Chapter 3 - The Town Where Large Clocks Cannot Be Read / "Four minutes - for minutes"
That night, a visitor arrived at the Yachi residence. Although it was visitor whom Kirika particularly did not want to see, he was impossible to refuse given the circumstances.
Sitting cross-legged on the tatami floor, Himura swept his gaze over everyone.
"...You were defeated?"
"We weren't defeated. That girl ran away."
Fear grumbled while scowling to an unprecedented extent, sipping tea from the table, probably with poultice currently applied to her flank. Although her injuries would heal automatically even if untreated, at least this provided some effect of comfort, offering an impression it would heal faster. The same point applied to Konoha and Kuroe as well. Furthermore, Konoha's arm, which had been pierced by Elsie's fingers, was still bandaged—naturally, Kuroe's hair with life force imbued for treatment was also used.
Only Kirika, who had suffered a fatal attack, looked the same as usual. At this moment, she was narrowing her eyes anxiously and asking:
"Himura, hurry and spit out everything you know."
"Of course, I came with that intent in mind. Although I didn't make it in time for your first contact, it shouldn't be too late if I tell you now. The enemy is Hinai Elsie—one of the Knights mainstays, also known as the «Strongest»... But this only applies under a certain condition. There's probably no more than a handful who can fight her head on, such as those on the level of the Dominion Lord or the Draconian's No.1, the Commander. As for the Lab Chief's Nation, there's only Un Izoey at best, but most likely, even she cannot prevail."
"Indeed, that child can probably be considered the strongest class as a human. But Hinai Elsie is completely beyond human, possessing speed and strength surpassing a human body's limits, even I could not match up to her—Ahhh, how absolutely infuriating! ...Cough, in any case, I don't believe that humans are capable of handling an opponent like her."
Presumably recalling the earlier situation, Konoha feigned calmness but could not disguise her anxiety.
"Hold on, let's forget about the country girl for now."
"Hmm, you said something curious just now. What do you mean by 'under a certain condition'?"
As a matter of courtesy, they had served tea to Himura but he did not touch his drink at all. Fear's question prompted him to nod.
"This condition is very simple, namely, the duration for which the Wathe in her possession produces an active effect. Conversely speaking—In other words, the Wathe that girl owns, the Shamrock's Experimental Timer «Clockwork Life», has a time limit."
Haruaki repeated those words verbatim. Himura replied in a torrent:
"Due to her strength, she is quite well-known in the business—Hence, I was able to gather a wealth of information regarding her Wathe. Although it's unknown what principles guided «Clockwork Life»'s creation, it seems to be a Wathe that compressed the user's time. One second for us is X seconds for her, where X is greater than one, which is what allows her to move X times faster than us. Her unusual strength and physical durability also stem from the same principle. Suppose X equals two, then during one second for us, the 'her from the 1st second' and the 'her from the 2nd second' are superimposed, resulting in a compressed state of strengthened existence..."
"I am not part of the Lab Chief's Nation, so I have no interest in theories. Absolutely ridiculous."
Kirika interrupted mercilessly, causing Himura to shut up immediately and shrug.
"...Sorry, I wasn't paying attention and..."
"Kirika is right, these complicated theories don't matter. The real question is what means are there to handle her—Since that Wathe has a time limit, that's what we should target, right? Specifically, what is the time limit?"
"Roughly four minutes. That's why people call her the Tiny Extermination Zone—«Four Minutes»."
Haruaki suddenly felt that something was not quite right. Last evening's battle in the park had ended almost within the blink of an eye. Naturally, he had not timed accurately, but based on feeling—
"Last time, it didn't seem like it reached four minutes... I'm not too certain, but it only felt like two minutes."
"In other words, the maximum is four minutes. The ability is activated by winding the watch stem of the pocket watch. Depending on the number of turns, the time limit can be shorter that four minutes, it seems."
Why had Elsie not delivered a final deathblow to them at the time? Haruaki could now understand to some extent—Because the time limit had arrived. Since Fear still exhibited the will to fight, she decided to retreat. However—
"In that case, can't she just turn the watch stem again? But then again, there's no need to be stingy, so why wouldn't she wind up four minutes in the first place?"
"An excellent question, a hundred marks. It seems that «Clockwork Life» can't be used at will—In other words, the watch stem cannot be turned at all times. After all, it's a Wathe with a powerful cursed ability. Hence, I've heard that it needs to first store up something akin to energy in order to activate its power. Considering that the Wathe can only produce four minutes of activation time at most, in other words, it should be alright to say that time must be stored up. That said, it is still unknown how time is stored up specifically."
"I see... Today it happens that she only had enough energy for two minutes. She made her move thinking that it was enough, but it didn't work out in the end, so she escaped."
Konoha murmured in deep thought, then continued:
"In any case, I basically understand. In the end, it looks like the key is how to prevent that pocket watch from activating its power. The effective method is to prevent her from accumulating time—even though it's currently unclear how the act of storing up time is done—prevent her from storing energy. Even if she could activate the cursed power, the shorter the duration, the more advantageous it would be to our side."
"Yes, that girl is completely no threat as long as she's not using the pocket watch's power. Judging from way she looks normally, she seems quite sluggish."
"But how exactly does she store up time? That's the question..."
"Oh, I don't know if it's related or not... But at the end, that girl asked me a question. Something like whether this part of town was the busiest or not? When I told her she was right, she said that as expected, she needed to do something in this town."
"Done in this town... In other words, she might be talking about storing up time while in this town. At least it's better than some other place she might not be able to find. Once we find out what she intends to do, we should be able to stop her, but..."
Kirika lowered her voice in a daunted manner. Similarly, everyone was frowning, daunted.
They had only cleared up what direction the matter should take, but in terms of concrete action, they were still at a total loss.
Honestly speaking, it was quite unsettling.
While they were stuck here worrying, perhaps Elsie was currently storing up time, maybe even accumulating enough energy to use the whole four minutes, then possibly reappearing tomorrow. If that were the case, what were they going to do? Haruaki was unable to help at all. Simply in half an instant, he would be beaten up and neutralized like Fear and the others.
The girls were probably thinking about this matter.
Stopping the enemy from storing any time at all was very likely an impossible task. Since Elsie was able to compress time, were they going to be able to defeat her in the next fight? How much time could they stall for? Everyone was probably pondering this question, whether Fear who had lost consciousness from merely a single attack, Konoha who was injured, Kuroe who was tossed away like an ordinary doll, or Kirika who had nearly died for real—
Haruaki quietly clenched his fist on his lap. He gnashed his teeth at his lack of power. As usual, perhaps even more poignant than before, he was unable to do anything.
An intensely gloomy silence occupied the Yachi residence's living room. Everyone looked down while their thoughts were shrouded beneath a dark future as they struggled with internal unease.
Just at this moment, Haruaki suddenly noticed someone squirming beside him, so he looked up.
It was Amanda, still expressionless as usual. Although one could call it squirming, it was actually more like shaking her shoulders slightly. Recently, this started happening on occasion. Amanda was using her body to say something, a signal she sent out with everything she had. Although it was only vaguely in truth, but over the past few days, Haruaki was beginning to understand what she was trying to express.
"You'd like... a drink of water? Here..."
Haruaki picked up a cup of water on the table. Bringing it to her lips, he slowly tilted it. Gulping sounds came from Amanda's throat, more impatiently than before. It looked like she really was thirsty as suspected.
Haruaki relaxed his expression slightly and looked straight into Amanda's face. She was still alive, alive beyond a doubt. However—Elsie was currently trying to terminate her life.
Despite feeling unsettled, nothing was going to change.
Thinking was imperative, action was imperative. Protecting her life was imperative, she who had ended up this way because of them.
Amanda's visible efforts to live on succeeded in slightly relieving the heavy atmosphere in the living room. As though waiting for the right timing, Himura slowly got up. He had already stood up and started walking by the time Haruaki noticed he was moving. Indeed, his sense of presence was quite weak.
"It's about time for me to take my leave."
As the master of the house, Haruaki felt obliged by etiquette to see him to the door. Fear and the girls also went to see him off. The last to stand up from the tatami floor was the scowling Kirika, as expected.
While putting on his shoes at the entrance, Himura turned his head to glance towards Haruaki's group and said:
"I forgot to ask something important. Although you probably didn't have any spare effort to notice, I'll still try asking. Did she look like she was carrying the 'mind-healing Wathe' I mentioned before?"
Right, there was that as well. A method that could save Amanda—but at the same time, worryingly, it was a cursed method as well.
"We did not try to confirm. Just as you said, there was no effort to spare either."
"Because in just one hit, you ended up defeated and laid out on the ground."
"W-What are you talking about!? That was... Umm... That was just because I was careless for a moment!"
"Whatever, let's put that aside for now—I wasn't able to confirm at the time either, but I felt like there was something strange about the way she looked. Despite being a member of the Knights Dominion, she was able to converse normally... Neither did she show any of Peavey's brand of insanity involving repeated screams of 'Destroy! Destroy!' But definitely for sure, she's a weird girl."
"I see. Then it could very well be the result of the mind-healing Wathe's power."
Himura nodded in comprehension, stood up and reached for the front door.
"Since the enemy is challenging, asking you to seize the Wathe would probably be an unreasonable request, but I hope you could bear it in mind slightly. Although you are not obliged to do so, please be careful not to break that Wathe with excessively powerful attacks."
"Hmph. Although I can't promise you anything, we'll be more careful."
"Anyway, that's it for now. Okay, next, I intend to devote full effort to investigating that girl's whereabouts and how she 'stores up time.' I will contact you as soon as I have news."
