Rental Magica Volume 1: Chapter 2
Chapter 2 - The Magician's Offer
"A~ah, President Onii-chan is dea~d..."
"Hey there, that's not the proper way to leave the physical realm now, is it?"
One after another, Mikan, Nekoyashiki, and Nekoyashiki's cats tapped him on the head.
"... P-Please... sorry."
Lying prostrate on the ground, Itsuki was at the verge of death, and finally managed to move just his finger.
He was at the mansion.
On Itsuki's overturned wooden desk had been a massive pile of documents, beakers, pyramidal flasks, some machine that looked like a microscope, and a dessicated monkey's arm. All of this was now on top of him. From underneath the veritable trash heap, only Itsuki's head remained, albeit barely, untouched.
"Even though you're not done with studies and examinations?" Honami chided roughly, knocking on the stack of documents.
"Ah... yes, I know...!"
"Then finish reading from "Hand of Glory" to "The Book of Albertus"."
Recovering from his near-death experience, Itsuki shook his head and picked up the old book. It was now almost a conditioned reflex. With emptier eyes than he had when he was under Adilisia's control, he continued to read the Grimoire.
— A week had already passed since the incident in the park.
In that time, Honami—who had transferred into his class—gave him a rough education. It consisted of lessons relating to both his presidential duties and magical studies.
Itsuki was now forced to devote himself to his studies since he was followed in and out of school, with nowhere to run.
"What kind of stuff are you reading," Nekoyashiki asked from behind him in a relaxed manner.
"He's got no talent," Honami declared. "He tried basic spells and affinities, but he sucks at everything. He probably wouldn't even be able to do anything with ten years of studying. Give him twenty years and he might be able to call on a low class spirit, though it still might not be satisfactory."
Having this said right behind his back was a little irksome. What was he studying for, then?
"Heheheh, I thought that he might have the makings of a genius since he could see ghosts and monsters. But it doesn't seem to be so, does it?"
"There is the legend of the kenki becoming a powerful mountain wizard, you know."
"Isn't that, itself, an exception to an exception? There's no logic to it, so you can't include it into the calculations."
"What if we gave him some kind of elixir or spirit drug? Honami-san, in addition to Celtic magic, you know Witchcraft, right?"
"Of course, I've already tried that stuff. I've tried everything from Mandragora root to bat wings boiled in mercury to mashed toad intestines to just plain old Magnesia solution. Not one thing caused a positive response, so I'd say he's just got no brains."
Yes, he had truly come close to death when Honami forced him to eat aconite. He'd never thought those kinds of things would ever enter his mouth.
"Well, rather than magic, we'll just have to make sure he focuses exclusively on presidential work."
"I see. If that's the case, where should we start? We have one set for studying, but..."
Standing up, Nekoyashiki opened the closet.
Looking into it, Itsuki saw several shelves filled with books.
"Let's start with something to give him the main points. We can consult with Director Hazel too but I'd start with all twelve volumes of Detailed Exposition of Economic Values — General Remarks and all six of Mosaic Organization Structure: Basic Theory."
It was the first time he had even heard of textbooks being divided into volumes. They all had bindings so thick that it was not unthinkable that he could club someone to death with them. To make matters worse, just looking at a page out of them made his brain melt down.
"Um, you said it would be okay if I just signed and stamped..."
Itsuki tried raising a pitiful voice of resistance, but...
"Did you even consider what you were signing up to do when you stamped?"
Honami's ice-blue eyes became even icier. They were probably even colder than the Cocytus of Greek legend.
"Other than holding the majority vote, you'll have to know the company's economic status and relative value compared with other companies. As for magic: if you don't memorize how to apply your employees' individual abilities, we'll never get work and even at the best of times be stuck with no jobs."
Her supple finger pointed at Itsuki, stabbing through his heart.
Incidentally, the businesses front of <Astral>'s office was a fortune-telling center and a recruitment agency for an occult magazine.
That is to say, 90% of their income came from these activities.
"Since we rent out magicians, I call us 'Rental Magica.' Ehehe, it sounds sort of cool, doesn't it?" said Mikan, puffing out her chest.
She seemed to have come straight from elementary school and she carried a red schoolbag over her miko outfit. No, she must have changed clothes in the office or something.
"So? What do you do, Mikan-chan?"
"Since I'm a miko, I get hired for groundbreaking ceremonies and festivals and stuff. That's why I'm a~always busy in the summer."
