Laurica and Lilyhowell had stopped in a deserted alleyway. Had they escaped successfully?
"That girl just now, I remember she is the «Tailender Syndrome»... Satsuko Ontenzaki, yes? I recall seeing her photo in the resources at the Knights Dominion. Judging from the timing of her appearance, she is possibly our informant. However, in that case, why did she assist our escape...?"
"Lilyhowell-sama! Now is not the time for thinking about these things, umm, your wound...!"
"This? Do not worry, pay no heed to it."
Lilyhowell frowned while looking down at the dart piercing her shoulder and answered. She left it alone probably because she had concluded that the bleeding would worsen if the dart was pulled out. But Laurica was very anxious and wanted to remove it for her and start treatment as soon as possible. However—this must be done after moving to a relatively safe location.
Laurica recalled in her mind the map of this town that was carved deeply into her mind. A safe hiding place where treatment could be carried out. There were a number of candidate locations. After picking the one closest to their current position, Laurica looked up.
Instantly, Lilyhowell also looked up but for a completely different reason from Laurica's.
Staring wide-eyed, she was looking in shock at the direction behind Laurica.
How could this be possible? Laurica wondered. Impossible. Unbelievable. Even if injured, how could someone like Lilyhowell-sama be so intimidated by the other person's presence that she was immobilized—
"—Overall, things have proceeded according to plan."
The voice was coming from behind. Laurica was unable to turn her head back. Cold sweat broke out all over her body. Was it only cold sweat? She could not even move her gaze to check. Perhaps she had even wet herself without noticing.
Moving recklessly would undoubtedly mean... death.
Laurica understood only this.
"What... You... No way—!"
"The name you imagine is most likely the correct guess. Although my clan has no family name to begin with."
A voice that sounded familiar yet heard for the first time. Completely lacking in emotional fluctuation, there was neither anxiety, bafflement, even excitement, nor any other emotion, the person behind her answered calmly.
What was her true identity? The most likely person to appear this instant was—
"«Battle Demon» and «Knight Killer»—Nirushaaki!"
Laurica's questions could not form words. She could do nothing but remain in daze, sensing the presence behind her.
"Laurica! Retreat now...!"
Sorry, I can't move at all.
She could see Lilyhowell grit her teeth while drawing the «Wathe Breaker».
"I am a knight from the Frontline Gathering Knights Dominion—Lilyhowell Kilmister! I have come to avenge the comrades whose lives you have taken!"
Lilyhowell closed in rapidly, first moving past Laurica's side then rushing towards Nirushaaki behind her—However, Lilyhowell did not manage to pass through and stopped midway.
She stopped with her nose directed towards Laurica's neck, glaring at the person behind Laurica's back. Her quickened breathing blew at Laurica's earlobe. Laurica recalled Lilyhowell's body warmth. The stench of blood entered her nose. She did not wish to smell this odor.
Right beside her, beneath her underarm, something was gushing out. Something had happened to Lilyhowell's body. Laurica remained immobile.
"Promising talent. However, you are not my target this time."
Something beside her, the arm or the weapon of the person behind moved, sending Lilyhowell's body flying. Despite lying sprawled on the ground, Lilyhowell still used the «Wathe Breaker» as support, mustering all her strength trying to stand up. Laurica did not wish to see the color on her abdomen.
"Quite obedient and quiet of you. My target is easy."
What did she mean by the easy target? When the person behind started searching the pockets of her uniform, Laurica finally realized in shock.
(The target... could it be... me...?)
"Do not be ridiculous. This child is nothing more than an auxiliary... Do not target her!"
"Nothing more? If she did not possess the tool that I desire and simultaneously carry the trait of changing her face from time to time, impossible to track down, perhaps she really might be very ordinary."
Lilyhowell was kneeling unsteadily, groaning with her face in alarm.