As though it were the most natural thing in the world, Himura explained sincerely what he had to do. Although Kirika had warned against Himura, Haruaki felt that Himura had been taking action responsibly to help Amanda and them. Gathering information carried its own risks—Haruaki felt compelled to say something about that at least. But before Haruaki could express any words of worry or gratitude, Himura had already opened the door and stepped outside. Haruaki really did not notice when he had opened the door.
Himura's sense of presence was as ill-defined as a ghost's just as he was about to vanish into the darkness. Literally, he was about to vanish into the darkness indeed. Presumably, Haruaki was not the only one feeling unsettled by his appearance.
Kirika called out to him, but she did not continue. Her wavering gaze seemed to be regretting calling to him. She also seemed to be at a loss how to proceed, remaining silent. Himura simply looked back, the corners of his lips curling up slightly.
"Allow me to presumptuously assume you're telling me to take care. I'm not going to force myself too far. Also—I probably won't disappear."
Kirika did not respond. Himura did not say anything more.
Then once again, by the time Haruaki noticed all of a sudden, his figure had already vanished without trace.
She was enjoying this delicious dish, that of an obese nobleman. While enduring the pressure coming from all sides, the nobleman emitted screams, threats and pleas that served as incomparably fragrant spices. The pressure, namely herself, did not stop. In order to fully savor the entire dish, the space kept compressing in volume. Crish crish crish, crish crish crish. The space was currently even smaller than a kennel's, stuffed with the obese nobleman. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhcrishcrishcrishyahhhhh stop it stop it I beg you, who do you think I am, so sorry please stop it, crishcrishcrish splat. Done. A mass of meat, bones, hair and internal organs. Due to the high quality of the ingredients, this lump of nobleman meat was rich in fat content. Compressed human bodies would give off juices. Viscous, concentrated juices. Thse juices flowed out from the cracks in her body, red, hot, voluminous, concentrated, sweet and spicy, all at the same time.
She was enjoying the music from a mother and her newborn baby. The red-hot brazen bull was bellowing while the cracking of the wood fire was the accompaniment. The crying baby and the crying mother. The stench of charred flesh. Uwah stop it save me I don't wanna die, uwah just this child uwah save him this child this child is dying, uwah uwah uwah. A vocal duet, a song filled with emotion. Moo—The bull was in charge of the interlude. A dance to protect the feet scorched red by heat, accompanied by the rhythm of sizzling freshly roasted meat. The baby's crying vanished. To the protect the feet scorched red by heat, the mother placed the baby underfoot. Hahhh, hahaha, ahahah, let me out let me out let me out let me out, I'm still alive let me out! Echoing in her heart, the postlude's trailing notes were cool and beautiful.
She was enjoying the art of a couple. Standing on her, the couple's feet were pierced by the blades and spikes sprouting from her form as an iron board. Holding hands, the pair stood on top. Falling over would lose artistic value, these sculptures of lovers with death lurking by their feet. The castle lord had said: so long as you endure for a day, you shall be released. I love you I love you let us survive and return together, but it hurts my feet hurts I can stand no longer, try your best the pain the pain the pain save me save me save me! After half a day, the castle lord spoke again: so long as one of you dies, I shall release the other from the board. The man immediately pushed the woman's body down. One of the sculptures fell over, pierced all over by countless blades, resulting in large holes large holes large holes. Yahaha I'm saved I'm saved you stupid woman! As agreed, the castle lord released the man from the board while transforming her to an interrogation chair and saying: Next, you shall sit in this chair. Hearing these words, the man's face turned into a first-rate work of art, carved with despair, how exciting, it felt as though one's heart and soul was cleansed by catharsis.
She was enjoying the drama enacted by a father and daughter. Completely naked, the daughter was bound to the inquisitional wheel. The father's hands were tied. The wheel turned, turned and turned. Under the wheel, a slender bucket was filled with poison that slowly dissolved the body. After the front half of her body was soaked in this poison, the daughter returned after one revolution. To save the daughter, the father extended his tongue, reaching for his daughter's breasts, abdomen, thighs and crotch. A drama where a father licked the poison off his flesh-and-blood daughter's private parts to spit it out. I'll save you lick lick lick spit spit spit lick lick lick, father it's enough gurgle sizzle don't, I'll save you oh not stopping spit spit spit lick lick lick. The daughter's skin was moist with the mixture of the poison and the father's saliva. The father's tongue gradually dissolved from the poison, his saliva mixing with blood. Even so, he stubbornly licked, licking his beautiful daughter's body, going mad with madness, moaning like a beast while his own crotch swelled in turn. This drama with no ending was immoral, insane, passionate, and evocative of pity all at once.
Ahhh, this was her life.
She was still living.
Currently... she... very happily...
Fear lifted her blanket and sat up. Before her eyes was her own room, shrouded in the darkness of the night as usual.
Her heart was racing, her head dizzy, she felt nauseous. Covering her mouth with one hand, she used her other hand to tug at her own hair.
"Why... by this point... am I still having... this kind of dream...!"
Of course, no one could answer her whispers.
Then for quite a long while, Fear simply curled herself up, desperately enduring the intense discomfort that seemed to make her entire body shudder nonstop.
The next day, in the classroom, it was break time.
"Sigh..." In the neighboring seat, Fear was sighing listlessly. Haruaki cocked his head and asked:
"Are you okay? Why do I feel like you've been low in energy all day?"
"Hmm... No, nothing. It's just that I didn't get any sleep last night."
I guess it can't be helped—Haruaki thought. Indeed, so much happened yesterday. Perhaps her defeat by Elsie hit her so hard that she was unable to sleep.
Whenever Fear became depressed in stark contrast to her usual energetic self, it made Haruaki feel uncomfortable all over. In order to cheer her up, Haruaki suggested:
"I feel sleepy too right now. To drive away the sleepiness, let's go buy some drinks."
"Only if it's your treat."
"You leave me no choice. Understood!"
Haruaki originally intended to invite others along the way but Taizou and Kana were chatting with other classmates while Kirika was not in the classroom. Haruaki and Fear exited the room.
Just as they were walking in the corridor, making their way towards the vending machine near the shoe lockers, Fear suddenly stopped.
The teacher with the long bangs was approaching from the opposite end of the corridor. Soon, he seemed to notice them in turn. Himura turned his head to inspect the surroundings before stopping just as they passed by him and whispering:
"...It's you two. Perfect, could you please gather on the roof after school? We'll hold a strategy meeting."
"Eh? Ah... Oh... Is it everyone?"
Since Himura was giving off his usual aura as a gloomy mathematics teacher but suddenly speaking with his original voice, Haruaki could not react in time. Having confirmed there were no other students nearby, Haruaki whispered in return.
"Yes, please tell Kirika and the others for me."
"Since it's a strategy meeting, that means you've come across new information about the enemy?"
Fear grinned, presumably interpreting the arrival of new information as a chance to counterattack. It also felt like she finally had a chance to vent her stress.
"My, how hardworking you are. Let me praise you a bit."
"That is truly my honor."
Beneath his long bangs, Himura seemed to be smiling wryly. At this moment, several female students passed by Haruaki's group.
"Oh, it's Himura-sensei. Hello~"
"Sensei is still the same as always~ You've got to hold your head higher and stick your chest out! That way, you'll definitely look much cooler!"
"Yes... I will try my best..."
"Like I said, you're not doing it right~" The girls giggled while walking towards the other end of the corridor. Despite the gloomy airs he exuded, Himura was quite handsome upon closer examination. Due to this simple reason, he was unexpectedly popular with the female students.
"Yes, you're still a man who can put on a new face rapidly."
"Should this be called putting on a new face...? Anyway, it's already a habit. Originally, people used to tell me that I speak too coldly. In my efforts to speak more politely like a teacher, it became like this."
"Polite like a teacher huh...? That said, you're totally lacking in commanding presence. They won't respect you at all."
"Fear, weren't you arrogantly saying 'let me praise you a bit' just now? You totally have no right to say this..."
"Yes, although that isn't the proper attitude towards the teacher, I believe it does count as love an esteem in a certain way. I don't think there's anything bad about it."
Himura glanced at the direction where the group of girls had left, his shoulder shaking slightly with laughter. Then in an inexplicably self-deprecating voice, he said:
"Especially among the students whom I teach, there are those who hate me utterly, let alone offer love or admiration. How troubling."
Naturally, Haruaki knew who he was talking about and could not help but exchange glances with Fear. Since earlier, he had been very curious about Kirika and Himura's relationship. Fear apparently felt the same.
"Hey, why does Kirika hate you so much?"
"I feel like Kirika will hate me even more if I ended up being the one to explain. Since she hasn't mentioned it, that probably means she doesn't want you to know... Anyway, many things happened in the past. My rights and wrongs. Her rights and wrongs. These were all mixed together complicatedly."
Himura whispered while gazing afar.
"I don't get it but indeed, if Kirika doesn't want to talk about it and we still ask you, it'll cause many problems. Then it doesn't matter. After all, it's not something I need to know no matter what. Just cancel my question from just now."
"A lot happened in the past... Uh... I'm only asking out of curiosity, but how long have you actually known Class Rep, Himura-sensei?"
"If it's just that, I think telling you should be okay. Let me think... It was back when she was in middle school. I was still in university at the time but I had already joined the ranks of the Lab Chief's Nation. Then—"
Himura's voice was very gentle as though waxing nostalgic about the past.
Indeed... Haruaki had found it quite unbelievable for some time now. Compared to the masked man he had encountered back when kidnapped by Bivorio, there was something different about him.
He was now very ordinary.
Very ordinarily, using a reminiscing tone of voice with eyes that looked like they were browsing through a nostalgic photo album.
Since he was a member of the Lab Chief's Nation after all, there were indeed areas where he could not be trusted completely. But apart from that, what about the rest?
