All preparations were complete.
Now all that remained was finding an opening.
After ending the long-distance journey, they returned to the much-missed home.
One arm in a sling, Haruaki used his other hand to open the front door while announcing: "I'm home~" At this moment, Konoha and the girls seemed to be giving off an aura that read "I can't believe I'm letting him do this kind of labor... What a massive failure!" Haruaki could not help but smile wryly. It's just opening the front door, there's no need to be that protective of me.
Haruaki had sort of guessed already, but just as expected, the voice coming from inside the house was not "welcome home—" accompanied by the usual smiling face and open-armed gesture, instead—
"Ficchi told me everything already. Simply leaving me behind and having so much fun on your own is already enough to make me want to complain massively. But now you even come back wounded, that's truly unforgivable!"
For some reason, Kuroe was dressed in a nurse outfit identical to the one Fear had worn during the cultural festival. Standing in an intimidating manner with her legs apart, she was waiting further in from the entrance. Despite dressed in a joking outfit as usual, she was displaying a very serious expression on her face.
"R-Really? You've already heard. Uh, because many things happened... Ah, don't pull so hard."
"Anyway, I'll listen to your explanation while performing treatment. Let's go, let's go. I'll say this first, Haru. I am very unhappy about your recklessness. You'd best be doing what I say with 50% more absolute obedience than usual. Or else, I'll be forced to use healing as an excuse to make indecent poses!"
"How is that forced in any way? But sure, I also admit acting too recklessly, so... Yes, I'm really very sorry..."
Haruaki was dragged by Kuroe all the way to the living room and forced to sit down before he could unpack. Then Kuroe untied his sling, forcibly removed his upper body's clothing and loosened the bandages—According to a doctor's diagnosis, the bone was cracked. They had contacted Bivorio after the battle with Kotetsu that night. Bivorio knew a doctor who was very accommodating for patients requiring discretion, so they asked her to introduce them to that doctor so that Haruaki and Kururi could undergo treatment together. Naturally, they attracted quite a lot of attention upon returning to the hotel, but Haruaki managed to muddle through using an excuse of "my arm was extended at a wrong angle when I fell." As a side note, going out without permission was smoothed over by asking Kaidou-sensei to find a reason. Haruaki really felt bad about making so much trouble for her.
Kuroe used hair imbued with life force to wrap around the part of his arm where the bone was cracked. Fear, Konoha and Kirika all watched silently. Fear and Konoha were sitting formally in seiza posture with solemn expressions, their bodies leaning slightly forward. On the other hand, Kirika was standing some distance away, neither far nor near. For some reason, her expression was extremely gloomy.
"Mode: «Satisfied Yorimori»... There we go. As you probably know already, my hair only stimulates the injury to heal faster, so you still can't overextend yourself. You should probably visit a normal hospital tomorrow and get it checked out by a doctor."
"Yeah... Thanks, I'll do that. On the other hand, you're really being restrictive! It doesn't hurt unless I move the arm, so don't worry!"
Haruaki put all his effort into speaking in a cheerful voice. Fear and Konoha both exhaled at the same time. Using this as a signal—
"Hmph. Seriously, just thinking back makes me really want to scold you for your foolish bravery. You should be counting your lucky stars for ending up with this bit of injury."
"Indeed. Haruaki-kun, if you've learnt your lesson, please think more before acting next time. You really went slightly beyond your ability this time."
The two girls were back to their usual selves. Naturally, they still seemed a little displeased.
"Well then, I shall get changed first... Then I'll brew some tea. Oh, Ueno-san, please do have a seat."
"Yes, then I'll get changed first."
"Lemme help with pouring the tea. After all, it's been four days already. If I don't flaunt my presence, you guys might forget me! Even though I'm clearly the precious, healing, young girl character!"
"Oh, then let me help too—"
"You sit still right there!" "Please stay seated properly!" "Haru, sit down!"
