2nd day of living in the Netherworld.
Though in the morning, same as the previous day, we played around at the demon-exclusive private beach, from afternoon on, we went sightseeing as we bought things for dinner.
It stemmed from yesterday’s dinnertime.
Since, not liking the Netherworld dishes served by the hotel staff, my sister filed a complaint, the expert cooks at the hotel, unfamiliar with human’s world cuisine, were at a complete loss about what kind of food to serve.
Then, following Lilith-san’s “why don’t you try choosing the food you shall eat?” suggestion, we came all the way to the Netherworld’s shopping district.
It seems that there are two places on this island with supermarkets that carry human world’s foodstuff, so we had to split into two teams to purchase all of the needed ingredients.
Since we didn’t have the time to discuss how to split the teams, we decided through a lottery1 made by Lilith-san.
The results of the lottery.
Me & Iris.
Zonmi & Kyouko & Manami.
We were split into those two teams.
I bet that Lilith-san has rigged the results.
If not, going so well with what happened yesterday… There’s no way these results came out.
Let’s make use of Lilith-san’s assistance with gratitude.
× × ×
So, the chance has come to close the gap with Iris, but—.
Guuuh. The conversation is not very lively.
Come to think of it, (since I’ve entered high school) this may be the first time.
Going out shopping, just the two of us alone like this…
“… What dost thou want?”
“Nice weather today2…”
“So it seems.”
And the conversation has ceased once again.
I thought that my resistance to girls had gone up a little since Zonmi started freeloading at my place… It seems I was mistaken.
“Wha? That’s right, you are not wearing your usual robe today?”
While going by trial and error to stretch the conversation, I blurted that question.
Iris’s clothes for today were a chic modern girl combination of a miniskirt and leggings on a plaid parka.
“… Right now at this place, there’s no way I can don such a thing. Those are garments handed down from the red dragon bloodline.”
“? Isn’t it usually the opposite?”
Despite the Netherworld having been dyed in the human world’s culture… This is indeed a different world.
Looking around the area, I could see a half-human half-horse monster pulling a big cart and something like a pterosaur3 soaring the skies.
The red robes Iris usually wears (though out of place at the human world), they could be worn without it standing out here in the Netherworld.
This is bad.
Iris, head down and in silence, won’t lift her eyes.
Could it be that I, once again… Have stepped on an outrageous landmine?
Noticing something strange, I harbored that doubt.
It’s not like Iris casts her glance downwards with a hurt countenance.
This is… The same reaction she showed on the first day, when she was surrounded by that battalion of maids.
Pale-faced, Iris' figure, walking with an unsteady gait… It was as if she was scared of something.
What the heck is Iris scared of?
… I could understand the reason while listening to the surrounding sounds.
“Hey. Isn’t that girl, by a chance… A red dragon?” “No way! Weren’t the red dragons annihilated?” “It seems a single child survived… That may be that girl.”
“Doesn’t the blood of a red dragon fetch a high price? If I abduct that girl I may become filthy rich.” ”Moron… Stop it…”
Those were curiosity-filled glances thrown at Iris.
Are you… Joking…?
Iris… Just because being born in the red dragon tribe… Has to… Be subjected to public glares like this as if it was completely normal?
Somehow… Since I was brought to Iris’s den, I had been holding a doubt.
The hut at the peak of a mountain where Iris lives, having some lived-in feeling, doesn’t seem like it’s a one-time temporary dwelling.
Surely Iris… May have been living in the human world since before I was appointed as a monster tamer.
If it is like that… Why would Iris have chosen to live in the human world out of her own will?
I think I now know the reason.
Iris, just by walking like this in the Netherworld… Surrounded by one-sided pity directed to her… Sometimes subjected to glares filled with desire… Without doubt, it must have been very taxing on her.
That’s why… Even if it means being alone… She must have chosen to live in the human world.
Taking a peek to Iris’s face, walking next to me… Big fat tears were piling up in her eyes.
If I could, I’d like to send flying all of them who are making Iris the theme of their conversation.
Doing that wouldn’t solve anything.
Instead, making a big fuss—will only open the wounds wider.
Sniff. Sniff. Sniff. Sniff. Sniff!
I’m mad that, despite the girl before me having been hurt, I can’t do nothing but look from the side as a spectator.
Anything. Can’t I do anything?
To help the girl before me, a satisfactory way—
I think and think.
