Iruma exhaled as he held his arm level, sighting the targets at the far end of the underground gym at Bablys. Seated on the stairs, Asmodeus Alice and Valac Clara watched as the small blue figure remained still in concentration.
“You know, Irumachi is really strange,” Clara whispered to her companion, leaning back on her elbows, “I’ve never seen a demon able to stand still for that long without fidgeting. And he can just stay there!”
“I know,” Azz admitted, focused on Iruma’s unflinching form. The feeling of magic was rising in the air, and an arrow spun into existence between Iruma’s hands, glowing with power. “Perhaps it’s a remnant of his upbringing that allows him to be so focused? He surprised us when he was preparing for the execution cannonball exam.”
“Hmm, do you think we should ask?” Clara pondered, a frown marring her usually cheerful face. “We were really surprised when he got sick, and when he got scary in his room…”
“As much as I wish to respect Iruma-sama’s privacy,” Azz admitted, his eyes narrowing in consideration, “it might be prudent to get a clearer picture of his past and his current difficulties. How else will I be able to serve as his spear and shield?”
Clara just nodded in agreement, as Iruma finally released the magical arrow that had been knocked on his bowstring. The energy flew forward, and split into three. There was a rush of wind as the arrows hit the targets, ruffling both Azz and Clara’s hair, causing them to blink in surprise.
As the dust kicked up by the wind finally settled, the trio looked to the targets. The one in the center had been pierced through the bullseye, while the targets to either side were hit, the arrows unfortunately off of the center by a fair margin.
“Aww,” Iruma whined as he approached the targets, “I still can’t get a bullseye on all three targets?”
“It’s still an impressive display, Iruma-sama!” Azz called out as he crossed the field to stand by Iruma’s side, Clara trailing in his wake. “Very few demons choose to use the bow, but all of the historical wielders I know of have always been impressive and fearsome. It truly is the perfect weapon for you.”
“I’m still a long way from Master Bachiko,” Iruma admitted, dispelling the bow and moving to put the targets away. “But it’s really hard to focus enough to hit multiple targets at once. I’m going to keep working on it, though.” He affirmed, offering his friends a reassuring smile.
Azz and Clara shared a glance as they bent to help Iruma put away the targets. They nodded in unison, and Clara pulled out a large blanket for them to rest on. They laid their lunch out, and Iruma began to dig in.
“Irumachi,” Clara started, after Iruma had a few bites, “what was it like before you were adopted?”
Iruma froze, choking on his mouthful for a moment, before forcing himself to swallow. “I don’t like to think about it,” he answered quietly with a hoarse voice, his face turned to the ground to avoid the others’ gazes. “Besides, it’s in the past. I don’t want to spend time thinking about it. Despairing over what has happened isn’t going to make anything change.”
“Iruma-sama,” Azz began, handing a bottle of water over, “While I respect your tenacity and strength to survive, I must concur with Clara. If we had known about your lack of wings, we wouldn’t have left you behind during the flying race. And if we had known about your propensity for illness, we could have taken measures to support you.” Iruma took the bottle with only a moment of hesitation. “I do not know how this is handled for ‘friends,’ but for allies, it is imperative that all parties know of weaknesses, so that everyone is properly supported. Please, can you consider treating us as allies as well as friends?”
Clara offered her own vigorous, head-shaking nod. “We want to keep you safe, Irumachi,” she added, nudging herself over to lean against Iruma. “We want to understand everything about Irumachi, so we can make a future that’s full of fun! Please, Irumachi?”
Iruma took a sip of the water, before closing the bottle and setting it aside. He reached out and snagged Asmodeus’s arm, dragging him over to Iruma’s free side. Once properly enclosed by his friends, Iruma seemed to melt against them.
“My parents... are very selfish,” Iruma said slowly, his fingers stroking over a feather from the Cutthroat Valley Guardian. “They only think about doing what they want that seems fun or interesting, without thinking about the costs, and I would get pulled along in their wake. Ever since I was little, I wanted to make them proud and happy. And when they would ask me to do something, and I finished, they always smiled at me. So I would do anything they asked. I can’t say no to helping someone when they ask, even now.”
