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One Foot In Sea, One On Shore

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“As we prepare for the Music Festival,” Kalego announced during homeroom, “we will be spending some time to review your performance during the Harvest Festival, to help identify where improvements are needed. Normally, this would be done with your Battler Advisor and homeroom teacher, but due to your special requirements to retain Royal One, we will also have you discuss with your tutors, to highlight your strengths and your shortcomings.”

The students of the Abnormal Class straightened up at the thought of confronting their (somewhat terrifying) tutors over their performances. Some, like Iruma and Elizabetta, were looking forward to proudly displaying how their training had been put to good use. Others, like Jazz and Allocer, were dreading the meetings wholeheartedly.

“After class concludes, there will be a schedule posted for each student to meet individually with me. After this meeting, you will be responsible for making time to meet with your tutors to work on your training going forward. Do not keep us waiting,” Kalego warned. The class gave a collective nod. “Dismissed.”

As the teacher left the classroom, the students began to talk and murmur. “Individual meetings to address our strengths,” Asmodeus Alice echoed, as if tasting the words. “As expected of a school as renowned as Bablys.”

“Hurray, I get to show Raim-Sensei how much of a lady I was during the Festival!” Clara cheered as she attempted to climb Sabnock once more. “Do you think Birdie-Sensei will be happy with you, Mt. Sabro?”

“How could he not be?” Sabro answered assuredly, remarkably still despite the slipper attempting to brace against his nose. “I conquered many beasts during the Festival! Although Balam did scold me for falling asleep at the end...”

“Of course, Mistress Barbatos will surely be extremely pleased with your progress, Iruma-sama!” Azz smiled proudly at his friend and leader. Iruma chuckled self-consciously, rubbing the back of his neck

“I think she might be upset at some of the things I did, but I think overall she was pretty happy,” he responded. And hopefully Kalego-Sensei hasn’t read too deeply into the Legendary Leaf’s words about me being here most un-Demon-like demon.

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Iruma swallowed, attempting to steady his nerves, and then knocked on the door to Kalego’s office. The curt “Enter” that he received didn’t help to calm him, but Irumahe smoothly opened the door and walked in, closing it softly behind him.

“Iruma, good, you’re on time,” Kalego noted, and then motioned to the chair on the opposite side of the desk with a quick wave. “Take a seat, and let’s get started.”

“Yes, Kalego-Sensei,” Iruma responded, taking his seat. Kalego gestured broadly, and one of the school’s flying cameras swept closer to the pair, hovering between them.

“Overall, your performance during the Harvest Festival was satisfactory. Your score was among the highest ever achieved, so I congratulate you on that. Hopefully the rest of your class will be able to capitalize on their training during the Music Festival as well.

“However,” Kalego smoothly continued, stopping the smile that attempted to spread over Iruma’s face, “there are some areas of concern that we should address going forward,” Kalego stated. The camera started projecting images of Iruma during the Harvest Festival, and Iruma winced as he saw his image switch into his survival mode on the first day.

“So Iruma, why don’t you tell me about what happened here?” Kalego asked, one eyebrow rising slightly. Iruma’s hands clenched on his lap, before he forced his shoulders back and looked his teacher straight in the eyes.

“Kalego-Sensei, I know you don't like how Grandpa does things, but I can’t be anything but thankful for him. I’m...not his biologicalreal grandson. He adopted me. My life before,” his hands clenched again before he forced them to loosen, “...wasn’t the best. I was reminded how things were before I was adopted, so I fell back into ‘survival mode.’”

Kalego’s other eyebrow rose to join the first, but Iruma continued on. “To be honest, at the moment, I completely forgot about the Harvest Festival and everything that Master Bachiko had told me. I was just focused completely on survival.” He bowed his head, unable to look his teacher in the eyes. “That’s really all I can say—I wasn’t thinking at all.”

Kalego was silent while Iruma wrestled with his emotions. Once he had his embarrassment under control, he managed to raise his head and meet the teacher’s eyes, which were narrowed in a frown. Iruma, however, refused to back down despite the blush he could feel on his cheeks. He had made his decision to stay in the Netherworld, and nothing would deter him from that goal. Defending his actions to his teacher seemed like a good next step.