Attacked on all sides, Haruaki had no choice but to stay silent.
Hence, after everyone changed and busied themselves for a while, it was finally time for some tea. At this time, Konoha suddenly looked up as though she realized something in surprise.
"Oh, I just thought of something. It seems that it is currently not the time to be casually drinking tea. After all, having been away from home for four days, there's nothing to cook for dinner tonight unless someone goes shopping, isn't that right? But I'll ask just in case. Kuroe-san, while watching the house over the past few days, did you ever go shopping and restock the food in the fridge—"
"Eh~ No touchy!"
"...I thought so too. So seeing as that's the case, I shall go out to get some groceries first. I remember that the rice needs to be replenished, then there's the other ingredients. There are many things that need to be bought, so I'm hoping for a few volunteers to help carry things."
"No helping it, I'll come with you. Besides, it might be possible that new flavors of rice crackers came out during the past four days. I must go check it out."
"Count me in as well—Because I'm trying hard to flaunt etc."
"The more we delay, the later dinner time will be, so let's hurry and get going. I'm sorry, Haruaki-kun and Ueno-san, I shall have to trouble you two to watch the house for now. We will be back as quickly as possible."
Following through on these directives, Konoha and the girls quickly got ready and took off for the supermarket. On the other hand, was it really okay for Kuroe to remain in her nurse costume? Well, it should be fine. It's Kuroe, after all.
Sitting in the now quiet living room, Haruaki switched on the television and sipped tea. Looks like my daily life will be tasked with watching the house without laboring for quite a while, that feels so boring—Haruaki thought to himself.
Just at this moment—
Staring at the teacup all this time, Kirika suddenly stood up.
Without looking at Haruaki, she turned around, her ponytail swinging.
"Sorry, today—I'm going home first."
"Eh? But since you're here already, at least catch dinner before you go... I'm sure Fear and the others want you to stay for dinner as well."
Even so, Kirika still did not look back. Grabbing her travel bag from the side, she quickly walked out of the living room. Her footsteps in the corridor could be heard, followed by the sound of the main door opening and closing.
Haruaki was simply at a loss, his mouth gaping open. Why so sudden? Was it something he did? Or did he do something to displease her?
No, upon further thought, Kirika had been acting strange all this time. After leaving Kiyomizu Stage last night, she had been acting very strange. Why? Haruaki did not know.
Then he noticed. There was a paper bag next to where Kirika's luggage was placed earlier. Kirika had forgotten to take the bag of souvenirs she had bought. Haruaki actually could have simply phoned her, besides, they were going to see each other again soon at school, so giving it to her then was fine, but—
Haruaki still felt very concerned about Kirika's condition. She really looked like she was running away in a panic.
Okay—Haruaki grabbed the paper bag and stood up.
After all, since she had just left, surely he could catch up to her if he quickened his pace.
While preparing to make a trip to the supermarket, Konoha once again pondered the results of the race to activate their keys. Sure enough, what bothered her was the silver object flashing in and out of view in the corner of her eye from time to time.
Putting aside Kururi and Kotetsu who had accumulated power for their keys through other methods...
In terms of results, Konoha believed that she had activated her key a step faster than Fear. In terms of time, perhaps it was just a tiny difference, but this tiny difference was decisive and monumental.
In other words, in a fair competition between herself and Fear, in this one-on-one contest, she had certainly obtained victory. A great victory at that, complete victory.
What did this mean? What was this hinting at?
Naturally, it meant that she was obviously the one to stay by his side. At least, she was more suitable than this silver-haired lass who seemed like a country bumpkin new in town. First place. The most promising candidate. "Best of" Haruaki-kun's circle.
She had understood this point early on, but now she was at ease.
She, who had only started taking action seriously not too long ago, had not participated. It was a shame that her power could not be measured directly—No, I have no intention of losing, so it doesn't matter whether or not she joined in or not. Even if she participated, of course I'll win. Absolutely, yes.
