Chapter 4 - The Pendulum After Four Minutes / "A hand stops, but never reverses"
The Frontline Gathering Knights Dominion—«Four Minutes».
Haruaki's group swiftly entered defensive positions against her. Staying on high alert, Haruaki stared at her while she approached leisurely, took out his cellphone and was just thinking he should call when—
"...I have already called Kirika just now to wake her. She should be hurrying over soon."
Hiding somewhere until now, staying on guard for Elsie's arrival, Himura appeared next to Haruaki's group without them noticing. Holding a cellphone in hand, he was watching Elsie cautiously like Haruaki and the others. Just as he claimed, soon after—
"Sorry I'm late!"
Kirika rushed out of the stairwell. She had already extended the «Tragic Black River» from her sleeve, readying herself for battle. Having confirmed her arrival, Haruaki operated his cellphone again—To call someone else rather than Kirika. After a brief report, he hung up.
Elsie did not look like she was in a hurry, walking as though taking a casual stroll, taking large strides towards them. She was still quite far away. Fear glanced to the side.
"No matter what, I really hope to move Amanda far away from here... Hey Himura, your mask can eliminate presences, right? If you push the wheelchair while wearing the mask, what's the result?"
"Regrettably, there won't be much effect. For things I'm holding or transportation I'm traveling on, the only effect is reducing the attention they attract from people. Clothing is fine but even if I wear «Il est dans Bastille» while sitting in a car, it won't cause normal drivers to crash violently from being unable to see the car. The same goes for Amanda's wheelchair. Particularly in these circumstances, the enemy will be staring intently at her wheelchair—"
"In other words, you cannot erase your presence together with the wheelchair. What a useless man. Is there anything else you can do?"
"If I had to say more, «Il est dans Bastille» here is unable to completely mask the wearer's hostility and killing intent. When the wearer actively thinks about harming someone, the enemy will see through where he or she is hiding."
"It can't even be used for a sneak attack? What a completely useless man... Then why don't you just wear that mask and stay far away from getting involved!?"
"...Is this an order?"
"Of course it's an order. Otherwise, you're in the way too much. In an emergency, we have no effort to spare for protecting you!"
"I understand. Then I'll retreat for now. But if something arises that I could help with, I will surely help."
Himura took out the evil-looking and familiar mask from the bag by his feet. His presence was extremely weak to begin with. Now that he put this on, he vanished all at once—By the time they noticed, there was completely no trace of him. In actual fact, this was probably just their impression.
Kirika watched with eyes filled with complicated emotions, glaring at the spot where Himura had disappeared. But she immediately shook her head as though casting away those thoughts.
"Well then—We'll just have to use the same tactics as last time. With relatively lower combat strength, Yachi and I will be in charge of Amanda while using this opportunity to move her to a safe location... Any problems?"
"A huge~ problem. I advise you guys to give up. Because it's a waste of effort. Say, while you guys have your backs turned to me, it's already a great crisis, you're giving me a massive opening~"
Elsie commented nonchalantly while pulling out from her collar the «Clockwork Life» pocket watch and swinging it back and forth.
This is just a bluff—Haruaki thought.
"What bold words... We already know everything about how you fight, your weaknesses and what you've been doing."
Haruaki glanced upwards. Next to the school building's external wall where the large clock was embedded, on a neighboring rooftop, a figure could be seen. This was the person whom Haruaki had just phoned to inform of Elsie's arrival.
After Haruaki yelled out, the figure nodded lightly and with a flick of her arm, a glimmer of silver light, even fainter than the stars in the far distance, flew towards the clock face. In the next instant, the sound of the protective glass could be heard shattering. Both the long hand and the short hand stopped due to the thrown knife. This was followed by a series of silver flashes as steel knives were repeated thrown to attack the clock's hands, finally—
Accompanied by a crisp cracking sound...
The two hands were severed and their remains fell down in front of the school building. Taking a bow, the figure on the rooftop immediately vanished.
"Ohoh~ I was wondering why all the clocks I found were broken. I see what happened now. Elsie finally UNDERSTAND~"
"That's right. In order to prevent you from breaking clocks, in order to prevent the pocket watch in your possession from storing time—"
"Oh my oh my, oh my oh my, what's this~? You guys really don't understand."
Elsie laughed in derision. This reaction sent chills down Haruaki's spine. What was going on? When she broke large clocks, was she not trying to accumulate more time for her pocket watch to use? Could it be that they had... misunderstood something...?
"What~ a~ shame~ I'm sorry to say this, but Elsie has already stored up the full four minutes already!"
"What—No way, so the three you broke in the beginning, were enough for you to already...?"
Fear groaned, causing Elsie to laugh with abundant mirth.
"So I'll explain, that's not how it works~ The act of breaking clocks is simply a necessary step in prior preparations to allow this «Clockwork Life» to store up time, but it's not the actual process for storing time itself. This tool was created by a certain clockmaker who wanted everyone to understand that 'time and life are equally important.' Hence, 'I never noticed usually but time and clocks turn out to be so important after all' is the kind of feeling this pocket watch gathers from the surrounding people to use as energy. Everyone usually doesn't notice but once a clock they're used to reading is broken, they will think: 'Oh no, this clock was actually so convenient' before taking out a cellphone from their pocket. In other words, this type of feeling that people develop towards clocks is what I'm gathering. Although a single person's feelings are weak, large clocks are all located where crowds gather, so naturally, it's possible to gather feelings from many people. Like slowly accumulating a tenth of a second, a tenth of a second repeatedly... In this manner, this pocket watch finally begins to define the time known as life."
In that case—
In that case, in other words, what they had been doing all along—
"That's right, you guys ended up helping Elsie. All Elsie only needed to do was run over to stand under a disabled clock in order to collect the feelings from all the surrounding people with inconvenience written on their faces. So I guess I should still thank you all—You saved me a lot of effort, thanks!"
Right before their eyes as they watched in shock—
Elsie slowly reached towards the her pocket watch's stem—
As though showing off to them, the spring of the cursed watch clicked while it was being wound.
Hinai Elsie listened with delight to the sound of «Clockwork Life»'s spring being wound.
Surrounding her, the spring was not the only clock sound she was hearing.
Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock, tick tock.
A clock's inorganic noise was calming. Without it, she could not possibly live on—Literally.
These clock ticks were coming from the headphones she was wearing on her ears, the music being played nonstop on repeat by her portable music player.
This was the curse of «Clockwork Life». She must listen to the sound of clocks. As soon as she stopped hearing the sound, her body would be overcome by a sense of extreme discomfort and nausea. Although not to the point of causing immediate death, should the shortage persist, she would probably go insane and die within a day. However, she was never worried at all. Because this was the way things were. She was going to listen to this sound forever. Starting from the moment she first obtained this tool, forever—
Guided by a clock's steady sounds, past scenes surfaced in Elsie's mind.
Once upon a time in a certain town, there was an insane clockmaker. He loved clocks and watches zealously and only made bizarre timepieces. As a result, he lived in destitute poverty, finally going mad, unable to win recognition from others. Hence, he started advocating that time ruled over everything; time was precious. To people, time was "life" itself.
Starting from some unknown point in time, he started believing that his mission in life was to spread this truth among the other foolish humans. Hence, he began to take action towards this goal.
Namely, he would lock two people in a cellar and make them kill each other. These two people would be linked by an existing, deep bond such as being family or lovers. Once he prepared the location and the circumstances, all he said was the following.
I'll give you four minutes to kill each other. If one of you succeeds, the survivor shall go free. Once the time limit is reached, I will release poison gas to kill you both.
Finally, to inspire the foolish humans, he gave a single hint—"Time is life."
The cellar contained nothing, except for a pocket watch that merely counted up to four minutes, specially made for this experiment, attached to a long silver chain. One minute to grasp the situation, one minute to hesitate, one minute to understand what needed to be done and commit oneself, one minute to take actual action. Hence, he decided on these four minutes as the time limit.
Everyone locked in the cellar died. Confronted with an order to kill a loved one, everyone was at a loss on what to do. Meanwhile, four minutes passed and the clockmaker released the poison gas. Among the victims, there were some who made their decision to kill the other person, but they either met opposition or failed to kill within four minutes. Barehanded, there was simply not enough time.
However, the clockmaker was not asking for something impossible. He had given a hint.
Only one person understood his hint.
Only one girl, locked into the cellar together with her father, understood the significance in the words "time is precious" and used the only tool present in the cellar, namely, the pocket watch's long silver chain, to strangle her father to death—
In terms of time, this was but a moment's reminiscence.
Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock, tick tock.
Currently, Elsie found the ticking sounds, coming from both her headphones and the pocket watch in her hand, especially nostalgic. In that particular cellar, this pocket watch was making these noises as it mercilessly marched on for four minutes.
In this dream-like state yet not in a dream, she kept staring at the clock hands. The rhythmic movement seemed extremely slow to her. Like eons—yet a brief duration.
Ahhh, the clockmaker's ideas were not wrong—Back then, the time defined by this pocket watch was indeed life itself. The time known as her own life was concentrated in those four minutes.
Click click. Click click. Elsie turned the watch stem. She had already spun it enough for two minutes' worth, probably. But still not done yet, still too early. Click click. Click click.
Time, i.e. life, was gradually injected into the pocket watch. New power was injected into the pocket watch.
Then «Clockwork Life» began to animate.
It was as though it were trying to imitate the answer prepared by that clockmaker back then.
While Elsie was winding the spring, the pocket watch's silver chain began to squirm.
The silver chain's tail end shook, jumped and vibrated, flying out of her collar like a living creature. Presumably, Elsie had been keeping the silver chain wrapped around her neck. The silver chain flew out and continued to squirm nonstop. Rattling continuously while it slid, sliding towards Elsie's neck, shoulders and breasts, then wrapping around her many times. Such a long chain could not possibly have been kept concealed beneath her clothing all this time, so—Did the silver chain extend?
Haruaki's group watched in terror as this unusual scene unfolded. Of course, Konoha and the girls were biding their time, looking for an opening to charge forward and attack—Nevertheless, Elsie continued to turn the watch stem, unconcerned with the silver chain that was slithering like a snake, her body giving off a dangerous pressure that made others fearful of making a false move.