Kalego let out a sigh and leaned back in his chair after meeting Iruma’s gaze for a long moment. “You and your class can never follow the expected path, can you?” He shook his head, and raised a hand to stop Iruma’s words before they could escape. “I disagree with some of the Chairdemon’s decisions, but I respect his strength. If he adopted you, he must have seen something worthwhile.”

He lowered his hand and picked up a pen, scribbling a few notes. “If you are prone to reacting strongly in stressful situations, we can work to help desensitize your reactions to help you retain control. Probably a good idea anyway, since Shichirou said you flew off the handle at Walter Park despite his instructions.”

Kalego swiped at the air, and the footage continued, showing Iruma descending into the caves under the Festival grounds. “This is the final footage we had until your... abrupt return on the second day. Care to tell me what happened while you were underground?”

Iruma nodded, his hands tugging on the hem of his jacket. “Um, I found another student, Nafra? He had gotten stuck in a trap, and I didn’t know that he was part of the Festival. But when I found him, none of the beasts had attacked, so I thought maybe if we went together, they would stay away. So I asked if we could work together.”

Kalego nodded, making another note. “You do seem to be able to cooperate with a wide range of individuals for mutual goals. We can work to help you hone your cooperative abilities in the future. Your quick acquisition of Asmodeus and Valac as allies already speaks to your ability to plan long term.” Iruma just remained quiet while Kalego made his notes, knowing that trying to explain friendship to his teacher wasn’t possible in the time allotted for his meeting. “So, what happened next?”

“Um, we found the Seed of Beginning, and met Thoth-san. I told him... part of a story that I was told before I was adopted, that hadn’t been written down, so Thoth-san didn’t know it. We were almost back to the surface, when another student used magic on me. I saw...” Iruma couldn’t help but wince and shiver as he recalled the vision and its haunting figures, “...something truly unpleasant, and I fell, but I was able to use Master Bachiko’s technique to break out. Nafra came back for me, and we used the gripping weed to climb quickly, since we had lost time from my fall.”

Kalego held up a hand to halt Iruma as another note was made, before the demon’s dark eyes caught the human’s. “Why didn’t you just fly out of the cave? Surely that would have been a better use of your time, rather than whatever overblown magic you used to grow the gripping weed to such gigantic proportions?”

“Um, well, the thing is, my wings are... too small to fly with. And with the gripping weed…” he trailed off, and decided to make his lie based on fact. At least Balam wasn’t here to catch him in the act. “My parents didn’t train me in our bloodline ability. I think I can make things grow and heal, but it doesn’t work on myself. So it was better to use that rather than my wings,” Iruma offered, glancing down at the floor.

“Too small to fly?” Kalego repeated, a strange note in his voice.

“Yes. Balam-Sensei can confirm.” Iruma offered, hoping to divert the teacher’s attention. At least if Kalego asked around, Balam and the other teachers who saw Ali impersonating as his wings would be able to corroborate the story.

Kalego merely sighed and made another note. “I noticed that there was nothing about your bloodline magic in your student file, but I thought the Chair Demon was just being cagey. If you truly are unaware of your ability, we can set time aside to research it. Perhaps Buer-Sensei will be able to assist, given his Heal ability.”

Kalego placed the pen back down, and gave Iruma another penetrating stare. “Now, you said you saw ‘something unpleasant?’ I’ve seen you stand steadfast in the face of raging magical beasts without flinching, what could possibly have unnerved you?”

“Does it matter?” Iruma asked after a moment, his head ducking down as Kalego’s glare intensified. “I mean, it’s already in the past, and it didn’t kill me. I dealt with it and came out the other side intact. I handled the fear it caused and succeeded in spite of it.”

Kalego continued to stare at Iruma, before folding his hands in front of his face. “It matters, Iruma, because despite how I want things, our society often relishes the opportunity to use our greatness weaknesses against us. Others take our insecurities and doubts, and aim them as knives at our backs. To survive, we need to know ourselves and how to defend those vulnerabilities, or else we will be cut down.

“If you plan to live forever sheltered by the Chairdemon, you might be able to remain as you are, and simply allow others to sacrifice themselves in defense of you. You would quickly lose respect, but you would probably survive as long as he is there to shield you. If he were to fall, however, you would be racing against time to your end. But from what I’ve seen,” the dark head tilted and offered a knowing smirk. “I don’t think that’s the kind of future you want.”

Iruma could only stare at the teacher, his mouth gaping open. He managed to pull himself together enough to say, “You’re right, I want to be strong enough to protect my ideals myself.”