Himura was putting in full effort for Amanda who was completely unrelated to him. To save her, he was running about sincerely without pretense. To defeat the enemy who sought to kill Amanda, he was gathering all sorts of information—most likely risking his own safety to do so. Whether the fact of investigating a knight of the Dominion or using a cursed mask for these ends, there were surely inherent dangers.
Perhaps like Un Izoey, he was not such a villainous person at heart. Perhaps there were only occasional aberrations due to the standpoint of the Lab Chief Nation's ideology. Haruaki wondered.
"Then the first time I met her was when the Lab Chief brought her to the research facility—"
There was suddenly a large shout. No sooner had Himura started recounting the past, the end came immediately.
It was Kirika. Probably having gone to the washroom just now, she was now walking towards them in the corridor, glaring sharply. Then stepping in front of Haruaki and Fear as though shielding them, she glared viciously at Himura.
"...What are you talking to these two about?"
"Nothing much. I was just contacting them to hold a strategy meeting and happened to engage in casual chatter."
Kirika's glare did not relax. Himura shrugged as though surrendering.
"How could you glare at a teacher with these kinds of eyes? It'll be troublesome if someone gets the wrong idea. Yes, in any case, I've said what I needed to. Then see you all later after school on the roof—Oh wait, there's math class during fifth period. Please remember to revise properly. I will be calling on you."
Then Himura turned back into his guise of the gloomy mathematics teacher and left the scene. Without saying a word, Kirika continued to glare at his back until his figure disappeared. Only then did her shoulders heave once from a sigh.
"I can't believe you were standing around, chatting with him. How absolutely ridiculous. Didn't I say to be careful of him?"
"Uh... Umm, sorry. It started with him calling us to tell us about the strategy meeting."
"Yes, then we just went with the flow. We didn't say anything important."
Haruaki and Fear were not lying but still felt guilty. After all, asking about Kirika and Himura's past in Kirika's absence was perhaps a bit underhanded.
"I see... Very well. It's almost time for class, let's head back to the classroom."
Due to standing around chatting, they ended up unable to buy drinks, but that could be done during the next break between periods. Haruaki and Fear followed Kirika while staring at her back. Haruaki thought to himself: at least try asking her directly once. To relieve my unsettled feelings and guilty conscience, asking just once would be fine. He was simply curious and had no intention of getting to the bottom of things. Just an attempt to ask should be enough.
"Umm, Class Rep... It's fine if you don't want to answer, but why do you hate Himura-sensei so much? Umm... Did something happen in the past?"
Kirika halted in her steps. Without looking back, she said:
"Sorry. Umm... To me, it is something that I find repulsive even to recall. So... If possible... I don't want to talk about it. Knowing that, do you still wish to ask no matter what?"
Haruaki's answer was prepared already, of course. Regardless what it was about, he did not want Kirika to suffer. He did not want to hear her speak in such a pained voice again—
"N-No, it's totally fine if you don't want to tell us. After all, it's not like I need to know no matter what. I'm just asking 'why~?' out of simple curiosity—Ooph!"
He ended in a painful grunt, because Fear had elbowed him in the gut.
"Jeez, you're such an insensitive and shameless brat. Everyone has things they don't wanna tell others. Kirika, don't mind him."
Kirika looked back slightly—
"Sorry." Her forced smile was incomparably forlorn.
Hence, after school, Haruaki and friends went to the roof.
Walking beside him, Konoha also seemed a bit off.
"You don't look too well. Are you okay?"
"Eh? Yes... Well, due to taking turns with Kuroe-san to keep watch last night, I didn't get much sleep. But don't worry, I've already replenished my sleep during class."
"That doesn't sound like something you should boast about so openly... Hmm, so both you and Fear didn't get enough sleep. I'm very grateful for you keeping watch during the night, but please don't push yourself too far. If you fall ill, the costs will outweigh the benefits."
"Fufu, I'm not that frail. But in any case, thank you very much."
"Yawn... To be honest, I'm very sleepy too. Are we going to hear some uplifting news next?"
"Who knows. We'll find out when we get there. Amanda, don't move... Here we go."
Fear switched positions with Kirika, who had been pushing the wheelchair, and carried the wheelchair up the stairs. When they reached the roof, Himura was already waiting there.
"We've arrived. If there's any news, hurry on with it."
Fear did not even try to find a place to sit but simply cut straight to the point.
"I'm glad we don't need to beat around the bush. But first of all, I must tell you all that I still haven't been able to find Hinai Elsie's hiding place."
"So there's no way to take the initiative and attack? Then? You couldn't have gathered us all here just to listen to depressing news, right?"
"Of course not. Since we cannot bring the fight to her, as things stand, stopping her from storing up time should be the best countermeasure. Furthermore, while hindering her in this period, we must also work hard to find her location then defeat her. But concretely, how does she store up time? This question still has no answer."
"Then we're still out of options, so what's the point of this meeting—"
Fear frowned and was getting more and more worked up when Himura extended his hand to stop her.
"Zero marks. You should listen to the teacher until the end. Although the specifics are unknown, I have obtained key hints. But there's no definite proof that it's linked to her."
"Indeed." Himura nodded at Konoha's question.
"Last night and today, there has been quite a few incidents of clock vandalism. Every clock was quite large and located at conspicuous locations. It's probably not a coincidence that clocks at different places were all damaged."
"Clocks... huh... Considering that she owns a cursed pocket watch, it is quite suspicious indeed."
Haruaki suddenly recalled.
"Speaking of which, wasn't there a large clock at the park? It was also broken."
"Yeah, it was completely by chance that we happened to pass by that park, so Hinai Elsie probably wasn't lying in wait there to ambush us. In that case, due to certain reasons, she made her appearance at that park. Supposing she was there to break the clock, then it all makes sense. Afterwards, playing together with the children—Hmph, probably just on an absolutely ridiculous whim, or could there be some other reason as well...?"
Kirika murmured softly while pondering then looking up slightly to glare at Himura, she asked in a businesslike tone of voice:
"—The quantity and locations of the broken clocks?"
Himura took out a notebook from his breast pocket, reading as he answered. A clock at a downtown shopping mall, a clock on a department store's outer wall, a clock on a comprehensive hospital's outer wall. Confirmed to this date was a total of three... Including the clock stand at the park, there were four.
"Every clock is quite large. If there's some kind of condition, it's probably that."
"Possible. If it only needed to be clocks of any type, attacking a watch shop would probably be the top choice. Have you confirmed this yet?"
"Of course this sort of trivial matter has been confirmed. No watch shop has been broken into or suffered vandalism of merchandise."
"Hmm." Fear crossed her arms and tilted her head.
"Assuming that girl needs to destroy large clocks in order to store time. Then what we need to do next is—"
"Prevent her from breaking more clocks. Since she has already broken quite a few, it means that she probably can't refill that quickly. If that's the case, her fighting time may still be quite short. If we guard a large clock and she shows up to destroy it—Perhaps it'll be to our advantage instead."
"But even if it's just large clocks... There's many of them in town."
"That girl probably isn't very familiar with this town's streets, so I think she only targets clocks that she encounters by chance. Assuming she continues to wander randomly in search of large clocks, then the biggest, most visible, most striking one is probably—"
Haruaki desperately searched his memories from the last ten-odd years. As the one who had lived in this city the longest,he quickly found the answer—
"It'll be the one in front of the train station You see, that's the one embedded in the train station building."
"Oh~ Speaking of which, that one is quite big. The possibility is very high."
"There's too little we can do, so we should try anything that seems remotely likely—Okay, tonight we will keep watch in front of the station!"
Perhaps reviving her spirits due to having a clear target for what should be done now, Fear clenched her fists forcefully and her voice recovered in energy. Then she glanced at Himura.
"Himura, I guess I should say thanks to you. Thanks to your information, we finally have something to guide us."
"—I'm glad to be able to help. But who knows what might happen next. I'll keep gathering information."
Himura spoke in a lively tone of voice then turned to leave as though things were finished. Haruaki originally wanted to thank him but missed the chance. Besides—
Haruaki somehow got the feeling that the figure silently leaving the roof did not want their thanks. Himura simply stared ahead with sincerity and solemnity while making his way forward.
However, even if he did not desire words of thanks, he was probably seeking something else instead. There must be a very pure wish driving Himura to behave in this sincere manner. What exactly could it be?
Fear and the girls were already starting to discuss their planned schedule for tonight. Apart from Haruaki, only two others kept their eyes on Himura until he vanished. The gaze they cast towards Himura was virtually the same, even though there was the difference between active and passive.
With completely emotionless eyes—Amanda and Kirika watched as Himura departed.
The current time was after 7pm. Haruaki's group was at a family restaurant in front of the train station.
Although they had decided to guard the large clock in front of the station, keeping watch exposed to the cold winter air would be too much of an ordeal. Since crowds kept sweeping through until the last train, Elsie was probably going to make her appearance late at night—That was what they predicted but they had no idea when exactly it would be. Besides, Elsie could very well throw something for an instant to break the clock while crowds were still coming through, hence, in the end they decided to use this twenty-four-hour family restaurant as their base of operations while keeping the clock under surveillance. On the surface, they were going to look like troublesome customers who refused to leave until morning, but they hoped the restaurant would not take offense if they ordered more food to compensate.
Luckily, there happened to be an empty table for six by the window overlooking the station. Haruaki, Fear, Konoha, Kuroe, Kirika and Amanda totaled six exactly. To be honest, Haruaki did not want to take Amanda along on this potentially quite exhausting surveillance operation, but since she was Elsie's target, they could not leave her unattended.
The group frequently glanced towards the station while deciding to eat dinner first.
"It's been such a long time since we last went out for food together like this. What should I order...?"