"I see. Yeah, there are a lot of festivals in the summer, huh? So do you always come here?"
"Yep. Though, if I wasn't here, President Onii-chan would have been made into food for Ultros, wouldn't he?"
"Y-Yeah, sorry about that..."
Itsuki weakly waved his left hand. In his right hand, he held open the Economics Even You Can Understand—How to Save and Use Money book that Honami had lent to him (she had needed to lower the level of difficulty quite a bit for his sake).
The office cats were pulling at the bottom of his pants.
Being pulled along, he came to a desk with a fashion magazine placed on it. The cats pointed to the open magazine and meowed, waving their tails.
"Nekoyashiki-san, this is..."
"Aah. It's my most popular 'Nekomata Onmyoudou ・ Nekoyashiki Ren's Cat Fortune Telling' feature."
Nekoyashiki, who was sitting next to him, raised his head.
"... I see."
He somehow understood quite well. He seemed to be pretty popular. His personality didn't really show through in his photo, though.
Looks like there are hardships no matter what kind of world you live in.
He had a strangely familial feeling.
Nekoyashiki, with his cats on his knees, pressed his brush against his cheek. On the desk in front of him, a heavy-looking inkstone was enshrined with some Japanese paper. He was apparently in the middle of making "spell seals".
Lightly waving his brush across the slips of paper, he made several talismans.
"Are these for work?"
"No, I send them as presents to my readers. I draw five names from the people who send in the questionnaires and give them these."
Itsuki's chin dropped. He was way off.
Nekoyashiki smiled at his look.
"President, what do you think about magicians?" he asked.
"Huh? Umm... I still don't know anything about them at all..."
Well, for a start, none of them looked very magical. At least not before what he saw in the park. He didn't understand the different kinds of magic very well either.
"I suppose it's best to be honest. So, I'll change the question a bit. What's the need for magicians in the modern world?"
Itsuki blinked at suddenly being asked such a basic question.
"Er, um... I guess they exist out of necessity?"
"Ahaha. A no-holds-barred response. I like that. If you think about it normally, there's really no need for them at all. If you need to fly, you use an airplane. If you need to talk to someone far away, you use a telephone. And if you need a familiar, there's always Sony's AIBO. Those robots are much cuter and more functional than your typical magical beast, aren't they? Oh, but of course, cats are the exception."
Putting emphasis on the last part, Nekoyashiki then made a solemn expression.
"But magic, just by virtue of being magic, can destroy the world, you know."
Nekoyashiki declared with all the sharpness of a katana.
"..." Itsuki gulped involuntarily. "Is there really magic that powerful?"
"No. Because there is a human limit to spell power, all magic has its limits. For example, in the current world, the greatest flame user in the current world is Ismail Talib, a master of Islamic Djinn Magic. However, even he would only be able to burn down a single city at his best. Furthermore, there would need to be a lot of costly preparation before anything could be accomplished. It would probably be safer and smarter to just drop a napalm bomb on the city."
Nekoyashiki took a small sip of his green tea. It was apparently cold, as he made a disgruntled look.
"B-But monsters made with magic are pretty amazing, aren't they?"
"Ah, I see where you're going with this. Things like Kabbalic Golems and Homunculi do indeed have power greater than that of humans. The best and best known are <Goetia>'s Mathers family's 'Seventy-Two Demons.'"
Hearing the familiar name, Itsuki's face became stiff.
"Oh, what's the matter?"
"N-No, it's nothing."
Adilisia • lenn • Mathers.
That was the name of the girl who now sat to his right during class. Thought it was difficult for him to admit. Perhaps it was because of Honami, but she hadn't given him any trouble. Still, he could feel the terrible sensation that a pair of green eyes was glaring at him from time to time.
The best, huh...
As Itsuki half admired her and half feared her, Nekoyashiki continued his discussion.
"However, there is a limit even to the highest ranking demons. No matter which road the summoner takes, they can't outdo their natural ability while still being able to completely control the monster. There are ways for summoner-type magicians to make their work more efficient, but it just makes things more likely to work rather than guaranteeing anything."
"... Then, what was that magic that you said could destroy the world?"
As Nekoyashiki nodded, the black, old-fashioned phone next to the support pillar rang.
Lifting the handset to his face in a flash, Nekoyashiki answered.