Probably due to being immersed in her thoughts, after rushing through the process of getting ready and leaving the house—
Halfway to the supermarket, Konoha realized she had made a huge blunder. A simple and critical mistake.
She had forgotten her purse.
"Don't underestimate me. Because right now, my purse only has a bit of cash. If there are any new rice cracker products, I'll probably be broke after I buy them."
"After a life of debauchery over the past few days, I'm quite s strapped for cash too. But I could get some if we make a trip to an ATM. Should we make a slight detour?"
"There's no need for a detour, besides, going home to get my purse will be faster... Could you two start shopping in the meantime? Here, let me give you the shopping list first."
"Okay okay, leave it to me~"
"Muumuu! Kuroe, got a pen on you? I have this feeling that if I add another zero on that memo, for no particular reason, next to the line where 'rice crackers to go with tea x 2' is written, something very happy will happen!"
"Is there no end to your greed...?"
Konoha sighed and turned back on her own, walking the same route as the way they had come.
Just at the corner where she could see the entrance of their home, Konoha tilted her head in puzzlement.
Currently leaving the house, jogging in the opposite directly, that back belonged to—
No mistake. Konoha absolutely could not make a mistake in recognizing the sight of his back.
She felt doubtful in her mind. Did something happen?
She could feel from the way he was running that things were not urgent, but better safe than sorry.
In any case, Konoha decided to give chase. Passing by the front of the house without stopping, she quickened her pace towards the direction where Haruaki had disappeared.
Standing before the shelves in the supermarket, Fear and Kuroe were looking at the shopping list, placing the necessary supplies into the basket.
"Phew—that should be it for the fruits and vegetables. Okay, let's head over to the next zone!"
"What's up? Did we forget to get something?"
Pushing the shopping cart that had grown heavy all at once, Fear found Kuroe suddenly looking at her while walking on the side, smiling as she asked:
"—Something good happened?"
"Muu, why do you ask?"
"Well... Because just from listening to the story, Ficchi, you weren't able to get the Indulgence Disk in the end. So I was expecting you to be a little depressed—but it turns out you're looking quite lively."
"Hmm." Fear looked up at the supermarket ceiling for no particular purpose.
"Anyway, that's that. It's definitely a shame that I couldn't get the Disk and getting tricked by that man really makes me mad from the bottom of my heart, but no matter how displeased I get, he's not going to return the Indulgence Disk to me. Besides, it's not like that's the only Indulgence Disk remaining in the world. After all, I've been getting Indulgence Disks over time as usual, so I was thinking, I just need to hurry and get a change of mood, then work hard to find the next Disk... Of course, as usual, I intend to ask the superintendent's faction to continue trying their hardest. I hope they can bring news of the next Disk as soon as possible."
"Okay—But something good must have happened in order to make you forget the unhappiness and change your mood, right?"
How sharp of Kuroe—Fear's expression relaxed. Although it was a bit embarrassing, if the other person was Kuroe, revealing feelings from the heart should be okay. Walking beside her, Fear said to Kuroe:
"Yes, you're right."
"...What was it?"
In order to instill that sense of joy into her heart again—
Fear smiled and said:
"There's positive energy inside me too, you know? Not the kind of dark, ominous and horrifying thoughts that used to fill my heart but a certain type of warm emotion. It really exists, to the point that it's big enough that it won't lose to the curse."
Yes, I'll admit it once.
This was neither a mistake, an illusion nor speculation out of subjective and wishful thinking.
It definitely existed in her heart.
The activated key of emotion served as an indicator, providing concrete proof of the emotion's existence.
That alone was enough for Fear to feel that her experiences on this trip were meaningful. Although Yamimagari Pakuaki's actions were infuriating and impossible to approve, Fear felt that the commotion related to the Indulgence Disk and the keys did indeed carry some certain significance.
"I see. That emotion in your heart, Ficchi, surely it must be something very wonderful."
