Chapter 3 - Spring Festival / Hence the Nonstop Cheering / "Hello, future"
"What—What do you mean by that!?"
Fear's voice was trembling in shock. Satsuko's voice was very calm and sounded like she was simply reading out a report:
"It all began when news was received about a member of the auxiliaries obtaining a certain Wathe. That Wathe's official name and detailed powers are unknown but is rumored to possess a cursed ability similar to a 'victory contract.' By using that Wathe, they might be able to pick out Nirushaaki-senpai from among the students."
"'Victory contract' huh? What ability is that specifically?"
"Because Satsuko doesn't have the full details yet, this contains speculation—Anyway, it's a Wathe that allows one to know the losers' 'secrets' completely when the owner emerges victorious in a vote on some kind of conceptual domain. Probably meaning that it can read the losers' minds."
After hearing this word, Konoha frowned. This word also invaded Haruaki's mind. There was some kind of ominous premonition. It felt like the word was hanging around them somewhere.
Kirika clenched her fist and fired off a series of questions. Satsuko also answered her questions one by one.
"The definition of loser is?"
"Probably every human eligible to win."
"It's coercive? What a powerful ability."
"Which is why it requires the restrictive act of 'voting' as a medium. A very restrictive condition."
"What do you mean by conceptual domain?"
"Villages, cities, schools, organizations... In other words, a kind of public community. However, the Wathe's curse does have limits in power. It's said that a 'country' is too large in scope to take effect."
"Who obtained this Wathe?"
"It's «Neto the Avenger»'s auxiliary. The Draconians believe that the Dominion Lord was the one who issued the Wathe. Neto is a peculiar knight who deliberately suffers attacks from Wathe users then fights using the desire for vengeance arising from the pain. Because he is so peculiar, it's said that his auxiliary is equipped with many support abilities to facilitate handling peculiar situations. Examples include mind control, memory erasure and—
Satsuko took a deep breath and continued:
"Changing one's appearance, taking on another's identity completely to infiltrate certain locations."
Ominous imaginings were starting to be pieced together. Ominous premonitions were gradually taking on a distinct and coherent form. The kind of imagining that felt like this very well could be true.
"Hold on... In other words, this is what's going on? The Knights Dominion was actually lying in asking us to hand her over in one week, so they don't really care—"
"Their true goal is to use that Wathe's cursed ability to locate Nirushaaki. Obtaining victory in a vote on a certain domain... Although it's absolutely ridiculous to explain in ordinary language by this point... Concretely, they have already sent someone in disguise to infiltrate the school, intending to emerge victorious in the school beauty pageant that's being held tomorrow!"
"Thinking back, during the flower viewing, the other side seemed to have encountered us by accident. If the deal they proposed was meant for buying time until the school beauty pageant... Everything makes sense."
"Satsuko will repeat, there's no concrete evidence. Satsuko just thinks that the possibility exists—But anyway, this is the situation."
"Even if you say it's just a possibility... If it turns out to be real, it'll be too late to do anything once it happens. We were planning to find a way to conclude the affair after defeating the Knights Dominion tomorrow night when they show up for the deal. But if the deal itself was simply a lie for buying time, they already have a real plan in progress and it succeeds—Then those guys aren't even going to visit our house. By that time, they would have dealt with the target already."
After Haruaki muttered quietly, Fear shook her silver head violently from side to side, adding more emphasis in her tone:
"I won't stand back and ignore this! I've already told her not to worry... We won't add to her troubles! I absolutely won't let them kill her—a girl who only wishes to become an ordinary high school student!"
"Yeah, but if it's true, the risk is too great. We have no choice but to assume it's true and take action."
"But before that, there is one more issue. Namely, how trustworthy is news coming from this person."
Konoha glanced towards Satsuko. Still trembling, Fourteen hid behind Satsuko. Satsuko smiled wryly while tilting her head.
"Satsuko can understand how you feel. It's only natural that you cannot believe words coming from someone like Satsuko... But at least, Satsuko can confirm that she really heard this information for real."
"Then let me ask you, where did the news come from?"
"These past few days, Satsuko and Fourt challenged another knight, using this as rehab and a chance to gather information. Even knights who are not part of this operation should know a little information, being in the same organization after all. This is information gathered by questioning that person!"
"In that case, the information you obtained is absolutely ridiculous in its incompleteness. If you sincerely wish to save your senior, you would have questioned more thoroughly."
Kirika narrowed her eyes and pressed on. Satsuko laughed "ehehe" and answered:
"You are right... But Satsuko could not help it. Because halfway through the questioning, that person died. Satsuko was thinking he shouldn't be that weak, but it was a slight oversight on Satsuko's part... Indeed, torture should be left to those who are used it! Like Fear-san!"
"! —Shut up! Enough, shut your damn mouth. Don't say anymore!"
"Then that is what Satsuko will do for now. If you have any questions, feel free to ask~"
Fear gave Satsuko one final glare then ignored her and turned back towards Haruaki and the rest of the group.
"Assuming this information is true, then what should we do to smash their plans?"
"The first method is to destroy that Wathe carrying the cursed ability of the 'victory contract.' In other words, finding the disguised auxiliary who invaded this school and catching her."
"This method... Honestly, it'll be very hard. Although the targets are limited to girls hoping to win the title of Miss Taishyuu High, no matter what, it's too rushed with only one day remaining."
"But at least she'll be among the students who signed up, right?"
"True but there are dozens of contestants. Also, I remember that you can join at the last minute so it might be pointless to investigate the current contestants at this stage."
"If they replaced someone's identity, friends might notice something strange, right? Is there any way to approach the matter from this direction?"
"That's very hard as well, right? If we need to investigate one by one, there's not enough time. Besides, if the enemy is not skilled enough to avoid detection, she wouldn't infiltrate the school in the first place. There are also plenty of ways, like choosing girls who had few friends to begin with..."
Kirika stopped in mid sentence. A certain face surfaced in Haruaki's mind. Very few friends, hence low risk. A face capable of winning the title of Miss Taishyuu High. He thought of someone who greatly matched these requirements, but—
"No... No way at all."
"Yeah, it's not possible no matter what. Quality is more important than quantity. The way those two are intimately stuck to each other all the time, Sovereignty can't possibly not notice."
"Besides, let alone advantages, substituting someone who's close to us would only result in drawbacks. They probably picked a student that's completely unrelated. In the end, Konoha-kun is right. Things would be better if we realized a week earlier, but by this point, trying to narrow down and catch the infiltrator is definitely challenging."
"So, we just need another way. Going at the root, how about getting the MissCon cancelled?"
"I see, want to try asking the superintendent?"
"As I recall, the school beauty pageant—or more accurately, the welcoming festival—is organized by the student council and club activities union rather than the school administration. Even if the superintendent exercised authority, it might not have an effect. Also, the shopping street is sponsoring this event, so that's tricky as well. Besides, just as everyone can see, preparations are underway in full swing and the atmosphere is roused to unprecedented levels. Exercising authority under these circumstances, making a one-sided request for the event to be cancelled, who knows if the student council will listen or not... It goes without saying that they will ignore the school and forcibly hold the event anyway, but in the worst case, there might even be rioting."
"Guumu~ But clearly without the voting of the school beauty pageant, that cursed tool's ability would not be able to activate in the first place...! Damn it, then what other ways—"
At this moment, Haruaki noticed Konoha and Kirika exchanging glances secretly. It felt like they were confirming "what to do?" with each other on something that only they had noticed, a slightly awkward expression on their face.
But in the next instant, the group felt someone behind them and looked up in surprise. Standing before their eyes was—
"Oh my oh my, please allow me to say in fear and trepidation, is everyone skipping class here? That's not very appropriate~"
It was Isuzu. She was dressed as a shrine maiden as usual, smiling with tender gentleness, holding Fourteen's broom in her hand. Luckily not a teacher—Haruaki breathed a sigh of relief and said:
"Ah~ ...Hmm, this is the continuation of that letter. I hope you can turn a blind eye to our skipping class. So why are you here?"
"The janitor's job is to clean everywhere in the school~ Just now, Isuzu happened to hear voices and came for a look. Oh, thank you very much just now~ This broom is really good, it feels great~"
Smiling, Isuzu waved her hand. Hiding behind Satsuko, Fourteen kept trembling nonstop.
"Hiu... D-Don't look at me...! No more... No more, too embarrassing, I can't stand this, no more...!"
"Oh my, Isuzu isn't going to do anything, you know~ As fellow tools with cleaning properties, I feel a sense of camaraderie with you. Let's continue to train and hone ourselves together as we pursue the treacherous road of cleaning."
After saying these incomprehensible things, Isuzu suddenly stopped moving.
Then—Ring. They seemed to hear a bell ring. Isuzu frowned with extreme puzzlement.
"Oh dear... How should I say this, truly..."
Kirika narrowed her eyes slightly and asked:
"...Did you see something?"
"Yes. How should I say this? It's just an image flashing whoosh across my mind. It's basically everyone dressed up extremely adorably, standing on a stage somewhere—"
"Okay, stop, that's it. I basically understand."
Kirika sighed deeply. Konoha sighed in the same manner.
"I knew it. That's the only remaining method. Absolutely ridiculous."
"This cannot be helped. Yes, this cannot be helped..."
At this moment, Fear finally seemed to realize. She looked up forcefully.
"I know. Winning first place in a vote is the condition required to activate that cursed tool from the Knights Dominion. Conversely, the ability can be stopped by preventing the enemy who infiltrated the school as a student from winning the top spot. In other words—"
Fear gulped hard then continued:
"As long as we enter the school beauty pageant and one of us wins, it's fine...!"
Haruaki comprehended. Indeed, this was perhaps the last remaining option. Perhaps it was the only action they could take for the sake of protecting "her" who wanted to become an ordinary high school student.
But there was one thing that Haruaki could not comprehend.
Namely, he could not understand why in the next instant, Fear, Konoha and Kirika suddenly exchanged glances as though restraining one another, then finally, with eyes that could not be more serious, they all stared at him intently.
(I absolutely can't lose...!)
Fear's mind was occupied by these words, nothing else, swirling nonstop inside her skull.
It was currently English class during second period, but of course, Fear was not paying attention. She was already capable of reading, writing, listening and speaking fluently in English. Furthermore, the newly hired English teacher, Sagisaki-sensei, looked like a very timid glasses-wearing teacher and was probably not going to express disapproval regarding Fear's learning attitude. What if she did? Then Fear was going to make her regret being born in this world with glasses just like that infuriating Cow Tits.
Fear pondered, allowing the easily understood English pronunciations to pass through her mind without registering. She already knew the reason, of course. In order to prevent the auxiliary infiltrating the school from using that cursed tool, all they needed to do was have someone else win the contest.
One of their group. First place was called first place only because only one person could achieve it. However—
(That's right, I absolutely can't lose...!)
No matter who the opponents were. Of course, that included Cow Tits. Regrettably, Kirika was included as well.
In other words—She did not want to lose.
For what reason? Why? Who knows!? Fear muttered with displeasure in her mind. She had a feeling that she had been thinking about something during the flower viewing. When seeing Kirika take a grain of rice off Haruaki's face, she seemed to have pondered something. But this was definitely unrelated to that completely.
(No matter what, of course it's because getting first place feels great. Much better than second or third place.)
It's because of that! Fear decided on the reason. Indeed, rather than leaving it as fine for someone among her friends to take first place, she had to win first place. Without such determination, how could she possibly defeat the enemy? This was an operation where failure was absolutely forbidden.
There was no doubt concerning the legitimacy of her winning first place. Next, she had to consider her competitors.
Konoha. Fear had personally experienced a long time ago the formidable destructive power of that creature of hers that ought to be named the double meat beast. Based on the current situation, that gentle, polite, lovely and delicate appearance on first glance would confer a strong advantage, right?
Kirika. Rational and calm. Although inferior to Konoha's in size, her weapons were just right in size and shape. Kirika probably would not put them on public display, but sometimes there was greater allure in concealment by stimulating imagination. Having smart wits was also another of her weapons. What kind of battle plan was she going to come up with? Completely impossible to predict. Too scary.
Then there was the enemy, never seen before, infiltrating the school for the purpose of winning this school beauty pageant. The enemy's appearance was completely unknown but supposing that the operation was indeed underway as thought, surely she must be confident of victory. Surely she was certain of winning with a probability greater than half—
Surrounded by formidable foes. Fear decided she must think of a solution. Before she knew it, class was over, hence she left the noisy classroom and casually paced about in the corridor to organize her thoughts. At this moment—
"Dear heavens! Although this is simply the washroom route, a chance encounter has filled it with an explosive aura of romance! Fear-senpai! If you don't mind, let's listen to the dripping sounds of streams together!"
Fear chanced upon the tall first-year student who was always full of energy. Fear's brain circuits instantly connected. This girl had called Fear very cute. Of course, I know I'm very cute but I've almost never announced the fact loudly with unabashed confidence. In other words, this girl is the expert who understood my cuteness best. In that case—
Fear tiptoed while she walked. Putting her hands on Yume's shoulders, she asked with incomparably serious eyes:
"You—Are you able to draw out even more of my charm?"
Yume's face was dominated by surprise for only an instant, but immediately, she answered vigorously with a salute and said: "Of course, captain!"
After classes on Saturday, or in other words, after school, Fear and Yume decided to use the chemistry classroom (it happened to be unlocked) as their strategy meeting room to bring their heads together, skipping lunch in the process.
"Due to some things happening, I've decided to enter the school beauty pageant. In order not to alarm the enemy... Correction, in order to produce more of an impact as a pleasant surprise, I still haven't signed up yet. I intend to leave it to the last minute tomorrow."
"Humuhumuhu~! Senpai, you're finally willing to get serious!? I will support you with everything I've got!"
"Just now, I already asked briefly about the rundown of the beauty pageant. They said that the contest will allot a bit of time for each contestant to freely display their charm. The quality of the performance will greatly affect voting results. What do you think I should do?"
"Well... If it's someone in a club, they will probably wear their club uniform and perform club activities, right? Such as crouching starts for track and field etc."
Sitting facing each other on a large table, they tilted their heads together. Then Yume suddenly looked up.
"Fear-senpai, please smile. Confirm confirm!"
"Hmm? I don't get it but like this?"
Fear tried curling the corners of her lips, resulting in Yume showing an ecstatic expression, resting her face on her hands.
"Ahhh... I knew it, so explosively cute that it's like you're not from this world! Oh my, this is already good enough! Everyone's heart will be stolen by you, sure win!"
"That's not gonna happen no matter how I think about it, think more seriously, okay... Eh?"
"Wow! What are you two doing here...?"
A boy was standing at the entrance of the chemistry classroom. He seemed vaguely familiar or maybe not. After asking, they found out he was a member of the chemistry club. The room was unlocked just now due to club activities. In order to verify Yume's claims, Fear smiled tenderly again and said:
"I'm sorry but we're currently having a meeting. Please lend this place to us for now. Don't disturb us. Why don't you go for lunch first?"
Even Fear felt that this command was very unreasonable but inexplicably, it worked. The male student nodded repeatedly and turned around.
"...Hmm, perhaps a smile really is enough. No no no, carelessness must be avoided, I still have to think up a performance to secure first place."
"Yeah~ The more weapons the better!"
It was thinking time again. Fear took out the Rubik's cube to play, swiveling it and making clicking sounds. Seeing that, Yume also took out a Rubik's cube from her schoolbag and started turning it as well after laughing "ehehe." The duet of clicking noises sounded like elegant echoes, resounding in the classroom that was filled with pungent chemical odors.
"Ah! I've got it, what about using this?"
"The Rubik's cube! I've seen it before on television. Some people can solve all the faces rapidly to make the colors uniform. It should be okay even if you don't reach that level, but just by spending a couple minutes to solve every face, perhaps that's enough to advertise your wisdom and skilled hands, Fear-senpai, to further emphasize your cuteness!"
"Hmm, if I can manage that, this is a possibility. But I don't know how to solve it and there's not much time left till tomorrow."
"Maybe it'll turn out to be surprisingly easy after you try it yourself. I don't know the method either, so it's time to borrow the wisdom of others—The Search! Oh, got it!"
Yume handed the cellphone over. On the screen was displayed a webpage titled "Even a monkey can do it! How to solve a Rubik's cube!" The required task was divided into a number of steps with diagrams attached to explain.
"Looks like it's really quite a pain... But indeed, perhaps it's possible just by memorizing it and practicing to get accustomed. Okay—No matter what, it's better than doing nothing. I'll try it!"
"Great! But staring at a cellphone screen for a long time, it's too small and not very convenient, so let me write things down on a piece of paper. Wait for me, lemme find a pen and paper."
Yume searched her schoolbag to find stationery and a notebook. Fear watched her while feeling strongly how grateful she was to have a comrade like Yume. Clearly she only asked her out of the blue yet Yume was helping out so seriously. How fortunate. How fortunate it was to have a junior who loved and admired her so much.
But at this time, suddenly—A voice of doubt spoke out somewhere in her mind. After getting duped by the Knights Dominion, her skepticism had grown sensitive. Was this purely good fortune?
The first-year student who happened to like her, appearing here by coincidence. Was this too much of a coincidence? Supposing it was not by chance, then what? What if she had lied to get close to Fear for some purpose. If someone like that was present in the school, then there were only two possibilities.
"Hey Yume, you're standing on my side, right?"
"Of course! Uh~ So, I'll write down the steps on this piece of paper right away~"
Fear held up one hand to stop Yume's movements. Yume looked up in puzzlement.
"In that case, I want to do something first before that. You may find it annoying and I actually don't wanna do this, but... In the end, after noticing it, I must confirm. So, Yume—"
With seriousness coming straight from her heart, Fear stared directly into Yume's eyes and said curtly:
Haruaki was wandering in school after classes were over. Although it was after school, since it was currently Saturday afternoon and the welcoming festival was tomorrow, there were still many students remaining in school. Kirika and Konoha had already gone home while Fear could not be contacted. Haruaki was currently searching for her after she rushed out of the classroom as soon as class was over.
(Clearly the cellphone should come in handy at a time like this, but she's not picking up calls or replying to texts.)
Essentially, school rules clearly dictated that cellphones must be switched off during class time. Haruaki had no idea if Fear had followed the school rules obediently, forgotten them, or simply never noticed in the first place.
If she had already gone home, it would be fine. Or if she was in school preparing for tomorrow, that would be fine too, but the thought of Fear currently doing who knows what at who knows where filled Haruaki with unease to some extent. At this moment, he heard from a classmate (even though they rarely conversed) some worthwhile news. The chemistry classroom had apparently been taken over at the moment. The male classmate belonged to the chemistry club.
"What on earth is that girl doing...?"
Whether going home first or returning together, she ought to inform him first. Haruaki made his way to the chemistry classroom.
Next, just as he reached out and was about to open the chemistry classroom's main door—
"Ah~ Ah~! Th-This is too embarrassing~..."
"Just bear it briefly. If you cooperate obediently, this will be over quickly."
"E-Even if you... say that, Senpai... I-I don't swing that way... I just love your cuteness platonically huwawawa! I'd rather you not examine that spot! Your breath... Your breath is touching it!"
"Next is this side. There, then—Oh right. If possible, I hope you'll open it yourself—"
Haruaki was frozen on the spot. What was going on? What exactly was going on inside this classroom?
"Next.. I will climb up there. Here I go."
"Climb up here~? No way, I somehow have this explosively intense premonition that Fear-senpai's weight will cause something to awaken!"
"S-Sniff... Hmm~? Inhale~... Exhale~..."
"Are you smelling me, Senpai!? What's awakening could very well turn out to be something very peculiar! Ahya~!"
What was going on inside was definitely not for eyes to witness. Absolutely no mistake about that.
But... Was it really okay to turn around and head home? Was it really okay to abandon Yume to her fate?
No, there were times when a man had no choice but to act. That was now. Definitely now!
Haruaki committed his resolve to do what he must do, meanwhile preparing himself for all sorts of disasters to befall him henceforth. Then with a feeling of courageous self-sacrifice, he transmitted his willpower to his stiff hand, mustering all his strength to open the classroom door.
"Th-That's enough! Fear!"
The scene inside the classroom pretty much matched what he predicted. It was also a prediction that he had hoped was wrong.