"Thank you for calling. This is the magician dispatch company <Astral>... eh? Oh, I see. Yes. Yes, yes. Understood!"
Slamming the handset back onto its cradle, Nekoyashiki whirled around.
"President! Urgent request!"
"Eh? Don't tell me it's another monster extermination!" Itsuki responded in a panic.
"No, it looks like a magazine writer is out with a cold! If we hurry, we can write the substitute article. We have to take a quick trip to the publisher and write it on-site."
— Well, that seemed pretty peaceful.
"U-Understood. Let's go."
Itsuki gave a tired laugh and turned his back to Nekoyashiki, who was placing his cats in a furoshiki before slinging the bundle over his shoulder.
Before exiting the door, Nekoyashiki turned around.
"That's right. About what I was saying earlier..."
"The most dangerous magic is... when the magician becomes the magic himself," Nekoyashiki said, narrowing his eyes into crescent moons.
The next day, during lunch, Itsuki walked up to the curry meal... and moved on, taking the udon meal.
Among the students, the curry at this school was known as "Russian Roulette". Since there is no set kind of curry served, you could get terribly sweet curry one day and get blazingly spicy curry the next. Whether it was the spiciness of a chili pepper or the sweetness of syrup and powdered sugar, it all smelled and looked the same. There was no way to think of it as anything other than a trap.
Pushing through the waves of people, Itsuki made his way to the end of the cafeteria and sat at the empty table there.
As he read the reference book Honami had lent him while eating, "May I sit here?" came a voice that rang like a bell.
It was Adilisia. Of course, she wasn't wearing her dress in school; she had on a sailor uniform and was holding a cafeteria tray. Her golden hair and emerald eyes clashed quite considerably with the sailor outfit and Itsuki simply blinked at her for a moment.
"... What are you gaping at like a fool?"
"N-No, I just didn't think you'd be eating the school food."
"It is my choice."
Turning her face away, she sat in front of him.
The smell of delicious curry wafted from her tray.
With an elegant sweep, Adilisia brought the spoon to her mouth.
She swooned in agony.
"What is this!? Can't they make this curry sweeter!?"
She slammed the table. Itsuki's right eye began to hurt again. She was gathering spell power bit by bit.
"There's nothing you can do about it here..."
"Ugh!! How could I have fallen into such a trap?"
"W-Wouldn't it be best to not overdo it and just not eat the curry?"
"Be quiet. Since I made this decision, I will see it to its finish."
With teary eyes, Adilisia stuffed the suspicious curry into her cheeks.
"... Hey, look at that over there."
"... Ibaitsu made the transfer student cry."
"... I heard that Ibaitsu is her manservant, is that true?"
"... What? I heard that the transfer student was Ibaitsu's fiancée."
"... Well, what about the other transfer student?"
"... No way... are they gonna start fighting?"
At the scene, rumors began pouring out of the surrounding students.
Aw man! I'm the center of another weird misunderstanding!
Recently, Itsuki was all the class talked about. Of course, it wasn't because Itsuki himself was interesting. It was because of the people sitting to his right and left during class. That is to say, the two transfer students. Since the beautiful mixed race girl and the English lady glared at the class loon between them, it would be weird for rumors not to spring up.
Slurping his udon, Itsuki sighed.
Feeling that things were going to get worse, he was trying to think of a way to respond to the situation when the young lady who had finally finished half of her curry glanced upward.
"It may be impolite of me, but please allow me to inquire. You have only recently become a company president, yes?"
"M-More or less..."
"And even though you aren't a magician?"
Her green eyes stared him down.
"N-No, though I have been doing all I can about that..." Itsuki answered, flustered. He had already stopped trying to study magic. Should he have told her the truth?
However, hearing that, Adilisia's expression changed.
"Well then... even though you aren't a magician, you are still the leader of <Astral>, that... jumbled up collection of magicians... yes?"
With a sudden sweep of silence across the cafeteria, whispers began to arise.
Because they were far away, the other students didn't catch on to words like "magician" or "leader," but what they did see was that Adilisia was quite indignant.
But as any proper young lady, Adilisia didn't pay attention to the whispers. She leaned over the table at Itsuki.
"Do you really plan on overcoming the <Night> with such a... such a careless attitude?"
Itsuki didn't think too much about it. He pulled back as Adilisia's white visage came nearer. She peered straight into Itsuki's eye.