Someone overhearing what Fear had said would definitely be lost completely.
But Kuroe still seemed to understand fully as though it was about her own affairs, returning with a smile of sincere happiness, giving off an aura like an elder sister.
Hence, only when facing Kuroe would Fear feel that perhaps she could confide her inner feelings of a slightly deeper nature.
In the end, what were the feelings she had discovered?
The feeling of not wanting to lose Haruaki. Hugging him, there was that feeling of fulfillment filling up her heart.
It was similar a month or so earlier, through the welcoming festival's school beauty pageant, when Fear had predicted the existence of those feelings—although she was still hesitant, unsure whether she could possess such feelings. That said, she might have to continue searching for and gathering Indulgence Disks to lift more of her curse before she could get an answer.
But different from a month ago, she no longer had the uncertainty from back then.
Right now, she clearly felt the existence of those feelings.
So—Putting aside the the issue of determining presence or absense.
But it was possible that she could already admit that those feelings definitely "existed."
Then treating this as a tiny driving force, she could propel herself towards a slightly more wonderful future.
"...Hmm, I think I can only tell you alone. Remember to keep this a secret."
"Of course, my lips are sealed."
In front of Kuroe's very gentle gaze...
Fear discreetly and honestly revealed—
The kind of little secret that ordinary girls would have.
"Looks like, I-I might... actually... that shameless brat—"
Powerlessness. Regret. Guilt.
Burdened by these feelings, Kirika ran.
She hated her own stupidity. Going with the flow without realizing it. Starting on her way home in a daze, she had very naturally made her way to the Yachi home. The sudden feeling of reality back then was reprimanding herself now as well. Overcome with shame, Kirika had no choice but to leave as though fleeing.
Everyone thought that she would stay for dinner as though it were the most natural thing in the world. That family had also accepted her extremely naturally. But this fact filled her with suffering.
Clearly she had failed to do anything.
No, not only that—
"C-Class Rep—! W-Wait up, please stop—!"
The voice entering her ears caused Kirika to stop reflexively. She spent some time feeling countless emotions rocking her brain while turning to look back in trepidation. He—Yachi Haruaki—was bending forward slightly, panting heavily out of breath. One arm was suspended in a sling while the other hand was holding a familiar paper bag. Presenting the paper bag forward towards her, he said:
"Huff... Huff... This.. You forgot to take it with you... Man, I must be really lacking in exercise."
"Oh... So...rry. Thank you..."
This was her voice out on the surface. Privately in her mind, the voice whispering in her heart was saying a different answer. Absolutely ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous, absolutely ridiculous.
Kirika took the paper bag lightly. "Okay." Haruaki caught his breath and straightened his back. Coincidentally, the cellphone in his pocket made a sound. It was apparently a text message. Haruaki said: "Excuse me, hold on" then quickly read the text.
Then with a demure smile, he closed the cellphone.
"Unbelievably, it's from Kururi. Just a single sentence. She said: 'I decided to buy a fishing hat.' ...Haha, I guess my suggestions didn't go to waste. But I still don't get why the reaction is so cold."
"Is that... so?"
Kirika lowered her eyes and only concurred halfheartedly. Why?
"Yeah, although she lost a lot of blood, the injuries she suffered apparently were not serious enough to be fatal... Thank goodness."
"Uh, of course, it's not like everything is great, but I just think there were definitely some good things. It's a shame that we weren't able to get the Indulgence Disk, but Hinai Elsie will return to their side."
She could no longer bear it. Her voice slipped out of her mouth.
Staring at his arm, Kirika continued. Why, why, why!?
"You're saying... thank goodness? Absolutely ridiculous, argh, absolutely ridiculous! How could things possible be good, of course not. It's not good at all! Why are you saying something like that? Clearly you... you too—were injured!"
"Uh... Say... Class Rep...?"
Crap, she thought. But her voice could not stop.
Something had gone out of control. The needle of her emotional gauge had broken past the limit.