"What are... you saying—Could it be, all of this, was for this purpose—"
"Precisely so. Using Neto the Avenger, who holds a grudge against me, to indirectly draw out his auxiliary, in other words, this girl. Then hitching a free ride on the utterly foolish 'Nest Parasitoid' plan concocted by Number One, I allowed Hiwatari Yume to put on a show, taking on my identity to exist as a student. Then I ordered her to get closer to Fear-in-Cube, and made use of the «Tailender Syndrome» to force Fear-in-Cube's faction to battle the Knights Dominion. All that was for the sake of this result—the Knights Dominion will meet defeat and retreat in a manner where the auxiliary's identity is obvious. Only under such conditions could I create the chance to capture—And in fact, I have captured you."
Ah, from the start... They were meant to be met with defeat. Not allowed to win nor be captured after defeat. Instead, not only did they have to lose but the two of them had to escape while supporting each other.
Hence, that was why the Draconians' «Tailender Syndrome» and Fourteen Coonsberry assisted their escape just now. By now, Laurica finally understood.
"Is this it? This is «Bartolomey Oblivion», the Wathe mask capable of erasing memories."
Drawn out from her pocket was one of the "trash" in her possession. A tool that was contemptible, terrifying and filthy, possibly useful but actually useless. This was what Nirushaaki wanted? For this sort of thing, she had played them all to dance on the palm of her hand?
For this sort of thing—the one she idolized was currently covered in blood, desperately trying to stand up?
"What do you want... to use it for...!?"
"You have no need to know."
The presence behind her seemed to move slightly. Laurica trembled in fear. Because she knew what this person was going to do next, what this person wanted to do next.
"You deceived us, the Knights Dominion—and even toyed with us! Nirushaaki!"
"Ludicrous... You were only toyed with because you are too weak! You are not worthy of becoming dragons!"
Laurica could see Lilyhowell committing her entire willpower to stand up then step forward again. In reaction, the presence behind Laurica could be sensed taking action.
Just as Laurica remembered what she should be doing—
Her mental restraints were released and her legs started moving. Then she heard a blunt and wet noise from her abdomen.
"Laurica...! Idiot, what are you doing...!?"
Unlike earlier, Lilyhowell's voice was coming from behind her this time. What a failure... Laurica thought. Had she taken the attack with her back, she would then be able to see her idol's face for the remaining time.
But since she was looking straight ahead, so be it. She had no other choice, completely unhesitating, only doing what she ought to do. Laurica glared at the contemptible enemy while using her hands to clutch the object that was skewering her abdomen.
"Don't think... you'll succeed...! I absolutely refuse... to let you... kill Lilyhowell-sama...!"
"Excessively meaningless. Although the force was reduced, my attack still pierced you and harmed her."
Now these words were truly meaningless. The force was reduced? So long as the damage was reduced, that was enough. She had completed her task fully. She.. was also able to do something so amazing.
"How odd. A mere auxiliary—Why go so far?"
A lumpy mass, filled with the stench of blood, surged up from the depths of her throat. After spitting it at the enemy, Laurica continued:
"—Because! Lilyhowell-sama is the only one who has never called me 'Trash,' not even once! So... I... only when in front of her... am not 'Trash.' I can be something not 'Trash'! If I don't do anything at this time... If I'm unable to do anything at all... Then that would become a lie—I don't want Lilyhowell-sama to become a liar!"
Behind her, the one she idolized called out her name. The sensation of the cape and the armor. Only now did Laurica realize that the two of them were almost stuck together. Because the great hole in her abdomen felt too scorching, she was unable to sense it.
I'm fine, please don't make that kind of sound. Please don't groan in such pain. The Lilyhowell-sama I know is the strongest. Strong and gentle and dignified with righteousness. Even in this state, you will surely win next. You are different from me, the one idolizing you. You are far stronger than me and cannot possibly lose. You are the knight of knights, my savior. A true knight, capable of saving others. That's why you saved me in the past. Because you are a knight, my life was able to exist. My life is proof that you are a knight. So, so—please take and use it.
Allow my life that belongs to you to be useful. Live on.
Please. With this, I will be so happy that I could fly.
Because my dream has been realized.
Finally, I have truly succeeded in becoming someone other than trash—
...She looked down at the two people collapsed in a pool of blood with their eyes closed.
The dead girl and the half-dead knight.
"I have obtained the targeted item. All else is trivial."
