Chapter 2 - Spring Day / Together With You Somewhere / "Nice to meet you, Ms. Nobody"
The current location was a newly built, detached house. The wallpaper gave off a smell of newness. Since this house was nearing completion, one could conclude with certainty that this home's single daughter had applied for the private high school near the house rather than the high school division of the middle school she had been attending.
Both that single daughter yet not that single daughter at the same time, Laurica "Trash" Shoegazer was currently sitting at the brand new dining table. The sparkling table surface was completely spotless. The family who were supposed to enjoy this brand new environment were not present. Bound by their hands and feet, they were locked away in a room on the second floor.
"Laurica Shoegazer, have you fed them yet?"
"Y-Yes... I've been feeding them three meals a day!"
Sitting opposite her was a gallant blonde lady, Lilyhowell Kilmister. Renowned for her strength and noble character, she was the knight whom Laurica idolized. Also, perhaps Lilyhowell had forgotten already, but she had also saved Laurica's life once and was also the reason why Laurica joined the Knights Dominion. Simply being able to be here, face to face with Lilyhowell, was causing Laurica's heart to race and her cheeks to blush. For someone as useless as her to be able to share the same space as her idol, it was almost like a dream. And the reason this miracle was realized was because she was an auxiliary who mainly supported Neto and also due to the Wathes in her possession that happened to be useful for this mission.
"Heehaw, I already said that calling her 'Trash' is enough. Do we have to feed them every time? Such a pain in the ass, just kill them instead."
"They are ordinary townsfolk. I forbid you to harm them."
"Yes yes. But isn't this very contradictory? In that case, don't do it in the first place."
"I understand. But having done something wrong absolutely does not imply that everything that follows is wrong. We do not represent justice. There are times when we must take on the guise of evil depending on the situation, even to the point of being decried by others as insane. Nevertheless, maintaining purity of heart definitely has its meaning. That is what I believe."
"Heehahah, basically what they call God is watching us. That's so raping buttholes."
Putting his feet up while sitting on the sofa, Neto shrugged, in the middle of watching television.
"—So, are there any problems? Please speak up and we will act to provide assistance."
"N-None at all!"
"How fortunate. Then please continue to work hard in carrying out the mission. That is all. Today's regular meeting is adjourned. Please contact the other members of the squad and maintain the status quo for now."
Smooth, tender lips. She's asking me to work hard in carrying out the mission. Is she encouraging me? I'm so excited. I will do my best. I may be "Trash" now but I don't want to be "Trash" forever. One day... I must... become like her.
"Laurica Shoegazer, what is the matter?"
"Hyah... Y-Yes! Sorry! I will contact them immediately!"
Accidentally spacing out. After she responded frantically, Lilyhowell turned her head slightly and spoke gently:
"—Looks like you are exhausted due to being unaccustomed to this mission. Get some rest earlier tonight."
Saying that, Lilyhowell turned her gaze back to her hand. Spread out before her was a blu-ray recorder's instruction manual that she had found somewhere in this house. Was it that interesting to read? A person like her really possessed interests that ordinary mortals could not comprehend. No, wait, did she just worry about me? Gentle words spoken simply out of worry for me? I'm so happy! I can die without regrets!
However, she could not die yet. Feigning composure, Laurica operated her cellphone and sent messages as part of regular reporting to the other "squad" members hiding elsewhere on standby, outside of this house.
The operation was going smoothly as planned. Continue to stay on standby until further orders—
Just as she sent this text message, the doorbell rang at the entrance. To avoid rousing suspicions, Laurica went to answer the door. It was an old lady who lived next door, bringing a neighborhood notice. Laurica used her other identity that was not Laurica, bearing the face replicated faithfully from another person by a Wathe, she met the lady and accepted the notice. But just at this moment—
Thud thud, a banging noise came from above.
It was someone struggling violently on the second floor. In other words, the original inhabitants who were now being imprisoned. They must be trying to call for help after hearing the doorbell.
"Oh my... What's that noise?"
"Ah~ Uh, it's daddy working on renovations! Sorry for being so noisy here."
"I see. Oh right, I haven't seen your parents lately—"
"Just in case, let's erase three minutes."
"Eh? Just now... Whose voice was that..."
The woman turned her head but Laurica ignored her and did what she was supposed to. Since Lilyhowell had spoken already, it meant that she had to do this. There was an element of bad luck this time, but it could not be helped.
Laurica took out a mask from her front pocket, a small mask covering the top half of the face, similar to the ones used in opera performances. On the position of the eyes, there were red glass beads.
This was the Wathe known as the Eyes of the Inquisitor of Salvation, «Bartolomey Oblivion». It was also one of the reasons why she was "Trash."
After wearing the mask, Laurica's view was dyed red, filtered by the red glass beads. Grabbing the head of the woman before her, she meditated forcefully, hurrying before the victim could struggle or scream out. Three minutes, just three minutes!
The woman's eyes instantly lost focus. At the same time, Laurica felt a sharp pain in the depths of her own face. The feeling was like something was stabbing into the depths of her eyeballs. She desperately suppressed the sudden surging wave of nausea.
After calculating the time, she released the woman and placed the mask back into her pocket. If the duration was three minutes, it did not take too long for the erasing process to complete. However, her own headache did not go away. Laurica continued to endure.
"...What... happened to me... Oh right, I came to bring over the neighborhood notice. I must be getting old, it feels like I spaced out just now. Ufufu. Then thank you for your troubles. Please send my regards to your parents."
Probably because the light at the entrance was quite dim, it was fortunate that the woman did not see the extreme pallor of Laurica's face. Having lost three minutes of memories, the woman had already forgotten the banging noises from the second floor, as well as the surfaced question about this family's parents. Erasing at most thirty minutes of memories from the target—This was «Bartolomey Oblivion»'s cursed power. A tool so contemptible that it was nauseating. Wathes plunged people into misfortune and were definitely not convenient tools. A type of tool that ought to be destroyed. Her head was hurting so much. Nevertheless, she had no meaning of existence apart from using tools of this category. Hence, she was "Trash." Naturally, Wathes carried curses. Hence her head was hurting. Simply erasing three minutes' worth of memories was causing her such a headache that she felt like her mind was being crushed and shattered. In the past, she would always use this tool to clean up the aftermath when Neto crossed too many lines and was witnessed by others. However, this time was different.
As the price of using «Bartolomey Oblivion», her headache went over the limit. Laurica fainted. Regardless the duration of erasure, her brain would be forced to shut down by the unbearable pain. The only difference was how long she remained unconscious until waking up. As her body stumbled, her memories were interrupted here—
"Are you okay, Laurica Shoegazer?"
When she opened her eyes again, she found that particular person's face before her. Lilyhowell Kilmister. The exalted knight whom she idolized and her savior as well. Compared to Neto who always left Laurica unattended every time she collapsed, what a kind and gentle person she was.
Laurica wanted to be with her, wanting to become like her.
She wanted to become a knight. Not an auxiliary. One day eventually, she wanted to become a knight.
"Very well. I shall tie up the residents in the second floor more securely. I apologize for making unexpected work for you due to the sudden situation."
"No... I will... try my best. I... will try my best."
Held in the arms of the knight whom she idolized, Laurica Shoegazer vowed in her heart again. She must make this operation a success, causing the surrounding people to recognize her as a useful person and no longer "Trash." This was the first step towards becoming a knight. It was also the first step towards approaching the knight whom she idolized.
So today, she was going to fulfill her duties with full effort as well. Turning into a certain person that was not herself, she fulfilled her duties.
In her mind, she kept repeating the name of the role she was playing.
Year 1 Class 3, Kagidou Himeno.
That was her current name.
Haruaki's group instantly prepared themselves for battle. Satsuko frantically waved her hands.
"P-Please wait—! Listen to Satsuko first, she's not here to fight everyone~! Indeed, Satsuko wants revenge, but the fractures just healed and are still recovering, plus Satsuko's level is still pretty much the same as last time! Umm... You people may have trouble believing someone like Satsuko, but please, listen to Satsuko..."
"Hmph, you're right. We can't trust you at all. You've already deceived us once."
"No way... Satsuko really has no intention of fighting~ And not carrying any weapons either. Also—That's right, Satsuko expected you might say this, so she persuaded this child here!"
Satsuko pushed the other girl, the one hiding behind her back, forward.
"Hueee, hawawawa! S-Satsuko, so embarrassing...!"
The girl was quite tall but especially baby faced. She looked kind of familiar. Although she was dressed in cute girly clothing, part of her hair was dyed in vivid colors like a member of some band. It did not quite match her cowardly temperament.
Hmmmmm? When Fear looked at her from the right, she screamed "hiwawawa" and used Satsuko as a shield to hide on the left side. Mumumu? When Kuroe observed her from the left, she went "hiwawawa" and hid on the right... This was never ending.
"Hmm~ Somehow I think I've seen this girl before."
"Yeah. I feel like I'll remember soon. Watch as I relentlessly give her 'the stare'!"
"Eeeeek! Don't look... Please don't look—! S-S-So embarrassing...!"
Konoha and Kirika both sighed respectively.
"Speaking of which, something like this did happen before."
"Yes. Although just for an instant, she did exhibit this type of personality. How absolutely ridiculous."
"Satsuko will still explain the proper answer. She is Fourt. Fourteen Coonsberry."
Haruaki remembered the name as well. A member of the Draconians. The cursed house in Satsuko's possession.
"Muumuu, the image is really different from last time. Is it really her?"
"But she does act something like this when the curtain over her face was lifted... Then again, her hair is different from before, it's been dyed a bit."
"Oh, somehow it became like this after Satsuko hired workmen to repair the roof~ Maybe it's because the materials are different. If the roof was replaced completely, it might be more unified... Hmm? Hyah!?"
Under Fear and Kuroe's intent gazes, probably unable to bear the embarrassment any further, Fourteen went "hawawa, awawa~" and tearfully looked around, finally finding something extremely close by to alleviate her sense of embarrassment—Then she covered her face with that piece of fabric.
"Phew. This solves the question of those who are doubting whether I am someone else. I am myself. Allow me to say hello again, everyone. Also, Satsuko, replacing the roof completely is too frightening, please allow me to refuse firmly—"
"Hey! Fourt, don't speak while using someone else's skirt to cover your head~!"