Over Iruma’s head, Azz’s and Clara’s eyes met, recalling Iruma’s behavior during his evil cycle. Granted, this trait of Iruma’s seemed to have been their key to winning Royal One. But was this generosity part of Iruma, or something instilled in him by his parents?
“But eventually, what I was doing wasn’t enough for my parents. So they sent me out to support them, usually by taking on dangerous jobs. I had to find my own food and shelter usually, and learn how to stay safe from predators.” His words came out fast, almost tripping over each other as they came out. “I learned how to dodge anything that came at me to protect myself, and I managed to make myself look scary to chase off predators that would find my camp. I would sometimes venture into towns to try and find less dangerous work to support myself, but my parents would often take my wages for themselves.”
Azz and Clara both bristled, but Iruma continued before they could speak. “So I had to find my food, and sometimes, there wasn’t a lot available. And then my parents would swoop in and drag me off on some new hare-brained scheme to make money, and I would be dragged along and forced to adapt. So I would have to take care of myself. I made due with what I could find, but sometimes, I would wonder if I would survive long enough to find another meal.
“And that’s how things were for years, before Grandpa came for me.”
The two froze, looking down at the figure nestled between them. “Came for you?” Clara repeated.
“What do you mean by that, Iruma-sama?” Azz asked, a frown spreading across his face.
“Apparently, my parents made a deal with Sullivan. They... sold me to him.” Iruma admitted, seeming to fold in on himself. “I mean, I guess I knew that they didn’t care about me that much, when I compared families in towns to how they treated me. But... they just sold me. I don’t even know for how much, because I wasn’t involved in the process at all. I was just a commodity to be given away! After all I did to take care of them and make them happy!” Tears were clogging his eyes and throat, as they fell from his face.
Azz and Clara shared a frantic glance, and in unison, they wrapped their arms around Iruma, squashing him between their warmth. They did their best to soothe their friend, hands stroking his head and back. After a few minutes, Iruma seemed to pull himself together, and rose from his stooped over position. He sniffled and began to speak again, his voice trembling.
“But Grandpa didn’t treat me like my parents did. He told me that I had been sold, but he wanted me to be his grandson, rather than a possession. He begged me to allow him to take care of me. He flat out told me he would spoil me rotten,” Iruma giggled as he found Azz’s and Clara’s hands and gave them a reassuring squeeze.
“So, Grandpa adopted me, and sent me to Bablys for school for the first time, and then I met you two,” Iruma continued, and raised his head to give each of them a smile in turn. They couldn’t help but echo his smile in turn as his voice returned to his more cheerful tone. “And everything has been better ever since then. I have as much food as I can possibly eat, and I know when the next meal will be served. And some things have scared me, mostly because I don’t know how things are supposed to be, since I never went to school before Bablys, but this... my life is so much better than I could have ever imagined when I was little. Not only do I have a family that cares for me, but I have you guys, and the rest of the Abnormal Class... So, thank you both, for supporting me and being my friends.”
Clara gave into the urge to tackle Iruma around the waist in a hug, driving him over into Azz’s chest. “I’m so glad that Irumachi came to school, too!” She cheered, grabbing fistfuls of Azz’s coat. “Irumachi and Azz-Azz are so much better than everyone else. You play with me, and have fun with me, and don’t treat me like I’m only worth what I can give.”
“I know how that feels,” Iruma offered, hugging Clara back. “And I don’t think that we should be treated that way, ever.”
Asmodeus chuckled, raising a hand to stroke Iruma’s head. “Everything I learn about you continues to amaze me, Iruma-sama. Your strength where many others would simply give up. No wonder you defeated me so easily on our first day.” He paused, before gently prying Clara off of Iruma and helping the other boy to sit up. “Thank you for sharing this with us, Iruma-sama. I assure you that I will do all I can to support you from now on.” Clara gave her own fervent nod in agreement.
“As long as we can spend time together, that’s my ambition. To protect my ideal of having fun with the people I care about,” Iruma responded, the feather still clenched in one hand flaring bright with light and turning into a bow. “That’s the desire I use to strengthen myself. I want to keep having fun together.”
“My desire is to stay by your side and serve you in all ways,” Azz responded, his hand against his chest as he offered a half-bow to his master.