Killing a half-dead person was easy. At least compared to killing a dead person. However, because this was something trivial, she decided not to bother. In their hearts, there existed the concept of always prioritizing what was number one at all times.
"Helplessness, anger, love, shame, curse, desire, revenge... Perhaps due to my actions, you may become even stronger. I shall spare your life to allow you to become food for letting me get closer to becoming a dragon. However, when the time comes to encounter you again—"
She chuckled a few times lightly.
While using her fingers to play with the mask she had obtained, she spoke cheerfully:
"Perhaps I have already become a dragon. Perhaps you might become the first sacrifice to be eaten by the dragon. Precisely for the sake of surpassing Number One, to continue progressing—precisely because I wish to obtain the strongest weapon most suited to me in order to surpass him, that is why I wanted this tool here."
Without any warning, Fear suddenly wanted to calm down to think properly and was in no mood to concentrate in class at all. Hence, she walked unsteadily, swaying this way and that, trying to find a suitable place to think, she finally reached the usual location.
"Skipping class is not good~ See!"
"...I have a stomachache, so I came to seek refuge here as an emergency. I'll feel much better after drinking some nourishing herbal tea to warm my stomach. So I have to drink it. Yes, just pretend it's that."
"Fufu, then I will pretend that's the case! After all, this rarely happens. As a perfect maid, I'm also very kind and will turn a blind eye to your occasional need for a break~ So, Fear-chan, the tea is coming—Awawawa!"
Fear frantically rescued the cup that was wobbling on the edge of Sovereignty's tray then reached out carefully with both hands to steady the one who almost fell over. Finally, she enjoyed the taste and aroma of the black tea.
Dressed in a maid outfit, Sovereignty also sat herself on the sofa opposite to Fear, holding her own personal cup. It looked like she was having her break time as well.
The master of this room—the superintendent—was not present. Zenon was apparently organizing files and materials in the adjacent room. Inside the superintendent's office, only Fear, Sovereignty and the faint fragrance of tea were present.
Fear pondered many things, recalling many things. Things that happened several days ago. Things that happened during the welcoming festival. Every time, her hand would naturally move and rub her cheek.
Seeing that, Sovereignty held her teacup with both hands and asked in a gentle voice:
"Does it still hurt?"
"It's not hurting... But sometimes it feels like it hurts. Well, I guess this will continue to hurt."
She recalled the slap her cheek had suffered.
The girl was an inhabitant of this world. A human staying in this place, following goals, plans and orders. In spite of that, I got her involved, she who was unrelated to all those secret matters, a girl who only needed me to be "the first friend who talked to her after she became a first-year high school student"—That's all I can think. Putting aside legitimacy and grand principles, if I don't deliver a vicious blow to this helpless tool of torture and execution that's in the center of everything, I can't vent my anger.
Putting down the teacup, Fear reached into her skirt pocket and pulled out that object. Not her own but the toy cube that she had borrowed from the girl.
Without hurrying, Fear poured time into the task, as though savoring every step, she solved the Rubik's cube.
After completing, she randomly swiveled it a few times to mess up the colors. Then once again, the clicking and turning began. Even though she was now capable of solving the Rubik's cube, in the end, this entertainment was still endless.
"...When you solved the Rubik's cube successfully, Fear-chan, that child was so happy."
"I was by her side and saw clearly. That child really supported you, Fear-chan, and you worked hard to obtain success, so she was very happy... Yes, the scene at the time was quite supportive. Judging from the enthusiasm, you could very well have taken first place."
Sovereignty spoke while using gentle eyes to watch Fear turning the cube. Fear chuckled.
"Are you making fun of me? That's totally giving indirect praise to the girl who actually won first place. You could call it showing off."
"Oh dear~ That's neither here nor there! Fear-chan, you're so bad!"
Sovereignty suddenly made a look as though remembering something.
"Hey, Fear-chan... Although it's a bit late to ask now, do you want to get first place?"
"If I don't get first place, the enemy's plan can't be stopped, right..."
"I don't mean in that way but other ways."