Yume was currently lying on a large table in the chemistry classroom. As much as Haruaki tried his best not to look, he still saw it accidentally—in contrast her usual image, standing tall and imposing, her skin was pale, smooth and delicate, her cheeks were blushing red, her eyes were slightly tearful, and her breathing was rapid. The curves of her perfectly sized breasts, neither too large or too small, as well as the lines of her smooth and tender thighs were offering tantalizing glimpses—The only reason Haruaki did not see everything was due to Fear currently lying on top of her. Although Fear was in uniform, her skirt had hiked up so it was not appropriate to stare at her appearance either.
Fear had her dainty face near Yume's neck, sniffing hard repeatedly. Then she got up in a panic.
"Sh-Shameless brat? You really are too shameless! I'll curse you, I'll curse you to death! Get out!"
After delivering a flurry of violent blows, Fear proceeded to push Haruaki's back, shoving him out into the corridor. Behind him, he only heard Fear speaking towards the classroom:
"Okay, Yume, sorry about that! I've already finished confirming, you can put on your clothes now!"
"Huff... Huff... I might very well have seen a world I was not supposed to see..."
Next came the sound of the classroom door being shut. Now, Haruaki was finally able to look back at Fear.
"Confirm... What were you doing just now?"
"Because it bothered me. Then I'll give the conclusion directly. There's neither any weird tattoo on that girl's body nor any smell of a curse. I can't be a hundred percent certain on the latter... But if a tool with disguising abilities was used, I should be able to smell something, having sniffed so thoroughly already. So there shouldn't be a problem."
I see—Haruaki figured it out after hearing her explanation. Just now, Fear was simultaneously confirming two things at once. The presence of a Draconian tattoo somewhere on the body. The auxiliary from the Knights Dominion who had infiltrated the school by using a cursed tool to disguise herself. Fear was confirming if Yume might be one of the two.
"As much as I don't want to suspect her... But this was just in case. I had no choice."
"Yeah, I understand now."
"You're able to understand? So next... Despite knowing from the noises that something that cannot be seen was going on in the classroom, you barged in directly without knocking. Could you explain to me why that happened?"
"As much as I don't want to suspect you... But this was also just in case. I had no choice either."
"If the same excuse works for you, why can't it work for me!? You're being too unreasonable!"
Haruaki was not at fault. If he really were at fault, then both sides were at fault. He had deliberately quoted the same answer but the hidden message failed to reach her. For the next long while, Haruaki suffered repeated karate chops to the top of his head as punishment from Fear, exactly the kind of disaster for which he had braced himself in preparation earlier.
The steam was causing Kirika to narrow her eyes while she brought the hot caffelatte to her lips. The taste of richly fragrant Italian concentrated coffee and the gentle sweetness of milk were perfectly blended together, sliding down her throat.
"Phew~" Kirika could not help but exhale a breath that sounded like a sigh.
It would not be an exaggeration to call her own apartment's living room the most relaxing place on earth for her. The gentle rays of the sun on Saturday afternoon were streaming in through the slightly ajar window, mixed with a gentle, playful breeze blowing at the strands of her hair, bringing a pleasant coolness. The chirping of unknown birds could be heard vaguely in the distance, serving as background music for this quiet afternoon.
Kirika returned the steaming cup to the table then stopped spacing out towards the balcony and turned her gaze back into the room. An excessively quiet Saturday afternoon. Was having such a happy time really appropriate? Kirika smiled lightly then at the same time—
Her escape from reality reached a limit.
Slam! Kirika suddenly clutched her head and bumped her elbows against the table.
(W-W-W-W-What to do? What to do? What should I what should I do!? School beauty pageant? Absolutely ridiculous! What to do? But there's no choice but to go through with it. If all of us participate, the chances of winning will be higher indeed, so I can't back out now. But I'll need to do something while he's watching? No, this is precisely a rare opportunity for me to exhibit myself before him. But what should I do? Absolutely ridiculous. What to do what to do what to do...!?)
Kirika shook her head violently, twisting awkwardly in her seat, covering her face with her hands, kicking nonstop with her legs like a child. Sighing loudly, she giggled to herself for some reason and smacked her head against the table.
The vestiges of rationality, lingering in her mind, slowly allowed her brain to cool down and her thoughts gradually grew lucid.
It was better to do this, she wanted to do this, and she must do this—Hence, she will participate.
Ultimately, her decision was made a long time ago already.
Entering the school beauty pageant, winning first place. Before his eyes, defeating those girls who stood as formidable rivals. Miss Taishyuu High. Perhaps this could allow him to notice she was a "good woman." Ahhh, she understood very well. She knew that she was actually neither cute nor beautiful, but even so—
Having decided to enter, she must approach the battlefield by devoting all her strength. Refusing cowardice and underhandedness, she had no other path but this to walk.
(So... How should I fight...?)
Kirika pondered. What she needed to do before tomorrow. The plan. Presentation time. In front of all the students in the school. To be as cute and pretty as possible. Were there any hints? Kirika wondered about his past comments regarding clothing that suited her well. But due to «Gimestorante's Love», of course she could not wear anything too revealing. Him, him, him. When his heart raced in reaction to her, were other people going to feel the same about her?
Kirika suddenly got up from the table. She bit her lip and swallowed. Her face was stiff and pallid from tension and worry.
Even so, there was not a shred of hesitation in Kirika's face.
Having committed her resolve, she clenched her fist tightly while whispering:
"As reluctant as I am to use this... I have no choice but to move forward. I'll use that...!"
Konoha's twin braids swayed as she walked on the way home from school, rushing into the Dan-no-ura directly without changing out of her uniform. Soon after, a small hand reached out from inside the shop to post a notice on the front door, reading "Temporarily Closed for Today."
Several minutes later, in the living space on the second floor of the Dan-no-ura, roughly the size of six tatami mats—
"So in any case, this is the situation!"
"This is definitely no time to be working... Things have become unexpectedly interesting! Of course, Kono-san, I will gladly assist you! Oh my, I definitely can't ignore such a fun activity!"
After explaining to Kuroe the whole story, Konoha had enlisted her assistance. Supposing Fear had likewise visited to seek help, Kuroe would probably help her as well. But Konoha decided to put that aside for now. Getting bothered over it would not help anything.
"School beauty... School beauty huh... Kono-san, you possess such powerful weapons. The key is how to make use of them."
"I-Is that so? For no particular reason, I don't want to lose to anyone this time... No, naturally, it's because that Nirushaaki underclassman will be in great danger if we don't win first place. Apart from that, I have no other motives. So—Provided it's for winning, I am willing to accept any suggestion. Please feel free to speak your ideas."
Konoha was half buried under a kotatsu while speaking seriously. Losing was unacceptable. Losing this battle was absolutely unacceptable. Whether the outcome was heaven or hell—in other words, whether he was going to stop seeing her as family like an older sister, to start noticing her charm as a member of the opposite sex, or if she was going to be utterly defeated, deemed a loser in beauty as proven by the objective standards of the community? She absolutely did not want hell. Heaven would be best.
Especially right now, after that girl had started taking a stance to attack, she further refused to lose...!
Kuroe suddenly narrowed her eyes and asked:
"Are you intending to use that weapon?"
Konoha narrowed her eyes in turn and replied:
"How far will you go?"
"Only as far as necessary."
"Your weapon is too powerful. I worry that it'll become overkill."
"Still better than not enough."
"I see." Kuroe nodded. Despite clearly not wearing glasses, she performed a glasses lifting motion.
"Since you have such powerful resolve, I will bring out everything I've got to help you win first place, Kono-san. Do know that my crash course is very harsh, forsooth!"
Although in a state of confusion, Konoha still answered loudly and clearly with her back straight. Kuroe nodded with satisfaction.
"Oh, but I guess I'd better contact the laundry shopkeeper. After all, it's tomorrow and preparations might take some time. So, during this time, I will start with basic knowledge to train you well, Kono-san—"
Gufufu—Emitting bone-chilling, evil laughter, Kuroe made a phone call to someone while exuding a dangerous aura from all over her body. What result would be brought by Kuroe's heavy-handed assistance? No one could know. Was this really okay? A voice whispered somewhere in Konoha's mind.
Perhaps this is too impetuous—But Konoha disagreed.
At most, maybe just a little.
A day passed within the blink of an eye. Sunday officially arrived. It was the day of the welcoming festival.
Last night, Fear had stayed cooped up in her room apart from having dinner and taking a bath. Finally returning home in the morning, Konoha had apparently spent the entire night with Kuroe at the Dan-no-ura. Hence, Haruaki did not quite know what the two of them had been doing. Only on the way to school—Fear was the same as usual while Konoha was carrying a large bag of something on her back—Haruaki could see exhaustion, nervousness and some sense of accomplishment. The two of them looked like they probably had some degree of confidence in victory.
Along the way to school, they met Kirika. Her expression was very similar to Fear and Konoha's but with some additional feelings that they lacked. Resignation and enlightenment. Haruaki could not tell if she was confident of victory.
Although it was Sunday, the welcoming festival was considered an official school event, hence attendance was still taken during morning homeroom. But after that, it was free time. In other words, they were free to do whatever they wanted until the school beauty pageant in the afternoon. Once the beauty pageant ended, the welcoming festival would come to a close and the students were going to disperse. In other words, only the school beauty pageant at the end was compulsory for all students as part of the finale event.
"...Let's have a look around? But if any of you want to do any last minute tuning, it's fine too."
"Struggling would be futile at this point. I'm also curious about what activities are held during the welcoming festival, so let's go."
Konoha and Kirika also expressed agreement. Hence, Haruaki's group began to stroll through the festival. Stalls were lined up in the courtyard and front yard, giving off the aroma of flour and grilled meat. Naturally, these things served as the materials to heal Fear's fatigue while at the same time serving to lighten the weight of Haruaki's wallet. But just as Fear was blissfully eating a skewer of grilled chicken while walking, she suddenly spotted the swimming club's crepe stand ahead. This resulted in a group of girls dressed in spotted aprons rapidly approaching and saying: "She's appeared! The savior to bring in new club members! You must be willing to help us again!" Fear frantically fled, so the overall change in fatigue level might have summed up to zero in the end.
Inside the school building, the classrooms were assigned and lent to clubs and other groups who had applied for them. The judo club's ground skills massage, the tennis club's cafe, the track and field club's haunted house... Although they had nothing to do with regular club activities, at least they served to promote the clubs' names among the first-year students' awareness. In contrast, the cultural-oriented clubs were all holding exhibitions or making a display of their everyday results, trying to make themselves appealing in a more modest manner.
Activities were being held by sports clubs in the sports ground and the gym throughout the schedule. The kendo club's red-white competition, the cheerleading club's glamorous cheerleading performance, and in contrast, the cheering club's cheering performance that was dominated by the smell of sweat. The volleyball club was holding a challenge where participants had to use a serve to strike an empty can at the corner of the court. Meanwhile, there were also projects where visiting first-year students could participate and win food coupons as presents after reaching a certain number of points. There was no lack of variety.
The school was filled with hustle and bustle. Students were shouting to publicize their clubs' appeal and welcome new members. Others were walking around with their heads held high, dressed in club uniforms, totally unrelated mascot costumes, or sandwiched between advertising panels.
Watching this chaotic scenery from afar, Fear suddenly stopped walking and murmured:
"That girl—she's probably somewhere in there too."
Without any thinking required, Haruaki's group knew whom Fear was referring to. A certain person wishing to become an ordinary high school student. A certain person they had yet to meet so far. A certain someone they wanted to protect.
Konoha and Kirika smiled gently.
"Yes. Right now, she is probably touring around with friends."
"Perhaps frantically refusing the forceful invitations of various clubs."
"Fufu. But one thing I can be certain is—"
Fear opened her brand new cellphone to check the time.
"Maybe there's no way for us to see her, but she can surely see us. Hey—I didn't even realize it's noon already, time for lunch."
The bell rang and the public announcement system reminded all students to gather with their valuables. This announcement was like a warning bell since there was still a long period of preparation time before the actual start of the event. The students did not make haste particularly, either extinguishing the fires at cooking stalls or changing their clothing before heading over to the gym in twos and threes.
The students sat down side by side as though in a full school assembly. The gym was extremely densely packed.
Haruaki turned his head quietly. A member of the executive committee was moving the large notice board seen yesterday to the side of the stage. Three girls were walking towards the executive committee member: one with silver hair, one with braids and glasses, and the last one had a ponytail. Puffing her chest out arrogantly, Fear declared something on the trio's behalf. The executive committee member nodded profusely after making a surprised look, then directed his teammates to create name plates for the new contestants—
Haruaki proceeded to hear nearby students whispering to one another.
"Those three are entering too!? So surprising...! Should I tell the betting pool to update?"
"Say, who should I pick? Those three are all champion class. But I guess I'll vote for Cubrick-san. She's really so cute. Petite, pale white skin and lovely glittering hair."
"I come from a certain planet. Don't ask me which one, it's totally obvious!"
"...I really want to enjoy a class rep's scolding. Can you guys understand this noble wish of mine...?"
Listening to the conversations of unfamiliar students, Haruaki felt strangely uncomfortable. He watched Fear, Konoha and Kirika head over to the side of the stage under the executive committee member's instructions. Just at this moment—
"Do you get it now? In others' eyes, Haru, the girls around you enjoy substantial popularity. I think you should feel more grateful about that. Of course, that includes me as well."
Haruaki turned his head. One could almost hear a creaking sound. This was neither imagination nor hallucination. He forcefully suppressed the urge to scream.
"Hey Kuroe, this has really become your bad habit...!"
"Of course I have to visit if there's a festival. Also as Kono-san's strategist, I must see the results!"
Unlike the cultural festival, the welcoming festival was not opened to the public, but having said that, Kuroe could not be stopped either. At least I hope the teachers don't find out... Just as Haruaki thought that, Kuroe suddenly pulled his hand forcefully and walked. Along the way, they met the familiar Taizou and Kuroe said to him in a lively tone of voice: "Haru is going to help out. "Please let them know when they're doing roll call~" Taizou showed a face of shock for an instant after seeing Kuroe, but only in times like these was he quick on the uptake, making a thumbs up gesture.
"H-Help out? But the beauty pageant is all girls, right? There's nothing I can help out with..."
"Kono-san has already told me the contest rules. Some of the clubs have relatively low numbers even after including boys and girls, so boys are also allowed to help~ But of course, the changing room is a separate matter."
Pulling Haruaki, Kuroe approached the stage step by step. In order to surround the stage's side entrance, a fairly wide space had been created using partitioning screens. Kuroe did not stop walking and invaded the space directly.
"Nwoh! Kuroe! And... the shameless brat... What are you doing here!?"
"I'm here to help Kono-san while Haru apparently wants a spot in the special seating area to have a good look at everyone, all beautifully dressed up~"
"Uh, not really, I'm actually fine with sitting anywhere, she's the one who dragged me here..."
Saying that, Haruaki took a discreet glance around his surroundings. Just as Kuroe said, he quickly spotted signs of other male students to his instant relief. Probably the president of something like the geographical science club, a male student was zealously instructing the acting skills of a girl who was carrying a globe under her arm. There were several foldable chairs and long tables at the scene. If anything, this could be considered a secondary standby area where boys were allowed to enter. The main standby area, where girls changed and boys were forbidden, was located on the side of the stage that could only be reached by passing through here first.
"Special seating area huh... After all, it's a rare chance and I feel like both wanting and not wanting him to watch from close range..."
"Agreed. No, but this is only a trivial matter in the grand scheme of things. Don't think and discard all hesitation...!"
Konoha and Kirika looked especially strange. In comparison, Fear seemed the same as usual.
"Hmm, after all, the population density is very high outside, they're packed like sardines. It's not like I can't understand the wish to seek refuge here. Besides, there are others who already came here first for shelter."
Fear's gaze swirled in a circle then turned to the side.
"Why must I get all sweaty for the sake of such an inane activity? I am simply exercising a natural privilege that goes without saying. Come, Sovereignty."
"Uh... Do your best, everyone! Although I can't do anything, I'll cheer for you all!"
"Hear that? Seriously, her cheering is so wonderful that it would be a shame to waste on you people. This child's cheering will assist you more perfectly than anything else. In other words, I am the assistant's assistant who is helping her. I believe that my presence here is far more legitimate than the depraved voyeuristic human over there. You probably came here only because you derive arousal from the mere act of approaching the girls' changing area. May I trouble you to instantly switch places with the volleyballs hanging on the roof over there, to be forgotten until transformed into a dessicated human by the sun, human?"
Shiraho was sitting at a table, resting her jaw against her hand in boredom. On the other hand, Sovereignty was dressed as a maid as usual. To be honest, these two's presence was totally irrelevant. Furthermore, they were not the only two who responded to Fear's question.
"Uh~ That's right, this is what's going on. Like Shiraho-san, I'm the assistant to her role as assistant. And this girl here is... The bonus accessory that comes with the assistant's assistant...?"
"I am truly here only for assisting Fear-senpai! As her strategist, I am the assistant who'll help bring out her explosively peerless talents! Of course, I believe that Fear-senpai will win for sure and I'll put all my effort into cheering for you!"
"Please allow me to say in fear and trepidation, calling me an accessory is so mean~ Isuzu will cheer for everyone as well~"
Present were also Chihaya, Yume and the shrine maiden Isuzu. Haruaki had already heard about Yume becoming Fear's strategist, but Chihaya's reason for being here... Presumably seeking refuge, of the slacking off variety. Haruaki strongly suspected her delinquent senior as a source of bad influence. As a janitor, it was also very strange for Isuzu to be here. When her gaze met with Haruaki's, she even smiled profoundly at him. This was very mysterious too.
At this time, the bell rang in the gym again to signal the time for roll call.
"Okay, it's almost time to begin—an open battle for victory, fair and square! Same for you, Himenon! Don't look for excuses and say that people nominated you against your will. Now that you've entered, you have to aim for the top spot!"
"Ah, sure... Can't be helped, I will do my best. I won't lose to your Fear-senpai, Yumecchi!"
Yume was currently talking to a first-year girl, apparently acquainted with each other. Since the school beauty contest was basically used by clubs intending to recruit new members, most of the participants were upperclassmen although first-years were not barred from entering either. Probably like what Yume mentioned, that girl only entered at the urging of her friends. Naturally, the girl possessed a cute face that made it perfectly understandable why her classmates would urge her to participate. Perhaps entering under similar conditions, there were a number of first-year girls as well.
"Yume is right... It's about to begin."
Fear murmured while looking around the standby area. Her expression was fully serious. No, calling it serious was not enough. She was glaring offensively at everyone around her as though her enemies were standing right before her eyes.
"If the news brought by those two Draconians is true, the enemy infiltrating the school is right here, but it's still unknown how she intends to secure victory."
"The deadline for signing up... extends all the way to the end of the contestants' personal performances, until the speech time begins. So it's still possible to enter although it would be excessively conspicuous. Hence, it's more likely that the enemy is already among these people here."
Kirika and Konoha were also whispering quietly. Just as Kirika pointed out, the MissCon rundown first gave each contestant a time for a personal performance to exhibit their appeal, then once everyone was done, all the contestants went on stage together then gave speeches in turn to express a few remarks. Kuroe began to murmur discreetly in Haruaki's ear.
"Haru, the enemy probably won't slip up, but this is our job. Observe very carefully and don't miss anything suspicious."
"Got it." Haruaki nodded nervously. What he was able to do—Kuroe was right, that would be to find the enemy that was (possibly) hidden in this group of girls.
Furthermore—He had to watch Fear and the girls battle to the very end.
In any case, he must not turn his gaze away.
Whether this was unbelievably easy or harder than one could imagine, that remained to be seen.
"Ah, sure... Can't be helped, I will do my best. I won't lose to your Fear-senpai, Yumecchi!"
Kagidou Himeno—Laurica "Trash" Shoegazer delivered her line with perfect acting skills. However, perfection was only limited to the surface. Her mind was currently filled with a chaotic vortex of thoughts.
Can't be helped? No, this was her mission. The path for her to approach that person.
Won't lose? No, she must win. Otherwise, «Battle Demon» Nirushaaki could not be drawn out. Otherwise, the Wathe handed to her by the Dominion Lord for this mission—«Râmnicuešč Village Rulebook»—could not activate.
This Wathe was the old and worn book currently kept in her schoolbag. She had heard of its origins. A certain village chief in Eastern Europe had suspected his wife of infidelity. As his suspicions ate at him repeatedly, he finally went mad. Clearly he was the village chief, clearly the greatest person in the village, so why did his wife betray him? Who was it? During this time, his term concluded and the election for the next term began. Superficially, he played the part of an outstanding village chief, maintaining a harmonious family, and was hence re-elected. Then having gone mad, he decided to write, in fresh blood on the covenant where the village rules were recorded, the words "the winner of the election has the right to know all the villagers' secrets." Thus after his re-election, he began tracing all of his wife's movements and investigated the secrets of everyone who came into contact with her. After finding all the villagers' secrets, he reached an inevitable conclusion regarding what course of action he ought to take.