Konoha's gaze simply moved back and forth between the train station and the meat entrees in the menu while she murmured softly. Clearly the pasta and other offering on the following page were not on among her choices from the get go. Suddenly, Haruaki found someone shoving the menu towards him from the side. Naturally, it was not Amanda who was spacing out on his left, but Fear sitting on his right.
"Oh thanks. Eh? Why is it the dessert page? Before this, let's eat dinner first."
"W-What does it matter? You can decide now too!"
"True, but my original plan was to just get a coffee after the meal..."
"Nuunuu. No, you don't need to order for real. Just that supposing you were ordering, which would you pick!?"
Even when Haruaki tried to ignore Fear and turn to another page, she kept holding that page down with a serious expression for some reason. What was going on? Completely baffled, Haruaki finally looked towards the menu.
"So, if I really had to order, then how about this rice-flour dumplings parfait..."
"Ku... Rejected! Pick another!"
"You're clearly the one who asked me to pick something, yet you reject the choice!? Totally nonsensical!"
"Umm... Since you're picking a dessert after all, I think you should choose something more sweet~ Something more sweet~...! Okay, choose now!"
Fear spoke while staring unnaturally at the menu. Following her gaze, Haruaki found a "Valentine Fair" in a corner with chocolate-type desserts all over it. So she wanted me to choose from there?
"Then... sticking to the basics... I'll choose this common chocolate cake... okay?"
Fear's face brightened up as a result.
"Ohoh! Neither the fontaine chocolat nor the chocolate banana crepe, but this? Really? I see... Haruaki likes to stick to the basic styles. Mufufufu, I feel like I've made progress..."
Halfway through her speech, Fear began to grin eerily to herself. After that, she lost interest in the menu and became lost in her thoughts, muttering to herself. Haruaki cocked his head in puzzlement but was finally able to turn to other pages and started to choose his main course.
Soon after they ordered, their food was served. Everyone began to eat their respective orders. Of course, Haruaki also ordered menu items that seemed like Amanda could eat conveniently. Naturally, the person responsible for feeding her was Haruaki sitting beside her.
"Open your mouth... Very good, very good, looks like you've got a good appetite."
"Muu~, to have Haruaki-kun feed her personally, that's so enviable... But no, as long as it's Haruaki-kun feeding her, she really does eat obediently."
"If I were the one feeding her, she sometimes refuses to eat. So biased~"
"Damn shameless brat, while we were not looking, you didn't do something to make her stick particularly to you, did you...? Like saying 'this is a massage' while doing shameless things!"
At this moment, eating dinner while paying attention to the station, Kirika threw a glance over.
"Although this is just my opinion as a layman, isn't it a good thing for her tastes and preferences to be getting more well-defined? Just think of it as her emotions getting expressed more and more obviously."
"Perhaps. But externally, there really isn't any visible reaction. Perhaps it's possible that this girl is changing inside, bit by bit."
"Right, although I don't want to recall that event at all, I still must try asking. Back in the park when Hinai Elsie was standing before us, was there any change with Amanda? For example, did she seem particularly afraid or something like that?"
"No... There wasn't any change, but it's possible that I failed to notice it."
"Hmm. As abhorrent the idea may be, her former comrade has turned into an enemy and is out to kill her after all. In this regard, it should serve as unprecedented stimulation... Yeah, but perhaps she simply didn't express it."
While chatting, Haruaki continued to gently insert the spoon into Amanda's slightly opened mouth then withdraw slowly. Amanda gazed ahead with unfocused eyes, chew chew chew, swallow. Then as though saying "more please," she slightly parted her lips.
Humans were unable to live without eating. This was a healthy survival impulse. Haruaki hoped she could maintain her appetite and also hoped that she could express even more appetite. This was precisely the wish of all of them.
Smiling, Haruaki continued to feed Amanda dinner. Just as the plate became almost empty, Amanda closed her mouth to express that she was already full.
"Then, uh... She needs to take her medicine. Class Rep, did you bring it?"
Taking the tablet that Kirika had handed over, Haruaki mixed it with water and had Amanda swallow, thus concluding the meal. Haruaki watched from the corner of his eye as Fear and Kuroe ate a parfait (in the end, he did not order it) while continuing to monitor the station.
"When will she appear...? That said, I've already resolved myself to stay on guard until morning."
"In any case, the restaurant will definitely find us a nuisance, but so long as at least one of us remains awake, they probably won't kick us out. I will stay on watch all night, so feel free to take naps should you feel sleepy, Haruaki-kun or anyone else. I've also brought a small blanket you can use to avoid catching a cold."
"What sleepy and annoying customers we are. I guess I really should order a dessert and contribute a little to the restaurant—Hmm?"
Suddenly, sitting next to Haruaki, Amanda began to shake her body slightly. Haruaki was thinking she might be feeling unwell when unexpectedly, she slowly lowered her upper torso sideways while leaning her back against the sofa's backrest. Finally, her petite head landed on Haruaki's lap with a plop.
She did not look like she was in pain. Amanda simply closed her eyes, greatly satisfied.
Haruaki smiled wryly and could not help but reach out to caress her white hair.
"Feeling sleepy after a full meal? I guess she's the first to fall to sleep. Excuse me, Konoha, if you've got the blanket you mentioned just now—"
Haruaki looked up with surprise. For some reason, everyone was staring at him, their eyes half narrowed, murmuring:
"Using Haruaki-kun's lap as a pillow... That's so enviable..."
"She can't be doing this on purpose right...? Absolutely ridiculous."
"Caressing her head so very naturally. I knew it, you two must have interacted in secret somehow..."
"If I lie down there as well, Haru will probably withdraw his leg silently..."
"Ahaha! Stop that, it tickles... Aha!"
Frolicking with the puppy, she laughed happily with dog fur all over her lab coat. She must be reminded later to thoroughly clean away the fur before entering the lab.
Kirika poured the dog food she had brought into a dish. Watching the inedible owner and the edible food, the puppy seemed to be wondering which one to lick, hesitating for quite a while. Finally, he (a male) poked his snout into the dog food on the dish and started to eat heartily. Kirika knelt down in front of him, resting her chin on her hands with her elbows against her knees, watching the puppy with great satisfaction.
What about Himura? Was he happy? Or not happy?
Both. Simultaneously, he was both like and unlike her.
He took a sip from a can of coffee. He only came here because Kirika had invited him to visit the puppy during his break. However, his mind continued to work nonstop.
The research was not going well. Without marked progress, it was simply consuming time and funding continuously. Although inferior to the Lab Chief, Himura was also a young and outstanding researcher, hired with great expectations for his genius talent. Despite being a special research organization, the internal environment was no different from a university's. The higher the expectations one commanded, the greater one's funding; conversely, those who showed less promise received relatively less funding.
Although Himura really did not care, he was aware that those researchers in the "relatively less" camp seemed to regard a young upstart like him with hostility. Jealousy was truly ugly. Recognized talent received funding, that was all there was to it—However, if results were not produced, then it would no longer be a matter of jealousy but ganging up on the loser.
Himura felt cornered.
Involuntarily, he apparently gave off a sigh. Presumably hearing it, Kirika looked back at him.
"Senpai... Are you feeling troubled?"
He did not even have the energy to cover up. After he answered honestly, Kirika looked forward again, gently caressing the puppy's head while it was eating. Was she at a loss now?
But then she immediately spoke up:
"Senpai, do you still remember?"
"The first time we met... Senpai, you said this."
She turned her head around again, with that certain expression.
Honest, innocent, yet carrying resolute will at the same time—A smile very much in her style.
"You said that 'Impatience is a serious impediment to research.' You weren't lying, right?"
"Then just take it slowly, step by step. My power is meager, but I'll help... So, umm... Let's do our best together!"
They were the same after all.
Smiling happily, he and she were the same—So long as he was able to see that face of hers, he would be surrounded by that feeling.
How should one put it? This was a feeling that he had never felt before in his entire life—
An unknown sense of happiness.
He wanted to research this unknown forever. Surely, this feeling was going to remain an unknown forever, impossible to research thoroughly despite a lifetime's efforts. Hence, very well. One rejected social interaction, simply treating research as his only value in living—For someone like him, this was the important nourishment. He wanted to be immersed in this feeling, all the way to the very marrow of his bones, he wanted to experience this unknown of "inexplicable and unbelievable happiness." Forever, till eternity.
He had already had no choice but to admit.
Irrelevant to her identity as a middle schooler, irrelevant to his identity as an adult.
Ever since their very first encounter—
In the end, the entire time they were keeping watch from the family restaurant, the train station's clock was not vandalized. Hence, they returned home to prepare for classes before heading to school. Although they had taken brief naps, it was on a family restaurant's couch which was not exactly comfortable. While they were yawning and walking along the way, Kirika's cellphone rang. Although she quickly hung up, judging from her expression, it was probably not good news.
"That guy. Consider this bad news—I'm told that a large clock at some other place was destroyed."
"What did you say...? Damn it, here I go thinking that the station would be the most conspicuous clock..."
"It's true that it has the highest probability. This simply implies that the enemy happened to target somewhere else."
"But after all, I'm the one who suggested going there... It's still quite depressing. Everyone, I'm sorry."
"Hmph, it's not like we're blaming you. Speaking of which, where was this large clock destroyed?"
Kirika breathed out and looked up after Fear's question.
"Probably what's meant by being so obvious that we overlooked it. Because it's something we take for granted, it ended up hard to imagine. Large clocks are essentially embedded in large buildings, hence, they are present in large buildings distributed throughout the city. In other words—"
Kirika extended her hand. They could already see Taishyuu Private High School ahead of them. She was pointing to the school building's outer wall, the side facing the school gates, welcoming the students' arrival.
