Chapter 4 - Reason of Turning Crimson / "the stage where it starts up"
It was the final night during the school excursion. Although this fact carried all sorts of significance, Haruaki and company currently had no choice but to do the same as the other students for now.
"How did it go? What kind of paradise was it? Me, I was forced carry all the shopping, almost dislocating my shoulders! Damn it!" Back to the hotel, Haruaki was finishing dinner while enduring Taizou's interrogation. "Hey hey! How did it go!?" The girls were also hassled by Kana's questioning, so things were about the same for them. That said, Haruaki had no idea what Taizou and Kana meant exactly by "How?"
They took this opportunity to take a bath first. After agreeing with Fear and the girls to meet at the lobby after bathing, Haruaki and the boys went to the bath together. In an attempt to avoid being questioned, he asked Taizou and Animori about their day. Despite grumbling nonstop, they still seemed quite contented to have a chance to accompany the super beauty Shiraho and her group on this trip. "My only regret is that I didn't get a chance to go 'Please allow your humble servant to help massage your exhausted legs'—"Although Animori made a creepy remark that gave the listener goosebumps, Haruaki decided to pretend he did not hear it.
After a bath, Haruaki parted ways with Taizou and Animori who were returning to the room, then headed to the washroom alone. On the way back, he was slightly lost and happened to pass by a certain entrance that led to what appeared to be the hotel's backyard.
(Oh—I didn't know there was this kind of place?)
Seeing as it was their final night at this hotel, it probably would not hurt to go adventuring once in an unexplored part. After all, Fear and the others were girls and would probably take some more time to finish their bath. It was also a way to kill time until it was time to meet up. Furthermore, a simple reason was that it seemed like it would be very comfortable to experience the cool breeze of the night after the body was heated up by the bath.
Borrowing the clogs placed there for communal use, Haruaki entered the backyard. The space was large enough to plant a row of trees along the boundary wall enclosing the hotel. The moon in the night sky was quite beautiful and the evening breeze was very comfortable and refreshing.
Spacing out, Haruaki pondered the situation here on.
According to Konoha, Kotetsu's key had already accumulated quite a lot of power. Then at the moment of activation, they must keep an eye on Kotetsu at the scene.
Supposing Kotetsu activated her key faster than Fear and the others then arrived before Un Izoey, the keeper of the box, Un Izoey was supposed to hand the box over without resistance. Pakuaki had issued orders for her to do so. But the only comforting fact was that Un Izoey had told them: "I will not resist. However—It is your freedom to hinder the opponent if you choose. I add this kind of addition." In other words, even if they lost in the race to activate the key, they still had the last resort of preventing Kotetsu from approaching Un Izoey. Hence, Un Izoey must absolutely not be allowed to leave their line of sight... Right now, Fear and the girls were probably taking a bath with her.
But of course, the fastest method was to activate their keys before Kotetsu. Was this possible?
(I wonder how is Konoha's progress... Fear is also acting a little weird...)
Haruaki recalled that on the way back from Fushimi Inari Shrine, Fear had a very gloomy expression on her face. Although she would answer when spoken to, Haruaki always found her in deep thought or sighing listlessly whenever he paid sudden attention to her. What on earth happened? Haruaki decided to ask her properly later.
Konoha seemed to be making good progress. Although she suffering some minor physical injuries in the fight against Kotetsu, what remained next was a race to beat Kotetsu in key activation.
At this point, Haruaki suddenly felt doubtful.
They were set to take the bullet train in the afternoon to make their way home. Before that, collective sightseeing was scheduled, the same as on the first and second days of the trip. Was there enough time to activate the keys by then? Even if they could not make it in time, Un Izoey was going back with them anyway, so there was no issue there, but if that happened, was Kotetsu going to give chase? Of course, that was not a problem for Fear and Konoha, but what about the other person—
"If this matter is not resolved by tomorrow, what will Kururi do...?"
"Hmm? You're asking what I'll do?"
"Arghhhh, idiot, shut up, that's so freaking incompetent! It'd be bad if someone came over!"
While Haruaki was muttering to himself, Kururi happened to jump over the wall, landing in the backyard here. Due to the suddenness, Haruaki could not help but scream out, causing Kururi to hastily and gruffly cover his mouth. While finding it difficult to breathe, Haruaki also sensed the softness of Kururi's hand and the fragrance of clean soap, probably due to her job in the food business. Who could have expected her to be so serious at her job?
Kururi slowly withdrew her hand, finally giving Haruaki a chance to speak:
"W-Why are you here?"
"...I came looking for you to discuss things. But walking in directly through the front door seemed wrong. Just as I was wondering what to do, climbing over the wall, I happened to see you so I came in. That's all."
"I get the reason but appearing in that way will give people heart attacks... Couldn't you have called?"
"This isn't something that can be solved over the phone. Freaking incompetent."
"Oh... well, Fear and the girls are still in the bath, so why don't you wait until later if you have something to say. Oh right, I happen to have a question for you. We're going home tomorrow, what are your plans?"
"That's exactly the issue. I still have a job, so it's not like I could go back with you. But as a matter of duty, it's not like I could say: 'Okay, I'm leaving the rest to you guys, thanks.' So I've decided to end things before you guys leave tomorrow."
Beneath the moonlight, Kururi frowned after hearing Haruaki's question. Then she pouted and grumbled, sulking for quite a while:
"I said it already... I'm looking for you to discuss something, so I don't need that bunch of girls. Rather, it'd be better with you alone..."
Finally, Kururi spoke up as though in resignation:
"So! Hurry up and tell me, what kind of present usually makes boys happy!?"
What an unexpected question. Clenching her fists, Kururi blushed and turned her face away.
Haruaki tilted his head in puzzlement, gathering all the information in his mind, searching for clues among them. A key that required strengthened emotions. A deadline by tomorrow. Present. Things that Bivorio seemed to have said. Oh right, I think she mentioned his birthday—
"Oh... Because it's Kouichirou-san's birthday tomorrow, you're going to give him a present?"
"Wha..!? How did you guess from just one question I asked!? Are you a psychic? Damn it, freaking incompetent! No, that's not it, umm... I don't feel anything towards that guy, okay, it's absolutely impossible to begin with! But he's basically a partner at work and has take good care of me ever since I arrived, so anyway, gratitude surely counts as a type of emotion, so... That person said, this is a good opportunity for me to express myself, that's why I have no choice—Hey! Are you listening!"
"I'm listening, I'm listening."
After listening to Kururi's dishonest explanation, Haruaki smiled wryly and said:
"But this is really sudden. His birthday is tomorrow, right?"
"If I rush out to buy it now, shops that are open would still be open. Otherwise, I could still buy it early in the morning tomorrow. Cut the crap and hurry. Tell me what kind of present is the best. What's incompetent is that I've never given any present to anyone. Also, I don't have too much money either. Remember to consider these before giving me suggestions."
"I'm really not sure if my suggestions might be useful.. But anyway, let's think together. Right, I'd like to know about his background such as age or what kind of hobbies and interests he has, for example."