Those who had touched his wife, those who had spoken to his wife, those who had made eye contact with his wife, those who had breathed the same air as his wife—In order to prevent them from contacting his wife ever again, he sentenced them all to the punishment of blood and burial.
As a result, this set of village rules was cursed. Although the Knights Dominion destroyed Wathes as their main goal, temporary reprieve was sometimes granted to Wathes with unique properties like this one. Another reason why this Wathe was kept instead of destroyed was due to the peculiarity of its cursed ability and activation conditions. The user who obtained victory in a vote within a certain domain would be able to learn the losers' secrets.
The user was Laurica. The vote was this school beauty pageant. Once she won, in that very instant, all the secrets of the losers—every girl who was eligible to participate—were supposed to flow into her mind. Among them, surely the word "Draconian" must appear. Someone surely possessed this secret.
(I... am only standing here in order to win...!)
She had made full preparations beforehand to guide things towards this end result.
She had searched for a candidate like Kagidou Himeno who not only possessed a high level of beauty but also social relationships that would not arouse suspicions even after Laurica used «Rawhide FCD» to become her. After investigating Kagidou Himeno's voice, manner of speaking, personality, interests and detailed habits, Laurica memorized all of it and copied them exactly.
Then using Kagidou Himeno's identity, she improved her standing among first-year students whom she could make contact with in a natural manner. Due to the apparent scarcity of first-years entering the school beauty pageant, to avoid attracting too much attention, she also manipulated social relationships indirectly to make a few first-years participate and serve as distractions.
In the end, she surmised that one of the reasons why she was selected specially for this mission was due to the "trash" she possessed—this particular Wathe bearing both advantages and drawbacks. In that sense, she was very fortunate. For the sake of her future, she decided to grit her teeth and endure, because there was finally value in owning this one Wathe, rotten, evil and disgusting.
This Wathe was neither the tranquilizing needle «Swine-Hugging Love» that that only worked on animals apart from humans, nor the «Gruppen Healing Cloth» that could heal incised wounds by causing fractures somewhere on the body in exchange, nor the «Fork of Epicure» that made all kinds of bizarre meat taste delicious whether it was human flesh or rotting meat regardless, but conversely made all other food tasteless, nor «Bartolomey Oblivion» that could erase memories from thirty minutes ago at most. Rather, it was Countess Gritze's specially prepared aphrodisiac, the «Perfume of Mating Season».
This was a perfume that was able to raise affection levels in the opposite sex. Laurica had used it a number of times before to complete missions requiring seduction. The problem was that the perfume was consumed every time, thus resulting in a limit on the number of uses. Due to the vastness of the gym space, affecting everyone with the perfume would probably require using all of the perfume. However, once this mission succeeded, she should be able to open up the path towards becoming a proper knight, so Laurica believed it was worth the costs.
By using that perfume, which would be diluted to some extent due to the vast space, virtually all the male students present should be charmed enough to write down her name on the ballot paper. In conjunction with the social relationships she had cultivated in a down-to-earth manner, the majority of first-year girls would also vote for her.
After such meticulous preparations, there was no reason for failure at all. Definitely, absolutely, assuredly—None.
(Fear-in-Cube, Demon Blade Muramasa, Yamimagari Pakuaki's sister, I never expected them to participate as well...)
Had the goal been discovered? Did those girls enter the contest because they learned about the Wathe, «Râmnicuešč Village Rulebook»? This possibility seemed quite likely. Although they probably did not know everything, at least they already caught on to the fact that winning the school beauty pageant would make it possible to learn Nirushaaki's true identity. Those girls intended to take first place for themselves in order to prevent this from happening.
But calm down—Laurica whispered to herself.
Do you have any reason for losing? Impossible.
The perfume's power could be considered a trump card. Some variation was inevitable, but combining all the boys with the first-year girls, the votes should pretty much tally more than half. It might be possible for the opposing side to discover her during the instant when she used the perfume Wathe, but so long as she evaded capture, there would be no problem. Laurica was going to delay until the last second to use it, then hide somewhere and wait for the voting to finish.
She had neither any reason to meet defeat nor any intention to lose. In other words, she was not going to lose.
Carefully without letting anyone see her, Laurica clenched her fist.
Accompanied by pain in her lower abdomen, Laurica recalled the face of her idol while vowing firmly in her mind.
(Lilyhowell-sama... Please believe in me and wait patiently. I will definitely win!)
But no, this was too difficult.
After serious consideration, Lilyhowell Kilmister reached a conclusion. She believed that Laurica was facing too high a risk. Regardless of Laurica's capability. Lilyhowell disliked uncertainty. Suppose something unexpected caused the plan to fail, then the situation might be unsalvageable.
But confirming once again would not be meaningless.
"Is this the truth?"
'—If you have any doubts, just go there and see for yourself. You can also phone the one who infiltrated the school.'
"I am not doubting but confirming. Fear-in-Cube's faction has noticed and entered the contest. Is that correct?"
The owner of the voice on the telephone—the "collaborator" in this operation—did not show any signs of hesitation. Although produced through a voice changer, the mechanical voice did not seem to be lying.
Lilyhowell was using the speaker phone to allow others nearby to hear the person's voice. Neto was occupying the sofa selfishly, laughing loudly:
"Heehaha! People have appeared to get in our way!? Yeah, I never believed that such a boring plan could have gone smoothly from start to finish!"
"This is merely a possible hindrance and does not equate to failure yet."
"But that means failure is possible later, right? Heehaw!"
He was right. That was the same conclusion Lilyhowell had reached after much consideration.
"—Indeed. Perhaps victory cannot be assured. But we of the 87th Knight Squad «Lilyhowell Neto» have no need of any victory except assured victory."
"After all, everything is pointless if we fail. Heehaha!"
'...Do you have any solution?'
Lilyhowell did not trust the other side even as a collaborator. Having confirmed a number of times, for the moment she could conclude that the other side "possessed information of a highly trustworthy nature and that there should not be any risk in making use of that information at the current stage." Regarding the collaborator, all they knew was that this person bore a grudge against Nirushaaki just like the Knights Dominion. Hence, Lilyhowell's answer was naturally—
"Yes. As much as I am reluctant to employ it. However, I cannot tell you what it is."
"Is that so?'
The collaborator gave up on the answer so readily that Lilyhowell suddenly felt suspicious. Perhaps this person already knew what they were planning to do. Nevertheless, what needed to be done could not be changed.
"Have you said everything? In that case, we must begin the operation at once. Thank you for the information you provided."
'Same here. Well then—I look forward to your success. May Nirushaaki get what she deserves.'
The line was cut with a beep. Lilyhowell put down the home telephone's handset and sighed. After hearing that name from the handset, Neto's face suddenly lost all expression and started exuding the sharp and cruel aura as the avenger. But this time, it only manifested outwardly for an instant.
"So not funny at all... No, this is definitely funny, it's killing me with laughter! Heeheehahaha! Squad Leader, oh Squad Leader! Now that Fear-in-Cube's faction is out to meddle with us, we can't leave the entire mission to "Trash" alone, so what can we do? We're gonna use the method that you dislike?"
Neto was asking rhetorically. Lilyhowell buried her displeasure into the depths of her heart.
"—I will use what was prepared for emergencies. It has apparently been delivered safely from our home country. In other words, I shall rely on that thing and you, Neto."
"Heehahaha! It's that butthole gas, right!? That thing called the disabling gas, right?"
"That is correct."
Correct in name—She added in her mind. That type of gas was able to cause rapid unconsciousness but also left behind serious aftereffects and other problems. This gas was once used to deal with a large-scale terrorist act. Among the hostages, numbering over nine hundred, roughly one tenth of them died as a result.
"Heehaha! In other words, first we'll fill that gym with gas to put all those bastard butthole students to sleep, then I shall use the opportunity to load my gun with this photo of 'pain' caused by that butthole bitch a long time ago then stab every one of these students. Because I have the kind of body that feels extreme pleasure when returning pain to the one who inflicted the original wound, I'll surely orgasm once I stab the bitch who may be lying down among the fainted students! Once I find her, I can make her butthole climax directly! Heehaw~!"
Lilyhowell disliked it. She extremely disliked it.
The gas risked leaving aftereffects or even causing death. In order to find the enemy, Neto had to hurt people with the bayonet as well. She originally wanted to remind Neto to avoid vitals as much as possible, but whether Neto would listen would depend on his mood at the time. She imagined Neto going "Oops, my hand slipped, heehaha!" while stabbing people in the face, breasts or genitals. He was the kind of man who derived pleasure from such acts.
Lilyhowell absolutely believed that this was not the right path. However—
(I am neither a member of the clergy nor a paladin.)
She was just a simple knight. A knight who wished to destroy Wathes. Everyone was mad and most likely, she was mad too. She was self-aware. And this self-awareness of hers was very likely akin to madness as well.
Indeed. At least she wished for herself—to be mad in an orthodox manner.
Hence she asked herself. Was this right?
Both right and wrong at the same time.
The road ahead carried the both the significance of avenging her fallen comrades and ultimately, the significance of destroying contemptible Wathes.
Since the direction she ought to follow was not wrong, she must proceed with it. Even if ordinary people might be harmed. But currently, there was no time to turn back and find a new path.
"Order all members to assemble. Prepare yourself as well."
"Understood. Heehaha~ Looks like this will turn in a delightful butthole festival!"
While walking to her room (or rather, the bedroom serving as her room in the Kagidou house), Lilyhowell saw Neto jump up from the sofa from the corner of her eye. While walking to her room, she had already started unbuttoning her shirt. Even she found this such behavior too impatient, but it could not be helped.
Because as the squad leader, it would be utterly unsightly to arrive late due to spending too much time putting on formal attire.
"—May Nirushaaki get what she deserves."
Closing her cellphone, she heard a voice from behind.
"I knew it, I still can't get motivated. This is going in a far too roundabout manner."
"It can't be helped. There's no point if this incident concludes during the school beauty pageant. Whether the «Nest Parasitoid» plan... Or the other plan that cannot be opposed due to orders to assist coming from the higher-ups."
Looking back at Fourteen, Ontenzaki Satsuko spoke with a slightly wry smile.
It was time for the beauty pageant contestants to begin their performances. Haruaki was also watching from the side. Even when sitting in the secondary standby area that was screened off using partitions, he could still see what was happening on stage. The girl holding the globe to imitate a celebrity comedian under the watchful gaze of the boy who seemed to be the club president (the audience reacted with abundant laughter); a shy and introverted representative from an arts club used a barely audible voice to recite Goethe poetry (obtaining some slight support from the audience); a swimming club member in a swimsuit, simulating swimming in the air (the other contestants yelled: "So superficial!"); then there was the brawny judo club girl dressed in a training uniform, shouting vigorously while exhibiting break-fall movements (seeking victory through impact?). Furthermore—
"Two more then it's my turn... Okay, I'm going!"
Fear exhaled hard through her nostrils and glanced at Haruaki.
"I worked so hard on practicing so I forbid you to miss anything. Open your eyes wide and watch carefully!"
"Ah... Yeah. I have no idea what you're going to do, but good luck."
"Fear-senpai, do your best~! If you show everyone the results of your training, there's definitely no problem!"
Under the gaze of the vigorously waving Yume, Fear walked over to the side of the stage. Soon after—
"Okay, thank you for your performance! Up next is... The one who only signed up just before the contest started, the little silver angel from overseas, belonging to no club, Fear Cubrick-san—!"
Hearing the calls of the male student serving as the host, Fear strode her way to the center of the stage, looking a bit nervous. The host tilted the microphone towards Fear and asked: "What kind of performance have you prepared?" Fear nodded vigorously once and took out the usual cube from her pocket.
"I will solve this Rubik's cube."
"Ohoh? But is it really okay? You've only got three minutes."
Fear smiled proudly and said:
"—More than enough. The problem is actually what am I going to do with the excess time."
Ohoh~ The audience clamored as a result of her boastful words. Haruaki whispered in Yume's ear:
"She's been practicing that continually since yesterday? Can she really finish in three minutes?"
"On average, it usually takes her roughly two minutes and thirty seconds to solve. Of course it can't compare with world records but that's still very amazing, right?"
"Seriously? That's really amazing... I hope she won't exceed the time limit because of nervousness. When the three minutes pass and she's still not finished, it'll be bad if she refuses to leave the stage."
"We can only trust in Fear-senpai."
With both hands, Yume clutched the toy cube she had bought on her own to form a pair with Fear's, as though treating it like a talisman.
"So—" The host raised his arm high up in the air. Fear lightly lifted the Rubik's cube before her chest.
Originally filled with noise, the gym gradually quieted down and returned to silence.
In that instant, Haruaki felt as though time had stopped.
He was unable to shift his eyes away from Fear who was standing on the stage. Probably due to concentrating hard, her face was expressionless to the point of exuding a sense of mystery. Gazing at the shape in her hands that resembled her form, her eyes transcended the mundane world and displayed no wavering at all. The lighting overhead caused her hair to shine and sparkle as though her existence itself were an untouchable silver statue.
She looked extremely beautiful and breathtaking—
The host's hand swung down. Haruaki also regained his senses. At the same time, Fear began to swivel the cube. This was not the aimless swiveling she used to partake to dispel boredom. Fear's eyes could already picture the cube's solved form. First she completed one face. Then rotating or swiveling the Rubik's cube, the colors gradually grew uniform—
Sweat appeared on Fear's brow. "Crap." Yume muttered softly. Was nervousness interfering with Fear's movements? "It's already two minutes." The host announced. Fear anxiously turned the cube over. Calm down, Haruaki clenched his fist and prayed. Two minutes and twenty seconds... Thirty seconds—Still not done yet. Forty seconds—Just like magic, the cube in Fear's hands could be seen with the majority of its colors in place. Finally with twist and a turn, she clutched the Rubik's cube.
Just as the host's countdown reached two minutes and fifty seconds, Fear finished the Rubik's cube.
Placing the toy cube on her palm, Fear presented it forward. As the audience, the students spent some time to confirm and comprehend. However, Fear seemed to have mistaken the audience's delay as time remaining from the three minute limit. Nunu? For an instant, her gaze moved left and right in confusion, then she made her best possible performance within the remaining ten seconds—
Fear made a perfectly flawless smile that was very much in her style.
Hence, ten seconds later—The host shouted: "Three minutes! That was splendid, achieved perfectly!" However, his voice was almost drowned out by the cheering and applause filling up the gym.
"Yes! That's the smile, Fear-senpai! I knew that this ultimate secret weapon had to be brought out in the end! Perhaps this proves that I was right in saying this was enough at the start!"
Clutching her own Rubik's cube, Yume made a victory pose emotionally. Kuroe and Sovereignty also high-fived each other and acted very happy. On the other hand—
"I-It's nothing amazing. Yes, nothing at all. But why is the cheering so loud...!?"
"Ooh. Other people's affairs are none of my business. I just have to fight to the best of my ability. But honestly, my stomach is beginning to ache. Is it my illusion? Absolutely ridiculous..."
Two people were each murmuring in gloom while shaking their head.
Soon after, Fear returned to the secondary standby area. Sovereignty and Yume rushed forward to hug her from both sides. Meanwhile, Fear was glaring viciously at Haruaki for some reason.
"G-Good job. It's really amazing. You must have spent a lot of time practicing. I'm very impressed and also amazed."
He answered sincerely from the heart.
To be honest, Fear's performance was more modest and simple than the girls from any of the clubs. Neither wearing striking outfits nor making glamorous movements. However, because of that—
The existence of Fear as a girl, combined with certain dazzling traits she possessed, seemed especially genuine.
Hence, Haruaki believed this was excellent. Fear did not need anything extra. Simply performing that on stage was enough. As her strategist, Yume also understood this, right? If that were the case, she really lived up to her part as the junior who worshiped Fear.
Probably sensing that his praise came from the heart, Fear blushed and turned her face away.
"H-Hmph! Something on that level is achievable with a just a bit of practice. If I practice even more, I'll immediately rewrite the world record. But I don't want to do that expressly. Because as good as it is to be an amazing woman, too amazing a woman would make people back off. I don't really get it but that's the way it is."
Haruaki wondered: What kind of way to hide embarrassment is this? But now it was time to reward Fear for finishing the first task, hence he brought a foldable chair for her to sit on. As though saying "thanks," Fear plopped herself down on the seat.
"Phew~ Hmm, but I think the mood was roused quite intensely. This could very well win first place! No, it'll surely win! Fufufu!"
"Good job~! Look at that charming intellect and magnificently nimble fingers! Senpai, you've completed a performance that no one can imitate. Too perfect! I believe I can already address you as Your Majesty the Queen!"
Haruaki told himself again that it was currently time to reward Fear for her efforts first. Hence, he did not tactlessly remind them that there was still the speech coming up next.
He really did not believe that Fear and Yume, this cheerful, careless and energetic pair, would be attentive enough to prepare a plan for the speech segment.
She was currently wrapped in a cape. This attire would probably turn many heads in this country. But since what lay beneath would attract even more attention, wearing a cape was the only choice.
In an empty spot that was born in this town by chance, this was a deserted forest behind a graveyard.
A total of fifteen knights were waiting for her to speak.
Including Neto, almost everyone was dressed in clothing that would not stand out too much in this country. She was the only one in a cape. Nevertheless, she believed this was fine. Dressing conspicuously meant that the enemy would likely target her when a situation arose. Even though it was just her own one-sided thinking, she believed this was also one of the duties a squad leader ought to fulfill.
Lilyhowell swept her gaze over her subordinates.
"Command number one—Recall the names of friends, recall their faces, recall the joy you had partaken in destroying Wathes together. Recall the tears you have shed together in the past. Also, recall their dying screams and the names carved upon their tombstones."
With every word she spoke, the subordinates' expressions gradually changed. Even Neto was muttering: "Of course, it's not funny at all..." His presence felt as keen and refined as a sharpened blade. Their eyes were furnaces while her words were their firewood. The air burned coldly while their gazes were freezing hot.
"Command number two—Recall the enemy who caused all this, recall her foolishness in holding tightly to Wathes in pursuit of greater strength, and recall the legitimate punishment that needs to be administered to that person."
This was necessary preparation for what was needed to be done next. This was for the sake of the ugly and sweet revenge that was imminent, a ritual to brand their bodies and minds. Now, now, the time for accomplishing the mission was right now.
Naturally, the final words to declare an end to this ritual were—
"That is all. 87th Knights Squadron «Lilyhowell Neto»—Begin the assault!"
"C-Class Rep, are you okay?"
"No problem. I am... going..."
Kirika could feel her stomach convulsing in pain, but still she walked over to the standby area next to the stage. This could be called the true standby area like in a drama club's public performance. Since boys were forbidden from entering, several girls were changing into the tennis wear or rhythmic gymnastic leotards of their respective clubs without worrying. Naturally, Kirika could not wear anything too sensational. Too risky.
Hence... At least in terms of what she was able—
(Only... this. Indeed... There's only... this...!)
She wanted to win, not losing to anyone. Whether Fear or Konoha. Or anyone else.
In front of him, she wanted to declare—Ueno Kirika is right here!
Hence, Kirika mustered all her willpower, abandoning the final vestiges of shame lingering in her heart—
Slowly, she fished out that object from her schoolbag.
Then Haruaki saw it.
The instant she appeared on stage, Kirika's performance was already 80% complete.
"Uh... Here is Ueno... Kirika... -san... Umm, uh, let's not bother with the trivial things! Okay, please start your performance, contestant! Okay, let's start!"
The host spoke with a little resignation, handing the microphone over to Kirika.
Kirika's face was flaming red as though on fire.
Her body kept trembling while she lifted one hand at the same time—
Then in a barely audible voice, she spoke the word that best matched the cat ears worn on her head.
Rooted to the spot, Haruaki froze while watching this scene.
Probably everyone in the gym felt the same way.
In the next instant, Kirika rapidly dashed off the stage to escape, giving up on the remainder of the performance time.
Noisy chattering... Feeling like water gradually seeping into the ground, ripples began spreading in the gym. That Ueno-san... Class Rep... How refreshing. So surprising. But that's really something. So very cute too—The people commenting were almost all second-year students acquainted with Kirika, but purely due to the massive gap in contrast with her usual straitlaced demeanor, there were quite a few first-years and third-years praising her as well.