She let go of the table. "Since you apparently are not aware of that either, I will give you a warning. If you continue with that attitude, you will die within three days."
Itsuki felt the coldness of those words all the way through to his heart.
For a while, the two stayed silent, simply looking at each other.
When Itsuki grabbed his chopsticks, he felt something.
"What is it?"
"... Adilisia-san, are you, by any chance... worried for me?"
In an instant, Adilisia's face became bright red up to her ears.
"Do not say such foolish things! Since you saw things normal people are unaware of in the park last week, I was just clarifying things for you."
She stood up angrily.
"So how about now? If you value your life, you will pull out of the next offer."
Simply declaring that, the girl swiftly turned on her heel.
"Hey, wait a second."
Itsuki tried to follow her, but he suddenly felt a strange itch under his eye patch. He rubbed it, standing up.
However, he felt something wet.
The finger he had rubbed under his eye patch with was dyed slightly red.
"... with that attitude, you will die within three days."
And then, seeing his own blood, Itsuki—who was anemic—fell on his back in a faint.
After school, Itsuki made his way home after being slapped awake by the school nurse.
"Hey, I want to go home, so hurry and wake up!" she insisted.
For the time being, the blood had stopped. In all truth, there really wasn't that much bleeding in the first place, and it had totally stopped by the time he had reached the infirmary. Because the nurse in the infirmary knew him well, she let him be without taking his eye patch off. Itsuki was thankful for that.
It's been a long time since I've seen blood...
Talking to himself, he walked toward downtown.
Lots of shops had already closed. There were few people on the streets and the old townscape was like a silhouette in the sunset.
The city of Furube was a mix of new and old.
It was a small town that had existed on a sloping hill since the Heian Period. Then, the bubble economy brought a population influx, turning the place into a commuter town overnight. To add to that, the city recently began luring enterprises, bringing in a lot of hustle and bustle and causing the construction of many new buildings.
It was a laid back town, but the downtown area was in the middle of a rebirth.
As he climbed the sloping road on his way to the alleyway leading to the office, Itsuki suddenly stopped his feet.
"A-Are you here again?"
Remembering Ultros, his facial expression dropped.
That demon dog—his caretaker still hadn't taken him back so, it couldn't be helped, he was now being kept at <Astral>.
As he walked through the alleyway, it was an established practice for Ultros to playfully assault him. For example, one time Ultros had climbed to the top of the roof and dove headfirst at Itsuki, nearly crushing him to death.
When he held his eye patch and looked across the alleyway...
"You are <Astral>'s Iba Itsuki-sama, aren't you?"
Being spoken to from his side all of a sudden, Itsuki jumped.
Slipping through the sunset, a human figure stood before him. Itsuki should have been able to see him in his peripheral vision, but it was as if he didn't even register in Itsuki's consciousness.
It was as if the man lacked any sort of characteristic at all.
With a blank expression on his face, he wore a worn out business suit on his body, which was about average height. In his hand, he carried a normal-looking suitcase. If he were to walk into a crowd, you would immediately lose sight of him.
"Aren't you Iba Itsuki-san?" the man asked again.
"Eh? Ah, y-yes..."
"A~h, of course. You do look like Tsukasa-san," the man said, forcing a nostalgic look onto his face.
"You know my dad?"
"Yes. President Iba Tsukasa helped me a long time ago.
"Excuse me for beating around the bush. I am Kagezaki, of the <Organization>."
He remembered Honami saying the name.
It was definitely the public controller that assembled magicians. Honami still hadn't told him the details, but he had heard that it was an association that presided over more than a hundred magical groups.
"Right now, I would like to congratulate you on your succession. We await your future patronage."
"Y-Y-Yes, nice to meet you and all that... but why is someone from the <Organization> here?"
"It's about the contract."
Smiling calmly, Kagezaki held up the suitcase.
Remembering what Adilisia had told him, his cheeks became stiff.
"Is there a problem?"
"Ah, no, it's nothing that important, but... Ahahaha!" He broke out in a cold sweat. "Well, uh, let me take you inside the office..."
"There won't be any need for that, President."
All of a sudden, he was interrupted by another presence in the alleyway.
"Oh, Nekoyashiki-sama. It has been a while."
In the alleyway at twilight stood a gray-haired, young man—Nekoyashiki. In his peculiar Japanese clothes, with his folding fan, his chest and shoulders covered in cats, he was the same as usual.