“Mine is to spend time with Irumachi!” Clara chimed in, a bell-like laugh emerging as she tackled Iruma.
“Then we’ll stay together!” Iruma affirmed, and the bow disappeared from his hand again. “Oh no, that was my last feather! I guess I’ll need to make a trip back to the Cutthroat Valley again.” Iruma whined, before returning to his food.
“Why don’t you go during the battler period?” Azz suggested, taking up his own sandwich, “We can handle the battler duties today on our own.”
“Thanks, Azz-kun!” Iruma responded with a smile.
“Hey, Irumachi, do you know what your bloodline ability is? Is that what lets you dodge everything?” Clara questioned, opening an ice cream and digging in heartily.
“No, I don’t think so. I had to practice dodging. I had some close calls when I was younger,” Iruma admitted. “My parents didn’t really teach me much. Once I could walk on my own, they expected me to take care of myself.”
Clara pouted at this casual disregard for Iruma, while Asmodeus frowned. He gave Clara a look, and she responded with a nod. Clara steered the conversation away from Iruma’s tragic past to complain about something her brothers had done. Azz offered his own stories about his sisters, and suddenly the heavy mood was vanquished under the warmth of family interactions.
Iruma received permission from Kalego to visit the Cutthroat Valley once classes were over, and he waved to Clara and Azz as he departed. They waved back until Iruma disappeared down the corridor. They waited to make sure he didn’t suddenly turn around, and then shared a nod. As one, they headed off on their own, but not to the Magical Apparatus Battler’s room.
To their surprise, they found Opera in the reception room outside of the Chair Demon’s Office. It was known, from Iruma’s happy ramblings about Sullivan’s household, that Opera occasionally spent the day at the school to help Sullivan handle his paperwork. The servant raised a brow at their appearance, especially at the glaring lack of Iruma with them.
“We wish to discuss Iruma-sama with the Chair Demon, if he is available.” Azz explained with a solemn voice, Clara remaining unusually serious at his side.
Opera nodded and stood, entering the office and announcing, “Asmodeus and Valac wish to see you, Chair Demon.” They then turned to usher the two young demons in, and closed the door after them.
“Oh? This is a surprise,” Sullivan stated, standing to greet the two, who bowed, Azz with a noble’s grace, and Clara with bumbling enthusiasm, and then took the seats that Sullivan offered to them as the chair demon returned to his chair. “Especially without Iruma-kun. Is my adorable Iruma alright?”
“Irumachi went to play with the Valley Guardian and get more feathers,” Clara explained, and let Asmodeus handle explaining the difficult topic.
“While he is preoccupied, Clara and I wish to discuss with you some of the... things that Iruma-sama saw fit to share with us.” Azz continued. “Specifically, the circumstances concerning his adoption.”
Sullivan leaned back in his chair, his hands steepled in front of his face. “Yes, those circumstances were... extraordinary.” He paused, his gaze flitting between Iruma’s friends. “How much has my grandson shared with you?”
“He said... he said he was sold,” Clara admitted with a small voice. “But that doesn’t make sense.” She shook her head in utter confusion. “What kind of demon would—how could any parent choose to sell their child? He must have misunderstood, right?” She turned to look at the Chair Demon with a thin smile, her eyes pleading for him to correct her understanding.
Sullivan could only nod sadly and answer, “No, he is correct. His parents contacted me and desired to exchange him for wealth. From a young age, they had used him as a source of labor and income. Apparently he wasn’t bringing home as much as they would like to support them, so they decided to try to gain a large sum all at once to compensate for his diminishing returns.”
Clara looked absolutely devastated at this, and Azz was bristling with rage and fire. “How dare they?” He muttered, his fists clenched on his lap. “And they did this to a child? How—how could they have possibly expected a child to care for them?”
“I agree that their behavior is reprehensible. And they didn’t hide how they had treated Iruma. Which is why I decided to accept their request and remove Iruma from their influence,” Sullivan explained. “And why as soon as I could, I made a separate contract with Iruma himself, to ensure that he would be a part of my family. It is as binding a contract I could make, and makes Iruma my heir in everything but Blood. Once he is older, I hope to change that as well.”
“Why not do so from the start? A Blood adoption would surely solidify his position within your estate,” Azz questioned.
