adilisia • lenn • Mathers. I am pleased to make your acquaintance."

Grasping the skirt of her pure black dress, she made an elegant curtsey.

She looked as though she had been pulled straight out of a western painting. She was beautiful.

Even in the night, her hair was a brilliant gold color, and it was set into vertical curls. Her strong, green eyes looked down at Itsuki. Here and there, complicated patterns of gold and silver thread adorned her dress. She seemed to be about the same age as Itsuki.

"...You-You are..."

As Itsuki struggled to regain the use of coherent speech, the girl smiled and waited.

However, her smile collapsed upon hearing his next sentence.

"... Reading? Are you an employee of <Astral> too? Then you're the new employee I was told would come to teach me?"

"No."

The girl's—Adilisia's—cheeks quickly turned a rosy crimson.

At the same time, another nasty pressure stabbed into Itsuki's right eye.

Aah!

With that pain, he knew.

This was spell power.

The origin of all these mysteries, the great "power" itself. That demon dog had been captured thanks to spell power, and it was coming from this girl without her invoking any spells.

"How dare you! To call me an employee of <Astral>...!"

Itsuki's skin began to go numb little by little, and Adilisia's spell power began to swirl. Under his eye patch, Itsuki's right eye seemed ready to explode.

"Uh... Did I say something wrong?"

"—!"

"Uwa!"

Seeing the girl's face freeze, Itsuki grasped his eye patch quickly.

"It can't be... you don't even know?" Adilisia asked in a too-gentle gentle voice.

"... Huh?"

"Are you telling me that you do not know the name Adilisia • lenn • Mathers?"

Itsuki's right eye, and his throat, hurt.

When he gulped, the gob of saliva felt like a stone.

... If he answered carelessly, he thought he would definitely die. He felt the touch of death through his individual hairs, creeping into the pieces of his soul. Thinking only of that feeling, he was like a poor little animal about to be eaten.

Feeling his heart thumping loudly, he desperately nodded his head.

"Y-Yes..."

"... Hmph. I see."

Adilisia's eyes grew dead cold.

"The president of <Astral>, when he hears the name 'Mathers'... does not know who that is?"

I only just became the president!

"..."

The girl glared at Itsuki, who simply nodded, unable to say a thing. He felt as if he were a frog being stared down by a snake.

"You aren't lying, are you...? Are you really Iba Itsuki?"

"Y-Yes, I am, but..."

His words caught in his throat, Itsuki looked back up at the girl before him.

Her fearsome spell power hadn't changed. However, the ghastliness about it had slightly diminished.

Between the two of them, there was a tired feeling.

"It is okay. It seems I have not made a mistake in reaching you, President of <Astral>."

Throwing back her golden hair, Adilisia let out a small sigh. She seemed to make all of her movements separately.

Slowly walking forward, she moved to Itsuki's side.

With all the pomp of a queen, she issued an order.

"Withdraw from the next offer."

"Off...er?"

Itsuki boggled his eye at her.

He was utterly un-informed about anything.

Nekoyashiki-san, you said I would just have to sign and stamp, and everything would be fine!

"Uh... sure..."

"Wonderful. If that is the case, then there is a way."

Saying this, the girl pulled a sheet of something from somewhere in her dress.

It was piece of parchment.

It was also kind of ominous-looking. The rough surface seemed to have veins of poison running through it, and the red letters scrawled across it looked sort of like human blood.

"Uh... um... this is..."

"Did you not just make your decision? If you do not understand my words, then we can negotiate this through the <Organization>. Everything will be fine with just one signature."

Adilisia smiled.

It was a flowery smile, but it made Itsuki break into a cold sweat.

"Sign...?"

"Yes, if you just pull out of the next job, everything will be fine."

She spoke in a whisper that could well have been that of Mephistopheles, who had stolen the soul of a philosopher.

However, Itsuki hesitated in taking the quill and parchment held out to him by Adilisia.

"What is the matter?"

"Nothing, it's just..."