Fourteen had stuffed her head between Satsuko's legs, using the skirt as a curtain, presenting a scene that looked completely perverted. Naturally, Satsuko instantly pulled her skirt away.
"Ah... Hiwawawa, all open... if seen, all exposed... t-too embarrassing...!"
"So here, Satsuko has lifted Fourt's curtain from the start, or rather, removed the curtain. So Satsuko hopes that everyone understands that she really has no intention to fight!"
"Yeah... Under these circumstances, it really doesn't feel like a fight is possible."
Fourteen was trembling while pressing herself tightly against Satsuko. As a result, Satsuko probably could not fight on her own. Haruaki's group had no choice but to agree that they had not come to fight. However, they still could not lower their guard.
"So, back to the main subject... Simply stated, Satsuko came here to make a personal request. As much as Satsuko knows, Fear-san and the rest of you have no obligation to listen to someone like Satsuko..."
"Yeah, there's none. But this timing is quite concerning. We'll at least listen to what you have to say—Go on."
"S-Satsuko is truly thankful! Actually... Satsuko heard that a senior who has left the Draconians is currently at the school where you attend. Also, that senior seems to be targeted by the Frontline Gathering Knights Dominion... So... Umm, Satsuko wishes to seek some assistance from you. Because that senior is supposed to have abandoned Wathes as weapons, not fighting anymore, only wishing to live a calm and peaceful life."
Haruaki's group looked at one another. They already felt a premonition and it turned out to be related as thought.
"The other side mentioned the «Knight Killer» and «Battle Demon», right? The woman named Nirushaaki."
"Yes... But how did you know?"
Satsuko asked, blinking repeatedly. Fear crossed her arms.
"Because those guys from the Knights Dominion arrived one step before you. They already told us the basic situation."
"Oh, so that's what happened! That means there's even less time. Please everyone, you must—"
"Absolutely ridiculous. If you suddenly ask for assistance, we're not going to agree right away. Allow us to confirm and ask questions first."
"Yes. First of all, what I'm curious about is that this person is quite a powerful character, right? For someone like that to desert the organization, does it happen often?"
"This actually doesn't happen often. So it's quite a commotion on our side too. But the Draconians are quite keen on individualism. It's up to you if you want to leave—That's the Commander's final decision. Also, Nirushaaki-senpai was originally an extremely elusive person to begin with... When she suddenly quit the Draconians, everyone was very surprised of course, but it also felt inexplicably understandable."
"You guys never thought about imposing sanctions?"
"If she fled together with valuable Wathes, perhaps some people might challenge her, wanting to test their strength or to raise their rank... But since she abandoned her combat power before escaping, to be honest, someone like that would be considered a loser by the Draconians. So basically, they don't really care about her. Satsuko failed to do enough homework last time and didn't know until now, but the superintendent at your school is also a former member of the Draconians, right? You'll understand just by looking at how he and his subordinates are safe. To the organization, deserters are irrelevant existences. We won't attack them without reason."
"Speaking of which, I've never heard about the superintendent's faction getting pursued or attacked by the Draconians... Although he hides his face behind a gas mask, it wouldn't be surprising for him to be discovered long ago if the Draconians really wanted to find him."
Haruaki muttered quietly. Besides, Zenon and Ganon did not even hide their faces. Summing up these thoughts, it was clear that the superintendent's side was not particularly concerned about pursuers.
"Then that makes your request even more strange. If what you said were true, your organization should not care at all what happens to the «Knight Killer». Yet you wish for us to save her. That's absolutely ridiculous as a contradiction."
Satsuko nodded honestly after Kirika finished.
"You are very right... Uh, the request just now is Satsuko's personal request. It has nothing to do with the Draconians. As a member of the organization, Satsuko is equally unconcerned."
"Muu? What do you mean by that?"
"For Satsuko, Nirushaaki-senpai is someone she knows and used to receive a lot of care from. So Satsuko wants to repay her kindness... At least, Satsuko can't just watch her get attacked and killed by the Knights Dominion. But Satsuko is a member of the Draconians and cannot openly assist Nirushaaki-senpai. So—"
"So, you wish to do it indirectly by using us?"
"Satsuko knows it's very selfish. But Satsuko has no other way. If Satsuko recovered to her original state, it is possible to use gaining combat experience as a reason to directly challenge the knights that are assaulting Nirushaaki-senpai. But currently it is very difficult. Umm, this time Satsuko will ask everyone... What did the Knights Dominion tell you?"
Haruaki hesitated for an instant, but after all, they had already let slip that they had met the Knights Dominion, so might as well—Hence, he told Satsuko what the other side wanted specifically. The situation between them and the Knights Dominion. As well as the deal.
"So that's... what happened... Well, everyone... what do you plan on doing?"
Like in the past, Satsuko was looking up at them with innocent puppy eyes. But everyone already knew very clearly that she was no simple puppy—Rather, she was concealing sharp fangs in her mouth.
"This matter is still under consideration. Whether we ought to hand her over to the Knights Dominion or not..."
"P-Please don't hand her over. Right now, she is no different from an ordinary human... Umm, if you agree to not hand her over, Satsuko will send a thank you gift!"
"This isn't something that we'll decided simply because of a thank you gift from you. Absolutely ridiculous—Let me ask you something. Have you seen what that Nirushaaki person looks like?"
"Because Nirushaaki-senpai adheres to absolute secrecy regarding her privacy, always wearing a mask to conceal her face... Satsuko is very sorry to say she doesn't know either. It's said that only the Commander has seen her face."
"Really? In that case, this doesn't change the situation at all..."
Kirika sighed with a troubled frown.
The conversation was thus interrupted. Only after a while did Haruaki turn towards Satsuko and spoke.
"To be honest... Even if you suddenly make this kind of request, we cannot reply: 'Really? Then we'll do that.' We must give it further thought. Rather, we plan on explaining to the superintendent tomorrow. You see, since he is the superintendent after all, perhaps he might have discovered someone suspicious among the new students already."
Perhaps they were just delaying the question but this was honestly what they thought. They did not intend to lower their guard and accept the week of breathing space, but there was no urgent need to immediately reach a conclusion—At least currently.
"So I'm sorry, give us more time first. Too much has happened all at once today, so our minds are in turmoil."
"Okay... Satsuko understands."
As though listening to them in deep thought, Satsuko nodded lightly and answered. It looked like she did not quite accept this, but she also knew that forcefully trying to convince them would not help, so she restrained herself.
"So, Satsuko and Fourt will leave for today... Thank you, everyone."
"We do not intend to let your request guide our actions after listening to you. Listen carefully, I still haven't forgotten what you two did to us. If you still intend to attack us, I won't let you off easily."
Satsuko had bowed her head and was about to leave. After hearing this, she looked back and smiled, saying:
"Unfortunately, Satsuko currently has no such plan... Right right, you guys defeated Kokoro-senpai. Satsuko is very happy to confirm again that Fear-san and the rest of you are very strong after all, but recalling that Satsuko has never defeated Kokoro-senpai ever, someone as weak as Satsuko obviously cannot defeat Fear-san and you guys, that feels so lonely. So right now, Satsuko won't fight you—But wait till Satsuko finishes training and gets stronger, please fight Satsuko again, Fear-san."
"No, like I said, I don't want to fight you again. Don't come back to challenge me!"
Fear added greater emphasis, but Satsuko did not heed her. She bowed her head again.
"Then we'll take our leave now. Although Satsuko cannot openly give support, once information is gathered on the Knights Dominion, perhaps Satsuko might show up again to tell you... See you then!"
A pure battle maniac who did not listen to others—Once again reminding Haruaki's group that this aspect of hers had not changed at all, Satsuko disappeared into the streets at night with Fourteen stuck tightly on her back, refusing to separate.
After talking to them and walking for quite a while—
Satsuko felt that the companion, who had been tightly stuck to her back, suddenly stopped walking.
"Fourt, what's wrong?"
"Honestly, I'd like to declare that I really can't get motivated about this."
"What are you referring to?" Satsuko stopped where she was and asked without looking back.
"Regarding everything about this operation. All the issues are surfacing with perfect coincidence. The Knights Dominion, Fear-in-Cube, the Battle Demon—as well as the «Nest Parasitoid» plan. I get the feeling that the higher-ups are demanding us to keep a low profile beyond necessary. I like simple things because they are easier to deal with. But this is definitely no simple matter."
"Even so, it is still necessary to follow orders."
"Of course, I understand. And I'll help too—I was simply grumbling just now. Don't mind me."
"Fufu... Although it's a bit weird for Satsuko to apologize, sorry. Satsuko will help you sweep and clean once we get back."
"Hmm. In that case, please clean that place inside there. It's been so long already... Please, thoroughly... Using some force is fine. No—Please do use force. Forcefully scrub it again and again, please."
Fourteen's voice was filled with anticipation and excitement that could not be concealed.
Satsuko finally turned around and said with a slightly wry smile:
"Yes yes, got it, got it, Fourt... Anyway, please don't use a lunchbox vendor's banner to cover your head while talking. The people in the shop have been staring at us all this time."
"Although it's a bit late to point out now, this seems to be turning into a kind of habit."
"Hmmmmm~ Turning into a habit?"
"Yeah, and a bad habit at that."
"That's really terrible! You should tell the other party... So, who are you referring to?"
"IT. IS. YOU. OKAY!? You, dressed in uniform! This is school! You are not student!"
"What!? You seem to be reminding me with a weird Indian accent!"
After school the next day, Haruaki's group was gathered in the superintendent's office. Currently in the room were the five of them who had met Satsuko yesterday and naturally, the trio who were normally in the office in the first place. Due to Monday being the beauty parlor's fixed day off (but she also slacked off yesterday and did not open shop), Kuroe had put on the school uniform and invaded the superintendent's office as though it was a fortunate coincidence.
Everyone had gathered here to hold a strategy meeting to address the imminent crisis. Just now, they had already explained the gist of what had happened until yesterday to the superintendent and were now waiting for his response. Finally, the superintendent replied:
"Hmm~ ...I still have no clue regarding this Nirushaaki character. What about you, Zenon-kun?"
"I have never heard of her either. Naturally, this goes the same for Onee-sama as well."
"In that case, that person really must have joined the Draconians after we left. Regrettably, we have no information regarding her appearance or somesuch either."