"—Namely, the school clock. Destroyed yesterday was a large clock located in a high school east of town."
After school that day...
Immediately after the lunch break, Haruaki's group had made another visit to the superintendent's office together. Zenon, the superintendent, Sovereignty, as well as Kuroe killing time there with Amanda, welcomed their arrival.
After receiving the news this morning, the group's first thought was: there were many clocks in town that Elsie could attack, a surprisingly great number still remained. Hence, after nonstop strategy meetings during the breaks, Fear had said: "I knew it, there's no choice but to ask them for help with this kind of troublesome situation." Hence they had decided to tell the superintendent's side the whole story and request assistance.
They had already explained many things during the lunch visit. Entering the room again, they found the superintendent sitting in his usual chair, raising a hand lightly.
"Hi hi, welcome."
"Yeah. We're so sorry for how sudden it is, but how's the situation?"
"Hohoho, of course it's no problem! ...But actually, the one doing the calculations is Zenon-kun, not me."
"Yes. Please have a look at this map first."
Sovereignty and Zenon took out a large map from the adjacent room then spread it together on the table. Haruaki recalled something similar during the cultural festival, but this time, instead of the school's floor plan, this was a map of the town.
"Considering the average size calculated from the vandalized clocks, I have indicated the locations of clock stands whose sizes are similar to the average. However, I was unable to cover clocks in the internal facilities of places such as factories."
Since making their request during the lunch break, only a couple hours had elapsed. This was too amazing. Haruaki felt deeply impressed while examining the map. Honestly speaking, Haruaki thought to himself, there were probably other areas where Zenon could put her skills to produce great accomplishments instead of working as the superintendent's secretary.
Konoha also looked at the map while exclaiming in admiration.
"I don't think we need to care too much about clocks inside buildings. Compared to places where she has to deliberately avoid security before breaking the clock inside, she would probably choose easier targets which can be seen from the outside."
"But... That said, there's still a lot. Schools, hospitals, department stores... Mumumu."
"So many, this is quite a headache. Even if we split up to keep watch, we're severely lacking in manpower."
"Even if we have enough manpower, it's still completely pointless if our divided combat strength cannot defeat her. Besides, using the clocks she has broken so far, perhaps her pocket watch has already accumulated some energy. What should we do?"
Haruaki and the rest pondered with furrows on their brows, remaining silent for quite a while. Zenon and Sovereignty headed over to the adjacent room first to brew tea but even after they returned, the group still had not come up with a good plan.
However—One person alone was able to break the impasse here.
Assuredly, only someone like her could have thought of such a plan.
Only her arrogant and conceited, for which the concept of prudence was unknown to her.
"...I've got it!"
After a sip of tea, Fear forcefully looked up as though she had realized something.
"You thought of something?"
"Yes! But before that, I must clear up something first. Superintendent, during Christmas, you were hiding a lot of things from us, right? ...Thanks to that, we were left with painful memories. Don't you think you still owe us a favor?"
Saying that, Fear's eyes looked extremely evil as she stared at the superintendent.
"Uh, yes... I suppose you are correct. Regardless whether you're owed a favor or not, if you have anything I could help, please feel free to ask."
"Ohoh, then that's really wonderful. I only tried asking you because what I'm proposing is not simple at all."
Haruaki had an ominous premonition. What exactly did Fear want to say?
"Superintendent, you have many connections, right? Since so much has happened to this date, even I can tell something small like that... Like fabricating an identity for me or exerting some kind of influence over the police, for example. In other words, you're quite an influential person in the entire town, am I right?"
"On the other hand, Hinai Elsie's goal is to 'destroy large clocks'... In other words, we just need to prevent her from breaking clocks. Then the answer is simple. Just think in reverse."
Fear cracked a grin—
Then spoke shocking words.
"We just need to break all the clocks before she gets a chance to do it herself."
"Wait... That's way too reverse in thinking! Get a grip on your unruliness!"
"But I think this will work quite well. Besides, although I say break, it's not like we need to break the clocks physically like our enemy. Just pluck the hands off the clock temporarily."
Fear spoke calmly with confidence. Indeed, her plan might work. A clock with its hands removed would definitely not be considered a clock anymore. It was very likely that Elsie would not target something like that to destroy. However—
"Doesn't this cause other people a great deal of inconvenience...?"
"It's just a small sacrifice to accomplish something big. We are shouldering human lives here."
Fear looked at Amanda sitting on the wheelchair. Everyone in the room also focused their gaze on her. For what purpose were they taking action? What is their primary objective and what should they prioritize the most?
"Don't worry. It's not like we're stopping the clocks forever. It's just a few days. Before that, I also have a plan."
Immediately, Fear explained her plan to everyone. Theoretically speaking, this plan seemed like it could be executed correctly. Haruaki and friends looked at one another.
"...What does everyone think?"
"Assuming this plan is feasible—I will support Fear-kun's idea. After all, we have no other solutions. It's at least much better than waiting for the enemy to finish storing time, then reappearing before us."
"I agree too~ The problem is..."
The superintendent shrugged helplessly while sighing noises came from under his gas mask.
"So that's why you first asked to check if I still owed you a favor... How troubling. Indeed, this is no simple task. First putting aside the places where I hold leverage over, but considering places where I simply have friendly relations, I'll need to compensate them accordingly—Yes, putting it delicately, I'll need to donate a little something. These will end up being horrendously expensive."
Next, the superintendent got up without hurry and walked over to the table where Haruaki's group was gathered. However, he finally stopped in front of Zenon and Sovereignty then patted their shoulders with his hands.
"Please allow me to ask you two a question. What's the lowest salary you can tolerate if I make a cut?"
"E-Eh? Oh oh—Y-You're the one who hired me after all, I'm very grateful simply for the fact that you're willing to hire me! But what will Shiraho say...? Umm... Awawa, am I actually facing a life and death crisis?"
Sovereignty instantly went into panic. On the other hand, Zenon's expression remained calm as usual.
"It seems like this hasn't made an appearance for quite some time... My answer is this."
Swiftly, she reached for her breast pocket, intending to take out the letter entitled "Resignation." Oh no, it'd be too tragic if even you get affected negatively, Zenon-san, so let's reconsider! Haruaki was just about to speak up in a panic to dissuade her when—
"...But in my personal opinion, so long as the superintendent liquidates a couple of his personally owned real estate, isn't it a win-win situation for all of us?'
"Well said. I was just joking. Oh my, honestly."
The superintendent shrugged again and peered forward at the map on the table. Taking out a ballpoint pen from his pocket, he examined the map for a good while before circling a number of locations.
"Plus here... These are the ones. Even someone like me cannot possibly control everywhere in town. The circled locations are the places where I don't have special connections and will find it difficult to exert influence. Apart from those, leave the rest for me to find a way to handle."
"Superintendent... Is this really okay?"
Haruaki stared at him in surprise. The superintendent laughed and said:
"Back to what Fear brought up just now, I do owe you guys a favor after all. I made quite a bit of money in anticipation of encountering something like this eventually, so what would normally be considered a massive expenditure, to me, it's only a trivial affair. If you still feel guilty about it... Hmm, just pretend that I'm lending the sum to you all. Pay me back when you get rich and successful in the future."
Haruaki did not want to ask specifically how much it would cost, but as one would expect, this was an unimaginably astronomical sum for them. "Hi there, hello, excuse me, may I trouble you to temporarily remove the hands from the clock in your building?"—Haruaki did not think that such a strange request could be settled by convincing the other party with merely ten or twenty thousand yen in donations.
Haruaki and friends looked at one another. They were really causing great trouble for the superintendent's side. And this time, it involved something tangible like money. It was difficult to accept in the first place, but...
No matter how they racked their brains, apart from this, there was no other method to protect Amanda.
"Seriously, absolutely no one would bring up this kind of request if they had a shred of common sense or general courtesy... Fear-san, please thank them properly from the bottom of your heart!"
"Hmm? Oh, that'll really be a great help. Thanks. Slurp~"
"So casual! And you said it while drinking tea, that's so rude! Fear-san!?"
"Hmm~ Looks like it's finally time for a dream-like service to debut. I have no choice but to issue the «Dan-no-ura's Forever Free-of-Charge Coupon, No Matter What Service ※my body excluded»...!"
While Fear and the others were saying strange things including thanks that did not count as thanks, Kirika was the only one who politely bowed her head and expressed gratitude seriously: "I am truly thankful to you all." Haruaki followed suit:
"H-Honestly... I feel very embarrassed, but also thank you very much...!"
"It's nothing, don't let it weigh on your mind. Speaking of which, what do you guys intend to do about the places outside my reach?"
Putting aside the matter of thanking the superintendent, Haruaki's group looked at the map on the table. Asked what they ought to do...
"...Then we'll just have to travel there physically and break the clock, right? It's not too late to start now."
"In other words, we are turning ourselves into a terrorist group from hell, yes? Sneakily taking part in vandalism... Fufufu, I'm so eager to start. I will kill everyone in my way~"
"Hey, Kuroe, stop saying such ghastly things."
"After all, with Amanda-kun, it's better for you guys to act as a group. As for other places, if it's just about breaking clocks discreetly—"
"Allow me to help. Just as Kuroe-sama said... 'Fufufu, I'm so eager to start. I will kill everyone in my way.' Something like that."
Zenon took out a throwing knife from somewhere and raised it in front of her, causing the knife's blade to glint and flash. Having been through the Christmas incident, Haruaki's group were quite well aware of her excellent knife-throwing skills. However—
The superintendent spoke in an inexplicably stiff voice:
"Uh, umm... You must be joking, right? But said so seriously, you really don't sound like you're joking."