"Muumuu. Somehow it feels like something similar happened before... Hmm? Hey, why are you hiding? Everyone is reacting positively to you. Don't be shy, hold your head high and stick out your chest openly!"
"Ah... H-Hold on, Fear-kun, I... haven't prepared myself mentally yet... Hold on...!"
Fear was observant enough to spot Kirika hiding behind the door to the standby area by the stage and dragged her out by force. Naturally, the cat ears were already gone from Kirika's head.
Still blushing to her ears, Kirika groaned while glancing awkwardly towards Haruaki. Affected by her, Haruaki also gradually recalled certain embarrassing memories.
There was one time when Kirika visited their house. Konoha and Kuroe were absent at the time with only Fear at home. Then a strange package arrived in the mail, containing something similar to what Kirika was wearing just now—
"Ooh... Wahhhhhhh! Y-Yachi! Come over here!"
Without warning, Kirika dragged Haruaki to a corner of the standby area. Placing her arms across the sides of his cheeks with her palms against the walls, she prevented him from escaping the corner as though mugging or blackmailing him. The simple question occupying Haruaki's mind slipped out of his mouth:
"U-Umm... Class Rep, could it be that you actually remember what happened that time—"
"Which time is that time!? Why don't you try explaining it clearly, absolutely ridiculous...!"
Haruaki continued to recall the situation back then. Kirika had been controlled by a set of cursed cat ears. She had sat on his lap, or squeezed into a narrow space with him or hugged him or licked him. No no, are these things supposed to be recalled? If Kirika could still remember and now she was wearing cat ears, what did that imply? So she did not remember after all? What on earth was going on—
Haruaki's mind grew more and more confused. He felt that his face was turning even redder than Kirika's.
Kirika kept gazing at him intently. Could she tell that his face was red? As though trying to make herself accept, she nodded once with a forceful attitude.
"Very well, let's just leave it at that. Tentatively... Just think of it like this for now. Looks like this was not totally meaningless. At least it achieved half of the effect I wanted. Absolutely ridiculous. No, this is not ridiculous. Oh fine, if you realized something then go head and realize it, that's what this is about. No problem, right?"
"Eh? Uh, even if you ask me if there's any problem—"
"NO. PROBLEM. RIGHT?"
Under Kirika's intimidation, Haruaki nodded repeatedly. To be honest, he had no idea what she was trying to to say.
"Very good." Kirika nodded then turned around and released Haruaki. Then she declared briefly: "I'm going to the washroom" and quickly left the standby area.
What's going on—Just as Haruaki sighed...
"Oh Konoha. It's almost your turn, right?"
"That's right—So, I won't lose! Please watch me carefully!"
Haruaki was stunned by her exceptional seriousness and could only answer: "S-Sure." Konoha clenched her fist tightly and cheered for herself then carried the luggage she had prepared to the main standby area by the stage. However, she stopped walking along the way.
"But... Suddenly thinking about it calmly, what I'm doing next is..."
"Oh no! Come come come, Kono-san, wait up wait up! Hello~ Listen carefully to me~"
With lightning speed, Kuroe swiftly ran over to Konoha and started whispering in her ear:
"Kono-san, do you really understand? The most important thing is to get serious..."
"...Sense of shame... Grit your teeth... Haru's... Cough cough. Kono-san. Okay? Are you fine?"
"Eh? What are you talking about, of course I'm fine. Ahaha. Ahahaha. Ahahahaha—Victory belongs to me alone!"
Then once again, with unnecessary vigor, Konoha proceeded forward, disappearing into the side of the stage.
"...I feel like I just witnessed a very dangerous scene."
"I have this feeling too. Hey Kuroe, what did you do to Cow Tits?"
"Hmm~? Oh my~ After all, it's really a bit difficult for her without drinking alcohol. I simply helped her open the switch in her heart and soul. Yes, since Kono-san deliberately wants to do this, I don't think you guys need to worry~ Anyway, please look forward to Kono-san's grand performance next!"
For some reason, Kuroe's confident speech made Haruaki and Fear feel even more worried.
Cha~ Raccha raccha raccha~ ra~
While the lighting remained dim, a familiar melody started playing in the gym. That was—indeed, Haruaki remembered this melody being played every Sunday morning. This morning during breakfast, he had heard it coming from the television as well.
After the intro to this opening song finished, just like what was heard on television every time, the voice actress playing the protagonist would yell out the title of that anime—
"...Magical Scorching Girl☆Magical Infernon! Take this—!"
Then while that sweet and beautiful voice was singing the theme song fluently, the spotlight hit the stage. In the next instant, jumping into that circle of light was—
Haruaki felt the ground shake beneath him. The world had been turned upside down. His knees lost strength. The shock was that monumental. Simply to remain standing was taking all his effort.
Illuminated under the spotlight was the female protagonist of an anime aimed towards a female demographic. A glamorous display of vivid colors, an outfit decorated with many frills and inexplicably revealing. Ahhh, clearly the costume was revealing enough already, but standing on stage, she possessed a mature figure that the actual anime protagonist could not compare with. The miniskirt felt inexorably dangerous. The thighs were salaciously exposed. Most notable were the curves of the outfit's chest portion that the anime's elementary school protagonist absolutely could not produce, resulting in deep cleavage of unparallelled destructive power, looking as though they could pop out any moment.
She—namely, Konoha, of course—
To think she would dress up in this manner, who could have expected it? Haruaki could not help but doubt if this was reality. Impossible, this must be a dream. But he could not hear the sounds of his alarm clock anywhere.
A smile was written over Konoha's face, a radiant smile that did not collapse. Spinning around, she made the trademark pose and held it still for a second. Then lip-syncing with the lyrics, she started to dance, twirling a long rod in her hands like a baton.
"That's right, Kono-san, wonderful, wonderful...! Right now, surpassing even the real thing, Kono-san is Magical Scorching Girl Infernon, hailing from the Inferno Kingdom to turn the human world into scorched earth! And that sensational body is exuding the same aura as the adult-version Infernon-sama that appeared in episode twelve! Yes yes, the performance of the scorched earth mechanism staff «Hell Flame» is also very perfect—!"
"Y-You... I knew it was you...!?"
"I'm only responsible for directing the acting. As usual, the costume is borrowed from the laundry shopkeeper."
While answering, Kuroe still panted "muhu~" and stared intently at the stage, using her cellphone to take pictures of Konoha nonstop. Haruaki shifted his gaze slightly to see the returned Kirika, Shiraho and the rest of them staring dumbfounded with their mouths gaping open while Fear was rolling about on the floor, clutching her gut silently as though saying "give me a break" while stomping the ground.
The song continued to play. Konoha also continued dancing steps that were supposed to emulate the opening completely. Her miniskirt fluttered up while she bent her knees and smiled, brandishing the magic stick that was as long as a spear. When she jumped occasionally, sweat drops could be seen scattering outwards lightly. An unexpectedly intense and dangerous dance. Haruaki felt very unsettled for some reason. Clearly a more gentle and quiet dance would do. He did not want the students below the stage to get any closer to her.
"Okay, it's time for the finale...!"
The song increased in excitement, reaching the climax. As though led by Konoha who was dancing with total immersion, the audience began to clap along with the beat like attending an idol's concert normally. The climax concluded. The outro was ending on a trailing note. In tune with the rhythm, Konoha spun and pulled the magic staff towards herself—
Just as the last note of the song was heard, Konoha maintained that pose, holding the magic staff still against her and leaning her body forward. The almost overflowing, bulging existence strongly emphasized its presence. Pressed deeply into the cleavage, the magic staff seemed to further highlight this fact. Then Konoha sat on the lower portion of the magic staff like a witch riding a broom, clamping the staff tightly between her thighs. This part of the staff was also being pressed down firmly, resulting in a very precarious state for the hem of her skirt.
After the song ended, silence descended upon the surroundings. Konoha raised one hand in this state and pointed in Haruaki's direction. Haruaki could help but get a feeling that she really was pointing accurately at him in the standby area.
Then Konoha yelled out words that were identical to the anime's trademark catchphrase.
"Your heart, I shall incinerate it to scorched blackness too♪"
This time, things really froze completely. Time stopped for several seconds in the gym.
Then the world began to turn again.
Wowwwww... The students began to raise an uproar. Some of the students applauded her genuine performance. Some students cheered and yelled as loud as they could: "Infernon~!" (Probably members of either the anime research club or the manga research club.) There were also sounds of dumbfounded snickering or bewilderment. But of course, there was also a silver-haired creature that was not only snickering but also convulsing while lying on the floor, roaring with laughter. "I'm done for! I'm dying, I'm really gonna die! Puhahahauhyahyahya!"
Konoha maintained the trademark pose, holding her position with an aura like a warrior who had just concluded a battle. Several seconds later, she exhaled. Then as though regaining her senses from a daze, she swept her gaze across the gym's interior, then opening her dainty mouth slightly, her face instantly flushed red and turned deathly pale in the next second. Immediately after that—
With speed rivaling Kirika's just now, Konoha covered her bosom with her hands while fleeing to the side of the stage.
"Oh crap. It's very good that she finished the dance successfully but Kono-san seems to have revived her sense of shame that had forcefully been suppressed for the sake of this performance until now... Hmm, I hope this doesn't cause any deaths."
With an extremely serious expression, Kuroe quietly spoke inauspicious words.
"Team One has reached the school's outskirts, getting into position. All teams, status report."
'Team Two, preparations complete for raping buttholes! My fellow is already as hard as rock, heehaha!'
Then through the communicator, Teams Three and Four also reported normal.
"Then let us begin."
Lilyhowell handed the trunk containing the gas cylinder to a subordinate then started walking. Every team was carrying the same kind of trunk. Unexpected incidents could happen at any time. Hence, with each team carrying one of them, the chances of affecting the battle plan were minimized even if one of the teams failed to reach their assigned position.
The main gates were tightly shut. For a school surrounded by tall walls on all sides, this was the easiest place to enter and consequently the easiest to deploy security. As someone who sought to pursue the right path, Lilyhowell courageously attempted to invade through the main gates.
She realized the instant she stood before the metal gates. An unexpected incident had already happened.
"Squad Leader Lilyhowell, what's the matter?"
"Someone is watching us. Looks like the other side will not be that easy to handle."
She replied concisely to the subordinate's question. She could sense two lines of sight. One was a security camera artfully installed above the gates. This was not a problem. What required attention was the other one.
Far ahead in the distance, a gaze came from the top of the school building—
From this distance, the other side could only watch them without being able to react immediately. Neither could she and her team react instantly to the other side. In the end, that gaze simply announced a simple fact: that their invasion was about to be discovered. In that case—
"There is no need to be sneaky like a thief."
Whispering softly, she lifted her cape and drew out a greatsword from behind her.
This was the shape that represented the meaning of her existence, the weight that represented the meaning of her existence.
As the leader of these knights who engaged in wrongdoing and madness.
At least she wanted to walk along this right path within her sight. Neither traversing over by force nor bowing subserviently to squeeze through gaps, she would walk proudly with her head high and chest out.
This was herself, Lilyhowell Kilmister.
Hence, she raised the greatsword and swung hard, destroying the metal gates.
As a declaration of war, this ear-splitting sound of shattering was probably quite sufficient.
"Ahhh... Owwwwww... Ahhh..."
Konoha stumbled her way, returning from the side of the stage, her eyes looking a bit glazed over. Seeing Konoha glance at him in a pleading manner, Haruaki frantically said:
"W-Welcome back! I-I think it was great... Yeah!"
"Y-Yeah, I saw a very new and refreshing side to you. The dancing was great too. Also, uh—"
"Am I cute?"
However, Konoha did not accept it. Exuding a demonic aura that normally never appeared, she asked in a deep voice:
"Please say clearly with your mouth. Say: Konoha is so cute."
"K-Konoha is so cute..."
Konoha approached Haruaki with zombie-like pressure, causing Haruaki to yell almost like a scream:
"Konoha is so cute!"
"U-fufu... Fufu... Ufufufu! Excellent~ I have to calm down now. Using that sentence to anchor my heart and soul, to return my mind to normal levels. The scene just now can be forgotten. Nothing happened at all. I did not do anything embarrassing. In the end, you simply praised me for being very cute. That's all that happened..."
Konoha was murmuring to convince herself when Fear patted her on the shoulder. Without any sense of derision or laughter, simply with eyes filled with sympathy from the bottom of her heart, Fear said:
"Yeah. You did very well. Seriously very well... Hurry and take a break. Take care as well on the other side."
"Hold on! Where are you assuming I'll be going!?"
"Y-You won't realize until I say it out? This illness is serious... It's perfectly clear if you look at yourself objectively! Hey Kuroe, show her the photos you just took!"
"Oh no! Ficchi..."
Konoha's face spun around to confront Kuroe. Although Haruaki could not see the expression Konoha was making, he could see the despair on Kuroe's face as she cowered and took a step back. Konoha reached towards her.
"Please hand the memory card over."
"No, Ficchi made a mistake. I didn't record any of Kono-san's rare appearance just now—"
"So what you mean is I am allowed to destroy the card along with the entire camera?"
"It's this one, sorry, please forgive me!"
Trembling nonstop, Kuroe took out the digital camera's memory card and handed it to Konoha. Instantly, the card was silently shredded while resting on Konoha's palm. Although just a little bit, Haruaki could not help but think "what a shame," only to hear Shiraho murmur with exasperation from the bottom of her heart:
"Hmph. Had I known, I should have brought my camera as well. With this as blackmail material, perhaps I could reach an agreement with you people, never to get involved with Sovereignty and me ever again."
After Fear, Kirika and Konoha finished their performances, the school beauty pageant was still continuing. There were many opponents. The contestants brought out everything at their disposal to rouse the atmosphere on scene. The girl who seemed to be Yume's friend also imitated an idol singer's song, obtaining much cheering and applause. To be honest, at the current stage, apart from a couple contestants who clearly suffered cold receptions, Haruaki felt that anyone could win. Was the infiltrator from the Knights Dominion one of the students who had already performed, or was she among the ones who were about to enter the stage?
That said, there were only two or three people left to perform. Once all of them finished, next was the speech segment where all contestants had to stand on stage together. But at this moment—
"Please allow me to speak in fear and trepidation."
Isuzu spoke up without warning, staring straight at Haruaki's group with a very solemn expression. Only after confirming that the uninvolved Yume was standing some distance away to watch the performances did she continue:
"I have received a report from Toonisuzu and others on the roof. Visitors are coming from four directions."
"Visitors...? Shameless Shrine Maiden Number Two, what are you talking about?"
"Bluntly stated—Invaders have appeared in this school."
"What did you say!?"
Hearing what Isuzu said, everyone's expressions froze instantly.
"As janitors, maintaining order and security in school seems to be part of the job~ Especially when today is a special festival occasion. So as a precaution, we decided to use our special traits to take on the responsibility of keeping watch~"
Haruaki finally understood why Isuzu was present despite being completely uninvolved with the school beauty pageant—because if anything happened, she could instantly contact them. On further thought, the kagura bells' telepathic communication was instantaneous and quite outstanding in functioning as a contact network.
"Yes. Thanks for your girls helping to keep watch. I'd really like to give you a rice cracker as a reward, but now's not the time. The invaders are from the Knights Dominion? Why? What are they doing here?"
"I had been thinking all along that they might take action... But I didn't expect them to actually do it."
"Yeah. Isuzu-kun, you said that visitors are coming from four directions. What do you mean by that?"
"Literally what the words say~ There are four teams of four each, roughly, each coming from a different direction. Oh dear, they are currently destroying the school gates and climbing over the walls, the invasion has started beyond doubt~"
"The other side mentioned once that they had ten-odd people. So in other words, all of them are here...!?"
"By the way, judging from where they're headed, the destination appears to be the gym here."
"Wait... They're coming here? It's fine if you guys want to fight, but don't get us involved!"
Chihaya exclaimed with surprise. She was right. Unrelated students definitely could not be allowed to get caught up.
"W-What should we do? You girls still need to give your speeches on stage. On the other hand, Kuroe and I can still take action..."
"Absolutely ridiculous. How could the two of you possibly handle enemies coming from four sides?"
A crisis—Haruaki thought. The Knights Dominion had arrived. Although it was unclear what their goal was, the entire school's students were gathered in the gym. They definitely must not get their way. Due to the size of the gym, blocking enemies coming from the north side would mean leaving the other three sides undefended. Haruaki really wanted to pin down the enemies on every side.
But did they have enough combat strength to handle four groups? Fear, Konoha and Kirika must win in the school beauty pageant. If the infiltrator was allowed to take first place, Nirushaaki, mixed in the students, would be in life-threatening danger. This risk could not be neglected.
What should they do? The school beauty pageant and the enemies outside. How to handle both these matters—
The members of Haruaki's group exchanged glances with one another. Fear was the first to speak up:
"In the end—I'm very willful. I wanna protect everything that can be protected. Whether Nirushaaki who wants to become an ordinary student or the normal students who might end up as her friends. Grouping things roughly, these are the two that we have to protect. I don't wanna sacrifice either side. I want to protect them both at the same time."
Haruaki understood why Fear was saying this. She had probably superimposed Nirushaaki with herself. Abandoning battle, hoping to exist as an ordinary human. She wanted to prove that this wish should be realized and it could actually be realized. Because she was walking along the same path right now.
"Winning the school beauty pageant will protect Nirushaaki while defeating the invaders will protect the other normal students. In other words, my willfulness requires doing both of these. So I've come up with a solution simply by applying the right person to the right job. This will boil our options down to one. What are everyone's thoughts?"
"This feels like it's one of those choices where you'll regret the wrong choice. If so, I'm in with you."
"Argh, damn it, to think I did so much... And even did that! Hoo~ No matter, since I did get praised 'so cute'—Apart from that, everything will be erased from memory, so be it!"
"The task that only we can accomplish while leaving the other task to a certain someone apart from us. A very well-defined boundary—So that leaves only one path to take."
Fear and the girls all nodded and started moving to exit the standby area, leaving Haruaki behind. But along the way, they all passed by a certain location. Every single one of them placed their hand on the shoulder of the girl who was simply resting her chin on her hand, listening as though nothing concerned her. The last to reach out was Fear who spoke on behalf of the group:
"Shiraho, we're depending on you."
"Wha—What? What nonsense are you talking about?"
Shiraho's elbow slid to the side. Fear's eyes were incomparably serious.
"If it's you, we can leave things to you without worry—Rather, you're the only one we can ask. We will handle the enemies outside. I hope to rely on you to handle the situation inside the gym. Please win first place and protect Nirushaaki."
"Wait, you can't just decide on your own! I'd rather die than participate—Besides, it's already too late!"
"If you mean the sign up deadline, there's still time. That's because the performance segment still hasn't ended. As long as you sign up right away, you should be able to enter at the last minute—We're running out of time. Sorry for asking this of you."
"Like I said, don't just decide on your own...!"
Shiraho was trembling from anger. But it was true that they were running out of time. The Knights Dominion had invaded the school already. After casting a glance of complete trust towards Shiraho, Fear's group exited the standby area.
"I'm not going to enter, how could I possibly enter!? I can't believe she decided all on her own... This is no joke!"
After Sovereignty called out to her, Shiraho smashed her fist against the table. Haruaki could understand why she was so angry but at the same time, he could also understand how Fear and the girls felt, entrusting everything to her.
"...Sorry. But having gone through so much preparation, even suppressing their embarrassment and trying hard until now, Fear-chan and the others forfeited so readily. That's because they believe you'll surely win first place. Of course, I believe in you too. So please."
"I'm not going to listen to you people. My answer remains the same. I have neither reason nor wish for entering."
"Fear-chan also said that all the school's students, including Nirushaaki... Rather, yeah, overall, it's all the same. We want to protect everyone in this school without sacrificing any one of them, that's why this is the only way—Yes, in the end, that's what it's about. To protect everyone. If we don't rely on you, we are out of options. Although this is a very unfair way of putting it."
Haruaki could see Shiraho gnashing her teeth. Sovereignty was making a pleading look while Chihaya's expression seemed to show anticipation. Next, Shiraho clicked her tongue with displeasure.
What they needed was some kind of impetus, thought Haruaki to himself. He could only think of one impetus that he was able to create. Hence, Haruaki nonchalantly leaned forward, entering her arm's reach. Instantly—
Smack! A slap to the face came flying through the air. Ouch. But as advance payment, this should be enough.
Feeling the gazes of the nearby crowd focusing on him, Haruaki shrugged and said:
"Then I'm going to help them out. I'm counting on you for the rest."