"Huh? As if anyone would know, I certainly have no interest in finding out. At most, all I know is that he's called Niimi Kouichirou, male, twenty-years-old, a university student majoring in economics, haven't joined a club, hobby is bass fishing, favorite food is super spicy curry with naan bread, his Mexican neighbor is very noisy, he lives in a one-room apartment, his little brother is an anime geek, he's a fan of the Hanshin Tigers and also a fan of the interesting foreigner, Trey Moore, who used to play for that baseball team."
"What's with that look?"
She witnessed that scene purely out of coincidence.
It was not her original goal. But if someone were to ask her: "Does the original goal even count as a goal?" She would have a difficult time answering straight away. She had come to this place with the notion of not wasting time, but in reality, she did not believe it was actually meaningful.
At this moment, a presence appeared behind her. She looked back in shock but instantly relaxed her tense shoulders as soon as she realized it was a familiar presence.
Appearing from behind her, the person stood by her side to watch the people she had been peeking at. The person smiled profoundly and said:
"How unguarded of them."
"...They are probably thinking that we will not attack in crowded hotel with bystanders everywhere. But to think he would specifically walk to somewhere deserted, truth be told, it is extremely foolish I must say."
After some hesitation, she decided to answer truthfully.
"A slight problem remains. I was originally planning to attack Muramasa again as soon as an opening presented itself—However, how should I put this? I also harbor doubts. It feels that repeating the same thing, purely conducting an assault would be pointless."
"Understood. If your emotions are not perturbed, it is meaningless."
"Yes. However, I must open that box no matter what, to obtain the Indulgence Disk. Even so, this is like dancing on Yamimagari Pakuaki's palm according to his tune, most displeasing. I am currently pondering how to activate the key as quickly as possible—"
Kotetsu could not find words to answer. Had she thought of a solution already, she would not be hiding in a dark spot, agonizing over the matter.
But at this moment, the person beside her smiled again.
"On the other hand, I have thought of two methods."
"If you don't mind, could you tell me what they are?"
"The first method comes from reverse thinking. In other words, you do not need to obsess over that key of yours that is almost activated. Conversely, you may simply forcibly activate someone else's key then take it for your own use."
"Precisely!" She expressed agreement. What a blind spot to overlook. But—
"Forcibly activated means...?"
"The keys detect emotions. You allowed your key to detect hatred. In that case, the keys are capable of sensing other negative emotions, of course. Take for example, despair, suffering, sadness, anguish and terror."
She recalled what Yamimagari Pakuaki had said. Unless the contractor died or the switch in the box was pressed, the keys would not reset. In other words—
So long as the contractors were not killed, no matter what was done to them, the keys were not going to reset.
Were there ways to make people feel despair and terror without killing them? Of course, more than one could count. Then the victim's key would activate and could be taken to open the box. Exceedingly simple.
Light chuckling was heard.
"The second method is related to your key. Simply attacking Muramasa is no longer sufficient to stir your feelings. Then in that case, go beyond 'simply.' Just allow yourself to witness more scenes that would invoke your hatred, disappointment, even relief towards Muramasa. Such as, what would Muramasa think about listening to the screams of former enemies? Answers to these kinds of questions, for example."
This was a scheme that worked within the first scheme and both methods could be undertaken simultaneously. In other words, one could not lose no matter which option was chosen.
"Truth be told, I am completely impressed. As expected of a master."
"There is no benefit in offering praise to me. Since it is not yet time for me to make an appearance, I can only look forward to your performance."
"Yes, leave it to me."
The presence beside her vanished. Closing her eyes, she took a deep breath and secretly looked out from the shadows.
Those two were still chatting idly, talking about issues such as an exceeding budget or whether something was available for sale or not.
What a stroke of fortune. Were the target Fear-in-Cube or Muramasa, this method could not possibly succeed. Although the target seemed to be more agile than the average human, she was simply an ordinary human. At the same time, she was accompanied by that burden of a person.
Leaving the shadows where she had been hiding, she began to walk unhurriedly.
There was no reason for failure at all.
Haruaki held his breath and concentrated, focusing his eyes on the scene before him.
The tiger-clawed attacks. Millimeter precision in visual judgment, evasion, attack, evasion. Repeated nonstop.
Kotetsu had appeared very suddenly without any warning at all, then started attacking. However, her attacks had not hurt Kururi. Despite possessing a knife, Kururi was unable to switch from defense to offense, but at least she was unharmed so far. No problem. She'll be fine. She'll surely find a way to repel the enemy here. So, during this time, maybe someone might notice something amiss and hurry over—No, shouldn't I take this opportunity to go call Fear and the others now?
Confronted with the sudden assault, Haruaki's mind was plunged into chaos, but still he desperately racked his brain. At this moment—
"Truth be told, as a human, your vision is quite extraordinary. Nevertheless—"
"! Hey, hold on—!"
Suddenly, Kotetsu changed directions and stopped stepping towards Kururi.
She pretended to continue attacking Kururi but had actually changed her direction and target.
Or perhaps—She was attacking the target she had chosen from the start.
In other words, Haruaki himself.
"Stop spacing out, freaking incompetent!"
The instant just as Kotetsu was closing in on him, Haruaki was shoved away forcefully by Kururi. Just before he fell on the ground, entering his view was—Using the arm that was originally thrust towards Haruaki, Kotetsu turned it towards Kururi in a very straightforward manner.
"No matter how good at seeing through an enemy's movements, the one making these moves is a human. Humans all have hearts. Wavering hearts are precisely the cause of failure!"
The impact of Haruaki's shoulder striking the ground prevented him from getting a clear view of Kotetsu and Kururi for a moment. But in the next second, he looked up in surprise, only to see—
Knocked out and limp all over, Kururi was already loaded onto Kotetsu's shoulder.
Kururi was not bleeding but her completely relaxed limbs were not moving at all. Had Kotetsu attacked Kururi's vitals with an attack without using a bladed move? Judging from the way Kotetsu had switched targets without hesitation, it was possible that she was aiming for Kururi all along. Haruaki was merely used by her as bait to create openings.
"H-Hey...! What are you trying to do with her!?"
"To perform a show. With that, even if the first plan fails, the second plan will still hasten the key's activation. In other words, a two-part gambit that suffers no loss no matter what. Truth be told, it is most impressive."
"What are... you talking about...!?"
Kotetsu then glanced towards the hotel. She could sense the interior of the building getting noisy. Footsteps also seemed to be approaching.
"Discovered? In any case, a change of location seems necessary."
Kotetsu looked back to glare extremely coldly at Haruaki. Then as though muttering, she continued:
"Where should I pick? A venue known to both your side and mine, suitable for a performance—Yes, speaking of performances, a 'Stage' comes to mind. I shall wait for you at the Stage. It is also a place you have visited today."
"Y-You mean Kiyomizu-dera...?"
"This is all I have to say. Pass the message along to them."
Still carrying the unconscious Kururi on her shoulder, Kotetsu took a leap and reached the top of the wall. Haruaki frantically stood up. The enemy was escaping. Kururi was being taken away. This absolutely could not be allowed. Clearly until just now, he had been talking to her, still discussing a very maidenly dilemma of what birthday present to give someone.