"Is that so?" Zenon murmured, still serious as usual, before replacing the throwing knife into the inside pocket of her suit.
"Uumu~ So this kind of place actually exists. There are still places in town that I don't know about..."
Despite speaking in a calm tone of voice, Fear was looking up at the signboard with a very excited expression.
On it was written—"Woof Meow Friendship Park."
After ending the strategy meeting at the superintendent's office, Haruaki's group went to a place with a large clock, namely, this location. This was a facility located in the suburbs, a park where visitors could come into contact with many kittens and puppies. It could also be considered a way to address house pets' lack of exercise since the park allowed people to bring in their own cats and dogs from outside.
Although it was currently dusk and probably close to closing time, the park still contained many people. In the central region of the park, there was a wide open garden carpeted with grass with a large clock stand in the corner. After confirming the location, Fear spoke up, still clearly distracted:
"As much as I'd like to break the clock as quickly as possible, other people are still around. It'd be bad if someone saw us."
"Yeah, that's true."
"Also, this place is far. That's only expected, because we decided in our discussion to start with the farthest places first, after all."
"Yeah, we'll need to take a taxi for the return trip."
"In other words, simply breaking this clock here is our limit for today. So logically speaking, I think we shold wait until the nearby crowd thins out! So, what should we do while we're waiting? Of course, there's no choice but to consider the current location, plus to bring stimulation to Amanda as well, so we should emulate the animal-assisted therapy shown on television—"
"Yeah, come on, I get it, okay? You may go play for a while. But don't cause trouble for others and be careful not to get Amanda hurt."
"Yahoo~! Amanda, let's go, the furry animals are waiting for us!"
Fear swiftly pushed the wheelchair and rushed towards a puppy in the garden. "May I pet it?" After obtaining permission from the owner, a woman, Fear excitedly petted the puppy's head then spun around the wheelchair, sometimes chasing the puppy's tail, sometimes being chased by the puppy.
"Seriously, she's totally like a child..."
"Okay okay, perhaps animal-assisted therapy really might work. Besides, Ficchi's mood hasn't been great lately, but she looks like she's having fun right now. It's good to relax once in a while."
Saying that, Kuroe took out a camera from somewhere at the same time and kept snapping photos of Fear and Amanda. Then she turned her gaze and said:
"...In this regard, Kono-san, you seem a little down lately. I will be in charge of photos while you go and have some fun, Kono-san. Oh, a puppy just happened to come over."
Kuroe was right, a large golden retriever was approaching them, its tongue out and panting. It looked like it was a dog kept by the park. Konoha scratched her cheek.
"I'm not feeling particularly down... However, since you're here already, hello doggy."
Konoha knelt down and caressed the dog with a little hesitation. Of course, Konoha did not dislike dogs either. Due to the Yachi home taking in a stray dog once, they knew quite well. After stroking the dog, Konoha's mood seemed to improve as she read out the name on the collar and started speaking in mysterious dog language.
"Uh... What's your name? Oh it's John... What a good name, woof."
Had Fear been present, surely she would have mocked Konoha mercilessly as though having picked up something worthy of blackmail. Nevertheless, while speaking with the dog, Konoha's body began to lean back for some reason.
"Ah... Excuse me... John, you're getting a bit too close... Umm... Ah... You're also licking too hard... Kyaah?"
The dog placed its front paws on Konoha's shoulders, pushing down on her with his whole body. Perhaps reluctant to shove the dog away, Konoha fell and sat on the ground as though pushed down by John. She was tilting back completely with John weighing down on her body. The dog kept licking various parts of her body. Konoha's legs struggled helplessly beneath her skirt while she screamed in an acute voice:
"Kyah... Ah... No... Don't lick there... Kyah?"
"Muha, This shutter chance is really unexpectedly good!"
"Hey Kuroe-san, please stop taking photos and hurry to save me—!"
Probably due to hearing Konoha say the word "lick," Haruaki could not help but recall the delusion he had experienced previously, instantly making him feel uncomfortable. However, he had to rescue her first—Just as Haruaki tried to approach Konoha from the back (going from the direction of her legs would be too embarrassing), a member of the staff noticed the commotion.
"Hey John, stop it! I'm sorry, he's usually much more obedient..."
"Muu, I can see it. This is surely because he was attracted by the aroma of meat exuded from Kono-san's body. As expected of Kono-san, the incarnation of lust in various ways!"
"N-No matter how much of a hyperbole, I haven't eaten meat to the point that my body smells like meat, okay!?"
Thanks to the staff's rescue, Konoha was finally freed from John's oppression. Panting, she readjusted her clothes.
"Muu, what the heck, looks like Cow Tits is having fun too."
Returning unnoticed, Fear commented with her head cocked in puzzlement.
"You've had enough fun on your end?"
"Since there's so many different breeds of dogs here, there's no point playing with a single dog the entire time after all. By the way—Hmm, excellent. This place is great."
Guiding Amanda's wheelchair, Fear surveyed the vast area of the park with her back straight. With the scene illuminated by the setting sun, even Fear's silver hair was dyed with a shade of red, shining with dream-like luster.
"Sure enough, this world still has many places I've never experienced..."
She murmured with heartfelt emotion.
Throughout the long years, Fear had remained dormant in solitude and darkness. While sleeping, she endured her own sins.
Coming from someone like her, these words surely carried special significance.
Hence, Haruaki smiled.
"...Just this town alone, there's plenty of places you've never visited. If you expand the range to cover the entire world, there will be too many to count."
"Yes. So you should at least tell me all the interesting sights in this town without missing any. If it wasn't for this pressing need, I wouldn't even have known about this Woof Meow Friendship Park for a long time! That's completely unacceptable!"
"Yes yes. Hmm, when the time is right, I guess."
Next, Fear's interest seemed to be caught by the cat petting house visible in the distance.
"Not only puppies but kittens as well! Haha, this place is truly perfect. I'm gonna have a quick look... Kirika, are you coming?"
"Hmm? Oh... Sure."
Kirika had been spacing out while watching the park area, her eyes not focusing on anything in particularly. Only now did Haruaki notice she did not look quite well so he whispered in her ear:
"Oh... Umm, Class Rep, perhaps you're a little afraid of playing with animals? If that's the case, you don't have to force yourself to go along with Fear."
"It's not like I hate them, however..."
Kirika smiled faintly and answered.
At the same time, she made an expression of extreme forlorn.
"However—I was simply recalling memories from the past."
She received a phone call from the one she loved and revered.
'How is the current situation'
"...Yes! Uh... Umm... Although the mission is not accomplished yet—However, there's no problem at all! NOTHING indeed! In all sorts of ways, it's just a matter of time!"
'Very well. You know what you must do, yes?'
That person was talking to her, he who stood as her absolute ruler.
In a daze of ecstasy, she clutched her cellphone tightly.
"—That goes without saying. My hand is your sword; my legs, your horse; my body, your shield. As your possession, acting according to your will, that is who we are—Knights."
Becoming his sword to chop up enemies.
Becoming his horse to trample corpses.
Becoming his shield to block attacks.
That was not all. She was going to offer everything, everything, everything in sacrifice to him. Becoming his hand to clutch scalding stones, becoming his tongue to sip poisonous fluids, becoming his ears to listen to resentment, becoming his nose to smell the surrounding stench of blood, becoming his mouth to confess sins, becoming his sexual organ to bring him pleasure, becoming his heart to sustain life.
This was herself, the existence named Hinai Elsie.
'—I look forward to your performance, Hinai Elsie.'
Through the phone, he finally said this as though murmuring.
This sentence alone was enough to bring her to climax.
"Y-Yes... S-Such words coming from you, fills your humble servant with awe. Absolutely, your humble servant will accomplish the mission—My lord."
After the superintendent's side pledged their support, they now had a direction for what they needed to do, hence exhausting themselves by spending nights at family restaurants would be putting the cart before the horse. Consequently, they went back home to the Yachi residence last night to rest as normal.
Another night passed and the next day, Haruaki's group continued to take Amanda to school. Bringing her to the superintendent's office in the morning, they learnt that no clocks were vandalized the previous night (apart from the ones Haruaki and Zenon destroyed, of course)—And relying on the superintendent's influence, the clocks elsewhere were going to have their hands removed by the end of today's daylight hours at the latest. As for the few remaining clocks in other places where his influence did not extend, Zenon was going to make a circuit in town to destroy them while school was in progress.
In other words, by the time school ended, this town was going to become virtually free of functional, large clocks—With that, they would finally be able to carry out the final phase of their plan.
Once the sun had completely set, after the time for students to return home had long passed, Haruaki's group made their appearance in front of the deserted school gates. They were still basically dressed in uniform but what they carried were not schoolbags filled with studying materials but bags and rucksacks they had gone home to pick up.
Fear looked up at the dark sky shrouding the school building at night, grinning malevolently.
"Hmph hmph... The students of this school are so lucky. Had it been some other school, a lot of students probably were late today."
"Rushing as fast as they could after entering their school, it must have been very tough. This is really creating trouble for everyone."
"Although there's no choice... But it does make me feel guilty. Like the big clock at the station, apparently some bigshot was asked to stop it for us. Who knows how many people were inconvenienced by that."
Kuroe and Kirika looked up at the same object. Apart from Amanda, everyone's gazes were directed towards the large clock of Taishyuu High School before them.
Only the clock here was neither destroyed nor had its hands removed. Whether or not anyone was looking at it, the clock continued to measure the passage of time, step by step.
Of course, this was intentional and precisely part of their plan.
At this moment, a figure appeared behind the school gates.
"Good evening, everyone, I shall open the gates for you now."
"Oh hello. Thank you for your trouble."