Stiffening his face, Itsuki laughed ambiguously. As expected, he had no decision-making skills as president.

Unable to judge his appearance, Adilisia gave a single nod.

"If that is the case, allow me to lend you a hand."

"Huh?"

"--Come forth, Botis. Wise earl commanding sixty armies--"

A shrieking snake appeared in Adilisia's hand in a flash.

"U-Uwa...!"

In front of Itsuki, who had begun to shout, the snake's eyes twinkled brightly.

In an instant, Itsuki's voice was caught in his throat and his body became petrified.

"Now, let us continue."

... Hunh?

His body began to move on its own.

With empty eyes, Itsuki took the quill and parchment and his body obeyed Adilisia.

Huh--!? This isn't good!

His body neglecting his will, he took the quill and touched it to the parchment.

"... Yes."

A smile bloomed across Adilisia's face like a flower.

But then...

"That's as far as you go."

A third cold voice fell.

Yes—it fell to the ground.

Part 3[edit]

Something sliced through the darkness.

With a swift gust, the parchment ripped in half. As the pieces danced through the air, they caught fire and burned to ash.

"Uwah!"

Itsuki reflexively waved his hand. Just as the parchment was destroyed, he regained control of his body.

"— Mistletoe Spear."

Picking up the small twig thrown at her feet, Adilisia looked up at the sky.

"Honami!"

Another character had appeared, floating in the night sky.

She sat horizontally on an old broom with her back to the moon. Her chestnut-colored hair was tied back with a ribbon. She wore a surprisingly large, pointed hat. Her fingers wrapped around a twisted oak rod.

— Yes, she had the appearance of a witch straight out of a fairytale.

However, the one thing about her different from a regular witch was that she was wearing a sailor uniform. It was surprising to see an innocent girl of about fifteen or sixteen wearing a pointed hat and a dark cape.

And though it was unrelated to the situation, Itsuki thought she was pretty.

If Adilisia was a magnificent jewel; then this girl was a single, painstakingly raised, blue rose. She didn't have the brilliance of a gemstone but her figure was unparalleled. She wasn't a sure winner but there was no counting her out of the race just yet.

"Aren't you overdoing things a bit, Addie? I think summoning one of the seventy two demons is going a bit too far."

From behind her thin-rimmed glasses, her ice-blue eyes smiled.

"Do not act overly-familiar with me, addressing me by such a name!"

Adilisia waved her hand widely.

She took on a belligerent demeanor, as if all her previous elegance had been a lie.

Anger flared up in her eyes. She seemed to be looking at an irreconcilable enemy.

"I have already explained. According to the <Organization>, the next <Night> is going to be rather significant. It is no time for <Astral> to butt-in!"

"Okay," the girl called Honami gave a disinterested assent. "But still, for 'rather significant', <Goetia>'s youngest leader in history came all the way out to this Far-East back-country?"

"That is none of your business. I take on the work that I wish to do. That is all."

"Well then, I suggest you stop making passes at our president."

Honami shrugged.

Itsuki, watching from the side, could tell how much Adilisia had vested in whatever she was talking about. The pain in his right eye that he had forgotten about suddenly returned in full force.

Even so, the witch on the broom lightly brushed off Adilisia's words.

With that, he could tell that this person was of the same level or higher than Adilisia.

...gh

Finally realizing what was going on, Itsuki held his breath.

Does this mean... that this is a magician showdown!?

And of course, he was wide open in the middle of it. Not only was his life at risk, his soul was too.

However, he couldn't escape.

The spell power in Adilisia began to amass in far greater amounts than it had before. Once that power exploded, a magical battle of unimaginable proportions would begin.

Itsuki felt as though a drill was boring through his eye patch straight into his right eye.

More than the pain, though—he felt a horrible sensation that something was encroaching on his eye, as if it were being invaded.

Finally, the park itself seemed to turn into an alternate world...

"... Let us stop this. Tonight is not the time or place for this," Adilisia said, lowering her arm. "Since we are contracted to do the same work, we will unfortunately be in conflict. That is when we shall weigh our relative merits."