"Yes, I figured. From that fact that you already contacted Chihaya and Isuzu, I can tell that you've at least confirmed whether there were suspicious characters among the new students, right?"
Konoha nodded and did not show any signs of disappointment. "Of course we confirmed." The superintendent nodded and concurred.
"Just as you all know, we are no longer involved with them. We also wish to avoid contact with the Draconians as much as possible. But the problem is that this Nirushaaki has apparently quit."
"Suppose she asks you for assistance, what would you do?"
Kirika asked gravely. The superintendent shrugged in an exaggerated manner.
"What a difficult question to answer. It's impossible to know until the time comes... From a senior's standpoint, I think it's very hard to ignore her. Oh of course, I mean as senior in terms of hating that organization."
At this moment, the superintendent puffed out his chest while sitting in his chair, sweeping his gaze across everyone.
"So anyway, I now understand the situation. Let me summarize. A former Draconian is current mixed in the new students of this school. Because the Knights Dominion that is targeting her does not know her appearance, they asked you to find and hand her over. Otherwise, they will resort to violence, hurting each and every female student to determine whether or not they are Nirushaaki. On the other hand, a member of the Draconians also made a personal request to you, hoping you could help Nirushaaki. So, in the end... What should be done?"
Hmm~ Haruaki tilted his head. In the end, the question to ponder still returned to this issue, in other words, the strategy from this point onwards.
Nevertheless, at this moment, Fear suddenly raised her hand, having crossed her arms in deep thought until now. Like a teacher, the superintendent pointed at her and said:
"Please speak, Fear-kun."
"I've been thinking until now. In the end, there's no choice but to go through the process of elimination, right?"
"Process of elimination?"
"Yes. I've tried simulating it in my imagination already. I don't know what kind of person this «Knight Killer» is. However, putting that aside for now, no matter what kind of person this «Knight Killer» is, are we able to say 'Kill her, slice her, violate her, do whatever you want' and hand her over to the Knights Dominion? But no matter how I try imagining it—The conclusion is no. Because I don't wanna. If she really deserted the Draconians and is trying to be an ordinary high school student, then whether that «Knight Killer» is like Satsuko or Kokoro, no matter what, the conclusion remains the same. Say... Am I the only one who feels this way? Those who feel this way, am I the only one?"
"No—The same goes for me. I think it's the same for everyone."
Haruaki narrowed his eyes and nodded. Indeed. Perhaps they were overthinking things. Perhaps they were too impatient in wanting to solve every problem at once. In actual fact, all they needed to do was start by drawing a line that they would never cross or compromise and work successively through the issues they understood, one by one. Handing over their minds to simple thinking like Fear's was enough.
Indeed, since they knew the Knights Dominion will kill that person, no matter how they thought about it, there was no way they were still going to hand the target over. That would be tantamount to killing her by their own hands. That remained true even if that person were an enemy. And knowing that she was no longer an enemy and had abandoned battle, it was even more obvious.
"Very good. Then by the process of elimination, the final choice is this: Originally, it was a choice between two, but now only one is left. In other words, we won't hand the «Knight Killer» to the Knights Dominion."
"But in that case, there is the possibility that students might be harmed."
"Hmph, contemptible Cow Tits, I knew you were going to say that. That's very simple too—We'll just have to defeat them before anyone gets hurt. They will surely reappear at the deadline after a week. We just need to defeat them definitively when the time comes."
"Easier said than done, Fear. But based on what they said, they seem to have more than two members. If they have other companions, how could it be that easy to—"
"Hmm~ Looks like a battle plan needs to be made."
"Well said, Kuroe. The way I see it, the best way to fight would be to ask that «Knight Killer»... in other words, Nirushaaki, to assist us."
"I agree. When settling the deal, the other side will be wary if they see that the «Knight Killer» isn't present. Conversely, with her there, they will probably lower their guard. So with her help, we should be able to attack while they're careless, or use her as bait to create more openings—Our options will increase. I believe this isn't an absolutely ridiculous strategy."
"According to what I've heard, that «Knight Killer» was ranked second? Hmm, frankly speaking, I do harbor some doubts regarding why someone who has climbed to such a high rank would suddenly quit—No, having occupied the same number two spot in the past, I have no right to say that. I should understand that even members of the «High Singles» might quit depending on circumstances. In other words, so long as there's no sequela like mine, we should expect her to retain combat strength as befitting a «High Single»... Despite giving up her power to fight, in order to defend her own tranquility, she probably has no choice but to consider stepping forward to battle."
"Ah, please brew some more tea," said the superintendent, raising his teacup high. "Okay okay~ I will go bring out everyone's portions as well~♪" Sovereignty answered leisurely while Zenon bowed seriously before walking to the adjacent room. Next, the group's discussion turned to deciding the direction of their concrete actions here on.
"Before we seek her assistance, it's possible that she might not have realized she's being targeted. In the end, we have to meet her first and have a discussion."
"Yeah. The problem is how to contact her."
"Muumuu, I've got it! Like this—Rush into the first-year classrooms and try yelling: 'Former Draconian, I've got something to tell you, hurry and come out!' How's that? Perhaps she might reveal herself unexpectedly!"
"How could someone who infiltrated the school to hide answer so readily!? Please think more seriously!"
"Thinking from her standpoint... She probably wishes to prevent other students from discovering her true identity. The issue we ought to consider is how to contact her. Hmm..."
Hence, Haruaki and friends' immediate target was to make contact with «Knight Killer» Nirushaaki.
Then continuing until sundown, the superintendent's office was filled with endless sounds of disputes. "No, don't do that!" "No, don't do that!"
In any case, the group's conclusion was to try out whatever they could think of first.
At school the next day, Haruaki's group lingered at the shoe lockers after changing into their indoor shoes. Next to the "Let us get all oiled up together!" poster at which Un Izoey was staring intently last week, a new note had been put up. That note was definitely not too conspicuous, but anyone who looked there would immediately notice it.
The notice board was basically a space that students could use freely and was quite chaotic as a result. You could find anything there. Clubs recruiting new members. Anyone want a puppy? A lost parrot notice. Nailed to a note reading "Lost and found?", what appeared to be a bicycle key. One also read "At 21:00 today, all guild members please gather at the plaza in front of the inn," probably the meeting time for some kind of online game. "The volunteer club is organizing a bazaar for the welcoming festival, seeking donations of unwanted articles." This ad reminded Haruaki of the welcoming festival this coming Sunday. What was going to happen ultimately on that day?
Due to the chaos on the notice board, the note did not seem particularly out of place. People were like going to interpret it as some kind of game and quickly move on after reading the words on the note.
"To the fellow kindred as former dragons. Warning: knights approaching. Hope to make contact. Signed Sekai."
The above was written in Zenon's meticulous handwriting. This was the first plan they had decided to try yesterday. Zenon had probably arrived at school early in the morning and put it up when no one was around. Naturally, Sekai referred to Sekaibashi Gabriel, the superintendent.
"Next it's time to wait. I hope she'll notice."
Fear murmured at the note then walked to her classroom.
Then everyone went to class as usual because excessive concern would not help at all and reckless actions could end up counterproductive by rousing the other person's suspicions. But when they ran over to the superintendent's office during the lunch break to ask about the situation, Zenon and the superintendent only shook their heads. After going home and having dinner, Zenon also called to report at the appointed hour but did not announce any good news.
"Perhaps it just so happened that she didn't see the note today. To make it more conspicuous, let's try drawing a box along the paper's edges using a highlighter. Although it'll attract attention from ordinary students, at least it's better than getting overlooked all along." After they called to tell Kirika, that was her idea. Of course, Fear was immediately all fired up to follow on this adjustment to their plans, zealously stuffing all the pens she could find at home into her schoolbag.
The next day, Haruaki's group left the house early in order to complete this mission. There was actually no harm even if someone saw them, but if asked "What does that note mean?" Explaining it would be a bit troublesome.
"So, let's hurry to make it more visible! What color should I use? Wait, I suddenly of this, we could use the paper decorations used earlier for Christmas to put a ring around the edges—"
Fear did not continue. Haruaki and Konoha did not point out that she was going too far. Because there was no need. Even the the need for adding conspicuous modifications had vanished as well.
Right there on the piece of paper with the words "Hope to make contact" written on it—
Someone had used the push pin on the corner of the note to pin a tiny note that had been folded twice into quarters.
Since the superintendent has not arrived at school early in the morning, the group held an emergency mini-conference at the superintendent's office during the break after first period. Waving the tiny note, the superintendent said:
"Hmm... How cold. 'I don't intend to make direct contact. Please show more self-restraint and avoid using this form of communications. Too careless. I will not respond again.' This means that she would normally ignore it, but felt that she needed to remind us because the method of communications was too conspicuous."
Those words seemed to be word processed and the note itself was ordinary copy paper. There was no handwriting or other clues.
Probably the more hope there was, the greater the disappointment. Fear stretched her arms forward and sprawled powerlessly on the table, sighing with the side of her dainty face pressed against the table surface.
"Hmm~ A response at last... What is the meaning of this? Why won't she contact us...?"
"Fear, don't be so disheartened. At least this tells us that the person called Nirushaaki really is among the students. Since neither the Knights Dominion nor Satsuko know her appearance, the worst case scenario originally would be that they're both mistaken and Nirushaaki is not actually in this school."
"Yachi has a point, Fear-kun. In any case, the fact that she has responded counts as progress from our view."
"Really~? But she clearly said she won't respond to us anymore."
"Not necessarily. These words are very direct, but if interpreted in the most benevolent manner... I cannot guarantee for certain, but it might be possible to read it like this: 'Although direct contact is impossible, it's not like we can't have indirect contact. However, I won't respond again if you use this type of careless method of communications again.' ...Right?"
"Hey Cow Tits, are you saying that she'll respond if there's a better method?"
Fear suddenly got up from the table and straightened her body, apparently recovering some of her vitality.
"I mean that in consideration of possibilities, such an interpretation is not ruled out."
"A better method... I see, we just need to write something that is even more obfuscated. Like using a code!"
"It would be great if there existed a code that could only be used by people who knew about the existence of cursed tools... But unfortunately, even if it existed, only that absolutely ridiculous research organization would know. As a side note, the other side probably thinks that "using a notice board that anyone could read for a conversation" is in itself very careless. Because it's possible to be seen by someone when pinning a reply like this and end up revealing her identity instantly."