Kalego nodded, and placed his hands flat on the desk as his face returned to its normal dour expression. “It is my responsibility as a teacher to ensure that the next generations are able to continue with pride and strength. And hopefully better behaved than the one I grew up with.” The last was stated in an under stone that Iruma almost missed.

“Eyes are already on your class from your ambitious taking of Royal One, and your actions at Walter Park. Those eyes will only focus on you more intently after your victory during the Harvest Festival. I refuse to allow you troublemakers to disgrace Bablys after those daring moves, so you had better shape up before you fall and embarrass us all.” The teacher’s eyes had narrowed, his glare piercing and dark.

Iruma’s eyes were wide, and against his own judgment, words escaped his lips. “But, why not trust the tutors that you arranged for us? You didn’t even want us to have Royal One, would it really be such a problem if we lost it?” His hand flew up to cover his mouth, eyes widening in shock. “I’m sorry, Kalego-sensei!”

The teacher only glared harder at the student. “After the stunt you pulled to get it in the first place? Yes, it would reflect poorly on me. Remember, you’re playing with fire, and I foolishly gave you the chance to burn us all. So get your act together,” Kalego growled out, and Iruma reflexively straightened up and lowered his hand.

“Yessir,” was Iruma’s softly uttered response. His hands once again fisted the hems of his jacket as he braced himself to share what he could of the vision. “The thing I saw...was my birth parents, ready to take me away from...everyone. The way they always did, just—ready to sweep me into their next whim without a second thought about what I might want. And then Azz-kun and Clara rejecting me, and you, and Grandpa and Opera-san ready to get rid of me too.”

He could feel the tears threatening to spill over at the memory of the terror he had felt at that rejection. Living in the Netherworld had felt like a dream ever since the start, given how much better his life had been. The vision had almost seemed like he had awoken from his dream back into the harshness of reality. It had frightened him so much, the very idea that his world had only been a figment of his imagination.

But he refused to let himself be taken back to his previous life, not after the joy and happiness he had found for himself. He felt like Alice willingly falling back down the rabbit hole, which was so much better than the life he had lived before. But fighting to stay in the Netherworld was a choice he was ready to stake his existence on. Anything was worth the chance to stay with the family and friends he had discovered here.

“Your birth parents?” Kalego echoed after a tense and silent minute. Iruma was completely grateful for the reprieve, since it allowed him to pull himself together. “I assumed when you said you were adopted and they hadn’t taught you your bloodline ability that you were an orphan. Were your parents that horrible to you?”

“Kalego-sensei, you didn’t like how Opera-san treated you when you were a student, right?” Iruma responded after a tense minute, trying to figure out the best way to explain his parents. Kalego’s eyebrows lowered this time. “Opera-san said they made you run errands and buy bread, and other things like that, right?”

Kalego only shuddered at the memory, so Iruma continued. “I think I can say that my parents were worse. They were only focused on their own fun, even if I was put in danger to pay for it. Believe me,” he couldn’t help but grin deprecatingly, “compared to before, I’ve never been safer since Grandpa took me in.”

Kalego’s brow rose again. “You’ve taken on a throw from a much stronger student at close range during execution cannonball, one that even older students would have been hard pressed to handle, and were attacked by giant magical beasts while on vacation. This is safer?”

“Kalego-Sensei, at least with those, I could have run away. That wasn’t an option with my parents.” Iruma tried to smile confidently, but he could tell it was weak.

Kalego was silent again as he examined Iruma’s face. When he finally spoke again, his voice remained soft. “I see we’ll need to add risk assessment and management to your classes. I’ll discuss the matter with Barbatos.” He made a note and advanced the video again to Iruma and Lied reuniting. “How were you able to deduce that you were being targeted by another student?”

“Um, when I broke through the spell on me, I realized that what I had shot at wasn’t what I had hit, and everyone had been acting so strangely once I had a moment to think. I mean, Azz-kun and Clara were wearing their usual uniforms instead of the clothes I saw at the start of the Festival!” Iruma couldn’t help but wave a hand in the air as he recalled how foolish he had been, immediately believing the worst of those he considered most precious.

“And Lied-kun said that Nee-san had been strange, so it seemed likely that what we had seen wasn’t real and was the result of magic. So we searched for Nee-san, and she said that she hadn’t seen us since the first day. So what we had seen must have been from someone using magic.”