"Whatever."

"—!"

Adilisia bit her lip at Honami's blunt response.

However she immediately turning her head and chanted, "Come forth, Bathin, powerful duke commanding thirty armies..."

A pale, phantom horse was immediately summoned to her side. Then, as the night wind blew through the park, Adilisia's figure disappeared.

"A Solomon demon that transports people instantly? There's quite a crowd of them, aren't there?"

Giving a small sigh, Honami looked down at the park.

"This little spell power probably won't disappear quick. What was she planning to do if that turned into spell wave pollution...?"

Pushing up her hat while making a troubled face, she tossed a thin twig into each of the four corners of the park.

"Ah..."

Itsuki raised his voice.

The pain in his right eye disappeared in a flash. The spell power that remained in the park had just been wiped out with a cleansing ritual.

"That'll do it, probably."

The witch on the broom dusted off her hands.

She then lowered her gaze to Itsuki.

"Is your right eye alright?"

"Ah... ah, yeah."

Since it looked like she had been worried for him, he nodded quickly. Not a bit of pain remained.

"I see. That's great, then," she said nonchalantly. She slowly floated down and stood in front of Itsuki.

Standing right in front of him, the witch seemed even lovelier. Her chestnut hair mixed with the color of her eyes was probably because she was of mixed race.

Blood began rushing to Itsuki's head.

Walking up to him to the point that he could feel her breath, the witch held out a hand to Itsuki's cheek.

"Uwah!"

"You're bleeding."

She wiped a white finger below his eye patch. It was soft, pleasant, and smelled good.

She slid the finger softly across his eye patch.

"..."

The witch's eyes grew slightly narrow.

"Wh-What is it?"

"— Nothing. It's pretty sensitive, so you could have lost your eyesight from that spell power. Be careful. Also, take this. Nekoyashiki-san asked me to give it to you."

She pressed a small badge into Itsuki's hand. From the silver mirror decorated with a pentagram, it seemed to be a company badge.

"A company badge... so, I'm guessing you're an <Astral> employee?"

Not responding to his question, Honami turned her broom diagonally. It should have fallen over, but it floated in the air merrily while supporting the witch's petite body.

"— Honami Takase Ambler."

"Huh?"

"That's my name. We'll get to know each other for real tomorrow. Don't get seen going home like this, okay? ... President."

Smiling faintly, the witch's shape flew off somewhere into the sky.

The badge in Itsuki's hand sparkled, reflecting the light of the moon.

Part 4[edit]

The next day.

Itsuki examined the badge as he sat at his desk in the classroom. He was, of course, unable to sleep at all last night and ended up going to school early.

I wonder if there really isn't any way to get out of this.

Itsuki began to worry again.

He felt almost disembodied. In regard to the demon dog incident and the park the night before, he felt as though he had died and come back to life. He had been involved in supernatural incidents before, but nothing like what was happening now.

No, there's only one way.

Holding onto the badge, he ran his hand across his eye patch.

He thought of when he had to start wearing it.

He didn't remember very well, but it was probably around kindergarten. He had been chased by a monster and he took a huge wound that could have cost him his right eye. His right eye was completely useless for a week and eventually became unable to tolerate light, requiring the use of an eye patch.

... Though I can still see monsters with it, even though the patch is over it.

Itsuki sighed. No matter what he thought, it was bad luck that he couldn't sell back. Rather, they were having a bargain on hemorrhages.

He tapped the badge on his desk, making it ring like a wind chime.

I wonder if that girl's going to be at the office today, he suddenly thought, becoming glum again.

Nekoyashiki had told him to come to the office after school. However, wasn't that just stepping deeper into the swamp? At this point, the best he could come up with was calling Yuuka and flying off to America.

"What's that badge?" Yamada asked from behind him.

"Ack! Uh, it's nothing."

Flustered, Itsuki waved his right hand. He had apparently been lost in thought for a while. When he looked around, he saw the usual boisterousness that preceded homeroom.