"Muu, I got it! That's right, we just need to set up a security camera beforehand! We'll immediately know once we check to see which girl came to pin the reply! Can we still make it!?"
"We already said it's too late. Also, we can't reuse this method of notes on the notice board."
"That's true... Besides, even if we find out what she looks like using a security camera, we'll probably get ignored from then on. Using forceful measures will definitely displease her and make her unwilling to trust us."
Only after Haruaki said this without thinking did he realize that this was actually a crucial issue. In the first place, they wanted to meet her in hopes of enlisting her help to drive away the Knights Dominion. Trying to deceive her and secretly find her true identity in spite of that would be completely putting the cart before the horse. What they needed to do most was win her trust while making contact with her.
(That said, we still don't know what we should do...)
During the discussion, break time neared its end. The breaks between periods were only ten minutes long. Finally, everyone decided to go back and think of a second proposal on their own, adjourning the meeting for now.
Laurica "Trash" Shoegazer was heading to school today using her identity as Kagidou Himeno.
Of course, Laurica was not actually Kagidou Himeno. The real Kagidou Himeno was currently with her parents in a room of their newly built house, savoring the experience of being bound and gagged. However, Laurica was undoubtedly Kagidou Himeno.
Using one of the many Wathes in her possession—Professor Colin's Plastic Surgery Flowchart, «Rawhide FCD»—one of the many "trash" with numerous drawbacks but limited utility, Laurica had changed her face to look like Kagidou Himeno.
This was a cursed mask made from human skin, possessing the cursed ability to replicate a person's visage just by covering that person's face with the mask, converting the user's face to match. Its drawback was that the body remained unchanged apart from the face. Due to mostly receiving infiltration missions as an auxiliary, Laurica used this tool quite often. As a result, she had already lost her own face a long time ago. Part of this tool's curse was that repeated usage made it impossible to return to one's original face. After this mission, Laurica would have to live out her days with Kagidou Himeno's face until the next time she copied someone else's face.
Laurica was already used to it and had no objections to this face. Because she had chosen the target intentionally.
Indeed, there were reasons for taking Kagidou Himeno's face.
First of all, this was because Kagidou Himeno had left the combined middle and high school she had originally attended to enroll at Taishyuu High. In other words, she had no friends who knew what she used to be like. The fewer the people who knew the original person, the less the risk of being suspected being a substitute. While faces could be replicated by the contemptible Wathe, Laurica was able to emulate voices and habits perfectly, having undergone strict training, but prudence was paramount.
Another reason for choosing Kagidou Himeno was because she was very cute, judging from the eyes of an average person.
Strictly speaking, this was not an absolutely essential factor, but at least for maximizing chances, being cuter was better. Compared to not cute, being cuter was better. Even putting the mission aside, she believed so as a matter of fact. After all, she had to live with this face from now on.
Hence, Laurica used Kagidou Himeno's cute face to begin her school life.
Was school life boring? If someone asked that, Laurica would definitely answer no.
For her, school was a battlefield. There were many things needed to be done. Without being discovered, nor seeking anyone's understanding, she had to carry out the operation alone.
In other words, she had to live as Kagidou Himeno. This was her battle.
She did not need many male friends. But she must make a few of them to a natural extent.
As for friendships, she prioritized girls. Romance, beauty tips, celebrities—She continually collected the latest scoop on these subjects to use as conversation topics. Ignoring politics and economics was fine. The chances of these coming up in conversation were virtually nil.
The girls in this country had a tendency to interact in fixed circles. But for Laurica, one circle was not enough. She created many circles but without giving others an impression of slick sociability.
In other words, she must make the members of each circle feel that "this circle was Himeno's main circle." Her actions were all for this purpose. Depending on time and place, switching the circle she was making contact with—at the same time taking precautions to avoid being found out. She had received training to consider the effects of psychology as much as possible then use them to her advantage. It was not a difficult thing to control the hearts of the creature known as the "high school student" with many immature aspects to their minds. Skillfully using the various emotions of joy, anger, sadness and pleasure, she worked hard towards raising her sense of presence in each circle. When necessary, she resorted to shedding a few tears. Sometimes she secretly used violent behavior on the level of fist fights. It was also very effective.
Even having undergone all sorts of training, even possessing all sorts of Wathes—
Every day was not easy. Absolutely not easy—
"Oh my~? Himenon, you're sighing, right!? That's no good, happiness will escape—!"
"Oh sorry. Umm... I guess I'm a bit tired. My body always feels so exhausted."
"Always feels so exhausted... Ah! Could it be that you're being haunted by something bad!? But don't you worry! There are capable shrine maidens here to exorcise spirits! Hayahaya, it's your turn to enter the stage!"
"I don't know how to exorcise spirits! All I know are witching hour imprecations, but I haven't done them lately."
"...Haven't done them lately?"
"Uh... No no, that's nothing at all, I said something wrong! Anyway... Himeno, if you feel unwell, just go home early. Where do you live?"
"So true so true, if that's the case, we'll send you home!"
Sitting near her were two girls, Hiwatari Yume and Hayakawa Chihaya. Himeno's relationship with these two could be considered relatively close, but compared to other circles, there was a slight tinge of indifference. Hayakawa Chihaya was a Wathe owner. Although Hiwatari Yume was an ordinary person, she was closest to Hayakawa Chihaya and also quite close to Fear-in-Cube's clique. Considering the risks, it was best not to get too close to these two girls. Had Hiwatari Yume not made conversation with her at the shoe lockers on the first day of school, she would probably have kept her distance from them all along.
"It's okay, I'm fine. Thank you, both of you! See you tomorrow!"
With a smile that did not belong to Laurica, but "one that Kagidou Himeno would make," she stood up, waved her dainty hand and left the classroom. Of course, when encountering girls from other circles, she would also smile pleasantly to say goodbye. After changing her shoes and exiting the main gate, she went home while watching out to see if she was being followed, reaching the house safely.
Rather than to inform the people in the house, she announced her return to avoid arousing suspicions in the neighbors. While closing the main door at the entrance, she exhaled. Only within this house could she return to being Laurica, although her face remained that of Kagidou Himeno's.
That said, she still had doubts whether this home was actually comforting.
"! ...Hoo... H-Haha... Ohoh...!"
Quiet moaning. She wanted very much to ignore them, but could not.
"Heehaw, you have returned, 'Trash'... Perfect timing, hey, c'mere..."
She was summoned. Laurica walked across the corridor and opened the door to that room.
This was Neto's bedroom, a simple room with only a double bed and a mini table. He was sitting at the foot of the bed.
Neto's upper torso was naked. Several trails of red-black substance were flowing across his black skin, carrying a rusty stench.
"O-Oh! SO. RAPING. BUTT. HOLES——!"
Neto was grinning from ear to ear while using a knife to stab himself in the shoulder, twisting the blade back and forth. Muscle and blood made gushing noises. Like a broken nodding toy, his head kept swinging.
"Heeheehahaha! Butthole, the best butthole! Yeah! Yeah! So much pain! Heehaha, heehaha, heeha~ Ha~ Ha~! SO. UNBEARABLY. PAINFUL—!"
Since this was happened all the time, Laurica knew without needing to look. He was having an erection.
"Another thrust, another thrust, continue thrusting! Thrust thrust pull pull... Then thrust thrust pull pull again! Oho~! No, stop it, don't be so violent, stop it, no, but don't stop~! Whatever! I thrust I thrust I pull I pull puranranran! I remember there's a song like this, right? Heehaha!"
Exhale. Suddenly, the knife stopped moving. Pulling out the bloody knife, Neto stabbed it into the mattress then picked up the only object that remained hanging on his naked upper body, the camera known as «The Paingrapher».
Then he photographed his shoulder. In the next second, the wounds produced from his self-mutilation vanished instantly without trace, turning into a photograph that was ejected from the camera, accompanied by quiet mechanical noises.
Laurica knew very well. This was the camera used by a serial killer who suffered from congenital insensitivity to pain. Wishing to know what pain was like, he abducted victims, subjected them to pain and recorded the process with his camera. Through inflicting abuse, through photography, the serial killer gradually learned the concept of "pain." To him, he was only able to feel "pain" through these photos. Subconsciously in his mind, these photos became "the concept of pain itself." Simply seeing, touching, experiencing them would directly cause the sensation of "pain"—
"O-Ohoh... I went too far with my fun just now. Even if the pain disappears and the wounds heal, the lost blood still doesn't return... But with this, my ammunition is refilled."
Neto casually threw the photograph held between his fingers. The photo fluttered in the air before falling into the open guitar case by the bed side. Just as he said, that photo would be used as ammunition carrying "pain." Although one special trait of this Wathe resulted in a multiplied effect when returning pain to the one who originally inflicted the injury, this trait was completely meaningless for wounds caused by Neto's self-mutilation. Nevertheless, it was still a highly effective weapon for causing damage to the target simply in terms of ignoring all armor and defensive abilities. After all, Wathes essentially possessed stronger bodies than humans (albeit to different extents) after obtaining their human forms.
"However, one bullet is totally not enough... Yes, really. It's no joking matter."
While muttering quietly, his mood suddenly went cold. It felt as though the temperature in the room had decreased all of a sudden. This change appeared whenever he recalled the «Knight Killer». His voice became as cold as ice while his eyes were like darkness itself.
"No amount of bullets will be enough for penetrating that bitch's butthole. I still need to resupply more... Not enough, still not enough. I'm gonna kill her, so I need more, more, more—"
Like for actual firearms, the more bullets the better. And of course, the gunman's physical condition needed to be in top shape. Stress must be vented instead of building up.
As means towards solving these issues, Laurica knew very well that Neto had two favorite methods. Simple and convenient at the same time.
The first was Neto himself. Self-mutilation, sublime and pleasurable. While being a masochist, Neto was also a sadist who felt aroused from the act of hurting his own body, in other words, utterly deviant and broken in a sexual sense. Hence, the second method was automatically decided.
Of course, it was Laurica, Neto's auxiliary. Worthless "Trash." Supposed to count her blessings simply because she was not discarded—at least Neto thought so—A thing.
While releasing the belt from his pants, he ordered:
"Undress and lie on the bed right now."
