Nothing happened for two days.
Qiongqi's faction hasn't made any movements, and the Kobayashi household became calm. Ryuuga was focused on taking care of her sister, and the heroines took shifts patrolling around the city. They entrusted me with Elmira's situation after school.
(I was ecstatic when he called me Papa a while ago, but I can't let this problem go on...so now, I need to figure out how to defeat Qiongqi.)
Once that happens, Shizuma will no longer be in any danger.
So, the more allies I have for that purpose, the better. That's why I'd like to get Ryuuga and the rest involved.
(Now that Mion has warned her as well, Elmira's pretty unsure of herself. Just one last push and I should be able to persuade her.)
Elmira's view of the three princesses is shifting quite a bit, so that's one success in having her live with them. As proof of that, she no longer tries to keep Shizuma away from them.
I suppose that's also in large part due to Shizuma growing attached to the freeloaders in my home.
In particular, Kiki's case has been quite remarkable for these past two days. In the beginning, Shizuma didn't seem to have a very good impression of the bobbed haired girl, but she's recently become important in his eyes.
(As far as I can tell, Shizuma's 'ranking of his favorites' goes a little something like this.)
──At the top is Elmira.
Somehow, Shizuma fully trusts her. That's not just because of the amount of time he's spent with her. I can kind of sense a strong affection between them.
──In second and third are Mion and Kiki, both tied with each other.
Mion has the mother attribute, but it's surprising that Kiki made it up to this point. I wonder if it's because her mental age and Shizuma's are the most similar.
──At fourth and fifth are me and Jyuri, both tied as well.
He called me "Papa" at one point, but not much has happened after that. Compared to someone like me who doesn't have any cheap tricks to use, Jyuri has her I-cup, a powerful weapon...I'm at a disadvantage here.
──And at the bottom is by a wide margin is Taotie.
Shizuma ends up hitting the "Evil Spirit's" head whenever they get near each other. Shizuma tugs on his ears and nose, and licks his horns. Perhaps he sees Taotie as a toy or a pet.
(Though, he doesn't hate Taotie either. Shizuma seems to like everyone. He also cries whenever people get into a fight, so Elmira and Kiki have been holding back on opposing each other recently.)
No matter if they're an apostle, vampire, "Evil Spirit", or human, they'll work together for Shizuma's sake.
If Elmira warms up to Taotie's faction at this rate, then perhaps she can be the link that can hasten the reconciliation between Ryuuga's faction and his.
The protagonist's side and the opponent's side forming a temporary truce for the sake of a powerless baby...would probably liven things up for part three.
──While thinking about such things, the Kobayashi household finished peacefully finished dinner once again.
"Mion. Your food is pretty good. Where did you learn to cook?"
"In another world. There are fewer ingredients there compared to the human world, so one's cooking technique is important. Actually, apostles are indifferent to 'food', but I like to prepare good food to my subordinates whenever──"
Mion and Elmira disappeared into the kitchen, carrying everyone's tableware.
Dishwashing became the vampire roommate's job. Furthermore, I think the heron apostle has been very caring, accompanying her all the time.
Jyuri went to take a bath, leaving Kiki, Shizuma, and me in the living room.
It seems that Taotie spent all night playing games once again, and so he's been sleeping since evening. It seems that the dark dragon attacked the village without any mercy.
"Shizuma, look. This is Berberon, this is Ujaranga."
Sitting next to me in the living room, Kiki took out two figures from her toy box, placing them in front of Shizuma.
Perhaps becoming aware of her role as an older sister, Kiki hasn't been fussy these past few days. She even ate all of her spinach without complaining today.
"It's impossible for a young boy to learn all of the monsters' names. So, we will start with these two."
Shizuma stared at the underground monster Berberon and the glacier monster Ujaranga, taking a surprising amount of interest in them. He said "Beh, beh," every so often, seeming to take a fancy to Berberon.
Nodding her head after seeing the baby act like that, the bobbed haired girl then took a remote and played a recording of this week's "Spectacle Man".
The title sequence of the TV show played for a bit, displaying the image of a giant silver hero.
"And this is the terrible Spectacle Man."
"You're not supposed to hate him."
Kiki then pointed at me after I retorted to her.
"And this is the middle-aged victim. A citizen who gets crushed by monsters."
"That's just a 'role'! Those who laugh at the middle-aged man will be left crying before his might!"
Ignoring my objection, Kiki placed Shizuma on her knees and watched the TV. She had a smug look when seeing the monsters act violently on the screen.
Seeing the two like this made them seem like close siblings. It's unfortunate that they're both non-humans.
...For a while, I watched "Spectacle Man" as well until Mion and Elmira returned. I felt a tap on my shoulder. It seems that there's something to talk about.
"What is it?"
"Ichirou, there was...an apostle in the back garden just now."
I made a small gasp upon hearing Mion say that with a serious expression.
"Could it be an attack?"
"Perhaps not. There's only one, and their ill will disappeared before I could set out to exterminate it. It seems that they came to scout the area."
It seems that they've found us. That is, they've found out that Elmira and Shizuma are taking refuge here.
I wonder if I should...set up some traps in the garden for next time.
Elmira showed some doubt while fiddling her scarlet, wavy hair.
"How many apostles follow Qiongqi? Given how many of them we've defeated, shouldn't their numbers have thinned out?"
She does have a point. Qiongqi's faction has a surprisingly number of those under his control.
During the battle against Getsushiyoukan, he sent out sixty apostles in an attempt to stop us.
There were about thirty apostles when Higaia attacked the other day.
When including the other small fights that happened, they must have lost more than one hundred based on what I know. However, it's unlikely that Qiongqi's pawns are nearly gone.