"Ooh... I was thinking you guys might come charging to attack me while I was turning the watch stem. How right a decision you made. If you had recklessly entered my attack range, even while I was in the middle of winding, I can still activate the cursed ability and quickly slaughter you."
The silver chain continued to squirm. While extending in length, it wrapped itself around Elsie's entire body, twisting many times around her neck as though treating her like a prisoner, sliding across her cleavage between her breasts, sliding into her skirt and between her thighs, spiraling to tie her arms downwards—
Elsie continued to turn the watch stem. Despite her body being tightly bound by the silver chain, apart from pain, she seemed to be experiencing other sensations as well—
"Ahhh... Coming, coming, coming! Ahhh... Hooh... Mmm... I-It's taking effect... Coming coming, motivation is coming! HIGH TENSION!"
Finally, after Elsie's body shook once, especially violently, she forcefully turned to pocket watch's stem, which then made a crisp "click." For that instant, she seemed to be immersed in some sort of aftertaste, her head hanging low without moving.
Thinking this must be a good chance, Kirika pushed Amanda's wheelchair and tried to move. However—
The sound of a concrete wall getting pierced could be heard. No sooner had Kirika taken a single step when a flash of silver light extended from Elsie's hand, preventing Kirika from advancing any further. The object buried into the school building's external wall was undoubtedly—
"Controlling the silver chain... To the point of possessing powers similar to the «Tragic Black River»...!?"
"No no~ Accuracy and extensibility are completely nothing amazing~ Right now, I also missed. This is basically the only type of move I'm capable of using. Besides, swinging a weapon from a distance is not my style, so I usually do things this way."
Shortening the silver chain that had pierced the school building's wall, she pulled it back to her hand. Wrapping the silver chain around the set of fingers on her right hand, she clenched her fist, turning the chain into a fist guard, a tool for increasing the destructive power of punches.
"Then... Are we ready? As soon as Elsie's left hand leaves the watch stem, time will begin. The four minutes with your lives on the line will begin. Ready OKAY?"
"Guh!" Fear and the girls clenched their teeth tightly, exuding a sense of tension from all over them.
"Hmph... We just need to keep Amanda safe and endure for four minutes. Too easy, hahaha."
Fear spoke in a stiff tone of voice that did not match what she was saying. Konoha nodded in turn.
"Our priorities remain the same. Ueno-san, Haruaki-kun, as soon as you find an opportunity, take Amanda-san and leave this place. Although she says the accuracy is not high, given that the enemy possesses a long range weapon—This is probably no easy task."
"...Yes. Originally, I was thinking I might be able to use the «Tragic Black River» to pull us up to the roof, but that looks like it's not going to work. We'll be struck down on our way up. Besides, given that silver chain, she could very well climb up in pursuit as well."
"If only my hair could pin down her movements to some extent. Hmm, what should we do...?"
Elsie slowly raised the pocket watch before her chest.
Her eyes seemed to be expressing enjoyment of the current situation while she swept her gaze over the group in their defensive stances.
Then she extended her tongue to lick her lips, while at the same time—
She released the watch stem.
"Well then... Let's begin. Although time is very short, I hope you'll savor things carefully—bestowed upon you all, the last of your clockwork life!"
Tick tock, tick tock.
In front of her chest, the pocket watch advanced, second by second.
Until the pocket watch stopped—Four minutes still remained.
"We'll try to stop her. Even if we can't stop her, we must create an environment easier for engaging her in battle!"
The first to take action was Kuroe. With unprecedentedly serious eyes, she took a step forward.
"Mode: «Sargasso Tsunemori»!"
Kuroe's hair spread out along the surrounding floor in a wide area, forming a black carpet—or a sea of sargasso seaweed. This sea of hair kept bulging upwards in certain places, forming ripples and exhibiting a chaotic form similar to a dense forest of marine flora, waiting for the invader to arrive. As soon as some one stepped into the zone, a great amount of hair would surely entangle the person's ankles without warning, preventing them from taking another step outside. This was an inescapable trap territory.
"I get what you're trying to do, but all she needs is jump across!"
"In that case, I'm counting on you two to intercept her! Compared to her running over, this will be easier to pinpoint her direction!"
"I see! Then leave it to me, Mechanism No.8 crushing type, circular form: «Breaking Wheel of Francia»!"
Fear transformed the Rubik's cube into the torture wheel. Elsie had already started using her compressed time to move at high speed, breaking into a mad dash. As Kuroe predicted, she jumped high just before Kuroe's hair carpet. Discerning her route of advance, Fear was just about to throw the torture wheel at her landing spot when—
In midair, Elsie once again extended the silver chain that was wrapped around her fist, looping it around the trunk of a decorative tree then quickly shortening the chain to produce tension—At the same time, she stepped onto the chain, extended straight and taut through the air, then ran along the chain in this manner.
"Th-That's way too unreasonable...!"
Haruaki groaned but the situation still did not improve. Using the wire created by the chain she had shot out, Elsie traversed the sargasso sea of black hair, circling over to their side. Her movements were like a mirage, zigzagging at high speed, meanwhile with a forceful kick, she crushed the paved path underfoot and closed in rapidly. Since this sargasso sea was essentially spread out in the forward direction, the sides were quite weakly defended. Taking a light leap, Elsie swung her fist at Kuroe who was frantically turning her gaze.
"Kuroe! Pull your hair back!"
"Ku... «Cushioning Munemori»!"
Hair, which was originally by Kuroe's feet, instantly gathered and shot up to form a shield to block the impact. Next, Fear's thrown wheel stood further forward, forming a second shield. Nevertheless, even with this double defense, Elsie's destructive might could not be stopped. The wheel creaked from the impact while Kuroe's body was sent flying from the ground, her petite body smashing into the bushes, breaking branches and causing a large amount of leaves to flutter in the air.
Fear gripped the torture wheel hard then threw it out. Elsie struck it down using her chain-wrapped fist.
"Mechanism No.20 slashing type, great blade form: «A Hatchet of Lingchi»!"
"That's quite some spirit you have there! But it's a little too much spirit! Absolutely the GOODEST!"
The massive hatchet's swing was parried as well. Then a flowing backhanded fist immediately attacked, striking Fear in the head, rendering her petite body instantly unsteady. Nevertheless, Fear gritted her teeth hard and pushed her body, swinging the blade again. This time, Elsie countered with a hook to the gut.
Liquid flowed out from the corners of Fear's lips, perhaps saliva or stomach juices, a painful sight to behold nonetheless. She stabbed the hatchet into the ground to serve as support and prevent herself from flying backwards—Even so, the impact still forced Fear's body to slide back a couple meters. Elsie closed in on Fear with lightning speed again, raising her snow-white thigh in a kick towards her chest. Fear was supposed to be quite heavy but in spite of that, her body was effortlessly sent hovering to midair. Fear groaned painfully and swung her hatchet down forcefully while in the air, trying hard to retaliate. However, Elsie turned her body lightly and dodged Fear's attack again. The hatchet embedded itself into the ground. Elsie clenched her fist and laughed:
"Oh my oh my... Aren't you durable? I guess I'll wait until later to destroy you! Because right now, my goal is to quickly kill off that straggler! So it's time for you to stand down!"
"I... re... fuse! Sorry, but I won't hold back, so don't hate me! Mechanism No.12 extinction type, revolving blade form: «Tornado of Souls»!"
Fear left the hatchet stuck in the ground then jumped back herself, transmitting the order to transform through the chain of cubes. Using the momentary opening when she dodged Elsie's fist by the slimmest of margins, she converted the hatchet next to Elsie into the revolving pillar of blades. Without any hesitation, she instantly caused the tornado of blades to spin at top speed—
"Wow! This is such a fun ATTRACTION! THRILLING!"
Elsie blocked the blades with the silver chain on her fist then bent down and jumped lightly. Despite being in range of the bladed pillar that was spinning faster than the naked eye could follow, she dodged every single blade. Then weaving past the tornado of blades, closing in on Fear at a certain separation—
Wrapped around her fist, the silver chain extended its end towards the side, aiming for a decorative rock that stood up from its buried position in the center of a lawn. Within the blink of an eye, the chain wrapped itself around the giant boulder, roughly stout enough for a person to hold in one's arms, uprooting it from the soil. Next, using centrifugal force, Elsie swept the boulder horizontally, tied up by the chain, towards Fear's body—
Fear had probably expected Elsie to charge her directly and reacted half a beat too slow. Unable to recall her torture tool in time, she was mercilessly struck by the thick hammer of rock. Sent flying as though struck by a car, Fear's entire body bounced away. At the same time, accompanied by series of cracking sounds, something breaking could be heard. But when Fear smashed into the wall of the school building, these sounds were instantly covered up by the loud crash from the impact.
"Haha~ How rare for me to have such perfect control. Wonderful, wonderful."
Haruaki could do nothing but watch. No problem. There should be no problem. Absolutely no problem. Surely, Fear and Kuroe were going to stand up soon. How long would it take? A minute? Too long, damn it—!
As though taking over for Fear, Konoha swiftly closed in on Elsie. With an astoundingly savage expression, she chopped with her hands, her legs, using all sorts of martial techniques, she engaged Elsie in direct combat.
"Looks like you're all fired up too! Five, six, seven... Amazing, that's a new record! EXCELLENT!"
After throwing the rock away, she wrapped the silver chain around her fist again and began to play a song of heavy metal while clashing nonstop with Konoha's knife hand. Before the noise vanished, the next set of noises appeared, followed by another set of noises. Haruaki's eyes could no longer follow the scene before him. Through vague afterimages, he could only see objects moving back and forth at astoundingly high speeds between the two girls.
Smack! Then completely different noises began to creep into the earlier sounds. The sound of skin getting torn open, flesh getting sliced open, bones creaking noisily. Konoha began to bleed from various parts of her body, because she was gradually unable to deflect all of Elsie's attacks.
"I admit you're trying hard. But in this world, there exist things that cannot be solved by mere motivation. Just like the way no one can stop the passage of time."
"Guh... Ahhh... Ahhhhhh—!"