"This is all... my fault."
"It's all my fault that you got hurt."
As soon as Kirika finished speaking, Haruaki frantically waved his mobile arm and spoke with a serious expression, anxious and puzzled:
"Th-This isn't your fault, Class Rep! Back then, you were saving me, Class Rep. If you hadn't used «Tragic» to catch me, Kururi and I would have fallen all the way down!"
"That's not what I'm referring to! Not that!"
She could not tear her gaze away from his injured arm.
Helplessness. Regret. Guilt. These emotions were still colliding repeatedly in the depths of her heart.
She felt powerless because she had failed to do what she was supposed to do. No matter how much she regretted, there was no end to her regrets. Hence, it turned into a sense of guilt that felt like someone was lashing her with a whip.
These emotions were harshly reprimanding her. Tormenting her like a curse.
As a result, Kirika moved her lips in contrition:
"If—If I had caught the key that was tossed at the time, if I had picked it up, if I had snatched it forcefully... I wouldn't have caused you to get hurt! It's all my fault. I also knew Pakuaki's goal from the start. That's right, it's because I knew, that was why I didn't reach out at the time!"
"W-What are you saying?'
Hurry and stop.
"If I were the one holding it, surely, surely, surely! I would have opened the box in an instant! Konoha-kun and Fear-kun might have thought the same, but I hope I am different from them! I hope I have surpassed them! No, I believe I have, I've always believed that, so I definitely would have opened the box! Clearly if that happened, you wouldn't have gotten injured! But I hesitated. Because that man was in front of me, I hesitated!"
Very certainly. Absolutely. I absolutely can open the box in an instant.
Kirika shifted her gaze to look at his face.
Just as usual—
A little fazed and confused—
Despite suffering an injury yet acting like he had forgotten that injury—
Looking like he was sincerely worrying about my strange behavior—
Looking like he was trying hard to understand my incomprehensible ranting—
His extreme kindness. Just by looking at him, my emotions are able to calm down, the depths of my heart become warm, making me wish to be together with him for eternity—
For some reason.
As soon as I saw his face, tears gushed out of my eyes.
He stared wide-eyed in surprise. Even so, he was still worrying about my current state.
Let me admit it again. I am certain of being able to activate the key of emotion in an instant. I am certain of providing the key with an upsurge of emotions in an instant. That is why I am filled with regret and guilt.
These emotions implied one thing—Pride.
Regarding him, compared to anyone else in the world.
This girl named Ueno Kirika and this boy named Yachi Haruaki—
"...Because... I love you..."
Indeed, to the extent that I will not lose to anyone in the world, certain from the bottom of my heart that I am the one who loves him the most.
This pride I take in loving him.
Nothing more than that.
After a few seconds' delay, finally—
I finally realized that those words had slipped out of my mouth into the real world.
I also noticed him looking at me, rooted to the spot.
Hurry and stop.
Feeling her cheeks on fire, feeling the heat of the inexplicable tears, feeling his gaze upon her, feeling the skirt she was tightly clutching...
Ueno Kirika went over things in her mind.
She had already decided to fight.
Having come this far already, she could not do anything like escaping.
Assuming he realized her feelings from the words she carelessly let slip just now... No, this assumption was already pointless. Considering her expression, it was almost certain that the message was delivered. Precisely because of that—precisely because of that, she had no choice but to do this.
Go, go, go!
Was 'I love you' really okay by itself? Lacking in both will and meaning, this kind of disappointing confession that simply slipped out in a moment of carelessness, was it really okay? Not okay, right, Ueno Kirika? Since shots had been fired to declare war already, the offensive must absolutely not stop here. This absolutely must not be treated as though it never happened. In that case—
No matter what may result—
I am not being controlled by others. Neither am I being forced by circumstances to say it. Rather than for other's sakes, I wish to hold my head high proudly for myself, making a confession where I am simply following my own feelings.