"—I will definitely kill you one day, human."
Maintaining her hand's pose after the swing of the slap, Shiraho spoke while glaring viciously. Haruaki shrugged again as though saying "please have mercy" then turned around. Quiet whispering could be heard from behind. "Eh? What what? What happened? Where did Fear-senpai run off to?" Included among them was Yume's confused question but that was no longer important. Haruaki felt quite apologetic to Yume because her ongoing cheering and support was in vain.
What was important was the conversation between the three girls apart from Yume.
"Hooh... Sovereignty, please head over to inform the executive committee member."
"Understood~! I will also try to negotiate with him to see if I can buy a bit of preparation time!"
"You there, do you have any makeup on hand? Just the basics will do. If not, just quietly steal some from someone."
"Oh, then I'll go steal some... But makeup?"
You don't really need makeup, right—Chihaya seemed to be implying that, but Shiraho answered in an indifferent tone of voice:
"On stage, the appearance of the face will change due to the lighting. Hence, adjustment using makeup is the best solution if one were to present a perfect look... Honestly, I never expected I would still need to do this again."
Haruaki knew very well what Shiraho used to be called—the theater prodigy.
Hence, she understood very well how to achieve what was known as "the center of attention."
Standing at the gym entrance was the teacher in charge of preventing students from skipping out. In hindsight, I should have left through the washroom window, I guess? Haruaki regretted for a second but luckily, the teacher on watch was wielding a metal shovel. Hence, he passed safely.
"Is that so? Although I wish to help very much, I will probably end up a burden again—Go ahead. If the enemies get through to here, I shall protect the students even at the cost of my life."
"We're going to intercept them to prevent exactly that from happening. Yes, but just in case, I'm counting on you when the time comes, Sensei."
The group consisting of Haruaki, Fear, Konoha, Kuroe and Kirika left the gym. At the same time, four shrine maidens emerged from the shadows. They were probably ready to lead them to the enemies' positions. In the end, they had no choice but to divide themselves into four teams. Just at this moment—
"Looks like we made it in time. We shall help as well."
"Ah~ Hoo~ Not only do I need to go to work on Sunday but also this extra job... All I can say is I'm really so tired~"
Zenon and Ganon also appeared. It looked like they had rushed urgently to school after seeing the invaders through the security cameras. Both of them were capable fighters who could be added to their ranks. Fear looked at everyone and said:
"...Who here thinks they can't deal with two bastard knights at once and will lose unless it's one on one? Raise up your hand."
No one raised a hand. Fear smiled, baring a fang and said:
"Then two people per team is enough. Oh right, in my case, I've got no problem dealing with four bastard knights at once. The same goes for Cow Tits too, probably. After all, you're raising a creature, so in this regard, you're considered two people."
"What are you talking about!?"
While arguing, the teams were assigned. Given her high combat strength, Fear was alone while Kirika teamed up with Kuroe and Zenon went with Ganon. Finally, since Haruaki could only fight while wielding Konoha, he was grouped with Konoha.
Each team was accompanied by a kagura bell shrine maiden. Although they were unable to speak or use norito prayers of wind, they were needed as guides. As the only one capable of casting spells, Isuzu stayed in the gym to serve as a final line of defense just in case. The remaining shrine maidens were apparently dispersed across roofs and other locations with good visibility, continuing to monitor the enemies' movements.
"Then let's go. If you think you're about to lose, just hurry and cry to a nearby shameless shrine maiden. You should be able to communicate more or less with gestures. I'll come over to help if I have effort to spare."
"You took the very words out of my mouth!"
Hence, the four teams split up and headed in separate directions.
Led by one of the kagura bells, Haruaki moved through the school building with Konoha. They were heading towards the school gates and encountered enemies near the school building's entrance. Konoha readied her knifehand strike and blocked their path.
There were four opponents. Three of them were men in nondescript clothing. Two of them were were carrying a large trunk together with one hand each. All of them were armed with weapons including a sword, a spear and an axe. Although there was nothing striking or peculiar about them in appearance, even a layman could see that their weapon motions were very well-trained. Carelessness must be avoided.
Then there was one more. By simple process of elimination, the final person was a woman.
She was dressed differently compared to the last encounter at the flower viewing. Haruaki could not help but groan.
"Uwah, that's dressing up way too cool..."
"That is so true. Rather, one could call it anachronistic?"
"Anachronistic? You are totally wrong, Muramasa. A knight's proper attire does not depend on the era."
Beneath the cape on Lilyhowell's shoulders, covering her entire body apart from her face—A shiny and striking set of silver armor.
"Just as what past knights ought to look, as a knight now, I am attired now as I should. That is all."
"So you're pursing what a knight should look like? How utterly ludicrous."
"Yeah. Putting forth a deal verbally but deceiving us. Knights are supposed to be win the respect of others. Liars have no right to be knights."
After hearing them, Lilyhowell narrowed her eyes.
"I also feel quite ashamed but this is necessary... Had we not encountered your group, we would have no need for deception in the first place. In any case, I will apologize honestly on this point."
Apologizing while wielding a weapon, how utterly insincere. Held in Lilyhowell's hand was precisely the greatsword from last time. Although double-edged, one of the blade's edges was serrated like a comb and exhibiting complex shapes.
"Swords of that shape apparently existed once in medieval times... The sword breaker, was it? A sword used to break enemy swords. However, I recall that it was essentially a one-hander. Never have I heard of a sword breaker in the form of a greatsword."
"Precisely. But this is me. Neither running nor hiding, this sword and I declare the meaning of our existence unambiguously. One, look upon it. Two, be afraid. That is all. Be crushed—That is the only declaration I issue to Wathes and their owners. Hence, this sword has strayed from its original purpose as the sword breaker. More accurately—
Lilyhowell slowly lifted the sword to her body's side and continued:
"—It is the «Wathe Breaker»."
"Such cool words coming from you, but your purpose here is for petty vengeance, right?"
"Is that so? In terms of results, you are currently standing in my way. In other words, my fate is to accomplish what I am supposed to do. Or perhaps to overturn this fate, you are willing to step aside?"
"So even a lofty knight is capable of joking?"
Konoha's lips curled lightly as she spoke, but Lilyhowell did not laugh.
"It is only considered fate precisely because it cannot be overturned. Then it can't be helped—Allow me to destroy you, Muramasa!"
The greatsword, existing only for the sake of destroying Wathes, was now being lifted for that very purpose.
Without delay, Kirika whispered what suddenly occurred to her.
"I think this is a good chance."
Hmm? Kuroe casually tilted her head with her usual expression. Kirika smiled slightly wryly.
"In other words, we need to show everyone that we're unexpectedly amazing. Physical power aside, in terms of versatility, we really should put on quite a performance."
"I agree totally~ It somehow feels like we're always treated as weak characters, contrary to the truth, and looked down upon. Not just by enemies but also our comrades!"
"Indeed that's the case. How absolutely ridiculous."
Kirika and Kuroe had arrived at the bicycle parking lot behind the school. In truth, this place was not convenient to move around in. However, this applied to the opposing side as well.
Kirika and Kuroe stood side by side, watching the approaching people as they weaved through the narrow space between school buildings.
Putting aside the very dangerous looking hand-carried trunk, these men did not have any unusual traits. The fact that they were carrying weapons was not enough to list as particularly unusual given the circumstances.
Even so, they were knights. Members of an organization that destroyed Wathes. To this date, they must have each destroyed several or dozens of Wathes, probably. And also involved several or dozens of ordinary humans, proceeding to kill them. Carelessness must be avoided. The scary thing about them was the aura of madness they exuded. Even if their arms were twisted off, they probably might use their severed arms as weapons to attack. This was the existence known as the Knights Dominion.
"So, let's show them our true power."
"Let's deal with them quickly so that we can go over and help the others. That'll show them our power."
While joking to each other, Kirika and Kuroe kept their eyes on the enemies at all times.
A cursed belt and a cursed doll's hair.
Using their third hands, the two girls were elevating themselves very slowly.
In a narrow space behind the school, Zenon and Ganon were facing off against one of the teams from the Knights Dominion.
"Honestly, we are probably facing the worst odds."
"Eh~ What do you mean by that? So tiring~"
"It cannot be helped. I am usually in charge of long range support while you engage in protracted battles, Onee-sama, until the enemy reveals an opening. Furthermore, this is four against two. You will be totally mistaken if you think this will be an easy fight."
"...Can I flee?"
"I was just about to throw a knife. When I see something move, I might not be able to resist throwing a knife at it reflexively. If you are prepared for that, please go ahead and do as you please."
Only Fear did not find the numbers to her disadvantage. Because currently, it was already down to one on one.
One of the kagura bells had led Fear to the enemies who had reached the sports ground, just as they happened to pass through the shortest route to the gym, namely, the stone steps on the far end of the sports ground. Fear did not miss out on this perfect opportunity and attacked using the «Morgenstern» from a dead angle on the top step. Three of the men were sent flying in one strike and collapsed on the ground, not moving. What a delightful result.
"Hmm~ So weak. If only you were walking a little more forward."
"Heehaha! That's right! Because we also considered the balance of combat strength, the guys under my command are relatively weak buttholes, which is why I brought three of them! Do you get my drift? You should understand, right~? Heeheeha!"
Below the steps, at the end of the sports ground, Fear and Neto were facing off.
"I'll be blunt, they're just for carrying stuff. Say, that was close, I hope it didn't open from the impact?"
Neto glanced at the three unconscious men, towards the trunk that two of them were carrying just now. Naturally, the trunk had already fallen on the ground from the aftershock of Fear's attack.
"Heehaw, looks like it's fine, how lucky! If the gas spilled out here... Hmm, nothing much, it'll just spread all around. But precious resources shouldn't be wasted, that's too much of a butthole."
"You said... gas?"
"That's right that's right. Ah, you don't know what our goal is? Okay~ Allow me to tell you~ First we'll release the knockout gas in the gym. There might be aftereffects, but we don't care. Then I'll rape every student inside while they're unconscious! I'll feel so much pleasure—! That's the plan!"
"You've lost me—But I know just one thing for sure, I absolutely must stop you!"
Fear readied the «Morgenstern». Neto nodded as though saying "good answer."
"Very well said~ In the end, I still have to get there. In other words, you can stop the operation by stopping me—Heehaw! But can you do it!? Can you stop me!?"
"Hmph! You'll get your answer when I do it!"
Fear instantly closed in and swung down the «Morgenstern». Neto had yet to switch to combat mode—the guitar case, where his weapon was supposed be kept, was still being carried in his hand and of course, the latch was still fastened. However, Fear would not have started attacking if she cared about being underhanded in the first place.
Neto neither moved nor made any effort to defend using the case. "Got him!" Just as Fear thought so—
The sensation of the impact felt lighter than expected. The metal club's spikes simply caught his arm. More accurately, he allowed the spikes to catch his arm. Had he wanted to evade, he would have definitely evaded successfully. However, he deliberately dodged only slightly, intentionally receiving harm. Why did he do that—?
Fear gritted her teeth. She had forgotten who he was. Neto the Avenger.
Neto pulled back once again and happily stared at his bleeding arm.
"Heehee, heehahahaha! Ouch ouch, this damn raping butthole bastard! This really hurts, it hurts so much that my butthole is echoing kuohoho~! Unforgivable, to think it hurts this much, I absolutely won't forgive you! To apologize, let me make you happy, allow me to do it, even if you say no I'll still do it, you damn butthole bastaaaaard!"
Fear could not tell if he was angry, happy or in pain. There was no way to tell the difference. Watching his changing expression was causing dizziness while his tone of voice kept shifting as well. When Fear stepped forward, he pulled back again, placing the guitar case by his feet and swiftly picking up the camera hanging in front of his chest.
"I won't forget! Y-You... Fear-in-Cube has caused me this 'pain' that I absolutely won't forget! Heehaha~ Because this is precisely my driving force!"
The cursed camera—«The Paingrapher»—operated noisily. After Neto photographed the arm that Fear had just wounded, the injury turned into a photograph. Extracting the photo, Neto opened the guitar case by his feet.
"Don't think... you'll succeed...!"
Prioritizing speed, Fear turned the virtual cube in her hand into the «Human-Perforator» while closing in, thrusting the weapon forward with all her might. But she was so close to succeeding. Neto kicked the guitar case, causing the bayonet inside to bounce out, which he then reached out and caught in his hand. The bayonet's blade blocked the drill before bouncing to the side.
"I've already prepared special ammunition just for you! Heehaha~!"
Rolling up the latest photo, Neto stuffed it into the magazine chamber. With that, the bayonet now carried the "pain" inflicted by Fear. Now all he needed to do was stab her with the blade or shoot her with a bullet of "pain" from the muzzle and she would suffer intense pain.
Fear could not help but track the bayonet with her gaze, but in the next instant, she felt a chill move rapidly along her spine. Retreating rapidly through instinct alone, she then saw that Neto was holding another bayonet in his other hand.
"Heehaw! You dodged it? Your instincts are quite sharp."
"What should I do about ammunition~? Hmm, I guess this will do. It hurts enough after all and I still have ammunition in stock to fire at will. That girl made lovely screams when I was taking these photos. I hope you can scream a couple times too."
Neto held one bayonet under his arm while using his freed hand to grab a whole stack of photos from the guitar case, stuffing them into his pocket. Then he drew one photo out to show her. Fear really regretted looking.
These cruel wounds were the same type as the ones she used to inflict as a tool of torture and execution. Although the face was out of the picture, it was clearly a girl's body. The wounds were horrific. Although the wounds themselves would disappear after being photographed, it would not be surprising if the victim went mad from the pain in the meantime. Since Fear had already seen countless humans go mad from pain to this date, she knew very well.
Neto curled up the photo and stuffed it into the magazine chamber of the other bayonet that he had pulled out. Wielded one in each hand, both bayonets were armed with "pain." One carried the "pain" that Fear had caused Neto and would produce a particularly intense effect against her. The other carried an unknown girl's "pain."
"Ah~ I wonder how the battles on the other fronts are going? Oh my, progress must be slow for sure. That woman is that kind of typical butthole. Hence, I shall clarify beforehand. Heeheeha!"
"The name of the weapons. «Wathe Breaker» does sound quite cool but it's too pretentious. On this point, my weapons' names are much more natural and cute. These fellas are like my limbs. You can also call them a part of my body. Tools indispensable for giving me pleasure, couldn't be friendlier! So, their names are—"
Neto raised the bayonets on his right and left respectively, one after the other, and said:
"This one is «Cock» while the other one is «Dick»! Heehahahahahee~!"
Fear frowned. Truly too vulgar. Both were slang for the male sexual organ.
In order to make this man shut up sooner, Fear tightly gripped her virtual cube while looking for an opportunity to attack. Neto suddenly stopped laughing and muttered with his head tilted:
"Hmm... Or is it the other way round? I've forgotten how to distinguish them!"
"Haruaki-kun, stay there for now and don't move!"
Konoha ordered firmly. Because the enemies' fighting styles were unknown, it was better to play things safe.
Readying a knifehand strike, she charged into the enemy ranks. The knights attacked fiercely by swinging their sword, axe and spear respectively. Although not fodder in level, they did not pose much of a threat either. Konoha parried using her bare hand.
In a battle against many, defeating the leader was the basic solution.
Rushing past the three knights' attacks, Konoha charged Lilyhowell head on. Instantly—
A strong gust of wind. Without any hesitation or fancy tricks, it was a horizontal slash powered by nothing except power and speed. As soon as Konoha entered the attack range of the greatsword, Lilyhowell instantly performed a slice. Naturally, Konoha was unable to counterattack. Not only that, but even evasion was impossible. While she used her hands, imbued with a blade's traits, to block, the entirety of the sword's great mass weighed down on her. Without absolutely no exaggeration, Konoha was blown away, flying into the air. However, she somersaulted in midair, stepped on the wall of the school building to ease her momentum, then landed with her numbed legs.
"I'm fine! I was just a little careless!"
Lilyhowell swung the greatsword along a massive arc, returning it to its original position. Her feet had hardly shifted at all.
"—I shall praise sincerely. That is truly a good sword."
"Of course. I have always maintained and sharpened it diligently."
"That's not what I meant... Whatever, I'll just add that the sword itself is excellent. Although apparently not cursed, it is a fine sword indeed."
"As a knight, I hope to pursue the right path. As one who exists to destroy Wathes, using Wathes as weapons should be the last resort. Hence, I do not use Wathes."
"Splendid. What I meant initially was that your swordsmanship is excellent. With neither hesitation nor malice, you simply swing your sword with extreme candor. Are you mistaken in what you ought to attack with your sword? What a shame."
"I shall not be deceived by your fancy words."
Lilyhowell held the «Wathe Breaker» in a stance on her side while staring at Konoha. The other three knights stood slightly in front of her, paying attention to Konoha's movements. Those three men aside, Lilyhowell presented absolutely no openings. She did not close in forcefully, instead approaching slowly, advancing centimeter by centimeter or even smaller increments. Although it sounded very contradictory, she was advancing by staying still. Lilyhowell was predominantly in a state of inaction, but by the time one noticed, she was already shrinking the separation.
Konoha felt something tremble in the depths of her heart and decided to allow Lilyhowell to play with her again. Just as last time, she toyed with the three knights then invaded Lilyhowell's attack range again. As monitoring close with radar, the «Wathe Breaker» instantly shot out a straight flash of the blade. Just when Konoha saw through the opponent's movements, the enemy used the orthodox sword's power to counter as though saying "So what?" She was like a baseball player who only pitched fastballs at 170 kilometers per hour.
Konoha dodged the first strike but the second swiftly followed, leaving her no choice but to block it and getting blown back like the last time. Not bad, she praised Lilyhowell in her thoughts. The opponent was a pure swordswoman. No fancy tricks, just plain strength. Konoha imagined the joy of defeating her. Those three fodder became a hindrance. Step aside. No, there's no need to step aside. I'll kill you all first before slowly dealing with that swordswoman—
(...I... must... calm down... quickly!)
Konoha mustered all her strength to suppress the wavering in her heart. Not bad—Now was not the time to be making such comments. That was not the kind of comment she made. The danger unleashed during the battle against Hinai Elsie, the desire to see fresh blood, the danger of the cracks in her sanity that had yet to mend—want to see blood, want to see blood, to make my heart pound nonstop... No no want to murder no! Hurry and suppress it. Hurry and suppress the curse that had not been lifted at all!
Haruaki rushed towards Konoha. She had not revealed her true colors. She must not reveal her true colors. She absolutely had to conceal to the very end.
"Hoo... That person is very strong."
"Don't force yourself. Since you're chopping with your hand, your attacks are short-ranged and light. Not only are you outnumbered but that woman's attack range is far and she can rely on weight to pressure you. All of these are disadvantageous factors."
Token excuses. Haruaki had a point, but to her, these were merely token excuses.
"It's probably better if you turn back into a Japanese sword. Perhaps we can use the Sword-Kill Counter to destroy that «Wathe Breaker». Let me help too."
"Okay... This also... cannot be helped."
Konoha held his hand. So warm. Simply by touching him, a blissful feeling was spreading inside her.
Ahhh, she absolutely did not want to be devoured by her curse when in front of him. As long as she touched him, she was never going to forget this resolve, to be more intensely aware. Currently, that was what she needed greatly.
Hence, Konoha chose to turn back into the Japanese sword that allowed her to hold hands with him continuously.
To be frank, the difficulty of the battle was completely irrelevant. Indeed, those were all token excuses.
Her true feelings, indeed—there was only one, she simply relied on him.
"Please... Don't let go of me..."
He had not understood the true meaning behind Konoha's words. Nevertheless, his answer was extremely important.
Konoha transformed back into a sword. The feeling of clothes sliding off her body. The feeling of being surrounded by his palm. Becoming one with him. He had entered her body to merge with her. What a nice feeling, so warm. Will there come a day eventually when she could become one with him like now, but not in her Japanese sword form?
The three knights attacked. Controlling Haruaki's body, Konoha deflected all the weapons. She could feel a sense of dissonance, but still, she saw through the movements of the first person's sword, the second person's axe and the third person's spear.
Haruaki's breathing and her own breathing were mixed together, resulting in a type of simultaneous joy. She stopped his steps. Seeing this as an opportunity, the three knights swung their weapons simultaneously. However, she had already seen through everything.
Three pieces of steel were instantly shattered, dead. Immediately, the scabbard of black iron struck the knights' bodies. They collapsed to the ground, disarmed and in pain. Probably suffering fractures, but with their lives intact, they should count their blessings already.