"I shall not wait—One is not obliged to adhere to integrity when facing the weak. Men, warriors ought to be strong!"
Although Haruaki got a feeling that these words offered a clue to Kotetsu's true identity, he did not have the leisure to figure it out right now. He took a step forward, but by this time, the figures of Kotetsu and Kururi ahd already vanished from the top of the wall.
Haruaki clenched his fists but could only stare at the darkness where the two had disappeared.
She was right.
Haruaki cursed his own weakness.
Kotetsu jumped from one railing to the next, finally landing on Kiyomizu-dera's stage. Naturally, there was no one around. Only the silent moonlight illuminated the stage.
Using a rope she had found along the way, Kotetsu bound the girl's hands behind her back then tied the rope to the railing. Finished with preparations, Kotetsu then pressed her palm against the girl's chest—
The impact penetrated the girl's body, rudely rousing her from unconsciousness. The girl coughed repeatedly while opening her eyes and coming to.
"This should need no explanation by this point, but I shall state for the record. You have become my prisoner."
"Screw that! Freaking incompetent, release me now!"
The girl struggled desperately in her bonds while glaring viciously at Kotetsu. What strength in character. Perhaps she simply does not understand her situation—but soon, she was going to understand, whether she wanted to or not.
"Impossible. You must first fulfill your mission."
"Indeed. Where is the key?"
Caution was imperative for the next step. Hence, the key must be placed somewhere visible so that its state could be confirmed regularly during the operation. Kotetsu carelessly searched the girl's clothing.
"Fool... Hey, stop touching me randomly! Freaking incompetent, I'm gonna kill you!"
"Stop speaking of things beyond your ability. Hmm, found it."
Kotetsu discovered the key in the girl's breast pocket. Since all it mattered was the key being visible, Kotetsu casually tossed it by her feet. Roughly 65% red, the key hit the floor with a clang.
"What are you doing? That's my key...!"
"I know. That is why I intend to activate your key."
"Yes." Kotetsu nodded, then—merely as an afterthought—reached into the girl's emptied breast pocket and ripped her clothing with full force all at once. As a result of this impact, even her underwear came undone. But this was of no consequence, for Kotetsu was uninterested in a female breasts.
"Wha...!? What are you trying to do? I'm gonna kill you! I'm gonna kill you, incompetent bastard!"
The girl was struggling more intensely than before. This was only natural, this was the only way.
"—Here lies your key. Contracted to you, it senses your emotions. As long as you are not dead, it will continue sensing. Sensing your despair, suffering and hatred!"
"...You bastard, no way, for the sake of activating my key, you took me here to... Yaaaaaaarrggggghhhhhh!"
The girl finally seemed to understand, displaying great alarm on her face. At the same time, Kotetsu grabbed her exposed shoulder and imbued an index finger with a sword's traits, stabbing it into her flesh.
The girl's body twisted in pain. Hanging on her body, the tattered clothing slid down, exposing more of her pale flesh where a red liquid was beginning to drip down. Kotetsu then pierced with a middle finger to create a second river of blood.
"Huff... Ah... Ah... Incompetent... Freaking incompetent... Who wants... to be used by a bastard like you! I won't think anything, won't feel anything, won't give any power to the key! Ahhh, so sleepy, I will enter deep slumber in the vast empty realm of nirvana, bastard...!"
"Impossible. No matter how strong their will, the type of creature called humans are not that resistant to pain. Besides—"
While speaking, Kotetsu drew nearer to the girl, bringing her face up close to smell the odor of blood, flowing across the girl's pale skin and between her breasts. Brightly colored and seductive, the blood was stimulating Kotetsu's appetite.
She extended her tongue to lick.
Sipping, licking, drawn between her lips, nibbling, accumulating within her cheeks, swallowing. How delicious. The blood formed a small puddle over the navel. What a shame. Kotetsu puckered her lips to suck and drink. Delicious, truly too delicious!
The excitement was quickening Kotetsu's breathing. Moving her lips slightly away, she said:
"H-Haha—There is no need to be surprised. This is my 'curse.' Tonight, Kotetsu happens to thirst for blood—Fufufu, Isami-sama's famous words were probably preserved for posterity, yes? Indeed, I currently thirst for fresh blood! Truth be told, it is truly a simple and ugly curse as befitting a Japanese sword! Ever since coming to this place, I have been drinking blood every day, but taking care all this time to avoid causing a major incident, making sure that the victims all look like they were simply suffering from anemia or heat stroke! However, fufu, I have been suppressing myself, especially today! Because I saw Muramasa's blood! I wonder what her blood tastes like! Although tasting it is currently impossible, I shall use your fresh blood as a substitute for now!"
Slurp... slurp, Kotetsu sipped and drank, following the river of blood upstream. Her nose felt the sensation of soft and tender skin.
"Ahhh, stop it... Stop it now, freaking incompetent...!"
"This curse is also one of the elements in activating your key. Do you find it disgusting? Are you afraid? Will you curse? Curse as much as you want. I shall feel pleasure from satisfying my curse. Perhaps you might feel pleasure too. That is fine too, feel pleasure for all you want. Because these are all feelings, a type of feeling—"
Feeling her back tremble, Kotetsu brought their bodies even closer together, licking and sucking the blood flowing across the girl's skin, the blood sliding over her soft bulges, the blood wrapping itself around the sensitive protrusions. Since Kotetsu was currently akin to clamping the girl's body between her legs, she could clearly feel every tremble of the girl's body. Probably noticing something, the girl was staring down at Kotetsu with fearful eyes that eluded description.
"A-Ahhh! You bastard...! No... way...!"
"I want even more. More fright, more terror. Not only anger but I also refuse to let you forget suffering and despair. Curse, go on and curse now—!"
Kotetsu's tongue finally traced the blood all the way back to the source, hence she poked her tongue into the shoulder wounds to explore, drinking fresh blood directly. At the same time, she used her middle finger to stab a third hole next to the other two. Thinking it seemed a bit unfair to concentrate all the pain on the left shoulder, Kotetsu took this opportunity to use her fingertip to slice open the right upper arm, creating a cute little fissure. Then she used her tongue to lick that wound to her heart's content.
"Yee... A-Ahhhhhh! Guh! Stop it... Stop it now... Ahhhhhhh!"
Kotetsu pressed the weight of her burning body on the girl, satisfying her curse. Then she took a glance at the key she had thrown on the floor. 80%... Roughly three minutes had passed? The increased speed was truly rapid indeed. After all, this girl was no saint to begin with, hence maintaining presence of mind in spite of such treatment was impossible.
However, issues still existed. Although Kotetsu was very careful, it was still possible for the girl to go into shock and die on her own. If that happened, everything would be back to square one. Even without entering shock and dying, once the girl fell unconscious due to blood loss, the emotional volume would also cease to rise. Hence, this ideal situation could not persist indefinitely.