This time, I must use my own unmistakable hands, I must use my undistorted will, I must use words of genuine truth.
Then there's no choice but to erase... that half-baked confession I just made, right—?
She understood clearly, very clearly.
Hence, Kirika gazed straight at Haruaki once again.
Trying desperately to keep control of her voice that was about to tremble.
Understanding clearly that there was no need to hold back on account of others.
Holding her head up high proudly, she declared:
"I have always... regarded you as a member of the opposite gender—and loved you, Yachi."
She could sense her hand trembling nonstop, clutching her skirt tightly throughout.
She could sense his body and mind still frozen.
As well as behind him—
She could see Konoha standing there, frozen with an expression of utter shock.
Then the shopping bag in Konoha's hand fell to her feet.
"Kono... ha-kun...! Wait...!"
Before Kirika's voice could reach her, Konoha had already turned around and broken into a run.
Oh my—What a great surprise. This kind of thing does happen, doesn't it? Back in middle school, Haruaki-kun was so cute the first time he received a love letter and was troubled by it—I think he rejected the girl, citing busy housework, didn't he? Well done, that's the way to go, yeah—! Putting that aside, purse, purse. Speaking of which, I came back to get my purse. Did I just ask Fear-san to buy twenty packs of rice crackers? Just eat as much as you want, whatever. Where's my purse? In this tree hole? There's no squirrel here—?
"Huff... H-Huff... Huff...?"
I don't know why I'm panting out of breath and covered in sweat. Did I run all the way here? Where am I right now—Oh, it's the forest behind the Yachi home. I'm currently leaning my forehead tightly against one of the tree trunks. Why am I here? It feels like, in my mind, I don't understand, there are vague memories of running madly at full speed. My consciousness is extremely hazy. What happened? It seems like something happened that I'm unable to accept immediately while retaining my senses of composure, or is it something that needs a bit of time in order to react calmly? Yes. That's right. Something happened, indeed. But let me wait first. My heart is currently pounding intensely, madly, so let me calm down first. Calm down. Let's forget it for now. Take a deep breath, inhale—exhale—
At this moment, the rustling sound of footsteps on leaves was heard.
Konoha looked back.
"Oh my, hello."
It was Sagisaki-sensei who had arrived, so Konoha greeted her.
—Of course, the normal Konoha would have found it most unnatural for her to appear here, in the forest behind the Yachi home. But right now, she was definitely not normal and absolutely different from usual.
Hence, Konoha allowed her to approach her. Konoha allowed the petite, newly-appointed teacher, dressed in a suit with black garter stockings, yet currently displaying none of her usual cowardice, timidness or frailty, only exuding the aura of a transcendental warrior—Sagisaki-sensei—to make her way step by step towards her.
"I originally intended to wait until bedtime to make my move. But since fortune has presented an even better opening, there is no reason to let it slip by."
It was unlike her usual wishy-washy dialogue that was always weak-willed but trying to act as befitted a teacher. Rather, it was the complete opposite. Whispering softly, she delivered words exuding certainty and a sense of the past.
Next, she took out a strange mask from her jacket's inside pocket and put it on her face.
This was a glamorous mask that covered only the top half of the face, looking as though one would wear it to perform in an opera. Red beads of glass were installed on the eye portions. Short cords extended from the temples of the mask, connected to two slim devices swaying to and fro.
By now, Konoha finally noticed in alarm that things were not quite right. But it was too late.
Her rate of realization was slow enough to be fatal.
A new presence appeared from behind as astounding brute force was used to hold her arms behind her back, immobilizing her.
"You are... Kotetsu!"
"Preparations are complete, Nirushaaki-sama."
"Precisely. Preparations are complete, now that there are two Indulgence Disks for lightening the curse combined with my training as the user. Has none of your side noticed? During the school excursion, I have been training myself to control this Wathe. Hence that is why I was constantly unwell, resting in my hotel room. This was training that killed two birds with one stone—satisfying Kotetsu's curse that necessitated the drinking of blood while handling the aftermath by using this Wathe to manipulate the memories of the fainted victims. But the foolish humans including your faction apparently regarded these occurrences as nothing more than anemia or heatstroke."