Laurica instantly answered and closed off her heart.
The usual act. She neither felt anything nor wanted to feel anything. Weight, pain, bedsheets, palms, mouth, tongue, blade, cold sensations, unpleasant rhythmic motion, photo sounds, pleasure, body temperature, moaning. Scolded. He was scolding her for being useless. A filthy woman. Butthole. The stench of contemptible Wathes is stuck to you. I'll wash it off for you using fresh blood. Yes, sorry, she answered. This would help end things as quickly as possible. All sorts of places were stabbed to produce all sorts of wounds. Then the pain vanished after all sorts of photos were taken, but did it truly vanish? So disgusting. Die. Feeling some part of her body cut open, her body went incontinent from the pain. He clicked his tongue, but the one cleaning up in the end would still be herself. Her consciousness began to drift away. Ahhh, soon, she was going to lose her senses like an object. Indeed, called "Trash," she was just an object. But—
But one day. One day—
After cooking dinner, Laurica ate together with Neto and Lilyhowell. Then it was free time. Of course, she was the last to take a bath. Walking into Kagidou Himeno's room, she tried to work hard. Doing something was better than nothing.
Pushups, situps, she also went through a round of other muscle training that she felt was useful while trying to avoid making noise as much as possible. Were Neto to find out, he would surely mock her for wasting her efforts then punish her for being too arrogant. Hence, Laurica did her usual homework secretly every day.
But as one would expect, the one she idolized turned out to be more observant and kind than Neto.
"Excuse me. So you are training here?"
Laurica stopped doing situps and sat up. Without her noticing, Lilyhowell had opened the door and was standing there. Perhaps still reading instruction manuals, she was wearing her reading glasses.
"Hearing quick breathing noises, I thought you might have gotten ill suddenly."
"N-No, I'm fine."
"Yes. Although you are an auxiliary, training the body is definitely not in vain. I am very impressed."
"Umm, I know I am overstepping my bounds in asking this of you, but could you not tell Neto-sama about this... Even if someone like me engaged in this kind of training, I think he will simply scold me for wasting my energy and consider me an eyesore."
Lilyhowell frowned in puzzlement and tilted her head as though she could not comprehend at all.
"Wasting energy? Effort is equal, no matter the person. However, yes, since you are concerned, I promise you I will not tell Neto. I swear upon my name as Lilyhowell Kilmister."
"Th-Thank you very much..."
Hearing her excessive promise, Laurica could not help but relax her face. She was thinking this was the end of the conversation, but Lilyhowell continued to stand there. Not only that, but she also closed the door and entered the room, then leaned her back against the wall.
"I would like to apologize to you regarding a certain matter."
"Eh... Lilyhowell-sama, you don't need to apologize to me. What are you talking about?"
"Regarding Neto. What just happened."
She heard it. Her idol heard it. Laurica's face turned flush red with shame.
"I know what kind of man he is and I understand how that behavior is necessary for battle. Even so, personally speaking, I dislike it. If possible, I would very much like to stop it, but you are Neto's official auxiliary. I have no authority to question the behavior between you two."
"Nothing of that sort! Umm... I am very happy just to hear this from you..."
Laurica spoke from the bottom of her heart. Her idol was worrying about her. Simply that was enough to make her heart race madly, her entire heart immersed in an atmosphere of bliss. However, her bliss did not end here.
"Has any unusual symptoms appeared on your body?"
"No, please don't worry. That's because «The Paingrapher» was already used to photograph all the injuries."
"No scars left behind? You are a girl so it would be best to take that area into consideration."
Lilyhowell approached without thinking and stared at Laurica's face up close. Laurica's heart was beating like a drum, the depths of her throat stiffening and convulsing. She smelled a great fragrance. The hand reached out and touched her cheek. That hand slid over her skin as though confirming if any scars were left behind. Her mouth moved automatically, asking:
"Umm... Lilyhowell-sama, don't you mind it... disgusting...?"
"Why? You are simply fulfilling your duties as much as possible. From an average person's perspective, this might be abnormal behavior but since you have decided to accommodate with determination, what is there to feel ashamed about? Looks like your face is fine. Where were you injured the most severely just now?"
Laurica's mind was a total blank. Hence, she very naturally answered where.
"I see. Allow me to confirm. Please let me know if it hurts."
Lilyhowell's hand was stroking her breast, separated by the t-shirt, stroking the tip that Neto had sliced off then put back on again. Laurica was overjoyed, but she then heard something even more miraculous.
"Yes, I am simply surprised, but your bust has grown. Although it was only natural since you were a child in the beginning, your chest was so flat back then that I mistook you for a boy."
"...! Lilyhowell-sama... You still remember... what happened that time...?"
Laurica widened both eyes in surprise. Memories from the past dominated her mind. This was probably a common story. But to her, it was an absolute memory. A cursed sword. Unable to stop herself, she killed her beloved family. The stench of blood. Finally, the tip of the sword turned towards herself. By the time she realized, the blade was already shattered. Standing before her eyes was a young, blonde maiden—Several years later, she was also standing right here, blinking in bafflement.
"...? Of course. I remembered the instant I first saw you. I simply could not find a chance to tell you until now."
No way... She... The idol and savior... Unbelievably, Lilyhowell still remembered her. And right now, Laurica could not believe that Lilyhowell was touching her body. This was even more miraculous than a miracle. Taken too much by surprise, Laurica became unable to think, simply feeling Lilyhowell's fingertips, finding them very gentle, very comfortable—
"Ah... Huff... Hwah..."
Lilyhowell raised an eyebrow and stopped her movements. Tilting her head, resting her chin on her hand, she cast her gaze towards the floor as though noticing something, pondering something.
"—Is that so? This turns out to be the case? Perhaps my longtime doubt is finally cleared up."
"Umm... Lilyhowell-sama... What are... you talking about...?"
"Laurica, you are the first person to hear this from me—"
Lilyhowell gazed back at Laurica seriously. She was so near and so direct that Laurica felt the depths of her body heating up. Then the following words took her completely by surprise.
"Actually, I am still a virgin."
"As for why, it is because I have never felt any interest in having sexual relations with a man. I have never imagined it nor felt any sexual impulse. However, for some reason, when I am together with the same sex, or when changing clothes together, or entering public baths together, my body hurts inexplicably inside. Take this current instant for example. In other words, is it possible... Is it possible—I am only sexually aroused by members of the same gender?"
Lilyhowell sounded like an astronomer who finally realized the possibility of the earth turning instead of the sky, announcing in a completely serious manner. This seriousness was accompanied by surprise at a new revelation, at the same time confused and at a loss for how she should handle it.
"Hmm, really? So I see. I have always known that people like this existed but never thought that I would turn out to be one of them. Now everything makes sense. I can understand now...!"
Laurica was utterly shocked. Due to being excessively shocked, her mind even gave rise to impolite thoughts.
This person had not realized her sexual orientation until now. Due to being too straitlaced, too cool, she ended up being quite out of touch in certain areas. Was she one of those so-called airheaded cool beauties?
In any case... In any case—
This was more miraculous than a miracle, surely a miracle beyond compare.
Her idol and herself. Although she could not turn into someone like her idol, at least, it was currently impossible to turn into someone like her. But at least it was possible to approach her. To let their bodies and minds overlap, to feel her breathing, to feel her presence at extremely close range.
If just this, surely she could still work harder.
Hence, Laurica lightly picked up Lilyhowell's wrist and brought her hand under the sweat drenched t-shirt, guiding her fingertips towards the protrusion she had been caressing until now.
Indeed, Laurica still hoped for her direct touch and confirmation that no wound had been left behind.
Wednesday after school—
Fear was leaning against a tree trunk, rotating her Rubik's cube in utter boredom. The location was the front yard between the school gates and the entrance to the school building. Similarly, Haruaki, Konoha and Kirika were sitting on the lawn, watching the crowd of students getting off from class.
"Hmm... We seem to be running out of options soon..."
"Damn you, shameless brat, of course I know that. That's why I'm currently trying to think if there's a better way."
"Of course that's not a problem. But why here?"
"Sitting in the superintendent's office all the time, racking our brains isn't gonna help either. If we sit here and watch the students leaving school, perhaps we might suddenly notice something. Such as... That girl seems really observant... She must be a former Draconian! Something like that. So you guys hurry and keep your eyes wide open."
"Hoo... If only it was someone that easily picked out from sight."
After trying to contact the «Knight Killer», two days had passed, but just as Haruaki described, they were running out of options. Even putting up a more cryptic note on the notice board did not bring any response; or running over to wander outside the first-year classrooms, but naturally, only acquaintances came up to talk to them. In the end, they were still unable to find "a safe method that the «Knight Killer» would feel comfortable enough to actually contact them."
"Please allow me to say in fear and trepidation, don't be impatient and relax slightly for a bit~? The deadline is Sunday, isn't it? It's only Wednesday so there is still plenty of time!"
Isuzu was also nearby, dressed as a shrine maiden, sweeping with a broom. As usual, she was serving as a janitor, fulfilling her duties. "Miss Shrine Maiden, bye bye~" A crowd of passing girls waved goodbye to Isuzu and she waved back lightly with a sweet and adorable smile. Since the students were completely unable to distinguish between them, they gave up from the start. The current popular trend was to address Isuzu and her sisters uniformly as "Miss Shine Maiden."
"You have a point, but the difference only lies in whether we interpret the time as half gone or half remaining."
Fear replied while staring at the flood of leaving students, meanwhile continuing to swivel the toy cube with clicking sounds.
The students' faces, faces, faces. Every face was filled with a sense of liberation due to it being the end of school. This was only natural, but even so, perhaps an illusion, somehow it felt as though the students' faces were more cheerful than usual, as though excitedly looking forward to something. They also resembled participants in a competition before a match, trying to do their best, perhaps because the once-a-year welcoming festival was coming next Sunday, dominated by club activities.
Was the target, whom Haruaki's group really wanted to hold a discussion with, currently looking forward to the grand event of the festival? Or was she thinking in depression, what a waste of a holiday? Who knows.
Isuzu was right, perhaps there was no need for urgent impatience. Nevertheless, Haruaki did not feel it was suitable to relax at this time. Was there no way to help the current situation make progress?
"A sighting! Fear-senpai, what's up? Why are you sitting here?"