Consequently, the second plan was needed. Simply abducting the girl to this deserted place was not enough.
Of course, it was also possible for good fortune to be stacked upon good fortune, resulting in the key's activation just with this.
But to be honest, Kotetsu was hoping for a different result.
Secretly, she asked in her mind:
(Will you come? Muramasa...)
Then she imagined the taste of Muramasa's blood.
...As though pleasuring oneself, Kotetsu drank the girl's blood as a substitute.
Haruaki and company sneaked out of the hotel then took a taxi to their destination. After arriving, they ran as quickly as they could.
"Hey Fear! There should be guards here, right!?"
"We'll just have to find a way to fool them if there are. But perhaps, that girl already handled this issue."
With Fear and the others' help, Haruaki climbed over the main gate and fencing to continue advancing. Coming along for the sake of her mission, Un Izoey simply jumped over the obstacle as though it were ordinary ground. The whole group was clearly trespassing illegally but there was no spare effort to dwell on this matter.
Fortunately—or maybe just as Fear had suggested, Kotetsu had took care of them already—they did not encounter any guards along the way. The group rushed past Kiyomizu-dera's central gate and finally saw the main hall.
Then they spotted figures on Kiyomizu Stage.
"Is... that it...!?"
They rushed forward over the wooden floorboards. Then illuminated under the moonlight—
An exceedingly tragic and unusual scene came into view.
"You have arrived."
Kururi was tied to the railing in the very center, groaning. Her clothing was ripped, putting her in half-naked state. Her entire body was covered with wounds and dark-red bloodstains could be seen all over—though not to the point that she would be described as covered in blood. The volume of blood itself was not great but this halfway condition was even more creepy and terrifying to behold.
Kotetsu had climbed on top of Kururi's body, drinking her fresh blood.
"Although there is almost there, this is still not enough to reach completion?"
She glanced at the key on the floor then left Kururi, turning to face the new arrivals while wiping her lips clean.
Fear gripped the Rubik's cube tightly, instantly turning it into a drill. Just as she was about to charge ahead directly—
"—Wrath, hatred, in other words, curses. You too, have been using these emotions to gradually activate the key, haven't you? Otherwise, go ahead and check your key. No matter how you think about it, this is the easier way. I have simply done the same as you. There is no justification for me to suffer your reprimand."
Fear stopped on the spot after taking merely one step. Kirika maintained a posture that could extend the «Tragic Black River» any time, but did not move closer, simply glaring at Kotetsu while her eyes were burning with rage.
They were probably cautious in consideration of the fact that Kotetsu was still in a position to do whatever she wanted to Kururi.
Haruaki's mind was occupied with only one matter. What he ought to be doing.
"Are you saying that reprimanding you is unjustified? What an audacious statement."
Konoha spoke in an extremely calm tone of voice. Haruaki knew this to be Konoha's voice whenever she was truly angry. As though trying to see more clearly, Kotetsu faced Konoha's gaze head on and narrowed her eyes.
"Do you know what you are doing right now? The word 'integrity' must surely be weeping."
"...Go on a little more, Muramasa."
"To think you would drink flesh blood from an immobile girl, trying to reach your goal by relying on her power. Absolutely no restraint in taking advantage of others. This is not behavior befitting a proud sword."
"A sword exists to slay enemies. Are you implying that this type of behavior doesn't count?"
"Indeed, it does not. Perhaps she can be considered an enemy to you who also possess a key, but you have gone too far. Indeed, your actions have truly gone too far."
Kotetsu took a dep breath and asked as though to confirm:
"...You are angered?"
"Yes, of course. You only noticed now?"
Knife hand readied, Konoha took a step forward, but Kotetsu did not enter a combat stance. Instead, she took out something from her pocket—most likely her key—then gripped it tightly.
Her gaze was still locked on Konoha while her throat trembled as though in trepidation.
"I shall ask once more, are you truly angered? Truthfully from the bottom of your heart, Muramasa? Is your entire body currently burning with the wrath of justice!?"
"I don't care about justice here! But indeed, I am furious from the bottom of my heart!"
Kotetsu shook her hair then continued in a voice that carried something resembling impatience:
"—I know that this girl is your past enemy! Even so, will you still anger for the sake of a girl who used to be an enemy!?"
"You sure talk excessively at length. I've already forgotten that kind of thing ages ago!"
This answer seemed to be precisely some kind of turning point.
Kotetsu stopped moving and stared wide-eyed.
"Ahhh, ahhhhhhh—Muramasa, Muramasa—! This is wrong, wrong, absolutely wrong!"
Kotetsu pulled at her own hair, her body swaying unsteadily, countless emotions clouding her eyes as she howled and yelled hysterically.
Then she reached out as though suddenly remembering, grabbing the arm of the limp Kururi. Her hand in a tiger-clawed strike, each of her fingers buried themselves into the arm. New, fresh blood. Kururi's new screams. At this moment, presumably exceeding the limit of her endurance, Kururi's screaming was unnaturally cut off as her head fell to the side. She had fainted completely.
"How now!? How now!? How is this!?"
"S-Stop it now!"
"This cannot be... This cannot be! Muramasa is not supposed to be like this! We are the swords of swords! Unique and absolute, veritable swords of slaughter! We should be sneering and derisive, we should be cold-blooded and merciless, we should be the masters of cruelty and violence! This... Muramasa, to think you have forgotten the fact of a former enemy and going as far as to forgive her, even getting angered for the sake of someone like this—Impossible... This is impossible!"
Like the tantrums of a willful child, these screams expressed emotions directly without disguise. Presumably taken aback, Konoha frowned slightly and said:
"Y-Your words are far too presumptuous. I am myself!"
"As much as I refuse to confirm, I have no choice but to confirm! Too useless! Ahhh, Muramasa turns out to be far far far far far far more useless than I ever imagined! So! Indeed, ahhh, I am overcome with disappointment, despair, resignation, anger, scorn, contempt, hatred, which is why there is hope in my heart! A curse, truth be told, this is a curse, Muramasaaaaaaaa—!"
With exceptional intensity, Kotetsu yelled out a selfish explanation that Haruaki and company could not understand. Then as though a certain wire snapped, her voice suddenly stopped.
Kotetsu slowly straightened her back then extended her right hand lightly forward. This was the right hand she had been clenching firmly. Blood could be seen dripping down from her palm. Did she grip the key too hard, producing a piercing wound on her palm? No, that was not right—
"...I already understand now. I had originally been harboring vague notions that it would be acceptable to allow the current situation to continue before thinking up countermeasures, because I cannot neglect the possibility of risk coming to a certain esteemed one. However, circumstances will not permit me to adhere to that plan. I understand now. I must do this. By this point in time, there is only one thing that I ought to do which is completely correct."
Kotetsu spoke quietly and emphatically, making her earlier outburst of emotion seem like an illusion. The content of her words was still incomprehensible.
Kotetsu's gaze was so cold that it caused the viewer to tremble. Slowly, she opened her palm.
On top of that palm was—
Bright red in color, it was a key whose surface dripped with fresh blood.