This useless junk of a brain of mine doesn’t give me a clear answer.
Not knowing what’s the best I could do—
Before I knew it, I had removed my clothes.
“Hey, look… That dude.”
“Uwah… The worst.”
“Could it be… An exhibitionist?”
I felt how, instantly, all the curiosity-filled glanced directed at Iris turned to me.
… I understand.
Even if I do this, it’s not like it will solve the basics.
However, if my actions help in lessening the burden on Iris… I want to do anything I can for her.
“Wha, whawha. Thou… What are thou doing!??”
In the end, noticing something amiss in her surroundings, Iris, in a flustered tone, hastily showed dismay.
“Hehe! Don’t you know? At the human world, in areas near the shore… Isn’t it not weird to wander outside in swimsuit?”
“… E-even if it’s like that, what need did thou have to disrobe right now!?”
“My bad. It seems the Netherworld’s Sun is too hot for me…”
“What art thou saying!? About the Netherworld’s Sun… Aren’t its rays weak enough for the ghoul to wander aro…”
Stopping mid-sentence, it seems that Iris has realized my intention.
Iris, with her cheeks furiously blushing out of character, mumbled something unintelligibly.
“Though thy feelings make me glad… Put on thy garments quickly. To me, walking besides a man with his upper body in the nude… It’s embarrassing.”
Since it seems she really dislikes it, I put my clothes on in a flash.
So that’s it.
It may be stating the obvious, but… As expected, it’s embarrassing for Iris to walk besides a half-naked man.
“… About that. Thank thee.”
“Mm? Did you say something?”
“N-no, I didn’t say anything. Monster tamer… This grudge thou hast shamed a noble red dragon like me… ‘Twill cost thee greatly.”
Though this tactic has ended in a magnificent blunder… Speaking from the results, it seems that it’s not like my actions have been totally useless.
The actions this time may have been more conspicuous than ever.
And with this it’s case closed… Saying that with confidence, I can agree with it by far. From then on, Iris, not paying attention to the surrounding glances, recovered her usual mood.
× × ×
Having concluded the shopping without further issue, today’s dinner was very normal, totally unlike the one from the previous night.
It’s been a long time since we could have such a decent meal!
With that, Kyouko & Manami’s spirits lifted.
About it, isn’t this enough to last till the day after tomorrow’s dinner?
Since we’ve bought so much ingredients, we won’t be able to taste the Netherworld’s foodstuff for quite a while.
Although thinking that makes me a little sad, if I ate Netherworld’s cuisine every day, sooner or later, since I'll have lost the sense of normalcy of the human world, I feel that I’ll get pulled to this side.
“Chiharu. Have you thought of your plans for tomorrow?”
Said Zonmi, munching with her cheeks full of her favorite karaage4.
“That’s riiight. Since we’ve expressly come to the Underworld, tomorrow I had though about stretching my legs and go around seeing places.”
“I see. Sightseeing?”
“By the way, Zonmi, is your hometown far from here?”
“Is that so? To tell the truth, it’s not so far. Riding on a boat at the harbor, wouldn’t it be half a day?”
“I see. Isn’t it just a tad too far?”
“… Though I’m glad that Chiharu shows interest in the ghouls… Speaking frankly, I think it’s better that you give up.”
“Since, Chiharu, be that as it may, your little sister has to accompany us, the danger is too great.
As this area is a neutral zone made for the tourists, it’s safe, but there are many in the Netherworld who hold no good feelings against humans.”
“… Is that so?”
“Yeah. To be exact, currently the Netherworld’s public order can be said to be the worst in a long time. After all, there is no Maou ruling over the Netherworld.”
Lilith-san, who was looking at us dining, butted in.
“I briefly explained it to you before, but currently we are in a critical state of division between conservatives, who want to maintain the status quo in the Netherworld, and the reformists, who want the Netherworld to invade and control the human world.
Due to that fact, I beg you that you don’t leave the island for the duration of this trip.”
It’s not like I wanted to leave this island that much.
Let’s meekly accept the warning from the two.
The ideas we discussed for our plans for tomorrow didn’t come together—.
In the end, with the plans for tomorrow still undecided, that day’s dinner came to an end.
× × ×
“I know! Let’s all watch a movie!”
Having finished dinner, not knowing what to do with our free time, with that suggestion from my sister, we all gathered at the hotel’s theater room.
Seeing Manami getting her long-awaited opportunity like that, we just made a wry smile.