Zenon operated the gates from inside, causing them to open slowly with a grating sound. After Haruaki's group successfully sneaked into school under the cover of night through the opening gap, Zenon closed the gates again.
"Then allow me to take you to the night watchman's room. The security system is already disabled, so don't worry."
"Thank you... But does this school actually have a night watchman's room?"
Haruaki's question prompted Zenon's answer:
"Since security is completely computerized, the room is normally unused. A relic dating back to the days before technology, I suppose. I have already cleaned it up for the most part, but should there be any inadequacies, I apologize beforehand."
"Of course not, just the fact that you're providing us with a place to rest, that's already enough. After all, we originally planned to hide in a bush somewhere to wait for that girl to appear! So don't worry!"
Fear puffed out her chest proudly while answering.
In other words, this was precisely the result of the plan Fear had suggested, the last remaining large clock in this town. Since time must be stored up in order to fight, Elsie would very likely appear here to destroy this school's clock. Then all they needed to do was wait on scene to challenge her—The plan was exceedingly simple.
"But will she really come?"
"After all, she asked Haruaki specifically before saying she'd carry it out in this town. In that case, she very likely has some sort of reason why she must collect time in this town. So long as there's no other choice, she must appear eventually... I'm sure she should have at least investigated beforehand to know that we go to this school, besides, the school has a clock too. If she suddenly couldn't find any moving clocks, it's not surprising if she came to check out this place first, one that she knows. Although it might not be today, don't be impatient, let's wait for two or three more days."
"It might be a bit late to ask by this point, but won't she notice it's a trap?"
"Hmm... She probably would find it suspicious to some extent. But she probably doesn't know that all the clocks in this town have been disabled. That's not something she could know unless she checked out every place with a clock. After seeing several stopped clocks in town by chance, perhaps she might associate it with us taking action, but it shouldn't be enough for her to deduce that the clock here is the only one left. There's not enough information available for her to confirm this is a trap. And for her, storing up time is the most important... In other words, even if she does get slightly suspicious in the end, it won't be enough reason to make her give up on this clock. 'I finally find a moving clock!' This reaction should probably make her appear openly, the way ants act after discovering sugar."
Then once they caught her, everything after that would be simple. With the assistance of the superintendent's side, she was probably prevented from storing time as planned and right now, Haruaki's group also knew that her fighting duration had a limit. If she only managed to store up a bit of time, there should be no problem as long as they took care to prevent her from escaping, then pursue a strategy focusing on stalling for time without pushing themselves too far to fight her...
(That's right, there should be... no problem.)
Haruaki looked at the clock above again and gulped. In terms of combat, there was not much he could help. If even someone like him was starting to feel nervous, surely, the girls must be even more—Just as he thought that, Zenon said:
"Well then, please come this way. It would be troublesome if nearby residents called the police, so please use flashlights when walking in the corridors. Of course, should necessities arise during actual combat, there's no need to take so many considerations. Also, the night watchman's room does not leak much light even if you switch the light on, so don't worry."
"Yes, after all, there's a bright moon tonight, so there's no problem at all. By the way—Ohoh, we finally get a chance to sneak into school at night! How exciting!"
"How should I describe this immoral feeling...? Despite being so lively during the daytime, the school building is totally silent now... It's totally like the way a prim and classy lady turns into a wanton slut as soon as night arrives! It makes my entire body excited!"
"What incomprehensible nonsense are you speaking again, Kuroe-san... Please do not cause a great commotion. If the nearby residents really were to call the police, it would be terrible. After so much effort spent to draw out that girl, she could very well discover it's a trap. But yes, I do admit that I do find myself feeling a little excited."
"To be honest, I find it quite a new experience too. It's like being in an unfamiliar place for the first time."
Under Zenon's lead, Fear and the others walked into the school building at night. Yes, getting nervous now would not help things at all. Sighing, Haruaki followed after them.
The night watchman's room was located on the first floor of the staff block. They were confronted with the musty smell of a seldom-used room, but it was not to the point of intolerable. Roughly six tatamis in size, the room was a little cramped to squeeze six people inside. Facilities included a kitchen counter and gas stove, so cooking instant noodles for a midnight snack should not be a problem.
"Hmm hmm... This isn't bad. Although it's a little cramped, I like the fact that it's carpeted with tatami."
"The closet there has blankets. They're already washed as well."
"By the way, what about baths and going to the toilet? There's no bathroom here."
"My apologies. For toilets, please use the staff washroom which is on the right after exiting this room. Of course, there's no bathroom—But if you don't mind, feel free to use the showers in the clubs block. Here is the key."
Zenon handed a very fancy-looking key holder (probably Zenon's personal preference) to Fear then took a deep bow, preparing to leave the watchman's room. Haruaki frantically spoke up:
"Umm... Thank you! I'm so sorry for causing so much trouble for you..."
"Please don't let it weigh on your mind. Well then, I shall remain on stand by at the superintendent's office. Please feel free to come find me if there's anything. Although a situation may not arise today, I'll say this last just in case—May victory smile upon you."
Hence, Zenon left the watchman's room. Haruaki then noticed Konoha staring at Zenon as she left and closed the door.
It looked like Konoha had thought of something after listening to Zenon.
It looked like it was something she was compelled to recall.
Her eyes showed determination.
"May victory smile upon us...? It's been quite a long time since I last heard this phrase. No matter—Indeed, that is the current situation. A saying that suits the situation..."
Murmuring to herself, Konoha closed her eyes. By the time she reopened them, she was back to her usual self.
"Well then, our first priority is—Hey Fear-san, don't put out the bedding so soon! And you're even putting it in the very center!"
Fear was patting the bedding especially happily while adjusting its position then looked up with a delighted expression.
"What does it matter? It needs to be put out sooner or later anyway! But after setting out the bedding... Why does it feel so... Yes, I got it! This is what they call a training camp!"
"Yes, this is like a mini training camp, so feeling excited or happy is only natural. Let my lay out some bedding too~ No, the bedding can wait, but I must snatch a pillow first."
"Kuroe-san... So long as I haven't taken my last breath, I absolutely forbid you from starting a pillow fight."
A training camp huh... Haruaki thought. In the same room, with the pillows lined up in a row, perhaps this really could be called a training camp... That said, no one would probably hold a training camp in the night watchman's room at school and instead of having pillow fights or having dirty conversations in the room, they are currently waiting for an enemy who may show up.
They had planned to spend the next two or three nights here while discreetly sneaking out to attend classes during the day, having brought a couple day's worth of clothing to change. Since Zenon was so kind as to lend them a key, added to the fact that they were going to live here for a couple consecutive days, they decided to take a shower now because there was no other opportunity (once dawn arrived, the students doing morning training would be using the showers). That said, since Elsie could arrive any time, they took turns in showering, of course. The first round was Amanda, who was already falling asleep, along with Fear and Kuroe who were always helping her bathe.
Kuroe searched her luggage.
"Well then, I must prepare~"
"You even packed a shower cap!? Despite the fact that we didn't know if baths were available at the time."
"Fufu, we are the 'Help Amanda-chan Bathe Comfortably Team', abbreviated as the 'Slick and Smooth Trio.' How could I possibly omit this sort of preparations?"
"That's totally not an abbreviation!"
"As to what's slick and smooth, obviously it's—"
Kuroe proudly turned towards Haruaki but just as she was about to continue explaining, a frightening figure suddenly appeared behind her and tapped Kuroe on the shoulder.
"...Rather than spouting indecent nonsense, why don't you get ready and shower faster, Kuroe-san."
"Th-That's right! But of course, I-I mean that our skin is smooth and delicate! Amanda-chan's body has some tragic burn scars but the other spots are really smooth and delicate!"
"Hmm... Given modern medical technology, those scars might be possible to remove via surgery. I wonder what happened in the past? Perhaps it might be related to how she joined the Knights Dominion... In any case, it's heart wrenching."
Konoha narrowed her eyes and murmured softly.
"Uumu, so I was thinking, this girl probably never took baths with others before. But we don't mind at all and sincerely help her wash her body, trying hard to teach her the joys of taking baths with others. Period."
"Hmm... I guess I'm a little late here, but Kuroe, thank you for your hard work."
"Understood. Oh, since Haru cannot come in with us, I should report to you. Feel free to imagine as much as you want. Ever time we wash Amanda-chan's sensitive spots, she always reacts by trembling. While I use my hair to make her put on a cheering pose, then together with Ficchi, we use the entirety of our smooth and delicate bodies, doing this and that from the front or from the back—"
Instantly, the scene surfaced in Haruaki's mind. He could not help but imagine according to Kuroe's descriptions. Taking place in that familiar bathroom, an unfamiliar feast of bare skin. Surely, Kuroe must be using her professional hair washing skills to wash Amanda's hair while Fear undoubted stared relentlessly at a certain part of Amanda's body, then nodding in approval, a sense of camaraderie was produced—No no no, stop. Haruaki frantically shook his head.
At this moment, he noticed Konoha was right in front of him at close range, her half-narrowed eyes meeting with his gaze.
"Haruaki-kun~" I was calling your name a couple times just now... I even asked you not to go imagining strange things. Why were you spacing out until just now?"
"Ugh! No, umm... Uhh..."
"You... imagined it? Desperately imagining so hard that you even failed to hear me calling your name? Ufufu... It's okay, just admit it honestly and I won't be angry. Hurry up and confess."
"Uh... I-I guess I have no choice but to admit it, given the current situation, I must apologize. But, umm... I didn't do it on my own initiative, rather, it's my imagination running out of control on its own! B-Because so much happened recently, my mind is so exhausted, sometimes I start spacing out suddenly, so because of that—"
At this moment, Fear's and Kirika's shoulders suddenly shook for some reason. Then they each turned to a different direction and coughed lightly.