"What...!? Y-You have already finished accumulating...!"
"See it and understand, Fear-in-Cube. This is my key. Haha, let me have a lick. Tasting like water, it only resembles blood in appearance? Haha."
Kotetsu reached out with her tongue to lick the key, meanwhile laughing dryly in a hollow manner. Then she cast her gaze towards the back of Fear's group.
"Come, girl of the Lab Chief's Nation. My key is already activated. You brought the box, yes? Let me open it."
"...Affirmative. My answer: due to the Lab Chief's orders, I agree reluctantly..."
Un Izoey took out the box from her pocket and was about to walk towards Kotetsu. However, Fear and company were not going to simply watch without doing anything, of course.
"Yeah right! Even if your key is activated, it's not over yet. All we need to do is defeat you right here!"
"Indeed, you have truly done a great deal of absolutely ridiculous things... We can't possibly let you open the box so easily. Not on our watch."
"Going on and on about your presumptuous logic, do you really believe you'll be able to leave safely with your souvenir?"
Fear and company instantly entered battle stances, but Kotetsu remained calm and composed as though she had expected this.
"That is why I shall do this."
Using her finger, Kotetsu lightly severed the rope binding Kururi to the railing.
Then mustering the absolute limit of inhuman brute force, she lifted up Kururi's body like luggage.
Then higher, even higher, she tossed Kururi out, putting her on course to fall off Kiyomizu Stage.
In that very instant—
Springing into action faster than anyone else—
Haruaki sprinted straight forward.
(I must... make it—!)
He had been searching for an opportunity all this time. His mind was completely filled with thoughts that he must rescue Kururi who was abducted only because he was too weak. Apart from that, he did not think about anything else, unlike Fear and the girls who harbored notions of defeating Kotetsu or protecting Haruaki in the corners of their minds.
Hence, he was able to react immediately.
Run faster, run faster, Haruaki ran as fast as he could while focusing his attention on Kururi who was flying out in a parabolic trajectory. By this point, he recalled what Kotetsu had said. A former enemy? Who cares. She's just an ordinary restaurant server now. Just an ordinary girl with a bit of a sharp tongue, the smell of soup on her hands, a gruff personality and who was in love with someone. What was wrong with saving her?
(I'm to blame... It's all my fault for being too much of a hindrance, that's why she got abducted! That's why... I have to take some responsibility at least...!)
Kotetsu had thrown Kururi off the center of the stage. The girl's body was following an extremely high parabola. Naturally, the end point was not on the stage floor. Dash. After reaching the maximum height, the girl's body began to descend. Dash. Haruaki stepped on the railing. He did not even think about what lay in front of him or what might happen next.
A sense of floating. At the very last moment, his extended arms caught the girl's blood-covered arm. Had he started sprinting a second later or kept his eyes on someone apart from Kururi, Haruaki definitely would not have made it in time.
Haruaki mustered all his strength to pull her arm then held Kururi's body in his arms. At the same time, the floating feeling enveloping his body turned into an irresistible sense of falling. The darkness extending before his eyes was beckoning to him.
By this point, there was nothing Haruaki could do.
All he could recall was the description he had read in the guide booklet during the visit in the daytime.
(I remember... The survival rate is 85%, right?)
Surely it was less than 85% since the fall was far too dangerous for the unconscious Kururi. Hence, Haruaki's only choice was to save her—But then, what was the survival rate for two people falling together? Haruaki really hoped that it was the same as the number quoted just now, then repeated his remark that it was unexpectedly high. He did not want to die but getting injured was acceptable. Provided that Kururi remained safe, his responsibility would—
"Even if just a little bit! Reach out with your hand, Yachi—!"
He heard a voice that sounded like an angry roar and a mournful wail. Unable to determine his orientation, Haruaki reflexively reached out with one arm, then something wrapped itself around his arm—It was the «Tragic Black River».
A wave of intense pain and impact struck his arm which acted as the point of support. Perhaps his shoulder might have been dislocated. Haruaki used his other arm to hug Kururi's body desperately. Although his rate of descent had slowed, the «Tragic Black River» wrapped around his arm was unable to absorb all of the kinetic energy. No longer undergoing free fall, Haruaki and Kururi were then pulled closer to the stage. With a crash, his body struck the underlying framework. Ouch. However, he still did not loosen his grip on Kururi. Then in the next second, the pain on his back suddenly disappeared.
Replacing it was warmth.
Konoha and Fear were hugging them tightly from both sides. Due to «Tragic» slowing Haruaki and Kururi's descent, Konoha and Fear were able to catch up after jumping a moment later. Where on their bodies was this warmth coming from? Protected by the two girls, they continued to fall. After striking the framework, the direction of descent was tilted to the side. Sharp tree branches could be seen below. Fear and Konoha were not aware. Just as Haruaki shuddered, a certain brown entity flashed before his eyes, slicing the branches. Immediately, the brown, unidentified entity kicked at tree trunks, using monkey-like physical skills to reduce falling momentum.
Crash! They all landed at the same time. Of course, Haruaki did not touch the ground directly. It was Fear and Konoha, hugging Haruaki and Kururi between them, who first stepped on the ground, taking on the impact.
Haruaki looked up at the night sky, only to see Kirika leaning forward from the railing on the stage. The expression of her face turned from unprecedented panic and loss of composure into massive relief. Kirika first released Haruaki's arm from the «Tragic Black River» and withdrew the belt, then she quickly used it as a rope to lower herself down to their location.
Haruaki looked at Kururi, held in his arms. She was covered with wounds, bleeding, unconscious. However—her chest was definitely heaving up and down in a steady rhythm.
"Thank goodness... She's still alive..."
"What's so good about that—!? Are you an idiot!? A real idiot!? I'll curse you!"
"Please stop playing jokes, Haruaki-kun! I will truly get angry!"
"Absolutely ridiculous! I'll say this as many times as it takes, truly and absolutely ridiculous! Furthermore, it's ridiculous to an unprecedented extent!"
"I agree: giving comment of there should be limits to recklessness..."
Un Izoey simply sighed while looking at Haruaki but Fear and the other girls' rampant anger was quite astounding. They looked like they were almost about to rush over and grab him by the collar.
"No... Uh, because all I could think about was saving her... Sorry for worrying you all, I apologize. But you see, if I hadn't grabbed Kururi first then reached out, Class Rep's belt might not have been in time, so the result is that we're saved—Owwwwww!"
It's fine, it's fine—Haruaki felt intense pain simply from turning his arm, even breaking out in cold sweat. This looked like he might very well have a fracture.
"I-Is it the spot where I wrapped «Tragic» around? Sorry, if only I had controlled it more skillfully...!"
"Sigh... This can't be helped either. After all, the situation was so dire, consider it a necessary but small sacrifice. Luckily, it's just this level of minor injury. Class Rep, everyone... Thank you all. It's thanks to you all that I was saved."
"You call this... lucky and just... a minor injury?"
Konoha was exuding a chilling aura that made one shudder. Looking at Haruaki's arm, she narrowed her eyes.
In her current state, she looked like she was at her limit no matter what.