The masked woman reached out and gripped Konoha's head. Konoha struggled violently but Kotetsu sealed her movements with full strength. Impossible to struggle free.
"Nirushaaki...!? You're from last time! You two... what do you intend... to do with me...!?"
"Telling you is fine. This is «Bartolomey Oblivion», a Wathe taken from an auxiliary from the Knights Dominion earlier. The damage caused to the user's mind by the curse is directly proportional to the effects from activation. Hence, they were mistaken. This is not a tool that could erase at most thirty minutes of memories. The limit of thirty minutes is simply because the insignificant user, an ordinary human, cannot withstand the effects for a longer duration! This limit can be surpassed provided that one is not satisfied with being ordinary, by resorting to extraordinary means. Take myself for example, one who lives simply by seeking strength sufficient to become a dragon, simply by believing in strength, loving strength, relying on strength!"
She struggled but could not escape. Too careless. Konoha gnashed her teeth in anguish.
"A dragon's strength is not limited to just the body. Naturally, the strength of the mind also counts! With my relentless training, I have fully obtained the strength that requires unyielding willpower to withstand it! And now, I have installed two Indulgence Disks! Hence, it is now possible! My goal—Ah, in actual fact, those knights are also mistaken on this Wathe's properties. This is not a Wathe for erasing memories, strictly speaking—"
The woman's lips twisted upwards in a very ominous manner.
"—This is a Wathe for turning the mind back to the past!"
Instantly, a horrifying feeling flashed across Konoha's mind. Instinctively, she was about to comprehend a certain matter. No way? How could it be possible? No way!
"I can wait no longer! I have waited so long for this moment that I have grown impatient! Become mine, Muramasa, the strongest weapon! Not a fake imitation like those torture instruments but the king of weapons created truly for battle! Activate now, «Bartolomey Oblivion»! Return her mind to two hundred years ago!"
While yelling out, the woman applied greater force to her hands clamping on Konoha's head.
Something was pouring inside, something was gradually lost. Her brain felt as though it were being forcibly stirred. All her feelings rumbled as they swirled into a vortex, swallowed into the center of her body. So scorching so cold so cold so dark so painful so fast so comfortable so hard so scary so contemptuous so happy so sad so soft so ticklish so intense, myself, myself, myself myself!
"Continue...! Kotetsu! Ga-ahhhhhhh... I shan't... lose... One that ought to become a dragon, I... shan't... lose to this level of... curse! Urghhh, gah, ha! Geh, huff... Don't... underestimate me... Ahhh... Ahhhhh... O curse, O curse, is this all you have!? Bow down... before... me—!"
Like a chain reaction, screams could be heard. Bellows from enduring pain. The stench of blood. The malodor of gastric juices. Spinning spinning spinning spinning spinning spinning.
Are my eyes open? Or are they closed? Konoha gradually could not tell anything at all.
Absolutely everything, everything, everything.
She even forgot—who she was.
(Haru... aki... -kun...)
In a desolate forest.
A figure was standing in one spot silently, slightly short in stature, petite in build, dressed in a frilly Japanese-style outfit.
Without saying a word, this person was staring at the two people collapsed on the ground. The figure simply observed without moving at all. Soon after, one of the collapsed figures sat up.
That person held her head, frowned and wiped the blood dripping from her nose. She spat out the blood lingering in her mouth, mixed with gastric juices. Then swaying unsteadily, she attempted to stand up. Kotetsu frantically reached out to support her by her underarms.
"Are you alright?"
"Hmm... I really cannot be described as alright this time. The damage suffered is more severe than from any battle against formidable foes in the past. But since this damage is not physical, I should recover quite rapidly."