"In other words, what Elsie mean is that time is valuable and it's time for you to stand down—Are you listening? Hmm, you don't actually look like you're listening!"
Elsie suddenly ducked down as though her back had snapped. Then Konoha made a thrust with her knife hand. In the next instant, Elsie stretched her body upwards while her bare knee had already embedded itself deeply into Konoha's chest. To think that she had used her knee in a cross countering strike... Absolutely unbelievable.
"You've done very well. Truly very GOODEST. In past tense, I guess it's GOODESTED?"
After Konoha stopped moving, Elsie raised her clasped hands together to deliver a hammering blow to the back of Konoha's head. Konoha crashed down like a mannequin, her head striking the ground hard. Cracks instantly appeared on the paved path as concrete fragments flew away. Probably through sheer willpower alone, Konoha groaned and attempted to stand up—But of course, she was unable to do so.
In the end, in merely two minutes, everyone was down.
But giving up because of that was not an option. Haruaki desperately mustered strength in his legs that were almost about to give way. Glaring at Elsie, he pondered what he should do, what could he do—
"So, so, although it's the same situation as previously, this time, the happy time of life continues to turn. In other words, your time has ended. Hurry and let Elsie finish the job!"
Elsie charged at high speed. Instantly, Haruaki felt someone shove him hard, causing him to roll on the ground.
Naturally, the one who pushed him was the person who was protecting the wheelchair-bound Amanda together with him—
"Come on, at least I can tell what you're thinking... Absolutely ridiculous. Indeed, it's truly and absolutely ridiculous. I'm the one who should be doing this first instead. This is my duty. Just like that time...!"
After pushing Haruaki away, Kirika stepped in front of the wheelchair, the «Tragic Black River» sliding out of her sleeve. In the face of Elsie's intimidating aura, the «Tragic Black River» seemed quite small and powerless in comparison.
"As a sign of respect for Miss Japanese Sword for trying so hard just now, Elsie will use a knifehand strike as well to take care of you! I'll first skewer your body then chop you apart together with your clothes, finally stabbing into Mummy Maker's heart all at once! EXCITING!"
The same scene was about to be replayed, with Kirika planning to use herself as a meat shield, with Kirika planning to use her immortal body as a meat shield, along with Elsie in complete nonchalance, Elsie who possessed the power to completely annihilate Kirika's immortality.
Last time, they were saved only because Elsie had reached her time limit. But now... Currently it was still—
"No... Class Rep!"
Elsie effortlessly dodged the extending «Tragic Black River» and closed in swiftly. Kirika did not move. Because Amanda was right behind her, she could not move.
Hence, Elsie's knife hand was swinging at high speed, slicing through the air faster than the naked eye could follow, to "kill" Kirika—
The body of the man who had suddenly taken off his mask and appeared...
The hand stabbed into Himura's body when he rushed out in front of Kirika to protect her.
The feeling of her hand burying into flesh. The splatter of the familiar color. The familiar odor of the viscous body fluid.
Hinai Elsie did not feel any regret at all. In fact, it was the opposite.
Instead, she was thinking that she had accomplished her task concretely.
She had no idea why she needed to do it. Neither was she interested.
All she needed to do was act according to that man's orders. Simply as a knight of the Frontline Gathering Knights Dominion, obeying the words of him who stood as the absolute ruler.
She recalled that voice over the telephone.
'Do you understand?'
(Yes, my lord, I understand clearly.)
'The target will block your way at the last moment. Do not miss that opportunity. I repeat once more...'
(Yes, I won't miss the opportunity. I will definitely accomplish it!)
The sense of achievement made Elsie's back tremble. She had fulfilled her mission perfectly.
Recalling the words the Dominion Lord finally said to her, Elsie climaxed once again as expected.
'Do not forget. Your target—The man named Himura Sunao.'
Drawing out her bloodstained hand, Elsie stayed in place for some reason, her back shuddering in waves.
Himura's body instantly collapsed with a crash. Kirika gazed down at him in disbelief. A large hole had pierced Himura's abdomen and blood kept gushing out.
Haruaki could see Kirika's legs suddenly lose strength as she collapsed on her knees, her wavering eyes staring at Himura, watching him who had received a heavy injury to protect her.
"W-Why? But... I'm... immortal...!"
"Cough cough... You should... also know, right? There is no concrete evidence... that you cannot die. Even.. if there really is... but I... Because I... am serious. That's why... I want to... protect you..."
Kirika's eyes wavered even more as she reached her hand out slowly towards Himura's body.
Kirika's face was showing an expression that Haruaki had never witnessed before. As though feeling fear about something, yet agonizing over a dilemma, also appearing to be seeing something beyond what was before her eyes, also accompanied by pain, recalling distant memories from the past—
But just at this moment—
Kirika's hand suddenly stopped just as she was about to touch Himura's body.
A furrow appeared on Kirika's brow. Groaning while looking up, stumbling as she tried hard to stand up, Fear and the others were looking at Kirika. Having lost cognition, Amanda was looking at her. Only Elsie was the exception, still dazed with ecstasy on her face.
Kirika's hand did not touch Himura's body. Keeping her arm half extended, she remained motionless.
What was Kirika pondering?
What was she thinking?
Also—What was she remembering?
Naturally, only Kirika alone would know.
She remained rooted to the spot in shock for quite a while.
What was visible to the eye—or invisible to the eye—both were leaving her in disbelief.
What happened? What was going on in the current situation?
"Ah... Himura-senpai, it's been a while."
While she was in a daze, he had started standing behind her. Truly, it had been a while since they last met.
Upon joining the Lab Chief's Nation, Kirika was assigned to a department, but due to a lack of progress and accomplishment, this department was scrapped several weeks earlier. After all, funding was not unlimited, this was only natural... In these matters, her brother was quite rational and decisive.
The department's personnel were all split up and reassigned to other departments. Kirika and Himura were no exception. Presumably, the higher-ups decided that Kirika did not need to follow a mentor anymore. Indeed, Kirika was also confident that she had already grown quite accustomed to this organization, the Lab Chief's Nation. Even in a new department, her research was going quite smoothly—although she also felt that the higher-ups had intentionally assigned her to a department whose research could be successfully carried out by someone like her.
After the department was scrapped, Kirika found herself estranged from Himura for quite some time. But rather than a sense of nostalgia, she was more confounded by the sight before her. Perhaps he might know something about it.
"That... puppy... is gone. But clearly, he was still here yesterday as usual... Did someone take him out for a walk? Senpai, do you know where he went?"
"...Unknown. Indeed, why do I get this kind of feeling... Unknown."
He looked quite strange, his eyes simply staring blankly at the empty kennel. Apart from that, nothing seemed to be reflecting in his eyes, not even Kirika who was standing before him.
"So that's why I am pursuing. I desire. I desire that, even if it means forsaking all else..."
"...Senpai? Uh... What is it that you desire...?"
At this time, he finally focused his gaze on her. Directly, sincerely—yet madly.
Inexplicably, Kirika's back shuddered in terror.
Terrifying. The way he was right now... Terrifying.
"What did you want to ask me? Of course it's you. Kirika. I desire you."
"Immersing myself in research all along, I experienced it for the first time. I am certain that this is the greatest research theme that cannot be elucidated even by devoting a lifetime's effort. This is my happiness. As long as I obtain you, I will feel happy. So in order to obtain you, I am willing to do anything. I have been poisoned by the happiness named Kirika and at the same time, infected by the hunger for the happiness named Kirika. However, the fools have separated me from you, transferring you to a promising laboratory where you don't need to do any dirty work, while assigning me to a dull laboratory that could be scrapped any moment. This means forcing me to produce results, right? Very well, in that case, I shall produce results. In order to become a man worthy of you. Hence, I used it."
"You used... it...?"
"My happiness... My happiness belongs only to me... to me alone. Hence, it was perfect."
Himura was essentially confessing his love to her right now. However, it did not matter. Kirika could not dispel the awful premonition occupying her mind. Gulping, she asked the man who exuded a dangerous aura, standing before her like the devil.
"...Where is that child?"
He smiled gently and said:
"Don't worry. You can see it if you come to my lab—although only the head remains by this point."
Kirika instantly collapsed and sat on the ground, her view felt as though the entire world was spinning around. Her brain was about to overheat. Discomfort, nausea. In fact, she really did vomit. He simply watched her without saying a word. Scorching, scorching. Both her body and the depths of her mind felt scorching.
Ah, that's what this is—Fury.
Never experienced before, almost maddening—Wrath.
Kirika swallowed her sour and bitter saliva, looking up.
"You used that child—to use... in an experiment...?"
"I forgot to mention something important. If explaining too much caused me to fail in conveying my main point, that would be putting the cart before the horse. So I must state clearly for the record—Kirika, I love you."
They were clearly talking past each other. No good. This person, this man—
Stop screwing around. Stop screwing around. Stop screwing around!
By himself, he continued to pratter incessantly:
"Recently, I produced quite splendid results. Soon after, we should be able to work together again. I expect to receive valuable Wathes afterwards... Oh right, although I only heard by chance, you seem to have recently obtained a Wathe possessing excellent cursed abilities—"
So what? So what!? What 'I love you'? To think she believed so much in him. All this time, she had deemed so many researchers as inhumane and insane. So he turned out to be one of them. He? No, calling him 'that guy' was sufficient. What 'I love you'? Totally disgusting, nauseating. Unforgivable. She could not empathize with any of this. Completely crazy. To think that guy murdered the puppy for the sake of research. Impossible to understand. Anger and derision overflowed endlessly.
Hence, all she did was murmur softly.
Directed towards everything before her eyes—
From the bottom of her heart—
Accompanied by a curse.
A momentary daydream. After experiencing a feeling similar to dizziness, Kirika regained her senses.
Before her eyes was Himura collapsed. He was currently staring at her intently. Her hand was extended halfway, stopped in midair. If his wound were not examined quickly to stop the bleeding, he could very well die. Even so, her hand remained motionless.
"Arghhh... How absolutely ridiculous..."
Pushed aside by her just now, Haruaki sat up and gazed at her. He must be trying to ask her why she stopped. Until that very instant, this same question had surfaced in her own mind.
