I lucked out in resolving the issue the way I did. It was both lucky and convenient, but I was aware that the topic of my engagement to Tenjouin would come about again sometime in the future. When it does, I'll be in for one hell of a time, literally. It was just pushing back the problem, but I saw no issue with procrastination if it meant I could get on with my life quicker in the present.
Speaking of the present- where were we? Oh, yes, Nishioka was mentioning some 'reward'. When I heard her tone change over the intercom, I wondered what reward she was referring to. I wasn't aware I was being compensated, but compensation is surely welcome, especially the monetary kind. I had only done five-ish minutes of fighting that day, but that was plenty for me. If I fought for a longer period of time, I might have been able to get more familiar with caster magic and kaiju transformation, but there was also the possibility of reaching a limit on my abilities that I might unknowingly have. That could be fatal. I figured I would have plenty of chances to mess around with caster magic and whatnot later on, so I didn't take the risk of burning out. I wanted to end my strenuous work session and collect my hard-earned reward that I didn't know I was getting until after the fact. I turned to go up the staircase reaching the top floor, utterly disregarding the state of disrepair I had brought unto that second floor hallway. That was an expense I was not willing to pay. As far as anyone else is concerned, it wasn't me.
While I was running up the stairs, I wondered what reasons the school has for needing eleven floors. Surely those floors are entirely necessary and indispensable, or else I was expending my energy going up the longest staircase I've ever seen that's also as long as it is for absolutely no reason. It's not just me who's inconvenienced by this. It's also every other student at the academy that uses the stairs to get to their classes during school hours. It's one thing to have an elevator since students would be choosing to use the stairs, but there's not a single elevator anywhere on campus. Students have no choice but to embark on a strenuous climb of various heights if they want to get to class. The lucky ones have most, or all of their classes, on two floors that are next to each other. Students who are even luckier have several classes in one room, where the teachers come to them. Lucky or not, the size of this building, more specifically the size of this staircase, is outrageous.
I became exhausted after climbing the stairs from floor two up to floor eleven. I decided that as soon as I turned the corner and entered chairwoman Nishioka's office, I would get my answer as to why the building is so god damn tall. I approached the biggest (and only) set of double doors on the eleventh floor. As if the doors automatically reacted to my presence, they slowly swung inward. The doors were no longer obstructing my view, and I could see into the office. In the center of my vision was a tall woman wearing a white suit. Instead of sitting in the chair, she was sitting on top of her desk. One leg was crossed over the other, and her feet, dressed in black high heels, were dangling over the edge of her desk. "Please come in, Takuya. We have much to discuss." She invitingly said as she took a bite from an apple.
Upon walking in, I noticed the room was surprisingly average. The interior design was not much different than a classroom, other than the lack of students' desks, chalkboards, and whiteboards. There wasn't a lavish paint job or wallpaper, only white in every direction. The windows had fittingly average curtains, and the few paintings placed on the walls were clearly not originals. The floor, however, was unusual. The floor was wood instead of smooth tile. As average as the room was, it still exuded a welcoming feeling, strangely enough. It wasn't at all what I imagined the chairwoman's office would be like. I had pictured a much more extravagant and upper-class room in my head. I suppose my expectations were doomed to be let down as soon as I started making assumptions about the taste in decor of someone I had never met.
"Please have a seat." Nishioka said, stifling laughter.
Awkward silence swirled about.
"...There aren't any chairs." I said monotonously.
"Ah, so you noticed. Very perceptive."
Had I come all this way just to be ridiculed? Like hell I'd let my pilgrimage up that hellish staircase be all for naught. I would not accept it. I would not stand for it. Absolutely not. I was going to get my answer, and on that, I would not compromise.
"I do have many things I want to tell you, but let's get your reward out of the way first. So, let's-"
"Huh?" Nishioka acted as if she hadn't ever taken a walk around her own school. To be somewhat fair, it wasn't her school anymore, according to Tenjouin at least, but I was sure that she was playing dumb with me. Even if it really wasn't her school anymore, she had plenty of time to get a good look at the interior when it was her school. I think it's the duty of the chairwoman to be familiar with her (former?) turf, layout and architecture included. There was no way she didn't know what I was talking about. Or so I thought. I forgot that the school has quite a few staircases.
That's right. The Devil's Staircase was not unique. While it was the longest staircase in the building, it was not the only one. Up until my discussion with Nishioka, I had somehow shoved in the back of my head the fact that the academy featured an abnormal amount of staircases. The school's stairs are off the wall. And the ceiling. And the floor. And pretty much everywhere else, too. Like an M.C. Escher painting. I guess construction integrity inspections don't require buildings to be euclidean because there isn't a snowball's chance in hell that this place would've been built if they did.
I fervently continued. "The staircase. You know the one. The only staircase that goes all the way up to this floor."
"Oh yeah, the Devil's Staircase. Did you enjoy the hike?"
"You actually named it that? I mean, I call it the exact same thing, but only as a descriptive informal title."
"I did. Check a campus map if you don't believe me. It'll say 'Devil's Staircase' right on there."
I didn't check right away, but I did a while later, and sure enough, "Devil's Staircase" was labeled over it's location on the map.
"Don't bother checking right now. Just take my word for it." She said. I didn't trust her one bit, just like all other strangers. But if she was telling the truth-
She was in on it.
She was the one who put that staircase there. It was her idea. I figured out where the name "Devil's Staircase" came from; it was spawned from the Devil who sought to torture any who wished to get to their classes. Maybe she enjoys hurting others and hatched an entire plan. The staircase was intentionally designed to be steep and long, to make students late, so she could fulfill her sadistic fantasies on those who rack up enough penalties.
It's a little too far-fetched for Nishioka, but not for Tenjouin. That's a scheme right up her alley. Nishioka didn't seem to take herself or others seriously enough to do something like that though, at least from the first impression I got. She did seem cheeky enough to intentionally design a staircase like that, but not for the purpose of torturing people. It's more like she put it there to moderately inconvenience people, but I still wasn't having it.
"Stairs aside, Takuya, I thank you for-"
"Why would you do that?"
"Is that really important?" Nishioka asked lightheartedly, trying to brush off the subject. She wasn't getting out of this.
"It's very important. That awful staircase has made me suffer. You put it there, and just to spite people, you made it the only way to get up here. Some classrooms are on the lower floors, sure, but this is still the steepest damn staircase I've ever used, even on the lowest levels. Why would you request the construction of such an abomination, knowing that people would need to use it day in and day out, with no other options? Someone who goes from classroom to classroom will do two or three days' worth of walking in just seven hours. That's not even healthy exercise. It's unhealthy, and I lost a good portion of health on the way up here. Look me in the eyes as I tell you this, chairwoman Nishioka. You did this to me. You and your vile staircase. You might not be a bad person, and I'm not accusing you of being one, but think about the pain your staircase has caused. I have suffered, but I'm not the only one. All the other students at this school use the stairs at some point, so all of us suffer. Not just I, but all of the student body are exhausting ourselves every day climbing stairs. I think that you at least owe an apology, not to me, but to all the other students who-"
Nishioka chuckled smugly. "It seems you've got yourself a moral contradiction."
"Moral contradiction" was exactly right. There was no better term to describe it that I knew of.
My words had gone against my beliefs.
Since when did I start caring about other people?