"I will not let the one responsible for harming Haruaki-kun go scot-free, I will absolutely not forgive her...!"
At this moment, Konoha suddenly seemed to realize something and took out the key from her pocket.
Due to her terrifying and astounding wrath...
The key had already turned crimson.
"To think it even drips blood, how truly nauseating. But I shall endure for now. Until this little girl who has gone astray is punished!"
Konoha gripped the key tightly, looking up at the stage as she spoke softly.
Fear was also staring at Haruaki's arm. Kururi, all covered with wounds, was also within her view.
She could feel an extremely black and dark type of emotion spilling out from her heart.
How dare she... How dare she... How dare she how dare she how dare she!
The Rubik's cube seemed to be creaking, urging her to hurry and transform it back into a tool of torture. Her own body seemed to be creaking, hoping she would hand out violence to the unforgivable target. She wanted badly to hear screams. Go on and scream out with resentment loudly. I will make you taste retribution, come beg me for mercy!
But at this moment, Fear realized suddenly and also took out her key from her pocket. Over 90%, a little bit more and the key was going to activate.
But was this okay?
A question surfaced in her mind again.
She did not want to activate the key using such dark inner thoughts, using these curse-like feelings.
It would be tantamount to saying that negative emotions suited her more, that these dark, horrifying and ugly thoughts were the emotions that she ought to be close to.
Fear gripped her fist, holding the key firmly and closing her eyes tightly. But at this moment—
She felt a warm feeling from her tightly clenched fist.
"What's wrong...? Why are you making an expression like you're about to cry?"
"If anything, I should be the one who wants to cry. Uh, of course, I'm not gonna cry. Yeah, since I won't cry, then you don't need to make such a sad look... Haha, don't grip so hard, you can relax a bit more. Don't be so somber in mood, relax relax relax. Anyway, Kururi and I are safe and sound now."
Sitting on the ground, Haruaki used the hand that still had freedom of movement, gently covering Fear's fist then patting lightly. His fingertips touched the back of her hand gently.
Despite the current circumstances, he was still able to show his usual smile. Wrapped around her fist, his palm was very warm. His words were also very warm.
—Now this is the correct side, Fear thought.
This side was the direction where she ought to move towards.
Currently, cursing feelings were mixed into her heart. These emotions were driving the key's activation.
However, she did not want to use these feelings as the final driving force. Because she felt that if that happened, the result would symbolize how she was this dark, that she was unable to escape this sort of destiny even to the last second.
She wanted proof to the contrary.
She wanted proof that she was not only constituted from curses.
She reached out and hugged Haruaki's neck while he was sitting on the ground. She could sense Konoha and Kirika greatly surprised, but she did not care.
Not a curse, not negative emotions.
She wanted proof that other emotions definitely existed in her heart.
"Watching the scene of you falling down just now, in my mind—There was purely just one thought."
Fear drew near to Haruaki's ear and whispered only loud enough for him to hear. "Fear...?" Haruaki whispered back in puzzlement. On her own, she continued speaking:
"..I was thinking that this heart, born from a tool of torture, was about to stop beating. In other words, me—that's right—my only thought was that I didn't want to lose you. I've always thought so. Just this one fact, just this feeling is undeniable. No matter what happens, no matter what kind of existence I am, just this one fact...!"
Fear seemed to hear exhalation by her ear akin to a sigh. Then she felt Haruaki use his movable arm to pat her back gently, very gently.
An type of extremely warm feeling was spreading out from the depths of her heart. A kind of wet feeling was coming from her palm.
She took a glance and discovered that the key's color was—crimson.
Throb, all the blood in her body jumped greatly with warmth.
They're real. I have them too.
I definitely have emotions apart from curses!
"Urghh... I-I can't breathe! Not only my arm but also my neck is getting severely injured!"
"H-Hmph! This is punishment for ignoring your own safety and even doing something so stupid. This is the scarf hold that the teacher taught us. It's painful, right? After I teach a lesson with this move, I'll let you off for now. Because I still have things to do next!"
Fear released Haruaki's neck and stood up.
Her heart was filled with reasons to fight.
Not hatred but the burning anger of justice.
"My question... I am quite puzzled by my own behavior. Why did I go so far as to drop the box and rush down in a hurry...? No answer no matter how hard I try to think. Truly unknown."
Un Izoey was muttering with her head tilted. Perhaps we owe this girl another favor—Fear thought to herself and said:
"You left the box up there? Then we must act quick. Kirika, I'm leaving the rest to you."
Next, Fear and Konoha looked at each other. No words required, they understood what they were both supposed to do respectively.
Nodding silently as a signal, they both jumped simultaneously.
Landing on the framework and using it as a stepping board, they continued to jump up. Repeating this nonstop, they gradually rose up, in order to return to the stage where the battle was going to be decided.
"Things end here now!"
Just about to reach towards the box lid, Kotetsu slowly looked back, a strange frown on her face. Had they managed to make it in time at the last second?
By this point, there was nothing left to be said.
"Mechanism No.22 bludgeoning type, spike-ball form: «Morgenstern»!"
Fear and Konoha charged the enemy at the same time. Kotetsu ducked under the metal club while using a tiger-clawed strike to deflect Konoha's karate chop, then took a leap to distance herself from the box. Glaring at the two girls, she entered a battle stance.
"Even though I have something to say, will you not listen?"
"Rubbish! On the other hand, I might consider it after I turn you into a rag!"
"In that case, a fight is unavoidable. Go forth and pierce, my will!"
Kotetsu reached behind her and picked up an exhibit that was displayed on the sie of the stage.
These were reputedly the Khakkhara staves that the warrior monk Benkei had used in the past. The staves was supposed to be too heavy for ordinary humans to lift with ease, but possessing inhuman arm strength, Kotetsu picked up the whole exhibit effortlessly. Grabbing the two staves, one long and one short, which were kept inside a wooden rack, Kotetsu quickly extended her tongue to lick.
After doing that, these staves could now be described as two Khakkara blades. Holding the large staff underarm while wielding the small Khakkara in one hand, Kotetsu attacked using a dual-wielding style. Truly bold swordsmanship. It was a fierce offensive that attempted to overwhelm all opposition using power and speed.
The large Khakkhara was like a main cannon, armed with both mass and sharpness, intimidating and vigorous like a battering ram. Each forceful swing was able to twist the air and tear people apart. A human would surely die from one hit. A single swing could probably chop five or six people to death. Fear swung her metal club with full force, barely managing to deflect the staff on equal terms. Both hands felt numb after each impact.
On the other hand, the small Khakkara blade was an all-purpose weapon possessing both speed and sharpness. Kotetsu had an excellent grasp of balance, exhibiting speed and accuracy that was difficult to imagine coming from one-handed wielding. The sound of air being sliced could be heard. It went without saying for slashes, but even her thrusts were exceptionally fast. Thrusts that came flying without preparatory motion where almost like short-range gunshots. Fatal gunshots with infinite ammunition. Konoha was unable to block all the attacks, neither could she evade them all completely. The Khakkara blade brushed past her shoulders, cheeks, waist, arms and legs, producing tiny spatters of blood.