“Huh, using logic. Not something I had expected, given how your school career has gone, but good to know you are capable of it,” Kalego remarked and made another note. Iruma could only wince. He could admit that logic hadn’t been the most useful option while living in the Netherworld.

Then again, logic hadn’t been a priority while he was in the Human realm, either. Most of his life had been reacting and dodging and trying to survive. Logic wouldn’t save anyone from bears or yakuza, or any of the other things Iruma’s parents had thrown him at in their pursuit of pleasure. Dodging had saved him before, but he had needed to find new strategies to survive in the Netherworld. Turning fear to excitement, finding ambitions, focusing his desires...The Netherworld made him learn more about himself in less than a year than he had in the entirety of his life in the Human Realm.

The little camera projected a new image, with Iruma, Lied, Nafra, Elizabetta, and Caim discussing the attacks on the Misfit Class. Kalego continued with an even tone of voice. “So you managed to work with different students to figure out that the class was being targeted, and identified that Valac was vulnerable. And you had no concerns with cooperating with Kerori again after your earlier deal?”

“No?” Iruma responded. “I mean, why would I? She cares about our class a lot too, and I don’t think that she would want Clara to suffer…” Kalego just gave Iruma a flat stare before making another note.

“The Legendary Leaf was right,” the teacher murmured as the pen paused in midair. “You really are unlike any other demon.”

Iruma could feel his spine stiffen, as he tried to keep his internal panic off his face.

“Clearly, we will need to add some more lessons on how to handle interactions with other demons while managing personal safety, since it is clearly a topic your birth parents neglected,” Kalego continued, and the change of topic prompted a sigh of relief from Iruma. “And anyone with eyes can tell that the Chairdemon is more concerned with spoiling you instead of actually teaching you how to take care of yourself.” Iruma could feel himself sigh and relax into his chair.

“I’ll work with the Chairdemon to make sure that Barbatos is aware of your weaknesses as your training proceeds. Now, are there any areas that you noticed you were not prepared for during the Harvest Festival itself that we should address going forward?” Kalego asked, fast-forwarding through the remaining footage of the Festival. “Your final growth of the Legendary Leaf capitalized on your ability to coordinate with others, so I don’t believe we will need to go over that beyond our previous discussion.”

Iruma was quiet as he looked at his teacher. “You... don’t care about how much I don’t know? How I can’t even manage to interact with other demons properly?”

Kalego only looked at Iruma with one eyebrow raised, before he put his pen down with a definitive click. He then leaned over the desk to lower his gaze, level with the student’s. “Iruma, understand this. What you were before coming to this school is of no concern to me. My only role is to deal with the you that exists now, and mold it into an upstanding demon.

“If you were not properly educated before coming to Babyls, that is the failings of others. As a student, your role is to learn and grow. I have to assume your lack of knowledge is the result of poor teachings, as I have seen your ability to grow and adapt. You managed to improve greatly for the mid-term exams, so we have proof that you can learn. So don’t screw up the work I’ve already put in, got it?”

His dark eyes narrowed and pierced into Iruma. “I refuse to be associated with anything less than the highest of standards. And since I’m stuck being associated with you until the year has passed, I’m not going to permit you to drag me down. So keep improving the way you have been this entire term so you don’t embarrass me.”

Iruma could only stare at the almost-praise he had received, his mouth agape. It closed as Kalego gave his demands of standards with a growl, and he nodded mutely.

“The Music Festival is approaching quickly, so keep this conversation in mind as you prepare. That is all.” Kalego waved a hand in the air in dismissal, making some more notes. Iruma uttered a quiet, “Yessir” and stood and walked to the door. He paused and looked over his shoulder to the teacher once more. Kalego had already filtered Iruma out, focused entirely on writing a final set of notes.

Kalego, Opera, Sullivan, Ameri, Azz-kun, Clara… Iruma had never had so many people who wanted him to succeed and grow. It was a strange feeling, to realize he was expected to have pride in himself, rather than bending to the whims of his parents or his temporary employers.

They all wanted him to experience new things, to grow as an individual, to find what he was good at. It still was odd, but it was a feeling that he could find himself getting used to.

Ready to face whatever came, he pushed the door open and slipped into the halls of Bablys with a smile tugging at his lips.