Just at this moment, another student who was getting off school noticed them and ran over. It turned out it really was her habit, the girl used a vigorous salute to serve as a greeting. Probably because Haruaki's group was sitting down, she looked even taller and imposing than usual.
"It's you. Muu, still so big as always."
"Because I'm still eating that secret all-purpose food five times a week. Oh my~ I'm not gonna tell you what it is, Senpai. Please stay petite forever, Senpai, it's for the good of all humanity! So, what are you doing?"
"Hmm, this is what's called sunbathing."
"I see, how elegant! Ah—oh right oh right, Senpai, look at this!"
Yume smiled in halfhearted agreement then looking at Fear's hands, she made a look as though she suddenly remembered something, then started rummaging through her own schoolbag. What she took out next was—
"A Rubik's cube...?"
"That's right! Hmm... May I sit next to you, Senpai?"
Before Fear could answer, Yume already quickly sat down next to her, leaning back on the same tree trunk. "Ehe." Giving Fear a meaningless and silly grin, she then started to swivel the toy cube, making clicking sounds.
"After seeing you play with a Rubik's cube, Senpai, I was thinking of trying it out myself~ So I bought one~ Now we're the same! The fun is also doubled!"
"Uh, this is just something for killing boredom. I don't think the fun actually doubles..."
"Oh my, who cares! Anyway, I'm now at an age when I wanna do everything the same as Fear-senpai, no matter what! Mmmhmm~ Like sitting beside me, doing the same thing, Fear-senpai, you're still peerlessly cute in the entire world..."
In any case, Yume was not hindering her by doing this. With clicking sounds coming from elsewhere in addition to her own hands, Fear felt that it sounded a bit like singing rounds. It felt incredibly refreshing to some extent.
Hearing these noises, Fear suddenly thought of something. This girl was a first-year student. Nirushaaki was also a first-year. With no options at hand, it was necessary to change their thinking, anything at all. Was there something that fellow first-years might all know that Haruaki's group might overlook as upperclassmen?
"Yume, let me try asking you something... For example, I'm just giving an example, if you wanted to have a secret conversation with a certain first-year student, what would you do?"
"Can't I just talk to the person?"
Yume tilted her head in surprise. Fear had forgotten to mention the main point.
"But what if you don't know who the other person is?"
"I don't get your meaning."
Yume tilted her head the other way this time but she quickly straightened her back suddenly.
"Oh~ Could it be that... You're trying to confess to me indirectly?"
"Of course not! You're making even less sense than me!"
How were the circuits in her brain connected? Absolutely mind boggling.
For the next while, all Fear could hear where the clicking sounds of Rubik's cubes turning. Fear was puzzling how to explain the situation but Yume also seemed to be pondering some other stuff.
"A secret conversation... Anyway, you want to talk secretly with someone, right?"
"Yeah, but at the same time, preventing anyone else from knowing. If the fact that I am having a secret conversation with that person itself is hidden from others, that'd be even better."
"Oh... Okay, right."
Click. The sound of Rubik's cubes stopped abruptly.
"Recently, an information exchange website has become very popular among the first-years. It might work if you use the message board there."
Originally expecting nothing in particular while listening to Yume, Haruaki's group instantly looked at her in unison.
After asking Yume for the address, Haruaki's group connected to the website using their cellphones. Fear used this opportunity to ask Yume to teach her how to connect to the internet.
"Gah! I originally wanted to avoid telling you as much as possible, but now it can't be helped..."
"Ohoh! Even without a computer, I can still connect to this thing called the net! Damn shameless brat, why did you hide something so important from me!?"
"Of course it's because I'm afraid you'll surf the net too much, slapping me with an expensive bill!"
Inside the endless ocean of the internet, there were more than enough things to catch Fear's interest. It was definitely necessary to warn her later, but the important thing now was the website. Haruaki looked at his cellphone. This was apparently a message board website catering to cellphones exclusively. Signing up was not required. Anyone was allowed to participate anonymously in discussions just by entering an email address.
"Uh... So this 'Chii' person is the admin who started this website?"
Located concisely at the top of the page was information such as the name of the admin, an explanation saying that this was a place for Taishyuu High first-years to exchange information, and rules and expectations, such as forbidding libel and defamation. The text was finally concluded with a lively "Let's all interact happily together!"
"Just as written there, this is a place for exchanging information. Like what meal combos are recommended at the cafeteria, the current welcoming festival that's almost here, what clubs people wanna join, these kinds of posts are very popular. Even students who still haven't made friends in class to chat with can find lots of information here."
"If they don't have friends, how did they find out about this website?"
"Oh, because there was a note a while ago on the real-time notice board in front of the shoe lockers. Apparently put up by this mysterious admin known as 'Chii'... That's how the users increased and it became even more lively. Right now, there should be very few people who don't know about it, although I found out in the beginning."
"Oh... By the way, who told you?"
"It was Hayahaya. Oh my~ Back then, there wasn't a single soul on the website, I never expected the users to explode in number like now. This makes me so emotional..."
Haruaki's group secretly exchanged glances with one another.
"Chii huh... I think I have some idea who that is."
"Speaking of which, that person does seem to have quite the cellphone addiction..."
"Yeah, there are indeed many people whose personalities undergo drastic changes on the net. This is not an absolutely ridiculous phenomenon."
"Shameless Shrine Maiden Number Two, the next time you see Number One, suddenly tell her seriously: 'Let's all interact happily together!' Something very interesting might happen."
"I don't quite understand why, but I got it~"
After speaking to Isuzu who was sweeping with a broom not far away, Fear looked down at her cellphone again.
"Since very few people are unaware of it, that girl might know this website too. But anyone can read this website, right? So in the end—"
"I wasn't able to help? What a shame..."
"No, don't worry. This isn't fruitless."
Kirika clapped her cellphone shut and signaled to Haruaki's group with her eyes.
"—We've done enough sunbathing too. Time to head home?"
Haruaki's group was not dense enough to miss what Kirika's eyes were saying. They decided to do as suggested.
"Muu~ So happy Rubik time with Fear-senpai is over too? But that can't be helped! Please find me next time so that we can spin the six colors madly together!"
Mixing up with the student crowd leaving the school, they went through the school gates. Yume seemed to heading opposite to their way home, so they soon parted with goodbyes.
"So, Kirika, some kind of good idea occurred to you?"
"Yeah, but I'm not doing it straight away. It's also more convenient to use the computer at home... Just check that website again tonight."
Of course, pay attention to mobile data costs as well—Kirika added in a joking tone of voice.
That night, a new post appeared on the message board that Yume had told them about. The title was "To the one who used to be a dragon." Just as Haruaki wondered if this was okay, he noticed a post titled "Dreaming of past life recently. Where is Chief Warrior Harikuheimu? Princess Shimani" at the bottom, so it did not stand out in particular. As the number of users increased, the level of chaos probably rose accordingly.
They clicked on the thread that was probably posted by Kirika. The first post read: "No fear of being seen by others. Password is Haunted House Girl." This message included a new URL. The second post read: ">1 What is this? Please give more hints (*^_^*)" Probably an unrelated student.
Following the URL, they were linked to another website, a restricted message board requiring a password. Naturally, recognizing the haunted house girl, Haruaki's group entered "fourteen" as the password according to Kirika's hint. This was the password that Haruaki's group and the former Draconian, the «Knight Killer», would both know but no one else could guess.
On that message board, Kirika left a post saying: "The Knights Dominion is targeting you. We wish to discuss countermeasures with you. Please leave a footprint if you visited here." Haruaki's group originally wanted to write something, but decided it would be bad if it ended up carelessly wrecking their chances. Fear and Konoha also discussed with Kuroe who had listened to the whole story and looked at the message boards, finally deciding not to respond for now.
They were simply waiting for the «Knight Killer»'s reply. There was nowhere more suited to a private discussion than here. Unrelated people were definitely not going to come. Other people were not going to know who tried visiting this place. Of course, the only drawback was that they could not know the appearance of the person who replied, but in any case, nothing could begin unless they started communicating with the other side.
Hence, just as the night sky grew darker and darker—
"Don't even think of coming over here——!"
The living room's sliding door was pulled open violently. "What's going on?" Just as Haruaki looked back, Konoha, who just happened to be heading to the washroom, closed the sliding door shut with a bang. Hence, all Haruaki saw for an instant was something silver and white behind the sliding door. It was probably a certain something that had just taken a bath, coming here with a head of wet hair and water still dripping off reddened skin.
"Hey Cow Tits, what are you doing!?"
"I'm asking you the same thing! Dry yourself and put on your clothes first!"
"Nuu, you have a point, but I wanted to tell you guys as soon as possible! Look, look! It's here!"
Behind the paper door that was tightly shut, Haruaki seemed to be seeing Fear waving her cellphone furiously like holding a trophy. Then of course, what she said next was:
"She responded on the message board!"
"I wish to understand the situation." A direct and brief sentence was the other party's first reply.
While giving Kirika a phone call to discuss, Fear and the others tried to engage in dialogue on the secret message board.
First of all, they reported the current situation with complete sincerity and authenticity. The arrival of the Knights Dominion. Lilyhowell Kilmister. Neto the Avenger. Satsuko and Fourteen's visit to make a personal request of assistance. Of course, they also told her about the Knights Dominion demanding them to "hand her over" and that they had no intention of doing that.
'In that case, why do you still want to talk to me?'
'We cannot stand aside idly and watch ordinary students get hurt either. Hence, we want to borrow your wisdom and inquire if there is a better solution.'
Kirika's response became the last post for that day. Starting off directly with "We want to use you as bait to defeat the Knights Dominion" would be far too aggressive so this was all they could tell her for now.
"Hwah... There's really no response."
"After all, it's getting late so she might have fallen asleep. Let's continue talking to her tomorrow."
The group was gathered by the table in the living room, heads down as they looked at their respective cellphones. Treating someone's yawn as a signal, everyone closed their cellphone at the same time and dispersed, getting ready to go to bed. After readying her stuff for school tomorrow, Fear also went to bed.
But no matter how long she waited, sleepiness did not arrive. Was this really okay? This doubt occupied her mind, unable to be dispelled. Hence, Fear covered her head with the blankets and flipped open her brand new cellphone.
What should I say? She felt that things had been too formal so far.