I’d say it comes from the hate she holds for Zonmi.
The DVD package my sister has brought from the human world, that has the title “Dokidoki☆Zombie panic”5 printed over a cheap looking logo, reeked of a B-series movie.
The plot of the movie was simply the female middle schooler main character—Airi (Is it my imagination? I’ve heard the name somewhere6) going around trashing zombies with heavy armament.
Frankly speaking, the story line is unlike any other I’ve seen, but… Strangely, the lack of plot twists may be a good thing instead.
By cutting on the plot, the action scenes of the female middle schooler heroine that are the selling point become more prominent and the work in itself gained in quality.
… The only big blunder is that, since each time they trashed a zombie my sister laughed holding her sides while signaling Zonmi with the finger, we couldn’t concentrate on the movie.
Since it’s a public facility, Zonmi couldn’t do anything but keep holding her rage, but… It would be fearful if a zombie☆panic happened in the real world.
“? Now that I think about it, where has Iris gone to?”
The movie’s final stage.
Around the shocking scene where the main character, Airi, drove a dump truck while letting out a strange voice, running over the zombie hordes that kept popping out, I realized that Iris had disappeared unnoticed.
“… Now that you mention it, I can’t find her.”
“If you mean Iris-chan, it seems that she left the room a little while ago.”
“Yeah. But she looked like she didn’t felt well, I wonder if her tummy hurt…”
“Sorry. I have to… Go to the toilet for a bit.”
“Eeh!? Isn’t it right now at the best part!?”
“Aah. It seems I got myself carried away and ate too much for dinner.”
“Haru… Are you all right? Since yesterday you ate only those weird things…”
“Aah. Thanks for your concern. I’m fine.”
With those words, I left the room.
I’m curious about how the movie continues, but what I have to do right now is something else.
But, is that so?
My goal for this trip is “to know Iris”.
To understand her… I feel like I can't miss anything that makes her uneasy or miss anything that feels amiss.
I honestly don’t have a clue about where Iris could have gone, but… She mustn’t have gone very far away.
If I search thoroughly, I may find her.
Making my resolve, I started randomly running through the long corridor.
× × ×
I managed to determine Iris’s whereabouts very fast.
After a quick search, I could see the curtain at the end of the corridor fluttering with the wind.
When I went through the window, there was Iris, leaning her body on the balcony’s banister.
Iris, her hair let down straight, gazed at the scenery while lost in her thoughts.
Surrounded by a wondrous aura under the moonlight, Iris looked more mature than usual.
With that sight, that looked as if it had been taken straight out from a scene in a movie or a drama, my heart unconsciously started to beat faster.
As if she had noticed my presence beforehand, Iris looked back in silence without showing the slightest surprise.
“… Why art thou here?”
“That’s my line! Why did you leave by yourself…?”
“No reason. If pushed, I just wanted to feel the nocturnal breeze.”
“… That’s a lie, isn’t it?”
“I… Want to know your true feelings. Look… I’m an idiot. If you don’t put it into words, I won’t know.”
“Thou wantest to know my true feelings… Thou sayest?”
Iris eyes became sharp.
From those eyes came alternatively a fierce wrath and a tinge of sadness… Once again, it made me come to understand that her life was altogether different from the one we had.
“And what dost thou plan to do with me?
As I warned thee before, I don’t take ye as “comrades” nor “friends”. Since the start, I had no need for such things.”
Iris didn’t consider us as “comrades” nor “friends”.
Those words have honestly been a shock to me, but… I could think otherwise.
If she doesn’t regards us as “comrades”… From now on I should make her consider us as such.
“In that case… Let me tell you something. Why do you, with such obstinacy… Reject us?”
“At least I… Have always thought of you as a cherished comrade.
That’s why what I say may be being pushy, but… Can’t I, at least, make that clear to you?”
As I asked with a serious tone, right after Iris slowly opened her mouth.
“Gaining something and losing something, that’s the same.”
“… What does that mean?”
When I asked, Iris, lifting her eyes to the starry sky of the Netherworld, started telling me with a calm voice.
“In the Netherworld there doesn’t exist such concept as eternal.
Therefore, if something is to be gained, conversely something else must be lost.
Maybe thou still dostn’t know, but something irreplaceable to me—that I believed would eternally continue, simply became nothing.
If that radiance was to be lost—I didn’t have a need for it since the start.”