"I have no business with you anymore! Not interested either! Get out of the way!"
"Even if you don't—"
"We have a great interest in you, however."
Never faltering, continuing to fight. Just at this moment, in the corner of her eye, Fear saw Kirika carrying Haruaki on her back back to the stage. She was probably using «Tragic» to wrap around the railing and pull them up. After confirming that the spot was safe from getting swept up in battle, the two of them climbed over the railing to set foot on the stage again. Moments later, Un Izoey also returned to the stage while carrying Kururi in her arms.
The audience had increased. Fear recalled their reasons for fighting.
Kotetsu was very strong, exhibiting valor akin to the peerless Benkei.
Fear and Konoha were displaying identical expressions.
"Cow Tits, are you going to lose?"
Both were smiling fearlessly.
After confirming each other's smiles, they both sprang into action, trying to outdo the other. Fear allowed herself to employ powers that she had not released all this time.
She had things she ought to do, things she must do.
If these things were founded upon the burning anger of righteous justice...
Surely—She was not going to be devoured so easily.
Perhaps this was only her own presumption. Nevertheless, once she believed it, being able to bring out firm resolve was a fact of truth. She vowed to the burning-hot emotions in her heart that were gradually becoming clear, this was a fact of truth. She was able to assert thus.
Hence, Fear took out the second Rubik's cube.
"Dual Emulation, start! Mechanism No.4 swinging type, oscillatory form: «The Pendulum»—also, Mechanism No.15 suspended type, caged form: «Highwayman's Coffin», Curse Calling!"
Fear turned the cube in her right hand into a massive pendulum scythe attached to a long chain. At the same time, she conferred another cruel form to the cube on her left hand. It was a torture instrument consisting of a metal enclosure resembling a birdcage with a long chain in front. The birdcage was entirely hollow on the bottom and was either used by suspending the cage up high or placing a bed of nails beneath. Imprisoned in the cage, the victims would ultimately fall to their deaths once their strength was exhausted. Even if they managed to entwine their limbs on the metal cage's bars, the prisoners would ultimately weaken and die from exposure—This was a type of public execution meant as a long-term spectacle in the first place. Nevertheless, Fear did not have the leisure to do things that way. Swinging the long chain, she threw out the heavy steel cage in a violent manner—Under such conditions, it was equivalent to a long-range bludgeoning weapon, an impromptu weight on a chain.
Swinging the visually similar «Highwayman's Coffin» and «The Pendulum», two chain-type weapons, Fear swept them horizontally at the same time. The reason why she did not transform both cubes to the same form was because "similar but different" was quite advantageous. Attack range, shape of the swinging mass, weight, speed variation, center of gravity—This simply doubled the amount of information that needed to be discerned within an instant. Calculating everything would be a tall order indeed.
The two chains wrapped themselves around the large Khakkara blade that Kotetsu had lifted up for defense. Rotating irregularly, the weighted ends of the chains traced out curved trajectories using the large Khakkara blade as a pivot, flying to attack Kotetsu. Although unable to produce critical injuries, the birdcage struck Kotetsu's arm hard while the execution pendulum slashed across her waist. A single tool might not have been enough, but right now, the mass of torture tools had doubled. Entangling the large Khakkara blade, the chains completely sealed its movement. Kill her, kill her, kill her viciously. A voice whispered in the depths of Fear's heart. "So annoying, shut up." Fear suppressed it.
Charging Kotetsu from the opposite direction, Konoha engaged the flashing, small Khakkara blade.
"I am currently filled with fighting spirit—Haven't you noticed? Although there are cuts all over my body, the blade of my hand is different from last time. I have not suffered any slicing damage again from the Kotetsu you created."
Indeed, Konoha's knife hand was not bleeding a single drop of blood. She had not lost to Kotetsu in a contest of slicing.
Konoha stepped forward and used her right knife hand to block the small Khakkara blade before shoving with the base of her right palm. She proceeded to close in, using her right hand to grab the front end of the small Khakkara blade.
"Our powers are quite reliant on willpower. Even considering the same samurai wielding the same sword, the trajectory of the sword's swing will probably be different when chopping down an enemy for a long-time blood feud compared to cutting down women and children while disguised as a bandit. Indeed, right now I am—"
Holding the small Khakkara blade to immobilize it, Konoha swung her left elbow to chop downwards while kicking her left knee to smash upwards.
Caught in between, the Khakkara staff made an ear-splitting metallic noise while turning into countless smithereens. Shredded, shredded, utterly shredded.
Then with smooth flowing motions, Konoha closed in on Kotetsu herself. Since the large Khakkara blade on her right was already sealed completely by Fear's giant pendulum scythe, Kotetsu was out of options. Since Konoha had been targeted and picked on by the enemy all this time and accumulated a lot of stress, Fear decided to concede matters to her. No helping it.
Konoha's eyes narrowed acutely. The corners of her lips curled. Her exhaled breath was like poisonous gas.
"Presently, I absolutely cannot tolerate such an abundance of folly. Whether thy master's folly or thy own. Ah, truly excessive stupidity, O Nagasone Kotetsu Nyuudou Okisato—To dare stir me to anger, this crime alone is sufficient to condemn thee to be a third-rate and ordinary blade! Know thy place!"
In that instant, Kotetsu's face seemed to twist in a bizarre manner, her expression a complicated mixture of all sorts of elements. Terror and fear, trepidation and surprise, shock and reverence, as well as—relief and joy.
Fear did not want to know what this meant. Konoha did not think there was any need to know.
In the next instant, Konoha's spear-handed strike was buried deep into Kotetsu's abdomen.
Watching this result, Haruaki temporarily forgot the pangs of numbing pain on his arm.
Kotetsu flew back towards the far end of the stage, breathing quickly while resting her back against the railing. With her hand pressed against her abdomen, fresh red blood was seeping out from beneath.
Probably due to seeing that color, a certain feeling that ought to be suppressed was surging forth from the depths within her, Konoha narrowed her eyes as though enduring painfully and said:
"I have already held back. You have also reduced the damage slightly by jumping backwards. But after suffering this type of wound, continuing to fight is probably beyond you."
"Ha... Ha... Ha... Haha... Hahaha..."
Kotetsu laughed out as though stunned and at a loss for words.
"Muramasa... To think that until the very last moment... However, it is meaningless. Completely meaningless..."
Leaning on the railing, Kotetsu straightened her back. Then ceasing her laughter, she swept her gaze across the group.
Then she spoke up.
Expressionless, she simply used a calm tone of voice as though recounting facts.
Her words were unbelievable:
"Let me tell you. I already opened the box, but I did not obtain the Indulgence Disk. Do you know what this means? In other words, me, you, everyone has been played for a fool."
"What are... you saying...?"
It was unclear whether Haruaki and company's question reached Kotetsu's ears.
But in any case, she was not going to answer.
Because at this moment, Kotetsu leaned her weight backwards. With her back against the railing, she perfomed a back flip and fell down from the stage.