However, she figured it out now. Due to that daydream, she understood everything.
Why she had suddenly stopped—That was because she felt that something was not right.
Kirika glanced at Elsie who was staring into space with a face filled with ecstasy. Although Kirika had no idea why she was like that, it did not matter because at this close range, there was nothing that Kirika could do if Elsie decided to act again. Hence, she could only take a gamble on Elsie not taking action for the next while.
"Yachi... I know the situation doesn't permit this. I also hope you won't see me as cold and heartless. However, for just a moment—Please give me some time."
"Yes, give me time to confirm."
Kirika answered briefly before turning her gaze to meet Himura's eyes again. She could feel the cold from the bottom of her heart. Indeed, she was cold and heartless after all, even in this critical moment of life and death, she was still suspicious of others, unbelievably.
However, she must suspect.
Present on scene was not only herself but Haruaki and the other girls. If anything happened as a result of a superficial, humane impulse—If she was the only one to perish, that could not be helped. But she absolutely refused to let the others get caught up in it.
Staring at the collapsed Himura, Kirika questioned:
"Before I help you up, allow me to confirm one matter—Why did you take off your mask before rushing in front of Elsie?"
Himura did not answer. Kirika continued to point out what she had found suspicious.
"If you wanted to protect me, fine. But your «Il est dans Bastille» only erases the sense of presence. It does not mean that your body disappears physically. Even if you continued to wear the mask while forcing your way between Elsie and me, her hand would still pierce your body unknowingly. As a result, it doesn't change the fact of acting as a meat shield. But why, under those urgent conditions, did you still forcibly take off the mask? If there's any reason, hurry up and tell me."
Himura laughed instead.
At the same time, he swiftly took out a rectangular object from his front pocket and raised it before Kirika's eyes.
Not a weapon. From the looks of it, the object seemed to be a rectangular, wooden, photo frame but without the photo that should be kept inside it. Then feeling a terrifying chill, Kirika reflexively distanced herself from him.
Himura slowly sat up, then glancing at the thing that resembled a photo frame in his hand, he laughed as though finding something ludicrous.
"Haha... Hahaha... Really? So in the end, it still didn't work? Even after going this far, it still didn't work!? Hahahahaha!"
While Haruaki could not comprehend what was going on, the situation continued to develop. The clock's hands continued to turn.
"If it doesn't work, it can't be helped. I have already prepared myself for a change of plans."
While slowly standing up, Himura muttered quietly, mixed with laughter. Standing in front of Haruaki's group who were utterly baffled, he turned his gaze and said:
"Hinai Elsie, «Four Minutes». It's me."
"Ah... This voice... My lord...!"
Originally in a daze, Elsie's eyes recovered a sense of self-awareness. Haruaki's group could not comprehend what she said. Lord? Was she referring to Himura?
"How much longer are you going to space out for? The next target is Yachi Haruaki. Kill him. That will achieve the state of shock required to activate this «Article 15»."
"Yes! As long as it's your wish!"
Elsie turned her gaze towards them. The entire group shuddered.
"Guh... Ooh. Damn it, what the heck is going on...!?"
"No idea. But now is not the time to worry about that! «Tragic Black River»!"
The cursed belt extended forward to restrain Elsie. Although it was instantly cut into shreds, it did achieve in buying an opening of a few seconds.
"Kuroe-san! Please throw me! Hurry!"
Collapsed on the ground, Konoha turned back into a Japanese sword. Crawling out from the bushes, Kuroe used her hair to grab the sword and threw Konoha towards Haruaki. A second before Elsie entered attack range, the Japanese sword flew into Haruaki's hands.
"Don't think you'll succeed... I absolutely won't let you succeed!"
Konoha's howl resembled a scream. The Japanese sword was controlling Haruaki's body fiercely, bringing out his body's full potential to strike down Elsie's attacks. I can't see. I really can't see anything. Was Konoha and the others fighting this kind of opponent all along? Simply in blocking, I can hear my bones creak. Simply in dodging, I feel like my muscles are about to tear apart.
What about the time? What about the time? Not yet? Still not yet?
The despairing instant seemed to stretch on forever. The situation was changing every second—but in a deteriorating direction.
After Kuroe extended a bundle of hair, Elsie used her right hand's silver chain to entangle the hair in reverse, then severing it with a forceful twist. Elsie also grabbed Kirika's extended «Tragic Black River», pulling her in, then immediately sent her flying with a left punch. This alone was enough of a severe injury to almost break and fracture Kirika's shoulder. All covered in wounds, Fear rushed forward, wielding her drill. Elsie lifted her leg and kicked downwards, sending Fear sinking into the ground. All this happened simultaneously.
"Ahhh... Ahhhhhh! I-I must protect Haruaki-kun! Absolutely!"
"Wow~ Amazing amazing. But I think this is already the limit when you're relying on a human body."
As Elsie spoke, Haruaki felt a sharp pain coming from somewhere on his body. In that instant, his mind was plunged into darkness.
Instantly, he realized it was the end for something.
A spear hand strike was aiming towards his heart. Resisting in desperation, Konoha controlled Haruaki's stiff arm. Instead of her own body, the sword, simply forcing Haruaki's arm to extend in front of his heart was already taking all of Konoha's efforts.
Elsie's fingertips penetrated Haruaki's arm. Then Haruaki felt an astounding impact. Completely unrelated to awareness, simply due to damage to the body's physical structure, Haruaki could feel the Japanese sword falling from his hand. Then after he flew backwards a great distance, his back smashed hard against the ground—
Finally after a second's delay, massive pain arrived.
He could not suppress a scream.
A lot of time still remained. How completely effortless.
"Here comes the finishing blow." Just as Hinai Elsie intended to advance with lively footsteps—
Suddenly, she felt a chill down her spine.
This was a presence from hell, cold, merciless and cruel at the same time, one that she had never felt before. As though drawn by the darkness behind her, Elsie looked back.
Extremely close range, near enough to feel the other party's breath. Left and right in midair. Time seemed to stop for an instant.
Rushing in rapidly, the two figures spoke simultaneously in a tone of voice as cold as ice, completely devoid of emotion:
Fear was listening to Haruaki's scream, listening to a scream that made her heart tremble.
She could feel her past memories, a dark presence rearing its head from the depths of her body.
The pulsation of insanity, the thirst for violence. After an instant of boiling, her brain had gone cold after boiling excessively. Amidst these cold thoughts, Fear partially accepted her darkness.
She would not go insane enough to lose sight of her enemy, but she shall allow violence to rule her. After all, the enemy had done something so terrible.
She wanted to use the «Iron Maiden» to open large holes in that girl's body. She wanted to use «The Duke of Exeter's Daughter» to stretch that girl's body out for shredding. She wanted to use the «Inquisitional Wheel» to violently crush that girl's spine. She wanted to use «The Flocking Storks» to deprive that girl of her freedom, giving her a long period of time to reflect upon her sins. She wanted to use «The Blessed Virgin Mary's Steel Embrace» to surround that girl with death's embrace. She wanted to use the «Cat's Paw» to carve incomparably ugly scars on that girl's back. She wanted to use the «Spanish Spiders» to hang that girl up like an onion, sun-dried into a dessicated human. She wanted to use «The Teeth» to shave away that girl's limbs while inflicting pain and suffering. She wanted to use the «Judas Cradle» to pierce that girl's crotch, allowing her to die in shame and anger.
Ahhh, not enough. She had already lost several of the violent acts she sought. Irritating.
Even so, what she needed to do remained the same.
Even if the types of pain she could inflict had grown fewer in number, there was still only one end result. Currently, that alone was sufficient.
So, girl. Foolish sinner whose name I've even forgotten. Rejoice all you want.
—I will kill you.
Muramasa Konoha was looking at Haruaki's blood, looking at the color she absolutely did not wish to see.
Dizziness. Chills. Nausea.
However, she understood very well. Now was not the time to be feeling unwell. Neither was it time for trembling, vomiting, or staying her hand from reaching towards the enemy who had committed an unforgivable crime.
Ice-cold wrath compelled her to steel her determination. It compelled her to steel her determination to admit.
Currently, there was no need.
No need for that sort of lie.
Once she admitted it, the color of fresh blood, visible in the surroundings, began to convey other meanings. It became extremely nostalgic, exciting, causing one's heart to leap, and exceptionally—
Dizziness, chills and nausea had all vanished. Hence, she simply sprang into action.
Casting away the lie she had been telling since a long long time ago.
She had not lifted her curse at all—
Neither was she even close to lifting it—
Her curse, equally deep as that shouldered by the cube of torture and execution, continued to surround herself—
Her fear of seeing fresh blood was not due to the backlash of almost lifting her curse—
Rather, it was only because it reminded her of the fact that she had simply undergone self-hypnosis in order to stay with him.
She simply took action.
O fool who intends to take his life. Enemy whom I resent even more than the Tokugawa. Boast all you want.
—I will kill you.
Haruaki's view was blurred by the tears from the pain, but there were definitely two figures ahead.
Fear and Konoha were closing in on Elsie. Despite clearly lying sprawled on the ground a second ago after being blown away. Despite clearly spinning in the air as a Japanese sword a second ago.
"Mechanism No.3 severance type, descending form: «Guillotine»!"
Elsie drew her neck back. The iron guillotine made a metallic grating sound right in front of her face. After turning back to human form, Konoha jumped, unconcerned with her full nudity, attacking at high speed with her four limbs in midair. Elsie bit her lip and attacked with her fist in return.
"Guh... Ah... Oahhhhhh!"
Crack! With the sound of something shattering, Elsie and Konoha jumped back from each other. Elsie simply retreated a few steps but the silver chain on her fist had been severed. She made the chain extend from the severed location and wrapped it around her fist once more. In front of her gaze was Konoha who was bent over the ground on all fours like a beast.
Had Fear and Konoha lost their self-awareness? Haruaki was not sure. Fear was not quite the same as the last time when she was devoured by past memories. Konoha was also acting differently from when she lost herself to anger in the past.
But compared to those past occasions, the two of them were even more scary now.