The current situation was tricky indeed and considering countermeasures was necessary. However, simply discussing this topic felt excessively boring to Fear. All they could do was contact the other person through this tiny device, unable to see the other side's face. Did the other side really exist? Fear felt very worried. At the same time, she worried if the other person was really pondering the response they had written. Could she find a solution to these worries?
Their final goal was cooperating with the «Knight Killer» to come up with a method to drive away the Knights Dominion. What would this require? Definitely trust. They definitely needed the other side to trust them. Of course, they wanted to trust the other side too. However, in this current state where they could not see each other's face, knowing nothing about each other, Fear felt that talking about trust was completely far off and unreachable.
Kirika was deliberately vague about their final goal in the reply just now to avoid displeasing the other side and lowering trust. In order to avoid a negative impression. In that case, rather than simply avoiding negative impressions, it should be fine to try taking action to produce positive impressions. Putting aside whether it was possible or not.
What was the other person thinking? Feeling? Pondering about? Anything was fine, no matter how small, no matter how trivial or inane. Exchanging these sorts of insignificant thoughts would surely produce opportunities for making better impressions, easing the feeling of distance and unfamiliarity between them—
Fear connected to the secret message board. Kirika's response was still there. No reply.
While agonizing over the issue, Fear tried to create space for discussing other topics—In other words, discussion threads. On anything, it mattered not.
'Can't sleep. I might be able to sleep if I have a casual chat. If anyone's awake, please answer. I like eating rice crackers, what about everyone else?'
Fear tapped the refresh button periodically. Several minutes later, after dozens of presses on the button that she had lost count already, she widened her eyes in surprise.
'I can't sleep either. Our interests are aligned. I like hamburgers.'
A response. Fear suddenly thought, perhaps the person wanted to trust the unseen face on the other side, just like herself.
Also—Indeed. Why a response was made could very well be due to a simpler reason.
Fear was a female high schooler. So was the other person. Although neither of them were ordinary existences, at least they were both trying to become ordinary. Working hard to change from existences that used to hurt others to become purely lifeforms known as "ordinary high school girls." Perhaps the road to completion was still a long way away, but having worked hard so far, they probably should have acquired some of that lifeform's lifestyle traits.
Hiding under the covers in the middle of the night, secretly opening the cellphone, chatting about unimportant things with someone.
This situation could very well feel extremely like what "ordinary high school girls" did—
Since even Fear found this unexpectedly fun herself.
The chances that the other side agreed were absolutely not zero.
Without particular significance, simply typing whatever came to mind, they chatted about school and life.
'Which club do you wanna join?'
'I cannot say in detail, but I'd like to join a cultural club. Because I've been engaged in physical activity until now.'
'That's really not bad an idea.' Fear replied. People who were too used to fighting would end up doing something along the lines of kicking the volleyball.
'There's a mushroom meal that is served occasionally in the student cafeteria. A legendary menu cooked by the chef using ingredients he went out to gather personally. I've only eaten it once, but it's truly delicious enough that it feels like you're flying up to heaven. You absolutely must try it!'
'How interesting. What kind of mushroom was it?'
I dunno either, but the mushroom had spots and numbed the tongue, it also made me feel extremely happy and excited. Surely a rare mushroom—After this reply, it took a while for the other side to respond.
'I heard that Ishida who teaches Ancient Japanese is also serving as a homeroom teacher for the first-years as well. Based on my experience last year, Ishida doesn't care about the students at all. You can sleep all you want without any problems.'
'I cannot say if that person is my homeroom teacher or not, but supposing that were the case, I shall make effective use of this information.'
Oh well, even without intending to make effective use of his attitude, anyone would surely fall asleep in front of those sleep-inducing runes.
'So, next are the recommended items sold at the snack shop—'
'I see, I shall take a note of this. The chances of being sold out are—'
Words continued, written text continued, voices continued as well.
A conversation between an upperclassman and her junior on topics all over the place, persisting uninterrupted—
Haruaki woke up at the usual time. Rubbing his sleepy eyes, he flipped open his cellphone. He did not forget what concerned him the most just because he slept for a night. Opening the message board he had bookmarked, he tilted his head in puzzlement. The contents were quite different from when he went to bed.
Tapping away to scroll down, Haruaki kept reading the conversation in the new discussion thread while walking out of his room. Countless words in mutual dialogue. Apart from chatting, it was meaningless chatting. The final post was made at 5:30am, in other words, an hour earlier. It read "Beach crab mysterious sea. It's about time for Nelson"—Definitely the result of choosing incorrectly when presented with the system's kanji suggestions. He could not help but imagine a scene involving Mr. Nelson the mysterious crab-catching expert. That straw hat really suits him.
On the veranda, Haruaki met Konoha who was tilting her head and operating her cellphone like him. After exchanging good morning greetings, they both changed their destinations and tiptoed over the a certain room, pushing the sliding door open lightly.
That girl was currently sleeping on top of her futon, snoring in deep sleep. The blanket that originally covered her head was lifted up completely. Her silver hair glittered under the rays of the morning sun.
The open cellphone was still held in one hand.
Haruaki silently made a wry smile. Someone poked him in the shoulder. Looking back, he found Konoha with same faint, wry smile, pointing at her own cellphone. Shown on the screen was not Fear's discussion thread but the one Kirika had posted, the thread where their original goal was written.
'We cannot stand aside idly and watch ordinary students get hurt either. Hence, we want to borrow your wisdom and inquire if there is a better solution.' Under Kirika's post, there was a reply that did not exist yesterday.
'—I wish to do my utmost to assist you. Allow me to think of other, better solutions. Give me some time.'
Looking at the time of the post, it was roughly an hour earlier as well.
In other words, several minutes after Fear had left her incoherent message.
Thursday and Friday were mainly spent on waiting to see if the «Knight Killer» had come up with a good idea. If not, then in the end, they could only ask her to act as bait when confronting the Knights Dominion or ask her to join their ranks in battle. As much as possible, Haruaki's group wanted to delay making this sort of request. Rather than hoping for her to suggest it herself—that would be far too underhanded—they carried faint hope that rather than such forceful means, perhaps the other side might really have a more appropriate solution.
During the time, they still engaged in conversations over the net, mainly conducted by Fear with her whom they still had yet to meet, carefully trying their hardest to understand each other. Without conscious intent, they began talking about the past.
'Why did you quit the Draconians?'
'I got tired of fighting.'
'But you joined the Draconians in the first place to get strong, right?'
'Indeed. I always believed that strength was happiness.'
'Has your belief changed?'
'After seeing the young people of this country, it suddenly occurred to me that they smiled very happily despite being very weak, despite being incurably weak, yet they still smiled without being ashamed of that, looking very happy.'
'Do you wish to become like them?'
'The first time I saw them, I felt the same way. Because I saw them directly rather than through television, this feeling was even stronger.'
'Is that so? I can understand.'
The other side's wish was ultimately very simple.
What she wanted to keep by her side at all times was a cellphone for connecting to others, not a greatsword, a spear or a giant axe for severing the connections known as life.
What she wanted to walk along was the path to school where friends and non-friends converged, not a path of blood baths where only formidable enemies and even more formidable enemies walked.
What she wanted to hear were loving words coming from the heart, whispered in the ears of lovers whose qualities were only kindness and meekness, not words of mockery such as "Any last words?" said to a formidable foe on the verge of death.
What she wanted to get angry about were instances when wearing a new pair of loafers and encountering an puddle, too wide to cross, created by an unfortunate downpour of rain after school, not when anticipated enemies turned out to be weaker than expected, sinking into puddles of blood after a quick shower of bloody raindrops.
Fear knew very clearly that these insignificant wishes were very worthy of respect.
She could understand as though they were her own.
Indeed without a doubt. The two of them were very alike. To the point that it was like they were actually the same person.
Just as she desired from the bottom of her heart, so did the other person desire from the bottom of her heart.
At the same time, indeed, there was a question without answer in the depths of the heart.
'Are there things that annoy you?'
'Yes. All sorts of people in this school. Boys, girls, homosexuals, people who like to sing, people who dislike dogs, people who can't sleep unless they're naked. This school is able to accept all of them. However—'
—Could someone who has killed before be accepted?
The other side asked rhetorically. Fear could not find any words to answer. Since the other side did not make any further response, in the end, it really turned into a rhetorical question.
Whether good or bad, Fear found the other person very similar to her.
Hence, an idea suddenly occurred to Fear during class. What if their positions were reversed?
Suppose she was at a loss how to deal with her sins, strength and past. Suppose she wanted to turn into an ordinary human immediately as much as possible. Suppose this could not be realized as it just so happened that she used her strength against pursuers from the past then found the fact of using that strength unbearable.
If that were the case, if that were the case—
On Friday night, Kirika came to the Yachi home at Fear's invitation. The plan seemed to be having dinner together while sitting down for a detailed discussion. Just as everyone was drinking hot tea after dinner—
Fear slammed the table and got up without warning.
Fear was clutching her cellphone, glaring sharply at the screen. Haruaki also fished out his cellphone and opened the usual webpage, instantly gasping. Also present, Konoha, Kirika and Kuroe stared in shock as well.
The «Knight Killer» who had been in contact with them, Nirushaaki, had written a new post. This was in the thread that had been discussing how to oppose the Knights Dominion.
'I have considered a lot—To prevent unrelated students from coming to harm, if there is no other solution, perhaps this is the only choice. In other words—'
Clearly, unmistakably, the post continued:
'I will leave this school in manner that even the Knights Dominion can understand.'
What she meant was that she decided to give up.
Give up her desires, give up her wish to become an ordinary high school girl.
"Fool, this... this... Isn't this the same as defeat!? Isn't this equivalent to running with your tail between your legs after losing to them...!?"
Fear whispered. Kirika concurred powerlessly, "Well said, absolutely ridiculous..."
"But... She doesn't mean she'll do it immediately, right?"
"Yeah. She wrote down 'if there is no other solution.'"
"Other solution... huh? In the end, as reluctant as we are, it's about time to say it. In other words, we'll promise her we'll never hand her over, then ask her to act as bait during the transaction on Sunday."
Saying that, Haruaki felt quite twisted and unpleasant. He considered this a last resort.
But at this time, the gloomy Fear suddenly raised her hand high, just like last time in the superintendent's office.
"...Yes, Fear, please speak."