(Are there yet more apostles lurking in the shadows right now...? We couldn't find any when searching for them though.)
It seems that the "Evil Spirit" Qiongqi has a high charisma if he can get this many apostles to follow him. Despite him being a child character...he's a lot different from the "Evil Spirit" I'm stuck with.
"Qiongqi has a large number of apostles due to there being many generals such as Balon and Higaia. Originally, 'Hell's Top Eight' came to the human world while leading their troops."
Mion's comment didn't completely convince me.
"However, does Qiongqi really have that many under his command? Since there are three 'Evil Spirits' who have resurrected, there must be apostles who have chosen other rulers like you have, right?"
Leaving aside Taotie, Hundun is quite unpopular, isn't he? Is it because he's a lolicon?
"There's another reason. There's a 'certain merit'...if an apostle chooses to serve Qiongqi. That's why it's within expectations for Qiongqi to have many subordinates, even when multiple 'Evil Spirits' revive."
"Merit? What kind?"
When I tried to get further information, Mion struggled to respond. Elmira and I glanced at each other as she fumbled, seeming hesitant.
After twenty seconds of silence, the heron apostle seemed ready to speak.
"I don't really want to say it though. Revealing the abilities of an 'Evil Spirit' is unbefitting of a general."
"However, I suppose I have no choice. Qiongqi is the enemy of us three princesses now. This secret-revealing will be of my own accord, and I will leave Jyuri and Kiki uninvolved."
"Don't worry. I can just hear it from Taotie."
"I'll say it...Qiongqi has the 'ability to revive apostles'. The apostles want to reap the benefits of that."
"In the human world, apostles can't die. When they're defeated, they transform into spirits, return to the spirit world, and regain their bodies after around two hundred years. You all know that, right?"
The vampire girl nodded her head and said "Yeah, I've heard about that".
Kiki didn't seem to be paying attention and just focused on the TV. She was smugly telling Shizuma about the monsters that appeared on the screen.
"Qiongqi can make an apostle's soul resurrect immediately. Though, if they're defeated again, they'll have to rest for around two hundred years as usual...so they're able to skip the waiting only once."
In short, it's possible for Qiongqi's subordinates to receive a "continue".
I see. I understand why so many apostles follow him. That's quite a big merit for them. Likewise, that's a big disadvantage for us.
"Do you understand? Ichirou, Elmira? Supposing that Qiongqi has two hundred subordinates...then that basically means we have to face four hundred."
"So we need to defeat the apostles twice?"
That's a big challenge. Furthermore, we're up against multiple generals.
In other words, beating Hunshou Higaia just once won't do.
Perhaps we'll also have to fight once more against Kanshou Balon, the one Aogasaki defeated.
"If that's the case...then they won't withdraw from the battlefield anytime soon."
Elmira muttered that while staring at the floor with a serious expression.
She's probably aware of it as well. The "Evil Spirit" Qiongqi is a bigger opponent than we first thought. This isn't a situation where she can fuss over the honor of her blood lineage and be absent from the fighting.
It's only a matter of time until Elmira returns to her companions...but there's something else on my mind as well. There might also be an advantage in Qiongqi's power for us.
"Hey, Mion, Elmira."
"What is it, Kobayashi Ichirou?"
"Can't Qiongqi use his power to──resurrect Reida?"
The two looked at me. I noticed that Kiki was staring at me as well.
"How about it, Mion? Is it possible?"
"I, I don't think it's impossible, but...that's assuming Qiongqi will collect Reida's soul. Even if he does collect it, would Qiongqi even revive Reida after she abandoned her identity as an apostle...?"
Is she saying that it's beyond any reasonable expectation?
Though, that's fine. Just a tiny glimmer of hope is enough.
...Elmira and Kiki stared at Shizuma with a complicated expression.
I understand their feelings. If Reida does revive, then they would naturally have to return Shizuma to her. After all, Reida is his true mother.
If that happens, then we will no longer take care of him. Perhaps that would be the last we have anything to do with Shizuma.
(Of course, that would be sad, but...it's probably what's best for Shizuma. I must strive for the best path rather than trying to get him to call me Papa.)
As I was reevaluating myself, Jyuri happened to finished bathing and returned to the living room.
"Phew, what a nice bath. I wonder if I should go back in."
The big-breasted woman sat next to us in a good mood while covering her wet blond hair with a towel. She was quite charming in a silk camisole.
"Ichirou, I had a bath first. I used lavender bath salts today."
"Save it for later Jyuri, we're talking about Qiongqi's ability as of──"
"Oh, right. There was a peeping tom, so I enacted judgement upon the felon."
"There was a chameleon apostle, perhaps one of Qiongqi's subordinates. I got chilly since I was out nude in the garden."
...Was that the scouting apostle Mion talked about earlier?
Did their ill will disappear because Jyuri killed them first? Or rather, the large-breasted woman went outside in her birthday suit?!
"Of course you would say nothing about defeating an apostle naked! Are you that used to exposing yourself?!"
"The apostle was surprised as well. While I'm at it, our neighbor Hirano was also surprised."
"You're not supposed to let him see! Now Hirano's a witness!"
"Don't worry. He didn't see me deal with the apostle."
"I hope you're telling the truth..."
"I am. I gave him a greeting. 'Good evening. It's quite hot today, isn't it?' is what I said."
"Yes. Though I left my underwear drying in the garden, so I put it on."
"You probably caused a huge panic for Hirano!"
Hirano's a single company employee living in a shabby apartment next door. He only came here a year ago, so I don't have much to say about him.
He's a good man who actively participates in the garbage collection activities in town. He's in the latter half of his twenties, and seems to be a graduate from a famous university.
I wonder what he thinks about...a high schooler living alone before having girls live with him, now taking care of a baby as well.