Without any eye contact, they simply spoke quietly:
"O cube, thou shalt not hinder me."
"Cut the crap."
This short exchange served as some sort of secret signal. Simultaneously, they started taking action in perfect unison.
"Mechanism No.20 slashing type, great blade form: «A Hatchet of Lingchi», Curse Calling!"
Fear held the hatchet up and swung it down forcefully. Unlike previous times, she did not attack with the back of the blade. This time, she swung the front edge as hard as she could, a slashing strike filled with intent to kill. Elsie dodged swiftly. As though having predicted this, Konoha jumped straight over Fear's petite body and rushed at Elsie. After receiving Konoha's attack, «Clockwork Life»'s silver chain was cut and fell apart. Having lost her defense, Elsie's fist began to show minor cuts where blood flew out. Konoha was supposed to be quite afraid of blood—But for some reason, she did not stop. The instant she landed, she spread both legs to rotate her body and swept her leg, imbued with a sword's sharpness, towards Elsie's lower body. Elsie's body was strengthened to begin with, as a result of time compression, but Konoha in her current state was able to cut her fist even when protected by the silver chain. Elsie had no time to extend the silver chain to her legs for defense. In order to dodge Konoha's sweeping kick, Elsie jumped lightly—
She made eye contact with Fear who was looking up at her from almost directly underneath. Crouching on one knee on the ground next to Konoha, Fear had withdrawn her hatchet that was buried in the paved path, ordering the hatchet to transform.
"Mechanism No.5 impaling type, upright form: «A Skewer Loved by Vlad Tepes»!"
Fear twisted her body and shot the execution stake upwards at a very steep angle, in other words, straight into the air where Elsie had jumped.
Extremely close range. Despite being unable to brake in midair, Elsie still yelled loudly:
"Don't think... you can hit me—!"
She twisted her head forcefully. Originally going to pierce her face, the execution stake shaved off a large chuck of flesh instead, brushing past her neck and flying towards the school building behind, stabbing high up the outer wall, causing concrete to shatter and fall with a clatter.
Immediately, the vector of Elsie's jump turned to descent, intending to crush Konoha and Fear with the speed of her falling momentum, but the two girls dodged the attack at the very last moment. Due to rolling on the ground to evade the attack, they both lost balance. Elsie must have found it an excellent opportunity. As soon as she landed, she raised both arms, intending to swing them towards the two girls at the same time—
"—Don't you think that I'm much cooler like this, compared to that itty bitty pocket watch?"
"I can measure time too. I will use this pendulum to measure out the time for extinguishing life! Mechanism No.4 swinging type, oscillatory form: «The Pendulum», Curse Calling!"
The chain of cubes held in Fear's hand seemed to rattle. Connected to that chain was the execution stake she had just launched, currently stuck to the school building's external wall. But now, it was no longer an execution stake. With the portion buried in the school building as the pivot, a long steel chain extended from there with a massive scythe blade attached to its swinging end—A killing pendulum.
The scythe traced out beautiful curves while swaying. Elsie lowered her body to escape the silently approaching pendulum of death. The giant scythe pendulum measured the unit of time known as intent to kill while sliding slowly. Elsie's rabbit cap was slashed open.
"Do you really think you'll be safe just by bending over? How excessively naive. Of course my mechanism can extend and shorten freely with just a change in chain length. This mechanism's chain was designed to extend according to time to begin with—In other words, this is a form of execution taking delight in the way people watched in terror as the blade gradually approached their head. Also—"
"Ooh! M-My feet...!"
"Mode: «Sargasso Tsunemori». You shouldn't limit your attention to above."
"«Tragic Black River»... Did you really think that Fear-kun and Konoha-kun are the only ones who posed a threat...? Literally dragged down by your feet... Absolutely ridiculous."
Kuroe was supporting herself, pushing with her arms against the ground. Probably rupturing her wound due to forcibly getting up, Kirika was using her right hand to press her half-severed left arm against her shoulder. Elsie's feet were entangled by black hair and the belt, deprived of her freedom. As much as Elsie tried to escape with all her might, it should take her some time.
The killing pendulum swung to its highest point on one end, stopping momentarily, then the scythe was about to return to its original location in accordance with pendulum motion. Towards Elsie ahead on its trajectory, towards Elsie who could not move.
In that instant—
"No, no, no! Elsie... Elsie must complete the mission—! Thus, thus, thus—«Clockwork Life»!"
Elsie neither dodged nor intended to block the swinging pendulum.
Instead, she shot the pocket watch's chain towards Haruaki.
Haruaki had almost lost consciousness from the intense pain and was unable to move, only watching blankly as this scene unfolded. The chain was flying at high speed. The chain whose power could could penetrate the school building's concrete. It was flying straight towards Haruaki's face—
However, mere centimeters from his face, the silver chain was deflected simultaneously with a clang. Missing its target, the chain flew past Haruaki's face, stabbing into the ground behind him. That silver chain was definitely fired towards me, Haruaki thought. What happened?
However, he had no time to think further. Fear's killing pendulum was tracing out curves with delightful speed while descending. Konoha was charging like a wild beast, intending to kill Elsie once and twice again.
"Jeez—That scared me! By this point already! But it's over, I won't allow you to beg for mercy or leave any last words. Just go and die!"
At this moment, Haruaki saw in the corner of his eye.
The silver chain, slowly withdrawn from his side—
As though losing all its strength, it plopped down on the ground.
Haruaki's eyes widened with surprise as he opened his mouth to yell:
"Time's up! We won! So—Don't kill her! Fear, Konoha—!"
However, the life-taking pendulum did not stop moving.
"Heave-ho... Heave-ho... Wait, I still need to wrap more. Even if it means going bald, I need to wrap more."
"Kuroe, you don't need to push yourself that far. This uses life force, right? You don't look too well in the face."
"You look even worse, Haru."
Kuroe had plucked many strands of her hair and wrapped them around the wound on his arm after applying healing power to them. Haruaki felt the warmth from his dressing while surveying the surroundings. First, he saw Amanda with her blank expression. The direct hazard intending to kill her was already gone. For that, he felt happy from the bottom of his heart, although indirect hazards still lingered.
The silver-haired girl was standing next to Amanda. Watching her, Haruaki said:
"Fear... Thank you."
"Yeah. That was so close. Seriously... So close..."
Fear showed a dazed face while answering. No matter what other emotions she was feeling, surely one of them must be relief. Relief for not having to kill someone. That alone was salvation. She was not going to turn back into her former self.
"Konoha, thank you too... Are you okay? You don't look very good... Oh, sorry."
With her back facing him, Konoha was crouching down where her clothes had fallen. However, she did not reach out to pick up her clothes. Instead, she simply had her head bowed and looked like she was adjusting her breathing. In other words, she was still completely nude and Haruaki could see her backside. Was the Immorality Blocker going to come flying again? Hence, Haruaki frantically turned his gaze away.
"No—You're... right. After all, having seen so much blood, I'm feeling quite unwell. Please wait... Give me a little time. Until I return to my usual self—Please give me... a little more time... than usual..."
Konoha continued to keep her head bowed while murmuring softly. Then slowly, she picked up her clothes. She seemed a bit strange, but perhaps that could not be helped. Elsie really was very formidable.
Right now, Elsie was lying collapsed on the ground, having lost all strength. Although she was still conscious, she simply stared out into space without reacting at all.
Back then, instead of a knife hand strike, Konoha had used the bottom of her palm to push Elsie's upper torso backwards. On the other hand, Fear had instantly adjusted the length of the pendulous execution scythe. As a result, the killing pendulum had simply sliced open the surface of «Clockwork Life» that was hanging before Elsie's chest, then sliding past.
Probably deciding that they should not lower their guard even after the powerful cursed tool was gone, Kirika used the «Tragic Black River» to tie Elsie up securely. Then pressing down on the squirming wound of the left shoulder while it healed, Kirika turned her gaze viciously—
And glared at the final enemy.
"Hahaha, how strange. This is really too strange. Zero marks. To think I calculated so precisely beforehand."
Shoulders trembling, Himura held his mask under his arm and watched the ending as a spectator.
"You people actually defeated Hinai Elsie? That's truly beyond my calculations. An unknown, both pleasing and displeasing... Haha!"
Unbelievable. Haruaki had no idea what exactly happened, but the only thing he could understand was—He... They had been deceived. Despite Himura's sincere-looking behavior, he was actually scheming something in secret—
Haruaki originally thought that Kirika did not need to be that wary of Himura. He had always thought that perhaps Himura was not as bad a person as she believed.
But now he understood. He was completely wrong. It was the opposite.
Kirika's wariness of Himura was only natural.
Perhaps, they should have been even more wary instead—!
"What did you do? Answer me now. Why is Hinai Elsie following your orders!?"
"She called you lord just now, right? What relation do you have with the Knights Dominion?"
Kirika continued to glare at him while Fear cautiously held the Rubik's cube.
Faced with the two girls' interrogation, Himura shrugged nonchalantly.
"I am the Knights Dominion's Lord? Impossible, wouldn't you say?."
"This is the result of using this Wathe. Namely, «Article 15»."
Himura lightly waved the object in his hand that looked like a photo frame. However, it was instantly broken into top and bottom halves. Because Fear had thrown the torture wheel directly to break it without warning.
Fear pulled back the wheel using the chain of cubes and spoke quietly with a stern gaze:
"I don't know what kind of ability that cursed tool possesses, but if a man like you can wave it around and show off smugly... It's definitely nothing good. I'll break it first and ask questions later."
"Oh dear, what's with the murderous hostility? I don't have the power to fight you people directly, you know? However, Fear-in-Cube, you really are too impetuous—You should have heard about this thing's existence already. Indeed, this is precisely the Wathe capable of restoring Amanda Carlot's mind."
"What did you say...!?"
Himura waved the bottom portion of the broken frame and shrugged helplessly.
"But to be frank, my explanation only deserves fifty marks. That's because it's actually just a possibility that it could be used that way. Regarding this «Article 15»—Here comes the full marks answer. In other words, it is a Wathe for brainwashing and controlling people's minds."