"So, taking of the fodder is all fine and good, but..."
"Indeed, what are you scheming...?"
Konoha looked towards the source where her sense of dissonance was coming from.
Lilyhowell remained completely still. Ever since Konoha turned into a sword, Lilyhowell had not taken a single step, unlike the the attacking knights. The way she held the distinctively shaped greatsword, the «Wathe Breaker», was also different from before, turning into a stance that seemed about to sweep her own body into it.
"Clearly your subordinates were attacking with such vigor, so what happened to the boss? They'll be disillusioned with you."
"They all know how I do things, so there is no disillusionment."
Lilyhowell's sincere eyes did not show any wavering. However, staring each other in the eye did not help.
Konoha cautiously closed in. Now that she had returned to her true form as a sword, both sides were almost equal in reach. Konoha waited for the very instant when the critical point was breached to perform a thrust, switching from stillness to motion. In concert with Konoha's attack, Lilyhowell also swung the «Wathe Breaker». However—
(—This is wrong!)
Konoha trembled, frantically halting the attack and retreating backwards. Haruaki gazed down at her in puzzlement.
"Konoha, what's wrong?"
"I... see... So that's what's going on?"
Lilyhowell withdrew the step she had taken, resuming a stance identical to just now, standing there like a knight statue.
"What's going on? I don't get it at all."
"In this regard, that person is the same as me right now."
Konoha was focusing her attention on the enemy's attack range, speed and power—while also committing her mind towards the enemy's reaction towards her own attack.
"Currently, that person will only counterattack. And her target is me, the sword itself. She intends to use the power in my attack to break me."
"So what you mean is...?"
"Of course, that sword is not slim or agile like me. She is counterattacking with all her strength by using the greatsword's shape and mass. Accuracy may not be high... But it's dangerous."
"Hence its name, the «Wathe Breaker». We exist to destroy Wathes, so destroying the Wathes is good enough. There is no need to harm the Wathes' owners to begin with. Consequently, Yachi Haruaki, I can promise you. I will not harm you."
"Oh my, how noble-minded. If you were not lying, I would really like to say thank you."
Konoha grumbled sarcastically. An excessively straightforward enemy turned out to be unexpectedly troublesome.
"Konoha, this is bad, right? Maybe you should turn back into human form..."
"Then the situation will just go back to the previous disadvantages when I was repelled by the enemy's attack range and weight. Right now, we are equal, so this is how we must continue."
In the current situation, both sides were looking for an opportunity to counterattack. Konoha cautiously closed in and stopped just before entering attack range.
Using the Sword-Kill Counter required the enemy to attack, but if the enemy did not attack, she would be in a dilemma. All she could do was counterattack after waiting for the opponent's counterattack. But she still had not fully collected the necessary information to perform the Sword-Kill Counter. Speed, angle, mass, habits, all such details could only be gathered gradually.
While carefully preventing her own blade from getting shattered, she had to set up the opponent's blade to be shattered.
Konoha thrust the blade forward as bait. The «Wathe Breaker» reacted. She did not intend for the attack to contact Lilyhowell's body in the first place. Letting the blade tips clash, Konoha swiftly withdrew and bided her time again.
This looked like they had entered stalemate. However, it was not a complete stalemate. Very slowly, Konoha was collecting information. Conversely, her concentration was slowly getting consumed.
Ultimately, the battle was going to be decided, an ending shall arrive.
Whether the opponent's sword or herself as the Japanese sword, one of them shall break—This kind of ending.
Impatience and anxiety were one's bane. Concentration must absolutely not be interrupted. The side lacking in composure shall lose. This was a battle of such high tension.
But was she composed?
Konoha suppressed this question that surfaced in her mind, feeling this pressure that would probably cause her human form to break out in cold sweat nonstop, at the same time moving the tip of her blade continuously.
Fear judged the range of the enemy's shot to be fifty centimeters or so. For close quarters combat, this distance was surprisingly far. A long projectile range also meant an advantage for the enemy. Also—
"Heehaha~! Take this take this!"
Neto kept thrusting the bayonets from the right and the left repeatedly. Fear dodged the one on the right and used «A Hatchet of Lingchi» to block the left one. Due to her habits to this date, her consciousness would stop her body from moving for an instant after defending successfully.
But only in a battle against this man was her defense completely circumvented.
"Let's go, Dick!"
Neto pressed the trigger while the left bayonet was being pushed down by the hatchet. Instantly, Fear felt "pain" in her thigh that was in front of the muzzle, as though a knife had deeply penetrated her.
"It's because I'm firing pain itself. As long as you stay in range, defense is pointless. Totally like a loose butthole! Heehahaha!"
While Fear stumbled, the other bayonet flew across her shoulder. Fear barely evaded it but she still felt intense pain from her shoulder. The agony made her speechless. Her vision blinked on and off. Her consciousness was about to short circuit. This was the backlash from the "pain" she had caused Neto. Simply brushing past her shoulder and it was already several times more painful that getting shot in the leg just now. Due to getting shot a number of times in the current battle, she knew that the fictional pain on her leg would dissipate over time, but not immediately. But what about the pain from the shoulder that was actually wounded? Will it disappear? Or will it last until the wound healed? Fear did not know.
"Gotcha gotcha! Oho~ Coming, coming, I feel it! I knew that returning pain to people feels the best! Let me stab you a few more times. Then I'll raise this Cock and give you a vicious blow! Yes, anyway, lemme reload Dick first for now."
Neto took out another abuse photo from his pocket and reloaded the bayonet he had just fired. There was no signs of running out of ammunition—He must have made prior preparations in anticipation of this battle. Fear could not help but sympathize with the girl who served as the source of these bullets.
Like a virulent pathogen, pain was invading her entire body. The returned pain from the bayonet blade was many times more intense than that caused by the unknown girl and did not disappear. In this regard, it was like a curse. A branded curse of unending pain. Fear really felt like rolling on the ground and screaming. This was electrical stimulation that entangled the nerves directly, devouring them completely. The switch of her consciousness was endlessly flicking on and off instantaneously.
However, she did not allow her consciousness to switch off. Fear pushed her stumbling footsteps, closing in and swinging «A Hatchet of Lingchi» vertically down. Neto crossed his pair of bayonets to block Fear's hatchet. A playful personality, tone of voice and weapon—Nevertheless, Fear could not deny that this man was very strong.
The hatchet and the bayonets pushed and opposed each other. But in terms of quality, hers was slightly superior. Using her full strength to apply pressure, Fear slowly pushed the bayonets down. Just a little more. Just a little bit more—
"What a toughie! I guess this is what happens in a contest of strength! But is this really okay?"
"What... are you talking about...!?"
"Heehee~ Just a little more and your hatchet will chop my neck open! That will surely hurt, hurting so much I'll almost die! If that pain is returned to you, whaddya think is gonna happen? You're willing to give me ammunition specialized for you, so that I can load Dick up as well? Why thank you very much~!"
Fear could not help but reflexively relax her force. Neto must have been aiming for this and took the opportunity to kick her belly. Due to the returned pain from just now that was still traveling all over her body, Fear was unable to muster strength in her legs and fell over, sitting on the ground. Looking up frantically, she saw Neto attacking, pressing on the advantage. The situation was too unfavorable. Pain hindered her thoughts. Hurry and pull back, regroup. Hurry and buy some time. For this purpose, Fear thought to herself, anything will do, just turn into a form that could stop him—
"Mechanism No.12 extinction type, revolving blade form: «Tornado of Souls»...!"
Fear was shocked. The order to transform did not transmit. Blown away just now, fallen slightly further ahead, the hatchet remained a hatchet. No good, that form had already been sealed away! Indeed, her thoughts had grown sluggish from the pain. Fear cursed her own stupidity and the inconvenience of the seal while desperately pulling on the chain of cubes to retrieve the hatchet. She had wasted time already and had no opportunity to dodge Neto's attack.
The gun containing the pain she had caused was that «Cock» in that guy's right hand. Simply by brushing across her shoulder just now, the pain was already unbearable... Lingering in her body like a curse, she could still feel it. That alone must absolutely be evaded. She could still grit her teeth and bear a certain person's pain sealed in the «Dick» on the left. Prioritize defending against the right bayonet. If possible, destroy it. The left was a necessary sacrifice.
"I'll use your pain to deliver a final blow to you! Remember to tighten your butthole when receiving it!"
Fear focused all her attention on the bayonet in Neto's right hand. As Neto swung the bayonet down—
"Mechanism No.8 crushing type, circular form: «Breaking Wheel of Francia»—Curse Calling!"
She instantly transformed the hatchet to the torture wheel, blocking with the axle and trying to snap the bayonet. Is it doable? Yes. Hurry. She could see Neto lifting his left hand's «Dick» to stab her. This perfect opportunity must not be wasted. Endure it. As long as she broke the bayonet on the right side while enduring the attack, she was going to have spare strength to handle him—
Stab! The bayonet's blade penetrated her upper arm. Instantly, a despairing sense of dissonance swept over her limbs and body.
"Guh... A-Ahh... Ahhhhhhhhhhh!"
"Heeheeha~ Ha! I knew that's the kind of wishful thinking you'd have, what a dumb butthole! What~ A~ Shame~ This bayonet is the real «Cock»! No wait, maybe I really got them reversed!"
Neto kept pushing the blade's tip into her arm. It turned out that he had already exchanged his left and right weapons during the instant when Fear was sent flying away. This pain was causing Fear to feel as though her entire body was dismembered. She could feel the circuits in her brain gradually burning out. A voice was whispering to her: just lose consciousness and you'll be free of everything. Stop screwing around! But it's breaking, it's shattering, it's leaking, it's overflowing, so painful painful painful, PAIN. FUL!
"Ooooooooh, what a thrill, this is really the best, penetration is the best—! Raping buttholes is truly the best! Heehaw, I originally wanted to play with you longer to make you climax slowly, but I guess I don't have much time left! Sorry, let me climax first, fire——!"
Fear could see Neto put his finger on the trigger. Simply getting stabbed by the bayonet's blade was already overwhelming her with pain. If she were to be struck directly by the "pain" photo, she really did not want to imagine the consequences. Perhaps she really would go mad instantly.
"Gah... A-Ahhh—«A Skewer Loved by Vlad Tepes»!"
Everything would be meaningless if she lost and died here. Fear mustered all her strength to transform the torture wheel to the execution stake. Rather than skewering the enemy, she used its length to push herself away from him. Doing this was her limit at such close range.
The bayonet stabbed into her arm was finally shaking off. However, the pain did not subside. Her body was almost torn apart by pain, convulsing and twitching. Neto stopped his finger at the last moment and did not waste his bullet.
"Come on, I say, it's useless even if you endure it. Stop struggling. Give up and relax your butthole. I'm coming, heehahaha!"
Neto slowly closed in again. Fear's body was dominated by even more intense pain than before. She could not move. Neither could she order her body to move. She could feel the nerves all over her body breaking one by one.
Neto did not stop walking. Fear had no way of stopping him.
Desperately, she forced her consciousness to stay in her mind instead of slipping into darkness the moment she lowered her guard.
At the same time, she could do nothing but watch as the sadist slowly approached her.
This was a play written by a foreign author in the past, one that no one could fail to recognize.
There was no script. Only one of the scenes was picked out.
There was not a single prop on stage. Only a common stage that could be found in any gymnasium.
There was no magnificent lighting. Only a circle of light from an amateur spotlight.
There were no requisite actors. Only—
This was enough.
A script existed, the destiny ahead of her, illustrated in everyone's heart.
Stage props existed. As long as she acted out a graveyard, it was a graveyard; as long as she acted out a castle, it was a castle.
Magnificent lighting existed. Her entire body seemed to be enveloped in color of infinite variety.
Hence, by the time she realized, Hayakawa Chihaya found her face already covered in tears.
On stage, she was acting a scene from that play, simply through one person's efforts alone.
Everyone focused their eyes on her, forgetting language, gazing into that world.
Three short minutes, then the end arrived.
Until she retreated back to the side of the stage, the world still remained immersed in the afterglow of the performance. After spending quite some time, the world finally returned to its mundane and ordinary state. Only then did everyone realize in surprise that the world centered around her had already ended.
As though pleading for more, the applause persisted without abating.
Chihaya wiped her face. Although Chihaya was more or less curious what she might say when she returned and saw her face, the sense of embarrassment won over curiosity. At this moment, Chihaya suddenly noticed Isuzu standing next to her, frowning... It looked like something was wrong.
"What's wrong? Did something happen to them? Could it be... Like... Someone got killed..."
"No. But—It could be considered quite a predicament. The situation is very dangerous."
Isuzu quietly described the situation. Hearing that, Chihaya said:
"...Say, you guys."
Chihaya sighed. Why had they not discovered this? No, perhaps this was something impossible to discover unless viewed holistically from afar—That said, this was clearly an important factor that could not be more obvious.
"Anyway, just do as I said for now. I never expected to actually say these words in real life. You guys... Are you stupid? Do you want to die?"
Inhale, exhale, this duration of stillness continued to grate upon the nerves. The battle against Lilyhowell was like a military exercise.
But the battle suddenly reached an end.
Lilyhowell's «Wathe Breaker» was not crushed. Naturally, neither was Konoha crushed.
Haruaki watched in shock at the scene. An action so sudden that it caught him unprepared.
A shrine maiden picked up the trunk that was fallen on the floor, brought by the knights. Then she made a mad dash, running as fast as she could. Naturally, this was the kagura bell who had led Haruaki and Konoha to this place. Until now, she had been observing from afar to avoid getting in their way. Did something happen?
Catching sight of this from the corner of her eye, Lilyhowell turned around in surprise. Konoha did not let go of this chance and had Haruaki step forward, but Lilyhowell's judgment was extremely fast. Stepping forward, she rolled several times along the ground to create distance, interrupting the weapon-breaking duel between Konoha and her. Then she muttered:
"Since only Muramasa is here, that means the other teams are under attack as well. I do not think Neto will be defeated but—It will be troublesome if that is lost. This forces my hand!"
Carrying the «Wathe Breaker» on her shoulder, she rapidly chased the shrine maiden.
"I don't get what happened... But anyway, Konoha, let's give chase!"
Holding Konoha, Haruaki began to run as well. With some difficulty, he finally caught up to see the shrine maiden's back as well as Lilyhowell pursuing closely after her. Despite wearing armor, she was surprising fleet of foot. Passing between the school buildings, running across the courtyard, then—
"That child...! It's all because she was overconfident and acted alone...!"
They reached the end of the sports ground. Fear was supporting herself with one hand against the ground, panting, apparently unable to move her body. There were wounds on her shoulder and arm where a vivid color was dripping.
The black man, Neto, was standing in front of Fear, a bayonet in each hand. At this moment, he stopped walking towards Fear and turned his head to look at Haruaki and the others.
"Heeheeha, what's up? Looks like you're getting raped in the butthole by the others."
"Hmm—I now see that the theft was undertaken in an attempt to rescue Fear-in-Cube from her crisis. If I have no choice but to chase the trunk, they would have no choice but to chase me. This was the aim."
"Hmph. Then what do we do?"
"If only two trunks were stolen, it matters not. The trunk by your feet is still safe. They were probably unable to make a move because it is too close to you... The other two teams are also carrying trunks so there is no need to worry."
"Understood. Then I'll continue with my job. In the end, it's just increasing the audience."
The kagura bell watching over Fear had cooperated with her fellow bells to save Fear from the crisis, leading Haruaki and Konoha to this place. Her course of action was clearly very appropriate, possibly suggested by Chihaya or someone else. Haruaki felt very grateful. She had done the right thing. However—
"Fear! Wait there, we're going to to save you now—!"
"Do you really think I will let you go?"
Whether or not they were able to rescue Fear from the crisis was a separate matter.
Just as Haruaki tried to rush towards Fear, Lilyhowell blocked his way. Haruaki silently tried to circle around her but the «Wathe Breaker» swept horizontally. Konoha counterattacked, parrying the extremely heavy greatsword, but Haruaki had no choice but to stop running.
"I remember that being called the Sword-Kill Counter. This probably isn't a technique that can be performed while on the move. One, to save Fear-in-Cube, you must first defeat me. Two, but in order to defeat me, you must stop moving. In light of that, I offer you this advice—Give up."
"Stop saying... Rubbish...!"
Haruaki gripped Konoha hard. Fear was still unable to stand, her face twisted in pain, panting, trying to support herself with the execution stake, moving very slowly.
"Guuh... Ahhh... Hahhhhh... Damn it! The pain... no signs of... subsiding at all... Urghhh... Ahhhhhh!"
"Hee~ Ha~! That goes without saying. This is my greatest trait so of course I'm literally 'avenging' myself! I only got this nickname because of this ability to 'return pain'—Hmm, bluntly stated, this is like a super move. It's meaningless if it'll go away easily. After hurting me, you already lost the moment I returned that pain to you! Next, I'll just have to bring you to climax then my vengeance is done! Heehee~ Hahaha!"
Neto twirled the bayonets in his hands while walking forward, looking as though he enjoyed Fear's pain.
Every time Haruaki took a step forward, Lilyhowell also took a step in turn.
Haruaki wanted to rush forward with reckless abandon but then he suddenly remembered that Lilyhowell's target was not himself but Konoha. Lilyhowell could very well be waiting for him to deliver a reckless strike in an attempt to force her away.
Haruaki looked around. Nothing? Was there no way to break out of this crisis?
In the next instant, leaping into his view was—
Zenon and Ganon were stuck in a desperate battle.
None of the enemy knights possessed special weapons or tools. But overall, this team seemed to have gathered the relatively more capable members. They were protecting the trunk carefully, most likely something very important. The shrine maiden watching from the sidelines attempted to take certain actions but appeared to give up in the end.
Zenon dodged the enemy's attacks while throwing knives. Ganon also brandished her sword languidly to engage in battle, biding her time.
"Ooh~ So tiring, honestly, this can be considered a one-sided defensive battle, isn't it~?"
"We have completely accomplished our goal of halting the opponents' advance. Hence this is considered an attack in this sense."
"Oh my~ I've said it every time already, but my body really has gone slow and out of shape... Especially in stamina~ Dear sister, is there anything nearby like those recovery items in games?"
Instantly, Zenon was at a loss for words. This was not because she started doubting the mental state of the elder sister who could still utter such nonsense in this sort of crisis. That was not the entire reason at least.
Instead, it was because something that she wanted was indeed present. For some unknown reason, it had emerged in their view.
But Zenon continued to ponder the meaning behind it—the significance of that object's appearance—at the same time, she wondered: Onee-sama would very likely open her mouth wide and pounce on it.
On a nearby tree, in a gap between the flourishing leaves—A hand was extended, holding a meat bun.
What did this mean?
Zenon threw a knife without saying a word, striking the meat bun's very center.
"Ahhh! Is that the item for recovering all HP?"
Zenon ignored her sister's shrieking. The meat bun, stabbed with a knife—Carrying the meat bun, a dark-skinned girl leapt down from the tree with the rustling of leaves.
A glazed over expression, eyes without any fluctuation in emotion. Zenon knew very well that her own eyes were the same. Two faces of similar demeanor looked at each other. The girl remained expressionless and spoke monotonously:
"I mutter to myself: giving this alarming report. Completely unrelated to the surrounding situation, I was just lying in a tree trying to eat lunch while taking a nap but my precious meat bun was attacked. Now I must avenge the meat bun to vent my personal anger. You there, do you know what rude person attacked this meat bun? I ask this kind of question."
Zenon immediately pointed to the side and answered. Even though she was holding a throwing knife identical to the one stuck on the meat bun.
"I do. The suspicious men over there."
"I declare: giving grateful thanks to your information provided. Then out of personal resentment, to vent personal anger, I have decided personally to defeat this group of men and their accomplices. This is purely based on personal resentment for attacking the meat bun, completely unrelated to organizations such as the Lab Chief's Nation or the Knights Dominion."
Drawing the throwing knife from the meat bun, the girl casually dropped it by Zenon's feet.
Then she took out handcuffs from her pocket and cuffed her hands. Bending her legs, she drew a knife from under her skirt. Finally, she tossed into her mouth the meat bun with the large hole in it.
Once she finished chewing, the number of knights remaining standing was reduced to three within the blink of an eye.
"—Mode: «Cycling Yahoo Masayori»!"
"This move... How is... it...!?"