“But, that’s not how life…”
“Life is not fun… Didst thou want to say something of the like?”
“… Am I wrong?”
“Since the start, my aim in life… My desire was to exert revenge for my kin—just that. Anything outside that accounts to nothing but rubbish. Therefore… I don’t need things like comrades… That’s the answer to thy former question. Does it please thee?”
I’d say that those were her honest thoughts. Each and every word she said had an emphasis that makes me think so.
“Although, incidentally, I’ll tell thee.”
Iris, turning back,
“The reason I sneaked out from that chamber was that… Seeing yonne sort of thing, I found it revolting.”
“…? That sort of thing?”
“The atrocity of an unilateral extermination of a race.
Of course, I tried to comprehend it. That’s just a fictional tale…
Nevertheless, I ended up recollecting bad things. When my kin was exterminated by the Black Tamers—about that day—“
Just by saying the name of the enemies of her clan, the Black Tamers, Iris feelings steadily became highly strung.
“About that day… Even now I can clearly recall it.
The choking stench of blood. The screams of my brethren calling for help. And, above all… The powerless me that could do nothing.”
Aah. Now I understand.
Iris, due to that senseless massacre, her family, her friends… All that, countless precious things, she lost it all at once.
That’s why, she’s become really scared of losing something.
Since she fears she’ll lose something dear… From the start, she won’t hold anything as such.
Then, for that, she’s erected a wall between us.
“Now, dost thou understand?
What I want is to obtain strength to exert revenge for my kin—if I could make a contract with thou and obtain thy magic power… I’ll be over with thee already. I believe just in one thing—mine own strength.”
“Aah. I understand your thoughts well.”
“… Is that so? If thou understandest, henceforth abstain from useless conta—“
“In other words… If I keep living without dying, can I become your friend, Iris?”
Before my question, Iris rose a disarrayed yell.
“Thou, didestn’t thou comprehend not one of my words!?”
“… Am I wrong? Isn’t that the idea behind the ‘gaining something and losing something, that’s the same’ that you said?”
“… I see. Thy words hold some truth.
However, monster tamer. Thy idea has a big lack as a hypothesis.
That is, who shall guarantee thou shalt not die?”
“Ahaha. That’s fine. Since I won’t die.”
“That’s why… Show me thy foundation for that…!”
Before the open irritation of Iris, I just said.
“Because you will protect me!”
An extra-large question mark floated above Iris’s head.
“that is, didn’t you say it yourself, Iris? You only believe in your strength. That’s why, when I’m in a pinch, you’ll save me. Aren’t red dragons the most powerful monsters? Your strength is tremendous. Having you by my side, how could I die?”
“… Nu! Thou, art not thou embarrassed by saying that nonsense? U-usually shouldn’t our stances be reverted?
Thou who art male… Shouldest not protect me, a female!? Dostn’t thou find it embarrassing?”
“… Nope. I don’t find it so. Because I, in exchange… When you are in a pinch, I’ll run by your side and protect you!”
“At least I… I regard you as someone precious… On the level of my own life.
I promise you. I… It may be impossible right now, but one day… I’ll become someone able to protect you with my life. So. Since losing is not an option… Won’t you reconsider not needing friends?”
“… Dost thou really think like that?”
Iris glared at me with an inquisitive look.
“Of course. So… Iris. Stay with me forever.”
I said while extending my hand to Iris, as if to shake hands.
… That’s fine. There are many things I want to say to you.
Even so, I wonder if my words have strung Iris’s heart… But that’s another matter.
So, did I?
I think it’s not difficult to change the sense of values of another person with one’s own words.
So, in just minutes… In the span of tens of minutes, that person should change the feelings they’ve fostered for all their lives.
Needless to say, like Iris… The childhood trauma that twisted their beliefs is not superficial.
“Let me think about it for a bit.”
How much time has passed?
Iris, who had her head hung in silence, sighed and muttered that.
I’d say my questioning until now has backfired.
As expected, making Iris open her heart is something out of ordinary.
Let her think about it for a bit… Isn’t it?
However, if I think of how Iris was when I met her… Isn’t it a bit of improvement?
“… It seems we’ve been talking while standing a bit too much.”
As soon as she said that, Iris left the balcony, as if running away from me.
Though I was curious about what face Iris would put after my once-in-a-lifetime confession…
I couldn’t check Iris’s expression as she ran away with quick feet.