“Blood adoption?” Clara asked, her head swiveling between the two noble demons.
“A ceremony to add new members to a clan,” Azz explained. “It involves a small donation of blood and magic from at least two parties, and the newly inducted demon gains some traits from the bloodline, usually including some physical features. On a theoretical level, it might even restore Iruma-sama’s missing wings. So why didn’t you, Sullivan-sama?” He continued, a note of frustration entering his voice.
“Because Iruma did not trust me at first.” Sullivan shrugged gracelessly. “The family that was supposed to protect him had just traded him away without any regard for his opinions, after treating him like a slave for his entire life. And he had no experience with the 13 Crowns, let alone the 3 Great Heroes. I was as good as a stranger to Iruma. Can you blame him for having misgivings?”
Azz and Clara both slumped in their seats. “No, in those circumstances, I could not fault him for that.”
“And while a Blood adoption might allow Iruma to grow wings,” Sullivan continued, his voice soft and chiding, “it’s also possible that the only trait he would gain from me might be my horns. Not to mention, my power might be too much for his body to handle currently. Most adoptions are done between demons much closer in rank. It has never been tried with a difference of more than 3 levels, to my knowledge.”
Sullivan’s voice gentled further as he admitted, “And, this might be greedy of me, but I would like for Iruma to choose to bind himself to me. When I adopted him, I worked quickly to have him accept me to help protect him from his parents. But I know deep down that he was hesitant to trust me. The school curriculum will cover Blood adoptions in your fourth year. By that point, he should be strong enough that the adoption would no longer be dangerous to him.” He looked firmly into Azz and Clara’s eyes, as he leaned on his desk with his hands clasped. “So, would you two mind keeping quiet about this if anyone asks about Iruma? Humor an old man’s request?”
The two exchanged a glance, before nodding their acceptance. “Of course, Sullivan-sama,” Azz confirmed.
“As long as Irumachi is taken care of,” Clara muttered, her hands working at the hem of her skirt.
“If nothing else, Iruma-kun does seem to be getting more comfortable with me,” Sullivan confided, smiling again. “And the fact that he has spoken about his parents to you two is a step I never thought he would take on his own.”
”Yet, in light of his experiences, I’m amazed at how accepting Iruma-sama is. Did he truly have no schooling before coming to Bablys?”
“That is part of Iruma’s strength, his ability to adapt and grow,” Sullivan agreed, and the two young demons shared a smile. “It is a trait that was honed by his parents, but it has also served him well since I adopted him. And I am proud of the growth he has shown since enrolling in Bablys. He is on his way to becoming an exceptional demon, isn’t he?”
“Yes!” Azz and Clara responded in unison, completely united in their regard for Iruma. All three grinned at each other for a moment, before the atmosphere sombered once more.
“Sullivan-sama, is there any way to get in contact with Iruma-sama’s parents?” Azz started, and Clara nodded in support.
“Yeah, Irumachi doesn’t know his bloodline ability!” Clara quickly jumped in. “How is he supposed to train it properly if he doesn’t even know what it is?”
“Oh? Is that the only reason why you want to contact them?” Sullivan questioned, one eyebrow raising. Asmodeus remained silent, his face guarded.
When Sullivan shot him a piercing glare, Azz admitted, “I would also like to properly express how their treatment of Iruma-sama is... disgusting.”
Sullivan nodded at the response. “Unfortunately, part of my contract with them prevents me from contacting them again. I will admit, I wrote the contract that way to prevent them from trying to regain control over Iruma. I can only imagine what his reaction would be if he were ever forced into their presence again.”
The duo slumped over, frustration clear in their posture. Sullivan let them dwell for a moment before adding, ”It might please you two to know that I did add something to the contract with Iruma’s parents that they probably didn’t notice. In their hurry to collect their payment.” Heads snapped back up to stare at the Chair demon. He tittered, a hand sliding up to cover his mouth.
“They were far more concerned with how much that they would receive for Iruma, that they didn’t... seem to pay attention to the clause I added.” The two sat up straighter in anticipation.
“A clause that prevents them from having more children that they intended to treat in the same way they did Iruma, and they are unable to contact me in an attempt to barter more for Iruma.” Sullivan continued, and the pair smirked. It gave them some measure of satisfaction to know that no child would be abused the way their friend had been.