However, his face looked somewhat perturbed to Itsuki.
"Kagezaki-san. You received the communication that we were waiting for the offer, correct?"
"Yes. That is what this is about." Keeping his smile, Kagezaki nodded. "The truth is that earlier, the offer contract was terminated by <Goetia>-sama. According to the rules, if <Astral>-sama does not formally reject this claim, they will have to withdraw from the next <Night>."
"I know that."
Nekoyashiki fluttered his folding fan.
He didn't hide the fact that he did not like Kagezaki. Itsuki felt a bit surprised at this, Nekoyashiki was usually subtle.
Kagezaki lips drew out into a full grin.
"Ah, then that works out wonderfully. You know <Astral> has not accepted an offer for six years, right? If you refuse this one as well, I will have to consider terminating your registry with the <Organization>." Acting as if he really regretted it, Kagezaki continued. "If that happens, you know that Itsuki-san will be back to the way he was before and Nekoyashiki-san and Mikan-san will have to return to their former positions, right?"
As Itsuki blinked confusedly, Nekoyashiki wore a grim expression.
"I know that. I know we have to do this job to keep our place in the registry. That's what you're saying, yes?"
"Yes, more or less."
Kagezaki put on a troubled smile.
His smile gave no impression. Like a movie extra whose presence or lack thereof made no difference, his face was completely spiritless.
Suddenly, Itsuki became afraid.
His slight confusion changed to uneasiness, and that uneasiness morphed into terror. Like with Adilisia, it wasn't a clear abnormality. However, Kagezaki seemed so average that it made him suspicious.
— It was as if his face was bleached.
Itsuki gulped. Feeling something cold on the back of his neck, he finally opened his mouth to speak.
"Please w-wait for just a minute. I can't figure this conversation out. What do you mean by terminating our registration? What 'job' are you talking about?"
"What?" Kagezaki shifted his gaze toward Itsuki. "You mean all of this hasn't been explained to you?"
"It hasn't been two weeks since he's succeeded the role of president," Nekoyashiki answered.
With a smile of understanding, Kagezaki nodded.
"If that's the case, then why don't I explain? Otherwise..."
Kagezaki smiled again.
However, the one who answered him this time was not Nekoyashiki or Itsuki.
At the bottom of the sloping road, two new characters were walking that way.
While Itsuki was in the infirmary, Honami had left school and appeared to be coming back from shopping.
Mikan was next to her holding a plastic supermarket bag, tugging at the hem of her sailor uniform, shivering.
She stepped in front of Mikan.
"I'll tell you about it," Honami Takase Ambler said flatly.
"--Well then, I'll place the documents here. There are also reference documents for the next case, so please read through them."
Placing his trunk on the table and making a bow, Kagezaki stood up and left. He didn't disappear or fly away like a magician, he stood up on his two feet and walked down the hill road outside.
Until his shape disappeared, a pair of harsh Ice Blue Eyes glared at him.
"President, shall I take that trunk for you?" Honami prompted.
"Oh, sure. ...Mikan-chan, is it safe?" Itsuki, taking the trunk, asked Mikan, who had been hiding.
"Yeah, it's safe..." With a pale face, Mikan nodded stiffly. Her hands were still shivering. She tugged on Itsuki's school uniform. "Not! Uwaaaah!" Tears began to tumble out of her eyes, and she buried her face in Itsuki's stomach. "Uuu... I'm scared... I'm scared--..."
"A-ah, I understand, I understand..."
He decided against telling her not to rub her runny nose all over him and nervously stroked her head.
"*H-hic*, president onii-chan... waaaah... was bullied by oji-san..."
Confused, Itsuki wiped Mikan's cheeks. She had cried quite a bit, and her tears had streaked down to his pants.
As he did,
For some reason, Honami was looking at him with horribly cold eyes.
"Nothing. So you're interested in that type, huh? I guess it's up to you."
"Wh-why are you saying something like that?"
"Forget about it. I'll leave you two alone."
Nekoyashiki intervened with his calm-as-usual tone.
"Now then, how about we return to the office first?"
Nekoyashiki's cats meowed in agreement with one another.
A few minutes later.
Inside of <Astral>'s messy office, the smell of black tea wafted faintly through the air.
"Here you go, Mikan-chan."
Taking the white teacup, Mikan made a tiny slurp.