Fear decided that playing dumb with Sovereignty was meaningless. But to be honest—
"...I don't know. I find it quite unbelievable myself but I really don't know. Why do I feel so reluctant to lose against Cow Tits or Kirika? Why do I want to win as a woman, to make him recognize that I'm great as a woman—"
"You wish for someone to recognize you? Ah, that goes without saying~"
"Muu." Fear pouted silently. Sovereignty was resting her elbows on her thighs while supporting her chin with both hands. Staring at Fear, her eyes looked like she was watching something comforting and delightful.
"I feel that you actually know everything, Fear-chan."
"Of course not..."
"Because I'm me, I can feel vaguely that the situation is starting to develop subtly. Someone started being serious a long time ago while someone else decided to start getting serious. Although I know I shouldn't blurt out or interfere, at least I believe that it would be too lonely if things had gone too far to change or victory was decided before you even noticed."
Sovereignty was speaking solemnly in a rare moment. But of course, Fear was unable to understand her properly. All she could manage was imagine roughly what Sovereignty was talking about.
"You're referring to that matter—the one we discussed back when we first met?"
"About being able to drain something or not? I won't say the answer. However, I think I can give a hint now at least. The answers for now and back then should be the same—This answer is the hint."
Fear placed the Rubik's cube on her thigh and reached for the almost empty teacup, then took a sip.
She felt heat in the depths of her chest. Due to the tea's warmth as well as a certain reason apart from that.
Inside her heart, did that type of emotion exist?
Not human. Cursed. Steeped in sin. A tool of torture and execution. Someone like her would have that in her heart?
—Feelings of romantic love for someone.
In the depths of her heart, the warmth was carried by blood flow, transporting all sorts of feelings to the entire body. Unease, anticipation, joy, terror, anxiety, doubt. Indeed, what finally dominated her entire body was doubt.
Could that type of emotion actually reside in her body for real?
Those emotions were positive. Nothing wrong about them. Anyone would wish for them.
Nevertheless, she herself was negative. She was wrong. Anyone would stay away from her.
In this incident, it had been very dangerous again. Fear bowed her head and glanced at the Rubik's cube on her thigh.
Dual Emulation. A new method of fighting. It was all fine and good that she managed to defeat Neto after discovering this new method of fighting—However, she was almost devoured by cold merciless cruelty as a result.
To be honest, she was very afraid. Afraid of herself, afraid of that power, afraid of her past.
She had always felt terror since a long time ago. But today, Fear wondered in her heart with unprecedented intensity:
—So, what should I do?
Posing a question for herself to answer, Fear gently stroked her lower abdomen. The past was not going to vanish. However, she was able to erase powers that symbolized her past self. Indeed, that was all she could do currently.
The Indulgence Disk retrieved from the remains of Neto's cursed camera, «The Paingrapher», had already been inserted personally by Haruaki into her depths, sealing away the «Flower Sword Verazella». Fear had already tried it out, even when using the second emulated cube, she was still unable to access forms that were sealed away by inserted Indulgence Disks.
In the end, that meant that the importance of Indulgence Disks remained unchanged. The key towards sealing her powers. This hand would drag out her contemptible past the moment she let down her guard, hence this sort of stone weight and shackles were needed. In order to become an ordinary human, this key was more important than anything else.
So far, she had believed so. However, now that she noticed those feelings that might exist inside her, those feelings that she did not know if they could exist or not—
In order to hold her head high and stick her chest out proudly to declare that she possessed those feelings—
She believed that the Indulgence Disks were absolutely needed.
Hence, Fear decided what she must do from now on.
"Hey Sovereignty... When the superintendent returns, I've got a something I'd like you to help convey to him. Although he might not agree to it, asking wouldn't hurt. Because he's the most likely person around me."
"So you want me to pass along a message? Sure, what do you want to ask?"
No longer passive like the way she was so far but turning active instead.
Start taking action.
In order to be able to hold my head high sooner—
And confidently say that I am in love.
"I want to get more Indulgence Disks, even a single one would be good. From anywhere, anyone... No matter what, please help me ask if he has any leads."
With this, surely compared to the future as an ordinary human that she had always hoped for until now, the future that she had always considered sufficient, would be one that was slightly more greedy, slightly more extravagant—
In other words, a future slightly more wonderful than originally envisioned.
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