Cutting through two or three meaningless conversations, the bell signaling the start of class rang.

The door rattled.

"—"

... Itsuki was frozen solid, right down to his individual brain cells.

In contrast to Itsuki's reaction, cheers began to echo across the classroom. Eighty percent of the male students and all of the female students were speechless, their eyes popping out.

It was because the homeroom teacher was leading in an unfamiliar girl.

No... correction...

There were two girls.

"Uh... I don't know if you've all heard or not, but these two transfer students will be joining our class from now on. First, introduce yourselves."

Itsuki didn't hear the teacher's sleepy voice at all. Probably because his ears wanted to refuse what he was hearing.

"I am called Adilisia • lenn • Mathers. I will only be here for a few months. But for now, it is a pleasure to meet you all."

"I'm Honami Takase Ambler. Nice to meet you guys."

Amidst the applause echoing through the room, Itsuki could clearly hear the sound of something shattering.

It was the sound of his peaceful life being smashed and scattered across the floor.

*

Scene change.

Later that evening, a single man stepped into a certain park.

It was the park where Itsuki had first seen Honami and Adilisia the night before. There were no children left in the park and against the backdrop of the deep crimson sky, the rusty swing swayed forlornly in the wind.

"Looks like this is the place after all."

The man slackened his blank face.

He was a hard man to judge in a single glance. His delicate looks suggested he was in his twenties. And he wore a business suit with no peculiarities. He was about medium height. The length of his nose, the thickness of his lips, the size of his eyebrows, the deepness of his eyes—they all seemed to be about average.

It was as if his characteristics defied any attempt to characterize him.

There was one thing that didn't follow the rule: the L-shaped wires he held in each hand.

The two parallel wires occasionally twitched left or right and the man followed their direction precisely, as if he were remote-controlled.

This was the magical art of dowsing.

It used a person's subconscious to find hidden treasure or a source of water. It was one of the old magical arts well known in England.

"Yes, yes."

Nodding, the man stopped as the wires crossed each other between the jungle gym and the monkey bars.

As he did, the man touched a red pen to his tongue and made a notation on his small map.

It was a municipal map. It was a 1/300,000 scale reduced map with several X marks and small annotations scrawled across it.

"— Spell wave pollution class six to seven. It looks like someone tried to clean it up, but it seems to have revived afterward. The Ley Line[15] waves are all according to the calculations. The <Night> is near. Now, the participants..."

Folding up his map, the man took out a notepad.

He let out a sigh.

"<Goetia> and... <Astral>. Those are a couple of nostalgic names, eh?"

He seemed to be enjoying himself.

Even so, his eyes did not smile in the slightest. Only his lips stretched to either side of his face. It looked almost as if his mouth was a gaping slash.

The man's red, unpleasant shadow seemed to contaminate the ground of the park.


Notes[edit]

  1. A Haori (羽織) — a type of traditional Japanese over-robe.
  2. Nekoyashiki (猫屋敷) means (猫 : cat) (屋敷 : mansion)".
  3. The Buddhist concept of "Eight Consciousnesses," or the consciousness forming the base of all human existence.
  4. A tamagushi is a traditional Shinto implement
  5. Miko (巫女) are traditional holy women of the Shintou religion.
  6. Shintou (神道 lit: way of the gods) is the popular mythological tradition of Japan.
  7. Onmyoudou (陰陽道) is a traditional Japanese occult system of thought that mixes ideas from many Asian philosophies.
  8. i.e. his face looks like a Go Board.
  9. Sanpakugan (三白眼 lit: three whites eyes) refers to when the iris is small, with white showing between the iris and lower eyelid.
  10. A Doraemon movie
  11. Yamada's Older Sister – More about Familial Honorifics
  12. Written in English in the original text
  13. Informal for Older Brother
  14. Fortune-Telling game, Kokkuri, rather like a Ouija board
  15. Referring to the spiritual and metaphysical meaning of Ley Lines.