Haruaki's group was rendered speechless. This was such an astounding ability, more horrifying than any type of sharp blade. Did that small photo frame really possess such an ability?
"This is a tool that was once used by the army of a certain dictatorship state. It was said that soldiers would capture those suspected of treason. Then while beaten and tortured, the prisoners would be presented with a photo-less frame and told: 'Hurry and admit your guilt. The evidence of your treasonous intent is in this photograph here. Irrefutable proof.' Of course, the prisoners all refused to admit in the beginning, but in the end, unable to withstand the torture and beating, finally amidst pain, bewilderment, madness and cursing—They still admitted to their crimes despite their innocence. In other words, because of this nonexistent photo, the past and memories sought by the soldiers became irrefutable evidence. Then the soldiers declared—'In accordance to Article 15 of the Criminal Code, this man shall be executed for treason.'"
"A tool for framing innocents in order to kill those who pose a threat to the state... How truly contemptible."
Probably calmed down already, Konoha had finally put on her clothes and glared at Himura while murmuring.
"But it's extremely useful. Then this thing became cursed, turning into a tool that possessed the ability to control the target's mind just by presenting it before their eyes. But Wathes with powerful cursed abilities always come with certain restrictions. This is no exception. In order to invoke the mind-control ability on a certain person, two conditions must be met. First of all, energy must be gathered—similar to «Clockwork Life»'s time, which can be said to be completely complementary to «Article 15»'s curse."
"I don't really get it, but anyway, it can't be any good curse."
"In terms of control, that's true indeed. Yachi Haruaki and Kirika should know already, this type of Wathe not only affects the owner but also spreads its curse indiscriminately to the surrounding people. Namely, it forcibly pulls out people's inner thoughts. Whether delusions, past memories or simply nightmares, that depends on the situation. Have any of you experienced particularly realistic dreams or daydreams recently?"
"Nuu! Could... that be why...!?"
Fear frowned as though realizing something. Konoha and Kirika did the same. Kuroe was focused on healing Haruaki so he did not know if she was recalling something as well. However, even Haruaki himself remembered a few things. Delusions that were not supposed to happen. Delusions appearing realistically like daydreams.
Not only that. Haruaki recalled what everyone was chatting about before going to take their showers. Fear and Konoha had mentioned frequent nightmares lately. They had thought it was just by chance due to excessive exhaustion. However, was all this due to the effects of the Wathe in Himura's possession?"
"Looks like you all have an idea. Because I've been hiding and observing you people a number of times, the phenomenon happens even if you don't see me. How delightful it was to watch your reactions when you suddenly returned to your senses."
"You bastard...! By now, so it turns out... it turns out that I saw those things... It's all your fault!?"
"Stop glaring at me, Fear-in-Cube. Even I was forced to personally rewatch many of my own painful memories. In any case, this is the necessary 'fuel' required for activating this Wathe's brainwashing ability. Namely, to gather the surrounding people's imaginations, memories and fragments of their feelings."
"So you... also used that ability to control the mind of this enemy, Hinai Elsie."
Konoha spoke, prompting Himura to look up as though recalling something.
"Yes. That's essentially correct. But the one using «Article 15» at the time was not actually me but those guys at the Knights Dominion. In other words, it wasn't me."
"W-What do you mean by that...?"
"Yachi Haruaki, what are good student you are for believing the teacher's words. But it's necessary to doubt sometimes. You were all mistaken from the start. Muramasa said once: 'Despite being a member of the Knights Dominion, she was able to converse normally.' What a shame, no one followed up on that observation, although I covered it up at the time by claiming it was the result of the mind-healing Wathe. Simply stated, this girl was not one of the Dominion's knights to begin with. Originally, she was—"
Hinai Elsie was having a dream, simply having a dream.
Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock, tick tock. The clock sounds from her headphones continued nonstop.
These sounds were mixed together with the clock sounds she heard in the cellar back then.
After being abducted together with her father, she was taken to that cellar. The insane clockmaker outside the door had said. Kill each other. If one of you succeeds, the survivor shall go free. Once the time limit is reached, I will release poison gas to kill you both. Don't forget, time is life.
Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock, tick tock.
Her father was looking all around, at a loss what to do. Roaring angrily, he hammered the sturdy door of iron, screaming open the door now open the door now.
Tick tock, tick tock, tick tock, tick tock.
However, Elsie experienced the feeling while listening to the sounds of the pocket watch that measured out the time of life.
A feeling completely different from her father's—She experienced... joy.
Can't be helped can't be helped finally saved I can escape now. After all, under such circumstances, it could not be helped, she was not going to be punished, wonderful wonderful wonderful wonderful so happy so happy so happy great!
Hence, by the 22nd second, Elsie had already decided what she needed to do. Seeing the back of her father's head while he was struggling and hammering the iron door in vain, she discovered a problem by the 24th second. She was a child while her father was an adult. By the 35th second, she recalled the hint. By the 42nd second, she found the answer. Picking up the pocket watch's silver chain in the 43rd second, she choked her father's neck with the silver chain in the 44th second.
Die! Die! Die die die! Doing those dirty things in the toilet, in the bathroom, on the bed, every day and every night, saying because mother was no longer around, doing as he pleased, those painful, disgusting and uncomfortable things, only caring for his own pleasure, no matter how many many times she said no no no, so go die go die go die go die!
The 50th second—55th second—1 minute—2 minutes—
Since she was still a child, lacking in strength, it took her a great deal of effort.
Even so, her father still died when 3 minutes and 57 seconds arrived.
The iron door opened and the insane clockmaker ran over in jubilation, repeating nonstop: Awesome! Finally, someone who understands my beliefs has appeared. Time is life, you understand that as well, right? Awesome!
She was not listening at all.
She was simply—Towards the clock that had saved her from those hellish days of her cursed life, giving her that power, the object that she felt was no simple pocket watch the instant she picked it up, she offered her utmost gratitude and love.
Thank you for helping me.
Thank you for saving me.
Thank you, thank you, thank you. I must repay this favor. That's great, after all, I was thinking whether I should simply go right now.
So, I will keep loving you.
Henceforth, I will keep loving you, forever and ever—
Eh? But what happened after that?
Why did I swear allegiance to my most beloved Dominion Lord?
How odd. I can't remember. I really can't remember—
"—Originally, she was a member of the Bivorio Family."
Hearing the unexpected name, Haruaki stared wide-eyed. What was going on? Why did that name pop up now? She... Were they not already—
Himura cackled with laughter.
"This is my second time using them. Ah, you're trying to ask: Aren't they disbanded already? In terms of the organization, yes, they are disbanded definitely, but that doesn't mean there are no survivors. Back when they declared war on the Lab Chief's Nation, Hinai Elsie, whose powers from «Clockwork Life» made her a mainstay of the Family's combat strength, was permitted to fight using her powers as usual, exempted from suicide bombing. Then in accordance with her title of «Four Minutes», the Tiny Extermination Zone, she annihilated a branch lab's forces before escaping, quite different from Oratorie Rabdulmunagh who was captured after exhausting herself. Hinai Elsie probably intended to attack other branches with guerrilla tactics after storing up time. But due to her formidable powers, Hinai Elsie was also targeted by the Knights Dominion. While she was still accumulating time, she was captured by several of the Dominion's knights who had appeared on orders."
Himura waved the broken «Article 15» in his hand again.
"Then this made a reappearance. Soon after capturing Hinai Elsie, the Knights Dominion also got hold of this tool. Using a brainwashing Wathe has always been a matter on their minds for a long time now. Due to losing various knights one after another, such as the «Balancing Toy» or «Isolate», the one-man force who used to control Indigo Venom, in order to replenish their forces, they decided to use this girl, Hinai Elsie, as an experimental subject for the Wathe they had just obtained."
"They brainwashed her and made her a knight because she possessed power putting her on the level of the «Strongest»... So that's what happened? Indeed, that would bolster their forces substantially."
"Even if she went mad and died due to their incomplete understanding of «Article 15», it did not matter since she ws originally an enemy in the first place. After that, the Lab Chief happened to assign me a new mission just as I was discharged from the hospital. Namely, to use «Il est dans Bastille» to secretly observe the Knights Dominion. Coincidentally, when I arrived there, they were just about to use «Article 15» to brainwash Hinai Elsie, having just refilled its energy. What I did next was very simple. Once they told her 'You are a knight from the Knights Dominion,' all I had to do was hide myself and approach Elsie Hinai, whispering in her ear: 'Then henceforth, you shall follow my orders with absolute obedience. I am the Dominion Lord.'"
Himura proceeded to explain what happened after that. Using his mask that erased his sense of presence, he found an opportunity to release Hinai Elsie's restraints. Then he stole the «Clockwork Life» that the Knights Dominion had taken and returned it to her. Then issuing orders as the Dominion Lord, he had her go on a brief but destructive rampage, allowing «Article 15» to fall into his hands—
"What the heck... What the heck are you trying to do!? I can't believe you went that far...!"
"As long as I got my hands on this Wathe, I would be able to obtain what I desired. That was my only wish."
"Haha..." Suddenly, someone laughed. Not Himura. Eyes flashing with intense flames of wrath, laughing sardonically with no mirth in her eyes, Kirika.
"Absolutely ridiculous... How absolutely ridiculous! You bastard, I knew it—!"
"Although I've said it who knows how many times already, allow me to repeat once again. Kirika, I love you."
Hearing these words, Haruaki felt surprise in his heart. But incredibly, at the same time, Haruaki understood something calmly. These feelings of Himura's were precisely part of Kirika's reasons for hating him. Furthermore, judging from the intense revulsion Kirika expressed towards Himura to date, these feelings were surely not reciprocated... Indeed, his insane love for Kirika was undoubtedly one-sided.
Even as fellow members of the same gender, Fear and the girls could tell that Kirika's will contained nothing but rejection.
"In other words, you did it to obtain Kirika's heart? Don't make me laugh. Even though I don't quite understand romance, it's 100% clear that Kirika doesn't feel that way about you."
"Immoral relationships between teachers and students ought to exist only fictionally in television dramas or novels. That said... I still can't understand. Why did you entrust Amanda-san to us and have Hinai Elsie attack her? Was there really a need to go through this entire process?"