Kuroe had used her hair to entangle a bicycle in the parking lot to smash against one of the knights. At the same time, Kirika was using the «Tragic Black River» to restrain another knight by the waist. Then using the parking lot's roof as a pulley, she pulled the knight up, allowing him to crash into the ground after gathering sufficient gravitational potential energy.
With that, there were no mobile enemies left for now. The other two knights were already immobilized. The third person wrapped under layers of hair to resemble a caterpillar while the last man had fainted from lack of oxygen after he was choked by the neck. After confirming that all knights were immobilized, Kirika breathed a great sigh of relief. The usual sense of unpleasant pain was present on her chest, calves and shoulder blades. The sensation of pain and the squirming of regenerating flesh. As expected, she was unable to eliminate all the enemies without coming to harm herself. Kuroe jogged over to Kirika.
"Kiririn, are you okay? Do you need me to wrap your wounds with hair?"
"No, I'll heal immediately so don't worry... Anyway, the enemies are dealt with."
"Yeah. It took quite some time but I absolutely won't let anyone call us lacking in power again. Since we worked so hard, we must demand rewards from Haru. I'll be in charge of asking so you must make effective use of this opportunity, Kiririn!"
"A-Absolutely ridiculous... No, it's pointless to hide it from you. Then I'll say thanks in advance."
Kirika spoke with a wry smile, causing Kuroe to widen her eyes for an instant before smiling.
"This honesty is really great~ Ah, while I'm praising your honesty, Kiririn, I've also decided to name your move from just now as «Sure Kill: Kirika Itsuna Drop», please use it! Next time you perform the move, I hope you'll yell it out as loud as you can!"
"Sorry, I don't think I can comply. By the way, she has been gesturing for a while already."
Kirika looked over at the kagura bell shrine maiden and recalled. She had apparently been waving her hands all this time. Then something on the ground leapt into view and Kirika finally understood.
"Oh—The trunk? You wanted us to steal it, or you were planning to steal it, hoping we could distract them? Sorry, we noticed too late. Because their defense was a bit difficult to crack, even after I noticed, I didn't know if I could act on it immediately."
The shrine maiden shook her head as though saying "Don't mind that." Seeing this, Kuroe said:
"Hmm. In other words, using the nickname I just decided to call you girls, Suzu-chan, you girls were trying to use this trunk as the key to some kind of operation... And looks like this operation is still underway."
The shrine maiden picked up the trunk that was previously in the possession of the knight who had just collapsed, staring intently at Kirika and Kuroe. It felt like she was saying: Please hurry.
"I don't quite understand, but she wants us to follow her, right? Looks like we'd better hurry."
While Kirika was murmuring, the shrine maiden had already turned around and started running. Kirika and Kuroe prepared to chase her.
But after running a few steps, the shrine maiden suddenly stopped and looked back abruptly.
Her face was filled with a shocked expression while her eyes seemed to be staring at a location somewhere else. Her body trembled slightly. Perhaps losing strength, the trunk slid from her palm and fell on the ground. Not only that, but she also stumbled, instantly collapsing to sit on the floor—
"Hey, what's with you?"
Kirika ran over to examine the shrine maiden's face. This inability to speak was causing such anxiety. However—
"You just need to answer yes or not. Did you foresee something?"
The shrine maiden slowly shook her head from side to side. The answer was no.
"...Your other comrades, did they tell you something has happened?"
The shrine maiden slowly moved her head up and down. Yes.
The shock she suffered was nothing ordinary. Something very serious must have happened—Kirika concluded. It did not happen here. Through their shared consciousness, one of them had seen something. What was it?
There were countless answers that could be filled in this blank. Precisely because of that, Kirika wished to obtain a minimum level of relief.
Hence, praying for a negative answer, trying to first rule out this worst possible outcome, she asked:
"Someone—did someone die?"
The shrine maiden's head moved up and down. It was no illusion. Kirika was not mistaken.
No matter how much she wished she were mistaken.
"Th-Thank you for your hard work. Umm... I was thinking you might have sweated a lot, this towe-..."
"Shiraho, thank you for your hard work~! Your performance was wonderful! Here, a towel!"
Chihaya came up to welcome Shiraho returning from the stage. Due to encountering the maid who was waiting for Shiraho at the same time, Chihaya hastily returned the towel to her pocket. The maid tilted her head and made a look as though saying "Oh?" while looking at Chihaya, but Chihaya pretended not to see.
"Goodness gracious, that was so exhausting. Having been so long since I last put on performance, I really couldn't get my voice out."
"R-Really...? Hmm~ Shiraho, you were really amazing~ Once again, thank you for your hard work!"
"Phew~ However, it hasn't ended yet... To think there is a speech segment as well. What exactly should I say?"
"Shiraho, you'll be greatly received no matter what you say! Like talking about that leg beautifying exercise you do right after a bath, that would be nice, right? Everyone will definitely be very interested!"
Putting aside whether it would help in the beauty pageant, everyone was definitely going to be very interested. Chihaya really felt like asking about the details privately afterwards.
Just at this time, holding the towel to wipe her sweat, Shiraho turned lightly towards Chihaya, tilting her head slightly and said:
"Actually, I don't care."
"In other words, where did that tall girl go? Did she feel that nothing mattered anymore because the noisy silver-haired lass was gone? Given this rare occasion when I'm acting on stage, yet she doesn't even watch? It's as though she's saying that I am inferior to the silver-haired lass. My feelings are hurt to some extent."
The person leaping into Haruaki's view...
Was neither Kirika nor Kuroe, neither Zenon nor Ganon, and definitely not Un Izoey or a knight.
It was Yume.
Stepping forward to place herself between Fear and Neto, she glared sharply at Neto. Held in her hand was a wooden mop that was probably taken from a cleaning equipment cupboard somewhere.
"W-What...!? A-Are you an idiot? This has nothing to do with you, don't get involved... Guh... Urghhh!"
The pain spreading through her body was making Fear moan. Yume looked over her shoulder at Fear and smiled.
"No... Indeed, it's still impossible. Because I truly love you explosively, Fear-senpai! Yes, so in the end, I can't stand by and do nothing about your crisis!"
"This... is not... a game!"
"Of course I know that! Because I also know that the Frontline Gathering Knights Dominion is a terrifying organization!"
Haruaki's group was instantly rendered speechless by the implications of the term she uttered. Basically—
Yume glared firmly at Neto and swung the mop in her hand lightly, entering a stance.
"I—I am a member of the Draconians! So I will never run away!"
Hearing her self-introduction, Neto frowned even more at the intruder who had forced him to stop. Blocking in front of Haruaki, Lilyhowell simply glanced sideways at Yume without revealing any openings.
Fear stared wide-eyed in shock, slowly lifting herself using the execution stake, asking at the same time:
"What... did you... say? So, y-you... infiltrated the school—"
"Yes, I infiltrated the school."
"On the message board, chatting with me on all topics..."
"Yes, I love eating hamburgers! This is the all-purpose food that allows me to eat grains, meat and vegetables all at the same time! Because I'm very weak, my parents died, leaving me all alone. After eating this secret food of hamburgers for the first time, my height grew rapidly as a result. Oh, the tip about sleeping in Ancient Japanese class without getting scolded is really great! I basically treat it as my chance to catch up on sleep and greatly look forward to that class!"
She answered all questions in the affirmative, leading to the only true identity possible.
Infiltrating the school, the unidentified member of the Draconians. The one whom Fear had been keeping contact with on the message board. The one whom Fear wanted to meet but chose to protect silently without meeting her. The one whom Fear wished to support in her wish to become an "ordinary high school student."
Who was that? The answer was obvious.
Nirushaaki. «Knight Killer». «Battle Demon». Formerly ranked second of the Draconians.
Currently, she was standing before the immobilized Fear, facing off against Neto the Avenger, glaring at each other, substituting for Haruaki and Konoha whose movements were pinned down by Lilyhowell.
There was no choice but to depend on her. No, given who she was, depending on her would surely be fine—
The sword in Haruaki's hand suddenly whispered. Haruaki noticed at the same time while asking in turn. He saw something unbelievable. Yume holding the broom, a light smile hanging on her face. However—
But her legs seemed to be trembling, were his eyes deceiving him—?
In the next instant, something began while something else concluded at the same time.
"Huh...? This is so not funny. No. It's totally wrong. This bitch... Ah, so not funny!"
Without giving Yume any chance to react, Neto stepped forward, raised his bayonet and pierced her abdomen.
Honestly, what a headache—Shiraho thought to herself.
The contestants were lined up in a row on stage. Naturally, she was standing next to girls dressed in club uniforms and other outfits. Currently, everyone had to take their turn and give a speech about their thoughts. Each person was given two minutes.
"Okay, next up is... Sakuramairi Shiraho-san who just treated us to a spectacular, improvised drama performance!"
In concert with the host's voice, the contestant who had given the previous speech handed the microphone over to her. Shiraho took the mic, still not knowing what she was going to say. Packed tightly below the stage, the students were gazing at her with inexplicable anticipation. She had gone overboard. If she could simply say "no comment" at this time, how easy that would be.
Shiraho shifted her gaze and saw Sovereignty at the standby area. She had her fist tightly clenched before her chest, looking up at Shiraho with nervousness and anticipation. Chihaya was also standing next to Sovereignty, and for some reason, her expression was identical to Sovereignty's.
This event was held for the sake of people like Chihaya in the first place. This event was held for the sake of welcoming the new students. Shiraho recalled this fact. Hence, she took a breath and started speaking:
"First of all, allow me to say to all of you first-years—Congratulations for becoming students of our school."
As though unsure what had happened to her, Yume's eyes were spinning out of control. Red blood spilled out of her mouth.
"Stop getting in the way of my pleasure, you amateur!"
Neto's bayonet was still stabbed in Yume's abdomen. He opened the magazine, pulled out the old photo inside and carefully put it away. Before stabbing Yume in the abdomen, he had fired a shot into the air to incinerate the previous photo inside before inserting this old photo. Judging from the circumstances, that was likely the photo of the "pain" that Nirushaaki had caused him.
"What... Damn it... Damn it—! What... have... you done!?"
"What, you're asking me? Who asked her to come running out at this time? Anyone would think she's the butthole everyone has been searching for all this time. So not funny. She's totally not it. What the heck is up with this chick? A butthole on a totally amateur level. So freakin' weak. Whatever, all said and done, that bitch ain't this tall anyway. It's not like she could have grown tall between today and back then. Ah, what a bother, why the heck did you come, butthole!"
"Gah, hee... Ah... Uwahhhhh!"
Neto impatiently pulled the bayonet in and out. The genuine avenger mood was completely gone, replaced by the laughter of a crazed sadist. Yume's uniform was dyed another color. Konoha shook slightly as though enduring something.
"Guh... That child... isn't... Nirushaaki...?"
"Heehaw, you should scream in a more pleasant voice! Getting in the way just as things were getting fired up, at least service me a little here. Oh? Is that what a Japanese school girl looks like inside!?"
"Gihee... Ah, ah, ahhhhh..."
"—One, Draconian. Two, she blocked our way. That is all, there is insufficient reason for me to stop him."
Lilyhowell narrowed her eyes, simply turning her back to Yume's screams, muttering in a pained voice.
Haruaki rushed forward. However, Konoha's movements were very sluggish. Using the «Wathe Breaker», Lilyhowell deflected Konoha effortlessly. Haruaki instantly remembered that Konoha could have been broken by the attack just now and could not help but shiver with terror. Then another scream from Yume made him shudder again. He must save her. Although he had no idea what was going on and did not know who she actually was, he knew that he had to save her anyway. But Lilyhowell was excessively in the way!
Behind Lilyhowell, Neto could be seen releasing Yume finally. Treating her as an object, he kicked her body aside and pulled out the bayonet. Making a sound that was intermediate between a liquid and a solid, Yume's body collapsed in front of Fear.
"H-Hey... Yume... Yume, pull yourself together... a bit...!"
"—Fear... -senpai. Sorr...y. I was really... too reckless... I guess...?"
"Totally reckless to the extreme! Y-You... aren't Niru... shaaki...? In that case, how do you know about the message board? No, that doesn't matter right now—"
Fear's gaze wavered unsteadily as though she suddenly understood the unavoidable fate that was about to descend.
"This is also... Sorry. I don't like lying to the end, so I'll confess... Nirushaaki-sama... From the start... wasn't in this school. Inside this school... was only the one pretending to be her... making contact with you guys, Fear-senpai... according to orders... me, a little flunkie from the Draconians."
"But you don't have a tattoo on your body...!"
"Fufu. Although I was very impatient, but new members... can't get tattooed with Wounds... until their worth is recognized... I'm... just a failure of this level. So, if you ask me why I did all this... It's all part of the plan—The «Nest Parasitoid»."
"Yes... Ontenzaki-senpai was defeated... Kokoro-senpai was defeated... Even the very strong Hinai Elsie of legend was defeated by you guys. So the Draconians' Commander decided to have a young member learn what makes you and your friends 'strong,' Fear-senpai. He wanted me to understand what made you guys so strong then bring the reason back. By hanging around you guys... Watching battles—And this time, using news of Nirushaaki-sama as bait, summoning the Knights Dominion to fight your faction to observe. Because our principle is... the process of becoming strong does not matter, so long as one ended up strong... anything is acceptable... probably like, stealing techniques as much as possible..."
"So they... sent you... here...?"
Yume's head bobbed up and and down as though shaking.
"I seriously believe... it's because I find Fear-senpai so cute... clearly so cute yet so strong, that's what I admire so much—that's why... I was chosen. I didn't... lie. I really love you, Fear-senpai... not because I was forced to love you. But because... from the start... I loved you very much..."
"E-Enough! I know!"
"That's right... I love you so much... because I love you too much... I ended up... failing. Clearly I could have just watched from the sidelines... even if... I didn't interfere... surely you'll make a comeback, Fear-senpai. But... I can't stop myself... I wanted... so much to protect you, Fear-senpai... I must protect her... despite being such a weak amateur... without knowing better, rushing... forward—"
Yume suddenly coughed and spat blood.
Then she half closed her eyes while desperately squeezing out a smile. How could you still smile? Incomprehensible. Seriously—Why?
However, Fear could no longer get an answer to this insignificant question.
"Okay... Let me... see... Senpai... The exhilarating... explosively amazing.. great comeback. I... wanted to see that kind of Fear-senpai... that's why I came here..."
Her smile froze at this point.
Her smile persisted, maintaining this smile.
Fear gave a piercing scream.
I suppose, this is like a new world, isn't it?
Some of you probably feel uneasy. If life has not gone smoothly so far, you will feel even more uneasy.
Same here—Frankly speaking, it used to be the same for me. I hated school very much in the past and felt very uneasy.
I suppose I still hate it for sure right now. After all, going to school every day is such a pain. It's so noisy no matter where I go. The lessons are so boring with content that goodness knows if it will ever come in handy.
But who knows why, that uneasiness gradually went away. Despite hating school just as much. Despite no change, if the result was refuted, then what meaning is there in the unease being considered right now? Everyone, perhaps you may not understand what I am talking about, but don't mind it. Because, neither do I. I am simply speaking whatever is coming to mind.
However, there are certain things that you can only know by experiencing them personally. I have had many such experiences. For example, will one get tired of seeing the same person every day? Or chatting about the same topics every day?
...How should I explain?
The majority of things will turn out as imagined.
But unexpectedly, things also turned out slightly better than imagined.
I believe it will be the same for you all. If not—Oh right, first try recalling the person you love, how's that? Simply by doing so, your mood will surely improve. At least, no matter how sad you feel or when you feel you are about to die from sadness, you'll still be able to force out a smile to avoid worrying your beloved. With this, the one you love will end up smiling more, which is, of course, not a bad thing. But perhaps, this only applies to me, so I cannot provide a guarantee.
In any case, this is my message—Are two minutes up already?
So, allow me to repeat in the end.
Congratulations for enrolling.
I wish for everyone's future to turn out slightly more wonderful than imagined.
Fear screamed with all her strength until she was hoarse.
Looking down, she could see the ground, she could see the girl's smiling face, she could see the bright red nearby, she could see something rolling on the ground. This probably fell from that girl's skirt. The toy cube. Rubik's cube.
Smiling, the girl had said that they were now a pair.
The two of them had tilted their heads together, simply swiveling the cubes, clicking nonstop.
Yesterday, they had spent all their time together, memorizing how to solve the Rubik's cube, practicing how to complete it quickly.
"Seriously, what a butthole... In the end, that's what happened? We were totally taken in by those Draconians. Nirushaaki isn't here at all?"
"If one were to believe that girl's words, this should be the conclusion."
Chatting could be heard from a distance. So noisy. I'm currently talking to Yume.
(It's all thanks to you that I was able to learn... how to solve the Rubik's cube—)
Using both hands, Fear cradled the Rubik's cube, all covered in blood.
Then slowly she swiveled it. The blue side with red on it. The white side with red on it. There was no need to rush right now. Fear simply wanted to show Yume that she was able to solve it perfectly, that Yume was the one who helped her learn this.
While her head was bowed, she could sense an approaching presence ahead.
"I'm seriously in no mood for heehaha laughing. What the heck—it ends up the same as before? A knight squad was already assembled, it's not like we can go back empty-handed. If we go back with the good news of destroying Fear-in-Cube as a souvenir, at least it'll retain some of the Dominion Lord's honor."
As though awakened by that annoying voice, Fear felt a wave of numbing, stinging pain.
The pain scurried over the depths of her body, forcing her to remember forgotten suffering.
But so what?
Click, click. Next comes this step! Up, right, up, right, up, right, right—It's like an incantation! Fear recalled Yume's voice. She could not possibly be forgotten.
"You're not listening at all. What a lost cause. So into playing with that toy. I never thought Fear-in-Cube would be so easily defeated. Clearly just a butthole Wathe. Whatever, while you're playing with a toy, allow me to make you into a toy too, heehaha!"
The colors gradually grew uniform. Click. Such inopportune pain. Stinging. She did not care.
Click, click, click, click... click.
The beautiful cube was done.
The cube belonging to that girl and her.
"I'm gonna destroy you. Remember to scream enough to give me great pleasure in listening to it!"
At this moment, Fear finally looked up. Holding the solved Rubik's cube in both hands, she looked up. Before her eyes was Neto. He had raised his bayonet up high, preparing to stab her.
What should she do? Naturally, exactly what Yume had said. This was her wish. A explosively amazing, great comeback.
(For this... I need... power. So...)
Her body was in unbearable pain. Unable to move as usual. In particular, her legs could not move. Difficult to dodge or attack.
However, Fear did not think there was no way.
(So—Yume, please lend this to me for a while.)
A voice whispered somewhere in her mind. You can do it. You can't possibly fail to do it.
The voice continued to whisper. Whispers that were not her own. Whispers that really seemed like she had heard them before.
—Your curse... is infinite. Already so upon creation—
Hence, she can do it? Although she had no idea what it meant, she can do it. Memories from centuries ago that she had long forgotten. Forget the trivial stuff. Being able to do it was the most important. Knowing this alone was enough.
Fear looked up at the approaching bayonet.
While staying aware of what she was leaning on as a crutch, the existence that was already released as the execution stake...
While tightly gripping the Rubik's cube whose colors were all uniform, the one belonging to Yume—She spoke lightly at the same time:
"—Dual Emulation, start."
Fear was activating two emulated cubes simultaneously.
Although this was the first time, what she needed to do remained the same. She generated the umbilical path—namely, the chain of cubes. Unlike the chain of cubes that always connected to her right hand, this chain was attached to her left. On the end of the chain was a black mass of steel, transformed from the Rubik's cube. The self that could not be more familiar. Before it fell to the ground in its cube state, Fear rapidly conferred upon it a new form.
"Mechanism No.30 blooming type, pointed form: «Flower Sword Verazella»!"
Fear used the slender sword to deflect Neto's bayonet. Instantly, she activated the flower sword's mechanism, opening the blade in a cross, spinning the sword behind her to block the other bayonet. The returned "pain" was still rushing through her limbs and body but she still managed to defend as long as her upper body could move. The problem was her lower body, her legs, mobility.
"What a butthole that never knows to give up! You think you can defeat me just by wielding weapons in both hands? Too naive!"
Deflection alone was unable to move out of attack range. Neto raised his bayonet again to stab her.
Fear barely managed to block using the «Flower Sword Verazella», opened in a cross shape. She was about to spin the blade but Neto saw through the action this time. Applying force, he resisted. Then Fear suddenly found the bayonet's muzzle aimed straight at her. Neto laughed maliciously then placed his finger on the trigger.