Incidentally, Itsuki had changed out of his soggy school uniform into regular clothes. Because Ultros licked him all over every day, he sadly had to keep a spare set of clothes at the office.
"H-hey, what about me?"
"Oh, are you here?"
"... S-sorry..." Itsuki said, lowering his head.
A little while later, a teacup was held out to him.
He was at the reception table. He sat next to Mikan on the creaky antique sofa. Nekoyashiki was a little further away at his desk, and Honami was sitting in front of Itsuki in a Windsor chair, placing her own teacup before her.
After a short pause,
"Now then, back to what I was saying before..."
"Oh, yeah," Itsuki nodded.
He didn't understand any of the earlier discussion, about the offer, or the registry, or the <Night>. There was something about former positions too.
"So, I'll explain everything to you in order," Honami said, putting the rim of her teacup to her mouth. Apparently she had been studying in England until a little while ago, and her motions were very similar to Adilisia's.
Taking a single sip of the amber-colored liquid, Honami began to talk.
"I already told you about the <Organization>, right?"
"That one structure affiliated with seventy or eighty percent of magician groups, wasn't it? <Astral>'s part of it too, right?"
Seemingly satisfied with Itsuki's answer, Honami nodded.
"Right. Both <Astral> and <Goetia> are registered. In the beginning, it was a support union made by magicians in Europe in the Middle Ages. They could never intervene in anything directly, but they had a lot of influence worldwide. For example, if you weren't formally registered with the <Organization>, no one would treat you like a real magician."
Giving a simple review, Honami looked at Itsuki.
This was review, right? If he said that he couldn't remember something, he didn't know what kind of horrible things she'd put him through, so he nodded obediently.
"Alright then, I'll continue. --Offers are 'jobs' accepted from the public by the <Organization>, which are then directed to its registered magical groups."
"'Jobs?'" Itsuki asked.
"Yes, 'jobs.' I just told you that the <Organization> could never intervene in anything directly. That's because the different magical groups are very sensitive to their spheres of influence. If someone idiotically sticks their nose in someone else's domain, it could turn into a fight. That's why the <Organization> recruits magicians who can solve such problems."
That is to say, in exchange for not getting your own hands dirty, you dispatched others capable of solving various issues. That seemed like what a support union would do.
After thinking for a moment, Itsuki opened his mouth.
"Then, that guy Kagezaki came because--"
"A 'job.' --The <Organization> is seeking to resolve some issue that's popped up."
At Honami's words, Itsuki could feel his blood rush through him.
Whatever this 'job' could be, there was one thing that was certain.
"W-woah, time out! Wait a second! Then, Adilisia came--"
"Because <Goetia> took the offer. If <Astral> takes the offer as well, then the reward is first come, first serve. That is to say, we'll be fighting one another."
Itsuki got goose bumps.
He remembered the fear that Adilisia had instilled in him. If magicians were fighting...
"T-then, you mean... with... magic?"
"Naturally. We're magicians."
Honami made the finishing blow. Itsuki dropped his head as though he were a marionette whose neck string had been cut.
There was no going back now. It was only a matter of time before a gruesome death.
On the other hand, the girl across from him made a small sigh.
"You know, you're the one who's supposed to decide whether or not we take on offers, right?"
"Huh?" Suddenly, Itsuki's face sparkled. "That's it then! Let's take a pass on this one..."
"--Let me return to what we were discussing before."
Nekoyashiki, who was dandling his cats, gave a warning from his desk.
"Ah, there is a certain reason... how should I put this? This could turn into a long story, but unlike other magical societies, <Astral> isn't a simple magical group. Our last president forcibly pulled in several different kinds of magicians. That is to say, we're like a hodge podge of different magicians..."
Itsuki felt as though Adilisia had told him something similar before. Something like "jumbled up collection"...
"What do you mean?" Itsuki knitted his brows.
"To put it simply, if <Astral> is removed from the registry, Nekoyashiki-san and Mikan-chan will have to go back to their original groups," Honami chimed in.
"<Astral> hasn't taken any offers since the last president disappeared. The <Organization> can't keep an association like that in their registry. That's what Kagezaki was threatening earlier."
An awkward silence spread across the room.
Finally, Itsuki looked around.
"... President onii-chan... I don't want to go back." Mikan looked up at him from beside, holding her teacup with both hands.
The cats began to exert pressure from all sides of the office.