"Of course it was necessary. It just happened that Amanda was a suitable part of the plan. I forgot to mention that «Article 15» needs one more condition to activate, namely, 'It cannot produce an effect unless the target is in a state of extreme shock.' When the Knights Dominion was brainwashing Elsie, they created the state of shock by telling her that the Family was disbanded. Energy is gathered by the Wathe automatically drawing out fragments of thoughts and feelings from the surrounding people, but this requirement of a shocked state must be prepared personally."
"Hmph... I get it now. You were simply pretending to put in sincere effort to save Amanda."
"Presumably to improve Ueno-san's impression of you. How inane. From appearance, you wound... Although it looks very severe but it actually avoided vitals with great precision. You must have told that brainwashed girl that you'll rush forward to protect Ueno-san and to pierce your body while avoiding vitals when the time came—Something like that."
"Basically. Regrettably, despite me doing so much—You still were not shocked from seeing me suffer a critical wound. What a shame. I never expected Fear-in-Cube's orders for me to put on the mask and stand aside to become the reason for my failure... No matter what, I did suffer a severe injury to protect you. I really hoped that you would honestly suffer a shock. Clearly you used to call me 'Senpai' all the time and admired me so much. How heartbreaking."
"Absolutely ridiculous... No matter how sincere your behavior appeared, I already know your true nature! As if anyone would be shocked! You have not changed one bit at all!"
"No... I'm no longer the same. Just as I told you, I 'have decided to change'... So I chose to use the backup plan. If Yachi Haruaki died, you will surely be shocked."
"! —Shut up!"
"There were a number of reasons why I didn't do that from the start. Because when the time comes, Fear-in-Cube and Muramasa would likely muster formidable power without regard for themselves, then I would have no choice but to openly break through their encirclement, too high a risk... I was thinking time might run out at most, but never thought you people would actually succeed in defeating Hinai Elsie. The second reason is simply a matter of feeling. It's not bad to make Kirika mine upon Yachi Haruaki's death, but after all, Yachi has been hindering me constantly all this time. Ultimately, it would be much more satisfying if I could let him personally witness Kirika becoming my possession—"
Kirika's furious shout entered Haruaki's ears. What on earth was Himura talking about? There was too much information and he could not comprehend it all at once. After pondering a little longer, it seemed more understandable. Uh... That... In other words—
"Haru, Haru, are you alright? How does your wound feel?"
Almost pressing tightly against him, Kuroe asked while continuing to treat his arm. This question interrupted his thoughts, causing the answer to slip far away instantly.
"Ah... Hmm, it still hurts a bit. Anyway, since it can't be cured instantly, there's no need to force it."
"Really? Then I'll just wrap a little bit more. Don't tense your mind too much and try not to think about other things. Just relax a bit."
Kuroe wrapped new hair around his around. After dressing the wound, a sense of warmth slowly seeped through. Kuroe seemed to be muttering something incomprehensible, such as: "That's quite unfair, for this to be revealed by someone else's mouth..."
"In any case, your plan already failed. That brainwashing tool is also destroyed. Besides, your leader has already promised not to make a move on us. Your actions have contravened his orders... We should have the right to demand compensation at least. More concretely, that's the right to beat you up here."
"Haha—Here comes the third reason. It's not only you, but the Lab Chief also warned me not to make a move on Yachi Haruaki. After all, the Lab Chief's Nation offers many conveniences as an organization. Adhering to their stance would require me to avoid attacking Yachi Haruaki directly as much as possible. But it can't be helped. In other words, I have resolved myself to 'change,' Kirika."
"...You intend... to leave the Lab Chief's Nation?"
Kirika asked quietly. Himura nodded lightly.
"You are my only happiness. Only by obtaining you will I gain happiness. I won't give up."
Himura tossed «Article 15»'s remains onto the ground and picked up the bizarre mask from under his arm instead.
Fear frowned and readied herself to throw the torture wheel while saying:
"What happiness? Hmm, it's not like I understand matters of romance between the genders but as a love expert, Sovereignty told me many things, so I can at least understand that feeling a little. Be that as it may, I still have to say this... Your way of going about it is totally wrong. That's the only thing I am absolutely certain of. You are truly underhanded and despicable. Surely, what's known as love requires people to convey their thoughts and feelings with sincerity, transmitting their pure and precious feelings to the other person, with the determination to accept the possibility of failing and getting hurt, yet in spite of that, still telling the other person face to face—Like a battle where you gamble your entire existence. However, you cowardly gave up on the battle, instead turning to seek the power of a tool carrying an ugly curse. You did not even try to fight. There is nothing more shameful and unsightly than this kind of love where you've given up on fighting from the start!"
The instant Fear's speech resounded through the air, Kirika's eyes flashed with surprise for some reason. At the same time, Kuroe slightly tightened her hair around Haruaki's wound. It really did hurt... a little.
After listening to Fear's words, Himura's lips curled up.
"I don't care. That's how I fight."
Without any hurry, he raised his arm. Seeing that, Kirika shook her head while looking up, still staying in the same spot all this time. For just an instant, she bit her lip in hesitation, then—
"Absolutely ridiculous... Although I'm not obliged to tell you this, I'll still say it. Your curse is already reaching a limit. If you continue to use «Il est dans Bastille», you will lose all sense of presence, even when you're not wearing the mask. Even to the point of forgetting your own existence. This condition, equivalent to death, could very well happen the next time you wear it. So—"
She gulped and spoke curtly:
"Stop now—Don't wear it again. You will die."
However, Himura did not stop his motion.
Smiling in response to Kirika's words, he muttered at the same time:
"Such a direct gaze, how nostalgic. From the moment when I first saw those eyes of yours, I already—"
Then he prepared to put on the mask.
"Don't think... I'll let you...!"
Fear spun herself and was about to throw the torture wheel. Konoha took a step forward. Kirika extended the «Tragic Black River». However, Himura knew very well how to stop them.
"Oh—I forgot to mention. Even if «Article 15» itself is broken, the brainwashing remains. So allow me to dispose of a useless pawn. Hinai Elsie."
Lying on the ground, spacing out, Elsie responded. Himura continued speaking briefly:
"I order you to die."
Smiling happily with satisfaction, Elsie bit her own tongue. Instantly, her mouth overflowed with fresh blood while her body trembled and convulsed like a fish.
"Wha—! You bastard—!"
Just as Fear and the others' attention was drawn to Elsie, Himura quickly put «Il est dans Bastille» over his head.
"Then I shall take my leave. After all, starting a while ago, there are other people secretly observing us. Voyeurism is my specialty, you know. Well then, what should I do next? For the sake of obtaining my happiness, what should I do... How delightful, hahaha, things are getting more and more delightful! Don't forget, Kirika, I am watching you, any time, any place! Always watching you intently!"
Leaving these last words behind—
Was he going to reappear again?—No one knew.
"Guh!" Fear groaned briefly and dangled the torture wheel by her side. Watching blood spill out of Elsie's mouth, she lowered her face sadly. However, she immediately looked up again, neither running towards Elsie, nor running towards Haruaki, nor turning her torture tool back to the Rubik's cube.
"I've sensed them too. This goes without saying."
The two of them were staring at the same direction. Haruaki was puzzled by their attitudes.
"W-What's going on?"
"Hmph. Starting a while ago, some people have been peeping at us. Although I only noticed the presence just now... According to the pocket watch's time, it felt like it was at 3 minutes and 58 seconds."
"I left them alone because there was no time to bother with them, but it's truly uncomfortable, being watched by someone silently. How much longer do you intend to hide for? Don't worry, we must express our thanks first. But after that, I don't know."
Soon after Fear and Konoha spoke, the bushes before their eyes rustled and shook. Then out emerged three people, one familiar to them while two were strangers.
"My statement: basically I'll still answer. We do not intend to hide the whole time. It was time to come out, reporting this kind of report."
"Un Izoey...? Why are you here? And those others are...?"
Standing before them was a dark-skinned girl. Instead of the navel-exposing uniform she wore in school, she was dressed in a lab coat with a long tribal skirt, attire that represented her identity as part of the Lab Chief's Nation.
The other two also seemed to be members of the Lab Chief's Nation.
One was a very skinny woman, dressed in a simple tight skirt and lab coat, her long hair fluttering in the night wind, her eyes half-closed sleepily. She was probably not actually sleepy but her eyes simply looked that way to begin with. In contrast, the other person was a burly man resembling a bear. His facial features looked very simple yet very deep set at the same time. He was dressed in a shirt, a tie, dress pants, and like the others, a lab coat. No matter how one looked at it, that lab coat seemed to be too tight a fit. The front buttons were probably impossible to fasten.
The woman made a strange laugh while introducing herself quietly.
"Kususu... Nice to meet you, hello everyone. I am Shinohogi Rai, the Chief of the Second Branch from the Lab Chief's Nation. Because Lab Chief Yamimagari is very busy, I came as his representative. Let's get along well from now on... Kususu?"
"I am Takasugi Seijuurou the Deputy Branch Chief! We have no intention of making you our enemies, so please don't be so on guard."
"I remember you saying: 'Damn it, I hate doing this kind of pain in the ass job the most. Damn Lab Chief, tonight I just rented an adult video featuring someone resembling the Branch Chief and was planning to enjoy myself fully...' Isn't that right? Kususu, Takasugi-kun, that's not good. I've got to jot this down..."
"Please stop imitating my voice and writing fabricated news into your 'informant reports for Lab Chief Yamimagari' notebook! Clearly, Branch Chief, you're the one who was complaining just now: 'Going out at night is bad for the skin.'... Oh, it's coming! The backhanded punch~!"
"Please don't say things that'll give others the wrong impression. These are the Lab Chief's orders, so I'll have you know that I rushed here, skipping along with enthusiasm. Yes, after all, I do want to see the Yachi Haruaki-kun of rumor... Yes... Hmmm..."
Without looking at the man who was holding his nose—Takasugi—the woman stared intently at Haruaki as claimed. Then she suddenly reached into her inside coat pocket to get something. Fear and the girls frantically prepared to attack, but—
"Umm... Branch Chief, why are you suddenly popping bubble wrap?"