Even if she could not evade, evasion was the only choice. Currently, she was able to do it.
"Mechanism No.27 grinding type, cog-wheel form: «Gear Wheel Trismegistus»—Curse Calling!"
The execution stake she had been using as a crutch began to change in form.
The form appearing immediately was a pedestal with three large gear wheels connected vertically. Gears were supposed to be tools used as intermediate devices to make other objects turn, but in this form, that was not exactly their purpose. Gears must act as simple gears. Connected to one another, grating while drawing in human arms, legs and necks, never halting, using power to crush and sever these body parts between the gears. That was the kind of torture tool this was.
However, that was not Fear's current aim. She had summoned this mechanism in an upside-down state. Hence, the pedestal was on top while the gears that were supposed to be above the base were pressed against the ground instead.
Fear reached out with one hand and grabbed the top of the pedestal, hoisting herself onto it and ordering the gears to turn at the same time.
Then what happened next naturally required no explanation. Things in contact with gears would start moving. However, the gears could not move the ground they were currently touching. Hence, naturally, the gear mechanism itself would move like a mode of transportation.
The gears grated noisily as they scratched the surface of the ground, forcefully tracing out an arc while moving forward.
Meanwhile, Neto's finger pressed the trigger. Certain of striking his target, he fired bullets of "pain" simultaneously from both guns. Although they were invisible, Fear could feel the bullets' cursed presences fly past her hair behind her.
"—At the same time! Mechanism No.22 bludgeoning type, spike-ball form: «Morgenstern», Curse Calling!"
While using the gear mechanism to move herself forward, Fear transformed the flower sword in her left hand to a spiked metal club. Using the momentum from being in motion, she swept the spiked metal club horizontally towards Neto's body. Of course, there was not the slightest hesitation in this series of movements.
Bones, flesh, blood and a little bit of machinery—
Countless noises could be heard while all of this was crushed, disintegrated and smashed into one.
"A future slightly more wonderful than imagined—She... Did she manage to achieve it?"
Suddenly hearing whispers, Chihaya looked back. Isuzu was staring intently at Shiraho who had ended her speech on stage. Chihaya had never seen Isuzu's eyes looking like that, a gaze showing signs of deliberately suppressed emotions.
"No. For sure... yes. In order to achieve this kind of future... That was why she did it. Even if it meant going against orders, she felt that her wish of a 'slightly more wonderful future' would not arrive unless she stood in front of the one she wanted to protect—"
"Isuzu, what's the matter... Is this a prediction?"
On stage, the last person was about to deliver her speech. Chihaya's classmate, Kagidou Himeno, was just about to pick up the microphone. Chihaya decided it would be best to listen to her speech.
"No... Chihaya-sama. How do you feel about Yume-sama!?"
Why ask this weird question all of a sudden? Chihaya frowned but Isuzu looked very serious. Hence, Chihaya scratched her face.
"Well, basically, she's a classmate... Not only is she tall but she's also very annoying the way she moves and talks. And calling herself annoyingly cute, who does she think she is? But... Hmm, she's a... friend. That's all I can call her."
The conversation partner she met on the first day of school, at least... Not bad at all. A start to her high school life that turned out a little less boring than imagined. Just as Shiraho described, it was surely the same for most people.
"I see... That's... true."
Isuzu narrowed her eyes, nodding neither slowly nor quickly. It was as though she were transmitting Chihaya's reply, her voice, somewhere. Chihaya suddenly felt very embarrassed. Change the subject!
"Oh right! Have you found the enemy who's supposed to have entered the school beauty pageant?"
"...No. What about you, Chihaya-sama~?"
"I gave up a long time ago. It's completely meaningless. Besides, I already knew who's gonna win."
"True... But... the enemy should have had a plan from the beginning. Although it's not particular meaningful anymore, no one wants the secrets hidden in their heart to be exposed."
"What are you talking about?"
Chihaya sniffed slightly while asking Isuzu. For some reason, drifting from somewhere, there seemed to be a very sweet fragrance of perfume entering her nostrils.
Isuzu tilted her head slightly and answered:
"In other words, the enemy's plan might still be going on right now perhaps. Although there is only a faint smell of a curse~ Anyway, I should be able to stop the enemy just by doing this, so please allow Isuzu to do so."
This time, it was Chihaya's turn to tilt her head in puzzlement. Isuzu's action was very simple.
"...Akin to strong winds from high mountains, capable of blowing away thick layers of clouds."
She simply murmured these words softly.
...Blowing a violent gale towards the stage.
Standing next to her, the incomparably formidable opponent was delivering her speech. Although the content was quite ordinary, or even described as fragmented, her voice carried unbelievable charisma.
She felt her sense of hearing getting captivated.
—Right, let me try to recall the person I love—
Laurica's mind reflexively recalled the image of a certain person she idolized, Lilyhowell Kilmister.
Laurica whispered to Lilyhowell in her heart. This opponent is very strong. But I won't lose. In order to reach where you are, in order to be with you. In order to be more than just "Trash."
However, the few seconds spent on thinking turned out to be a fatal waste.
"What's the matter? It's finally your turn."
Beside her—Sakuramairi Shiraho—was handing the microphone towards Laurica, tilting her head. Crap. Now was not the time for spacing out. Laurica used her fingers to turn and remove the lid of the small bottle behind her. The «Perfume of Mating Season» of which little remained—The Wathe she was going to deplete completely here to force the opposite sex into heat. Laurica reversed the bottle behind her at her waist, pouring out all the perfume. A sweet fragrance. The contestants sniffed. No need to care about the same sex. Her target consisted of the boys who smelled this fragrance.
Essentially all Wathes possessed the trait of maximizing the number of victims on its own. The fragrance of ordinary perfume probably could not spread in this manner even if one were to pour a bottle out completely. However, this perfume would automatically spread throughout the entire gym, seeking the males it was meant to control. That said, judging from the current situation, the space was far too vast and the targets too numerous. It was still uncertain whether they were going to be bewitched immediately by the user—Laurica—simply by smelling it. Hence, while the fragrance was spreading, it was also necessary to speak at the same time in order to deliver to the boys' consciousness the message that "the owner of this fragrance is me."
Laurica took the microphone. No problem. Wasting a few seconds did not matter at all. She had definitely used the perfume, so all she needed to do now was speak—
"Uh~ Hello everyone, I am the final contestant, my name is—!"
"Kyah~!" "Wait... What is going on!?" "Kyah! Seriously!"
Just as Laurica started her speech, for some reason—
A sudden violent gale blew towards the stage from below, where the students were.
Laurica felt a sweet fragrance fill her nostrils. It was the scent of the perfume she had poured out.
(...W-Wait, how? Why?)
Laurica lost composure in shock. Impossible to believe. But she understood the cruel truth. The fragrance had not spread out.
This sudden gust of wind had prevented the bewitching fragrance from drifting towards the boys to obtain the votes she needed!
So, this meant a bid for victory through true merit? Using the performance so far and the speech she was about to make, an open bid for victory?
No choice but to defeat her?
Laurica felt almost all strength drain from below her knees, almost collapsing on the spot.
Despite knowing that she must not think these words, she could not prevent the sentence from surfacing in her mind.
—How could I possibly defeat her?
"You—! What the heck are you doing——! I'm gonna hurt you, I'm gonna give you merciless and extremely terrifying punishment right now!"
"Please allow me to say in fear and trepidation, because this is necessary, you know~ Just in case, one more time."
Another gust of violent wind. An extraordinary whirlwind was blowing inside the gym. On stage, the girls were all shrieking while holding down their skirts while the boys watching this scene from below were leaning forward in a clamor.
About to deliver a speech was the final contestant—in other words, Chihaya's classmate. Kagidou Himeno was simply standing there blankly on stage, making no effort to hold down the skirt that was being blown upwards by the wind. Chihaya could not help but think, surely she must have supplied countless boys with food for thought for their activities tonight.
Next to Himeno, Shiraho was currently holding down her skirt, casting a cold gaze towards Chihaya as though asking: "...What on earth are you two trying to do?" I must explain to her as soon as she comes down from the stage—Chihaya found it a little troubling that she was actually looking forward to it for some reason. Even if it was a chance to converse, the other person would very likely be angry. Chihaya wondered if this was some kind of perverted desire. As a side note, the maid kept waving her hands and yelling as though praising a goalkeeper who had successfully blocked a penalty kick: "What what? Is this a prank of fairies!? But as expected of Shiraho, nice block!" Chihaya thought to herself: I've lost to her in all sorts of ways.
"So... Kagidou Himeno-san? Speech time has already started... Are you okay?"
Instead of answering the host's question, Himeno continued to stand there spacing out without saying a word, wasting the allotted time. No one could tell if she was too nervous or had given up on the contest. In any case, the victor was decided with that.
After all the contestants finished the speeches, it was finally time to vote. Everyone received a ballot where all they had to do was write in the name of the person they picked. The rules were very simple.
The executive committee members also started handing out ballots to the students in the standby area. No need to hurry.
Chihaya paid attention to the door connecting the side of the stage to the main standby area, waiting for Shiraho to return. However, the first person to rush out, faster than anyone else, turned out to be Himeno instead. She even rushed out of the secondary standby area, running off to unknown whereabouts—so fast that no one wanted to try stopping her.
Chihaya could not help but think: Was getting her panties seen by others such a great shock?
Crushed sunglasses. Naturally, bones were probably crushed as well. Probably during an attempt to engage in pointless defense in that very instant, the man's arms were bent like those of a wrecked doll. So ugly that she could not help but laugh out loud. The metal club's spikes had pierced his flesh, causing a certain color to spread out on the ground, one that ought to come from this man only. The remains of the two bayonets were also stained by the same color. Hanging on his neck, the camera was also flattened with glass lenses and small components scattered on the ground.
Best that all be crushed. Best that all be crushed even more. Were his lungs flattened? Was his belly flattened? Was his crotch flattened? If not, then continue to exert more force. Crush. Indeed, crush, crush.
This man's fortune was not bad, apparently. He was still alive. Fear could feel the pain all over her body finally subsiding. Moving forward slowly on her knees, she approached Neto. Her lips curled into a grin for no reason.
Her mind was hazy and chaotic. Only a vast and ambiguous sense of omnipotence was dancing inside.
Serves you right, look. Still alive. Kill him. Killing him would be too merciful. She possessed the power to kill him. Right now, she was capable of anything. The weight in both her hands announced this fact. Strike. Lock him away in the «Iron Coffin of Lissa», then use the «Morgenstern» to hammer viciously from above, causing him to go mad from the echoes and the impacts. Or make him sit in the «German Interrogation Chair» then force him to watch «The Pendulum»'s blade swing towards him. That scene might be nice. Cut. Will this guy go incontinent? Will he beg her to spare his life in an unsightly manner? How she wished to hear it. How she wished to hear it right now. Hang him. Disgrace him. Bind up—Ahhh, such a dilemma. If only he could be made to sit on the «Judas Cradle», then tear his back open with the «Cat's Paw», then reward him by placing him on top of the «Inquisitional Wheel», using «The Teeth» to play with him would be nice. Actually, there was much more that she was originally capable of. Clearly infinitely many more. But now there was no way. How unsatisfying. Then let's start using two instances of «A Hatchet of Lingchi» to play a game of verifying the lengths of both arms. Shave. Definitely awesome. Definitely a fun game. Hence, Fear transformed the cubes, wielding a hatchet in each hand, slowly approaching Neto—
"Fear... That's... enough."
"It's... over. It's all over—Hurry and wake up. Hurry and wake up, Fear! Hey!"
Just as she tried to swing a hatchet, she felt resistance. A Japanese sword in a black scabbard was pressing on the hatchet. Usually bearing a stupid look, his face was currently very serious, watching her as though worried about something.
Her consciousness was gradually strung back together. She felt double the weight from both hands. The dark sense of omnipotence, whose birth was guided by the double measure of violent impulses occupying her heart, gradually dissipated from her mind.
"I-I know... Okay!"
Recover now. Don't forget. Myself... Myself here is different from my past self.
Fear turned the torture tools carried in both hands back to Rubik's cubes at the same time. One cube was found in the cupboard of the Yachi home. The other was bought by Yume in hopes of connecting with Fear.
Fear closed her eyes. Lingering in her body was a sense of fatigue and weariness, as well as the final remnants of the disappearing pain.
There was also an irredeemable... sense of emptiness and despair—
"You... What happened to that woman? Did you guys defeat her?"
"We left her to the others for now. Everyone just reunited with us."
Fear asked, trying to escape from reality. Haruaki answered. "The others" probably consisted of those Fear could guess. Several shrine maidens, Kirika and Kuroe, Zenon and Ganon, plus for some reason, Un Izoey.
Just as Haruaki said, they were currently engaged with Lilyhowell in battle.
"Wha... Yah!?" "—!"
Ganon and Un Izoey both staggered and retreated at the same time. In front of them, certain glittering objects could be seen falling and scattering. The fragments of blades. The remains of Ganon's sword and the knife Un Izoey wielded in her foot.
Amidst this glittering light, Lilyhowell stared ahead intently, swinging the greatsword called the «Wathe Breaker». As her cape fluttered up, the blade's whiteness further accentuated the pure whiteness of her knightly attire.
"Crap, she broke it...!"
"My comment: concluding she is quite a powerful master. Although beasts have successfully escaped me in the past, never has any beast ever broken my knife with their teeth, I remember this kind of memory."
Although her eyes showed no fluctuation in emotion, Un Izoey whispered softly with some admiration in tone. Continuing to stare at the enemy, she drew out a prepared weapon from under her skirt (considering the space, perhaps it was under her panties as well).
Without a weapon, Ganon simply raised both arms in a surrendering pose. Meanwhile, Zenon threw knives from the side. Kirika and Kuroe also extended the «Tragic Black River» and hair respectively. However, Lilyhowell turned her body like a tornado, repelling all attacks while severing the belt and the hair.
"How absolutely ridiculous in strength... But if anything, she seems like the type to focus more on defense than offense. Under such circumstances, there should be many ways to break through the defense."
"Because the disadvantage in numbers is too great. You have no chance of winning. Why don't you give up and surrender?"
Lilyhowell seemed to exhale lightly but her cheerless expression remained the same.
"No chance of winning... huh? Deceived by the enemy, the plan is exposed, even the plan's core is smashed, the subordinates are lying collapsed, leaving only the leader. Then—as a knight, what ought to be the correct decision at a time like this?"
"I suggest you toss your greatsword aside and surrender."
Hearing Kuroe's words, Lilyhowell nodded slightly and gripped her greatsword more tightly.
"—Indeed, I must fight to the very end against overwhelming odds until my strength is exhausted."
"Muu, completely ignored."
Still holding the Rubik's cubes in both hands, Fear stood up, using Haruaki's extended hand for support. Next, she approached Lilyhowell slowly together with Haruaki who was holding the Japanese sword. Fight until her strength was exhausted? In that case, Fear decided to be her opponent until Lilyhowell's strength was exhausted. But at this moment—
"Huff! A-Ahhh... Huff...!"
A girl in school uniform ran towards Lilyhowell, jumping into her bosom as though trying to knock her over. She looked quite familiar. Wasn't she one of the first-year girls who were still taking part in the school beauty pageant just now? She was also Chihaya and Yume's classmate. In other words, this girl was the auxiliary from the Knights Dominion who had infiltrated the school beauty pageant. Lilyhowell gazed down at the girl in surprise.
"S-Sorry... I am so sorry, I... am too... useless. I could not accomplish the mission... I failed, but the failure belongs to me alone, not you, Lilyhowell-sama—! So... Don't! Absolutely don't!"
Lilyhowell's elegant eyebrows were frowning as she narrowed her eyes and looked at Laurica who was sobbing against her neck. After remaining still for several seconds, Lilyhowell repeated inhaling and exhaling a couple times, then—
"I take back what I said. The correct action that a knight ought to take now... is this instead!"
While murmuring softly, Lilyhowell suddenly turned around and started a mad dash without looking back—She fled.
The unexpected behavior caught everyone unprepared. The group could only stare blankly at her back. But among them only one person took action, the girl who knew better than anyone else how to handle escaping prey.
Un Izoey instantly stretched out the elastic from her toe, crouching down on the spot, using her legs as a firing mechanism to form an elastic bow in a marvelous display of balance. A number of darts were shot at high speed like arrows.
Lilyhowell simply turned her body to shield the female student held in her arms against her chest. Two or three darts were deflected by her «Wathe Breaker» and armor but one of them burrowed into her shoulder. She frowned slightly but did not stop. After cutting across the sports ground, she ran straight for the wall.
"W-What should we do...?"
"As much as I'd like to say, just let her run if she wants to run, we have to make her clean up the aftermath, after all the absolutely ridiculous things they've done!"
"Just letting those two escape like this, in the end, it's still... too merciful. Haruaki-kun, could you please run a little! Perhaps we might be able to catch up to them!"
Fear gritted her teeth and started taking steps to chase after Lilyhowell and Laurica. But in that very instant—
"«Geist»! «Geist»! «Polter»—«Geist»!"
Crash crash crash! Falling down from the sky, timber and brooms crashed into the ground before them, forming a row like a fence, blocking their path. Everyone looked up to search for the source where these objects were shot from, almost vertically—
"Satsuko and... Fourteen...!"
At the same time, two figures had also jumped down from the top of the school building. Satsuko had her hair styled into buns as usual while wearing this school's uniform. Fourteen had her face covered by the veil as seen before while dressed in combat attire with her chest bound in sarashi cloth. The two of them landed next to the fallen Yume.
Satsuko narrowed her eyes, bowing her head to look at Yume as though expressing forlornness, sorrow and mourning.
"Hiwatari Yume-san, Ontenzaki Satsuko saw everything. Thank you for your hard work... Fourt."
"—I will not call this cleaning up. I will treat her as an honored guest who has completed the trials towards becoming a dragon, welcoming her inside."
Fourteen knelt down and covered Yume's body lightly with her cape. When she stood up again, Yume could not be seen lying on the ground any more. She was probably moved into the body of Fourteen the "house."
"You two... must have known from the start! Whether Yume! Or «Knight Killer» Nirushaaki! What 'hoping we could save her'... You... You... Tricked us again! Just like last time, you really are the worst kind of liar!"
Fear clenched her fists and yelled. In the end, this was another of the Draconians' inane strategies. What strength, what «Nest Parasitoid», all because of such things, Yume was—
Under Fear's cursing gaze, Satsuko smiled helplessly as though apologetically. For some reason, Fear even got the impression that she had no choice.
"This time is slightly different from last time... Yeah, but no matter what Satsuko says, you guys probably won't believe Satsuko. Someone like Satsuko, no matter how much you hate her, it's fine. Fear-san, if you don't mind, please keep this resentment with you to fight Satsuko next time."
"Utterly nonsensical. That's right, everything is nonsensical!"
"Yes, there are still things we don't understand. You undertook this operation to make us fight the Knights Dominion, right? Then why—Why did you stop us now and assist the Knights Dominion instead?"
"Because Satsuko has many difficult circumstances. Oh, looks like they escaped safely. Thank goodness."
Saying that, Satsuko pointed behind them. In other words, towards the wall.
While they were held up by Fourteen's restraining attack, Lilyhowell had scaled the wall while carrying the girl. Throwing a glance at Haruaki's group behind her, she frowned slightly and finally sheathed the «Wathe Breaker» before leaping down the other side of the wall.
Satsuko had probably pointed towards Lilyhowell as a diversion. By the time Fear and the rest turned their gazes back, Satsuko and Fourteen had already used the momentary opportunity to disappear. Their presence could not be sensed anywhere.
For what reason? And for whom? Which side should they chase? Unable to find these answers, everyone was simply rooted firmly to the ground, unable to advance to the next question.
Only a world of silence remained.
A world containing only things that were lost and things that were left behind.
Most likely because the votes had been tallied for the school beauty pageant and it was time for the results to be announced...
Cheering could be heard faintly from the direction of the gym.
For the sake of welcoming new students—
For the sake of blessing the new students, hoping that their futures would turn out slightly more wonderful than imagined, this festival—
Translator's Notes and References
- ↑ Kotatsu(炬燵): is a low, wooden table frame covered by a futon, or heavy blanket, upon which a table top sits. Underneath is a heat source, often built into the table itself. Kotatsu are used almost exclusively in Japan, although similar devices are used elsewhere.
- ↑ 魔法焦女☆まじかる・インフェルのん: the kanji for magical scorching girl(魔法焦女) is a pun that is pronounced mahou shoujo just like the usual magical girl(魔法少女).
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