"Aren't they cute? They're the treasures of the world, the finest art this earth has borne. However, I can't take this many cats back home with me. Aah, you're not telling me that you would rather these cats die, are you?"
Putting on a drama, Nekoyashiki lamented exaggeratedly.
"What're you gonna do, president?" Honami ・ Takase ・ Ambler asked him coldly, persisting.
Itsuki felt as though something similar had happened not half a month ago.
"... O-okay... I get it..."
Almost crying, Itsuki slammed the table.
Though he had come this far, he was still a total novice. --Or rather, even he hadn't thought it would get this bad.
He made a deep, deep sigh, expelling everything in his lungs.
Then, he puffed his chest out, partly out of desperation.
"Okay then, what kind of 'job' are we doing this time?" he asked, crying.
The place had been called the "goblin factory" before.
Everyone in Furube City knew of the smokestacks rising from halfway up Mt. Nyuu.
Around it was a red, rusty barb-wire fence, and the vacant space between the fence and the factory was overrun with weeds. The outer concrete wall had cracks here and there, and they were a strange color, as if a demon had slashed at the wall with its claws.
The place had been sealed off several decades before. As was often the case when a business failed, the factory head and his family had all hung themselves, and the land was abandoned, leaving the building to slowly rot away.
Incidentally, there were scary stories about how if one listened closely, they could hear the factory head that killed himself creeping about at night, or the sound of machines that should have been destroyed working as usual.
Itsuki was at the entrance of this factory.
Furthermore--the air of the tepid summer night felt bizarre.
"President onii-chan? What's wrong?"
"No, that's... it's... nothing, nothing at all..."
Walking one step behind Mikan, grasping the cuff of her Miko clothes, he made an awkward smile and shook his head.
Since they had entered the mountain, his knees had been shaking nonstop. He wanted to praise himself for making it this far. Incidentally, Mikan was a surprisingly good walker, so she hadn't sweated a drop the whole way up the mountain road.
Mikan tilted her neck.
"Are you scared?"
Mikan was right on the money.
"Mfufufu, it's okay. I'll protect you, president onii-chan."
Laughing into her nose, she waved her tamagushi with a triumphant air.
"You know..." She pressed the tamagushi against her cheek, starting to explain herself,
"--Mikan, enough chit-chat, how about that misogi?" Honami cut in from beside.
Honami was wearing her sailor uniform as usual. However, she had a large pointed hat over her chestnut-colored hair, and she wore a night-colored cape across her skinny shoulders. She was like a witch from a fairy tale, the same as Itsuki had seen her in the park.
Pointing her lips, Mikan waved her tamagushi here and there across her miko clothes and fingers. This was apparently a misogi.
Making sure Mikan was occupied, Honami turned to Itsuki.
"President. Hand me your badge so I can do the preparations."
"Uh... this thing?"
Itsuki fished his badge out of his pocket and held it out to Honami. She grabbed it from him and held it up to the moonlight, then fastened it to Itsuki's collar.
Tilting his neck to the side, Itsuki caught a glimpse of Honami's splendidly white nape.
A faint scent slipped into his nostrils.
His cheeks became hot.
"N, no, it's nothing. Nothing at all. What's this?"
"Basically, protection. The holy pentagram is strengthened by the divine nature of the silver mirror. This kind of thing is used in both the east and west, so it has some ability to overcome spell wave interference. There's some more ways to use it, but I'll tell you later. --Now, this,"
"Oh, business cards..."
Tucked away in a thin, silver case was a stack of business cards. Furthermore, neatly embossed next to the words <Magician Dispatch Company ・ Astral> was "Company President ・ Iba Itsuki."
"Wh, why are you suddenly giving me this?"
"Oh, I finished purifying those business cards!" Mikan butted in, puffing her chest out.
"After we finished washing out the paper with the miracle water of Fuji, Mikan purified it with a ceremony. Inside of them is the Kabbalah Cross that the head of the Fetish Department, Hazel, carved. Since every single one of them has a real fetish in it, don't go around giving them to everyone."
Who was he supposed to give these to, then?
--He felt like he was treading deeper and deeper into the swamp.
"Then... what were the preparations you were talking about?" he fearfully asked.
Honami narrowed her eye at him from behind her glasses.
"I'm deciding that now. Before the 'job' starts, I have to give you something to protect yourself, so that I can properly cover you."
"B, but... I don't see anything strange right now," he protested flusteredly.