Puttin that aside—She bowed her head to look at the other person.
"The question is, who knows what is the result?"
Then some more time passed.
Sprawled on the ground, the girl slowly raised her upper body.
Her eyes looked sleepy but also like a newly drawn blade.
Nothing could conceal the brightness in her eyes.
Lazily, she surveyed her surroundings and said:
"Hmm...? It seemeth... I have slumbered for a very long time. Where... is this...?"
Nirushaaki smiled. Then powerfully and concisely, she whispered.
The newly awakened girl yawned and looked towards the two who were standing.
"Yawn... Although I do not quite understand, little lass over there, covered in the stench of fresh blood and the battlefield, thou givest off an endearing smell. Art thou mine owner currently?"
"Yes, I understand now."
Then as she stretched and got up, her gaze suddenly stopped on Kotetsu who was supporting Nirushaaki's shoulders.
"What now, thou art a sword too?"
She drew near and examined Kotetsu intently up close.
"Oh... Thou seemest to be quite an excellent specimen of a trenchant blade. Furthermore, thou seemest to have taken thy place, hanging on the master's waist, earlier than me. Hmm, how now? Shall we have a contest of swordsmanship to decide who deserves to be the master's primary blade? Fufufu, but do be prepared, even as fellow swords possessed by the same master, thou art not guaranteed to survive a battle against me unscathed. When intending to cross blades with Muramasa, thou must be equipped with such manner of resolve and preparation..."
She was so close that her breath could be felt on Kotetsu's face. The girl gave off an aura like a carnivorous beast evaluating her prey, even giving off murderous intent, as well as a sword's presence that seemed as though it would cut everything and anything into two upon contact.
Amidst this atmosphere, Kotetsu displayed an expression of joy.
Kotetsu's face was blushing red as though on fire, looking up at the sword in front with eyes of idolizing admiration.
"A-Ahhh... M-Muramasa-sama! The sword of we swords, a veritable sword of slaughter...! I have always regarded you as my goal, Muramasa! I have also told Nirushaaki-sama that I am content being a secondary blade if I can stay by Muramasa-sama's side!"
"Is that so?"
"Indeed. That is also my intention."
"Your humble servant, Nagasone Kotetsu Nyuudou Okisato, sincerely believes that being able to fight by your side, Muramasa-sama, is supreme and unparalleled happinesss! Ah, the true Muramasa-sama has returned, you have finally returned...!"
"Hmph, what an outrageously long appellation. That said, I have no idea what thou meanst by returning... Oh my?"
At this moment, she frowned lightly and took a step forward.
...Reaching her hand into Kotetsu's skirt.
"A-Ahhhh, hyah, Muramasa... -sama...!?"
After feeling around inside the skirt for a while, she tilted her head and said in puzzlement:
"What is this—I was thinking thou to be a little lass, but thou art verily a lad. Why attire thyself as a girl?"
"A-Ahhh, umm... A former master... Umm... Nnnn!"
"Hmm, I recall now. Among the generals who used to wield me, pederasty was quite fashionable a practice. Nothing to be surprised about."
She withdrew her hand with instant comprehension. Panting and blushing intensely, Kotetsu stared at her in a daze, also looking a little regretful.
"Well then, the battlefield awaits us, although we are not setting off immediately. In any case, we must first restore our energy."
"Since thou sayest so, I shall obey... Besides, hunger is at hand. By the way, my favorite food is meat."
Despite a little unsteady on her feet, but probably due to pride as a the master, Nirushaaki pushed Kotetsu away and started walking on her own. Kotetsu followed behind her.
She—Muramasa—also followed after the new master, taking steps forward.
Just at this moment, she spotted a certain object in the corner of her eye.
Amidst the trees, half buried in a pile of fallen leaves—
Light was reflecting off a pair of glasses' lenses.
Of course, she had no recollection of those glasses at all.
Giving it no more than a glance, she walked past directly.
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