Due to the excessively shocking nature of Kotetsu's statement, it took a moment's delay before anyone sprang into action. Regaining her senses, Konoha ran towards the railing and looked down, but in the end, she simply shook her head. "...She escaped."
"How could... this be possible?"
Fear murmured quietly then plopped herself down on the floor in front of the box, taking the crimson key out from her pocket. Haruaki and the rest also walked over to her back.
Then Fear inserted the key into the keyhole and turned, producing a light, pleasant and crisp sound.
The box opened.
The contents were displayed clearly before their eyes.
Their brains refused to understand.
What did this sight represent? Why did they witness such a sight? Or rather... Why did they not see the Indulgence Disk they had been seeking all this time?
"W-What is going on here!? Absolutely ridiculous! The keyhole was definitely locked!"
"The keys can only be reset by pressing a switch inside the box—In other words, this box's design might be the type where even if someone opened it, the box locks up after being closed again, like an automatic lock. In other words, the scene we witnessed earlier was not the instant when she was about to open the box... Instead, it was the instant of closing...!"
"Th-Then... Could that girl be lying so she actually took the Disk before escaping?"
"No, I don't think she is a girl who is capable of lying smoothly under those conditions."
Gazing at that emptiness from the nearest distance, Fear probably suffered the greatest shock of all, nevertheless, she spoke in a calm tone of voice.
Haruaki had no choice but to agree. But what actually happened?
Supposing Kotetsu's final words were true.
Supposing she had not obtained the Indulgence Disk either—
Then the Indulgence Disk that everyone had been looking for, that Kotetsu had been looking for, what could be described as the root cause of the whole incident—
Where on earth was it now?
"This development is really unexpected. My confession: reporting the Lab Chief left a letter in my safekeeping. Lab Chief's orders: wait until you open the box then hand letter to you once everything is over. About the content, I report the truth that it is unknown to me too."
With an apologetic expression, Un Izoey used her foot to draw out an envelope from under her skirt. Fear snatched it, spread out the letter folded inside the envelope, then started reading it under the moonlight. Naturally, Haruaki and the others craned their necks to have a look as well.
'Hi, I was thinking you all might be mistaken, so let me clarify first. I only said that keys whose power has activated will be able to open this box, but I never said anything about be able to obtain the Indulgence Disk kept inside the box. You should have been more skeptical back then and asked me "Did you really put the Indulgence Disk into the box?" After all, I do know one or two little clever tricks that magicians use. If you need an analogy, my pocket is big enough to do all sorts of bad things.'
Absolutely unbelievable. That man was truly the worst. Fear continued to read.
'No no no, I hope you won't be angry. Thanks to those keys, I'm thinking that you must have created wonderful memories during the school excursion, am I right? I'm just trying to help you guys. Of course, it's also because it provides entertainment to me as a spectator. That said, from your standpoint, it really would be excessively tragic to be treated as an entertainment show without consent but still not receiving the agreed prize. I did consider this seriously, you know? As a thank you gift for providing me with so much fun as a spectator, I guarantee personally that Hinai Elsie will be returned unconditionally. Although I'm not sure if they are currently present, if they're not, then please help pass the message along to the members of the Family.'
Long-winded and insufferable. Just like the times when he spoke in person, the letter was so long that it was infuriating.
'Basically, in other words, this whole affair can be explained simply as—Using the Indulgence Disk as the price, the Family has secured the release of Hinai Elsie from the Lab Chief's Nation in exchange. Simplifying problems is very important. Although Indulgence Disks are almost worthless to us, from our standpoint, Hinai Elsie is equally worthless to us too, so this exchange can considered a fair deal. Suppose that girl from the Family took the Indulgence Disk or your side obtained it directly, you would have accepted the Family's request to serve as a go-between for negotiations, right? If that happened, I would have no choice but to reconsider the price in front of my subordinates, a price that is "appropriately worthless," which the Family ought to pay in exchange for Hinai Elsie's release, then ask the Family to pay it. I think that would really be quite bothersome. As much as I'm sorry about how much you desired the Indulgence Disk, seeing as I've provided you with heart-pounding blush-worthy joy and the message that you must be loyal to your feelings in the school excursion, I hope you'll let things slide—'
Reading to this point was the limit.
Uttering these words on everyone's behalf, Fear threw the letter down onto the floor.
Everyone was glaring at the letter with eyes of anger and hatred. Fear really felt like grinding it to a pulp beneath her foot then burning it up, but doing so was not going to help.
Even as his personal aide, Un Izoey was staring with narrowed eyes displaying the same gaze, bowing her head as she looked at the letter with the utterly despicable content. But unlike Fear and the others who were feeling resentment, she was only very surprised.
"Even myself, about this incident, am not without feeling. But I confirm: concluding the principle that as a researcher, I cannot oppose the Lab Chief. Hence, completely unrelated to that principle, I am just muttering to myself on a personal and native note. In my tribe, the punishment for playing word games to go back on promises is to spend a night locked in a wicker basket with poisonous snakes. In other words—'
Un Izoey exhaled deeply and continued:
"I hope to take the Lab Chief on visit to my tribe's village after such a long absence. Not just for one night, but two."
"Oh dear! I wonder how things are going on the other side? Will it be akin to a world-class competition of swearing and cursing? Or an ice age of speechlessness? I somehow get the feeling that my loyal subordinate is also glaring at me with cold eyes. It's actually a bit apprehensive for me."
"In any case, the contents of the letter I wrote them is exactly the same as what I explained to you just now. Actually, the whole incident can be explained even more simply."
Kotetsu was extremely confused.
...Regarding the surrounding situation. Darkness, the abdominal pain, in the middle of fleeing after defeat, the man's voice coming from the darkness.
As well as, lying before her eyes right now—
The Indulgence Disk.
"In other words, the result. I fully intended to give this thing to you from the start. Very simple, isn't it? I simply thought that this was a wonderful opportunity to use the ensuing process to play around a bit with the relationships of my little sister and her friends."
Kotetsu glared at the darkness where the voice seemed to be coming from, squeezing her voice out. Although the vital functions of the main core were unaffected, damage was damage after all. Simply speaking was causing waves of pain from the abdominal wound. Howver, now was not the time to be concerned with pain. This could be some sort of trap. Perhaps he wanted to use her as some kind of pawn again.
"Why? You're asking me why? There's no need to make things too complicated in your head. I haven't deviated the slightest from my true nature. Doesn't the answer immediately jump out at you as soon as you think about who I am?"
Yamimagari Pakuaki laughed.
He laughed heartily as though truly feeling joy from the bottom of his heart.
"Do I still need to spell it out? —It's because I am interested in what your side is planning to undertake. Ah, how wonderful that will be, unbelievable, a horrifying unknown that lies ahead!"
Translator's Notes and References
- Benkei(弁慶): Musashibō Benkei(武蔵坊弁慶) was a Japanese warrior monk who served Minamoto no Yoshitsune. Commonly depicted as a man of great strength and loyalty, he is a popular subject of Japenese folklore.
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