"Kususu... I was expecting the boy, with the special constitution of being immune to curses, to be a handsome youth with a muscular body like a gorilla's in accordance with having a special constitution... My hopes are dashed, I'm so heartbroken. Sigh... Where on earth can I find a man of my preference, capable of slaking my thirst...?"
She sighed while popping bubble wrap. Meanwhile, Takasugi stood behind her as though saying "Right here! Right here!", silently pointing repeatedly at his own face. Fear half-narrowed her eyes.
"...Are these guys comedians? How sudden and incomprehensible."
"I explain by giving the explanation that they are basically from the Lab Chief's Nation."
Un Izoey spoke seriously and did not look like she was lying. Rai threw the piece of bubble wrap away as though tired of it.
"Kususu... Hmm, this does feel out of the blue. As for why we're here... I think you guys already understand the situation. That's because researcher Himura Sunao was acting too suspiciously."
"Should this be called surveillance or observation? The whole thing began when he took away that Amanda Carlot from our medical facility."
"...She wasn't discharged from hospital?"
Kirika asked while staring cautiously at the two of them. Rai laughed again.
"Kususu, Your Highness the Princess, it's been a while. You don't intend to return?"
"That conversation is already over. Hurry and answer me."
"Yes yes. Although Amanda has recovered a lot, she still hasn't reached the point where she can be discharged. We originally thought it was the Knights Dominion's doing, but this child is probably no longer important to them... Just as we were racking our brains in puzzlement, oh dear, what a surprise. In one of the usual reports sent by our excellent researcher, unbelievably there was a mention of Fear-in-Cube pushing someone on a wheelchair in school, a white-haired girl who looked a bit strange."
Un Izoey kept nodding. Speaking of which, when taking Amanda on a tour of the school, they had encountered her back then. The job of reporting precisely on Fear and the others' situation in school, Kirika's responsibility in the past, was now handed over to Un Izoey.
"Of the personnel related to this school, there is a researcher Himura who possesses a Wathe capable of erasing one's sense of presence. Due to a number of suspicious points when he was sent on reconnaissance missions to the Knights Dominion, the Lab Chief ordered us to investigate him—"
"In other words, after some investigation, the situation evolved to the current state. Does everyone understand? Although we failed to catch him, that can't be helped. Now that the whole story is cleared up, our job is done once we report back to the Lab Chief... Anyway, we are very sorry that one of our colleagues caused so much trouble for everyone."
"Not just any trouble, it was totally massive trouble. Like I said just now, I even want to demand compensation."
Fear pouted and spoke. Rai shrugged lightly.
"Kususu... Of course, the Lab Chief also ordered us to do you a favor if there's any way we could help. According to our sources, the Knights Dominion has installed an Indulgence Disk into «Article 15». As much as I'd like to take it for research, since it's the Lab Chief's orders, you guys can have it as a gift... Also, there's... Ah yes. Anyway, leave Hinai Elsie to us to take care of as well. Takasugi-kun, how's her condition?"
"Uh... Oh? I think she can be saved if rushed to the hospital at once, or perhaps not!"
"Kususu, unlike what's shown in movies, biting through your tongue doesn't actually kill you that easily in real life. Dealing with a corpse or reviving her, which would be more of a pain? Oh well, whatever, hurry and send her to the hospital."
"Understood! Then I shall take my leave first!"
Saying that, Takasugi picked up Elsie in his muscular arms and sped off from the scene as quickly as he could. Although she was an enemy, she was simply a member of the Family, manipulated by Himura. If she could be saved, that would be for the best, of course.
"Next, how do you guys intend to handle Amanda Carlot? You can return her to our hospital if you like, but letting you keep her is fine as well... Oh my?"
For some reason, Rai had her head cocked in puzzlement while looking at Amanda whose unfocused eyes were directed towards the night sky. Fear bowed her head to look at the remains of «Article 15» that Himura had left behind.
"A tool for controlling minds. Perhaps Amanda's mind could be recovered using this. But no, this is a cursed tool after all, so it shouldn't be used. But—What does Amanda think herself? What I did... is it really... the right thing..."
What should he say to her? Haruaki did not know. Fear's doubts were shared by him at the same time. Was this okay? Was this... honestly okay?
Nevertheless, at this moment, Rai examined Amanda and went "Kususu, please allow me to interrupt for a bit."
"Oh, I see now. In that case, it doesn't matter if that thing's broken."
"D-Don't talk so lightly! This girl... But she's still in this kind of state—"
"Speaking of which, the report did mention about this as well. You are really amazing for noticing the issue without any prior information."
"My honor: to receive your praise is my honor."
Un Izoey was nodding at something while turning her head to look at Haruaki's group.
"Kususu... According to the hospital's records, the girl had indeed lost all cognition in the beginning, but recently, she had already recovered to the point of being able to speak."
"Wha—!? Then why did she become like this now! So her condition deteriorated again!?"
"Indeed, how odd, right? Deteriorating to this extent, it does make one wonder if someone deliberately played a hand in this. Well then, allow me to ask a question. Have you guys been giving her some kind of medicine? Kususu."
Kirika stared in wide-eyed shock as she took out a sheet of tablets from her pocket. This was the medicine that Himura had given to Kirika to feed Amanda regularly.
"How absolutely ridiculous. Of course, I did examine it myself, because medicine coming form him cannot be trusted at all. However, this really is a drug for treating mental illnesses—"
"Hmm. May I have some of that medicine?"
Kirika handed the sheet of tablets hesitantly. Rai scrutinized it for a while then said:
"There's nothing suspicious about the packaging or the labeling... However—"
Then taking out a tablet, she placed it on her tongue without deliberation. Moving her jaw and chewing for a while, she then spat the tablet out—
"Kususu, bingo. The contents here don't match. I'm actually very skilled at distinguishing drugs by taste. Even if certain drugs have no taste, there's a kind of feeling... Anyway, he probably hired someone to forge the packaging and stuff. Simply stated, this drug causes people to lose their sanity if taken for prolonged durations. From researcher Himura's perspective, he needed this child for his goal but could not allow her to say anything wrong that would jeopardize his plans... Looks like he really wanted her to be nothing more than a tool to highlight how hard he was working."
"W-What did you say...!? Then—!"
"As long as she stops taking this drug and continues to receive the treatment she was supposed to receive, she should recover normally."
Rai answered simply. Un Izoey also spoke up with calm eyes:
"My statement: I think I mentioned before, should start by checking food. In my homeland, there are people who accidentally ate poisonous herbs repeatedly, blocking the flow of their raama, then losing their minds like this."
Impossible. Was this really true?
If that were the case... Ahhh... If that were the case—Amanda was going to recover.
Haruaki looked her, sitting on the wheelchair. She was expressionless. However, she should be able to recover. She should recover as soon as possible the expressions she was supposed to have. Also, this should be performed by those who know how to treat her.
Then the members of Haruaki's group looked at one another.
"In the end... I guess this is what's called leaving it to the professionals. Although I'm still a bit worried."
"Yes, if you guys will promise us, you won't use this girl for inhumane experiments or torturing her for information—"
"Upon the honor of my tribe, I promise this kind of promise."
"Kususu, after all, she doesn't know any information that we have no choice to get except through torture."
Although the woman laughing eerily could not be trusted, Haruaki thought that he could probably believe Un Izoey, who was nodding with sincere eyes. At least, she was not a bad person.
Kirika also seemed to hesitate for a long time. Finally, she made an agonizing decision. Glaring, she said:
"...I still cannot trust you people at all. Allow us to see her whenever we ask to see her. That is the condition."
"Kususu, that means we'll need to behave then. Understood, Your Highness the Princess. Researcher Un Izoey here shall serve as the point of contact, is that okay?"
Amanda was going to be returned to the medical facility affiliated with the Lab Chief's Nation. Staring at Amanda's face, Fear bid her farewell for now.
"Take care... You must accept your treatment properly. Also, see you next time. Honestly, I don't know what I'll chat with you the next time we meet. We are still ourselves and you are a former enemy. So I don't know if I need to apologize to you or not. However, let's meet again in order to confirm this matter. I will neither run nor hide."
These words spoke for everyone in the group.
Hence, no further words were needed. Haruaki simply reached out and lightly stroked the soft strands of Amanda's hair, bidding farewell to this sensation as well for now.
Un Izoey pushed the wheelchair and departed together with Rai.
Watching the backs of their lab coats, Haruaki suddenly remembered. Konoha had said: we must express our thanks first. If what Konoha said was true, then just now, it really was—
"Oh, hey! Umm... Could it be that you just saved me? When Elsie was extending the silver chain towards me, the chain seemed to be deflected by an arrow or something, inexplicably changing direction—"
"—What are you talking about? I answer with this kind of answer. From the bottom of my heart, I have no clue at all."
Un Izoey answered without looking back. An obvious lie.
On the other hand, Rai grinned and looked back:
"Kususu... This child said this: 'Clearly a formidable foe has appeared, why aren't they asking me for help? What an unknown.' Probably because they don't want to owe us a favor, so you shouldn't make a move—That's what I explained to her... But she apparently couldn't stop her body from acting on its own. Had we arrived on scene a little earlier, she probably would have rushed into the fray happily? Kususu, towards you guys, this child really feels—Oh dear, why are suddenly walking so fast? If you leave me behind, I'll cry."
As though aching to leave the scene as quickly as possible, Un Izoey was pushing the wheelchair rapidly. Rai giggled with laughter while her shoulders shook, following after her. Amanda's white hair was swaying left and right on the wheelchair.
After the trio vanished, the school at night finally returned to silence.
Haruaki could not help but look up at the school building behind him. The concrete wall, shattered by Elsie's silver chain; the external wall, cracked by Fear's torture tool—as well as the large broken clock.
The clock was currently stopped.
However, time itself had not stopped.
Looking at that damaged clock, Haruaki realized once again.
A matter-of-fact, precious and lovable feeling, yet at the same time, slightly worrying.
Just like this malfunctioning clock.
Simply impossible to confirm, but time itself was definitely flowing continuously.
And then, something else was changing continuously as well.
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