He could see monsters, but he didn't know for sure if this place was a real spirit spot or not. Looking from his right eye, it seemed like just a regular old creepy place.
Even so, what he really feared was that--the lack of knowledge. He didn't know whether or not to be afraid. He pitied himself a bit.
Honami let loose a grin, looking down at the watch on her wrist.
"There are definitely ley lines here, but they're small. This is a dragon cave. If it's as the reference docs say, then the 'Night' will be here very soon. Just thirty seconds left on the clock... twenty-nine... twenty-eight... twenty-seven..."
"... Seventeen... sixteen... fifteen..."
Her soft countdown echoed across the ruined factory in the mountain recess.
The numbers traveled across the night air, taking on a strange feel as if they were a spell themselves.
Itsuki, unable to move, gulped.
"Eight... seven... six..."
The countdown ran into the single digits.
"Five... four... three..."
Mikan gazed at the entrance of the factory.
"... Two... one..."
--Itsuki's right eye twisted.
"... Wh, what!?"
He felt his eyepatch.
All of a sudden, the world had changed.
No, that wasn't it.
It wasn't a feeling of anything that changed.
It was as if the world had reverted to a former state--an unpleasant sense of déjà-vu. There was an enormous spell power. It felt as though an explosion had occurred inside his right eye.
"Spell wave pollution--confirming a shift from class six to class three. Just like the reference docs said," Nekoyashiki sighed, stroking the cat he was holding against his chest.
"... The Magi Night has begun," the witch with the Ice Blue Eyes finally declared.
Adilisia ・ Lenn ・ Mathers felt a sudden burst of pressure assail her body. She had a sensation of gravity suddenly becoming stronger. The spell power that diffused across every inch of her body reverberated against the ground violently.
Gripping the pentagram of Solomon over her chest, she pushed back the spell power in a single breath. Withstanding the feeling that her blood was flowing backwards, the girl lifted open her red lips.
"--The <Night> has come."
She stood on the other side of the factory. It went without saying that she knew each member of <Astral> had arrived as well.
Behind her, ten people in black clothes stood by.
They each held pentagrams of Solomon over their chests as well, and were wearing rings to provide spiritual protection. These were Adilisia's handpicked apprentices of <Goetia> that she had taken with her for work in Japan.
"I will confirm the 'job' one last time," Adilisia whispered, gazing at the factory without turning around.
She spoke in a small voice, but the magicians were not ones to let any of her words escape them. If they messed up one single pronunciation or had even the slightest error in their tone of voice, it would completely change the meaning of their spells.
"The request from the <Organization> is to obliterate this <Night>. Without drawing the eyes of anyone, without allowing any injuries to occur, we must seal it in darkness under the cover of darkness. <Astral> is likely thinking this as well."
Adilisia's voice sounded out delicately.
It was like the voice of some beautiful bird.
"However, this time, that is not our aim."
The black clothes--the apprentices, gently lowered their heads. Age made no difference. To a magician, the difference in rank was absolute.
Their rank was 3=8 and 4=7. As the rank of those with regular genius and strong effort, you could say their rank was the highest. Even so, they were a long shot from Adilisia.
It was because of her blood.
Naturally, plain old genius meant nothing in magic.
If having strange powers and being outside of the norm was proof of a magician, then the ones who stand on top are necessarily those who are separated from people from the beginning. As much as a lifetime of hard work was meaningless, the collected bloodlines of thousands of years--that tenacity, was what bore the forbidden fruit of magic.
Adilisia had been a magician since before she was born.
That is why she spoke so magnificently to the apprentices that she stood above.
"We will retrieve... our elder. For that purpose, we will use any means, and any magic. Use your spell power for only this purpose until your very last drop of life."
Without so much as a cough, the black clothes lowered their heads again.
It was the same landscape as always.
It was the same view as always.
This kind of mechanical exchange was natural for a magical group.
"Do you understand?"
Suddenly, the face of an idiot, the leader of another magical group, hovered in her head. Adilisia bit her lip.
"I warned you. --If only you had not gotten yourself involved in this <Night>..."
- Someone without a family history of spiritual power who gains an ability like "second sight" or "fairy sight" in Western lore; usually due to an eye injury.
- Someone born with "second/fairy sight".
- In this instance, using a furoshiki to carry a bundle.
- A misogi (禊) is a kind of Shintou purification rite.
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