A chime emerged from Sullivan’s pocket, and he pulled out his hellphone with a curious face. He Immediately clutched his check with his free hand, a joyous smile emerging with a happy giggle.
“Iruma-kun just sent me a picture,” he explained, turning the phone to show Azz and Clara, who crowded together across the desk to see. It was a selfie of Iruma, an arm wrapped around the beak of the child of the Valley’s guardian. It seems that the young bird-like creature was playfully nibbling on Iruma’s upright tuft of hair, and Iruma seemed to be pleased with the attention. The glowing red eyes of the Guardian were in the background, and the child seemed to be in a good mood, its feathers sleek and smooth. Azz and Clara both ‘awwed’ at the image.
Azz snapped himself back to a perfect posture. “If Iruma-sama has already reached the Guardian, he’ll probably be on his way back to the school shortly. We should return to the battler room and get things ready quickly before he arrives.”
Clara pouted, but also stood up from her slouch. “Thanks for showing us the photo!” She thanked the chair demon, who nodded his response.
Azz bowed, while Clara just waved energetically before the duo left the office. Opera nodded as they left the office, quickly striding down the halls back to the battler room.
“Do you think that Irumachi will ask to be adopted when he’s older?” Clara asked, looking to Asmodeus curiously.
Azz glanced around to ensure they were alone, before responding. “I cannot truly say one way or another. Iruma-sama often does things that I cannot comprehend, but I trust that he will make the best decision. It would be a simple way to solidify his position, and ensure that no one could look down on Iruma for his birth parents.”
Clara nodded, and they walked in silence for a time. “Hey, what about what Irumachi said during lunch? That he wants to keep having fun with us.” Azz paused in the middle of the corridor, and Clara only noticed after she had stepped a few meters away. “Azz-Azz?”
“Iruma-sama... I don’t understand him sometimes,” Azz admitted, his back starting to hunch. “He seems able to make allies out of everyone he meets. He quickly managed to gain the support of the Student Council president. He motivated the class to gain Royal One, and united them in preparing for the exams. He was the one who stepped forward at Walter Park to save children when nobody else would! And yet it seems he is completely unaware of how extraordinary he is.”
Clara trotted back to Azz’s side, looking at his downturned face. “I think... Irumachi might be like me. Before he started playing with me. I mean, I knew what people would say about me. That I was only worth spending time with because of all the free stuff I could give. If Irumachi’s parents only said that he was good for taking care of them, he probably... doesn’t understand why we care about him.”
Azz’’s hands clenched into fists at his sides, trembling with his outrage.
“But that means that we can teach him, just like he taught us about friends! And we can help him forget about his stupid parents!” Clara continued with a cheery voice, and her smile was infectious.
Azz couldn’t help but echo her grin, although his looked more ruthless than excited. “A surprisingly sound plan. Let us hurry back to the battler room. We don’t want Iruma-sama to worry about where we are,” Azz straightened his spine and took off down the corridor with long, proud strides, as Clara skipped alongside.
As if linked by an unspoken command, the two demons' thoughts focused on a singular goal, although they differed in their execution. Iruma had shared his ambition, and they were united in their desire to bring that dream to completion. They could see how Iruma’s efforts to unite their class were guided by that goal, and the Student Council President’s support acted as their first piece of evidence. If Iruma could bring that powerful group into his confidence, then surely the rest of the school could be similarly charmed.
Valac Clara’s vision echoed the joy she had experienced with Iruma, faces smiling with no trace of mockery or forced indulgence. Soon, everyone would see how amazing Irumachi was, and the happiness that came from friends and playtime. She couldn’t wait to experience more happy days at his side.
Asmodeus Alice’s vision had more fire, as he yearned to help fulfill Iruma-sama’s desires, to watch allies and friends falling into rank and file behind his master. No one would be able to look down on Iruma for his humble origins after seeing the splendor that radiated from him. Soon, the entire school would be united under his master’s banner, and Iruma-sama’s glory would spread far and wide.
Their goals firmly in mind, they shared a nod and resumed their path towards the Magical Apparatus Battler room, their strides full of pride and joy.