"Cough... O-Okay, Cow Tits, don't be so hard on him. No matter who, everyone~ occasionally has strange delusions. Yes, no matter who."
"Y-Yes, legally speaking, it's not like even mental thoughts must be censored. Yachi is right, this does happen occasionally when one is too exhausted."
For some reason, Fear and Kirika defended him unexpectedly. Haruaki felt extremely grateful.
Hearing Fear and Kirika's objections, Konoha sighed in surprised.
"Sigh, indeed... Nonsensical thoughts do occur when one is too mentally exhausted. After all, we're nursing someone, something we're not used to, and even suffered defeat in a moment of carelessness. Spacing out and having strange delusions aside, I also find myself somewhat tired mentally. Like sleeping poorly or having nightmares, it's been happening quite often recently."
"Nightmares huh... Hmm, on this point... It's not like I can't relate."
Fear mumbled without looking at Konoha. Konoha calmly looked at her and said:
"Nothing much, just the kind of content you forget as soon as you wake up."
In contrast to what she was saying, Haruaki felt that Fear's voice carried quite a depressing presence. However, Fear quickly began to search through her luggage again. Presumably intentionally, she spoke nonchalantly:
"Hmm—To think I had nightmares just like Cow Tits, that's quite a disgusting coincidence. Simply based on the result, it means we're all equally tired. The shameless brat spacing out, Kirika, Kuroe, we're all exhausted. But we're at the last step, once the enemy is defeated, we can relax and lower our guard. I'm starting to get used to taking care of Amanda, so once this plan succeeds, life will be a lot easier here on."
"...Yes. In any case, the most important thing currently is that this plan succeeds."
Konoha shrugged and spoke quietly. Kuroe nodded hastily.
"Agreed, since we're this tired, I guess I really must offer to Ficchi my healing hair washing technique while we're in the shower this time. I will use my pleasuring techniques of ecstasy to send you to heaven!"
"There may be a huge battle coming up next, so sending her to heaven really isn't an option. In any case, please hurry and ready your preparations for showering. Don't just bring your own but include Amanda-san's as well!"
After getting her own clothes ready, Kuroe started preparing a change of clothes for Amanda. Fear went back to her usual self and continued rummaging through her luggage with her head cocked.
"Hmm~? I remember packing underwear... Oh, found it."
"Hey, don't just spread it out like that!"
"Amanda-chan is this one and this one... Right, who bought this underwear for her, I wonder... Could it be the teacher, holding such a sanctified position, carefully selecting with a serious face in the underwear corner of a store...?"
"Sorry to disappoint you, it was me. When he first brought her to my home, that guy asked me to buy all the clothing that Amanda would need. However, Kuroe-kun, your thinking is very correct. I hope you'll continue to maintain this level of wariness regarding him. That's the kind of man he is, worthy of public revulsion."
"Yay~ You're praising me~!"
At this moment, Kirika's cellphone suddenly rang. Recently, it had become possible to guess the caller simply by observing Kirika's face as she checked the screen. In other words, the caller this time happened to be Himura who was just mentioned.
When first starting to execute Fear's clock vandalizing plan, there were a number of chances to speak with Himura, hence they had already informed him of their operation and goal. Himura had expressed praise and admiration at the time and offered his approval. However, due to having duties only he was able to carry out, Himura left the clock matter for Haruaki's group to handle while he continued to search for Elsie.
Unfortunately, Himura still had not made any obvious progress on his side. By now that things had progressed to this point, he had apparently decided to participate in the battle plan.
"...Do as you wish. However, there's no place here for you to sleep."
Kirika coldly ended the conversation then moved the cellphone from her ear and looked towards Haruaki and the others.
"This guy is coming to school too. Apparently, he will be concealing himself in the bushes somewhere, waiting for the enemy attack."
"In terms of helping, that really does help, but will he be okay by himself? After all, it's nighttime currently and it must be freezing outside."
"Even so, I have no wish of inviting him here. Don't be concerned, that guy is very used to voyeurism. It's absolutely ridiculous, but it's basically like work to him."
Her tone of voice made it sound like Himura was an expert voyeur. Judging from the tool he possessed, this was perhaps only natural. At this moment, Haruaki noticed that Kirika was still holding her cellphone without closing it. Just as he tilted his head in puzzlement, Kirika explained:
"—This? I haven't hung up. I asked him to stay on the line for now."
Kirika gave the answer matter-of-factly.
"Didn't I just say that he's very used to voyeurism? Fear and the others are going to shower next, so I can't having this guy running around loose. Once he goes to the showers, I'll hear water sounds from the other side, so this serves as a kind of restraint."
...Distrusted to this extent as a man—Haruaki could not help but sympathize with Himura a little.
While patrolling, Konoha halted and looked up at the school building's large clock overhead. The time was fast approaching midnight.
Her current location was the open space between the school gates and the school building, calling it the front yard would not be wrong. This was a broad and spacious path leading from the gates to the school building where countless students passed by and interacted with one another every morning. Left and right of the path were bushes, lawns and a few trees. The moon, clear and bright, was illuminating these things faintly.
Although no presence could be felt, Himura was probably somewhere, looking up at this clock. Konoha did not know if he had used the cursed mask that could eliminate all sense of presence or if he concealed his presence on his own. Either way, Konoha was quite impressed that he was able to prevent her from sensing his presence.
Konoha looked at the hands as they traced the passage of time, shaking her head lightly. Now was the time for thinking about the enemy, not Himura. Then she found herself confronted with an exceedingly simple question.
In other words—Was she able to defeat her?
Konoha recalled the scene at the park. Overwhelmed in both strength and speed, she had collapsed in such an unsightly manner.
Unlike last time, the "time" accumulated by Elsie should not be that much, so there should be a solution. By focusing on defense completely to stall for time, there should be a way. There should be a way. There should be a way—
Konoha could not answer this question, rising from the depths of her heart.
She bit her lip. Admit it. Hinai Elsie was very strong. Perhaps she very well could be the "strongest" indeed.
However, Konoha could not allow herself to conclude the matter simply with "we can't win."
Elsie was going to take away everything. Whether the life of Konoha, the girl from the Knights Dominion, the cube of torture and execution, or—
No, no, no.
This was one point she could not accept. Even if it meant making the entire world her enemy, this point alone could not be conceded at all.
She shifted her gaze that had settled on the clock. The faint moon leapt into view as a result.
The unreal glow was unbelievably causing her consciousness to grow hazy.
Lately, she had been frequently having dreams. Ever since losing to Hinai Elsie on that day, Konoha had been having extremely unpleasant dreams. As mentioned earlier, perhaps simple fatigue was related—However, Konoha believed that it was also linked to the memory of defeat.
Guided by the moonlight, Konoha slipped into her ambiguous consciousness as that dream surfaced before her eyes.
The dream was harshly reprimanding her.
Why did you lose? You know very well. Because you are not your quintessential self, your strength is lacking. Because you refuse to admit, you lost. Recall once again. Even if you pretend to have forgotten, you absolutely cannot have forgetten. Muramasa, Muramasa, Muramasa. The demon blade, thirsting for and drinking fresh blood. Recall it, recall it, hurry up and recall it—
In actual fact, she had been lying all along.
(This is a necessary... lie.)
As though trying to escape the moon's mystical powers, Konoha closed her eyes and clenched her fists tight.
However—If... If necessary—
If in order to protect him, she had to admit that point no matter what—
"Wow, it's really quite cold outside. Uh, Konoha, is it really okay for you?"
Haruaki had changed into clothes that were easy to move around in, walking out of the school building towards her. Despite searching for presences all along, she had failed to notice him. Too lax, this ability to concentrate. Unacceptable—Konoha warned herself.
"What's the matter?"
"Nothing... On the other hand, Haruaki-kun, why are you out here? It's currently time to rest."
"After going to the washroom, I suddenly felt more awake. Then I started walking around and found you here, Konoha, spacing out."
Standing under the moonlight, he smiled. Konoha felt her heart skip a beat.
Unacceptable—She murmured to herself mentally again. Ahhh, indeed. Right now, the most important thing, what she ought to do was—
Perhaps, it might be fine already.
If under this crescent moon, if in front of his smile—
"Haruaki-kun... I have something... I'd like to tell you."
"Sure, what is it?"
Just say it out—She thought.
Tell him your sins.
That villainous and ugly lie, what she had concealed all this time—
Just at this moment—A presence. This time, Konoha sensed it.
She closed her mouth. Konoha did not know if it was fortunate or not that she failed to tell Haruaki about her secret. However, now was not the time to be pondering that.
"Nuunuu, damn you, Haruaki. I was thinking why you haven't returned from going to the washroom."
"Ficchi, this would normally be called a tryst, right? How heart-poundingly exciting."
"Fear-san, Kuroe-san... With Amanda-san here as well? Why aren't you at the night watchman's room, protecting her?"
"Just when I poked my head out to have a look, Amanda-chan woke up, acting a little awkward like she wanted to go to the toilet. So we took her to the toilet... Then after that, we decided to take a short stroll before going back. By the way, Kiririn is still taking a nap."
"Oh, so it's the same as me huh. I guess it does feel quite unusual to be in school at night. Given the rare chance, everyone wants to take a walk, right—Konoha?"
Konoha raised her hand lightly to signal an end to the conversation.
In a certain sense, Fear and Kuroe could be considered unexpected arrivals, but the presence Konoha sensed was much different from them.
In other words—
"GOODEST EVENING! No no, since it's past midnight, I guess I should say MORNING, right? I never could figure this out... Anyway, Elsie is back!"
Opposite to the school building where Fear and the other girls had emerged...
Probably entering by traversing over the tightly shut school gates—
Hinai Elsie was walking boldly towards them.
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