"Umuu, then I'll be blunt. This is my personal view or perhaps principle. Anyway, I'm definitely not forcing you guys but please understand that these are my true feelings."
Fear gulped as though organizing her thoughts and continued:
"Honestly, about this «Knight Killer» Nirushaaki... I believe it's best to stop getting involved with her."
"No, I think I'm not being clear enough. Explained in greater detail, what I mean is this, it's best not to let her continue to get involved with us. In other words—handing her over to the Knights Dominion goes without saying, but in my personal view, whether asking her to come out to act as bait or hoping for her to bolster our ranks to fight in an emergency... None of these should be done at all."
Fear closed her cellphone and cast her gaze down to the table. Then in a gentler tone of voice, she whispered:
"She... really seems to want to become an ordinary high school student. I've been thinking, is it really right to draw her out? Actually, the best solution is definitely to let things reach a conclusion without knowing her face or name. To let her remain a simple underclassman forever."
"I agree too. I also hope to avoid getting her caught up in this incident as much as possible. Even the plan proposed just now, if possible, I don't want to carry it out."
"If that's what everyone thinks, I have an alternative solution. Originally, the plan to use her as bait was simply in hopes that it would make things easier when trying to defeat ten-odd knights. Conversely—"
Konoha sighed greatly and interrupted Fear.
"In other words... If we are willing to push ourselves harder and face a tougher time, there is no particular need to insist on that proposal."
"Let me just add as Kuroe's weekly report on special deals! It's said that we have defeated an enemy who was known as the «Strongest», in other words, we are the strongest team!"
"After considering so much and going through different strategies, we end up deciding on force to settle the matter. Haha, although it's absolutely ridiculous, perhaps this is unexpectedly in line with our style."
Interrupted by a series of comments from Kuroe and the others, Fear kept blinking at everyone.
"Y-You guys are pitching in surprisingly readily... I was thinking it wouldn't be weird if you objected."
"Come on, how could we possibly object?"
"If you ask me why..."
After answering Fear on reflex, Haruaki took a while to think before getting the reason. Then he immediately understood. Although voicing it felt a little embarrassing, it was too late to play dumb and gloss over it.
"I believe I can understand your position. So, I've already decided to stand on your side forever. If you wish to help this person because her position is the same as yours, then I have no choice but to stand on her side as well. Otherwise, my decision to stand on your side would turn into a lie... Right?"
Only after actually saying it out did Haruaki find the meaning behind these words possibly a little difficult to understand. But it looked like it was at least successful in winning Fear's agreement.
"A-Although... I don't really understand... Hmm, whatever. Since we're all in agreement, I have no objections."
Konoha and Kirika were pouting sullenly for some reason, but it seemed to be unrelated to the main subject at hand. Haruaki deliberately ignored them and coughed lightly, saying:
"So, it's very well that we've decided not to involve her... But how should we reply to her post?"
After mutual discussion, they decided on a reply. Fear typed the post as their representative.
"Don't be rash. You don't need to do anything. We've come up with a great battle plan."
'—What is it?'
'Don't worry. We won't trouble you at all. Completely uninvolved, you don't need to know.'
Then Fear made a gentle smile while posting the last sentence.
'Simple underclassman, goodbye. As your senior, I give my blessings to you for a happy school life.'
On Saturday, Haruaki's group went to school as usual. Since their classes only last half a day, the students on the way to school seemed especially happy and excited. But unlike usual, Sunday, tomorrow was not going to be a holiday but the welcoming festival instead. It was a festival for welcoming new students and could also be considered a festival for clubs to recruit new members.
Despite being one day before the event, a festival's atmosphere had already covered the entire school. An arch in vivid colors, under construction, was placed beside the school gates while students on the executive committee were swinging their hammers vigorously. In various corners of the front yard, frames for supporting tents had been placed in advance. They were probably set here for now to be assembled into stalls after classes.
"Hmm~ I find every festival to be great. I start feeling excited for no particular reason."
"We're not participating this time, so we just walk around casually. Compared to the cultural festival, we should be able to have more fun in leisure... But our main battlefield comes after the welcoming festival. Take care not to get too exhausted in having a good time."
The Knights Dominion had selected Sunday night, in other words, after the welcoming festival. Since they had decided to engage the enemy in battle directly without any tricks, things were definitely not going to develop too smoothly—But they had already made their decision. Haruaki was prepared so all that was left was to follow through.
Currently engaged in preparations for the festival were not just the students making the arch. The front yard was packed with students. Some boys were painting armor made from cardboard boxes. Some people were using saws to cut wood. Next, Haruaki's group saw an especially large board erected in front of the school building. A closer look revealed it to be the urgently anticipated list of contestants for the school beauty pageant to be held for tomorrow's climax. Hanging on the board were dozens of name plates with the contestant's names with inexplicable advertising slogans added to each of them. "The tea ceremony club's ace! Watch the power of knees glimpsed during seiza sitting posture!" "The antelope residing in the track and field club! Join us in a crouching start!" Among them, some of the contestants had added school identification photos or photo booth pictures. A boy in a headband was standing in front of the board, grinning widely while recruiting students.
"Okay, the show is finally starting tomorrow! Until just before the contest starts, nominations are still accepted on the day of the event! Oh, hello there, you're very cute! Wanna enter?"
Written on his headband were the words "MissCon Executive Committee." What was scary was that this was apparently an official event on a premature start already.
"So that's the legendary school beauty pageant... How lively and full of vigor."
"Yes, after all, it's the finale event. It's also a chance for contestants to introduce their clubs, so many clubs should be sending representatives to participate."
"Are there prizes?"
"There should be gift cards for books and shopping. Although I forgot how much, seeing as this is a school event after all, the monetary values should be within sensible bounds. I remember that the nearby shopping street is also supposed to sponsor the school beauty pageant... The shopping street provides goods as prizes and in exchange, Miss Taishyuu High has to help with the shopping street's events for a whole year. Like serving as the MC for the Bon Festival party in summer."
"So that's what's known as give and take~ Say, I'm sure someone will use this chance to start a betting pool."
Noticing the surroundings, Haruaki suddenly whispered. Students could be seen all around, enthusiastically looking at the contestant list and writing in notebooks. Konoha nodded.
"Yes. Perhaps the executive committee might be discreetly acquiescing, hoping to make the scene more lively and exciting through the bets. Honestly, I believe this is the only advantage to announcing the contestant list before the event."
"Everyone is so full of spirit. With so many people entering, I can't guess at all who will win... To be frank, the way I see it, everyone is the same, or rather, everyone has a chance of winning."
At this point, Haruaki noticed Fear was staring intently at him. Her gaze seemed to be giving off worries, displeasure and some kind of doubt. But as soon as their eyes met, she hastily turned her face away. What was going on?
After weaving through the noisy bustle of the welcoming festival preparations, Haruaki's group headed for the school building's entrance. Just at this time, they spotted the familiar colors of red and white ahead. She was currently sweeping the ground but amidst this familiar scene, there was also something different from before.
Instead of the bamboo broom she normally used, this seemed to be a rather high-class western broom.
When they approached, Isuzu looked up while swinging the broom and greeted:
"Please allow me to say in fear and trepidation, good morning everyone~ Isuzu received a letter~"
"A letter? From who?"
No idea—Isuzu tilted her head and presented the broom's shaft to Haruaki's group. Clipped on the metal component of the broom's tip, there was a letter addressed to "Yachi Haruaki-sama."
"Uh~ This morning, Isuzu went to the storeroom at the back of the school building where the cleaning equipment is kept~ There was a female student sweeping with this broom in front of the storeroom. She looked quite happy and I could almost hear her humming a song. I was thinking she was probably someone who loved sweeping a lot. But when Isuzu greeted her, that female student suddenly acted awkward, blushing intensely then she stuffed this letter and broom to Isuzu together—"
Halfway through Isuzu's explanation, Haruaki realized. He believed that Fear and the others should have realized it too.
The broom in Isuzu's hand looked very familiar.
It was precisely something that attacked them as a weapon in the past.
—Upon seeing this letter, please come to the west side at the back of the school immediately—
Following the letter's instructions, Haruaki's group headed to the location indicated. They also took this chance to call Kirika who was already at school to meet up with her along the way.
Hence, they arrived behind the school. As expected, the person there was—
"...You finally started cosplaying?"
"That's so mean~! Satsuko knows that someone like Satsuko isn't suited to wearing this, but this is a disguise to avoid attracting too much attention. But it suits Fourt quite well, right?"
"E-Eeeee~ No no... D-Don't say things that'll attract attention to me..."
Before their eyes were two members of the Draconians, dressed in Taishyuu High's uniforms. The familiar-looking broom really was something that Fourteen had taken out from herself.
As usual, the pair gave off a very lighthearted atmosphere but Haruaki's group did not dare lower their guard. After exchanging glances with one another—
"Why did you come here, Satsuko? Class is starting soon. Be quick if you've got something to say."
Fear spoke with wary eyes while Satsuko frowned apologetically.
"Oh~ ...That's right. But sorry."
Satsuko then made a solemn expression immediately and declared clearly:
"But this is something that will force you to skip first period. Also, please listen carefully and let Satsuko finish."
"How dramatic the way you're putting it. What on earth is it?"
"To be honest, Satsuko still can't confirm this yet. But Satsuko hopes that everyone can listen with an open mind conceding that 'this might be the situation'... No, even so, if it really turned out to be true, the effects are too great, which is why Satsuko decided to report to you all."
"Your intro is so long-winded that it's absolutely ridiculous. Just say it out directly."
As the class representative, of course she was feeling anxious about skipping class after all. After being urged by Kirika in exasperation, Satsuko hunched her neck slightly and swept her gaze across everyone. "So..."
The words she immediately followed with were—
"The actions of the Knights Dominion so far might be all a ruse. The deal with you guys is completely irrelevant and they don't need to attract unnecessary attention or hurt every unrelated student—That's right. The Knights Dominion might possess a method to find Nirushaaki-senpai on their own."
Translator's Notes and References
- Mysterious sea(玄海) is read as genkai which is also the pronunciation for limit(限界). Nelson(ネルソン) is probably some kind of corrupted form of the verb to sleep(nemuru). In short, Fear was trying to say "I'm at my limit. It's about time I slept" or something like that.
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